In the vast, open desert, Nie Tian and Pei Qiqi followed Xue Long as the three of them ran at full speed.
Behind them, Ning Yang pursued closely.
After about 15 minutes, Ning Yang turned into a brilliant golden flash and rapidly closed in on them.
With disheveled hair, Ning Yang had the appearance of a mad person. "Nie Tian! Even if you run to the ends of the world, I'll still catch you and take those three fragmentary star marks from you!"
He vigorously cast his spiritual sword forward, and it shot towards Nie Tian and the others so fast that it was as if it could break the barriers of space and reach them at any moment.
Xue Long suddenly stopped. With a grim expression, he said, "This won't work! Since Li Langfeng is holding that Phantasm off for you, I'll try my best to hold Ning Yang off for you!"
With these words, Xue Long was immediately wreathed in a fierce sword intent.
One after another, dazzling swords of light shot out of him as if they had flown out of pores all over him. The countless swords of light rapidly formed a rain of swords between him and Ning Yang.
According to his observations, he could tell that Nie Tian wouldn't be able to keep up with him if he didn't use the secret magics he had acquired from the Ancient Fragmentary Star Palace.
Pei Qiqi, on the other hand, was skilled in spatial magics, so she was able to keep up with his pace.
However, even he wasn't as fast as Ning Yang from the Heaven Palace Sect.
Considering Ning Yang's speed advantage, it was only a matter of time before he would catch up to them.
That being the case, the only thing he could do was stay and fight Ning Yang. By keeping Ning Yang occupied, he would be able to buy time for Nie Tian and Pei Qiqi to escape.
What he planned to do was exactly the same thing Li Langfeng was doing with the Phantasm.
"Uncle Xue! You..." A worried expression spread across Nie Tian's face.
Since he knew perfectly well how powerful Ning Yang was, he could tell that Xue Long wouldn't be able to handle him.
Even if it were Li Langfeng before his breakthrough into the Worldly realm, and the two of them were still both at the same stage, Li Langfeng probably wouldn't be able to overtake Ning Yang, much less Xue Long.
Therefore, he was afraid that Xue Long would get himself killed by Ning Yang if he insisted on staying and fighting him.
"You can rest assured! I won't fight him to the death!" Xue Long knew what he was worrying about, and thus urged them in a loud voice, "Go! The sooner you leave Ning Yang's sight, the safer I'll become! When I'm certain that he won't be able to locate you anymore, I'll immediately end my battle against him and run to the Void Illusion Mountain Range, where I'll use the Blood Skull's teleportation portal to return to Shatter City!"
As he spoke, a golden flash shot into his rain of swords of light.
One after another, the countless swords of light rapidly disappeared like a shoal of fish being chomped away by a shark.
Under his gaze, the barrier he had established with a rain of swords was rapidly falling apart.
"Take care!" Nie Tian didn't insist. Instead, he exchanged a gaze with Pei Qiqi before dashing off again.
Soon after they left, Ning Yang's angry roars echoed out from behind them, along with terrifyingly strong fluctuations of spiritual power.
Nie Tian couldn't bear to look back. He forced himself to calm down and run at full speed side by side with Pei Qiqi.
In the meantime, he spared a wisp of his psychic awareness and used it to examine himself. He discovered that he had consumed substantial amounts of strength when his refined fragmentary star mark had attracted Ning Yang's fragmentary star mark.
He had lost sixty percent of his star power and more than half of his psychic power.
The seven fragmentary stars suddenly flew out of his refined fragmentary star mark and reentered his mind.
Only then, when they once again hung high in his soul, was the connection between him and his seven Heaven Eyes reestablished.
Immediately afterwards, Nie Tian had a feeling that wisps of rich psychic power and star power had started to exude out of the refine fragmentary star mark, which had already merged with his flesh and blood, and slowly flow towards his mind and dantian region.
Nie Tian's eyes gradually lit up.
Originally, he thought his psychic power, star power, and seven fragmentary stars had been consumed when they had been pulled away from him by that refined fragmentary star mark.
The return of these strengths made him feel greatly relieved.
A heaven-shaking, earth-shattering sound rang out from the region where Xue Long and Ning Yang were fighting. Numerous golden lights flashed across the air like lightning bolts.
The sword intent and spiritual aura that belonged to Xue Long were gradually overtaken.
After the seven fragmentary stars returned to his soul, the images captured by his seven Heaven Eyes were once again reflected within Nie Tian's mind.
With a thought, he commanded one of his Heaven Eyes that hadn't flown back to his side after the connection was reestablished to fly towards the area where Xue Long and Ning Yang's battle was taking place.
Via that Heaven Eye, he saw Ning Yang brandishing his spiritual sword, and with every swing, it sent out a beam of golden light.
