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    Chapter 77: Enthralled

    Sunny stumbled and looked at his companions in utter shock.

    Nephis and Cassie were each holding a large, round, glistening fruit. The skin of these fruits was smooth and black as onyx, while the succulent insides were red as ruby. Their hands, chins and lips were smeared with red juice, making it look as though they were feasting on blood.

    The air was filled with an alluring, sweet aroma.

    Sunny recoiled...

    But his stomach involuntarily growled, reminding him how hungry he was.

    Nephis looked at Sunny and offered him a relaxed smile.


    He stared at her, lost for words. Finally, after a few seconds had passed, Sunny collected himself and screamed:

    "What do you mean "hey"?! What the hell are you doing?!"

    His voice was loud, full of disbelief and anger.

    Both Neph and Cassie turned to face him. They were visibly confused.

    "Why are you shouting?"

    Sunny gaped at them, feeling like he had lost his mind. Why were they so nonchalant about this? What was going on here?!

    Trying to find some sense in the situation, he took a cautious step forward and looked at Nephis. Did she… wait… what was he thinking about?

    He was so hungry. It was hard to concentrate on anything except for food…

    Shaking off the unexpected memory lapse, Sunny remembered what he was about to say and pressed:

    "Why did you change your mind?"

    Changing Star frowned.

    "Changed my mind? About what?"

    He clenched his teeth, thinking that she was trying to fool him.

    "About the fruits! I thought we had agreed to avoid eating them!"

    Nephis blinked, a confused expression appearing on her face.

    "Did we? ...Why?"

    Sunny opened his mouth to answer, but then froze.

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    Actually, why did they make that agreement?

    'Uh… I can't quite remember.'

    He was sure that there was a reason, but his memory was completely blank. There definitely was an agreement… wasn't there?

    He was pretty sure that there was, at least up until a few moments ago. Now, however… huh… did he imagine the whole thing? There really was no reason not to eat the alluring fruits. Especially when the three of them were so hungry…

    'No, wait… that's not right!'

    "Are you alright, Sunny?"

    He flinched and glanced at Nephis, who was looking at him with concern. Suddenly, Sunny felt lost and confused. What were they talking about? Something… something about some sort of agreement?

    What agreement?

    Not knowing how to answer, he just stood there with a frown on his face and pouted.

    'Ugh, this is embarrassing. Did I completely space out while she was talking to me?'

    Fortunately, Cassie quickly came to his rescue. She always knew how to make the situation less awkward.

    "Are you angry because we started eating without you?"

    He looked at her and noticed the big, delicious fruit in her hands. His stomach growled.

    'So hungry…'

    "Uh… I guess?"

    Cassie smiled and pointed to the ground, where another fruit was placed on the pile of fallen leaves. Her teeth were smeared with red juice.

    "Don't worry! Neph brought three of them, one for each."

    'How nice of her…'

    Sunny picked up the fruit, looked at it, and took a bite without thinking.

    Instantly, his mouth was filled with delightful, cool sweetness. The succulent, juicy fruit was probably the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. It was both nourishing and refreshing, with rich texture and soft, lingering aftertaste. The ruby flesh practically melted on his tongue, making his whole body tingle. It was pure joy in the form of a fruit.


    Despite his delight, Sunny felt disturbed for some reason. Something was very wrong about the whole situation… but what?

    Taking another bite, he frowned and tried to understand the source of this anxious feeling. It was hard to think about anything except for how heavenly the fruit of the Soul Tree tasted, but he forced himself to concentrate.

    'Huh… Soul Tree? Since when... wait, don't get distracted...'

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    Sunny was finally able to pinpoint the source of the strangeness. It was his shadow. When he reached out to pick up the fruit, the shadow did not copy his movements, as though reluctant to touch it.

    Even now it was motionless, refusing to mimic him eating the fruit.

    'Weird. What is it with this guy?'

    Sunny took one more bite and looked at the shadow, lost in thought.

    The shadow had an eccentric temper, but it rarely did something without a reason. If it didn't like the fruit, there had to be something wrong with… the… fruit…

    Sunny frowned, suddenly feeling a sense of dread grip his heart.

    There was something… something wrong with the…

    'Damn, why is it so hard to think about this stuff?!'

    There was something wrong with the fruit? Why would there…

    'Wait, is this why I screamed at Nephis? She broke an agreement… what was the agreement?'

    Sunny was at the precipice of remembering something very important. He felt as though he just needed to pull on the thread, and the whole truth would reveal itself…

    Something terrible was going to happen if he failed...

    But then, Sunny got distracted.

    Something unexpected happened, something that required his full attention.

    Instantly, he somehow forgot all about the problem with the Soul Tree's fruits.

    Because at that moment, the Spell was talking into his ear:

    [Your shadow grows stronger.]


    He blinked, then looked at the delicious fruit in his hands. The Spell announced the increase in his power right after Sunny swallowed his third bite.

    Stunned, he raised his head and looked at Nephis.

    Changing Star, too, was staring at her fruit with a strange expression on her face. Feeling his gaze, she looked up.

    Sunny licked his lips.

    "Did you…"

    At the same time, Nephis said:

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    "I just absorbed a point of soul essence."

    Without saying anything, they both turned to Cassie.

    The blind girl was enthusiastically devouring the fruit. Red juice was flowing down her chin and dripping to the ground.

    Stopping for a moment, she smiled.

    "Actually, I received mine a few bites ago."

    Sunny's eyes widened. Excitedly, he summoned the runes and found the right cluster:

    Shadow Fragments: [97/1000].

    He really received a fragment!

    He received a shadow fragment without risking his life in a battle against deadly monsters!

    Finally, Sunny was able to realize why the Carapace Demon had been so fixated on the Soul Tree and its fruits.

    These fruits were pure magic!

    Forgetting all about the uneasy feeling, he raised his hand and greedily bit into the succulent, delicious, nourishing flesh…


    Late in the evening, when the sun was already hidden behind the horizon and the dark sea had once again turned the Ashen Barrow into a lonely island, the three of them were preparing for the night.

    They had moved their camp to rest between the roots of the great tree. With newfound energy received from consuming miraculous fruits, all their worries seemed to fade.

    With no way to move further west, Nephis, Sunny and Cassie had decided to rest for a few days before making any decisions.

    They deserved a short vacation.

    The Ashen Barrows was a perfect place to recuperate. There were no monsters in the surrounding wasteland, it was large enough to protect them from the horrors of the sea, and they had plenty of food thanks to the Soul Tree.

    What's more, that food could even provide them with power…

    Where else would they be able to grow stronger without risking their lives?

    As far as hell goes, this place was almost a paradise.

    Sunny lay on the makeshift mattress of fallen leaves, feeling relaxed and optimistic for the first time in many, many days.

    Things seemed to be getting better.

    Before falling asleep, he glanced at the mighty branches of the great tree and thought with a bit of regret:

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    'With the Carapace Demon gone, there's no one to protect this magnificent tree anymore. When we continue our journey, it will be completely defenseless. What a shame…'

    His consciousness was already half-asleep. However, one last thought entered Sunny's mind right before he completely slipped into the embrace of darkness:

    "What a shame that no one will be here to serve it.... and feed it... and help it spread its seeds…"

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