27 Measure of Power

It seemed like Caster suddenly ceased to exist.

However, it was only an illusion. The truth was that he was just moving so fast that the human eye wasn't able to keep up with his movements. If it wasn't for the special properties of Shadow Sight, Sunny wouldn't have been able to perceive anything either.

Even then, he only noticed a hazy blur streaking through the air.

In a fraction of a second, Caster covered the distance between him and Nephis and delivered a devastating blow. However, despite his astonishing speed, she somehow managed to react in time, slightly turning her body to deflect the strike.

But it still wasn't enough. Although Nephis had managed to avoid being hit squarely in her center of gravity, Caster's fist ended up connecting with her shoulder, sending the girl into a spin.

Not wasting any time, Caster disappeared again. His plan was very simple: while Nephis was still under the impression that the enemy was in front of her, he was going to use his unnatural swiftness to circle around and attack from the back.

The young man appeared behind the oblivious girl, ready to finish the fight with one decisive strike. Just as he planned, she seemed to be preparing to attack in the direction he had been seen just a split second ago. Gratified, Caster shifted his weight, putting it all into his fist.

However, at the last moment, Nephis suddenly changed her stance and threw her elbow back with frightening force.

Caster's eye widened. It was all a feint!

And now that he had committed to a strike, there was no simple way to stop. No matter how fast he was, he was still subject to the laws of inertia. The elbow was approaching his face with a profound feeling of inevitability.

And yet, Caster still managed to avoid it, even if it was just by a hair's breadth. His speed advantage was just too big.

He then proceeded to trip and push Nephis, sending her flying to the ground. However, just before she was about to his the mats, the young man carefully grabbed the collar of her dobok and gently pulled, slowing down the fall and allowing Nephis to land on the floor without any impact.

Lying on her back, the girl blinked a couple of times and looked up at him. The whole altercation lasted no more than two seconds.

Back in his room, Sunny opened his eyes in shock.

'So that's an Ascended Aspect? That's… that's cheating!'

A Sleeper had no business being that fast. The powers bestowed upon them by the Spell were supposed to be in their infancy. But… Caster was a Legacy, after all.

Who knew how many soul shards were fed to him prior to enrolling into the Academy?

Back in the dojo, Instructor Rock grunted and gave Caster a nod. Nephis slowly rose to her feet.

The rest of the Sleepers were gawking at the young man with reverence, whispering among each other in hushed tones. It seemed that his performance left them with a deep impression.

However, Caster himself wasn't very elated. He glanced at Nephis with an unreadable expression.

That was because, unlike the rest of them, he came to a certain realization. The truth of the matter was known only to him, Nephis, Instructor Rock… and Sunny, who was very observant and quickly picked up on such things.

The thing that Sleepers failed to notice was that Nephis did not use her Aspect Ability when facing Caster. In fact, she had not used it at any point during today's testing. No one even knew what her Ability was.

And yet, despite his powerful Aspect, Caster barely managed to clutch a victory against her.

'What a monster,' Sunny thought, full of unease.

The shadow hiding in the corner of the dojo seemed to agree with him wholeheartedly.

***

After that, the introductory combat class was over. Sore from the beating they received, Sleepers headed for the showers. Sunny waited for a bit and then directed his shadow to sneak into the boy's locker room.

He wasn't very interested in watching a bunch of teenagers changing clothes, but there was a slight possibility that Caster would either comment on his duel with Nephis or answer some questions about his incredible Aspect Ability.

Just as he had expected, the young man was surrounded by a group of newly converted fans. They were congratulating him on his victory, full of adoration and excitement. However, Caster himself seemed to be in a bad mood. His expression was somber, and there was a grim heaviness in his eyes.

In fact, his face grew darker with each praise he received.

"Caster, that was incredible!"

"You Aspect is overpowered, am I right?"

"That Nephis girl stood no chance at all!"

"True Name? Who needs that? She's just a wanna-be!"

Finally, Caster raised his head and pierced the last boy who had spoken with a cold look. That boy, just like him, was one of the few Legacies in their batch of Sleepers. He frowned, surprised by Caster's rection.

