Chapter 3:

2 Worlds, 2 Dreams; 3/4

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.

“One!”

“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.

“But Jay-”

“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.

“What happened?!”

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“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.

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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!”Bookmark here

“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.
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Three more of the beasts came for us, this time at a distance we could prepare for. Their claws sliced through the men’s armor, and even landed a few blows on me. And when we thought we could take care of them, three more beasts came.

And more.

And more.

And so many more. Each swing the guards threw were met by two blood-thirsty swipes from the monsters. Eventually they broke through our close circle, nearly ripping the leg off of one of the guards. He bellowed out in pain, and we couldn’t even do anything with the wave of monstrosities on the rise.

But just as we tried to get him free… Five more began bolting down the road from the Market Plaza.

“You’re gonna have to go!” One of the guards called out to me.

“What are you talking about?! We have to-”

“GO!” The others screamed out, preparing themselves to make an opening out of the pile of carnivorous beasts. They weren’t saying anything else to me, and I knew exactly what they wanted: to go rescue the kid, and find out why the beasts were all ravaging the town. But I couldn’t leave them! They were citizens of the town, and I was supposed to be their hero! If I left them, then it would feel like everything’s already lost-

“WE’RE NOT GONNA’ BE ABLE TO OLD’ THEM MUCH LONGER!” One of them called out, snapping me out of my indecisiveness. These monsters were tough for even me to handle, and I knew what had to be done. Without hesitation, I pieced through the gap that the other guards had given me, and just began bolting towards the town’s center.

I couldn’t even open my eyes at first, but there were still a lot of monsters on the horizon. I couldn’t tackle all of them, so the first thing I had to do was find Joshua, before anything happened to him.

That also meant I had to look at all of the collapsed bodies on the ground.

Now, I was used to watching horror movies by that point, but that would never feel the same as looking down on the ground and seeing someone you recognized, as though it were a reality that was inescapable.

I eventually reached a body that resembled Tom the Baker. I wish I didn’t have to say resembled, but his chest was carved out into a dark, bloody hole that I looked away from as soon as I recognized who he was. The carnage, at least from a glance, looked a lot more horrific than I could describe, but I didn’t want to linger on what those details could have meant.

And then I saw Maria the Tailor. And the Captain of the Acacia Guards. And the twins that would play by the lake right outside of town. And so many more. The path towards the town center was littered with faces I could recognize almost immediately, and none of it felt real. I knew, deep down, it couldn’t be real, but the panic in my chest, the desperation of all around me, and the guilt flowing deep down… all made the ‘dream argument’ feel contradictory to the importance of what was happening.

“AAHH!” From the Eastern corner of the town square, I could hear a young woman’s cry.

“Destiny…” I muttered, before dashing in that direction. After a few seconds, and pushing back past the monsters that tried to get in my way, I could see her.

She was holding a small wand-like stick, facing it towards a cloaked figure in the distance. Unlike any of the monsters I’d seen before, the figure most clearly resembled a human, but covered head to toe in an ash-black cloak, and a gooey, smoke-like substance rising from the interior of it. It looked like he was on fire from the inside out, but far more uncomfortable.

And then he raised his hand, pointing it towards Destiny.

“DESTINY-!!!” I cried out, bolting to the distance in between the two. I could sense it. I could just… feel that he was about to do something bad. It was a power deep within him, one that I recognized without hesitation.

But I wasn’t going to make it. I slowed down, just a bit at that unrelenting realization. I knew I had to keep trying, but a hole in my heart formed at the distance between us. There was nothing I could-

“DON’T WORRY…” A voice bellowed out, right before a wave of inky darkness blasted off towards Destiny. In the space between, however, a small figure dashed in between the two, using a wooden shield to repel at least some of the darkness’ damage. The power, unbelievable to even me, knocked back the figure so hard they slammed into Destiny, and the two of them crashed onto the dirt pathways below them.

“Joshua?!” I cried out, running to the two of them. Joshua was still as worn as when I was fighting with him, but now with more dust and charcoal covering his body head-to-toe. Destiny’s clothes were tattered as well, and the wand she carried was now knocked back a few dozen feet. “And Destiny too?! Why are you here?!”

“HE KILLED MY FATHER, THE BASTARD!” She cried, tears running down her face as she pointed to the figure cloaked in shadows. I took a deep breath, looking at the two closely.

“Hey, Joshua.” I quietly spoke. “That… was pretty cool. Thanks for not giving up. I appreciate it. Now…” I turned to face the shadowy figure. “Let me handle the rest of this.”

“So… you think you can take me on?” The cloaked man uttered, almost as if the sound of his voice rang through my head rather than the space between us. Before I could even react, he shot his arm up again, this time with an even larger wave of darkness being lunged towards me. Before I could even react, the wave of darkness wrapped around me, a material so surprisingly strong it felt as though steel had been wrapped around me an endless number of times. Struggling to break free only felt worse, but it was the only reaction I could have to such a monstrously over-powered ability.

