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    Chapter 75: Broken Dreams

    Sunny woke up from the insistent sense of alarm coming from his shadow. Groggy and disoriented, he opened his eyes and sat up.

    'Wh—what's wrong?'

    He looked down at the shadow and saw it repeatedly pointing up with a tense expression on its… well, it didn't have a face. He could just tell that it was nervous.


    Sunny looked up and saw nothing but the scarlet leaves of the great tree. The sky was hidden, but he could easily tell that the sun was still up. It seemed that he was asleep for just a few hours.

    There was no threat anywhere in sight. He frowned.

    'What got you so spooked?'

    The shadow just pointed up again, seemingly irritated by his stupidity. Sunny blinked a couple of times and addressed it again:

    'High in the tree? Higher? In the sky?'

    Finally satisfied, the shadow crossed its arms.

    'Something dangerous is above the island… that creepy raven thing again?'

    He had to check… but why did he feel as though he was forgetting something?

    Sunny scowled, trying to understand where this feeling of missing something important had come from. What was there to miss? He was asleep, then woke up and conversed with the shadow.


    Suddenly, he remembered bits and pieces of a strange dream. At least it seemed like a dream… was it? People weren't supposed to dream in the Dream Realm. It was just how things worked… from what he knew, only Cassie seemed to be an exception from this rule.

    He didn't remember much about this supposed dream of his, with even the remaining fragments already fading from his memory. There was a… a woman grabbing him by the shoulders, an expression of horror and panic on her face. She was saying something, but he couldn't hear what.

    No, not a woman. It was… Cassie? Yes, it was her. And the thing she was saying…

    Sunny strained his memory, trying to catch the pieces of the dream before they completely disappeared.

    'Yeah, I think she was saying… uh…'

    Suddenly, he could clearly hear Cassie's frightened, tense voice as she was hurriedly telling him to remember something, repeating the same sentence over and over again in a begging tone:

    " have to remember, Sunny! Five! It's five! Remember! You have to remember! It's five!"

    'What a strange dream.'

    Sunny cast a glance at Cassie, who was sleeping peacefully near Neph, and shook his head in bewilderment. He wasn't sure if this memory of his was really a dream or some strange scene he had imagined right before falling asleep. With how the Dream Realm worked, he was leaning toward the latter possibility.

    'Still. I better tell the girls when…'

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    He was distracted from this thought by the shadow, which waved its hands impatiently.

    'Oh, right. There's a threat in the sky…'

    Instantly, Sunny had forgotten all about his intention to share the contents of this strange memory of his with Nephis and Cassie. In fact, he had forgotten that it was strange and possibly important altogether.

    This lapse in his judgment was sudden and unnatural, but since Sunny couldn't remember things that he had forgotten, he didn't notice anything amiss and went about his business as if nothing had happened.

    …If he did, he could have realized that this might not have been the first time he had forgotten something important since they arrived at the Ashen Barrow.

    Standing up, Sunny summoned the Midnight Shard and glanced darkly at the blood-red leaves of the great tree. Feeling the coolness of the black polished hilt in his hand, he felt a little calmer.

    Woken up by his quiet movements, Nephis opened her eyes and looked at him, her body tensing up. There was a silent question in her eyes.

    Sunny shook his head.

    "I don't know yet. Stay with Cassie while I check things out."

    Leaving the girls behind, Sunny walked forward. He was planning to reach the edge of the island, where the branches of the colossal tree were not as thick and the sky could be seen through the openings in its crown.

    Technically, he could have sent his shadow to do this instead of going himself. But in situations like this, where the danger was unknown, Sunny usually preferred to keep the shadow close by in case he needed to use it.

    Reaching the eastern slope of the Ashen Barrow, he carefully looked up, still hidden in the shadow of the great tree.

    Up above in the vast grey sky, a small black dot was circling around the island.

    Sunny's chest became heavy with wariness. Back when the terrible winged beast had first appeared, it looked exactly like this from the distance.

    Leaving the shadow behind to keep watch on the black dot, he returned and briefly told Nephis and Cassie about his discovery.

    "Right now, it's just flying above the island. I don't know if it's the same creature or not, and when it is going to land."

    Changing Star frowned.

    "Last time, it wasn't very interested in searching for live prey. Perhaps it's mostly a carrion eater, and thus is only interested in the Carapace Demon's carcass."

    Cassie offered her own opinion:

    "Maybe we're too weak and little to satiate it? After all, it never came for the corpses of the scavengers we had slain. As if eating mere beasts is beneath it."

    Sunny shook his head.

