The flying ship was moving through the deep darkness of the Sky Below, escorted by fourteen stone fiends. With the ocean of flames burning below and vast nothingness above, it seemed as though they were sailing through purgatory.
Noctis stood at the steering oars, slouched, with a pale face and dark circles under his eyes. He did not seem to be doing too well, but his hand was steady as it controlled the ship.
On the upper deck, the Sailor Dolls were preparing for battle. They were moving wooden ballistae into position and loading heavy bolts into them, with an especially fearsome siege engine placed at the bow. The bolts themselves were not that simple, too. Their surfaces were carved with runes, which shimmered with stored soul essence and brimmed with power.
The mannequins themselves were armed, as well, their elegant liveries replaced with chainmail. They carried heavy bows, sabers, and hatchets — both to kill the enemies and defend the ship from boarding hooks. There were plenty of quivers full of arrows around, as well as barrels of water to douse the flames should the sails catch on fire.
The sails, meanwhile, were turned at a strange angle to catch the hot air rising from below, surrounding the vessel from the sides like wings.
The ship was flying swiftly, but in the emptiness of the Sky Below, it was hard to measure how much distance they were covering. Sunny could only tell that their speed was tremendous because of the powerful torrent of essence flowing through the ancient wood, and the howling of the wind that was being cut by the armored ram of the ship.
At this rate, they were going to reach the Ivory City soon.
The cohort was preparing for battle, too.
Kai had summoned his white and gold armor — a Memory he had earned while commanding a centuria of the Sun Legion. Behind the charred wooden maks, his eyes were serious and focused. He was examining the fletching of arrows in his quiver, a mighty bow resting at his feet. This bow had come from a champion of the War Sect he had slain, and was a deadly weapon.
Effie was standing nearby, leaning on the runic spear Sunny had given her. The Dusk Shard was propped against the board of the ship, almost as tall as the little girl, and there was a white cape that seemed to be weaved from starlight resting on her shoulders — the Starlight Shard, which she had received after slaying the Lord of the Dead.
Of course, Effie had a whole arsenal of other Memories at her disposal — those that she had collected over the years on the Forgotten Shore, and those she received for slaying countless abominations to saturate her Awakened core before venturing into the Seed of Nightmare. Weapons, tools, charms… she was going to summon them when the need arose.
Knowing that the battle ahead would be long and arduous, the little girl was hungrily devouring a pile of roasted meat.
Cassie was quietly observing Nocts, her hand resting on the hilt of the Quiet Dancer. Her role in the approaching battle was going to be especially important… when the sorcerer clashed with Solvane and Sun Prince, she would have to control the flying ship and command the Sailor Dolls, drawing the bulk of the enemy's ire.
…Sunny was getting ready, too.
He had summoned the Mantle of the Underworld, which covered his demonic body like an onyx carapace. Since this battle was going to be against humans, and not mighty Nightmare Creatures, he had judged that its utility would be more valuable than the impregnable defense of the Undying Chain.
There was no Elyas around to heal a mortal wound should he receive one, as well, so its incredible enchantment was less useful.
The Blood Blossom rested in the onyx armor's breastplate, ready to grant him its strength. In his four hands, he held the Cruel Sight, the Midnight Shard, and Morgan's Warbow.
Three Shadows rested in his soul, ready to be sent forth to destroy and slaughter.
He was ready…
Well, as ready as he could be.
Just as Sunny thought it, Noctis suddenly moved, and then looked up, a wild smile slowly appearing on his lips. His voice sounded hoarse, but clear:
"...Ah. They finally sensed us."
The members of the cohort turned to him, their faces calm and collected.
The sorcerer grinned, and then moved one of the oars, sending the ship flying up. His eyes glinted with distant moonlight.
"No point in hiding anymore. We are close enough, anyway… oh, what a night to be alive, my friends!"
His laughter rolled across the deck as the ancient vessel climbed higher and higher, swiftly approaching the dark side of the Chained Island.
Sunny stared up, knowing that just in a few minutes, the end of this Nightmare was going to begin.
...As he did, Cassie silently approached him and stood nearby for a few moments, silent.
Then, she said:
"No matter what happens… don't let him enter the Tower."
Sunny frowned, looking at her with a somber expression.
She lingered for a second, and then shook her head.
Sunny smiled and turned away.
"Why? Was his guarantee of conquering the Nightmare if we do as he says a lie?"
The young woman did not speak for a while, then said simply:
"No. I don't think so."
Sunny glanced at her and raised an eyebrow.
"Why should I try to stop him, then?"
She hesitated for a moment. Then, Cassie asked:
"What happens after the Nightmare?"
Sunny sighed, then chuckled wryly.
"...Alright. I'll take your request into consideration."
He could already see the dark underbelly of the Kingdom of Hope above them… and hear the distant whisper of war drums.
Caught by surprise, the two armies were hurriedly preparing to meet them.
Looking at his friends, Sunny sighed, and then said in a neutral voice:
"I guess this is it. Good luck, guys. Don't die out there."
Kai and Effie looked at him, and then nodded. The little girls smiled crookedly.
"Why would we die? It's just a couple of armies and three Transcendents. No big deal…"
She hesitated for a bit, and then added in a somber tone:
"However, let's make a promise to not do suicidal battles beneath giant towers again, okay? I mean, at this rate, it might become a habit…"
Sunny looked at her and grinned.
"So, what… next time, we should do battle on top of a giant tower?"
"No... no towers. Let's try to avoid giant towers in the future entirely. How does that sound?"
Sunny laughed, then turned away and stared at the approaching islands.
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