Much to everyone's surprise, the final spirit fruit fell into the hands of Ye Ying.
The treasures she offered were more extravagant than everyone else could produce, so they could only reluctantly allow her to take the spirit fruit.
This small section of the Myriad Year Green Spirit Tree was Han Li's compensation of choice.
This piece of wood was as light as air and immune to the effects of water and fire. It was one of the most ideal materials for carving formation spells onto, and as it aged, it would develop a certain degree of immunity toward the power of the five elements.
As such, this type of wood was most often used to refine large treasures like spirit arks, beast carriages, and things of that nature.
After fiddling around with the section of wood for a while, Han Li stowed it away before glancing at his surroundings.
The flying carriage had been supplied, once again, by Long Dong, and even though it wasn't as comfortable nor as stealthy as the spirit ark that had been destroyed earlier, it was able to fly at a greater speed than the ark.
Speaking of which, the spirit ark's concealment ability would've been next to useless in the face of powerful ancient beasts. As such, this faster flying carriage was a superior option anyway.
If they were to encounter some minor hindrances, they could simply accelerate and shake them off.
At this moment, the flying carriage was whizzing through the air as an azure blur, hurtling along at an incredible speed.
Aside from Long Dong, who was piloting the carriage, everyone else was sitting in silence.
Han Li withdrew his gaze before suddenly turning his attention to Ye Ying, upon which his eyes narrowed slightly.
The person in the group whom he was most wary of and found to be the most mysterious was this woman, who appeared to possess the same cultivation base as he did.
This woman appeared to be quite young and spoke in a very simple and straightforward manner, but having completely mastered the Great Development Technique, Han Li's instinctive senses had already been honed to an incredibly sensitive degree, and those senses told him that this woman was the most dangerous one among the four, even more so than Long Dong from the so-called True Spirit Family.
Just as Han Li was contemplating these matters, Ye Ying suddenly opened her eyes and met Han Li's gaze.
Han Li's heart jolted upon seeing this, and before he had a chance to react, Ye Ying pursed her lips with a faint chuckle.
Han Li gave a rather awkward smile before immediately turning away. In doing so, he missed the hint of amusement that flashed through Ye Ying's eyes in response.
During the following half a month, their journey was remarkably smooth, and they didn't encounter any trouble at all.
Everyone was quite relieved by this peaceful spell, praying that the rest of their journey would be just as smooth and placid.
Several days later, the scenery around them transformed as a vast expanse of desert appeared before them, sending gusts of scorching wind sweeping toward their carriage.
A hint of a surprise appeared on the white-browed young man's face as he mused, "Could it be that we've already reached the Southern Skyline?"
"Indeed, this place is the Great Southern Desert, and it's the simplest path through which one can reach the territory of the Wood Tribe," Long Dong replied in a grave voice.
"I've heard many things about this place. The legends say that it's impossible to go around this desert; is that really true? There are often Wood Tribe and Shadow Tribe beings traveling through this desert; isn't it still a little too dangerous for us to go directly through it?" Xiao Hong asked with a frown on her face.
"Fairy Xiao, the environment here certainly isn't the best, but it's much safer than the other two alternative routes we can take. As for going around the desert, that would be next to impossible. On one side of the desert is the renowned Zenith Beast Mountain Ranges, which is teeming with countless high-grade ancient beasts. Even most of the Spatial Tempering cultivators who venture into those mountain ranges never return. On the other side is the even more treacherous Wyrm Abyss Canyon. There are over 100 vicious wyrms at or above the Spatial Tempering Stage lurking in there, including even several tens of Body Integration Stage Wyrm Monarchs. A few Deity Transformation cultivators like us would simply be offering ourselves up as food if we were to take either of those paths. As for skirting around even further to avoid those areas, that would lengthen our journey to an enormous degree, and it would most likely take us around a year or so to get to our destination. The war is imminent, so there's no way that Deep Heaven City would allow us to delay the completion of our mission for so long," Long Dong explained with a wry smile.
"I see. However, I've heard that this desert seems to be a trial ground for the two tribes," Ye Ying suddenly interjected.
"My seniors also cautioned me about this before my departure." The white-browed young man had also adopted a rather cautious stance.
"In that case, I don't think we should continue traveling on this flying carriage; we'd stick out like a sore thumb. Let's all conceal ourselves before continuing onward. Even if everything goes as smoothly as possible, it'd still take us around a month to pass through this desert," Long Dong suggested after a brief period of contemplation.
Xiao Hong contemplated the notion before exchanging a glance with the white-browed young man, following which she nodded, and agreed, "We'll do as you say."
"I have no objections, either; traveling on the flying carriage really will make us stand out far too much for comfort," Han Li said with a smile.
Ye Ying was the only one who expressed a neutral stance, willing to comply with the most popular course of action.
