After walking out of the teleportation portal with Nie Tian, Zong Zheng said, "That's the Spirit Condor's headquarters."
Nie Tian was surprised to find himself in a mountain valley that brimmed with vigor and vitality. There were many herb gardens in the valley, in which many Greater Heaven stage young men and women were working. They were either picking herbs or doing repair work.
A small creek that contained rich wood power flowed quietly past the herb gardens.
As he and Zong Zheng walked out of the teleportation portal to the center of the mountain valley, they found themselves standing before a number of thatched cottages. Fresh vines could be seen hanging from the cottage roofs.
He looked up and saw that, as the sparkling snowflakes fell from the sky, they were stopped and melted by some kind of energy ward.
Numerous magical symbols could be seen glittering like stars on the ward that enveloped the entire mountain valley, making it look very profound and mysterious.
Nie Tian took a deep breath and immediately felt refreshed. That was when he realized that the spiritual Qi of Heaven and Earth was very rich in this place.
Not just that, but the spiritual Qi of Heaven and Earth contained a copious amount of wood power, which could nourish the earth and allow the spirit plants and herbs here to grow faster.
The young men and women talked and laughed, as if they didn't have a clue about the great changes that had taken place in the outside world.
Many of them nodded slightly upon seeing him and Zong Zheng, but none rushed over to greet them.
A brown condor could be seen perched in an ancient, lush tree not far from them. It was combing through its brown feathers in an idle fashion. Every once in a while, it would grab a bunch of grapes with its claw and throw them into its mouth.
The condor saw Zong Zheng from afar. The light of intelligence glittered in its brown eyes.
While Nie Tian glanced around, a wry smile appeared on Zong Zheng's angular face that looked like an icy rock as he nodded at the condor and said respectfully, "Long time no see, Lord Condor."
The condor gave a cold snort and said, "What are you doing here, little one?"
Nie Tian stood aghast.
He had seen quite a number of spirit beasts throughout the Domain of the Falling Stars, including his master's very intelligent Thunder Beast. However, he had never met a spirit beast that could speak the human language.
"We're here for Hua Mu, Lord Condor," Zong Zheng answered.
"Little Hua isn't here. It's Little Lu that's been serving me lately." The condor sounded rather arrogant. "Did you find me any beautiful birds, little one?"
Zong Zheng grew embarrassed. "Umm..."
At this very moment, Lu Yuanxi walked out of one of the cottages.
"Nie Tian?!" He exclaimed, joy filling his face. "How come you're here?"
Nie Tian bowed respectfully. "Greetings, Senior Lu."
The condor seemed rather disgruntled as it shouted in a sharp voice, "Hey, you with the last name 'Nie'. You haven't greeted me yet."
Zong Zheng hastily gave Nie Tian a meaningful look, signaling him to do as the condor told him and pay his respects.
With a weak chuckle, Nie Tian clasped his hands and said with pretended respect, "Greetings, Lord Condor."
"Mmm." The condor flicked its feathered brown wing towards Nie Tian, as if it was finally satisfied, and then it said with its nose in the air, "I heard Little Hua and the others talk about you. It sounds like you're kinda good. But next time you come to my turf, you'd better bring me some beautiful birds and delicious spirit fruits."
Standing off to the side, Lu Yuanxi looked embarrassed as he explained to Nie Tian, "Lord Condor has been our founder's good friend since he was young. Then, after our founder broke through into the Void domain and gained the ability to travel across the starry river, he left the Domain of the Falling Stars to explore the boundless universe and never returned.
"That heartless bastard must have died already," The condor said. "I pitied him when he was young and looked after him ever since. He, however, abandoned me and left alone as soon as he entered the Void domain, leaving generations of disciples to me. Meanwhile, you all turn out to be such disappointments..."
With bitter hatred, the condor berated the Spirit Condor's founder and complained about how useless Lu Yuanxi and the others were.
Lu Yuanxi smiled wryly as he nodded repeatedly to agree with it.
"It's the Spirit Condor's founder's old friend..." Nie Tian suddenly realized why this condor enjoyed such respect and a high status within the Spirit Condor.
"I don't have any beautiful birds with me now, Lord Condor." With these words, he grinned and took out a few green spirit fruits from within his ring of holding. He handed them to the condor and said, "But I hope you'll like these spirit fruits."
The condor threw the green fruits into its mouth and then said, looking rather pleased, "Hmm! Nice! You're much smarter than Little Zong. Sixth level Premium grade spirit fruits do taste good."
