Sunny was ready for battle.

Now... he wasn't Sunny anymore.

He was a mighty serpent, clad in an armor of onyx scales, with fangs as sharp as diamonds and enough fury to incinerate the world.

But that was not enough.

Following his wrathful roar, the Shell hiding below his scales turned into the adamantine Mantle. A fearsome obsidian armor encased his flexible body, light as a feather and crafted so intricately as not to restrict his movement in any way.

The water exploded into the air when he dove into the depths... the depths that belonged to him, and him alone.


The call escaped his monstrous maw, turned into a senseless roar.

...What he had done was simple, but also indescribably hard.

He had dove deeper into Shadow Dance than ever before, mirroring both the mind and the physique of a Nightmare Creature. He had not been sure that it would be possible until the last moment, but his meticulous preparation paid off.

It was do or die, nothing less.

He had spent countless hours observing the Azure Serpent and learning everything there was to learn about it. Then, he dissolved into the shadows, and manifested himself back into a tangible form. Finally, he summoned the dead shadow of the Black Turtle, which he had lured into the Lantern, to form a mighty shell around his fragile incarnation.

But, for the first time, the shape of his shell was not that of the shadow fiend. Instead, it was the shape of a monstrous river serpent... the shape of the mad beast whom he feared, admired, and wanted to kill.

Of course, this Shadow Shell could not compare to the real thing. He was only an Ascended, after all, while the Azure Serpent was a Great Beast. It was weaker, less resilient, and smaller - maybe a quarter of the size of the actual abomination.

However, it was suffused with the power of both shadows and soul flame, granting it power well beyond the limits of what an Ascended could possess.

It was also protected by the Mantle, and made to reign the depths.

Only... there was another challenging his reign.

A maddening fury consumed his mind, and he shot forward through the water like a black spear. He could feel it... the scent of blood spilling from the mangled body of the older, stronger beast.n.-1n

So what if it was older? So what if it was stronger?

It would be torn apart by his fangs, anyway.

The Azure Serpent had felt him, too.

He sensed a vast shadow rising from below to meet him. It was brimming with harrowing power and terrifying madness...

But he was not afraid.

He didn't know how to be afraid.

All he knew was wrath and bloodlust.

The two of them - a colossal serpent covered in beautiful azure scales and a smaller serpent encased in obsidian armor, wreathed in shadows and blinding white radiance - collided in the water, causing gargantuan waves to rise on the surface of the Great River.

Their first collision would have been his last if he had not twisted his body at the last moment, evading the Azure Serpents deadly maw and diving under its belly.

He had to remind himself...

That he was Lost from Light.

He was not a mindless Nightmare Creature. He was not a Beast. He was cunning, resourceful, and skilled. He possessed the honed battle sense of a masterful warrior and the powerful soul of a Tyrant.

It was a strange thing, to both believe that he was a serpent with all his heart and know that he was something else. Losing himself in the dance was just too easy... but his True Name was like a beacon that guided him home.

He... Sunny... understood that he had to remember himself if he wanted to survive. His current form was immensely powerful - no less powerful than a Saint's Transcendent form would have been, perhaps. He could feel the barriers that had been preventing him from mastering the fourth step of Shadow Dance breaking. He could feel his boundless, bestial strength.

But, in front of the Azure Serpent, that strength was almost laughable. Despite the terrible wounds covering the body of the Great Beast, it was still infinitely more powerful than his.

Which was why he had to be devious, cunning, and sober if he wanted to kill his enemy.

He had to be deranged and overcome by fury, too.

...He had to guide his mad fury and sharpen it into a cold and merciless blade.

Sunny twisted his serpentine body, dodging the maw of the ancient abomination, and sunk his fangs into an open wound on the Azure Serpent's neck. It was only for a moment, though - giving up on tearing out a chunk of flesh, he let go and darted upward a split second later.

It was just in time, because the leviathan's jaws snapped closed just a meter behind him in the next moment.

The two of them clashed furiously as they ascended from the depths. The Azure Serpent was much larger, more powerful, and terrifyingly domineering. The black serpent was smaller and more nimble, circling around the dreadful beast and delivering vicious bites one after another.

However, even without being caught in the leviathan's jaws, Sunny was suffering tremendous harm.

As their bodies brushed against each other, a vast stretch of the Mantle cracked and shattered. The shadows below rippled, the internal structure of the shell twisting and breaking apart. The violent currents created by the passing of the Azure Serpent's body were slowing him down, and his dark flesh was sliced open by the creature's dorsal fin.

His shell was bleeding shadows.

His essence was being burned.

His mind was drowning in pain and derangement.

'More! More! More!'

Despite knowing that it would cost him his life, Sunny felt compelled to bite into the enemy's flesh and never let go, to hurt the foe as much as he could, even if it meant death.

To rip apart. To devour. To destroy.

...Instead, he continued to dodge the attacks of the Azure Serpent with clarity and skill, all the while attacking with hatred and fury when he could.

And, all along, he was leading the Great Beast upward.

Finally, they broke the surface and clashed again above the water. The suns were gone, and the river had not started glowing yet.

The shaking world was dark.

With a stifled roar, Sunny dodged the fangs of the Azure Serpent and tried to bite into an open wound on its mangled body, where white bone could be seen. However, before he could, the mad beast's tail crashed into him like an obliterating ram, sending fragments of the Mantle flying through the air and a blinding flash of pain piercing in his soul.


Sunny fell heavily into the water, and a tall fountain of white foam rose into the sky.

The Azure Serpent let out a demented growl and lunged at him, aiming to bite the hateful worm in half.

...Before he could, however, two arrows - one black, one white - fell from the darkness and pierced its flesh.

Saint and Nephis had joined the battle.