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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 154

    The display of the strongest male seemed to ignite the players' creativity. Fung, who had intended to sneak in quietly, and a few combat-oriented players stepped forward immediately.

    A pink potion flew out from Fung's hand, only to be shattered by an unseen bullet, spilling its contents over the cultists engaged in battle downstairs.

    Their movements paused, red spots instantly appearing on their bodies. Their aim became distorted, and they were overwhelmed by an unbearable itch that made them feel as if they were dying. The combat players seized the opportunity to close in, and the rest was predictable.

    "Hehe, potions from the Alchemy Department are always top-notch," Fung declared, unbuttoning her coat to reveal pockets stuffed with potions of various colors.

    Suddenly, a hand reached over to press her head down. In the next moment, a bullet whizzed past, narrowly missing Fung's head and hitting an empty spot.

    Bang—

    The massive shockwave burned the exposed skin and clothes of the two. Fung winced, "No way, this isn't some rural area. Have they gone crazy, using RPGs?"

    "Unfortunately, based on the intel God on Earth obtained inside, even the police can't do anything to them," Matcha Latte had long turned off her pain sensitivity, allowing her to calmly watch her health bar drop, "So don't count on reinforcements. The police won't intervene in this area for the rest of the day."

    "What uplifting news," Fung pulled out a few potions from her pocket, "Can I poison their drinking water then?"

    "No way, what if our school gets on the wanted list?" Matcha Milk Green bandaged Madman while voicing her concern.

    Madman grunted, "Tsk."

    Fortunately, while Madman distracted their foes, several combat players had seized the opportunity to rush forward and engage in close combat. The University of Michigan's combat department taught various ancient martial arts techniques, and with Madman's magical potions boosting them, they fought like a herd of elephants.

    Now, those elephants were breaking through the cultists' defenses.

    "This is Zone One, we need reinforcements! A sudden surge of enemies!"

    "Zone Two, Zone Two, signs of intrusion on the second floor, possibly heading to the upper levels!"

    "Node Three reporting here, we're engaged with intruders, requesting backup!"

    Alarms blared from multiple zones as red warning lights flashed. The Bishop was bewildered, "Wait, are there many enemies? Where did they come from?"

    "Well, I'm not sure, but they all have school badges on."

    "School badges?"

    The Bishop was perplexed. Soon, the control room switched to the surveillance feeds of the areas under attack. It was evident downstairs, the most heavily fortified area, that the new Bishop's soldiers were engaged in combat with the players. In the other zones that had triggered alarms, 3 to 4 players were launching attacks, likely having infiltrated via ropes, windows, or taken advantage of the chaos downstairs.

    Their vaunted defenses seemed as flimsy as paper, provoking anger and frustration in the Bishop. "Where on earth did these people come from?! Could they be troublemakers sent by other sects?"

    "No, I don't think so," God Amongst Men leaned closer to the monitor, requesting the operator to zoom in on one of the frontlines, revealing the vague outline of a school emblem. "As expected, they're the same college students who were investigating us previously."

    "College students??" The Bishop was taken aback, pointing at the players firing guns at them. "You call them college students??"

    "Not me, but that's how they identify themselves," God Amongst Men clarified. "They mentioned something about being from the University of Michigan."

    "Michigan?" The bishop frowned, still in disbelief. "What university would produce such students? A military academy?"

    They watched the screen, filled with figures braver than mercenaries, and fell into a collective silence.

    Regardless of what the new bishops were thinking, the players' charge forward was relentless. In no time, they reached the ritual node on the second floor, while the cultists reinforcements just began clashing with players on the third.

    Not only that, they witnessed students outside on the first floor throwing several vials, causing the fully armed cultists to scream in terror as if they had seen a horrifying entity. They were caught off guard by the students and lost their combat effectiveness.

    Bishop Endicott was practically seething with anxiety. With great honor came great responsibility, and any issue with the ritual would lead to accountability, starting with himself. If the ritual failed, all his years of effort in the new bishopric would crumble before his eyes!

    The other bishops present were well aware of this too. Though they outwardly appeared anxious, their concealed schadenfreude was almost palpable.

