14 Child of Shadows

Sunny had no choice but to resort to one last, desperate gamble.

He had no chance against the enemy in a direct confrontation, at least not without an advantage. Bloodbane poison was supposed to be his hidden card, but turned out to be nearly useless. Being able to see in the dark did not help that much, too: somehow, Hero was able to perceive their surroundings even without any light.

Whether he was using his sense of hearing or some magical ability, Sunny did not know — not that it mattered now that they had left the cave and were standing under the moonlit sky.

Now he had only one advantage left. The fact that he knew that the tyrant was blind, and Hero did not. Acting on that knowledge, however, was easier said than done.

But what else could he do?

That's why he tried to stay as quiet as possible and rang the silver bell. If the description did not lie, its ringing could be heard from miles away. Surely, the tyrant was going to hear it, too.

Now Sunny only had to stay silent, stall for time and hope that the monster would come. As he did so, Hero's bewilderment slowly turned into anger.

"Tell me right now or you will regret it."

His voice was quite threatening, but still, the young slave did not answer. He just shivered in the cold and tried not to moan despite the pulsing pain in his chest.

"Why are you not answering?"

But Sunny did not dare to answer. He held his breath and watched, horrified, as the familiar colossal figure appeared behind Hero. His lungs were on fire, and his heart was beating like crazy. It was beating so loud that he was even afraid that the blind tyrant would hear it.

But, of course, it couldn't be louder than Hero's voice, who was still talking, turning himself into the only source of noise on this mountain.

At the last second, a hint of understanding appeared in the young soldier's eyes. He began to turn around, his sword rising with lightning speed.

But it was too late.

A massive hand appeared from the darkness and caught him into an iron grip. The bone claws scraped against the armor, pulling it apart. Mountain King dragged Hero back, paying little attention to the sword biting into its wrist. Viscous saliva was streaming from its opened maw.

Petrified by fear, Sunny slowly turned his back to them and took a couple of steps up the old, winding path. Then he darted away, running as fast as he could.

Behind him, a desperate scream tore apart the silent night. Then a hungry roar followed. It seemed that Hero wasn't going down without a fight, even though his fate was already sealed.

But Sunny didn't care. He was running away, climbing higher and higher.

"I'm sorry, Hero," he thought. "I did say that I will watch you die… but, as you know, I am a liar. So go and die on your own…"

***

A lonesome dark mountain stood tall against the raging winds.

Jagged and proud, it dwarfed other peaks of the mountain chain, cutting the night sky with its sharp edges. A radiant moon bathed its slopes in the ghostly light.

Under that light, a young man with pale skin and black hair reached the peak of the mountain. However, his looks didn't match the magnificence of the scene: wounded and staggering, he looked pathetic and weak.

The young man looked like a walking corpse.

His coarse tunic and cloak were torn and smeared with blood. His sunken eyes were cloudy and lifeless. His body was bruised, beaten and cut. There were specks of bloody foam on his lips.

He was hunched over, cradling the left side of his chest. Each step caused him to moan, ragged breath barely escaping through gritted teeth.

Sunny was hurting all over. But most of all, he was cold.

So, so cold.

He just wanted to lie down in the snow and fall asleep.

But instead, he continued walking. Because he believed that the Nightmare will be over once he reaches the peak.

Step. Step. Another step.

Finally, he had made it.

At the highest point of the mountain, a vast expanse of flat rock was covered with snow. In the center of it, illuminated by moonlight, stood a magnificent temple. Its colossal columns and walls were cut from black marble, with exquisite reliefs decorating the stygian pediment and broad frieze. Beautiful and awesome, it looked like a palace of a dark god.

At least it did once. Now, the temple was in ruins: fractures and cracks marred the black stones, parts of the roof had collapsed, letting in ice and snow. Its tall gates were broken, as if smashed into pieces by a hand of a giant.

Still, Sunny was satisfied.

"Found you," he said in a hoarse voice.

Gathering the last of his strength, the young slave slowly limped in the direction of the ruined temple. His thoughts were muddled and confused.

