The Great River was foaming and seething, gargantuan waves rising from its softly glowing expanse to crash into the weathered slopes of the crumbling island. Two dark silhouettes — one colossal, the other merely giant — were moving through the raging water, intertwined in a murderous battle.

Sunny had been driven mad by pain and bloodlust. He lost count of the number of blows his obsidian, serpentine body had endured. He also did not know how many times he retaliated, biting the flesh and breaking the scales of the Azure Serpent.

His Mantle was in shambles, the [Living Stone] failing miserably to keep up with the barrage of devastating attacks he had to endure. The fearsome onyx armor was cracked and shattered, revealing the glossy black scales beneath. Many of its segments were entirely destroyed.

The Shadow Shell that it was encasing had been shredded and ravaged, as well. Giant wounds were gaping on it, bleeding shadows. He had been able to repair some of the damage at first, but having the means to do something like that… it seemed so distant now…

There was one thing that filled Sunny with dark glee, though.

It was that the Azure Serpent looked no better than him.

The body of the Great Beast had already been grotesquely mangled before their battle, and now, it was in an even worse state.

The wounds that had closed were reopened. The wounds that had been opened were now wider and more harrowing, with crimson blood flowing out of them into the radiant water. Dozens of arrows were sticking out of the abomination's scarlet flesh. Some of them weighed it down, some sent a deadly toxin circulating through its bloodstream.

But the Azure Serpent's eyes still burned with the same madness.

'Good… ah… good… don't you give up on me, old snake!'

Sunny wanted to kill the hateful beast, but he didn't want that death to be swift. No, he wanted his enemy's agony to last forever. He wanted to tear its flesh with his fangs forever, feel the shudders of pain pulsing through its body forever, hear its pained cries forever…

'Control yourself!'

Snapping out of the consuming madness, he reminded himself of his goal. He needed to kill the Azure Serpent as fast as possible — not only because his essence was not limitless, but also because the chances of him being killed by the Great Beast were much higher than the other way around.

If there was the smallest chance, he had to take it.

It was just that… there were no chances. Still, there were none.

The mad beast was still in full control of both itself and the battlefield. The water flowed and twisted to aid it and constrain Sunny, as if obediently following the ancient serpent's commands. Even with its body looking like that of a battered corpse and its mind flooded with pain, the Azure Serpent remained fixated on the solitary goal of destroying its opponent with a truly insane level of focus.

But Sunny…

Sunny could feel his mind growing muddled, and his reason wavering.

'Oh… I can't go on much longer…'

For the first time since he had assumed the shape of the onyx serpent, the cold realization that defeat was possible entered his consciousness. The thought was so incongruous with the essence of his monstrous form that the Shadow Shell almost came undone.

He held on to his maddening fury and pushed the thoughts of defeat away.

Defeat was not possible. Such a thing did not exist.

He would never lose… he would not lose again!

...That last thought was slightly strange, as if it was not his own.

Grinding his fangs, Sunny pushed his enormous body through the hostile water, aiming to ram the side of the twisting leviathan. He knew that the battle had already turned in his enemy's favor. So, he needed to do something to balance the scales.

But what?

The onyx serpent raged as it burned with the mad desire to destroy his enemy. However, Sunny was also calm and cool-headed.

What advantages did he have that the Great Beast did not possess?

Both of them were already half-dead. He had to kill the enemy… but being killed by the enemy seemed inevitable instead.

So, then…

The two outcomes were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Being killed did not directly stand in the way of achieving his goal. It was only the timing of his death that was the issue.

Sunny was filled with an indescribable, furious determination to slay the Azure Serpent. Nothing mattered in front of this hatred and this consuming need… least of all death. It would be all worth it if he could just feel the life leaving his enemy's bleeding body.

'Mutual destruction…'

Yes… yes, he liked it.

He liked it a lot.

This was the advantage he so desperately needed.

Dangerous flames ignited in Sunny's onyx eyes as he twisted his long neck and glared at the reeling serpent. The Great Beast must have been growing weaker, as well… his attacks and the arrows of his companions were slowly grinding down its boundless endurance. The abomination had been a split second too late and failed to evade being rammed by Sunny's serpentine head.

Which finally gave him the chance.

First, the water.

The water had been constraining Sunny, and so, he had to wrestle the control of it from the Azure Serpent first. With his understanding of the Great Beast and the experience of watching Naeve and Bloodwave fight, he could achieve dominance for a few moments, at least.

Coiling his mighty body like a spring, Sunny shot forward with incredible speed. He moved it in a specific way, forcing a powerful current to rush outward and collide with the opposing one, which had been created by the ancient leviathan. A great whirlpool appeared where the two currents collided, and he tore through it, unopposed.

Second, the target.

The target was the Azure Serpent's titanic spine. Sunny had to sever it no matter what. Usually, the spine would have been protected by layers of impenetrable muscle, a layer of impervious skin, and a dreadful armor of indestructible scales. But the mad beast had been mangled and mutilated by the long weeks of warding off marauding abominations and the eerily monstrous butterfly.

Large chunks of its flesh were missing, revealing bone. At a particular spot just below its head, a long span of the spine was revealed, too. That was a good target to choose, especially because the abomination would not be able to use its jaws to defend it.

And, lastly — the advantage.

Sunny did indeed possess an advantage in the battle of mutual destruction. It was because the Azure Serpent was made of flesh, while he was made of shadows. If he sustained too much damage, the Shadow Shell was going to fall apart… but his incarnation, which was small and hidden in its depths, could survive.

It was just a matter of luck.

Either he would be destroyed along with the Shell, or get lucky and remain alive.

But regardless of the outcome, the hateful leviathan would die.

'I am fine with that...'

Growling viciously, the black serpent shot through the shining waters of the Great River — and, discarding all pretenses of defense, closed his jaws on the Great Beast's spine.