The development of the human society had also been the process of advancement on the understanding and utilization of resources.
In the beginning, resources were limited to raw material in the agricultural society, where the material was used to build production tools so as to improve the productivity. By the time the industrial age set in, various types of energy were included in the pool of resources, which were combined with the raw materials to build new types of tools.
When the modern era arrived, information became the "it-resources". Together, raw material, energy, and information had coalesced and infinitely broadened the scope of social productivity.
However, a new type of resources had just emerged, which was not only strange, but also had the potential to reshape the society. Human beings themselves at this point realized that they had little understanding of this new substance, let alone the ability to put it into use. As a result, the concept of resources in this area had returned to zero and people were back to the age of raw material.
Where did the raw material come from? From nature itself.
Nature provided human beings with the raw stuff and labor turned the material into wealth. With the accumulation of wealth, the society would develop and grow.
Above was the fundamental logic behind the issue, which the government had a thorough understanding of. That was why they were so eager to find that thing —to obtain a monopolistic position with a strong hand. Gu Yu and Xiaozhai had also figured it out. Hence after much consideration and discussion, they came up with their previously mentioned terms.
"You want Phoenix Mountain?"
Such a request had finally cracked the unshakeable friendly mask of Wang Qi. A flash of astonishment flickered through his eyes. 'Wanting a mountain' could be interpreted in many ways, from the mining rights and the tourism development rights to various other rights of usage. Needless to say, the one he feared the most was the right of ownership.
"Mr. Gu, that was a bold request! How dare you speak of it in my presence…"
"Hey, not so fast with the labeling yet!"
Before Wang Qi could browbeat Gu Yu into backing off with a threatening line, the latter interrupted with a chuckle. "We know how far we can go on this and provoking the government is not something we want. Those are the only two terms we have. How about telling us what you want?"
The previous conversation had given Wang Qi a rough idea of Gu Yu's style. He stopped beating around the bush and posed a straightforward question. "If I may ask, what method are you using for cultivation?"
"A Qi-refining method of Danding 1 Sect, obviously. It's sort of a secluded Taoist branch. Sorry for not being able to tell you more, but I've got the rules of my sect to follow."
"Haha, that's fine…"
Wang Qi was only asking in passing and did not expect to get a solid answer to begin with. After all, that was not the purpose of this meeting. What was more, with the ample Taoist resources controlled by the government, they did not mind missing this little bit.
He then turned to say, "What I want is rather simple. That is, everything you know."
"Hoho, that is a rather bold request as well."
Gu Yu picked up the teapot and poured another three cups of tea. The guest, as it seemed, was supplanting the host. "Here, please have some tea!"
The aroma of the tea was very rich, which after two rounds of adding water remained as distinctive as in the beginning, and the aroma lingered even longer in the mouth. By now, both sides had named their demands and it was time to compare the cards to see which side had the upper hand.
'You need information from me, but whether or not I will satisfy you depends on what you will offer. What you will offer in turn depends on the value of my information…' It might sound confusing, but to put it plainly, it reads 'You're happy, I'm happy.'
"Everything is too generalized a term. Let's talk about more specific things. How's Long Qiu now?" Xiaozhai asked.
"She's right here in Urumqi and completely fine. However, you probably don't know it yet, but she has killed as many as six people just outside the mountains. Six men, all of which were our elite members!" Wang Qi announced with spontaneous emphasis.
Gu Yu and Xiaozhai were genuinely surprised by the news. They had expected some lethal strike from the girl, but not killing six people! By releasing this piece of information, Wang Qi was implicitly saying that Long Qiu had committed a major crime and they needed plenty of cards to get her out.
After a moment of silence, Gu Yu said suddenly, "If I may ask, your research so far has come up empty, hasn't it?"
"Never underestimate the capability of a government," Wang Qi was vague in his answer.
Gu Yu took little notice of his ambiguity and went on. "Actually, I can tell you right now what is the thing that you have been questioning about, which is also what we came all this way to search for."
Wang Qi kept his unblinking gaze on Gu Yu, whose lips then parted and gave his answer in a few words, "The recovery of the spiritual essence and the reemergence of Taoist methods."
