Chapter 13:

The Hand

The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World

I watched her turn around. She turned around and ran away, as fast as she could.Bookmark here

I cheated on Hope.Bookmark here

Well, honestly speaking, we had never actually been in a romantic relationship to begin with.Bookmark here

Just friends.Bookmark here

 So what was so bad about what I had done? What was so bad about sleeping with another girl?Bookmark here

There had been a strict pact made between all of the members of the hero’s party. And any time somebody new decided to join in, they would be required to take part in that same pact.Bookmark here

It was a simple decree that came from the mind and mouth of Flynn: No one party member shall be allowed to engage in any kind of intimate or romantic relationship with another party member, at least until the Demon Lord has been duly defeated.Bookmark here

It was a smart rule, and a reasonable one too, considering the person who thought of the idea. When friendships turned into relationships, it was bound to cause issues between other members. I had seen it happen back in my old world too. Humans were just all like that, I figured.Bookmark here

But even without that promise, there had been a long period of time where I decided that I would save myself. Because after all, there was somebody in our party that I was in love with.Bookmark here

Hope Onus.Bookmark here

She had brown hair, just like mine. It seemed bland, but on Alterra, such a color was actually quite rare to find, especially when compared to a place like Japan. You could find pastel purples, vibrant pinks and reds, and even the occasional silver or white, among other colors. Brown was rare, and it was slowly dying out; It was seemingly a recessive gene on Alterra.Bookmark here

And Hope’s specific shade was just like mine, so it gave us a common attribute. It was actually how the two of us began to get along at first, making small talk about how little we seemed to stand out compared to some of our other comrades and peers.Bookmark here

It was our first talk, and just a stupid, disposable conversation at that.Bookmark here

And yet, those pointless words that had been exchanged were nothing short of pivotal.Bookmark here

Her parents had been training her since birth as a knight, and as a paladin. Along with her regular swordsman practice and body-building, there were strict day-to-day practices that she had been forced to endure in her regular life as well.Bookmark here

Weighted belts and straps around her body during the day, to practice wearing heavy plate-mail; pre-planned meals and banishment from food that didn’t come directly from the hands of the family’s personal chefs; limited friends, all of which had been chosen for her; these were just a few of the many examples of how she had been raised.Bookmark here

But that was standard when it came to the high class government families of Fortain. There were twelve, not including the Salvus Erit family, all of which descended from skilled adventurers that invested money and other resources into the founding of the country. Each of them were immensely powerful, and each one had a specialty, passed down for generations; trained and ingrained into all of the children born of that house. The first child would eventually succeed their parent’s place in the royal court, while the second child and beyond would often join military ranks. Some even became adventurers to live out the experiences of their ancestors, and gain more merit and achievements in their family’s name.Bookmark here

All thirteen royal houses, at the time of my (the chosen hero’s) descent upon the world, were training their children more vigorously than ever before. Because of course, among them would be the ones chosen by the king, Geralt III, to serve in my party and lead armies around the world against the demon lord and his forces. It had always been about defense against the demon lord in the past, but once a hero bestowed by the goddess herself came along, the situation changed drastically.Bookmark here

Suddenly it was about offense; about extinguishing the Demon Lord and his reign entirely.Bookmark here

That conversation between Hope and I; that singular conversation she held with a young Andrew who had been culture-shocked from his arrival in the new world. Everything began with the two of us laughing about the color of our hair.Bookmark here

She told me about her strict home life; I told her about my own world.Bookmark here

I told her she had been slow and kind; unlike many of the other children in the royal twelve, who were all overly eager to get on my good side.Bookmark here

I asked a personal favor to the king; to place her in my party so that we could continue to get along.Bookmark here

He claimed that none of his own children or family had been so selfish and personal with him before. He said that he was touched. As a result, he adopted me as his own.Bookmark here

The other heroes were chosen from the royal twelve: Hope, Flynn, and Tempus.Bookmark here

And of course,Bookmark here

I fell in love with that brown hair.Bookmark here

I fell in love with my motivation to strive for greater heights.Bookmark here

I fell in love with those rough, callused hands, which always felt warm and safe.Bookmark here

I fell in love with Hope.Bookmark here

“Aren’t you going to chase after her? You might lose her forever if you don’t.”Bookmark here

