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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 125

    After the events of the night, Lane realized that the Inspectorate was not as straightforward as it seemed. As the Prophet had speculated, he couldn't help but wonder if fate had deliberately lured him into this situation.

    What was this? Were they counting on him to clean up their mess?

    With a slight irritation, Lane opened the player forum, deciding to first check what had driven the players to act as they did.

    He easily found the previous posts, thankful that those related to the main quest hadn't sunk too far down. After reading through their contents, he glanced at the day's trending topics.

    At that moment, the player forum was abuzz with discussions about the main quest.

    Macha Milk Green: I have a nagging feeling that if this doctor really has sinister intentions, the cards he holds are crucial.

    The Strongest Man: Indeed, though we're unsure how he did it, his healing of the inspectors has certainly won him some favor. Most of them have their own psychological issues.

    Druid: Could it be that he deliberately revealed himself to Judith during her visit as a means of both recruitment and intimidation?

    Druid: Following the Black Cat's theory, the Doctor must have discovered Judith's ID card and sensed her suspicions. Thus, he partially exposed his hand to show that his research is normal and also to make Judith understand the significance of his work.

    Black Cat: And after Judith received the message about appearance being justice, she didn't immediately start a private investigation. This suggests she's internally conflicted, preferring to trust the Doctor. He perceived her attitude and responded accordingly.

    Get Some Chips from the Dock: The world of adults is truly complex.

    Druid: But this leaves us with a broken trail. We know the Doctor is up to something, yet we can't touch him. It's troublesome.

    The Strongest Man: How about we strike directly at the heart of the matter? We already know the Director is the mastermind behind everything. Why bother with the Doctor when we can simply expose the Director hidden deep within the Investigative Bureau?

    Not Crazy: It's not that simple. Our main objective now is to gather evidence against the Director and uncover the truth. Only then can we rally a group of justice-driven inspectors to our side. Otherwise, with the Director's prestige, who do you think the inspectors would believe?

    Black Cat: You're right. Directly confronting the massive Investigative Bureau would likely result in a small chance of victory. We can only achieve our goal by dividing them from within.

    Black Cat: Ah, wait, why am I sounding more and more like a villain here? (laughs)

    Beauty is Justice: Director Eugene wasn't wrong; his prestige within the Investigative Bureau is no joke. Especially among the veteran investigators.

    Strongest Man: I just don't get it. Is he really that good at winning people over?

    Lane, upon reading this, recalled Eugene's fervent admiration for Fate, almost to the level of a cultist's devotion.

    Hmm, well, he thought about Edmund and the others; they didn't seem to have a right to criticize Fate either.

    Beauty is Justice: No... I barely see the Director, and the same goes for the other veteran investigators.

    Beauty is Justice: Oh, by the way, something happened internally in the Investigative Bureau last night. I think you guys should know, but probably someone has already uploaded the details.

    Black Cat: Huh? What happened with the Investigative Bureau?

    Beauty is Justice: Not too sure about the specifics, but it seems there was an issue underground. The Secretariat is dealing with it.

    Black Cat: Underground...

    Druid: What's going on?

    Black Cat: No, I'm wondering if the Director of Investigation's office might be underground. Is that area marked on the bureau's floor plan?

    Face is Justice: No, there are only four zones labeled A, B, C, and D on the map. Rumor has it that other important areas are off-limits, so their locations aren't indicated.

    Black Cat: That does seem plausible. But who could have attacked the underground area? It's worth looking into. Have you guys found any information?

    Cafeteria Lady: Yeah, yeah, the staff has been gossiping about it.

    Security Guard: I saw something last night while on duty.

    Ultimate Guy: Well, do you guys actually stand guard?

    Security Guard: Yeah, it's a security guard simulator, right? Most of the time, I switch perspectives to play cards, but coincidentally, I wasn't playing when it happened last night.

    Tiger Black Dog: There really are such boring people in this world.

    Indeed, Len couldn't help but comment. Are there really such boring people who actually stand guard? Wake up, guys, you're playing a game, aren't you? Don't you want to have some fun?

