Chapter 17:

017 ┃ Echoes of Past Lives

The Isle of the Forgotten

When they entered the mansion, Spud was surprised by how well-preserved it was. Yes, the front door was shattered, and there were several signs that stalkers had entered the house, but everything else seemed intact. He even felt as though he was sneaking into someone else's house without permission.

He followed Dawn through the entrance, adorned with ostentatious vases. One of them had fallen to the floor, and now hundreds of ceramic pieces covered it, so the girl did not hesitate to push them aside with her feet as she walked. There were stone stairs leading to the upper floor, and Spud felt the urge to climb them, but it would be better to stay with his companion.

A door led them to what appeared to be the living room. Despite the size of the house, it somehow felt cozy. In addition to the large wooden table that took up half of the room, velvet curtains covered the windows, and even a deer's head hung on the wall. At the back of the room, a large fireplace held only ashes.

Dawn amused herself by touching the curtains while Spud approached the fireplace. Above it, covering most of the wall, was a family portrait that reached the ceiling. The father did not look more than forty years old, dressed in a red uniform with a sword hanging from his belt. His stoic pose led Spud to think he was a knight. Beside him, with her hands in front of her body, was a beautiful woman in a long dress. Below them, straight as soldiers, were a girl and a boy. Everyone in the portrait had cold and serious expressions, which gave Spud an eerie feeling.

"It seems like this is the family that lived here," Spud announced, drawing his companion's attention. She came over to observe the painting.

"They must have had plenty of money. Do you think they were nobles or something?" she commented.

"It's possible," Spud replied, looking around the room. Despite its good condition, there were deep gouges in the walls, and the carpet covering the floor was torn. "What's clear is that whatever happened in the village also happened here."

"Oh, you can be sure of that. I haven't found any place so far that's completely intact," the girl explained.

Spud looked down at hearing that. He knew that Dawn had not explored the entire island, but if all the places were equally destroyed, the chances of anyone being alive were greatly diminished.

"Let's keep exploring. We're bound to find something useful," she said, noticing his despondency.

They didn't find anything interesting on the rest of the lower floor, except for a steel pot that Spud enthusiastically stole from the kitchen. It was much better than the one they had at home.

When they went upstairs, they decided to split up to investigate more quickly. Spud got the bathroom, where there was a huge bathtub that made him crave a hot bath. "I wish we could take it with us," he thought.

Though the bathroom seemed to be in perfect condition, there was nothing there they could use. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, he ended up taking a silver comb with floral decorations. His hair was too short to use it, but perhaps his companion would find some use for it.

He left the bathroom and entered the bedroom where his companion was; the master bedroom. Behind the large double bed, Dawn had opened the wardrobes and was rummaging through the clothes. When she heard him enter, she turned to him.

"Hey, Spud. What do you think?" the girl asked, holding a long red dress in front of her. Her radiant smile made the boy's heart race.

"I... uh... I think it would look good on you," he stammered.

"Really? I don't think it would be very comfortable for hunting," she admitted, tossing the dress onto the bed. "Unless you want a corset, I don't think there's anything we can wear here. Have you found anything?"

"Not much, really. I only took this because I thought you might want it," Spud explained, offering the comb to the girl.

Dawn took it and examined it for a moment.

"Thanks. I'll use it," she promised, giving him a small smile.

The room fell into an awkward silence after that. It was then that Spud realized that he had just given a gift to his companion. He couldn't help but feel his cheeks turn as red as tomatoes. He thought he should change the subject as quickly as possible.

"Hey, Dawn, why does your hair have two colors?" the boy asked uncomfortably.

"Oh, this? I don't know, really. When I arrived here, it was completely blonde, but over time it has grown this color," the girl explained casually while looking at her hair. She didn't seem to be aware of her companion's embarrassment.

"I see..." Spud replied, turning toward the door. Surely, he was the odd one. "I'm going to investigate the remaining room."

"I'm done here. I'll come with you," she announced, following him.

Spud had lost hope of finding anything useful in that house, but the last room changed his mind. It was a not-so-large office but filled with intriguing items. There were shelves with various swords displayed, all nicked as if they had been used hundreds of times. Next to them was a full medieval armor, so imposing that it looked as if someone were inside, ready to attack. At the back of the room was a wooden desk full of papers. In addition, there were several banners throughout the room, all representing the religious symbol he had seen the day before: the eye in the middle of the maze.

Spud noticed a painting hung on the wall. It portrayed the same child-god he had seen in the sculpture of the temple. In the portrait, the child still had the same macabre smile, and his eyes seemed to be watching Spud directly. The boy walked around the room, observing the painting attentively. Suddenly, the child in the painting moved his eyes to follow him, and Spud swore his smile widened. The boy jumped in fright, letting out a scream of terror.

"What's wrong?" Dawn asked, alarmed.

Spud remained breathless for several seconds, staring intently at the painting. It was no longer looking at him. It must have been his imagination.

"Nothing, don't worry. I thought I saw a spider," he lied, not to worry her.

Spud tried to forget the painting as he continued to examine the room. Although he now felt somewhat creeped out, there had to be something useful in that place.

"Hey, look at that," Dawn called out, pointing at one of the walls. There, amidst the religious banners and antique weapons, was a huge framed fabric. Upon it was an impressively detailed drawing that displayed individual roads, city names, and geological formations.

Spud could barely contain his joy when he recognized it.

"It's a map!" the boy exclaimed, moving closer to get a better look. "With this, we'll be able to navigate the island more easily. We might even find out where the survivors are."

Spud quickly shattered the glass protecting the map to retrieve it. He folded it carefully and stowed it in his bag, taking care not to wake the sleeping kitten.

"You'd better not get your hopes up too high," Dawn advised seriously. "About the survivors, I mean."

"I know, I know. But I can't help but think that there's someone alive. Even the family from this house. Yes, a few things were broken, but we haven't found any skeletons. I'm sure they're still alive somewhere on this island," Spud justified, his eyes shining brightly.

Dawn didn't respond.

Having explored the entire house, the two prepared to leave. Spud was so excited about his discovery that he hadn't stopped looking at the map.

Before they left, Dawn spotted a door near the stairs out of the corner of her eye. It wasn't well hidden, but they hadn't noticed it when they were exploring the lower floor.

"Spud! There's a room we haven't checked," she called.

Already outside the house, the boy walked over to his companion. He doubted they could find something better than the map, but there was no harm in checking. As he approached Dawn, he saw how she tensed up. Worried, Spud looked into the room.

It was a small room that must have served as a pantry in the past. Not much light entered the room, but there was enough to identify four skeletons lying on the floor. Two of them were adults, and the other two appeared to be children. All four were huddled together, seemingly in an eternal embrace.

Spud felt his blood run cold. He struggled to breathe for a few moments as if someone had punched him in the stomach. There was no room for doubt. This was the family that had lived in the house.

"We should leave before it gets dark," Dawn commented, gently gripping his shoulder.

Spud nodded, but he lingered a few more seconds, staring at the horrifying scene. That image had been burned into his memory.

A. Hoshino