Chapter 127: Standing Tall With No Heart

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“Look, Johan. Some defects can be overcome by confronting them head-on as you tried until now. But if they are simply too much, then that means you must accept them and see how to use them for good. For example, try to channel all that pride you have for something more constructive.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?!” → Johan

“Only you know. If I had your defects then I might have been able to help some more. All I can do right now is just to advise and draw your attention in case you’re going down the wrong path, but I can’t tell you what to do, for this is your own life, Johan.”


At her words, I finally understood what to do. I tried to use my pride to envelop my heart and think that whatever happened or whoever tried to do me wrong, I should never care about it anymore. This helped me control my rage and not mind the others that much, using the pride in a form which would be the best described as nothing is worth enough to affect me. I shouldn’t let myself be affected by the world around. Of course, it didn’t work all the time and the moment I was finally able to feel calmer was only when I reached 17 in high school. Even so, this way of using my pride actually only guarded my heart with indifference, making it weak and rather frail.

I was also able to make some friends while evading tons of problems. By then I already left the dojo while I started training home on my own and be fully engrossed on reading the books from my great-grandmother’s library. However, there was a moment that still made my finally-balanced life to collapse once again.


“A blood-moon?” → Johan


I asked my friend Daniel which just told me about some kind of news he found on the internet on his phone.


“Yeah man! It seems that tonight the full moon will be bloody-red! It’s called something like ‘the eclipse of a super blood-moon’. Dunno what that is but just imagine how badass the moon will look like!”


He was somewhat excited over something that I couldn’t find that surprising.


“Indeed. It’s also said that in this time, the bad spirits acquire the strongest power.”


Another friend of mine named Ariel said with a terrifying grin.


“Pff then we better find a walking ghost tonight, hahaha~!”


Philip laughed out loud then continued.


“Alright guys, let’s get back in class, it’s too damn hot outside, and we also have to prepare for the exams.”


We four then reentered the school and continued our studies until classes were over when I left for home. After arriving home I felt like there was something wrong. The light in the apartment was dim while there was no noise, an eerie silence taking over.


“… Mom?” → Johan


I shouted out when I heard the familiar and always cheerful voice of my mother.


“Johan? Welcome! Sorry, I was cooking something from your great-grandmother’s book.”

“Huh? She also had a cooking book?” → Johan

“Seems so. Here dear, please drink this before going to bed. It should help you sooner or later.”

“Hm? What do you mean?” → Johan

“You’ll see in the future.”


Mother smiled knowingly at me and then she passed me a cup of what seemed to be tea with dried leaves inside.


“Together with the leaves?” → Johan

“Together with the leaves.”

“… Oh well, it’s not like I’ll die from this.” → Johan


I gulped the tea in one go then took something to eat while chit-chatting with my mother. After finishing eating, mother passed me another cup.


“Ah, dear. Here, also drink this.”

“Okay.” → Johan


Without looking I drank half a cup of what seemed normal water. Not long after, I started to feel a slight burning sensation inside my chest.


“Huh? Was that some kind of medicine? I feel my chest burning… And a somewhat irritating feeling as well…” → Johan

“It was just some Holy Water. Tonight is a Red Moon and we don’t wish for my son to get attacked again like when he was young, do we?”

“R-right. Well, I’ll go to sleep now.” → Johan


Before leaving the kitchen, the mother whispered to me.


“However much I wish for you to rest for once, you must still wake up… I’m sorry my son, but you can’t rest yet…”

“Excuse me?” → Johan


I was barely able to hear what she said so I asked back confused.


“I just said have a good night~.”

“Ah! Same to you.” → Johan


She smiled beautifully then I left, closing the door behind me.


After arriving inside my own room I completely forgot about the blood moon as I took another book from the huge bookshelves and started reading until late when I finally crashed on my bed to sleep. That night I was barely able to sleep. Nightmares and somber visions mixed together and created something that I wasn’t even sure If it was a vision or a life-like dream, anymore. It was about me trying to revive a dead friend by using the help of a devil. However, rather than reviving my dead friend, I gave free-way to the devil to possess his body and attack me. I had to kill him all over again while I ended up contracted with the devil with a rusted chain by my ankle. A thick chain appeared around my left leg, connected to the collar around the Devil’s neck. After I saw his face I felt like terror and fury engulfed me at the same time, feeling freezing cold and burning hot altogether. His one eye opened wide then said in a furious tone.


