The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
Stubborn, and selfish.
That’s what Furukawa said about me. For the last eighteen years, that was all I had been in the other world; and he was right, too. Everybody told me it was okay; everybody egged me on; so naturally, those two traits of mine grew and grew; my ego pumping up like a balloon. And coming back to this world, those same two traits were all that I had left.
But I had to adapt, right? Take what I knew from my past life, and use it to survive in the new one. It’s funny; you’d think that such a concept would have applied more to Andrew Salvus Erit, when he first arrived in the other world; in Alterra. And yet, I had no good experience to even take with me. As far as I was concerned, my life hadn’t even begun until I had become the chosen hero; the adopted son of the young King Geralt Salvus Erit III.
Without the status of Hero and the perks of becoming one, I would have been just another adventurer; another nobody with nothing special about them.
Because that’s what I was before, and now that I had lost my special powers and all my titles, that’s who I was now, too.
But now I could use it; my life experience. Even though it may not have been the most ideal traits to start out with, I could still use them.
In this world, I had a second chance to become a hero on my own terms, instead of for those who only wanted to use me.
In Kendo, which I had been properly taught by Kentaro, matches lasted ten minutes, or the first to three hits. If the time went over and both opponents were tied, then overtime would begin, lasting until the next point had been scored.
I couldn’t strike.
I couldn’t swing.
But I could be stubborn, and selfish.
I could defend until my opponent had no choice but to forfeit.
After only a few weeks in the club, I had already become famous amongst both the boys’ and girls’ kendo teams. I lost a few matches at first, with slow movement and short stamina. But as long as Kentaro was my practice partner, the sport was still fun for me, and I improved quickly. It had become a coping mechanism of sorts, and brought me the first positive attention at our high school since I came back.
The coach didn’t like me; some of the students didn’t like me; despite that, I still seemed to gain a cult following within the Kendo community at our school, and other rumors were steadily overtaken by new ones.
“GanBaka” is what they began to call me. A pun of “Do your best” using the same prefixual kanji that almost literally meant “Stubborn Idiot”. It was strange to be called a nickname other than “Hero”, though then again, it was also strange to be called a name that wasn’t “Andrew”.
I didn’t dislike it.
Like I had been bestowed a place in this world, though still quite measly.
With my swordsmanship experience and a proper understanding of Kendo as a sport, it only took me about three weeks before I became unbeatable.
Or, “unbeatable” in the sense that the opponent had no choice but to forfeit, because they would never be able to land a hit.
Some liked me, some hated me, sure.
But everybody wanted to have a match with me.
They wanted to prove my methods were cheap; they wanted to try and break me; they wanted to use me as a practice tool; each person had their reasons. Even the coach, eventually, wasn’t able to break my iron line of defense.
He faced me with the threat of booting me off of the team upon his win. Of course, he didn’t land a single hit.
But they weren’t just some kind of meaningless victories either, even though many of my opponents may have seen it that way. No; every dodge, duck, and parry were all hard thought, and there were many moments where I had almost slipped up and lost.
There were even more where I almost lost my cool.
But my eighteen years of slaughter and survival in war hadn’t failed me yet, and my motivation was stronger than ever. I needed Kentaro’s brother on his side, and that alone would have been enough. But he loved GanBaka. He saw my fighting style as some kind of big middle finger to the entire sport; one that he had always wanted to give himself.
And every time Kentaro smiled, I smiled as well. So I wouldn’t lose, and I would keep being Ganbaka until I didn’t have a reason to anymore.
Meanwhile, I learned from Kaori that she was also a talking point of her own club. The star player; a third year among third years. She had no confidence in herself though. She didn’t even like the attention.
She believed that she was only good at the sport because she was tall; it’s why people had pushed her into doing it, and it’s what they ridiculed her for when she joined. But she kept on with the sport because her parents forced her to play at least one. They were both athletes, and wanted her to follow in her footsteps.
I learned much about her past, as we began to eat lunch together regularly.
If we’re relying on her memory, she was supposedly born and raised in Japan. No goddesses, no reincarnations, and no world reassignments. She had been in this country, and this world, her entire life. Though, even though her name and her parents and her circumstances were different; she had still been raised as Hope was, taught as Hope was, and became the same person that Hope had been at this age.
Her parents were both athletes, and kept her to a strict diet and healthy lifestyle from birth, forcing her into sports clubs left and right from the time she entered school. They were determined to find the one that she excelled at, and could use to earn a college scholarship. Of course, friends never stayed long when your club was different every few months. And she did have much athletic talent, so she was often bullied or scorned by her classmates out of jealousy.
