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The bolt of darkness-wreathed lightning shot between two of the senior War Maidens and struck the side of the stone chalice. A flash of light drowned the hall for a split second, and almost instantly, three arcs of electricity tore through the air, traveling back to strike the sect leaders. Since there was no one else near them, the lightning did not chain further, spending all its might while coursing through the bodies of the Ascended warriors...

Sunny did not see any of that, however, because he was already dashing toward a wide stone pillar with Effie's scrawny figure held in his arms...

Behind him, a single narrow crack appeared on the surface of the chalice.

...And through it, a furious white light suddenly shone.

A moment later, countless fractures appeared on the ancient stone, and then, everything became white.

"Argh!"

Sunny was on his knees behind the column, his back to the center of the hall, hugging Effie with all his four arms. His vision was gone, replaced by an endless field of flawless white, and so was his hearing. He felt a shockwave go through his body, and the pillar behind him shatter, turning into a rain of broken, melting stone. Then, a flash of agony pierced his soul.

Everything was enveloped by terrifying, suffocating heat. He felt it wash over him like a wave, and prayed that they would survive its immolating embrace.

He had a reason to believe that they would. In the future, there had been bones littering the floor of the hall, after all. That meant that when the real chalice exploded, not everyone around it had been turned to ash.

Sunny also had the [Stalwart] enchantment of the Mantle of the Underworld providing him with high resistance to elemental attacks, as well as [Underworld Armament] enchantment channeling and enhancing the protective effect of the Memory of Fire through the onyx armor.

That was not going to be enough to withstand divine flame itself, but could save him — and Effie, whom he was shielding with his towering body — from the heat produced by the flame.

A few moments later, the white field veiling his sight suddenly dimmed, and gave way to beautiful darkness. The Shadow Lantern was devouring the light surrounding its master, uncaring for what had produced it.

After a couple more seconds, Sunny was finally able to discern the shape of his surroundings.

The sight of the great hall... was all too familiar.

The stone chalice lay in a molten pile on the stone floor, which was cracked and shattered. Most of the pillars supporting the roof had toppled, and so did a section of the roof itself, revealing a piece of the night sky, with stars shining on its black canvas.

The walls of the hall were fractured and had collapsed outward... just like they would be in the future.

All over the devastated chamber, small pieces of the divine flame burned. Some danced on shards of stone, slowly devouring it, some on the charred corpses of those War Maidens that had been killed in the blast. However, the flames did not seem to be spreading... strangely, there were numerous runes shining on what remained of the hall's floor and ceiling, weakening them.

...Perhaps because of those runes, many of the War Maidens survived.

'Curse it...'

The three Ascended were all alive, although two of the three were severely wounded - whether by the lightning of the Strike of Thunder, the explosion, or the divine flame, Sunny did not know. Some of their Awakened disciples had survived, as well, and were now slowly rising from the ground, shock and fury written on their pale faces.

And Sunny was alive, too.

But not unscathed.

His body was not damaged, but one of his shadows seemed to have been too slow to retreat from the chalice and had gotten itself burned a little by the divine flame. Since the three shadows were manifestations of his soul, it was burned, as well.

Gritting his teeth, Sunny endured the pain and rose to his feet.

Soul damage... well, what else was new?

Just as he thought that, the shadows slid between the dancing flames and attached themselves to his feet, one cradling its damaged arm with three hands.

Effie looked around with shock, sweat rolling down her little face.

"The hell... happened... you c—crazy..."

She spoke and instantly regretted it when a torrent of scorchingly hot air streamed into her mouth.

Sunny evaluated the situation, then pushed the little girl away, gesturing at the far end of the hall. There, Kai was levitating above the floor, his hood torn and his wooden mask glowing angrily, as if seconds from catching on fire. The young man was surrounded by a whirlwind of white sparks, no doubt summoning his armor and weapons.

...He was also surrounded by a dozen surviving War Maidens.

Effie's eyes widened, and she took a step in his direction, but then hesitated and looked at Sunny with concern.

"...What about the Masters?!"

He glanced at the three Ascended warriors, and then simply pointed a finger at himself.

The little girl wanted to say something, her eyes full of worry and unease, but then nodded and dashed away, summoning her own Memories.

Left alone, Sunny dismissed Morgan's Warbow, transferred the Cruel Sight to his upper hands, and slowly walked toward the fearsome battle masters.

Three shadows followed him, and whenever he passed, the light was destroyed and replaced by darkness.

The four-armed demon in onyx armor stopped a dozen or so meters away from the leaders of the Red Sect and tilted his head a little, staring at them with his black eyes.

The white-haired Ascended — the only one who remained unscathed after the explosion — looked at him with cold hatred, then smiled wildly and spat:

"Foul shadow... you dare challenge the three of us alone?"

The Maiden with red hair gritted her teeth and moved her badly burned arm, raising the scarlet odachi into a battle-ready position. The one with black hair leaned heavily on her spear, then whispered something, causing the runes on the weapon to ignite with an angry red glow.

Sunny remained motionless for a second, then shook his head.

And grinned, revealing his sharp fangs.

...A moment later, three terrifying creatures burst from his shadows, fury burning in their eyes. One was a giant serpent with obsidian scales, one was a dreadful black steed with adamantine horns and fangs like those of a wolf, and the third one was a graceful knight in onyx armor, wielding a charred kite shield and a stone sword.

Together, the four Shadows lunged forward.