The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
"Ladies and gentlemen."
The instructor; middle aged, glasses, male, in tidy formal attire; began his lesson with a harsh reminder about the importance of one's role in society.
"When one student decides to play hooky, do you know what that does to them and the rest of their classmates?"
The students, lined neatly across several rows of seats, all sat in silence. They knew that this lecture wasn't for them.
"It creates a divide. A divide between the students who have never done it, and the student who has."
A few eyes were on me. Most notably, those of the instructor himself, who stood tall and proud behind his podium with the demeanor of a leader. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought he was a lieutenant.
"And if that occurrence happens only once, then you might at first assume that it's harmless. But once is all it takes for a bad decision to become a habit. When you've performed it once, your brain has already changed that action from 'something I would never do' to 'something I have done before'. While the jump between those two is a huge leap, the next jump into 'something I do' is no more than a single step. So now that student has become a single step away from delinquency, while everybody else is still more than a leap away. Please keep that in mind, when any--"
His eyes, still on me, turned stern.
"--any one of you may consider doing such a thing in the future. Because delinquency is something that is not taken lightly in this institution. That is all."
With his lecture over, he turned his focus back to the whole class.
"Let us return to our lesson, then."
I arrived at the high school just as the sun passed directly over my head. After I had left the house, there was a flurry of detours I was forced to take to arrive at my destination.
Asking passerbys about my uniform, and what school it belonged to.
Questioning people at the station about how to get there.
Inquiring subway passengers about how to read the maps.
Actually, almost all of it was just asking questions. But adventuring was all about gathering intel, after all. If I couldn't do that much at least, then what had the last eighteen years of my life been for? Shopping districts, subway stations, smaller neighborhoods, suburbs; I passed by all varieties of unique-looking areas while taking wrong turns and rerouting. Eventually, I found a travel agency and grabbed a map of the city from them, but I ended up continuing the rest of the route by foot anyway, just because it was so much fun. I was able to forget about my injury almost entirely, despite my impaired movement.
Just about everything was different to what I was used to. But what stood out to me most were the lights. Everything was vibrantly lit up with neon color, even under the full light of day. It was very unlike the Kingdom of Fortain, which while the architecture was far more intricate, the colors of the city were washed out and dreary. In a similar contrast, all of the people in this busy city only had dark heads of hair, and often dressed similarly. Brown, or black, with the occasional red and blonde. Any other colors that stood out were way oversaturated, and obviously dyed.
Fortain, especially in the capital, was the strict opposite, with people of all races and colors wandering around with unique clothing and styles. Hair colors varied from moderately saturated reds and yellows, to more pastel blues and greens. It made sense, as the kingdom began as a proud trade city, bringing in people of all kinds. The busy colors gave a sense of variety and acceptance, plastered amongst the flat looking city. But here in Japan, it really was the exact opposite feeling.
It was another reminder that I really was an outsider here.
While it took me a long while, I felt that the trip went surprisingly smoothly. Like I was making my way around a foreign country for the first time. In fact, it helped calm me down from the events of the early morning, to be doing something that felt so familiar. Or so I thought, but the teacher had been quick to label me as "one step away from delinquency" when I arrived.
And I had forgotten my bag, with all of my supplies.
And I could barely read Japanese at this point to begin with.
So really, I ended up concluding that I never should have come at all.
Well there was no helping his disappointment, considering I was supposed to be somebody who knew all of these things like the back of my hand. But despite all of that, I was a little proud of myself anyway, even if nobody else was able to be.
What immediately followed was a lecture from the teacher during lunch. He went unusually soft on me for how stern he had been beforehand, but it only occurred to me after the fact that he must have communicated with the Totsuyas. Cell phones. There was a similar communication method in Alterra too, though it required advanced technique and setup on both ends. That's why usually, it was left up to tools like trained crows, which still took at least an hour for a distance like this.
That said, it was still frustrating to be treated like some kind of troublemaker. Not like dealing with the Totsuya father, but plenty difficult to endure regardless. The more I interacted with others, the more I felt an unbridling urge to tell somebody; anybody; about my situation. If I could at least have a friend who understood even just a little, then I could endure it. And if I could endure it for long enough, maybe I could even find a way back as well. I had no intention to give up on seeing my party again. At least, not until I had proof that they were still alive.
They gave a full hour for students to eat their food, which still allowed me plenty of time after my lecture to kill. I had no money for food, so instead I wandered the halls to properly familiarize myself with each floor. Tall, bright walls, wide windows, tiled floors, and big, long sets of lighting across the ceiling. It was such a slick, efficiently laid out structure, where every floor had the same layout, and everything felt so advanced. No candles, no bricks, nor visible wood or clay. It reminded me of the hospital scenery, with how impersonal and flat the whole place felt. Even the more traditional materials used were painted over in a glossy, plasticy sort of fashion, to match with the rest of the building's aesthetic. It felt like I was in an entirely different world. Well I was, actually.
As I found myself wandering the school’s courtyard, a call from behind caught my attention. The voice was male, but there was more than just one pair of feet running towards me. Turning around, three boys were on their way to greet me, all sporting some level of carelessness. Did I know people like this? I figured I should call out to them, just in case.
