Shadow Slave
Chapter 345: Shadows and Light

Sunny and Nephis looked at each other, the air practically crackling with tension at the point where their gazes met.

The white flame seeping from Changing Star's wounds suddenly flashed in a furious outburst, closing some of her wounds and making others seem less severe. After that, however, it grew weak and disappeared, retreating back into the furnace of her soul. As a pained grimace contorted the young woman's face, a dim radiance then slowly shined from beneath her ivory skin.

At the same time, the shadow flowed up and wrapped itself around Sunny's body, making it brim with power and vitality. He inhaled deeply and slightly moved, shifting his weight from one leg to another.

'How… how can it end…'

Before the thought could fully form, Sunny ruthlessly destroyed it and banished it from his mind.

This was the last obstacle on his way back to the real world… and the most deadly. Sunny had fought many terrible creatures in the cursed hell of the Forgotten Shore, but none of them were as fearsome and dangerous as Changing Star. This was going to be his hardest battle yet.

To win it, he had to be absolutely clear, absolutely focused. He couldn't allow himself to feel anything, be distracted by anything.

No doubt, no fear. No regret, no compassion.

Only determination. Only resolve.

Only murderous will to prevail.

As dust particles shined in the beams of white light that fell through the broken roof of the ancient chamber… as stark shadows swelled with dark anticipation… Nephis brought the pommel of her sword to her shoulder.

White flames ignited in her eyes.

And then, suddenly, she lunged forward.

'Fast!'

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But not fast enough to not give Sunny enough time to react. Raising the Midnight Shard, he dashed forward to block her furious assault… and shuddered, the force of the impact sending a shock through his entire body.

It felt as though his sword had collided with a mountain.

Their blades got entangled for a moment, and then separated. Almost immediately, the silver longsword lashed out again, appearing from an unexpected direction…. and then again, and again, and again.

Sunny feverishly defended, chaining blocks and deflections into one uninterrupted sequence of swift moves. Despite his best efforts, he reeled slightly after each strike. It was as though he was being hit by a hurricane of adamantine sledgehammers, each hit making his bones tremble and groan.

'How… how is she that strong…'

How was Nephis so strong? How was she so fast? How was she so resilient?

It didn't make sense.

By now, Sunny had fully saturated his core, bringing him to the pinnacle of what a human of his Rank could achieve in terms of physical ability. His power was further doubled by the augmentation of the shadow, making him more akin to one of the Awakened than to a mere Sleeper. No dormant human should have been able to match his power in every regard.

And yet, Changing star did. More than that, she was more powerful than him, tremendously so. She was more like a Nightmare Creature than a human; her movements were fast as lightning, her strength was terrifying, and her technique was flawless, leaving him no chance to exploit even the smallest of mistakes.

…No Sleeper should have been that powerful. It was simply impossible.

And yet, somehow, it wasn't.

'Impossible, impossible…'

Deflecting another blow, Sunny gritted his teeth and dashed to the side, hoping to exploit the momentary opening in his enemy's defense. However, he was met by the ruthless flash of the silver blade instead. The opening was just a ruse, one which almost cost him his hand.

'Something is very wrong here…'

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Either the augmentation of the white flame was much more powerful than that of his shadow, or something else was at play. However, Sunny didn't think that the radiance emanating from Neph's skin was stronger than his own physical enhancement. From what he had observed during her battle against Gunlaug, it was roughly the same or only slightly more forceful — it shouldn't have given her this big of an advantage, especially in its seemingly exhausted state.

Somehow, Nephis had grown much stronger between then and now.

But how?

…At least the silver sword was not burning with the annihilating, incandescent light. If it was, the Midnight Shard might have already been if not destroyed, then at least severely damaged. In that regard, luck was still on Sunny's side.

They exchanged several more blows and disengaged for a fraction of a second, then closed in again. Changing Star's sword shot forward, missing Sunny's face by a few millimeters… or so he thought before sensing warm drops rolling down his cheek. A thin cut appeared on it, swelling with blood.

Just a little bit to the right, and he would have lost an eye.

Shaken, Sunny deflected the sword away, preventing Nephis from slicing his neck with a reverse cut, and leaned forward in an attempt to ram her with his shoulder.

Changing Star easily sidestepped around Sunny and brought her weapon down, forcing him to block from a disadvantageous position and stagger back.

'Curse it!'

Their violent clash must have looked furious and morbidly beautiful. Both moved with incredible speed and possessed ferocious strength, both were skilled and experienced, forged into formidable killers by hundreds of deadly battles.

One was darkness and shadows, while the other was radiance and light.

But the true combat was happening somewhere else, invisible to the naked eye. This fight was as much about strategy and insight as it was about physical prowess and technique.

After all, to excel as a fighter, one had to master both their body and mind.

Nephis might have been unnaturally fast and strong, but what really made her devastatingly deadly was her own battle genius, her incredible level of understanding of the laws and principles of combat.

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Armed with it, she was able to predict what her enemy was going to do even before they themselves knew it. But that was not all. The scariest thing about Nephis was that, through that understanding, she was even able to manipulate and dictate her opponent's actions, turning them into her puppet. She was in absolute control of the flow of combat.

Combat was her domain, just like shadows were his.

But Sunny was not a novice, either. He was a master of manipulation, too.

But more importantly, he had enough insight and knew Nephis well enough to if not deceive her, then at least not allow her to lure him into an inescapable trap.

That was why, for a dozen torturously long seconds, neither of them had been able to seriously wound the other. Even if Sunny was locked into desperate defense and outmatched in every regard, he still managed to hold Changing Star's monstrous onslaught off.

…At least for now.

Finally, the two of them disengaged and stepped back, pausing for a few moments.

Sunny was breathing heavily, his bloodied face turning even more pale than usual. Nephis stared at him with a grim expression, her own breathing laborious and pained.

If this was a cliche drama, at that point, they would have exchanged words, expressing their resolve and determination. Admiring their enemy or humiliating them with disparaging insults, showcasing their fearlessness by making a carefree joke.

…But it was not. Everything that could have been said had been said already. There was no way back.

All that remained was violence.

Looking at Nephis, Sunny suppressed a devious smile.

Something had changed about the proud daughter of the Immortal Flame clan. Something that he had been waiting for from the start of their vicious battle.

The wounds that had been partially closed by the white flame were beginning to seep blood again.

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And as they did, the Blood Blossom charm hanging on a thread tied around his neck finally rose from its slumber, filling the Midnight Shard with boundless hunger.

Shadow Slave Chapter 345: Shadows and Light
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