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Chapter 710 Departure
The next morning, Sunny woke up in a strange mood. Knowing that they were nearing the end of the Nightmare — and, perhaps, their own — he had expected himself to be consumed by somber trepidation. But, surprisingly, Sunny felt fine. It was as though the scope of the approaching battle was simply too large to be evaluated, and so, his mind had not bothered with it at all.
Instead, he had practical problems he needed to solve. Sunny still did not feel completely comfortable in his new body — he barely had any time to get accustomed to its size and weight, after all. The next several days were going to be crucial, in that regard.
His previous garments had been torn when he evolved, and so, Sunny summoned the Puppeteer's Shroud to wrap itself around his towering body. Although not as powerful as his other suits of armor, the Shroud was much more comfortable. It was a bit nostalgic to wear the light armor once again, but also a bit sad to see it relegated to serving as a bonafide training suit.
Remembering how he had planned to slaughter countless dormant Nightmare Creatures while being invulnerable thanks to his new, incredible Awakened armor of the fifth Tier just a few years ago, Sunny smiled wistfully and walked out of his room.
The Sanctuary seemed… different, somehow.
The ring of giant menhirs was the same, and so was the beautiful garden. However, the people living in the ancient shrine had changed. They were hurried and full of fear, moving with panicked speed and feverish determination.
Sunny noticed a few familiar faces. The old woman he had seen on his first day here was standing alone, a lost look on her face. The young woman was carrying the frightened child in her hands and a heavy pack on her back. The kind man with a neatly trimmed beard was gritting his teeth, his hand resting on the worn hilt of his sword.
He sighed and looked away.
An immortal Transcendent had started this war to free a daemon from a prison built by a G.o.d… but these little people were the ones that were going to suffer the most as the result. In fact, they had been the ones to suffer the most throughout all of this, from the destruction of the Kingdom of Hope to the madness she had cursed this land with, to now.
He had been one of the little people himself, once...
Now, he was a devil destroying their lives.
Sunny remained motionless for a few moments, then looked up at the sound of steps approaching him. He saw Effie and Kai, both wearing their armors and packs, as though ready to go on a long hunt.
He raised his eyebrows.
The little girl glanced at the masked cripple, and then shrugged. Kai, meanwhile, smiled… even though Sunny could not see his face, he could tell by his eyes.
He could also tell that the smile was tinted with sadness.
The archer simply nodded.
"Yes... we are leaving."
He hesitated for a moment, then added:
"Not for long, of course. We will be back before the week is over. You see... the Sanctuary, it was a shelter for those who wanted to find peace in this land of madness. But now that Noctis started a war and both the Sun Legion and the Warmongers are marching to raze it to the ground, that shelter is no more."
Effie shook her head, then sighed.
"The west belongs to the warring cults of War and Sun, the south is abandoned and overtaken by Nightmare Creatures, the north… well, you know. These poor fools have nowhere else to go. So, we are going to guide them to one of the Great Chains and help them cross to the other side. And leave the Kingdom of Hope behind, forever."
She scratched the back of her head, then said thoughtfully:
"...Actually, we are not even sure if the Nightmare goes that far. Maybe there's nothing out there, beyond the Chained Island. And yes, we know that these people are not even real. Still… we thought that we'd at least try. Ca.s.sie even went and convinced Noctis to lend her the ship, to help transport them."
Sunny stared at her, surprised. The little girl raised her chin:
"What? I know that it's stupid. People need to do stupid things sometimes, you know?"
He slowly shook his head.
"...No. Actually, I don't think that it's stupid at all. It's just… the three of you are going, so why didn't you invite me as well?"
"You have stuff to do! How are you going to get used to that lanky body of yours while babysitting a bunch of refugees? So, don't be lazy and get that stone girlfriend of yours to beat you black and blue while we are gone. We have a date with two whole armies in a week's time, remember?"
Sunny made a sour face, then looked away.
"Believe me, I remember. I am going to train hard."
Kai gripped his shoulder for a moment — well, the top of one of his lower arms that were in reach, anyway — and then, the two walked away without saying anything else. There was no need to say goodbye.
With them gone, Sunny suddenly felt a bit… lost.
Shaking his head, he threw stupid thoughts out of his head and walked to the center of the garden, intending to spend the rest of the day practicing with the Cruel Sight. Saint would have probably healed enough to be summoned, too… so, he had his work cut out for him.
Finding a secluded spot near the clear lake, Sunny went through the intense set of steps and exercises that he had developed to condition his body for the Shadow Dance. Of course, that had been in his human body. The shadowsp.a.w.n, meanwhile, was a very different beast… or rather, devil.
Despite its size, the gaunt body of the devil was incredibly nimble and swift. It was also capable of bursts of monstrous, explosive strength that would leave many people stunned. In addition, it was itself a weapon — with his talons, claws, fangs, and horns, Sunny was capable of delivering a lot of damage even unarmed.
He could even kill things with the spike at the end of his tail.
After that initial practice session, he summoned Saint and started the real training.
As they sparred, Sunny observed the departure of the inhabitants of the Sanctuary. They left in a column, with Kai in the front, and Effie walking behind. Some were carrying their meager belongings, while some were empty-handed. Some cried, while some remained silent and stoic.
Some even smiled.
Above them, the flying ship moved, carrying those who could not walk. Sunny could not see, but knew that Ca.s.sie was controlling it. For a moment, he was curious about how she was able to communicate with the Sailor Dolls… however, that short distraction cost him dearly when Saint delivered a painful blow to his abdomen, and so, Sunny decided to concentrate on himself.
Turning his full attention back to the training fight, he thought:
'I wish them well… even if they are not real, I wish them all the best…'
Long hours pa.s.sed in arduous training. Slowly but surely, he was growing accustomed to the new proportions of his strange and powerful body. His height, his reach, his might… all of it was starting to click, making him feel confident in his own skin once more.
At some point, dead tired, Sunny decided to take a break. Commanding Saint to stand down, he crouched near the lake and drew some water to wash the sweat off his face. Then, he poured some on his head and sighed, looking at the clear surface of the lake.
The graceful figure of Saint reflected on it, and near her, his own. Obsidian skin, b.e.s.t.i.a.l features, eyes that seemed like pools of liquid darkness, twisting horns… Master Jet had once joked that he would be a flower boy one day. Remembering it, Sunny smiled.
'I wonder what she would have said if she saw me that way…'
And then, he froze.
His sweat turned cold.
...There was a third reflection on the surface of the lake.
It was a tall and slender young man, with pale skin and raven-black hair. His face was sharp and thin — not exactly handsome, but at the same time charming and strangely beautiful. His striking eyes didn't seem to possess a color of their own, and instead reflected the world back on itself like two pools of liquid silver.
Currently, they were as blue as the boundless, vast sky.
The young man smiled pleasantly, and then raised a hand in greeting.
A painfully familiar voice suddenly resounded in Sunny's mind.
"Ah, Sunless… how nice it is to meet you again, after all this time. Just look at you… goodness! I almost failed to recognize you behind that fearsome face…"