The most eccentric looking of the three, with a messy bowl cut and a wide face, spoke first.
“No, uh… I mean to say ‘hey’. What’s up?”
Next in line to respond was the more cheery one to his right, who had his arms pulled back behind a light brown fluff of hair in a casual manner.
“We were wondering where you went! You never came back to the classroom after your lecture.”
Was I supposed to?
“Oh, I figured I’d have a look around the school today instead… I guess.”
They all wore the same look on their faces of confusion in reaction to what I had said. Clearly, I wasn’t acting as I should have been. But how was I supposed to know that? How was I supposed to act?
“What’s with that? Hahaha!”
The kid in the middle took a confident stride toward my side, and his hand went down on my shoulder with a hard pat.
I was in danger.
I dropped my crutches and grabbed his forearm with both hands, twisting it back with as much force as I could muster. His body quickly followed the awkward turn, causing him to lose his footing and trip over himself. He stumbled over onto the concrete pathing, crying out in pain.
All three of them spoke up this time.
“What the hell was that!?”
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing, man?!”
I backed away from the three of them, and my body tensed up. Why couldn’t I stop myself? I had never treated anyone like this back on Alterra, so why now? This had been the second time, following how I reacted to my family.
Was I really so estranged?
I didn’t know what to say to them. I couldn’t even form the words between my heavy breaths, even if I did. I wanted to leave. I wanted to return to my room.
“Something’s been wrong with you all day today, you know?”
Bowl cut, now back on his feet and stretching his arms, dropped his friendly tone and went stern. The same stern that the instructor had been; that the Todoya father had been.
“You show up hella late to class, then don’t say a single thing to us or anybody else during the lesson. Not even a glance in anybody’s direction. Did somebody go and die, or something? What’s been up with you?”
He gave a large sigh as he brushed himself off.
“And now this, man? Really? We spent most of lunch looking for you, and now I’ve got a bruised arm for it. That shit hurt like hell, by the way.”
I’m sorry, but I was transported to an alternate fantasy world for eighteen years and went through a lot, so I’m having a hard time remembering who you are. And when you touched me, it felt like a threat to my life so I instinctually threw you onto the concrete to protect myself.
I turned around and ran.
“Hey! Where the hell are you going now!?”
“Hahaha, he’s running now! What the heck?”
That’s right, I was running. With teary eyes and a head full of cloud and confusion, I pushed as hard as I could against the pain in my ankle to keep my right leg moving. I hadn’t run away from a problem in over a decade, because I learned all too well that it solved nothing. I threw this part of myself deep into the dumpster all that time ago.
Here I was, running away from the situation.
I was weak, after all.
I ran toward the school, making my way to the infirmary I had passed by while looking for my classroom. It was exactly where I remembered. It was a miracle that I had taken note of it, in case anything happened to me within the school’s confines. But the moment I stopped to catch my breath in the hallway of the first floor, all of the strain I had put against my injury came back to me at once, sending me down onto one knee. As I attempted to take in oxygen against the will of my restricted airpipe, my vision got blurry, and my head felt off center.
“Excuse me, are you okay? Should I get help?”
A girl’s voice came from behind. I was attracting attention.
“I’m okay. I just need to- catch my breath.”
I brought my hand out to grab my crutches, but they were nowhere near me. My eyes darted around in search of the long, aluminum walking sticks, but to no avail.
I left them back at the courtyard.
I instead grabbed my chest with a free hand and pulled my waning focus entirely onto my breathing.
I was okay.
I could get through this.
If I could just breathe.
I propped myself back up with the nearest wall, just able to stand.
“Are you sure? The infirmary is nearby, I can-”
She recoiled at my sudden outburst, as other eyes turned toward the two of us.
It was happening again. I was losing control of myself, just like on the subway.
“I’m okay. Really.”
“I’ll go to the infirmary myself. Please, don’t worry about it.”
I let my hands back down to my sides, doing my best to look composed. It was painful, but I had to bear with it, and get out of this situation; out of the public eye.
“Sorry, and thank you for your help.”
I kept walking, eyes down and away from the view of any potential onlookers.
Don’t make eye contact. Don’t look at them.
They won’t understand. They can’t help you.
I arrived in front of a door, labeled with a sign above that marked it above.
I opened the door.
I stepped inside.
I closed it behind me.
There was a single man in the room, whose attention I grabbed with my sloppy entrance. He was the school's health counselor.
It was obvious of course, but I felt as if I would have come to the same conclusion even if I saw him elsewhere. He had ruffled brown hair, glasses, and an apathetic look on his face as he turned to face me in his little swivel chair. His stark white lab coat hung next to him standing out beside an extremely unendearing workstation. He looked a little tired, but if not for the bags under his eyes, nothing else in his demeanor would have revealed it.
“Oh, welcome in.”
He wasn’t the slightest bit startled by my entrance, nor heavy breathing. Instead, he casually recited the same line he likely told every one of his patients as they entered the room, with a straight face and a flat tone.
“What brings you into the infirmary office?”