    Druid: ? You actually saw it directly?

    Security Guard: Yes, but only from a distance. It seemed like the Secretariat was surrounding a man in uniform with golden hair. To be honest, he looked somewhat familiar, with golden flames engulfing him.

    Black Cat: ?

    Druid: ?

    Nayuta: This description...

    Barbara: He seems so familiar.

    Uncle Hao: Could it be Albert?!

    Veteran players were particularly impressed by Albert's capabilities, especially those who had experienced the first main storyline, for he had, after all, severely wounded Sauron with his golden flames.

    Indeed, he saw it. Lane thought to himself, but it seemed there was no harm in players catching a glimpse.

    Albert's connection to the player isn't profound, or rather, he seldom appears before the player; even if seen, he wouldn't be associated with them. Ironically, it's his current incarnation that poses a risk, as the red-haired youth's appearance in the recent secret university dungeon has made an impression.

    Thoughts have the uncanny habit of manifesting into reality, and just as Lane was contemplating this, a player responded.

    Druid: Hmm... Speaking of which, when I entered the "Looks Are Justice" livestream earlier, I couldn't help but feel that the red-haired youth by her side looked eerily familiar!

    Black Cat: Now that you mention it, there is some truth to that.

    Beauty equals justice: Ah, indeed, many in the live-stream channel back then commented that he looked familiar.

    Aron: It's me! I found it! I was going through the live stream recordings all day yesterday!

    Aron didn't hesitate to post the screenshot he found on the forum.

    Aron: We've encountered this red-haired youth before, within the depths of the Mystery University's dungeon instance!

    Black Cat: Hiss- That's right! It was him who led us into the dungeon in the first place! How could I have completely forgotten?

    Druid: Now that you mention it, there was such a person. Strange, I've even forgotten about him (scratching his head). I have no recollection whatsoever of where he went or what happened to him.

    Matcha Milk Green: Has anyone seen him at Michigan University?

    Not Crazy: I don't.

    Aaron: Neither have I.

    The Strongest Man: None here either.

    As more veteran players responded negatively, it became perplexing. According to the previous puzzle, this youngster should be a student from MIT, right? Didn't MIT get salvaged? Why doesn't he exist? Strangely, no one seemed to have noticed this.

    Black Cat sensed that something was amiss. He tirelessly scanned through the live broadcast recordings from that time, not missing Druid's and Peasant's channels. Eventually, he found a clue in a screenshot from Peasant's live stream.

    Black Cat: Take a look at this picture.

    In the picture posted by the Black Cat, there was a figure standing next to Albert, who was lying on the tree. Most of the figure was obscured, but one could faintly see red strands of hair. The Hundred-Eyed Giant was approaching them, making the situation seem dire.

    Black Cat: What happened next is what everyone knows - Lane appeared and turned the tables. When his true form showed up, all the live streams went black.

    Matcha Milk Green: ! You're saying...

    Black Cat: Yeah, I think it's highly likely that this NPC is Lane, or someone disguised as him. This also explains why Lane didn't appear in the Michigan dungeon. We assumed 'Lane' hadn't arrived in the replica yet, but in reality, he was already here, right beside us.

    Crazy No More: ! Damn, that's creepy. Hang on, was Lane's arrival a coincidence, or was it a case of the hunter becoming the hunted?

    Matcha Latte: ...I think we shouldn't ponder too deeply.

    Druid: Lane should be fine, right? (Hesitant) After all, he saved Midas.

    Even Number Seeker: It's hard to say. Perhaps Midas's sinking and its revival now were both part of the Evil God's plan. Now, He has a loyal Midas at His disposal.

    (Lane: ???)

    Wait, what are you guys thinking—

    Majority Rules: I'm getting goosebumps, this is intense.

    Cosmic Machine: Actually, if you think carefully about that Midas dungeon, there are indeed many things that haven't been explained. Although it can be attributed to a duplication of the dungeon, but what was the basis for this duplication? Also, I just reviewed the footage and found something strange.