    One of the bishops who had already aligned with Endicott tried to console him, "It's not as dire as it seems. The patrol team has gone to assist and captured one of the students attempting to infiltrate the third floor. With a hostage, these troublemakers won't be able to cause much chaos."

    Hearing this, Endicott relaxed slightly, "Good, having a hostage is reassuring. After all, they're just students; they can't abandon their comrades. Connect the earpieces to the patrol team. We'll negotiate with them momentarily, then find an opportunity to take them out when they let their guard down."

    "Understood." The programmer in the monitoring room promptly connected to the patrol team's earpieces, and their images appeared on the surveillance screens. Indeed, they held a student captive.

    "Tsk tsk, isn't that Aaron?"

    "I'm dying laughing in the adjacent live stream. Those rebels charged in too hastily and got cornered at the third floor staircase. It was a disaster, and Aaron was even captured alive."

    "Aaron, truly embarrassing for an experienced player."

    Aaron was indeed frustrated. Sigh, mainly because they were just unlucky. The staircase wasn't a favorable location either. In any case, it was just a dungeon run, and someone had to die. So why couldn't it be him?

    With this thought, he found some solace, even engaging in small talk with the cult members from the patrol team, "Hey, big brother, do you guys get paid regularly?"

    "Do you have weekends off? Is the job demanding? Do you have insurance? How much do you pay for it?"

    "At what age do you retire? Sixty? Or sixty-five? Many countries have been extending retirement ages lately. Your cult doesn't have a lifelong commitment, does it?"

    The cult member grew impatient with his incessant talking and menacingly poked him in the mouth with the barrel of his gun. "Shut up!"

    " Ignore him. Let him see how we'll kill his comrades," Endicott hissed through their communication devices. "And remember to leave one alive for questioning. We need to know how they found us."

    Alon curled his lip and typed a message in the team channel.

    Alon: They're coming. Don't hold back, just shoot. This card's for a new car anyway.

    Druid: No worries. We weren't planning on holding back for you.

    Finally, under Endicott's command, they confronted the players charging upstairs. The patrolman, pointing his gun at Alon's head, taunted, "Drop your weapons if you don't want your comrades to get hurt."

    Druid hesitated, then reluctantly tossed aside his pistol. "Release our companions, and we'll disarm. But you must do the same!"

    "Sure thing," the cult member said, lowering his weapon.

    "A student's naivety," a bishop scoffed from the surveillance level. "They actually believe such childish tales."

    In the next moment, the players behind the Druid suddenly raised their guns, firing at the patrol and A'Long, and emptied their magazines.

    Given his position at the forefront, Aron's body was riddled with bullets, resembling a honeycomb. Yet, those cult members behind him didn't fare any better. As they breathed their last, their faces still wore an expression of disbelief, seemingly unprepared for the players' decisive firing.

    The bishop's laughter choked in his throat, his eyes bulged, and he stood there, dumbfounded.

    "Some people are simply naive," God mimicked the bishop's expression while on Earth, "believing in such childish tales."

    The bishop's face flushed instantly. "They... They aren't students at all! How could they be so ruthless towards their own companions?"

    Yet they even riddled their companions' bodies with bullets. These guys are the real cultists, aren't they?

    "But they do look young, and they're in uniforms with school badges."

    "Maybe it's all an illusion! Perhaps they're mercenaries who've just come off the battlefield. You know, those kinds of people live on the edge, not caring a whit about human lives."

    The bishops had differing opinions, almost quarreling over the players' true identities.

    God Among Men spoke earnestly, "I think they might be university students from some Eastern European country. I've heard that the people there are fierce, and law enforcement doesn't hesitate to shoot both hostages and hijackers alike."

    The bishop suddenly understood. "That makes sense."

    "Shut up!" Endicott's face shifted between shades of blue and green. "Is this the time for you to discuss such matters? Wouldn't it be better to think about how to stop them?! Their current path leads straight to the room where the node is located!"

    The bishop who had just comforted Endicott spoke again. "Don't worry. Even if they manage to reach there, there's a wizard stationed at the node. They won't be able to interfere with our plans."

    "I hope so." Endicott stared grimly at the monitors.

    On the monitor, the cultist guarding the second-floor node had received the message and was prepared. The instant the footsteps echoed outside, the cultist chanted an incantation, and a transparent shield gradually formed in front of them.