The recovery of the spiritual essence!
Wang Qi jolted. It was none other than one of the several conclusions the authorities had drawn, which was now finally confirmed. The 'reemergence of Taoist methods' part, however, was even more informative.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this statement alone was enough to determine the strategy and orientation of the government, upon which a series of arrangements would be deployed.
Now he understood why these two were confident enough to negotiate with the government. This man seemed to be telling the truth when he claimed himself the only one able to detect the spiritual essence.
Up to now, every statement either side made was shifting the balance. The bargaining chips were added and deducted all the time.
A thousand ideas flashed through Wang Qi's head and he changed the subject again. "In that case, what do you think about the changes that are going to happen?"
"It'll be an irresistible and inevitable trend; one can only face it head-on. Everything will change with it: resources, social structure, ideas, cultures, etc. You people know better than I do. I won't embarrass myself by showing off in front of the experts."
"Then how about you two?"
"Us? We seek nothing but cultivating our way out."
Seeking cultivating their way out...
Wang Qi turned the words over in his head. He needed not to be a cultivator to detect the firmness, struggle, courage, and resignation in them.
Without realizing it, his opinion on the duo was shifting towards the positive side. However, he still had a job to do. "Mr. Gu, I empathize with you, but we're never reaching an agreement on these alone."
"Oh, of course there's more to it."
Gu Yu produced a notebook and handed it to him, "Take a look at this."
Somewhat baffled, Wang Qi flipped it open and read the following lines on the first page.
"The spiritual essence is the produce of nature and can be categorized on the basis of its density, where 0 denotes non-existence; 1 is the entry level, aka the minimum level to support cultivation; 2 is satisfactory; 3 is outstanding; 4 is excellent; 5 qualifies for a node.
Nodes are locations where the spiritual essence is extremely concentrated and the density level peaks. They have a radiating effect, with radii that vary from dozens to hundreds of kilometers. Furthermore, it is speculated that the density of the spiritual essence is not a fixed one, but is increasing, which is noticeable at all nodes. The radiating areas of the nodes will continue to expand.
This journey has taken us all over the country, covering a distance of as many as five thousand kilometers during the process. Of all the 296 cities, towns, and villages of various scales, we have recorded the spiritual level of all in this notebook…"
A few paragraphs were enough to amaze Wang Qi; even his fingertips were shaking. He quickly flipped to the later pages and saw that as said in the beginning, there were records on every place—from the 21 locations in Shengtian area all the way to the south, moving past Ji Zhou, Lu Zhou, and Jiang Zhou, then to Qian Zhou and Shu Zhou before the track took a 90-degree turn, stopping at Urumqi in the northwest.
This notebook was invaluable!
It was like those men of the national land surveying department. They might seem unimportant in appearance, but to the state, they were all valuable beyond measure. With this notebook, the government could steal a march, taking a firm control of the resources in advance.
'Hey, wait a minute!'
Wang Qi flipped through the notebook over and over again but had found ratings only up to 4. There were no 5s. He asked despite himself, "What about the nodes? Why aren't they noted down?"
"Not so fast. Let's make sure of one thing first. Is this valuable enough?" Xiaozhai asked.
It took them quite a few days to compile the notes. Unlike the original one, information on the nodes had been omitted.
Now was the critical moment. Wang Qi steadied himself immediately and let out a soft sigh. He shook his head again, "It is good info. As for whether it is good enough, it's still too early to tell!"
The remark made Gu Yu frowning. "Mr. Wang, you're being very stingy in showing sincerity!"
"On the contrary, I am as sincere as I can be."
Putting down the notebook, Wang Qi paused briefly before going on, "I'll cut to the chase as well. I have a couple of questions."
"Is Phoenix Mountain one of the nodes?" he asked.
"How many nodes are there in total?"
"No comment for now."
"In that case, how are the other nodes in comparison with Phoenix Mountain?"
"They're all as good, if not better."
Wang Qi nodded to show his approval. Wise decision. If they took away the best node instead, leaving the inferior ones to the government, it would be like openly declaring war. He added immediately, "Are you lording yourselves over the area by taking the mountain?"
