Shadow Slave

Chapter 1160: Idle Days

They ended up spending three idle days on the Shipwreck Island. It had long been cleansed of the feral Sailor Dolls by the Fire Keepers, and no new Nightmare Creatures made it their home since. The five Masters remained on the island when it was low, and sought shelter on the flying ship when it rose high enough to become affected by the Crushing.

Imp was devouring the steel colossus with startling speed while they rested and relaxed. Sunny had not had an opportunity to truly let go of his worries in a long, long time, so this change of pace was most welcome. Vacationing in the Dream Realm was not really one's idea of fun, but they made the most of it.

Effie seemed to have regained her appetite, although she was still being picky about her food - it seemed that the military rations had left an unforgettable impression on the gluttonous huntress. As a result, the mountain of snacks she had brought over from the waking world was disappearing at a slower pace than the husk of the Sun Prince. She even shared some with the rest of them, which was both pleasant and a huge shock.

The members of the cohort lazed around, avoided doing anything productive, and spent most of their time either sleeping or chatting idly. Sunny shared more stories about his days in the Antarctic Center with them. The first weeks of scrambling to push back the hordes of abominations and establish the siege capitals, LO49, the first encounter with the Devouring Cloud, the Heart of Darkness, almost getting killed by Goliath, the escape toward Falcon Scott and the long weeks of its siege...

He had thought that remembering these events would bring nothing but bitterness, but strangely, talking about them and sharing the memories of the people he had met - his soldiers, Beth and Professor Obel, the captains of the Irregulars, the defenders of Falcon Scott - was almost soothing.

Of course, these conversations inevitably veered more in the direction of discussing various Nightmare Creatures, battle strategies, and ways to kill the abominations better. The other members of the cohort had encountered countless enemies of their own in the time they were apart, so there was a lot of knowledge, insights, and accumulated experience to share.

The others talked about their lives, too. Effie was having trouble being in charge of hundreds of people - although she was a competent battle commander, the idea of being in a position of leadership was alien to her. Luckily, Kai was usually nearby to give her support and advice. His experience serving as a centurion in the Sun Legion during the Nightmare was of tremendous help.

Sunny had a thing or two to say about being put in a position of power despite not wanting to carry that burden, as well. Cassie, meanwhile, was a wellspring of insight about the administrative and practical sides of managing a powerful force of Awakened. Needless to say, Nephis had a unique perspective on that topic, too, although she was as frugal with her words as ever.

Nevertheless, both Neph and Cassie did share a few things about how they were doing within Valor. As it turned out, they were in a somewhat awkward position - the great clan was putting great expectations on Changing Star but, at the same time, did not trust her much yet. She had been treated with respect and favor, but also held at arm's length, prohibited from coming anywhere near the really important issues of the Domain.

She had only met Anvil once, and even then briefly. Sunny was immensely curious to learn about the King of Swords, but that conversation got sidetracked entirely by Kai, who looked at them with confusion and asked what kind of anvil they were talking about. As it turned out, the handsome archer knew nothing about the Sovereigns. Learning that there were already Supremes living among humans was a shock to him.

Effie, on the other hand, had already known - she had received a few hints about this forbidden knowledge from her first cohort on the Forgotten Shore, and then pieced the rest together herself after coming back. There had been a time when Nephis warned Sunny that simply knowing about the existence of the Sovereigns could cost him his life. However, their situation was completely different now. All five were not unknown entities in the Awakened society anymore - they were renowned Masters, universally considered potential pillars of the next generation.

In other words, they had earned the right to know some secrets. In fact, they had to know, because it made putting a leash on them easier. So, Nephis shared more knowledge about the Domains with Kai and Effie. She did not tell them, though, about her suspicions about how her father had perished, how the great clans had hunted her in the past, and how she was determined to destroy them. The two seemed to understand what was left untold, nevertheless, just like they had understood why Caster died by Sunny's hand without being explained the reasons in detail.

Armed with that knowledge, it became easier for them to realize what Neph's position was in the great clan Valor. Paradoxically, Cassie's situation was a bit better - Valor was less wary of her, not considering the blind girl a serious threat. While the rest of the Fire Keepers had simply become retainers, she had received the title of a Seneschal - a high-ranking adviser, the position that was second only to the Forgemasters among the non-combatant specialists of the great clan.

The war in Antarctica was the best chance for all of them - Nephis, Cassie, and the Fire Keepers - to improve their standing within Valor. Only after proving their loyalty on the battlefield would they receive the chance to get closer to the rulers of the great clan, including the enigmatic Sovereign.

'What a mess.'

Sunny was staring at the corpse of the Sun Prince, which was now missing its head, arms, and most of its torso. He could see the little figure of the Imp laying lifelessly on top of a link of a heavenly chain, looking miserable and drunk from overeating.

His remark was both about the state of the once-fearsome Chain Lord and the situation that Nephis and Cassie had found themselves in. Shaking his head, Sunny leaned over the edge of the island and shouted:

"What are you doing, lazy waif?! Stop fooling around and eat more!"

Far below, Imp flinched, then looked up with a dull expression. Awkwardly climbing to his feet, the little fiend then sighed, made a face, and lifelessly took a bite out of the steel giant's leg.

'That's better...'

Imp chewed the ancient metal with a miserable expression, and then froze. In the next moment, his scrawny body suddenly shimmered.

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