Embers Ad Infinitum - Chapter 54
Shang Jianyao’s nerves immediately tensed up as he stared at Blackrat Town’s entrance without blinking.
The boulders that sealed the cave were rather large. It was impossible to get them down with human strength alone!
Of course, there was one possibility—Long Yuehong had not properly placed the boulder when he used the exoskeleton to pile the boulders. This resulted in it slipping down bit by bit indiscernibly. Finally, after a long time, it lost its balance and fell to the ground.
Therefore, Shang Jianyao did not immediately react and continued observing.
With a dull thud, the boulder smashed to the ground, sending reverberations through the entire forest.
Silence quickly returned after this commotion. Under the sparse stars, the night sky was as dark as before. But unlike before, a gap appeared in the pile of boulders blocking Blackrat Town’s entrance, a gap that led to dead silence and darkness.
Shang Jianyao looked at the boulder for nearly a minute. He was just about to let out the turbid breath he had been holding in when he suddenly realized that a black figure was slowly crawling out of the hole at the spot where the boulder had fallen.
The night breeze blew, and the clouds in the sky moved, revealing a half-moon.
Bright light scattered and shone on the black figure, allowing Shang Jianyao to see this figure’s general appearance. He was short, naked, and had thick, black hair growing on his face. His back was hunched, and the nails on his hands reflected a sharp cold light.
He was a resident of Blackrat Town!
Shang Jianyao’s pupils suddenly dilated as if he didn’t dare believe the scene in front of him. He wanted to take a step further to see who the other party was.
He, Jiang Baimian, and Bai Chen had seriously searched every corner of Blackrat Town, but they didn’t find a single survivor!
The moonlight seemed to brighten a little, and Shang Jianyao barely saw the figure’s face.
Half of the figure’s face had been torn away by bullets, while dark-red blood and milky-white brain matter dotted its surroundings.
With Shang Jianyao’s general knowledge of things, such a person could not be considered alive.
At the same time, black shadows seemed to be surging in the gap on the rockpile.
“F*ck!” Shang Jianyao couldn’t help but curse. He instinctively released his right hand from the pistol grip, raised it, and slapped his right face.
He suspected that he was dreaming.
The right side of Shang Jianyao’s face immediately swelled up, and the marks of five fingers could be vaguely seen on it.
Intense pain and buzzing sounds entered Shang Jianyao’s mind at the same time, making golden points of light appear in front of him one after another.
But he was still in the same spot. In front of him was still the Blackrat Town resident—who had crawled down from the gap in the rockpile—as well as another black figure that followed closely behind.
Shang Jianyao did not rashly fire because he knew that his knowledge and experience were insufficient to support him in making the right choice in such a situation. Therefore, he wanted to request Jiang Baimian’s help, hoping to see if the Old Task Force’s Team Leader had any idea what to do in such situations.
He was also prepared to wake Bai Chen and Long Yuehong up. This way, they could still drive away and escape if they couldn’t deal with the anomaly in Blackrat Town.
Shang Jianyao had just turned around when he saw Jiang Baimian’s figure appear beside him. He didn’t even have the time to shout.
Shang Jianyao was delighted. He was just about to report the situation when his gaze suddenly froze, and his words were stuck in his throat.
Under the cold moonlight, thick black hair—visible to the naked eye—grew on Jiang Baimian’s beautiful face like bamboo shoots sprouting from the soil.
The muscles on Shang Jianyao’s face twitched slightly, and he couldn’t help but overreact.
He pounced backward and did two rolls before arriving at the front of the jeep. Right on the heels of that, he bent down, jumped to the other side, and crouched under the side mirror.
This way, he could use the front of the car as ‘defense.’ At the same time, he could open the door and sit in the driver’s seat at any time.
“Something happened!” he shouted, attempting to wake Long Yuehong and Bai Chen up. After shouting thrice, Shang Jianyao took two steps forward, straightened his upper body, and prepared to open the car door.
It was only then that he realized he didn’t have the car key.
When handing over the night duty earlier, Bai Chen had given Jiang Baimian the key, not him.
Before Shang Jianyao could think of a solution, Jiang Baimian’s voice sounded from afar. “What happened?”
The next second, Long Yuehong and Bai Chen’s voices sounded from the tent. “What happened?”
Their voices were of different volumes, but their tones were no different from Jiang Baimian’s.
Shang Jianyao’s body suddenly trembled, and his forehead broke out into a cold sweat. He forced himself to calm down and silently calculated the distance between him, Jiang Baimian, Long Yuehong, and Bai Chen.
A smile unknowingly appeared on his face, a smile that he couldn’t control.
Shang Jianyao immediately straightened his body and prepared to stand up to use his Awakened abilities. At this moment, he saw his reflection in the side mirror.
His right cheek was red and swollen, and he wore an inappropriate smile…
Shang Jianyao’s heart suddenly palpitated. He bent down again and took out the fountain pen and a piece of paper that he used to record notes with. He then lowered his head and used his thigh as a cushion. After the pen cap free-fell to the ground, he quickly wrote: “If I can still see this passage later, it means that it’s not a dream.”