'See this, Hero?' he thought, forgetting for a second that Hero was already dead. 'I've made it. You were strong and ruthless, and I was weak and timid. Yet now you are a corpse, and I am still alive. Isn't it funny?'

He stumbled and groaned, feeling the edges of his broken ribs cutting deeper into his lungs. Blood was dripping from his mouth. Dead or not, Hero had gotten him good with that single strike.

'Actually, it's not. What do any of you even know about being ruthless? Poor fools. In the world where I come from, people had thousands of years to turn cruelty into an art. And as someone on the receiving end of all that cruelty… don't you think I would know more about being vicious than you ever could?'

He was getting closer to the temple.

'Truth be told, you never stood a chance… wait. What was I thinking about?'

A moment later, he had already forgotten. There was only pain, the dark temple, and the overpowering desire to sleep.

'Don't fall for it. It's just hypothermia. If you fall asleep, you'll die.'

Finally, Sunny reached the steps of the black temple. He started to climb them, not noticing thousands of bones that were scattered around. These bones once belonged to humans and monsters both. All of them were killed by the invisible guardians still lingering around the temple.

As Sunny was climbing the steps, one of the shapeless guardians approached him. It was ready to snuff out the spark of life that was burning weakly in the defiler's chest, but then stopped, sensing a faint, strangely familiar scent coming from his soul. The scent of divinity. Sorrowful and lonesome, the guardian moved aside, letting Sunny pass.

Oblivious, he entered the temple.

Sunny found himself in a grandiose hall. Cascades of moonlight were falling through the holes in the partially collapsed roof. Deep shadows were surrounding these circles of silver light, not daring to touch them. The floor was covered in snow and ice.

At the far end of the hall, a large altar was cut from a single piece of black marble. It was the only thing inside the temple untouched by snow. Forgetting why he came here, Sunny headed for the altar.

He just wanted to sleep.

The altar was dry, clean, and as wide as a bed. Sunny climbed on it and lay down.

It seemed like he was going to die.

He was okay with it.

Sunny tried to close his eyes, but was stopped by a sudden noise coming from the direction of the temple's entrance. He turned his head to look, not even a little bit curious. What he saw would have sent chills running down his spine if he wasn't so cold, tired and indifferent.

Mountain King was standing there, looking at him with its five blind eyes. He was still massive, terrifying and revolting. Worm-like shapes were still moving frantically under its skin. It was sniffing the air, salivating.

Then it opened its maw and moved forward, slowly approaching the altar.

'What an ugly bastard,' Sunny thought and suddenly clutched his chest, convulsing in a fit of torturous coughing.

Bloody foam flew from his mouth and fell on the altar. However, the black marble soon absorbed it.

A second later, it was as pristine as it was before.

The tyrant was just about to reach Sunny. It was already stretching its hands to grab him.

'I guess this is the end,' he thought, resigned to his fate.

But at the last second, suddenly, the voice of the Spell resounded in the dark temple.

[You have offered yourself as a sacrifice to the gods.]

[The gods are dead, and can not hear you.]

[Your soul bears the mark of divinity.]

[You are a temple slave.]

[Shadow God stirs in his eternal slumber.]

[He sends a blessing from beyond the grave.]

[Child of Shadows, receive your blessing!]

Under Sunny's astonished eyes, the shadows crowding the great hall suddenly moved, as though coming alive. Tentacles of darkness surged forward, entangling Mountain King's arms and legs. The mighty tyrant struggled, trying to get free.

But how could it resist the power of a god?

The shadows dragged Mountain King back, pulling in different directions. The tyrant opened its maw, and a furious howl escaped it.

The next second, its body ruptured, torn apart into pieces.

Blood, viscera and severed limbs fell on the floor in a crimson torrent. Just like that, the horrible creature was dead.

Sunny blinked.

Once again, he was alone in the ruined temple. The great hall was dark and silent.

And then the Spell whispered:

[You have slain an awakened tyrant, Mountain King.]

[Wake up, Sunless! Your nightmare is over.]

[Prepare for appraisal…]

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