"In that case, it's going to be slightly difficult for you to achieve your objective," Yuan Yao sighed in a forlorn manner.
"What do you mean by that, Fairy Yuan? Could it be that Senior Jiang changed his mind about the Divine Infernal River Elixir?" Han Li asked in a surprised manner.
"Of course not; someone of Father's status wouldn't go back on their word so easily. However, something outside of his control recently happened. I'm sure he'll explain everything to you once we get back, so I won't say too much about it. Having said that, things aren't entirely non-negotiable, so you needn't worry too much," Yuan Yao said in a meaningful voice.
Yuan Yao's words presented more questions than answers, but Han Li merely nodded and fell silent.
Yuan Yao knew that he was contemplating what she had just said, so she remained silent in a thoughtful gesture to avoid disrupting Han Li, and merely flew by his side with a smile on her face.
Meanwhile, Qing Yuanzi was flying on ahead of them and didn't even turn his head to check on them once. Thus, the three streaks of light quickly vanished into the distance, leaving the battlefield between Han Li and Shopkeeper Yu completely empty.
Around half a day later, the trio finally returned to Qing Yuanzi's cave abode, and Han Li arrived in the hall that was still slightly familiar to him.
The miniature azure figure stretched lazily, then suddenly expanded to the size of a normal human being. He sat down on the main seat in a casual manner, then said to Han Li, "You're already a Body Integration cultivator now, so there's no need for you to be too reserved and rigid in my presence; you can take a seat as well."
"Thank you, Senior." Han Li immediately extended a respectful salute before taking a seat as he was told.
Yuan Yao strode over to Qing Yuanzi's side before standing behind him in an obedient manner, and right at this moment, a white-robed young woman with a round face emerged into the hall, carrying a platter with several cups of spirit tea.
She placed one of the cups onto the table in front of Han Li, then said with a smile, "Welcome, Brother Han. I didn't think that you would return to this place so soon."
This woman was naturally none other than Yan Li.
Han Li turned to her with a smile, and said, "Long time no see, Fairy Yan. You look just as youthful and beautiful as ever."
"I possess a half-ghost body, so my appearance naturally won't change. Hmm? I can't seem to ascertain your exact cultivation base now; could it be that you've already reached the Body Integration Stage, Brother Han?" Yan Li initially had a smile on her face, but that smile quickly gave way to a stunned expression as she swept her spiritual sense toward Han Li.
Yan Li was currently at the early-Spatial Tempering Stage, so it was naturally impossible for her to glean Han Li's current cultivation base.
"Indeed, I was very fortunate and managed to progress to the mid-Body Integration Stage," Han Li replied in a calm manner.
"The mid-Body Integration Stage?" Yan Li was completely rooted to the spot.
A hint of impatience appeared on Qing Yuanzi's face, and he said, "If you want to catch up with Fellow Daoist Han, you can talk to him all you want after we're done with our discussion here."
"Ah, my apologies for my rudeness." Yan Li finally returned to her senses before offering the other cup of spirit tea on her platter to Qing Yuanzi, then situated herself beside Yuan Yao.
"I also didn't think that you would come here so soon, and my main Nascent Soul is currently in seclusion cultivating a powerful ability, so I won't be able to greet you with my true body," Qing Yuanzi suddenly said to Han Li.
"It's already a great honor for me to be graced by the presence of one of your Nascent Souls even though you're at a critical juncture in your cultivation, Senior," Han Li replied in a sincere manner.
Qing Yuanzi nodded at the sight of Han Li's respectful display, then cut straight to the chase.
"You returned to the infernal river using the treasure I gave you, so you must've gathered a lot of the materials I asked for, right? Roughly how many of the materials have you gathered? As we agreed, you only have to gather two-thirds of all the materials on the list to complete your mission."
"All of the materials I've gathered are in this storage bracelet; please inspect them for yourself, Senior." Instead of giving a direct reply, Han Li flipped a hand over to produce a green storage bracelet, then stood up and offered the bracelet to Qing Yuanzi with both hands.
As opposed to being irked by Han Li's refusal to directly answer his question, a hint of elation flashed through his eyes, and he said, "Hehe, you seem very confident, Fellow Daoist Han; looks like you must've completed your mission with flying colors. Now then, let me inspect the fruits of your efforts." Thus, he reached out to accept the storage bracelet, then closed his eyes and injected his spiritual sense into it.
Yuan Yao and Yan Li both turned to appraise Qing Yuanzi in unison. They naturally couldn't inject their spiritual sense into the storage bracelet as well, but they could gauge Han Li's degree of success by inspecting Qing Yuanzi's reaction.
