Chapter 11:

The King

The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World

Fort Dolo.Bookmark here

A small warfront that was set up at one of the borders between Bellum and Enigma. The former being an ancient military state, and the latter, the coined term for the Demon Lord’s miasma, which marked the territory he had control over. While on a diplomatic trip representing the Fortanian military, I had been requested to provide emergency aid at the border. It had been compromised by an army of were-beasts that not only weren’t native to the area, but they had been heavily geared and powered up, very clearly sent from the Demon Lord’s ranks.Bookmark here

This was a fairly common occurrence on its own, especially considering the rise in attempts by their army to expand in the past century. But the problem lay in that the fort had slowly begun to be taken in by miasma. This ever-spreading fog-like substance, mapped as Enigma, was particularly a problem because it severely weakened humans, elves, halflings, and all other forms of life that relied on the goddess’ blessing for their strength.Bookmark here

I however, as a human who had come from a world with no magic, remained unaffected. It managed to sap away a portion of my strength that I gained from the goddess’ blessing, but never any more than that. Mellifluus had explained to me that it was a mysterious kind of concentrated mana that, when flowing into your body, worked directly against your own.Bookmark here

Apparently, despite the base physical similarities, intelligent life born on this world grew up with her essence inside of them, known as mana, which was a fundamental ingredient for their health and prosperity. They could use magic, heal more quickly, and push themselves beyond the limits of what a regular human could do, sure; but without it, they would quickly waste away from sickness, known commonly as mana deprivation.Bookmark here

Lifeforms on Alterra, of course, rarely came across this issue. They would naturally pull in the mana infused with their environment to slowly replenish; it was practically everywhere, in infinite supply from the goddess herself. There was even an entire religious state, named Requiem, dedicated to nurturing children who could bear high amounts of mana. These specially bred humans that came from Requiem were known as mages, which were considered a separate and more valuable entity than your common sorcerer. Many even considered them to be a separate race entirely.Bookmark here

The “corrupted” mana of Enigma worked against Mellifluus’ own, however. It would sap your strength in the best case, and at worst, turn your mind and body into a tool for the Demon Lord’s use and disposal. As well as being able to cast healing prayers and use magic without preparing spells or circles, mages were essential to the fight against the Demon Lord in large part because of their natural ability to ward away the Demon Lord’s miasma, as well as sense where it had spread; something that humans with normal mana levels were unable to do.Bookmark here

For the fog to pour into Fort Bolo meant that both the appointed mages, as well as the erected mana beacon had been eliminated, as it required any potent sources of Mellifluus’ mana to be clear before it could freely spread. It was easy to ward off Enigma with either mages or the beacons invented by Fortain’s government, but once it took a place over, that area was shrouded in it for good, and all residents would have to clear out, or be slowly dragged into the afterlife from mana deprivation.Bookmark here

Upon my arrival to the fort, the situation had already been in tatters. Supplies were slowly carried in, but not nearly enough to last. Food, as with in many cases with the imperial army, consisted of only cheap rations and poorly filtered water. Magic cannons, or guns if you will, were in high supply. The bullets to fire them; not quite as abundant. It was almost uncanny how little supplies we had been offered, considering the direness of the situation.Bookmark here

I was surprised myself, that the hero of Alterra was greeted with such fighting conditions. To make matters worse, I was on my own; Hope, Flynn, Mary, and our sorcerer of the time, Tempus, had all been asked to stay behind for this trip. So here I was alone, fighting a battle with starved, depraved soldiers.Bookmark here

And there was one more thing, too; something that had never occurred before.Bookmark here

Ther mana beacon, our final bastion, was failing.Bookmark here

Had it been corrupted, or did it lose power? Was something like that even possible? There was little known on how they actually operated.Bookmark here

I had never heard of a beacon beginning to flicker, but sure enough, it happened before my very eyes.Bookmark here

