The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
I had survived the school week, for the most part. It was surprising how easily people seemed to play along when I kept to myself. If I was to be honest, I did feel alone, despite my circumstances deeming it necessary. I was painfully alone. Every day, I would wake up just a few minutes prior to the blaring tone of my smartphone’s alarm clock. I still couldn’t get into the phone itself, so there was no way for me to disable it, even if I had known how.
But all I could think about each time my eyes opened was the vitality that I had lost; the gratifying feeling of jumping out of my sheets to join my other companions for a breakfast of rations, or back in the city, where we’d head out to the merchant street for some early skewers. That waking energy had slipped from my grasp; it hadn’t even been so long since I last felt such joy, and yet I could barely remember the sensation now.
As if it had all been a dream.
As the high school’s final class of the week ended, I quickly propped myself up as usual, and made my way out of the classroom with haste. I never once looked back to see if any of the three boys from the other day had made an attempt to approach me. My seat was located on the front end of the classroom, so it was a more simple feat to just shut out my surroundings. If things got really bad, I would simply cover my ears, and it would all go away; this place, which I wasn’t a part of.
I was beginning to get used to keeping my head down. At home, at school, and even outside. I didn’t even want to look at the passersby, in fear that I would mistake them for somebody from my world again. I could hear familiar voices sometimes, urging me to prop my head up and greet somebody who I had known before coming back. I knew they were illusions though; I knew they weren’t really there.
As I approached the back gate as per routine, there was a voice that called out into the air, catching in my ears and flipping a switch in my brain. Before I could try and ignore it, my head turned towards the source, eager to catch a glimpse of the person attached. It was vaguely familiar, but that wasn’t what tugged at me. No, there was something much more deep-rooted within me that insisted I follow it with great urgency.
It was a distress call.
Near the back gate stood two people of vastly different sizes, one of which I had met before. Short, with ruffled brown hair, and a round, childish face. The same from back at the hospital. Towering above him was a much wider cut man, who shared my plain looking school uniform. His left hand gripped tightly, with bulging veins, at the smaller kid’s hair, pulling him up to his own eye level.
He was being bullied. That was the obvious conclusion I drew. My hands curled into a fist, and I dropped my bag beside my crutches. There was no good to come out of getting involved. I was weak, so what could I do here? And yet, my legs wouldn’t budge. They simply would not allow me to walk in the other direction. I wondered if the me from before would have acted the same, or if it was only now that I felt some overbearing sense of righteousness. Whatever the origin, my body began to move on its own. I left my bag behind as I pulled myself in the direction of the harassment.
“Hey! Unhand him!”
My voice rang out so loud and confidently, that even my own ears felt a little numb from it. Forgetting that I was in crutches, I did my best to stand tall. The taller man, presumably my schoolmate, opened up his palm, letting his victim fall to the ground on their backside. After a long heave in, he let out a heavy-bearing sigh. His body twisted to face mine, slowly drawing closer.
“This is none of your business.”
He stepped up towards me, which made our difference in height that much more apparent. His shadow loomed directly over me, dimming his rough face and sharp jaw, giving off a more sinister aura. My legs began to tremble, leaving my weight resting on the two supports which stood under my arms. I wanted to flee, and yet--
“It’s not about who’s business this is. Keep your hands off of that innocent kid.”
“He’s my little brother. I’ll do what I please with him.”
His stone-cold expression didn’t move an inch as he spoke, his eyes lit up with fire. Like I was trespassing his grounds, and he was giving me some kind of bestial warning. My right ankle began to throb. It throbbed with pain, which overtook my leg. However, an even stronger feeling welled up within me from deep inside. It was a seething anger at the whole situation. It was a sensation that I wouldn't be able to ignore if I tried.
“Isn’t that worse? Brothers are-- brothers are supposed to be--”
Supposed to be what?
I thought back to my own brother of this world, who was just as distant as the rest of the Todoyas. But I had another brother too, whose bond with me I had taken for granted. It was one I should have enjoyed more while I still had it.