    "Back then, it did come for the carapace centurion's meat. But it took a few scavengers with it as well before leaving. So it'll be too optimistic to think that this abomination will not try to devour us too if given a chance."

    Nephis thought for a while, then gave him a nod.

    "You're right. The best course of action would be to stay away from the Carapace Demon for now and hide when it decides to land."

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    Then, looking up, she added:

    "But first, we must observe it to make sure that it's the same creature and confirm its intentions."

    Not having an argument against this logic, Sunny led the girls to the spot where he had left his shadow. There, they sat on the ground and watched the black dot as it circled around the Ashen Barrow.

    Observing the flying creature left them disturbed and unsure of what to do.

    The black dot drew closer a few times, allowing them to discern that it was indeed the same terrible monstrosity that they had encountered a few weeks before, or at least a creature of the same type. However, it never got too close to the crown of the great tree, as though hesitating to land in its shadow.

    What's worse, as hours passed by, it was joined by two other abominations of the same breed, each as horrifying and repulsive as the first one was. Now, three black dots were circling in the skies above their heads, filling Sunny's heart with dread.

    One of those creatures, with its corpselike white body and raven-black feathers, with an unnatural mess of powerful limbs protruding from its wide chest, each ending with a set of terrifying talons, was enough to wipe out their entire group.

    The memory of how easily the creature had broken through the adamantine shell of the carapace centurion with its massive beak was still fresh in his mind. He suspected that these abominations were at least as powerful as the Carapace Demon was, or perhaps even more so.

    And now there were three of them.

    'We'd better hide well.' he thought, cold sweat running down his back.

    However, the flying monsters seemed to be reluctant to approach the Ashen Barrow for some reason. They just circled around it, sometimes hesitantly approaching, but then gaining height again. Their behavior was strange and disturbing.

    After some time, Cassie quietly said:

    "Maybe they're not hungry?"

    Sunny blinked, trying to imagine a world where a Nightmare Creature might not be hungry. Was it even possible?

    He, on the other hand…

    "I don't know about these albino chickens, but I'm hungry as hell."

    This was true. The three of them had not eaten anything since yesterday. Sunny was afraid that if the abominations did decide to land on the island, the loud growls of his stomach would give away his position.

    Nephis glanced and him and asked:

    "Want to eat some grilled chicken?"

    Sunny opened his eyes wide and hissed:

    "Don't even think about it!"

    She stared at him, then turned away with a smile.

    'That was… a joke? She knows how to joke?'

    Well… at least someone's sense of humor was worse than his.

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    …In the end, their worst fears did not come true. After the sun began to roll toward the horizon, the three flying abominations finally made a decision and left the skies above the Ashen Barrow, flying west in a loose wedge formation. They never descended low enough to notice the three Sleepers, let alone landing on the surface of the large island.

    Sunny was left drenched in sweat and tired from anticipating a disaster, almost disappointed at the fact that all this worrying had turned out to be for nothing. Looking at Cassie, who couldn't see that the danger had passed, he said:

    "They're gone."

    The blind girl exhaled with relief and relaxed, the frown disappearing from her face.

    "Thank Heavens. Sitting here and waiting was five times worse than hiding from one of them at those cliffs."

    For some reason, Sunny flinched a little.

    "What… what did you say?"

    "I said that waiting for them to land was very tiresome."

    He blinked, not understanding why he had reacted so strangely to this innocuous sentence. Did he see a dream having to do with Cassie and number five? Right, he did. Not that it was anything to think twice about.

    "Oh, yeah. You're right."

    Then he turned to Nephis and asked:

    "What do you want to do now?"

    Changing Star looked west, where the black dots had disappeared from sight, and said after a short pause:

    "Let's check the western edge of the island and decide on the next high point to reach."

    Sunny shrugged, not having any objections.

    Cassie smiled:

    "Good idea! Who knows, maybe we'll finally see the walls of the castle!"


    Soon, they had crossed the island and approached its western slope. Here, the ground was raised just before plunging down, forming a natural rampart that hid the landscape from their eyes.

    Nephis was the first to climb up and reach the top.

    Sunny was just behind her when he felt that something was wrong. Changing Star's posture was somehow strange, stiff and rigid, as though she had suddenly turned to stone.

    Stepping on the ashen surface of the natural rampart, he worriedly looked at Nephis and noticed a grim, resentful expression on her face. He had never seen her in such a state before.

    Turning his head, Sunny looked west and then narrowed his eyes. His face instantly darkened.

    Feeling the desire to curse, Sunny gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. Inside his head, only one word was repeating over and over again.

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    'Damn! Damn! Damn!'

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