Chapter 13: My Fiancée Has a Merchant Guild

Early on the morning of the third day, Zhen Jin slowly awoke.

It was peaceful.

Last night, he had had a good rest for he no longer lay on the hard rock floor but a layer of fluffy branches and leaves. Zi Di fetched these specifically for him.

Thinking about his fiancée, his heart swelled with warmth, but Zi Di was not nearby. Before sleeping last night, she had made a suggestion: She wanted to extract some of Zhen Jin’s blood to examine whether there was any residual fire-venom and if possible, discern his true cultivation.

Zhen Jin had agreed. This girl…she couldn’t have stayed up all night without resting, right? His face fell and concerns grew in his heart. Although he was asleep, he was confident—if even the wind blew, he would be immediately aware of it. He looked at the pile of leaves to the side. It was fluffy and showed no signs of having been used and he was then certain Zi Di had not slept here last night. After she had gone into the cave’s depths, she had not come out.

Zhen Jin then got up and walked into the cave’s depths. There, Zi Di had arranged a makeshift space for potion-making. During his two convalescent days, she rarely left the cave and even when she did, she remained in the vicinity. Most of her time was spent either looking after him or fiddling with potions in the cave.

Zhen Jin unsurprisingly saw her sitting cross-legged between some holes. They were both large and small. The former ones were filled with blood, bones, fur, etc., and the latter ones were filled with potions of all sorts of colors, almost like a miniature palette.

“My Lord, you’re awake?” Upon hearing sounds of movement, Zi Di turned around to see Zhen Jin but did not get up. Her hands moved incessantly as she busily worked. “Please pardon my rudeness, my Lord, I am in the middle of concocting a potion,” she said and swirled a glass vial in one hand while with her other hand she sprinkled sand-like grains of ingredients into it. 

This vial was the size of an adult’s finger. The potion-liquid within seemed to have the bear’s blood in it as it appeared dark red. The grains of sand-like, finely ground ingredients were blended into the potion and stuck to the side of the glass.

Zi Di closely watched the vial, sometimes sprinkling more of the grains, sometimes scooping up some of the bear blood from a hole in the ground and adding it to the bottle. 

Finally, as some kind of equilibrium was reached, the grains stuck to the side of the vial’s insides completely dissolved into the potion, not one remaining. She faintly nodded as she was satisfied with the reagent in the vial and then corked it and placed it on a wooden shelf to the side, which was crudely built with coarse dry branches and was almost packed with vials.

Zhen Jin saw these glass bottles filled with scent mark potions and curiously asked, “Did you spend all of last night concocting these potions? Is it alright if you exhaust yourself like this?”

“Thank you for your concern, my Lord.” Zi Di smiled and explained, “If I don’t use the bear’s blood now, then it will become useless. Making scent mark potions with this bear’s Silver-grade blood is too wasteful and extravagant!”

The majority of magical materials were time-sensitive. After a certain amount of time passes, the value of the materials would greatly decrease. Zhen Jin nodded, approving of Zi Di’s efforts. “You have worked hard,” he said and while he did so, his eyes remained fixed on the bottles.

How odd, he thought. He seemed to smell a sweet odor from the vials and from the depths of his heart arose a desire to drink the bear blood. Am I feeling too hungry? Zhen Jin suppressed this strange sensation. In reality, he had not had a full meal in the past two days. Although he knew his recovery was going well, he was still cautious of how much he ate.

“With that, I’ve used up all the bear and leopard blood. Next, I have to process all this meat.” Zi Di licked her dry lips, her forehead also visibly soaked in sweat from the long and arduous hours of work.

She took a piece of meat from a large hole and lathered it with some green and yellow herbs, then took out a small potion tube from her bag and slowly poured it over.

This tube was not made from glass but from what seemed to be black-lacquered ironwood. Although she poured only a small portion of the liquid, it quickly pervaded the flesh and exuded a pungent odor.

Fizz… With a corrosive sound, the plump beast flesh became shriveled and dry. She then reached down and tore the dried meat apart and kept on tearing it apart. The dried meat promptly became shredded meat and was then pressed into meat floss.

