The Goldencrown Cloudcrane was a rare and elusive spirit beast. Moreover, it only had a single heart. Thus, the Pinecrane Pill was equally hard to find on every material plane. Whether or not the ancients had knowledge of it, neither pill nor recipe tended to survive the ages. If a Cloudcrane heart was available, however, then it could be refined into an entire cauldron of Pinecrane Pills. Provided the refiner had a sufficient number of Cloudpine acorns, of course. Depending on one's fortunes, each batch contained six to ten pills.
The process was identical regardless of the number of pills in the batch. For the current Jiang Chen, maintaining control over the Pinecrane Pill's refining process was no problem at all. A cauldronful was undoubtedly preferable to just a single pill, and there was nothing wrong with keeping a few extra around. The Pinecrane Pill was a quasi-sky rank pill. There would surely be a use for it eventually. Given how big the world was, there was no shortage of emperor realm cultivators nearing the end of their lifespans. Plus, the Pinecrane Pill was effective for great emperor realm experts as well. An upper-rank pill could easily extend an emperor realm cultivator's life by a thousand years or so. A great emperor, perhaps six to eight hundred years instead.
Yes, great emperor realm cultivators had extremely long lives in the first place, anywhere from several to ten-odd millennia. However, when faced with their own mortality, they were just as clingy to life as anyone else. Living a few years longer was better than not. Therefore, the additional Pinecrane Pills almost certainly had future utility. In another hour of need, a single Pinecrane Pill could work wonders in converting an emperor realm cultivator (or perhaps a great emperor, even!) willingly to his side.
He hadn't had the time to refine pills during the couple of years within the Veluriyam Pagoda, but that didn't mean that he'd grown rusty. As soon as he took out his cauldron, Jiang Chen felt the whirr of familiarity moving through his mind. He meditated for a few hours, mentally running over the steps for refining the Pinecrane Pill carefully before beginning the refining process proper.
Starting and controlling the fire, warming up the cauldron…
Jiang Chen knew every step intimately by heart. With his Psychic's Head fully employed, he had perfect control of all the little details. As long as he had a feel for what to do, the steps became exceedingly simple.
Fifteen days passed before Jiang Chen retracted his hand seals and pillfire. The Skysnatcher Cauldron rang with a quasi-draconic roar. A few moments passed before the smoke dissipated from its opening, a fragrant scent slowly wafting out in its place. Between the cauldron's cracks were countless glittering rays of light, bursting outwards against the vessel's seams.
He was very pleased by this. All signs pointed towards a very successful refining process. He hadn't encountered anything resembling a difficulty. In fact, one could say that he had finished it all in one go. He opened the cauldron. Nine extremely pure Pinecrane Pills sat within, as flawless as a nest of dove eggs. The sight of so many pills made him even happier. Serendipity comes in nines, apparently.
Just five or six would have been enough for him. Nine was a much bigger number than either of those. Moreover, there was no significant difference in quality between any of the pills. Besides three mid-rank pills, the rest were all upper rank. The Pinecrane Pill was a quasi-sky rank pill! It was difficult enough to reach mid rank with the completed product. Any pill that was at least lower rank was acceptable. Mid rank meant that it was a product of reasonable quality. Upper-rank pills could be considered excellent. Finally, supreme-rank pills were in a league of their own. They were completely perfect and without blemish. For the highest-ranked pills, achieving such a state came at the cost of the number of pills obtained.
Jiang Chen was bent on acquiring as many pills from this batch as possible. As such, he had made some sacrifices in terms of quality. Supreme-rank Pinecrane Pills were great and all, but there was no reason for him to pursue those. Instead of refining three supreme-rank pills, it was far more practical to refine nine that were mid to upper-rank in quality.
A supreme-rank Pinecrane Pill allowed for a few extra years of life than the rest. An acceptable Pinecrane Pill gave its emperor realm consumer another thousand years. A supreme-rank pill could possibly surpass a thousand five hundred added years or more. Of course, Jiang Chen's cauldronful of Pinecrane Pills were largely upper rank in quality. Because of their rank, they could bestow additional life upwards of a thousand two hundred years. Even a mid-rank pill resulted in more than a thousand added years. If the cultivator was lucky enough, a thousand two hundred wasn't quite out of the question either. Because of these two facts, it was definitely not worth it to opt for the supreme rank at all. A larger number of pills was far more economical and effective.
Taking out a pill bottle, Jiang Chen stashed eight of the pills carefully inside. The last one he placed separately in a different bottle. He put away the cauldron and adjusted his emotions before exiting the pill room. Ji Zhongtang was seated cross-legged at the other end of the hallway. From a distance, he looked rather like a gatekeeper. His eyes stared alertly in every direction, intent on keeping trespassers from disturbing the pill room's peace and quiet within.
The trusty guardsman hastily came forward as Jiang Chen exited the pill room. "Have you finished your seclusion, young lord Zhen?"
Jiang Chen nodded, surprised. "Have you waited here all this time?"
Ji Zhongtang returned the same gesture. "The clan lord told me to stay here until further notice. He said that no one should disrupt you."
