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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 129 - The Ark?

    Lane frowned slightly as he listened to Crey's report on the intelligence.

    The Ark, in a general sense, referred to the covenant made between God and the Israelites. It was a chest that contained the contract between God and the Israelites.

    But wasn't this artifact lost long ago? In both this world and his previous life, the Ark had disappeared into the depths of history.

    Didn't everyone believe that God was just a legend, a religious fantasy created by humans? So what did this 'Ark' refer to here? Since they specifically called it an 'Ark', there must be some symbolic meaning behind it.

    Lane pondered over this for a while but couldn't figure it out. He then recalled the scene in Crey's dream fragment that he had previously shared.

    The stars aligning, the arrival of doomsday—this was quite fitting for a Cthulhu-themed world.

    But what about the long table, the angels, and God that suddenly appeared later?

    Thirteen chairs, a long table, and a meal—it was eerily reminiscent of the famous painting, "The Last Supper."

    This reminded Lane of the message Fate left behind before its retreat from his consciousness.

    Perhaps Judas wasn't referring to a traitor within their ranks but to this very scene? Could Judas have been pointing at one of the unspeakable entities seated at the table? The one who would soon become Jesus, replacing God, the deity seeking to supplant the Almighty?

    With this information in mind, Lane rose from the table and noticed that he was now alone in the office.

    Wait, where did the players go?

    Lane paused, quickly opening the forum to check if anything had transpired.

    Druid: That attacker, the vanished corpse—it must be some mechanism for erasing evidence.

    Black Cat: Yeah, it's obvious. Too bad, we just discovered a trait that distinguishes the strange from humans.

    Matcha Milk Green: No recordings or witnesses?

    Looks Matter: It happened so suddenly, no time. I'll try next time.

    These lines capture the context and maintain the original meaning while translating into a more elegant English prose.

    Black Cat: No rush. This incident didn't happen without leaving any clues.

    Black Cat: Let's ponder why the anomaly targeted Lane and what their purpose was. What benefit would it bring to the person behind the scenes?

    Druid: Their goal must be to eliminate Lane. They probably don't know his true identity and assume he's just an ordinary person.

    Black Cat: So, why do they want to kill Lane?

    Insane: Judith, wasn't it? His superior with the 'looks matter' mindset. Didn't she say that Lane is a key witness against the Secretariat? It's clear that the Secretariat could be the culprit, trying to destroy evidence.

    Black Cat: I suppose Judith thinks along those lines too.

    Black Cat: But is it really that simple? Isn't it too obvious? I suspect the Doctor more than the Secretariat.

    Black Cat: Remember the hints Lane gave us before. If the Doctor truly represents a third force within the Inspectorate, what's his objective? Wouldn't it benefit him to provoke a conflict between the Secretariat and the traditional investigators represented by Judith?

    Detective Supreme: I don't think so. Your conjecture contains too much subjectivity. There's no direct evidence yet that proves the Doctor is the one behind the anomalies replacing humans. The Secretariat remains a suspect as well.

    Ultimate Guy: It feels like there's still a lot hidden beneath the surface. Hmm, we lack information.

    Black Cat: Let's put aside for now who might be behind this incident and focus on the information we can gather. Job seems to be a key point of entry. According to Judith's account, all the humans replaced by anomalies appear to be similar to their original selves, at least in terms of abilities. No two origin abilities are the same. But Job's case is different. Either he himself is unique, or he was an early test subject, which explains his situation.

    Black Cat: Just like a serial killer, the earlier cases often reveal mistakes or clues left behind.

    Matcha Milk Green: If only we knew when Job awakened his ability.

    Security Uncle: I actually have some information on that.

    Justice Is in the Appearance: How do you know?

    Security Uncle: Standing guard can get pretty boring, and other guards often gossip. I managed to extract some info through casual conversation. By the way, many of the security guards, janitors, and other support staff here are relatives of investigators or families of deceased ones. They know a thing or two about the underworld. It took me quite an effort (gesturing at his supply of cigarettes and alcohol) to become friendly with them.

