The fellow was slapped seven or eight times in a row before the crisp yet frightening sound finally stopped .
His lean face was now massively swollen and covered with purple veins . With the swelling taking up most of his face, his nose seemed exceptionally protruding and his eyes squeezed to tiny slits; he was now a perfect imitation of a pighead .
Crumpling onto his chair, the man was as much in pain as he was baffled . Despite his low grunts, he dared not—and could not even if he wanted to—utter a single word .
" . . . "
The fellow had always left a poor impression on those in his circle and was never a popular figure . Now that his ass was being kicked, the rest of the group all watched him with strange looks on their faces—they were even secretly expecting the show to go on .
Right under their gaze, a fluctuation seemed to spread out in the empty air . Immediately after that, a cherubic kid materialized silently with no forewarning, as if it had just jumped out of a wormhole from another dimension .
The kid was about 30 cm in height, wearing a red dudou and brandishing its naked smooth buttcheeks . As soon as it hit the ground, its face lit up into a broad grin . However, in spite of its wide open mouth, not a sound was coming out of it .
'What the hell is THAT?'
The crowd felt their hair standing up on their backs as a chilliness rose up inside them, moving swiftly up along their spines . Those not careful enough happened to look right into the kid's eyes and at a glance of those bottomless black pupils, they shuddered violently, utterly petrified .
Fortunately, the kid showed no interests in them whatsoever . Still grinning, it ran out jauntily on its bare feet .
They all heaved a sigh of relief . The fellow's bodyguard was the only person that felt unhappy and wronged . 'Come on, there was nothing I could do!'
"Something came up when we were just setting out . Sorry for keeping you waiting!"
Right at that moment, a voice came from outside and the speaker entered the room while they were just registering the words . A man and a woman had arrived, both with a splendor about them and looking subtly elegant . The cherubic kid was nowhere to be seen .
Seeing them, the crowd stood up in unison and greeted them solemnly, "How do you do, Mr . Gu!"
"Please sit down . You guys are way too polite!"
Gu Yu led Long Qiu into the room and gestured at the crowd . He then took one look at the pighead and said right away, "This gentleman, I'm afraid, would have to leave . "
Struggling with his swollen face, the man tried to explain himself, but was unable to make any distinctive sound . His bodyguard was quick to take the cue . Hoisting up his master, they stumbled out in a hurry .
With the sole idiot out of the picture, the rest of the group was much relieved . Moral of the story: regardless of time and occasion, one should never expect that everyone present was in possession of an adequate IQ .
"I did not expect there would be so many of you . Just to avoid any possible confusion, please take turn to show your things, one at a time . " Gu Yu then turned to Yuan Peiji . "I'll have to borrow the room upstairs . "
Yuan Peiji led them onto the second floor right away .
The rest of the group exchanged hesitant looks and the man from the capital city let out a sudden laughter . "Let's line up, then . No one's gonna be left out, anyway . I'll take the liberty and go first!"
With that, he climbed up the stairs with his suitcase and turned into a small room, where Gu Yu and Long Qiu were seated .
"Hello, Mr . Gu . I'm from the Meng Family of the capital city and my name is Meng Shaohui," he introduced himself .
"Nice to meet you . Please take a seat . "
Sitting down across the table from Gu Yu, the ruffian act from earlier was now nowhere to be found on the man . He said, "After hearing the news, we sent our men out right away and started collecting . It just so happens that the core business of my family is the trade of medicinal materials and we've got some very rare treasure—sort of an 'ace in the hole' . "
He opened the suitcase and pushed it lightly towards Gu Yu .
Gu Yu looked into it and was rather surprised at what he saw, for inside was a sun-dried, fully processed ginseng .
The stem consisted of three sections . The bottom section was cylinder-shaped and not very long; the middle section was the "patterned stem" densely lined with date-stone-shaped adventitious root; the top section was the "horse-tooth stem", which contained three "teeth" .
