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'What a chore…'

Sunny dragged himself out of the Dreamscape pod and sighed.

Even though the battle royale happened inside an illusion and his body wasn't tired or bruised, the mental exhaustion was real. The qualifier round had turned out to be much more demanding than Sunny had thought.

Of course, he could have used the three shadows to augment himself and devastate the entire arena, but that would have defeated the purpose. Sunny had managed fine with just his own strength. This way, he was also polishing his technique and enriching his comprehension of Shadow Dance, which was not a small matter.

Putting on some clothes, he returned upstairs, sprawled on the sofa, and then looked at his communicator.

Currently, hundreds of similar illusory battles were being broadcasted for people to see. Some were already close to a conclusion, some were in the thick of bloodshed, and some were only just starting.

However, not every broadcast received the same amount of attention — those arenas where renowned duelists or especially powerful newcomers were fighting pulled the most of it. Sadly, due to Mongrel's infamy, the one Sunny had just finished was among the more popular broadcasts. It was also one of the earliest to end, so clips of the most exciting moments were already circulating on the network.

Sunny groaned.

'Perfect… just perfect... another damned viral clip…'

His final fight against Fireshing and Saitoh received a lot of views, but nowhere near as many as the clip of his brutal confrontation with the twelve ambushers.

The comments were exploding.

"Hell yeah! Our Lord taught these thugs a lesson!"

"Only twelve? These guys are idiots, they should have gathered at least a hundred…"

"No hard feelings? None whatsoever… gods, how can anyone be so cool?!"

"Did you see his odachi shapeshift? I was not hallucinating, right?"

"...Is it just me, or does Mongrel's hair look extra gorgeous today?"

He grimaced, then look at the comments under the other video:

"That Saitoh guy… why did he even ask? Doesn't he know that Mongrel is an icon of chivalry?"

"Of course it is beneath Lord Mongrel! He is so noble!"

"What are you fools talking about? Mongrel is not noble! He is a wild beast! He only said that teaming up is beneath him because a beast like him doesn't need anyone's help to kill everyone! "

"Gee, so many edgelords in the comments today. Eh, I miss the early days when only true experts knew about Mongrel. His technique was way better back then, too…"

Sunny stared at the screen for a while, then shook his head.

'What's wrong with these people? Since when was I an icon of chivalry? Wait, what does chivalry even mean?'

He shook his head again, then switched to the official feed and looked up the results of his match.

Sunny, of course, qualified for the tournament the moment he had won the battle royale. However, other participants also had a chance to move on to the next stage. That depended on their performance and individual score, so there was no set number of people who would be allowed to continue.

As it turned out, out of the thousand Awakened who had fought in his battle royale, two more qualified to participate in the tournament — one of them was Fireshing, the young woman whom he had faced last, and Dar of the Maharana clan, the archer who had almost skewered Sunny with his giant arrows.

'Huh. The bastard squeezed through, after all.'

Losing interest, Sunny turned off the communicator and yawned.

Tomorrow, the real tournament was going to begin. Around a thousand fighters — those who proved their mettle in the qualifying rounds — were going to face each other in proper duels, and after several days of intense competition, one victor was going to emerge to reap the best reward.

'I better rest well.'

He went back into the underground dojo, climbed into the sleeping pod, and closed his eyes. Soon, the familiar sight of the Sanctuary appeared in from of him.

Without wasting any time, Sunny left the Altar Island, went to his room, crashed on the narrow cot, and almost instantly fell asleep.

...Who said that there was no rest for the wicked?

***

The next morning, Rain appeared at his doorstep for the training session, punctual as ever. Luckily, the tournament was not going to start until noon, so Sunny didn't have to find an excuse to cancel their lesson.

Not that he would. This was much more important than some stupid tournament. He could get powerful Memories elsewhere, but every day that passed was one less day for him to increase his sister's chances of survival. So, tutoring Rain took precedence.

The girl repeated the movements and katas he had shown her the last time. Her form was as horrible as he had expected, but Rain was nothing if not diligent. She was improving with every set, slowly correcting the mistakes he pointed to her and absorbing the technique into her bones. For a complete novice, she was doing rather great.

