In the Realm of Unbounded Desolation...
An inter-realm teleportation portal appeared out of thin air in the middle of a rocky field surrounded by extinct volcanoes.
Zhao Shanling and Nie Tian walked out of the portal.
With a casual flick of his sleeve, numerous storage rings flew out of his sleeve and landed on the ground in three piles, each pile belonging to a rank. "You go ahead and take your pick. I'll take the rest."
With these words, Zhao Shanling turned around and walked off towards a location filled with large rocks in the distance.
"This man indeed doesn't play by the rules..." Nie Tian sighed inwardly.
He had never thought that he would appear out of nowhere when the victory convention had just reached its high point, and sweep all of the valuable spoils away.
The Heaven Palace Sect, the Spirit Condor, the Ice Pavilion Sect, the Thunder Mountain Sect, and the other major sects had worked day and night to determine contribution points and price of the large amount of spoils.
The Spirit Condor, the Tool Sect, and the Dong Clan had gone to great lengths to persuade Nie Tian to help them secure the Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon; Zhao Luofeng had even cooked up a plan to take the cannon themselves...
At this point, all of these looked like a joke.
Zhao Shanling's appearance had upset all of their plans.
Nie Tian looked up into the heavens and saw a dome-shaped ward made of spatial fluctuations that was almost invisible to the naked eye.
He suddenly realized that Zhao Shanling must have established some restrictive spell over this region so that others wouldn't be able to notice their presence.
Zhao Shanling should have been high-spirited after sweeping such a large amount of valuables away in front of everyone, but he wasn't. Instead, he left them all on the ground for Nie Tian to pick from, as if he didn't attach much importance to them.
At this moment, Zhao Shanling was standing in front of a bunch of strangely-shaped rocks, with his back facing Nie Tian.
Curious, Nie Tian looked over with rapt attention and discovered that there was a stone stele standing in the middle of the large rocks.
On the stone stele, engraved in plain writing, were the words: Beloved Master Xu Yingling's tomb.
"Xu Yinglong..." It suddenly occurred to Nie Tian that he had heard that the Tool Sect's previous sectmaster was named Xu Yinglong, who was Qi Bailu, Zhao Shanling, and Zhen Huilan's master. The man had been well-versed in the art of equipment forging and the art of fighting with spatial power. Some even said that he had been the best fighter throughout the Domain of the Falling Stars.
Word had it that Xu Yinglong had banished Zhao Shanling to a remote space disruption zone after his unforgivable crime in the Realm of Unbounded Desolation.
However, Xu Yinglong had died soon afterwards.
The elders of the Tool Sect had claimed that he had died because of Zhao Shanling. This was also why Qi Bailu hadn't forgiven Zhao Shanling after all these years.
This place must be Zhao Shanling's secret stronghold in the Realm of Unbounded Desolation. Who would have thought that he had actually set up his master's memorial stele here.
Standing before the stone stele, Zhao Shanling didn't utter a word.
Nie Tian couldn't know what this maniac was thinking, but it seemed that he felt rather guilty towards his master.
Soon, Nie Tian withdrew his gaze from Zhao Shanling and focused on the storage rings before him.
With his psychic awareness, he examined their contents one by one.
He picked the storage rings that held the broken Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon, the seventh grade outsider corpses, and the Nine Stars Flower, and set them aside.
He didn't touch the other ones.
After a long while, Zhao Shanling turned around and asked, "Are you finished? What did you pick?"
Nie Tian responded truthfully.
"You picked the Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon for the Spirit Condor and the other sects, didn't you?" Zhao Shanling asked with a slightly disdainful smile.
"Yes," Nie Tian answered, "I don't know anything about equipment forging, so I'm actually not interested in it myself. After all, it's broken into three pieces. There's no way I'll be able to repair it or derive any enlightenment from it. However, the Spirit Condor, the Dong Clan, and the Tool Sect all came up to me and expressed their desire to obtain the Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon before the convention opened."
"Well then, now that you've made your pick, the rest are mine." With a flick of his sleeve, all of the other storage rings flew into Zhao Shanling cuff. "Since I've decided to leave the Domain of the Falling Stars, it's necessary that I accumulate some valuables. I'll probably be able to trade these items for materials that agree with me after we go to a new heaven and earth."
Surprised, Nie Tian asked, "Umm... What do you plan to do with the Tool Sect if you're leaving?"
Zhao Shanling had only agreed to help save the Realm of a Hundred Battles from the crisis on the condition that his martial brother Qi Bailu would kneel before him and make him the sectmaster of the Tool Sect.
