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    Chapter 119

    In the Prophet's tale, Earth's ancient history unfolded like a vivid tapestry, carrying with it the aura of epochs long past.

    In those times, humanity was not the only race on the planet. In fact, they were insignificant compared to most other large species. The Imms, insectoid creatures with bodies averaging over three meters in height, dominated Lemuria, their immense strength allowing them to withstand pressures two kilometers beneath the sea. Yet, their society remained organized in tribes.

    The Mosans, who emerged from the depths, claimed all the islands in the ocean. They established a maritime confederation bound by island chains, demanding the heads of their own kind as tolls from those who sailed through their waters.

    In the far north, a humanoid race with massive heads founded the magnificent Kingdom of the Far North. Their biotechnology was highly advanced, capable of creating new species out of thin air. However, they were eventually overthrown by the slave race they had themselves created.

    As the Prophet narrated, Kri and Arki witnessed their worldview shatter and reform, astonished by the grandeur of the true history they had never known.

    "Compared to those races, humans were at the very bottom of the food chain, no different from crawling ants," the Prophet said with a bitter smile. "Our numbers dwindled, from tens of thousands to thousands, then even hundreds. Back then, the three sages—Fate, Prophet, and Medicine Man—were like paddlers in a fragile canoe, navigating through a stormy sea."

    With the Prophet's account, Kri and Arki felt as if they had journeyed back in time, witnessing firsthand humanity's desperate struggle for survival amidst the multitude of other races.

    "And just when humans faced their darkest hour, Medicine Man, the first Kamuy, left us," the Prophet continued, causing Len to frown. "Why?"

    "The reason... Kamui, who returned once, said he was guided by the divine will to seek out the land of ultimate bliss. However, he failed to find it. At that time, due to the departure of the shaman, humanity's situation worsened, and then the great calamity struck."

    The Prophet's expression turned grave as he mentioned the 'great calamity,' with a hint of fear flickering in his eyes, as if the memory of that disaster still haunted him.

    "It was... a hellish scene. The earth cracked open, the sun vanished from the sky, floods, fires, and earthquakes ravaged the land. The Earth's climate system was utterly disrupted. One day, it would be scorching sunshine, followed the next by a blizzard. In short, the ecosystem was completely devastated. Fortunately, fate had foreseen this, and humanity took refuge in abandoned underground caverns left by some race, barely allowing a few dozen people to survive."

    "When humans eventually returned to the surface, the world had undergone a complete reshuffle. Many of the dominant races were wiped out in the disaster. The Kingdom of the Far North was frozen in perpetuity, maritime nations sank into the ocean, and the Lemuria continent split, gradually forming the continental plates we know today."

    "Wait, forming the continental plates as they are now?" Kley's expression was stunned. "There have been scientific speculations that the current continents were once connected... but the movement of continental plates is estimated to occur over millions of years. How long have you been alive?"

    "Our conscious existence spans thousands of years," the Prophet replied. "During the great calamity, we once lapsed into a deep slumber... we have no idea how long we were unconscious. When we awoke, the calamity was nearly over."

    Kley didn't comment further, only furrowing his brow deeper.

    "In any case, humanity survived, and after the reshuffle, many races faded from history, giving humans room to develop until this day."

    After finishing the lengthy tale, the Prophet sighed in relief. Kley and Archie remained stunned, while Kley glanced at Lane, expecting to see a similar reaction, only to find him not particularly surprised.

    As expected of an ancient being, Kley thought. He probably knew about Earth's eternal past a long time ago. Yet, he allowed the Prophet to explain, likely for their benefit.

    Well... Unlike Kerry's assumption, Lane's calmness was due to his prior suspicions from his past life. The game's storyline had progressed far enough for players to have explored numerous mystic realms and ancient ruins. The assembled information confirmed that there were more than one race in Earth's ancient times, and these races even appeared in various dungeon runs.

    "You didn't directly answer my question," he said. "Why did you part ways with Fate?"

    "We had profound disagreements," the Prophet smiled bitterly. "As you know, back in those ancient times, without our abilities, humanity wouldn't have been able to survive disaster after disaster. Humans were like children we nurtured step by step. It's only natural for parents to find it hard to accept when their children grow beyond their control. Besides, there were indeed many hidden dangers in this world. We sought immortality because we knew that if we both perished, humanity would face extinction in a short time."

    "But after the great calamity ended, and humans started to multiply, things changed. I couldn't accept Fate's ideology, so I resigned as the Guide. And since Fate needed to fall into slumber periodically, they gradually withdrew from public life... But I know they established other organizations to silently protect humanity's fate."

