38 Questions in the Dark

Sleep was avoiding Sunny. For a while, he sat silently in the darkness, listening to the calming rumbling of the waves. In this rare moment of respite, memories of the past few days came flooding into his mind. However, he was too tired to seriously think about anything. He was warm, full, and relatively safe. For now, that was more than enough.

Soon, the rhythm of Cassia's breathing changed, indicating that she fell asleep. Nephis was guarding the camp, motionless and, as always, a bit distant. With her silver hair and fair skin, she looked like an alabaster statue.

Sunny sighed. He struggled for a bit, and then said quietly:

"Hey. Can I ask you a question?"

Nephis glanced at him and shrugged. The lack of an audible response clearly indicated that she remembered about his ability to see in the dark.

"Sure."

'Would it be too personal?'

Sunny hesitated.

"I thought you Legacies come into the Spell with a whole inherited arsenal of Memories. I mean, that's supposed to be your main advantage. How come you only had three?"

Nephis was silent for a few moments.

"Actually, I only had two. The rope came from Cassie."

He raised an eyebrow.

"Oh. I see."

Realizing that her answer wasn't really an answer, Nephis thought for a while and added:

"We lost most of our Memories when my father passed away. The ones that remained were sold one by one over the years, to keep the family afloat. This sword and armor came from my First Nightmare."

So that's how it was. Sunny realized that the fall of the Immortal Flame clan might have been more thorough than he had thought. Still, something about it didn't make sense.

"Surely, with your clan's reputation and standing, there were other ways to make money."

Without any strong reaction, Nephis simply said:

"There were other reasons."

Then, she unexpectedly turned her head in his direction.

"Can I ask you a question in return?"

Sunny swallowed.

"Yeah, go ahead."

Nephis tilted her head.

"How did you know that I'm a Legacy?"

'What? That's it?'

"Simple. I heard Caster mention it. He was scolding other Sleepers to make them treat you with respect."

She gave him a nod and turned away. What thoughts were hidden behind her calm grey eyes, Sunny did not know.

Some time had passed before he gathered enough courage to ask the question that he really wanted to ask. Before doing it, though, he made sure that Cassie was sound asleep and lowered his voice.

"Can I ask another question?"

Without getting a negative response, he continued:

"Why are you burdening yourself with her?"

A corner of Changing Star's mouth curled up slightly.

"Why? Wouldn't you?"

Sunny gritted his teeth, feeling the Flaw pushing the truthful answer out of his mouth.

"No."

To be honest, he wanted to believe to the last moment that the answer would be "yes". But one of the things he had lost after the Nightmare was the ability to lie to himself. Truth was merciless.

It's not that Sunny did not pity the blind girl or didn't want to help her. It's just that he knew with certainty that it was simply not something he could do. He was barely able to save himself, let alone carry a helpless person across the Dream Realm. If he tried, they would just die together.

Still, he couldn't help but be a little disappointed in himself.

Nephis, however, did not seem to judge him. She showed no reaction at all. After a few moments, she simply said:

"Because I want to."

'Because… she wants to?'

That was not the response Sunny expected to hear. He was pretty sure that she would either lecture him about virtue and compassion or disclose some obscure way to make Cassie's seemingly weak Ability incredibly useful.

However, she did neither. Nephis expected him to believe that she was putting her life in danger, to the point of sacrificing an awakened armor-type Memory, because that was something she simply wanted to do.

'Ridiculous!'

At first, he dismissed her response as a non-answer. But the more he thought about it, the more disturbed he felt.

Because, maybe, it was actually the truth.

Due to the circumstances of his life, Sunny had never really done things because he wanted to. Most of the time, he was doing them because he needed to. It was never a question of "want"... it was always a question of "must". For him, this was a basic rule of life.

But was it really? Or was it just a matter of perspective? Nephis had certain advantages in her upbringing, but they weren't as ample as he had imagined. She had no wealth and no arsenal of relics to empower her. However, she did have a mentality that was different from Sunny's.

It wasn't impossible for her to have the audacity to disregard need in favor of something as frivolous as desire, and do things that a normal person like Sunny would never do.

Like helping a blind girl simply because that was what Nephis wanted to do.

Perhaps, that mentality was the greatest advantage of all.

Perhaps, that was the real barrier that separated Legacies from the rest of them.

That was a lot to think about. However, before Sunny could gather his thoughts, Nephis suddenly spoke again.

"My turn."

'Uh… does she mean it's her turn to ask a question?'

Indeed, that was what she meant. Changing Star once again turned to Sunny and, after a long pause, suddenly asked:

"Do you know the legend of Odysseus?"

