A few days passed…
Song Li and Han Mu had already left the Void Illusion Mountain Range and were traveling directly towards Shatter City at full speed.
Between the Void Illusion Mountain Range and Shatter City lay boundless hills and a wasteland. It would take a normal early Heaven stage cultivator two to three months to cross such a vast area and return to Shatter City.
It would take longer if they ran into Hunters and battled with them.
According to Song Li and Han Mu's assessment, even though Nie Tian's actual strength was far beyond a normal early Heaven stage cultivator's, it was still very unlikely for him to make it back to Shatter City within a short time.
After all, numerous Fang members were waiting for him on his way back to Shatter City. He would be forced to constantly change his direction and take detours to avoid them.
Another day passed…
Song Li and Han Mu found three dead Fang members at the foot of a short hill.
The three of them were all at the middle Heaven stage and skilled in attacking enemies together.
Even still, they had apparently died at Nie Tian's hands.
On the ground, next to their highly corrupted corpses, which were already highly corroded due to the concentrated toxins, was a message written in blood: Dumb woman, my real name is Hua Tian!
Under the glaring sun, the dried-up blood writing was a pain to Song Li's eyes.
"Hua Tian!" Song Li suddenly let out an ear-piercing scream, her curvaceous body trembling with anger and her wide eyes sprouting flames of rage.
Han Mu, however, didn't utter a word. He stared down at the sentence written in blood, face looking sullen.
Everyone knew that Li Langfeng had been looking everywhere in the Void Illusion Mountain Range for a young man named Hua Tian. It was no news to the Fang.
Li Langfeng had roamed about in the Void Illusion Mountain Range for years. Even the Fang always avoided conflict with him.
The fact that a young man had managed to escape from this wild poison master, who treated others' lives as dirt, had long since attracted the Fang's attention. Even more so, Li Langfeng hadn't been able to find him after searching for weeks.
However, Han Mu had never connected Hua Tian with the Li Tian they were looking for.
Until this moment…
Looking at the bloody words on the ground, he finally realized that the man they were looking for was none other than the Hua Tian Li Langfeng was so eager to kill.
After a moment of hesitation, he said, "Miss, I'm afraid this Hua Tian person isn't just an ordinary young man. According to the information we've gathered, he's very close to Pei Qiqi. Furthermore, he's the Blood Skull guest elder with the lowest cultivation base, which means someone lofty in the Blood Skull must attach great importance to him.
"Cai Lan of the Blood Skull and Pei Qiqi's master are both influential figures in the Realm of Split Void.
"If you anger them by killing this Hua Tian person, I fear that your major plan in the Realm of Split Void will be affected."
"So what are you saying?" Song Li asked with a cold tone.
Han Mu smiled embarrassedly and asked, "I can't presume to know what Hua Tian did to offend you. But if it's not so serious that he has to die for it, perhaps we can let it go this time. After all, some people must be secretly watching every move you've made ever since you came to the Realm of Split Void. I just think it's not worth it to jeopardize your major plan just because of a single person."
"Let it go?!" With a cold expression, Song Li slapped Han Mu vigorously on the face and said with a fierce tone, "That bastard has to die to atone for what he has done! I'd rather sacrifice my plan to kill him! I know that if I kill him, I'll be making enemies of Pei Qiqi's master and Cai Lan. So what?! Worst comes to worst, we'll leave the Realm of Split Void!"
Surprisingly, Han Mu, who had been slapped on the face, didn't seemed angered at all. He secretly observed and, after realizing that Song Li had made up her mind, no longer attempted to persuade her.
"I see! I'll do everything within my power to catch him on his way back to Shatter City!" An intense killing aura burst forth from within Han Mu's body.
"I won't go back before Hua Tian is dead, not even if my plan doesn't work out!" Song Li said loudly, her voice filled with hatred.
A few days passed…
During this period, Song Li informed all her Fang members via Sound Stones to ignore other explorers who were on their way back to Shatter City and focus solely on searching for Nie Tian.
Not only that, she even communicated with other Hunter organizations for the first time, asking them to help her track down Nie Tian.
There were quite a few Hunter organizations that roamed the area between the Void Illusion Mountain Range and Shatter City. However, none of them were nearly as powerful as the Fang.
All their leaders feared and revered the Fang and Song Li a great deal, fearing that the Fang might take them out some day.
When they learned that Song Li wanted their help searching for a young man name Hua Tian, they were all very thrilled.
They even spent more time and effort than the Fang members; they mobilized every single member to cooperate with the Fang in search of Nie Tian, hoping they could please Song Li by doing so.
Just like that, every Hunter organization in the hills and wasteland spread out looking for Nie Tian.