[That bitch knew… She knew about me!]


“Eh? W-what?!” → Johan


I was terrified as I felt like this dream wasn’t a dream any longer.


[I won’t let it happen as she wishes. If I can’t take you, then I’ll take your most precious thing!]


His fury exploded and made me wake up. I started breathing heavily while my heart was almost jumping out of my chest.


W-what the hell was that?… No, wait… What is this feeling like I’m forgetting something? W-why do I feel so pained inside? → Johan


My eyes wettened while I started to feel as if something incredibly painful was about to happen. It felt as if my hardly-acquired calm days are coming to an end just like that.


N-no… No, it can’t be. Mother, I need to talk to her about this. → Johan


I rushed outside the room and entered the kitchen, only to find everything the same way it was when I left to sleep, with my mom still mixing some kind of herbs inside an iron pot.


“M-mother? Haven’t you left to sleep? Rather, how long did I sleep for?” → Johan


I was confused and I started to understand something that made me feel despair.


It can’t be true… My head… my chest… they all hurt! → Johan


I tried to ignore and negate memories and knowledge that invaded my mind as if trying to fill in a bucket that was dried by an external force.


My mom turned around and with a pained smile she told me:


“I know it’s hard for you, my child… But you must not let your fears and impulses control your path. You still have something to do, a responsibility you yourself placed on your back.”

“W-what are you talking about, mother?” → Johan

“… Son, look behind you…”


With a rushing heart, I slowly turned around toward the open door, only to see the entire house disappear and darkness engulf everything, except the kitchen in which mother and I resided.


“W-what the hell is this?!” → Johan


[Huff, huff… GROAAGH!]


Inside the darkness, I was able to see a monstrous devil with one eye, struggling while being chained down by thick and rusty chains. From the chains, a smoke separated and took the form of myself, but fully equipped in purple armor, with a thin, bluish-white golden blade in one hand and a huge fiery golden halberd in the other. He looked at me with imposing eyes then said in an ethereal voice:


[The time has come to wake up. We still have work to do, a battle to fight, and a path to walk.]


His words made space around to vibrate while his imposing aura was stable as a mountain.


“W-who are you?” → Johan

“Johan… You should know him all too well by now. You first talked with him when you were fourteen, didn’t you? In that snowy day at night.”


Mother smiled helplessly while closing up to me. She touched my face gently then said with teary eyes. I saw how my body grew, my clothes changed and more memories flowed into my head.


“My son… even though I’d wish to stay with you for longer, the time has finally come for you to leave this world of memories. If you stay anymore, the devil will devour more than he already did.”

“W-what are you talking-“ → Johan

“Son. This tea I gave you around three years ago was exactly for this moment. I made it in a way which would connect my spirit with yours and help you out in case your soul was in imminent danger. I’m sorry it took this long for us to finally connect. You had to go through a lot, my child…”

“W-wait… I can’t follow. J-just how? And why only now? You mean all these years I lived until now were just an illusion induced by that devil? T-then it might as well be an illusion the fact that my name is Johan as well?!” → Johan


The mother then lightly tapped my forehead and slightly smiled.


“Calm down. You’re Johan and my precious child no matter what, and this is no illusion or fake memory. The devil simply sealed you in your own memories and made you relive your entire life until you reached the point when he engulfed you again. At that point, he would’ve used your weakened spirit to swallow your soul completely. However, my drink, which was a way for me to connect to your soul, triggered the connection inside this memory-world after your first contact with the devil that happened exactly on a red full-moon when you had this vision… My child, this devil has a long connection with you from many past-lives, but before that connection could finally wear off, you summoned him again in another life and rebuilt it. I made this connection so I could break this memory-loop the devil created so you won’t be swallowed by him. I knew that one day, the devil will try to swallow your soul, so I researched many years for a way to combat him after I found out of this devil from great-grandmother…”

“Hold on I said! Please!” → Johan


I got down on my knees and my heart started to hurt even more.


“What is this feeling!? Why do I feel like this?! I can’t stand it!” → Johan


I felt like bursting in tears while my chest was beating and tearing in pain. I felt a pain of the soul comparable to losing something or someone incredibly precious to me.


