Chapter 14:

The Match

The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World

I looked at my text log, focused on a message sent by Kentaro earlier in the morning.Bookmark here

I apologize for saying some mean things yesterday. Please do not feel obligated to be my friend because of my brother.Bookmark here

It was such a simple thing to refute, and yet I didn’t have the strength in my fingers to reply to it. I hadn’t for the whole day.Bookmark here

“It’s not very polite of you to be looking at your phone while we’re holding a conversation.”Bookmark here

Furukawa broke my train of thought; I looked up from the device in my hands to a faint look of disappointment in his eyes.Bookmark here

“Oh, I’m sorry… I was just thinking about Hajime.”Bookmark here

“The younger brother, Kentaro?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Is it related to your little episode back there, by any chance?”Bookmark here

“No, that was totally different… That was about Hope. Or, I guess she goes by Kaori now.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure the two aren’t related?”Bookmark here

“No… What are you getting at?”Bookmark here

Two different people; two different situations. Of course there was no relation between the two of them.Bookmark here

“Generally, when offering advice, the tried and true method is to lead the person in question to their own answer, rather than telling them up front. Otherwise, they might not properly understand it. But Todoya, what you did back there was bad. And while I plan to keep it under wraps, I hope you realize that it absolutely cannot happen again without grave consequences; suspension, expulsion, or even a criminal record in the worst case.”Bookmark here

“But I told you that I didn’t try to grope her! Furukawa Sensei, that was Hope! I don’t care what name she goes by now, or if she has her past memories; that was her! She came from a whole different world, and nobody even knows it but me; not even she does! It’s just sad! I want to help her!”Bookmark here

“Of course you didn’t. You aren’t somebody who would do such a thing.”Bookmark here

“Then-”Bookmark here

But Todoya, it’s not about what you know, or what you believe. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, your brain is just full of delusions, and you just sexually harassed that girl.”Bookmark here

But they weren’t delusions. They were reality.Bookmark here

That was Hope. That was the girl that saved me. Was it so wrong of me to just want to repay the favor?Bookmark here

Why was I being made out to be the antagonist here?Bookmark here

“They aren’t delusions! The people I met, the life I lived; it was-”Bookmark here

“Yes, yes, it’s all real. I understand that, but you need to understand that if we don’t want to cause trouble, we need to live with the limits of the society that we reside in. Can you do that? Or are you too stubborn; too moulded by your own selfish sense of justice?”Bookmark here

The tone in his voice changed. It was still firm, and still monotone, but somehow, I could sense frustration from his words, and from his body language. This conversation was moving towards a heated argument, rather than a constructive talk.Bookmark here

I knew that, but I couldn’t back down. It still bothered me, the things he was saying.Bookmark here

“But it was you who told me to live how I wanted to!”Bookmark here

‘I told you to use your past memories and experience to find a new way to live in this world. That doesn’t mean causing trouble for others; it doesn’t mean getting stuck in the past.”Bookmark here

“But I’m just trying to help her!”Bookmark here

“You just want her back, Jiro. You want to feel good, and you want to feel like you’ve saved somebody. That’s the most prominent form of validation you’ve received for the last two decades, after all.”Bookmark here

“That’s not--”Bookmark here

That’s not it at all!Bookmark here

“What does ‘helping’ Hope get her memories back do for her? How would she be better off than if she lived out the rest of her life without knowing? And even if it would serve as an improvement, did she ever ask you for assistance? Did Kentaro Hajime ever ask you to help him?”Bookmark here

“N- no. They didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t-”Bookmark here

“Have you ever considered that you coat your actions with excuses to justify the cons in your head? Was it not you who admitted to doing so in your past life?”Bookmark here

“That…”Bookmark here

That was true. He was speaking the absolute truth.Bookmark here

I was a murderer on Alterra; just a mercenary who turned a blind eye to everything except what I thought was right.Bookmark here

And the result was that all of my closest family dropped dead before my eyes.Bookmark here

Was it even me who thought it was right? Or was it those around me; the ones encouraging me that I was doing justified; who egged me on? Even the goddess Mellifluus herself just used me as a way to defeat the demon lord.Bookmark here

She manipulated me.Bookmark here

My whole life, all I had been doing was throwing empty weights onto the scale and acting like it balanced things out. I had never been condemned for it properly. And if I did, then I certainly didn’t listen.Bookmark here

I had been in the wrong from the beginning.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry. You’re right.”Bookmark here