    Security Uncle: Job is quite well-known among the investigators. He's been around for a long time. The uncle I chat with likes to brag, saying he saw potential in Job from the start. He mentioned that Job used to be just an ordinary investigator, a disposable one, if you will. The guards didn't think he'd last long. Then one day, after he returned from a 'business trip,' he suddenly awakened a healing origin ability and shot up the ranks.

    Black Cat: Did they mention which case it was?

    Security Uncle: They don't know the specifics. From what the guards said, Job came back from his 'trip' seven years ago or so, and he wasn't the same after that.

    Everything is Vanity: Alright, leave it to me. I'm already looking into it.

    As the main quest kicked in, players scattered across different areas also flocked to the Bureau of Investigation. Among them, Everything's Vanity was relatively close by and returned promptly. While watching Justice Is Skin-Deep's live stream earlier, he immediately sensed something amiss with Job, so he quietly left his workstation and sneaked into the bureau's archive room.

    It wasn't really sneaking; he just didn't take the official route. Normally, investigators' cases were classified according to levels, and accessing files required an application. However, players eager to investigate and earn accolades had no time for such formalities. Seizing the opportunity when the administrator stepped out to use the restroom, Everything's Vanity rolled for Stealth and Lock Picking, successfully entering the archive.

    Cases handled by the investigators were organized chronologically and by team leader (the head of the investigation squad). Everything's Vanity rolled for "Library" and, amidst the vast array of documents, successfully found the cases Job had been involved in.

    Lady Luck was on his side today! He succeeded in three consecutive dice rolls.

    Envisioning the high contribution points awaiting him, Everything's Vanity hummed cheerfully as he scanned through the files.

    "I need to find... where Job's awakening incident is recorded."

    Job was a seasoned investigator at the bureau and had participated in numerous cases. Everything's Vanity tried to flip through the earlier records, but perhaps his luck for the day had run out, as several Library rolls failed.

    As the minutes ticked away, beads of sweat formed on Everything's Vanity's forehead, considering the possibility of the administrator returning at any moment. Fortunately, his third roll was successful.

    "Library: Success"

    His finger touched a case file, which he promptly pulled out.

    The case in question occurred quite some time ago, seven years to be precise, and its content holds little relevance for discussion now. It was a routine investigation, but unfortunately, it ended tragically when the cultists sacrificed themselves to summon a high-ranking anomaly, resulting in the annihilation of Job's team; all members perished except for Job himself.

    It's worth mentioning that, alongside the investigative team, researchers were also involved in this mission, led by Dr. Hans. They seemed to be studying the magnetic field in the vicinity of the assignment location.

    Realizing this might be the evidence sought after on the forum, Cloudy promptly took a picture using the game's built-in feature. At that moment, faint footsteps echoed from the corridor outside, suggesting that the administrator might have returned.

    Hastily, Cloudy hid behind a cabinet in the corner of the archive room with the document in hand. The administrator closed the door upon entering, and Cloudy could hear the sound of a chair being pulled out, indicating that the administrator was unaware of the intrusion.

    Relieved, Cloudy knew they'd have to wait until the administrator left for the day to escape unnoticed. Seated cross-legged on the floor, Cloudy logged into the forum.

    Cloudy: I've obtained some intel.

    Cloudy: Image.jpg

    Druid: ! Well done!

    Black Cat: Hm, the doctor was part of it too? I wouldn't believe there's no foul play here. Great work! This pretty much confirms that the doctor was behind the experiment replacing humans with anomalies.

    Black Cat: Now, we just need to investigate other cases involving the doctor or researchers who had contact with him. That should give us a general idea of the scope of humans who have been replaced by anomalies!

    Drifting Cloud: Hehe, once this administrator leaves, I'll continue searching. Maybe I'll find more.

    Black Cat: Administrator... You'd better be careful then.

    Drifting Cloud: What's wrong?

