The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And there was one more thing, too; something that had never occurred before.
Ther mana beacon, our final bastion, was failing.
Had it been corrupted, or did it lose power? Was something like that even possible? There was little known on how they actually operated.
I had never heard of a beacon beginning to flicker, but sure enough, it happened before my very eyes.
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.
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.
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.
I arrived at the central palace to report to the king, but found myself face to face with…
A different ruler.
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.
"Greetings, Andrew. How was your meeting in Bellum?"
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.
"Geralt… I didn't know there were plans to pass the throne. Where is King Geralt III? Is he doing alright?"
"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."
"Then what are you-"
"I organized an internal coup. That's why I'm sitting here now. Father-- no, Geralt III is dead."
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.
Geralt stood up.
"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?"
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.
Like he had suddenly gone sour.
What the hell had happened while I was gone?
"You assassinated King Geralt?"
"What are you talking about, Andrew? I am king Geralt now. I did assassinate Geralt III though. I assume that’s what you meant."
He had already said it himself, and yet it didn't quite register in my brain until I heard it a second time.
"Don’t fuck with me! Why the hell would you do that!? A coup? Really? You're a damn child!"
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.
"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?"
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.
"Geralt, she's just using you! Bellum is using you to gain control over the country! Can't you see that?"
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.
Killed by such an ignorant child.
"Well, you must not know, in that case."
What small piece of knowledge could possibly justify such a thing?
"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!"
"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!"
My legs propelled me. They propelled me, but my blade was quickly stopped and pushed back by a horribly familiar strike.
"Andrew, come on. Stop this already."
"Flynn!? You too?"
"I'm not on his side. I'm not, but…"
He pulled his rogue's hood down from over his head, but still avoided my gaze.
"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."
I didn't know what to say. He was right. He was right, but that still didn't make any of it okay.
"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?"
"You shut your damn mouth! He was your father! You betrayed and killed your own father!"
Geralt IV drew his sword, and pointed it right back at me.
His calm nature snapped, like a porcelain mask cracking off of his face in an instant.
"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?"
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?
Had I been wrong this whole time?
"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!"
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?
A hand came down onto my shoulder. It was Flynn again.
"Let's go, Andrew. Hope and the others are waiting for us at Town Square with a carriage."
As we turned to walk away with no words, I could feel every stare in the throne room pinned to my back.
Each step I took weighed me back by a ton and a half.
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.
If even Flynn, the stubborn king, had given in, then I had no choice but to as well.
I was just a tool, after all. A tool for killing the Demon Lord.
"So, why did you decide to show me this story? There's plenty else written down 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.
"I don't know, actually. It's the first thing I started writing down, and it felt significant."
"Is this relating to your acquaintance, Kentaro? And how you're afraid to call him."
"I'm not afraid! Just…"
Just scared, is all.
"What is your purpose here, now that you've returned to this world, Jiro?"
"Yes, your purpose. What do you aim to use your life for?"
"I'd like to try and get back."
Silence. A silence that stank.
We both knew that I was lying.
"My purpose should be to continue from where I left off, right?"
"And how do you plan to do that?"
"I just have to learn to act like I was before."
"But that's impossible. You're a horrible actor, proven thus far."
"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!"
"Of course you don't. Just like you don't know why you picked this story to show me."
"What are you trying to say? I don't get it at all."
"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."
The counselor brought his pointer finger down onto the page, tapping a small passage at the center.
It was true, too.
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.
"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."
"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?"
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.
"What's so funny? I don't get any of this!"
"Sorry, I let that slip out by accident."
He straightened himself up and tugged on his sleeves, seemingly readying himself for his next words.
"Jiro, what would you do if you saw a dead cat on the side of the road?"
"What? I'd bury it, obviously."
"Of course you would. It's only natural to feel sympathy for it, right?"
"What does this have to do with anything?"
He gave a solemn smile.
"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."
He seemed confident and unbudging in his opinion on the matter, so I decided to take it as fact.
"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?"
"Just start over."
Start over? In the middle of my life?
"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."
"So I need to talk with people my own age?"
"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."
"Can I do that? Just erase who I was before, and start over?"
"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."
"But who was I before to begin with? I can't even remember."
"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."
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?
"Could I have some time to think about this on my own?"
"Of course. Come back and talk to me again when you find an answer."
"Will I find an answer, Furukawa Sensei?"
His gaze in that moment felt soft; honest.
"I'm sure you will."