This big ginseng was 5 cm in length and 3 cm in diameter . The five main threads of fibrous roots wound and bent into various shapes, resembling the running hand in calligraphy . Its skin was of a yellowish white and felt fine and smooth . The entire plant possessed a natural grace .
'This is the real deal!'
Gu Yu sighed with admiration . Regret then took over—if only this was a living plant instead of a processed one . One had to be reasonable, though . This ginseng was at least a hundred years old and there was no way it could stay hidden in the mountain for that long a period .
As the saying went, a seven- liang 1 ginseng was a ginseng, while an eight-liang ginseng was a treasure .
There was a treasured "king of ginseng" in the country, which weighted 285 g—or 9 . 12 liang in traditional units . What was miraculous about it was that it split into two life-like " legs 2 " at the bottom, deeming it a gem unequaled by any contemporaries .
This ginseng was not as heavy as that, but was at least 8 liang already .
" . . . "
Meng Shaohui was flustered at Gu Yu's silence . He had brought the most spectacular treasure of his family and had no idea how much it would bring them in exchange .
To the mortal men, ginseng was but a medicine to treat illness . To the cultivators, however, it was also an ingredient for refining spiritual medicines . These were no ordinary medicines, though . As a work of the cultivators, one would not be exaggerating by saying that these medicines could instantly add a few more years to one's life!
After a brief moment of consideration, Gu Yu finally replied, "The ginseng is of the highest grade . Unfortunately, it is processed instead of being a living plant, which will affect its value . That being said, we will not be stingy, since you've proved your sincerity . "
With a wave of his hand, Long Qiu passed over an oblong box . "If you find this acceptable, we'll have a deal . "
" . . . "
Feeling ill at ease, Meng Shaohui opened the box and found it filled with incense pellets; the amount delighted him . "Thank you, Mr . Gu! Thank you so much!"
"Whatever medicinal materials you find in the future, you can bring it here . Oh, we prefer the living plants . "
"Yes, of course!"
The overjoyed Meng Shaohui went back downstairs jubilantly .
Long Qiu had just put the ginseng away when the second seller entered the room . It was none other than the pretty young man . Same as Meng Shaohui, the sarcastic attitude he exhibited in the squabble earlier was safely tucked away—he was a perfect gentleman now .
"Hello, Mr . Gu . I'm from the Bai Family of Xuan Zhou . I'm Bai Bo . "
After introducing himself, he cut to the chase right away . "This is a stone we stumbled upon and the test we ran came back empty . We thought maybe we could trouble you with the appraisal . "
Taking over the fist-sized stone, Gu Yu found it of an irregular shape with quite a few edges and corners . The stone was goldish red in color—mainly red, with a tiny bit of golden hue .
As soon as it was in his hand, Gu Yu detected a barely discernible fluctuation of spiritual essence . Unlike the neutral ones he had sensed before, this one seemed to have a natural property to it .
He sensed it more carefully . It was somewhat broiling, which gave him a slight burning sensation… was it fire?
"Where did you find it?" He was immediately interested .
Bai Bo's hesitation was deliberate . It did not take a genius to guess his intention .
"Haha, the stone itself is of little importance to me . I'd like to know the information you hold rather than having the stone . " Gu Yu knew how such thing worked and proposed, "I'll trade it for three pellets of Blue Cloud Incense . How does that sound?"
"Maybe a little bit more than that?"
"Maybe, depending on the value of your information . "
"Deal!" Gritting his teeth, Bai Bo thought it over and agreed . "My friend found it by accident when he was travelling in the Flaming Mountain . "
"As in Flaming Mountain of Huo 3 Zhuo?" Gu Yu was surprised .
"Yes . "
"How many more stones like this one were there?"
"Maybe a handful . He wasn't looking very closely . "
"When was he there?"
"Half a month ago . "
"Anything else out of the ordinary?"
