Hua Ming was a bit flustered. Still, he jogged up when he saw Jiang Chen walk forward.
“Hey, hey, brother, hold on a sec.” He was a persistent boy and quite thick-skinned; he had a way of life that was all his own.
Jiang Chen halted. “Your job is done,” he smiled coolly. “I’ve paid your fee, haven’t I? Go do business with someone else.”
“Just now was an accident,” Hua Ming defended himself enthusiastically. “I haven’t shown you my haggling skills yet. I’m not an expert on spirit herbs, you know. But jade – that’s my specialty. You won’t go wrong if you listen to me about that. You’ll save tons!”
Jiang Chen didn’t know what to say or do about Hua Ming’s stubbornness. I suppose there’s no problem having a temporary follower during my leisurely jaunt.
“Stay with me if you want to.” He shrugged.
Hua Ming thumped his chest with enthusiasm. “Alright! You’ll discover how good I am soon enough, just like how horses really shine after long distances. I don’t boast for no reason, you know!”
As a youngster making his livelihood in Oriole Valley, Hua Ming had a keen eye for people. It was rare to encounter someone who was so kind to him. Moreover, this man looked extraordinary from the outset, and was wealthy and generous to boot. This was a chance to really turn his life around. This was why he stopped at nothing to follow his benefactor.
Jiang Chen returned to idle browsing after his purchase of the spirit herbs.
He barely touched the most popular good being traded here in Oriole Valley – Bluesmoke Jade.
Buying jade was essentially gambling. Most of the time, the stones had value only as collector’s items rather than any practical use. If one happened to buy a piece of the jade in the latter category, that was a bargain rather than the norm.
Nevertheless, the passion with which the jade was bought and sold was undampened. Every stall selling jade was crowded by multiple crazed cultivators.
Evidently, the jade had changed enough fates in Bluesmoke that most were willing to take a risk. Some had even been propelled to the pinnacle of martial dao. An entire batch of cultivators had benefited from the jade.
However, it had also caused many others to go bankrupt.
Countless cultivators pinned their hopes on the jade’s ability to work miracles. In actuality, the likelihood of a single piece of jade containing an ancient heritage was lower than one in a million.
Jiang Chen shook his head with inward disapproval at the crazed atmosphere. He didn’t like the feverish ambience of the crowd, nor did he much care for cultivators who gambled their hopes away on insubstantial things.
The jade trade was a lucrative one, and its customers hardline bookies. Most participants yielded no return whatsoever regardless of investment. Jiang Chen was very suspicious whether any pieces of jade with ancient heritage circulated on the open market at all. Would they really appear with any sort of regularity?
Most importantly, wouldn’t experts be able to identify the valuable pieces ahead of time?
In the eyes of many cultivators, Bluesmoke Jade couldn’t be identified before it was refined. But his experience informed him otherwise with confidence. Cultivators with enough expertise could at least vaguely sense valuable pieces, if not divine them outright.
Following close behind, Hua Ming asked curiously. “Brother, it’s your first time here in Bluesmoke, right? Why not play a round of jade?”
“I haven’t seen any of interest,” Jiang Chen replied simply.
“You won’t see anything at all, you’re glossing over things so fast! Bluesmoke Jade is about getting lucky anyway. What’s the point of looking?” Hua Ming laughed.
“Why waste my money if I can’t look before I buy?” Jiang Chen smiled.
“Waste your money? What if you win? What if you get a bargain? You’ll win a prize that you couldn’t possibly buy!”
“What, is this a get rich quick scheme?” Jiang Chen grinned. “Is that why everyone is so feverish around here?”
“It’s just what’s popular here in Bluesmoke, man! If you stay a bit longer here in these isles, you’ll see it’s the most fashionable hobby, that’s all.”
Jiang Chen wasn’t one to be convinced easily. He walked about randomly, scanning any stalls he passed by with a cursory eye. He didn’t easily fish out spirit stones for a purchase.
Though Hua Ming felt an itch in his heart, he couldn’t demand his skills to be put to use. The stones belonged to the man who’d hired him.
They shopped around for four hours. Just as the boy was about to give up, Jiang Chen suddenly stopped at a store. This vendor was clearly a sizable one, with many cultivators gathered around it.
“Let’s go in and see, shall we?” saying this, Jiang Chen strode inside.
Hua Ming was a bit anxious to see Jiang Chen entering the shop. He was most effective at applying pressure on street stalls.
