"Hehe, you sure got back quickly this time, Junior Martial Sister; looks like your trip must've been quite a smooth one."
As soon as Bai Guo'er appeared in front of an azure stone gate halfway up the mountain, a boisterous male voice rang out from the other side, following which the gate opened on its own after a flash of azure light.
An extremely handsome yellow-robed scholar who appeared to be around 30 years of age then strode out from within; it was none other than Hai Yuetian, who had been sent by Han Li to Deep Heaven City 200 years ago.
Following the passage of 200 years, Hai Yuetian seemed to have become even more handsome. He was now a Core Formation cultivator as well, and his physical body was also far more powerful than it had been in the past.
Bai Guo'er initially faltered momentarily at the sight of Hai Yuetian before a hint of elation appeared on her face. "When did you get back, Senior Martial Brother?"
"Hehe, I just completed a mission assigned to me by Deep Heaven City and I almost lost my life there, but I earned half a year's break for my efforts, so I returned to see if Master had come out of seclusion yet," Hai Yuetian replied with a smile.
"Did you manage to meet Master?" Bai Guo'er asked.
"No, but I did manage to get a few vials of pills from Master's second Nascent Soul. If everything goes smoothly, I'll also begin attempting a breakthrough to the mid-Core Formation Stage in the next few years. Come to think of it, it's pretty embarrassing that my cultivation base is inferior to yours, even though I'm supposed to be the senior martial brother," Hai Yuetian chuckled.
"Hehe, surely you jest, Senior Martial Brother; you're pursuing the path of simultaneous cultivation, so your true overall power is far superior to mine. On top of that, Master is also pursuing simultaneous cultivation, so you'll most likely be the one to truly inherit Master's teachings; I should be the one who's envious of you. Even if we were only speaking in terms of magic power, my rate of progression can't compare with that of Senior Martial Brother Qi Lingzi; he's already reached the pinnacle of the Core Formation Stage in just 200 years and is about to prepare to manifest a Nascent Soul soon," Bai Guo'er chuckled in a modest manner.
"So what? No matter how powerful we become, I can only pose as an ordinary body refinement warrior in Deep Heaven City, and I don't even dare to let others know who my master is in case they try to get to Master through me. Junior Martial Brother Qi Lingzi is also in the same boat. Every time we come back to visit Master from Deep Heaven City, we have to sneak around like a pair of thieves, whereas you can come and go as you please from Deep Heaven City as Master's disciple," Hai Yuetian sighed in an envious manner.
"I'm only able to appear in public as Master's disciple as I have to regularly visit Deep Heaven City to run errands for Master, whereas you and Senior Martial Brother Qi Lingzi were sent to Deep Heaven City for training, so our situations are completely different. Speaking of Senior Martial Brother Qi Lingzi, his cultivation aptitude and the cultivation arts that he inherited have received glowing praise even from Master, so perhaps he'll go further than us when it comes to cultivation," Bai Guo'er said with a smile.
"That's for sure. Come to think of it, Master has been in seclusion ever since he returned to the human race with you a century ago, leaving his second Nascent Soul and Senior Ice Phoenix to instruct us in our cultivation; I wonder how Master's own cultivation is progressing." A hint of concern appeared in Hai Yuetian's eyes as he spoke.
"Rest assured, Senior Martial Brother. Master spent 100 years scouring the human regions and demon territories searching for someone, but after failing in his search, he decided to temporarily give up on it and went into seclusion to try and make a breakthrough to the mid-Body Integration Stage. If I'm not mistaken, he most likely won't be coming out of seclusion until he reaches the mid-Body Integration Stage," Bai Guo'er replied in a reassuring manner.
"Even with Master's extraordinary powers, surely it would take at least 1,000 years of arduous cultivation to reach the mid-Body Integration Stage; is he planning to be in seclusion for 1,000 years?" Hai Yuetian exclaimed.
"I don't know about how other Body Integration Stage seniors cultivate, but our master was once able to match a late-Body Integration cultivator in battle at just the early-Body Integration Stage, so his powers definitely aren't inferior to those of a mid-Body Integration cultivator, and I'm sure he has some methods to increase his rate of progression. I think he'll definitely emerge from seclusion prior to the commencement of the devilish tribulation," Bai Guo'er said in a confident manner.
"That's true. Master must've made the decision to try and progress to the mid-Body Integration Stage as quickly as possible precisely because of the imminent tribulation," Hai Yuetian replied with a nod.
Both he and Bai Guo'er were very confident that Han Li would be able to reach the mid-Body Integration Stage, and it was no wonder that this was the case.
