The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
I munched on a freshly roasted cut of wild boar, tearing chunks of soft meat and fat off the bone with my teeth. Meals like this were the most delicious directly after a harsh battle.
The rations prepared for soldiers were often more stiff and tasteless, since they had to stay good without any sort of refrigeration, making the charred, fatty meal much more of a delicacy on an occasion like this. For larger scale adventures, you could hire a porter skilled in ice magic, whose task was solely to bring along proper ingredients and keep them fresh for as long as needed. Military expeditions such as this one usually included a few, but space was limited in the wagons, so proper meals were few and far between. This was a special celebration though, so I made sure to savor every bite.
Destiny and Flynn sat with me at the outdoor seating of the temporary barracks, which had been set up a safe distance from where the battle had taken place. Now that the exciting stuff had been taken care of, it would be a leisurely evening of packing and good sleep, and then departure back home to the kingdom the next morning. Hope and Mary were taking care of their reports, which they insisted always get done first. I tended to slack in that area, which I often got a good scolding for by the kingdom’s General. However, that could wait, as this food I was chowing down on took clear priority.
“Andrew, on your right!”
A man in prison garbs lunged towards me, from the direction of where the Imperial army had been handling the leftover occult members who had been captured. He pounced from the side, throwing the two of us backwards into dirt and rubble. With his wrists still chained, he attempted to wrap his bindings around my neck, but I was able to quickly grab onto his hands and restrain them. His face came up close and personal just inches from my own, forcing me to face him directly. The pure desperation in his eyes was horrifying, so much so that I felt frozen in place. He was flooding with tears as he attempted to escape my grip, which was a futile effort.
"THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!"
"G- get off of me!"
"Do you understand what it's like!? To watch your friends die one by one? To watch the life drain from their eyes by the hand of a faceless soldier, who only knows how to blindly serve his superiors!?"
My struggling ceased for a moment.
"If I can kill you… if I can just kill their symbol, then…!"
I was still horrified, but had no plans to die here either. I gave the man a strong right hook, hurling him back several meters. Quickly regaining my posture, I drew the scabbard of my sword and took a fighting stance before he could recuperate.
"You've been brainwashed! Do you really think you’re in the right here, siding with those malicious cultists?"
He didn't stand. He instead sat up slowly, wiping the blood from his now swollen cheek and crooked nose. The prisoner looked more calm and collected suddenly; something was off about it.
"What, and your "goddess" is better? Aren't we the same?"
He was only trying to get on my nerves at this point. I didn't listen.
"Guards! Come restrain this man!"
"Nobody is coming."
"What do you mean? Of course they-"
He was right. There was nobody around us. No Flynn, no Destiny, nor guards or even soldiers. Even the caravans seemed devoid of people.
"If I'm brainwashed, that means that you are just as well."
"I'm not going to listen to a Malis cultist. Your companions died here because they believed in torture and cruelty; because they believed in the Demon Lord. There's no justice in trying to avenge people like that."
"And what about you? Do you really think you have the right to save them?"
"E- excuse me?"
"Andrew Salvus Erit: Hero of Alterra. That's the character you've been acting out all this time, right? Maybe because you had all of these people worshipping you like a god, you really thought you gained the powers of one?"
"What are you talking about? What do you mean, character?"
"Don't sit there and act clueless. You're no knight; you're no hero. You're just a kid, who's been role-playing like you're part of some kind of game. You don't deserve to bring back your friends. You're the one who killed them. Killed them, drunk on some kind of fantasy in your head that you were doing the right thing."
"I want revenge, and you want repentance."
"What- what do you know!?"
"I know you in and out. Because I am you. Like I said, we're the same."
"Shut up! We're nothing alike!"
"Did you really think you could plead to trade your life, full and complete, for those which had been cut short? Cut short by you?"
"No, I didn't. I just-"
"You were desperate. You aren't a protector, nor a savior. You're especially not a hero."
"Then what am I!?"
"You're just Jiro. Jiro Todoya."
A soreness in my back. A sharp pain in my right ankle. And a body that I wasn't accustomed to.
I opened my eyes to an impersonal room dimmed by the evening sunlight, which peeked through the closed curtains to my right. It wasn't a familiar place, but one I recognized nonetheless.
I was in an infirmary room.
I called out to her, but wasn't surprised this time at the lack of a response.
"So I really did go back…"
I talked aloud to nobody but myself, as if to confirm my own reality. And sure enough, I was really here. I hadn't died after all.
I sat up, and took a good look around the room. My consciousness was still dialing in, and my eyes hadn't quite adjusted yet. Actually, my vision in general was quite blurry. Had I suffered some sort of head trauma? Was my brain not working right? I brought my hands up to my hair and felt around, but there were no patches or bandages, nor did anything feel off. It did feel… longer than usual. And my hands. I could see them clearly, now that they were up close.
They were thin and undefined. Had I been hospitalized for that long? I wanted to check the rest of my body, but it was no good. My eyes had definitely been impaired somehow. A little bedside table suddenly caught my eye; more specifically, the small items that rested on its surface.
What was that? A pair of glasses?
I had worn glasses in this world.
