15 Shadow Slave

[Prepare for appraisal…]

Sunny found himself in a space between dream and reality. It was an endless black void illuminated by a myriad of stars. Between those stars, countless strings of silver light were woven into a beautiful and inconceivably complex net, forming various nexuses and constellations. It was truly breathtaking.

Somehow, Sunny understood that he was seeing the inner workings of the Nightmare Spell. He also couldn't help but think that it looked a lot like the celestial equivalent of a neural network. If so… was the Spell alive?

This was a question that countless people had been asking themselves for the past few decades. The best answer they had come up with was that there was no way to know. The Spell was neither alive nor dead; neither sentient nor mindless.

It was more of a function than a creature.

But Sunny was in no mood to ponder philosophical questions. He was eagerly awaiting his boon.

The Spell was still appraising his performance. However, the first reward had nothing to do with it.

[You have received a Memory: Puppeteer's Shroud]

'Yes!'

Sunny felt incredibly elated. He was almost ready to do a happy dance. That Memory belonged to Mountain King, who was an awakened tyrant — which meant that the Memory itself was of the Awakened rank. Getting it was a stroke of incredible luck!

There were seven ranks to everything in the Spell. These ranks were, in order of growing power: Dormant, Awakened, Ascended, Transcendent, Supreme, Sacred and Divine (with the exclusion of Nightmare Creatures, who were ranked as Dormant, Awakened, Fallen, Corrupted, Great, Cursed and Unholy).

From the Spell's point of view, Sunny was a dormant human. Having a Memory of a higher rank than his own soul core would be of great help once he enters the Dream Realm. The power gap between different ranks simply could not be overestimated.

He wanted to take a look at the Puppeteer's Shroud, but there was no more time. The Spell was done with its appraisal.

Here in the void, its voice didn't sound subtle and familiar anymore. Rather, it seemed like the universe itself was speaking. Sunny held his breath, listening.

[Aspirant! Your trial is over.]

[A nameless slave ascended the Black Mountain. Both heroes and monsters fell by his hand. Unbroken, he entered the ruined temple of a long-forgotten god and spilled his blood on the sacred altar. The gods were dead, and yet they listened.]

[You have defeated a dormant beast: Mountain King's Larva.]

[You have defeated three dormant humans, names unknown.]

[You have defeated an awakened human: Auro of the Nine.]

[You have defeated an awakened tyrant: Mountain King.]

[You have received the Shadow God's blessing.]

[You have achieved the impossible!]

[Final appraisal: glorious. Your treachery truly knows no bounds.]

That final part was not really necessary, as far as Sunny was concerned, but he was still pretty satisfied with the praise from the Spell. He felt like his chances of evolving his Aspect to an Awakened, or even Ascended one were pretty high.

His overall power was still dependent on the rank of his soul core, which would remain dormant until much later, but the rank of the Aspect itself would do wonders for his overall potential.

[Dreamer Sunless, receive your boon!]

He was an Aspirant no more. Sunny grinned.

[You have been bestowed a True Name: Lost from Light.]

His jaw dropped. A true name! He had received a true name! Never in his wildest dreams did Sunny dream of becoming one of the chosen few to accomplish such feat — and in his very first Nightmare to boot! Not even all of the Saints could boast of having one. He was an elite now, a bonafide cream of the crop! He was going to be rich!

But the rewards kept coming.

[Your Aspect is ready to evolve. Evolve Aspect?]

'What kind of a question is that?!'

Sunny crossed his fingers and said "yes".

[Dormant Aspect Temple Slave is evolving…]

[New Aspect acquired.]

[Aspect Rank: Divine.]

Sunny fell over.

[Aspect Name: Shadow Slave.]

***

'Divine… it's Divine.'

Sunny was standing on his knees, stupefied. The shock was so great that for a second there he lost all control over his limbs and fell.

'It said "divine"... right?'

He raised a trembling hand and rubbed his eyes, making sure that he was awake. Or rather conscious, since, technically, he was still sleeping in the underground vault of the police station.

Confused by all this terminology, Sunny silently summoned the runes and found the lines describing his aspect.

Aspect: [Shadow Slave].

Aspect Rank: Divine.

Aspect Description: [You are a miraculous shadow left behind by a dead god. As a divine shadow, you possess plenty of strange and wondrous powers. However, your existence is empty and lonesome; you mourn the passing of your former master and long to find a new one.]

Innate Ability: [Shadow Bond].

Ability Description: [Find a worthy master and let them know your True Name. Once they recite it out loud, you will be bound to their will, unable to disobey any command. It is improper for a shadow, let alone a divine one, to walk around without a master.]

That was… a lot to digest.

First of all, Sunny felt his heart beating faster. He heard it right! All the suffering and horror he had experienced in the First Nightmare paid off in the end. A divine Aspect, he had received a divine Aspect! Anything above Awakened was rare and immensely valuable!

People with Ascended Aspects were rare enough to be fought over by various factions. The factions themselves were built around singular powerhouses with Transcendent or Supreme Aspects. And he had never, ever heard of anyone acquiring a Divine one. Never!

Anything with the "divine" prefix was so hard to find that it mostly lived in the realm of myths and legends. After all, the human race had not reached that high yet; it was only slightly more than a decade since humans managed to finally conquer the Third Nightmare and receive the ability to evolve their cores to Transcendent rank.

As Transcendents — or Saints, as they were called in the real world — powerful Awakened ruled over the Dream Realm, but even they did not dare to face Nightmare Creatures of higher ranks. Subsequently, there were not a lot of Memories and Echoes of Supreme rank around, let alone Sacred… or Divine. The same went for Aspects.

And yet Sunny just got one!

He grinned, driven half-mad by joy and arrogance. However, his jubilation was a little muddied. After all, there was that weird innate ability. Of course, he had no intention of becoming someone's magical slave, with no free will of his own. To hell with that!

But it wasn't that bad. All he had to do to avoid that fate was to conceal his True Name. No one except for him could see his status. That meant that Sunny just had to keep his mouth shut, and no one will know that he even had one.

It meant giving up on all the benefits that someone who was bestowed a True Name after the First Nightmare was entitled to, but it all paled in comparison with a Divine Aspect.

'Not a problem,' Sunny thought with a smirk.

If the Spell had the ability to laugh, it would surely do so after hearing his thoughts. However, it didn't. Instead, it began to speak again:

[The First Seal is broken.]

[Awakening dormant powers…]

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