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    Chapter 73: The Circle of Death

    A few minutes later, Sunny heard a noise coming from somewhere above. Looking in that direction, he noticed that Cassie was standing at the edge of the wide branch, gripping the golden rope in her hands.

    Before he could react, the blind girl was already climbing down. She was very cautious, but also quite nimble for someone without sight.

    He blinked.

    'Is she crazy? That's dangerous!'

    But he was worried for nothing. Cassie quickly reached the ground and let go of the rope, safe and sound. She then summoned her staff and took a hesitant step, trying to remember where his shout had come from.

    Sunny made his presence known and guided her by saying:

    "I'm here!"

    The blind girl turned her head in his direction and walked forward, carefully feeling the ground in front of her with the staff. Because of how uneven the surface of the island had become, it took her longer than usual to reach him.

    Just as she was about to walk past, Sunny spoke again:

    "Hey, Cas."

    Cassie stopped and lowered her head with a surprised expression. Then, she asked:

    "Why are you lying on the ground?"

    He smiled weakly.

    "Ah, it's very comfortable."

    Suddenly, the blind girl frowned and asked in a worried tone:

    "Are you hurt?"

    Sunny shook his head with a sigh. His sense of humor was not always appreciated. In fact, it had often landed him in hot water in the past.

    "Just bruised all over. Nothing serious. I'm just really tired… that one was really intense."

    Since Cassie was still frowning, he thought for a moment and added:

    "Neph is also fine. She's resting a bit further away."

    Finally, the delicate girl relaxed. Her face cleared, and she offered him a hesitant smile.

    "You really killed that demon?"

    Sunny cast a gaze at the giant corpse and closed his eyes.

    "Yeah. He's very dead."

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    Both of them were silent for some time. Sunny was on the verge of falling asleep when Cassie carefully asked:

    "So… you're just going to continue lying here?"

    He opened his eyes and blinked, trying to remember what was going on.

    'Oh, right. It's morning. There are things we have to do…'

    The last day was excruciatingly long and exhausting. They had to make preparations to execute the plan, race to the top of the hill, climb the great tree, hide themselves in its branches, risk their lives to set the demon on fire, not to mention the… all the stuff that happened after. All culminating in the short but terrifying battle against the creature itself.

    And yet, it was not time to rest yet. They had to take basic precautions, at least.

    Straining his exhausted body, Sunny stood up and offered Cassie his shoulder. After she placed her hand on it, he walked over to the Carapace Demon's corpse, stopping at the spot where Nephis was sprawled in the sand.

    She greeted them with a tired glance.

    "Good morning."

    Out of habit, Changing Star tried to force a polite smile. However, today it did not look very convincing.

    'Huh, I give it 3.6 out of ten. Not great, not terrible.'

    Soon, the three of them were sitting in a circle, passing around the glass bottle full of cold, refreshing water. Sunny was in the middle of describing their fight with the Carapace Demon:

    "... so he got distracted for a few moments. That's when Neph attacked. She used her Aspect Ability to ignite her sword and struck at the weakened patch of armor on the demon's chest, the one you told us about. It really was not as strong as the rest of his carapace, so the sword went through and pierced the bastard's heart."

    Sunny noted that Cassie did not seem surprised at the mention of Changing Star's new trick. Either she knew all along because Nephis had told her, or she saw something in one of her visions. Regardless, he decided not to press the topic.

    "The demon was already severely wounded from his fight with the… the thing from the sea, so it was enough to finish him off. A few seconds later, he was dead."

    Cassie shook her head in astonishment.

    "That is… incredible. Two Sleepers killing an awakened demon! I thought that stuff like that only happens in webtoons."

    Nephis corrected her:

    "Three Sleepers. Without your vision and advice, we wouldn't have been able to do anything."

    The blind girl lowered her face, a little embarrassed.

    "Still. Two or three, it doesn't really change a lot, does it?"

    Sunny looked from one girl to another, then finally turned to Cassie.

    "You're right, it's not something one would expect to happen. But, anyway… I promised to cook demon meat for you after this is over, didn't I? Are you ready to witness my incredible culinary talent?"

