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    Chapter 145

    Of course, Lane had seen PV3 as well. At the time, he was preoccupied with dealing with the angel and didn't have the chance to observe what the players were doing. Intrigued by the PV, he clicked on it.

    PV3 began with an ancient scene from thousands of years ago. Thirteen figures, seemingly deities, clad in white robes akin to those of ancient Greece, were depicted. The camera captured their backs or just below their chins, obscuring their faces. The leader of these deities handed a box-sized object to a human dressed in linen.

    "In here lies the pact between us and your kind."

    "One day, when the box is opened, humanity will return once more..."

    The subsequent words were indistinct, and the scene swiftly transitioned to modern times, showing the emergency in Orlandu and the descent of the angel. It served as a brief explanation of the urgency of the current situation.

    Next came an interlude explaining the Ark of the Covenant. The backdrop indicated that Kurt was describing its nature and significance to Judith. It depicted the Ark as a symbol of the broken Tower of Babel, a bridge to the heavens. If fully unlocked, it could even alter the subconscious of present-day humans, acting as the ultimate key to unlocking the human mind.

    "However, there's no need to worry. The Ark is cursed with an unbreakable curse. Anyone who touches it will soon die, making it impossible for anyone to steal it."

    Just as Kurt confidently made this statement, the scene changed, showing the astonishment of the Audit Bureau agents as they stared at an empty box.

    The live stream was filled with laughter.

    "Can you do it again? That 'no one can steal it' part?"

    "This scene reminds me of some classic thief movies, hahaha!"

    "Well done, Saint Thief! You did fantastically!"

    "No skill or profession is useless; this is the moment when Dextrous Hands shines!"

    It was the player named Saint Thief who had outwitted the investigators and escaped the room. Of course, the investigators were no pushovers and quickly reacted, chasing after him and cornering him in the bathroom.

    With the tense background music, the watching players felt as if they were right there with Saint Thief, experiencing his desperate situation. They held their breath, awaiting the final, desperate struggle.

    There was a knock on the bathroom door, and an angelic voice echoed from outside:

    "I'm here to take over."

    "Ahhhhhh! Even though I've seen this moment in Saint Thief's live stream, hearing it again still gets me so excited!"

    "Mad, that janitor's line was so swoon-worthy, and he didn't even realize he was being awesome!"

    "The janitor blended so perfectly with the restroom ambiance that we didn't notice him at all. That's what made the twist so captivating. I'm literally sobbing here."

    "At first, I thought the janitor's role wasn't swoon-worthy at all. My apologies for misunderstanding you, sob sob!"

    "What do you mean not swoon-worthy?! This contrast is exactly what makes it so appealing, right?!"

    "An overlooked minor character taking on the responsibility of saving the world at a critical moment – even novels wouldn't dare to write this!"

    The first leg of the relay took place in a cramped restroom, where the Saint of Thieves, having successfully passed the Ark, closed his eyes with a smile from within his stall.

    In this way, the janitor, using his appearance and occupation to his advantage, deceived the Bureau once more, causing them to miss yet another clue right under their noses.

    Due to their inconspicuous attributes and some players' disinterest in the traditional investigator roles, the new players had become the least noticeable background characters within the Bureau, mere NPCs that even other players wouldn't give a second glance.

    Yet, during this relay, it was these seemingly ordinary, everyday professions, often blending into the crowd, that played the most crucial role in the operation!

    For the second leg, it was the cafeteria lady, another easily overlooked figure who, exploiting her position, used the pretext of delivering meals to busy investigators to casually leave before the cordon, hiding the Ark within her food cart.

    "Woohoo, the cafeteria auntie gave so much food to the cleaner!"

    "It's their last meal, let them have some joy."

    "What a last supper, hahaha. Honestly, is the Internal Audit Bureau's cafeteria any good?"

    "Cleaner: Delicious! (Thumbs up) I've personally verified it for you all. The last meal is especially tasty!"

    "How nice, I wish the auntie would serve me too."

    And then came the third, fourth, and more...

    The passing of the Ark was like a spark, etching brilliant trajectories by igniting the lives of each player. Even knowing that the players wouldn't truly die, the spectators couldn't help but shed tears.

    The passing of the flame symbolized the unwavering will and hope of humanity.

    The players participating in this grand event were fully immersed, as if they had truly become the cleaners, cafeteria ladies, security guards, janitors, investigators, interns hidden within the bureau...

    They were unknown, usually attracting no attention, yet they were the first to step forward in the most dangerous moments, holding onto their beliefs even if they weren't understood.

    Another scene interjected: the upper echelons of the Audit Bureau, after losing track of the Ark, sensed something amiss. A high-ranking official named Basil took control of the situation:

    "All personnel, attention. We now have an Audit Bureau emergency mission with the highest priority. Effective immediately, anyone sighted with black markings is to be shot on sight. No one is to approach them, and if any approachers attempt to leave afterwards, they are also authorized for elimination."