For the past two days, most of the food he ate, apart from the rations, was this meat floss.

They did not start a fire. On the one hand, the lesson inked in blood and tears the fire-venom bees had taught made them cautious about starting a fire. On the other hand, the cave was not a convenient place to start a fire as it could lead to oxygen deficiency, smoke pollution, and even poisoning.

The meat floss processed with this method, although almost unpalatable, would retain its nutrients and would have its microbes killed and any toxins removed.

“Such excellent magical materials! If they were sold in the outside world, they would sell for quite a few gold coins. It's a pity I do not have the necessary refining tools on hand. If I had even the most common crucible, that would’ve been good.” Zi Di shook her head with great regret.

Zhen Jin smiled, he did not advise Zi Di to rest after working all night but instead sat next to her and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Zi Di smiled. “Since you have asked, my Lord, I will not hold back.”

Afterward, Zi Di only did the delicate task of potion pouring while Zhen Jin meticulously tore the dried meat and produced more meat floss. The two divided the workload and were immediately more efficient. While working together, Zhen Jin, to his embarrassment, found a few holes in the corner that stored his feces and urine from the past few days.

“I was studying them to determine your physical condition, my Lord,” Zi Di monotonously said, “but unfortunately, I was unable to measure your true cultivation. Another reason was that I wanted to analyze and recreate the potion that Your Lordship ingested. If its effects indeed were the cause of my Lord’s injuries healing, then the value of its potion formula would be enormous!”

Such an attitude toward research, should I say, as expected of a mage? Zhen Jin thought while his mouth uttered approvingly, “You did the right thing. Did you gain anything from your work?”

Zi Di sighed, her countenance slightly dismal. “The situation was so dire that I acted on intuition during many crucial steps. I couldn’t even assess the ratios of the different herbs I used at the time, so it’s impossible to recreate that potion. I could only try my best. But it’s not like I had no gains. Using the bear’s blood and the ore, I concocted two types of potions. One is a fire accelerant, the other a fire retardant.”

Zhen Jin nodded and after he helped Zi Di process all the meat, he patted her shoulder and suggested, “Let’s go eat a bit.”

The two ate some rations, along with some freshly made meat floss, and drank some water. Although they did not start a fire, they could still rely on the ores for heating and using it, they heated the water till it was lukewarm. 

In this environment and these circumstances, a sip of tepid water was a great comfort. As the water flowed down their throats and into their bellies, their spirits were gently comforted and soothed. There was plenty of food but not much water, thus the two were frugal with it.

After a few sips, Zhen Jin said, “Tell me about yourself, Zi Di.”

Zi Di nodded and replied, “I am no doubt your fiancée, my Lord.”

“Then what house are you from? Where is your family's territory?”

Zi Di smiled bitterly. “My Lord, you overestimate me. I am not a noble but just a merchant. My family has been in this trade for generations.”

“Eh?” Zhen Jin involuntarily raised his eyebrows slightly. He did not expect such an answer. Nobles almost always married other nobles. Some nobles even married relatives to keep their pedigree pure.

“So, did you awaken some greater bloodline?” Zhen Jin asked again.

This was a possibility. Although nobles usually would only have one wife, they would have many paramours that could result in more than a few illegitimate children. As a result, it was difficult to determine one’s true ancestry by looking at the family tree alone. 

Throughout history, there was no shortage of lesser nobles possessing a strong greater bloodline or even children among the commoners suddenly bursting out with astonishing potential. When their origins were traced, one would discover the commoner’s bloodline came from a certain greater noble. Often, these people with strong bloodlines were courted by nobles and incorporated into their own families.

However, Zi Di shook her head and expressed bitterness, “I am sorry to disappoint you, my Lord. My bloodline is mediocre. In fact, being able to reach Iron has already almost dried the well of my potential. I am not a noble nor are there nobles in my ancestry. My father was the former president of Wisteria Merchant Guild, and now, it is my turn to be at the helm of the entire guild.”

Wisteria Merchant Guild? That name does sound a bit familiar… Wait a minute, could it be?