Furthermore, numerous scrolls that carried the detailed portrait of Nie Tian's face were soon distributed to every Hunter organization. Countless bandits and outlaws now roamed about holding them.
With the massive search going on, all the exploration teams that returned from the Void Illusion Mountain Range were relieved from the potential ambushes.
They also heard that all the Hunter organizations were searching for a young man named Hua Tian on their way back to Shatter City.
Soon, Hua Tian became a famous name among both Hunters and explorers.
However, Nie Tian, who had been marked as a primary target by all the Hunter organizations, traveled among the hills and wastelands like an invisible ghost.
Not a single Hunter was able to locate and capture him.
On the contrary, the corpses of many early and middle Heaven stage Hunters were discovered in the wilderness, all of whom had died miserable deaths.
Meanwhile, the name "Hua Tian" was always written in blood on the ground next to them, holding the Fang and all those who dared to participate in the search in awe.
In the shadow of a hill.
A Greater Heaven stage Qi warrior was looking down at a line of bloody characters on the ground. His face was grim, and bulging veins could be seen on his forehead.
He was the leader of the Blood Hand, a Hunter organization. Lying next to those bloody characters were four of his subordinates.
"All those who join the Fang's operation shall die. - Hua Tian" Another Greater Heaven stage Blood Hand expert read the words and said with a frown, "Big Brother, this is already the second group of men we've lost. We've lost seven brothers now, but there's still not a single word on that bastard's whereabouts. He's like a ghost that roams this boundless wasteland and launches sneak attacks on our brothers and other searching Hunters.
"We're not the only ones. Other organizations have also suffered great losses.
"It doesn't seem right to send our brothers on suicide missions just to please that woman from the Fang."
With a very grim expression, the Blood Hand's leader said, "You don't think I know that?! Sure, this Hua Tian person is a pain in the neck, but that woman from the Fang is much worse! Hua Tian is only one person, but the Fang is filled with Greater Heaven stage villains.
"Considering their strength, they could easily wipe out all the other Hunter organizations, including us!
"This is exactly why we've been living in fear over the past two years.
"Now that we finally have an opportunity to please that woman and thus establish a close relationship with the Fang, how can we let it go?
"Also, if we don't go all-out to help them, once that woman finds out, she'll definitely pay us back."
The Blood Hand's leader sighed repeatedly with a helpless expression on his face.
"So do we keep searching?"
"Yeah, there's no other choice!"
Several kilometers from where they were standing.
Shining brightly, five starsparks formed a mysterious formation before they flew towards a late Heaven stage Hunter.
The moment the Hunter was hit, his whole body exploded.
Nie Tian, however, stood unwavering with a cold expression on his face, his robust, mountain-like body covered in fine wounds.
Three middle Heaven stage Hunters were lying at his feet. They all seemed to have been drowned and killed by the toxic bright spots from Nie Tian's spiritual energy balls.
"The ninth group!" The murderous intent in Nie Tian's eyes was so intense that he could almost kill people with it, and his entire body was wreathed in a strong bloody aura.
During the past few days, he had killed every Hunter he had encountered as long as they didn't have Greater Heaven stage experts on their search teams, regardless of whether they were with the Fang or other Hunter organizations.
He was holding a large cloth bag full of bracelets of holding, which made clanking sounds as he walked.
He bent down and grabbed the three bracelets of holding from the three corpses. Then, he sent a wisp of his psychic power into each of them. After a brief scan, he didn't find anything worth noting, so he tossed them into his large cloth bag.
Afterwards, he stepped towards the mangled body of his most recent victim and picked up his bracelet of holding.
After a brief examination of it, excitement appeared on Nie Tian's face.
He found a substantial amount of stones that had spots of starlight on them within that bracelet of holding.
The star power within those stones would be very helpful for him to condense stardew.
He had been looking for these kinds of stones for a long time. Never had he imagined that this late Heaven stage Hunter would have so many of them.
All the oddly-shaped stones were placed in a corner within the man's bracelet of holding, which meant that he hadn't attached much importance to them.
After a brief count, Nie Tian found that there were more than a hundred of them, which would be enough to satisfy his need for star power for a long time.
"This is awesome!"
With a thrilled expression on his face, Nie Tian transferred all of the stones into his own bracelet of holding before tossing the man's bracelet of holding into his large cloth bag.
"This Hunter is from an organization named Scorpion. Since he had a large number of those kinds of stones with him, does it mean that other members of the Scorpion may also have some?" With this thought in mind, he made this Hunter organization his new target.
Over the next few days, he didn't travel straight towards Shatter City. Instead, he roamed about in the Scorpion's territory and killed another two of their search teams
He obtained about two hundred more stones that contained star power from the Scorpion members he killed.
