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    Chapter 158

    Dream World.

    Upon the dark soil, a two-meter-tall black figure walked silently, eventually stopping in front of a palace with an ancient Egyptian architectural style. It paused for a few seconds, seemingly to announce its presence to the occupants within, before lifting its leg and entering the palace.

    The palace walls were adorned with murals depicting the legend of Bastet, the Cat Goddess. Most of the Old Gods had corresponding myths on Earth, but due to various reasons, these myths did not perfectly align with the actual situation of the Old Gods. They were more extensions of human imagination on Earth, like how the true form of the Pan was different from the Greek mythological version.

    However, Bastet was an exception. She didn't fancy intervening in mortal affairs, yet both in reality and the Dream World, cats consistently revered her as their protector. As a result, the legends about her in the real world remained consistent.

    As Ogier stepped into the palace's grand hall, countless cats began emerging from the shadows in its corners - gray, blue, black, spotted, of various breeds - Egyptian Mau, Ragdolls, and Maine Coons alike emerged from the darkness to surround him.

    Ogier stood his ground, unmoving, with no intention of harming these small creatures. He bent down to stroke the nearest black cat. "Could you call your master out?" he asked.

    The black cat meowed in response and ventured deeper into the palace. Five minutes later, as if sensing something, the felines deserted Ogier mercilessly, marching collectively towards the inner sanctum, heading straight for a statue.

    The multitude of cats coalesced, gradually revealing the form of a goddess. Her figure was alluring, and her face, veiled with black silk, provoked endless imagination. The only feature visible, her eyes, shimmered like stars in the night, captivating attention.

    "Bastet," Ogier said, "it's been a long time. I never thought I'd see you again."

    "Madam Bast," Ogier bowed his head, "I have fulfilled your commission. That infant has grown and now possesses the ability to protect himself."

    "Yes, I am aware," Bast replied, "So you have come to resign your role as protector? Your duty has indeed been fulfilled."

    "No," Ogier said, "I have come to seek your counsel on how to avert Armageddon in reality and how to rid the Thirteen Council of its 'Judas.'"

    Bast looked at Ogier with surprise, "I didn't expect that protecting the child would change you so much. You used to have no interest in such matters."

    "...Yes, I once was," Ogier's expression softened, thinking of Lane, "But now, I do not wish to relinquish my role as protector. I've come to you because Lane needs to unseal the Ark. If he fully masters his powers and combines them with the Ark's strength, he might be able to stop the evil gods from entering reality."

    Bast pondered for a moment before responding, "Of course, I can provide you with the artifact to unseal it. But regarding the identity of 'Judas'... you were away from reality for some time, you may not be aware of the changes that have occurred."

    "What changes?" A sense of foreboding began to grow within Ogier.

    "Before, our enmity with the evil gods stemmed from their corruption of the Perfects, which would then taint the entire Dreamworld. You know, everyone believed the Dreamworld would be destroyed because of it. But events have proven otherwise," Bast explained, "The Dreamworld has begun to change. The Perfects were once the core, but since the Dreamworld has discarded them and ceased nurturing the old gods, it has started invading the dreams of other intelligent races."

    "The Dreamworld has expanded more than five times its original size due to the involvement of more races."

    Ogier's brow furrowed deeply, "You're saying the Dreamworld did not perish from the corruption of the evil gods but has instead grown even larger?"

    "Yes, of course, the regions tainted by the Evil Gods have also produced more bizarre races. They're called Kin, worshiping the Evil Gods as if they were corrupted Perfect Humans. In short, the situation now is entirely different from before. Even within the Thirteen Council, factions have begun to splinter."

    Ogier gradually understood.

    "Then what about the humans in reality?" Ogier asked. "You promised those people that once you defeated the Evil Gods and ended the war, you would bring them back. Real-world humans are different from you. They have no resistance against the Evil Gods, and reality is not like the Dream World—it doesn't have the ability to recover or evolve. If you abandon them, they'll only be waiting for death."

    "Some of the Old Gods in the Council believe," Bast said, looking at Ogier, "that those who have degenerated into humans and gone through several generations of transformation are no longer Perfect Humans and are no longer their subjects."

    "And now, they're already struggling to protect the few remaining subjects they have. They can only maintain the status quo; they no longer have the courage to wage war."

    Ogier couldn't comprehend. "Isn't this surrender without a fight? What's the difference between this and defeat?"

