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    Chapter 69: The Guest

    The giant demon was engulfed in flames, shining like a bright beacon in the hungry darkness of the night. His polished armor blazed with reflected light, sending radiant glints in all directions. Drops of burning oil were falling to the ground, flaring up as they hit the ashen sand.

    For a second, it seemed as though time had stopped. Sunny was staring at the incandescent glow of the fire, his eyes wide, almost failing to believe that they had actually pulled this insanity off. Nephis was frozen by his side, her hand still outstretched after the throw.

    But they really did, they pulled it off. Sunny never seriously considered facing the Carapace Demon in an honest battle… if a battle between a giant death machine and three powerless humans could even be called honest. However, their lacking strength did not mean that they could not murder the evil creature.

    They just had to be smart about how to do it. For example, they could find something stronger to do the dirty work for them…

    That's why he had concocted a plan to sneak onto the Ashen Barrow, wait for the night to come, lit the behemoth aflame and watch it be torn apart by the terrifying monsters of the dark sea.

    And now they were halfway to making that plan a reality.

    Of course, the most dangerous part was yet to come — they still had to survive the attack of the creatures of the black water themselves. And before that…

    The Carapace Demon roared with fury, making Sunny feel like his ears were going to bleed. The roar sounded like a deafening cacophony of rusted metal being torn apart by giant claws. Two scarlet eyes shone through the conflagration of flames, piercing the young man with a concentrated beam of murderous hatred.

    …Before that, they had to last until the sea monsters arrive.

    The infuriated demon was out for their blood, and no one knew how much time it would take for the dark sea creatures to appear on the Ashen Barrow. Sunny was scared that the demon was capable of performing ranged attacks. If not, he might be able to climb the tree to get to them, or try to kill them in a way that they had not even considered. In the worst-case scenario, they would have to endure his rage for quite a while.

    Looking into the giant's hateful eyes, he sensed that the creature was thinking in the same direction. When the demon glanced in the direction of the great tree's obsidian trunk, Sunny's heart suddenly skipped a bit.

    However, in the end, cold rationality won over seething rage in the Carapace Demon's mind. Instead of wasting time trying to get to the three tiny humans, he suddenly rolled on the ground, hoping to use the sand to douse the flames dancing on his carapace.

    The whole island shook, almost throwing Sunny off the branch.


    Why did the bastard have to be so smart?

    For a moment, Sunny entertained the idea that the demon was actually going to succeed in extinguishing the fire before the dwellers of the depths had noticed it.

    But he didn't have to worry.

    Suddenly, Nephis turned to face the dark surface of the sea. Her face paled slightly. Sunny was a second late to react, but almost instantly, he too felt a strange change in the world around them.

    It was hard to describe with words. The rustle of the scarlet leaves suddenly felt quieter, the sound of the waves crashing against the shores of the ashen island louder. It was as though some invisible pressure descended on the world, making everything feel slightly different.

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    Then, the air became colder, and a wall of thick fog appeared above the dark waters.

    The Carapace Demon had also noticed this change. He stopped trying to douse the flames and rose from the sand, the oil still burning on his carapace. Not paying it any attention anymore, the demon turned to the sea, a sense of grim resignation radiating from his posture.

    Then, it was replaced by dark resolve and frenzied bloodlust.

    The fog slowly moved, crawling onto the island. Sunny felt shivers run down his spine, realizing that it was flowing against the wind. The sound of waves was now muffled and changed, almost imperceptibly so.

    And there, in the fog, something was moving. He could almost make out a figure.

    It was… it was…

    Suddenly, Cassie's small palm covered his eyes. With her voice trembling with tension, she whispered:

    "Don't look. No matter what happens, don't open your eyes."

    Sunny froze, obediently shutting his eyes. A cold sense of fright wrapped itself around his heart. He had never heard the blind girl's voice sound like this before, not even when she was recalling her terrifying visions.

    Cassie slowly removed her hand. Blinded, he could only rely on his hearing...

    At least that was what he thought until the cold fog touched his skin. Then, in the muffled silence, he heard Cassie's voice again.

    Only this time, it was distorted and coming from the wrong direction.

