In the frigid Realm of Endless Ice, glaciers could be seen everywhere.
Clean, white snowflakes were falling from the sky like tiny blossoms. After Zhao Shanling left, Nie Tian summoned an air-transportation spiritual tool from within his ring of holding.
It was the Sun Chaser, which he had obtained from Han Chigui from the Bliss Mountain Sect.
Since it had been in Han Chigui's collection, it was only natural that it wasn't an ordinary tool. It seemed even more advanced than Hua Mu's Lightning Shuttle.
Zhao Shanling had long since erased the seal Han Chigui had applied to it. Therefore, as soon as Nie Tian stepped on board and sent a wisp of psychic awareness into it, a mysterious connection was established between him and the Sun Chaser.
As a thought entered his mind, the Sun Chaser immediately blossomed with blinding light, and then shot off into the distance.
One ice-covered mountain after another flashed behind him as the Sun Chaser traveled at full speed in the snowy sky.
An hour later, the Sun Chaser arrived at the Ice Pavilion Sect's headquarters.
It was at the heart of an ocean. Numerous glaciers stuck out from the bottom of the ocean and pierced into the heavens like enormous swords of ice.
Surrounded by the glaciers was a vast island. Lofty pavilions made of rocks and ice stood in every part of the island.
The glaciers that surrounded the island kept emanating frigid ice power, forming a translucent and sparkling ward that enveloped a vast area.
Nie Tian's Sun Chaser had to stop before the grand spell formation.
Soon, a few Ice Pavilion Sect disciples flew to him on a Rainbow Lightning, which had been made by the Tool Sect. As they approached, they shouted, "Who's there?"
As they came close enough, one of the Ice Pavilion Sect disciples took a deep look at Nie Tian before exclaiming, "Big Brother Nie?!"
"Xuan Yue," Nie Tian said.
Dressed in clean, white battle garments, Xuan Yue looked like a flower that grew on the glacier. Her clear bright eyes lit up as she exclaimed, "It's really you!"
As Xuan Ke's younger sister, Xuan Yue was also a core disciple of the Ice Pavilion Sect. She had met Nie Tian in person once in the green bamboo forest. She was one of the beauties that had gone there.
With a hearty smile, Nie Tian asked, "Where's your brother?"
Instead of answering his question, Xuan Yue asked, "Didn't you leave with that maniac Zhao Shanling, Big Brother Nie? Rumor has it that he took you to a space disruption zone and disappeared ever since. Many suspected that you already died at his hands and would never return again."
"We did go to a space disruption zone," Nie Tian explained, "but Senior Zhao is a man of his word and didn't try to kill me."
Upon hearing that it was Nie Tian, who had disappeared for four years, the few Ice Pavilion Sect juniors beside Xuan Yue exclaimed, "Big Brother Nie? He's Nie Tian?!"
"Is he THE Nie Tian?!"
Their eyes were filled with admiration and respect as they gazed at Nie Tian. It seemed that they all took Nie Tian for their idol.
Xuan Yue jerked her head back to take a quick glance at the Ice Pavilion Sect's headquarters before turning her head around and saying, "Come with me, Big Brother Nie."
Instead of taking him to the island where their headquarters was, she took Nie Tian to one of the glaciers that surrounded it.
After arriving at a location halfway up the glacier, she took out a talisman that was made of frigid ice and pressed in on a frosty rock.
Immediately afterwards, the rock split open into a door, and Xuan Yue showed Nie Tian inside. Meanwhile, she said to her companions, "You may go back now, but don't tell anyone that you've seen big brother Nie."
The few juniors nodded before riding their Rainbow Lightning back to the island where the Ice Pavilion Sect's headquarters was.
Confused, Nie Tian asked, "Why are you being so discreet? I only came to ask your older brother to take me to the Spirit Condor."
A translucent and sparkling ward appeared after them, sealing the mouth of the cave. Like a curtain of translucent pearl, it seemed to be able to soundproof the cave.
"People from the Lei Clan are in our headquarters now," Xuan Yue said. "How much do you know about the changes that have taken place in the Domain of the Falling Stars while you were gone, Big Brother Nie?"
Looking rather confused, Nie Tian said, "I heard that a powerful clan from the Domain of Heaven's Boundaries named the Lei Clan came on an ancient starship."
With a weak sigh, Xuan Yue said, "That's right. The Lei Clan expelled the Tool Sect and took the Realm of Unbounded Desolation for their own. They even sent word that every Soul realm expert in the Domain of the Falling Stars should come to pay their respects when people from the Divine Flame Sect arrive.
