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    Chapter 64: Pursued by Demons

    "Let me guess. You want to kill it…"

    Nephis continued to stare at him with her usual unreadable expression. After a while, Sunny chuckled and shook his head in disbelief.

    "You really are crazy. That's… that's an awakened demon we're talking about, remember? Have you forgotten that we're just Sleepers?"

    Then he frowned and scratched his head.

    "W—wait a second. I feel like we already had this conversation before. Doesn't it feel familiar?"

    Cassie glanced at the two of them and politely cleared her throat.

    "Actually, you had said pretty much the exact same thing right before we decided to attack that first carapace centurion."

    Sunny beamed.

    "Yes! Exactly! And how did that end up? I almost got killed!"

    Nephis shrugged indifferently.

    "You survived, didn't you?"

    He froze with his mouth open, too flabbergasted by the sheer audacity of her remark to answer immediately. A few seconds later, Sunny was finally able to speak again.

    "That's not the point!"

    Cassie gently touched her friend on the shoulder and whispered.

    "Neph! That's not a very nice thing to say."

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    Changing Star's face flushed a little. Glancing aside, she hesitated and said:

    "What I meant to say is… uh… we've won in the end, didn't we? It was a risk we had to take, and it paid off. We've grown stronger since then."

    Sunny had a feeling that the fight against the Carapace Demon was already inevitable, but couldn't bring himself to stop protesting, solely out of principle.

    "But that thing… it's huge! It's so tall you won't even be able to poke it with your sword! What are we going to do, ask the bastard politely to lower itself to our level?"

    Neph frowned and looked at him with displeasure.

    "It's just an…"

    "...awakened demon, I know!"

    Sunny sighed and shook his head again, feeling like he was talking to a stone wall.

    Changing Star's mind was still a mystery to him. He had realized a long time ago that there was a deep dark well hidden behind her seemingly radiant exterior. No one pushed themselves that hard, endured that much, went that far unless they were being pursued by demons of their own… he knew that from experience.

    And judging by how far ahead of everyone he had ever known Nephis was, her personal demons were especially dreadful. Much more dreadful than the terrifying Carapace Demon, at least. But although Sunny understood that she was running from something, he had no idea what destination she was so desperate to reach.

    Just why was she so hellbent on finding that damned human castle, even more so than Sunny himself? His burning desire to come back to reality and rip all the rewards that the world owed him was so intense that it would frighten most people to death. There were very few things that he wasn't willing to do to achieve his dream.

    However, it only had meaning for as long as he stayed alive. Nephis, on the other hand, seemed to pursue a goal that held more meaning than her life. Why else would she be so willing to risk it? Sunny just couldn't understand that logic. It was irrational and paradoxical! What can be more important than your life? If you die, you won't be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor anyway.

    He looked Nephis in the eyes and said:

    "Back when we agreed to fight the carapace centurion, we did so because there was no other choice. We were literally stuck on a rock with it. What about now? Don't we have a choice to avoid the Ashen Barrow?"

    She stared at him for a while and then simply said:

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    "That's the only way west."

    Sunny laughed.

    'That is the truth, I'll give you that.'

    When his laughter died down, he wiped the corner of his eye and said:

    "Alright. Alright. That makes sense. But believe me when I say it, as the only one who actually saw the Carapace Demon… we won't be able to defeat it in a fight."

    Nephis scowled.

    "Your point?"

    Sunny spread his hands.

    "Don't misunderstand. Yes, we can't defeat it. But…"

    A dark smile appeared on his face.

    "That doesn't mean that we can't kill it."

    Changing Star thought about it, then raised an eyebrow and asked:

    "You have a plan?"

    Sunny shook his head.

    "Not yet, not entirely. Let me sleep on it. However, there's one thing I know for sure."

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    He looked west, remembering the Carapace Demon's disturbing, bestial face. In the ensuing silence, Cassie turned her head to face him and asked with curiosity:

    "What is it?"

    Sunny blinked.

    "Ah? Oh, yes. It's pretty simple, really. Unlike the scavengers and centurions, that thing appears to be rather intelligent. Which means that it can be deceived."


    They spent another uneventful night inside the dead leviathan's spine. As far as their camps went, this one was probably the safest. There was a certain comfort in being surrounded by walls from all sides, even if they were made out of bone. Sleeping on top of cliffs and coral mounds, just meters away from the surface of the dark sea, exposed to elements, was not very restful.

    Sunny even entertained the thought of suggesting to Nephis that they should stay here for a while, a few weeks, or even months if needed. They could slowly explore the surrounding areas, hunt monsters and grow stronger.

    Then, after absorbing hundreds of soul shards and shadow fragments, armed with dozens of Memories and even a few more Echoes, perhaps, they could attack the Carapace Demon and be more sure of success.

    However, he quickly realized that it was a bad idea. The Forgotten Shore was perilous and unpredictable. They were rather successful in conquering its dangers so far, but it was too easy for the situation to change. One moment of bad luck was enough to doom them.

    One wrong turn, one unfortunate encounter, one more enemy than they were able to handle, and their lives would be over. And that was only in regard to the usual menagerie of abominable horrors they had to fight on the daily basis. The labyrinth hid much more terrifying secrets and existences, not to mention the unimaginable terrors of the deep dark sea.

    Every additional day they spent here gave a chance for something fatal and unavoidable to happen. Their best hope of survival was to face the Carapace Demon as soon as possible.

    Maybe after defeating it, they would finally be able to see the tall walls of the promised castle.

    Sunny tossed and turned the whole night, thinking about the giant creature and trying to give shape to the nascent seed of the idea of how to kill it.

    Close to the morning, he was finally able to fall asleep — only to be awakened by Cassie carefully shaking his shoulder half an hour later.

    Sunny blinked, looking at the blind girl in confusion.

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    "What is it?"

    She gestured to Nephis, asking her to come closer. Then, a little pale, she gathered her courage and said:

    "I had another vision. A vision about the Carapace Demon…"

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