Chapter 35:

034 ┃ The final battle (Part 1)

The Isle of the Forgotten

Spud fell to his knees, incredulous. There was no doubt. That was the king of the island. He began to breathe heavily, trying to think of an explanation.

"It can't be..." he murmured, his voice quivering.

Dawn, who had approached the room, knelt beside him and placed a hand on his back.

"You were right. The king is dead. They're all dead," Spud admitted, staring at the ground in disbelief. "After all my research, all we've risked. Why would this happen?"

Dawn remained silent.

Behind them, in the main hall of the sanctuary, a strange sound began to emerge, like sand falling. Dawn turned her head to see, puzzled.

From the ground, a cloud of black dust started rising, piling upon itself and taking shape. The dust formed into a quadrupedal, dark figure. Realizing what it was, Dawn felt a chill.

She dragged Spud to a wall and cracked the door open just enough to peer through.

"What's going on?" asked Spud, still shaken by the discovery of the king.

Dawn kept her eyes on the main hall. Black dust bubbled up from the floor, finishing the formation of the stalker. It was much larger than any they had seen before, standing about three meters tall and over ten meters long. It resembled a worm with large humanoid legs and was so repulsive one could vomit from merely looking at it. Its face was covered in hair with two glowing red eyes. Above its head, several horns made it look like it wore a crown, and it had a long tail reminiscent of a sharp spear.

"I don't understand... why?" she whispered. Her pulse began to tremble, and she nervously looked away from the monster.

Puzzled by his friend's reaction, Spud also peeked through the door. He had to cover his mouth to stifle a cry of surprise. He looked at Dawn with concern and then to the ground.

"It must be the blizzard. It's blocking the sunlight enough for stalkers to appear," Spud tried to reason.

Dawn gripped her spear tightly.

"It hasn't seen us yet. We need to get out of here as soon as possible," she concluded in a whisper.

Aware of their dangerous situation, Spud grabbed Dawn's bow and opened the door just enough to shoot through the gap. Carefully, he loaded the bow and fired. He hit a skull on the other end of the room, which exploded with a dry noise.

The stalker turned toward the noise, approaching to investigate.

"Now!" Spud whispered, flinging the door open.

Dawn was the first to move, followed by him. They stealthily made their way through the sanctuary, trying not to draw the massive beast's attention.

Spud glanced back for a second to ensure the stalker wasn't watching but got distracted and stepped on a bone on the ground, producing a loud crunch that echoed throughout the chamber. The monster immediately turned towards them, emitting a roar that shook the entire sanctuary.

"Run!" Dawn urged.

Alarmed, Spud sprinted toward the exit. Dawn had already reached the outside, and he was just a few meters behind. He pushed himself harder, but the beast moved incredibly fast. In less than two seconds, it covered the entire distance of the sanctuary, lunging to attack him. Spud had to backtrack to dodge the monster's strike, which crashed into a marble column, shattering it.

"It's too fast! Go on without me; I'll figure something out!" yelled Spud, running in the opposite direction to distance himself from the stalker.

"No way!" retorted Dawn, rushing back into the room.

The monster quickly recovered and lunged at Spud. Using its long tail, it thrust several times at him. Spud narrowly dodged the first two strikes, with the sharp tail just grazing him. There was no time to dodge the third, but Dawn deflected it with her spear.

Thinking quickly, Spud grabbed Dawn's arm and pulled her towards the room with the king's skeleton.

"Follow me," he instructed without any time for an explanation.

She complied, and they both ran into the room with the monster hot on their heels. Spud managed to shut the large metal door just as the beast lunged. Silence filled the room.

"We should be safe here," Spud said, catching his breath.

Dawn collapsed to the ground, also panting heavily.

"What's the plan?" she asked, uncertain.

Spud put his hands on his head. The situation was far more complex than he had anticipated.

"All I can think of is waiting for the blizzard to end, hoping it disappears. It's the only way," Spud pondered aloud.

He sat on the floor, his heart racing. At least they could rest a bit here.

Dawn suddenly looked up, alarmed. She motioned for silence.

"Do you hear that?" she inquired.

They both listened. All that could be heard were thuds that made the ground shake, growing louder as if they were drawing near.

The stone wall of the room burst open, revealing the monster's head, now turning to look at them with its gleaming red eyes. Startled, Dawn and Spud hastily opened the door and fled the room.

Spud headed towards the exit with hope.

"We can escape now," he told Dawn, but she looked at the stalker. It had reformed after breaking through the wall and was turning to observe them.

"We won't make it. It's faster than us," she explained. She abruptly stopped and turned to brandish her spear. "Our only option now is to kill it."

Spud looked at the stalker. He had no idea how they'd kill such a massive creature, but this wasn't the time for pessimism. With Dawn's bow still in hand, he ran to distance himself from her.

"Distract it. I'll try to shoot it in the eye to give us a better chance," Spud suggested.

Dawn nodded and engaged the beast in battle. Even though it was much larger and faster, she kept pace, blocking its tail strikes and dodging its charges.

Suddenly stopping, Spud knelt for better stability. He aimed at the monster's head, but its aggressive movements made it hard to target while fighting Dawn. Spud cursed under his breath, wishing it would stay still. For a brief moment, the creature paused, anticipating Dawn's next move.

Seizing the opportunity, Spud released an arrow, aiming directly for the eye. The arrow crossed the room in a flash, but the monster had shifted just enough for the arrow to strike its horns, sparking on impact.

It let out a loud cry as Dawn continued dodging its furious blows.

"I'm too far! I'll try to get closer!" Spud shouted so Dawn could hear.

Without taking her eyes off the fight, Dawn gritted her teeth.

"Don't. It's too risky," the girl warned, but he didn't listen.

He ran until he was only a few meters from the stalker. At this range, it was impossible for him to dodge. Trying to concentrate, Spud loaded the bow again and aimed at the monster's head.

In less than an instant, the beast turned to look at him and lunged. Spud tried to move out of the way, terrified, but he was so close he couldn't avoid the strike entirely. He took a swipe that sent him flying, slamming hard against a column.

The impact was more painful than he'd thought, and he had to struggle not to lose consciousness. When he got to his feet, everything around him was spinning, and he felt something warm trickling down his head. He could've sworn that Dawn was calling him. He reached up to touch his head and felt it wet. When he pulled his hand away, he saw it was covered in blood.

"Spud!" the girl yelled as she ran towards him.

Dazed, he looked forward only to see the colossal stalker charging at him. Before he could react, it launched its sharp tail toward him. Spud could do nothing but watch it approach and brace for the pain.

Dawn tackled him hard, pushing him out of the path of the strike. Spud hit the ground, still dizzy. It seemed that Dawn had saved him again, as she always did.

When he looked up, he saw the girl against the column with the stalker's tail piercing through her stomach.

A. Hoshino