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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 93

    "Brothers, something's up here!" Alon whispered into the live stream, all the while keeping an eye on the two suspicious figures ahead.

    "Eh? It's Edmund and Job from the Audit Bureau? What are they doing here?"

    "I should know this. Remember when that Audit Bureau member sneaked into the Divine Kingdom while his wife was away? Looks like they got stuck there."

    "So he's trying to escape now?"

    "Could be. But it's hilarious, Edmund's still with him."

    A comment from a user named Black Cat appeared: "Why was I the only one kicked out? (Sorrowful)"

    "Gently patting Black Cat, the big shot."

    "Hilarious hhhhh! Black Cat, are you alright?"

    "Black Cat: Sent a complaint to the officials, they said they'd compensate me (Upset)."

    "Impatient, yet still tuning into Aron's live stream to see, oh mighty one, how much you adore my wife."

    "What invisible powder for the head (laughs to death)"

    "Ah Long's eyes lit up. Speaking in a hushed tone, he said, "You're here, big shot. Just tell me what to do, I'll follow your lead."

    "Host, you're too professional."

    "I, Ah Long, have never been inferior to others in my life, except when it comes to facing greater currents."

    "Black Cat: Ahem, no need to be on high alert. Proceed with your normal exploration. I just consulted the authorities, and it seems the Divine Realm is currently inaccessible due to unknown reasons. However, you're still here – perhaps it's a glitch. But observing those two ahead, this might be a hidden storyline that players weren't supposed to uncover. Let's follow and see what unfolds."

    "Understood," Aron whispered softly, his eyes constantly monitoring the pair's movements.

    It was clear that Job and Edmund's objective was the colossal pea sprout.

    Not because it was the most conspicuous, but because Job, from his earlier covert observations, had noticed that all the patients who appeared in the hospital had come down from this particular pea sprout.

    Thus, he inferred that this must be the entrance or exit to the Divine Realm!

    Job and Edmund gradually drew closer to the Pea Sprout stand when they noticed an elderly man, seemingly in his sixties, entering the scene. Despite his age, he appeared well-preserved, with black hair and a youthful face that made him seem more like a man in his forties. He hadn't changed much since his younger days.

    At the sight of him, Job's body trembled, and a name escaped his lips, "Alexis?!"

    Realizing his mistake the next instant, he quickly pulled Edmund down as the man turned their way.

    "Captain, do you know him?" Edmund whispered, barely audible. He noticed something amiss in Job's demeanor – his pupils oscillating in an unusual pattern, his expression flickering between confusion and realization. Being so close, Edmund even saw what seemed to be insects crawling beneath Job's irises.

    No, not crawling on the surface, but beneath the eyeball itself.

    Edmund's eyes narrowed slightly.

    Job, however, seemed oblivious to it all, his face flushed with excitement as he told Edmund, "Yes, I know him, or at least I think I do! That's right, we went to school together when we were young, yes, that's it. But I can't recall the name of the school... wait, I think I remember something now."

    "Anyway, let's go find him, he'll definitely, definitely help us!"

    Watching the pulsating marks beneath Job's skin and his obviously abnormal mental state, Edmund fell silent for a while. Unaware of Edmund's concern, Job tugged him along behind Alexis.

    "Who?" After just a few steps, Alexis turned around warily.

    "It's me!" Job couldn't contain his excitement and took two eager steps forward. "It's me, Job! Long time no see, Alexis!"

    "Who are you? Stay away from me," Alexis replied coldly, his face filled with caution, showing no recognition.

    "It's me, Job Gaige! Don't you remember? We went to school together!" Job said anxiously.

    But to his surprise, Alexis's expression remained unchanged upon hearing the name. "You must have mistaken me. I don't know anyone named Job."

    "What... What?" Job looked at Alexis in confusion. "That can't be..."

    "We attended high school together! You've forgotten, haven't you? Tulip High School, and we even joined the same club..."

    The more Job spoke, the more serious Alexis's expression became.

    "Oh, it's Professor! Great, all the Master's students seem to be fine."