    "There isn't any," a bitter smile tugged at the corners of Bast's mouth, hidden beneath the black veil. "There's no difference, Ogier, but we lost the war a thousand years ago. The current Dream World is the result of that defeat. We've been abandoned by the Dreams. Even when we could draw endless support from the Dreams a thousand years ago, we couldn't win the war. How can we hope to win now?"

    Ogier: "…How many of the appeasers are there in the Council right now?"

    "One-third," Bast replied. "I know what you're thinking. Judas is likely among that one-third. They won't unseal the Ark, so it's useless to look for them. Moreover, this one-third is just what's openly shown. No one knows if they're secretly colluding with the Evil Gods. It's fortunate that you came to me first. If you'd approached another Old God, there's a high chance you wouldn't have left alive."

    Ogier frowned deeply, silent for a moment. Bast comforted him. "You've done well enough. When She fully grows, you'll have a place even in the Dream World. Though the environment in the Dream World isn't as good as before, with your strength, you can carve out a clean neighboring land. If you have believers, you can also bring them into the Dream World."

    "You can choose your domain next to mine, just as we did before," he offered.

    Just as before...?

    Auger recalled the days he spent alone with Lane in the Forest of Pan, which truly were the happiest moments of his life.

    But...

    "He won't agree..." Auger muttered.

    "What did you say?"

    "I wish to meet the High Priest," Auger looked up and said. "The High Priest should be the Old God most aware of the current situation. I want to try persuading Him."

    Bastet sighed. "Alright, I knew you wouldn't give up so easily. Your stubbornness hasn't changed after all these years."

    "Go then. The cats of the Dream World will guide you, but be cautious. Not only friends but also foes may be watching your journey."

    This was the most bustling period for New Port in recent times.

    Perhaps due to the aftermath of the previous main storyline, the evil deities in the Dream World seemed restless, eagerly awaiting their descent into reality. This, in turn, led to an upsurge in cult activities. For the players, this meant a steady stream of missions!

    Lan had initially been worried that the new influx of players might struggle to find quests. Now, those concerns were laid to rest; the players were thrilled!

    Large numbers of players joined the grand questline centered around the Great Arrival of Mithra. Suddenly, the cults in New Port found themselves constantly thwarted whenever they attempted to hold rituals to welcome the evil deity.

    From the new High Priest to the Mithraic Order, and on to smaller cults and secret societies, players infiltrated everywhere. Even when the cultists changed their names to Pastafarians, it failed to deter intruders from disrupting the crucial moments of their ceremonies.

    For a moment, the MIT supplanted the Bureau and the police as the cultists' most despised entity of the year.

    So... where on earth did this MIT come from? !

    On this day, the cults, who had long been disrupted by players, gathered for an unprecedented meeting, the topic being the sudden appearance of these players.

    "Oh, heaven only knows how long it's been since I last saw these old timers," Cardinal Mure whispered to God on Earth. "I thought I'd only catch sight of their wrinkled faces at their funerals."

    In the aftermath of the previous incident, the new Bishop's failure to summon the evil deity had prompted the Cardinal to retreat with the remaining followers, regrouping to stage a comeback.

    Incidentally, thanks to his devout performance during the ceremony, God on Earth was promoted yet again among mortals. He now serves as the Red Cardinal's proxy and concurrently holds the position of bishop. After the event, the Red Cardinal returned to the church headquarters to announce this news and reshuffled the hierarchy, elevating many to managerial roles.

    During this period, the newly appointed bishop maintained a low profile, consolidating his power while observing the players' upheaval in the new port from afar. He waited for the right moment to step forward and convene this meeting.

    In other words, all those present were influential leaders of cult organizations in the New Port.

    God on Earth scanned their faces, discreetly taking several photos without revealing his intentions. The Red Cardinal Mueller had gone through great lengths to gather everyone, possibly to discuss significant plans, such as a crackdown on the players. God on Earth couldn't afford to miss such information and took the opportunity to capture the faces of these high-ranking officials.

    After a round of tedious greetings, the meeting began.

    "Gentlemen, let us forego the customary pleasantries and delve straight into the heart of our gathering," said a man whom God on Earth didn't recognize, acting as the moderator. "I'm sure you've all noticed the recent abnormalities. A large number of troublesome individuals have emerged in the New Port."

    "Those bastards disrupted the rituals we meticulously prepared!" a devout follower grumbled in outrage.