"Like I said, not so quick with the labeling. That's too big a hat for us. Think of us as contractors. All we want is somewhere peaceful and quiet to cultivate in, with no disturbance from the outside."
"Especially you people!"
"So, if we do this your way and at some later stage we need something from one another again, what will happen then?"
"We exchange! We'll trade some of our things if we need something from you and vice versa."
"Like what we're doing now?"
He had to ask. To politicians, where these people stood was a matter of principle. Being 'lawful neutral' was the bottom line for the government and any attempt to cross that line would lead to annihilation at all cost.
Wang Qi had by now a thorough understanding of their attitude, which was 'talk about interest, not feelings'. The two sides would even have to guard against each other.
At this early stage, making contact was the last resort for both sides. With the growth of either side until they were strong enough to overpower their counterpart, the situation would not be the same.
A couple of questions later, Wang Qi announced, "I am granted with sole responsibility for the negotiations, but the proprietary rights of a mountain are in question and I still have to ask my superiors for instructions."
"How long will it take?"
"I'll be as quick as possible!"
"Two hours, or no deal."
Gu Yu reached out and retrieved the notebook. Wang Qi had to force himself to remain in his seat so as not to grab at it.
At this point, the main purpose of the negotiations was over.
To the government, it would be a favor done at favor done at a small cost. Phoenix Mountain was Gu Yu's hometown and cultivation site to begin with. All the authorities were doing now was going through a legal procedure, which would give them a whole set of spiritual essence map in return.
The government thought it quite a bargain.
As for Gu Yu and Xiaozhai, they had traded their two months worth of effort for Long Qiu's exoneration, as well as an officially recognized right to a mountain. They might seem to have lost greatly on the deal, but in fact, they kept the pivotal practicing methods to themselves, especially the method of consuming essences!
The government was currently focusing on the spiritual essence alone and paid little attention to the methods. After all, they thought that with the Taoist association at hand, any manual or method would be within arm's reach at their command.
Mu Kun was actually aware of something shady about the deal, but he couldn't stand against the unified mindset of his superiors—such was the perception gap between the two sides. The authorities were too used to the influence of Quanzhen and Zhengyi.
Gu Yu, on the other hand, was secretly jeering. It was beyond doubt that he himself was the only individual who could carry out the essence-consuming method. As long as the state did not know about this fact, everything would be fine.
What was more, they got to keep the newly obtained Dan- and instrument-refining methods.
When Phoenix Mountain became their property, they could make it into their private cultivation grounds and keep the resources of the node to themselves. As the saying went, the early starters are early in every step. With their talents, they would easily rise above others even if the society turned into a cultivation-based one in the future.
That notebook had its value, but one had to realize it. As the density of the spiritual essence increased, some other people would eventually be able to detect it as well. By then, the government would start doing the same thing.
They were only taking advantage of their early start and used it to make a deal.
So, these two thought it quite a bargain as well.
After everything was settled, Wang Qi was still somewhat unreconciled to the outcome and made his last-ditch attempt. "You both are such talented people. Won't you consider joining us at all?"
"To pursue after the Great Dao is our only aspiration. We hope you will understand."
"I will. It's just such a pity. To be honest, I really think you two… well, that incense is ready."
He glanced over in passing and rose to his feet unexpectedly. Walking to the wooden side table, he carefully removed the lid of the censer and took out a few pieces of charred incense with a pair of tweezers. That was how the Xuanhe Dragon Garden worked. The most unusual characteristic of this incense was that after the fragrance dissipated, the incense itself could be brewed with tea.
Wang Qi was obviously an expert in using this method. Putting the incense pieces into the cups, he poured in some more hot water. Instantly, an exotic fragrance filled the air. The wonderful aroma had a lingering finish. Tea and incense had fused perfectly into each other.
Gu Yu smelt it and smiled, "If things turn out good today, we might actually become fellow incense-appraisers."
Three cups were filled again. Each taking a cup, they exchanged a look and made the gesture of a toast, "Enjoy!"TL/N: "Dan" as in "Neidan/Waidan"; ding meaning "furnace" or "cauldron"