    The live stream's chat erupted in outrage:

    "Madness! Now I know why the Audit Bureau folks were going crazy, killing those with black markings!"

    "Look at his eyes. There's not a hint of human emotion in them! He's a freak!"

    "Wah wah wah, dying soon, gonna die! I already predicted there'd be more deaths coming!"

    The last comment was unfortunately accurate.

    After that order was given, player deaths skyrocketed. Several close calls where the transmission was nearly discovered led players to realize that the Audit Bureau was searching for marked players. As a result, to avoid detection, the frequency of the passes increased significantly.

    Cleaner and his team initially completed their exchanges within ten minutes, which was the limit for remaining undetected due to health depletion. But subsequent transfers often happened within just five minutes. However, once cursed, death was inevitable, especially for novice players who lacked resistance to such curses.

    The number of deceased players doubled.

    In the game back then, this was evident as cloud players constantly switched between live streams; there were too many deaths occurring too swiftly, leaving viewers overwhelmed and unable to react. Some players responsible for relaying information didn't even have the chance to open the streams. Among the 28 sacrifices, many never even got a chance to show their faces.

    However, in the PV, each person was given a frontal shot. Each transition showed people of different sizes and skin tones taking the Ark. The scene then turned black and white, depicting these one-time appearances as they perished at their workstations, in corners, at the end of corridors, or even smiling behind the crowd as they silently fell while watching their comrades being chased by the Bureau of Investigation.

    At this point, even the chat became silent, and the music turned somber and deep.

    It was a relay of death, yet the object being passed carried hope.

    Finally, the screen radiated hues of hope.

    This stemmed from the conversation between Tax Collector and Justice Is in the Looks on their team channel.

    Justice Is in the Looks: You know, if this plan fails, you might become the scapegoat.

    Tax Collector: Of course.

    Tax Collector: But if we continue like this, we'll eventually slip up. I don't want such a grand spectacle to end abruptly.

    Tax Collector: I need your cooperation. Let's turn this moment into a legend together.

    As soon as this conversation unfolded, the flood of comments instantly multiplied.

    "Damn... So it was all planned by the two of you! I actually thought it was an accident!"

    "Grass, me too! You guys really got us there!"

    "Justice is in the Face: Hehe, sorry for not telling you. Mainly, if we failed, I hoped the criticism would be milder (patting his belly)."

    "To be fair, you two are incredibly courageous."

    The background music also became upbeat, like a ray of light piercing through the darkness.

    When the player's attempt to pass on the mission failed and he was caught, countless gamers were anxious for him, even wishing they could take his place. But now that they realized Justice is in the Face and the Tax Inspector's plan, they could appreciate the nuances in that scene. For instance, the Tax Inspector was already near the door, and Justice is in the Face 'happened' to be nearby, conveniently receiving Judith's command to assist the audit team with the chest. Also, the Tax Inspector's acting, his conflict with Justice is in the Face, and their subtle glance at each other after their collision.

    The 'just' investigator carried the box towards the audit department, while the 'cowardly' government tax inspector turned his back and walked towards the exit.

    One went towards the darkness, the other towards the light, yet no one knew of their unspoken understanding and the bravery they displayed in staging such an astonishing act.

    Until the climactic revelation, when Beauty-Is-Justice's true identity is unveiled and the Ark, in its crate, vanishes without a trace. As she falls into Judith's arms, her eyes closing, her thoughts linger on whether he has succeeded in passing on the Ark.

    Judith's deft strike elicited a storm of praise from the live stream viewers. Meanwhile, the auditor was already seated in his colleague's sports car, leaving the Revenue Service building, where most of his companions had met their end, far behind.

    It was as if they had traversed the darkness, like a flame being passed from one hand to another, ultimately piercing through the veil of the night's gloom.

    Superb editing skills make the sequence resemble a heart-stirring movie, heightening the suspense to its peak as the sports car is struck by the meteorite.

    Finally, the grand event concluded with a timeless depiction of the union between humanity and the divine, encapsulating the essence of the entire spectacle.

    The scene of the tax collector handing over the Ark to Lane somehow echoed the initial moment when the divine being had entrusted the Ark to humanity – a cycle of beginning and end, a thousand-year pact, finally reaching its conclusion in this instant.

    "It's like that iconic painting, 'The Hand of God'!"

    "Upstairs, you read my mind!"

    "So epic, ohhh... it's flawless!"

    "Well played, no wonder the officials were eager to turn this into an animation. This is going to blow up beyond their circle!"

    "Newbies are amazing!"

    "You guys are seriously new? Sobs, newcomers are monsters. While I'm struggling to enter the cathedral, a bunch of fresh players have already made it in."