Thus, after a brief discussion, everyone emerged from the flying carriage before unleashing concealment techniques to obscure themselves. Long Dong stowed the flying carriage away, and everyone ventured carefully into the desert.
Not long after entering the desert, Han Li immediately sensed that this desert was unlikely any that he'd ever seen, in that the temperatures here were simply far too high.
Even while flying at low altitudes in the air, he could still feel the bursts of scorching heat emanating from the ground. He felt as if he were flying over a massive volcanic crater rather than a desert.
Han Li looked up at the seven scintillating suns in the sky above, then down at the ground below. He swiped a hand through the air, sending an ice spike hurtling downward.
Prior to even making contact with the ground, the ice spike had already completely melted and evaporated into nothingness.
Han Li heaved a faint sigh upon seeing this.
All of a sudden, white light flashed beside him, and Ye Ying appeared with a dainty smile on her face. "Fellow Daoist Han, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but the Great Southern Desert once consisted of a vast expanse of volcanic craters."
"Is that so? I didn't know that," Han Li replied in an indifferent voice.
"It was said that a heavenly phoenix, which possessed dual wind and earth-attribute powers, once battled a True Spirit level Fire Crocodile that inhabited the volcanoes down below. Their battle raged for over a month, and during that process, the phoenix used its abilities to conjure up countless sandstorms, burying all of the volcanoes down below and forming this desert," Ye Ying continued.
"I see. No wonder this desert is so peculiar. True Spirit level beings really are capable of unfathomable feats," Han Li murmured, seemingly in response to Ye Ying, but also seemingly to himself.
"Indeed. Human cultivators like us may be able to combat some of these True Spirit level beings once we reach the Grand Ascension Stage, but we're still no match for the truly powerful beings at the True Spirit level, such as true dragons and heavenly phoenixes. I wonder what it would be like for a human to attain True Spirit level power," Ye Ying chuckled before flying onward, leaving Han Li behind.
A hint of surprise appeared on Han Li's face as he looked on at her departing figure, but he quickly recomposed himself and focused on forging ahead in his journey.
Over 10 days later, Han Li and the others were still flying along at low altitudes. Even though they were all Deity Transformation cultivators, flying for so long under such scorching heat was making them rather exhausted.
"Let's find a place to rest after a further half a day of travel," Long Dong suddenly proposed.
"We do indeed need to find a place to rest and recover our magic power," Xiao Hong replied with a nod, and the weariness in her voice was quite apparent.
"Huh? What's that?" A low cry of surprise suddenly sounded.
The one who had spoken was none other than the white-browed young man.
Han Li reflexively cast his gaze toward the direction that the young man's attention was focused. However, he discovered that there was nothing there.
Han Li raised his eyebrows as he swept his immense spiritual sense toward that area, upon which a peculiar look appeared on his face.
At this point, everyone else had also scanned through the area with their spiritual sense, and all of them also adopted peculiar expressions.
"Looks like there's a small town there, which is inhabited by humans. I'm not seeing things, am I?" Han Li mused in a skeptical manner.
After releasing their spiritual sense, everyone discovered that there was a relatively large oasis situated up ahead several tens of kilometers away. Within that oasis was a small town, and it appeared that there were many humans and cultivators living there.
"This place is so secluded and it's so close to foreign races; how could there truly be humans living here? Something seems a little fishy here," Xiao Hong mused.
An indecisive look appeared on Long Dong's face, and he raised his eyebrows, but refrained from immediately offering a response.
"Let me send over an avatar to investigate," the white-browed young man offered.
He then laid a hand on the back of his head, and a silhouette flashed as a small falcon that was around a foot in size emerged. The falcon was entirely black in color, and it circled through the air before flying toward the small town in the distance.
The white-browed young man then closed his eyes to forge a connection with the small falcon with his spiritual sense in case any mishaps arose.
Xiao Hong and Long Dong exchanged a glance with one another, but they seemed to also be of the opinion that this was the best course of action, as evidenced by the fact that both of them refrained from stopping the white-browed young man in what he was doing.
Han Li continued to appraise the small town in the distance with befuddlement in his heart.
Ye Ying was also doing the same with an intrigued look on her face.
The small falcon flew extremely quickly, and it was back within five minutes.
When the falcon disappeared into the back of the white-browed young man's head again, the latter opened his eyes. "There's no mistaking it; there really are humans inhabiting that small town, and there are many high-grade cultivators among them. There are seven or eight Deity Transformation cultivators, but I didn't see any Spatial Tempering cultivators."
Everyone was even more perplexed upon hearing this.
"In any case, it would be best to continue in our journey and avoid any unnecessary trouble," Han Li said in an indifferent voice.
"I don't think that's a good idea. The existence of this small town is really peculiar; perhaps something happened recently in the desert. I think it would be best for us to inquire about the situation before continuing onward in case we inadvertently plunge headfirst into peril," Long Dong said with a shake of his head.