The nude sorceress asked me, my trousers in her outreached hand.Bookmark here

“I know that already.”Bookmark here

So with my pants and belt in hand, I left Destiny and hurried in the direction of the girl who occupied my heart. I almost tripped over myself attempting to re-clothe while in full sprint, but there had been no time to waste.Bookmark here

“The barrier only extends so far; you’d better get to her before the shroud does!”Bookmark here

A yell from behind, warning me of the extenuating circumstances of the girl I made cry. The shroud was no issue for me, but for a heartbroken girl who ran headfirst into it because she couldn’t think straight, it could potentially mean life or death.Bookmark here

Normally, the physical capabilities between Hope and I were closely matched. She was far more athletic than I, but of course, I had the advantage of an Earthen body wielding this world’s magic. I should have been faster than her on a flat plane, but in a forest, it was anybody’s game.Bookmark here

“Hope!”Bookmark here

As the sight of the barracks slowly shrunk in size behind me, I had quickly been plagued with a growing fatigue. I had done years of training in Enigma’s territory to be able to fight under its dampening conditions, but it still managed to sap my strength. Hope should have been slowing down as well, and in a much greater capacity. She would be easier to find now, hopefully.Bookmark here

“Hope!”Bookmark here

Corrupted fairies began to surround me, preparing to cast magic at a point blank range. I didn’t have time to play with them, and I didn’t have a weapon to fight them with.Bookmark here

One by one, I swatted them out of the air, crushing their already-ill seeming bodies in the palms of my hands.Bookmark here

I didn’t have time.Bookmark here

“Hope!”Bookmark here

I kicked a werewolf out of my way, almost stumbling over its head.Bookmark here

“Where are you!?”Bookmark here

I could see her footsteps. I trudged on in that direction.Bookmark here

“HOPE!”Bookmark here

There she was.Bookmark here

A patch of carnivorous bulbs had the unconscious girl trapped in its thick, spiny vines. Her hand was just barely outstretched; enough for me to grab onto if I could get close.Bookmark here

I reached for my sword.Bookmark here

It was gone; I was only wearing pants, after all.Bookmark here

“Acrivento!”Bookmark here

A blast of thick wind shot from my hands, dealing a targeted cut at its base roots.Bookmark here

“Acrivento! Acrivento! Acrivento!”Bookmark here

Eventually, they had been disconnected entirely. More vines began to pour out from the submerged bulb like a wave, but I was able to close in just enough to reach for her.Bookmark here

To grab her outstretched hand.Bookmark here

That was all I had to do; to grab it, and then I could get her back.Bookmark here

So why was I hesitating?Bookmark here

Perhaps because I didn’t deserve it? Because I didn’t know what to say to her, once I did?Bookmark here

But none of that mattered. I reached forward with all of my might.Bookmark here

I grabbed her hand and pulled it towards me.Bookmark here

“HOPE!”Bookmark here

And at last, I could feel it in my own. I had finally been able to see her again.Bookmark here

I had finally gotten something back.Bookmark here

But her palm wasn’t rough, or callused.Bookmark here

Of course it wasn’t.Bookmark here

What followed was a high-pitched shriek, followed by her pulling back before turning to face me with a face full of fear. Her arms retracted into her chest as she backed up slowly and quietly. Her footsteps made practically no noise amongst the chatter of idle students who had turned their heads towards us, all alarmed by her scream.Bookmark here

Brown hair, blue eyes, and some slight freckles. A school uniform that had been neatly tucked and ironed from every angle, giving her a clean, proper look. There were small bags under her eyes, as if she had been tired out from the activities of the day. She looked young; nostalgic.Bookmark here

“I- I’m sorry… Do I know you?”Bookmark here

She talked like she did when I first met her, too. But I frightened her, and apparently everybody else in the hallway as well.Bookmark here

School.Bookmark here

The whispers were already beginning about what I was about to do next. My reputation had fallen so low already, so there was no telling what would happen to me if I kept on pushing this situation. They would all think I was crazy, surely.Bookmark here

But it was Hope. I was sure of that.Bookmark here

I had to take her hand.Bookmark here

“You’re Hope, right? Hope Onus!”Bookmark here

I took a step towards her. If I could just get a little closer, she could see me clearly. And then she’d know.Bookmark here

