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    Chapter 151

    The weather at the new port remained perpetually gloomy.

    In the city center, many half-finished office buildings still stood as dilapidated structures and shoddy projects. Next to the newly constructed, elegant skyscrapers were exposed concrete and steel frameworks. Slickly dressed white-collar workers entered and exited their offices, while at night, a few homeless people would find shelter in those hazardous structures. This stark contrast was the emblem of the city and the scar left by the previous era.

    It was also the first impression visitors had of the city.

    A chaotic, fragmented place with vast wealth disparities, the city exuded an eerie darkness that seemed to repel even the sun during daylight hours.

    In New Port, even supermarkets and fast-food joints in the downtown area required bulletproof glass. Policemen dared not venture into certain neighborhoods at night, for they knew that the city belonged to disorder after dark.

    However, the downtown area was relatively safe. The most lawless part of New Port was known as Nine Inches, named so because it was a territory shared by nine gangs. Their territories intertwined in a complicated web, like wild dogs marking their domains. Anyone who trespassed risked being ruthlessly attacked by these factions. Even locals avoided this area.

    Gunshots would ring out even during the day in Nine Inches. Junkies wandering the streets would instinctively cower at the sound, seeking refuge in corners. They knew that gang bullets knew no mercy.

    But today, someone dared to cross through this most perilous neighborhood.

    When the gunfire erupted, the homeless man, John, skillfully hid beneath a car. To his surprise, he found someone already there – a young man on the brink of despair, staring at him anxiously.

    "I mean no harm," John said promptly, as the young man stared at him anxiously. Eventually, both of them remained still, hiding beneath the car without incident.

    Gunshots echoed outside, and it was no surprise to see the Black Blood Gang and the Green Crown Gang engaged in another clash. These two factions were vying for control over the laundry detergent trade, often battling it out on the streets. The conflict had intensified in the past couple of days but should end soon.

    "The violence occurs frequently here?" the young man asked softly.

    John replied, "You're not from this area, are you?"

    "I've recently arrived in New Port and got lost unintentionally."

    "No wonder," John understood. Another unsuspecting passerby had stumbled into trouble. This young man was truly unfortunate. "You'll get used to it. Once they're done, it's best to leave promptly."

    Suddenly, the gunfire paused for a moment. Assuming the fight had ended, John lifted his head, only to be startled by an oblivious stranger entering their vicinity.

    Due to the angle, John could only glimpse the man's black trouser legs, barely discerning that he was male. Unaware, the stranger continued walking towards them.

    The young man immediately tensed up. "Is someone coming? This is too risky. Didn't he hear the gunshots?"

    John remained silent, speculating that the newcomer might be a police officer or from another gang. Nonetheless, he shouldn't have wandered so carelessly into this neighborhood. John couldn't help but imagine the scene of the man falling to gunfire, almost relishing in the irony.

    Surprisingly, though, the gunfire didn't erupt. Instead, the man continued to approach, as if these desperadoes had suddenly transformed into courteous gentlemen, patiently waiting for pedestrians to pass. John couldn't resist his curiosity and poked his head out from under the car.

    This glimpse provided him with a full understanding of why these audacious gang members had halted their actions.

    The man walking closer was dressed in a black priest's robe, with an inverted cross that glinted eerily in the sunlight. His face wore a constant, humble smile, which seemed to endear him to anyone who looked upon him. Following behind was a sharply dressed gentleman, the kind one might expect to see in an office building or government hall. He was looking around curiously, like a naive lamb fresh off the boat in New Port.

    John's gaze didn't linger on the lamb. If that innocent soul had wandered into Nine-Inch Block alone, he would have taken advantage without hesitation; the police here were indifferent to such matters. But today was different. The lamb was accompanied by the last person you'd want to mess with in this city: a religious figure.

    The young man, mimicking John's action, peeked out and was astonished to see the usually arrogant gangsters showing deference to the priest. "Father Austin, why aren't you in your car today? Your men almost harmed you."

    "I'm bringing a newcomer along. He's very curious about the dynamics of New Port, so I thought I'd give him a tour," the priest's voice was soothing, devoid of any aggression.

    "Ah, I see. I'll make sure my boys remember his face. I promise he won't be harmed on our Black Blood Gang's territory."

    "The same goes for us, Green Crown Gang!"

    "Thank you all," the priest appeared genuinely touched, folding his hands in a prayer gesture, "Today, even our lambs are helping each other. How touching, Amen."

    "Amen." Regardless of whether they were followers of the new bishop or not, everyone present made a praying gesture, their faces expressing a devoutness bordering on fanaticism.