“Brothers are supposed to support each other!”
“You can live how you please, but you have no right to push your values onto me. I’m giving you one more chance. This is none of your business, so please leave.”
I turned away from his face to meet that of his younger equivalent, who wore a mask of guilt as he avoided my gaze. Were they really brothers? These two, who had been cut from entirely different cloth?
My collar was taken hold of with a tight grip, and my view got a few centimeters higher. The bully’s face moved real close to mine as he spoke again, steaming from the nose.
“It’s impolite to look away from somebody while they’re speaking to you, you know.”
My whole body was shaking, this time. I was tremendously afraid of this man. I wanted to escape, and have nothing to do with him.
And yet, I didn’t run. My body wouldn’t let me. I shook him off, overwhelmed with a fighting instinct like never before.
My left leg slid back and out, as my body shifted its weight onto it. The pain in my ankle suddenly went numb, and I felt a whole lot more stable. My tightened fists softened and my arms moved out in front of my chest, and I took a deep breath in.
In, and out.
Of course. How could I have forgotten? It was my sworn duty to protect those who could not defend themselves; to uphold peace by whatever means necessary; to put down the bad guy. That was the oath I swore under Mellifluus' name when I became a high knight of Fortain. It had become, from that moment onward, my purpose.
This kid; I had to save him.
"I'm not asking you to leave him be. I'm ordering you to."
"I warned you. What I do from here on is simply self defense."
I picked up my feet, shifting downward towards his chest. My body was slow, but I was just barely able to adjust my technique to compensate, as if I was simply operating a tired body.
His left fist came in quickly, barreling just past my cheek. Next would be his right. I shifted my weight again, back and downward this time. The second fist brushed against my hair, once again barely missing contact.
I could see his movements.
I could fight.
I pushed all of my moving momentum into my right leg backed by a newfound confidence, and went for a sweeping blow to his knee to topple his balance.
I made contact.
Pain surged from the sprain in my ankle as I was given a harsh reminder about my crippling injury. Reverberations from the sheer force I had put in shot all the way up my spine, leaving me still for just a split second before a second burst of force drove directly into my right abdomen. I plunged backwards into the sandy dirt, clutching the afflicted spot as a cloud of dust flew up into the air.
My gut was pulsing.
I couldn't breathe.
My vision went blurry.
Husky noises were leaking from my mouth as I attempted to gasp for air. But before I could try and think clearly, another blunt, somewhat cornered force mashed straight into my stomach, repeating itself.
I hurled. Acids made their way up my throat and spewed from my mouth, the now seared lining of my innards only adding to the painful sensations that overwhelmed me. A terrible high-pitched tone overwhelmed my ears, blocking out the other sounds around me.
How was I supposed to save anybody like this?
My consciousness began to waver as I gave up on my senses, and pushed my body up with the little strength left in my hands.
I had to protect him.
I had to protect everybody.
If I couldn't do that much, what was I worth?
Just as I was finally able to realign my balance onto one knee, another fist jammed right up against my nose, forcing my body back down; the back of my head slamming back against the ground.
I gripped the hilt of my training sword with both hands. The muscles in my forearms were stiff and tight, refusing to move; to swing; to make any sort of movement. My legs trembled, and my breaths were erratic as my eyes fixated on the hulking beast that stood no more than ten meters away from me. Its shadow stretched all the way over my figure as it faced in the opposite direction, preoccupied by a search for anything within its vicinity that could be torn down.
“A- a monster! A real one!”
“Yeah, of course it’s real, jackass! What’d you think it was, some kind of illusion?”
The derisive remark came from a boy named Flynn Cogitare, who had been my training partner for a few months now. He was prone to this kind of sour attitude when interacting with me, but I had more or less gotten used to it by now. I barely even had time to acknowledge his snappy response, considering the priority of the predicament we had found ourselves in.
