Sunny woke up from the oppressive feeling that drowned the whole world. The sunset was drawing near, and with it, the abyssal shadow of the Crimson Spire had once again fallen on the cursed city.
The distant spire could be seen from anywhere in these somber ruins, looming over the Forgotten Shore like an eternal dark omen. It was cyclopean and unimaginably high, with its roots growing from the endless sea of crimson coral and its peak lost somewhere beyond the veil of grey clouds.
In these past few months, Sunny had gotten accustomed to its presence and learned to not pay it any attention. Thinking about the Spire was a sure road to madness.
After all, somewhere inside that inconceivable structure lay their only hope of ever returning home.
And hope was a poison.
Yawning, Sunny stood up and stretched his arms. His good mood, which he had momentarily lost for some strange reason, was already returning.
Now that he had some time to put the events of the previous night into perspective, he understood even more clearly how amazing his luck had been recently. The acquisition of the Stone Saint and her following transformation into a Shadow were nothing short of miraculous.
His life was about to change for the better!
However, Sunny had to think things through thoroughly. He was in uncharted waters in regards to how to cultivate his pet monster.
The initial excitement he felt after realizing that the Shadow Saint was capable of consuming Memories to collect shadow fragments was gone. In its place, there now was a series of uncomfortable questions.
Sunny had spent somewhere around six months on the Forgotten Shore. In all this time, he had only been able to collect three Memories that were suitable to be fed to the Shadow, giving her mere six shadow fragments.
With the current speed of progression, he would have to wait for sixteen full years to see his labor bear fruit and find out what exactly was going to happen once the Stone Saint had accumulated all two hundred shadow fragments that the runes demanded.
Even among the elites of Gunlaug's army, the was no one who had survived on the Forgotten Shore for more than ten years. The King of the Castle himself had only been here for eight, and only lived that long in large part due to luck.
Granted, Sunny's battle ability would grow dramatically once the deadly stone knight was added into the equation, but still, it was too long. He had to think of something.
While he was doing the math, Sunny's eyes fell on the iron chest that stored his painstakingly accumulated fortune of soul shards. Distracted, he froze for a few moments, then hesitantly approached the chest and stared at its lid.
By the standards of the Forgotten Shore, he was an incredibly rich man. His fortune could buy him a lot of things in the castle, from comparatively simple to increasingly rare and hard to come by.
…Some of the things that could be easily bought in that pit of despair he didn't even want to think about.
What interested him the most, however, was the possibility of acquiring a large amount of Memories. Powerful Memories with useful enchantments were not cheap. In fact, they were extremely expensive. But he didn't really care about the quality.
Since Stone Saint could get the same amount of fragments from the most useless of Memories, all he needed was quantity.
If he were to spend all of his shards, her power would instantly leap by a considerable amount. In the future, he would be able to cultivate the Shadow at double the speed, too — half of the materials coming from the Memories he would be acquiring from slaying monsters, the other from the Memories he would be buying with the soul shards the monsters had left behind. That would potentially reduce the overall timeframe to a somewhat sensible period.
However, there was a big problem with this plan.
Once Sunny began to spend a large number of soul shards, he would inevitably draw a lot of attention. Dealing with random daredevils who would try to rob him, while not pleasant, was not a big problem. But if Gunlaug himself were to become interested in his exploits… that would spell disaster.
And then there was Nephis, whose presence made any sort of planning futile for reasons that only she and Sunny knew.
Everyone else seemed to be blind and deaf to the truth, which was the source of the problem.
Sunny frowned and turned away from the chest.
"I might come back to this idea later. But first, I'll have to check if consuming Memories is the only way for a Shadow to grow stronger."
He still wanted to know if the Stone Saint could absorb shadow fragments by slaying Nightmare Creatures, just like he could.
Some time later, Sunny was cautiously moving through the stone maze of the forsaken city. Able to become one with the shadows, he had a certain advantage over anyone else who would dare to explore these cursed ruins in the absolute darkness of the night. However, even he was always just one step away from death.
Attracting the attention of the real masters of the streets, the Fallen creatures who dwelled here from the ancient times, would be the end of him. Sunny had no illusions about that.
Humans only survived here by learning how to avoid the Fallen Ones and seek out weaker monsters to hunt. There weren't a lot of lesser creatures who were able to secure a foothold in the cursed city, so hunting them was always dangerous.
Nevertheless, that was what Sunny had made into his profession, and that was what he was doing now.
Finally, he reached the area where he had observed a particular creature in the past. Surprisingly, Sunny was intimately familiar with that type of monster.
After all, one of them had almost cost him his life in the past.
Somewhere around this particular street, a lone carapace centurion had made its lair.
Climbing atop a tall stone column, Sunny stood motionlessly in the darkness and waited for his prey to appear. Time moved excruciatingly slowly, but a good hunter had to have a lot of patience. His dark eyes pierced the veil of night, observing the ghostly ruins.
One hour passed, then another. Sunny waited.
Soon, his patience was finally rewarded.
From the deep darkness of one of the toppled buildings, a familiar hulking shape appeared in all its menacing beauty. The carapace centurion stepped onto the cobblestones, his black carapace decorated with crimson patterns, two terrifying bone scythes scraping against the stone.
The carapace centurion only had time to take a single step before two crimson flames suddenly ignited in the deep shadows that consumed the ruined street.
Then, a graceful stone knight stepped out of the darkness. Raising her shield, she rested the blade of her sword on its rim. Wisps of ghostly grey fog were seeping from under her armor, a strange dark radiance emanating from her skin. The darkness around seemed to move, as though wanting to embrace her like a dark mantle.
The two monsters — one massive and savage, one small and steadfast — froze opposite each other.
…And then, all hell broke loose.
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