    Players burst in, but their bullets were deflected by an invisible shield. The leading Druid, astonishment etched on his face, was followed moments later by a hail of bullets from the cultists. Several attackers retreated hastily, leaving trails of blood on the floor.

    Seeing this, Endicott, in the control room, finally exhaled in relief, even managing a hint of a smile. Fortunately, he had taken precautions and stationed spell-casting cultists at each node. His decision proved effective, though the leak of information would certainly incur the Cardinal's wrath. Still, he had safeguarded the ritual!

    In the next instant, however, Endicott was shocked to see the students not retreating but advancing, brandishing shields reminiscent of medieval times and drawing silver guns to fire at the cultists. To his horror, their bullets pierced through the magical transparent barrier!

    "No, impossible! Enchanted bullets?! No—"

    The cultist guards' incredulous cries echoed in Endicott's earpiece, soon silenced. Even a newly appointed Bishop couldn't afford that many spellcasting wizards. The defending cultist, skilled only in shield magic, was now as vulnerable as any ordinary person once his defense was breached.

    Endicott's face was grim as he watched the students coldly dispatch the cultists guarding the nodes and the sacrifices, and dismantle the engravings within the room.

    The first node was destroyed.

    The monitoring room fell into an oppressive silence, with only Endicott's voice echoing, "Can anyone tell me if it's possible for ordinary college students to wield enchanted weapons?"

    "And alchemy, potions, hmm?"

    He replayed the surveillance footage, showing the strongest male blocking bullets at the entrance with an item and Bonkers using a potion to breach the defenses downstairs. Of course, the most outrageous display was still the enchanted weapon.

    Enchanted weapons were exceedingly rare, even within the cult's ranks.

    Compared to artifacts, pollutants, and sealed objects, the most distinctive feature of enchanted weapons was that they were the only kind that humans could create. They might not be as mystical as artifacts, but their advantage lay in their controllability. The downside was that, while not as difficult to obtain as artifacts, they still required the collaboration of an alchemy master and a grand warlock to manufacture. Yet, in this new era, the cult had yet to produce an alchemy master after all these years.

    But look at these students – they could actually use enchanted bullets?! Which alchemy master had the leisure to enchant each bullet individually?

    (Lane, sneezing in his cell: Ah-choo!)

    God Amongst Men maintained his composed expression, pretending not to see the flood of chat messages about being "satisfied" and "shocking the NPCs with the might of MIT." He followed the script and said, "Perhaps it's because they're not just any ordinary school."

    "Hmm?" Endicott looked at God Amongst Men with suspicion.

    God Amongst Men remained unperturbed. "After discovering that someone was hindering our actions, I conducted a thorough investigation on these individuals. 'UM' is undoubtedly an abbreviation for a university. Their emblem couldn't be traced back to any known institution online. Therefore, I speculate that they might be a secretive school, accepting only a few students and grooming them to become—"

    He glanced at the surrounding bishops. "Our adversaries."

    "Adversaries?" The other bishops scoffed, but Endicott's expression was grim. Anyone in his position would feel the same. An unknown school suddenly appeared at a crucial moment for him and might even be trying to stop them?

    It sounded too coincidental and absurd. However, watching the students on the surveillance screens display their prowess, it was evident that they were a different breed from those seated in classrooms.

    No, they might not even be college students. Could this be a college version of special forces?

    The bishop who had spoken earlier stammered, "N-No problem. Our nodes are randomized. Even if they manage to disrupt one, it'll take time for them to locate another."

    As soon as he finished speaking, they saw from the surveillance feed that the Druids didn't linger after destroying the node. After releasing the sacrifices, they hurriedly turned and headed in another direction.

    That direction led straight to another node on the second floor.

    Silence descended upon the monitoring room as no one dared to utter a sound. The bishop who had intended to speak was forcefully muffled by someone beside him. You'd better watch your words, you jinx!

    Endicott fixated on the players' direction, his voice echoing eerily, "They clearly had their sights set on us from the beginning, and their objective is to disrupt the ritual's nodes. They might know the location of every single node."

    "Among us, there's a traitor," he declared.

    The location of the nodes was known only to the bishops in charge of setting them up. Since each bishop was responsible for a different node, they ascended to this level directly after their task, making it so that only those present knew the locations of all nodes. This meant that one of the bishops had betrayed them, somehow conveying the information to the outside world.

