Chapter 38:

037 ┃ Neros' vision (Part 2)

The Isle of the Forgotten

He reappeared in the king's bedroom. This time it was night, and at least a dozen candles were lit around the bed where the queen lay. The king finished lighting the last candle and entered the semicircle they formed to kneel beside the bed. He took the hand of the queen, who was barely conscious.

"Rest easy, my love. I will fix this," the man murmured, leaning down to kiss the dying woman's forehead.

The king released the queen's hand and stepped away from the circle of candles. With the black book open in his hand, he began to recite verses that Spud couldn't understand. As he spoke, the flames of the candles grew in size. Curtains began to sway, and papers flew around the room due to the wind caused by the spell.

The woman began to moan from the bed. At first, it was just a little noise, but soon she began to scream in pain, louder and louder.

Nervously, the king continued the spell while keeping his eyes fixed on the woman. The flames of the candles turned red and grew until they seemed like pillars of fire.

Spud watched as the queen let out a heart-wrenching scream and began to convulse. The king seemed to struggle for a few seconds, but finally stopped reciting the spell and stepped through the circle of candles to kneel next to his wife and take her hand. The man looked surprised as the flames grew even larger, covering the entire room in a red glow. Spud had to cover his eyes to avoid being blinded by the brilliance of the fire.

In an instant, the flames ceased, and all the candles went out. The king remained expectant for a few seconds. He stood up with ragged breath and placed his hand on his wife's forehead.

"Did it work?" he murmured, looking at his wife.

When he blinked, Spud was no longer in the king's bedroom. He appeared in one of the city streets, full of people and lights despite being nighttime. From the ground, the same black dust that he had seen in the sanctuary earlier that day began to rise. The dust began to form hundreds and hundreds of stalkers everywhere, who immediately attacked the citizens.

Spud could only watch helplessly as the monsters entered the houses and mercilessly killed everyone they found. People began to flee through the streets and take refuge in the buildings, but there were too many stalkers to escape. Blood and lifeless bodies began to cover the city streets.

Terrified, Spud ran toward the castle. He appeared in front of the castle gates, where dozens of royal guards were trying to keep the monsters at bay. The stalkers managed to knock down one of the castle doors, but the soldiers were able to wound and even kill them with their weapons.

Spud tried to enter the castle, but when he crossed the door, he appeared again in one of the city streets. Now it was daytime, and he could clearly see the devastation that had swept the city. Countless bodies lay strewn everywhere, and many houses had their doors shattered. In the streets, there were a few survivors left. People with minor and severe injuries, barely holding on. Mothers crying for their children. It was heartbreaking.

A royal guard appeared on the street with a pile of papers in his hand. He was handing them out to the survivors while saying, "Orders from the king! All survivors, we are heading to the sanctuary of Neros. He will give us shelter and protect us from the beasts."

"What a mess, don't you think?" commented Neros behind Spud, causing him to turn around, startled.

Spud wanted to say something, but his head was spinning too much. It had been the king who had caused that massacre. The reason everyone was dead…

"Let's see what happens next," suggested Neros, snapping his fingers again.

Now Spud and the god were at the entrance of the temple. The night was falling again, and in the distance, a few hundred people were approaching with torches, led by the king.

They began to enter the sanctuary when the sun had already set. At first, people entered calmly, but when the last rays of light disappeared, stalkers began to form outside and massacre those at the back of the line. Panic ensued. People began to scream and push each other to get into the sanctuary.

After a few seconds of blood and screams, the massive entrance doors were closed, leaving the unfortunate citizens outside to be slaughtered by the monsters.

Spud clenched his fists as he watched the massacre. He wished he could help them, but everything he was seeing had already happened. He couldn't do anything. He ran inside, passing through the thick iron door that covered the entrance. Neros followed, entertained.

Inside the sanctuary, things didn't look much better. In the main hall, everyone was crying or bleeding. Most of the people had gathered around the statue of Neros and were praying to him in desperation.

Spud glanced at the god, who was watching the situation with excitement. Spud was about to ask if he didn't intend to help them, but he already knew how that would end. He had seen the skeletons of all those people in the sanctuary.

"Why didn't you do anything?" Spud asked, aware that all these people were going to die.

"Don't jump ahead. We're almost at the end. Look," the god pointed to the door at the back of the room, where the king was rushing in.

With a snap of Neros' fingers, both appeared inside the room. The queen lay on the stone table, just as Spud remembered seeing her that morning. She was utterly emaciated, and her breathing was barely audible.

The king, accompanied by the little girl, took the woman's hand as they cried. Around them, some guards and nobles watched with grief-stricken expressions.

"Hold on, my love," the king pleaded, his voice breaking.

