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/ Embers Ad Infinitum /

Chapter 433: Ritual

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Chapter 433: Ritual

In the multi-purpose car parked by the street, Long Yuehong looked at the apartment entrance illuminated by the street lamps and asked in confusion, “Has he moved away?”

It was already eight or nine in the evening. The Old Task Force members had already taken turns to eat dinner, but Smith still wasn’t back.

They waited outside the apartment building, not outside Smith’s room. If all five of them squatted there, they would definitely scare the people coming and going. In any case, with Shang Jianyao and Jiang Baimian’s current perception range, they could monitor the corresponding room from the street below.

Shang Jianyao heaved a sigh of relief when he heard Long Yuehong’s words. “That means he hasn’t moved away.”

Jiang Baimian glared at him. “Go up and ask Smith’s neighbor. We can’t just wait.”

Bai Chen and Long Yuehong were in charge of questioning. They were the ones in the team who didn’t stand out and wouldn’t startle the apartment residents.

Room 502.

The person who opened the door was a woman. After she saw that the visitor was a stranger, she closed the door with a bang before Bai Chen could speak.

“Can’t she use the peephole to observe first?” Long Yuehong said aggrievedly. He was already prepared to ask his question.

Bai Chen looked at the peephole above the door lock. “It looks damaged.”

After more than ten seconds, the door opened again.

The person standing at the door switched to a muscular man. He wore a black, short-sleeved T-shirt. Although his clothes were old, there were no traces of sewing.

“You are?” the man asked in confusion.

As Long Yuehong smiled, Bai Chen pointed at Room 503. “We’re Smith’s friends. We came to find him today, but he never returned. Do you know where he went?”

“Him?” The man recalled and said, “He occasionally returns very late. Wait a little longer.”

“Alright.” Bai Chen nodded. “Thank you.”

As they walked down the stairs, Long Yuehong asked in confusion, “What exactly would make him return late occasionally?”

“Getting some enjoyment after receiving his salary, participating in the Church’s activities, being a temporary teacher at a night school...” Bai Chen raised many possibilities.

They quickly passed the information to Jiang Baimian, Shang Jianyao, and Genava. Everyone unanimously decided to wait until midnight.

The Golden Grain Zone was clearly safer than the Green Olive Zone. The streets were also cleaner, creating a quiet atmosphere in the dark night.

Rain pattered down, making the street lamps on both sides appear dim.

When it was almost 11 p.m., a person appeared from a corner. He held a black umbrella in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other.

He was thin and four to five centimeters shorter than Long Yuehong. He wore a linen shirt and baggy, earthen-yellow pants. His eye sockets were deep, and his skin was brown. His beard was shaved very clean.

He looked nothing special, but he was of mixed-blood, a cross between the Red River ethnicity and Red Coasters. This matched Ferrington’s description of Smith.

Upon seeing this person enter the apartment building, the four Old Task Force members immediately perked up.

Genava also got out of power-saving mode.

After a minute or two, Shang Jianyao laughed. “There’s someone in the room.”

“But why didn’t he switch on the lights?” Long Yuehong looked at Room 503’s window.

The lights there weren’t switched on.

“To save electricity,” Bai Chen gave her explanation.

“Then, let’s visit Smith.” Jiang Baimian didn’t get Genava to stay behind. After all, the other party was involved in a religious organization. Nobody knew if an accident would happen.

With a smart bot like Genava following them, the Old Task Force’s fault tolerance would clearly increase.

After returning to the building’s fifth floor, Shang Jianyao volunteered to knock on the door. They had already tried before, but Room 503’s doorbell was either broken or had no batteries.

He knocked three times, but there was no sound behind the door.

Jiang Baimian frowned and said, “His bioelectric signal is still there, but it’s stopped in place and motionless.”

Shang Jianyao nodded. “Same for his consciousness.”

“He shouldn’t have fallen asleep so quickly...” Long Yuehong was suddenly shocked by his guess. “Did something happen?”

Although he felt that it was unlikely to be a coincidence, the Old Task Force had encountered many coincidences all this time.

Shang Jianyao knocked on the door again, but there was still no movement inside.

Jiang Baimian pondered for a moment and signaled Bai Chen.

Bai Chen took out a piece of metal wire she carried with her and inserted it into the keyhole before twisting it a few times.

The door opened silently.

The apartment was pitch-black. Only the weak light streaming in from the window illuminated some of the walls.

It was a rainy night with no moon or stars.

“In the bedroom,” Jiang Baimian said with a hushed tone.

One could see faint yellow light seeping out of the bedroom door.

The Old Task Force’s four human members drew their pistols and bent their backs slightly as they walked to the room inside. As they advanced, they naturally assumed a combat formation.

Genava followed behind and crept forward, afraid he would create unnecessary sounds.

