Mining jade was difficult. Progress was much slower than what he was used to. Spiritual stones and elemental gems weren't like common ore from the mountains. They did not come in huge chunks nor did they cluster together like an ore vein. Spiritual stones were sparse and each deposit was separated from the next by a long distance. Jade didn't even have deposits. Each individual gem was isolated from the next one as if they were afraid of being near each other.
He had to dig long tunnels up, down, sideways, and every which way. He turned his patch of prairie into an underground maze. His speed was hampered by the soft soil which was prone to collapse if too close to the surface. He also had to cover his tracks as he didn’t want a random person seeing the weird tunnels and holes that defied common sense.
By the end of a week, he was finally done. He had completely stripped this square plot of ground of everything valuable, at least everything that he could access. There was still more jade deeper down but there was an impenetrable layer of rock that prevented him from reaching them. He had broken two pickaxes before he gave up. It reminded him of the bedrock he encountered in his mountain refuge. He didn't know if it was a lack of strength or the lack of correct tools but there was nothing else to do.
His total haul came out to five kilograms of spiritual stones and seven pieces of jade. He didn’t know how much the jade weighed but judging from the ones Anand had in his shop, his total should be close to five grams. The market price for all of it was over three hundred gold and after paying taxes, he would be left with almost two hundred and fifty gold.
"Wait..." Gray muttered.
He realized a serious problem.
It made sense at first to pay taxes and trade the jade for spiritual stones. Even after the one-fifth tax, a gram of jade would give him four kilograms of spiritual stones. If he used jade directly to cultivate, one gram of jade had purportedly the same effectiveness as one kilogram of spiritual stone so the difference was huge.
However, for Gray, following the law was was simply too risky. Spiritual stones were already difficult to find. Jade was even rarer. His neighbors and other mining gangs hardly made any money. It was considered lucky for an entire crew to find a kilogram of spiritual stones in a week, let alone a piece of jade. If he showed up after a short time with a handful of jade and spiritual stones, it was sure to attract unwanted attention. People would ask questions and they would get suspicious. The news would even travel to his enemies in the Southern Seas Mining Company.
It was ironic that he couldn't pay taxes even when he wanted to. Everything he had dug up, he had to use on himself right here, right now. He didn’t dare to take any risks with his special eye abilities. It was as precious as his life.
Gray began cultivating at the end of the deepest tunnel within his depleted mine. He channeled the Tome of Glorious Fortune as he held a single piece of jade between his palms. The tome had special instructions for cultivating with elemental gems and he followed them closely. He chanted correct passages, causing his spiritual gates and spiritual veins to activate and form a conduit to the jade.
Cyan-colored energy, containing attributes of the sky, surged into his hands. It was intense, almost overwhelming. If ordinary spiritual stone was like a gentle stream, then jade was like a wild windstorm. The incoming spiritual energy gusted in random directions forcibly. Sharp pains blossomed in his palms like he was being stabbed with needles. The sky attribute showed just exactly what it was about as it cut a harsh path through his spiritual gates and stormed into his spiritual veins.
The pain rapidly spread from his hands into his arms and then throughout his body. It was as if he was being sliced apart from the inside. This was the drawback of cultivating with jade that Anand had hinted at. Spiritual stones contained attribute-less energy and were benign. This was not the case for elemental gems. If one did not have adequate understanding, familiarity, or control over the attribute, it was bound to cause unwanted effects and decrease the efficiency of absorption. In the worst-case scenarios, it even resulted in permanent, crippling damage for foolish cultivators.
Gray was a foolish cultivator but he wasn’t an ordinary one. Faced with the unruly and destructive energy from jade, his spiritual sea activated, sending dominating golden energy to counteract the invaders. The Tome of Glorious Fortune was aligned with the earth attribute. His golden energy was akin to mountains stopping a raging storm in its tracks. Earth resisted sky and sky resisted earth. Just like fire and water, life and death, sky and earth were fundamentally opposed.
He summoned more golden energy and, as the tome instructed, created impenetrable walls that separated and surrounded the sky energy from all sides. He took each smaller chunk of sky energy and crushed it into submission. Once defeated, the now docile spiritual energy was smoothly absorbed into his spiritual sea.
It was a tedious process. He had to perform many actions at the same time. When he was done with one batch of jade energy, he let more in and repeated the battle once again. It continued on and on until the piece of jade in his hand lost its color and crumbled to dust.
Gray breathed out a sigh of relief. He had spent the better part of a whole day cultivating less than a gram of jade. His body was worn out after the ordeal. His muscles, bones, and organs... even his spiritual gates and spiritual veins were injured. He barely managed to eat something before he face-planted into the dirt and fell asleep.
Fortunately, Gray's wounds were all healed the next morning. His spiritual gates were spotless and his spiritual veins were spry and responsive. His recovery ability couldn't be defeated by a small piece of ordinary jade. His was a supreme physique honed by the powers of the heavenly citrine.
Jade wasn't dangerous for him but it was easy to see how dangerous it was for normal cultivators. They wouldn't be able to recover properly from so many internal wounds. If they tried to continue cultivating with jade, it would only mean disaster as the injuries surpassed any benefits they could have gotten.
Speaking of benefits...
Gray turned his eye inward to his spiritual sea. There was a noticeable improvement in his spiritual sea, approximately what he could have gotten with one kilogram of spiritual stone. There was also a tinge of cyan color in the air as well as a soft gust of wind. A tiny bit of the sky attribute managed to remain after being subjugated.
He leaped to his feet and, out of curiosity, summoned that wisp of sky energy. Right away, his body felt light and airy as if he could float away. He could sense the movement of air around him, the slight breeze on his skin, and each breath he took. He gained an appreciation for the sky like never before. He felt as if he had comprehended a tiny fraction of the laws of the sky, a small but not insignificant enlightenment into the mysteries of the world. It was a wholly new experience and it was amazing.
He fell back to the ground moments later. The sky energy within his spiritual sea was depleted and he could not make any more. He did not cultivate a secret art aligned with that attribute so he could only get from external sources.
Eager to experience those feelings again, Gray picked up another piece of jade and resumed cultivating.