“…I’m sorry Johan… Even though I was able to break this illusory world, I still failed to protect your heart… Johan, from now on, you will… forget your heart…“

“…Eh?” → Johan


My mother’s words made me freeze. I stared at her in shock, seeing her pained and filled with guilt face, then back at the devil in the back, who was breathing heavily but made a sinister smile at me.


[I might not be able to take you with me… But at least I’ll be sure to make you wish for death!]


His words felt like swords cutting at my ears.

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“N-no way. W-what about you?! Mother! What will happen to you?!” → Johan

“I will be alright, my son… But not here anymore… Not in your memories, nor in your heart…”


Then the other me from behind stepped forward and grabbed my shoulder.


[Any more time wasted and you’ll lose even more. We need to leave.]


“W-wait! What about the mother?! I-I can’t. I can’t do this!” → Johan


[The deed has already been done. There is no turning back.]


My eyes were red and filled with tears. I followed the other me while looking behind at my mother who was also crying.


[We will meet again, Omisus. As for your mother, you won’t even remember her again!]


The devil roared with a maddening laugh then a fire started to appear inside the kitchen.


“N-no… Please, anything but this… Don’t let me forget them…” → Johan


Inside the kitchen, more and more people started to appear, while it enlarged as if to fit in everyone. And those people were the most precious people I met in this life until now and held them in my heart. Great-grandmother, my father, my cousins, the only friends I had in this world. Then more and more other people even from another world, from Sario: Ryu, Theodore, Melinda, Bonny, Ashura, the latest friend I was able to make, Yuri, and the one and only love I was able to find in this life: Sylvia. They all appeared inside that burning room, the mother still smiling at me then saying in a trembling voice, her eyes reddening from crying.


“You made a lot of friends there, Johan. Please hurry back and even when you’ll forget us, please don’t lose hope. No matter how dark you’ll see your past, the future can always be made to shine bright like the sun. And it will, for I will always pray for you to find new happiness. A new heart.

“No! NO! Don’t make me forget about them! I beg you! Rosabhi!” → Johan


The room burned completely then the door closed, engulfed by the darkness. My eyes gazing in emptiness while being dragged by the other me. Suddenly, my body then turned into my character Shen as my real name seemed to have no longer any kind of value.


The Second Will stopped in front of the grinning devil and gazed at him from above with a rare hateful glare.


[Now. The time has come to wake up.]


He handed me the thin sword and I grabbed it unconsciously.


“…”


I looked at the kneeling and grinning devil in front of me, then with killing intent, I raised the sword above my head, ready to strike as the golden blade shone with a blinding light.


[Understand that this won’t kill him. He will continue to exist, locked inside your soul and sealed until the next time to confront him.]


“… That’s enough for now.” → Johan


With cold and bloodshot eyes I slashed downward and blood splashed everywhere. At the same time, the light died down as the sword turned pitch black while the golden luster left the blade toward the handle, still shining but with an incredibly weak light.


“Now that I am the one in control, I’ll be sure to repay him in full.” → Johan


I looked with a red and hateful glint at Rosabhi’s decapitated body as I reached out with my sword and stabbed through his head. I rose the head above me and the dripping blood fell on my face and clothes.


“For now, I will take this as repayment.” → Johan


[[[POV CHANGES BACK TO EARTH]]]


Back on Earth, inside an apartment, a woman just woke up from her bed and stared in a daze outside the window, towards the city covered in white snow. She starred in a trance for a moment then small, crystalline tears fell down her face. A sad smile appeared as she hushed in a low tone:


“Even if you leave me… Even if you forget me. I will always be there for you, my son. Your mother will always stay by your side like a guardian angel, defending you from the darkness that so much torments you in and outside your soul.”


She then walked beside her bed and lifted an old book on which was written Witchcrafts for Soul Defense, and an old wooden cane with circles and the head of a little wooden wolf.


You helped me once again, grandmother. I pray for your soul up in the heavens.


The staff shone with a pale-yellow glow for a second then turned back to normal the next moment. The mother left her room and walked toward the kitchen to prepare the breakfast for herself, the father already being on another voyage on the other part of the globe.


“…”


I slowly opened my eyes and saw a wooden ceiling through with, dirt was visibly hanging. I then gazed around and observed how I was in a little hut with one bed made of hardened earth and covered in fur, two wooden chairs poorly crafter together with a  table made with the same clumsiness, and a window which was covered by a wooden plank.


Where am I?


