Days flew by.
Sunny only had four weeks to prepare himself for the journey into the Dream Realm, so there wasn't even a minute to spare. He was relentless, pushing his body and mind to the limits in an attempt to absorb as much knowledge and skills as possible in that short amount of time.
In the day, he studied with Teacher Julius, slowly learning how to survive and take care of himself in the absence of civilization. Their lessons ranged from comparatively simple, like various ways to produce fire, to much more obscure and esoteric, like celestial navigation.
What was so hard about celestial navigation?
Well, as it turned out, the Dream Realm was not consistent in terms of star geography. Different regions had different stars and constellations, as well as a different number of moons. While the sun seemed to be the same, its behavior was highly unpredictable.
Still, with sufficient knowledge, one could find ways to study the skies and subsequently navigate themselves.
Most of these lessons were, supposedly, already included in the various school curriculums and known to the majority of Sleepers. However, learning something from a textbook and learning the same thing from an actual Awakened were two completely different matters.
Teacher Julius had a habit of going much more in-depth when explaining his subject. Thanks to this time-consuming habit of his, Sunny not only learned about the "what", but also often gained glimpses into the "why". This nascent understanding of the underlying principles of the Dream Realm environments gave him the ability to face any situation with at least some measure of readiness.
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Even the lessons in dead languages, which Sunny had initially judged to be useless, turned out to be much more interesting than he could ever imagine. This was, in large part, because it concerned the Spell itself — after all, the Spell communicated with humans in one of those dead languages.
By knowing the language, he was able to understand its various remarks and descriptions better. The simplest example of this was Nephis and her True Name, "Changing Star". While technically correct, this translation failed to properly convey the exact meaning.
By understanding the grammatical structure of the rune language, it was easy to extrapolate and see that the more correct translation would have been "Star of Change". More than that, there were different runes for "change", each with its own connotation. Depending on what exact rune was used to relay the meaning of the name, it could also mean "Ruinous Star" or "Star of Misfortune".
A small change in wording and connotation could mean a world of difference in real life.
Sunny, who had never seriously studied before, found the process of acquiring vast amounts of theoretical knowledge strange, numbing and exhausting.
However, in a sense, it was also exhilarating. After all, knowledge was something that only the privileged had access to. It was also this authority over knowledge that kept them in the position of power, creating a vicious circle of inequality.
The poor had no opportunity to study, and without the advantage of good education, they had no way to stop being poor.
The weirdest part about all of this was that Sunny was now one of those privileged people. More than that, he was at the pinnacle of social hierarchy. Not only had he gained access to an unlimited amount of knowledge, but even his basic needs like food and shelter were also taken care of by the government, allowing him to fully focus on the single goal of developing himself as an Awakened.
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This sudden transformation would have sent him into a whirlpool of philosophical reflection if he had any time to spare.
But he didn't, because Teacher Julius also insisted on holding practical lessons every other day. Even if some of them had to be done in virtual reality simulations, he insisted on using the full immersion stations with enhanced physical feedback. As a result, Sunny was bone-tired and utterly exhausted.
The good thing was that with such amount of exercise, coupled with his newly reforged body, Sunny had never been in better shape. Even without combat training, he could feel his strength, stamina and agility improving by leaps and bounds.
Basically, the peculiar rebirth he had experienced after completing the First Nightmare had enhanced the innate potential of his body, bringing it to the peak of the human condition. However, it was up to him to realize that potential with sweat, effort and a lot of hard work. Practical application of wilderness survival techniques provided him with the opportunity to do so.
And as though this wasn't enough, Sunny secretly collected information about other Sleepers and practiced shadow control every night.
His shadow was independent enough to be sent on scouting missions without his direct control. It would sneak here and there, listening in on the conversations and observing different classes where Sleepers had to demonstrate their Aspect Abilities.
Then, after Sunny had finished his supper and returned to his room, it would come back and share everything it had heard and seen during the day.
The only problem with this arrangement was that the shadow, despite its outward snarkiness, turned out to be rather naive. It didn't quite understand how the human world worked, and as such, often failed to distinguish between useful information and meaningless chatter.
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So, most of the time, Sunny would receive nothing of value or juicy gossip instead of important secrets.
This is how he learned that in the Sleeper Center, romance was in the air. After all, there were a hundred beautiful young people locked underground in close proximity to each other, with the added spice of a deathly threat hanging above their heads. Many felt that life was short and it was their time to seize the day. Passion bloomed in the shadow of approaching danger.
Sunny was excluded from this whole side of the thing, of course. Firstly, he had already positioned himself to be perceived as an unlikable lunatic. Secondly, he simply had no time for anything except for his lessons and training. And lastly, he was wary of getting too close to anybody, afraid that a situation would arise where he would have no choice but to divulge his True Name.
Apart from gathering information and slowly learning about the scope and details of various Aspect Abilities, and, to a lesser extent, Flaws, he was also experimenting with Shadow Control.
The results were very promising. He quickly found out that his shadow was able to enhance various objects and not only his body. If it wrapped itself around a weapon, the weapon strike harder and deliver more damage. If it was applied to an armor, the armor would become sturdier and harder to break.
The enhancement was rather substantial, too. It was roughly twice as much as the initial value.
All in all, this Ability, if used correctly, could make him a powerhouse among the Sleepers. Many combat Aspects could deliver more speed or damage, many could provide more defense and protection, but none were as well-rounded and versatile as Shadow Slave.
With the added utility of Shadow Sight, Shadow Step and Shadow Scout, it was truly incredible.
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Just like that, day after day passed, slowly turning into weeks.
Before Sunny even knew it, the winter solstice was already here.