At that moment, there were already dozens of arm-thick golden beams of light hovering around him and Xue Long, each of which was branded with his unlimited fighting spirit, as well as the profound truths of metal power.
Meanwhile, Xue Long contended against the joint attack of the numerous golden light beams with the swords of light he had created according to the profound spiritual incantation he practiced.
However, it was very clear that Xue Long was trapped.
Soon after he cast spells and created more swords of light, many of them were shattered by Ning Yang's numerous golden light beams.
Xue Long was deeply caught up in a very unfavorable situation. The golden light beams had already left a crisscross network of wounds on his body.
Normally speaking, being at the late Greater Heaven stage and a guest elder of the Blood Skull, Xue Long should be stronger than most cultivators who had the same cultivation base as him.
When he had fought Shi Hui earlier, he seemed to have handled Shi Hui with skill and ease, and didn't need to strain himself at all.
However, now that his opponent was Ning Yang from the Heaven Palace Sect, a well-known figure throughout the entire Domain of the Falling Stars, he seemed obviously dominated. From the look of it, he even began to have difficulty fighting back at all.
Nie Tian suddenly stopped his dashing momentum.
Only after running for a dozen more meters did Pei Qiqi, who had reserved her speed to keep pace with him, come to realize that he had stopped. Thus, she stopped as well.
She turned around and asked with her bright eyes filled with confusion, "What are you doing?!"
"You go ahead and leave, senior martial sister," Nie Tian said with a solemn tone. "Uncle Xue is in danger. Ning Yang is too powerful for him. He won't be able to escape from Ning Yang with just his own strength. I can't watch him die because of me and do nothing. I have to go back for him!"
"Are you crazy!?" Pei Qiqi exclaimed.
Nie Tian nodded, saying, "Yeah, I might just be… Thank you for your concern and good intentions, senior martial sister. However, Ning Yang is too powerful. The way I see it, even Li Langfeng didn't have the ability to handle him single-handedly when he was at the peak of the Greater Heaven stage. So there's no way Uncle Xue will be able to do that. If he gets mad and lays a murderous hand on Uncle Xue, I doubt that he'll be able to get away."
"You said it yourself that Ning Yang is way too powerful." Pei Qiqi said anxiously. "What difference will it make if you do go back?"
With a determined expression on his face, Nie Tian said, "If I summon the Flame Dragon Armor, I might be able to help Uncle Xue escape! If worst comes to worst, I can use the escape magic from the Ancient Fragmentary Star Palace. I'll be fine, senior martial sister. I'm grateful for what you've done for me, truly. I'll see you in Shatter City!"
Without waiting for Pei Qiqi to say anything back, he cast a short-range Starshift and appeared in a location more than three hundred meters away.
After two more short-range Starshifts, he disappeared from Pei Qiqi's view like a flickering flame that had gone out.
"The bastard did it again!" Rage filled Pei Qiqi's face.
Last time, when the Flame Dragon Armor had whizzed out of Nie Tian's bracelet of holding to snatch Heaven Flame Crystals from Shi Hui, he had sensed the unfavorable situation. Therefore, in order to avoid dragging her into trouble, he left by casting a few short-range Starshifts in a row and disappeared before she had a chance to respond.
It hadn't been long when he had promised Pei Qiqi that he wouldn't act on his own and leave her before getting her permission again.
However, now that they were in danger again, he did the exact same thing.
"Why would I listen to you!?" Pei Qiqi stomped her feet and turned around after Nie Tian, regardless of the danger she would face, as if she was only doing it out of her anger towards him.
Eyes filled with brutality and madness, Ning Yang brandished his spiritual sword that emanated brilliant golden light as he said, "Since you want to be a hero, I'll kill you first! Nie Tian is only at the Heaven stage. He won't be able to run away from me in this open desert. Even if I take a while to kill you, I'll still be able to chase him down. You won't be able to hold me for long."
With his sword intent being gradually nibbled away by Ning Yang's golden light beams, Xue Long looked especially grim.
He had always known that Ning Yang was very powerful, but only when they were engaged in battle did he understand how formidable this man, who the Heaven Palace Sect had placed high hopes on, really was.
Before their engagement, he had never expected that a man at the same cultivation stage as him could be so powerful that he wouldn't be able to run away from him even though he wanted to.
Even when he had fought Li Langfeng before he had entered the Worldly realm, he hadn't felt such a strong pressure.
Seeing that Ning Yang's golden light beams had blocked every possible escape route, and that the room left for him was shrinking by the second, a sense of desperation rose in Xue Long's heart for the first time.
"This deal I made with the Spirit Condor turned out to be such a losing one. I can't believe it will cost me my life..." Xue Long thought to himself, full of regret.
At that moment, Nie Tian's voice suddenly rang out from the distance, "Uncle Xue! I'm back!!"
Even before his voice died away, Nie Tian turned into a tiny spark of starlight and appeared in front of him.