That the clan lord had issued the command was unsurprising to Jiang Chen. He nodded. "Come then, take me to the clan lord himself."
Though Ji Zhongtang knew nothing of what the Pinecrane Pill actually meant, he could still guess that young lord Zhen had made something truly marvelous this time. Maybe it could even help the clan lord's cultivation dissipation! A few years ago, the clan lord had been very close to losing all of his cultivation entirely. Back then, something unknown had cured him for a time. As a fairly clever man, Ji Zhongtang had attempted to draw his own conclusions. Though he'd never settled on anything specific, he vaguely deduced the general gist of it. Hadn't the change been because of young lord Zhen alone? In the entirety of Veluriyam Capital, it was very likely that young lord Zhen was the only miracle worker that could save them all.
The Coiling Dragon clan lord couldn't remain still when he heard Jiang Chen's footsteps. He stood up involuntarily, his outward composure an obvious façade. Anyone remotely attentive noticed that his eyes gave away his barely-concealed fervor.
"I'm pleased to say that I haven't let you down, Clan Lord." The clan lord's anxiety was completely transparent. Jiang Chen knew what he was likely feeling right now. A mountain of concern was likely piling up even as he spoke. Mindful of the elderly man's emotions, he was extremely straightforward.
The clan lord was initially stunned, then wide eyed and overjoyed. "Did you… really… succeed?"
His excitement was palpable in the shaking of his voice.
"Absolutely. I think I've said this before, but you are a naturally fortunate person, Clan Lord. The heavens themselves are on your side." Stepping forward with a smile, Jiang Chen tossed the pill bottle directly at the Coiling Dragon clan lord.
Taking the bottle in his hand, the clan lord had no more regard for his composure despite Ji Zhongtang's presence. His old, withered hands gripped it with a deathly firmness. He was as animated as a child who had just received his first piece of candy. No amount of naivete could prevent Ji Zhongtang from guessing that something was up. The clan lord's contagious enthusiasm and young lord Zhen's broad smile were clues enough. All at once, Ji Zhongtang was filled with gratefulness and worship.
"Clan Lord, this pill's effects are quite extraordinary. You should take the pill immediately, then go cultivate behind closed doors. Given your level of cultivation, the pill should have no side effects at all, backlash or otherwise. However, you should thoroughly refine it in order to absorb all of its medicinal benefits. The better your absorption, the more years of life you will gain. The pill I gave you is of upper rank in quality, capable of granting you upwards of a thousand two hundred years if used well."
"A thousand and two hundred years?" The clan lord's eyes were ablaze. He was so happy that he was completely beside himself at the quoted number. For a person who was at death's door, a reaction like that was completely understandable. Who wouldn't be pleased with a twelve-century extension of their lease on life?
"That's right. You have plenty of time, so do take it slow with the refining process. Try to make the most of the pill. It is a sky rank pill, after all." Jiang Chen adopted a serious tone.
"A sky rank pill? Young lord, this is a sky rank pill?" This was yet another surprise for the clan lord.
"Correct. Because it's of the sky rank, it works even on great emperor realm cultivators, with somewhat reduced effects, of course." The young lord made no attempt to hide anything.
"This pill must occupy a much loftier position than the Longevity Pill, then." The Coiling Dragon clan lord sensed another commercial opportunity.
"Yes, indeed. The Longevity Pill is only a quasi-earth rank pill. It functions only for sage realm cultivators and barely helps emperor realm ones… what's more, it has more side effects when taken by someone with a higher cultivation. The Pinecrane Pill, on the other hand, is good for both emperor and great emperor realm cultivators. In terms of both value and rarity, the Pinecrane Pill is at least five to ten times that of the Longevity Pill. However, the Longevity Pill's advantage lies in the fact that it's beyond easy to collect the ingredients for it. I can't say the same for the Pinecrane Pill. Because of this limitation, one is fit for mass production and distribution while the other, internal usage only."
"I suppose this pill is worthy of being called a sky rank pill." The clan lord sighed. "The materials are hard to find, as you said. If fortune hadn't favored me, perhaps…"
The mere act of considering the alternative possibilities made him tremble. Without the young lord who stood before him, he wouldn't have known what a Pinecrane Pill even was, much less gotten one refined. At the root of things, the young lord had saved his life.
"Young lord, I'm not about to voice empty platitudes." The clan lord's tone became solemn. "In fact, I will say only one thing. No matter how far the Coiling Dragon Clan goes, we will always support you as long as I am at the helm. Sacred Peafowl Mountain will always guide our footsteps, and our alliance will never falter."
Ji Zhongtang was moved by the declaration.
"Zhongtang, are you mute?! Come thank young lord Zhen for saving my life!"
As if waking out of a dream, Ji Zhongtang came forward and knelt. "Young lord, I am a simple-minded man that doesn't know many things. I do know one thing, though: you're our clan's greatest benefactor, and I shall assist you to the best of my abilities for all my life. May Sacred Peafowl Mountain prosper!"
The Pinecrane Pill did more than just simply save the Coiling Dragon clan lord's life. It altered the fate of the entire clan.