"What is it?"

Caster gritted his teeth.

"I might have expected such behavior from them, but you should know better."

The other Legacy raised an eyebrow.

"Why? Is there something special about that peasant girl?"

Caster's eyes widened.

"Peasant… peasant girl? Do you really not know who she is?"

'No!' Sunny thought impatiently. 'So just get to it and say it out loud!'

Luckily, the arrogant Sleeper had the same sentiment.

Caster opened his mouth several times, as though not sure what to say. Finally, he shook his head and answered:

"She is Nephis of the Immortal Flame clan."

As soon as he said that, the arrogant Legacy became deathly pale. Not paying him any attention, Caster continued.

"I trust that I don't need to tell you about her grandfather. Her parents were Smile of Heaven and Broken Sword."

In his room, Sunny almost fell from the chair.

Even he knew who Immortal Flame and Broken Sword were. The former was the first human to conquer the Second Nightmare and become a Master. The latter — the first one to conquer the Third Nightmare and become a Saint.

They, as well as their companions, were among the most famous heroes of the human race, someone who had managed to change history with their own two hands. If what Caster said was true, then Nephis wasn't just an aristocrat… she was royalty!

No wonder he addressed her as "lady". Why didn't he just call her "princess" instead?

But that didn't make any sense!

Echoing his thoughts, the pale-faced Sleeper asked in trembling voice:

"Then why… why is she so…"

Caster sighed.

"Because they're all dead. The Immortal Flame clan is long gone."

For a few moments, the locker room was completely silent. Caster looked down.

"She's the only one left."

***

Late at night, when everyone was already asleep, Sunny furtively entered the dojo. Looking around, he made sure that no one was there and then curiously approached the ring where Nephis and others had been tested earlier. He stopped at the center of the ring and stood there for a while, remembering how she had dealt with dozens of Sleepers of their batch before being defeated by Caster.

"Monsters… both of them are monsters!" he mumbled, bitter and disheartened.

Shaking his head, Sunny left the ring and then he looked at his shadow.

"Do you agree?"

The shadow hesitated for a few seconds, then stuck out its chest and crossed its arms, trying to appear cocky, disdainful and unperturbed. However, its act wasn't very convincing.

"Yeah, you're right. Exactly! What's the big deal anyway?"

Both Immortal Flame and Broken Sword, Nephis's father and grandfather, were as monstrous in terms of power as one can get. But they still failed to protect their family from being eviscerated. So, power wasn't that important in the end.

Even royalty was not safe from the cruelty of the world.

Sunny sighed and proceeded to the measuring machine. Making a fist, he swung it and delivered his best punch. The machine hummed for a few seconds and then displayed a single number.

Nine.

"Oh, come on! I deserve a ten, at least!"

Feeling very indignant, he struck the plate again, almost hurting his fingers. However, the result was the same.

"Damn it!"

Sunny paced for a bit, trying to control his anger. It seems he was destined to be a weakling. After all, the force of the strike depended on mass and acceleration. Acceleration could be improved with technique and exercise, but mass was something he had little control of.

He was already done growing, and his height was not going to drastically increase in the future. No matter how hard Sunny trained, he was always going to be a lightweight.

'How is this fair?'

Suddenly filled with resentment, he punched the plate again, putting all of his frustration into this one strike.

At that moment, a strange instinct suddenly awakened in Sunny's mind.

Following the command of this instinct, his shadow flowed up and wrapped itself around his hand, sticking to it like a black glove. In the next moment, the punch connected.

The machine trembled from the force of the strike. Sunny's yelped in pain and took a step back, cradling his bruised fist. After a while, the result was displayed. However, it wasn't a nine anymore.

It wasn't even a ten.

It was eighteen.

He looked at the displayed number for a long time, expressionless.

Then, a wide grin slowly appeared on Sunny's face.

"I see. So that why. Of course!"

He clenched his fist again, looking down at the black, shadowy glove.

Ah, what an invaluable helper indeed.

"Now we're talking!"

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