    "Beauty is Justice: Hehe, not that great (dog head with a rose in its mouth)."

    "This scene rivals the mighty deeds of God on Earth last time. No, in terms of scale and epicness, you've already won!"

    "Laughing to death, what's wrong with God on Earth's feat?"

    "I know, the big shot should return to Earth in seven days to give the native NPCs a little Jesus shock (dog head)."

    "God on Earth: Ah... Why didn't I think of that?"

    "Nights: Hahaha, you're not cunning enough yet, big shot. Let's continue being mischievous together and come up with more tricky moves!"

    "Druid: Hey, don't corrupt the big shot, you guys!"

    "Uncle Hao: Does the big shot need us to corrupt them? They were already ruined long ago (dog head)."

    Baba: Any rational person would never conceive of staging a democratic movement. (Absolutely sure)

    The screen had already gone dark, yet players continued to exchange playful comments through barrages, finding solace in this shared experience to ease their pent-up excitement. Just as the players were about to log out, the screen illuminated once more.

    "Question mark?"

    "Oh, well,"

    "Oh, I remember now! It's an Easter egg, just like the first main quest before!"

    "Is that to say, it's a clue for the next main storyline? (Rubbing hands together)"

    As the players had anticipated, the illuminated scene was the very one that Crey had witnessed within the Rift of Dreams previously.

    Amidst the cataclysm of heaven and earth, at the final feast, a deity consumed the ancient gods and ascended their thrones, becoming the true 'God'.

    A series of mythical allusions, coupled with the hints from the previous two timelines, promptly led the players to guess which boss they would be tackling in the upcoming main storyline!

    In the next instant, the scene transformed yet again, revealing a brand-new map this time.

    This was a world both alien and familiar, with a crimson moon hanging high in the sky, a pitch-black ground devoid of any sign of life, a perpetual mist shrouding the heavens, and bizarre creatures and flora sporadically emerging on the land.

    In short, it was a surreal realm utterly distinct from reality.

    The view pulled back to reveal a planet strikingly similar to Earth, yet its continental plates were identical to the current ones but drenched in a kaleidoscope of hues, bizarre and fantastical. Most of the terrain was a vibrant black, veiled by the fog, with only a few areas appearing somewhat harmonious.

    The scene shifted again, this time to a palace resembling an ancient Egyptian temple. A black cat leaped inside and addressed the deity statue, "He has revealed Himself."

    A similar scene unfolded on an island high above: a creature resembling an angel at first glance, but mostly bird-like, asked a presence in the skies, "Shall we act?"

    "No rush..."

    An odd language echoed from the image, causing a slight discomfort among the players. Thankfully, subtitles translated the dialogue.

    "The Messenger is likely to arrive soon," the divine statue within the palace said.

    "I await Him. If He is indeed this world's final savior... or the last straw that breaks it," a vague voice spoke from the ethereal heights.

    Finally, the screen went dark, this time for good.

    Yet it was enough to spark discussions among the players.

    Little E: Wow, too much information!

    Dawn Rain: Impressive. With doomsday, world lines, and this new PV, my brain is officially overwhelmed. Aba aba.

    Baldy: Waiting for an external brain to analyze this.

    Matcha Milk Green: I'll tag Black Cat for you all. @Black Cat.

    Druid: Hilarious. I bet Black Cat is currently rushing to revise their post right now.

    God on Earth: Sympathy.jpg

    Taxman: Sympathy.jpg

    Black Cat: Here I am! I've finally finished editing! Everyone, just jump straight to the post!

    "Analyzing the Next Main Plot Thread from the Fate Line and New PV"

    Shake Off Your Worries: First!

    Too Flashy Venus: Master Ball!

    Cake is Innocent: Catch the Black Cat in Front!

    Black Cat: Well, let's discuss the series of clues that have been revealed. Honestly, there was so much information in the plot animation that it took me a while to sort through it all (exhausted).

    Desperately Want to Be a Nuclear Power Plant: Hard work, big shot.

    I'm Glasses P: Serving tea to Black Cat.jpg

    Pellup: Massaging the big shot's shoulders.

    Black Cat: Alright, let's get down to business. Let's start by analyzing the fate lines from different worlds. When we were on the main quest, everyone fell into a coma and entered a dark space. Doesn't that scene seem familiar? We experienced something similar during our first main storyline.

    Black Cat's first remark highlighted a detail that most players had overlooked, causing Lane to curve his lips slightly.

    Druid: Hmm, I didn't really notice that. I thought it was an ability of the angel's.

    Black Cat: Mmm, indeed, this is the power of an angel, to plunge everyone into a dream. Don't you find it eerily familiar, considering Len demonstrated something similar before?

    Matcha Milk Green: Eh, but, but surely this wasn't done by Len, right?