Suddenly, the queen stopped breathing. The king began to cry even harder, emitting a scream that made everyone tense. He raised his hands over the queen's body and grunted with effort. A white light began to emerge from the ground, causing dozens of herbs and flowers to grow around the queen. The king clenched his teeth tightly, and a trickle of blood began to flow from his nose. However, the woman did not revive.

The king fell to his knees on the floor, sobbing in despair. Others in the room lowered their heads, and some began to cry.

"Watch this, it's my turn," Neros elbowed Spud, excited.

He stepped forward until he was in front of the king. He took a deep breath as if preparing for a performance.

"Was it worth it?" the god asked solemnly.

The king looked up, surprised by the teenager's presence. He paused for a moment in shock.

"Who are you?" he asked, alarmed.

"You already know the answer," the god replied, his eyes wide open.

"Neros..." the king whispered. The guards and nobles around him, including his daughter, looked at him in confusion. The man looked at them with hope. "It's our god. He's finally appeared."

"Nobody else can see me. Only you," Neros clarified.

The king checked how everyone in the room was looking at him as if he were crazy.

"Why do you show yourself to me now?" the man asked with a mix of despair and confusion. "The people of my city have been slaughtered as they begged for mercy."

The god crouched down to his level and looked the king directly in the eyes.

"Oh, not just them," Neros pointed to a puddle of water nearby. In the reflection, different towns and cities were shown, all filled with corpses and destruction. "The monsters have appeared all over the island, not just in your city. And don't talk to me as if it's my fault."

The god moved closer until he was just inches from the king. His expression became more serious, and his voice deeper.

"You caused this. Your selfishness in trying to save your wife and your recklessness in interrupting the spell are what brought the monsters, not me," the god said sternly.

The king lowered his head upon hearing this.

"I was just trying to save her..." sobbed the king, his voice a murmur.

"Well, you didn't," Neros replied indifferently. He stood up and began to pace the room. "So, in the end, it was all for nothing."

"I didn't know this would happen!" the king blurted out, causing his daughter to shy away in fear. "Besides, you could have helped us. You're supposed to protect us."

Neros stopped walking and teleported right in front of the king, looking furious.

"Protect you?! What kind of god would I be if I allowed actions to have no consequences? You chose to cast that spell. Now the country you loved and that loved you is about to be consumed by demons. Everything you've built, the wars that have been fought, the stories that have been told, will fall into eternal oblivion. Your people will die, and no one will be left to witness it. And all for what? For a single woman you couldn't even save?" Neros railed, his voice so deep it made Spud tremble.

The king remained silent, and Spud saw in him the expression of a broken man. He knelt before Neros, sobbing.

"I know it was my fault. I've condemned my people. Please help us. Merciful Neros, fix this. I beg you," the king pleaded through tears. Seeing him so sad, his daughter, who couldn't have been older than four, jumped onto him to hug him.

"Don't cry, Daddy," she requested, on the verge of tears herself.

"What an adorable creature," Neros remarked with a disgusted expression. He sighed deeply. "Look at me, minion."

The king looked up at Neros expectantly.

"Even I do not have the power to change the past. And it wouldn't be fair to bring back all the lives that have been stolen due to your folly," the god began, making the king tremble. "But I must say that I appreciate your prayers. I consider myself a benevolent being, so I'm going to offer you a deal."

Neros leaned in to look at the king with a smile on his face. The god's rapid emotional shifts made Spud fearful just watching the scene.

"Your people are going to die. That's inevitable. The demons will break down the sanctuary gates any moment now and slaughter all those who came seeking protection. You only need to wait a few hours to meet this cruel fate."

Neros walked around the room as he spoke. When he finished, he looked at the king sideways with a smug expression.

"However, your deaths don't have to be in vain, nor does this world have to be forgotten. If you let me take the lives of all the humans still alive on this island, I promise that in the future, I will match your sacrifice. I will bring people into this world who can breathe life back into these lands and save you from eternal oblivion. Who knows, maybe they even fix this mess you've made," the god proposed, raising an eyebrow.

The king remained silent for a few seconds. He looked around. All the guards and nobles were watching him intently.

"Everyone?" he asked incredulously.

"Every single one. Including you and little Maria," Neros clarified, stroking the girl's head.

The king looked at his daughter with compassion. She stared back with teary eyes. The man lowered his gaze to the floor. After breathing heavily for a few seconds, he raised his arm to the table to take the deceased queen's hand. With the other, he embraced his daughter.

Spud put a hand to his head, trying to hold back tears. This was how Dawn and he had arrived on the island. He already knew what the king would answer.

"I accept the deal," the man finally decided.

Neros' mouth twisted into a chilling smile as he let out a chuckle.

"So be it," the god decreed. He clapped his hands, and everyone in the room fell simultaneously, lifeless. The sound of crying and prayers from outside the room stopped instantly.

A. Hoshino