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    Chapter 69 - Reversal II

    Seeing this, Yan Shu's father was startled, fearing that Jiao Lin would bring someone from Wangsi Terrace to their home. He reached out to push her away.

    Yan Shu scolded, "Father! This is Xiao Lin!"

    Upon hearing this, his father hastily apologized to Jiao Lin and pulled her back into the house.

    After settling her in, he cautiously opened the door again, peering outside to ensure no one had followed. Satisfied, he closed and bolted the front gate.

    "Little sister!" A broad smile lifted the corners of Yan Shu's lips as his eyes shimmered with relief upon seeing Jiao Lin.

    Their mother knelt down to untie the ropes binding him.

    As soon as he regained his freedom, he asked, "How did you escape?"

    Jiao Lin replied, "A woman who was locked up with me helped me escape by covering for me."

    Upon hearing this, everyone present paused what they were doing. They stood in stunned silence for a moment, then turned to look at Jiao Lin collectively. Their eyes held a mix of surprise, joy, confusion, and fear. In unison, they asked, "You can speak?"

    Jiao Lin also wore a puzzled expression. "I don't know what happened either. After escaping from the Wangsi Terrace, I turned back and saw that woman being killed. In a panic, I let out a sound."

    Yan Shu's parents found it hard to believe such a miracle. "You were born mute, with something missing from your throat compared to others."

    "Wangsi Terrace wanted a mute girl. Now that Jiao Lin can speak, they can no longer capture her. This is a good thing." Yan Shu untangled the loose ropes around his body and approached Jiao Lin, leading her aside to ask for the details of her escape from the terrace.

    His parents, however, had solemn expressions, frequently casting glances at Jiao Lin. "How could this be... Even if a mute can suddenly speak, how could two weak women easily escape from the Wangsi Terrace?"

    ...

    "Ever since He Mengfang retrieved Shen Yuan's body from the Pure Pond, Dian Shan found him and pushed him into Yu Yuan to be devoured by malevolent spirits. The corpse in the pond now isn't Shen Yuan's; this coexistence of humans and ghosts wasn't orchestrated by him, but rather intentionally done by Dian Shan," Jiao Lin explained. "The person behind Dian Shan is Empress Jiaomiao. The annual sacrifices at the Pure Pond weren't for Shen Yuan, but to suppress the seal. Wangsi, the longing, and Wangsi, the resentment! Shen Yuan is already dead, his physical form dissipated. There's no more concern, and the Wangsi Terrace was abandoned. Now, what's hidden inside isn't a human, but a ghost."

    "How could a person do such a thing?!" Filled with indignation, Yan Shu exclaimed after hearing Jiao Lin's revelations. "They use the dead as shields for their selfish desires! Disgusting! I wish I could immediately drag those from the Wangsi Terrace out and execute them!"

    "Stay calm," Jiao Lin gently patted Yan Shu's back to soothe his anger. "In this vast Shangchicheng, only you and I know the truth. No one will believe us if we speak out."

    Yan Shu's face fell. "You haven't praised me even once since you started speaking."

    "I'm doing this for your own good," Jiao Lin said, blushing as she lowered her head. She picked up a strand of her black hair, twirling it around her finger. "It's not that I'm discouraging you, but we're outnumbered. Getting angry won't help, and we might just end up losing our lives for nothing while letting others who don't know the truth mock us and strip us of our dignity."

    Yan Shu erupted in anger, "You're looking down on me!" As he spoke, a pungent odor filled the air around him. He scrunched his eyebrows and covered his nose, repulsed, "What's that smell? It's so foul..."

    Just then, a voice echoed from outside, "Oh no, the Wretched District is on fire! — Everyone, run!! —"

    Upon hearing this, Yan Shu immediately grabbed his belongings and the twenty-three yuan they had at home before pulling Jiao Lin along to leave.

    The Wretched District was shrouded in thick smoke, blotting out the sun and sky, creating a chaotic scene reminiscent of the beginning of time.

    Although there was no smoke in the Goodfolk and Capablefolk districts, their skies were tinged with a deep orange-red hue.

    Goodfolk naturally avoided contact with the Wretched, and now that their district was ablaze, many Wretched were rushing towards the Goodfolk area. The Goodfolk, however, had spontaneously set up checkpoints at the border to prevent the Wretched from entering.

    A Goodfolk rolled his eyes, waving one hand back and forth in front of his nose, "Scram, scram! So filthy!"

    Yan Shu tugged desperately at Jiao Lin, pushing their way in, "The Wretched District is burning, if you don't let us in, do you want to watch us burn alive?!"

    The Goodfolk showed no concern, "Die if you must."

    "Your kind!" Yan Shu seethed, "Your gods use our Wretched lives for sacrifices. We may be dirty, but you're high and mighty, clean. Why don't you offer your own lives to your gods instead of using ours, the dirty ones?"

    The Virtuous Man scoffed. "It's precisely because of your heinous crimes that we summon you to venerate the deities. We're giving you a chance to atone for your past misdeeds, yet you respond with sarcasm and resentment!"

    Yan Shu chuckled. "Such a golden opportunity is being offered to you. Are you going to take it or not?"

    "I..." The Virtuous Man was left speechless.

    Tit for tat, Yan Shu retorted, "We're granting you this incredible chance to enhance your fortune. You might be a virtuous man in this life, but who knows, you could become a deity in the next. Instead of expressing gratitude and seizing the offer promptly, you hesitate."

