The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
What would you do if you saw a dead cat on the side of the road?
Would you pick it up and give it a proper burial? Maybe even go as far as to mourn it.
Or would you ignore it as something that was simply not your business? Leave it there, and maybe tell your friends about it later, explaining how “gross” or “sad” it was to see.
If you answered yes to either one of those, congratulations. You’re a normal, sane human.
In fact, if you answered something entirely different, chances are that you’re still mostly sane. It being my job to study and care for sane, adolescent humans, I would certainly know.
If you weren’t human, here’s an example of what you might do.
You might pick it up, thinking that an average, sane human would be disgusted by such a thing. They would likely be sad, and not want to see it in such a place. So it’s only natural to pick it up and remove it, right? Even if it wasn’t a cat; a previously living being that humans love to care for; it’s still just a sack of meat that’s likely already gone bad.
Either way, it’s trash.
So that’s what I did. Thinking in such a way that wasn’t human, but instead poorly mimicking one, I put the cat into a nearby food waste bin.
“Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing!?”
Female, likely between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.
It came from directly behind me.
The emotions she directed towards me with her voice were those of anger, but more prominently, sadness. Of course, sadness for the cat, and anger towards me.
Perhaps dumping it was wrong after all.
I turned towards her, and put on a smile. Humans generally liked smiles, and it helped to ease the tension of an otherwise troublesome situation. I saw it often in exchanges between customers and employees at restaurants, or when young salarymen talked to their superiors.
In this culture, smiles and apologies were everything. No matter what happened, no matter how unsatisfied a person was; a proper Japanese citizen would smile and apologize, and the problem was supposed to go away.
“Ah, my apologies.”
The irony of it was that in Japanese television and fictional media, the person who smiled the most, and apologized the most, often ended up in the worst situations, or in some cases was revealed to be mentally insane, or dangerous.
Despite these people knowing that a system in their culture caused many mental and physical health issues, they did not strive to change it. This also seemed to be a common theme of humanity as a whole. They liked to ignore problems, or put silly bandages on them. Some were like that on Alterra as well.
The girl ran towards me, grabbing my collar and pulling me in close to her enraged face. Though it wasn’t her intention to do so, I couldn’t help but be forced to notice her features.
Blonde hair. Fabricated.
Shiny, tan skin. Fabricated.
A colorful face, with much makeup and overdone polishing.
I had seen this look before. It was a staple of Japanese counterculture, commonly referred to as “Gyaru.” In a desperate bid to break away from the strict customs of modern society, many girls dressed in this manner to amplify their beauty in a way that was reversed as to what was expected of them from their elder generation, as well as their peers. She must have been one of those desperate people.
“‘My apologies’ My ass! I asked you what the hell you think you’re doing!?”
I stayed silent.
The way in which I handled the cat must have been indecent. So explaining myself would only have angered her more.
“Nevermind! Just out of the way, kay?”
She pushed me aside, and removed the lid of the trash can just enough to get the cat out. It’s eyes were half open, and its flesh was exposed to the open air. The gyaru girl brought the quiet flesh to her chest, holding it softly in her arms like it was her own child.
Time slowed to a stop in that moment, holding me hostage by my human brain’s relative perception of its flow.
She cradled it, calmly swaying her figure back and forth. As she did, the moonlight illuminated the tears which formed in her glistening eyes. They escaped her ducts, crawling down her oval cheeks all the way over to her rounded chin, then released into individual drips onto the fabric of her neat high school uniform. She must have forgotten about her anger, as it was overtaken by a thick, potent sorrow.
“It must have been painful, don’t you think?”
The girl wasn’t talking to me, but instead the lump of flesh that she treated like her own passed kin.
“Let’s take you somewhere where you can rest a little more peacefully, okay?”
She walked away, forgetting about my existence entirely. But I still followed, eager to see this lesson through. I needed to learn how to live as a human again. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to survive in a world where violence was for the weak; in a body devoid of magical ability.
We left into the forest nearby, before she turned to me once again.
“I said hold him.”
