Still undecided, Sunny dismissed the Stone Saint. He was curious to see if the slumbering Shadow would become a sphere of light just like an Echo would.
However, she did not.
As soon as he gave the command, the ornate armor of the stone creature was immediately engulfed in black flame, and with a gust of ghostly wind, she was gone. It seemed as though the Shadow was returned into the embrace of the Shadow Core that had created her, and was now sleeping in its depths, bathed in the invisible waves of nurturing dark flames.
Sunny scratched the back of his head. So, the Shadows literally dwelled within the deepest part of his soul. He didn't really know how to feel about this, but felt that it was strangely fitting.
He was a child of shadows himself, after all.
With a thoughtful sigh, Sunny emerged from the Soul Sea and looked around his secret lair.
Outside the ruined cathedral, the sun was shining above the cursed city. But none of its rays could reach this tranquil hidden chamber. Sunny suspected that once, a long ago, the secret room served as the private quarters of a venerated young priestess who performed sacred rites in this temple.
He had found some of her things in the modest wardrobe that was hidden behind a stone panel, somehow preserved in pristine condition despite the thousands of years that had passed since the city had fallen to the curse of darkness. If not for the lamentable disparity of their genders, he would have had a whole collection of clothes to wear, instead of spending every waking hour dressed in the same good old Puppeteer's Shroud.
There were limits to the amount of abuse that even a fifth-tier armor could withstand. However, in a sense, he was lucky. At least his armor was made out of soft fabric. It would have been much worse if he had to wear a suit of plate armor or a rusty chainmail instead.
That priestess, of course, had not used the same extravagant method to enter her private quarters. There actually was a doorway that led outside the room and into a concealed corridor that ended with a narrow stairwell. However, the stairs had long collapsed, leaving only a deep vertical shaft behind. This was Sunny's route of escape in case someone or something would find his lair.
Standing up from the magnificent wooden chair, Sunny paced around for a bit and then lighted the fire under a makeshift stove, planning to make himself some late supper. The orange flames illuminated the hidden chamber, sending shadows dancing on its walls.
'Oh, right. I never got fresh meat.'
The night was so eventful that he had completely forgotten the initial purpose of his hunt.
Throwing the last few strips of meat on the grill, he seasoned them with salt and sighed once again. The desire to simply venture outside and get into a fight with the nearest Nightmare Creature seemed more attractive with each minute.
'No, no, no! That's how you end up dead!'
To distract himself from these seductive thoughts, Sunny decided to summon the Stone Saint into the material world and perform a few experiments in the safety of his secret lair.
Standing up, he willed the Shadow to appear.
The secretive chamber was submerged in deep shadows. His own was hidden in one of them, standing with its arms crossed on the cold stone wall. In Sunny's vision, it appeared as a silhouette made from a deeper shade of black.
Usually, an Echo would appear in front of the summoner, weaved from the countless sparks of moving light. However, the Stone Saint entrance was completely different. Instead of materializing out of thin air, she stepped out of his shadow like a sinister dark knight. Wreathed in darkness, her elegant figure emanated a sense of danger and foreboding.
First, two ruby eyes ignited in the depths of the shadow. Then, the darkness came to life and surged forward, taking the form of the deadly stone monster. The sole of her stonelike solleret touched the floor with a loud clang, and a moment later, the Shadow Saint was standing in the middle of his room, her hand resting on the pommel of her sword.
Sunny grimaced, feeling a slight headache.
'So… the shadow was hiding in a shadow, and then the Shadow came out of the shadow to stand with it in the shadows. This is starting to get out of hand. I really need to come up with better terminology!' 𝒊𝘯𝑛𝐫ℯ𝒂d. 𝐜𝘰𝓂
He felt that this was a vital problem, but no suitable words came to his mind. Glancing at the silent duo, Sunny hesitantly asked:
Sadly, both his shadow and his Shadow were mute and unable to voice their opinions even if they wanted to. Left with no assistance whatsoever, Sunny sighed.
"Alright, I'll think of something later. For now, let's see what you're capable of."
Summoning his shadow, he wrapped himself in its comforting embrace and faced the Stone Saint, preparing to test her strength. Inhaling deeply, he focused and gave the menacing monster a command:
Sunny expected that the Shadow would hesitate for a moment, maybe even requiring some persuasion to turn on her master. Instead, the Stone Saint immediately leaned forward and punched him in the chest without a second thought.
With his physical prowess enhanced by the shadow, Sunny was sure of his ability to withstand one blow from the awakened monster, at least to a certain degree. However, he was wrong.
So, so wrong.
Before he could even react, the armor-clad stone fist crashed into his ribs, making Sunny feel as though he was hit by a train. In the next second, he found himself lying on the floor, surrounded by numerous pieces of broken wood.
'Oh… oh no! My chair!'
The magnificent chair was gone, ruthlessly turned into splinters and firewood by the impact with his back. It was completely unsalvageable.
Sunny's back wasn't doing much better.
Turning onto his stomach with a moan, Sunny spat a bit of blood on the stone floor and weakly raised one hand, giving the Shadow Saint thumbs up.
"Ugh… good, well done. Ten out of ten, just like… crap, that really hurts… just like I expected!"
Casting a furtive glance at the elegant stone knight, he forced a smile out and tried to stand up.
'I think I need to amend some details of the future experiments.'
Next, Sunny was planning to enhance the Stone Saint with the shadow before getting her to strike him again.
However, on second thought, there were better ways to measure her power…
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