    Cosmic Machine: Is this...not a glitch? Just before Lane appeared, there were two Alberts for a brief moment.

    Cosmic Machine shared a short video clip and screenshot. Amidst the chaos at the time, many had missed the fact that two Alberts were present simultaneously.

    Crazy Not Mad: ???? What's going on, what's going on? It's been so long, and you're only telling me now that the truth behind this dungeon is far more complicated than we initially thought.

    Black Cat: Back then, everyone was so engrossed in the University of Mysteries that we overlooked many details... Now that we've calmed down, we realize how many inconsistencies there were. Damn it, the official Easter eggs were buried too deep.

    After noticing one anomaly, the rest started to unravel, leaving veteran players stunned.

    Druid: It feels like we've wasted our time in this dungeon. I truly knew nothing (tears).

    Black Cat: Yeah, the exploration was too challenging. We were too focused on fighting monsters.

    Crazy Not: Looking back now, it seems everything Lane did resulted in significant gains, including the Arkham Dungeon. Most people in Arkham City are now potential followers of the Secret Church.

    Druid: ...It's terrifying when you think about it.

    Matcha Milk Green: Indeed, terrifying.

    Mint Milk Green: +1

    Black Cat: Could it be that good deeds lead to good rewards here?

    Crazy Not: Or could it be that Lane is an evil deity?

    Nightly: Could it be that you, Black Cat, have been bewitched?

    Lane really wanted to say, "Could it be that you're the ones who have deluded yourselves, and it wasn't actually me?"

    Justice in Appearance: (Weakly) We've veered off-topic, everyone.

    Black Cat: Alright, let's set aside the mystery of the Michigan University dungeon for now. First, we need to discuss whether this red-haired NPC is truly Lane.

    Black Cat tried diligently to steer the discussion back on track, while another group of players had quietly started new threads, speculating if Lane was indeed the mastermind behind everything.

    Druid: I don't think there's any doubt left. Why is Lane here? Could it be because Fate angered him last time?

    Not Crazy: Highly possible! I think it's very likely!

    Aron: Definitely not wrong! Lane has come for revenge on our behalf. Sobs, he really did... I'm dying from emotions.

    Odd Seeker: ...It probably isn't that straightforward.

    If it were before, after the two main storyline endings, Lane's image as a benevolent deity had deeply rooted in the hearts of many new players, especially those who were unfamiliar with the Cthulhu mythos.

    But with the newly discovered clues, all players began to realize that the situation might not be as straightforward as they initially thought.

    Odd Number: If Lahn was indeed the mastermind behind everything, his purpose for visiting the Investigative Bureau couldn't just be for revenge on the believers. Or perhaps revenge is merely a pretext.

    Druid: Damn, what war initiation excuse. I have a believer missing at the border.jpg

    Matcha Milk Green: I feel like we've stumbled into an incredible conspiracy (shivering). No wonder this main quest has such a high difficulty level.

    Lahn couldn't hold back anymore. What? They're blaming him for this too? The high difficulty of the main quest is clearly because it's designed for later stages of the open beta.

    Players triggered it prematurely, and the officials actually allowed it. That's already absurd. What's even more absurd is that these players are blaming him for the difficulty.

    Majority Rules: Scary, I'm a bit confused now. So, what should we do next?

    Ultimate Male: Mm, by now, there must be quite a number of players rushing to Orlandu.

    Black Cat: Our investigation into the internal hospital was cut short last time, and now this incident at the Investigative Bureau. Perhaps Ms. Judith's focus will shift to investigating who infiltrated the bureau. This isn't conducive to our progress in the main quest. @Beauty is Justice, if you're not afraid, why don't you try probing Lahn?

    Black Cat: Don't let their talk of a hidden mastermind scare you. There's no solid evidence yet, and Lahn hasn't ever done anything detrimental to players. The Secret Church is also the largest player-gathered force, suggesting that Lahn treats players well.

    Exceedingly Adorable Cat Face: Big shot, you're putting in so much effort to promote this, hahaha.

    Druid: The Minister of Propagation from some secretive church, huh?