Though her parents weren’t exactly partial to her gender like Hope’s were, she herself was. Tall, lanky, and muscular her whole life, she was told that she might as well have been a boy. And after all the teasing about it, eventually, she figured that she should just stop trying to be a girl altogether; there was no point. She would just be what her close peers wanted her to be, and keep quiet around everyone else.
That was Kaori Takao, the girl who grew up to become Hope. I might as well have fallen in love with her all over again.
“Do you like sports?”
I asked her as we both sat out in the courtyard eating our lunches. Mine, a cafeteria-bought calorie bomb; hers, a home-prepared bento specially picked for its balance of nutrients by her dad. We both watched a small group of first-years kicking a soccer ball in the grass. Whatever rules they must have been playing by, it certainly wasn’t soccer. Maybe more like kick-the-can?
She wasn’t exactly thrilled with the question. But we had grown accustomed to talking about our personal lives; or more specifically, she had grown accustomed to talking about her own personal life; as I, for obvious reasons, couldn’t.
“Do you like Kendo as a sport?”
“I think that… under the right circumstances, I could like it. But I’m not in the club for reasons such as ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, so I couldn’t give you a good response.”
“That would be my answer too, I think.”
“D- did I say something wrong?”
“No, it’s just… that was a pretty cool response, coming from you.”
“I’m… I guess that isn’t something I usually would say.”
“It was right out of some kind of storybook…”
I tried to guide the topic.
“Do… you read at all? Books, I mean.”
“Not really… I’m a slow reader.”
When it came to Japanese, that is. I gave an awkward chuckle.
“What about you? Are you the reading type?”
She was the reading type, by the way. Specifically, picture books. Hope never did grow out of reading fairy tales, so I was curious to see what that translated to for Kaori. Or if it translated at all, for that matter.
“I don’t really read… books…”
“What about fairy tales; picture books; that kinda stuff?”
She shook her head silently, getting a little embarrassed.
“You asked that before, too. The first time we talked. Why is that? Do I seem childish?”
I didn’t have the heart to affirm that last question, but I wasn’t really able to deny it, either.
“It’s… just a question. So you don’t?”
She shook her head, placing down her bento to fold her legs up to her chest, until she was in the shape of an awkward little ball; one that was still taller than me while I sat.
“Do you like manga at all?”
Manga. It was something that didn’t exist in Alterra, obviously. But here, the weekly adolescent comics were flourishing in modern culture. I believe I read them before, but after attempting to revisit the purchased volumes in my room, I couldn’t quite hold my old interest. The stories were all too unrealistic; too full of action. Perhaps it was just the genres I liked before that didn’t appeal to me anymore, but everything that I knew about manga made it out to be so idealized; from the worlds, to the stories, to the art.
All I could see was the author’s intent; what they wanted their story, and their characters to be. It was all just transparent pages to me.
That said, those were Kaori’s fairy tales.
I hit the bingo.
I humored her a bit, so that we could keep the topic rolling.
“I used to really like it. You?”
“I… read manga, once in a while.”
“Every so often… like, every… day… or so.”
She began to curl deeper into her ball, hiding her face beneath a wall formed by her long, thin arms.
“Woah, that’s a lot. Honestly, I’m surprised you told me on your own.”
“It’s bad, right? That somebody like me reads weird stuff like that…”
Her head went down under entirely; it was adorable.
“Well I don’t think it’s really a bad thing, but it depends on the genre, I guess. What’s your favorite kind?”
Too quiet to hear. I leaned in and asked again.
She wouldn’t face me, but I could see her rosy cheeks peeking out from under her arms.
Fantasy, huh? That was kind of ironic.
“I’m still missing part of it… You can just not say it if you don’t want to, though...”
I could likely make an accurate guess anyway, so I figured there was no reason to push her on it and make her uncomfortable.
Or so I said, but her head suddenly shot up, and she looked me right in the eyes with a tomato face, and a mouth that seemed like it was about to burst.
“F- fantasy romance…!”
And then silence again, with the same restrained lips.
She wasn’t done.
“B- but don’t get me wrong! I like the price characters… or the knight ones…! They’re so kind and gentle, but they can be strong when they need to, and protect the ones important to them… I’m not really into princesses… they’re weak, and need saving, and not like me at all...”
That line, down to the dot, was almost exactly as she had said it way back then. I still remembered it so clearly, too. We might as well have been reliving our initial meeting. However, there was one protruding thought in my head this time around that was new, and I just couldn’t get rid of it.
How did I believe her? How did anybody believe her? She was certainly a terrible liar. I knew that, too.
Though I guess that would just be another thing we had in common.
“Well, I think-”
“No, you won’t believe that, will you?”