    "But what are they talking about?"

    "I can't hear them clearly from this distance."

    "Can't the host get any closer?"

    "Wait, wait, let me cast Listen," Arlon hurriedly said.

    "Listen: Success"

    The distant voice gradually drew near.

    "How on earth did you learn all this? You can't possibly be him, judging by your age! We're the same age, and you look no more than thirty," Alexis appraised Job from head to toe. "You don't resemble him at all. There's no point in weaving such a... "

    The old man was cut short, his gaze locked in shock on Job. The blond man before him began to blur, as pulsating lumps emerged beneath his skin and hair, eventually forming a humanoid mass of maggots.

    Arlon, watching from afar, widened his eyes in disbelief.

    "Holy sh*t!"

    "Why wasn't there a high-energy warning (tears)"

    "My trypophobia just kicked in"

    "Aaaah! Bugs, bugs, get away!"

    "Woah, woah, what the heck is happening?!"

    As the distant players watched in astonishment, Edmund had already stealthily drawn a small knife from his pocket. The moment the maggots attacked the professor, he swiftly struck, splattering their insides.

    But there were too many maggots – an endless swarm. They instantly covered the floor and ceiling, surrounding Alexis and Edmund. Just as they were about to be devoured, a monstrous roar that didn't sound human echoed from outside the corridor's window.

    The massive creature, resembling a blob or a tree, smashed through the glass. Its thick, tree-trunk-like limbs trampled the insect horde without hesitation, while its tentacles whipped around frenziedly.

    "Well, well, a Spawn of Shub-Niggurath?"

    "How did it end up here?"

    Seizing the opportunity, Edmund escorted the professor out of the danger zone. They retreated to a safe spot to observe the battle between the maggots and the black creature. The black monster was like a weapon crafted for war; each stomp sent swarms of maggots flying. In retaliation, the maggots climbed onto the monster, attempting to devour it. However, the maggots hadn't anticipated that the creature had more than one mouth. With its control, seven or eight mouths opened simultaneously, swallowing the insects whole.

    The outcome was now clear. The remaining maggots no longer posed a threat, slowly crawling back to reform into their human shape.

    Job's emaciated figure reappeared, this time almost reduced to a skeleton. Only the slight rise and fall of his chest indicated that he was still alive.

    Edmund and Alexis exchanged glances, with Alexis abruptly stepping back a meter from Edmund. The latter hurriedly explained, "No, no, I'm also a follower of that one. I'm not part of the group on Earth!"

    "Really?" The professor expressed his skepticism, but Ogler, who had arrived later, came to Edmund's rescue, his gaze landing on the hidden Arlon.

    Arlon awkwardly emerged from his hiding spot, chuckling. "Well, I was just exploring."

    Ogler said nothing, simply waving his hand, and Arlon was likewise kicked out of the Divine Realm.

    However, this brief video stirred up a storm in the live stream and was swiftly uploaded to forums.

    "Game Bug? Or Part of the Storyline?"

    As soon as Arlon appeared, he saw that forum threads had already been created.

    Arlon: Wow, you guys are quick.

    Seeking_Even: To be honest, we initially gathered for Michigan University, but who knew we'd stumble upon such a massive plot twist!

    Coke_Or_Ok: But isn't this different from a storyline animation? Otherwise, why would the black cat be kicked out?

    Black Cat: I inquired with the officials, and it seems to be a bug due to an incomplete map. They mentioned compensating me later.

    Druid: So this part isn't a bug; it's part of the actual storyline, right?

    Black Cat: Most likely. Remember when the officials said that all the narrative text is generated by the game's AI? It seems that regardless of whether players are present, the story would unfold automatically once the conditions are met, just like in the real world.

    Black Cat: Alright, let's focus on this scene. We triggered the Michigan dungeon because we witnessed the Inspectorate entering the Divine Realm, right? This clearly corresponds to the previous events. As expected, the players must have completed the dungeon in time, allowing Lane to awaken, rescue Michigan, and inadvertently trap these Inspectorate members.

