Chapter 461: Black Desert
Shortly after Han Li disappeared, a male cultivator slowly walked out from the side of the small mountain. He appeared to be about forty years old and possessed a sallow complexion. He was the cultivator who had treated Zenith Yin so fearfully at the entrance of Heavenvoid Hall.
At that moment, he was wearing an odd, dark green conical bamboo hat and had a white jade bowl in his grasp. His body concealed a chill that was completely isolated from the blazing heat surrounding him.
He climbed to the mountaintop and surveyed his surroundings with great vigilance as if he were looking for something. But after seeing that there was nothing, his expression only grew increasingly cautious.
He thought he had spotted a silhouette blur when he gazed at the mountain from afar. But after finding no traces of the person on the mountain, he became even more vigilant.
After coldly sweeping his gaze past his surroundings once more, he wordlessly inserted two of his fingers into the jade bowl and brushed it upward. A streak of white light then flew out from it and started revolving around his head.
"Execute!" The sallow-faced man softly shouted, forming an incantation gesture with one hand.
Peng. The white light trembled for a moment before suddenly bursting into specks as wondrous as starlight scattered from a goddess. The light then completely enveloped a forty meter radius.
The red land was enveloped in layers of frost upon touching the white light, but nothing abnormal had appeared within it.
A trace of doubt appeared on the man's face. After a moment of thought, he didn't seem to care anymore, believing that he had been mistaken. After putting the matter to the back of his head, he then looked at the black desert with a grave face.
"This place is truly strange." The man muttered to himself as he looked at the black desert with a strange gaze. He seemed somewhat hesitant to depart.
But after a short moment of consideration, he flung his sleeve and shot a streak of red light towards the ground. The light faded away to reveal a small red fox.
The man flicked his finger, sending a green medicine pill into the small beast's mouth. The small beast swallowed the pill and expressed great pleasure.
"Go!" The sallow-faced cultivator bluntly commanded the small beast, pointing towards the direction of the black desert.
The small beast immediately rushed down the hill at an extraordinary speed, turning into a red streak of light along the way.
After a short moment, the small fox-like beast had arrived a hundred meters deep into the black desert. It was still unscathed even after running around in a large circle.
Nothing strange had occurred. It seemed that apart from the color of the black desert, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
The sallow-faced man revealed an expression of surprise. This was clearly not what he had expected. He had prepared himself for the loss of his Red Fox Beast. As it was but a common grade one spirit beast, he would feel no heartache at all. It didn't have any notable abilities apart from its nimble movements and exceptional sense of smell.
He tensely frowned and rigidly stared at the small beast as it ran around the desert in circles before whistling towards it. It then ran over and flew back into his sleeve.
Afterwards, the man gazed at the black desert in silence with a wavering expression.
But with only a short moment of hesitation, he started to descend the hill and carefully walked towards the black desert.
Unknown to him, shortly after he walked down the small hill, Han Li's silhouette reappeared at the hilltop in a series of fluctuating blurs.
Although the sallow-faced man used a technique to search a wide area, Han Li was easily able to evade his attack and revealed no trace of himself by using both the nameless Qi restraining technique and the Shifting Smoke Steps. Although the man was a mid Core Formation cultivator, Han Li was very confident that a sudden strike of his nine Bamboo Cloudswarm Swords would instantly slay him, had he drawn closer.
Han Li had been quite hesitant about whether or not he should kill him. While his two treasures were quite valuable, Han Li chose to have him act as a forward scout.
But when the sallow-faced man had the small beast explore the black desert to no results, Han Li completely renounced his plan of attacking him. As the greatest dangers were unknown, it'd be better to let him guide the way. Han Li didn't believe that the black desert was completely devoid of danger.
With the White Rhino Emblem and Glacial Ice Pearl leaving him unfettered by the heat, he didn't feel an urgent need to seize those fire resistance treasures.
The sallow-faced man didn't perceive Han Li was behind him in the slightest and continued onward into the strange black desert.
Three meters, six meters…
The man's expression grew increasingly tense as he tread deeper into the black desert. He had already activated his bamboo hat and enveloped his body in a layer of dense green light.
After the man walked through the desert for about a kilometer without problem, his expression slightly relaxed and he felt great relief. It is commonly said that once one headed this deeply into an area, any dangers it possessed should've already appeared.
Han Li gazed at the man's silhouette from a distance away with a strange expression. Could it be that he had guessed incorrectly? The black desert was merely frightening and didn't actually possess any dangers at all? Had he known this was the case, he definitely would've ambushed and robbed the man of his two treasures.
Han Li felt regret! But soon, a startling and abrupt change occurred in the distance.
The black sand around the the sallow-faced cultivator suddenly floated up and surrounded him without a sound. The sand then released a dim black light that appeared rather strange.
As the man was rich with experience, he instantly reacted by raising his jade bowl towards the sky. A vast white light scattered from the bowl, adding another layer of defense upon his green barrier.
At that moment, the black sand turned into countless winged black insects and charged at the shocked man from every direction.