    All the bishops exchanged glances, disbelief etched on their faces. Whether their reactions were genuine or not, they didn't seem like traitors.

    "Could there be a misunderstanding?" a bishop asked.

    "No! Someone has definitely betrayed us!" Endicott clung to this possibility, his gaze sweeping across the bishops with a ferocity as if he could devour them.

    With the first node destroyed, it was uncertain if the ritual could be completed within the designated time. Afterwards, they would surely face the scolding of the Cardinal, perhaps even the Pope. The only way out was to find a scapegoat, and the presence of a traitor provided an opportunity to share some of the blame.

    Thus, without hesitation, Endicott labeled one of the bishops as the traitor.

    "Someone must take responsibility!"

    Feeling the unnerving stare of Endicott, the bishops grew flustered. At that moment, someone noticed Austin standing at the edge and directed a question at him, "Austin, do you have any leads?"

    In that instant, all eyes turned to God on Earth. He put on a puzzled face and said, "What?"

    "You're the last one to join our church," someone said in a sinister tone. "We haven't had the chance to confirm your loyalty."

    God on Earth's expression darkened. "Are you implying that I'm a spy?"

    "I didn't say that. I just meant that your tenure is much shorter than ours," a bishop commented.

    Of course, the real reason was known only to them. At this point, Endicott was clearly looking for someone to blame, and Austin had joined the church last. His position as High Priest was the lowest among them. However, despite this, he was allowed by the cardinal to participate in the event, while the other High Priests were left to guard the nodes. God on Earth, on the other hand, could sit in the highest level with the bishops. This indicated favoritism.

    Not to mention, the cardinal originally intended to let God on Earth oversee the entire ceremony. Such favor would make any bishop envious.

    Seeing this opportunity, they might be able to get rid of him. Even if they couldn't eliminate him, they could at least tarnish his reputation.

    God on Earth acted accordingly, putting on an offended look. "My faith is more loyal than anyone else's. The believers I've guided into the church are the same. Since you don't trust me, I'll go stop them!"

    "Ah, no need." Endicott hastily stopped God on Earth. It was true that he was looking for a scapegoat, but God on Earth was currently the cardinal's favorite. He dared not send him to the front lines. If anything happened to him, although his competitors would be eliminated, he'd lose his chance at becoming a cardinal. "You don't have to go. Send your subordinates!"

    With that, he instructed the programmer to switch the surveillance to the node room that God on Earth had visited earlier. Upon seeing the screen, everyone fell silent.

    On the screen, Bloodthug, Baldy, and the others were competing with two cultists in self-torment. The cult members were seated in a row on electric chairs, which had been cranked up to an extremely dangerous voltage. Bloodthug, Tai Bai Jinxing, and Baldy remained calm with their eyes tightly shut, while the other two cultists had rolled their eyes back, seemingly unconscious.

    "Damn, they're laughing so hard they're dying."

    "What's going on hhhhhh? Why are they doing this hhhh? What's happening over there, haahaha?"

    "Hehe, I came from that live stream. It's hilarious! Bloodthug and the others said that after enduring the torment, they could hear the voice of God. They coerced the cultists into doing the same, claiming that if they didn't hear anything, their 'baptism' wasn't thorough enough."

    "I'm dying of laughter, hahaha. 'Baptism,' my ass. You guys should be cultists; you're wasting your talent."

    "In the end, those cultists said they really did hear the voice of God."

    "A genuine glimpse of heaven."

    "Heaven has descended (forced version)."

    Endicott and the other bishops: ????

    What on earth are they doing?

    Divine Among Men: "Probably undergoing baptism again."

    "Baptism?"

    "Yes," Divine Among Men remained unperturbed. "Isn't our new bishop's doctrine 'baptism' and 'trials'? Only through ample baptism can one wash away their sins. My believers firmly believe in this. Even after passing the test, they often baptize themselves."

    The bishops were deeply shocked. Endicott couldn't help but ask, "Are you sure you're not developing followers in some special club?"

    Divine Among Men was taken aback. "Is that a thing? Does it count?"

