The two men were Han Li and Elder Lu who had traveled from the State of Xi. As for the beautiful female cultivator, she was Han Li's concubine, Mu Peiling.
The silver-haired old man had stayed behind to keep watch over the Drifting Cloud Sect, preventing any sneaks from stirring up trouble while they were away. According to what the old man said, he had already participated in this grand meeting about eight times and had no materials that he currently required. Naturally, he wanted to give the opportunity to his younger Junior Martial Brothers instead.
As for Mu Peiling, she had reached a cultivation bottleneck and encountered Han Li when she left seclusion. When she heard that he was heading to the largest trade meet in the Heavenly South, her heart stirred and she asked to come alongside him to broaden her horizons. After all, if she were incapable of reaching Core Formation, this may be the only chance she had to participate in this trade meet.
Since he wasn't unkind by nature and didn't feel this trade meet to be particularly dangerous, he agreed. After all, having a beautiful companion along on a long trip was a delightful matter.
Naturally, the three sects of the Dreamcloud Mountains had their own parties of cultivators that set off towards the trade meet, but Han Li was unwilling to travel together with those juniors and had left for the State of Yu ahead of them.
By travelling along the route that best avoided the countries of the Righteous and Devil Dao, the three were able to arrive within the borders of the Nine Nations Union without problem.
At that moment, Han Li was absentmindedly examining his nearby surroundings. There were cultivators that occasionally passed by, but when their spiritual sense swept past the middle-aged man surnamed Lu and then Han Li, their expressions displayed shock and they immediately veered off, fearing that they would somehow provoke them.
Han Li and Elder Lu were travelling with their cultivation unconcealed. Any cultivator who saw two Nascent Soul cultivators travelling together would be filled with fear and immediately take another route.
At the beginning, Mu Peiling was unaccustomed to this, but it soon became a common sight.
As the party continued to fly through the skies, Elder Lu turned to Han Li and amiably said, "The trade meet is only held only once every hundred years. Previously these trade meets were alternated among the Righteous and Devilish Dao between the States of Tian Luo and Feng Dou. At the time, the Heavenly Dao Alliance still hadn't existed and the Nine Nations Union was fully suppressed by the Moulan Spell Warriors. As such, this astonishingly profitable gathering was monopolized by the two sides. But after the Righteous and Devilish Dao expanded, neither party felt at ease at having the other party host the trade meeting. As such, the last trade meet was held in the Nine Nations Union without any contest, a loss to both sides that was a great cause for grief.
With slight enthusiasm, Han Li said, "Senior Martial Brother Lu, this is quite convenient for the Nine Nations Union, but I've heard quite a few interesting things about Soaring Heavens City. I heard that it is the only city in the entirety of the Heavenly South that is made up of only cultivators. I heard that in the past, when the armies of Moulan Spell Warriors made their way into the State of Yu, Soaring Heavens City was where the cultivators of the newly formed Nine Nations Union defeated their armies with the assistance of the Greater Light Extinguishing Formation. The battle was said to be truly desperate, resulting in many Nascent Soul cultivators perishing."
"Hehe! Relax Junior Martial Brother Han. This Soaring Heavens City definitely won't disappoint you." The Elder Lu chuckled and then probingly asked, "However, I've got the feeling that there is something a bit different about you after you spent some time in seclusion, and it isn't an increase in your cultivation. It seems Junior Martial Brother has cultivated some sort of secret technique. I can't see any other reason for this strange reason."
"I had truly cultivated a few techniques, but I've got quite a ways to go before I reach greater mastery of them. But I've heard from other disciples that Senior Martial Brother Lu's Thousand Wave Arts is a famed top grade cultivation art. This junior brother wishes he will soon be able to see it." with a slight smile, Han Li easily turned the subject back to the middle-aged man.
Elder Lu shook his head and wryly smiled, "Junior Martial Brother shouldn't listen to the drivel that those disciples spout. My Thousand Waves art is simply an ordinary water attribute cultivation technique. While it is rather easy to defeat Core Formation cultivators with it, I haven't encountered much success with it when used against cultivators of a similar grade. Fortunately, this cultivation art possesses two divine abilities that specialize in survival. Even when I'm defeated, I am able to preserve my life."