    "Don't look… don't look… don't look…"

    Sunny gulped, feeling his hair stand on end. The sound of the blind girl's distorted voice echoed in the fog, surrounding him from all sides. Instead of growing quieter, it was becoming louder, overlapping over itself.

    "Don't look, don't look, don't look, don't look!"

    Then, it grew even louder still and turned into a cacophony of screams, crashing into Sunny like a wave, sounding nothing like what human vocal cords could ever produce:


    Sunny stood paralyzed, stunned by the onslaught of inhuman shrieks. All he could do was try not to fall to his knees. And then, when his resilience was almost broken…

    Everything suddenly stopped. The abrupt silence enveloped the world, making him exhale with relief. It was over.

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    A few seconds later, Cassie whispered into his ear:

    "Open your eyes."

    After hearing the clear sound of her voice, Sunny was about to do as she told…

    Then he stopped.

    Her voice did not sound terrifying and distorted. It was just as usual, sweet and melodic. It even came from the right direction. But… but something about it was wrong.


    He lingered, keeping his eyes closed.

    Why was it so calm? Why didn't he feel the warmth of her breath as she leaned close to whisper into his ear?

    And how… how could she lean… if he was taller?

    Sunny froze, afraid to even breathe. Cassie's clear, familiar voice repeated:

    "Open your eyes… open…"

    Then, mere centimeters away, it exploded with cold, malevolent authority:


    But he didn't.

    A second passed, then another, then one more. Each of them felt like an eternity. Sunny trembled, practically feeling his body aging. Finally, the voice returned. But this time, it felt as though it was further away, withdrawing.

    "No matter… no matter…"

    Soon, he was able to hear the rustling of leaves and the sound of waves again. He could also hear Cassie and Neph breathing ruggedly beside him. It seemed that they were also assaulted by the terrifying mimic.

    And also…

    Somewhere beneath them, the Carapace Demon roared and hit his scythes against each other. The loud clamor of steel resounded beneath the great tree, sending an almost palpable wave in all directions. This wave seemed to expel the unnatural fog, creating an enormous sphere of clean air.

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    Sunny still kept his eyes shut.

    In the next moment, the whole island trembled as the demon clashed with the unknown horror that had been hiding in the fog. Something shattered with a deafening thunder, and the ground shook again, causing the branches of the great tree to sway.

    With his hands trembling, Sunny outstretched them and grabbed onto his companions, drawing them close. Holding each other, they listened to the sounds of the furious battle and waited.


    An eternity later, the fight between the Carapace Demon and the guest from the depths was over. Silence had returned to the Ashen Barrow once again.

    Sunny had long ago lost the track of time and grew desensitized to the tremors running through the great tree each time the two monsters clashed. Sudden stillness gave him a start. With a slight shudder, he turned his head and listened, trying to discern what was happening.

    In the quiet aftermath of the terrible battle, Nephis hesitated and then said in a raspy voice:

    "We can open our eyes now."

    Sunny lingered before following her advice. He opened his eyes and blinked a couple of times, his vision slowly returning.

    The pale light of dawn was creeping from the east, enveloping the island in the dim twilight. Beneath them, the surface of the island was torn apart and upturned, almost unrecognizable. It was as though the Ashen Barrow was pummeled by several rounds of heavy artillery fire.

    And on that surface…

    'Damn it!'

    The Carapace Demon was slowly limping back from the edges of the island, leaving a trail of azure blood behind. He was heavily wounded and in a terrible shape, with several limbs missing and a spiderweb of cracks covering his once pristine carapace.

    Two of his arms were gone, leaving him with a single scythe and a single pincer. Most of his rear legs were either broken or severed, forcing the behemoth to walk in a strange, unsteady gait.

    However, he was still alive. More than that, none of the armor plates covering his vital organs were seriously damaged, his metal shell still strong and impenetrable.

    Sunny clenched his fists and glanced at Neph, a dark expression on his face.

    "What… what do we do?"

    Changing Star looked down. There was a cold glint in her calm, grey eyes.

    Stretching her arm to the side, she summoned her sword and said:

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    "Finish him off."

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