The Tao Family house, a guest room.
The cool autumn breeze blew gently in and the moon shone softly on the curtain. Gu Yu was sitting on his bed, holding that Hollow Stone in his hands. Because of their tight schedule, he hadn't had time to study it so far. Now that they were finally able to have a break, he could have a closer look.
The stone was two sizes larger than a basketball, with rough and uneven surface. There was absolutely nothing special about it just in appearance alone, so those men behind that auction must have had very sharp eyes to pick it out.
With a streak of his mental force, Gu Yu slowly poked the stone briefly before withdrawing. The texture inside was the same as the exterior, only that the structure was rather unique: it consisted of tiny round holes.
The holes crisscrossed and linked with one another. It might look chaotic at the first sight, but there was in fact a pattern in them, not much unlike a giant beehive or ant nest. Faint spiritual essence was slowly flowing through this holes and filled the entire interior.
"The wonder of Nature, so unbelievable."
Gu Yu could not help but sigh with admiration. He weighed the stone up and down in his palm, then sent in a streak of his spiritual essence, which carefully fused with that of the stone itself and resumed flowing around inside the stone.
After the two streaks of spiritual essence converged, the new streak was flowing slightly faster, making a sound reminding one of wind passing through woods and gurgling water.
Gu Yu felt distinctively that the weight on his palm was lifted all of a sudden and the stone became lighter still. It now sat there like a giant marshmallow.
He was greatly intrigued and began to send in an unbroken stream of spiritual essence. With it, the stone grew forever lighter until about fifteen seconds later, when all of the holes inside were filled with spiritual essence and he could insert no more.
There was barely any weight left to Hollow Stone. Unfortunately, it was not light enough to float.
Gu Yu pondered with a frown: the weight of this stone had something to do with its spiritual essence, but what about that impact force?
He drew out the spiritual essence and returned the stone to its original state, then set up a layer of confinement and threw the stone at it with a third of his full strength.
The stone seemed to have knocked onto a transparent film and created an invisible fluctuation. The confinement remained intact.
He increased power to half of his full strength and threw the stone out again.
The confinement flickered and shook a little as if it was about to collapse.
"This is not a strong confinement, but the stone can break it with sheer force alone, that is indeed something."
In the next round of experiment, Gu Yu inserted two streaks of spiritual essence to fill the stone up, then added another 30% of his full strength.
The stone broke through the film and hurtled on, embedding itself into the wall. The entire house shuddered at the impact, shaking doors and windows. There was immediately a hubbub of noises outside.
"It's an earthquake!
Gu Yu grinned and took back the stone with a guilty conscience. He was pleasantly surprised, though. It was obvious that the impact force was related to the strength of the throw and the amount of internal spiritual essence. The larger the two numbers, the more impact it would make.
With that characteristic, his idea of refining a Sky-turning Seal might actually come true. However, this one alone would not do the trick. Ideally, he would need an enormous piece with countless holes to make the refinement worthwhile.
"Knock, knock, knock!"
"Master, what happened? Are you all right?"
He was still deep in his thoughts when Tao Yu's voice came from outside.
"I'm ok. I was just doing research."
"Oh, may I come in?"
Tao Yu opened the door and walked in, acting as if he had not seen the dent on the wall, and only said, "Master, I've brought you all the old materials our company preserved. And these…"
Somehow, he hesitated a little before taking out a few pouches and pushed them to Gu Yu. "These are the things we wear ourselves. Please have a look."
The current jade market was in a rather chaotic state and shams were frequently passed off as genuine pieces. One could often run into stuff claimed to be hundred-year-old jade, which was nothing but knock-offs.
The "hundred-year-old jades" one could find in open markets were all fake—if one was lucky enough, maybe they could find some genuine pieces in the black market.
The age of a jade piece was counted after it was processed into a designed form. The raw stone state did not count, for they were considered embryos only. Both officially and unofficially, the oldest jade pieces private collectors held could be dated back to the Republic of China 1 era the furthest. There was hardly anything left from before that, not even from the Qing Dynasty.
Even the jade pieces of the Republic of China era were mostly not obtained through proper means. For instant, many were dug out from graves and had gone through multiple transactions to dispose of such stolen goods. Such jade piece needed to be blessed by masters before wearing on person, and could no be shown to others after the new owners wore them.
If it was shown to the others, the lifespan and the luck in making money of the owner would both be affected.
These pieces worn by members of the Tao Family had all been processed by Tame Head masters to expel the evil energy. Technically speaking, they shouldn't be shown to any outsider, either. However, Mr. Gu was not an outsider, but a master. Hence, after much consideration, Tao Yu brought them along.
Gu Yu was intrigued. He opened each pouch in turn and saw that they contained two jade bracelets and two jade plates. None of them were exactly exquisite, but there was an energy about them that made one find it hard to put them down.
"Master, you have done us a great favor that we can't possibly return. If you like, feel free to take these little pieces back with you," said Tao Yu.
"Haha, they're things you wear yourselves—I can't deprive you of your precious belongings. To be able to have a look at them is more than enough."
Gu Yu played around with them for a while, put them back into the pouches, and smiled. "Let's go, I want to look at those materials."
Tao Yu was genuinely surprised by that and was watching Gu Yu with even greater respect. He led Gu Yu downstairs to the right side of the courtyard, where the special warehouse for jade stones was. In it were three giant pieces of raw stones.
Jade was known to be found in Diannan, and by this "jade", we usually referred to jadeite.