'A what… who? What sort of a weird question is that?!'

Bewildered, Sunny shook his head. Then, remembering that she couldn't see him, he said:

"No."

Nephis sighed and turned away. A few moments later, she softly said:

"Odysseus was a hero in an ancient war. In the legends, some humans back then had powers akin to the Awakened. Achilles with an Aspect of indestructible body, Diomedes that was so ferocious even the God of War was wary of him, Ajax who was as strong as a giant. Odysseus was not the strongest, and not the bravest. However, he was the most cunning."

Sunny blinked, staring at the silver-haired girl.

'What? Where did this come from? Why is she suddenly so eloquent?'

Meanwhile, Nephis continued:

"In the end, Odysseus's cunning ended the war, and he prepared to sail home. However, the gods cursed him to endlessly wander the seas, never to return. Over the years, he survived one horror after another and lost all of his companions. Then, shipwrecked, he found himself on an island where the beautiful fairy, Calypso, lived."

Changing Star's ethereal, strangely wistful voice resounded in the darkness, creating an enthralling atmosphere. Sunny couldn't help but listen with the utmost attention.

"Calypso fell in love with Odysseus and invited him to her palace. For many years, they lived together in harmony. The island was like a paradise, filled with all kinds of wonders, delicacies and delights. As long as loving Calypso was by his side, Odysseus was even immortal. But… the longer he stayed, the more time he spent sitting on the shore, looking at the sea with bleak eyes."

Nephis smiled.

"In the end, Odysseus built a makeshift boat and abandoned the island, leaving all its delights, the beautiful fairy, and even his immortality behind. So, my question is… why did he leave?"

Sunny blinked.

'What?'

What kind of a mind game was that? He even considered that Nephis was mocking him, but it didn't seem to be the case. It looked like she was sincerely interested in the answer.

'Weirdo!'

He thought for a bit, and then said without too much conviction:

"Maybe it was because he was far away from home?"

A fleeting smile appeared on Nephis's face.

"Far away… from home. Hm. Alright."

After that, she turned away and lowered he head, becoming like a statue again.

It seemed like their conversation was over.

Grumbling internally, Sunny lay down and tried to fall asleep. However, the image of bleak-eyed Odysseus kept appearing in his mind. After a while, he whispered:

"Well? Did he make it back home?"

Soon, Nephis replied.

"Yes. He returned to his wife and son, and they lived happily ever after."

Satisfied, Sunny smiled and turned on his side.

When he was already half-asleep, he heard Changing Star's quiet voice one again. This time, it was barely audible and aimless, as though not directed at anyone.

"Odysseus was the first human to break the will of gods."

***

In the morning, Sunny and Nephis were the first to get up. While the sun was rising and the sea was retreating, they made a fire and began preparing a simple breakfast.

With Cassia still asleep, they did not talk to each other much. It was like the last night's conversation did not happen. However, after some time, they somehow ended up discussing the plan for the next few days. Nephis had some ideas.

"With what you told us about scavengers crowding to the west, the logical step would be to start moving east as soon as we can. Of course, north and south are also acceptable, but that won't put as much space between us and the enemy."

Sunny nodded, agreeing with that logic.

"We have explored to the east a little, but not enough to confidently make it to the next high point in a day. That's why the best course of action would be to spend today scouting a path to that group of cliffs over there and move the camp tomorrow."

He sighed.

"Do you have any idea where we are? Would there be a human Citadel to the east?"

Nephis shook her head.

"I've never heard of a region that fits the characteristics of this place. In any case, we have to move to find out more. We'll either find a Citadel, encounter an unconquered Gateway… or die. East is as good of a direction as any. Plus, it's the safest, because there's a horde of monsters to the west."

At that point, Cassie suddenly sat up straight. Her eyes were wide open, and her face was a little pale. She looked nervous and excited.

Nephis frowned.

"Cassie? What's the matter?"

The blind girl turned to them and smiled.

"A… a vision! I had a vision!"

'Like… a prophetic dream?' Sunny thought, trying to come to terms with this new reality of someone being able to see the future. Or the past.

Meanwhile, Changing Star stretched her hand, as though prepared to summon her sword.

"Are we in danger?"

Cassie energetically shook her head.

"No, it's not that! People… I saw a castle full of people!"

She smiled at pointed with her finger.

"I don't know how far it is, but I'm sure that it's in that direction!"

Sunny and Nephis looked at each other, not knowing whether to be glad or petrified.

Cassie's small, delicate finger was confidently pointing west.

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