Chapter 16:

The Lie

The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World

Stubborn, and selfish.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I couldn’t strike.Bookmark here

I couldn’t swing.Bookmark here

But I could be stubborn, and selfish.Bookmark here

I could defend until my opponent had no choice but to forfeit.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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”.Bookmark here

I didn’t dislike it.Bookmark here

Like I had been bestowed a place in this world, though still quite measly.Bookmark here

With my swordsmanship experience and a proper understanding of Kendo as a sport, it only took me about three weeks before I became unbeatable.Bookmark here

Or, “unbeatable” in the sense that the opponent had no choice but to forfeit, because they would never be able to land a hit.Bookmark here

Some liked me, some hated me, sure.Bookmark here

But everybody wanted to have a match with me.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

There were even more where I almost lost my cool.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I learned much about her past, as we began to eat lunch together regularly.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Do you like sports?”Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

“Maybe…”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Do you like Kendo as a sport?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“That would be my answer too, I think.”Bookmark here

“Woah…”Bookmark here

“D- did I say something wrong?”Bookmark here

“No, it’s just… that was a pretty cool response, coming from you.”Bookmark here

“I’m… I guess that isn’t something I usually would say.”Bookmark here

“It was right out of some kind of storybook…”Bookmark here

I tried to guide the topic.Bookmark here

“Do… you read at all? Books, I mean.”Bookmark here

“Not really… I’m a slow reader.”Bookmark here

When it came to Japanese, that is. I gave an awkward chuckle.Bookmark here

“What about you? Are you the reading type?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“I don’t really read… books…”Bookmark here

“What about fairy tales; picture books; that kinda stuff?”Bookmark here

She shook her head silently, getting a little embarrassed.Bookmark here

“You asked that before, too. The first time we talked. Why is that? Do I seem childish?”Bookmark here

“Well…”Bookmark here

I didn’t have the heart to affirm that last question, but I wasn’t really able to deny it, either.Bookmark here

“It’s… just a question. So you don’t?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Do you like manga at all?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

That said, those were Kaori’s fairy tales.Bookmark here

I hit the bingo.Bookmark here

I humored her a bit, so that we could keep the topic rolling.Bookmark here

“I used to really like it. You?”Bookmark here

“I… read manga, once in a while.”Bookmark here

“How often?”Bookmark here

“Every so often… like, every… day… or so.”Bookmark here

She began to curl deeper into her ball, hiding her face beneath a wall formed by her long, thin arms.Bookmark here

“Woah, that’s a lot. Honestly, I’m surprised you told me on your own.”Bookmark here

“It’s bad, right? That somebody like me reads weird stuff like that…”Bookmark here

Her head went down under entirely; it was adorable.Bookmark here

“Well I don’t think it’s really a bad thing, but it depends on the genre, I guess. What’s your favorite kind?”Bookmark here

“... …”Bookmark here

Too quiet to hear. I leaned in and asked again.Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

She wouldn’t face me, but I could see her rosy cheeks peeking out from under her arms.Bookmark here

“Fantasy… ...”Bookmark here

Fantasy, huh? That was kind of ironic.Bookmark here

“I’m still missing part of it… You can just not say it if you don’t want to, though...”Bookmark here

I could likely make an accurate guess anyway, so I figured there was no reason to push her on it and make her uncomfortable.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“F- fantasy romance…!”Bookmark here

And then silence again, with the same restrained lips.Bookmark here

She wasn’t done.Bookmark here

“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...”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

How did I believe her? How did anybody believe her? She was certainly a terrible liar. I knew that, too.Bookmark here

Though I guess that would just be another thing we had in common.Bookmark here

“Well, I think-”Bookmark here

“No, you won’t believe that, will you?”Bookmark here

Suddenly, her head hung downward again, and the mood between us changed entirely within an instant.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

I had no proper way to respond.Bookmark here

My head was occupied.Bookmark here

All I could think about.Bookmark here

Suddenly, all I could focus on.Bookmark here

Was that moment. The one I had blocked out of my mind ever since I had come back to this world.Bookmark here

Hope had already died; I had left her to die.Bookmark here

Even though I loved her.Bookmark here

Even though she loved me.Bookmark here

I single handedly killed her, and killed our future together.Bookmark here

Was I just using Kaori to jump back to the past? Was it wrong of me to be her friend?Bookmark here

Andrew…Bookmark here

“W- what? What did you say?”Bookmark here

“I- I just called your name. Todoya.”Bookmark here

Delusions. More delusions. They were coming back again.Bookmark here

“Y- yes… what is it?”Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

She still avoided my gaze. But there the air became heavy, and there was suddenly no room for leisure.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

She started to tear up. As did I.Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Kaori should have been the same.Bookmark here

So why was she so sharp, all of the sudden?Bookmark here

“ 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?”Bookmark here

She looked like her; acted like her; and even talked like her. Wasn’t this girl just Hope?Bookmark here

Or had I been wrong once again?Bookmark here

Had I just been clinging to the past again?Bookmark here

“I-”Bookmark here

“No, n- nevermind. I’m sorry for accusing you of something so absurd. Please just forget that I said that.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I had already known that.Bookmark here

♙♙♙♙♙Bookmark here

"Hey, Andrew. Do you-"Bookmark here

"Do you know why I've always admired the heroes in those old fairy tales?"Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"You're wrong. I've been lying about that, actually… In truth, I wanted to be saved. Saved by one of those heroes."Bookmark here

♙♙♙♙♙Bookmark here

No.Bookmark here

I didn’t have Kaori wrong; I had Hope wrong.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

♙♙♙♙♙Bookmark here

“Andrew; Destiny! Wh- wh- what is… I don’t…”.Bookmark here

“Hope, I…”Bookmark here

♙♙♙♙♙Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

One way or another, it couldn’t have been a coincidence.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry. Kaori- no, Hope.Bookmark here

She stayed silent, confused as to what I meant. Of course she would be confused; I was confused too.Bookmark here

About who she was; about how she could possibly exist in this world; none of it made sense.Bookmark here

So instead of trying to explain it, I simply reached into my school bag and pulled out my journal.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“So what my friend Endou said you told her…”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“You… killed them?”Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

No more games.Bookmark here

No more excuses.Bookmark here

No more lies.Bookmark here

I had to move on; I had to live honestly.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Read this, and decide who I am. Because honestly, I couldn’t give you a good answer.”Bookmark here

I looked at my shaking hands. Shaking from the stress of fear, and the stress of uncertainty. But of course, there was also that.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

In, and out.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

In, and out.Bookmark here

I stood up, and began to turn back towards the school. Lunch must have been almost over, after all.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

In, and out.Bookmark here

I left before she could respond.Bookmark here

I was honest this time. I did what I wanted to do.Bookmark here

Now the rest was up to her.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.