I swallowed my saliva, feeling my Adam's apple move in response. It took its time bobbing up and down with slow, heavy movements; contrasting to the air in my lungs, which came in hastily, and left just as quickly.
I was instilled with pure fear.
“Andrew, are you listening? If we work together, we can take it.”
I was at a loss for words. Maybe he was right; Flynn’s judgement had never failed me thus far, after all. But this was the first time we had actually fought anything other than sparring partners or slimes, and I simply wasn’t prepared. And a pack of orcs, at that? There was no way we could win, with the dull, wooden replicas in our hands. We were nothing but trainees still, without a lick of experience on the field. It was only by complete coincidence that we came across this horrendous pillaging while sneaking away from our combat training.
The blonde boy called my name in as stern of a tone as he could while still keeping a moderate volume, so as to not give away our presence. With my attention, he then pointed towards the direction of the grey-skinned pig-beast, club in hand, as it locked eyes on its next target. A short distance away from the orc was a small cottage which spit a family of three out its back door, all holding hands as they attempted to make their escape.
That’s when the orc made its move.
With a running start, it swung its colossal club directly into their abandoned residence with a carefree vigor, sending large chunks of stone and rubble towards the three. A stray fragment of wood hit, presumably the father, square in the back, sending him down into the dirtied grass on his stomach. The punted more flying debris towards them as the child and his mother turned back, before slowly advancing on them with a misshapen grin on its face.
The monster was toying with them. It was playing some type of sick game with these peoples’ lives. And yet, every second that I sat behind the brush with Flynn, their fates inched ever closer to certain doom. I looked back at him to gauge his reaction on what to do, but the way his training daggers shook as he gripped them sent the message all on its own.
He proceeded to grab the cuff of my tunic, bearing a face I had never in my life imagined I’d see him make.
“We-- should run back and inform the knights.”
I thought I had heard him wrong. Actually, it was more like I had hoped so.
“What!? Are you crazy? What about that family?”
“Well what are we supposed to do?! We don’t stand a chance against that thing! We couldn’t take even one, but that’s only assuming it doesn’t call for backup!”
"I'm not leaving them!"
My voice was too loud.
At the sound of my desperate cry, the orc paused in its hunt. It turned its blackened gaze in our direction, eyes blaring amongst the flames of destruction surrounding it.
We were screwed. We no longer had the leisure to make a proper decision.
"Run and get the knights! I'm going in!"
"Are you crazy?! You'll-"
My feet picked up without command, tearing through the shrubs as I clumsily scampered toward the beast.
“Don’t go dying before I get back!”
His voice in the distance reassured me that I would have no regrets.
I took a running swing at the orc’s legs. It dodged, sending a heavy, rounded foot into my back. Combined with the momentum of my running pace, the force sent me tumbling tens of meters away, before I was able to regain my footing.
At the far end of my vision, I could see Flynn in the direction of the training grounds. Help would soon be on its way.
In, and out.
I took a deep breath, properly taking in my circumstances this time.
The orc stood at twice my height, wielding a carved wooden club with a rounded chunk of iron welded onto the end of it. It looked shoddily crafted, which was a clear sign that its wielder had no ties to the demon lord. It was more likely part of a tribe or stay pack, with no proper abilities or training.
At the very least, I had a fighting chance.
I gripped the guard-side of my training sword's long hilt, and held it down at my right side as I charged at beastman. It wouldn't cut, but it would certainly deal blunt damage if I could land it correctly.
It brought its club directly downwards, which opened for an easy dodge, followed by a downward swing into the orc's neck. It blocked with its free arm, but was still knocked back by the sheer force. As it stumbled, I smacked the other wrist, freeing its hand of the club, then kicked it down to the ground before laying down a second swing towards its head.
The orc caught my blade, just barely stopping it before grabbing my left arm and flinging me over its head.
My back slammed into the ground, knocking the air out of my lungs. Still holding on, it propped itself up and swung me over its head again.
I felt a pain-surging pop in my chest, as if something broke and came loose, followed by a forced hack of blood and spit, which only accentuated the sharp ache.