    Black Cat: And now, it appears that this Inspectorate member is attempting to escape with Edmund...

    12l: Amused indeed. Out of so many, how did they end up choosing an outsider?

    13l: I'm dying here, Edmond must have done it on purpose.

    Black Cat: Then, a familiar NPC to those who've played the Mira dungeon, Professor Alexis, made his entrance. Unfortunately, we missed the first part of their conversation and could only witness the latter half - this member of the Bureau turned into a bug! He was actually not human!

    Aron: When I saw that scene, I almost peed my pants.

    Matcha Milk Green: Who wouldn't be?

    14l: Is it possible that the Investigator from the Inspectorate is actually a creature of the strange? Or could it be that the Inspectorate itself serves as a den for such beings?

    Black Cat: I doubt it. Judging from the person's expression and their subsequent conversation, he seems to have made some sort of familiarity-seeking remark, or perhaps he genuinely knows Professor Alexis, but the professor clearly doesn't recognize him. That's intriguing.

    Observing the investigator's reaction later, his demeanor completely changes after the professor's response, and then he transforms into the swarm.

    Druid: He got exposed and flew into a rage out of embarrassment?

    Black Cat: It could be, but isn't it strange? He had the luxury to feel embarrassed in a situation like this, in Lorne's Divine Realm?

    Black Cat: I believe it's more likely that he lost control, maybe due to a flashback or suddenly realizing his inhuman nature. My guess leans towards the Inspectorate not exactly being humane...

    Druid: You mean they conduct human experiments? That's grim.

    Aaron: What kind of sinister organization is this? Is it really safe to entrust humanity's future with them?

    Black Cat: Let's see how it unfolds. It feels like the next main storyline will involve the Inspectorate.

    Black Cat: And lastly, that monster clearly resembled a spawn of Black Goat! How did it end up here?

    Druid: Well, I see it too. The Black Goat of the Woods is a distinctive symbol among the three deities of the Cthulhu Mythos. This practically confirms that there's a connection between Lane and It.

    Insane: Didn't we previously agree that Lane was a Great Old One? They're archenemies of the Ancient Ones.

    Black Cat: Yeah, I used to lean towards the idea that Lane might be a Great Old One. But now, I'm not so sure... There's just something not quite right about all this. With my years of experience playing tabletop games, I can already imagine the various conspiracies lurking behind the scenes.

    Druid: Incarnation? Offspring? Or maybe Nyarlahotep is up to something... Hm, I thought we were unraveling Lane's mysteries, but now it feels like we're only sinking deeper into confusion.

    Unbeknownst to Lane, who was sleeping, the players' forum had already concocted a myriad of theories about his origins during his slumber.

    A day later, Lane finally awoke from his dream. As usual, he logged onto the forum, only to find numerous threads speculating about his identity and the story's progression.

    Lane: ?

    He'd merely taken a nap; surely, he hadn't slept through any significant plot developments, right?

    Scanning through the forum, a subtle darkness crept across Lane's face. Little did he know the turmoil that had transpired while he was asleep.

    "Good to see you're awake," Ogier appeared timely. Previously, Lane had granted him limited authority in his divine realm, knowing he might fall into unpredictable slumbers, allowing Ogier to handle emergencies if needed.

    Lane couldn't wait to ask, "Where's Job?"

    Ogre replied, "He was taken back to Michigan by the professor. That Alexis said the information Job provided matched that of an old friend he had lost long ago. They should be researching this matter now, but it'll take some time before they come to any conclusions."

    Upon hearing this, Lane wasn't as anxious anymore. After all, Job was currently in his Divine Realm, and there was no way he could cause any trouble. Besides, Michigan University was undoubtedly proficient in this area.

    There was another matter...

    With a headache, Lane summoned his black goat offspring—no, it was more like a creature resembling a black goat offspring that might be his own creation.

    The reason for saying "resembling" was that the black goat offspring were born of one of the three major deities of the Cthulhu Mythos, the Mother Goddess. Lane certainly didn't acknowledge having given birth to such a creature, and there were slight differences between his black minions and the black goat offspring.