As he wrote, Jiang Baimian, Long Yuehong, and Bai Chen’s voices approached. “What happened?”
Shang Jianyao became more and more anxious as he wrote. The more he wrote, the messier it became, but he still managed to barely finish the sentence. He then casually stuffed the paper back into his pocket, straightened his upper body, and stared at his reflection in the rearview mirror again.
His eyes instantly turned deep.
As he listened to the approaching footsteps, he quickly organized his thoughts and tried saying, “It was late at night at this time yesterday, and it’s also late at night at this time today. We slept in the wilderness at this time yesterday. Today, we are also sleeping in the wilderness. I was dreaming yesterday at this time, so at this time today…”
Shang Jianyao stopped conversing with himself in the mirror. His expression was blank at first, but it gradually became certain.
Just as Jiang Baimian reached the other side of the jeep, Shang Jianyao came to a realization. “So, I’m also dreaming today!”
Just as he said that, it was as if countless stars had exploded in his mind. His strong self-awareness pulled his consciousness through all kinds of illusory scenes.
Shang Jianyao sat up and exhaled the turbid air he had been holding in his chest. He quickly looked around and realized that he was still in the tent—in his sleeping bag.
As this thought flashed in his mind, Shang Jianyao pulled his hands away. He exerted strength with his body and quickly left the sleeping bag like a cheetah, suddenly jumping to the other side of the tent.
It was where Jiang Baimian slept.
In the dim darkness, Shang Jianyao could barely see anything. However, he could hear Jiang Baimian’s rapid and erratic breathing as if she had just completed a five-kilometer-long cross-country run.
“Wake up! Wake up!” He relied on the sounds to grab Jiang Baimian’s body and shouted as he shook her.
This commotion attracted Bai Chen and Long Yuehong’s attention. One of them stayed in the periphery to prevent any accidents. The other leaned toward the tent and asked loudly, “What’s wrong?”
Shang Jianyao didn’t answer and continued shaking Jiang Baimian violently.
Finally, Jiang Baimian said, “Stop… Stop! I’m getting dizzy!”
Shang Jianyao immediately heaved a sigh of relief and straightened his body.
At this moment, Bai Chen had already pulled open the tent’s entrance.
With the moonlight shining in from the outside, she saw Shang Jianyao squatting beside Jiang Baimian’s sleeping bag, breathing heavily. Jiang Baimian was curled up in the sleeping bag, sitting with a confused expression.
“What anomaly did you discover?” Bai Chen asked calmly.
Shang Jianyao blurted out an answer. “I had a nightmare…”
He couldn’t help but pause. He felt like he was speaking like a child that sought an elder’s comfort because of a nightmare.
Upon seeing that Jiang Baimian and Bai Chen did not mock him or attempt to interrupt, Shang Jianyao eased up and continued speaking. “A very realistic nightmare. I couldn’t wake up even when I slapped myself in the dream. I clearly felt intense pain, but I just couldn’t wake up. It wasn’t until I used my Awakened ability to enhance my judgment and knowledge of the dream that I completely woke up.
“In the dream, Blackrat Town’s residents had become zombies, and thick black hair grew on your faces.”
Zombies were concepts often mentioned in the radio stories.
Jiang Baimian no longer felt confused. Her expression gradually turned solemn as she nodded slightly. “I had a nightmare too. I dreamed that I was doing research in a laboratory. All of you were my assistants…”
At this point, Jiang Baimian was suddenly speechless.
After just a few seconds passed, she continued, “That dream was very realistic. Due to some details, I also suspected that I was dreaming. I quickly stabbed myself with the needle and felt the same pain as I would normally feel. This dispelled my doubts. Then, an accident happened in the laboratory next door. Toxic gas leaked and spread across the entire floor.
“I was crazily running toward the exit with you guys in an attempt to escape the company before the toxic gas spread when Shang Jianyao woke me up.” As she spoke, Jiang Baimian raised her left hand and moved it to the area illuminated by the moonlight.
Shang Jianyao and Bai Chen—who had come closer—saw a red dot the size of a needle hole between her hand’s thumb and index finger. It was slightly swollen.
Jiang Baimian then looked at Shang Jianyao’s face. As expected, she found the swollen spot with five finger marks.
“I didn’t bring any needles with me…” Jiang Baimian thought for a moment and said, “This isn’t caused by sleepwalking.”
As she spoke, she stretched her left hand toward the five-fingered mark on Shang Jianyao’s right face and gestured across the air. “This wasn’t my work either.”
Bai Chen traced Jiang Baimian’s palm and looked at it seriously. “There’s no way to eliminate the possibility completely. The swelling is too obvious, and the fingerprint is a little smudged. Hence, there can be some differences when making comparisons. Besides, the length of your fingers is about the same.”
“If I really hit him with my left hand, would his face still have any teeth left?” Jiang Baimian’s left finger emitted an electric current.
Her left arm and left hand were part of the electric eel-like biomechanical limb. One of its characteristics was immense strength.
Bai Chen agreed with this, and Shang Jianyao was speechless.
He was just about to describe the scene he saw in his dream in detail when Jiang Baimian suddenly frowned. “Did you guys make any connections?”