    Black Cat: Of course not. What I mean is that before disappearing, the angel had to draw everyone into a dream, and then 'Jesus' would make an appearance. Doesn't this scenario seem déjà vu?

    God Among Men: You're suggesting that the angel's pronouncement on Earth was setting the stage for the entity behind it, the 'God'?

    Black Cat: Exactly. This malevolent deity descended in the guise of the angel Gabriel. In lore, Gabriel is God's messenger, who announced Jesus' arrival and sounded the trumpet of the apocalypse. This scene aligns with the image of Jesus we encountered when we first entered the dream.

    Black Cat: Initially, I wasn't certain about its meaning, but after seeing the later timelines and the PV's Easter eggs, I'm convinced that the angel was foretelling the impending apocalypse. The subsequent appearance of Jesus corresponds to the opening scenes of the Book of Revelation, signaling the approach of judgment day.

    Aron: Wait, I'm a bit lost here. The angel's mission was to inform humanity of the world's impending destruction? That sounds rather harmless.

    Black Cat: They wouldn't just inform us; their purpose is to plant a seed in people's minds, a seed of the angel and God!

    Black Cat: Recall when the angel first appeared, before descending. You could see how it initially bore no resemblance to an angel. It was only as more citizens and believers gathered that it took on a more complete form.

    Black Cat: Thus, I speculate that this descending angel isn't Gabriel at all, but an unknown malevolent deity in disguise! That's why it needs to announce the end times. Initially, people's faith in it was likely due to the deity's corruption and brainwashing. However, it can't brainwash every human one by one. By performing acts consistent with angelic mythology, if the disasters in these timelines are real, it validates its 'angelic' identity! Because the fact that Gabriel blows the trumpet of doom is deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness!

    "Such an approach..." Lost in thought, Lane looked at Black Cat's theory on the forum. He had also guessed the angels' purpose – to proclaim the end of days. However, with his broader knowledge, he leaned more towards the idea that they were paving the way for 'God's' descent. The notion that the angels had their own motives never crossed his mind.

    "Something on your mind?" Ogier asked, hearing Lane's muttering.

    Lane shared Black Cat's speculation with Ogier. After listening, Ogier replied, "Divine Rituals."

    "What?" Lane was taken aback.

    Ogier explained, "It actually originated from the pact between the Old Gods and their subjects. The gods would proactively perform actions that aligned with their people's wishes, thereby strengthening their faith and, in turn, granting the gods more power. When these events were woven into orthodox myths, they became unique rituals."

    "The gods should embody their myths. Their actions in accordance with the myth are grand rituals – replicating miracles and replaying myths, thus earning the faith within their subjects' hearts."

    Lane was dumbfounded. "Wait, didn't you say that modern myths don't have a central deity?"

    "That's right," Ogier said innocently. "When humans were still Complete Beings, the process of weaving myths and rituals was akin to a form of worship or a game between the Old Gods and their lords."

    Wow, they were quite sophisticated back then, huh?

    "In modern myths, there is still a connection to the Old Gods in the Dream World. For example, your identity as a Shepherd – the existence of the Shepherd came first, followed by the subjects crafting a myth based on the Shepherd's abilities. When Complete Beings evolved into humans, these ancient tales left an imprint in our souls. Humans then adapted them, turning them into the myths we know today," Ogier explained.

    "Wait a moment, let me sort this out." Lane put a hand to his forehead. "The Dreamworld's Pan is actually the origin of the Greek god Pan, but due to various adaptations, it has become detached from its original form? Is that what you're saying?"

    Ogar nodded. "His abilities and certain stories aren't too different. Perhaps it's because the previous Pan was quite benevolent towards his subjects, often engaging in pretend games with them."

    Lane recalled the lascivious feats of the Greek Pan and couldn't help but be ambiguous about this 'pretend game' reality.

    Regardless, he finally grasped the principle behind God's 'incarnation through proxy.' No wonder the angel had aided God before disappearing. Initially, Lane thought this indicated that 'Judas' held a high position in the pantheon of evil gods after betraying the old ones.

    But now, it seemed that it might have been due to shared interests that the unknown angelic deity had cooperated so willingly.

    "Wait," Lane suddenly remembered something. "Can I also use this rite?"

    Though not as famous as God, Pan still had considerable recognition. If expanding his divine realm wasn't feasible for the time being, this could be another path to strengthen himself.

    With 'Judas' threat looming, even Ogar's reassurance didn't alleviate Lane's sense of urgency. He desperately needed to grow stronger.

    "Of course," Ogar said, then hesitated. "But, you'd have to perform it before all of humanity. Are you sure about that?"

    Lane pondered the myth of Pan, and his mood soured.

    "…Perhaps it's best not to pursue that."

    Better to obediently focus on finding a way to lift the seal on the Ark.


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