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Sunny had received generous rewards for these three duels… well, for two of them, at least.

One was an Ascended Memory of the second tier, which was an arrow. The second was an Ascended shield of the second tier. Both had pretty great enchantments, but he had no time to study them in detail. All he had determined was that the Memories were good enough to not be fed to Saint.

The third reward, though… was a bitter disappointment. It would have been rather amazing, actually, for anyone else — a hundred soul shards, no less! In the waking world, this was a precious resource. Even lesser Legacy clans would not scoff at that amount.

But since Sunny couldn't claim it, he was left with nothing.

'Curses…'

His disappointment didn't last long, however. In the end, it didn't really matter. The real boon was the prizes those in second and first place would receive — and Sunny had already cemented his position in the final duel.

The winner and the runner-up were going to receive Memories from clan Valor's personal armory. And this was something every Awakened desired, because the Great Clan was renowned not only for its knights.

It was also famous for its forgers.

Members of the Valor family often received Aspects tied to forging and creation. Some of them could even create Memories, tailor-made for destroying Nightmare Creatures and conquering the dangerous expanses of the Dream Realm. Sunny doubted that they would put something really unique as a prize for a public tournament, but anything from their vault was going to be precious.

What's more, he had already enriched his mastery of Shadow Dance a lot. The last three duels especially had pushed him even closer to grasping its second step. Now, he felt as though it was almost within his reach.

So, participating in the tournament was a pretty good idea, after all.

'I should really thank Rain… no, wait… she doesn't know that I am participating. Also, I am not participating in the tournament… Mongrel is! Damn, why is everything so convoluted… I should really rest for a bit.'

After the battle with Dynisor, he wasn't in the best shape. That fight was nothing short of brutal… even Sunny, who usually thrived in brutality, was a bit stunned by how violent it ended up being. His wounds had disappeared as soon as the duel ended, but mental exhaustion remained. His essence was also really spent, since that was how the Dreamscape functioned.

Luckily, the organizers of the tournament were smart enough to not schedule the final fight anytime soon. First, there would be the duel for the third and fourth place, as well as some entertainment. He had hours to rest and recuperate.

With a tired sigh, Sunny left the Dreamscape, climbed out of the pod, and went to make himself a tasty dinner.

***

While eating, Sunny studied his opponent.

This year, the final duel was going to be a bit unusual, because both challengers were not powerful newcomers who entered the Dreamscape to win the tournament rewards, but habitual duelists — well, if Mongrel could be considered one.

He had heard about the woman he was going to face, too, but not much.

Her alias was Queen Bee, and she was almost as enigmatic as Sunny himself. Unlike other popular duelists, she didn't broadcast or promote her fights, preferring instead to remain anonymous and under the radar. It seemed as though she was only interested in dueling itself, and nothing else. From what he knew, Queen Bee had never lost a duel. She was an undefeated champion of the arenas.

Why would someone that powerful hang out in an illusory game? He had no idea. But Sunny wasn't one to judge, since he was also wasting his time there despite having better things to do. He had his reasons, so maybe she did, too.

Or maybe it was just a fun hobby.

In any case, the network was full of theories about who Queen Bee might be. There was even a rumor that she was not human at all, but instead an artificial construct created to keep the players from reaching the top spot and to remind them to always strive for greater mastery. Which was complete idiocy, of course, considering that Dreamscape was not capable of emulating actual intelligence.

If it was, Awakened wouldn't waste time fighting each other and train against simulated Nightmare Creatures instead.

But people believed what they wanted to believe…

And people were also insane!

'What the hell…'

Sunny stared at the communicator with a weird expression.

To no surprise whatsoever, Queen Bee had her own army of unreasonable fans — even though she didn't want any. And currently, that army was engaged in an all-out war with Mongrel's own unwanted horde of followers. The network was bursting with venom and vitriol produced by both sides.

"Lord Mongrel? That loser? Ptui! Come back when he's King Mongrel, you tasteless dimwits!"

"You fool! Mongrel never claimed to be a lord, and he would not want to be a king! Mongrel is one of us, common people! Wanna follow a tyrannical monarch, do it privately, you sheep!"

"Who are you calling sheep, you sheep?! That shady Mongrel guy has literal horns, so think before you bleat!"

"Guys, can we all calm down? Why are we arguing? Isn't it obvious that Mongrel IS Queen Bee? They're the same person! The won't be a duel!"

"That guy is insane! Mongrel can't compare to our noble Queen's left pinky!"

"That guy is whack! That pathetic wannabe princess can't compare to honorable Lord Mongrel! Ridiculous!"

"...Well, at least we can agree that the previous commenter is an idiot."

"You're an idiot!"

"...I guess not."

Sunny stared at the screen, his eye twitching.

After a while, turned away.

'Humanity is a mistake. Maybe it's time to give someone else a chance… I hear mushrooms are a pretty neat species…'

Turning off the communicator, Sunny concentrated on devouring his food… even though all that nonsense had almost killed his appetite.

Sunny's appetite, however, was as resilient as he himself was. Maybe even more. It was more or less impossible to kill.

***

A few hours later, Sunny returned to the arena.

It was time to end this spectacle and reap his rewards.

However… first, he had to defeat the strongest opponent yet.

'It's gonna be fine… I'll get a sweet Memory either way…'

But winning would be much better.

...As soon as he appeared, the crowd cheered.