Chapter 1977: Huo Li Sect

"If you really want him dead and he manages to return alive, I can take him out in your stead. That way, no one will be able to link his death to you," the woman suggested in a cold voice.

Patriarch Ao Xiao shook his head without any hesitation. "There's no need for that."

The masked woman seemed to know a lot about Silvermoon's situation, and she asked in a slightly surprised manner, "Why is that? Has Young Mistress Ling Long already been made aware of his existence?"

"I've kept all news of this man a secret from her this entire time, and she's constantly been by my side, so she hasn't had any interaction with the outside world. However, she suddenly received news about this man a while back from a friend of hers, and thus, she was made aware that he had ascended into the Spirit Realm and become a Body Integration cultivator; that's why she insisted on coming with me on this trip. If something happens to that Han brat, she'll inevitably suspect my involvement even if there's no evidence, and that would make it even more difficult for her to iron out her mental state. Of course, if he perishes by the hands of devilish beings, then that would be a different story altogether," Patriarch Ao Xiao explained.

"That makes things rather troublesome. However, it's not impossible for me to make it so that he does perish by the hands of devilish beings," the masked woman chuckled in response, seemingly very eager to have Han Li killed.

"Don't even think about it; no means no. Our battle against the devilish army is about to commence; all Body Integration cultivators are extremely valuable resources that can't be expended without good reason. Otherwise, I would've killed Tian Kui already. In comparison with that Han brat, I'm far more eager to see him dead," Patriarch Ao Xiao commanded in an implacable voice.

"In that case, I won't meddle in this matter. Having said that, I really am very interested in this so-called freakish cultivation prodigy," the masked woman chuckled.

"Liao Ying, how many years have you been a shadow guard of mine?" Patriarch Ao Xiao suddenly asked.

The masked woman faltered slightly upon hearing this before asking in a surprised manner, "Around 50,000 to 60,000 years now. Why do you ask, Master?"

"Back when I saved you from that spatial storm, you vowed to serve me for 100,000 years and signed a 100,000-year soul contract with me. I intend to transfer the remaining on the contract to Ling Long; what do you think?" Patriarch Ao Xiao asked in a serious voice.

"Master Ao Xiao, I signed that soul contract as I was grateful to you for saving my life, but the main factor contributing to my decision was the fact that you're a Grand Ascension cultivator. Otherwise, I would've repaid you through an alternate method." The woman's brows furrowed slightly with displeasure upon hearing this.

"So the only reason you're against this is because Ling Long's cultivation base is lacking?" Patriarch Ao Xiao asked in a calm voice.

"Indeed. I've watched Ling Long grow up from a little girl, and I've become quite attached to her. As such, I would be more than willing to serve her, but her cultivation base is a little too lackluster. At the very least, she has to be at the Body Integration Stage before I can consider this. As you know, there are some rules among us Liao Beasts that even I can't go against," the woman sighed in a rather forlorn manner.

Patriarch Ao Xiao smiled, and said, "If that's the only issue, then you can rest assured; Ling Long will be able to progress to the Body Integration Stage within the next century, and there's even a chance that she could reach the Grand Ascension Stage in the future."

"What do you mean by that, Master Ao Xiao?" the masked woman asked as a hint of bewilderment flashed through her eyes.

"I haven't told you this yet, but Ling Long has already awakened the Seven Star Moon Physique. Do you think what I'm saying is an exaggeration now? In order to avoid potential mishaps, I haven't revealed this information to anyone else," Patriarch Ao Xiao said in a solemn manner.

The masked woman contemplated the situation in silence for a while before nodding in a slightly reluctant manner. "I see. In that case, I would be open to considering this, but I'll have to verify everything for myself."

Patriarch Ao Xiao's expression eased upon hearing this, and said, "Good. With you by Ling Long's side, I won't have to worry about her before she reaches the height of her powers. Let's not drag this out for too long; I'll prove to you that Ling Long has awakened the Seven Star Moon Physique and transfer the soul contract over to her within the next few days."

The masked woman nodded before asking, "I'm naturally willing to cooperate, but may I ask why you're in such a hurry, Master Ao Xiao? Could it be that you're preparing backup options for Young Mistress Ling Long as you're not confident in the upcoming battle?"