Nonetheless, we all charged the onslaught with our full might, day after day. There were large waves of were-beasts; accompanied by demon-wolves, goblins of many sorts, and even a few dozen humanoid demons; There was a seemingly endless three week period of fighting before the battle finally came to an abrupt close.Bookmark here

That’s to say, the beacon failed completely, and all of our on-hand mages had left us. Bellum didn’t have many to begin with; they were treated badly in the cities. I felt bad; horribly bad. Like I should have been able to do more. But the imperial soldiers all commended me regardless, as if my help had saved them. And it was far too easy for me to get drunk on such simple-minded praise.Bookmark here

After a hefty payment and a few grim nights, I made my return to the Kingdom of Fortain over a three week caravan trip with some escorts.Bookmark here

I arrived at the central palace to report to the king, but found myself face to face with…Bookmark here

A different ruler.Bookmark here

Short and scrawny, with the Salvus Erit family's signature blonde hair and blue eyes. He welcomed me back as if nothing was out of the ordinary.Bookmark here

"Greetings, Andrew. How was your meeting in Bellum?"Bookmark here

Geralt Salvus Erit IV, the first of three sons to the king, sat in his father's place garbed in royal wears of greater value than his own. By his side was an unfamiliar woman with a more rugged face, who donned the counterpart to Geralt's own kingly fit.Bookmark here

"Geralt… I didn't know there were plans to pass the throne. Where is King Geralt III? Is he doing alright?"Bookmark here

"If you're surprised by my sitting here, then that's because there were no plans to pass the throne. At least, not to me anyway."Bookmark here

"Then what are you-"Bookmark here

"I organized an internal coup. That's why I'm sitting here now. Father-- no, Geralt III is dead."Bookmark here

My heart sank down to my stomach, as my right hand instinctively moved to the grip of my Excalibur, which I quickly pulled into a point towards the king's son. It wasn't met with much of a positive response from the guards, who surrounded me with their own bejeweled blades.Bookmark here

Geralt stood up.Bookmark here

"Gentlemen, please. Lower your weapons. What are you planning to do, kill the almighty hero? When he's an extension of the goddess's own will, and our only hope against the Demon Lord?"Bookmark here

Geralt IV was generally a happy-go-lucky person. He had no qualms nor problems with anybody in the royal house, save for the occasional argument with his father. But he was only 15, so that much was to be expected. It was nothing short of unsettling to hear his childish voice take on a more serious, commanding role.Bookmark here

Like he had suddenly gone sour.Bookmark here

What the hell had happened while I was gone?Bookmark here

"You assassinated King Geralt?"Bookmark here

"What are you talking about, Andrew? I am king Geralt now. I did assassinate Geralt III though. I assume that’s what you meant."Bookmark here

He had already said it himself, and yet it didn't quite register in my brain until I heard it a second time.Bookmark here

"Don’t fuck with me! Why the hell would you do that!? A coup? Really? You're a damn child!"Bookmark here

I moved towards him; the guards held back the urge to try and cut me down, only by their new ruler’s order. I didn’t recognize a single one of them.Bookmark here

"You were already next in line for the throne! Is this your accomplice, then? She's from Bellum, isn't she? Are they involved in this?"Bookmark here

I moved the tip of my blade in the direction of the woman beside him. Of course she was; of course Bellum was involved. That's why I had been sent on that emergency mission. It was a plan to stall me, and keep me from stopping this farce.Bookmark here

"Geralt, she's just using you! Bellum is using you to gain control over the country! Can't you see that?"Bookmark here

My hands began to shake with rage. The king, who raised me as his own. The king, who made time for me between running a country, and his own three children. The king, who was a good man.Bookmark here

Killed by such an ignorant child.Bookmark here

"Well, you must not know, in that case."Bookmark here

"Know what!?"Bookmark here

What small piece of knowledge could possibly justify such a thing?Bookmark here

"It wasn't me that was in line for the throne, Andrew Salvus Erit. Ever since he had taken a liking to you; ever since your damned smug face came into this world, it was always you! He was planning to retire and make you king after you defeated the Demon Lord!"Bookmark here

