After finding a good hiding spot for Cassie, Sunny and Nephis proceeded forward to face the scavengers. Soon, they saw two hulking silhouettes in the distance.
With her lips pursed together, Nephis threw over her shoulder:
Then, like a runner preparing for a race, she got down on one knee, inhaled deeply… and lunged forward.
Sunny dove into the deep shadow cast by the wall of the labyrinth and followed, running as fast as he could. However, the distance between them kept growing.
Suddenly, he remembered walking behind Nephis as they crossed the bridge to the Academy. Was it his fate to always follow behind her?
Changing Star's running speed was incredibly fast. She was practically flying through the air, like an arrow let loose from a bow. One of her arms was stretched backward, holding the sword with its point to the ground. The other was cutting the air with each stride.
It took the two scavengers a couple of seconds to realize what was happening after noticing her. By that time, she was almost upon them.
With madness burning in their eyes and viscous saliva dripping from their mandibles, the monsters screeched and charged forward. Nephis did not slow down, as though planning to ram them with her body. Sunny's heart skipped a bit.
Four terrifying pincers shot through the air.
At the last moment, Nephis fell backward, falling on her side. The inertia carried her forward as she slid through the mud, passing between the scavengers. Then, she twisted her body and stopped herself by plunging the sword into the ground.
A bit slower, and she would have been impaled by one of the scavengers' legs.
'Crazy! She's crazy!'
By the time Changing Star got back to her feet, one of the scavengers had already turned around. However, Sunny couldn't see what was going on as his sight was blocked by the bulky carapace creatures. He only heard the sound of chitin striking against steel.
There was no time to worry about that anyway, since he had his own problems to solve.
Due to the insane maneuver that Nephis had pulled off, the second scavenger lagged a little behind the first one. It was just about to turn around when Sunny finally got close enough to launch an attack.
Silently cursing, he ran up a narrow protrusion on the coral wall and jumped, aiming to pierce the weak point at the scavenger's back from above. His shadow was already wrapped around the Azure Blade.
But at the last moment, the scavenger suddenly moved, slightly turning its torso to the right. The blade missed the concave spot where the armor plates connected and instead hit one of them square in the center, sliding helplessly across adamantine chitin.
Instead of killing the beast with one decisive blow, Sunny ended up dealing no damage at all. What's worse, he landed right on top of the scavenger, practically hugging it from behind. In the next moment, the scavenger shook its carapace, throwing the irritating human off.
Sunny flew sideways and crashed into the labyrinth wall, feeling breath being knocked out of him. Suffocating and disoriented, he fell gracelessly into the mud.
By some instinct, Sunny rolled to the side. Something tore past him and hit the wall, sending pieces of crimson coral flying through the air. Then, he was lifted into the air and thrown backward.
But by that time, however, he had already come to his senses.
Twisting his body, Sunny managed to land on his feet and take a few steps back without falling. In the next second, his sword was in front of him, held in both hands just like Nephis had taught him.
The scavenger was already charging at him with a menacing fire burning in its eyes.
The shadow flowed from the Azure Blade to his hand, then spread to his arm, shoulder, and then finally covered his whole body. Sunny instantly felt stronger, faster, more resilient.
But was it enough? No. To survive, he would definitely also need some luck.
One pincer flew at him from the right, the other from the left. There was no time to retreat or dodge sideways. So, instead, Sunny did something that made every instinct in his body scream in protest.
He jumped forward, closing the distance to the charging monster. The pincers clashed together with a loud crack behind his back.
Instinct or not, it was the only logical step. After all, the attack range of his sword was much shorter than that of the scavenger. He could only fight back by getting close.
Before the beast had time to react, Sunny did what he had recently done thousands of times. His muscles moved even before his mind gave the command.
With one fluid motion, he raised the sword over his head and slashed downward, pushing with one hand while pulling with the other. His whole body moved in concert to deliver a powerful blow.
The Azure Blade whistled as it cut the air. Then, it hit the joint of one of the scavenger's front legs and cleaved right through it, severing the limb entirely. Blue blood sprayed everywhere.
Sunny had less than a second to be amazed.
'I actually did it?'
But there was no time to be distracted. Due to the loss of its front leg, the scavenger lost balance for a moment, careening forward and down. However, he had seven other legs. This wasn't going to last long.
Coincidentally, though, at this exact moment, his other front leg slid in the mud, bringing the monster even further down.
Sunny did not waste this chance.
Taking a step forward, he thrust the Azure Blade up, pushing it into the scavenger's mouth. A severed mandible fell to the ground as the monster impaled itself on the sword with its own weight.
The massive body of the Nightmare Creature convulsed before falling still.
It was dead.
Sunny slowly exhaled, only now feeling the pain in his chest and at the back of his head. He carefully touched it and grimaced. His hand came back wet with blood.
'At least I'm alive.'
[You have slain an awakened beast, Carapace Scavenger.]
[You shadow grows stronger.]
With no time to listen to the Spell, Sunny tugged on the sword to dislodge it from the monster's head and hurried to help Nephis.
However, it was too late.
The other scavenger was lying in the mud, clearly dead. His limbs were still twitching, indicating that the fatal blow was delivered just moments ago. It seemed like Nephis had managed to sever its spine by piercing the weak spot at the base of the beast's torso with her longsword.
He couldn't see the silver-haired girl behind the bulky carcass. As Sunny approached it, he heard the sound of rugged, strained breathing. Then a shaky voice came from behind the scavenger:
"D—don't… don't come any closer."
In the deathly silence of the battle's aftermath, Changing Star's voice sounded strange and subdued. Sunny suddenly felt as though someone had squeezed his heart in a fist. Steeling himself, he took another step forward.
Nephis was standing in front of the dead scavenger, trying to catch her breath after the intense fight. There was a bloody gash on her shoulder. However, it didn't look life-threatening.
Sunny's attention, though, was instantly drawn to something else.
It seemed that at some point during the fight, the tall girl's makeshift seaweed top came apart, leaving her naked above the waist. She was covering her chest with one arm. Behind the arm, squished, the supple fullness of her…
Sunny flinched as though someone had stung him and hurriedly turned around. His face was burning. Without thinking about it, he even made his shadow look away.
An awkward silence followed. After some time, Sunny forced himself to speak:
"Are... are you alright?"
Nephis was slow to answer.
"Good. Uh… good. I'll… uh… I'll go fetch Cassie then."
Feeling as though an army of monsters was chasing him, he walked forward on stiff legs and then quickened his step, barely holding himself from running.
'Her fault! It's her fault! She should have communicated things clearer!'
Trying to get the vivid image out of his head, Sunny hurried to the place where Cassie was waiting for them.
By the time they returned, Nephis had already fixed her top and was wearing it as though nothing had happened. However, Sunny couldn't help but feel that the look she gave him was somewhat weird.
After checking the wound on his head, Changing Star said.
"It's just a bleeder, nothing serious. Tell me if you feel dizzy and nauseous or have a strong headache, though."
Since Sunny had none of these symptoms, he kept quiet.
Nephis looked down at his clothes and sighed.
He opened his mouth to say "no", but then fell silent.
Come to think of it, when he killed the scavenger, the Spell did say something else after informing him about the absorbed shadow fragments. At the time, he was too busy to pay it any attention.
"Let me check."
He summoned be runes and quickly found the cluster representing his Memories.
Memories: [Silver Bell], [Puppeteers' Shroud], [Azure Blade].
'Hmm. Nothing new.'
Then what was the Spell talking about?
Suddenly, he noticed a new set of runes in the neighboring cluster. His eyes widened.
Echoes: [Carapace Scavenger].