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    Chapter 68: Reversal Part One

    A millennium ago, when Dian Shan and He Mengfang jointly constructed the Wangsi Terrace for Shen Yuan, there were no myriad customs of sacrificing human lives as offerings.

    It was unclear when the practice of designating a Holy Sovereign on the Wangsi Terrace began. Over time, a rumor emerged that the use of human sacrifices in the offerings better suited the cruel nature of the demonic god Shen Yuan.

    Most held a reverent yet apprehensive attitude toward this decree. On one hand, they found it excessively harsh, but on the other, they dared not voice their dissent. After all, it was said that the Demon God Shen Yuan himself had appeared before the Sage Ruler to request it. They, mere mortals, did not dare criticize the divine.

    On the one hand, they were all waiting for one another, hoping that someone brave enough would step forward and test the waters. After all, none of them would dare to voice their concerns as long as the person chosen to craft the sacrificial artifact wasn't themselves.

    The Joyous God Bureau was established after it set the rule of using humans to create sacrificial items.

    Initially, the bureau's arrests were indiscriminate, targeting both the poor and the wealthy, the nobles and the commoners, as if selecting victims on a whim or by the roll of dice, demonstrating a cruel yet impartial approach.

    It wasn't until a winter a thousand years ago when the wealthy and the influential colluded, bribing the then-head of the Joyous God Bureau.

    The bureau's head divided the entire population of Shangchicheng into three categories based on their abilities and wealth: the Unworthy, the Decent, and the Capable.

    The Capable were the wealthy and the nobles within Shangchicheng.

    The virtuous were ordinary folk in Shangchi City.

    The defiled were those of ill repute, the disabled, criminals, and the like.

    From then on, those who crafted sacrificial objects came from among the defiled.

    The capable enjoyed peaceful lives.

    The virtuous secretly rejoiced, looking down on the defiled while aspiring to be capable. Yet, reality dealt them harsh blows, leaving them to seek solace in deities, thus making them frequent visitors to Jingtan and pillars of the trade in sacrificial items.

    Having endured countless futile rebellions, their spirits had grown numb. They accepted the deceits of the gifted, believing they were paying off debts from past lives and that their suffering in this world was justified. They thought that by bearing it all, they would be reborn as the gifted in their next life.

    If one's heart is already numbed, why bother praying to gods?

    Moreover, it was those "gods" who demanded their lives.

    It was then that specific regulations emerged for the selection of sacrificial offerings in Shangchicheng: young adults who had just reached eighteen and were still innocent, with the deaf and mute being prioritized.

    With a snap, Yan Shu closed the book and gently caressed its cover.

    Jiao Lin approached to examine the book in his hands.

    It was an old tome, its yellowed pages spotted with translucent oil stains and exuding a rich aroma of sweet date cakes.

    How had they come across this book?

    They had labored tirelessly at the skilled man's residence, eventually earning some food that they were planning to share with their families. But their hard-earned provisions were ruined by a group of elitist children from reputable households who looked down on those of untouchable birth.

    That bit of sustenance, the fruit of their day's labor, was trampled underfoot and dirtied with mud.

    With empty stomachs growling, they could only wait patiently behind the bakery's backdoor. In the depths of the night, the bakery owner would discard any remaining pastries in a bin there, allowing them a chance to find something to eat.

    The bakery owner was kind-hearted. He would always leave the surplus baked goods at the backdoor for those in need, knowing that associating with an untouchable could harm his business reputation.

    However, to avoid suspicion, he would wrap the treats in layers of bags, carefully portioning them before discarding them in the bin.

    All they needed to do was dispose of the outermost layer of the packaging, wash their hands, and they could enjoy a meal.

    However, the supply was limited, and most people were unable to secure any.

    Neither Yan Shu nor Jiao Lin managed to get any. Standing dejectedly beside an empty trash bin, their minds were preoccupied with the challenge of finding their next meal.

    Their luck took a turn for the better when, after all the Imps had left, the pastry shop owner emerged with a packed bundle of leftover pastries.

    Noticing the two of them with empty hands and teary eyes, the owner kindly gave them all the remaining treats and even asked them to dispose of the book by throwing it into the trash bin.

    The pastry shop owner's timely assistance solved their daily food dilemma, and they were grateful for the small favor. Disposing of garbage was a simple task they readily accepted.

    Orphaned at a young age, Jiao Lin had no parents, whereas Yan Shu's were still alive. His parents once belonged to a lineage of accomplished individuals but lost everything due to a deceitful scheme, plunging them into the life of Imps. They understood the value of education and, despite their hardships, saved a portion of their earnings for Yan Shu's tuition.

    Naturally, Yan Shu knew more words than Jiao Lin.

    Out of curiosity, he opened the book for a look.

    Yan Shu shared, "According to the book, there wasn't initially any requirement for humans to serve as sacrificial offerings."

    Jiao Lin, born mute, couldn't speak. Upon hearing this, she simply shook her head.

    At that time, both were merely seventeen years old.

    Out of compassion for Jiao Lin's solitude, Yan Shu's parents took her in, sharing meals and living quarters with her. Their bond was exceptionally strong.

    Despite Jiao Lin's inability to speak, Yan Shu could discern her thoughts just by looking into her eyes. He asked, "You think the stories in this book are fabricated and not to be trusted?"

    Jiao Lin nodded in response.

    Yan Shu grew solemn. "Regardless of whether it's believable or not, I'm determined to proclaim the contents of this book to the entire Shangchi City."

