Everything having to do with Sleepers was situated in the same building. Sunny followed the instructions sent to his communicator and quickly found the dormitories, which were situated on one of the lowest levels. To his surprise, he actually got a whole room to himself.
It had a bed with a soft mattress, a table, a dresser, and even a separate bathroom! The materials were new and aesthetically pleasing, the air crisp and sterile. It was warm inside, and the outer wall was equipped with a hidden screen that seamlessly imitated a wide window, opening to a picturesque vista of a snowy park.
There were even several sets of clothes with the Academy emblem provided to him for free.
'How extravagant,' Sunny thought, a little stunned.
Rationally, he understood that such an arrangement was not really luxurious. However, to him, who grew up wandering the outskirts, this room was like a palace. He scratched his head.
'Looks like… I've made it?'
Sunny glanced around, then winked at his shadow and smiled.
"I guess we're moving up in the world, huh?"
The shadow didn't respond, apparently not very impressed. Perhaps it didn't care about such things.
'Right, what would a stupid shadow know?'
Sunny changed into new clothes and studied himself in the mirror. Then, remembering something, he summoned the runes.
ᴘᴀ ɴ ᴅᴀ n ᴏ ᴠᴇʟ
He finally had time to study the Puppeteer's Shroud.
Memory: [Puppeteer's Shroud].
Memory Rank: Awakened.
Memory Type: Armor.
Memory Description: [A worm of doubt once found its way into a righteous king's heart. With time, the king was devoured from inside and became its puppet. A lifetime later, the Puppeteer Worm escaped from the king's dead body, leaving behind a cacoon of black silk. No one knows where it went; however, once people dared to approach the silent castle, they found the silk among the mountains of gnawed bones and fashioned it into an armor.]
Sunny made a sour face.
'That is not that terrifying. Yeah. I'm not creeped out at all.'
Come to think of it, the first creature he killed was called a larva. If he were to assume that Mountain King was a mature Puppeteer Worm — and already a tyrant… then what the hell would it transform into after becoming a moth?
No, it's better not to think about it.
With a sigh, he summoned the Puppeteer's Shroud. Thin black threads immediately appeared around his body and wrapped it into a set of armor. It was made of dark-gray, soft fabric with several elements, such as bracers and shoulder guards, fashioned out of black, lusterless leather.
The armor was light, understated and did not restrain his movements at all. It also made no sound when he moved. Perfect equipment for someone who likes to lurk in the shadows!
Sunny smiled. He knew that this armor would be tough to pierce for any Creature below the Awakened rank, which gave him a great advantage in dealing with all dormant monsters. He also felt a sort of strange, faint calmness while wearing it.
'A worm of doubt… does it have enhanced protection against mental attacks?'
Somehow, he was sure of it.
A great trophy! He wouldn't expect anything less from the Memory of a powerful tyrant.
The only problem was that the Puppeteer's Shroud was obviously not meant to be worn on top of a full set of clothes. Quite satisfied, Sunny dismissed it and left his room, heading for the cafeteria.
'Not bad, not bad,' he thought, recalling all the rewards he had received during and after the First Nightmare.
The supper turned out to be as lavish as the dormitory. Sunny's wish to taste real meat finally came true: not only was it freely available to Sleepers, there wasn't even a limit to the amount each of them could eat! More than that, there were rice, bread, various side dishes, sauces, fresh vegetables, fruits, and all kinds of delicious beverages.
'Extravagant!' Sunny thought, steering clear of the coffee.
After building a small mountain of food on his plate, he found an empty seat and, for a while, forgot about the world's existence. As juicy, textured, perfectly seasoned meat filled his mouth, Sunny's vision suddenly was full of stars. He had to hold back an exhilarated moan.
And to think, he could have lived like that for a whole year!
'Damn Spell… why didn't you infect me a few months ago?'
He concentrated on the food, decimating the whole plate in no time. Satiated and more than a little gorged, Sunny longingly looked back and thought about getting another serving. But it was already time for his appointment with the Academy personnel.
p ᴀɴ da-n ᴏv el Full of regret, he stood up and left the cafeteria.
Soon, he found himself in a small office, sitting across from an administrative worker. The worker was very friendly, and started the interview right away.
Just like Master Jet had warned him, Sunny was offered psychological counseling again. Remembering her advice, he refused, and the interview smoothly switched to questions about his Aspect.
He didn't want to give up information about his abilities, but also knew that he had to tell the worker something. Luckily, the questions were worded in a way to put Sleepers at ease. As such, most of them started with nice and polite preambles like "would you like to tell me" or "if you're willing to share", which gave Sunny an opportunity to give neutral answers.
"Would you mind telling me about the type of Aspect Ability you received, as in combat, sorcery, utility?"
He did mind, but had to be careful.
"Uh, I'm not sure. I haven't had time to understand it well."
"That's alright. Are you able to directly deal damage with your Ability?"
"I guess not? Earlier, I wasn't even able to harm a towel."
Things went on like that. In the end, Sunny shared just enough information to create an impression that his Aspect was weak, harmless and most likely having something to do with utility.
After that, he returned to his room, undressed, and went to sleep.
Sunny thought that falling asleep for the first time after the Nightmare would be weird, but in fact, it was surprisingly easy. Lying on a soft mattress, with his skin against clean bedsheets and a fluffy pillow under his head, he slept like a baby.
Early in the morning, Sunny washed up in his private bathroom and, bursting with energy, hurried to get breakfast in a happy mood.
The cafeteria was a bit crowded. After filling his plate with all kinds of delicious stuff, he quickly realized that the only place he could sit was near the blind girl from yesterday. Her table was empty, since no one wanted to be close to her.
Sunny grimaced. It seemed that the two of them were doomed to be outcasts together for the remaining four weeks. He also felt uncomfortable in the company of someone who was practically a dead person, but there wasn't much of a choice.
Losing his good mood, he sat at the blind girl's table and gave a percursory nod to the social worker who was helping her get around. After that, he tried to pretend that they didn't exist and concentrated on his food.
However, before he could finish, a sudden commotion drew his attention.
'What's going on?'
He looked up and noticed that a lot of Sleepers were gathered around the large screen hanging on the wall of the cafeteria, their faces filled with excitement and awe. On the screen, a list of names was displayed, ranking the new batch of Sleepers from weakest to strongest, most likely deduced from the results of the interviews.
Not particularly interested, he quickly found his own name near the bottom of the list. The only Sleeper who the Academy judged to be less likely to succeed than him was the blind girl. Turns out, her name was Cassia.
But the commotion was a bit too loud to be just the result of the ranking. Curious, he moved his gaze up. The Sleepers were restless.
"How… how can this be?!"
"I'm not seeing things, right?"
"What kind of a monster is she?!"
Caster was placed in second place. And right above him, the portrait of the silver-haired girl could be clearly seen.
To the right of it, two simple lines of text were displayed:
"True Name: Changing Star"