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    Chapter 19: Crossing the Bridge

    Sunny was standing in front of the massive, seemingly indestructible red gates of the Awakened Academy. The Academy was, in fact, a city within the city. It was built like a fortress, with a high wall made of hard alloy, deep moat and numerous large-caliber turrets which were placed in certain positions to create a deadly air-suppression dome. No Nightmare Creature, not even colossal titans, were supposed to be able to break through its defenses.

    It was a legendary place. Actually, many of the most popular webtoons, youth dramas and novels took place right behind that wall. Adventures, rivalries and romantic entanglements of the young Awakened heroes were the mainstream theme of modern entertainment. Never in his wildest dreams did Sunny imagine actually becoming one of these heroes.

    Of course, how things really were differed a lot from how it was portrayed in the media. More than that, he had only four weeks to spend here before venturing into the Dream Realm. Even if he wanted to, there was not enough time for any type of entanglement. And he definitely did not want to.

    He had to learn how to survive, not waste time on such nonsense!

    The snow was slowly falling to the ground. It was cold and silent in front of the Academy gates. Except for Sunny, there was only one other person — another new Sleeper, if he had to guess.

    It was a tall, slender girl of around his age, with clear grey eyes and a detached look on her face. She had strange, silver-white hair that was cut short and neatly parted to the side. Just like him, she was dressed in a police-issued tracksuit and had no personal belongings with her. On her head, there was a pair of old-fashioned headphones. She was calmly listening to music while they waited.

    There was a certain vibe to the silver-haired girl. It was sort of… as though she was apart from the world. She looked confident and self-sufficient, but also a bit lonely.

    Sunny wasn't going to start a conversation. Who knew what kind of situation he would put himself in due to that damn Flaw? It was better to keep to himself.

    He glanced at the girl and sighed.

    'I wonder what Flaw does she have?'

    Finally, the gates began to open. The giant, ridiculously thick sheet of reinforced metal slowly descended, creating a long bridge. Sunny looked ahead with grim determination.

    Master Jet's parting words echoed in his mind.


    On their drive to the Academy, Sunny didn't speak much, looking at the sights of the city that were flying past the window of Jet's personal transport vehicle. Actually, it was his first time sitting in a PTV: most people in the city couldn't even dream about getting a license and purchasing a vehicle like that, having to do with public transportation.

    He had ridden in the back of a police cruiser once or twice, but that was a completely different experience.

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    At some point, Master Jet looked at him and said:

    "Since we both come from the outskirts, I'll give you three pieces of advice. Whether you listen to me or not is your business."

    Sunny turned his head, waiting.

    "First: once you're registered in the Academy, they'll offer you psychological counseling again. There will also be a valuable reward for sharing your experiences in the Nightmare and the details of your Appraisal. You'll be able to receive a soul shard, maybe even several of them."

    He frowned.

    "Are you trying to convince me to visit a psychiatrist again?"

    Jet shook her head.

    "No. I'm telling you to refuse."

    Surprised, Sunny raised his eyebrows.


    There was a pause before she answered.

    "You're too green to understand, but out there in the Dream Realm, Nightmare Creatures are not the only danger. Once you grow powerful enough, humans will become an equal threat. The less they know about your Aspect, the better."

    So that's how it is.

    "The easiest way to defeat a powerful Awakened is to use their Flaw. That's why young fools in the Academy are encouraged in various ways to share the details of their Aspects. I'm not saying that the government will leak your information, but once two people know a secret, it's no longer a secret. And there's a lot of people working for the government."

    That made a lot of sense.

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    "Thank you, Master Jet."

    She gave him a nod.

    "Second: there will be a lot of courses to choose from. All types of combat training, deep dives into Nightmare Creature categories and vulnerabilities, basics of various types of sorcery, artifact study and so on."

    Sunny gulped. Actually, he was already agonizing about what weapon to train with. Four weeks was not enough to master a weapon, but at least he would have a basic understanding of it.

    "Disregard all of that. The only course you have time to attend is Wilderness Survival."

    He blinked.


    Jet glanced at him.

    "It's different for city kids, who learn all sorts of useful things in school and from their tutors. But we don't have that advantage, do we? What was the biggest threat to your life during the Nightmare?"

    Sunny thought about it. On the surface, the most dangerous thing he faced was the tyrant, followed by Hero… Auro of the Nine. But actually, what almost killed him in the end was…

    "The cold."

    Jet smiled.

    "Smart. You only know how to survive in the city. But the Dream Realm is mostly made of wilderness. Do you know how to make a fire? How to procure food? How to find safe shelter? No. Fighting monsters is important, but it'll be useless if you die of hunger or exposure to the elements. Trust me. I've learned it the hard way."

    Sunny nodded, angry at himself. It was so obvious, yet he never even thought about these seemingly simple things. He was blinded by his past habits and experience.

    Human brains were like that: once accustomed to a certain way of living, it was hard to see past the already familiar routines. It was lazy thinking at its worst.

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    At that point, Master Jet had stopped the car and opened the door, getting out. Sunny followed her and was momentarily stunned, staring at the colossal metal gates in front of them.

    This was… the famous Awakened Academy.

    After a few seconds, he shook off his amazement and turned to his senior.

    "This is as far as I go," she said, looking cheerlessly at the walls of the Academy. "I've already notified them. Someone will come fetch you in a while."

    There was something dark in the depths of her icy blue eyes. Sunny suddenly felt a cold feeling spreading through his body.

    "What's the third advice?"

    Master Jet glanced at him, then sighed.

    "Remember: no one can survive in the Dream Realm alone. That's not an opinion, that's a fact. Try to get along with your peers, even if they don't treat you well. It might save your life."

    Then she suddenly smiled and patted him on the shoulder.

    "You've done well to survive until now. Make sure to keep yourself alive in the future, too."

    Then she got back into her PTV and drove off. Just like that, she was gone.


    The end of the metal bridge hit the special grooves in the ground and stopped moving after a set of loud clicks. Sunny looked ahead, wondering what kind of life he was going to be living in the next four weeks.

    Keep your Flaw and Aspect secret, learn to survive in the wilderness, be nice to other Sleepers. It didn't sound too hard.

    But, for some reason, he was sure that these weeks were going to be as challenging as his First Nightmare. Or maybe even worse.

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    Seemingly free of such concerns, the silver-haired girl walked forward and stepped on the bridge.

    Sunny sighed and reluctantly followed.

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