Gu Yu turned the idea over in his head and decided not to ask Xiaozhai anything—even if he did, she would probably reply with some casual remark or a joke anyway. The girl had the most peculiar disposition Gu Yu had ever seen. After spending some time with her, Gu Yu was beginning to grasp her way of thinking.
However, he couldn’t stop fantasizing at the same time. The girl had given him a piece of wood that could be made into a pair of bead strings, which just happened to be one for a man and one for a woman.
He had actually thought about giving the 1.2 cm string to Xiaozhai, but managed to fight back the impulse with some effort. After all, they were only friends now and neither of them had expressed their feelings towards one another explicitly. Using the "matching outfit" trick prematurely could make him look frivolous and offend the girl.
It took him ten years to study incense and he started making it two years ago, during which period not much profit had come out of this business and he was barely making ends meet. However, things had taken a turn for the better recently. First, there was that jade gourd incense holder given to him by Granny Zeng, then came the fragrant rosewood bead strings from Xiaozhai which could be worth over 100,000 yuan with the current market price.
They were both marvelous gifts, but he would rather have something more substantial!
He only had 10,000 yuan on his bank account. With his daily cultivating exercise, he was having less and less time for tending to his stall. It it carried on like this, he would have been drained of his assets sooner or later.
Gu Yu did not care much about money or wealth, but that did not mean he was aloof from material pursuits or someone pretentious. As long as he could maintain a reasonable living standard, he would leave everything else as the way it was. However, that standard had been raised, which was giving him a sense of urgency.
Finding a way to increase his income led Gu Yu back to his specialty—incense-making. His product was first-rate at most in the past. After setting foot into the cultivation world, though, he had raised his incense-making skill to a whole new level, and very few people could prove a worthy rival for him.
Take the Wake-up Incense Xiaozhai ordered as an example. It would excel over anything of its kind no matter where he chose to sell it. Being an economically advanced city, work pressure in Shengtian was enormous, which would provide Gu Yu with a lot of potential customers.
Based on his current productivity, he could make up to sixty sticks in one night, which was his limit. The time spent on incense concoction and cellaring, on the other hand, was less flexible. Both processes were time-consuming and required patience. It would take at least twenty days for a box of incense to go through the process from early-stage preparation to being taken out of the cellar and the maximum capacity of the cellar was thirty trays, which was equal to fifteen boxes of incense sticks.
It was impractical to expand production when it came to handmade incense, which instead meant he had to stick to niche markets and high-end customers. What Gu Yu lacked in the past was a medium of communication, but that had been made up for now. After all, he now knew people like the Zeng siblings, who belonged to the central figures among the trendsetters.
Gu Yu wanted to fully exploit such an opportunity, so he made four boxes of Wake-up Incense sticks, hoping he could find some time and talk to them about it.
Several days passed by like this and he lived pretty much the same way as before—cultivating, working on his stall, making incense, going round and round. The spiritual essence in his body, which sank deep within his Dantian like a faint mist, remained barely detectable.
The spiritual essence surrounding him did not get any thicker either, although he had the impression he could see a very subtle increase in it, which was faintly discernible.
Night, Phoenix Fair.
Wisps of smoke rose from the kitchen chimney in the little courtyard of the Fang family. Pans and pots were clinking and clanking inside. Needless to say, dinner was being prepared.
Uncle Fang and Aunt Fang did not have regular working hours, hence they did not have a fixed dinner time at home. Today, both had come back late. Fang Qing was starving before they got home and decided to cook on her own.
The saying that the children growing up in poor families learned to manage household affairs early was true. Mature or not, Fang Qing knew her way around the house.
Fang Qing held the wok by its handle and gave the food inside a few last stirs, then put it onto a plate. On the dinner table in the back room, two dishes were already set--homestyle tofu and fried julienned potatoes.
Her parents were firmly seated on the brick bed and showed no intention to give her any compliments. To them, what their daughter did was perfectly normal—Fang Qing thought the same. She grabbed a stool and picked up her chopsticks, ready to have dinner. Just then, someone called outside, "Uncle, Aunt, are you home?"
"Xiao Yu…" Aunt Fang recognized his voice at once and rushed her daughter to answer the door. "Your big brother’s here!"
The girl almost knocked the chair over as she ran out to welcome Gu Yu. She then followed him back into the room. Uncle Fang was about to get down from the bed as he greeted Gu Yu. "Here, eat with us."
"No, that’s fine. I’ve just eaten."
He patted the paper bag in his hand and smiled. "I’m here for Qing Qing. Aren’t the high school entrance examinations coming soon? I have a few sets of practice test papers for her."
"Oh my, thanks for thinking about her."
"See that, you wicked little girl? Everyone is worried about you. If you end up a good-for-nothing, you’ll disappoint all of us!"
The girl twitched her mouth as she snorted lightly with undisguised annoyance. Uncle Fang glared, ready to start his lecture. Gu Yu intervened in time. "Don’t be angry. Please return to your dinner and I’ll talk her through the papers first. It won’t take long."
With that, he pulled Fang Qing by her arm to the west wing and took out an incense box and a perfumed sachet.
The girl watched him in confusion. "Where are the papers?"
