The Sleeper part of the compound was relatively small and situated in the southern part of the Academy, surrounded on all sides by training fields and parks.
It was a low, modern building constructed with reinforced materials. Like the majority of buildings in the Academy, most of it was hidden below the ground, leaving only a couple of floors above it. With its white, pristine alloy walls and wide windows, it must have looked beautiful in the summer, contrasted against all the greenery around.
Inside, the building was spacious and well-lit. Sunny and the silver-haired girl were taken to a large hall where a hundred or so of young men and women — Sleepers of the same unfortunate timing as the two of them — were already waiting for the beginning of the induction ceremony. Most of them were nervous, tense and excited.
Logistics of the Academy were a constant headache for the administrators since the rate at which the Spell infected people was always chaotic. There was no way to orderly structure for batches of Sleepers to undergo any type of standardized education on a shared schedule: some of them had a full year to prepare for the Dream Realm, some only months, some even mere days.
That's why these induction ceremonies were held each month at the beginning of the year and then every week once the winter solstice began to loom near. Some of the Sleepers in the hall had to wait days to be inducted, while Sunny had lucked out and was delivered to the Academy just hours before the scheduled event.
Once inside the hall, he understood two things.
Firstly, everyone was well-dressed and in possession of a suitcase, a duffel bag, or at least a backpack carrying their personal belongings. They were obviously coming prepared, most likely from home, sent off by their families. So Sunny and the silver-haired girl, who came empty-handed and wearing simple police-issued clothes, were not a norm like he had assumed, but actually an eye-catching anomaly.
'Right. That makes sense.'
Secondly, Master Jet was not being overly humble when she called herself below average by Awakened standards. Even though these young people were just starting their paths as Awakened, their looks were dazzling. Everyone was handsome, beautiful and radiated health.
'Still, I feel like none of them compare. She might not be as perfectly shaped, but… I don't know… she has a presence. It's like shadows become deeper and the temperature drops by a couple of degrees when she's in a room.'
Was this the difference between a Sleeper and a Master?
But all of these thoughts were just him trying to postpone the inevitable. Sunny already knew that he was in for a wild ride.
Because he could not lie, and all of these excited youths, regardless of their clothes, gender and looks, wanted to do one thing.
Every one of them wanted to talk with fellow Sleepers. They wanted to discuss their Nightmares, their future journey into the Dream Realm, and everything in between. They wanted to ask questions. They wanted to be asked questions. They wanted to discuss something important or just chit-chat about stupid things.
Everyone wanted to share.
'It's a nightmare!' Sunny moaned, disturbed and fearful. 'I'm doomed!'
Then, with a bit of grim determination, he gritted his teeth and slowly exhaled.
'Just think about it as a continuation of your trial. You survived the black mountain, so you can survive this, too.'
He had faced heroes, villains, monsters and even gods. Was he going to be afraid of a bunch of teenagers?
…He might have underestimated how scary teenagers can be.
In half an hour, pretty much everyone in the room hated his guts.
After a short series of conversations, Sunny had acquired a reputation of an obnoxious, foul-mouthed pervert. This reputation was quickly solidified. He was slapped a few times and even punched once. He also discovered a couple of new things about his true self — namely, that deep down inside he was apparently rude, arrogant, and more than a little bit lustful.
The conversations went something like this:
"Look at all these young people. How many do you think will return from the Dream Realm? How many will perish? What do you think our own chances of survival are?"
"I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that a pompous fool like you will die first!"
"I even received an armor-type Memory in my Nightmare. It's an enchanted robe. Would you like to see?"
"Actually, I would prefer to see you without a robe…"
"Then those lowlifes began to rob the bodies. It was disgusting! They even took their shoes! What kind of degenerate would take a dead man's shoes?"
"I once killed a man and took his boots. They were nice boots."
"... What? You killed someone just for a pair of boots?"
"Of course not! There were other reasons. I also took his cloak."
Once again an outcast, Sunny was eventually left alone. People seemed to be avoiding him. Unperturbed, he found a quiet corner and stood there, glad that no one wanted to talk to him anymore. His face hurt, and there was blood dripping from his nose. Being ostracised from a group was nothing new, but it still stung.
However, he was smiling.
Because in the process of turning the whole batch of Sleepers against himself, Sunny had discovered something vital.
He learned how to control his Flaw.
Once asked a question, he could not keep quiet. He also couldn't lie. However, after a lot of experimentation, Sunny had found out that with a bit of practice, he could influence the exact way the truth eventually came out.
It was like this: after receiving a question, his mind automatically produced a truthful answer. After that, the Flaw would force him to say that answer aloud. Refusal to speak would result in the buildup of pressure, then piercing pain. The longer he kept quiet, the worse the pain would become. Eventually, he would have to surrender and reveal the truth.
However, in these moments between receiving the question and surrendering to the pain, the actual wording of the answer could be changed. The more it strayed from the initial thought, the more resistance he would meet — once again in the form of pressure, then pain. It still had to be truthful, but it didn't have to be so stark.
For example, if Master Jet were to catch him staring again and ask what he was looking at, instead of embarrassing himself Sunny would have been able to endure a bit of pain and simply say "You."
That would still be the truth, however, the result would be entirely different.
Hidden in the corner, Sunny grinned as he observed the Sleepers.
'This is good. This is great. This is something I can work with!'
After all, one didn't have to lie to deceive a person. Sometimes, truth was the best material for creating deceit.
If used with a certain devious type of intelligence, truth could be as misleading as lies. For example, in one of his previous conversations, Sunny had confessed that he had once stolen boots from a dead man. The other guy was horrified and asked if he had really killed someone just for a pair of boots. The answer the Flaw forced him to give was that there were other reasons and that he had also taken the man's cloak.
The true reason for killing the veteran slaver was that he had whipped Sunny a few hours prior. Besides, he was already dying. The cloak had nothing to do with the killing itself. However, the wording of the answer created an impression that it did.
Thus, two truthful statements, when put together, created an effect akin to a lie.
This was just a simple example. With a lot of effort and intense thinking, Sunny could create other types of manipulative truths. It was going to be extremely difficult and risky, but it could be done.
He just needed a bit of luck.
It was time to put his theory to practice.
Sunny didn't forget what his main goal was — to make sure that no one ever finds out his True Name. To achieve that, he had to create an impression that he was the most pathetic, weak person in this whole building. Someone who would never receive a positive appraisal, let alone a divine Aspect and a True Name.
However, since this would be a lie, he couldn't just go and say it.
So how was he to convince everyone that he definitely did not have a powerful Aspect and an impressive record with the Spell?
His eyes fell on a particular group of Sleepers. There were five or six of them, gathered around a tall, confident young man.
The young man had brown hair and a gentle, handsome face. His eyes were green, with a hint of friendly humor. His posture, figure and attentive gaze betrayed someone who went through extensive training. Everything about the young man screamed of nobility and strength.
Just at that moment, one of his companions was saying with a tone of amazement:
"Ascended? You have received an Ascended Aspect? What… what was your Appraisal?!"
The young man smiled humbly.
"Oh. It was "excellent."
Sunny stopped in front of the group, as though by accident. After hearing the young man's answer, he frowned and looked at him with disdain.
Then, with a voice full of utter bewilderment, Sunny said:
"Ascended, excellent? That's it? What's the big deal?"