"Recently, people from the Thunder Mountain Sect are showing the Lei Clan Qi warriors around to explore spiritual materials in every realm of the Domain of the Falling Stars.
"Two weeks ago, Lei Ze, Lei Zhenyu's grandson, showed a Lei Clan Qi warrior to the Realm of Endless Ice and soon, that Qi warrior from the Lei Clan discovered an Icy Crystal vein. He even detected Icy Crystal Essence with a special detector.
"According to him, Icy Crystal Essence is very hard to find. It's extremely valuable even in the Domain of Heaven's Boundaries.
"The Lei Clan has sent a group of their members here this time to inform us that they're going to take over and mine Icy Crystal Essence from that Icy Crystal vein.
"We've long since discovered that Icy Crystal vein, and we've been mining Icy Crystals from it for cultivation.
"We just didn't know about the existence of Icy Crystal Essence. However, the Lei Clan members made their stance clear that we need to withdraw our disciples from that mine as soon as possible so that they can take over.
"Right now, our elders are negotiating with those representatives of the Lei Clan."
Xuan Yue gritted her teeth as she said these words. Apparently, she was indignant about the Lei Clan's bandit-like actions.
"It's the Lei Clan again..." Nie Tian muttered, frowning.
However, he didn't know how to console her. Even the Heaven Palace Sect had become silent and submissive before the Lei Clan. What could the Ice Pavilion Sect do?
He suspected that the Ice Pavilion Sect would also choose to give in and let the Lei Clan take their Icy Crystal mine in order to avoid conflicts with them.
After all, the Lei Clan had a Void domain expert, and they were backed by the Divine Flame Sect. Every sect in the Domain of the Falling Stars could only give them what they wanted.
Xuan Yue seemed to think of something else as she said hastily, "Also, you have to keep your return a secret, Big Brother Nie. Don't let those from the Lei Clan know about your return. They've already heard about you and Zhao Shanling taking all of the most valuable loot from the outsiders.
"According to my brother, they've been searching for you two. They seem to have a great interest in the shattered Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon.
"The Qi warrior sects in the Domain of Heaven's Boundaries are not like us. Many of them have close ties with outsiders. I believe they're planning to trade that Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon with Phantasms for materials they need. So you'd better stay out of their sight.
"I also heard that they showed great interest after learning about your special connection with the Ancient Fragmentary Star Palace.
"They went to examine the three major spatial rifts in the Realm of Flame Heaven, the Realm of Mystic Heaven, and the Realm of a Thousand Devastations, along with the lofty mountain peaks surrounding them. Even their Void domain expert failed to discover anything valuable from them, so they could only put that on hold.
"However, if they somehow learn about your return, they'll definitely try to catch you and force you to tell them about the secrets of the Ancient Fragmentary Star Palace."
Xuan Yue went on and told Nie Tian almost everything that would concern him.
From her, Nie Tian learned that Dong Li and Dong Baijie had already entered the Worldly realm.
Qin Yan and many other chosen ones from the major sects had also achieved significant growth during these four years and entered the Worldly realm.
However, all of their sects were at their wits' end when facing the Lei Clan.
All of them had been used to dominating their realms. Never had they thought that they would descend to the point where they would have to cling to another sect and give annual tribute.
Many sects, including the Heaven Palace Sect, were very unhappy about the arrival of the Lei Clan and the Divine Flame Sect.
Their talk went on for a long time before Xuan Yue received a message through her Sound Stone, saying that the people from the Lei Clan had left the Ice Pavilion Sect's headquarters.
Meanwhile, she learned that, after an extended negotiation, Qian Qiong had eventually given in to the Lei Clan and agreed to withdraw their disciples from that Icy Crystal mine.
Xuan Yue sagged her head in frustration after receiving such news. Then, she escorted Nie Tian back to their headquarters on the island.
At the same time, Qian Qiong received Xuan Yue's message, learning about Nie Tian's return. Therefore, he received Nie Tian and took him to see Zong Zheng, their patriarch, the moment Nie Tian arrived.
After Nie Tian expressed his reason for coming to the Ice Pavilion Sect, Zong Zheng immediately activated their teleportation portal and personally took Nie Tian to the Spirit Condor's headquarters in the Realm of Endless Ice.
To Nie Tian's surprise, the Spirit Condor's headquarters sat in a blessed land surrounded by silent ice-covered mountains, where it felt like spring all year round.