Half a month later.
The heavy snow fluttered about for an entire night. It was only during the wee hours of three, four AM did the snow somewhat stop.
The campus after the snow was a sheet of somberness and desolation and was exceptionally cold.
It was winter vacation, so the majority of students had returned home to celebrate the new year, leaving just a few cultivation lunatics at school.
The time was precisely the moment when it was the darkest before dawn. Even the cultivation lunatics were in the Deep Sleep Chamber in deep sleep, preserving and honing their strength.
However, it was as if there was a wildfire within the refining workshop, as if it was the afternoon of a hot day. The intense sun was scorching as steam curled around.
"Boom! Boom! Boom!"
Aside from the humming that came from the high-speed operation of the crafting furnace, there was also a bombarding sound with quite the rhythm coming from the depths of the steam.
A small area was marked out in the corner opposite of the imposing 1st Generation Tai'e crafting furnace. It was a metal forging room that was built according to ancient methods, and although it was small, it was complete in every detail.
Not a wisp of steam was on Li Yao's body, exposing a body of lean muscle. The Dark Star Rock danced like the wind, instantly transforming into over a hundred streaks of hammer shadows that smashed against the anvil. The pounding caused sparks to scatter all about, splashing onto his body, yet he was totally unaware of it.
His lips pursed up under the illumination of the scarlet red furnace. He held an expression of concentration, and every breath was drawn especially long.
Nine seconds for each inhale. Nine seconds for each exhale. The timing did not vary by a hair.
His body would expand by a factor as he inhaled, and as every strand of muscle fiber bulged, they would reveal even the tiniest of details, seemingly as if countless dragons were bulging out from beneath his skin.
And his skin dispersed with a bronze, silver, and gold luster of radiance, much like a metal that had been forged to the pinnacle.
This was the number one secret body tempering technique of the Hundred Smelting Clan, the Thousand Tempering Hundred Refining technique. This was the exquisite symbol of his cultivation.
When he exhaled, his body would return to normal and all the "dragons" would return to the depths of his blood and flesh to hibernate, concealing their claws and teeth and curbing their wings, making him look no different than a normal university student. His thick back, his sturdy waist, and his bulging muscles were larger than even those buff dudes from the Combat Department.
This was the marvel of the Soul Convergence Technique!
Li Yao had already grasped the initial step through long study via the Heavenly Refining Tower, and now, he could take his strength at will and suppress it to the 1st level of the Refinement Stage.
At first glance, he was a newcomer who had just awakened.
But, as soon as he uses the Soul Igniting Law, Li Yao was confident that his strength, particularly his anti-gravity and instantaneous burst strength, would absolutely not lose to any student of the Combat Department, for he had cultivated for several months at the bottom of the Billowing Star Seaeven if they were students from the higher grades!
Li Yao wielded the Dark Star Rock at his maximum speed and forged for a full ten minutes. Fine beads of sweat seeped out from his body, making it look like he had put on a layer of glistening battle armor. Finally, he finished with great success!
Letting out a drawn out breath of relaxation, a stream of air shot out from his mouth and suddenly expanded midair, forming the appearance of a vulture flapping its wings, ready to fly. It lasted for a full ten seconds before gradually fading away.
"Not bad! I could only maintain it for 9.5 seconds yesterday, but today, I have increased it by half a second. My control over energy has become more and more exquisite. Soon, I will be able to break through the 5th level of the Refinement Stage and officially rush into the 6th level, the intermediate level Refinement Stage!"
Li Yao's pitch-black pupils flared with light as the corner of his mouth arched into a smile of self-confidence.
Through mad cultivation at the bottom of the Billowing Star Sea and through the bitter bracing of wild bombardment from Ding Lingdang, explosive progress was made whether it was in Thousand Tempering Hundred Refining, the Soul Converging Technique, or the Soul Igniting Law. During a sparring session five days ago, Li Yao broke through in a single breath to the 5th level of the Refinement Stage and even borrowed the power of this breakthrough to launch a dangerous counterattack against Ding Lingdang!