She was talking about the deceased cat, which I soon realized from the way she held her crossed arms out to me. I took it into my own, mimicking her careful method of handling. It was certainly deceased already, so why did she treat it as living?
“Excuse me, but this cat has already passed.”
Words which slipped from my mouth without my intent. The first time it had ever happened.
Her response was a swift, painful slap across the face.
The pain was nothing compared to what the hero had inflicted on me before my original demise, but the weak mind I was trapped inside of reacted strongly to my receptors, causing a strange noise to escape my mouth.
“Hold him and you’ll understand.”
I looked down at the cat.
Its half-open eyes.
Its droopy legs.
Its exposed flesh.
It was simply deceased.
I even attempted to sway my body in the same manner that the girl before me had just done, but to no avail. There was simply no point.
“I don’t understand at all.”
Another unwanted slip of words.
“Well, then just hold him for a sec.”
She kneeled down into the dirt, staining her knees as she scratched at the condensed dirt.
She was attempting to dig a hole.
Her long nails did more than my own would have, but it still clearly wasn’t enough.
“Perhaps you could use a rock to break apart the more stiff chunks of dirt more quickly.”
The girl stopped. The color painted onto the ends of her fingers had already begun to chip, and black mud made its way underneath them. She stopped to look at her progress while making a slightly pouty face, before grabbing the nearest fist-sized rock and continuing as I suggested.
She didn’t acknowledge me.
Before too long, a tree-trunk-sized hole with a flat bed of leaves was made cleanly in the ground, and the cuffs of the gyaru’s uniform were now discolored even darker than her skin. She paid no mind to it though.
“Give him here.”
She commanded me, while still refusing to acknowledge my presence with her eyes. Her focus was entirely on the hole she had dug, and the cat which was likely to go inside of it. She had constructed a bed of leaves over soft soil, though obviously uncomfortable for a living being.
Something dead wouldn’t be capable of disliking it though, thankfully.
After leaving it with her once again, she carefully transferred the corpse into the makeshift resting spot she had prepared for it. She gave its coarse, mucky fur a few light strokes, whispering prayers in its ear.
“My friend has a few words for you too, if that’s alright.”
There was nobody else here but her and I. Perhaps she wasn’t right in the head?
Our eyes finally made contact again. She gestured at me to come over, with another softly spoken, yet abrupt command.
“Duh, Who else?”
“Do you consider me a friend?”
“Just do it!”
I did as I was told.
I looked into the cat’s half closed eyes. But as I did, something strange occurred. It must have been my human brain glitching. I knew that the thing before me was a dead cat, and yet my mind told me that it was something else entirely.
Gnowellen. Hydrum. Sylphis. Geo. Santal. Calleth.
Pallis. Ordoc. Narc. Phillis. Carp. Manus. Jarvis. Gall. Territhus. Levine. Carthus. Kimbal. Marthy. Xarkov. Drakken.
Whose were they?
They flooded into my head seemingly without end, for as long as I looked at this lump of rotting flesh. I quickly realized they were names of the dead; of my fallen subordinates from my time as ruler of Demons, which I thought I had long forgotten.
But why now? What care would I have for names that I no longer had need to use? It puzzled my mind, which began to grow cloudy and difficult to use.
A human glitch, surely.
I focused back on doing what I had been told to do, in hopes of regaining my senses.
Such simple words, and yet somehow I couldn’t get them out. It was as if something was stuck in my windpipe, which locked my voice out.
I reached out and began to touch the cat. For some reason, I had a sudden urge to stroke it, just as the girl before me did.
She was watching me.
Perhaps this world had magic that I was unaware of. This girl, who dressed in such a strange way, could have no doubt been a witch, and this dead animal was a trap to lure me away from potential witnesses. Killing in this country was made difficult, but not impossible. With her magic, she could dilute my clean mind, and force me to say such unfamiliar phrases with ease.
Push through the spell.
Break through her magic.
You were lorded over an entire portion of Alterra mere weeks ago. Just this much shouldn’t pose any trouble.
“I can’t say it.”
