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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 126

    The timing of Justice's appearance was indeed coincidental.

    At this very moment, the players in the live stream witnessed it all.

    "Squee! So beautiful!"

    "This has to be Lann, right? With those green eyes, hahaha."

    "This scene is so captivating. But who's that shadowy giant?"

    "Judging by the physique, could it be Ogul?"

    "It seems quite plausible!"

    "Hmm, wait a moment. I think I just shipped something. Lann came as an avatar, and Ogul followed closely behind. How romantic!"

    "The way he's protecting her, the difference in their sizes... I'm done (in a blissful manner)."

    The live stream chat flooded with messages, and Justice Is in the Face felt rather nervous. She had initially pre-ordered the game for Lane's appearance. Due to a twist of fate, she didn't choose Arkham and instead invested so much in the sunk cost. Now, she finally got to meet the NPC that had lured her into logging into the game in the first place.

    She had expected disappointment, for this manifestation of Lane was not as breathtakingly beautiful as his true form. Yet, upon seeing him, Justice's aesthetic sensibilities were more than satisfied.

    Especially the previous scene, with its blazing flames, ominous shadows, and the crimson-haired youth depicted in stunning CG, it struck a chord with her aesthetic sensibilities.

    "It's you." Lane turned around in surprise, not expecting the player to arrive so promptly.

    "Yes, it's me," Justice Yan, flustered, blurted out, "If I were to say that I'm also one of your believers, would you believe it?"

    Slightly taken aback, the red-haired youth sighed wistfully and said, "Let's leave this place first and find somewhere deserted to talk things through."

    With Justice by his side, Lane descended the stairs, just as fire trucks had arrived below. The firefighter-police had set up barriers to prevent the public from entering the building. Lane and Justice slipped away from the crowd's view, turning left and right until they reached an empty alcove.

    To Justice of Face's surprise, Albert was already standing there silently, with a charred corpse at his feet.

    "My lord." Upon seeing Lann's appearance, Albert was about to bow but was stopped by Lann. "Is he dead?"

    "Yes, he put up a fierce resistance, as if he wouldn't yield until one of us perished. I had no choice but to use lethal force. I deeply regret not being able to capture him alive."

    "No, you've done more than enough."

    Justice of Appearance listened attentively to their conversation, while the live stream chat flooded with messages that hadn't ceased since Albert's appearance.

    "Sure enough, I was right. It was Albert who attacked the Bureau's underground facility."

    "But it's odd. Why would Albert be with Lane's avatar? From the scene we just saw, it seemed like Albert was chasing the black-clad man downstairs. With his respectful attitude toward Lane now, it's clear he's pledged allegiance."

    "This... When did this happen? My impression of Albert was still that of a betrayed NPC, an undercover agent in the Bureau."

    "I think it happened during the first main quest. Didn't Albert already have suspicions about being betrayed? Maybe that's when a crack formed in his mind, and the evil god took advantage."

    "The Black Cat: Then he became a devoted follower, probably in the MIT dungeon. You know, the one where old players noticed two versions of Albert – a young and an older one. With the nature of the dungeon's recreation and Professor Alders's mention of reality being altered, coupled with Lane's statement in the first main quest about 'dreams changing reality,' I'd guess it was a dungeon born from Albert's dreams."

    "So while we were working hard on the dungeon, mighty Pan had secretly completed a righteous NTR?"

    A sudden message popped up, almost causing other players to burst out laughing.

    "The Black Cat: ...It was a just endeavor to rescue MIT, but why does it sound so weird when you guys put it that way?"

    "Ahaha, NTROOO, is this plot actually that captivating? But back then, I was so engrossed in monster hunting that I missed out on such a delicacy, qwq."

    "Don't worry, sis. Soon, the fanfiction section will be flooded with NTRO investigators falling into corruption."

    "Wow, seriously, what's going on? Didn't you guys see that stunning CG? This is clearly a triumph of beasts and roses, qwq."

    "Being a silent guardian is cute, but sorry, I'm a villain at heart. I just want to see an upright investigator being messed up, especially when Albert, during a player battle, watches as Mystic University is about to crumble and is forced to surrender to an evil deity, offering his body and soul."

    "Alright, we're doing it for that tonight."

    Lahn had no idea that the players had concocted such bizarre scenarios in their minds. He looked at the corpse on the ground, pondering what the deceased's objective could have been.

    "Albert, were you followed after your escape?"

    "No, my lord. I am quite certain."

    "Is that so." Lahn stroked his chin, eyelids lowered as he pondered. He turned to the dazed Justice Is In The Face and called her by name. "Loreta?"