A sigh left his mouth. Just a slight one.Bookmark here

“As long as you understand. Having to cover up your mistakes jeopardizes my job. It’s not in my character at all to just let a situation such as this one slide. But I will make this exception, just this once. So be sure to correct yourself in the future.”Bookmark here

“I will.”Bookmark here

Suddenly, an awkward air filled the room. Sure, I had a lot to think about, but I wasn’t the only one who seemed to be doubting themselves. Furukawa aimed his head up into the air looking off into space, a.k.a. the ceiling. He was contemplating something, for sure.Bookmark here

It was a little nice, to be able to notice the smaller nuances of his character. I felt like every time we talked, we became a little more understanding of each other. Eventually, maybe we could even become something like friends, or companions. He must have felt the same, considering he was willing to do such a favor for me as keeping my outburst a secret from the other staff.Bookmark here

“Thank you for being here to help me, Furukawa Sensei. I’d be much worse off without you, I’m sure.”Bookmark here

‘Don’t be. This is my own selfish meddling, after all.”Bookmark here

“Meddling?”Bookmark here

“In this specific scenario, I’m the same as you. I helped you without your request, giving my own subjective advice about your problems, just for my own satisfaction. So you don’t have to be thankful, because I’m not doing it for your sake.”Bookmark here

“I see.”Bookmark here

So we were pretty similar, after all.Bookmark here

“Then from now on, I’ll be asking for your continued help. Am I able to thank you then?”Bookmark here

“Todoya, I don’t do favors for other people. Like I said, this is purely for myself.”Bookmark here

He gave me a blank, apathetic stare, like I was just trying to say something cool in the heat of the moment. It felt a little embarrassing, now that he wasn’t playing along with it.Bookmark here

“But for just a little while, feel free to continue relying on me.”Bookmark here

Sigh.Bookmark here

“I will.”Bookmark here

♙♙♙♙♙Bookmark here

“Can I come over to your house?”Bookmark here

“I don’t want to rejoin the Kendo club. You can’t convince me.”Bookmark here

“I won’t ask you to. I just want to come over and play.”Bookmark here

‘You promise?”Bookmark here

“Promise.”Bookmark here

At 4 PM on a Friday, I showed up to Kentaro Hajime’s house with the practice sword that the older brother had left with me, in hand. My leg had healed up enough to take off the cast, so of course, I came without it. He was dumbfounded, and blew his top immediately. He began to tear up, even.Bookmark here

“You promised!Bookmark here

“This has nothing to do with the club.”Bookmark here

“Then why did you bring it!?”Bookmark here

I shook my leg a little, and held the bundle of bamboo out in front of me.Bookmark here

“There’s a dojo here, right? I’d like you to teach me the basics.”
“Seriously?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. I have a hobby of fighting with swords, but I’ve never done Kendo before. I’m interested.”Bookmark here

He didn’t believe me. Obviously. However, he still seemed to be thinking about it.Bookmark here

“Tell you what. If you can beat me, somebody who doesn’t even know the rules, in a match; I’ll toss the sword, and we can do what you want to do. But if I beat you, you have to teach me. Thoroughly.”Bookmark here

A slight grin broke through the boy’s sour mood, and he looked back up at me.Bookmark here

“Okay, deal.”Bookmark here

He took the bait.Bookmark here

We set up in his studio and put on the traditional protective armor before taking our places on opposite sides of the wood flooring at the center of the room.Bookmark here

“Wait! Before we start, I have two questions. How long at maximum can a match last?”Bookmark here

“Oh, uhm… once ten minutes pass, whoever scores a point first, wins.”Bookmark here

“Can a player concede, in that case?”Bookmark here

“I… I don’t know… I guess so? I’ve never seen it happen in the middle of a match, though.”Bookmark here

“Good.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t swing; not without running the risk of causing harm to Kentaro. However, I spent the entirety of the previous week practicing my old defensive sword stances. So if I didn’t know the rules, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to win, anyway.Bookmark here

I just had to make Kentaro lose.Bookmark here

We both walked towards each other, and then stopped to kneel at a set of indicating points on the floor. Through the grill of his mask, I could see what seemed like an entirely different person on the inside, in comparison to who I had just been talking to.\Bookmark here

He was entirely focused.Bookmark here

Hajime!”Bookmark here

Kentaro yellowed out into the air, and then it began.Bookmark here

CLACK!Bookmark here

The moment I was on my feet, he was already up against me, sword clashing against sword. I barely had time to pull my own up to defend myself, but somehow managed.Bookmark here

He made several attempts to swivel his sword around mine, so I stepped back, but his intense pressure didn’t let up for a moment.Bookmark here

