139 Shaman in the Deep Mountains

    "Siyu, did Elder Tong mention any missing information from the files, specifically anything about a particular stone statue?" Gu Jun ransacked the briefcase, but he was still no closer to finding any actual descriptive information on the stone statue.

    "Elder Tong did say that if there are things that you can't find, it means that he believes they are not suitable for your eyes for now. Those things are probably far more dangerous than the Nightmare Illness to you," Wu Siyu answered without moving from the couch.

    "But you have brought all the information with you, right?" Gu Jun looked at her closely. He was not technically reading her mind, but this was a conclusion he could reach from an educated guess. He said seriously, "Go and contact Elder Tong now. I demand to look at that stone statue! There won't be any real results if he keeps the crucial items away from me."

    "Dirty-minded Jun, I knew you would say something like that." Wu Siyu shrugged. "You're like a bloodhound, never going to stop until you get what you want."

    She slowly stood up and exited the room. "I'd suggest you take a break while I go and make the call, but I know my advice will fall on deaf ears, so... oh well."

    "Dirty-minded Yu, you know me too well." Gu Jun turned back to bury himself in the files.

    Back then, the question on Phecda's mind was the meaning of the statement 'I know where they are safely buried' given by the archaeologist Liu Daze. Did the sacrificial dead symbolize the missing children? They were heading toward the same fate? The missing children would eventually be sacrificed to the stone idol? While Phecda was trying to make sense of their confusing findings, Elder Tong discovered a strange picture among the objects in Liu Daze's house. Currently, Gu Jun was holding that yellowed picture, and his mind was wavering as he studied it...

    In the picture, Liu Daze was standing amid a forest. His face was blurred out, and the trees around him casted oppressive and distorted shadows, giving the whole picture a surreal feeling. At the time, Elder Tong astutely identified the locale in the picture as Xiong Lin Mountain at the north-western side of Guang Ting.

    The Phoenix unit's mission into the mountainous jungle marked another chapter of the story. It was still a complete mystery with regards to what really happened inside Xiong Lin Mountain. The documents did note specifically that during the last S value assessment before the unit started their mission, Elder Tong's mental state was marked as 'under too much pressure and needs a long rest'. Elder Tong argued that he was fine; it was the statue that had interrupted his mental stability. Many other members of the unit faced the same situation. At the time, the leading team psychiatrist, Shen Yi, had reported about the overall team member's anxiety and nervousness, but it was not given much attention back then. After all, members of the Special Mobile Force were often under great pressure. These were common symptoms in their line of work.

    "Phew." With the frown still locked on his face, Gu Jun opened the next case. Inside, he found the individual testimonial documents from the sixty-two living Phoenix members after the mission concluded. The other forty-three members had died on the mission, so there were autopsy reports as well. To prevent narrative bias, Gu Jun picked out the reports at random and used different documents to slowly piece together what happened during the case.

    Due to the complicated terrain inside Xiong Lin Mountain and the lack of appropriate technology, the Phoenix unit lost contact with the outside world not too long after they ventured into the mountain. When they moved deeper into the forest, things just headed south.

    "A thick fog started to roll in from nowhere," the marksman, Zhang He, explained in his report. "Fog usually condenses in that kind of mountainous forest, so we did not pay it much attention at the start, but soon, our visibility dropped to less than one meter. We couldn't even see where our comrades were, and we started to hear strange noises coming from the fog..."

    The description of the sound was different based on the listener. Prof Shen's conclusion was, "We were affected by auditory hallucinations. That's why what we heard differed from individual to individual."

    Enveloped within the fog, the Phoenix unit eventually had to admit they were lost. Their communication devices had been rendered useless, and everywhere they turned, they were surrounded by blurry and distorted shadows of the trees.

    "Then the first shot was fired," the scientific research member, Zhu Zhanrong, said. In her report, she said that her body was shaking at the time, and she could feel her heart palpitating. "Then, more gunshots echoed around me. It was like guns were being fired everywhere. It was quickly followed by the screams and wails of unknown people..."

    The state soon descended into chaos. 'Dark shadows' started to flicker among the fog. The members did witness the dark shadows, but again, their individual descriptions of them differed from one another. Some confirmed they were in the shape of humans, while others claimed they saw a giant. Some swore they were moving trees or feral beasts...

    "That was the effect of a spell," Elder Tong said in his report. "I personally do not think there were any shadows. It was just a figment of our imagination."

    At the time, three members were still hanging beside Elder Tong. Prof Shen was one of them. The other two were the marksman, Zhang Zhijian, and the investigator, Fang Jianrong. The three of them had the same testimony. They stuck close to Elder Tong and each other. They agreed that none of them used their firearm, and they did not move from their location.

    But in the review report of the gun trajectory findings, of the forty-three dead Phoenix members, nineteen of them died from Elder Tong's gun.

    "No wonder..." Gu Jun understood why Elder Tong was treated so badly back then and no one refused to believe him. As if supporting his belief, the report stated clearly that Phecda had serious suspicion with regards to Elder Tong and the other three members' testimonies. The most logical explanation was that Elder Tong had succumbed to madness due to his worryingly low S value, and he was the reason behind this tragedy. However, one problem stood in the way-the testimonies of the three other Phoenix members. Of course, there was a possibility of them agreeing on their stories before returning to Phecda, but it was physically impossible for a man to murder nineteen trained special agents so accurately in such a short amount of time while under the influence of a hallucination. In the end, the Review Department decided to temporarily suspend Elder Tong before forcing him into retirement.

    The harsh punishment was because Phecda eventually found loopholes in the other three members' testimonies. Prof Shen's report stated, "I am certain that we were under the attack of a strong mental force. It came so suddenly. One second, we were mentally sound, but the next second, everything felt so out of place."

    In that moment of mental weakness, their account of Elder Tong's whereabouts could not be verified. Elder Tong could have sneaked away from them then, and they would have been none the wiser. Other than this temporary blur in their report, the rest of their testimonies were the same. They waited under a tree until the fog faded away, and they started to deal with the aftermath.

    While in Elder Tong's report...

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    "I heard a voice calling me, and I could feel my body being summoned by it. It felt like my body was no longer my own." Gu Jun felt strangely familiar with Elder Tong's description. "I had no idea where I was, but I saw a group of people in black in the fog. They were wearing masks, and about ten of them stood there looking at me. Among them was an old shaman. He was not masked, but the fog effectively blurred his face off. The reason I called him a shaman was because I had a feeling... he was not an ordinary person. His presence crackled with supernatural energy..."

    With a heavy heart, Gu Jun read through Elder Tong's testimony. He could feel the confusion and the barely discernible fear in it.

    "The old shaman told me that they have been waiting for my arrival for a long time."
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