"That’s so generous of Mr. Li!"
"Oh my, that’s it for me then. I never win anything."
The crowd was elated at the announcement. After all, incense materials were of great value. The Immortal-Attracting Incense (Acronychia pedunculata) of Qiongzhou, for instance, was thought to be a recent phenom in the circle, its price as high as 1,500 to 2,000 yuan per kilo.
Soon after that, waiters went around the hall to hand out the number plates. Jiang Xiaozhai got one with the number 23 and Panpan got the number 48. When everyone received their plates, Li Yang walked onto the stage, shuffled around in the box and picked out a number. He announced with a smile, "Number 23!"
The buxom woman joined in immediately and called out, "Congratulations, guest Number 23! Please show us where you are. Let me see, is it a gentleman or a lady… oh, a stunning lady it is. Please come up here."
"Wow, it’s you! Hurry up there!"
The winner herself barely showed any response, but Panpan was already rubbing her hands together in excitement while rushing Xiaozhai to go on stage. Vexed by the turn of events, Xiaozhai had no other choice but to walk up there, feeling like a circus animal.
"Congratulations, Miss Jiang!"
Li Yang shook her hand, looking all sincere and smiling. "You can pick any item from this hall."
"Anything else but that piece of agarwood?" She asked.
"Of course, but…"
He paused and said in a half-joking tone, "Please don’t pick something like the mountain date tree (Ziziphus montana) on purpose. I’ll be mortified."
Someone guffawed in the crowd. The buxom woman even echoed, "Exactly. This young lady has to choose something nice. Don’t let Mr. Li’s kindness go to waste."
All Xiaozhai wanted to do now was to cuss the hell out of her. That was actually what she had been planning on doing to avoid his "kindness". However, since they had pointed out in advance, it would look too deliberate to choose a cheap item now.
She hesitated for two seconds and strode directly towards the area where the Immortal-Attracting Incense was displayed. After taking a few rounds, she crouched down and started knocking around the timbers in a maladroit manner.
"Does she think she’s buying watermelon or something? What’s with all the knocking?"
"Rookie mistake. Just look at her, this must be the first time she’s ever been to such an event. "
"That’s just plain dumb luck!"
Some female companions of small business owners stood on the outer circle and were chattering away, all green with envy. They didn’t care much for the incense, but were grudging over the fact that Xiaozhai was noticed by Li Yang.
With the power and influence the Li family had, they would choose to become Li Yang’s least favorite mistress rather than a wife of some small boss.
On the other side, Xiaozhai had stood up and pointed at a piece of wood. "Excuse me, I’ll take this one."
The crowd turned their heads in unison. The incense material she picked out was about half a meter long, its thickness similar to one’s arm. The entire piece was covered by a blackish red color and the oil was so rich that it almost looked glossy. A few streak-like patterns were packed together in a corner of the cross-section, which without doubt had formed half a "ghost face". 
"This piece is of great quality. She’s got some good taste!"
"Not bad at all. That’ll give her at least a couple of beads."
"How much is it going to be worth, then?"
"For a ‘lover set’ of different sizes, eighty thousand at least."
Those words turned many onlookers even more covetous, while some were secretly regretting, ‘If only I had struck first!’
"Miss Jiang has a very good taste. Do you want to open it now?"
Li Yang was very happy with how things turned out and congratulated her himself. Xiaozhai pondered for a moment and nodded, "Yea, cut it open, please."
With that, the crowd scuttled towards the working platform, jamming around it. The old master picked up the material and sized it up closely. He then gave Xiaozhai a strange look without saying anything. After the machine was set, he started cutting.
The jigsaw was switched on and the wood was pushed steadily towards it. The saw blade made contact with the material, making a jarring sound. The fracture widened and finally, the first section was cut off with a thud.
The old master picked up the section and put it on the table. "A big ghost face!"
"Holly sh*t! She got a big ghost face!"
"That’s even better than the landscape pattern!"
"This girl is so damn lucky!"
Looming before them was an intact ghost face on the cross-section. Black oil lines had fused into the deep red wood, demonstrating the nature’s power to create some of the most magnificent wonders.
Seeing that, He Tian put his hand on Li Yang’s shoulder and laughed. "Very nice! You’re almost there!"
"That’s the subtlety I was talking about. Your methods are so primitive."
A smile emerged on Li Yang’s kind face as he was very pleased with himself. He turned to look at Xiaozhai and saw her blushed cheeks. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed with excitement.
What else could she feel. She was lucky enough to win a prize, and even more so in choosing an excellent piece of incense. With two happy events in a row, anyone would not be able to resist the temptation and feel somewhat attracted to the provider of that good luck.
From attraction to fondness, then to the ultimate intimacy, those were the only logical things to happen...
Almost everyone at the scene was bearing that thought in their mind, except for Panpan, who was twitching her face in a near-agony manner. She was actually wailing inside, ‘Sister, please! At least try to act like you mean it!’
Forget about the crowd. The old master had placed the wood in the right position and made a second cut. With a flip of his rough hands, the second section was taken off. The onlookers were completely intrigued by now and glanced at it in a hurry.
"Ouch! A rotten core!"
Someone called out right away, unable to hide the pity in his voice.
This second section was still a big ghost face. Unfortunately, a trail in the center of the pattern was rotten, resembling an ink stain in the middle of a white sheet, which was very uncomfortable to look at.
"Such a shame! Big ghost faces are really hard to come by!"
"Exactly. That piece is wasted. Not sure if she still can make a set of beads out of it."
Smile froze on Li Yang’s face before he even had time to react. He Tian was embarrassed as well and swore under his breath.