I could hear the beast let out a snotty, gargly laugh, before it sent it's bare foot into my side, sending me flying, before a quick, abrupt slam back into the ground sent another wave of agony through my body.
As it continued cackling and snorting in the distance, I used the opportunity to try and treat my wounds. Remembering the activation phrase my magic instructor had taught me, I raised my hand to the most painful area in my chest.
"Et nomen sanctum tuum,"
I did my best to imagine my strength in its most raw form, flowing into my hand before releasing into a new form. Particles of light began to form around my palm in strange and unique patterns as if they were atoms re-organizing themselves into new molecules.
The light show suddenly broke apart and fizzled out like a sparkler, signalling the spell's failure. I had never quite gotten the hang of magic, despite my strong connection to this world's goddess. I was told it was due to my small mana gate, though it was likely more related to my body's incompatibility with the world itself.
I coughed again, with more red escaping my throat alongside thick phlegm and spit.
It was painful.
So painful that I wanted to give up.
Even if I defeated this one orc, more were in the vicinity, which meant they would be coming to avenge their fallen brother. And what could I do to them in this state? Perhaps it would be better for me to lay down and play dead until help arrived.
But then, what would become of that family of three? They looked so wonderfully close, caring for one another even on the brink of death. I would have liked a family like that. A family where everyone was equally important, and equally accounted for.
Was it too late for me?
Of course not. My new life had barely started. Something like this couldn't possibly take me down.
"Please, get up!"
I had somebody to protect, after all.
My sword; where was it?
I reached my arm out and spread it across the dirt, feeling for any trace of a hilt or blade. What I grabbed onto wasn't my longsword, but rather a lighter greatsword. It wasn't what I was used to, but it would have to do. I grabbed it at the guard-side of the handle, and used it to push myself up onto my legs. I calmed my nerves, opening my eyes to assess the situation.
In, and out.
The beast in front of me, walking in the opposite direction, turned back to face me. I had made too much noise. It said something, but it was all just orc-speak, so there was no use in listening. Instead, I brought the sword out in front of me, and stanced myself offensively. Catching the orc off guard, I swung downward at it once, which it was able to nimbly evade. I gave two more quick swings to each side in a barrage, before widening my range and going for a heavier cleaving strike. It backed up in a panic, leaving itself open for a feinted jab in the stomach.
The dulled blade couldn't properly cut its armored body, but it knocked the beast off balance, leaving it unable to properly dodge as I hit it with another barrage of swings until it lost its footing and fell over. I brought my blade down towards its head, but instead feinted into a jab to the chest, before redistributing the weight of my downward strike into an upward kick to the chin.
It did damage, but not enough to lay the thing to rest. Textbooks taught that a demon beast should always be killed when the opportunity came; it prevented future problems before they could arise. Besides, it would be one less monster left to roam the world.
I raised the greatsword back up, and brought it down upon the beast's body. I did it again, and again, and again, but it wouldn't stop squirming. I would have preferred to subdue it in a less brutal way, but thick armor meant I wouldn't be able to give any fatal cuts, so blunt force became the only option at my disposal.
As I watched the life drain from its eyes just a little more with each bash to the head, fear began to resurface within me, as the weight in my blade got a lot heavier.
Did I have the right to take the life of another living being?
Did I have the resolve?
Did this orc, who lived only how it had been raised to, deserve to die?
"You're… too far...!"
Or was the one who deserved to die...
“Please, stop! He’s going to die!”
A sudden cry cut through the ringing in my ears, accompanied by a hard tug on my clothes. I turned around, ready to strike, but a single crying child pulling at the hem of my uniform caused me to freeze entirely. It wasn’t the child from the family of three, nor anybody else I should have been familiar with. But I recognized him, nonetheless.
It was the kid from the hospital.
I was on Earth.
His brother laid below me, bloodied and beaten unconscious.
And in my trembling hands was a single crutch, dented and stained an ugly shade of red.