This was also the reason why he had colluded with Xia Yi in their previous operation in the Realm of Unbounded Desolation.
However, he now said that he had decided to leave...
"The Tool Sect?" Zhao Shanling laughed. "You really think I want to take that position? I'm used to living a free life. I'll never agree to control and manage a sect. That position means responsibility, which to me, is pressure and restraint. I'll never take it.
"In fact, I didn't compete with my martial brother and sister to win that position back in the day. I only wanted to prove to everyone that I was the most talented among my master's three disciples."
Nie Tian went blank for a moment before asking, "Then why did you force Senior Qi to give his position to you?"
Zhao Shanling gave a cold harrumph. "I just wanted to prove my point. I don't ever want such a big burden. How free and happy am I alone? I can do whatever I want! If I have the entire Tool Sect on my shoulders, how will I do things without scruples?"
Nie Tian nodded. "That's true."
Considering Zhao Shanling's profound understanding and mastery of spatial power, he could very well live his life however he wanted. No one would be able to force him to do anything.
However, if he became the sectmaster of the Tool Sect, once he made some major mistake and left, the Tool Sect would be targeted and suffer because of him.
After giving it a bit more thought, Nie Tian instantly realized that he was making a wise decision by not taking that position.
"You may summon your Bonebrute puppet and make use of those seventh grade outsider corpses now," Zhao Shanling said casually. "But you'll have to be extra careful with that Fiend's corpse."
Nie Tian's expression flickered slightly as he asked, "How did you know I was going to strengthen it with those outsider corpses?"
Zhao Shanling gave him a cold look. "Do you take me as a fool? After the battle of the Realm of a Hundred Battles, you asked for seventh grade outsider corpses and then left with Dong Wangling. Later, when I met you again, that puppet of yours became noticeably stronger. I didn't even need to think to know that it was because you had strengthened it with those outsider corpses."
"Ummm..." Nie Tian was at a loss for words.
"Since we still have some time, you may strengthen your puppet as much as you can, because the stronger it is, the more it'll be able to help me." Then, Zhao Shanling added with a smile, "You've still yet to deliver on your part of our deal. Come to think of it, we're connected by destiny, you and I. You got a Bonebrute for a puppet, and I forged my Death Reign thanks to the Bonebrutes' legacies."
Eyes wide, Nie Tian asked, "Do you mean that your Death Reign has connections to the Bonebrutes?"
Zhao Shanling gave him another cold look, as if he were talking to a moron. "Of course! What did the Realm of Unbounded Desolation use to be? It was home to the Bonebrutes before the Ancient Fragmentary Star Palace came along. The Bonebrutes' bloodline talents and magics were all about summoning and using death power. I was only able to forge my Death Reign because I came across a powerful item by accident in one of the Bonebrutes' relics. Then, after I refined it and added a few other materials to it, the Death Reign finally came to shape.
"The Death Reign is powered by death power, nothing else.
"That's why I said that we're connected by destiny. My Death Reign was only possible because of the Bonebrutes' legacies. And you earned your fame and respect thanks to your Bonebrute puppet. Otherwise, you wouldn't have qualified to talk to those Soul realm old men.
"The Realm of Unbounded Desolation is a fascinating place. Even though you can't find a single blade of grass in most areas, the Bonebrutes considered it a blessed land.
"Isn't it strange that rumor has it that there are Fruits of Life in such a barren place, where nothing can grow?"
Nie Tian pondered briefly, then nodded with a puzzled expression. "That's strange indeed."
With a cunning laugh, Zhao Shanling then said, "You're even stranger. For thousands of years, who knows how many people have come to the Realm of Unbounded Desolation in search of Fruits of Life in their last years, but no one seems to have succeeded. You, however, came only once and managed to find a few Fruits of Life. You're quite a figure, Nie Tian."
Nie Tian's expression flickered noticeably as he asked, "How do you know about that?"
With a disdainful smile, Zhao Shanling said, "Didn't you take Dong Li to the Realm of Unbounded Desolation? Otherwise, how would she have been able to bring a Fruit of Life back to Dong Wangling?" Also, your master and Hua Mu both struggled with ways to prolong their lifespans. But they suddenly seem energetic and full of vigor again recently. If that wasn't thanks to Fruits of Life, what then?"
Eyebrows furrowed, Nie Tian felt as if Zhao Shanling could see right through him. "Well..."
With a casual wave of his hand, Zhao Shanling said, "Don't worry. I'm not interested in learning how you found those Fruits of Life. You'd better start strengthening your puppet now. We can't stay here for too long. I need your puppet to be as strong as it can be."