In contrast with the slightly anxious looks on their faces, Han Li was very calm and collected.
With Qing Yuanzi's immensely powerful spiritual sense, as well as his vast wealth of knowledge and experience, it naturally wouldn't take him long to inspect all of the materials in the storage bracelet.
Initially, he remained completely expressionless, but not long after that, a hint of astonishment had appeared on his face, and as more time passed, the astonishment gave way to shock and elation.
Yuan Yao was quite relieved to see this, and at the same time, she turned to Han Li with a curious look in her eyes.
As Qing Yuanzi's foster daughter, she was naturally aware of what materials were on the list that had been given to Han Li.
The quantity and rarity of the materials on that list had been truly astonishing to her, and she had always been concerned that Han Li wouldn't be able to complete this mission.
However, judging from Qing Yuanzi's reaction, Han Li had to have gathered a very significant proportion of the materials on the list.
Initially, Qing Yuanzi hadn't actually harbored very high hopes for Han Li. He had merely given Han Li a list of materials as it couldn't hurt to do so, so it was a low-risk endeavor for a potentially high reward, albeit only with very slim chances.
These materials were very important to Qing Yuanzi to begin with, and the fact that he was unable to leave the infernal river made the materials even more precious to him.
Yan Li was also staring at Han Li with an astonished look in her eyes, but that was also tinged with some other complex emotions.
"Very good! Aside from a few materials that even I wouldn't be confident in finding, you've found all of the materials on my list. You have truly surprised me, Fellow Daoist Han. With these materials, I'll have a 20% better chance of transcending my next lightning tribulation," Qing Yuanzi said in an excited voice as he opened his eyes.
"These materials can only result in a 20% increase?" Han Li was stunned to hear this.
All of the materials that he had gathered were extremely difficult to find in the Spirit Realm, and he had only found some of them in the medicine garden within the Vast Glacial Realm. In Han Li's opinion, many of those materials most likely couldn't even be found in the Spirit Realm anymore.
"Hehe, once someone reaches my cultivation base, normal methods are completely ineffective when it comes to increasing the chances of transcending a tribulation, and there are extremely limited external forces that can be drawn upon, so 20% is already an optimistic estimate. Alright, setting that aside for now, you delivered the materials I asked for, so I'll naturally give you some Divine Infernal River Elixir in return. But before that, are you still planning to exchange these materials for the elixir? If you're open to alternatives, I can offer you items that are no less valuable than the elixir," Qing Yuanzi said with a smile as he carefully stowed the storage bracelet away.
"I'm sure you're aware of how important the elixir is to me now that I'm at the Body Integration Stage, so I'll have to turn down any alternatives," Han Li replied without any hesitation. Yuan Yao had already hinted that there would be an issue with this exchange, so he was ready for such an offer.
"In that case, things could be a little troublesome." Qing Yuanzi's brows furrowed slightly as a contemplative look appeared on his face.
"You seem troubled, Senior. Would you be able to tell me what the issue is? If I recall correctly, didn't you already have some Divine Infernal River Elixir?" Han Li asked.
"Truth be told, if you had come 100 years earlier, or 200 to 300 years later, there would be no issues at all, but I recently lent my elixir to someone else who had an urgent need for it. If you wait another few centuries, perhaps I can source some more," Qing Yuanzi said in a resigned manner.
"You lent out the elixir?" Han Li's expression changed slightly upon hearing this.
"Indeed. The one who borrowed the elixir is one of the grand elders of the Mayfly Race, and we're close acquaintances. He's one of the reasons I've been able to reside in the infernal river, so I couldn't turn him down," Qing Yuanzi revealed.
Han Li's expression naturally became rather strained upon hearing this.
However, Qing Yuanzi then suddenly smiled, and said, "But rest assured, Fellow Daoist Han; if you really want the elixir, it's not impossible to obtain it."
"What do you mean by that, Senior? Are there other avenues through which the elixir can be secured?" Han Li immediately asked as an elated look appeared on his face.
"Of course. Divine Infernal River Elixir is very rare, and every time it's produced, I always make sure to get my hands on some. However, there are also several other tremendously powerful beings who inhabit this realm, and they'll also take a share each as well. Generally, half of the elixir produced is taken by the Mayfly Race, while the rest is split among us. However, these people all have rather peculiar personalities and are no less powerful than I am. I have no ties or relations with them, and I'll have to pay them a visit in person to see if I can borrow some elixir from them. Rest assured, even if I'm unable to do so, I'll make sure to issue you satisfactory reparations for your efforts," Qing Yuanzi said in a confident manner.