"Halt!" Sunny whispered, observing the group of scavengers through his shadow.
As soon as the word left his lips, Nephis immediately summoned her sword. After studying the surroundings for a second, she turned her head and glanced at him with a question in her eyes.
Cassia, meanwhile, froze in place and hesitantly raised her staff.
Sunny counted the monsters: one, two, three… five…
The hulking beasts seemed like the losers of the pack, similar to the one he had killed. However, their wounds were not as pronounced and terrible. Each of them was much more of a threat than the mangled one from before, and there were half a dozen of them at least.
"There are scavengers on the path ahead, six of them. They're slowly moving in our direction."
Nephis cast a gaze forward. There was a calculating look on her face.
"They're done with the carcass?"
Sunny thought for a moment and then shook his head.
"No, I don't think so. But maybe there's not enough meat for everyone anymore, so some stragglers had no choice but to leave with an empty stomach."
Nephis nodded and gestured to a nearby branching path.
"We'll circle around them."
The three Sleepers hastily moved forward and changed paths, giving a wide berth to the group of monsters. Tense and grim, they continued walking, trying to stay on course and not get lost in the labyrinth.
However, in the next hour, they had to turn in a random direction again and again, avoiding other scavengers. The distance between them and the giant statue was not shortening at all.
At some point, they were catching their breath near one of the numerous dead ends of the crimson labyrinth. They had no choice but to wait, since a large number of creatures was moving past their hiding spot, separated from them by a long length of a twisting coral passage.
Sunny sighed and shook his head.
"We can't go on like that. At this rate, we'll never make it to safety before sunset."
Cassie was the first one to react.
"Maybe… maybe we should turn back?"
That was a reasonable suggestion. However, Sunny felt reluctant to agree.
Nephis shared his thoughts. With a blank expression, she said:
"It will only get harder tomorrow."
She was right. By tomorrow, there would be even more scavengers flooding the labyrinth.
"Then what should we do?"
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Changing Star tilted her head, thinking. After a while, she turned to Sunny.
Fight? Fight against dozens of those monstrosities? Was she crazy?
Sunny tried to hide his derision as he spoke:
"I know that you are skilled with the sword, but have you forgotten that each of those things is a whole rank above us? We won't survive in a fight against many."
"We avoid large groups. Cut down smaller ones."
After a moment, she added:
"If there's one or two of them, there's a chance."
Sunny wanted to retort, but couldn't find a good reason. In the end, he gave up.
Nephis stared at him for a while. Then, she suddenly asked:
"Have you studied the corpse of the scavenger you had killed?"
What was that supposed to mean?
A bit surprised, Sunny shook his head.
He was too busy being in pain and trying to make it to safety before the sea returned. And why would he study a corpse?
'Wait. I think Teacher Julius mentioned something…'
After a short pause, Nephis spoke:
"Scavengers have three weak points on their bodies. The first one is obvious: it's their joints. Anything that has to be flexible can't be too rigid. So, there's gaps in the armor above the joints. By targeting the joints, you can diminish their mobility and attack capacity."
Oh… so, by studying a dead monster, one could better understand their strengths and vulnerabilities. This idea was so obvious that Sunny admonished himself for not realizing sooner.
Meanwhile, Nephis continued:
"The second one is the same. It's where their torso connects to the carapace. If you manage to accurately hit that spot, you can heavily injure a scavenger and deal serious damage to its body. However, unless you succeed in severing its spine, the wound won't be fatal. It'll still be able to fight for a while."
Sunny couldn't help but notice that Changing Star's awkwardness seemed to disappear whenever she talked about things that she felt confident about, like ancient heroes. Or killing things.
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"The last weak point is on their back, approximately at the level where the eyes are. There's a slightly concave, discolored cavity in their armor. It is where several armor plates connect. The chitin there is comparatively thin. If you can pierce through it, you can destroy the brain directly. That will be a killing blow."
