The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
The sounds of children down below, who passed by my residence whilst on journeys of their own; the swishing of the scarce foliage that dotted the neighborhood; the shrill cries of cicadas, like exotic instruments; all of these could be heard through the singular window which resided at the far end of my personal bedroom.
The window which, during my three days in school-ordered suspension, had become my lifeline. The white noise it communicated would drown out the deafening silence which reminded me of the mountain of bodies I stood atop; it reminded me of the emptiness of that throne room. Sometimes I would even stop and admire the gentle liveliness of suburban Japan to calm myself down.
The blinds, nor the dormer hadn’t closed once since I initially opened them during my first night back from the hospital. It was an off putting experience, every time I left and returned to a room that was virtually unchanged. Every book I left out; every dirty dish I forgot to take back; there was no maid to pick them up, nor was there an innkeeper that reset everything to its customer-ready position.
The room was my personal responsibility, and mine alone.
When I came to that realization at the start of my suspension, I suddenly felt an urge to tidy the space up myself. I had never done a thorough room-cleaning in my eighteen years of adventuring, nor likely even before that. There wasn’t ever a point when either Jiro nor Andrew were “clean” people, for that matter. But every single one of my adventures shared the same common denominator: they began with waking up to a clean, tidy room, which I would leave behind with the wave of my hand as if to recognize the little extra “push” it gave me to do my best.
So if there was nobody else to clean it for me this time, then I would simply have to do it myself.
I needed to start my new adventures properly, after all.
I spent the three days of my suspension following that weekend studying up on the subjects in school that my otherworld-mind had long forgotten when I became a “hero”. I was able to scrounge up a copy of my class schedule from the drawer of my desk, as well as school supplies that I found while cleaning.
Bleached paper, inkless scribing tools, erasers; it was all astonishing technology to me. None such luxuries existed in Alterra, even for the highest of royalty. Paper was expensive, and of a much more brown and blemished nature, unless it was crafted for use in official or notable texts. Even ink was reserved for documentation, and would never be wasted on anything as trivial as mere practice.
I read through the Japanese literature textbook to start, which contained passages from well-known stories, as well as short bouts of poetry. All of them were accompanied by excerpts about the author’s life and inspiration, which I only skimmed. Kanji I couldn’t recognize, which was what made up most of the text, I would write down in a notebook after searching for the meaning in a dictionary. It was tedious work, but the quickest way to improve my reading ability, which was currently my greatest fault, would be to, well… read.
At least, that’s what my language instructor back at the palace swore when teaching me Inqual.
While trudging through waves and waves of flat, boring text, I thought back to my time learning magic from Flynn and Mary. The latter of the two, being our resident medical class mage, was the expert, but she couldn’t explain how the craft worked to save her own life. She was normally an introverted girl of few words, though when it came to the inner workings of mana and energy, her mouth never seemed to close.
Her explanations always went over my head, yet Flynn was somehow able to understand the rapid, jumbled sentences and word-tripping as if it was his second language. Me, having a great interest in the subject despite my incompatibility, asked him to aid her in teaching me about it. He always agreed, with the help of some bribery. Naturally we were quite the incompatible trio, so lots of trouble would ensue. But that in itself was part of what made the whole experience so enjoyable.
Studying in a group was fun.
It wasn’t much like this, but remembering those more minute, yet fond memories still helped me get through it; hour by hour, page by page.
At the end of those three days, I felt a lot better about my Japanese written language and cultural honorifics; both aspects that were entirely absent from Fortain's native language. It was still slow, but as long as I continued to study, I became confident that my ability to use it would come back to me little by little.
But despite that, I still felt too unsure of myself. I still needed help.
No, there was no point in talking to her. That goddess wasn’t going to answer me.
In fact, nobody would, so maybe it was fine if I used my imagination a bit?
My emotional support. She was the oldest of the group, and always had some kind of advice to give. Flynn called just about everything that came out of her mouth bullshit, but the two were both proud like that; they were always at odds. Even if she was wrong sometimes, I still liked to listen to her own take on things. She was like an older sister to me.
I could hear it clearly. That smooth, yet snappy tone in her voice. I played along with the voice in my own head.
“Do you think I’ll ever see you guys again? E- even if I try to go back, will you be waiting for me? Or am I just clinging to memories and fantasies?”
“Well, I’m just in your imagination, aren’t I? So whatever answer I give you isn’t really going to mean much.”
She gave me a carefree giggle. It leaked a tinge of seduction, as did most of her words when she used to speak to me.
I apologized inadvertently.
“Well, I get what you’re trying to say.”
What I was trying to say? Was there something else?
“You want to try staying, right? In this world.”
Was that true? It couldn’t have been.
“I could never-”
“Andrew, it's no good to lie to yourself. And you shouldn’t lie to me either, because I can always tell, you know?”
I felt a soft hand on my head, as my words were halted to make way for her own. Her pointed, decorated nails entangled themselves within my thick strands of hair, her fingers combing them out as they slipped down towards the back of my neck. The sorceress, dressed in her festooned lingerie that she always wore during our late night talks, repeated this motion over and over in a slow rhythm. I began to fall into a trance, eager for more of her comforting touch.