Like a massive arm, the darkness between the cloaked figure and myself launched me far away, over nearly the size of a city block before crashing face first into a burning building. The near shock of the experience nearly caused me to faint, but the pain associated with hot, burning wood quickly shot me back up, allowing me to escape the house before its intoxicating flames could take me over.

And in the distance, like the Hero he so desperately wanted to be, Joshua stood proudly between Destiny and the cloaked figure. The remains of his shield shimmered proudly in the desolate wasteland, ready to take on whatever foe might come across it.

Trying to catch my breath from the toxic smoke of the burning house, I realized why I was so mad at him: he reminded me of myself, that day when I told Destiny I would become Drum Major at whatever the cost. I didn’t want to confront him, so I just beat him. But in reality, I could never beat someone who was actually giving their all. If, for a moment, I had felt any pain in the battle between me and him, I might’ve gotten frustrated that the ‘Hero’ of this tale was losing to a young brat like him. In reality though, a true Hero would’ve never been ashamed of the battles he had to overcome, both on the inside and the outside.


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.Bookmark here

“DESTINY!” I cried out. “GET YOUR WAND!”

Without a second’s hesitation, me and her both started running. Her to her wand, and me to the space between Destiny and Joshua, as the courageous teen wrapped his arms around the darkness in order to distract it just a few seconds longer. But, based on the way that the darkness blasted out, I figured that it could also blast out from itself, like a never ending chain of webs.

Confirming my suspicions, another blast from the side-angled thread of darkness piercing Joshua lunged towards Destiny. Myself, in the heat of battle, lunged in between the two, using my sword to sever the darkness lunging out at her. It let out a snake-like hiss before the whole thread retracted to the cloaked man’s body. By that point, I ran over to Joshua, but... 

His body lay motionless on the ground.

“NO!” Destiny cried out, as the shadowy figure began making his way towards me. As he walked, the bottom of the cloak flowed past evenly, as though he were floating rather than walking step-by-step. Both his hands were now covered in the floating, inky darkness that pierced Joshua through the chest.

“My power...” He began. “It’s much more complex than most realize. You see… I must feed off of darkness in order to stay alive. That is… the fear in one’s heart. That boy over there… ” He pointed to Joshua’s lifeless body on the ground. “He only feared not being able to protect those he loved. And that was delicious, but… ”

Without warning, he shot out another wave at me, wrapping me in the same, monstrous coil of shadowy blackness that I was in before he threw me.

“You, sir… are just wild!”

“What?!” I spat out, hearing his tone become a lot more enjoyable and comedic.

“When I touch a human with this Void, their memories become mine, and I can see what the darkness in their heart truly is… and you! You’re just amazing! I’ve never seen anyone like you! I wasn’t sure at first, but your darkness was so deeply embedded in your heart that I felt it from halfway across the continent! I had to travel several months to get here, but I can feel it now!”

Before I could even react, a wave of nausea and sweat rode over me, as though the darkness wrapped around me was pumping some kind of sickness into my body.

“And that’s interesting… from ‘another world’, I see…”

“WHAT?!” I called out, hearing the mention of another world and slowly realizing what that might mean. “What do you know?! Why am I here?! Why do these people look like my friends… and why does it all hurt so much?!”

“Don’t you get it yet, idiot?! I’m feeding off what you got pent up in there! Why should I explain anything when it just makes you feel stupid on the inside?! I-” The cloaked figure looked ready to rant for a while, enjoying every second of his voice with a slight lust, but he turned to the side, as though he’d heard something important, and let me go from the darkness.

“Wow… you’re interesting.” He spoke, with almost a glee in his voice.

“W-... what?”

“Now I can see it within you...”

“See what?!”

“The mONstER. It’s so full of life… you must really hate yourself, huh?”

“What… what does that have to do with you?!”

“Well… it has everything to do with me, you know? I’m the Demon King, but I’m a very picky eater. And while most people hate the world, or their friends, or their family… you’re the only person I’ve met who hates themselves more than they fear death… And that shit’s addicting as hell!”

The Demon King… that’s what he called himself?

“Anyways… I need to go. But that shit was so good! No five-star restaurant could beat it! Hope you enjoy wallowing in the suffering of the entire village you promised to look after…”

He paused, and before turning away, uncovered his cloak. At first, I couldn’t really see him, but then it was clear-
“BECAUSE I’LL BE BACK FOR MORE.”

I leapt back in fear, dropping the sword I’d had clutched in my hand when I was wrapped in the shadowy coils. Without warning, the fires in the city fizzled out, and the monsters began running to North entrance, as though they were fleeing. The whole time, I just watched the Demon King float off into nothingness, where he’d finally be away from me.

“Did you see what was under his hood?!” Destiny quietly questioned, probably as dazed as I was from the whole experience. I turned to her, as she was now even more visibly covered in blood and wounds, and took a deep breath.

“What did you see?”

“I saw death… like my father, but dead. It was horrifying. … Did you see something else?”

“... I saw myself.”

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