Larger stores like these were often backed by specific factions. Though he was a good influencer, he didn’t dare recklessly haggle in another’s territory. If he were targeted by a local power, he’d be in more trouble than he could digest.
Because street stalls were largely set up by wandering cultivators, they lacked the connections that would protect them from Hua Ming’s aggressive bargaining.
As expected, he was blocked rather brusquely from entering by the store’s employees. “What’re you coming in here for, brat? You think beggars are allowed in our fine establishment? Your ratty appearance will only scare off the real customers.”
Hua Ming’s attire and appearance were hardly worthy of praise, to be sure.
“Can’t you see I’m with that honored customer over there?” he protested. “He’s a pretty important character. You gonna stop him from shopping here, too?”
The employee in question was momentarily dazzled. Jiang Chen’s clothes didn’t seem too remarkable, but his graceful manner and elegant bearing made him stand out from the crowd.
It was difficult for the associate to make the right call.
“I’ve paid him to follow me around for a bit. Let him in,” Jiang Chen smiled.
A satisfied smirk appeared on Hua Ming’s face immediately. “You hear that? This honored customer’s told you what he wants. Unless you want to turn him out, get out of my way.”
The employee traded a look with the shopkeeper at the back. Seeing that the latter was silent, he allowed entry with a huff.
“You better stay honest,” he warned, “and stay out of the other customers’ way.”
“Someone else has hired me,” Hua Ming chuckled, “so I only need to answer to him. Who cares about the others?”
Jiang Chen ignored Hua Ming. Instead, he lowered his head and began to stroll through the store. The chain seal in his consciousness had stirred the first time he’d passed by here. It was proving increasingly effective as an alert. There was something up whenever it reacted.
That was why he’d come in here. If there was a deal to be hunted for with Bluesmoke Jade, then this was the place to do it.
He began to slowly comb through the large store. There were so many things here. It specialized in Bluesmoke Jade, and so it was everywhere in the shop. Most of the jade was in the raw, untouched form, having been recently excavated. The pieces appeared superficially to be rather similar to one another.
Hua Ming chuckled. “Brother, I’ll help you haggle if you want to try it out. We’ll get the best deal we can, yeah?”
“Quiet. I’m only here to look,” Jiang Chen waved. Hua Ming was forced back into silence.
The store was full of ancient jade. It wasn’t easy looking for specifically what he wanted. Furthermore, groups of people crowded over certain clusters. Jiang Chen wasn’t interested in ruining others’ fun for no reason, and began his search in the roomier areas.
Unfortunately, he found nothing of actual interest there. A few sweeps were enough to show nothing special in his consciousness.
There has to be something good in this store. The seal in my consciousness wouldn’t have reacted otherwise. But where is it? Is it a piece of jade hidden beside countless others?
Though the search wasn’t quite trying to find a needle in a haystack, it was nevertheless incredibly difficult.
Jiang Chen made a circuit of the shop. He hadn’t gone towards the most congested areas, but he had been pretty much everywhere else.
There was nothing worthwhile whatsoever.
He was a bit disappointed and forced towards the several clusters of people in the store. Thankfully, the environment was reasonably orderly. A staff member helped make a way through for him as he approached that direction, so that he would have a spot to stand and observe.
Alas, Jiang Chen made no notable discoveries.
Only the most popular spot remained. There’s no way that something good would be near that many people, right? He considered the teeming crowd. It’ll be tough if it is.
If there were more people, it was easier for something actually valuable to be picked away.
“I’ll go take a look anyway.” He headed for the largest group of people.
The group encircled a large batch of raw jade. A veritable hill had piled up to colossal size. At least three or four dozen stood at the side of this hill, fervor written across their gold-prospecting faces.
A staff member smiled when he saw Jiang Chen approach. “Honored customer, we got this batch of raw jade in stock just today. These haven’t been picked through yet, so it’s a bit more likely to yield something useful. Of course, the prices are increased correspondingly a bit.”
Jiang Chen was unsurprised. Fresh goods were more attractive for almost everything.
“What’re the prices around here?” Hua Ming declared with feigned familiarity.
The attendant looked at the boy with some disgust, then turned back to Jiang Chen. Realizing their relationship, he didn’t curse in the end.
“Customer,” he smiled, “the larger pieces are five hundred sky spirit stones each. The smaller ones, three hundred. Extra large, a thousand.”
Jiang Chen examined the mountain of raw jade. There were tens of thousands in various sizes there. He clucked his tongue. Bluesmoke Jade was a big business, alright!