The rest of the way to the tall hill did not take a lot of time. With Nephis leading the way, taking all the right turns at all the right places, there was no need to explore the labyrinth and backtrack after encountering a dead end. Additionally, there were no scavengers around.
In fact, they could have moved ever quicker if not for Cassia, who walked slowly even with the help of her staff. Guided by the golden rope, she carefully explored the ground ahead before taking each step. The uneven paths of the crimson forest were not an ideal surface for a blind person to walk on.
Sunny didn't say much, periodically casting an incredulous glance at the strange pair. No matter how he looked at it, Cassia seemed to be dead weight. Perhaps it was cruel to say, but in the merciless reality of the Dream Realm, misguided kindness was a sure way to end up dead.
Before meeting and observing the girls, he still had hope that Cassia's terrible Flaw hid an unexpected and powerful Aspect. But from what he saw, it wasn't the case. If she couldn't even walk properly, what kind of power was there to hide? Nothing could outweigh the ruthless fact that the blind girl couldn't protect herself, and thus would only drag her companions down.
One had to be a fool or not fond of living to allow that to happen. So… which one of these descriptions suited Nephis? Somehow, he felt that neither did.
The sunset was not far off when they reached the hill. After climbing it and approaching the massive growth of coral, Nephis dismissed the golden rope and immediately summoned it again. This way, it was untied and appeared in her hands in a neat bundle.
'Ah. So it's a Memory.'
Sunny wondered what qualities the magical rope had. Soon, his curiosity was satisfied: right in front of his surprised eyes, the length of the rope suddenly began to increase. Soon, it was thrice as long as it was before.
Nephis calmly tied both ends of the rope into loops and then threw one of them into the air, accurately coiling it around a prominent protrusion near the top of the coral pillar. Then, she tested if the rope would hold, swiftly climbed up and waved from above, giving Sunny the signal to follow.
After hesitating for a second, Sunny approached the rope and grabbed it.
He couldn't help thinking that this would be the perfect opportunity to cut his head off. With him helpless while climbing and Nephis standing on the top of the pillar… yeah. The vivid picture appeared in his mind.
'Stop being paranoid!' Sunny thought, trying to calm himself down.
It's not that he was sure of Changing Star's impeccable moral qualities. Instead, he was certain of one thing: if Nephis really wanted to kill him, she wouldn't have needed to wait for an opportunity. She could have just cut him into ribbons whenever.
Simultaneously scared and reassured by this thought, Sunny nimbly climbed up and joined Nephis at the top of the coral mound. He then turned around and watched curiously, wondering how Cassia was going to get to them.
The blind girl dismissed the wooden staff and approached the rope. Then she caught it in a hand, traced it down to the loop at the end, and placed her foot inside. As soon as she was done, Nephis grabbed the rope and started pulling, lifting Cassia little by little until she had reached the top. She only had to grab Nephis's hand and make a step to join them.
The coral mound was much larger than the circular stone platform of the giant knight's neck. In fact, it was almost like a small island. At the highest point of the island, hidden behind some coral blades, the girls had made a little camp. There were piles of seaweed to sleep on, strips of scavenger meat drying under the sun, and a firepit.
Sunny pointed to the makeshift firepit.
"Was it you two nights ago? I've seen an orange light in the distance."
Cassia's face darkened.
"Yes, this was the first time we made a fire. But it turned out to be a really bad mistake."
Sunny raised an eyebrow, surprised.
The blind girl touched her hair and turned her head to Nephis.
"At night, any light will attract monsters. We were attacked by scavengers first. And then… then…"
She paled and didn't finish. But she didn't have to: the memory of the colossal tentacle was still fresh in Sunny's mind.
It seemed that he was lucky to meet these two when he had. If not, he was certainly going to make a fire tonight to roast some scavenger meat.
"Uh. I see."
Nephis looked at the sky and cleared her throat.
"It should be fine now. We still have time before the sun sets."
After that, she got busy making the fire. Cassia simply sat on a pile of seaweed and waited. Not knowing what to do, Sunny lowered himself to the ground and let his tired, bruised body rest.
After a while, he said:
"I have fresh meat in my rucksack. Do you have water?"
After that, she extended an arm to him. A second later, a beautiful bottle made of patterned blue glass appeared in her hand.
"That's a Memory I have. It's always full."
Sunny took the glass bottle and looked at it with envy.
'An endless supply of water, huh? Sure beats my super loud bell!'
He brought the bottle to his lips and greedily drank the cool, delicious water. Indeed, no matter how much he drank, the amount of water inside did not seem to decrease.
"Is it really endless?"
Cassia touched her hair again.
"Uh… not really. If you turn it upside down and let the water flow, it will stop in half an hour or so. But then it will be full again pretty soon."
At that time, Nephis was already done making the fire. Without looking up, she took Sunny's rucksack and opened it. Immediately, the soul shard rolled out. The tall girl looked at it, then at Sunny. Then she put the shard back in and pulled out the meat.
Sunny became tense, preparing a misleading answer. But Nephis did not ask. So, he pretended like nothing had happened and continued his conversation with Cassia.
"It's still a great Memory. Getting drinkable water is not an easy task!"
Cassia nodded and smiled, pleased by his words.
Soon, the rich smell of roasting meat permeated the air. At the same time, the sun was beginning to approach the horizon; a loud rumble came from somewhere beneath, and first traces of the black water began to appear between crimson walls of the labyrinth.
Sunny looked east, where the skies were already growing dark. Then he uncomfortably shifted.
"Do scavengers come all the way up here?"
Nephis turned the meat and nodded.
"Yes. But… only at night. In the day, most of them seem to disappear."
Sunny grinned, having an idea of why there weren't a lot of monsters in the labyrinth in the day.
"That's because they all gather near the place I had been spending my time recently. You should have seen it — the tall cliff to the west of here. Well, it's actually a statue."
Cassia opened her eyes wide.
"A… a statue? But for you to survive, it should be…"
"Yes, it's a giant statue of a knight, at least two hundred meters tall. He is missing his head, so I hid on top of the neck. Anyway… the day we were sent here, two sea creatures fought each other near that statue. When the water receded, I saw an enormous carcass lying there, with hundreds of scavengers slowly tearing it apart."
"That would explain the lack of Nightmare Creature in the day. How long?"
"How long what?"
Changing Star stared at him for a few seconds, making everyone feel uncomfortable.
"How long... until they are done devouring the carcass?"
"Oh. One day more, two at most."
Nephis turned away, took the meat away from the fire, and then quickly extinguished it.
'There's definitely something wrong with that girl!'
The three of them ate in the dimming light of the twilight. The meat was juicy, tender and indescribably delicious. It was better than anything Sunny had ever tasted, even back in the Academy's cafeteria. Of course, his excruciating hunger played a part in that.
From time to time, they would pass the glass bottle to each other.
When they were finished with their meal, the dark sea was back, and the night was upon them. Everything was consumed by absolute darkness.
Of course, Sunny could easily see both Nephis and Cassia. Under the cover of the night, Changing Star remained pretty much the same. The blind girl, however, allowed her true emotions to show, thinking that no one would see. She seemed much more lost, lonely and frightened than she did in the day.
As if trying to resist these feelings, Cassia said in a bright voice:
"How about we formally introduce ourselves? I'm Cassie."
Nephis glanced in her direction and shrugged.
Next, it was Sunny's turn. He exhaled, glad that they didn't ask his name directly. Most likely, he would still have been able to provide his human name — however, it also might have depended on the wording of the question.
Relieved, he smiled and answered:
"I'm Sunless. But you can call me Sunny."