1 The Oldest Scam

Fourth Heaven, Blood-Feather City.

"Brothers, Celestial Ascension is a terrible scam," said a 14-year-old looking boy that sat crossed-legged in a circle alongside 11 men of various ages. With short, neatly combed black hair, thin eyebrows and a friendly gaze, the boy would have looked handsome and harmless if not for the double pupils in his golden, left eye. To avoid attracting the divine bullies, he hid it behind an eyepatch. And like the 11 others, wore a white Taoist robe.

"Cleanse your body to achieve Purification. Cleanse your soul to achieve Sanctification. Find your Dao Truth, reject your Dao Truth. Cross the Nine Calamities, refine your Celestial Nature and ride the Auspicious Clouds to ascend to Heaven. This is the road mortals call Ascension. Because we all went through it, we understand, we understand…" the teenage-looking boy's eyelids twitched and, with his fists balled up, he threw his head back—roaring at the ceiling, "…that it is a pile of shit!"

"They tell you that you will be venerated as an immortal, ranking among celestials, and attending the God Empress' Peach Banquets! But once you arrive, from the top of your mortal world, you become the lowest of the low! The pig that even floor sweepers can slaughter! And of course, no damn peach!" The teenage-looking boy sobbed, his words making the 11 celestials beside him break into tears.

"I started cultivating at 13, reached the first level of Purification at 16, the Hallowed Realm at 22, Daoist at 33, Nihility at 66, Crossed Vicissitudes at 108 and ascended to Celestial Kin at 163!

Genius! Adored by millions, cursed by billions! More food and wine than I could digest! And I left all that behind to come sweep the floor in Heaven!" Harun, the boy celestial, squealed full of grief.

Like the others, Harun was born in a Mortal World—the Noxious Flame World in his case. And after 150 years of cultivation, he ascended to Heaven. In his homeworld, he started out as an average child looked down on because of his low talent and unusual left eye. Aware of his own shortcomings, Harun put in five times his peers' work but still took three years to reach the first level of Purification.

Fortunately, the heavens wouldn't abuse a diligent man. The first level of the Purification Realm unlocked Harun's left eye, the Eye of Luminous Treasures, enabling him to locate the treasures and chances scattered in his homeworld. Harun thus set on a legendary path, broke all records of his world, and became a celestial.

As he didn't want to be fettered by gold diggers, despite all the princesses and saintesses he dallied with, Harun didn't leave any wife or child behind, and triumphantly rose to Heaven.

Or so it should have been. But the story refused to take that turn.

Harun didn't expect that despite ascending on Golden Clouds—the highest attainment for a mortal cultivator—no one would respect his achievements. After asking him a few casual questions, the registrar assigned him the job of page, an official position of the ninth rank no better than a floor sweeper.

Worse, they downgraded his Celestial Nature from a mighty World-Devouring Serpent to a tiny green viper! Just because the Devouring Serpent was reserved for some divine clan, he went from an all-dominating, ovaries-squeaking reptile to an ordinary snake. Who could bear that shame?

Enraged, Harun fought for his rights. But it seemed his luck expired in Heaven as, at the first protest, the registrar had him flogged 120 times. Aggrieved, poor Harun sought a judge and was flogged another 80 times.

Without recourse, he could only accept his fate and start delivering messages for conceited officials while slowly planning his comeback. It'd now been two years since Harun arrived in Heaven, and to cope with depression, he started attending group therapy meetings with celestials in the same pit as him.

"I was the supreme emperor of my world, a phoenix, downgraded to a pigeon."

"A black dragon, downgraded to a lizard!"

"A flood dragon, downgraded to a fish!"

"Here newborns start at the first level of the Celestial Kin Realm, born celestials. How can they not look down on us? They disdain our treasures, trample our dignity, and the worse of it all is that the God Emperor passed a Divine Law forbidding murder and suicide!"

"As long as the God Emperor breathes, we must endure! Endure till the word "enduring" is written all over our stomped faces and buttocks!"

"But how can he die?" Several celestials sobbed with outrage written all over their faces. Unlike Harun, most of these people had been trapped in Heaven for decades or centuries—when they realized that they couldn't return home before reaching the Heavenly God Realm, they all lost hope.

At that time, the door flew open. Alarmed, the celestials all choked on their treasonous words, fearing that a bored superior spied on their meeting. Faster than the others, Harun had already turned into a snake and hid behind his peers.

"The God Emperor is dead!" The new entrant, another ninth-rank official, exclaimed with exceptional delight.

"Hahahaha! The God Emperor is dead!"

In the Divine Harem, "The old goat is gone!"

In the Heavenly Court, "Hahaha! Finally, that imperishable son of a bitch is dead!"

Across the Heavens:

"Praise the glorious heavens! The Emperor is dead!"

On the 10,000 Mortal Worlds:

"Why is the breeze so fresh, the sky so clear, and the sun so bright today?"

"Look at all those rainbows, the Auspicious Clouds, the flying cranes and swans, something great must have happened in Heaven."

"It must be so."

After a reign of nine Cosmic Cycles, or 1,166,400 years, Agiri, the third God Emperor, collapsed under a Cosmic Tribulation—forever erased from the multiverse. His death threw the Heavens into an unprecedented wave of euphoria. From his children to ancient officials, none mourned him.