    The young man stared in astonishment at the scene, utterly perplexed as to why these gang members would also bow their heads in silence. He couldn't comprehend it until the priest led the newcomer away.

    Startled by this turn of events, the young man was truly baffled. "Are they all believers?" he asked, dumbfounded.

    "No," replied the homeless man, looking at him with surprise. "You really have no idea... Listen carefully, to survive in this city, there's one type of person you absolutely cannot provoke."

    "The ones dressed as preachers. If gangs represent violence, then they are the embodiment of that violence, reigning above these gangs and at the heart of this city's madness."

    The young man's pupils narrowed slightly.

    After walking down that street, the tax collector saw firsthand the status of the faithful in this city. With a hint of curiosity, he addressed God on Earth. "No wonder you said the New Port is a cult simulator. Cultists here seem untouchable. Is no one keeping them in check?"

    "Keeping them in check?" A mocking smile tugged at the corner of God on Earth's mouth. "You'll find out soon enough. Let's hurry; the meeting will start soon. I'll explain the dynamics of New Port in more detail during the conference."

    Inside a certain church, the new bishop's faction was holding its regular meeting. The priests, who were responsible for individual churches, reported the 'atonement fees' they had collected and the number of recent converts.

    However, after ten minutes, one seat remained unoccupied. The priest sitting second to last couldn't help but comment, "Where is Austin? Has he become too arrogant? To dare be late to a regular meeting?"

    "Perhaps he considers himself a rising star, the fastest-rising member lately. He might already assume that he's the next bishop, hence overlooking the rules," someone commented with a tinge of envy.

    Even before his arrival, the air was filled with the tension of rivalry. The archbishops and bishops present, intentionally or not, glanced at the cardinal seated at the highest position. The cardinal, however, remained closed-eyed, seemingly indifferent to everything happening around him.

    It was unusual for the cardinal to be here, for they usually didn't attend regular meetings. Their presence was only required in significant gatherings. As for His Holiness the Pope, he had not been seen in public for nearly a decade, leaving most responsibilities to the cardinal.

    "Well, Austin has informed me beforehand. He needed to escort an important new member into our faith, thus the delay," said one of the bishops, stepping forward to defend Austin when dissatisfaction towards him grew.

    In the next moment, the church doors opened from outside, and God on Earth entered, followed by the tax collector.

    "I apologize for the flight delay; we're late," God on Earth said apologetically.

    "No worries, you're here now. Take a seat."

    The bishop who had spoken up for God on Earth smiled and nodded, to which God on Earth returned a nod before occupying the last seat.

    The tax collector, without a designated chair, didn't mind. Instead, he scanned the assembly with an intrigued gaze.

    Though the tax collector remained silent, the other high priests didn't hesitate to question God on Earth.

    "Austen, it's one thing to be late, but bringing outsiders here? What's the meaning of that?" A high priest seated in the second-to-last row, emboldened by his equal status with God on Earth, spoke with a veiled sarcasm. "Are you absolutely certain he isn't a cop or a spy from another church?"

    "Your concern is misplaced," God on Earth replied with neither humility nor arrogance. "Mr. Ivan here is a believer whom I personally recruited. He's a rare talent in the financial sector and has an in-depth understanding of this country's tax system. If you were to glance at recent news, you'd know that the national finances are strained, and the parliament is discussing whether to revoke the religious tax exemption or impose restrictions. Should there be any changes to the previous tax regime, I believe we would greatly benefit from Mr. Ivan's expertise."

    "Not to mention, Mr. Ivan is a talent I personally discovered and has undergone both 'baptism' and 'trial.'"

    Upon hearing this, the reactions in the room varied. The high priests who had previously challenged God on Earth turned sour and wary, while the bishops' eyes lit up as they looked at God on Earth and the tax official with warmth and kindness.

    After all, who wouldn't appreciate a loyal subordinate who could predict future changes and already have contingency plans in place? Moreover, this subordinate had demonstrated his commitment to the church early on. If God on Earth's actions were ever exposed, no one in this city except the new bishop could protect him, making the bishop feel very secure in employing him.

    The high priest, who had previously mocked God in the Flesh, now glared at him fiercely. But when God in the Flesh turned to look, he hastily averted his gaze, as if facing some terrifying beast.

    The tax collector observed their reactions closely.

    Player Channel:

    "Tax Collector: Well, what have you been up to here? Why do these people both envy and fear you?"

    "God in the Flesh: Not much really, just leveraging the power of some players to climb up the ranks. Maybe the spectacle of the 'Baptism' was a bit too intense and intimidated them."

    "Tax Inspector: Baptism?"

