Chapter 39:

038 ┃ Neros' deal (Volume 1 End)

The Isle of the Forgotten

Spud regained consciousness with labored breathing as if he had just woken from a deep sleep. When he looked around, he saw that he was still in the same place. The statue of Neros stood a few meters away from him, surrounded by hundreds of skeletons that were praying to it. The cold was still intense, and much of the room was covered with snow. Worst of all, Dawn's lifeless body still lay in his arms.

Tears welled in his eyes as he gazed at his companion.

"Well, now you know everything, just as you wanted. Isn't that great?" Neros taunted, smiling.

Spud was still trying to process everything the god had shown him. There really was no one else left on the island besides them. All this time, he had been searching for people who had been dead for years.

"You could have saved them…" Spud blurted out.

Neros shrugged.

"I could have, but I didn't. I could've reversed the king's spell and revived all the dead, but I didn't want to. It wouldn't have been fair."

"Fair? You were the one who gave them the book," Spud questioned from the ground, incredulous.

"The book was perfectly self-explained. If he had continued with the spell, he would have saved his wife without a doubt. But he chose to leave the spell unfinished," the god explained, shaking his head in disappointment. "So it's his fault that you ended up here, not mine. I'm just doing my part of the deal."

Spud clenched his teeth at Neros's words. It was futile to challenge the god about the king's actions. Now, he just wanted to understand how they had ended up there.

"Why did you only bring us?" Spud asked inquisitively, trying to grasp the deal Neros had made.

"Oh, no, you two are just the first. Well, now just you," the god explained with amusement. "I always keep my word. I'll bring one new person each year until I match the 318 people that the king sacrificed for me."

"Why one per year? We'd have a better chance of survival if you brought us all at once," Spud pressed, remembering how Dawn had spoken of her struggles during the year she was alone.

"Well, yes, but that would be way more boring," Neros explained, making an exaggerated sad face. "You have no idea how much fun I had with you two over the last month. I haven't enjoyed myself this much in millennia! Hopefully, I can keep watching the rest of you for a few more centuries… until you all die, of course."

Spud looked at the god in disbelief. He felt a shiver down his spine as he listened to him speak.

"Have you been watching us this whole time?" Spud asked, tensing up.

"Of course I have. The year Akane was alone was quite boring, but since you arrived, it's been nonstop. The battle at the castle? It was incredible, honestly. I never would have thought to use alcohol to burn them."

Spud held his head in his hands, feeling dizzy. Did he say Akane? Wasn't that the name on the note he had when he arrived? He shook his head, trying to focus. He gently laid Dawn on the ground and stood up to confront Neros.

He clenched his fists so hard that he drew blood. He approached Neros, stopping only a few inches from the god, and looked at him with a scowl.

"If you were watching us, you could have helped us!" Spud accused, clenching his fists, "You could have told us all this before we got ourselves in danger, or you could have killed the stalkers. What kind of person are you if you just stand there and watch?"

Neros's expression suddenly became very serious.

"A god," he replied, piercing Spud's soul with his white eyes.

Spud stepped back, suddenly remembering who he was talking to. Neros took a step towards him, defiantly.

"Why are you angry with me? Don't you see? You forged your own fate. Finding the answers is what you wanted, right? That's why she's dead," Neros reasoned, nodding his head towards the lifeless body of Dawn.

"I didn't know any of this would happen!" Spud cried out, feeling helpless.

Neros grinned from ear to ear, sending a chill through Spud's body.

"Aren't those the same words the king said to me?" the god asked while raising an eyebrow.

Spud fell silent, contemplating what he had just heard. Even though he was speaking to a malicious god, Dawn's death was his fault. He had led her to that place, even though she had told him multiple times that she didn't want to go. His selfishness had killed her.

He walked back to where Dawn lay and knelt beside her, taking her hands in his. He tried to hold back his tears, but they came anyway.

"I guess it wasn't worth it," commented Neros, approaching where they were. He sat down on a pile of bones, causing them to break under his weight. "Come on, don't be like that."

Spud ignored the words of the god and rested his head in Dawn's hands while crying.

"I've really had a good time with you two. That's why I've decided to show myself to you and give you the answers you were seeking."

The god sighed sadly while looking at Dawn's lifeless body.