The man bellowed. With a flourish of white light, he was then surrounded with palm sized shields of ice. They then hurriedly rotated to form a white hurricane around him.
He had now clearly made out the true appearance of the insects, winged ants. Their numbers were astonishing with no less than ten thousand insects surrounding him.
The sallow-faced cultivator's mind quickly churned, trying his utmost to recall the specific breed and weakness of these winged ants. But before he could finish thinking, the black swarm of ants knocked against his ice shield hurricane.
Clangs rang out in quick succession as the shields repelled the winged ants several meters back. When the man saw this, he couldn't help but feel slight relief.
But a short moment later, his heart froze. After knocking the black winged ants tumbling away several times, they charged forwards once more without the slightest injury.
He was greatly alarmed! Without taking further thought, he raised his hand and released a grey flying knife. It transformed into a ten meter long streak of light and fiercely chopped towards the winged ant swarm.
Just as the flying knife left the hurricane, the countless ants let out a drone and surrounded it. The fierce attack of the grey light didn't harm the flying insects in the slightest. Instead, they swarmed all over the flying knife in an instant and held it still.
The sallow-faced man turned pale from fright and tried to recall his magic treasure. However, he was too slow. The magic treasure's grey light flashed several times before being submerged in the swarm of black insects.
A blood curling shriek soon followed. The man's face was bloodless. The destruction of his magic treasure had greatly injured his Origin Qi.
Without any further hesitation, he hastily controlled the white hurricane to follow him as he rushed forward. Leaving the desert was now his only chance at life.
At that moment, the black winged ants finished devouring the remnants of the flying knife and didn't move to chase after him. Its next action was cause for disbelief. It gathered together in an instant and flashed with a strange light before turning into a ten-meter-long black lance. Then with a sharp whistle, the lance pierced through the air as if it had been shot from a crossbow.
The sallow-faced man panicked at the sight and hastily exerted the entirety of his magic power to propel the hurricane with further intensity.
The lance of black light struck the white hurricane and pierced through it in an instant.
The spearhead and shaft were completely covered in scarlet blood.
Chapter 462: Ironfire Ants
The hurricane came to an abrupt stop, revealing the sallow-faced old man.
His body listlessly stood in place with the ice shields and green barrier completely destroyed. A fist sized hole appeared where his heart should've been. The hole's edges were pitch black as if it had been caused from incineration.
The man lowered his head to look at his chest and involuntarily touched it with his hand. He wore an expression of astonishment as if he couldn't believe what he saw.
At the moment, the black lance hummed and transformed back into a dense swarm of flying ants. They madly rushed towards the man without restraint, throwing him down and covering his entire body in an instant. Several miserable screams immediately followed before being met with silence.
A short moment later, the winged ants suddenly floated in the air and dropped back down to their original location, blending into the grains of sand. As for where the old man had fallen, there was no trace of him that remained.
Han Li saw this in its entirety from the hilltop. He wore a strange expression from the shock he felt.
"Those are Ironfire Ants! They must be. I didn't think I'd see exotic insects at this location." Han Li muttered to himself.
When Han Li initially saw the winged ants, he hadn't recognized what they were. Han Li only managed to identify them after he saw them fearlessly receive the attack from the sallow-faced cultivator's magic treasure and then condense into a lance. There were many winged ant spirit insect species in the cultivation world, and they all appeared nearly the same. Cultivators that didn't specialize in insect control techniques would find it difficult to differentiate them.
As a matter of fact, different species of winged ants greatly differed in their degrees of power and ferocity. The more fearsome winged ants would cause even Core Formation cultivators to nervously recoil at the sight of them.
As for the Ironfire Ants, they were ranked thirty seventh on the ranking of exotic insects and were one of the most fearsome winged ant species. Apart from the rank nine Heavencrystal Ants from legend, these ants were possibly the most formidable of their kind. Not only were these winged ants nearly invulnerable to physical attacks, even a majority of magic techniques also had little effect on them. Apart from fire and water attribute magic techniques of mid grade or higher as well as a few specific magic techniques, they were nearly indestructible, possessing abnormal defensive abilities nearly equivalent to that of the Gold Devouring Beetles. In fact, they were even superior to the Gold Devouring Beetles in resisting the attacks of magic treasures.
While they didn't possess the Gold Devouring Beetle's bizarre ability to consume spiritual power, the Ironfire Ants possessed the fearsome abilities to spout black flames and perform swarm transformations.
A colony of Ironfire Ants could transform into a fire attribute magic treasure at will. Its fearsome attack could penetrate through common defensive magic treasures and magic techniques without even the slightest resistance. As a result, the sallow-faced man's miserable death couldn't be considered surprising.
Although the Ironfire Ants weren't considered extinct like the Gold Devouring Beetles, they were seldom seen in the cultivation world. And even if they were seen, the swarm would only consist of a thousand at most.