    Lahn was addressing Justice Is In The Face's character card name.

    "Ahh, NTR... No, I mean, Lord Lane!" Justice Is Beauty wiped away the tears that nearly spilled from the corners of her eyes.

    "I'm not Lane. I'm Ian, Ian Pan," Lane replied calmly, without lying, for this was indeed the name of his Incarnation.

    "Alright, Lord Ian," Justice Is Beauty readily adapted, understanding that Lane needed to keep his identity hidden.

    Gazing into Justice Is Beauty's gleaming eyes, Lane inquired, "Has there been any development at the Audit Bureau today?"

    "Well, everything's in chaos," she sighed. "Lady Judith is still there, trying to maintain order."

    "Hmm," Lane murmured thoughtfully.

    Scanning the live chat, Justice Is Beauty mustered up the courage to ask, "L-Lord Ian, why did you come to the Audit Bureau?"

    Lane gave Justice Is Beauty a faint smile, aware that she was probing for information as per the chat's requests. Conveniently, there were some details he needed to convey to the players.

    "Of course, to avenge the innocent believers who lost their lives," Lane said. "I can't possibly ignore it when another faction wreaks havoc on my own turf."

    "Woohoo, I knew Lane would stand up for us!"

    "Thank you, dear wife."

    "I was clearly doing that for Nigh and the others... hhhh."

    "Well then, it was worth tearing up the card. Though I didn't enter the cathedral, my Lord is worried about me, cares for me – in short, he loves me."

    "Drag that person upstairs."

    "No way, do you guys actually believe the words of an evil god? There must be a deeper secret behind his arrival!"

    "After those two previous main storylines, don't you know what evil gods are like? He's surely here to scheme against the Bureau of Investigation."

    "That doesn't matter to me. At least he's taking out his anger on them."

    The supporters of Dihua and Lane were arguing fiercely in the chat, but one thing they all agreed on was that Lane's intentions couldn't be that straightforward.

    Confused by the flood of speculations in the chat, Justice Is Appearance asked cautiously, "So the chaos in the Bureau of Investigation today is because..."

    Lane didn't reply directly; his smile already spoke volumes.

    Encouraged, Justice Is All said eagerly, "I – I mean, we're also investigating the Chief Inspector. We're fairly certain that the Bureau's strange replacements are linked to him. We..."

    "Shh," Lane held up a finger to his lips. "Don't jump to conclusions so quickly."

    "The truth is still shrouded in mystery. The Chief Inspector isn't the only force within the Bureau."

    With that bombshell dropped, Justice Is All's mind buzzed, and the chat exploded with questions. Just as he was about to inquire further, Albert in front of Lane suddenly vanished.

    Lane then handed half a glass bottle to Justice Is All, who stared at it in confusion.

    "Ian! Loreta!"

    Judith's voice came from behind them. Justice Is All turned, startled. "Ms. Judith? Shouldn't you be at the Bureau?"

    "I was told my house was on fire, so I temporarily left my work to my subordinates," Judith panted, clearly having rushed over. It was evident she had been searching the apartment complex since arriving, and if not for the raging flames already engulfing the building, she might have charged inside.

    Noticing the fallen body, her expression turned sharp. "What happened here?"

    Lane pointed at the glass bottle in Justice Is All's hand. "I was at home when the fire broke out, so I had to escape. Then, this person suddenly attacked me. Thanks to Loreta's timely arrival and her use of a Molotov cocktail, we managed to survive."

    Justice's Face froze for a moment before realizing that Lane intended to conceal Albert's existence. "Yes, the situation was too perilous. We had no other choice but to do that. I apologize."

    Judith shook her head. "As long as you two are safe."

    She squatted down, embracing both Justice's Face and Lane, holding their heads in her palms. "I can't imagine what would have happened if something went wrong. Leave it to me now. I'll get to the bottom of this matter."

    After pulling away, Lane saw a flash of anger and sharpness in Judith's eyes, knowing that someone was in for trouble.

    But... Was the attacker's motive for targeting Lane really that straightforward?

    Judith quickly arranged for the bodies to be cleared away, as they were the only evidence at hand. She decided to supervise the entire forensic examination process personally to ensure no one tampered with it. After watching the corpses being loaded onto the vehicle, the three of them got into another car.

    To be honest, it was quite eerie to sit on either side of a car with a corpse in the middle. However, both Judith and Lane remained composed, and Justice's Face gradually grew accustomed to it. On the way to the bureau, he struck up a conversation to pass the time.