"Urh, probably not . It felt much hotter than usual, that's all . "
Gu Yu knew what was happening . Flaming Mountain was in the same province as Tianshan and only 190 km apart . The fire spiritual essence in this stone was barely detectable, which meant it was formed only for a short period .
There were two possibilities .
It could be that a mineral vein similar to that of Tianshan had been formed, bearing fire-attributed ores .
Or, an area of abnormality similar to Grass River Mouth could be taking its shape .
He was inclined to go with the second one, for Flaming Mountain was not a node and it would take a considerably long period to form a lode . It seemed more like an abnormality brought by the neighboring node in Tianshan .
Either way, it was a valuable piece of information .
Consequently, he raised the payment, which satisfied Bai Bo greatly, who then took his leave .
The process went on like this . Seventy percent of them offered medicinal materials and only a few brought with them some minerals . A couple of the less insightful ones produced their "treasures" in the form of mud lumps or tree stumps, which were sprinkled with the faintest spiritual essence .
There were fourteen sellers in total . Gu Yu accepted the goods from nine of them and sent the other five back . Those that managed to close the deal were delighted, while the unsuccessful one dared not complain, but swiftly returned to their vehicles and left .
All in all, Gu Yu found the trade fair worthwhile . The most valuable pieces were the old ginseng and the information on Flaming Mountain . Apart from those, there were also three glossy ganoderma, four fleece-flower roots, and a number of tuckahoe and dendrobe .
Dusk time .
With the last deal closed and the seller's vehicle driving away, quietness returned to the small courtyard . Gu Yu did not think much of the event, but Long Qiu had had great fun . Her brother had brought her along this time so that she could learn from the experience .
Such trade fair would only happen more frequently in the future and there were only three of them . In case anything unexpected should happen, Xiao Qiu had to learn to identify the objects and offer reasonable prices .
Yuan Peiji stood by as a dutiful attendant until everyone else had left . Right now, he was seeing Gu Yu and Long Qiu off .
"This was the first meeting and the young masters of all families were here to make their acquaintance with you . The future trades will probably be carried out by the servants only . I hope you won't mind . "
"Haha, I understand . Thank you for taking the trouble today . "
"I was only doing my job…" Yuan Peiji paused and went on, "Mr . Gu, we were chatting before you arrived and quite a few people said in passing that we should revamp and expand the place a little . I think that's a good idea . After all, the group will only get bigger and a small place may not work . "
"What do you have in mind?"
"Well, I was thinking of building something like a manor . It'll at least fit all the cars in . And the road also needs paving . We'd better make it all the way to Phoenix Fair . Also there's the mountain track you use all the time . How about trimming it a little bit?"
Gu Yu could not be bothered to make any changes before, but with what was going on, this place was potentially a small scale trade center before long . The expansion was inevitable and necessary .
Therefore, he replied after a brief thought . "That sounds good . I'm afraid I'll have to trouble you with all the work . "
"It's my pleasure . "
Yuan Peiji accompanied them all the way to the foot of the mountain and watched them going up . It was only then that he turned around and headed back for the courtyard . Despite not being a participant of the actual trade, he still felt his adrenalin pumping .
As a matter of fact, the government would be the most capable party to set up a trading platform . However, without the core technology at the moment, the government would not be able play the key role . Moreover, with the current condition, they could only afford a limited scale of trades .
'Here's one sixty-year tuckahoe and two dendrobe . With a few more sealwort and you're qualified for free shipping! Airmail and fast delivered!'
Come on, no one would be that stupid to take their treasures lightly . Let alone sending them by mail, they would even doubt their own escort . Therefore, all had to be done in the most "primitive" way—as in, to meet in person and barter .TL/N: liang, a unit of weight used in China . 1 liang = 50 g TL/N: legend had it that if a ginseng is old enough, it can move around in the mountains on its own, hence the mention of "legs" . TL/N: meaning "fire"