“Well, of course I don’t want you to forget about me. And I don’t want you to end up in the hands of somebody else, either. I’m a jealous person after all.”
“Is that why you’re making this whole thing up? Because you figured I’d convince you to keep moping around in denial?”
I had no response. It was all in my mind, and yet the girl was still digging into me like she did when she was alive. Destiny let another giggle escape her lips, as if my entire plight was no more than a simple puzzle she had pieced together. She always acted that way when it came to me. It was both a frightening, and comforting ability of hers.
“I should really scold you for thinking such devious things about me...”
Her arms came around me into a calming embrace. A generous chest pressed up against my own; thin arms wrapping me up like a blanket; long, smooth hair of gleaming purple which poured down over my shoulder; I could feel every sensation; every tingle.
“Well, fortunately for you, I’m not really around to give you such rotten advice, so you’re going to have to think it over yourself like an adult this time.”
I nodded, as my vision became misty. I felt weak in her arms, like always. Being torn into so plainly was heartbreaking, as much as it was therapeutic.
“Make sure you don’t forget about me, okay? But do forget about Flynn. Mary is fine, as long as you don’t think dirty thoughts about her.”
I chuckled under my breath, recalling Destiny’s snarky behavior towards the rest of our party during our adventuring days.
“I have no words to give about that girl.”
Another more carefree cackle escaped me, as I wiped the tears from my eyes and laid myself to bed, satisfied with our session.
It was just like her to play with me like clay in her hands, despite being a character in my own daydream.
"I see. Thank you, Destiny."
I was grateful to her; but really, it was all in my own head.
Still, I was grateful.
I calmed my trembling hands and returned to the reality of my room, which was dimly lit with the yellow tones of my desk lamp and the disappearing sun.
I had a lot to think about.
“Mr. Todoya- No, Dad. I have something important I need to say to you.”
I looked right at my own father, who had paused in his neat consumption of a freshly made breakfast to return my gaze from across the dining table.
“Alright then, out with it.”
In, and out.
“I hate you. Your stubborn confidence, your unwillingness to listen, your proud attitude; I can’t stand any of it.”
His glare turned cold, and a large frown widened over his face. My mother, who sat beside him, also grew a look of shocked concern. My hands were quivering, but he said nothing, only waiting for me to continue. So I did.
“I think that deep down, I could even say that I’m afraid of you.”
“Jiro, what are you-”
As the latter parent shot out of her chair onto her feet, her voice ringing out fiercely, a hand swiftly came in front of her from her right side to halt her words.
“Let him finish.”
She sat back down.
I took a gulp in, forcing words out against the lump of coal in my throat.
“I’ve been thinking a lot on my own accord lately. And what I did the other day… I still just can't accept that it was okay. But in spite of all that, I'm going to try and get better."
I steeled my resolve, and stood up.
"I've made the decision that I want to change. But it has nothing to do with you, or anybody else other than me. I'm simply doing it because I've decided that's what I'm going to do."
My father crossed his arms, and my mother only sat vexed in her chair.
"I see. And these are your honest feelings?"
"I thought it was important that I inform you, specifically because they're my honest feelings."
"Very well. I understand."
My father looked down as he spoke, in deep thought.
"Ichiro. What do you think?"
The first son, who had been caught on his way out the door, turned back with minimal effort to face in our direction.
"How should I know?"
Without another word, he made his way out the door with a soft click of the deadlock. Despite his alleged actions in support of me, he still acted like this whenever I was in the picture. What was going through his head?
I turned my head back to the table, and continued.
"I don't need you to support me, or even be proud of me; but I am requesting that you trust me. Just like you did the other day."
"No, that's not quite right."
He kept his gaze down to his legs, looking unamused by my words. Suddenly, the heavy realization sank in that my words weren't getting through to him after all.
"It's as you say. I'm stubborn, and I'm proud. When I defended you, it was only because I had thought about it myself, and came up with an answer that I believed in too. Frankly, I don't trust you one bit. I can't grant your request."
So that's how it was.
The two of us would never come to an understanding after all.
"You swear that you're going to work hard and 'improve yourself', but such vague goals mean nothing to me. I can't believe in such a thing."
He looked back towards me with a deep out, his eyes poised as he looked right at me again.
"So if you're going to work hard, I've got no choice but to support you myself, to make sure you're working towards the right goals."
He wasn't smiling, but somehow I felt as if he were.
My mother was relieved as well, releasing her tense posture in the form of a loud sigh. She looked almost as if a prank had been played on her as her back slumped into her chair.
We only exchanged a few more words, following breakfast when I stopped at the door to slip on my shoes.
"You've gotten more mature."
"Ah… Thank you, Dad."
With a newfound vigor and a spring in my step, I headed to school, ready to start facing forwards again.
I was able to prove it to myself.
I wasn't alone in this world. There were people who I could reach out to; people who were willing to help.