Jade was a very broad concept and could be generally categorized into nephrite and jadeite. To list a few, Hetian Jade, Xiuyan Jade, Lantian Jade, Dushan Jade, topaz, aventurine, etc., all had "jade" in their common name in Chinese.
The three jade stones the Tao Family saved were two jadeite stones and one nephrite one, which were considered the most valuable pieces of their factory.
Gu Yu was a little disappointed with them. However excellent these materials might be, they were nothing but ordinary objects—surpassed even by the green jade stone of Tianshan. They were good enough, though, for they could at least be made into jade slips to store information.
Such was a demonstration of the distance between the two worlds: objects of the highest grade of the mortal world were common commodity of the cultivation world.
"They'll do. I'll take them all. How much should I pay you?" said Gu Yu.
"..." Tao Yu pursed his lips and said decisively, "I'm offering these old materials to master for free. I want nothing in return, but only hope you could bless the Tao Family with an opportunity to make a connection with the immortal world."
With that, he fell to his knees.
"Oh my, please don't do this!"
Gu Yu stopped his kowtowing in haste and said, "To be honest, Phoenix Mountain will need quite a large amount of jade. I see you're an honest and courageous man and would like to extend our friendship into the long run. How do you like that?"
"Yes, yes, of course!" Tao Yu was elated, but then looked worried. "However, Master, I think you might have heard, jade stone mines are growing fewer in numbers with stones of lower quality. If you only want materials of this grade, I'm afraid…"
"Don't worry. We'll take stones slightly inferior to these as well—or, in common terms, anything above average will do."
"Oh, that won't be a problem, then. We have a jade mine in Diannan mainly producing jade for the mid-market. You won't need to worry about the yield. The top-quality jade stones are all found in Myan and we have connections over there as well."
"A jade mine?" Gu Yu gave it some thought and said, "The spiritual essence is affecting things on various aspects and the jade mines may mutate as well; or new lodes might be taking shape as we speak… here's what you'll do: get some rights to mining in advance, and from next year, Phoenix Mountain will send people here every year. Your job is to work with them and we'll take care of everything else."
Tao Yu was astonished by this idea; this one was an ambitious boss he did not want to screw with.
"And there's one more thing. I promise you that as long as our relationship holds, whenever a new baby is born into the Tao Family, we'll be here to examine it. Anyone with the right quality can go to Phoenix Mountain and become a cultivator."
Tao Yu thought his head was going to explode at those words. That was exactly what he hoped for the most. Right then, he forgot about everything else and was on his knees again. "Thank you, Master!"
The Kachin Hills, Hpakant jade stone quarry.
If was one of the most important production areas of jadeite. The mining area was a long strip along the edge of the Kachin Hills, with an area of around 2071 km^2.
The quarry was in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town was 113 km away, but since the day it was built, the place had never been quiet. Aside from all the workers making a living here, all the high rollers coming here to gamble on the jade stone were enough to make this place a remote mountainous town with bright-lit nights that never slept.
"Luck is on my side. The one I just cut open was an ice one. Hahaha, I'm settled for a whole year!"
"Not me. I've thrown in a couple of millions and only got two peas!"
"Cheer up! Here, my treat today! We'll drink till we drop!"
A Chinese and a man of Malaya strolled into a club shoulder to shoulder. Standing in the shop window by the door were several young ladies dressed very "modestly", drawing much "window-shopping" eyes.
Mia Lwin was in an army combat uniform with a thick cigar between his teeth. He watched all the high rollers going to and fro from his jeep and in his eyes were both disdain and excitement.
He despised these weak rich people, but was excited at the fortune these weaklings brought in.
Mia Lwin was Soe Win's most valuable employee, who was ordered to guard the quarry. Soe Win used to be a general in the government. After the downfall of the head of the country, everything went chaotic and Soe Win decided to become his own boss. He was now fighting violently against the two other forces.
Hpakant was a strategic town that had changed hands multiple times. Despite the change in jurisdiction, every force was treating the Tuhao with courtesy—no one wanted to turn the ATM machines away.
Mia Lwin sucked deep into his cigar and puffed out a mouthful of smoke loudly. He was a little "restless" from watching those little tarts in the window and wanted to get some "release" somewhere.
Well, he wasn't planning to pay...
He was a man of action and hopped out of the vehicle right away. Looking around, he took in the lights around him and the dark night in the distance, which were in a stark contrast.
He had been here for a month and still couldn't get used to the place! This was not a natural habitat for any human being! He couldn't leave the site for more than a hundred meters at night, or the mosquitos would devour him.
Wagging his head, he strode out in his leather boots. Mia Lwin swaggered to somewhere ahead, where a row of bungalows were. His free companion for the night was there.
A few steps out, the branches outside the fence swayed suddenly and the trees moved into a blur, as if ghosts were lurking behind. Before he had a chance to look more closely, a shadow pounced at him. His vision went dark and he passed out.
Mia Lwin had no idea how much time had passed when he woke up.
He realized he was lying in a clearing surrounded by tall trees. Log fire was burning in the middle, by which sat a stooped and emaciated old woman. Her face and shadow seemed to be moving with flame.
Mia Lwin cried out in fear and scrambled backwards on all fours. Neither the face nor the shadow belonged to a human. He did not know this person, but had heard enough folklore growing up: deep in the Kachin Hills was the God, the old woman...
"Shut up!" The old woman frowned and flipped her fingers, sealing up the man's mouth. She then said in a hoarse voice, "You will follow my orders. My pupil Thant Tun was killed. I don't care how you do it, but you're going to find me the killer!"[TL/N: the period of 1912-1942]