    "Divinity Among Mortals: Well, you see, our new bishopric is quite a substantial cult, albeit one that has branched off from Christianity. They interpret their doctrines independently and borrow heavily from Christian teachings, but at its core, they serve an unholy deity. To become a member of the New Bishopric, one must partake in rituals designed to please this malevolent god."

    "Divinity Amongst Mortals: The essence of the new bishop's doctrine lies in the belief that the more one suffers in this world, the more one's sins are cleansed, thus ensuring entry into heaven after death. Consequently, joining this religion entails two thresholds: the first is the 'Baptism' and the second is the 'Ordeal.' Baptism is a self-inflicted torment; the more one suffers, the more it attests to one's devout faith. The second Ordeal, on the other hand, involves imposing hardships upon others."

    The tax inspector, upon hearing this, suddenly recalled something and swiftly turned his head to examine Shen Zai Ren's card. It followed a similar concept as Norman King's card from the previous encounter, favoring a refined and gentle appearance rather than strikingly handsome or beautiful faces. The design aimed to evoke immediate likability without being overly captivating or intrusive.

    Strangely, the deity's neck and arms, exposed amidst the mortal realm, bore scars that resembled stitching, resembling centipedes embedded within the skin.

    The tax inspector's pupils constricted, and a chilling assumption dawned on him:

    "Tax Inspector: You didn't actually... cut yourself, did you? That's quite extreme, buddy!"

    "God Among Us: Emmmm, not exactly. It's a bit more visually impactful than that."

    "Tax Inspector: ?"

    "God Among Us: It's flaying, ^-^."

    "Tax Collector: ????"

    "God Among Us: It wasn't as dramatic as you think. The situation was complicated back then. I had to save an NPC and infiltrate the church simultaneously. Besides, turning off pain didn't actually hurt."

    "Tax Collector: %#&* But bu bu bu...!"

    "God Among Us: Honestly, I didn't witness the scene myself. Right when I was about to act, a Willpower Check popped up, and after a grand success, I got kicked out of the game. When I logged back in, it was done. All I saw were the terrified expressions of the cult members."

    "God Among Us: Afterward, the Cardinal himself received me and helped me get my skin back. Later, I asked other players to create characters as my adoptive parents, and I sent them the 'Rip Card' package. That's how I smoothly joined this cult."

    "God Among Us: And here I am now, in this position :)."

    "Tax Collector: ... Respect."

    "Tax Collector: Master, I offer you my knees."

    "God Among Us: It's not that big a deal. Now, I'm responsible for recommending new players to join the church. Plus, we players design the 'Baptism' and 'Trial' content ourselves. Everyone knows I'm good at brainwashing, so I've got a bunch of fearless fanatics under me. That's why I rose from a regular cult member to the rank of High Priest in just over a month :)."

    "Tax Collector: No wonder your forum posts always get flagged so easily (lol)."

    As the meeting began, everyone reported their updates while couldn't help casting wary glances at God on Earth.

    The new bishop's rank was similar to that of the orthodox religion, with levels such as core believers, priests, archpriests, bishops, cardinals, and the pope. Setting aside the exceptional ranks of cardinals and the pope, ordinary believers usually had to be recommended by a priest to become an assistant priest. Priests, in turn, needed to work for several years, building connections or making significant contributions, to become archpriests. Multiple archpriests or bishops' endorsements were required to ascend to the position of a bishop.

    Among those present, the lowest rank was that of an archpriest, and even this position was the result of years of hard work. They had never seen anyone like God on Earth, who gained the favor of a cardinal soon after joining the faith and became an archpriest in just over a month.

    Due to God on Earth's shallow roots and rapid rise without establishing a network, some sought to target him.

    After all the archpriests and bishops finished their reports, the cardinal, who had been resting his eyes, suddenly opened them.

    "The... Divine Oracle has been conveyed once more."

    Upon hearing this, a few startled archpriests and bishops turned to look at the aged cardinal sitting at the highest seat.

    "Y-You're telling the truth?"

    The cardinal didn't repeat himself but glanced softly at the bishop who had asked the question. Despite his old and hazy gaze, the bishop immediately paled and lowered his head, too afraid to meet the cardinal's eyes.

    "What is the content of this divine oracle?" God on Earth inquired, earning admiration from the other archpriests. To dare ask such a question, he was truly a brave one.

    To everyone's surprise, the Cardinal actually replied, "The Divine is to descend upon us."

    The scene fell silent for a moment before it erupted into chaos. Even the Archbishops and Bishops, despite the Cardinal's intimidating presence, couldn't help but discuss the matter with astonished expressions.

    Though the purpose of the new Bishop was to serve and please their deity, no divine revelation had ever been granted in all these years, let alone one as direct and succinct as this.