    Black Cat: If I were to replace humans with anomalies, I'd target those in higher positions and those with crucial roles. The archive librarian would certainly be one of them. If the Doctor isn't foolish, they'd know that exposure is inevitable. Where would an investigator who senses something amiss start their investigation?

    Drifting Cloud's smile froze as he immediately attempted to Listen In. Unfortunately, he failed.

    Hearing nothing, Drifting Cloud couldn't help but imagine what was happening outside. Was the administrator doing something suspicious? Had they already discovered the anomaly?

    After much internal struggle, Drifting Cloud decided to check for his own peace of mind. He cautiously poked his head out, only to be horrified by the empty seat of the administrator.

    His mind buzzed. Could it be that the person who entered wasn't the administrator? That can't be right, I clearly heard someone come in.

    Suddenly, a cold drop of liquid landed on his neck. Drifting Cloud instinctively looked up at the ceiling.

    A creature, two or three meters long, with a limp body dangled from the ceiling. Its wide, salivating mouth fixated greedily upon him.

    The usernames in the forum began to flood in, but despite Black Cat's repeated mentions of Floating Clouds, there was no response.

    Strongest Man: "It's over, we're doomed."

    Druid: "Wow, your jinx hit the mark, @Black Cat."

    Black Cat: "I didn't mean to be a doomsayer (feeling guilty)."

    After some time, a barrage of bad news arrived. Players who were also investigating the strange substitution incidents started dying one after another. Complaints on the forum began to multiply.

    100% Great Success: Wow, so terrifying. I was just casually chatting with a teammate from the investigation squad, trying to inquire if there were any drastically changed personalities within the organization. Suddenly, she got suspicious and eliminated me! Qwq

    Lucky Kitten: Same here... My nerves are on edge.

    Everything's Over: Is everyone gone? Well, I guess I'm in the same boat.

    Major Failure & Team Wipeout: It was just too sudden. I barely hinted at the idea of investigating, and my senior mentor immediately took me out. Who could accept that?

    DDL, Get Out of My Way: This game is too tough, isn't it? I feel like it's over before it even began. Damn, I worked hard to infiltrate the inspection bureau, not to get killed in the opening scene!

    Matcha Milk Green: That's why they say this main storyline is challenging… But there's nothing we can do. Your side has mostly new players, and their character cards aren't very strong.

    Lann enthusiastically suggests: So, any insights from the veteran players on this?

    Matcha Milk Green: ...Ahem, I wasn't involved.

    The Strongest Man: What's going on? Are there really that many anomalies within the Bureau of Investigation?

    Black Cat: Not good... We need to pause the investigation. Too many of us have been exposed. Doctor will surely notice another force looking into the replacement incidents.

    Majority Rules: Isn't that perfect? We can set up a target, send out an investigator to draw Doctor's attention, and record his demise as evidence.

    Not Crazy: It's a strategy worth considering.

    Black Cat: No, I'm afraid they'll react before we can even start this plan. If his goal is truly to pit the Secretary's Office against Judith, he won't let this opportunity slip.

    Justice by Appearance initially wanted to team up with the new players within the Bureau for the investigation. However, Black Cat advised against it. Doing so would expose the players from the shadows. While factions were common within the Bureau, it was a tumultuous time, and Black Cat feared the Doctor might shift the blame onto the players.

    Justice by Appearance was worried. Would this mean the players couldn't do anything at all? They couldn't investigate openly without risking being silenced by unseen forces. Yet, if they didn't investigate, could they just stand idly by?

    Veteran players were stirring in the forums, having already made their way from Arkham. Justice by Appearance checked the small group they had initially formed, feeling disheartened. It wasn't that they were against letting the old players take on quests, but their initial goal was to give these deceitful players a good kick in the rear!

    Considering that new players currently held an advantage in the Audit Bureau, with many having legitimate identities there, it would be embarrassing if they didn't achieve anything significant before the veterans arrived and took the lead. Wouldn't that make them appear useless?