The old master was as calm as ever, setting the saw and making the third cut!
"F**k, rotten again!"
Another person shouted.
It was even worse with this section. Not only had the core rotten, the area around it was mostly corroded as well.
Then came the fourth cut!
"Sh*t! Rotten again?"
"Is it going to be like this all the way through?"
"Very likely. None of these sections were good."
The fifth cut followed!
The sixth one!
When the master finished cutting, it turned out that most of this piece of Immortal-Attracting Incense was rotten. The reaction of the crowd had moved from shouting and wrangling to speechlessness. In the end, some even chuckled at Xiaozhai’s discomfiture and sniggered under their breaths.
"I knew it. She can’t be that lucky. My god, this is so funny!"
"Just look at that face. Haha! She had it coming!"
"With that plain face of hers, money will never fall into her pockets!"
Li Yang’s lips were twitching and he was on the edge of losing control over his expression.
He was an incredibly shrewd person and never showed his real emotions to the others. He Tian was the only one who knew him well enough to tell that despite that smiling face, he was nowhere near Li Yang in terms of craftiness.
Li Yang had had everything planned out in advance. The lucky draw was obviously a cover for giving her the gift. Even if she ended up picking the plainest blank material, she would still owe him a favor.
As it turned out, she had chosen a piece of garbage from inside out. Now she not only owed him nothing, but was actually giving out a feeling that she was swallowing down the humiliation in silence.
It was the most awkward scene. People became boisterous and were talking all at the same time. All sorts of rumors were flying around and things were getting out of hand. Seeing that, He Tian raise his voice, "Enough with all your rubbish! Leave us alone! Go back to whatever it is that you were doing!"
The crowd went silent right away. They knew very well how bossy this mister could be. He’d kick anybody’s ass if he wanted to.
By then, Li Yang had resumed his harmless face and approached Xiaozhai. "Miss Jiang, that was so unexpected. I’d never thought that would happen."
"Mr. Li, that was not your fault. I just had bad luck. I’m very happy to win the prize alone. I will feel very guilty if you go on blaming yourself," Xiaozhai ignored all the talks going on around her and replied in the most diplomatic tone.
He squeezed out a smile and for the first time in his life found women baffling. "Do you have anything else that you want to see?"
"Yes, there are still a few things we haven’t got around to see."
"Well, I’ll leave you to it, then."
After Li Yang had left, Panpan sneaked near her and eyed her up closely, with her nose poking into Xiaozhai’s cheek.
"What are you doing?" She peeled Panpan off her face.
"I would totally fall in love with you if you were a guy!" Panpan said with twinkling eyes.
"You can still fall in love with me now."
"Go to hell!"
Panpan gave her a light punch and asked in a low voice, "Hey, I’ve got to ask you this. Did you pick a rotten one on purpose?"
"I’m not that good. It was bad luck, that’s all," she was all serious.
"Is that so?"
"Who wouldn’t like a windfall like that? A real treasure worth at least tens of thousands. Why would I say no to that?" She still replied in a serious tone.
"Tsk! Like I know what’s going on in your head! You’re impossible!"
Panpan grumbled out these words and did not pump her for further details.
While Jiang Xiaozhai was getting all the spotlight and having fun teasing her friend, Gu Yu had just crawled out of the long-distance bus station. He then took the subway and a bus, arriving at the museum fatigued after the long journey.
As he made his appearance with that backpack at the museum entrance, he stood out as a Minecraft character would in the world of Final Fantasy!
He paid 20 yuan for the ticket and made his way inside. The first floor was where large agarwood sculptures and artwork were displayed. Authenticated raw materials were on the second floor, ranging from underwater, under soil, beaten-down and Kynam to other types.
Other incense materials were on the third floor.
The fourth floor he could not access...
He had no choice but to call Xiaozhai, who showed up after two minutes and sniggered the moment she saw him. One could not blame her for laughing, for this scene reminded her a lot of a poor relative from the countryside who came to the city to make a living with a luggage taller than himself, only to be stopped at the entrance of an office building and had to wander around.
Seeing her smile, Gu Yu looked down involuntarily at his clothes and admitted in resignation, "Well, not my poshest look, apparently."
"What happened to the clothes you wore last time?"
"I had them washed and they are not dry yet, so I just randomly picked something out."
"Then you have an unbelievable taste in choosing what to wear."
Xiaozhai led him in and went directly to the tea room where Panpan was waiting. Seeing Gu Yu, Panpan couldn’t help giving Xiaozhai a dubious look, but the latter could not be bothered to respond and introduced the two to one another.
Gu Yu sat down and asked, "Are they betting on materials here?"
"Yep, almost over."
"How did it go?"
"Boring. Nothing good enough… oh, I bought this. Take a look," she handed him the fragrant rosewood she bought.
He took the wood and noticed that it was a newly produced spongy type. The outer bark was yellowish and scattered with only a few uneven oil marks. There was only a tiger pattern on the cross-section at the thicker end.
Unlike his skill in incense-making, he was far more ignorant when it came to rare materials. He extended a finger and swiped it on the material from one end to the other. A streak of agile essence followed his finger and scanned the interior of the wood. He could tell that it was rather dense and compact with few hollow spots.
Gu Yu lifted his hand and said honestly, "I don’t think it’s a hollow one, but I really can’t tell if it has oil inside or not."
With that, he was about to give it back.
"No need... "Holding the teacup in her right hand, she made a little push with her left hand. "This is for you."
 TL/N: A type of pattern formed on woods, which was left behind by the growth of a branch.