Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 55: Suspicion
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Chapter 55: Suspicion

Translator: CKtalon

Upon hearing Jiang Baimian’s question, Shang Jianyao and Bai Chen instinctively looked at each other. However, they only saw the same confusion on each other’s faces.

Jiang Baimian propped herself up with her hands and sat up a little straighter. “Do you remember the information provided by the Ruin Hunter—Harris Brown—the bald guy?”

Jiang Baimian clearly had a good memory.

As the person involved, Shang Jianyao immediately recalled something. “Is it the warning about how humans abnormally died north of Yuelu Station?”

“Yes.” Jiang Baimian nodded solemnly. “Back then, Harris Brown said that they discovered a few corpses that recently died. There were no visible fatal wounds, but their expressions were one of pain, fear, or strange smiles.”

Bai Chen came to a realization. “Team Leader, are you saying that those people died in a dream—no, a real dream?”

Jiang Baimian tersely acknowledged it. “Think about it. I only stabbed myself in the dream, yet a corresponding red and swollen spot appeared in reality. Upon careful inspection, there is also no needle hole. Similarly, Shang Jianyao slapped himself in his dream. In reality, he also obtained a five-finger mark that swelled on his face.

“If—I mean if— a bullet hits a vital spot, one inhales a toxic gas that makes one wear a strange expression, or one suffers a sudden shock while climaxing in a dream like this, what kind of result will one have in real life?”

“They will die without any visible fatal injuries...” Shang Jianyao replied in a deep voice.

The five-fingered mark on his face was very likely a result of over-stimulation. It would subside very quickly, but once his heart stopped beating, it would never recover.

Before he could finish his sentence, Shang Jianyao suddenly stood up and returned to his sleeping bag. He put on his coat and slung the Berserker assault rifle over his shoulder. As he switched the safety off, he strode out of the tent.

Long Yuehong—who was in charge of guarding the area—quickly asked, “What happened?”

Shang Jianyao looked up at the rock wall behind him and looked around. “Did you discover anything suspicious? Or did you discover any abnormal phenomena?”

Long Yuehong thought for a moment and shook his head firmly. “No. Very few wild animals passed by. Even so, they are considered normal.”

As he spoke, Long Yuehong saw the swelling on Shang Jianyao’s right cheek and the relatively obvious five-finger mark under the bright moonlight.

“Uh...” He suddenly didn’t know how he should inquire. His gaze turned a little strange.

At this moment, Jiang Baimian was already dressed. She came out with her weapon, and Bai Chen followed closely behind.

“Any discoveries?” Jiang Baimian asked with a slightly solemn expression.

“No,” Shang Jianyao replied solemnly.

Jiang Baimian ignored Long Yuehong’s wandering gaze as she patrolled the area and sensed the various electric signals around her.

“There’s indeed nothing abnormal.” She walked back to Shang Jianyao and Bai Chen’s side and heaved a sigh of relief. “It seems like we won’t be affected as long as we don’t sleep.”

Upon seeing Long Yuehong’s confusion, Jiang Baimian highlighted the encounters she and Shang Jianyao had experienced.

Long Yuehong felt like he was listening to a story on a radio broadcast. While feeling scared, he found it unbelievable. Frankly speaking, if not for the team leader’s testimony, just based on Shang Jianyao’s words, he definitely would’ve said, “Stop joking. This isn’t funny at all! Talk to the Order Supervisors. Let’s see if they believe you!”

Order Supervisors were responsible for Pangu Biology’s internal order. They were in charge of everything—be it fighting or harming others.

In the Indoor Ecosystem Zone, there was an Order Supervisory PIC on each floor. Beneath the PIC were three Order Supervisory heads. Under each head were a few Order Supervisors.

Ranked higher up, every 10-20 floors was a sector. Each sector had an Order Supervisory Bureau. Above the Order Supervisory Bureau was the Order Supervisory Department—which came under the Board of Directors.

After hearing Jiang Baimian’s description, Long Yuehong subconsciously asked, “That can’t be true, right?”

After asking this, he quickly shut his mouth and stopped waiting for an answer.

Since Shang Jianyao could get the mechanical monk, Jingfa, to shake his hand and bid him farewell, it did not seem unacceptable that a monster could make people mysteriously die in their dreams.

It had to be said that Long Yuehong increasingly felt that this world was much more magical than he had previously imagined after leaving the company and coming to the surface.

Jiang Baimian turned to look at Shang Jianyao. “Could it be an Awakened? Maybe it’s a Subhuman or animal that has mutated? They might have similar abilities.”

“Apart from my own abilities, I know as much about the Awakened as you do.” Shang Jianyao turned his head and looked at Bai Chen, hoping that this lady with abundant Ashlands survival experience could give him an answer.

Bai Chen shook her head, indicating that she had never encountered such an abnormality. “If not for that, an experienced Ruin Hunter like Harris Brown wouldn’t have hastily retreated and not dare go close.”

