Chapter 20:

020 ┃ Weak, Pathetic and Useless

The Isle of the Forgotten

A branch struck forcefully against the stalker's head, diverting it from Spud and causing it to tumble into the stream, dazed. Without pausing for even a second, Dawn grabbed Spud by the hand and began to run.

"We don't have much time. Quick," she commanded as she pulled him along.

Spud could only follow the girl as he tried to make sense of the situation. They had just been attacked by a stalker, and Dawn had saved him again. He didn't understand. All he wanted was to become stronger. Was it his fault again?

Dawn cursed loudly, frustrated.

"I left the spear at home. I won't be able to kill it without it," she explained, gasping for breath.

Spud turned his head, still slightly disoriented. The stalker had started to follow them at full speed, leaping from tree to tree. It was not much bigger than him, but its unnaturally long limbs allowed it to grab onto tree branches like a monkey. Its jaw was dislocated, showcasing a mouth full of sharp teeth.

"We need to split up," Dawn decided, struggling to speak. "I'll distract it so you can get home and hide, understand?"

Spud didn't know how to respond. He had pursued the boar to become stronger and to protect Dawn, but nothing had changed. Dawn was in danger again because of him.

The girl didn't wait for too long. She started running in a different direction while shouting loudly to attract the stalker's attention. For a moment, the creature focused on Dawn and seemed to be going after her. However, it shifted its gaze back to Spud and continued its chase. The boy could only see his companion's worried expression as he continued running non-stop.

With his lungs on fire, Spud carelessly ran through the forest. It was dark, and with every step, he was close to tripping over stones on the path. It was only a matter of time before it caught him. His vision was even starting to blur.

As he ran, he heard Dawn's voice in the distance. She had continued running to maintain her pace, but she was far away, and he could barely hear her. Still, he thought he understood what she was saying. Don't go that way.

Before he could react, Spud felt the ground disappear from under his feet. He flailed his arms in desperation, searching for something to grab onto, but he fell several meters uncontrolled.

The cold engulfed his body instantly, and he held his breath in reflex. He had fallen into the water. He hadn't even had time to take a breath, and because of the tumbling, he didn't know which way was up.

Moments later, there was a second splash, and Spud began to hear the stalker's abhorrent screams underwater. He panicked. He couldn't see anything due to the darkness, and the creature's cries were getting closer.

In desperation, he started swimming in the direction he thought was up. If he was wrong, it wouldn't even be the stalker that killed him; he would drown. After a few seconds of frantic swimming, his head broke the surface. He coughed out water while trying to breathe. It took him a few seconds to figure out which way was up and down, but once he did, he quickly started swimming towards the nearest shore. It seemed he had fallen into a pool formed by the river.

"Spud! Spud!" Dawn yelled, worried. She was at the top of the cliff where he had fallen. Spud looked at her as he tried to compose himself, "If you keep going that way, you'll reach the house. Bring it there."

Though he had just heard his companion, Spud kneeled at the shore for a few seconds to catch his breath. He felt as though he might collapse at any moment.

A splash behind him caused him to spin around suddenly. The stalker had surfaced and was swimming toward him. Spud muttered a curse under his breath as he got up and started running again. He just hoped he could find the house before it caught up to him.

After running for a few minutes, Spud felt like his legs were going to give out. He couldn't take any more. Just as he was considering whether or not to stop for a few seconds, the house appeared in the distance like an oasis. Only a little bit further. With a last burst of energy, he sprinted toward his salvation.

With his entire body aching, he finally reached the porch. There was still no sign of Dawn, but he knew what he needed to do. He raised the bow. He had been gripping it so tightly during the run that his hand was now cramped. He pulled an arrow from the quiver, grateful that they hadn't all been lost in the water.

The stalker sprinted towards him at full speed. Spud only had a few moments to aim. It was very different when the target was trying to kill you, but he could do it. He just had to release the string.

At that moment, his muscles wouldn't respond. It wasn't fatigue; he was paralyzed by fear. It was the same feeling he'd felt in his dream when they came for him. He remained terrified as the stalker lunged at him, ready to crush his head between its teeth.

Dawn's spear severed the stalker's head just in time, causing the body and the head to fall to the ground as they began to decompose.

Spud lowered his gaze. Dawn was watching him with a serious expression and ragged breathing.

"I'm sorry," Spud murmured in an almost inaudible voice.

"What on earth has gotten into you? Why were you so bent on hunting that boar?" Dawn asked. Her tone was harsh, but the worry was noticeable in her voice.

"We almost got killed again. And it was my fault..." Spud said softly, ignoring her. After a few seconds of holding back, he finally began to sob and fell to his knees on the ground.

Confused, Dawn approached him and squatted by his side.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

Spud tried to dry his tears with his hands, but then he buried his face in his arms to hide it from Dawn. When he had calmed down enough to speak, he said:

"This is the third time you've saved my life. Whenever we get attacked, you're the one who protects me. You risk your life to save me. You're strong and smart, and everything comes easy to you," Spud revealed, and he could see his companion blush slightly. "But me? I'm weak and pathetic and always get us into trouble. I couldn't even shoot because I was so scared. I'm nothing more than a burden. If something ever happens to you, I couldn't protect you... because I'm useless. I'm sorry."

Dawn stood up and placed her hands on her hips. Spud didn't look up at her, but he felt an ominous aura coming from her.

"I don't want to hear something like that ever again, or I'll get really angry," she threatened, sending chills down Spud's spine. "Useless? Even though I hate to admit it, you're much smarter than I am. You've discovered more about this place in a week than I did in a year."

"That was just luck," Spud muttered softly.

"That's not true. The second day you arrived, you were already pestering me with your theories about the town. It wasn't luck that you learned so many things in the temple that I didn't know, and it also wasn't luck that you rescued Lion," she asserted firmly.

Spud remained silent.

"What does it matter if you can't hunt yet? You're not useless, you just need practice. Do you think I learned to use the bow in a week? And just to be clear, if I protect you, it's because I want to. You owe me nothing. Besides, I can see that you're making an effort, and for me, that's more than enough," Dawn assured him.

Spud raised his head to look at his companion. The girl's expression had gone from serious to kind.

"Do you really mean it?" he asked, still in a whisper.

"Of course. That's what friends are for, right?" Dawn affirmed with a warm smile.

He looked at his companion for a moment. It was the first time she had told him they were friends. She didn't hate him. She didn't think he was useless. Even now, when they had almost died because of Spud, she had taken the trouble to comfort him.

He wiped the tears from his eyes and returned Dawn's smile.

"Thank you. I feel better now."

A. Hoshino