"Hehe, if I didn't have any confidence, then I wouldn't have made this trip in person. I don't know what the Elder Devil Race is planning, but with the Grand Ascension Stage beings of the other races on our side, we have a good chance of securing victory. I can't disclose any further details than that, but it's necessary for me to take some precautionary measures. Even without this devilish tribulation, I won't be able to withstand my next heavenly tribulation anyway, so I have to start thinking for the future when I'm gone," Patriarch Ao Xiao said with a nonchalant smile. The masked woman's heart stirred upon hearing this, but she didn't say anything further.

After a while, Patriarch Ao Xiao continued, "There's nothing else I need you to take care of for now, so you can go. We're going to begin investigations to weed out the devilish spies on the island soon; make sure you don't get discovered. Otherwise, the ensuing misunderstanding could lead to a lot of trouble. At the very least, you'll no longer be able to use your current false identity."

"Yes, Master. I'll be taking my leave now." The masked woman nodded before her body gradually turned transparent again, and she vanished amid a burst of faint spatial fluctuations.

Following her departure, Patriarch Ao Xiao sat in silence by himself for a while longer before heaving a faint sigh and closing his eyes again.

Meanwhile, in a small mountain range close to 100,000 kilometers away from Deep Heaven City, there was a group of red-robed human cultivators hiding on a mountain summit while appraising an extremely secluded small canyon in the distance.

The group of cultivators was comprised of men and women of all ages, and there were a few elderly men and women among them who possessed immense magic power.

However, all of them were looking rather worse for wear and seemed to have only arrived here after a long journey.

An elderly man with two longswords strapped to his back withdrew his gaze before turning to an elderly man beside him with a scar on his face. "Junior Martial Brother Li, are you sure that there's a teleportation formation in that canyon that'll take us directly to Deep Heaven City?"

"Rest assured, Senior Martial Brother, this teleportation formation is designated for elders of Deep Heaven City, so extremely few people know about it. I only heard about it as one of my old acquaintances is a Heavenly Guard looking after the formation, and he unintentionally revealed its existence to me during a drunken rant," the scarred elderly man immediately replied.

"I wouldn't be so confident. It's been quite a long time since those devils took over this area; even the most secluded of teleportation formations could've been tracked down by now," the elderly man said with a concerned shake of his head.

"The problem is that Deep Heaven City has been sealed off by the devilish beings now, and it would be nothing short of suicide to try and reach it directly; Junior Martial Brother Li's suggestion is our only hope," a hideous elderly woman interjected.

The sword-bearing elderly man gritted his teeth, and said, "Indeed, Junior Martial Sister; we have no alternatives. If we keep hiding out in the open like this, then our Huo Li Sect will inevitably be hunted down eventually. Only by making it into Deep Heaven City will we be able to ensure that the heritage of our sect gets passed on. We have no choice but to take a risk."

The scarred elderly man was ecstatic to hear this. "You've definitely made the right decision, Senior Martial Brother! In the past, even the three sovereign cities have been conquered during previous devilish tribulations; only Deep Heaven City has a spotless track record. If we can get into the city, then we'll be saved for sure. I'll send some disciples to scout the area right away."

"There's no need for that. If the devilish beings have set up traps around the area, then normal disciples most likely won't be able to discover them; it would be best if we made a trip there ourselves. Even if we do end up falling into a trap, ordinary devilish beings won't be able to stop us anyway," the sword-bearing elderly man countered.

"Alright, we'll do as you say then, Senior Martial Brother. Junior Martial Brother Li and I will come along with you," the elderly woman agreed after a brief moment of contemplation.

"No, you stay behind, Junior Martial Sister. Your powers are second only to mine in our sect, so we have to keep you here as a backup option. If something happens, don't wait for us; get away from here with the disciples right away. Junior Martial Brother Li, Junior Martial Brother Yang, you two can come with me. One of you has information about the teleportation formation, and the other is adept in the art of formations, so both of you possess useful skill sets," the sword-bearing elderly man instructed.

The scarred elderly man and a refined elderly scholar immediately gave affirmative responses.

Thus, after issuing a few more instructions, the sword-bearing elderly man departed for the canyon with his two junior martial brothers.

The remaining human cultivators looked on from their hiding spots with nervous expressions.

Unbeknownst to them, there was a faint streak of azure light that was also hurtling toward the same target several thousand kilometers away.

Within the streak of azure light was a young man who appeared to be in his twenties, and he was currently fiddling around with a miniature black mountain in his hands.

On his shoulders sat a little girl who appeared to be around three or four years of age. She had delicate fair skin, and an adorably chubby little face. She had one hand grabbing onto Han Li's robes, and an unknown spirit that she was munching on in her other hand. 

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