“I… think you’re mistaken.”Bookmark here

“No, you’re definitely Hope. I know you are!”Bookmark here

“No… I’m…”Bookmark here

A crowd had begun to surround us now, as her voice became smaller; more frail.Bookmark here

She looked as if she didn’t know me. Did she lose her memories? Was she brainwashed? Or perhaps she had amnesia?Bookmark here

“Ah! Perhaps you go by a different name now? What’s your name in this world, then?”Bookmark here

“I don’t really…”Bookmark here

She was clamming up. It had gotten to the point where I could barely hear her. Perhaps I could hold her hand. Holding hands was one of her favorite things to do with me, after all.Bookmark here

I reached out for it.Bookmark here

“You might be confused right now, but I’ll help you remember… I can-.”Bookmark here

SMACK!Bookmark here

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”Bookmark here

My arm had been quickly swatted out of the air by another girl who appeared between us.Bookmark here

“Get off of her, asshole!”Bookmark here

I backed up. She was intimidating, despite being a whole head shorter than I; almost two heads shorter than Hope.Bookmark here

“And what the hell are you head-empty shitbags doing?! Get a teacher!”Bookmark here

She suddenly pointed her hands out to the crowd practically steaming from the nose, before turning back to me and shooting her pointer finger right between my eyes.Bookmark here

“And you can either get the hell out of here right now, or be expelled for sexual harassment!”Bookmark here

Sexual harassment? Is…Bookmark here

Is that what this looked like to outsiders?Bookmark here

“But I was just trying to-”Bookmark here

“Screw off, scumbag!”Bookmark here

Before I could say anything, she lost all interest in me, and turned to comfort Hope.Bookmark here

Hope, who was crying.Bookmark here

Had I done that?Bookmark here

A student quickly returned with an older, calmly collected adult.Bookmark here

Furukawa Sensei.Bookmark here

He stopped in front of the two of us and darted his eyes back and forth in silence, taking the whole situation in with deep thought before opening his mouth.Bookmark here

“What seems to be happening here?”Bookmark here

He offered his question out into the air to be answered by any that heard it, but made zero hesitation in staring directly at me as he did. It was as if he had asked me something entirely different, despite the words coming into my ear being the same as those heard by everybody else.Bookmark here

“Sensei! This guy just approached Kaori and started harassing her! He even tried to grope her! Please do something about him!”Bookmark here

He sighed. Was he expecting this to happen? Was I in big trouble?Bookmark here

“Todoya, come to the counseling office.”Bookmark here

“But Furukawa Sensei, She’s-”Bookmark here

Todoya.Bookmark here

A pause.Bookmark here

“Don’t make this difficult.”Bookmark here

He was trying to help me.Bookmark here

He was trying to help me, but…Bookmark here

I couldn’t help myself. This may have been my only chance.Bookmark here

“You may not remember, but I know you! And you know me as well!”Bookmark here

“Todoya!”Bookmark here

I turned to my old companion, and spoke as confidently as I could, feeling stress and anxiety bubbling up from inside me. I was beginning to freeze from my feet upwards.Bookmark here

“Fairy tales! The ones where the hero saves the damsel in distress!”Bookmark here

Suddenly, her head emerged from the other girl’s shoulder, and she looked me right in the eyes. But at the same time, there was a sudden tug at my arm.Bookmark here

Furukawa was dragging me away.Bookmark here

“You tell people that you want to be the hero, but in reality, you wish you were the damsel! You were the one who told me that!”Bookmark here

Her expression dimmed, and she averted her gaze. I could just barely make out the small words that escaped her mouth as Furukawa began to tug harder.Bookmark here

I don’t-- really read fairy tales…Bookmark here

My stomach sank.Bookmark here

Did I have it wrong? Was all of this for nothing?Bookmark here

Had I just been imagining it all?Bookmark here

No.Bookmark here

That was Hope. It definitely was.Bookmark here

Then-Bookmark here

You’ve already failed. Give up.Bookmark here

A low, sharp whisper entered my ear, sending a quick chill up and down my spine.Bookmark here

I stopped resisting, and let the counselor take me into his office and away from the situation.Bookmark here

“My office, Todoya.”Bookmark here

“Right…”Bookmark here

I could feel tears on my face. That had been draining from my eyes for a while now.Bookmark here

What was I doing, really?Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.