The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
With one final push of my arms, putting every last bit of strength I could muster up into the force of my blade, I felt it. I had struck deep into the heart of the Demon Lord. No blood poured from his undead body, however, it was no question to me that this blow had all but secured my victory against him.
I had done it.
After eighteen long years, I had finally defeated the greatest and most potent evil ever to exist in this world..
What unbelievable, wonderful thing I've accomplished, right?
So why didn't I feel as though I had accomplished anything? Where were the people I saved? Why didn't this deep rooted desperation disappear like it should have after everything was over?
It should have been all over, so why couldn't I let out a sigh of relief? All I could muster instead was a cough, a choke, and some blood.
I felt empty.
I wanted nothing more than to twist my blade, which beamed with an absolute light, deeper into his rotten bowels.
I wanted to tear up his insides; to scream out against him as I felt the mana drain from his soul, freed by the pierce from my holy sword.
I wanted to keep stabbing and slashing at this corpse of a being that lay before me who had already gone limp, with empty eyes that were glazed over. I could feel pure rage and adrenaline coursing through my veins, now with nowhere left to direct itself.
But as I dealt the final blow, the battle suddenly and abruptly took a halt, and I was introduced to nothing but a deafening silence. A silence that echoed off the stone brick walls and lavish pillars that surrounded me.
My throat was dry, and naught but a hoarse cough could escape my lips. My limbs, all the way down to my fingers and toes, would no longer move, as the strength had been sapped from them completely. Even my mana, low as it was, had run completely dry. I was bloodied, beaten, and gasping for air; struggling to maintain consciousness. As the heat of the moment faded, this was all I could perceive.
I looked to my surroundings, hoping to find a glimmer of hope. Just a twist of my neck caused more pain than I could bear, but I pushed through it regardless. I needed something that could pull me out of this trance-like state of desperation.
Decorated flags laced with gold threading glimmered under hints of moonlight, which could just barely creep into the gloomy encasement of a room that surrounded me. Natural wear on the walls were overshadowed by large cracks, gashes, and holes caused by the preceding battle of magic and swordsmanship. A single throne, standing tall and proud amongst the rubble and grim atmosphere remained untouched, only lightly scuffed by debris. But not a single movement; not a single living thing had remained in this room that I could prove my grand accomplishment, nor even my existence to.
I was able to just barely pick myself up, but moving toward that final symbol of his power was no easy task. My armor; consisting of Mythril, leather, and steel mail; it weighed me down, it was so heavy and bulky. I shed it piece by piece, leaving only the sweaty tunic underneath, and was just able to stand up and face the marbled chair head on. I put my hands together into a big, rugged fist, swinging it with all my strength into the damned thing. I heard the crunch of fracturing stone as the nerves in my arms felt a numbing force shoot back into them.
I hit it again.
I watched it slowly break apart and lose form, smashing it over and over until one last blow finally brought it fully on its side, now broken and crumbled with the rest of its dismal surroundings, and then silence returned to the room, and to my ears.
"I DID IT!"
I forced the words through my swollen throat.
Somewhere along the line, I had begun crying, but only now had I noticed the tears that streamed down my face. As the adrenaline left my body, I fell over in writhing pain, my fists throbbing from banging at polished rock. If they hadn't already been full of cuts and bruises, they were now.
I let my tears take over, curling up into a pathetic little ball. And as I bawled out like a newborn, unable to hear myself, my fading mind drifted. I thought back to the prelude of this hollow moment. Back to Flynn; to Mary; to Destiny.
And to Hope.
"I won't go! I won't leave you here!"
"Oh Andrew. You stupid-"
"Shut up! We defeated her together! Together, you know!? We're both still alive! So I'm going to save you! At least you, I can still..."
Hope put her bruised hand up to my face, and stroked my cheek. I could tell that she was trying to soothe me, but it wasn't working. It only made me want to stay more. To stay and never leave her side.
"Andrew. I'm too heavy, you know? You're already getting close to your limit…"
She chuckled, with blood slipping down the corners of her withering smile.
"Don't make a girl say such a thing about herself. Now go and-"
I couldn't take it anymore. I knew what I had to do. I already knew.
"I get it. I get it already, so let me stay here and hold you for just a little bit longer, okay?"
After some hesitation, she nodded, and let herself rest her weight against my body.
Her toned, brawny figure was heavy against me, and yet, she looked so fragile that I feared she would shatter if I didn't take care in how I held her.
"Hey, Andrew. Do you-"
"Do you know why I've always admired the heroes in those old fairy tales?"