    "No," Endicott rolled his eyes impatiently. He picked up the walkie-talkie and said, "Stop what you're doing! What on earth are you all doing?!"

    Blood Cultist opened his eyes and pressed the button to stop the electric chair. The moment he got off, he lost control and fell to the ground.

    "Do you know how crucial this ritual is right now, and yet you're all doing this?!"

    Not Bald helped to stop the other two believers' switches. The two of them immediately stammered, "N-No, we... We heard the voice of God!"

    Endicott: ?

    "They're not wrong," the devotee wiped the uncontrollable drool from his lips, his eyes glowing with longing. "We truly saw... a deity."

    No, that's just a hallucination from near-death!

    Endicott was speechless but, seeing the devout prayers in the control room, he couldn't accuse them of being disloyal to their faith. He angrily exclaimed, "There are attackers! Intercept them quickly!"

    "Very well, Bishop, once we can stand up..."

    Endicott: ...

    "Cough, don't worry, Bishop," the God on Earth coughed, concealing a smile behind his fist. "I have four other subordinates. I also brought them in, and they're already on their way to stop the intruders. However, there aren't many of them, so I'm unsure if they'll be able to halt them."

    As he spoke, the God on Earth glanced at the other bishops. Though reluctant, they echoed, "My people will go too."

    "My subordinates as well."

    "Of course, mine as well. They're all fine young men who would willingly give their lives for the Church."

    The bishops feigned sincerity, while Endicott stared at them with a darkened face. "Very well, then please tell me where your people are located, and hand over all electronic devices capable of contacting the outside world."

    "Endicott, do you still not trust us?!"

    Endicott replied with a sarcastic tone, "After all, it won't be you who'll face the wrath of the Red Robe for this incident. What if one of you secretly contacts an infiltrator and leaks this information? It's also a perfect opportunity for me to see how dedicated your people are when facing an external threat, or if they're just parasites within the Church!"

    With a sinister gaze, he swept his eyes across the bishops present. "After all, a crooked top begets a crooked bottom, doesn't it? Those who don't put in their all might as well be spies. Even if they aren't, it implies that you haven't given your all to the Church. I'll report every instance of such behavior to the Red Robes!"

    The bishops despised Endicott to the core. They understood that he was trying to share the blame. If they could uncover the infiltrator, that would be ideal. If not, and the ritual failed, whoever appeared to be slacking off would be dragged down by Endicott and suspected of being a spy.

    What a cunning old fox!

    All the bishops cursed inwardly but, under Endicott's intimidating presence, reluctantly handed over their phones, walkie-talkies, and any means of communication. At this point, they could only pray that their followers would come through.

    God on Earth remained unperturbed amidst all this. As Endicott collected the devices, He said, "I don't have a phone."

    "How could I carry such profane human creations during an important ceremony?" God on Earth clasped His hands together devoutly. "If you don't believe me, feel free to search."

    Endicott stared coldly at Him and promptly ordered a search without hesitation. Indeed, no electronic devices were found on Him.

    This indicated that God on Earth had no means of communicating with the outside world, making it highly unlikely that He was a spy.

    Is this guy truly a devout cultist?

    Behind the scenes, the God Amongst Men typed quietly in the player channel:

    God Amongst Men: Go all out, bring your PvP mentality.

    Blood Acolyte: ? Aren't we supposed to stop the new Bishop's scheme?

    God Amongst Men: Of course, but it would be a shame to reveal myself now. Endicott is trying to implicate the other Bishops. If their followers don't fight with all their might, they'll surely face consequences later. This is our chance.

    As a major local church, it's almost impossible for players to uproot the new Bishop entirely. Even if we foil their plot this time, they could still regroup and summon the evil god again.

    But if God Amongst Men can infiltrate their upper ranks, things would be different.

    God Amongst Men: Let me put it this way, fight fiercely now, and we'll have more dungeons to conquer in the future.

    Blood Acolyte: ! Understood!

    Baldy: PvP arena mode activated!

    Druid: Don't worry, no one will hold back. (.)

    Nayue: I've been slaughtering fish at Da Run Fa for ten years, my heart is as cold as my blade.jpg

    Blood Acolyte: Perfect, it's time for a sparring session. I've been curious about how strong veteran players are for a long time.

    Crazy: Arena, arena!

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