    Just then, a player who rarely spoke in the group sent her a private message.

    Tax Inspector: I heard you're now Assistant to Ms. Judith? Do you have any means of obtaining the Audit Bureau's records? You don't need all of them, just a portion.

    Justice by Appearance: I'm not from the finance department, but our office is close to theirs. So, there might be a slim chance.

    Tax Inspector: Great. Could you possibly sneak out their records for me?

    Justice by Appearance: I could, but isn't this the wrong time for that?

    Justice by Appearance tried to hint subtly. They were pushing the main storyline, after all. Couldn't this fellow distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate actions?

    Tax Inspector: It's precisely for pushing the main storyline. I have a way to bring them to justice.

    Justice by Appearance: ?

    ...

    Soon, a new incident unfolded.

    There was a fire in the Audit Bureau's archives.

    "We've had over seven employees go missing in the past two days," Dr. said solemnly to Judith as they stood amidst the efforts to extinguish the flames. He handed her photos of the deceased player investigators. "Before they vanished, it seems they were looking into some bizarre occurrences, almost as if they suspected an anomaly had infiltrated our ranks."

    Judith took the pictures of the players, most of whom were intern investigators yet to be fully appointed. She had a favorable impression of these young individuals; although somewhat eccentric, they were enthusiastic about their missions and fearless in the face of death.

    Yet, these vibrant lives had been cut short, not during a mission, but at the hands of their own people.

    Judith's nails dug into the photographs, her gaze darkening. "Doctor, have you found anything?"

    The doctor hesitated before speaking. "I'm not entirely sure..."

    "It's alright, go on," Judith encouraged.

    "A security camera tape captured one of the perpetrators... He's from the Secretariat."

    The doctor appeared deeply conflicted as he approached Judith, placing the tape gently into her palm. "It could also be a ploy to divert suspicion elsewhere. I advise you to verify if this tape has been tampered with. Regardless, please approach this sensibly and avoid rash actions."

    Judith took the tape expressionlessly. "I'll examine the evidence thoroughly."

    She turned and left without committing to the doctor's request not to confront them. The doctor's lips curved upward unseen behind her.

    Yes, indeed, it needed to be examined carefully.

    But the tape was unaltered; the doctor had not interfered. Once Judith viewed its contents, she would see that one of the players was eliminated by Horace, a member of the Secretariat, and in his altered state.

    Correct, this Secretariat member was also one of the doctor's planted agents from years ago. He had countless others like this within the Inspectorate, from the imperfect Job seven years ago to the seemingly unblemished investigators, support staff, and civilians.

    Thirty percent of the Inspectorate's personnel had been quietly replaced. They were entrenched in various positions, ready to make any investigator delving into 'strangeness' vanish like so many others in Orland.

    In essence, the Inspectorate was almost under the doctor's control. Their only fear had been the Director, who held sway over the remaining seventy percent. A confrontation with the Director had always seemed hopeless.

    However, with the Director's current ambiguous status and the investigators, led by Judith, harboring resentment towards the Secretariat, there couldn't be a better moment to disrupt the Inspectorate.

    The only regret was that among the thirty percent, there was still no one with knowledge of the Ark's whereabouts. However, the Doctor was no longer in a rush. Having waited for forty years, finding information about the Ark was just a matter of time.

    If push came to shove, they could only activate that plan ahead of schedule...

    As expected, Judith flew into a rage upon viewing the contents, particularly the Doctor's orchestrated scene of the bizarre murder of an investigator.

    She promptly contacted her own team of investigators and, using the tape as an excuse, confronted the Secretariat, demanding they hand over Horace.

    "Are you insane? My people would never turn on each other," Kurt said coldly with his arms crossed.

    "Oh? So the investigator who was slaughtered did this to himself?" Judith's words were razor-sharp. "Or perhaps someone is blind and couldn't see such blatant evidence?"

