I closed out my brief summary of my experiences. Of course, I had many other tales to share about things that happened during those ten years, but they were hardly necessary to understanding the gist of how I came to be where I am, and what I had done in the place I had been. Rosalind wanted my life story. I had just given her a condensed version of it.
A brief silence passed between us as she watched me. I could tell from her unfocused, yet attentive eyes that she was sifting through her list of questions – a list that was undoubtedly very long – in order to find one that I would be willing to answer, given what she had heard of my tale. There was much that I had left unsaid. What could she ask about that I might be willing to reveal? In truth, I did not know. Whatever question she asked, I would answer as I saw fit. There was no point – or need – to predict her questions.
Finally she seemed to settle on one and spoke.
“You sounded like… you didn’t like fighting. Like if you had the chance, you would have rejected the honour of being a god’s chosen warrior.”
I laughed in derision. ‘The Honour of Being Chosen’. How often I had heard that phrase. How deeply it made my blood boil.
“Honour, you say? There’s nothing honourable in taking another life. In burning down towns, in killing women and children. There’s nothing honourable in what I did – what I was forced by circumstance to do. The looks of villagers, led away in chains, watching as I burned down a town to deny the enemy the chance to rest and take shelter – those looks are not gazes to be turned on honourable courses of action. I did so many things, committed numerous atrocities, for the sake of survival. Does that sound like an honour to you? Does it?!”
Losing control of myself, I slammed a fist into the wall next to me, leaving a large crater in it. Rosalind flinched away. Blood began to trickle down my palm. It seemed that Yingquan’s blessing had enhanced my physical strength as well – though it had done nothing for the toughness of my skin. I took deep breaths as I calmed myself down, then fixed my eyes on Rosalind, whose face had begun to show signs of fear.
“See? You flinch.”
I brought my fist back to my side, letting it fall limply next to my hip, blood dripping on the sheets as I averted my eyes. I had not intended to show Rosalind such a display. It had been years since I had lost my temper like that; perhaps it was the familiarity of the situation which drove me over the edge. Regardless, I had made an error. I fixated my gaze on the floorboards, certain that Rosalind would distance herself.
I felt a gentle touch on my bloody hand. I turned my head back towards Rosalind, and saw that she had taken my hand in her own, a soft pink light diffusing from her palms as my wound sealed itself up. She stared straight at me, her eyes bearing a gentle gaze that I could only suppose was motivated by compassion. She shook her head.
“I’m sorry for flinching. I was… surprised, is all. It was very sudden, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the bookworm in my guestroom to punch a hole through my wall.”
Her attempt at humour elicited a chuckle from me. I felt the tension diffusing. She continued.
“Perhaps it was wrong of me to think of your situation as an honour. For that, I apologise. But if nothing else, I do think you yourself are a very honourable person – or you would not feel so strongly about what you did.”
I gave a noncommital reply and tested my healed hand, slightly embarrassed, but also gratified that she thought of me as such. I decided to return to the topic at hand.
“That statement, about me not wanting to do it. It was a lead-in to a question. What was the question?”
Rosalind bit her lip, slightly uncomfortable. Clearly, she thought that the question she had intended to ask might be seen as offensive, now that she knew my aversion to what I had done. But she looked me in the eye and asked it anyway.
“If you didn’t want to be the Chosen Hero, then why didn’t you refuse?”
I blinked. It seemed like a question with an obvious answer.
“Because I needed to go home. I fought so I could claim passage back to my home plane. I couldn’t very well say no.”
Rosalind shook her head.
“But you could. You said that you were the greatest warrior of the kingdom. Surely, it would have been simple to turn your blade against your Emperor and force him to return you to your home. So why didn’t you?”
I froze. She was right. And I knew for the fact that during my ten years there, there had been many occasions when I had that exact same thought. Yet I never acted on it. Why? What had stopped me? It felt like there was a great void in my memory, that I could not recognise, that I skirted around without knowing it – a gap that I could not feel, except when I tried to search for something that should be there, but was not. I could feel it lying at the edges of my consciousness, but try as I might, I could not reel it in. There was a reason I had to obey the emperor’s orders – not because of magical compulsion. It was something… baser. Simpler. But what was it?
As I tried to think, as I tried to remember that fact, that important fact that had bound me to the Emperor, I felt a splitting headache. I clenched my teeth and doubled over, my hands clutching my head. Rosalind tapped me on the shoulder.
“Ely?! Ely, are you okay?”
I could not respond through the pain. I felt Rosalind’s hands touch my temples. I felt the pain recede as pink light entered the corner of my vision. The pain ebbed, from a stab, to a throb, to an ache, until finally it was gone. I breathed heavily, covered in sweat. I turned my head up to glance at Rosalind, who was watching me with concern.
I slowly sat up and collected myself. Rosalind continued to watch me, likely trying to see if I showed any signs of relapsing. Then she began to push herself off the bed, speaking as she did so.
“It’s okay. I don’t need to know. You should get some rest.”
For the second time that night, I grabbed her wrist, preventing her from leaving. I shook my head.
“No, I’m fine.”
I fixed her with a focused gaze. I needed to tell someone. It was tearing me apart. Perhaps she could sense this, because she nodded and sat down. I took a deep breath, then spoke.
“I had to follow the Emperor’s orders. I wasn’t magically compelled to or anything, but there was a reason I could not disobey… I just can’t remember what it is.”
“You… can’t remember?”
“Yes. And I think I know why. When Yingquan brought me to this world, she erased a part of my memories. I had come here in search of something, but she erased my memory of exactly what I was searching for. According to her, it’s to allow me to ‘enjoy my new life to the fullest, without any worries’. No doubt, these gaps in my memory are related to that. Whatever enforced my obedience to the Emperor is related to what I came here to find. I just don’t remember what it is right now.”
Having said my piece, I let go of her arm. She stayed on the bed, looking at me, but she seemed to be deep in thought. After a few moments, I could not stand the silence any longer, so I spoke up.
“Well? Was my story as interesting as you imagined?”
Rosalind started. Perhaps I had interrupted her train of thought. She nodded quickly and replied.
“Yes! Of course! That was a one-of-a-kind story if I’ve ever heard it. Perhaps I should forbid you from telling it to anyone else, so it can be mine alone~”
She spoke in a cheery manner, but I could tell there was something else.
“…What is it?”
I decided to cut to the heart of the matter. Rosalind’s smile faded as she gazed at me.
“It’s just… you came to this world, and you were searching for something, but you’ve forgotten what it is. You had a goal, but now it’s been lost. So… what are you going to do now? Where are you going to go?”
I bit my lip, thinking. I had spent the last month or so absorbed in Rosalind’s books; so absorbed that it had not occurred to me to think about where I should go from here. I enjoyed my time here, but it was clearly a temporary arrangement. I could not in good conscience continue to freeload off Rosalind’s goodwill. Soon, I would have to bid her farewell, and set off on the road again… but to where? I had no direction. I sighed.
“I don’t know. I should be searching for something, but I don’t know what it is. So I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where to go. I suppose I’ll wander where the wind takes me. I hadn’t really thought about it. But I should.”
Rosalind silently nodded and got up from the bed, but I could tell she was still deep in thought. She walked over to the lamp and switched it off. Shortly after, I heard her voice from the doorway.
“Goodnight, Ely. Thanks for sharing your story. I’ll see you in the morning.”
As her footsteps resounded from the corridor, marking her departure from my temporary lodgings, I lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. What did I want to do? Where did I want to go? Those thoughts churned around my mind as I fell into a turbulent sleep.