Han Li took his words to be mostly true. He recalled that in their last battle with the Righteous and Devil Dao, Elder Lu was able to return to the Dreamcloud Mountains unharmed. Instead, the silver-haired old man with slightly greater cultivation had suffered heavy injuries before being able to escape. It seems his survival ability was indeed impressive.
Han Li's heart stirred and he thought to say something else when his expression suddenly changed and he turned his head to the side.
Close at Han Li's side, Mu Peiling curiously asked, "Sir, what's happening over there?" Since she became Han Lil's concubine, her icy appearance had been replaced with bright eyes and a captivating charm.
Han Li frowned for a moment before calmly saying, "There seems to be a squad of cultivators with a Nascent Soul cultivator heading over, that seems to have discovered us."
When the middle-aged man followed Han Li's gaze, he wore an expression of astonishment and unconsciously thought better of Han Li. "Yi! That seems to be the case. I didn't expect Junior Martial Brother's spiritual sense to be so strong. You've detected it a moment earlier than me! I didn't expect for Junior Martial Brother to be so careful as to release his spiritual sense while so near Soaring Heavens City!"
Han Li silently smiled in response.
In truth, given his powerful spiritual sense, it hadn't taken him any effort to sense them. However, the Nascent Soul cultivator approaching them from afar did seem to possess powerful spiritual sense as well.
Han Li and Elder Lu were curious about who was approaching them and unconsciously slowed down.
A short moment later, a drum beat could be heard from the distance and golden light shined from the horizon. A group of golden clothed and armored cultivators with the appearance of heavenly warriors were closely escorting a carriage of dazzling and magnificent design. There were also white cranes flying in front of it followed by palace maids carrying cauldrons. It appeared as if a monarch was making a tour in an imposing manner.
Mu Peiling was dumbfounded at the sight and her jaw dropped in astonishment.
Han Li was also amazed by the sight, but he soon regained his calm. He was aware that cultivators were odd and fantastical to every description, particularly cultivators at the Nascent Soul stage. Perhaps due to the influence of their cultivations arts or otherwise, their temperaments become strange and separated from reason. Since this was a common affair, he was surprised for only a moment.
But when the middle-aged man saw this, he felt his blood turn cold and he harshly whispered, "Duke Nanlong! Why is this old eccentric also participating in the trade meet? Junior Martial Brother Han, do not speak carelessly. His abilities are mighty and his temperament is strange. Since I've met him in the past, let me deal with him."
With those hasty words, the middle-aged man called for Han Li to stop alongside him. He wore a serious expression as he respectfully waited for the group of cultivators to approach.
Han Li's expression stirred from seeing the middle-aged man appear so nervous. He complied with his warnings and Mu Peiling tactfully kept silent as well.
A short moment later, the golden-armored cultivator soldiers and the carriage drew closer. Upon closer look, Han Li felt his heart tremble.
The halberd wielding soldier cultivators weren't much to behold. While their appearances were formidable and lofty, their cultivations were only at Foundation Establishment stage. Rather, what made Han Li's heart tremble were the two spirit beasts pulling the carriage.
From the azure scale armor and the bizarre horn on its head, one of the beasts appeared to be a mythical Qilin. The other beast had fluttering wings of fire with long, golden feathers. It was actually a fire phoenix.
As Han Li grew fearful of the two spirit beasts, the carriage drew closer to them.
Before the carriage approached, Elder Lu saluted in its direction and spoke with a clear voice, "Is that Marquis Nanlong? I am the Drifting Cloud Sect's Lu Luo. It has been three hundred years since I've last seen you in the company of my master, Monk Mu Li. It is truly my fortune to meet you again!"
Although Elder Lu's words were neutral in tone, Han Li could clearly hear a trace of fear in his voice and noted that he seemed to refer to himself as a Junior.
The huge carriage was obscured from sight by a barrier of golden mist. However, when Elder Lu called out to the carriage in greeting, the drumbeats came to a sudden stop.
The group of cultivators stopped about a hundred meters away from Han Li and company as silence descended.
Han Li's eyes narrowed upon seeing this, but his expression soon returned to normal.
A lazy tone came from within the golden light, "Oh! So you're Mu Li's pedantic, scholarly disciple! At the time, you seemed to only be a Core Formation cultivator. I didn't think in a mere three hundred years, you've also reached Nascent Soul stage. I've heard your master had passed away in meditation during that time. It is truly a pity. However, the Fellow Daoist at your side seems quite unfamiliar."