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    Chapter 65: Lights in the Darkness

    Sunny was instantly wide awake. Sitting up, he hurriedly rubbed his eyes and then glanced at the blind girl, ready to listen.

    Nephis approached them and sat down, her face barely visible in the dim light of the early dawn.

    "Past or future?"

    Sunny blinked.

    'Right. I should have asked myself.'

    Cassie thought for a bit and then hesitantly answered:

    "Past… I think."

    After a short pause, her expression changed to that of certainty.

    "No, I'm sure of it."

    Changing Star slightly tilted her head.

    "That's good. So… what did you see?"

    Cassie deeply inhaled and fell silent for several seconds, remembering. Her face paled a little, but this time, she was ready to face her fear.

    "I saw the Ashen Barrow deep at night, enveloped in a raging storm. The winds were bending the branches of the great tree, as if desperate to break them. The island was illuminated by the constant barrage of thundering lightning bolts, with rain falling from the skies like a flood."

    She paused, catching her breath, and continued:

    "The Carapace Demon was there, standing in the middle of the storm like an unshakable fortress made of polished steel. Arcs of electricity were dancing between the spikes on his armor, but the demon did not pay it any attention. He was just as Sunny described… prideful, sinister and terrifying."

    Cassie closed her eyes.

    "When I looked into his eyes, I felt… a sense of emptiness and corruption. He observed the storm until it began to dissipate. The winds weakened, the rain stopped. The great tree stood unbroken, just as magnificent as it was before. But then, the last bolt of lightning fell from the sky and struck the ground beside it."

    Sunny was listening to her tale with great attention, hopeful to hear a piece of useful information.

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    'So, that monstrosity is not afraid of lightning. Shame. With its metal carapace, I was almost tempted to try and lure it from under the tree during a storm.'

    Apparently, that wouldn't work.

    Meanwhile, Cassie was ready to carry on:

    "That bolt of lightning could never hurt the Carapace Demon, let alone the miraculous tree. However, when it hit the ground, it ignited the fallen leaves that cover the Ashen Barrow's surface. Soon, a large part of the island was engulfed in fire. In the absolute darkness of the night, it shone like a beacon."

    Sunny perked up, remembering something. Back when the three of them first met at the beginning of their deadly adventure through the Dream Realm, the girls mentioned that the light he had seen from the giant knight's statue a few nights prior was indeed made by them.

    However, making that fire had turned out to be a big mistake. At night, any source of light was like a lure for the monsters of the Forgotten Shore… including the terrifying creatures that lurked in the depths of the dark sea. That's why, ever since, they were careful to never light a fire after sunset, preferring to endure the darkness instead of attracting unknown horrors from beneath the waves.

    Having a guess of what had happened next in Cassie's vision, he waited for the blind girl to continue. Her voice trembled a little.

    "Before the flames died down, the dark sea surged, and a… a thing crawled out of it, covering almost the entire slope of the Ashen Barrow with its body. It looked like a… like a mass of bones and rotten flesh connected by black seaweed, with thousands of horrible eyes staring at me hungrily from beneath, coiling tentacles seething as it pushed itself toward the great tree."

    Her face turned slightly green. Just remembering the abomination made Cassie feel nauseated, but she gritted her teeth and did not stop speaking.

    "That was the most repulsive creature I've ever seen. However, it seemed slow and clumsy, as though being ashore, outside of the black water, was weakening it. The Carapace Demon did not hesitate to lunge at the creature, completely ignoring the fact that it was at least ten times his size. It was like… like he completely lost his mind, enraged by the intrusion on the island."

    Nephis suddenly spoke:

    "How did the demon survive?"

    The blind girl hesitated.

    "I… I don't know. I didn't see the battle itself, only its beginning and its end. At the break of dawn, the Carapace Demon crawled back into the shade of the great tee. He was severely wounded, with several of his legs missing and his scythes covered by a spiderweb of cracks. The fire was gone, and there was no sign of the sea creature anywhere in sight."

    She paused for a moment and then said in a quiet voice:

    "The most terrible wound was on his chest. The steel armor of the demon was fractured and split apart, revealing the beating heart inside. Rivers of azure blood were flowing from the wound, mixing with the ashen sand. The demon crawled to the base of the tree and laid his broken body between its roots."

    Cassie sighed.

    "The last thing I saw was the passage of time. I don't know how long it took, but eventually, the Carapace Demon was able to recover from his wounds. His scythes restored themselves, his legs grew back. The fracture on his chest was the last to heal. However, it wasn't healed completely. Hidden from sight, there's still a weakness in his armor."

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    Both Sunny and Nephis were silent for a long time, thinking.

    Changing Star was the first to break the silence.

    "So it's not impenetrable after all."

    Then she looked at Sunny and asked:

    "How's your plan coming along?"

    He blinked, extricating himself from the swarm of thoughts. Glancing at his companions, Sunny smiled.

    "Pretty well. I already had an inkling of how we should proceed, but Cassie's vision gave me additional inspiration."

    Nephis raised an eyebrow.

    "Is that so?"

    He gave her a confident nod.

    "Yeah. It's a wild idea, but it might just work. Well… maybe. In any case, it's going to be risky. And we'll have to make some preparations."

    Both Cassie and Nephis looked at him expectantly. The blind girl cautiously asked.

    "So… what's your plan? How are we going to deceive the demon?"

    Sunny crossed his arms.

    "It's not very complicated. Actually, I got the idea from that ancient fellow Neph likes to talk about. We're going to build…"

    He took a dramatic pause, and then said with a mysterious smile:

    "... a trojan ass."

    However, their reaction was not what he had expected. Both girls blinked, then stared at him with complicated expressions. Well, Cassie did not stare, since she was blind, but her face was exactly the same as Changing Star's.

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    "...A what now?"

    Sunny scratched the back of his head, somewhat embarrassed, and cleared his throat.

    "Uh… did I use the wrong word? I thought that Odysseus guy built a wooden animal? A… uh… donkey?"

    Nephis raised a hand and put it on her forehead, closing her eyes.

    'Weird. Does she have a headache?'

    "Uh, are you alright?"

    She sighed deeply, then said in a flat tone:

    "A horse. It was a horse…"


    The next day, they returned to the place of the battle between the carapace legion and the centipede monsters. A few days earlier, they had lured a carapace centurion here to ambush it, but ended up causing a massive confrontation between the two tribes of Nightmare Creatures.

    The carcasses of some of the monsters were still there, buried slightly in the mud.

    Of course, there was no meat left on their skeletons. The inhabitants of the labyrinth were for the most part carrion eaters, after all.

    However, the three Sleepers were not interested in meat. They came for something else.

    Stopping in front of the centurion's empty shell, cleaned of any flesh by some unknown beasts, he looked at the black and crimson carapace in satisfaction.

    Nephis walked over and stood by his side, an unreadable expression on her face.

    "Is this what you wanted?"

    Sunny smiled.

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    "Yeah, exactly. I knew that nothing would be insane enough to chew on the chitin, but… in this place, you never know. I wasn't sure about its condition."

    But the condition was good.

    In fact, it was perfect.

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