    Infuriated, the Virtuous Man's nostrils flared, and his chest rose and fell violently. Glancing around, he snatched a sharp knife from someone nearby and plunged it into Yan Shu's abdomen.

    The metallic scent of blood overpowered the acrid fumes of the fire as Yan Shu slowly slumped down before Jiao Lin's eyes.

    The Virtuous Man discarded the blood-stained knife and laughed. "A filthy creature like you dares to talk back to me?"

    ...

    When Yan Shu awoke again, he found Jiao Lin seated beside him, surrounded by opulence.

    The floor was paved with green stone, the rafters were made of agarwood, and there were shimmering bronze objects around. Even the blanket covering him was silk, exquisitely smooth and soft.

    All of this he had seen before, in the home of someone wealthy beyond his experience. It was luxury he had never before encountered.

    Before her, a servant stood respectfully by Jiao Lin's side, holding a golden basin in their hands. "Director, I've prepared the water to the perfect temperature, neither too hot nor too cold."

    "Headmaster?" Yan Shu's voice, after days of unconsciousness, was hoarse and barely recognizable.

    "There's nothing. We'll talk when your injuries heal," Jiao Lin said as she rose from the bedside and took the golden basin from the servant. She instructed, "You may leave now. Don't come in unless you're summoned."

    The servant nodded, departing with cautious and reverent movements.

    Jiao Lin placed the basin on the table, took the dry towel hanging over its edge, dipped it into the water, soaked it, then wrung out the excess moisture. She turned around and walked towards Yan Shu.

    Yan Shu observed every gesture, tone, and mannerism Jiao Lin displayed toward the servants. As a person of lowly birth, he could easily tell that their relationship was not one of equals; Jiao Lin seemed more like a servant attending to her mistress. He inquired, "When did you become the Lord?"

    Bending down, Jiao Lin gently wiped the sweat from Yan Shu's forehead with a soft voice, "Not long ago."

    The damp towel brought an instant cooling sensation upon contact with his skin. Yan Shu observed her quietly.

    Her silk attire shimmered with a gentle luster, while a delicate silver chain adorned her neck, bearing a golden pearl. Earrings, though not ostentatious, gilded her ears.

    Her body exuded a subtle fragrance, not overpowering but gentle, with a refined yet subdued makeup adorning her features. Even her hair had been meticulously styled.

    This was not a standard of living they could aspire to.

    Yan Shu's expression remained stoic as he stated, "In Shangchicheng, there is only one institution referred to as 'Si,' and that is the Joyous God Bureau."

    The hand that had been helping Yan Shu wipe away his sweat paused momentarily. Jiao Lin decided to stop altogether, straightening up. Holding the damp towel, she nodded slowly and said, "Yes. I am now the Director of the Joyous God Bureau."

    Upon hearing this, Yan Shu jolted upright in shock, inadvertently tugging at his still-unhealed abdominal wound. He gritted his teeth, hissed in pain, and fell back into the bedding.

    Jiao Lin, concerned about his injuries, hesitated before stepping forward but ultimately held back. She remained still and continued, "With the corruption in the city reversed, there's no need for us to die."

    Yan Shu asked, "How did you manage that?"

    "I instructed someone to set the fire. We needed to resist." Jiao Lin casually tossed the towel, landing it precisely in the basin. "When I was captured at Wangsi Terrace, Lord Jiu Li restored my voice. He promised to release me and fulfill any request I had, but on one condition – I had to become the Chief of the Joyous God Bureau, and only by killing Shen Yuan would I be able to resign."

    Despite his excruciating pain, Yan Shu lifted his head to look at Jiao Lin. "He's long gone. What he really meant was for you to forever be the bloodstained Chief of the Joyous God Bureau! If the truth about Wangsi Terrace were ever exposed, you might even bear the burden of his crimes!"

    Jiao Lin replied, "I know. Besides, slaying a god invites divine retribution, so I didn't agree to his proposal."

    Yan Shu licked his parched and cracked lips, anxiously asking, "So why did you agree later on?"

    In that instant, Jiao Lin's eyes welled up with tears as she choked out, "You were stabbed, you were going to die!... I've liked you since I was young, I couldn't bear to watch you die... Could I not have agreed to him?!?"

    Yan Shu's strength drained from him, and he fell back onto the bedding. Staring blankly at the window curtains, he repeated in a daze, "You've liked me since you were young?..."

    "Yes!" Jiao Lin didn't hide her feelings at all. "Even though we grew up together and you're like my older brother, you also said we aren't siblings. I don't want us to be just siblings for our whole lives. Since we have no blood ties and live together, understanding each other, why can't we be together?"

    Yan Shu raised his hand to cover his eyes, unwilling to face her. "If that's how you feel, it would be better if I were just stabbed to death... You agreed to Lord Jiu Li's request to save me. How can I repay you for that?"

    Jiao Lin spoke earnestly, "Be with me."

    Yan Shu gave a bitter smile. "I only see you as my sister."

    Jiao Lin held back her tears. "Then... you can help me, help me kill Shen Yuan, and let me step down early from my position as the Chief of the Joyous God Bureau. That way, you'll have repaid me..."

    Yan Shu knew that Shen Yuan was already dead, his soul dispersed and his bones turned to dust. Jiao Lin only wanted to trap him.

    He could refuse, but he didn't want to owe others, especially Jiao Lin who had sacrificed so much for him.

    He agreed readily, "Alright."

    --------------------

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