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After a twenty-or-so-day-long survey, the research team announced their preliminary estimation: the reserve of the spiritual stones in Tianzhu Mountain was estimated at 25,400 ton.

Centering around the cave, the deposit stretched out for a dozen of kilometers with an uneven density. The ore was buried between 100 to 300 meters underground. In general, it was a shallow layer mine.

Exactly how significant was the figure 25,400 tons?

Take the province of Annan 1 , where Qian Zhou was located, as an example. The mineral with the largest reserves was coal, which amounted to about 24.6 billion tons, the 7th highest of the country. Iron ore reserves of the province were around 3 billion tons, gold ore 150 tons, and silver ore 1967 tons, which were respectively the 5th, the 10th, and the 19th highest in the country.



The figures above proved that the reserves of the spiritual stone were evident enough to set it among the precious metals. One had to realize, however, that silver and gold ores were negotiable and collectable once extracted. The spiritual stones, on the other hand, were consumables; they would cease to exist once used.

Not to mention that it also possessed an intrinsic cultivation characteristic, which made it valuable beyond measure.

Generally speaking, the scale of mines was categorized by the reserves and scarcity of the minerals.

Take coal mines as an example. To be qualified as a large-scale mine required a minimum of five billion tons of reserves and those below one billion tons were deemed small-scale mines.

In terms of gold mines, the small-, medium-, and large-scale rock gold mines were those with reserves of below five, between five to twenty, and above twenty tons respectively. The benchmarks for alluvial gold mines were below two, between two and eight, and above eight tons.

However, no such reference was applicable to mining spiritual stones, for the substance was unprecedented. A comparison of scales was only available after some further digging and extracting.

Apart from that, the research team had also circled out a land a few kilometers away and divided it into several experimental plots.

Fine seeds of various crops such as rice, wheat, bean, tubers, corn, sorghum, millet, etc., had long been sent out here to the base. After a team of agricultural experts arrived, the seeds were sowed right away.

Considering the most common staple food of the country, they focused mainly on rice.

There were paddy rice and upland rice. The former was double cropping rice with the first cycle starting between April and May, when the seeds were sowed, and ending towards the end of July, when the crops were harvested. Upland rice was single cropping and the sowing time was in late May. Both types would leave them with enough time to maneuver.

As for the rest, they also had the "farming" of the short-tailed sawfish to busy themselves with, to which there was no need to elaborate now. All in all, the spiritual stone mine and the agricultural experimental plots were the greatest achievement this time, and the most essential ones as well.

The camp, inside the lab.

Two assistants were putting together some research data, while in the inner room, Gu Yu and Qiu Guan were locked in a fierce discussion.

"Despite its qualities of circulation and exchangeability, the spiritual stone would not become a new form of currency in the foreseeable future, but a very rare and valuable resource only. Therefore, its criteria don't have to be watertight. Some rough measurement would do."

"How can it be anything but watertight? I need to know everything about them—the structure of their spiritual essence, the ratio between their reactivity and their mass and volume, and there's also the correlation between the purity and the density…"

"Wow! Hold on!"

Vexed, Gu Yu interrupted Qiu Guan whose face was scarlet with excitement. "I cannot guarantee that I'll be able to detect all those properties you mentioned. Even if I could, I won't, because there's no point measuring them. To me, the stones have only one property, that is the content of the spiritual essence."

It was the third concept. The other two were density—measuring the spiritual essence itself—and reactivity—measuring how the spiritual essence worked on other substances. The "content" referred to the spiritual stone itself.

With that, he picked up a palm-sized spiritual stoned and explained, "This one, for example—say we make its content a 10—by cutting it into ten equal pieces, each piece will have a content of 1, because the spiritual essence inside is evenly distributed. This 1 is the smallest unit of a spiritual stone.

If we find other lode in the future, we would be able to make comparisons. With the same volume and weight, the higher the content of spiritual essence, the more valuable the stone, obviously."

"Well…"

Qiu Guan smacked his mouth, feeling even more vexed than Gu Yu. That was so crude!

However, he had to admit that this simplified method was very practical, at least for the time being. Spiritual stones could not be measured by weight like gold and silver, and neither would numbers work on them like a unit of currency. It was such an abstract concept that the cultivators were its sole audience.

