The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
"Where am I?"
I couldn't help but blurt the words out. Or I wanted to, but no sounds escaped. Actually, had they formed in my mouth at all?
No, they hadn't. I couldn't move.
I couldn't move at all, and yet... I could move freely, without restraint. It was a near indescribable feeling. Like I had been stripped bare of all but my core being, released from the steel chains of everything physical and real. It wasn't that I couldn't move, but that the concept of movement simply didn't exist. I was one with everything, and everything was one with me. This was a place far outside of reality. A place where the rules I knew, and the laws I understood simply didn't exist. Actually, it wasn't like a place at all.
It was nowhere.
If I could stay like this forever, slowly fading into eternity, that might be nice.
No, this was wrong.
I couldn't let go like that. I had a physical form; an identity.
That's right. I was human; a human named Jiro Todoya.
As these thoughts filled every corner of my presence, they could no longer be contained within the limits of non-existence.
My identity; my sense of being; they escaped from this nonexistent place, and took physical form.
First my hands.
Shoulders, torso, legs.
And finally, my head.
I gained consciousness as the high school student named Jiro Todoya, immediately followed by the startling notion that I wasn't alone in this nonsensical place, revealed by a soothing, yet carefree voice catching in my eardrums.
"Hmm... You almost faded into equilibrium, but after re-realizing your sense of self, everything else went quite fast. A few million human years overall is about average, but the individual time splits show quite a bit of promise."
A female voice. She sounded pleased.
...Was she referring to me?
"Well overall, you've got potential. Since you were able to avoid phasing out of existence, I suppose that’s commendable all on its own."
My words came out this time.
Because I had a mouth.
"Are you talking about me?"
"Yes! You! I've been watching you for a while now, and decided to bring you here."
"Where… is here?"
"Good question! Well... I say that, but it's not really necessary to fill you in on the complicated stuff."
"Just think of this place as somewhere that doesn't really exist; a place between existences, if you will. You could even consider it a dream, if that makes things easier."
"No, that doesn't really make sense either. Can’t you just tell me what’s going on? You said that you brought me here, right?"
A dream, huh? This wasn't anything like a dream, though it really did seem easy to believe that it was.
"See? My whole dream-analogy is pretty good. You even admitted it!"
I never said that out loud.
"Well, that doesn't stop me from hearing it."
"I can perceive everything about you, in and out. I'm a higher being, after all."
A higher being...? Like a goddess?
"Well… SImply put, that’s one way to think of it."
Was this a dream, after all? There was no way in hell that I was talking to some sort of religious being. Next thing I know, she would demand that I pray to her for good luck or something…
"What is it with you humans and your narrow ways of thinking! Goddess, not goddess, who cares!? If you're so skeptical, then why don't you just open your eyes already and see for yourself?"
She was right. They were still closed.
I lifted my lids up from over them to reveal the astoundingly bright scene before me. Well, it was less like a scene, and more like a person; however to call them a human wouldn't be accurate. The entirety of what I could see and perceive was her being. Just her. Despite the fact that she was standing in one spot, clear and radiant at the center of my vision, it felt as if she was everywhere around me, as well.
Priceless emerald jewels; each individual one impossibly thin, like heavenly threads which tied all of life together into one being. Individually, they were almost transparent if not for their outstanding gleam; but when flowing into smoothed bundles and clumps, they came to represent a full, healthy head of hair fit for the mother of all things living.
What came attached was a woman of perfect, unattainable beauty. Her sheer excellence showed like a lightbulb which illuminated the infinite darkness that surrounded us both. The silhouette of her figure was both accentuated, and brought to perceivable reality by the robes which loosely draped over her endless curves. This being, who resembled a human, yet couldn't possibly be called one, was without a doubt…
A divine being.
"Ah, thank you for the compliments. Though, what you're seeing is merely a projection of my true self that I've created so that you may perceive me properly. The same goes with my voice, and even the language we speak."
She looked a little proud, but then waved her hands in the air a bit clumsily to calm herself. Such improper behavior, which didn't seem to fit her "projection" at all, caused me to feel a little less intimidated by her mere presence.
"The more important matter of business is that you have been chosen, by yours truly, to become the hero of the world that I govern."
A… hero? Me?
In my mind I was skeptical, but there must have been a stupid grin on my face, because a hearty smirk drew upon the face of the woman before me, after seeing my reaction.
"No, please, feel free to overblow the proportions as much as you'd like. Because this situation is exactly what your over-imaginative adolescent mind thinks it is."
A reincarnation. I was going to be reincarnated into another world. I was chosen to be the protagonist.
My eyes widened. I could feel the muscles in my face excite without my command, as this realization dawned upon me.
"That's correct! You’ll be properly informed of your full purpose upon arrival; in terse terms, there is a being of legend in this world for which I care. He is an irregularity; an immortal being of pure malice who does not belong. He has assembled an army of demons and hellish creatures to bring destruction and chaos upon the world. As I am not able to interfere directly, I can only bring assistance to aid my poor children. And that’s where your story begins. It’s your job to put his reign to an end, and bring peace back to the world and its inhabitants.”
After her rehearsed exposition concluded, she let up on her competent demeanor.
“How's that for a light novel plot?"
Was she joking?
The goddess gave an accomplished smile, like a child who had just made their first adult joke. She was losing her radiance by the second.
"D- don't make fun of me! This is what you want, is it not? An escape from your boring, uneventful life, into a world full of fulfilling adventures and heroic tales. Quite romantic, really."
I thought back to my life at home. It was dull. Dull, and full of things I wouldn't miss.
"It is. It’s exactly what I want."
