He closed his eyes, then opened them again, hoping that the runes would disappear.
'Please, be gone! Please!'
But the runes were still there, shining slightly, as though mocking him.
Flaw: [Clear Conscience].
Flaw Description: [You cannot lie.]
Sunny stared at these three simple words, feeling like there was a bottomless abyss opening right beneath his feet. The Spell, which was usually frivolous with its descriptions, decided to be straight and on point this time. There were only three words. They left him no room to maneuver.
'Can't lie. I can't lie? Me? How am I supposed to live if I can't lie?!'
Sunny's very survival was predicated on his ability to deceive and outsmart other people. Even the Spell itself congratulated him on his treachery! Without the ability to lie, he wouldn't be able to achieve anything.
Not to mention…
His heart suddenly felt as though it was about to stop.
If he could only tell the truth, how was he supposed to hide his True Name? Wouldn't anyone be able to turn him into an obedient slave by simply asking a couple of innocent questions?
p ᴀɴ da-n ᴏv el Sunny was about to scream and curse, but at that moment, the Spell spoke again.
[Wake up, Lost from Light!]
The black void spun and disappeared.
ᴘᴀ ɴ ᴅᴀ n ᴏ ᴠᴇʟ
Sunny opened his eyes.
The armored ceiling of the police station's vault hang above him. No one would call its aesthetics beautiful, but to him, it was the most majestic sight. Only now did he realize how much he had missed the real world.
It was safe and familiar. There were no monsters or slavers… well, at least officially. There was no constant fear of torturous death.
It was home.
In addition, Sunny felt incredible. The cold that had crept deep into his bones during the Nightmare was gone, taking with it all the pain that his wounded body had been enduring day after day. His feet and wrists were not in agony, his back had forgotten the bite of the whip, and he could even breathe without feeling the sharp edges of his broken ribs cutting deeper and deeper into his lungs.
What a blessing!
The sudden disappearance of pain, coupled with the new vitality that permeated his body, almost made Sunny cry.
'I really survived.'
He slowly looked down and then froze, breathless.
On a cheap plastic chair placed beside his reinforced medical bed sat the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
She had short, raven-black hair and icy blue eyes. Her flawless skin was smooth, supple and as white as snow. Actually, this was Sunny's first time meeting someone as pale as he himself was. However, while Sunny's pallor looked strange and unhealthy, the beautiful stranger was nothing short of striking.
The woman seemed to be in her late twenties. She was wearing a dark blue uniform with silver epaulets and black leather boots. The jacket of her uniform was casually unbuttoned, revealing a black tank top beneath.
Currently, she was stretching her arms above her head, clearly bored and sleepy. The gesture forced the thin fabric to tighten, provocatively accentuating her full breasts.
Mesmerized, Sunny almost missed the fact that there was a shoulder insignia on the woman's left sleeve. There were three stars on it.
'Three stars, huh,' he thought, distracted. 'Three stars means an Ascended… huh… yeah. Wait. An Ascended?!'
But before Sunny could fully digest the meaning of this word, he realized that the woman was staring at him, too.
"What are you looking at?" she said, not a gram of humor in her voice.
Sunny blinked a couple of times, embarrassed, and quickly came up with an excuse. Then he opened his mouth and answered:
A second later, his eye widened in absolute horror.
Because he wasn't planning to say those words at all! His mouth moved on its own!
A wave of terror suddenly drowned his mind.
The woman slowly smiled with a dangerous gleam in her eyes. Then, without any warning, she moved her hand and slapped Sunny across the face.
Sunny whole body was turned around. If it wasn't for the restraints holding him in place, he would have probably flown off the bed. For a moment, he even saw stars.
But it could still be considered getting off lightly. An Ascended, the woman was an Ascended! She could have torn his head clean off with a flick of a finger. Why did he have to offend someone so powerful, of all people?!
Meanwhile, the woman cleared her throat and crossed her arms.