That was why Gu Yu's opinion was imperative. Unless the government could conjure up an ability to examine the spiritual essence themselves, Gu Yu could set up the criteria however they pleased him.

Pondering over the idea in his mind, Qiu Guan finally forced himself to accept the proposition. He then asked, "There's another thing. Will there be wastage during the cutting?"

"There surely will be, but not too significant. It all depends on how you would want to shape them… wait a minute?"

Blinking, Gu Yu suddenly turned all enthusiastic as he suggested, "How about we standardize them and make them into sycees 2 ? Future cultivators can use sycees to trade among themselves. That'll look awesome!"

"..."

The old man would not dignify that suggestion with a reply. This fellow was reliable enough most of the time, but every now and then, he would suddenly put up an entirely different face, as if he was playing a completely different character.

"Knock! Knock! Knock!"

While they were still talking, there came a knock on the door and an assistant entered. "Sir, Professor Qin needs you there. He said there was an instruction from above."

"In the canteen?"

"Yes."

"I see. We'll be there in a minute."

He stood up and was ready to leave with Gu Yu. However, the latter remained seated and eyed Qiu Guan back in surprise. "Don't look at me. I don't take orders from them."

"You... you're unbelievable!"

The old man jabbed his finger in the air at Gu Yu and left alone.

After hanging around with Gu Yu for the past month, the old man actually found him rather impressive. There was only one thing that he could not look past: Gu Yu's relationship with the government, which alarmed Qiu Guan greatly.

He was a pure researcher and wanted nothing to do with politics. He secretly felt sorry for the young fellow.

"Is everyone here? Let's begin, then."

In the canteen, Professor Qin, the other chief consultant, was seated at the front facing a room full of researchers. "I've just received a document from above and thought it to be some instruction. As it turned out, it was a compliment addressing all of us from the top leader himself." He smiled.

"Wow!"

The room rippled with mild excitement—everyone was surprised by the announcement. Qiu Guan winced as well. Even the top leader was aware of the project; the superiors attached much more importance to this than he'd expected.

"Ahem! I'll start reading the letter."

Professor Qin cleared his throat and read off a card. "Dear comrades, how time flew by. You have been in the mountains for nearly a month now and I'm concerned about your well-being all the time.

You have made great achievements in such limited time, which we will remember and for which we shall always be grateful.

This project might be more time-consuming than expected, so much that three or five years might flit past before anybody realizes. I understand the hardships you endure, but I do hope everyone would be able to perceive the imperative nature of your work, whose significance is so prominent that the development and evolution of the society as a whole is concerned.

As the saying goes, in unity the victory lies. Let's unite in a concerted effort and build ourselves a brighter future together!"

"Clap! Clap! Clap!"

A storm of applause set the rafters ringing, everyone was exhilarated. That was the recognition they expected for their career in the academic research world. A card from the top leader himself was fulfilment enough for everyone's vanity and sense of achievement.

"Ok, calm down. You can savor the excitement back in your own rooms. There's one more thing… in a few days, a team will be visiting us with regards from above. From what I've heard, there will be some very high-ranking officials. The condition of the camp affects the chance of reception. So, keep your heads up and show them your spirits!"

Professor Qin instructed the team, then turned to Qiu Guan. "Old Qiu, do you want to add anything?"

"No."

"Ok, you're dismissed."

With that, the crowd shuffled out of the canteen until there were only Professor Qin and Qiu Guan left. The cheerfulness from earlier had all gone and their faces looked somewhat grave.

"Old Qin, isn't that a bit rushed?" Qiu Guan asked suddenly.

"Rushed? How about ridiculously impatient!"

Professor Qin was more insightful with the matter. He was emphatic and apprehensive as he went on, "I understand their eagerness. The early batch of rice will take at most three months to harvest after sowing, which means we'll get the results in July. I too would be too excited to sleep and hanging on the news if I were them."

"If it worked out, how do you think they'll distribute it?" Qiu Guan asked.

"Is there a second way? Of course by ranks and positions, starting from the top of the pyramid. An emperor can never have enough relatives… well, well, that's not for people in our position to worry about."

