The Consequence of Saving the World
I hate you.
The only time I could recall uttering these three words was the first time I had chicken. It was only after I realised that ‘Matilda’’ was no longer in the coop, did it dawned upon me that the new, delicious meat I ate last dinner was her. I stormed into mum’s room crying, “I hate you! You’re a murderer!” among other things. From that point onwards, my childhood was lost and I swore off chicken meat.
The difference between that incident and the one happening in front of me was the way “I hate you,” was said. Mine burned brightly with anger, but the flame fizzled out as quickly as it ignited. The same three-word declaration from the little girl, however, was ice cold. It was the type of hatred that harboured in one’s heart for years.
I found it hard to believe that Sereya could warrant that kind of contempt from a small child of all people. Then again, her past was a hidden stash of mysteries to me. Looking at her expression, it seemed that she too was completely baffled to hear that statement. It appeared to me that she didn’t know who the child behind the lady named Anita was.
Kneeling down and placing her hands on the child’s shoulders, Anita rebuked, “Ain! What are you saying?! Apologise immediately!”
Ain swiped off the lady’s hands while yelling, “Mum she’s the one who—”
Before she could finish her sentence, Anita silenced her daughter with a painful sounding slap.
“Go to the cart right now!” she scolded as she pointed in my direction, “Wait next to that uncle!”
Ack—even though Sereya was on the receiving end of a hostile declaration, I was the one who suffered injury. Look, I was trapped in a twenty-eight-year-old body, but I was still mentally eighteen! You could’ve said “that guy,” or “that man,” but nope, you just had to go to “uncle” territory Anita. I didn’t even know you!
My self-reflection on the connection between my age and my appearance was cut short by the next act of the dramatic theatre show in front of me. Even onlookers were stealing glances at this display.
Ain looked exactly like me when I was slapped by my own mother—hand on cheek, eyes teary and in disbelief. If it was me, I would’ve started bawling. The reason why she didn’t was because the physical pain of the slap didn’t hurt as much as the emotional one. The act of her mother siding with the object of her hatred was a lot more damaging.
She shot Sereya a murderous glare as Anita lowered her head and apologised on her daughter’s behalf. Sereya was waving her hand, gesturing to her not to mind it, but the swordswoman was as confused as I am.
Ain stomped towards me, her twitching eyes met mine. Damn, maybe I should have acted busy or looked somewhere else. Since there was eye contact, if I turned away, it’ll make things even more awkward.
She didn’t say anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if she hated all adults at that moment. As she stood beside me, a heavy cloud loomed over us. The poor girl probably felt more alone than anyone else—a feeling no child should experience.
“Hey,” I mindlessly blurted that out. No response. After quickly rearranging my thoughts, I commented:
“You’re the bravest person in the world, you know that? There’s no one alive who has the balls to say that to one of the Seven Heroes.”
A cold silence followed. She could probably sense what I was trying to do and wasn’t exactly buying into it. However, I was caught off-guard when she asked, “Are you one of the Seven Heroes, too?”
“Nope! Just an ordinary guy,” I recalled Sereya’s words. Not gonna invite trouble by impersonating an overpowered fellow, nope. I followed up with, “I’m a weakling. If my mum hit me like that, I’ll be crying like a baby. Uwah! Uwah!”
Success! That little giggle helped to mend the tattered atmosphere somewhat. Though, I could feel myself cringing inside as I performed my horrible rendition of a crying infant.
“Thanks for trying to cheer me up, uncle.”
Arghhh! That blasphemous word! Hearing that from a child was even worse. I could feel my ego getting run over by a carriage. It was such an immense mental blow, I even physically winced a bit.
“N-No big deal,” I had to mask the pain. I prayed that Sereya and Anita would finish their conversation quicker so we could leave.
Ain threw another unexpected question in my way. This time, it was even more challenging.
“I’m Ain. Uncle, what’s your name?”