This was due to the harsh living environment of the Ironfire Ants. Not only did they require a scorching environment to survive, but they also had to stay near large quantities of metal ore. Upon leaving this environment, the Ironfire Ants would quickly grow weakened. It wouldn't take long before their abilities completely disappeared and they reverted into ordinary winged ants.
If it were just that, there would still be many insect controlling cultivators that would desire to use them, even to the point of creating or finding an appropriate environment to breed them in. However, these winged ants possessed a fatal flaw.
Regardless of whether the Ironfire Ants were wild or domesticated, they were incapable of recognizing a master. When someone wished to conduct a master recognition ceremony on the winged ants, each of the ants would self implode without exception, crushing the dreams of many cultivators.
As for the specific cause of this, there was no definite answer. There were those that said the nature of the winged ants was unyielding and didn't allow them to be controlled. There were others that said it had to do with the Ironfire Ant's constitution, while others…
Naturally, there were very few people that knew about the Ironfire Ants in either the Heavenly South Region or the Scattered Star Seas. They had been rarely seen in the last thousand years and their colonies were growing increasingly smaller. They were considered to be nearly extinct.
At that moment, Han Li was looking at the black desert while lost in thought.
It seemed that the black desert was a natural trap for the Ironfire Ants. Although Han Li didn't know how many colonies the desert contained, judging from how the sallow-faced cultivator encountered one after walking just one kilometer, they couldn't be few in number. It was quite possible that colonies of Ironfire ants numbering in the hundreds of thousands existed in the desert as well.
With that thought, Han Li felt a chill run down his back. He then swept his spiritual sense through his storage pouch, counting over a dozen mid grade ice and fire attribute talismans. They should be enough to deal with three Ironfire Ant colonies similarly sized to what he had seen before. However, Han Li would have to be delusional to believe that these talismans were enough to carry him through the desert!
When Han Li set his sights on the several spirit beast pouches of Gold Devouring Beetles, his heart stirred. He pondered whether or not the Gold Devouring Beetles would be exceptionally effective in dealing with the Ironfire Ants.
After all, the Gold Devouring Beetles were higher ranked than the Ironfire Ants, and from the appearance of their shell, they haven't yet evolved to the rumored "Black Gold" stage. They should be half matured like his Gold Devouring Beetles. As such, it would be acceptable for him to test them against one another.
Barely able to suppress his increasing excitement, Han Li pondered for a moment more before deciding that there was no problem in testing his Gold Devouring Beetles against the Ironfire Ants he had just seen. Even if his Gold Devouring Beetles weren't able to deal with them, he still had a few mid grade talismans he could use to defend himself and safely withdraw from the desert.
Han Li's expression grew cold as he rushed down the hilltop, heading straight into the black desert.
After a short moment, Han Li had arrived at the edge of the desert. He gazed at the black sand beneath him and narrowed his eyes. He then grabbed a fistful of sand and brought it close to his eye.
Han Li soon snorted. With a sudden flash of yellow light from his hand, he tightly closed his grip and squeezed. As a result, most of the sand remained uncrushed.
Han Li smirked and slowly muttered to himself, "This isn't black sand. It's actually grains of iron ore."
"But to spread such a dense amount of ore across such a large desert… The master of Heavenvoid Hall was truly an extraordinary person."
After flinging away the sand in his hand, he stood up and frowned. He then lightly patted the White Rhino Emblem at his waist, enveloping him in a layer of white light.
Because he was earlier evading the sallow-faced cultivator, he was forced to disable it and endure the heat by using his cultivation alone. But now that he was so close to the desert, the overwhelming heat had caused him to be temporarily light-headed. Alarmed, Han Li quickly reactivated the White Rhino Pendant. This was not the time to be concerned with saving magic power.
Without any further hesitation, Han Li looked at the area containing the colony of Ironfire ants and carefully walked over.
The black desert was extremely painful to walk on. The sand was scorching hot and the air itself felt as if it were on fire. Even with the White Rhino Emblem and the Fire Repelling Robes, Han Li still felt suffocated. It felt even hotter than the small path of lava he went through the day before.
After walking over a hundred meters, Han Li sighed and patted his storage pouch, taking out a soft pearl in his hand. Without any delay, he poured a bit of spiritual power into it. Cold air immediately released from the pearl in a flash of white light.
Han Li suddenly felt himself surrounded by a chill. With roused spirits, Han Li quickened his pace.
As the simultaneous use of both the White Rhino Emblem and the Glacial Ice Pearl greatly increased his magic power consumption, he needed to pass through the desert as quickly as he could.
When Han Li was about two hundred meters away from the location of the Ironfire Ants, he stopped and carefully examined where they would be.
A short moment later, Han Li shook his head.
The concealed Ironfire Ants were extremely difficult to differentiate from the black sand. It was even difficult to see them with his spiritual sense. The ant colony's spiritual Qi fluctuations were extremely faint, presumably because they were innately skilled at restraining their Qi.
It seemed that using his spiritual sense to spot the winged ants from a distance wouldn't do. He'd have to try using his Gold Devouring Beetles.