Jiang Baimian thought for a few seconds before looking at Shang Jianyao. “I’m a little curious. How did you escape that dream? Yes, as you said, you relied on your Awakened ability. However, I hope to know some details. This might give me some inspiration.

“If you think this is your secret, I’ll get Bai Chen and Long Yuehong to patrol the borders. As for me... Uh, I should be trustworthy, right?” As she finished speaking, Jiang Baimian was truly unable to find a reason. She was also unwilling to use her current situation to force an answer out of Shang Jianyao, so she could only use such a trick.

“It’s nothing,” Shang Jianyao replied frankly. “I used the Inference Clowning ability you’ve seen before. Earlier, I didn’t wake up after I slapped myself, so I preliminarily ruled out the possibility of a dream. I wanted to snatch the car and leave, planning to return after dawn to see if all of you had returned to normal.

“In the end, I saw myself in the side mirror when I stood up. I then wondered if I could use my Inference Clowning ability to influence and make myself believe that this was a dream. If it really were a dream, it would be equivalent to me seeing through reality and the illusion. It would enhance my self-awareness in this regard, giving me a high chance of waking up directly.

“I also wrote a hint for myself if it wasn’t a dream...” At this point, Shang Jianyao recalled the arrangement in his dream. He quickly reached into his pocket and took out the few pieces of paper used for taking notes.

Apart from an incomplete map depicting the steelworks factory ruins’ layout and the bathroom label, the rest of the paper was blank. There were no hints.

“As expected...” Shang Jianyao let out a long sigh of relief and continued. “After I finished writing the hint, I used my Inference Clowning ability to make myself come to the conclusion that I was dreaming based on unrelated conditions. This also enhanced my judgment and cognition, helping me to escape the dream.”

Jiang Baimian’s emotions stirred when she heard that. “How ruthless. You even deceived yourself.”

“...” Long Yuehong almost laughed out loud. It took him a great deal of difficulty to stifle his laughter.

“...” Shang Jianyao didn’t expect Jiang Baimian to make such a ‘comment.’ He almost forgot what he wanted to say.

He paused and said, “I’ve never done such an experiment before. I thought I could give it a try after I saw my reflection in the side mirror. Besides, there are two conditions for Inference Clowning: One is to use obvious facts to make the target come to an almost irrelevant conclusion that’s beneficial towards me. The other is to use worthless conditions to make the target come to an illogical but accurate judgment.”

Jiang Baimian nodded slightly and said, “Not bad. From the looks of it, this matter has helped you grasp your abilities one step further and broadened its boundaries.”

Shang Jianyao was just about to say something when he suddenly revealed a pondering expression.

Jiang Baimian then looked at Bai Chen. “What do you have in mind?”

“It’s best not to sleep tonight before we are certain that the anomaly isn’t present. At dawn, immediately drive south. With your energy, it shouldn’t be a problem for you to go without sleep for half a night.” Bai Chen gave a very serious and careful suggestion.

Long Yuehong subconsciously pointed at Blackrat Town’s entrance and asked, “What should we do here?”

“What else can we do? We have to ensure our own safety first,” Jiang Baimian replied without hesitation. “Besides, the dream anomaly doesn’t only target us. There should be people who are affected among the Ruin Hunters and wilderness nomads in the vicinity. Their strange deaths will temporarily turn this place into a forbidden zone; its terrifying existence will spread through word of mouth. No one will dare come here for a while.

“Heh heh, if someone can’t even receive such news and enters without knowing anything, I don’t think they have the ability to find Blackrat Town’s entrance and move the large boulders that block the cave.

“When the corresponding effects subside, the company’s personnel will most likely have arrived. When the time comes, they will definitely send a signal flare if they don’t find us.”

Long Yuehong had no further objections, and the four of them waited until dawn.

They then took turns driving south.

When it was almost noon, Jiang Baimian—who was in the passenger seat—turned her head and said to Shang Jianyao, “Try sleeping and see if there are any anomalies in the dream. Don’t worry; I’ll keep an eye on you. I’ll shake you awake if anything goes wrong.”

“I can wake up by myself,” Shang Jianyao muttered confidently.

“Huh?” Jiang Baimian tilted her head. Her smile didn’t diminish at all. In fact, it became even more obvious.

Shang Jianyao didn’t say anything else. After some thought, he raised his right hand and massaged his temples. He then closed his eyes.

...

Cold, pitch-black metal walls stood tall as they surrounded a spacious hall.

High up in the hall’s indiscernible ceiling was a swath of darkness.

In the darkness, countless resplendent points of light were densely packed together. They slowly rotated as if they formed galaxies.

In the middle of the hall, starlight scattered and condensed into a large, blurry figure. The figure’s hands were spread out, maintaining a strict symmetry as if it was simulating a balance scale.

“Three favors for one price,” echoed hollowly in Shang Jianyao’s ears.

Shang Jianyao stared at this scene for nearly ten seconds before saying three words in a deep voice: “Star Cluster Hall...”

He didn’t say anything else. He passed by the blurry figure and arrived at the hall’s innermost part before stopping in front of the heavy, grayish-white stone door.

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