    "By the way, have there been any developments in the investigation regarding that investigator who was replaced by a creature?" asked Justice's Face, remembering the matter from the chat messages.

    "In fact, I was just about to discuss that with you," said Judith. "There doesn't seem to be any direct evidence suggesting that the person was replaced by a creature."

    "What?!" Justice Is Beauty was stunned. "Is this person truly no different from before?"

    "There have been changes, but subtle shifts in personality aren't strong enough to serve as 'evidence.' Given our unique occupation, it's not uncommon for investigators to undergo significant changes in character due to the aftereffects of their missions."

    "No, I'm talking about changes in abilities or memories," Justice Is Beauty said, glancing at the live chat.

    "There haven't been any changes in abilities. Take the investigator we found earlier, for example. His Origin Ability used to be 'Treasure Hunter,' which leaned more towards exploration. It hasn't changed now, but perhaps due to the aftereffects of previous missions, he's gradually stepped back from the front lines and now mainly does desk work. He has few friends. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I too would have found it hard to believe he had been replaced," Judith said solemnly.

    "Huh? His ability hasn't changed?" Justice Is Beauty was taken aback.

    "Correct," Judith sighed deeply. "In the Inspectorate, everyone knows that Origin Abilities act like a sort of identity card. It's impossible for two people to have identical abilities. Thus, even if I argue that this person has been replaced by something strange, few would take me seriously without decisive evidence."

    Evidence... This was also a problem for Lane. Lowering his gaze, he pondered, then suddenly, his pupils widened as he stared at the hand hanging off the stretcher.

    "Doesn't physical transformation count?" Justice Is Beauty asked.

    "In fact..." Judith hesitated but steeled herself to share the information. "When an investigator delves deep into the Gap of Dreams and crosses a certain threshold, their body will gradually transform. Especially if they encounter evil gods or become contaminated during their investigation, various issues can arise. However, bodily transformation alone doesn't qualify as evidence."

    Black Cat: "Something's off. I've discussed Job's situation with Alders and Professor Alexis. That anomaly inside him was once a friend of Professor Alexis. Its power is said to be healing. If anomalies replace humans, they should replace the human soul, given that Origin Abilities are equivalent to the soul's genes. Each person is unique, so if an anomaly replaces a human, its Origin Ability should change as well."

    Druid: "Perhaps it's the doing of whoever's behind this? If every replaced investigator had a different Origin Ability, it would be too conspicuous."

    Black Cat: "That's true. Judith mentioned that the abilities of the replaced individuals remained the same. So, what about Job?"

    "Could it be that Job was an early attempt, thus he's 'imperfect'?"

    Black Cat: "Worth investigating."

    Lane suddenly spoke up. "What if we consider the corpse?"

    With astonishment on their faces, he lifted the white sheet covering the corpse. The body beneath had contorted into an unrecognizable form, likely due to a burned face stretched into a bestial savagery. The body had collapsed, appearing boneless.

    Both of them gasped. At that moment, Judith noticed red bulges under the corpse's skin.

    Judith immediately pressed both of them to the ground. In the next instant, the corpse on the stretcher spontaneously ignited, the flames an eerie black and not touching anything nearby. After completely consuming the body, the flames vanished in less than five seconds.

    On the stretcher, only black ashes remained, with nothing else left behind.

    Lance cast a glance at Judith, whose expression was the epitome of misery.

    ......

    Meanwhile, within the inner hospital, the Doctor gazed at the slip of paper that had suddenly burst into black flames, softly sighing, "It didn't work."

    The assassin was dispatched by the Doctor, with the intent to take Lane's life.

    He was unaware of the identity of the red-haired youth, but there were informants of Hans within the inspection bureau. From the moment Judith brought Lann to the bureau, the doctor became aware of the other party's presence and also perceived the sudden change in Judith's actions, which was due to this red-haired youth.

    "Seems like you're rather disappointed," another voice echoed in the laboratory. Kri, clad in a lab coat, lounged lazily in a chair. His attire was not too different from what he wore in the Divine Realm, save for the electronic shackles on his wrists and ankles.

    Kri's return had been ill-timed. The Audit Bureau had been in disarray the previous night, with many issues left unresolved. Furthermore, an entire team had gone out on the mission, yet only he had returned safely. It was clear that something was amiss. As a result, Kri was promptly confined to isolation. It was only through the Doctor's authority that he was extracted.

    But it didn't matter. Kri had intentionally returned, knowing he would be released. His relationship with the Doctor had been fairly amicable in the past.