The bedroom door wasn’t locked and was ajar.

Shang Jianyao glanced at Jiang Baimian and the others—who were already in position—and pushed open the door.

The situation inside quickly reflected in their eyes.

A wooden bed was placed against a curtained window. In front of it was a table, and on the table was a large rectangular mirror.

The only source of light in the dark room came from the two white candles in front of the mirror. They gently flickered with yellowish flames and reflected their figures in the mirror.

Sitting at the table and looking at the mirror and candle was the man in the linen shirt from before. He wore headphones over his head, and a brown paper bag was by his feet. He held a red apple in his hand and was slowly peeling the skin.

With it being almost midnight, why would a man sit in front of a mirror, face a candle, and peel an apple in a room without anyone else?

This scene couldn’t help but stoke Long Yuehong’s fears. He sensed something bizarre.

Upon sensing the wind blow in, the man turned his head and looked at the door. He jumped up and gestured with the fruit knife in his hand. “Who are you?”

He was clearly terrified.

This instantly dispersed the supernatural atmosphere in the room.

“We’re Ferrington’s friends. We came here to find you.” Jiang Baimian smiled and introduced herself.

The man asked in confusion, “Ah, what did you say?”

“...” Jiang Baimian suddenly felt like she was facing herself.

The next second, the man realized something and took off his headphones.

Upon seeing this, Jiang Baimian repeated her words and added, “You’re Smith, right?”

“Yes.” Smith heaved a sigh of relief. “How can you enter someone else’s home without permission?”

“We saw you return, and we knocked on the door. But nobody opened the door, so we thought you had a sudden illness,” Jiang Baimian said sincerely. “I’m very sorry for using some tricks to open the door.”

Smith thought for a moment and felt that the other party was indeed being kind. He then exhaled and said, “Don’t do this in the future. Maybe I’m just constipated?”

“That makes sense.” Shang Jianyao accepted this explanation.

Smith put down the fruit knife and quietly pressed his right palm on the Red River pistol at his waist. He then asked, “Where’s Ferrington? He’s not back yet?”

“He passed away under the white wolf’s influence.” Jiang Baimian spoke a specious truth.

Smith fell silent for a few seconds before sighing. “I knew that it wasn’t simple. I told him not to go.”

After sighing about Ferrington, Smith pointed at the living room outside. “Let’s talk outside.”

Having these people block the bedroom door made him uncomfortable.

The light in the living room was quickly switched on. Smith found a spot conducive for escaping and sat down. He then asked, “Why are you looking for me?”

Jiang Baimian smiled. “We come from the south and had a conflict with a group of Clam Dragon Church members. Their illusions are very powerful, and we suffered quite badly. I heard that your Church is also good at this, so we wanted to consult you on how to deal with them.”

Jiang Baimian spoke with a poker face.

Smith’s expression changed a few times. “Those heretics...”

“Huh?” Long Yuehong exclaimed.

Jiang Baimian then asked, “Do you also believe in the Kalendaria, Shattered Mirror?”

Smith nodded slightly, raised his palms, and placed them in front of his face as if he were looking in a mirror. The church parishioner then said in a deep voice, “One will eventually awaken from the dream; the New World lies beyond the mirror.”

Long Yuehong expressed his confusion. “But Ferrington said that you don’t worship any Kalendaria and only believe in mirrors.”

Smith was stunned for two seconds. “I never said that. I only said that we believe in mirrors, and mirrors are the Kalendaria—Shattered Mirror. Yes, it seems like he misunderstood. It’s no wonder he refused to join us.”

At this point, Smith exhaled and said with a solemn expression, “Those heretics actually ignored the sacred mirror and believe that the Kalendaria is a dragon. I wonder where they got that from!”

“Oh.” Shang Jianyao looked enlightened. “Then, what’s your Holy Communion?”

Smith pointed at the bedroom. “An apple. In a room without anyone else, stuff your ears, light a candle, and peel its skin in front of a mirror. It’s a prerequisite ritual for enjoying Holy Communion. If the skin doesn’t break during the peeling process, you will receive the Kalendaria’s blessing for a period of time.”

Don’t you find this ritual terrifying? Long Yuehong immediately muttered.

“Oh.” Shang Jianyao didn’t ask any further.

Jiang Baimian smiled. “Good luck. Yes, what is your religion’s name?”

“The Mirror Church,” Smith said proudly. “We don’t casually rope in believers. Only after years of observation and believing that it’s possible will we extend an invitation.”

At this point, he revealed a troubled expression. “I don’t have much research on illusions. I’m more focused on the teachings, so I might not be able to help you.”

Your description for not being an Awakened is quite a new spin... Long Yuehong took a moment before understanding Smith’s true meaning.

Smith paused and said, “I only know how to target the weaknesses. I can also help you contact the priest, but he might not meet you.”

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