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    Chapter 67: Racing Against Time

    [Your Echo has been destroyed.]

    Sunny stumbled and almost fell. Cassie gripped his shoulders tightly and leaned back a little, trying to help him keep balance. With fallen leaves flying from under his feet, Sunny somehow managed to catch himself in time.


    Anger and regret clouded his mind, but it was too late to do anything. His trusty scavenger was dead, sliced and torn apart by the giant creature. The ease and brutality with which the Carapace Demon had decimated the poor, brave beast would have been insulting... if it wasn't so terrifying.

    It only took him a split second.

    The Echo was gone. Not only had Sunny seen its tragic end through the eyes of his shadow, he also felt the subtle connection between them disappear. In his Soul Sea, one of the spheres of light shimmered and vanished, leaving the silent surface of the water a little bit darker. He had lost his most valuable possession.

    But the bitterness Sunny felt was not only because of how useful the Echo had been, or how much money it could have brought him in the real world. He had actually grown to like the mindless scavenger quite a bit. It was big, loyal and reliable.

    It even seemed to possess a strange sort of stubborn, offputting personality.

    And now it was dead.

    Gritting his teeth, Sunny ran like a madman. There would be time to mourn the loss of the loyal Echo later.

    Right now, they had bigger problems.

    "Sunny? What happened?"

    Cassie's whisper sounded worried and tense. She must have felt the change in his mood through his posture and body language.

    To be completely honest, Sunny was in no shape to talk. Running up the hill at top speed, with the blind girl on his back — no matter how delicate and light she was — had been a tall task for him without the support of the shadow. He was struggling to breathe, and there was still a considerable distance to the great tree. However, Sunny had to answer, his voice hoarse and rugged:

    "He killed the Echo."

    Then, there was no time for words anymore.

    Because things were turning from bad to worse.

    Down at the bottom of the hill, the Carapace Demon was standing above the mutilated remains of the scavenger, looking at them with contempt. Heavy drops of azure blood were falling from each of his four upper limbs.

    Suddenly, the corpse of the Echo began to shine with soft light. Then, it shimmered and dissolved into a river of tiny sparks, which then fell to the ground and disappeared, leaving no trace of the hulking scavenger behind. Even its blood on the demon's scythes and pincers was gone.

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    After all, the Echo was just a manifestation of a slain Nightmare Creature and not the real thing. It came from nothing and was now returned to the state of nothingness.

    However, the Carapace Demon was not looking at the unexpected light show. Instead, he was staring at one particular spot on the ground.

    There, a lonely human shadow was frozen in confusion, uncertain what to do. With the body of the Echo — and consequently, its spacious shadow — gone, it was instantly revealed and had nowhere else to hide.


    The demon tilted his head, then moved with the speed of lightning and pierced the shadow with a scythe.

    Sunny flinched, ready to experience blinding pain…

    But nothing happened. The shadow, which had raised its hands in fright, looked down at the massive blade protruding from its chest and scratched its head.

    It was completely fine.

    Well, of course… it was just a shadow, after all. One had to have a body to be susceptible to such attacks.

    'Right. What else did I think would happen?'

    Meanwhile, the demon was staring at the nonchalant shadow. The menacing scarlet light in his eyes blazed brighter.

    Sunny was getting closer to the trunk of the tree, temporarily fueled by adrenalin. Otherwise, he might have fainted from the strain already.

    'Just… a little… more!'

    They had every chance of making it. The shadow just had to distract the giant monster for a bit…

    But it seemed as though luck was not on his side today. Down below, the Carapace Demon retrieved his scythe. However, instead of attacking the human shadow again, it suddenly turned around and cast a dark look at the top of the Ashen Barrow, where the giant tree stood in all its magnificent beauty.

    The bastard was smart after all.

    'Curse it all!'

    Forgetting about the shadow, the behemoth lunged forward, rushing back up the tall hill's slope. It moved with frightening speed, covering a dozen meters with each second.

    'Get back here!' Sunny screamed to his shadow as he approached the trunk of the tree.

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    Helping Cassie climb down from his back, Sunny picked up the rucksack that Nephis had left behind and handed it to the blind girl.

    "Be gentle with that."

    Cassie nodded, well aware of the contents of the rucksack, and carefully hung it on her shoulder.