    "Yes, I don't think I have the knack for cunning schemes," the Doctor complained to Kri. "I still prefer the quiet life of research. I imagine you feel the same, don't you?"

    "Umm." Kerry didn't deny it, rubbing his head instead. "But it's not easy."

    "Indeed, it's too difficult. There's always something getting in the way of our quiet research," the Doctor said, setting down the note he was holding and approaching Kerry with interest. "Why did you choose to come back here? I thought you wouldn't return after this trip."

    "Hmm, there were many reasons," Kerry said, jingling his shackled ankles. "If I had known it would end up like this, I wouldn't have come back."

    "Haha, it's too late for regrets now," the Doctor chuckled, a sharp glint flashing in his eyes. "But I can assure your release."

    Here it comes, Kerry thought.

    "What will the price be?"

    "Nothing at all."

    Kerry looked at the Doctor silently, his skepticism evident in his eyes.

    The Doctor chuckled. "This isn't a transaction, Kerry. I just want to help you break free from these constraints... Your talents shouldn't be confined to this place. You should have a broader stage."

    Kerry was puzzled. He lowered his head and tapped the ground beneath his feet. "Isn't this space big enough?"

    Though the Audit Bureau wasn't a specialized research institution, it was never short of advanced equipment and ample funding. That was precisely why Crey had chosen to join the bureau.

    "The stage here is insufficient. Compared to the real stage, this is merely the view from a well!" The doctor suddenly raised his voice, a flicker of fervor flashing in his eyes. But before Crey could become too wary, he composed himself once more.

    "You sound like a cultist trying to recruit," Crey said with a hint of jest.

    The doctor's smile held a tinge of disdain. "A cultist, huh... Crey, do you know how a cult is defined?"

    "A religion that follows non-conventional teachings and poses harm to society and humanity."

    "But who gets to define what's mainstream? If we're talking about persecution, who has inflicted more harm than Christianity during the Middle Ages?"

    Crey fell silent for a moment. The doctor didn't expect an answer and continued, "All the cults combined haven't persecuted as many people as those so-called orthodox religions have... You might not resonate with that example, so let's bring it closer to home. Do you know why the Secretary's Office folks idolize the Director so much?"

    This was something Crey had been curious about as well. The Secretary's Office staff practically worshiped the Director.

    "It's simple. They believe that the Director will be the savior of humanity, leading us to redemption when the final calamity strikes."

    Crey: "...The final calamity? You guys actually believe that?"

    "I can read your expression, wondering 'How is this different from a cult?'" The doctor smiled, but in the next instant, all expression vanished from his face, leaving it grave and eerie. "But, this is the truth."

    At that moment, Kerry noticed a peculiar gleam in the doctor's eyes as he reached a crucial point in his story. Silently, Kerry rubbed his arm.

    Beneath his skin lay a Sound Retaining Flower, one of the plants cultivated by Lane using Spirit Seeds. It functioned like a tape recorder, undetectable by electronic means, and its effectiveness was not hindered even by flesh and blood.

    Kerry felt that the doctor would soon reveal his true plan.

    The question was, would he still have a chance to leave after hearing it? The doctor's brazenness, pulling him out of the Bureau on his first day back and divulging so many plans before him, suggested that the doctor wasn't foolish; rather, he was confident in turning Kerry to his side.

    "Spirit Gap, how many layers have you breached?" The doctor suddenly asked an unrelated question.

    "The... third layer," Kerry replied.

    "Not bad progress," the doctor said with a smile. "You're familiar with the Secretary's selection criteria, I assume?"

    "Yes, usually from senior investigators."

    "No, more specifically, from those who have entered the third layer and are on the verge of unlocking the fourth."

    Kerry's expression gradually turned incredulous. "The Secretary's people...?"

    "Most of them are investigators from the fourth tier or above. There are exceptions, but those usually have unique origin abilities that allow them to join despite the rules," the doctor explained. "Aren't you curious? Everyone knows that the Secretary's people are loyal to the Director, but before they joined, they were all seasoned investigators. Their resolve had been tempered by countless missions to be harder than steel. Yet, it was precisely this group that developed a new faith soon after joining the Secretary's office – the Director himself. They willingly became his hounds."

    "All of this stems from the Fourth Layer of the Rift of Dreams."

    Kerry didn't notice the doctor's approach until it was too late. The doctor plunged the syringe into Kerry's arm with a surprising strength for an elderly man. Frenzy flickered across his face. "Of course, we are nothing like those hounds. Our Lord is the one true savior of the world, and soon, you will become one of us."

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