    "A stubborn parent who can't tolerate losing control, huh." Lane recalled Fate's words and scoffed. "That's quite an apt description."

    The Prophet remained silent, as it was indeed the truth.

    "So, you say Archie has become the new Prophet. Is this ability hereditary?"

    "It was impossible before. The Prophet... I mean, as a human Prophet, passed on their bloodline before they died, but none of their children inherited the gift. If I hadn't sensed the change occurring, I wouldn't have believed it either." The Prophet's gaze at Archie was unprecedentedly kind, like a doting elder hoping for their child's success. This made Archie rather uncomfortable.

    "He will inherit the title of Prophet... after my death."

    "After your death? You're going to die?" Kerry was stunned.

    "All mortals pass on, Kerry," the Prophet spoke calmly. "I've existed in this form for so long that I'm weary. The only reason I persist is that humanity might still need an old bone like me someday. But it seems that my time for eternal rest has finally come."

    Kerry gazed at the book in the thin man's hands, unsure of what to say. Just as he couldn't fathom the Prophet's state of mind a millennium ago when he turned himself into a Sealed Artifact, his perception of the Prophet was transforming at this moment. All the eccentricity was a mask for the weary soul beneath his aging body.

    "Of course, this would only happen after the new Prophet is ready to stand on their own," the Prophet shrugged. He turned to Lane and said solemnly, "May I ask for your permission? I wish to train Archie Hayes as the new Prophet. During this time, I'll stay by his side and instruct him. Without proper guidance, the Prophet's powers could lead to unintended consequences or hardships."

    This reminded Lane of the Sphinx being bitten by the Truth Bugs. He mentioned the incident, and the Prophet's expression didn't betray any surprise. "Truth Bugs, huh... They are indeed troublesome creatures, but I have a method of dealing with them."

    This seemed to hold no downsides for Lane, who left the decision to Archie himself.

    "No problem!" The Sphinx eagerly awaited the opportunity. Ever since Kerry appeared and his abilities were rendered useless, he had shown great unease, fearing that he would become obsolete in Lane's eyes. Now, he was relieved and even threw a challenging glance at Kerry.

    Unbeknownst to you, cat! It's me, Sphinx, who holds the real power!

    Feeling the hostility emanating from the Sphinx, Kerry lifted an eyelid, his demeanor lazy, seemingly indifferent to the challenge.

    Hmph, the cat only acts tough now!

    The Sphinx wagged his tail happily. Archie had no reason to refuse such a gift, especially after hearing about the sacrifices the Prophet and Fate had made for humanity. He felt a mix of emotions and wondered if he was worthy of inheriting such a responsibility.

    But if it can help Lane...

    Archibald made up his mind.

    With Lane's permission, the Prophet had been staying in the Divine Realm lately to teach Archibald. Before leaving the Headmaster's office, he paused and looked at Lane hesitantly.

    Lane asked, "Is there anything else?"

    "The question might sound like I'm pleading for Fate or making excuses for him," the Prophet sighed, "but from what I remember, he isn't someone who acts recklessly. There might be a reason behind this, or perhaps your retaliation is part of his plan as well. In any case, please be cautious."

    "And thank you for standing up for humanity. You're truly a friendly god to us. Good luck."

    The Prophet took Archibald and Kley away, leaving Lane sitting in the Headmaster's chair. Friendly...?

    This was hardly a compliment for him. Lane would rather they imagined him as a terrifying evil deity, which would at least keep their 'respect.'

    After all, in these times, the good guys were often the ones with guns pointed at them.

    Lane closed his eyes and sighed.

    Then he sensed another person entering the headmaster's office. Few people entered without his permission, but one exception existed within his divine realm.

    Ogar.

    Lane trusted him completely and didn't immediately open his eyes, continuing to rest with his eyes closed. He sensed that Ogar had walked in softly, perhaps assuming he was sleeping. He approached him and then...

    Hmm?

    The sensation of lips brushing against his... was that the tip of a finger?

    Lane had touched Ogar's fingers before. They weren't as delicate as his own, but not overly rough either. The fingerprints were distinct, and his fingers were enormous—nearly twice the size of Lane's. Often, Lane wondered if Ogar were a dog, he'd be a massive and gentle Tibetan Mastiff; if he were a cat, maybe a Maine Coon, appearing fierce but with a soft meow.

    ...Hiss, that last one was still a bit hard to imagine. Ogar's voice was quite normal, after all.