    For example, while the black goat offspring merely looked like trees, Lane's black minions were actual trees, with the characteristic fear of fire that plants possessed. Also, he had modeled them after the treants in Western fantasy games, so their abilities should lean more towards those of treants. And then...

    Well, he couldn't think of anything else. Even he felt that his creations were too similar to the Mother Goddess's minions. It was best to scrap them and start anew.

    Just as he had this thought, the black minion in front of him seemed to sense its creator's displeasure and the impending danger. Its tree-trunk-like limbs trembled slightly, and the large mouth at the front of its body opened.

    "Bark!"

    Lance: ?

    Ogre: ?

    The Black Servant, with its massive body, cautiously approached the Creator and nuzzled at his feet, "Woof woof!"

    Lance: ...

    Seemingly grasping the situation, Lance was momentarily stunned by the creature's intense will to survive, momentarily forgetting his original plan.

    In a silence that seemed to suffocate the servant, Lance sensed another believer calling out to him. Recalling how this little creature had saved a professor from MU... he covered his face with one hand while waving the other, "From now on, you'll be known as the Black Tree Person."

    With its appearance of a Black Goat Spawn combined with its treelike nature and abilities, it could be considered a unique mutation halfway through development.

    The Black Goat, or rather, the Black Tree Person, received its new name and happily skipped away to take root behind the trees, avoiding the ordeal of plastic surgery.

    Lance closed his eyes, and before him, faint points of light representing believers began to appear. To his surprise, Albert was the one calling out to him.

    After taking Albert to MU, he returned with a refreshed spirit. It wasn't that Albert had regressed to his initial state, but rather, a renewed determination shone in his eyes, as if he had found a new goal.

    Albert then sought Lane's permission to dispose of Soren's inheritance, which Lane naturally allowed.

    So why was he suddenly reporting to him now? Could something have gone wrong?

    Lane's focus narrowed as Albert's voice sounded from the other end:

    "Lord Lane, there's been an issue here."

    "An accident with the documents?" Hearing that there had indeed been an incident, Lane's heart sank. Could someone have taken them while he was showing Albert around Michigan University?

    "Sort of," Albert said in a somber tone. "From the dust footprints, it seems to have happened over two weeks ago. Some of the documents have already been taken."

    Over two weeks ago? That timeline... It was shortly after Soren's plot had failed, wasn't it?

    But based on Albert's memories, weren't they the only ones who knew about this?

    Lost in thought, Lane heard Albert speak up again: "Lord Lane, I'd like to stay outside for a while to investigate this matter."

    "Sure," Lane didn't insist on Albert staying within the Divine Realm. Previously, it was because Albert was unconscious and being hunted by the Audit Bureau. Now, the Audit Bureau was in no position to threaten anyone; only Eugene had been rescued by a mysterious figure. If they encountered the current Albert, it would be uncertain who would come out on top.

    "Yet you don't plan on seeing Archie? He was quite worried about you."

    Albert fell silent for a moment. "…If I get the chance, I will."

    That meant he had no intention of going now.

    Lane didn't feel it appropriate to comment on their relationship, and he wasn't aware of what issue they were having. Perhaps Albert thought that Archie would be angry with him?

    Shaking his head, Lane considered it and decided to visit Archie. If Eugene managed to return to reality, he might head back to the base and seek help from the Audit Bureau.

    His consciousness gradually sank into another light spot.

    "Archie."

    At this moment, Archie wasn't at the Audit Bureau's base or the police station. Instead, he had found a temporary residence near the base. However, ever since his interrogation, he had been wary of the bureau's people. Now, he even carried a gun with him at all times.

    Upon sensing Lane's call, Archie promptly replied, "Lord Lane."

    "Albert is fine now."

    Lane said.

    Archie was slightly taken aback. He lowered his head and replied, "Is that so?"

    "Didn't you contact him?"