Sereya and I hadn’t come up with a fake identity for me. The unpleasant sensation of sweat sliding down my forehead didn’t aid me in my thinking.
Turning my head to look at Ain was a mistake. Her eyes had brightened up a little, but the pressure they added was a lot. Think, Evan, think!
“My n-name is…” even my saliva was panicking—I almost choked myself on it.
“My name is Uncle!”
Ah confound me sideways. At the worst moment, my tongue betrayed its master. The mental torment was made manifest. I just introduced myself with the worst possible name in existence.
“Pfft,” a tiny noise was released beside me, followed by a snort, followed by, “Hahahahah! Wait, are you serious? your parents named you Uncle?! So do I call you ‘Uncle Uncle’ like Uncle Chris or Uncle Adam?”
“Y-Yes,” I conceded. I gave her happiness at the cost of mine.
“Hahaha! Oh, I’m so sorry, Uncle Uncle! I didn’t mean to laugh at your name! It’s just the way you said it was so funny!”
Please send me back to the hospital already. I was pretty certain all my organs were bleeding.
Unbeknownst to the girl, her fit of laughter has drawn the attention of Sereya and Anita, who walked towards us.
“Aw, look at you,” As Sereya addressed me, Ain quickly suppressed her laughter, but was failing miserably. She escaped by hopping onto the back of the cart.
Sereya continued, “I didn’t know you were good with kids.”
“Yeah, me too,” I acknowledged weakly.
Sereya suddenly bit the side of her lip as she muttered, “Not gonna lie, but that is kinda hot, Uncle.”
Done. I. Was. Done.
Forget the hospital, just dig a hole and bury me already. Life was a mistake.
Her words materialised an ethereal sword that flew and pierced me through the sternum. I dropped down to my knees as I felt invisible blood leaking out of all my orifices. The only thing that refused to shut down was my mind, burning and suffering in the flames of humiliation.
“Are you okay, sir?” Anita questioned as I felt her gaze land on the downtrodden me.
Unable to answer, Sereya voluntarily assisted on my behalf, “Don’t worry, Uncle will recover in a bit.”
That wasn’t assistance. That was betrayal.
I forced whatever was left of me to stand up. I ignored Sereya’s smug face to greet Anita.
“Thank you so much for helping to cheer my daughter up,” she bowed.
“It’s fine. Can I go and drive the cart now?” I didn’t want to sit at the back of the cart and get abused any further.
“No, how could I trouble a Dragon-ranked adventurer with that? Please, your presence is already enough.”
Wait—I was a what now?
“Thanks Anita,” Sereya then whispered to me, “You being in the cart with Ain and me will help to make things a lot less awkward.”
I surrendered to my fate and let Anita take the reins for us. As she headed off to the front, I asked Sereya:
“What’s a Dragon-ranked adventurer and why am I one?”
“That’s our rank. Back when Hanasuke was inside of you, we were adventurers. Sorry, I mean we are still adventurers. A Dragon-rank license lasts a lifetime, y’know?”
My only knowledge of adventurers were the occasional few that came to visit Breven, but I wasn’t aware of any ranking system.
“Out of curiosity, what are the adventurer ranks?”
She explained, “There are five in total—Goblin, Ogre, Basilisk, Chimera and Dragon—each monster represents the approximate strength and ability of the adventurer.”
Wonderful. So I was registered as someone who’s as strong as a bloody dragon of all things. Great. Just great.
“I’m ready to go whenever you two are ready!” Anita exclaimed from the front of the horse cart.
“Don’t worry Evan. If for some reason you needed to wield your sword, just say that your old injuries made you extremely weak.”
As the two of us got on the back of the cart, Ain was tucked at the corner. Sereya nudged me to sit in front of her, while she sat at the opposite end, near our belongings. She probably found out from Anita why her daughter hated her, so sat further away to avoid aggravating the child.
I was stuck with a girl who’d call me Uncle Uncle. Goddess help me. Couldn’t have asked for a better start to our journey.