    Lane's eyelids twitched, but he refrained from opening his eyes, for fear that doing so would only make the situation more awkward.

    However, the fingers showed no sign of ceasing their movement. Perhaps he thought Lane was truly asleep, as they gently traced the contours of Lane's face with great care, feather-light touches from his eyebrows to his nose, then down to his lips and chin.

    In Lane's mind's eye, Ogar's enormous hand could have easily covered his entire face, yet it delicately brushed against him with a cautiousness surpassing even the most meticulous oil painting or pigment mixing.

    It was like a mighty tiger lowering its head to gently nudge a delicate flower with its nose.

    Amused by his own imagination, Lane momentarily lost control of his breathing. The large hands immediately withdrew from his face. He opened his eyes, feigning a just-awakened daze, to find Ogar sitting properly in front of him, staring at him innocently.

    ...If he had actually been asleep, he might have almost fallen for Ogar's act.

    At a loss for how to react, Lane hadn't considered this possible affection from Ogar before... Well, he had thought about it, given that it was rare for one man to take such comprehensive care of another, cooking and cleaning without complaint.

    Although he had sensed something, he had subconsciously pushed it aside... Having lived in constant danger, always on edge, he simply didn't have the energy to ponder such matters.

    Now, with Arkham as his terrestrial paradise, Lane could finally breathe a little easier, feeling a measure of safety. As a result, thoughts that had been submerged rose to the surface.

    But Lane was still unsure about his feelings, deciding for now to pretend nothing had happened. Addressing Ogar, he said, "I'll likely be heading to the Bureau of Inquiry soon, to deal with Fate's physical form that's hidden there."

    Ogier frowned at this and asked, "You're going personally?"

    From his expression, it was clear that Ogier didn't quite approve of the decision.

    But Lane had no other choice. "The Domain of the Earthly Kingdom is limited to Arkham. I have no believers in Orland, so my influence can't reach there."

    Although there were players there, the Secret Church's main base was still in Arkham, making it out of his reach.

    Hearing this, Ogier pondered for a moment and suggested, "You could try using an avatar."

    "An avatar?" Lane was taken aback.

    "Indeed, most gods usually stay within their divine realms. If they need to venture out, they use avatars," Ogier explained. "You might want to give it a shot."

    An avatar, huh...

    Lane had never considered this method, mainly because he didn't know how. "How do I do that?"

    Ogier replied, "It's simple. Create a body using the material that best represents you, then infuse it with your power and will. Most importantly, imbue it with your divine will. Imagine giving it orders and the certainty of success."

    Command...

    The most suitable material would naturally be a spiritual plant or a spiritual seed. Lane casually took out one and infused his power into it, following Ogler's instructions.

    Command... Just like when he summoned the power of dreams previously?

    Under Lane's will, the seed immediately began to unfold and stretch, gradually taking on a vague human shape on the ground. Without Ogler's reminder, Lane already knew what to do next. This was clearly the part where he needed to mold the form!

    With a thought, the plants on the ground intertwined, and the bark transformed into fair skin. Under Lane's control, instead of growing white hair, it sprouted short red hair, with freckles dotting the face.

    As the image of the final red-haired youth emerged, Lann closed his eyes, then opened them again, his consciousness temporarily inhabiting the avatar he had crafted.

    "It's quite remarkable..."

    It's like being immersed in an exquisite virtual reality setup.

    With curiosity, Lane lifted his legs and stretched his arms, only to notice a subtle difference. Perhaps because not much power was infused, while within the avatar, he possessed only a limited amount of abilities. Neither the staff nor the panpipe were at his disposal; only the dice continued to be accommodating. His physical fitness remained at the level of an ordinary person.

    "In the Dreamworld, deities often have multiple avatars, both sentient and non-sentient. The non-sentient ones are typically used for divine descents, while the sentient ones act as proxies, patrolling the divine realms on the deity's behalf or spreading their faith," Ogler explained with effort.

    "What does it mean to be conscious?"

    "It means imbuing that form with a spirit, just like what you did with the black-haired believer."

    Lan assumed Ogler was referring to Archy, whose spirit he had infused into the Sphinx.

    "However, creating a conscious avatar is a laborious process. It divides your power, so it's best not to do it now," Ogler advised.

    Lan understood and decided to name his first avatar:

    Ian Pan.

    Pan referred to the god of shepherds, and Ian would be his first manifestation as such a deity.