"When you're lucky, everything goes your way! The stones I've obtained from these people will last me for quite some time. Now I can go ahead and study the Starshift whenever I want!"
Btw, it’s Lichun today. Actually, in my part of China, we don’t celebrate it much.
Here’s something you might want to know about it.
The traditional East Asian lunisolar calendars divide a year into 24 solar terms. Lichun refers in particular to the day when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 315°.
Lichun traditionally signifies the beginning of spring in East Asian cultures. Chinese New Year is celebrated around this time. Farmers often celebrate the beginning of Lichun with special village events, worship and offerings to the gods and ceremonies for a blissful and prosperous new year. In China, people eat chūnbǐng (春餅) on this day.
In the lunisolar calendar, New Year’s Day might be before or after Lichun. A year without Lichun is called 無春年 (no spring year). 無春年 is also known as 寡婦年 (widow year) in northern China or 盲年 (blind year) in southern China. Marriage is believed to be unlucky in a year without Lichun.
In the Republic of China, Lichun has been Farmer’s Day since 1941.
In Singapore, there is a practice of depositing money into bank accounts on Lichun which many believe will bring them good fortune.
The Scorpion was only a second-class Hunter organization whose leader was a middle Greater Heaven stage Qi warrior.
Aside from their leader, they had two other senior members at the Greater Heaven stage, but that was it.
All the rest of their members were at the Heaven stage or even lower.
As weak as they were, they had multiple members hunted down and killed by Nie Tian, which made them even weaker.
Seeing that their own search teams were being wiped out by Nie Tian one after another, their leader had to seek help from the Fang.
Soon after he informed Song Li of their situation, Song Li and Han Mu arrived at the Scorpion's territory.
Without any delay, they instructed the few powerful members they had brought with them to spread out and search for Nie Tian.
However, Nie Tian had long since sensed the unfavorable situation and left that area.
Just as Song Li arranged for her subordinates to conduct a thorough search of the Scorpion's territory, another Hunter organization, the Blood Hand, sent in a message, saying that they had a few members killed by Nie Tian.
After hearing the message, Song Li and Han Mu immediately realized that Nie Tian had already left the Scorpion's territory.
Then, the two of them hastened their way to the Blood Hand's territory.
However, just as they were searching for Nie Tian with the Blood Hand's help, another Hunter organization sent in a message, informing them that Nie Tian had appeared in their territory.
Just like that, Song Li and Han Mu were forced to move from place to place.
After moving a few times, they grew sick of following the information they received from other Hunter organizations, so they decided to plant their members in fixed locations and wait for Nie Tian to come to them.
However, Nie Tian's seven Heaven Eyes could discover them long before they discovered him, and he was thus able to steer clear of the locations where they were deployed.
After a long, fruitless wait, Song Li and Han Mu both looked somewhat exhausted as they stood atop a high hill.
After pondering in silence for a long time, Han Mu finally couldn't help but say, "Miss, it seems as if that Hua Tian person is able to sense it every time we make a move. It's as if he has deployed informants around us. Not once has he fought our Greater Heaven stage experts or the most powerful experts from the other Hunter organizations.
"Every time he has struck, he has targeted relatively weak search teams that he could easily take.
"Furthermore, it seems he never makes mistakes or puts himself in danger. No matter how hard we try, we can never catch up to him. He's always one step ahead of us."
Gnashing her teeth, Song Li frowned and said, "I have the same feeling."
With the help of his Heaven Eyes, Nie Tian moved and struck like a shadow. Every time he showed up, he would rapidly finish off his enemies and then vanish again.
All the various traps and ambushes they set up to catch Nie Tian turned out to be useless.
As the Hunter organizations sustained more and more casualties, weaker organizations like the Scorpion gradually lost their spirit.
Originally, they had all assumed that it would be fairly easy to find and capture an early Heaven stage young man, so they all considered this search operation as a perfect chance to play up to Song Li.
Every Hunter organization wanted their members to discover and capture Nie Tian.
However, as time went by, they realized that it was actually a bitter task.
Even though Nie Tian's cultivation base wasn't high, every time he struck, he took out multiple Hunters, and all of them possessed cultivation bases higher than his.
Later, when they learned that even a few late Heaven stage Hunters had died at Nie Tian's hands, many Hunter organizations grew anxious.
As much as they wanted to back out, they didn't. They continued to search for Nie Tian, but they only marched in large teams, and made sure they had powerful experts on each team.
Each team had to have either a Greater Heaven stage expert or a handful of late Heaven stage experts.
By doing that, they significantly sacrificed the coverage and efficiency of their search, making their efforts perfunctory.