Me? King?Bookmark here

Me?Bookmark here

"After all the times we talked about it even! I told him, Andrew! I told him that you didn't have a speck of interest in ruling! And yet, he still insisted, that fucking rat bastard of a father!"Bookmark here

"Geralt!"Bookmark here

My legs propelled me. They propelled me, but my blade was quickly stopped and pushed back by a horribly familiar strike.Bookmark here

"Andrew, come on. Stop this already."Bookmark here

"Flynn!? You too?"Bookmark here

"I'm not on his side. I'm not, but…"Bookmark here

He pulled his rogue's hood down from over his head, but still avoided my gaze.Bookmark here

"I didn't know about it until things were already too late. But we can't just leave this place without a head, or else Bellum really will take over."Bookmark here

"But…!'Bookmark here

I didn't know what to say. He was right. He was right, but that still didn't make any of it okay.Bookmark here

"You see? What's done is done. You were sent here to fight against the Demon Lord's forces; isn't that right, Andrew? Your whole party was fucking bred to do it. So why'd our-- my father think that it was okay to stick your head into our nation's politics that you know nothing of; put you in charge of a place that you have no interest in ruling over? Isn't that just the selfish action of an unfit ruler?"Bookmark here

"You shut your damn mouth! He was your father! You betrayed and killed your own father!"Bookmark here

Geralt IV drew his sword, and pointed it right back at me.Bookmark here

His calm nature snapped, like a porcelain mask cracking off of his face in an instant.Bookmark here

"Shut up, outsider! You think just because Father gave you some attention, that you were ever part of this family? Do you really think that you deserve any of these things that you were given?"Bookmark here

"I…"Bookmark here

I thought that I was. I thought that I had been welcomed into his family with open arms. Maybe that wasn't the case, but would it have been wrong for me to believe that, even so?Bookmark here

Had I been wrong this whole time?Bookmark here

"Now I'm king. And King Geralt IV demands that you and your party keep your fucking nose out of my nation's politics for good! You hear me!? You're all just tools for keeping away the bad guys. Nothing more!"Bookmark here

There were no words. No response from me, nor anybody else. What was I supposed to say? Okay? Sure? Was I expected to accept this outcome lying down on my back?Bookmark here

A hand came down onto my shoulder. It was Flynn again.Bookmark here

"Let's go, Andrew. Hope and the others are waiting for us at Town Square with a carriage."Bookmark here

As we turned to walk away with no words, I could feel every stare in the throne room pinned to my back.Bookmark here

Each step I took weighed me back by a ton and a half.Bookmark here

I didn't want to walk away, but I was in checkmate. It was my job to exterminate the Demon Lord. Killing Geralt IV would cause more trouble, and set plans back by likely decades.Bookmark here

If even Flynn, the stubborn king, had given in, then I had no choice but to as well.Bookmark here

I was just a tool, after all. A tool for killing the Demon Lord.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

"So, why did you decide to show me this story? There's plenty else written down here."Bookmark here

Furukawa Sensei flipped through the still freshly written pages of the journal he had provided to me, seemingly skimming through the words as he did. Since I had begun writing in it the night before, all of my free time had been spent jotting down every little detail about my stories of the other world.Bookmark here

"I don't know, actually. It's the first thing I started writing down, and it felt significant."Bookmark here

"Is this relating to your acquaintance, Kentaro? And how you're afraid to call him."Bookmark here

"I'm not afraid! Just…"Bookmark here

Just scared, is all.Bookmark here

"What is your purpose here, now that you've returned to this world, Jiro?"Bookmark here