Professor Qin brushed over the matter and smiled. "The good news is, however advanced those 'things' become, this world will still need technology to keep the wheels turning."

"Sigh, I can't disagree with you on that," sighed Qiu Guan.

It had been some time since they arrived here. To be honest, what they found so far had taken quite a toll on the entire research crew, for the need of science and technology had been suppressed to a minimal level and the power of the team was shifting towards logistics and auxiliaries. What was more, the key to their studies now lay on a single individual.

It was unacceptable to the scientists.

The jolly show Professor Qin put up just then by reading the regards aloud was also to encourage the team. They needed to realize that their work here meant they would not be leaving this year or the next; they would probably still be stationed here in three or four years.

And they needed to be psychologically prepared for that.

Meanwhile, by the river.

Gu Yu was sitting on a discarded stone with a fire at his feet, over which strutted two roasted fish—the short-tailed sawfish, of course. The giant heads had been removed and the remaining 15-cm-long bodies were skewered—quite a sorry-looking picture, from the perspective of the fish.

Our fellow looked perfectly relaxed as he sprinkled the fish with salt and chilli powder from time to time, paying no attention to the guards who were eyeing him with grievance.

And eyeing was their only option, for no one but Gu Yu could tamper with the fish, deeming him the sole sawfish-eater around here. Qiu Guan had berated Gu Yu for that on multiple occasions, but to no avail.

Gu Yu even felt sorry for not thinking of trying one the last time they were here—an epicurean our fellow was indeed.

"Sizzle!"

"Fizzle!"

The flame licked at the belly of the fish, soon turning the skin golden; a pleasant aroma rose from it. Gu Yu picked up a skewer and set his teeth ready when he heard footsteps coming from behind. He chuckled, "You're not at the meeting?"

"No."

Li Suchun moved closer and sat down on another rock. He then stared at the other fish in silence.

Gu Yu had no intention of treating him, because the fish had not been tested and they did not know how well could an average person take it. Instead, he said, "So, I guess socializing isn't exactly your thing. I don't see you eating in the canteen much."

"I smell of dead body…"

Li Suchun replied in differently, in a matter-of-fact sort of tone.

"In that case, you should learn to cook. At least don't abuse your own stomach."

Gu Yu was not going to pour the youth any chicken soup for the soul, he only chuckled. "I suppose you'll still be around for a while. It's almost time for me to leave."

"When?"

"Soon. I'm waiting for someone from above to remunerate my labor."

"Oh."

Chit-chat was apparently not Li Suchun's forte. He paused and switched to a completely irrelevant subject. "What do you want to do after you go back?"

"Me?"

Gu Yu took a bite of the fish and said, "Nothing specially, really. Cultivate together with my girlfriend, I think."

"That clown?"

He meant the opera mask she wore.

"Haha, the clown! That's her all right! Our current goal is to outlive our usefulness and turn into a couple of old and undead creatures. Oh, I forgot about the girl living with us. So, three old and undead creatures. "

"..."

Li Suchun was unmoved. Either he could not be bothered, or he did not get Gu Yu's dumb joke.

"What about you? What are you going to do?" Gu Yu asked.

"Haven't thought about it."

"Not even a goal?"

"Goal…"

Li Suchun's eyes flickered, revealing a glimmer of vacant and dispirited look.

"Don't think yourself as someone who has lost their freedom. There's a lot of things you can do."

Gu Yu finished a fish and said casually, "For example, you can improve your capability and create more powerful zombies. You had a master, didn't you? Where did you bury him? Don't you want to give him a grand funeral and rebuild the reputation of your sect?"

"Master…"

The words finally cracked the indifferent look on Li Suchun's face and he started mumbling to himself repeatedly, "I want to give him a grand funeral; I want to rebuild my sect…"

"Splash!"

Gu Yu jabbed the iron prod into the water and brought out another fish the next second. He strutted it above the fire. "There, you've got yourself an aspiration!"

TL/N: the name's fictitious TL/N: sycee, or yuanbao (元宝) was a type of silver or gold ingot currency used in imperial China. Google the image, if anyone's interested.

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