    At that time, Changing Star had already reached the lowest branches of the great tree. Not wasting any time, she moved to a spot above her companions, summoned the golden rope and threw one of its ends down.

    Catching the rope, Sunny quickly tied a loop and handed it to Cassie.

    "You go up first."

    The blind girl hesitated for a moment, then accepted it. Just as she was about to put her foot inside the loop, Sunny suddenly stopped her.

    "Wait! Summon your staff."

    The wooden staff that Cassie used to walk was actually a magical item capable of summoning strong winds. In their travels, they rarely had a cause to use it. But now it could come in handy.

    Surprised and unsure of the reason, she nevertheless did as he had asked, summoning the Memory from her Sea of Soul. The wooden staff appeared in her hand.

    Sunny lightly hugged the blind girl from behind and turned her body, guiding the hand holding the staff in the necessary direction. Then, he said:

    "Now summon the wind."

    In the next moment, a strong gale rose around them, blasting fallen leaves and ashen sand into the air. Instantly, a large portion of the island's surface was stripped bare.

    More sand was revealed beneath.

    Meanwhile, the shadow was racing against the Carapace Demon. The massive creature was already halfway up the hill, moving with the speed of a rushing train. The nimble shadow, however, was even faster. It had already overtaken the behemoth and was now flying forward, hurrying to return to its master.

    "Good, now go!"

    Sunny helped Cassie put her foot into the loop and stepped back, watching as Nephis pulled the rope up. She was going as fast as she could — which was really fast by human standards.

    But was it fast enough?

    Sweating, he counted seconds and waited. His life now depended on whether or not the rope would return before the demon arrives.

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    Every moment felt like an eternity.

    He could already hear the distant, but quickly approaching sound of the Carapace Demon's eight towering legs stomping furiously through the sand.

    Finally, Cassie was at the level of the giant tree's lower branches. Nephis helped her step out of the loop and settle on the wide surface of the branch, then threw the rope down again.

    The demon was approaching the tree, still hidden from sight by its massive trunk.

    The shadow slipped beneath Sunny's feet and wrapped itself around his body.

    Catching the rope, Sunny practically flew up, climbing with incredible, adrenaline-fuelled speed. Landing on the branch beside the girls, he quickly turned around and tried to pull the rope up. The monster could not notice the golden shine of it… otherwise, it all would have been for nothing.

    But there was less than a second left…

    'Oh no!' Sunny thought, his heart skipping a beat.

    But then Nephis simply dismissed the Memory, making the golden rope disappear into thin air.

    The three of them crouched, hiding from sight, and held their breaths.

    … A moment later, the furious mass of spikes and polished metal appeared beneath them. The Carapace Demon abruptly stopped, gazing around with his burning scarlet eyes. His pincers clicked, as if thirsty to tear flesh apart. The terrifying scythes were raised into the air, ready to slash and sever.

    But there was nothing to kill underneath the great tree.

    The demon lingered, looking right and left. Then he raised his head and looked up. Thankfully, the branch the three Sleepers were hiding on was very wide, more than enough to hide them from his sight. They remained motionless and silent, afraid to produce even the smallest of sounds.

    After a while, the behemoth finally lowered his gaze and carefully observed the ground, looking for the traces of possible intruders.

    However, the ground was clean and bare, all signs of their passage erased by Sunny with the help of Cassie's staff in advance. Not finding anything, the Carapace Demon had no choice but to walk away, moving on to explore other parts of the island.

    Sunny was finally able to exhale.

    Some distance away, the demon reached the edges of the area affected by the magical gale. There, he finally found two sets of footprints — one left behind by Nephis, the other one by Sunny.

    With an angry roar that sounded like the clamor of tearing metal, the giant creature rushed down the slope of the Ashen Barrow, following the footprints to the wasteland beneath.

    However, the grey desert was desolate and empty, with no living creature in sight. It was colored crimson by the setting sun.

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    At that moment, the ground shook slightly, and a thunderous rumble resounded throughout the labyrinth, bringing with it chilling wind and the smell of salt.

    The dark sea was returning.

    Throwing one last hateful gaze toward the wasteland, the Carapace Demon turned around a slowly headed back to the top of his barrow.

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