"Of course I do, you idiot… You wanted to be strong, just like them. Just like how you are now. The strongest person I know."
She let out a weak chuckle.
"You're wrong. I've been lying about that, actually… In truth, I wanted to be saved. Saved by one of those heroes."
"B- but- there's still time! I can still-"
"No, you don't understand, Andrew. You've already saved me. You've already become my knight. My hero."
"That's not true! I haven't saved anybody! I… I haven't-"
The girl that lay in my arms struggled to put her head up, but she was able to move it just barely. Just enough to look at the irreversible state of her own battered body. She teared up, suddenly in a panic.
"Things weren't supposed to be like this, you know? We were all supposed to beat the demon lord together…"
I was taken back by her sudden change of mood. I couldn't respond.
"You were supposed to look cool, dealing the final blow. And then on the spot, I would finally tell you how I've felt all this time. And maybe you wouldn't have accepted my feelings, but just maybe…"
No, wait… stop it. Don't do that.
"Just maybe, you would have felt the same… And then we would retire together, and live in a small house, and-"
"And we would have had two kids, and they would both hate each other and fight a lot, but I would be kind to them, and you would be more cold, but secretly dote on them even more than I would, and-"
She was getting more aggressive. I could feel her muscles tense, and see her fists clench with what little strength she had left in her.
I couldn't take it. I didn't know how to respond. I couldn't say anything.
"I've thought about it for so long now, and run it over in my head so many times, so why…!"
Why? Why did things have to turn out this way?
"I was in love with you! This whole time, and still, even now! I love you so, so much, so why!?"
"I LOVED YOU TOO! SO WHY DID YOU HAVE TO GO AND DIE ON ME!"
More hoarse words escaped my mouth, into the open air. I was speaking to nobody; yelling at nobody. I was the only one in the now barren throne room. No, actually, there was no throne anymore either. So it was just a room. A room with nobody but me. My hearing finally gave out, and I let the deafening silence take me in. What followed was eyesight, along with the other three senses. All I could muster was one final thought, which stuck in my head like a tacked note that I'd be doomed to look at for eternity.
What was I fighting for, all this time?
"You were fighting for me; for your wish. Do you still remember? It seemed almost as if you had forgotten."
"No, of course not. I remember everything. Well, I remembered after losing everyone around me. So many people, dead and gone. Wasn't I supposed to be stronger in another world? I don't get it. I was supposed to save the world, right? So what did I even accomplish by killing him? What was the point of it all?"
The goddess, Mellifluus.
The one who had sent me here with a mission, and a promise. I had the immediate impulse to direct all of my frustration towards her, but that wouldn't be right. This concentrated hate and anger was my own. It was because of the decisions that I had made.
She might have been saying something; likely trying to reassure me that I had done the right thing, but her voice wouldn't reach, even if she was. I wouldn't let myself believe I had done something good. No, I hadn't earned any kind of right like that. Not after leaving my comrades; my closest friends; to die, one by one.
For the sake of the world and all its inhabitants.
What a load of bullshit.
"You don't seem very eager to return. To your original world, that is. But that was what we agreed upon at the beginning, was it not?"
The other world. My original world. I had stopped thinking of it that way long ago. It had been so long since I last had anything to do with that place, that it was no more than a vague childhood memory to me now. Overshadowed by 18 years of memories built day after day, strengthened by the bonds between my party members and close friends who had come to be my family. I barely remembered the faces of my other family. Consisting of a mother, a father, an older brother, and a newborn sister, it was no more than simply a group of people I used to know. Were they kind to me? I remember not thinking so myself, but I was only a young teen back then after all. I had no place there now.
"Then your wish?"
"You don't need to send me back. I already lived my life. I fulfilled my purpose. Just send me to the afterlife or something."
"But my comrades. Specifically, my party members. Their lives were all cut short because of me. So please, even if it means you exchange my life for theirs, bring them back and let them continue living. Let them finish their story properly."
I could feel myself tear up, remembering with clear visualization each individual scenario in which I had chosen to leave them behind, until only I was left.
"I don't care about what happens to me in the slightest, so please…!"
"I see. And this is what you really want?"
"Of course. I don't care about a shitty world, or its shitty inhabitants. I want to give the lives back that I stole. At least the few that were most important to me. If I can at least do that, then maybe I can rest just a little easier."
"Then I shall grant your wish."
"You… you really can?"
"Well, of course! I am a goddess, after all. But you know, there are better ways of asking for a favor. That "shitty world" and its "shitty inhabitants" are both under my care, you know?"