I put them on, noticing a crack down the center of my vision. They were broken on one side. Broken, but they still worked. With clearer vision, I could see the other item on the table, which looked like some sort of big, shiny coaster. Actually, no. It was a smartphone. Probably mine, in fact. I picked it up. Right button for power, right? And then there was some sort of code I had to put in. What was that supposed to be? It was mine, right? But nothing I typed in seemed to work. I put the task of using the phone aside for the moment, and settled for just the date and time that it showed instead.
The 10th of May, 201X.
So, doing the math from when I left this world originally, that would mean… No, that wasn't right. Did any time pass at all? Perhaps just days, or weeks? What was I last doing when I left? Was I talking to somebody? Going to school? I was a high school student back then, if I remembered correctly.
Was I…. still in high school now?
Was something like that even possible?
I looked at my hands again. Pale, smooth, and scrawny. This was what I was like back then, wasn't it? I was this weak; this unimpressive.
I hit the table hard with my fist.
Frankly, I didn't even know why I was frustrated. It should have been because I had no way of knowing if the others were still alive, but it felt more pitiful than that. I felt pitiful.
My fit of anger was interrupted by a noise to my left. It came from the other side of the closed curtain that partitioned the room in two. It was barely a noise, but just enough of one to put me on alert.
I reached for my sword, but It wasn't there. Of course it wasn't. I was in a hospital. There must have been another patient in the room. Before I had realized it, I was already tense and ready for some kind of battle. As if something like that would really happen here. Assuming I was in this world for good, I would have to quickly fix that habit.
I would have to fix a lot of things.
I put my hand to my chest and slowed my breathing. Somehow, it was reassuring that there was somebody else here. And yet, I probably already scared the ever living hell out of them.
"Uhm, sorry. If I startled you, I mean. I'm just having a bit of a hard time adjusting to-"
Of course I couldn't say something like that. And yet, it almost slipped out as if it were natural.
"-to, well… nevermind."
Was there really somebody behind the curtain? Was I just beginning to go crazy? Just when I had calmed down my breathing, my chest tightened at the sound of nothing once again. Please, just respond. Please break this silence.
A wave of relief flushed over me. There was somebody after all.
"I'm- I'm sorry..."
A young voice. Or a feminine one? I couldn't quite tell. Either way, it was clear they were frightened. I was nervous all of the sudden, talking to somebody from a different world. Like I should be conscious how I act, or else they'll find out I don't belong.
"No, no! It's okay, I'm acting kind of weird. You don't have to talk to me… I probably seem crazy with how I'm talking right now. Sorry about that."
I really was sorry. This regular person was getting dragged into my stupid confusion, and probably getting the wrong idea about me too.
"You can ignore me, if you want."
Judging by how they weren't responding, it was probably best for me to say something like that. Even if they were frightened of me, just the fact alone that there was somebody else there calmed my nerves. Like I had some other observer; somebody who could confirm that I was still there.
We stayed like that for a while, until eventually there was a knock at the door. It was obscured behind the curtain, so I couldn't quite see who came in at first, but somehow I recognized them. Maybe it was their footsteps, or the way they knocked, but it was definitely somebody that was here for me. I prepared myself.
"Is he awake over there?"
A male voice. He was asking the person on the other side of the curtain.
I didn't hear a response, but they must have given one, because the footsteps came closer to me. Who was it? A doctor? A student from school? A family member?
"I got your papers from school. How's your leg?"
He was tall. Much taller than I must have been. Sporting a spotless school uniform which directly contrasted his laid back demeanor, he couldn't have been anybody but my older brother, Ichiro.
How much did he know about me? Based on my raw memory, we were never close, but he was my brother, for god's sake. Suddenly, those feelings of nervousness talking to the person behind the curtain were amplified a hundred fold. What should I say? How should I act? How could I keep him from suspecting me?
"Do you remember what happened?"
I simply nodded. Those two half baked responses were all I could muster. It felt pathetic, but hopefully it was enough.
"Hm. Well, the doctor said you'll need to walk with crutches for a few weeks at most, but it was just a mild sprain, so you won't need to stay here."
A few weeks? Did a sprain really take that long to heal? It felt like an impossibly long time compared to what I could recover from in a day's time in the other world. But that wasn't important right now. I needed to figure out how to respond. But before I could say anything, he spoke again.
"I'll tell mom to come pick you up then."
And then he disappeared behind the curtain once again, followed by a thud of the door. Just like that. I didn't even have time to come up with something to say. Was that okay? Is this how I would have acted before?
In the very least, he was gone. That meant my parents were going to come and see me soon enough, but I at least had a bit of time to prepare before interacting with them. After about half an hour, a nurse came in to help me up and show me how to use the crutches that they supplied to me, and then escorted me out with a change of clothes to see my parents.
But just before I left the room, I was able to get a clear look at the one on the other side of a curtain. It was a boy, likely of middle school age, who had ruffled brown hair and a bruised face. He looked gloomy. Was it my fault that he made such a face?
I paused after we made eye contact. Suddenly, I had an urge to speak.
"Thanks-- for keeping me company, I mean. It helped."
I mustered a smile, then shuffled out of the room awkwardly with my new walking assistants. I had little desire to try and wait for a reply. I didn't realize it until the moment I saw his face, but I felt that I needed to say that to him.
That was all it was.