47 Echo

'Echo… it's an Echo…'

Sunny couldn't believe his eyes.

Echoes were an extremely rare type of reward that Awakened could receive after slaying Nightmare Creatures. Chances of getting one were very low. In the real world, an Echo could be sold for an unimaginable amount of money. That's because they were much more precious than Memories.

Without delaying it much further, he dove into his Sea of Soul. There, very few things had changed: a lonely black sun was still hanging above the calm, silent waters. It was orbited by spheres of light that represented his Memories. This time, there were three of them.

Just like before, Sunny couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was stealthily moving just beyond the periphery of his vision. However, this time, he didn't pay it any attention. He wanted to see his Echo.

It, too, was represented by a sphere of light. However, this sphere was much larger and hovered further away from the Shadow Core. With a thought, he commanded it to descend.

The sphere slowly floated down and touched the dark water. As Sunny came closer, walking on the surface of the sea, its radiance slowly faded away, revealing the monster contained within.

A hulking, menacing carapace scavenger was calmly standing in front of him. There was no madness in its eyes… or any feeling at all, for that matter. After all, it wasn't really alive. It was just an echo.

Shining runes appeared in the air around the scavenger.

Echo: [Carapace Scavenger].

Echo Type: Beast.

Echo Core: Awakened.

Echo Attributes: [Strong], [Armored].

Echo Description: [A cursed soldier of the fallen legion].

Before Sunny knew it, a wide grin appeared on his face. That scavenger was now his: it could be summoned and used to fight against his enemies, carry heavy cargo or perform other tasks. What's more, it was a whole rank above its master, which meant that it was much stronger, more resilient and fearsome than a Dreamer with a dormant core should normally possess.

With this Echo by their side, many things would become easier.

Following an impulse, Sunny raised a hand and brushed it against cold, black chitin. He just wanted to touch his new possession…

However, the moment his palm touched the scavenger, a strange thing happened. The Soul of Sea suddenly surged a little, and a new set of runes appeared:

[Transform Echo into a Shadow?]

Sunny flinched and snatched his hand back.

'What the hell is that about?'

He had never heard anything about transforming Echoes into something else, let alone "Shadows". Then again, he had never heard about Shadow Cores and fragments, too.

'It seems my Aspect holds more secrets than I thought.'

Sunny licked his lips and hesitated. Then, he cautiously said:

"Yes."

However, nothing happened. A moment later, the runes changed:

[Not enough Shadow Fragments to perform a transformation.]

[Shadow Fragments required: 24/100.]

He frowned, disappointed.

'I see. So there is another use for the fragments. They can either enhance my own core or do something weird to Echoes. How do I know which use is more beneficial without knowing what a transformation actually does?'

An Echo was plenty useful by itself. Sunny felt that it would be wiser to concentrate on strengthening himself, at least for now.

'I'll experiment with it later.'

With that, he left the Sea of Soul.

Since he had spaced out for quite a bit, Nephis was looking at him with a silent question in her eyes.

Sunny grinned:

"I got an Echo."

Her pupils slightly widened.

Cassie, on the other hand, was more expressive:

"An Echo? You actually got an Echo?!"

"Yes."

Since the larger group of monsters was now minutes away from catching up with them, Sunny didn't waste any time and summoned the Scavenger.

The hulking beast immediately appeared in front of him, seemingly sewn together from tiny sparks of light. Soon, its black chitin became fully corporeal. Following Sunny's command, it shifted a little and raised its mighty pincers.

Nephis observed the Echo with an unreadable expression. Then, a corner of her lip slightly curled up.

"Good."

Sunny looked at her with a smile.

"I think we can task it with carrying Cassie. Outside of battle, it will help us the most."

The blind girl's mouth fell open.

"Carry me? Like… like a mount?"

He chuckled and slapped the scavenger on its carapace.

"This bad boy can fit a petite girl like you with no problem at all. Trust me! I've been clambering these things a lot for the past few days. It's actually quite spacious on top of them. Especially if they're not trying to kill you."

Cassie hesitated.

"Well… okay. If you think it's for the best."

Sunny and Nephis helped the blind girl to climb on top of the Echo. Then, they used the golden rope to create makeshift reins for Cassie to hold onto.

After quickly retrieving soul shards from the dead scavengers, the Sleepers hastily left the passage, narrowly avoiding another battle.

***

With Cassie riding comfortably atop the scavenger, their overall speed dramatically increased. Sunny and Nephis were jogging in the front, hoping to recoup the time lost in the first half of the day and reach the high point with an hour or two to spare.

From time to time, they had to take detours to avoid fighting groups of carapace monsters. However, with a monster of their own by their side, the mood and mental state of the three Sleepers were much better.

For the first time since coming to this place, Sunny felt somewhat calm.

Of course, this calmness didn't last long.

At some point, he noticed that the wind had picked up a bit. Almost simultaneously, Cassie asked them to stop.

Nephis and Sunny looked at her with deep frowns. It seemed that they both had a bad premonition.

"What is it?"

The blind girl let go of the reins.

"Do you hear anything?"

They looked at each other, then shook their heads.

"No. Why?"

Cassie scowled.

"Help me get off this thing."

After they helped her, she stood motionless for a while, listening. Her scowl deepened. Then the blind girl cautiously kneeled and put her ear to the ground.

"What do you hear?"

Cassie licked her lips.

"It's murmuring."

Suddenly, a drop of water fell on Sunny's face. He raised his head and looked at the sky.

There, dark stormy clouds were gathering with unnatural speed. Pretty soon, they were bound to cover it completely.

Including the sun.

And when that happened…

His eyes widened.

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