During these past years, not only had Han Li given them many powerful cultivation arts, whenever they had encountered bottlenecks in their cultivation, he had been able to assist them in breaking through these bottlenecks with ease through nothing more than some words of advice or a few vials of precious pills. This was the main reason why they had been able to progress so quickly in their cultivation, and due to this, not only had they developed a great deal of respect and gratitude toward their master, they had also developed this impression that their master was an unfathomable, almost omnipotent figure.
After that, Hai Yuetian and Bai Guo'er chatted for a while longer before the former departed from the cave abode and flew away as a streak of blue light.
As for Bai Guo'er, she entered through the azure gate and made her way toward the backyard of the cave abode through a corridor.
After passing through several layers of restrictions, she arrived on a large grassland with white clouds drifting in a blue sky overhead, and an abundance of spiritual Qi in the surrounding area.
At the center of the grassland were two small mountains, each of which was over 1,000 feet tall. One of them was inky black, while the other was as green as jade.
In between these two mountains was a white jade pavilion with three levels, and was enshrouded within a dense five-colored light barrier.
An independent small world had been manifested behind the cave abode, and it appeared to be no different to the outside world. There was currently a humanoid figure seated on each of the two small mountains, one of which was a green-skinned figure that was around 20 feet tall with purple light around its body, while the other was a shimmering golden figure that was enshrouded within black Qi.
From afar, both of these figures appeared to have facial features that strongly resembled Han Li's, and they both had their eyes tightly shut. In the instant that Bai Guo'er strode onto the grassland, the golden "Han Li" slowly opened his eyes before casting his gaze toward her.
"Greetings, Master; I've brought back the item that you requested," Bai Guo'er immediately said as she extended a respectful curtsey, then flipped a hand over to produce a purple wooden box, which she offered to "Han Li" with both hands.
"Thanks for your hard work, Guo'er. Now then, let me see if this item will actually prove to be useful to me," the golden figure said with a benevolent smile, and his voice was identical to Han Li's as well. The golden figure then waved a hand toward Bai Guo'er, and the purple wooden box immediately flew toward him before being drawn into his grasp.
He swept a hand over the wooden box, and its lid was immediately removed, revealing several egg-sized black demon cores within the box. The demon cores were giving off a strange repugnant odor that was very pungent and nauseating.
However, the golden figure was very pleased at the sight of these demon cores, and he nodded as he closed the box again before smiling as he turned to Bai Guo'er. "Well done, Guo'er, these are perfect for me; I've finally gathered all of the materials I need! From now on, I'll be withdrawing my second Nascent Soul and activating the formation here to completely seal off this place from the outside world. Don't disturb me unless your lives are in peril or the devilish tribulation strikes earlier than expected. The next century or two will be the most critical juncture of my cultivation, and requires my wholehearted attention. I've already given Fairy Phoenix all of the pills and spirit stones that you and your senior martial brothers will require for your cultivation. If you need something, you can go to see her. Hehe, I hope to see improvements from all of you when I emerge from my seclusion."
Bai Guo'er's expression changed drastically upon hearing this, and she exclaimed, "What? You're going to cut off all ties to the outside world? How long will you be in seclusion for, Master?"
"That's hard to say. If everything goes well, I'll emerge from seclusion in a few decades. Otherwise, it could take 200 to 300 years," the golden figure hesitantly replied with his brows furrowed slightly.
"In that case, I can only wish you the best of luck, Master." Bai Guo'er was quite reluctant to part with Han Li for so long, but she knew that he wouldn't change his mind about something like this, so she could only extend a deep parting bow.
"Haha, hopefully, I'll be able to see you again soon, Guo'er." These words had been spoken by someone from within the white jade pavilion rather than by the golden figure. Immediately thereafter, the two humanoid figures sitting on the two mountains rose to their feet and made hand seals in unison, upon which they vanished into thin air.
In the next instant, a massive light formation appeared beneath each of the small mountains, then quickly expanded in all directions. Moments later, the entire grassland had been encompassed by the light formations, and halos of five-colored spiritual light were sweeping through the entire surrounding area.
Everything began to twist and warp, and in the end, the light faded into an all-encompassing sea of five-colored mist.
At this point, Bai Guo'er had already retreated out of the grassland, and she stared at the sea of mist in a slightly lost and disoriented manner.
After a long while, she heaved a faint sigh before departing.
Meanwhile, Han Li was seated on a yellow futon on the first floor of the white jade pavilion within the five-colored sea of mist. There was a giant golden cauldron that was around 10 feet tall and had a radius of several tens of feet hovering before him.
He was appraising the cauldron through narrowed eyes, and there were silver flames burning around the cauldron, while a strong and peculiar scent was slowly wafting out of it.
From a birds-eye perspective, one would discover that there was a type of mysterious liquid bubbling within the giant cauldron. Not only was the liquid extremely vibrant in color, it was bubbling and churning incessantly.