Even though he only severed a single strand of hair on her head, this was, after all, the first time he had made contact with Ding Lingdang's body. Even if he had been beaten to a pulp afterwards, Li Yao was still quite pleased in his heart.
"Work hard! Strive forward!"
"The next level breakthrough will mean I have reached the intermediate level within the Refinement Stage. Spirit energy will no longer be just for show and can be used in actual combat!"
"At that time, my combat strength will increase by three to five fold!"
However, levels one through five of the Refinement Stage are considered to be low levels, so it is relatively easy to break through to them.
To step across from the low levels to the intermediate levels would require profound comprehension in addition to the accumulation of strength. One must not be impatient for that time.
Li Yao had just reached the 5th level of the Refinement Stage a few days ago, so his state wasn't too stable. He had just let his imagination run wild for a moment and didnt really have the impatient thoughts for quick results.
Stretching his aching back, Li Yao opened the ice maker and used his brain to touch upon the freeze array glyphs, causing them to flash. His mind was completely clear, and only then did pick up the workpiece he had just forged for careful examination.
What was twirling in his fingers was shockingly yet another nail, a seven layered heavens nail!
Actually, he had left out a step in the refining showdown that happened half a month ago.
The Seven Layered Heavens technique was an ancient refining technique from the Hundred Smelting Clan of forty millenniums ago. It absolutely could not be formed with just one go through the crafting furnace. It still needed the One Hundred and Eight Chaos Gale Hammer Technique to hammer it over and over, taking the seven layer structure and fusing it into a single body. Only in this way could it become the true Seven Layered Heavens!
If the seven layered heavens nail had gone through the ancient forging technique, then even if Jin Quan had refined the perfect dragon scale nail, Jin Quan wouldn't even have the slightest bit chance of victory. His nail would instantly explode under the high-speed collision!
Li Yao snapped his fingers, and a different pitch-black nail immediately flew into the palm of his hand.
This was none other than the dragon scale nail refined by Elder Lei Yongming.
This was a gift the elder had sent to Li Yao before leaving.
Li Yao flicked it with his finger and the dragon scale nail let out the hiss of a tiger and the cry of a dragon. The sound lingered in waves.
It was as if there was truly an imposing and ferocious dragon hibernating within this tiny, little nail.
Li Yao listened to the subtleties of the dragon's cry with half squinting eyes. He could perceive the internal structure of the hidden dragon scale nail. He muttered to himself:
"Marvelous, profound, and inconceivable!"
"The techniques of the previous generation of refiners have truly reached perfection. Even if I use the true Seven Layered Heavens technique, it would be impossible for me to forge even a single layer of the hidden dragon scale structure. The old grandfather had actually inserted three layers in an instant, reducing the total weight of the nail by 22% while increasing the strength by 100%. In the end, how did he manage to do this?"
"I exhausted my mind forging this seven layered heavens nail, yet it's still not enough to contend against that old grandfather's hidden dragon scale nail. After ten collisions, my nail would certainly be the one to shatter!"
Li Yao deeply recognized the distance between him and a true master refiner. It was a distance that was oh so far.
In an instant, an endless crazed swelling rose from the bottom of his heart, as the desire to battle raged and burned. His ambitions expanded crazily.
"With a universe this large, it is truly worth it to spend an entire lifetime to challenge others. I must not relax by all means. Every second must become time spent in getting stronger. Every second must be lived to boundless brilliance!"
Li Yao gave a subtle smile when his thoughts reached this point.
What Lei Yongming had given him did not end with something as simple as just a nail.
After being shaken by the astonishing potential revealed by Li Yao, the old grandfather had pulled some strings to establish a Strategic Cooperation Agreement between Grand Desolate War Institution's Refining Department and the Empyrean Terminus Sect.
The Grand Desolate War Institution's Refining Department had officially turned into an extracurricular education base of Empyrean Terminus Central High School, and the Empyrean Terminus Central High School would organize their top students to come to the department for a touring study each year.
At the same time, Grand Desolate War Institution's Refining Department made a promise to pay special attention to the students of Empyrean Terminus Central High School during the Limit Challenge Competition. They just had to comply with the standards to receive preferential score treatment!