    Anxiety filling her heart, Jiao Lin reached out both her hands, gripping Yan Shu's arms tightly, and continued to shake her head at him.

    Studying Jiao Lin's face intently, Yan Shu gently patted her head. "Next month, you'll turn eighteen, and being mute, the Joyous God Bureau will surely seize you to become the Sacred Maiden of the Wangsi Terrace, crafting you into a ritual artifact. We've grown up together, though not siblings, we're closer than one. How could I bear to see you taken away by the Joyous God Bureau?"

    Jiao Lin remained deeply concerned, her brows knitted as she gazed anxiously at Yan Shu, persistently shaking her head in disagreement with his plan.

    "I know you're worried about my safety," Yan Shu soothingly stroked her hair, whispering softly, "Don't worry, An. Everything will be alright."

    As the night passed, Yan Shu was preparing to make public the contents of the book when, to his surprise, the agents from the Joyous God Bureau didn't wait for him.

    That afternoon, the sky took on a faint tinge of orange, reminiscent of the eve of an apocalypse.

    The black-robed figures from the Joyous God Bureau burst through Yan Shu's front door, storming into the house uninvited.

    These towering figures seemed almost inhumanly tall, and no matter how Yan Shu, his parents, shouted or struck at them, they appeared impervious to pain or injury, unafraid of bleeding. They endured the trio's verbal and physical attacks without retaliation, as if they deemed it beneath them to bully a child. Utilizing their towering stature, they forcibly took Jiao Lin away.

    Not a single neighbor dared to peek out during the incident, for fear that the black-robed figures might set their sights on them, dooming them to a similar fate.

    After the black-robed figures left, the neighbors emerged, offering comfort to Yan Shu and his parents.

    "You've done your part in kindness. Blame it on the child's accumulated sins in their past life for them being mute and born into a contaminated body. Now that they're at Wangsi Terrace, they've been released from their burden. In their next life, they'll be reborn into a better family, with a fresh start."

    "Indeed, being taken by the Joyous God Bureau is Jiao Lin's fortune."

    Unlike other contaminated people who accepted their fate with resignation, Yan Shu and her parents, due to their fall from being capable individuals, couldn't accept it so easily. They retorted loudly, "Do you want this kind of fortune?!"

    "Of course! Paying off debts from the past life in this one will free them in the next. They'll be born into a good family, with a golden spoon in their mouth."

    Upon hearing this, Yan Shu and her parents fell silent, unable to find a response.

    One witness to the black-robed figures shared, "Those black-clothed people from the Joyous God Bureau seem less than human – they're like ghosts! Last time, I saw them taking away a mute child from another family. The child's father lunged at them with an axe. They were clearly struck, and their clothes were torn open, but there was no blood. And when I looked through that tear, I could only see emptiness beneath the clothing! It was as if the clothes had come to life and could run and jump on their own!"

    Yan Shu felt a chill run through the entire Shangchicheng at these words. He clenched his teeth and declared fiercely, "If they're demonic gods, do they still deserve our worship and offerings? We've been divided into different classes because of them! They enjoy the fruits of our sacrifices while branding us as impure – how can such injustice exist in this world?!"

    The crowd echoed his sentiment, "That's right, that's right!"

    Furious, Yan Shu stood up, "Is there anyone willing to join me at Wangsi Terrace to rescue Jiao Lin and the others?"

    There was hesitation among the group. "Well...," their indignation quickly faded.

    Yan Shu snorted coldly, mocking them, "All talk, no action." With that, he prepared to head for Wangsi Terrace to save Jiao Lin, but his parents stopped him.

    "They have a point. Don't risk it."

    Yan Shu hadn't expected his parents to be among those who only talked. "But Jiao Lin..."

    His parents sighed, their expressions pained, "Ah, let's just say Jiao Lin is paying off a debt from a past life and finding liberation." Turning to the crowd, they said, "Our child has a fever, his mind isn't clear. Ignore what he just said. Can someone bring a rope to help us tie him up so he doesn't go around causing trouble?"

    "I will!" A volunteer promptly stepped forward from the crowd.

    Just like the previous night when she returned from the Pastry Shop, it was another cloudy evening.

    Unlike summer, the wind that greeted them was warm. As autumn had just begun, the gentle breeze on this night brought a chill, seeping into their skin and raising goosebumps across their bodies.

    Jiao Lin was about to become the Saintess of Wangsi Terrace. Despite lying quietly in bed, Yan Shu and her family couldn't find slumber, tossing and turning restlessly.

    After an indeterminate period of silence, a soft tapping echoed at the entrance.

    Thud, thud, thud—

    Yan Shu thought she might have misheard, so she widened her eyes, held her breath, and listened attentively.

    The homes of the Outcasts were typically small, barely spacious enough for a few family members. In the darkness, three pairs of eyes shimmered with faint glimmers.

    Thud! Thud! Thud!—

    This time, the knocking was louder than before.

    They were now utterly convinced—someone was indeed knocking on their door!

    Yan Shu rolled out of bed, only to forget he was bound; he landed with a thud on the floor and found himself unable to get up.

    Hearing the commotion, his parents could no longer pretend to be asleep. They turned on the light, got out of bed, and were about to help him when he said, "Don't worry about me for now. Check if Jiao Lin has come back."

    "She couldn't have returned—" To dash Yan Shu's hopes, they turned to open the door.

    Fearful that his parents might deceive him, Yan Shu watched their every move intently.

    The door creaked open, revealing a familiar figure in the frame.

    It was Jiao Lin, repeatedly knocking on the door from outside!



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