"It seems like the fun is over now, so since I like you, I offer you a reward."

Spud lifted his head to look at Neros.

"I'll return you to the world from which you came, as you so desired. Of course, I'll also give you your memories back, so you can go back to your normal life as if none of this had happened. Consider it a way of thanking you for entertaining me," the god explained, standing up and calmly walking away. "Well, until nex..."

"I refuse," Spud interrupted, his gaze fixed on the teenager.

Neros stopped and turned around. For the first time, Spud could see his face of astonishment.

"What did you say?" asked the god.

"Thank you for the offer, but I don't want your reward," repeated the boy, seriously.

Neros scratched his head, perplexed.

"I'm not understanding you. You're going to reject the gift I'm offering you?" the god asked again.

"Yes. I want to stay here," Spud declared. He had stopped crying and looked at the god with defiant eyes.

Neros seemed to lose his composure. He walked toward him, incredulous, gesturing with his arms as he spoke.

"Are you crazy? Are you aware of what I'm offering you? In your world, you have a family and friends who love you and a prosperous future ahead. Are you telling me you're going to leave all that behind to stay here?" the god questioned, agitated.

"Yes," repeated the boy. "Even though I'd like to see what my world was like, I can't just leave. I have to warn the next people who come so they don't make the same mistakes we did. I can't allow anyone to go through the months of loneliness that Dawn suffered."

"B… but," stammered Neros, still incredulous that the boy was refusing.

"If I went back to my home, what would be the point of everything we've been through during this time?" Spud continued, his voice steady. He lowered his gaze to Dawn. "Besides, even if I have friends and family, the most important thing to me is in this world. So I'm not leaving."

Neros stared at him for a few seconds, incredulous, but finally burst out laughing. His laughter was uncontrolled and chaotic like a maniac's.

"Are you serious? That was an answer I wouldn't have expected in a million years," Neros said, wiping away tears from laughing so much.

When he calmed down, the god put his hands on his hips, thoughtful.

"Alright then, I accept your refusal," the god declared. "Though if you're going to stay here, you'll have to entertain me for many more years."

Neros scratched his short white hair, doubtful. Spud could only wait uncomfortably as the god talked to himself.

"Watching you live alone until the next person arrives doesn't seem very interesting... so I guess I can give you a hand," Neros decided after a few seconds of thought.

Spud swallowed. After everything he'd discussed with him, he didn't want to imagine what Neros considered help.

"No need to thank me. Until next time," the god said with a smile. He snapped his fingers and suddenly disappeared, leaving Spud alone in the sanctuary.

Spud felt a weight lift off him. He had felt tremendous fear talking to that god. But it seemed everything was over.

Under his arms, a glow startled him. It came from Dawn's stomach, where the massive wound she had was slowly closing until it was imperceptible.

Excited, Spud held his companion's face. Suddenly, Dawn took a deep breath and began breathing again. Gradually, color returned to her face, and her hands warmed up.

Spud watched in disbelief as Dawn came back to life. He couldn't help but cry again as he saw her breathe. After a few seconds, the girl slowly opened her eyes.

"Dawn! You're okay!" the boy exclaimed between sobs, embracing her tightly.

The girl was surprised for a moment but returned the hug.

"Of course, it was just a hit," the girl reasoned, puzzled by her companion's reaction.

Spud hugged her even tighter as if preventing her from leaving.

"I promise I'll never put you in danger again," the boy vowed, still unable to believe this was real.

Not fully understanding her situation, Dawn just stroked her companion's head to comfort him.

"Okay… what happened?" she asked with concern.

Spud shook his head. Though he was crying, he had a huge smile. He stood up and offered a hand to Dawn.

"I'll tell you later. We should go back now," the boy requested.

The girl took his hand and stood up with a smile.

"I thought you'd never ask. I can't wait to get back and sit by the fire all afternoon," the girl complained, now in good spirits.

Spud nodded, happy. He was filled with joy just seeing Dawn's face. Despite its macabre nature and everything it had shown him, he couldn't help but be grateful to Neros for saving his companion.

"Shall we go?" the girl asked, pulling him from his thoughts. She had a warm smile that made him forget everything bad that had happened to them.

"Yes. Let's go home."

A. Hoshino