    Yeyue: Don't love too much.

    Matcha Milk Green: As the leader of Lane's Support Squad, I am filled with self-doubt. I promote his work while analyzing the plot, blending the personal with the professional. This is what your devotees are like, I am smitten.

    Black Cat: Ah, indeed, it's true (tears of laughter)

    In truth, the other players were also aware of this, but they couldn't resist teasing Black Cat. It was one of the few instances where they could have some fun with a big shot like her.

    Beauty is righteousness: Wow! I'm going! I have to go!

    Actually, after players in the forum speculated that the red-haired youth was Lann, Yan Jiustice had already been secretly thrilled. This was serendipity – the mountain coming to her instead of her seeking it out! Oh, how she wept with joy; this was the reward for her days and nights spent toiling as a corporate drone in the Audit Bureau! This was a mutual pursuit, shouted from the mountaintops!

    With a deep breath, Yan Jiushi rose from his workstation and went in search of Judith.

    As anticipated on the forums, Judith was now swamped with work. The Bureau had never experienced such a deep intrusion before, let alone a bomb explosion. It was an issue far from simple resolution. Holding those responsible accountable, addressing the damage, and dealing with the myriad concerns of veteran employees left her utterly exhausted.

    As Justice of Appearance whispered into her ear, asking for Lane's address, Judith gave her a meaningful glance but still divulged the location of the apartment. She had been too hasty when she left last night to consider Lane, who, in her mind, was not only a minor but also a vulnerable youngster that had narrowly escaped from a cult's clutches and needed the care of a responsible adult.

    Judith couldn't help adding, "I'll give you the key as well. Please take care of Ian for me while you're at the apartment... He's fragile and needs protection."

    Justice of Appearance: ?

    Do you even hear yourself?

    Even for someone as superficial as her, this was too much.

    ...

    Lane found the situation both amusing and frustrating. After a moment, he let out a long breath and suppressed his exasperation at the players' obsession with him.

    Their visit could actually be beneficial. Once they met, Lane could subtly pass on the intelligence he had gathered to them and use their actions to stir up trouble without attracting attention.

    As for their 'Dai-ification,' well, he was already accustomed to such treatment. Besides, the truth would come out eventually, and judging by his actions in the previous two main quests, he had already redeemed himself quite a bit.

    With this thought, Lane, who was already burdened with many debts, realized that Judith had gone to the Investigative Bureau for the day. Given the chaos Albert had caused, it was unlikely she would return. As a result, he was alone in the apartment, making it an ideal time to talk with the players.

    Lane sat quietly in the room, his gaze suddenly drawn to the window outside, his expression shifting.

    There seemed to be a scent of something burning in the air.

    In the next moment, the fire alarm of the entire apartment building blared, and those still inside immediately rushed out of their rooms, shouting, "Where's the fire?!"

    "It's on the third floor, get down here quickly!"

    Judith's apartment was on the top fourth floor, with no neighbors renting adjacent units. Only two or three households occupied this level, all of whom would have left for work by this time. That meant Lane was the only one left on the top floor.

    Opening the door, Lane found that the elevator wouldn't budge, while flames were raging up the emergency staircase beside it.

    How convenient?

    Lane raised an eyebrow. The fire on the stairs had grown so intense that it was now impossible for an ordinary person to descend. Amidst the chaos, he heard a strange crackling sound.

    The flames appeared to be alive, creeping up the non-combustible metal railings of the staircase, ferociously charging towards Lane. Calmly, he shut the emergency exit door and turned to run down the corridor.

    Just as he intended to return to Judith's apartment, he noticed someone at the end of the hallway firing shots in his direction. Luckily, Lane dodged swiftly, avoiding the bullets. However, soon the emergency door was blown open by the heat, and the monstrous creature born from the flames lunged towards him.

    Fire Spirit

    A B-rank anomaly, one that, according to Lane's memory, served as a servant to some malevolent deity and could be summoned by cultists to do their bidding in the real world.

    Was that person who just appeared the wizard who summoned the Fire Spirit? But who attacked him, and why?