    "They interrupted our sacrifices and even freed the offerings!" a witch-like woman lamented softly. "Letting the living ones go was bad enough, but they barbecued the dead pigs and cows right there! If I hadn't been bound at the time, I would have fought them on the spot!"

    "Really?" someone challenged from the side. "How come when our people came to rescue you, we saw your people eating too?"

    "You don't have to speak up to prove you're not mute, and besides, didn't your people eat as well?"

    "Hey, we skipped dinner to rush over to save you. Is it really too much to ask for a bite of roasted meat?"

    "They're wicked!" someone grumbled in anger.

    "And intrusive! Even when I was praying at home, they broke in and forced me to keep quiet," a devotee complained, feeling wronged.

    "They claim to be university students," another added.

    "What kind of students are those? They're even more ruthless than the inspectors!"

    "Exactly!"

    "Enough!" The moderator, clearly frustrated, interjected. "Ladies and gentlemen, this isn't a marketplace. I understand your agitation, but please maintain composure. We've gathered here precisely to address this issue, haven't we?"

    Upon hearing this, the cult members present finally calmed down slightly.

    "Then, let's start with the findings from our investigation."

    Cardinal Mure looked towards God on Earth, who promptly stood up and distributed the documents he had in hand to those present.

    "I assume that after encountering obstacles, everyone has researched these individuals' backgrounds. Let's begin with our conclusions. Based on my investigation, they all originate from a university called Miskatonic."

    An attendee raised their hand, "We've also gathered this basic information, but we couldn't find any records of such a school. It seems non-existent."

    Upon hearing this, murmurs filled the room. Yet, God on Earth remained composed. "Yes, but considering their official-looking crest and orderly behavior, I don't believe it's a fabrication. It could be an unregistered institution that truly exists."

    "As evidence, aside from their crest, there are these items."

    God on Earth displayed several photos: regulated combat moves by players like The Strongest Man, a potion for sanity, and familiar faces often seen at ritual sites.

    "From the data I've compiled, their fighting styles clearly stem from a unified system, perhaps even taught by a mentor. Furthermore, some possess expertise in alchemy, potions, and other mystic knowledge. Most importantly, they seem to know each other and share intelligence through a secretive system. These points strongly suggest they belong to the same organization - the Miskatonic University."

    Pushing his glasses up, God on Earth continued, "So, whether this organization is a genuine university or a mercenary training facility masquerading as one, what difference does it make?"

    The cult members fell silent, no longer voicing objections. This indicated that they had accepted God on Earth's hypothesis and deemed it the most plausible explanation.

    "So, what should we do about them?" a cultist inquired. "We have to find a way to stop them, look at the mess they've caused in New Port."

    "Exactly! I'll catch them one by one and torture them relentlessly in the water dungeon!"

    "First of all!" The God on Earth raised his voice. "I believe you've all clashed with them before and know that these scoundrels don't care about hostages!"

    "They'd rather kill their captives along with their enemies," the witch who had spoken earlier spat with venom. "Crueler than even the Eastern Europeans. I suspect their main base is in Eastern Europe."

    "Not quite," The God on Earth corrected. "From my investigation, their headquarters is in a city called Arkham."

    At this revelation, all eyes turned in astonishment to The God on Earth.

    "What? Are you sure?"

    "I wouldn't say a hundred percent certain, but I can share my line of reasoning. If there are any flaws, feel free to point them out," The God on Earth stood up humbly. Under the stunned gazes of the cult members, he swiftly projected a PowerPoint presentation on a white screen, revealing that his plans had been long in the making.

    "I deduced their likely origins from plant seeds stuck to some of their shoes, indicating the regions where such plants typically grow, and further refined my search based on accents and skin tones. The calculations pointed to a strong likelihood that they hailed from a city in the southwest. Consequently, I investigated all flights heading to the new port from that direction."

    A series of images and lucid explanations appeared on the PowerPoint slide, even a fool could comprehend it.

    The leader of the Secret Order stared at the screen for a while before turning to Muir. "Are you interested in parting with this young man? I could offer you some smuggling routes in exchange..."

    "No, that's not an option," the cardinal replied diplomatically.

    "…Thus, I conclude that the most probable location for Miskatonic University is the city of Arkham in the southwest. At the very least, the majority of them came to the new port from there. If you have any objections to this line of reasoning, feel free to voice them."

    A hush fell upon the room, though the cultists hailed from diverse backgrounds, few were prepared to pull out a PowerPoint presentation without preamble during a meeting.