    Kurt pressed his lips together. He observed the suppressed anger on the faces of the investigators standing behind Judith, feeling unusually cornered.

    He hadn't anticipated that even after removing this woman from the front lines, she could still forge alliances with so many investigators behind closed doors.

    While the Secretariat held a unique position within the Bureau, they were well aware that the investigators formed its backbone. When this force united, their voices could not be ignored.

    Kurt continued watching the tape. Indeed, Horace displayed inhuman behavior. His rank within the Secretariat wasn't high; he was merely assigned to oversee the archives. With an honest and earnest disposition, he didn't begrudge being overlooked by the Director and remained faithfully in the archives.

    In the archival footage, Horace appeared vastly different, resembling some sort of invertebrate with a neck stretched to an absurd length, coiling his body like a snake across the ceiling. Upon realizing the investigator's presence, he pounced on the unsuspecting agent.

    What followed was a grotesque massacre, the creature clearly overpowering the investigator but taking its time to do so, akin to a cat toying with its prey. It broke Cloud's limbs, forcing him to crawl and scream in agony, before silencing him by biting through his throat.

    Only when the man was near the brink of breathlessness did it finally end his life. The investigator standing behind Judith could barely bear to witness the horror.

    Kurt pondered his options. Resolving the situation peacefully seemed implausible now. Overpowering Judith's resistance was within their means, but it would only incite a more intense backlash. Sacrificing someone insignificant for such a conflict didn't make sense.

    Should they simply hand over Horace?

    "Mr. Kurt, we don't doubt your loyalty to the Bureau," the doctor said, seated at the table's center, seemingly neutral but subtly biased. "But in recent years, your members have indeed become somewhat arrogant."

    "There's been a lot of dissatisfaction within the Bureau regarding the Secretariat," he continued. "Many are advocating for the Secretariat to disclose the orders received from the Director over the years, as well as abolish the absolute secrecy surrounding Secretariat members' future tasks. Investigators are already subject to scrutiny by auditors after missions; how can the Secretariat be exempt?"

    Kurt's expression turned even colder. He rose to his feet. "There's no need to elaborate further. If you have concerns, address them to the Director."

    "Then why don't you call the Director out yourself?" Judith countered. "Why haven't we been able to contact him for so long? What has happened to him?"

    "That is not your concern to interfere with."

    As the words faded, a smile curled at the corners of the Doctor's lips, unseen by others.

    The sarcastic laughter of Doctor Devil echoed in the room.

    Judith's expression darkened. "So there's no point in discussing this?"

    Kurt realized his tone was off, but it was too late. He couldn't back down on these two points. He stiffly replied, "That depends on whether you still want to talk."

    Judith scoffed, stood up, and turned to leave. "You'll regret this."

    This marked the official breakdown between Judith and the Secretary's Office.

    The Doctor, as the root cause of all this, watched the events unfold with a subtle smile.

    He knew that the Secretary's Office would never compromise on two points: the Director, whose condition was unclear, and thus they wouldn't allow anyone into the basement; and the Secretary's mission, for a thorough investigation would expose too many secrets.

    In this game, he had emerged victorious.

    After both parties left the office, the Doctor leisurely sipped his coffee, awaiting the division within the Bureau. However, before he could finish his cup, the phone suddenly rang.

    He picked up the call, it was one of his subordinates from the research department, who spoke hastily, "Oh no, Doctor! All our funds have been frozen!"

    Doctor: "Why? What happened?"

    "It seems not just us, the Audit Bureau is in chaos right now..." The voice on the other end of the line faded as background noise increased. After five minutes, the subordinate resumed, "It's over, Doctor. We've been reported for tax evasion."

    Doctor: "...?"

    "Right now, the tax inspectors are at the Audit Bureau's entrance. They're blocking the way, not letting anyone in or out." The subordinate's voice trembled with emotion.

    Doctor: "Why are you crying? What's there to be afraid of? They're just ordinary people."

    "But, they came in tanks!"

    Doctor: "???"

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