"Oh, of course. I'm sorry! Uhm... your holiness! Thank you!"
"Yes yes, of course. I'll forgive you, with all of my humble kindness. Now be off, as our business here is done. I humbly thank you for all you have done up to this point."
The first sound that returned to my ears was rough, and industrial. I felt bumps and rattles beneath my feet, which ran in sync with the noises I heard. Forces around me swayed my body back and forth without any rhyme or rhythm, but my arm was already lightly tethered to a loose hanging grip a bit above my head, which seemed to keep me from falling.
When my eyes opened, I was hit with a heavy wave of deja vu.
I was in a moving vehicle. One that ran on electricity, rather than magic. People surrounded me at all sides, a few seated, but most standing. I was standing too.
I was on a subway train car.
Surrounded by people.
In a world entirely different than the one I had grown used to.
My nerves felt fine, and I was no longer writhing in pain. But my body didn't quite feel right despite that. I let go of the handle above me, and began to move toward a door. The train was wobbly, and I had to take it slow. But surely it would stop soon, and then I could get off. I needed to call for Mellifluus, and figure out what the hell was going on.
As I began to walk, I lightly nudged my way through the busy crowd of people. I avoided eye contact. I didn't want to look at them, for some reason. But my body didn't quite move the way I wanted it to. It was light yet sluggish, and felt cripplingly slow.
The train car made a sharp turn, causing me to lose my footing. I quickly brought my foot out to stop my fall.
I brought my right foot out.
Or, that's what was supposed to happen, but only my knee shot forward, further crippling my balance.
I shot into the ground hard; people making way for my grand fumble. As if a rug had been pulled out in front of me, the force of my impact had been abrupt, and I could feel the joint in my ankle bend into an angle it wasn't meant to. A loud grunt escaped my teeth, before I rolled into my side, taking in the full impact of the pain.
"Uhm, are you alright?"
"He looks injured. Should we call an ambulance?"
"Do you need help getting up?"
All eyes were on me. People surrounded me with looks of pity and sympathy, which filled me with an uneasiness that was foreign, yet familiar.
My chest tightened, and I began to feel tense. But pain like this was nothing to me, so why?
No matter. I just needed to get off this damned train car.
I yelled out in frustration, causing the chatter around me to fade out, leaving the idle rattling of the subway cars.
"I- I'm okay. I'll just get off at the next stop."
I didn't seem to have anybody convinced, so I propped myself back up, pushing through the troubled nerves in my ankle. I stood up like normal, and finally was able to take hold of the hanging handle I had previously been using, gripping much tighter than before.
"I'm fine, so please don't worry about it."
After that, people slowly returned to minding their own business.
That's right, pain like this was nothing. I buckled through it, and then quickly limped off of the car at the next stop. There was nobody around the station, and the train left without hesitation. As I found a bench on the far side of the waiting platform, I could hear the chugging and clanking of the steel tracks getting quieter and quieter, until they were gone entirely.
I called out into the air, at nothing in particular. There was no response.
"Mellifluus, what did you do?!"
Still nothing. Only a dim echo returned to my ears, followed by silence. Deafening silence. My chest welled up and my stomach sunk into my gut without warning. Where was I? What was I doing on the subway so suddenly? What happened to my party? Had they been brought back to life like Mellifluus promised to do? My head overflowed with thoughts of confusion, clouded over by the pain in my right ankle.
I checked on it, if for no other reason than to draw my attention away from the silence. Such a lack of sound was somehow agonizing. Removing the shoes and socks I had been wearing revealed a big red swell right at the joint. It must have been sprained. I quickly reached for my bag of supplies and grabbed a-
My bag of supplies.
I wasn't wearing such a thing.
I was in Japan. I had been sent back.
I had no choice but to take in the silence. The artificial light of the fluorescent lamps above told me nothing about the time of day. If only I was outside, then I could have checked the sun and gotten a good approximation immediately.
And this pain in my leg. And the strange feeling of weakness in my body. It was all far too much for me to process. I lied down on the bench I had been sitting on, and attempted to catch my breath. That became the only sound I could hear; my desperate heaves for air. It suddenly felt as if I could die in this very spot, if I didn't fight to keep myself in check. But what did it matter? I didn't belong in a place like this; in a world like this. My time had already run dry, back in the den of that hellish being which I had laid to rest with my final breath.
Maybe that was why I felt so tense now, of all times. Because this large, silent subway reminded me so much of that place. Of that moment. What a fitting place for me to die, after all.
Ah, what a strangely calming thought.