    Using an avatar to investigate the Auditing Bureau was indeed a safer option. Whatever the old silver coin, Fate, had in mind, he could always dispose of this avatar if necessary.

    Ogler lowered his gaze, seemingly deep in thought, then suddenly spoke, "I will also create an avatar."

    "?" Lan was surprised for a moment before hesitantly asking, "Your avatar will accompany mine?"

    Ogul nodded and added, "It won't affect my main body, nor will it be detected by any other existence—I'll only manifest an avatar with a small portion of my power."

    "That's not an issue," Lane replied, his curiosity piqued. "But this is the first time you want to step into the spotlight. Why is that?"

    Ogul lowered his gaze, his red eyes silently observing Lane.

    "Because I've endured long enough."

    For Lane's successful awakening, Ogul had restrained himself from interfering, fearing that his intervention might hinder Lane's growth. As a self-proclaimed protector, he could only watch helplessly as Lane took risks repeatedly.

    But he didn't want to remain solely in the background.

    In the end, Lane couldn't convince Ogul otherwise. With a snap of his fingers, he teleported once more, instantly shifting from the president's office at MIT to within Arkham Hospital.

    Today was no different in the psychiatric ward of Arkham Hospital—it was bustling with energy. Lane encountered the giant cockroach orderly again, calmly passing by him before finally stopping at a bed.

    No one was lying on the bed, but a bundle of vines occupied it. However, it was actually a human transformed into that form.

    Yes, the vines were none other than Old Luke. Since Lane planned to visit the Bureau of Investigation headquarters himself, he naturally needed to understand what was truly happening here.

    As an experienced investigator, Luke's information was invaluable. Of course, Luke hadn't been back to the Audit Bureau in a long time, so his intelligence might be outdated. But that didn't matter. Lane had another group of people in his Divine Kingdom—Edie and Dana—who would be more than willing to provide him with updates.

    Lane had allowed Luke to live in his Divine Kingdom because he had no way to restore him to his original form. But now, he thought it was worth a try.

    Controlling the vines was effortless for Lane, just like controlling his spiritual plants. He attempted to use the power of dreams to search for Luke's subconscious.

    This was a new application that Lane had thought of after meddling with fate. If dreams represented one's mental world and subconscious, and the fog symbolized madness and confusion, could he use the power of dreams to enter someone's subconscious, bringing them back from their lost state and thus awaken them from their madness?

    It seemed Lane had guessed correctly.

    When he delved into Luke's subconscious, he found it transformed into a twisted mental world filled with tropical rainforests and vague fragments. Naturally, there was also the persistent fog. Lane moved freely within the fog until he found Luke, the core of the dream.

    With Lane's support, Luke's consciousness began to rise slowly. In reality, Lane manipulated the vines to forcibly shape them into a humanoid figure, albeit with a rough, green, vine-like skin.

    Well, he had done his best. The contamination was irreversible, and Luke had become a vine both inside and out. All Lane could do was rouse his consciousness.

    "Hey, do you remember me?" Lane snapped his fingers in front of Luke. Luke's lips trembled as his eyes widened in horror and madness. "J-Just now, s-sheep, t-tree..."

    Alright, it seemed he was still trapped in the memory of the hospital contamination from long ago.

    With a swift move, Lane knocked Old Luke unconscious. To be on the safe side, he invited Albert this time before commencing the formal interrogation, thinking that as fellow betrayed investigators, they might find common ground.

    Albert fulfilled his task. Upon learning what information Lane sought, he entered Old Luke's ward without asking any questions. An hour later, he emerged and nodded at Lane. "It's done."

    Lane then re-entered the ward. Old Luke was now sitting on the bed, still a frightening sight, but his expression had significantly improved. He stared at Lane with a complicated gaze. "I've learned about what followed from him... Thank you very much for your assistance."

    He attempted to get up to express his gratitude, but Lane stopped him. "There's no need for such formalities. I'm only interested in the Intelligence Bureau's intel."

    "…If it were the old me, I'd probably rather die than divulge anything," Old Luke's face was filled with mixed emotions. "But after hearing that young man's story, I've confirmed once more that there's something seriously wrong within the bureau… It seems I can only trust you now."

    "I've heard you're planning to enter the Intelligence Bureau yourself. If you don't mind, I have someone reliable here. She's stubborn but adheres to her principles. Assuming nothing unexpected happened, she should have grown into an investigator capable of handling her own cases by now. If you want to uncover what's happening inside the bureau, perhaps you could seek her out."

    "What's her name?" Lane asked.

    "Judith Fremont."

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