'Runs in the blood, I guess.'

Making sure that she couldn't see, Sunny faced away and grinned. At that exact moment, his communicator received a message. After looking at it, his mood improved even further.

The message was from Aiko, informing him that the soul shards he had retrieved from the Wormvine were finally sold. Transcendent shards were infinitely more rare and precious than those of lesser Ranks — not only because they stored more essence, but also because there were Aspect Abilities and spelltech applications that depended on the quality of the raw materials used.

So, Sunny just became considerably richer.

He had not dared to sell Solvane's soul shard, though. There were certainly Awakened out there who could determine the nature and source of a shard. If anyone learned that he was in possession of one coming from a human Saint, Sunny would have to answer too many uncomfortable questions. So, he had just given it to Kai instead.

Strengthening the members of his cohort was, in a sense, the same as strengthening himself, so Sunny didn't feel that aggrieved because of the loss of potential profit.

…It was still incredibly sad, though!

After the training session was over, he made a tasty breakfast for himself and Rain. The girl was hungry as a wolf, so she destroyed the contents of her plate in record time.

When she was almost done, Sunny glanced at her with an incredulous expression and asked neutrally:

"Has that tournament of yours started?"

Rain swallowed the last bite and smiled.

"The Dream Tournament? Yes, the qualifying rounds were yesterday."

He took a sip of tea, acting indifferent.

"Oh really? Right, I think I saw some clips on the network. Uh… did you?"

She nodded.

"Yeah…"

Sunny lingered for a bit, then mentioned as if he just happened to think about it:

"I, uh... hear that that Mongrel guy is quite good."

Rain scoffed.

"...Sure, I guess. But I don't like him."

Sunny almost choked on his tea.

"What? Why?"

It took a lot of effort to keep his voice calm and conversational.

'Why don't you like Mongrel?! Mongrel is awesome! He defeated twelve Awakened solo, you know!'

The girl simply shrugged.

"I don't know. He just seems pompous. And who does he think he is, going around teaching people how to live? Plus, what's up with that mask? A good person wouldn't have to hide behind a mask, that's what I think."

Sunny glared at her with a bit of resentment, then forced out a smile.

"Well, I don't know. The mask is a powerful Memory, for sure. And he probably doesn't even want to teach people anything… at least that is my impression…"

Rain frowned.

"Plus, he caused so many problems for Night! If he had the tiniest bit of conscience, he would have come forward and refuted those ridiculous rumors… but I bet that he doesn't!"

Sunny's eye twitched.

'Aha! So this is the root of all this! Just you wait, Kai… I'll repay you for this one day!'

He slowly took another sip of tea and asked, hiding his outrage.

"You seem to know a lot about that tournament, huh? I thought you weren't very interested in that kind of stuff."

Rain sighed.

"I am not. I just thought that maybe I'll see that Awakened again… the woman who saved me. But she's not participating."

Sunny wanted to say something, but before she could, the girl added:

"...Well, of course. A true Awakened like her would never waste time on something frivolous like this. She is probably busy doing something important… exploring the Dream Realm to help humanity, protecting people from the Nightmare Creatures. Stuff like that, you know."

Sunny smiled.

"That is certainly a possibility… wait, what do you mean? A true Awakened wouldn't waste… didn't you suggest that I participate in that tournament?"

Rain looked at him as though he was stupid.

"That's you! And that's her… what kind of question is that? By the way, what time it is… oh, goodness! I have to run…"

With that, she hurriedly waved Sunny goodbye and dashed to the door, leaving him completely stunned.

'....What the hell is that supposed to mean? That's me, and that's her?'

He remained motionless for a while, then slowly closed his mouth and looked at the time.

As it turned out, he had to hurry, too. The tournament duels were about to begin.

…Walking toward the elevator, Sunny was seething with anger.

'That's me… well, of course, that's me! I'll show her… hell, I'll show all of them! I mean, Mongrel will... ah, curses!'