Licking his lips, Sunny cautiously said:
"It's not… not as you think, Neph. We've been caught in a trap by the Soul Tree. It's not benevolent… it's not protecting us. In fact, it's doing the opposite. If we don't leave this island, we'll become its slaves, forever. Or until it finds someone stronger and devours us!"
She tilted her head and looked at him with an unreadable expression.
"Come on, Nephis! Remember! We've talked about this already! This whole thing was your idea to begin with!"
For a moment, he thought that his words had awoken the stolen memories in her mind. But her response shattered those hopes into pieces.
"Leave… the great tree? You have really lost your mind."
Changing Star raised her sword and said in a tone that made Sunny tremble.
"Let Cassie go. Now."
He hesitated, thinking about the best course of action. Then, he carefully placed the blind girl on the ground.
"Alright. I did. See? Now, listen to me. I have something very important to tell you…"
Before he was done speaking, Nephis disappeared from his view. Realizing that he was about to be attacked, Sunny prepared to defend himself…
However, a moment later, he was already lying on the ground, the tip of the silver sword pressed against his throat. Changing Star was standing above him, pale lights burning in her eyes.
'Well that was… embarrassing.'
All his training, all the experience he had won in countless bloody battles, all the power he had gained… Sunny had really thought that he stood a decent chance of standing his ground in a fight against Nephis, maybe even reaching a tie. But in the end, he had only lasted a second.
One would be templted to call this shameful display a premature capitulation.
'Nice one, idiot! Now stop fooling around and focus!'
Feeling the cold steel touching his skin, Sunny tried to move as little as possible. He was pretty sure that Changing Star wouldn't just kill him in cold blood, but it was still better to not give her any reasons to do something drastic.
After all, Neph's mind was not all there.
Looking up at her cold, indifferent face, Sunny strained his vocal cords and shouted in exasperation:
"Aster, Song, Vale!"
Nephis's hand trembled, making a drop of blood roll down his neck. Her eyes opened wide, full of surprise and shock. Then, a dark expression appeared on her face.
Pressing slightly on the sword, she took a step forward and pierced him with a burning gaze. When she spoke, her voice was trembling with suppressed emotions:
"How... how do you know these names? Who are you?"
Sunny blinked, equally as surprised by her reaction. He had thought that these weird words were just a part of some code to jog her memory awake. But, as it turned out, they were not…
'Aster, Song, Vale… what the hell does it mean? What can make Nephis lose her cool? It has to be something important…'
Trying to stay as still as possible, he cautiously glanced at the blade of the sword and honestly answered:
"I didn't even know that these were names. It's just what you told me to tell you in case you forget what had to be done. You said if I tell you this, you'll listen to me."
Nephis stared at him, a shadow of doubt appearing on her face for a split second. It was gone almost instantly, replaced by grim determination. Gritting her teeth, she snarled:
"Which Domain do you belong to?!"
Sunny had no clue what she wanted him to say. So, he just asked:
"What's a domain?"
She grinned, a maniacal glimmer appearing in her eyes. This was very unlike calm, composed Nephis. If Sunny didn't know better, he would think that a completely different person was standing in front of him.
A person that was much more unpredictable and dangerous.
Meanwhile, Neph said:
"Don't pretend to… to…"
Suddenly, she stumbled, then frowned. It seemed as though Sunny's question touched something in Changing Star's mind, causing a chain reaction. A few seconds passed, each turning her frown deeper.
Slowly, the familiar poised calmness returned to her eyes. It didn't seem as though she had remembered everything, but, just as Nephis had promised, it seemed enough to make her listen to what Sunny had to say.
He understood it from the fact that she had finally removed the tip of the sword from this throat. She even helped him stand up. 𝒊𝒏nr𝐞𝘢𝐝. 𝒄𝒐𝗺
Looking at Sunny with a strange expression, she then said:
"I really told you those words?"
Rubbing his slightly cut neck, he simply nodded. Blood Weave was already busy repairing the damage to his skin.
Nephis looked down, then closed her eyes for a few moments. When she opened them again, they were full of resolve.
"What do I need to do?"
Sunny really wanted to ask her about the meaning of the three mysterious names, but decided against it. They had to hurry.
"Ask Cassie to summon her staff. Then get her into the boat."
Dismissing her sword, Changing Star glanced at him for the last time and walked toward her friend.
Somehow, Nephis had managed to talk Cassie into following her and boarding the ghastly vessel. She probably had to lie about a lot of things, but Sunny didn't want to ask, afraid that his Flaw would ruin everything.
Once the girls were inside the boat, he wrapped his tired body into the shadow and put his hands on the metal hull. Every part of his body seemed to hurt in its own unique way.
His mind was utterly exhausted.
'Come on, Sunny. One last push.'
With a crooked smile, he strained his muscles and pushed the boat toward black water.
As the last light of dusk disappeared, submerging the world into absolute darkness, the boat built from the bones of a demon slipped from the ashen sand into the cold embrace of the dark sea.
Following Sunny's instructions, Cassie aimed her staff and activated its enchantment, causing a strong gale to fill their modest sail.
At first, the boat moved slowly, the mast creaking under pressure. But Changing Star's craftsmanship was meticulous and reliable. The demon's spine held, and little by little, the small vessel began to gain speed.
Sunny sat at the stern, controlling the steering oar. In front of them, an endless expanse of black water stretched to the horizon, hiding indescribable horrors in its depths.
Behind them, the terrifying Soul Devouring Tree was slowly growing smaller.
Sunny stared at it, feeling a deep sense of regret grip his heart. He wished that he was powerful enough to destroy it. Leaving just like that, without exacting revenge on the ancient monster, filled him with anger.
Well… at least he left it a present.
Back at the Ashen Barrow, a candle was burning in a small alcove of stones that protected its flame from wind. Near the candle, a tall pile of dry, fallen leaves was towering over the alcove.
It had taken Sunny a long time to gather that pile. He had scoured most of the island, hoping to make it as tall as possible. He had also mixed dry seaweed and the remaining fat of the Carapace Demon into the leaves.
Some time later, the small candle was nearing the end of its life. Most of the wax had already melted, turning it even smaller. Just as the flame was about to go out, it ignited the leaves. After a few seconds, a massive, searing bonfire ignited in the middle of the island, illuminating the scarlet leaves of the evil tree. Almost instantly, the black waters surrounding the island surged with movement.
Sunny was already too far away to see any of it.
He didn't know if the creatures of the dark sea would be able to obliterate the Soul Devourer. He strongly doubted that the ancient fiend was that easy to destroy. However, with the Carapace Demon dead and the three humans meant to replace him gone, there was no one on the island to protect the gluttonous tree. Perhaps it would be seriously harmed, at least.
For now, it was the best he could do.
Looking back in the direction of the Ashen Barrow, Sunny gritted his teeth and thought:
'One day, I will become powerful enough to destroy that tree, these monsters, and anyone else who would dare to stand in my way. One day, I will become powerful enough to never be afraid again, of anyone or anything. Instead, all of them will fear me!'
He didn't notice that, just as he was thinking these words, Cassie suddenly raised her head and turned in his direction.
On her face, a dark expression appeared, soon erased by uncertainty and doubt.
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