Would she punish me for being unable to carry out her command? But it was also her who took away my ability to do so, was it not?
My hands were trembling.
Trembling like the hero’s, as he dealt his final, desperate blow into me.
Was this it for me? Had I failed to properly disguise myself as human?
I could feel myself out of touch with my surroundings, as if they were slipping away.
There was a wetness on my face. Surely, I was bleeding out. The witch had already begun to take my life.
Well, it made no difference to me. I had already lived my life, over the course of many hundreds of years. I had lived a life so long, I forgot when I had even been sent to that world.
That I had once been a human from Earth; that a goddess promised me a fabricated ambition which could rival my intellect; that I had been made to enjoy spreading mischief and bloodshed across the world; that my immortality and unordinary magic abilities were not part of her plan; these things were all that occupied my long term memory. Anything else had slowly wisped away to ash and dust with the passage of time.
And now that I had returned to my original human body in a world without her influence, that drive to cause chaos and destruction had disappeared, too.
All I was left with were my memories of the deceased, and of all of the destruction laid across Alterra with my influence.
I felt nothing of it.
The only thing that I had come to realize about myself since I came to Earth was that whether I lived or died made no difference to me.
“You did well.”
A hand on my shoulder.
All of my surroundings returned to me as I was pulled from my trance.
I was still alive.
“Did I… Did I apologize?”
I must have, considering she commended me. Surely I just didn’t remember carrying out her task. Her magic might have had something to do with it.
“Of course you didn’t.”
She brought her wide hand up to my face and wiped away some of the wetness. But when she brought it back into view, I saw no traces of red mixed into the complexion of her fingers. They only carried a clear wetness with them.
“But I can tell that you did your best, so it’s alright.”
I looked back at the cat. It was still there, untouched by my hands. It was still just a pile of flesh.
Did I do anything?
“What kind of magic is this?”
She giggled. I wasn’t attempting a joke, but to her, it must have sounded like it.
“Let’s give him a proper burial this time, okay?”
She began to carefully place handfuls of soil over the cat chunk by chunk, with a caring, artistic intent. I kneeled down and followed her motions silently, hoping to learn more about why she was acting in the way that she was.
Maybe it wasn’t quite that I wanted to just learn how to mimic her bizarre actions.
It felt more as if I wanted to understand why she was doing such things.
“My name is Suki Handa. It’s nice to meet’cha.”
She was the first to introduce herself. It caught me by surprise, if only slightly.
“I am Hiniku Furukawa. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“You’re so formal. This isn’t some corporate meeting, ya know? We’re just kids.”
She giggled again.
Even though I wasn’t making a joke.
“I don’t understand you.”
“Really? ‘Cuz ya seem like a pretty simple-minded dude.”
A bluff, surely. Unless I had greatly miscalculated my own ability to blend in.
“Do I seem… like a human?”
She thought for a moment, taking my unintentional question more seriously that I had expected her to.
Had I blown my cover?
“Yeah. You do.”
A smile formed on her face.
“I see. That’s good then.”
“What, you secretly some kinda alien or somethin’?”
I was from another world. So by definition, that was something that I could be called. But a human wouldn’t likely believe me, so surely there would be little consequence in some honestly.
“More akin to a demon of sorts.”
“So you’re a chunni, huh.”
“I don’t understand.”
She giggled again.
And not at the response that I calculated she would.
“Gimme your LIME username.”
She wished to keep consistent contact. Between common classmates, club members, and infatuated girls, I hadn’t once allowed any humans to keep consistent contact with me unless they already had in the past. It seemed that I had few relationships with others before I had left this world initially, so I decided it would be best to keep it that way.
But if I were to begin talking to this girl, perhaps she could teach me how to better mimic a human. Perhaps I could try and understand her.
“Apologies, but I’m not interested.”
No, she had proved to be more sharp than she initially let on, as well as potentially dangerous. Perhaps not magic, but she seemed to have some sort of strange abilities nonetheless. It would be smart to keep away from her in the future.
I turned around quickly and walked away, before she could respond.
I would have to study humans a little more before I could face a difficult opponent like her again.