"Are you awake now?"
Sunny held his numb cheek and carefully nodded.
"Good. Let me give you a piece of advice: don't just say anything that comes to your mind. Especially to girls. It's not like you haven't seen a girl before, right?"
'Say "Thank you! I definitely will not!"' Sunny thought.
But instead, his mouth moved on its own, and he said:
"I've seen plenty... but no one as beautiful as you."
Then he flinched back, his face as red as a lobster.
The woman stared at him for a few seconds and then burst into laughter.
"I see you haven't met a lot of Awakened then. By Awakened standards, I'm below average."
Sunny glanced at her with doubt.
The woman shook her head.
"As your soul core develops, the body gets rid of all its imperfections. So it's hard to find an unattractive Awakened, especially among the stronger ones. Live long enough, and you might just become a flower boy yourself."
Then she gave him a thorough look and added:
"Well… maybe. In any case, since you're awake — welcome back to the land of the living. Congratulations on surviving your First Nightmare, Sleeper Sunless."
That was how people would address him now, at least in the short span of days until the winter solstice — after that, he would either return from the Dream Realm as an Awakened or not return at all.
It felt strange to have a title put before his name. In the past, Sunny was rarely even addressed by name. People mostly called him things like "boy", "punk", "brat" or "hey, you!". But now he even had a title.
Actually, the correct term was "Dreamer". But humans had their own set of words for those infected by the Nightmare Spell. Carriers who had just finished their First Nightmare were called Sleepers because of how they interacted with the Spell.
Basically, once his spirit enters the Spell, his body was going to fall into slumber. That slumber would continue for days, weeks, or even months — however long it takes him to escape the Dream Realm. Hence the term "Sleeper".
Once he escapes and becomes an Awakened, he would live his life normally during the day and return to the Dream Realm every time he falls asleep. The Awakened were called the same by the Spell and the humans. That word was also sometimes used as a general term for all carriers.
Then, if he were to decide to enter a Second Nightmare and managed to survive, he would become an Ascended — people called them Masters. Masters could enter and exit the Dream Realm as they wished. Some even chose to never come back there at all. More than that, they traveled between the worlds physically, not just in spirit.
And then, above the Masters, there were Saints — those who had conquered the Third Nightmare and earned the right to call themselves Transcendent. They were as powerful as demi-gods, and even more rare. Not only could they travel between the real world and the Dream Realm, but they could also take others with them.
But coming back to Masters…
The beautiful woman stood up and approached the reinforced medical bed. With practiced moves, she began to undo the restraint holding Sunny in place.
"I am Ascended Jet. You can call me Master Jet. These past three days, I was on watch duty due to your Nightmare."
'Right… before I fell asleep, the policeman told me that an Awakened would arrive in a few hours to monitor my condition. To kill the Nightmare Creature if… if I die and let it through.'
Sunny was unwilling to open his mouth, terrified that all sorts of truths would come spilling out. But there were things he simply had to know.
"Master Jet? I have a question."
"Why would a Master be put on watch duty? Isn't it… below your pay grade?"
Jet gave him a dark look.
"You're smarter than you seem. Recently, there was a lot of Gates opening in this sector. Most of the local Awakened are either wounded or occupied with the clean-up. Or dead. It's always like that close to the winter solstice."
She opened the final restraint and took a step back.
"Plus, there's not a lot of Awakened who, like me, directly work for the government. It's by far the least lucrative or glorious carrier one of us can choose. Would you abandon wealth and fame to work abysmal hours and risk your life, fuelled only by altruism and sense of duty?"
Sunny wanted to say something flattering. Instead, he looked Master Jet right in the eyes and smirked.
"Of course not. I'm not an idiot!"
'Damn this damn Flaw! Damn!'
She stared at him with a humorless expression. Sunny thought that he was going to get slapped again.
But instead, Jet smiled.
"See, I was right. You really are smart."