Suddenly, her head hung downward again, and the mood between us changed entirely within an instant.
“You already know… about my worst secret. That I wish I could be a princess, saved by a knight or a prince. But it’s stupid, right? Somebody like me… So there’s no point in thinking like that.”
I had no proper way to respond.
My head was occupied.
All I could think about.
Suddenly, all I could focus on.
Was that moment. The one I had blocked out of my mind ever since I had come back to this world.
Hope had already died; I had left her to die.
Even though I loved her.
Even though she loved me.
I single handedly killed her, and killed our future together.
Was I just using Kaori to jump back to the past? Was it wrong of me to be her friend?
“W- what? What did you say?”
“I- I just called your name. Todoya.”
Delusions. More delusions. They were coming back again.
“Y- yes… what is it?”
“I didn’t really know that about myself until you told me, way back then… But when you said it, I had been forced to come to terms with it…”
She still avoided my gaze. But there the air became heavy, and there was suddenly no room for leisure.
“How did you know, Todoya? How did you know something about me, who you hadn’t met yet, that I hadn’t even come to terms with myself?”
She started to tear up. As did I.
“I think you’re really nice to me, and you treat me differently than other people. You treat me as if we’ve always been comfortably close, but that doesn’t seem like the type of person you are, either…”
Hope was always smart. Smart, but she was never that sharp. What made her a good shield is that she knew the queues, and she knew where to be when we needed her to be there. Simply put, she was great at understanding people on just a surface level.
Kaori should have been the same.
So why was she so sharp, all of the sudden?
“ You still scare me, Todoya. Not because you’re a dangerous person, but because for some reason, it feels as if you know more about me than I know about myself. And especially today, you’ve seemed more nervous than usual. Am I just-- am I just going crazy? Are you hiding something from me?”
She looked like her; acted like her; and even talked like her. Wasn’t this girl just Hope?
Or had I been wrong once again?
Had I just been clinging to the past again?
“No, n- nevermind. I’m sorry for accusing you of something so absurd. Please just forget that I said that.”
Hope was really bad at saying what was on her mind. She was desperate to conform, and desperate to please. She wanted to be everything that those important to her wanted her to be, despite herself.
I had already known that.
"Hey, Andrew. Do you-"
"Do you know why I've always admired the heroes in those old fairy tales?"
"Of course I do, you idiot… You wanted to be strong, just like them. Just like how you are now. The strongest person I know."
"You're wrong. I've been lying about that, actually… In truth, I wanted to be saved. Saved by one of those heroes."
I didn’t have Kaori wrong; I had Hope wrong.
The reason she had been able to keep that secret for so long is because she likely had many secrets; many aspects of her personality that she kept a secret.
“Andrew; Destiny! Wh- wh- what is… I don’t…”.
She had never gone to Destiny’s tent to talk to her before she walked in on us that time; they weren’t even friends, really. Even Flynn talked to our party’s sorceress more than Hope did.
One way or another, it couldn’t have been a coincidence.
“I’m sorry. Kaori- no, Hope.”
She stayed silent, confused as to what I meant. Of course she would be confused; I was confused too.
About who she was; about how she could possibly exist in this world; none of it made sense.
So instead of trying to explain it, I simply reached into my school bag and pulled out my journal.
“I was sent to another world for eighteen years; that was where I first met you. Or, maybe it wasn’t you, but she was exactly like you.”
“So what my friend Endou said you told her…”
“Her name was Hope. Hope Onus. And as far as I’m concerned, I killed her. Her, Flynn, Destiny, and Hope. All of us were great friends, and I killed them.”
“You… killed them?”
No more games.
No more excuses.
No more lies.
I had to move on; I had to live honestly.
I handed her the cheap spiral notebook that Furukawa had given me. Of course, it had been long completed with everything I remembered by this point, and I only wrote in it to add extra details or events as they came to me.
“Read this, and decide who I am. Because honestly, I couldn’t give you a good answer.”
I looked at my shaking hands. Shaking from the stress of fear, and the stress of uncertainty. But of course, there was also that.
“You asked why I was so stressed today. It’s because tomorrow, I have to participate in my first Kendo tournament held by the school, and the coach told me that outside judges would likely penalize me for refusing to swing.”
In, and out.
“But I can’t swing the sword because I’ll end up losing sight of the situation, and begin fighting with the intent to kill. It’s already happened before.”
In, and out.
I stood up, and began to turn back towards the school. Lunch must have been almost over, after all.
“Let me know what you think of that journal. And it’s okay if it’s all gibberish to you. I don’t expect you to believe me.”
In, and out.
I left before she could respond.
I was honest this time. I did what I wanted to do.
Now the rest was up to her.