    "A-Are you saying that the Divine wishes to descend upon New Harbor?" a Bishop asked, barely able to contain his astonishment.

    The Cardinal nodded. "We must prepare for the ceremony."

    Upon hearing this, regardless of what thoughts swirled in their minds, the Archbishops present donned ecstatic expressions, their faces flushed with excitement.

    "Please, allow me to preside over this ceremony!"

    "No, let me. The faithful in our region have been eagerly awaiting this moment!"

    "It will be the greatest honor for our church."

    "Lord, have You finally hearkened to the voices of Your followers?!"

    As one priest began to weep uncontrollably, the other high priests and bishops followed suit, tears streaming down their faces as they gestured fervently in prayer, as if a second's delay would be a sign of insufficient devotion. Only God on Earth and the tax collector remained expressionless, standing out starkly from the crowd.

    The high priest immediately reprimanded God on Earth. "Austin, aren't you stirred by this uplifting news? Don't you have faith in the divine...?"

    "I'm just contemplating," God on Earth interrupted the high priest's attempt to label him. His gaze was fixed on the latest updates from the player forums, a hint of contemplation flickering in his eyes. "It seems that the Secret Order has also been stirring lately, with their actions differing from their usual pattern."

    God on Earth paused at just the right moment, and a hint of approval appeared on the cardinal's face. "You're well-informed. It seems not only us, but the Secret Order in the small fishing village must have received a message from their deity as well."

    This time, genuine surprise appeared on the others' faces.

    How could there suddenly be so many divine oracles?

    After all, these gods hadn't issued any oracles or expressed their will for eight hundred years. They only sporadically manifested in the minds of a few lucky humans on days of peculiar celestial alignments to assert their existence.

    "A major event must have occurred," a bishop couldn't help asking.

    "Yes, the prophecy is drawing near," the cardinal replied with a cryptic tone.

    Prophecies - many religions had their apocalyptic prophecies, especially cults, which relied on the promise of salvation through faith in their deity. High priests and bishops often employed such narratives in their sermons.

    Yet, none of them imagined that the prophecy would come true in their lifetime.

    The cardinals couldn't help swallowing. Even the most devout believers were now gripped by doubt and fear, making the unperturbed God on Earth appear exceptionally calm.

    The cardinal's gaze lingered on God on Earth's face, his favoritism barely concealed. "This ceremony is also of utmost importance. I'll entrust it to Austin."


    "That won't do, Your Eminence!"

    These words immediately provoked opposition from the archbishops. Hearing the cardinal's high praise for God on Earth, the other archbishops, who had initially relied on their seniority, grew restless. "Austin has only recently joined the Church. How can such an important task be given to him? It should be you or His Holiness the Pope."

    "I am old, and His Holiness has more pressing matters to attend to." The cardinal lifted his eyelids. "Or do you think your judgment surpasses mine?"

    Under the cardinal's gaze, the archbishop opened his mouth but dared not respond. To everyone's surprise, God on Earth suddenly spoke up, "Compared to Your Eminences, my experience is indeed limited, and I have yet to preside over any significant ceremonies. For an affair of this magnitude, it's better left to a more seasoned archbishop. The participating believers will also feel more at ease."

    The archbishops and cardinals present looked at God on Earth in astonishment, not expecting him to be so perceptive.

    The cardinal frowned. "Is there a problem? Do you lack confidence in carrying it out?"

    "Certainly, I have confidence in myself, but others might not share the same belief," the Divine on Earth displayed humility at this moment. "Of course, it would be an honor I greatly desire, but this mission is too crucial. I believe it won't be a task for just one person to handle alone. I've only recently joined, and I still have much to learn from the experienced ones."

    The bishops' gazes toward the Divine on Earth softened significantly. No wonder the cardinal was so high on this youngster; he knew how to play his cards well. Wasn't he implying that he was willing to assist them?

    Initially, the bishops were against it, fearing that the cardinal might groom the Divine on Earth as his successor. They had waited a long time for their turn as cardinals. If the ceremony's success was added to his achievements, the young man might leap straight to the rank of cardinal, bypassing the bishop position.

    However, if the Divine on Earth willingly stepped aside, the situation was different. Whoever took on the mission would accumulate the credentials to become a cardinal!

    The cardinal sighed. "You do have a point. Alright then, I hope you won't regret it... Endicott."

    One of the bishops suddenly brightened. "Here!"

    "The ceremony this time will be your responsibility."

    "Yes!" Endicott was surprised that such an accolade would fall upon him. He immediately looked gratefully at the Divine on Earth.

    The Divine on Earth smiled warmly at him.

    Enjoy it while it lasts, for your happiness won't last for long.


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