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    Chapter 31: Low Tide

    The black, opaque water suddenly surged and seethed, as though a living creature desperately trying to avoid the pale light of the coming dawn. Sunny slowly rose and, after some thought, carefully approached the edge of the stone platform.

    Looking down, he blinked and then kneeled to make sure that what he saw wasn't an illusion.

    The sea seemed to be receding.

    Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, the water level was dropping. The circular stone formation he had been taking shelter on used to barely protrude out of the waves, but now there were meters and meters of wet rock between him and the restless surface of the sea.

    As the sun climbed up, the monstrous ebb tide continued. Soon, Sunny found himself standing on the edge of a tall cliff, with a hundred-meter drop separating him from the churning waters. Beneath him, the rock formation broadened and changed shape. However, from his vantage point, it was hard to determine what that shape was, exactly.

    At that time, the dark surface of the water began to be punctured here and there by sharp crimson blades. As it dropped even further, it was as though a crimson forest was slowly rising from the black depths. The "trees" were made of something resembling coral, growing chaotically into each other and stretching toward the sky.

    They were colossal in size, with irregular protrusions entwining and merging together, looking monumental and eerie in the black and red reality of the sunlit void. The labyrinth formed by this strange reef stretched as far as Sunny could see, broken here and there by protruding cliffs, sudden chasms, and distant natural features.

    Half an hour later, utterly shocked, Sunny stared down and realized that the sea was completely gone. If not for the black seaweed left hanging on wet rocks and scarlet pillars of coral, he would even doubt if it was ever there.

    His small circular island had turned into the peak of a strange, towering, irregularly shaped cliff. Looking down, he felt his head spinning.

    By then, the night had already fully retreated, letting morning finally take its place.

    'I'm not seeing things, am I?' Sunny thought, pinching himself.

    What the Spell was that?


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    Despite the sudden disappearance of the dark sea and its hidden monsters, Sunny was in no rush to climb down from his circular stone platform. Firstly, he felt that if the sea was able to disappear, it was surely able to come back, perhaps at any moment.

    Secondly, he did not know what dangers the coral labyrinth was hiding. Perhaps there was something even scarier than the owner of the giant tentacle down there.

    But that did not mean that he wasn't going to explore.

    Coming back to his spot in the middle of the platform, Sunny sat down and commanded his shadow to separate itself from his body. Then, taking control of it, he approached the edge of the platform and nimbly slid down.

    Habitually moving from one shadow to another, he began the descent. At this moment, Sunny was glad that shadows had no weight and were not affected by gravity.

    While the shadow was busy climbing down, Sunny yawned.

    "Say, don't you think that you need a name?"

    Although his shadow was already too far away to hear him, they still could communicate through their shared connection. Of course, the fact that it could did not mean that it would. The shadow was sort of taciturn, mostly because it didn't have vocal cords and was unable to speak.

    Plus, its temper wasn't that great.

    "How about… Shameless? No? What about... Shady? Also no? Hm, what about something simpler, like… What? Well, do you have suggestions then? Alright, alright! We'll shelve this conversation for later."

    By the time he was done with this short monologue, the shadow had already reached the bottom of the cliff. The range of [Shadow Control] was not limitless, but it was just barely enough to explore their nearest surroundings.

    Entering the labyrinth, Sunny found it to be extremely disorienting and convoluted. The paths between coral pillars were sometimes broad, sometimes narrow. They twisted and turned without any logic, often leading to dead ends or even back to where he started. More than that, some paths entered inside the "coral" mounds, turning into dark tunnels.

    The labyrinth was vast and multi-layered, making Sunny's head hurt after multiple fruitless attempts to memorize the layout of the nearest pathways. In the end, he sent the shadow up, forcing it to climb on top of the crimson forest and start jumping from one sharp coral blade to another — knowing full well that he himself would not be able to do the same.

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    Soon, he circled the strange cliff and froze, scared by the sight of what was happening in its shadow.

    There, the corpse of the giant shark-like creature that had briefly pursued him the previous night was laying on the ground, the pillars of coral around it shattered and broken.

    More precisely, half of it was there, with grotesque innards spilling out of the terrible wound and stretching far away into the distance. The other half was gone, as though it had never existed.

    Around the corpse, hundreds of smaller monsters were scurrying, tearing away and devouring its flesh bit by bit. Each of them was about two and a half meters tall, looking like a weird mix of a demonic crab, a centaur, and a nightmare.

    They had four pairs of long, segmented legs that ended in scythe-like protrusions. At the front, a human-like torso was protruding from the carapace, also clad in thick chitinous armor. The head, if it was even the appropriate word, was situated directly on top of the torso, with no neck in between. It had two narrow eye slits and a viscous-looking mouth with several slimy mandibles. Instead of hands, the monsters had two enormous pincers.

    Currently, they were all using those pincers to tear off chunks of meat off the desiccated corpse and stuff them into their mouths. From time to time, a fight for an especially juicy piece of meat would break out, ending up in a few monsters being torn apart and quickly devoured by the victors.

    Sunny swallowed.

    Both because the sight of heavily armored, powerful monsters made him nervous and because looking at them feasting, he suddenly felt very hungry.

    'Each of them seems like trouble. And there are hundreds of them.'

    His luck, like always, was awful.

    'At least I don't have to wonder why the labyrinth feels so empty. All the inhabitants are having a party!'

    Feeling a little bit comprehensive about turning his shadow's back to the monsters, Sunny commanded it to look back and study the cliff he was taking shelter atop of. Something about it was making him feel uneasy.

    The shadow turned around and looked up, taking in the sight of the strangely shaped cliff. It took Sunny a few minutes to shift his perspective and recognize it for what it was.

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    'That's… a finger. That's a hand. That is… a sword?'

    He blinked.

    'It's a statue.'

    Indeed, the cliff was man-made. It was an ancient, colossal statue at least two hundred meters tall. The scale of it was so massive that it boggled the mind. From what Sunny could see, it depicted a knight clad in an elaborate plate armor, with seven shining stars carved into his breastplate. In his hands, he was holding a gargantuan sword, pointing it to the ground.

    However, the most striking thing about it was that the giant stone knight was missing his head. In fact, the roughly circular platform Sunny was standing on turned out to be the top of his neck. And by the looks of it, the head wasn't missing by design — it was as though something, or someone, had violently tore it off at some point in the distant past.

    Sunny walked around the platform, looking down from all sides, but didn't notice the head lying anywhere near.

    'What on Earth is this place?'

    Without any hints to find the answer, he led his shadow back to the giant's neck and settled at the western edge of it, studying the feasting monsters.

    He didn't move until the sun was about to set.

    Just as Sunny expected, as soon as the sun touched the horizon, a deafening rumble could be heard coming from somewhere below. The monsters instantly stopped their feast and scurried away, some hiding inside the coral pillars, some simply burying themselves in the soft soil.

    A few minutes later, the first streams of black water appeared in the labyrinth. Their volume quickly grew, and soon an apocalyptic flood devoured everything around. The sea was returning with the approach of the night.

    Sunny stared at this unimaginable process, thoughts churning in his head.

    In an hour, the circular platform was the only thing above the dark waters once again.

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