    "That's just the kind of person he is. After feeling like he's done something wrong, he'll vanish without a word, then return as if nothing had happened after some time. I'm waiting for him to come find me." Archie changed the subject. "You must've called me for something important, right?"

    With Archie taking the initiative to change the subject, Lane didn't dwell on it further and got straight to the point. "Are you still at the Intelligence Bureau? Have they returned to their base?"

    "I didn't stay within their stronghold but found a spot from where I could keep an eye on them," Archie said. "From my observations, only one Investigator has returned."

    "Was it Eugene?" Lane recalled the person Archie had mentioned earlier.

    "No, it was Kerry Chapman," Archie replied, sipping his coffee while leaning against the window, keeping watch. "He's the only one who came back among the group, and he hasn't left the place since."

    "Hmm," Lane murmured thoughtfully. The current situation seemed to have Eugene missing, with Job and the others held hostage in his Divine Kingdom. As for Kerry… Lane did have some recollection of the name, but not from the Investigative Bureau. It was from Albert's dream, when he was chasing after the University of Michigan's dog, and the name Kerry Chapman had come up.

    But now that Kerry had joined the Investigative Bureau, Lane couldn't be sure if he was friend or foe.

    "Should I investigate the situation?" Archie inquired.

    "No, it's too risky," Lane replied. Ever since Sphinx and Lane mentioned that Archie had been interrogated, Lane had leaned towards keeping everyone safe and not exposing them to danger.

    "It's fine. Job and Eugene aren't here, and I'm quite curious about this person anyway," Archie said. "I have a feeling... he's not entirely loyal to the Auditing Bureau. He must have joined for some other purpose. He was the one who informed me about the Bureau's investigation into Albert."

    "…Then be cautious on your way," Lane said. "I'll be watching over you."

    This implied that if any danger arose, Lane would employ other means, such as Divine Possession.

    "Rest assured," Archie replied, his lips curling up involuntarily. Upon realizing his smile, he forcefully flattened it.

    In the Gap of Dreams, Sphinx ridiculed Archie's prideful behavior.

    'If you're happy, just be happy. There's no need to suppress it.'

    'Shut up.'

    Archie shot back coldly, 'This is merely the aftereffect of that hospital suggestion incident.'

    The Sphinx lazily rolled in the crevices of Archie's dreams, its voice laced with familiar mockery, "Well, that's quite an enduring impact."

    Archie didn't respond. Instead, he turned and walked towards the building of the Inspectorate.

    The small building Job and his group had rented as a temporary hideout was now eerily deserted. Archie searched from the first to the second floor, but all rooms were empty, including Crowley's quarters.

    Had they already left?

    But Archie was sure he hadn't seen Crowley depart. From his vantage point, he could clearly observe this area, and besides, there should only be one exit from this hideout.

    After a moment of thought, Archie recalled a spot he had overlooked. He descended to the first floor and found the hidden door behind the staircase.

    It led to a concealed basement.

    Pausing for a moment, Archie opened the secret door, revealing a staircase descending into the darkness. A flicker of light indicated someone was present below.

    "Crowley? It's Archie," he called out at the stairwell. There was no response. Hesitating briefly, he remembered that Lane was currently observing him, so there was nothing to fear. Thus, he pushed open the door and descended the stairs.

    Inside was a makeshift laboratory in the basement, filled with various instruments. A silver-gray workbench occupied the center, and there seemed to be smaller rooms nearby. The space was deserted except for the hum of machinery.

    Archie, drawn by the cluster of photographs cluttering the workbench, couldn't resist stepping closer.

    "What's this?" Looking through Archie's eyes, Lane was startled by the sight.

    It was almost like a wall of photographs. The outer ones depicted peculiar scenes: decaying flowers, a broken-winged bird, a blood-red half-heart – all shared an eerie beauty, and the photographer's skill was evident; they could have easily been contest entries. The central photo, however, was quite blurry and seemed to have been taken by a different hand. The architecture within it stirred a faint sense of familiarity in Lane.

    Upon closer inspection, he realized, "Isn't this the University of Michigan?"

    A voice echoed from behind Archie.

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