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I tried to get up from the bed but felt my body sluggish and heavy, while my chest was hurting and my head was buzzing.


Ugh, what is going on- huh?


I reached for my head and touched my face, only to feel something wet. I found my face filled with tears.


Am I crying? Why? And what in the world have I dreamed about? I can only remember a burning pain inside my chest, killing intent, rage, then nothing; leaving behind a deep and empty hole inside my heart.


I felt tired, sorrowful and empty. I felt like I lost something incredibly important but no matter how hard I tried to remember, nothing came to my mind. In the end, I sighed helplessly and got up from the bed. I found myself with only my boxers on while my body was completely naked.


…What is this?


Even so, what appeared to be rusty chains were tattooed all over my body, going from an “X” on my chest, to circles around my waist, then around my neck, arms, legs, and ending with a rusty and thick cuff around my left ankle. The chain seemed pretty thick and life-like, while just the visual effect made me feel restrained.


“Clothes…”


I looked through my inventory and grabbed the long-forgotten clothes that I first had when I appeared into this world. I then got outside the little hut and observed how it was slowly snowing, outside being completely dark. The roads were empty while left and right, little huts just like mine were quietly covered by the snow, the conical roofs not letting for too much snow to reside over it while at the tip, an Illuminating crystal was shining with a bluish-white color, making the snow seem even shinier than before.


…This place… Why don’t I remember its name? I know that I was also one of the founders who partaken in its growth…


I walked around, looking confusedly while my empty heart weakly pulsated as if trying to search for a familiar feeling through a dark hole. The more I thought about it, the more I felt the emptiness inside my chest.


However much I try, I simply can’t remember. No use thinking about it then… There. I should understand something when I get there.


I saw a huge stone-tower in the middle of the huge fortified city, the tip of the tower looks as if it was newly built, the stone seemingly in a much better form than the one from the lower levels.


I knocked at the wooden door but it simply opened on its own. I entered without waiting for someone to welcome me and continued after reaching the stairs on my own. The tower was quite huge, around seven floors, each one of them having one room and a corridor which welcomed the visitors. I felt no presence from the lower floors so I continued to climb the stairs until I reached the last floor. There, through the cracks of a closed wooden door, a dim light, perhaps from more candles, flashed and flickered continuously. I stepped forward and lightly knocked on the door twice.


“… Enter.”


A tired voice of a young man resounded from the other part of the door and I did just that. I pushed the door with a creaking sound and entered while stepping on the stone floor covered with the skin of a brown demonic bear. On the stone walls, more candles illuminated the place while inside the room, what resembled a couch made from fur, was placed right in the middle and in front of it a little wooden table and three other wooden chairs. Behind all of this, a sturdy-looking stone-table was made and atop of it, more rolled parchment made of beast-skin and written paper were stacked one over the other. Behind the stone-table, a young dragoon with dark long and sharp horns, sharp black nails, two black wings, and dragon-like golden eyes, was doing some intense paper-work with much interest. His body was massive but his structure was balanced, with well-proportioned muscles and his long black hair fell down his shoulders. After I stopped my steps, his eyes finally gazed my way then he suddenly jumped up from his seat in a hurry.


Does he know me?


I felt a little bit confused by his reactions but I stood still until he gave me the right to speak. From all the papers and documents on top of his stone-table, I was able to tell that he was one of the more important people of this place.


“S-Shen… How are you now?”


…Shen? Wait… I think that’s what I’m called in this world… I think I’m also from another world. I’ll just ask him directly. → Shen


“Sir, I’ll like to ask you some things when you’ll be free. If right now is not a good moment then I can leave and come another time.” → Shen


I said in a calm voice then he stared at me completely baffled, his mouth open and showing his sharp canines. He then got beside his office and with a  trembling voice, he tried to ask some weird questions, as if not believing what I just said.


Sir? What are you talking about, Shen? Aren’t we friends? Why are you suddenly talking so formally?”

“Friends…? I’m sorry sir, but I can’t remember.” → Shen


I felt nothing while seeing his devastated expression. He stared into my empty eyes and swallowed dryly.


“D-don’t tell me… You have amnesia?”

“Probably, sir.” → Shen

“W-wait. That’s not possible, at least not in this world… You can’t simply forget us like that just from a fight, there must’ve been some kind of side-effects because of the devil. I mean, look at yourself, you look nothing of what you were before.”