"My purpose?"Bookmark here

"Yes, your purpose. What do you aim to use your life for?"Bookmark here

"I'd like to try and get back."Bookmark here

Silence. A silence that stank.Bookmark here

We both knew that I was lying.Bookmark here

"My purpose should be to continue from where I left off, right?"Bookmark here

"And how do you plan to do that?"Bookmark here

"I just have to learn to act like I was before."Bookmark here

"But that's impossible. You're a horrible actor, proven thus far."Bookmark here

Harsh.Bookmark here

"Then- I don't know, okay? I don’t belong here; in this body; in this world! I don't know what I'm supposed to do!"Bookmark here

"Of course you don't. Just like you don't know why you picked this story to show me."Bookmark here

"What are you trying to say? I don't get it at all."Bookmark here

"Jiro, you have no purpose now. Everything you thought you knew; the way you thought you lived; weren't you just a tool, used to carry out people's plans? You even admitted it yourself here."Bookmark here

The counselor brought his pointer finger down onto the page, tapping a small passage at the center.Bookmark here

It was true, too.Bookmark here

Looking back on it, that's how I was able to close my eyes for so long. That's how I was able to justify committing such horrible acts without a second thought.Bookmark here

"Right now, you're trying to live as a tool without any orders or directives. All you have to fall back on is your old life, so you're choosing to default there."Bookmark here

"But then what else am I supposed to do? How else am I supposed to live? I have nothing now! I don't belong in this world! Hell, I haven't belonged here in almost two decades! Am I even human, at this point?"Bookmark here

The teacher let a deep, gurgled laugh escape his lips for just a moment. A smile curled up on his face, before quickly returning to the same stone-faced expression he wore previously.Bookmark here

"What's so funny? I don't get any of this!"Bookmark here

"Sorry, I let that slip out by accident."Bookmark here

He straightened himself up and tugged on his sleeves, seemingly readying himself for his next words.Bookmark here

"Jiro, what would you do if you saw a dead cat on the side of the road?"Bookmark here

"What? I'd bury it, obviously."Bookmark here

"Of course you would. It's only natural to feel sympathy for it, right?"Bookmark here

"What does this have to do with anything?"Bookmark here

"Everything."Bookmark here

He gave a solemn smile.Bookmark here

"That sympathy is what makes you human. Just because you may be a little different, or went to a different place, doesn't mean that you've given up your humanity, nor who you were before. That's a different thing entirely."Bookmark here

He seemed confident and unbudging in his opinion on the matter, so I decided to take it as fact.Bookmark here

"Okay, so I'm still human. What do I do then, when I still feel estranged from everything and everyone that I'm supposed to know and understand?"Bookmark here

"Just start over."Bookmark here

Start over? In the middle of my life?Bookmark here

"From what you told me, you've already begun to do it with your family. Resetting your relationships, and building new ones. You've got eighteen more years of life under your belt now. Of course you're going to feel estranged. Of course you're going to feel different from those who are ten, or twenty, or a hundred years younger than yourself."Bookmark here

"So I need to talk with people my own age?"Bookmark here

"Maybe. Or maybe you just need to talk with people who are similar to how you are now, as opposed to how you were then."Bookmark here

"Can I do that? Just erase who I was before, and start over?"Bookmark here

"Well, you wouldn't necessarily be “erasing” anything. It just factors into who you are now differently, because you've got new experience to compliment it."Bookmark here

"But who was I before to begin with? I can't even remember."Bookmark here

"You were somebody who would bury a cat that you found dead on the side of the road. And you still are. Point being, you're not as different from before then as you think you are, Jiro."Bookmark here

"I see."Bookmark here

Was I thinking too hard about this identity crisis I was having? Was I really still able to claim the name of Jiro, while taking my life in an entirely different direction than I would have before?Bookmark here

"Could I have some time to think about this on my own?"Bookmark here

"Of course. Come back and talk to me again when you find an answer."Bookmark here

"Will I find an answer, Furukawa Sensei?"Bookmark here

"You will."Bookmark here

His gaze in that moment felt soft; honest.Bookmark here

"I'm sure you will."Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.