But while Harun's peers leaped and danced across the room, throwing scrolls into the air like unruly middle graders, he alone found the news disturbing.

"Dumbos. Heaven's Throne has no heir. How is this cause for celebration? When the civil war begins, we won't even cut it as meat shields."

Leaving his fellow celestials behind, Harun sneaked out of the gathering room to return to his chambers. On the road, conflicting thoughts clashed in his mind. Initially a just and beloved monarch, past his eighth Cosmic Tribulation, Agiri went mad. From then on, he promulgated a succession of absurd Divine Laws that shoveled the 33 Heavens into chaos.

The Right of the First Night, giving him the right to sleep with new brides or concubines on the wedding night.

The Bleeding Crown Law, forcing high-ranking officials to wear crowns of thorns.

The two Anti-Death Laws, preventing celestials from committing suicide or murder.

The Imperial Curbing Law, that forced all imperial princes and kinsmen into house arrest.

The Divine Right Law, that downgraded the Celestial Nature of the newly ascended celestials, and two others.

Paranoid, insane, but unrivaled, as the only Dao Emperor of the 33 Heavens, Agiri could do as he pleased and was seen as the chief driver of all the resentment and enmity swelling in this vast realm. With his death, all Divine Laws lost effect, returning freedom to the 33 Heavens' countless lives.

What a false sense of freedom.

Believing that his reign would outlast the stars, Agiri never set up a crown prince. Thus, his seven sons, his brothers and surviving uncles, all had strong claims to the throne and wouldn't let go of the chance to become the new Master of Heaven and Earth. In that mayhem, how many would fall to stray bullets, Harun wondered.

But as his thoughts strayed, "Isn't this our most venerated celestial pipsqueak?" A white-robbed youth, too generic for a full description, blocked his path. Four mook goons stood beside him, and together, they surrounded Harun. Forced out of his thoughts, Harun took a casual glance at the five youths, stopping on the band's leader.

"Dilsad?" Harun dug the name out of his immortal memories. Dilsad was the nephew of Blood-Feather City's registrar, who recorded the names of all celestials that ascended to the Fourth Heaven and assigned them various ninth-rank positions. A registrar was just an eighth-rank official, but his position gave him tremendous power over the newly ascended celestials. Among them, few dared offend him.

Dilsad, however, was a nobody. The only reason why Harun remembered him was that he was present during his "welcome party." Since then, the two had never exchanged a word, not even the basic "screw your ancestors." Why was he blocking him?

"Although the God Emperor just died, his death has already triggered many changes. The God Empress will hold the Peach Banquet early, and our magistrate decreed that all pages must gather in his office tomorrow. Six will be selected to serve in the God Empress' upcoming Peach Banquet. But truth be told, there's no way for a mortal-born celestial like you to attend that gathering. I'm here to tell you to not waste your time. Don't try to look beyond what your eyes can see and accept your lot in life," Dilsad said with a broad grin, proud and elated.

His cultivation had just broken through to the second level of the Celestial Kin Realm, putting him far above the newly promoted celestials. Like the majority of heaven-born scions, Dilsad despised the newcomers—it was time to bully. And seeing Harun struck speechless, Dilsad stuck his chest out, unleashing the pressure of his cultivation base, intent on suppressing his prey.

"Even if you resent me, I must do my good deed of the day. I know you must have been some big shot in your homeworld, but here, people like you are as common as the clouds. Toss a stone into the street, and you can hit 1,000. Look at me, my talent is just okay, but I've already reached the second level of the Celestial Kin Realm. You have no merit to speak of and must try hard to prog-"


With an upward kick, Harun smashed Dilsad's nuts. A cool breeze swept the scene, the pressure of Dilsad's cultivation base collapsed, his jaw dropped, and his eyes went bloodshot.

In a flash, Dilsad felt the world around him spin. His legs gave out, all strength left his body, and he fell face-first.

"Argh...argh...aaargh!" Dilsad howled in agony. And though without strength, his hands subconsciously reached for his nuts. Harun wouldn't have it, and blocked Dilsad's nuts under his right foot.

With an angelic smile, the 14-year-old looking celestial leaned over and said, "Don't misunderstand, I'm trying to help you. Even if you resent me, I must do my good deed of the day." Dilsad had barely registered the words that Harun pulled out a dark-green pill from his cosmic pouch and forced it down his throat.

As the pill dissolved in his body, Dilsad's skin turned blue, and the damage in his groins intensified till his nuts turned into dust.

Right, he now had nothing to hold on. Dilsad's pain slowly subsided, but no joy appeared in his eyes.

Only terror remained.

"Impossible. Impossible! You didn't...you can't...how? Give me back my balls!" The celestial neared madness. He'd just turned 120 and had yet to rob his first kiss that his balls went missing. Who could bear such a fate?

Taking his foot off the empty crotch, Harun sighed and replied:

"So sad. This is a lesson they don't teach you in celestial kindergarten right? Even if you cultivate the Unbreakable Diamond Physique, your balls are still balls. Anyone can crack them. But don't worry, if you stay home for one week and sincerely repent, they might just return. If you seek your uncle, you will die today. Your choice. As an elder, I'm just trying to help you avoid an early death."

That said, Harun left the scene, and too startled by their boss' fate, the mook goons dared not pursue him.

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