CLACK!Bookmark here

I simultaneously pushed him off me with the base of my sword, while taking a low, backwards lunge to give myself some space. I wanted so badly to duck in and retaliate before he could recover, but I worked against the natural urges of my war-trained body.Bookmark here

This was going to be a battle of attrition.Bookmark here

I wouldn’t lose myself here.Bookmark here

WHACK!Bookmark here

Another direct blow, quickly followed up by a feint, and then another attempted twist. I figured Kentaro to be the cautious type, but his might was nothing short of a steam train, attempting to plow me over. But it was better that way as well, considering he would be quick to wear himself out. He was small, after all.Bookmark here

Hit after hit, I continued to defend his blows. It was more difficult than I had expected, but I was able to last.Bookmark here

Tick. Tock.Bookmark here

Minute after minute.Bookmark here

Second after second.Bookmark here

How much time had passed? How much longer would I have to defend for?Bookmark here

WHACK! SLAM!Bookmark here

He came close to a strike that time, but I was able to duck towards the left just barely in time to push his blade out of the way. That said, I was sweating; breathing heavily; losing focus; it took all of my effort not to fade into a battle sequence in my head.Bookmark here

Don’t hurt him.Bookmark here

Don’t hurt Hajime.Bookmark here

Don’t hurt Your friend.Bookmark here

All I could do was repeat it in my mind, over and over again.Bookmark here

I was just defending. I had no intention to strike, so I wouldn’t hurt him. I wouldn’t hurt anybody ever again.Bookmark here

I would help him my own way, within the constraints of this world and this society’s customs.Bookmark here

I could change, Furukawa. Bookmark here

Just watch me.Bookmark here

MEN!Bookmark here

SLAM!Bookmark here

I felt a hit, square on the top of my head.Bookmark here

A hit?Bookmark here

I got hit?Bookmark here

I lost?Bookmark here

I began to choke. It occurred to me that I had been holding my breath, since who knew how long. My knees were suddenly weak and brittle, and I couldn’t hold myself up.Bookmark here

Would it be fine to pass out here? I failed, after all. It was all just a blur, after all.Bookmark here

Todoya? Todoya!”Bookmark here

As I heard my own name; not Andrew, but Todoya; everything began to fade back in. I was still awake. My ankle did sting a bit, however. As did my head.Bookmark here

“Hey, are you okay!? Did I hit you too hard?”Bookmark here

Hajime was freaking out. The pure determination had long been swept from his face, and he now looked like he was on the verge of tears, as if I was about to draw my final breath.Bookmark here

CoughBookmark here

“I’m… just fine. Help me up, if you would.”Bookmark here

Cough coughBookmark here

I reached out my arm, my strength returning to me as I heaved for air. Hajime pulled with all his might, erecting me like a wooden pole on a rope. I threw my helmet off of me, and gasped for more air.Bookmark here

“That… huff, was a great match. Huff.Bookmark here

“Are you okay!? Should I call a doctor?”Bookmark here

“No, no, I’m fine. I just need a little air.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry!”Bookmark here

After removing his own helmet, he was quick to bow his head and apologize.Bookmark here

“I didn’t mean to hurt you!”Bookmark here

I couldn’t help but find it funny, and laughed to the tune of my alarmingly loud heartbeat.Bookmark here

“Really, that was a great match. I’m fine, so don’t sweat it.”Bookmark here

Suddenly, he was timid again. But less formality in his stance, and a little more embarrassment.Bookmark here

“It- it was. I haven’t really had that much fun with Kendo before.”Bookmark here

He was twiddling his fingers, as if it was some kind of gesture. I began to laugh again, but not at him, or even at myself.Bookmark here

“Wh- what’s so funny?”Bookmark here

“It’s just, it’s been so long since I’ve had that much fun. You’re a pretty good opponent. It’s too bad you can’t teach me, but I lost fair and square, so we can ditch it and do something else.”Bookmark here

It was a shame, really. But I was having fun with my new friend. It wouldn’t be worth it to spoil such an atmosphere with any of my stupid plans or ideas.Bookmark here

Right now, I didn’t care about “Andrew Salvus Erit” or even “Jiro Todoya”. The only role I wanted to play was “friend of Kentaro Hajime”.Bookmark here

“I can… still teach you, if you want. Since I thought it was kinda fun too… ‘n all.”Bookmark here

Another laugh escaped me.Bookmark here

“Sure! Let’s do it!”Bookmark here

At this pace, perhaps I could really do it. Perhaps I really would be able to protect Kentaro, and still be his friend.Bookmark here

By joining the Kendo club myself, that is.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.