    Lane was certain that no one had seen his actions last night. The only ones aware of his existence were Edith, the players, and...

    Wait, there was also Doctor, who had accompanied him and Edith to the hospital yesterday. He knew about Lane too.

    Before Lane could ponder further, danger loomed. He recalled from forums in his past life that Fire Spirits were formidable anomalies, especially in arid areas, capable of easily causing massive fires.

    Running down the corridor would only result in being cornered by another adversary.

    This body could only withstand three instances of his true form's power before collapsing. He had already used it twice. Should he use the last one here?

    Lane lowered his gaze, conflicted. His shadow shifted beneath his feet, seemingly striving for attention. After a moment's thought, Lane reached out to touch it.

    Indeed, the shadow was actually a fragment of Ogler's concern for Lane, somewhat like an avatar. It carried a small amount of consciousness and a great deal of power. It was worth mentioning that Ogler's avatar had proven incredibly useful. Previously, when Lane had investigated the Bureau's underground facilities and sneaked into the internal hospital at midnight, he had relied on the shadow's abilities.

    Suddenly, a man's pained scream echoed from the corridor behind him.Lane's mind raced, and without hesitation, he turned his back on the fire spirit and dashed towards the hallway.

    At the end of the corridor, the enemy had already fallen. Dressed in a black robe, his face was obscured as he writhed on the ground in agony. His body was engulfed in the golden flames that Lane recognized all too well. Beside him stood a man with a cold, detached gaze.

    It was Albert!

    Without a moment's delay, Lane rushed over. Albert mercilessly stepped on the man's shoulder, his gun pressed against it. He pulled the trigger without hesitation, firing a compressed flame of Judgement into the man's body, causing him immense suffering.

    "Dispel the summon," Lane commanded.

    Elementals were catastrophes in crowded areas, let alone in a residential district.

    The man trembled, on the verge of unconsciousness from the torment of the golden flames, but even that escape from pain was a luxury denied him.

    Albert's expression remained stoic. Those tormented by the golden flames were scum, not deserving of his sympathy - himself included.

    Soon, the man appeared unable to endure the agony any longer. He trembled and opened his mouth, and Albert presumed he was about to surrender. But in the next instant, the man suddenly threw his arms wide, releasing a blinding white light that forced Albert to shield his eyes.

    Blinded, Albert was forced to retreat. It was then that the mysterious wizard seized the opportunity, leaping down from the staircase on the opposite side.

    Albert was tempted to follow, but he held back, casting a glance at Lane, who was evading the fire spirits.

    "Go after him," Lane instructed.

    Albert pressed his lips together and turned to chase after the figure.

    Just then, Justice Is Beauty arrived on the scene. Upon noticing the fire in Judith's apartment building, the player rushed upstairs without hesitation, brushing past the robed man. She then spotted Albert dashing down the stairs.

    The number of players and chat messages in the live stream surged instantly.

    "That's Albert? It really is him?"

    "Well, the security guard wasn't wrong."

    "But why is Albert here?"

    "Then who's up there?"

    Justice Is Beauty's heart pounded wildly. Without hesitation, she climbed the stairs fearlessly, undeterred by the raging flames and thick smoke. Players' senses were artificially dampened, so the most they felt was some discomfort from the smoke irritating their eyes. Reaching the fourth floor, she looked toward the corridor.

    She witnessed the red-haired youth standing against a raging inferno that threatened to engulf him, its fiery tendrils crackling and snapping like the claws of a monstrous creature composed of flames, hungry to swallow him whole.

    The shadow beneath the youth's feet spread, gradually assuming the shape of a giant, enveloping the youth within its embrace and shielding him from the intense heat and raging flames.

    Part of it lingered affectionately around the young boy, while another portion transformed into sharp weapons that pierced through the fiery beasts, sending sparks careening wildly. Yet, not a single ember fell upon the red-haired youth; instead, they served to illuminate his emerald eyes, making them shimmer with an otherworldly glow.

    As impenetrable as the stoutest shield, and as piercing as the sharpest spear.

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