    "Arkham," someone murmured softly. "The name seems familiar. Wasn't it the city that was in the news recently? The place where that prominent figure passed away?"

    "Oh, Norman Kin. I recall that name."

    "I've heard of him too. He was a charismatic young man. What a shame, I was actually considering ways to recruit him into our fold."

    The Name Himself, God Among Men: ...

    "Now that we know their origins, what are we waiting for?" a devotee murmured darkly. "I can hardly contain my eagerness to teach them a lesson."

    "Nolan, remain calm," the leader of the Secret Order said, scanning the assembly. "Do you wish to suffer more losses? If they managed to defeat so many organizations, do you really think they'll be an easy foe?"

    "That's why you summoned us, isn't it?" the witch spoke up. "You want to unite with us?"

    "I merely believe that we share common interests and a common enemy," the leader of the Secret Order replied without any change in his expression. "Our previous experiences have shown that when we're divided, we can be picked off one by one by Myriad. So, why not unite temporarily?"

    "It might be too early to discuss this," Cardinal Mure rose, gazing gently into the leader's eyes. "I understand that you propose we have a common enemy, but I think we all harbor doubts about whether this enemy is worth uniting against, don't we?"

    The leader of the Secret Order met the cardinal's gaze, neither of them backing down. Eventually, the leader broke the stare, stepping back slightly. "Very well, although my stance is for unity first, if you wish to investigate our foe first, that's acceptable."

    At Mure's signal, God on Earth stepped forward. "I suggest we each contribute individuals to form a team, to go to Arkham and search for Myriad's headquarters. If they prove to be so powerful that we must unite to counter them, then we can consider it. If they're not that strong..."

    He paused, his tone appropriately grim as he observed the cruelty and coldness gleaming in the eyes of the devotees below. A cruel smile curved his lips. "Then turning Arkham into our new mission field wouldn't be a bad choice."

    "No objections."

    "No objections."

    Unanimous approval.

    The meeting concluded, and the divine entity helped the cardinal to his feet as if he were an ordinary old man with arthritic joints, slowly making his way out. Taking advantage of this, Muir whispered in the divine entity's ear, "Your performance far exceeded my expectations."

    "Thanks to your guidance," the divine entity humbly replied.

    "No, it's all due to your own efforts," Muir said. "You earned that opportunity yourself. According to Church tradition, I should grant you some reward. But since you've almost reached the peak of your promotion, is there anything else you desire?"

    Without hesitation, the divine entity answered, "I wish to participate in this operation."

    Muir, the cardinal, looked deeply into his eyes. "Of course, you should certainly go. It seems you've come to understand the importance of accumulating experience."

    The divine entity smiled but remained silent. His reason for wanting to join was not what the cardinal assumed.

    After leaving the meeting, the divine entity returned to his quarters. Once he confirmed everything was in order, he immediately began reciting prayers.

    Ever since the Mysterious Arrival quest started, Lane had unlocked a new feature for players. Now, by praying in his name, they could potentially draw Lane's attention. This was to facilitate a last-minute rescue by Lane, should the players fail to stop the cultists before their dark god arrived.

    "Overturner of Fate

    "The Unspeakable Mystery"

    "Nature's and the Forest's New Ruler"

    As the deity spoke the last word, they indeed sensed a gaze upon them. They promptly divulged the day's agenda.

    "The cultists will assemble a team to investigate Arkham, and I plan to join them. This might be an opportunity for them to 'acknowledge' the might of MIT, but your assistance is needed."

    It was only a matter of time before the cultists discovered the origins of the MIT players. Rather than letting others take the credit, God Among Men decided to intervene and manipulate events from within the group.

    Wasn't that what being a mole was all about?

    A smile tugged at Lane's lips. "You're doing well."

    Upon finishing, God Among Men witnessed their quest progress bar surge to fifty percent. Immediately, the second act of the mission followed.

    "Major Faction Mission - The Arrival of MIT

    Act 2: Reconnaissance in Arkham."

    With Lane's assistance, the cultists were to be fed secretive information, convincing them that Michigan University was a genuine institution.

    The players from Michigan University had made a significant impression on the cult organization in New Port during the previous incident. It was now time for Act Two to unfold.

    The question was, how could they stage Act Two and make the cultists 'see' a genuine Michigan University?

    An idea began to take shape in Lane's mind, causing a subtle smile to tug at his lips. He then looked at God Among Men and waved him over.

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