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    Chapter 72: Demon Slayers

    As soon as the Carapace Demon froze, distracted by the feigned threat to the great tree, Nephis lunged forward. There was no hesitation, no doubt, not even the slightest pause between the moment her enemy had lowered his defenses and her reckless attack.

    Just like Sunny had been utterly focused on observing the monster's movements before, she had been watching and waiting for this exact moment since the beginning of the battle. Changing Star knew that, when the opportunity presents itself, it will only last for a second.

    Even that single second almost cost Sunny his life. Nephis wasn't going to waste it.

    Her graceful figure flew through the air like an arrow released from a powerful bow, almost leaving afterimages behind. The silver blade of her longsword glimmered, reflecting the light of dawn. The black and white armor seemed to turn into a blur.

    She was going all in, rushing at the enemy without leaving herself even the slightest chance to retreat.


    Things were happening too fast for Sunny to form a coherent thought. He could only watch, time slowing down to a crawl, a storm of emotions raging in his mind.

    The demon reacted almost immediately, recognizing the threat. But "almost" didn't count on a battlefield. A moment of distraction was all it took to lose everything. That one mistake, no matter how small, had been enough to seal his fate.

    …If Nephis was really capable of breaking through the creature's indestructible carapace, that is. Otherwise, it was all for nothing, and they would be the ones dying, instead.

    The fearsome giant moved his scythe, trying to slice her apart. The pincer flashed from the other side, threatening to crush her body into pulp. But he was a fraction of a second too late.

    Changing Star was just a tiny bit faster.

    As she ran, something changed about the cadence of her steps. Sunny couldn't see her face behind the visor of her helmet, but if he could, he would see a grimace of agony contorting Neph's pale face.

    In the next moment, a soft white radiance ignited beneath the skin of her hands. However, this time, it didn't stay there. Instead, the white flame flowed outward, into the hilt of the silver sword, and then into its blade.

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    The sword suddenly turned into a sharp radiant edge, burning with incandescent white light. It shined so brightly that Sunny felt the desire to close his eyes.

    However, the radiance wasn't soft and warm anymore. Instead, it seemed to be capable of reducing anything it touched to ash and sharp enough to cut the fabric of the world itself.

    Perhaps, it was even sharp enough to cut the strings of fate.

    Sunny remembered how Nephis had described her Aspect Ability… "it can be used for healing". Back then, he had suspected that this phrase of hers implied that there was more to it. He even marveled at how precious and rare such an Ability would be.

    It seemed as though he was right. Changing Star's miraculous flame was capable of both healing and destroying. It possessed an enhancing effect similar to his own Shadow Control, at least when applied to weapons. Who knew what else it could do?

    An incredible Ability indeed.

    Looking back, he understood that Nephis had not tortured herself in vain. All the times she pretended to meditate while enduring the excruciating agony of her Flaw in secret were meant to make this moment possible. To give her enough fortitude to use this Ability in battle without passing out from the pain.

    She succeeded. The question was… would that be enough?

    Was her sword strong enough to break the mighty carapace of the Awakened demon? After all, no matter how incredible the Ability, it was still powered by a weak Dormant soul core of a lowly Sleeper.

    …They were about to find out.

    A few steps away from the Carapace Demon's towering torso, Nephis bent her legs and jumped, soaring high into the air. Her sword flashed forward in a vicious thrust, so fast that, for a moment, it looked like a beam of pure white sunlight.

    Then, it collided with the strange alloy of the giant's lustrous armor… right at the spot where his heart was supposed to be.

    'Of course!'

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    Back when they were hiding in the dead leviathan's empty spine, Cassie had told them about her vision. In that vision, she saw the Carapace Demon being attacked by a terrible creature of the deep dark sea. In the aftermath of the battle, the demon was severely wounded and on the verge of dying.

    The most horrible wound was on his chest, where the armor was torn apart and shattered, revealing the monster's beating heart. With time, all his injuries had healed.

    Except for this one.

    While the carapace of the demon seemed to have recovered, in truth, it was never fully restored. In this one spot, the armor was secretly weakened. And it was exactly to that spot that Nephis had delivered her blow.

    It didn't matter whether her radiant sword was really capable of breaking through the impregnable armor of the Awakened creature, because she attacked the only weak spot on his body, the place where his armor had already been broken.

    …With a flash of white light, the incandescent sword pierced through the metal of the demon's carapace and plunged into his body, unleashing a fury of fire inside the adamantine shell.

    It seemed as though the giant was suddenly illuminated from within, with beams of light shining through the cracks in his armor. For a moment, the surreal sight was burned into Sunny's mind.

    Then, Changing Star's sword had reached the Carapace Demon's heart and sliced it apart, incinerating everything around it and making the azure blood of the fearsome creature boil and evaporate.

    Sunny's legs buckled, and he gracelessly fell on his ass.

    'Wh—wha… We did it?'

    The demon staggered. His arms slowly rose, as though trying to pull Nephis into a final embrace. But then, as his body twitched, they fell to the ground.

    Neph landed in the sand and jumped back, ready to defend herself.

    But there was no need.

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    The proud guardian of the Ashen Barrow was dying. The scarlet light in his one remaining eye was dimming, any semblance of intelligence quickly disappearing from his gaze.

    The demon heavily slumped, all remnants of strength abandoning his mighty body. Turning his head with incredible effort, he cast one last look on the great tree. Then, his gaze stopped on Sunny.

    There was no fury or madness in that gaze anymore. Only some strange, calm, inexplicable emotion. It almost felt like… relief.

    Before Sunny could discern the meaning of that emotion, the last glimmer of light was gone from the eye of the Carapace Demon. His head rolled back and fell.

    They won.

    In front of the giant body, Nephis had dismissed her helmet. Behind it, her face was pale and tired, her hair sticking to it in a sweaty mess. The afterglow of the white radiance was already extinguished, leaving her eyes grey once again.

    Changing Star kneeled, then lay down on her back, too exhausted to move.

    The whole fight lasted less than a minute, but it took everything out of both of them.

    Sunny followed Neph's example and lay on the ground, trying to catch his breath.

    They actually won. He couldn't quite believe it.

    'I want to sleep for a week.'

    Remembering that Cassie was still waiting in the branches of the great tree, not knowing who lived and who died, Sunny sighed. A few moments later, he deeply inhaled.

    Then, straining his vocal cords, he screamed at the top of his lungs.

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    In the silence of the morning, in the center of the tall hill covered with ashen sand, under the branches of a beautiful, giant tree, a strange shout could be heard:

    "One demon steak, coming right up!"

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