“Hm?” → Shen


Look at me? → Shen


I then created a bubble of water atop of my palm and tried to see myself through its reflection. It was true, I really did change from what I remembered. My once brownish and curly hair had now dark and spiky spots, my eyes were still green but the ring around the irises was brown, while I was still able to feel my canines longer and sharper than what a normal human would have. The tattoos with the chains were also a huge change that I couldn’t overlook either.


While I was examining myself, the dragoon felt more agitated and asked in a hurry.


“W-what about your disciples, do you remember them? Bonny, the little demon Theodore, the little fairy Melinda. You loved them like they were your own, what about them?”

“It rings no bell.” → Shen

“T-then what about this place? This place we’re supposed to call home from now on?! This new world we built for those with no place? For the lost souls?”

“… I’m sorry sir. I can’t even remember my original home.” → Shen

“Not even Earth…? T-then what about Sylvia?! You have a heart’s connection or something, right? You surely didn’t forget about her!”

“…”


I shook my head helplessly. Seeing me still showing no signs of remembering, Ryu fell back down on his chair and grabbed his own head, seemingly in despair.


“What should I do now…? With Shen suffering from amnesia, how am I supposed to make this Kingdom rise on my own?” → Ryu


Hearing him talk I opened my mouth and said in a calm voice.


“Sir, with all my respect, I think I can prove to be useful.” → Shen

“Huh?”


Ryu looked up again and asked completely confused. The way I talked with him made him feel somewhat rejected.


“It seems that what I lost are bits and pieces, but the whole idea is still here, together with all my knowledge and information. I know that I contributed in a way for the birth of this place and I also have a role to play in. Something like my duty. I know that I need to make this place flourish, even though I don’t know if I could call it home, for I don’t even remember what it means. I remember that I died two times already, that I got transported into this world from another, and that I must keep my promise with the heroes. What I can’t remember are the reasons I was fighting for, the place from where I started, and the final goal I’m struggling for.” → Shen


Now that I think about it… I don’t remember any kind of meaningful thing that happened in my life and also what nice feelings are…Ah, I feel like I’ve lived for nothing… → Shen


While talking I finally understood the emptiness in my heart. What I lost are the reasons for the fire inside me and the fire itself. I lost what was the most important to me, I lost what was driving me toward a goal and I lost the goal itself together with the place I started from. Now I know that this emptiness inside is the feeling of being lost and feeling meaningless. Completely lost in a foreign world with nobody to lean on, nobody to trust and no place to return to.


Rosabhi… So this is the despair you so wished to make me feel… Congratulation, I never felt so devastated and broken in my whole life. → Shen


I gazed at the stone ceiling, my eyes completely empty and spiritless.


“… Man… Shen.”


Seeing me make such a devastated expression made Ryu get closer and pat my shoulder. With a calm and firm voice, he said to me:


“My friend- no. My brother. No matter how lost you are, you must remember and understand, that this place will always be a home for you. Everyone here is indebted to you and will do anything for your shake. Please don’t feel alone when you have thousands of people calling out to you.” → Ryu

“… I might remember them, but I have no attraction for them… I feel no such things as love or trust for any of them. And I’m pretty sure that I can’t call such a foreign place as home either.” → Shen

“If your old memories are erased, then you can only make some new ones. From what I understand, right now you can’t even trust me, am I right?” → Ryu


He asked with a weak smile, feeling hurt by my forgetfulness.


“Sorry…” → Shen

“It’s fine. That’s how you are; always keeping your own heart closed and not let anyone else near it until completely sure of the person. I know you all too well by now, brother.” → Ryu

“… I will try to trust you some more, Sir.” → Shen

“It’s fine, with time everything will go for the best. And for me you’re still my brother, I’d rather have you call me Ryu, Shen.” → Ryu

“… Alright, Ryu.” → Shen


Ryu smiled at me then made me sit down on the couch as he sat on the wooden chair opposite to me. While drinking some black tea he just made, we continued to talk about different stories to understand what I forgot and what I still remembered. While doing so I found out that he was still unaware of the more recent news. For example about the peninsula from the Raising Seas, the experience with the pirates and the saved slaves. Even more so about the moment when I died and about Bururiba’s outburst. However, I can’t fully remember why Bururiba was so enraged, why there was such a tension when I woke up, and also what happened after.

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