"Where on earth would I get those? I’ve made these specially for you," he opened the box and in it were eight incense pills. "Burn one pill each night. The exams are a week from now and there are enough to cover you till then. Take this sachet with you from now on until the examination day."
"What are these exactly?"
The girl fiddled with them, feeling curious and annoyed at the same time.
"You don’t have to know what they are. Enough is to say that they’ll benefit you. Tell me, do you want to have a good grade?"
"Then follow my instructions. Remember though, don’t let your parents find out."
Fang Qing trusted him completely and did not even ask for an explanation.
"Well, I should go now. Pull yourself together. Be confident!"
He gave her some encouragement and left as quickly as he came, just like a passing wind.
Both incense pills and the sachet worked in a similar way, which was to clear one’s head, calm down the mind and keep one focused. With Fang Qing’s usual grades, No. One High School was beyond her reach and she might get in No. Two with some luck. As long as she did not freak out and performed normally in the exams, she had a good chance of getting in.
He considered her his own younger sister and could not bear to see her fail.
This incense had cost him a great amount of energy. In cultivating terms, he had spent some of his own essence and blood.
After returning home from the Fang’s, Gu Yu entered his own yard. He looked around then pushed the gate closed with both hands, locking it up with a clunk. He then locked the bedroom door and the door of the workroom in turn. Even the curtains were drawn close.
In that instant, the light was slightly dimmed. A faint herbal aroma lingered in the air, giving the room a quiet and mysterious atmosphere.
Gu Yu sat on a rush cushion and took out the fishbone again. Having studied it for the past few days, he had more or less grasped the meaning of that conjuring technique. Tonight, he was going to look into the details.
Ever since the pre-Qin period, records of conjuring techniques had been found in ancient texts, such as, "The King of Huainan took great interest in alchemists, who all presented him with their conjuring skills. Lines drawn on the ground would turn into rivers; a pinch of soil would rise into mountains; by breathing in and out, one could change the seasons and one’s coughing would transform into rain and dew…" 
Another example would be, "In regions south of Yangtze River was a foreigner from India, who could reattach a severed tongue and spit out fire…"
Spitting out fire was not implausible, for it was nothing but a party trick. As for drawing out rivers and creating mountains from pinches of soil, that sounded more like fairy tales and was probably pure fabrication.
No matter what wording they used, the texts were all emphasizing the feelings of the audience. However, that was not the case with the fishbone.
The so-called "seven emotions and six sensory pleasures" all originated from one’s mind. The profound conjuring skills were hard to understand thoroughly and master while the plainer ones could be activated and deactivated at any given moment. Only those who realized that conjuring was no different from life and death in reality could learn the techniques.
This technique was called "Boundless State". With a single idea, everything became boundless and timeless. Triggered by one’s emotions and sensory pleasures, one would be dragged into a vision. If the conjurer didn't stop it, that person had to see through the illusion on their own, otherwise they would be trapped in it forever.
Just as that rainy night in Wudao River, when the fishbone had used Gu Yu’s fear as the trigger and dragged him into that vision, during which time Gu Yu had been hunted by a monster and ran for his life until he realized what was really going on...
That incident had somehow given him consolation, for it might seem like an auxiliary skill yet it obviously could be used in an aggressive manner as well.
Pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate and greed—no one could escape those emotions and desires. Therefore, they could cover a great area and almost leave no blind spots.
The only limitation lay in the conjurer’s spiritual essence. Those with remarkable skill could trap the enemy completely and even be able to control the passage of time in the vision. Those less skillful, on the other hand, might only be able to maintain the vision for a brief moment.
This piece of information was very brief. It only totaled up to a few hundred words when Gu Yu wrote it down in his notebook. However, he was treating it very seriously, reading it repeatedly.
He couldn’t help it, for this was the very first formal technique he had ever learned, which in his mind was as important as the first woman he'd slept with. Mixed feelings of delight, solemnity and loss of self-control had taken over him, together with an unexplainable sense of vulnerability.
Well, speaking of vulnerability, it reminded one of that familiar saying in Mary Sue fiction—"it had hit the softest spot of his heart."
Ever since he started consuming the six essences, Gu Yu had got used to reduced sleeping hours, and he wasn’t exactly sleepy either. The purpose of sleeping was to rest one’s body and mind, but consuming the essence did a much better job in achieving the same result.
What was more, with the newly-obtained technique, he was so excited that he decided to stay up all night studying it.
However, as he made his way through the notes, he frowned in disappointment, for he realized that the fishbone had only provided him with the cultivating methods--without any further commentary.
That led to a lot of unanswered questions, such as if one died in the vision, what happened to their body in the real world? In what form did people exist in a vision? Were they spirits or something else? If the person being dragged inside had a mind way too powerful, would the conjurer suffer from a backlash...?
Gu Yu sat idly for quite a while and let out a sigh in the end. "Well, that’s probably a fake method I got here."
 TL/N: Qin Dynasty was the first dynasty of Imperial China, lasting from 221 to 206 BC; The King of Huainan = a noble title during the Han dynasty in China. ED/N: PC bunch call it BCE now, not BC (in case someone didn't get it); that aside, Qin's founder, Qin Shi Huang, was the first guy who unified China or something like that.