    He smiled, already tasting the juicy, tender meat in his mouth. However, Cassie suddenly frowned, a hesitant expression appearing on her face.

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    "I… I don't know about that."

    He raised his eyebrows.

    "What? Why?"

    She lingered before answering.

    "Well, it just seems weird to eat the meat of an intelligent creature. Even if it was evil. I didn't think about it before, but now… uh. It just doesn't seem right, I guess."

    Sunny blinked. Actually, he did not think about it either. In retrospect, the idea of making steaks out of a creature whose intelligence was comparable to theirs did seem a little wrong. Even if that creature was a bloodthirsty demon who would have swallowed them whole without a second thought.

    It was just how things worked in the Dream Realm. Monsters devoured humans, and humans devoured monsters. It was the circle of life... death? The circle of death.

    But the Carapace Demon was not only smart. He had his own thoughts and personality. Even though Nightmare Creatures were universally insane and obsessed with murder and destruction, just like he was, there were also other qualities to the ironclad giant.

    He was proud and fearless, even valiant. When fighting against the terrifying monsters of the dark sea, he did not hesitate to stand his ground, refusing to surrender. Cooking the meat of someone like that could indeed be considered… strange.

    'How come Teacher Julius did not educate me on the ethics of eating your enemies? What an oversight!'

    Misunderstanding Sunny's silence, Cassie blushed and said:

    "Sorry. I know it seems ridiculous, but that's just how I feel. You and Neph don't have to do the same."

    Sunny shook his head.

    "No, you might be right. I understand… sort of. It's just that we didn't bring any supplies with us, so we won't be able to eat anything unless we go hunting."

    The blind girl sighed. Then, her face brightened and she said:

    "What about the great tree's fruits? I bet they're delicious!"

    Sunny looked at her in amazement.

    "Are you serious?"

    Cassie was visibly confused by his question.

    "Uh… yes? Why?"

    He blinked a couple of times before answering.

    "That tree is magnificent and pretty, but it's also very strange and suspicious. Why is it able to grow here when nothing else can? I'm pretty sure that it's the reason why all the coral around the Ashen Barrow is dead. Have you seen anything else capable of damaging the labyrinth itself?"

    Sunny looked at Cassie, then at Nephis, trying to show how serious he was about this.

    "In any case, it's too creepy. I don't think that we should eat these fruits. Who knows what they'll do to us?"

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    The blind girl smiled.

    "You're being a little paranoid, don't you think? A tree is a tree. Actually, I think it's a wonderful example of how life can prevail against all odds, even in this terrible place. I'm willing to bet that its fruits are perfectly fine."

    He stared at her, not knowing what to say. How could Cassie be so dismissive of his completely valid concern? That wasn't like her at all. Unpleasantly surprised, Sunny turned to Neph, hoping that she would support him.

    Changing Star thought things through before speaking. Then, she said in a measured voice:

    "Sunny is right. There are too many strange things about that tree. Eating its fruits would be too risky."

    'Finally, a voice of reason!'

    He exhaled, relieved.

    However, his heart was still inexplicably gripped with worry.

    As Cassie sighed with disappointment, Changing Star turned to him and asked:

    "The Echo was destroyed?"

    Sunny's face darkened. He was still pained by the loss of his loyal scavenger.

    "Yeah. The demon acted faster than I had expected. He killed it before I could do anything."

    Nephis frowned.

    "Too bad. Our speed will be severely reduced."

    'Have you no heart, woman?! At least pretend to be sad! My poor Echo is gone!'

    His shadow shook its head, amazed at the childishness of its master. Sunny was also surprised by his reaction, considering that his own first thought after the Echo had died was about how much money he wouldn't be able to make by selling it.

    "Yeah. It's a… uh… pity."

    Changing Star gave him a nod and then asked:

    "You also lost your sword?"

    Sunny sighed and gritted his teeth.

    "Yes. It shattered when I blocked the demon's scythe."

    Which hurt even more than the death of his scavenger. Azure Blade was his first sword. He fought and trained with it for a long time. It was already like a part of him.

    And now it was gone.

    Nephis raised a hand.

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    "Well, you're in luck. I received a Memory after killing the Carapace Demon. It's a weapon…"

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