"Ah, great! Though I was planning to send you whether you agreed or not."
A childish giggle escaped her lips.
“Put an end to him, and I’ll grant you one wish; anything within my power. I’ll even send you a ticket back to your original world, if you so please.”
A new world, of which I would stand at the center.
Maybe now, I could find purpose. Maybe now, I could finally prove myself worthy.
I couldn't wait.
Worthy of what?
"So what was your wish, in the end?"
Ah. My wish.
"I wished to bring my family back. Hope, Flynn, Destiny, and Mary too. I wanted all of them to be able to continue their lives, after the demon king had been defeated."
Furukawa Sensei furrowed his brow, looking like he was piecing an invisible puzzle together. It was only natural, given all of the information I had just dumped on him.
"Do you think it was granted? Do you think they're living in this "Alterra'' right now; right where they left off?"
"I… don't know."
But I'd like to find out. I'd like to see them again.
"Well, I suppose there is no way to really know."
Starting this conversation about my time in the other world, it had come so naturally to me that I forgot to ask the question that had been at the forefront of my mind from the first word I uttered to the counselor.
"Do… Do you believe me?"
I asked the question, but it wasn’t as if I didn’t already know the answer.
Of course he didn't.
His thoughts were likely his piecing together my mental illness diagnosis, as well as the heavy doses of prescription medicine that I'd have to begin taking from now on.
The concept of "normalcy" was a staple of Japanese culture. I knew that, and yet I still told the school's health counselor everything. But despite that, he didn't turn me away, or call my memories delusions. Whether it was out of concern or pity, he did no more than simply ask how it started; as if he was genuinely curious.
And the more I brought up the subject, the more I began to remember each day by day struggle; each individual interaction between my comrades and I, rather than just the experience as a whole. I began to want to talk about every stupid fight I had with Flynn; every time Hope saved me by the skin of my teeth; every time Mary ordered second helpings of food in secret after we all left the restaurant.
It was all real.
It all really happened.
That’s what I desired to confirm. I wanted so desperately for this professional to look me in the eye and declare me sane, as if I was losing confidence by the minute that these memories which were so dear to me really existed at all.
As the teacher thought in silence, I eagerly waited for his learned opinion.
And then after an eternity and a half, he finally spoke.
"Whether or not I believe you isn't of very much consequence. It was all very real to you, correct? So by that logic, the natural response would be to treat it as such."
What a simple answer. So simple and so sensical that I became frustrated.
"It-- it was! Every single day was real, and important to me! I cherished those adventures!"
Something began to leak out of me.
"Flynn… we used to make bets."
It wasn't the first time, either.
"I would bet him that he couldn't take on a group of Lizardmen with only his two fists, or that he couldn’t climb the cliffs of Mount Drakkon faster than I, and the loser had to buy a night at the brothel for the winner."
And with every word that escaped my mouth, the gap inside of me opened a little wider.
"It's funny; I didn't even like the red light district. I was always too nervous to face the girls there, even though they were so nice to me."
But what was previously a sliver, was now an open wound.
"No, I was too nervous to handle girls in general."
My knee ached. I was sharing too much by now, surely.
But I didn’t intend to stop, either.
"But even so, the door ladies would always greet us with a smile. Everyone would. We were the hero’s party, after all. ‘Andrew’s Party’"
There was a tickle on my cheek. I must have been crying.
"I'm so afraid of moving forward. As if every step I take pulls me further from that life. As if moving on means abandoning the chance that I’ll ever get it back."
Ah, that's what it was.
"And even if I keep going, what's even waiting for me here?"
This was what I had been feeling.
"Do I have to start from scratch? Can I even find a place here, in this world!?"
The raw truth.
That's what this was.
"How do I-"
The loud blaring of a bell signalled the end of the hour-long lunch break. It cut through my words, causing me to stop and reflect on my own fragile state. I was holding onto one of my leg crutches for dear life, which I had shifted most of my body weight onto as I sat down face to face with the counselor. Despite my rapidly degrading rant about the other world, his expression hadn't moved a bit.
"Ah, I'm sorry. I just… I've never shared any of this since I came back, so I lost control a bit there."
"Well, you've certainly given me a new perspective."
"I see... Your advice has given me a lot to think about as well, so I appreciate it."
I switched back to the more formal tone I was used to, and gave a light bow as if it was natural; a sign that I was slowly beginning to readjust to the customs of this world.
The teacher did a quick spin in his chair, moving towards his desk to fish something out. After a bit of rummaging, he pulled a small notepad from his desk drawer.
"Whenever you get an urge to think or talk about 'the other world', write it all down in this pad. Then next time we meet up, we can talk about it. How does that sound?"
“You… want to talk about it more?”
That sounded great; wonderful even, but...
"But why go this far for me?"
"You're a student. I'm a health counselor. It-"
His sentence made an abrupt stop. He stopped for a moment, before reconsidering his words.
"No, actually, that's wrong. I've decided personally that I want to aid you."
His expression continued stagnant, but I could still sense a shift in emotion from his tone.
"Maybe I just find you interesting, is all."
I was interesting… well of course I was, considering my past. Not Jiro, But Andrew. Andrew was interesting.
But that was enough. As long as I was allowed to come back, then I would. Even if it was just my pathetic rambling, if it helped, I would still come.
I had to. Despite wanting to stay where I was, I had already promised my father that I would move forward. I already, for the first time since I came back, had people who were putting their faith in me.
"In any case, thank you. I'll come back when I've got something in the notepad."
As I left the infirmary, I felt surprisingly refreshed. I was beginning to think that I could really start moving forward.