The Fang soon realized that they were merely muddling through their work, but they didn't do anything, because even they had adopted the same strategy after losing a large number of their own members.
Eyebrows knit together, Han Mu said in a husky voice, "I'm guessing that Hua Tian probably has a special spiritual tool at his disposal, which he can use to detect life auras in his surroundings. This is the only explanation for how he has been able to steer clear of our powerful experts every time, and only attack targets he can take."
Since Nie Tian's cultivation base was rather low, they never imagined that he was actually able to obtain a thorough understanding of everything happening around him by relying on his soul power.
That was why Han Mu had attributed Nie Tian's strangeness to a special spiritual tool.
"That's probably the case." Song Li shared his take on this matter. "I seems that we need to find a way to disturb that spiritual tool of his, therefore preventing him from detecting life fluctuations in his surroundings. Only in that way will we have a chance to catch him."
"A name just came to my mind, Miss," Han Mu said softly.
Song Li glanced at him before her eyes began glittering. She nodded and said, "Okay, you'd better go meet him in person. Grant him whatever he asks as long as it's within our power."
Han Mu seemed slightly hesitant as he said, "That man lives by himself out of Shatter City, and he's got a strange temper. He doesn't fear us at all. He's even clashed with our members more than once. I'm afraid it won't be easy to persuade him to help us."
Song Li's bright eyes circled around as she said, "As far as I understand it, he holds deep grudges against the Blood Skull. Tell him Hua Tian is the Blood Skull's youngest guest elder, and he's sworn friends with Cai Yuan. As powerful as he is, he'll definitely become a important member of the Blood Skull someday. It's only a matter of time.
"Given a few years, Hua Tian will surely grow into a formidable figure. This might pique his desire to exterminate Hua Tian before he matures.
"Then, you'll throw in certain rewards for his effort. It will probably suffice."
Han Mu's eyes lit up as he replied, "Okay, I'll do my best."
"Yeah, and remember to treat him with respect. No one knows who he is or what he has done. He's probably not ordinary."
Deep into the night, under the starlit sky…
Nie Tian was sitting on a rocky slope and looking into the heavens silently.
This was the place where hilly land met the wasteland. From here forward, he would have to travel on a vast plain, where there would be no hills to block his pursuers' line of sight.
During the past few days, Nie Tian hadn't found an opportunity to make a move on any Hunter teams.
He had discovered via his Heaven Eyes that all the search teams he encountered had been equipped with powerful experts.
Therefore, he couldn't kill more Hunters to shock and awe his pursuers.
However, the good thing was the Hunters couldn't form a blockade around him now that they were traveling in large groups.
With a thought, he sent a wisp of his psychic power into his bracelet of holding, where about 300 oddly-shaped stones that contained star power were piled up at the most conspicuous location.
In the next moment, one of them whizzed out.
Holding the stone in his hand, Nie Tian looked up into the starry sky as he channelled the power from the stone into his vortex of star power, where he used it to condense stardew.
Although he had tried to pry the source of those stones from the Scorpion members he had killed, they had told him that they had only snatched them from others.
However, one thing the Scorpion members had been certain of was that those stones had been acquired from somewhere in the Void Illusion Mountain Range.
During the past few days, Nie Tian had been cultivating with those stones day and night. As he did, the stardew at the bottom of his vortex of star power grew richer and richer.
When he sensed that the lake of stardew was full, he went ahead and expanded his vortex of star power with the star power he had acquired from the stones.
In his senses, the spiritual sea in his dantian was like a big ocean.
The vortexes of flame power, wood power, and star power were like three continents, inside of which there were three lakes, respectively filled with flame essence, wood essence, and stardew.
Every time he made a breakthrough, his spiritual sea, as well as the three vortexes within it and the three energy lakes within them, would be ready for a new round of expansion.
However, he could only slowly stretch the boundaries of those energy lakes after filling them to the brim.
When the lakes were expanded to the limit, it would mean that he would have to wait for his next breakthrough to further their expansion.
What he was doing now was using the strange stones to expand his lake of stardew to the limit.
As he did that, he also sent a wisp of his psychic awareness into the fragmentary star mark on his chest to learn the profound mysteries of the Stardew magic. In that way, he would soon have enough stardew to practice the magic with, and thus be able to master it within the shortest time possible.
An unknown period of time passed…
While he was in the middle of his cultivation, he discovered via one of his Heaven Eyes that a team of Hunters was marching towards him.
There weren't any Greater Heaven stage or late Heaven stage experts on that team.
If there were no mishaps, Nie Tian would have no problem annihilating the team.
"This is strange. Don't they ever learn?" He rose to his feet and let out a cold laugh before he snuck towards them.