My other World
The final part of the Hero License Test in any Somnium town was a simple fighting tournament, based upon all of the people in town who were applying at the time. The fights didn’t always determine who would get the License or not, as the point of it was for the license-givers to learn about and understand the fighting styles and preparedness of pressure in the heat of battle of those who were applying. In any other more decently populated town, the tournament would be filled with those fighting for the chance to receive the lucrative License…
But in Acacia, a town so small that anyone who would come for their Hero License was a foreigner to their lands, there was only one fight: me, and a 15-year-old named Joshua.
“How’s your day been, sir Hero?!” Joshua called out to me from the other side of a small dirt battlefield, circular in shape and big enough for a decent population of the town to come and watch. There weren’t any chairs or stands, and since the field was outside the walls of the city, the only thing that surrounded a portion of the forest were the oak trees of the Southern woods. “I heard you passed out earlier in the town square! Still think you can beat me?!”
“I’m not an old man!” I called back, trying my best to temper his playfulness. “And this is a real fight, you know?! I have a real sword, and I can only assume you’re treating this like a joke with that wooden set over there!”
In reality, the teenager only had a wooden sword and a small wooden shield, not even a set of armor or even a helmet to protect him from battle. His clothes even looked more worn than mine. But, his longer, knotted-up hair looked like just the same color hair as my own.
“I can only think you’re joking with me as well Hero, without a shield to defend yourself?!”
“Here’s a bit of advice, kid. When you actually know how to use a good sword, you don’t need to have a shield on you at all times. You understand?”
“I understand you’re getting cocky!” He spat out, a massive grin on his face. “When are you starting this, judge?!”
At the edge of one of the ends of the circle, a knight for the village held up a white flag. “When this white flag falls, the battle will begin. Three… two…”
We both looked at each other. I didn’t like how happy he was, just to fight someone he knew he couldn’t beat. I was older, I had experience, I’d been in the heat of battle countless times… and this kid knew it. He knew the odds were against him…
And he still smiled.
“Let’s do this!” Joshua called out. “Don’t go easy on-”
He paused, the energy in his face deflating. Before he could even finish his sentence, he looked down. Blood was dripping from both his kneecaps. In a state of pure shock, he didn’t even reflectively realize that his legs were in pain, just stared at them with a relentless shock. It was only when he turned around, and saw me already sheathing up my sword did he begin to feel the pain coursing through his skin, and he collapsed to the ground.
“Never forget this lesson…” I spoke clearly, and loud enough to overcome the groanings of pain Joshua whimpered out as he held tightly onto his legs. “Talk won’t get you anywhere in life. Action, resilience, and skill are the only things that matter. When reality sets in, I hope you ask yourself the question, ‘Why did I think I could beat him?’ and let the answer sit with you.” Adjusting my sheath, I looked back to the judge.
“So, how did I do?”
Silently, the judge pointed back towards Joshua.
Glancing back, I twitched; Joshua was still standing, blood pooling from his knees while prepping his wooden sword in a strong, unyielding pose. And on his face… the smile he carried about himself didn’t waver for a second.
One of the knights tried to call out to me. “Jay, sir Hero-”
“Give me a second!” I called back, unsheathing my sword once again and making my way towards the teen.
“I want to finish this!”
I didn’t want to hurt the teenager, not in the slightest. But it did bug me, the way he deluded himself into believing that he could win. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand it, or at least I couldn’t understand it anymore. Was it a thing with younger people? Did you grow out of it? But if the delusions of being younger were really the thing that was bothering me, then why did it annoy me so much. I prepared to swipe away at the teen’s sword, removing his only way to fight from the battle…
“HERO JAY! THE TOWN NEEDS HELP!”
Joshua and I looked off towards a guard running in from the town, heaving in his breath. In the distance, I could see smoke rising from beyond the boundary of the town’s walls.
“MONSTERS! THE LOT OF THEM RAMMED THROUGH THE FRONT GATE! THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!”
I looked back to the small crowd that was watching us. There were at least three of the town’s guards, and they had their equipment. Other than that, the other men in the crowd didn’t have any means to defend themselves.
“Okay! Guards, I’m gonna need you with me! Men, stay here with the woman and children, make sure they’re safe! And Joshua-”
I looked over to Joshua, only to find him gone. Quickly looking back and forth, I saw without a moment’s hesitation he was running to the town, unafraid of the consequences.
“That BRAT! Guards, let’s go! We got a kid to save!”
We began running towards the town’s Southern gate, with the men wrapping themselves in a protective form around the women and children, similar to what I’d suggested. In a time of crisis, whether I liked it or not, the people trusted me, and I had to prove to them I had their best interests in mind.
And then we went through the gate.
The light smoke had, by that small amount of time, transformed into a massive cloud that covered the town, nearly all of the houses with some semblance of wood erupting into flames.
In the streets, Gremlin-like men and bear-like monstrosities ravaged the streets, immediately killing or severely injuring several people in front of us without hesitation. Screams echoed throughout the town in a way much more horrific and gut-wrenching than cheers of celebration for me could ever achieve.
“Snap out of it!” I thought to myself, slapping the cheeks of my face. “This is your dream! Nothing weird about it, right?! Just fight the monsters, save Joshua, and save the town! That’s all you gotta do! It’s just a dream! Nothing can hurt you!”
“AUGH!” Before I could even snap back to reality, one of the bear-like beasts lunged onto one of the four guards that were with me. Without hesitation several swords were plunged into it, but it didn’t stop clawing for a few seconds after.
The guard that was attacked used every ounce of his strength to roll the beast over, revealing his face and the uncovered part of his chest covered in scars.
“I’m alright!” He called out. “We have to keep moving!”
“Thank you!” I called back to him, giving him one last glance to make sure he wasn’t just bluffing. He shook it off and I nodded, the five of us trying to make our way forward.
Trying is the word I would use.
And I watched, helplessly and desperately, as the darkness of the cloaked figure bent around Joshua, before piercing him right through the chest.
“NO!” Destiny cried, a wail loud enough to pierce though the roars of fire burning all around us, and reach out to me. Joshua himself took the wound like a champion, not wavering in the pain that it caused him but keeping his stance. The way his body still projected between the cloaked figure and Destiny, I could clearly tell he was taking the blow for her.