These spirit fruits were obtained from the Soul realm experts he had killed in Master Voidspirit's special realm. Each and every one of them was of great value.
With sleepy eyes, the condor flicked its wing at them, signaling them to leave. "It's about time I have some rest. You may find another place to talk so that you won't disturb my sleep."
As it flicked its wing, Nie Tian noticed that even though it was a casual flick, the spiritual Qi of Heaven and Earth in the entire mountain valley seemed to go through subtle changes because of it.
Upon hearing these words, Lu Yuanxi looked as if he were absolved from the death penalty. Without any hesitation, he took Nie Tian and Zong Zheng to his cultivation cottage.
After closing the door behind them, Lu Yuanxi said with an apologetic tone, "Lord Condor has always shown a strong interest in people he hasn't met. Our founder told us that it was of paramount importance that we take good care of Lord Condor before he left the Domain of the Falling Stars. Without Lord Condor, the Spirit Condor wouldn't exist, and he wouldn't have entered the Void domain.
"However, since it'd be very dangerous to travel across the starry river, our founder didn't have confidence that he would be able to keep Lord Condor safe if he took him with him. He snuck away and left Lord Condor behind.
"For this, Lord Condor cursed him for many years."
After a brief explanation of the condor's origins, Lu Yuanxi's expression grew serious as he asked Zong Zheng, "Did you agree to the Lei Clan's terms?"
Zong Zheng nodded in silence.
Lu Yuanxi sighed. "That's what I thought. After all, the Lei Clan has unparalleled strength and the Divine Flame Sect at their back. Our hands are truly tied."
"Where's uncle Hua, Senior Lu?" Nie Tian asked.
"He's currently in the Realm of Split Void," said Lu Yuanxi. "Zhen Huilan is trying to break through into the Soul realm. Hua Mu was worried that something might happen during the process, so he went there to guard her. By the way, where did you and Zhao Shanling go?"
"Some space disruption zone," Nie Tian answered.
Both Lu Yuanxi and Zong Zheng's eyes widened as Lu Yuanxi asked, "That maniac is back too?"
"Yeah," Nie Tian answered.
Lu Yuanxi and Zong Zheng were apparently very curious about Nie Tian's encounters in the space disruption zone.
However, they knew that Hua Mu was the one who Nie Tian truly trusted, so they suppressed their curiosity and buried the questions in their hearts.
Nie Tian took out the broken Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon from within his ring of holding and placed it on the ground. "This is the shattered Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon. I promised uncle Hua that I'd give each of the three pieces to the Spirit Condor, the Dong Clan, and the Tool Sect. I'll leave it to you to decide which parts you'll take."
Ecstasy filled Lu Yuanxi's face as he couldn't help but exclaim, "The Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon?!"
Then, he took a deep look at Nie Tian and said, "Thank you very much. I'll inform Qi Bailu and Dong Wangling about this and see if we can work together to fix it."
After a short pause, his expression grew serious as he added, "You'd better stay here for now. The Lei Clan showed great interest in the Heaven-shattering Crystal Cannon and the fragmentary star marks you obtained during the Heaven Gate trial. I'm afraid they'll come up with evil ideas once they learn about your return.
"If you don't want to get your family and the Realm of Flame Heaven in trouble, I suggest that you stay put for the time being.
"We can wait until people from the Divine Flame Sect come and figure out what they want. Then, we can act accordingly."
Zong Zheng chimed in, "That's right, Nie Tian. You'd better stay out of sight for now."
"When will people from the Divine Flame Sect arrive?" Nie Tian asked.
"I'm not sure," Lu Yuanxi said truthfully, "but according to the information we've gathered, that Void domain expert from the Lei Clan is sailing their ancient starship in the starry river, looking for dead realms to set up teleportation portals that'll form a path between the Domain of Heaven's Boundaries and our domain. Once the path is clear, people from the Divine Flame Sect will come to the Domain of the Falling Stars after a few transits."
Nie Tian pondered for some time before finally saying, "Alright. I'll stay here and see if there will be any changes."
Lu Yuanxi let out a sigh of relief and said, "Don't you worry. We have branches in every realm in the Domain of the Falling Stars. Whatever happens in the nine realms, we can learn about it within a short time. I'll let you know as soon as we receive word about things that concern you."
Nie Tian nodded. "That'd be good. Many thanks."
Afterwards, he was shown to his temporary residence, where he started making preparations for his breakthrough into the Worldly realm.