'That is good to know. However, that weak point was too high to be hit by a human — after all, scavengers were more than two meters tall!'
As though reading his thoughts, Nephis added:
"That weak point is very hard to target. Circling around a scavenger is almost impossible due to their size, speed and the attack range of their pincers."
She looked at him and calmly said:
"If we stumble on a single scavenger, I'll be the bait. My task will be to make it turn around and then restrain it, exposing the third weak point. Your task will be to kill it."
"What if there's two of them?"
As usual, Nephis paused before answering.
It wasn't long before they were left with no choice but to attempt a fight against a scavenger. Behind them, there was a long stretch of the labyrinth with no suitable branching paths for them to turn onto. Ahead of them, there was a small clearing with only one other passage leading out of it.
Not far into that passage, a massive scavenger was moving slowly in their direction.
Sunny quickly described the situation and waited for Changing Star's feedback. Without much delay, she gave him a nod.
"We fight in the clearing."
After that, Nephis gently guided Cassie to the wall of the labyrinth and helped her find a place to sit.
"Wait here. We'll be back."
After some thought, she added.
As Nephis moved to walk away, Cassie grabbed her hand. Her face was pale and tense.
"Neph, you… be careful, okay?"
Nephis blinked and tilted her head a little. Then, she smiled.
With that, she and Sunny hastily headed for the clearing.
By the time they got there, the scavenger was seconds from appearing. Sunny's shadow flew out of the passage and reattached itself to his feet. Without having to discuss things with Nephis, he quickly hid in the shadows and waited there, hoping for a chance to attack.
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Nephis, on the other hand, strolled to the center of the clearing and calmly stood there, her shoulders relaxed and her back straight. An elegant longsword appeared in her hands, carelessly pointed to the ground.
Not knowing what else to do, Sunny silently repeated her words:
A second later, the scavenger walked into the clearing. When his tiny eyes spotted Nephis, an evil light ignited in them. Without wasting even a second, the massive monster screeched and rushed forward to attack.
Its huge pincer shot forward with terrifying speed, tearing the air in its path.
Nephis swiftly sidestepped, dodging the pincer, then leaped backward, removing herself from the path of the rushing monster. Simultaneously, her sword flashed in the air, cutting deep into the joint of one of the scavenger's front legs.
Azure blood spattered on the ground.
Of course, this small wound was too insignificant to slow the scavenger down. With surprising agility, it twisted and delivered a crushing sideways swipe. Nephis, who just barely landed on her feet, had no choice but to deflect the blow with her sword. She managed to disperse most of the impact by holding the blade at the right angle, but the remaining force was still enough to throw her off balance.
At that moment, the second pincer came down. Instead of trying to regain her equilibrium, Changing Star went with the fall and somersaulted over one hand, ending up distancing herself from the monster a bit. Her sword lashed out again.
The follow-up attack followed almost immediately.
However, Sunny did not care about the details anymore. The only thing he cared about was that, through this risky series of dodges and leaps, Nephis had managed to circle to the opposite side of the clearing, forcing the scavenger to turn its back to the shadow in which he hid.
'It's now or never!'
Gritting his teeth, Sunny lunged forward.
Before Changing Star finished her last dodge…
Before the scavenger's pincer crashed on her from above…
Before Sunny had time to become scared…
He closed the distance between himself and the monster and jumped with all his might, landing on top of its carapace. Then, he used all of his weight to thrust a hand forward.
Azure Blade shimmered into existence in his grip and was immediately swallowed by the shadow. A breath later, the dark blade hit precisely into the concave, discolorated cavity in the scavenger's armor. With a crack, the chitin broke, allowing the tip of the sword to sink deep into the scavenger's body.
The monster shuddered, and then heavily fell to the ground.
Sunny was thrown from its carapace, landing in the mud with a roll.
'That… that easy?'
It was already over?
As though to answer him, the Spell's voice resounded in the air:
[You have slain an awakened beast, Carapace Scavenger.]
[...Your shadow grows stronger.]
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