Chapter 27:

026 ┃ Royal Suite

The Isle of the Forgotten

“Oh, I understand,” Dawn replied, impressed by her companion's explanation. “So, can you read it?”

Spud looked away as he fiddled with the brochures.

“Off the top of my head, no. I’d need my notes and the other books to translate it properly,” Spud admitted, somewhat sheepishly. “But once we get back home, I promise I’ll figure it out.”

The boy began to read what was on the brochures, putting on an exaggerated focused expression.

“Don't strain yourself,” his companion advised, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Besides, we won't have time to return home now, so it'll have to wait until tomorrow.”

Spud looked up upon hearing that. Alarmed, he went to one of the windows illuminating the room. The sun was almost on the horizon. They had, at most, an hour of daylight left.

“Huh? I hadn’t noticed,” the boy confessed, concerned. “I was so focused on finding something, I didn’t realize it had gotten so late. I’m sorry.”

Dawn approached him, wrapping an arm around his neck with a smile.

“Don’t worry about it. We should've been back hours ago, but seeing how downcast you were about the town, I didn't want to tell you,” she explained nonchalantly.

Spud looked at her, still slightly uneasy.

“Thanks, but that doesn’t change the fact we have to sleep outside tonight.”

Dawn smiled as she walked towards the library's exit.

“It's not a big deal. If we find a sheltered place and keep quiet, there shouldn't be any issues.”

“Some of the town's houses still have doors. We could go down and sleep in…” Spud began, but his friend interrupted him.

“Yes, we could,” she turned to look at Spud. There was a sparkle in her eyes that made Spud a bit nervous, “but it’s not every day we get to spend the night in a castle.”

“You want to stay here?” the boy asked, surprised by her initiative. “I think I’d prefer a normal house. This place is so vast, it gives me the creeps to sleep here.”

Dawn leaned in with a mischievous look.

“Are you afraid of ghosts? If you like, we can share the king's bed,” she teased, raising an eyebrow.

Blushing immediately, Spud covered his face with the brochures they had just found.

“Stop joking around, please!” he pleaded, making Dawn burst into laughter.

Even though the boy knew his companion was just teasing, he couldn't help but watch her as she laughed.

Spud sat by the window, a torch in one hand and the black book he’d found earlier in the other. A few meters away, Dawn was changing into pajamas she had taken from a closet. After barricading the entrance with furniture, they had found what they believed to be the king's room, and Dawn had been thrilled at the idea of sleeping there. Spud would sleep in the next room, one that seemed to belong to a small child, but he had decided to spend time with his friend before going to sleep.

“I hope Lion's okay on his own. It's his first night without us since we took him in,” Spud shared, trying not to glance at his companion in her underwear.

“You have nothing to worry about,” the girl assured as she changed. “Remember, he knows how to hunt on his own. Besides, he needs to learn to do things without us.”

Spud let out a weak laugh.

“It sounds like we're two parents talking about their child,” the boy admitted. He expected his friend to laugh too, but instead, she remained serious.

“Do you think so?” she asked, her back turned to him.

Spud tilted his head. Even after nearly a month with her, he still wasn't accustomed to Dawn's reactions. Especially lately; sometimes she teased him endlessly, and other times she would blush or respond more reservedly. He vowed that after solving the island's mystery, his next mission would be understanding Dawn.

He set the book down on a table, stood up, and headed for the hallway.

“I'm going to check something,” Spud announced, leaving the room.

“Don’t take too long. We still have to eat dinner,” she reminded him, now in her pajamas.

The boy walked down the dimly lit corridor, his path only illuminated by his torchlight. The rooms were on the second floor, from where you could view the throne room through the long indoor balcony that spanned the hallway.

He hurried down the stairs to the grand room. Apart from the imposing throne raised on a dais, huge purple tapestries hung from the interior balconies to the floor, depicting figures like the crown, the symbol of the god, or the portrait of the king himself. Small breaches in the wall let in the moonlight, giving the room a spooky ambiance.

Spud walked up to the king's portrait. Even though it was just a painting, he couldn’t help but think it resembled the winning prince from the story of the three princes. Even the tapestries were purple, the color that represented the youngest brother in the tale.

Perhaps this meant the story was real, and the king who lived in that castle was the same one from the story. But that would mean his hypotheses were accurate, which would mean the god of the island was real. This idea unnerved him. If the god existed, it meant he allowed all the people in the town and the city to die. He just hoped he was wrong. Maybe, as Dawn would say, it was all a coincidence. He sighed while looking at the portrait.

“Where did you go?” Spud murmured to himself.

A gust of wind made him shiver suddenly. At first, he thought of returning to the room for more clothing, but then he realized.

“Wind?” he voiced aloud, eyes widening in alarm.

He ran in the direction from where he felt the breeze. His heart raced, and chills ran down his spine. Dawn and he had made sure to block the entrance, but they hadn’t finished checking the entire ground floor. He maneuvered through the maze-like corridors until he reached an unfamiliar area. There, the wind blew again.

Frightened, he pressed on. Just around a corner, he spotted a collapsed section of the wall connecting to the outside. Spud peeked out, incredulous. Everything was so dark that the moonlight barely illuminated the silhouettes. Suddenly, two pairs of gleaming eyes appeared in the distance. The boy hid behind the wall, covering his mouth to stifle any noise.

He carefully peeked again. The pairs of eyes drew closer, allowing Spud to discern their figures. There was no doubt. Two stalkers – one slender with sharp claws and another that resembled a tank – approached him.

With his breath caught in his chest, Spud sprinted deeper into the castle.

A. Hoshino