The most amusing thing of all was that the good-for-nothing Little Fatty Li Shanhao and his group of good-for-nothings had gotten a hold of Yuan Manqiu and Li Yao's spiritual crane messenger number. They didn't dare to contact Yuan Manqiu, the department head; instead, every few days, they would go contact Li Yao with affection. Every message would refer to him as their eldest senior brother, addressing him quite intimately.
To give preferential score treatment, even from a third rate specialty that was the Grand Desolate War Institution's Refining Department, was still a promise of good faith.
Obviously, the Empyrean Terminus Sect wouldn't accept this benefit for nothing. With just a wave of Elder Lei Yongming's hand, the Empyrean Terminus Sect immediately brought out eight million credits and this old grandfather personally took out two million credits for a total pooling of ten million credits in investments. They sent it to the Grand Desolate War Institution, indicating that the money was to be invested in the refining department. They even said that this was just the first stage. In the future, if everyone's cooperation goes pleasantly, they could even consider forming a special fund, a fund to be given as an investment every year to the refining department.
The entire administration of Grand Desolate War Institution was shocked in this instant.
Ten million credits investment couldn't be considered large, but it also couldn't be considered tiny. The few traditional investors of the Grand Desolate War Institution, like the Devil Fist Sect, the Hundred Saber Alliance, and other similar sects, would invest several hundred million each year!
However, these sects were all combat sects of the Wasteland, and their relationship with the Grand Desolate War Institution was extremely close. The Combat Department was equivalent to their core reserves and base of training, so it was natural for them to give the Grand Desolate War Institution money liberally.
Meanwhile, the Empyrean Terminus Sect was a sect focused on refining and never really collaborated together with the Grand Desolate War Institution. This time, the Refining Department had forcefully broke open a new road. The investment money was only second to what was key, the slow and pervading influence of the Grand Desolate War Institution into the region where the Empyrean Terminus Sect was located.
It must be known that the Empyrean Terminus Sect was in the middle of an abrupt rise to become a top ranking sect. They had certain fame within the federation. If the two sides deepened their collaboration, the benefits that the Grand Desolate War Institution would receive would far exceed a simple 10 million credits.
As a result, this matter brought Li Yao a benefit that he could never have imagined; he received a scholarship called "Star of the Wasteland".
This was the highest level scholarship of the Grand Desolate War Institution. The requirements to get this scholarship were extremely demanding, and the student had to have an outstanding display in academics and perform enormous contributions to the school as well. The student had to do both, and neither could be lacking.
Since Li Yao was able to modify the 1st Generation Tai'e crafting furnace, his academics didn't need to be mentioned. His drawing in of 10 million credits in investments for the school could be counted as an enormous contribution. It was quite justifiable for him to receive the scholarship.
The money wasn't a lot, but the crucial point laid in the fact that the scholarship gave him a whole additional 3000 school credits as a reward!
In this way, Li Yao's total school credits easily broke through the 10,000 mark.
He had no burdens at all now. He wholeheartedly threw himself into refining madly.
The entire winter vacation was spent with complete diligence.
Every morning, he would go to Ding Lingdang's home and cultivate in the Billowing Star Sea for an hour. Then, he would spar with Ding Lingdang in low-intensity for half an hour and high-intensity for five minutes.
Soon after, he would enter the Heavenly Refining Tower with the help of the Super Perception Cabin and analyze over and over the structures and functions of various magical equipment.
Ancient ones, modern ones, civilian ones, military ones, close-combat ones, long-distance ones... Every blueprint of each and every magical equipment he could find were totally chewed to pulp by him.
After leaving the Heavenly Refining Tower, he would go back to the depths of the Billowing Star Sea to cultivate for one more hour before he would act as a sandbag for Ding Lingdang once again for another half an hour.
After eating dinner, he would start his true refining.
One magical equipment after another came freshly refined out from the crafting furnace. They went through ancient forging techniques to become harder, stronger, and more precise than those produced from purely modern arts.
All sorts of vibrant and brilliant colored magical equipment that could cut through steel like mud appeared within a small gray building to the side of the refining workshop.
Following the coming of the new semester, this little gray building shockingly turned into an awe-inspiring armory!