The people of Albion just didn't seem to understand.
Time and time again the Hero would stroll through Albion's towns with a newly acquired trophy in hand, and each time brought a similar reaction from the townsfolk. There were cheers, shouts, and people calling his name and doing anything to get his attention. Throngs would gather around him just to get a glimpse of the Hero and see what he had to show for his most recent successful quest, no matter how simple or gruesome the prize actually was.
The Hero was happy to oblige of course, but at the same he would rather not be pestered repeatedly for every little thing he did. He would wave his new prize before their eyes and they would either smile with glee like little schoolgirls or run off and hide at the hideous sight of a severed head. Sometimes he would wander into town for no other reason other than visiting and villagers would still come up to him asking about what adventure he could be returning from or what creature he had just killed or what trophies he had to share. He would reply with a mere shrug, and they would simply skulk off back to their peaceful lives, which the Hero was both amused and troubled by.
After dealing with the usual crowd he managed to find a peaceful spot in Oakvale's southwestern beach. He took off his chainmail helmet, relieving his head from the immense heat that had built up inside and felt the pleasant warmth of the evening sun upon his face. The cool salty sea breeze blew through his long light blonde hair and the waves kicked drops of water onto his plate boots. As he stared out into the sea and listened to the waves at his feet he could feel his mind and body begin to relax, a feeling he always welcomed. He smiled, and then he grabbed the hilt of his blade and his pack and laid them both onto the sand before taking a seat himself.
Even though it seemed rather uninteresting for a Hero of his stature, one of his favorite pastimes was simply doing nothing at all. Sure, there was the thrill and excitement of going on quests and combating creatures from all across Albion, and the rewards were often worth the trouble, but reflecting upon it all gave him a greater sense of accomplishment than the actual quests and the rewards themselves somehow. His thoughts would drift to the people he encountered, the creatures he had slain, the land he had traveled upon, and the artifacts he had discovered. They each would leave a mark (or scar) upon him, ones that he would never forget anytime soon.
And yet, something about it all still bothered him. He didn't think it was the traveling or the killing, or even the incredible tasks that were set before him. Even though he had thought about it countless times before, he still couldn't quite put his finger on what exactly it was. He gazed back and forth across the ocean's horizon, but then he caught his pack from the corner of his eye. The Hero stared at the pack for awhile and then felt the need to dig inside of it. He hadn't searched its contents for quite some time and he was certain that there were plenty of things inside that he didn't really need nor want.
The Hero reached over and pulled his oversized pack next to him and then shoved his hand inside. He pulled out several health and will potions, pieces of red meat, green apples, a pair of villager gloves, a resurrection phial, a chicken hat (the Hero felt his face turn red as he set it aside), a silver key, and numerous other items that he wasn't even sure how they got into his pack, let alone their purpose. He dug deeper into his pack and felt the hard surface of something unnaturally cold and knew exactly what it was and who it belonged to. He quickly pulled his hand out; surprised that he felt the coldness even through his gauntlets. He shook his head and breathed a heavy sigh, still amazed at how short of breath it makes him from a simple touch. He then reached back into the pack.
His fingers then felt something he had completely forgotten about and he pulled out the Hobbes Tooth Trophy. The Hero held the small chained golden tooth in the air above him, watching it glimmer in the sunlight. A small smile formed as an old friend came to mind along with a large group of Hobbes, but then it faded as he remembered that that same friend was now gone forever from the shores of Albion. He gently placed the tooth aside and reached back into his pack, feeling the hard surface of another familiar trophy. He pulled it out and a large smile spread across his face as he held the Champion's Seal. It was forever the symbol of one of his greatest achievements, one that he would carry along with his legend for ages to come. He placed it next to the Hobbes Tooth and reached back into his pack, touching something small but hard. He pulled it out to find Whisper's Brooch and another smile came. He placed it with his other trophies and reached back in. His face then turned into a frown.
He thought he could feel something soft, though he wasn't exactly sure. He pulled his gauntlet off his large hand and then pulled out the item and his frown hardened. The soft, dark purple cloth hung from his hand in an almost depressing manner as he held it by its golden clasp. He pulled off his other gauntlet so he could feel it with his bare hands and slowly touched its glossy surface. It felt rather cold, even in the afternoon sun, and somehow seemed duller than he remembered. The purple cloth was still soft to the touch like silk and there was still something…magical about it as if it were alive in some way. He stared deeply into the clasp, his small reflection staring back at him with a small glimmer from his pale blue eyes.
And slowly, the face of an old Hero formed in his mind, with silver hair, glowing markings across light skin and eyes that were once as bright as his own…
A splintering sound of wood pierced his thoughts and he gazed to his left toward the dock, spotting a male villager who had just dropped a crate and was staring down at the mess of wood that lay at his feet. The Hero smirked slightly and watched the man as he picked up the crate piece by piece with a scowl on his face. Another man came from out of view and began to help the other, making the Hero's smile widen. Other than the man's little mishap, the village was wonderfully quiet, reminding the Hero that this was one of the things that he always fought for: slaying evil across the land so that the people could live their lives peacefully and happily.
And yet, to the Hero it sometimes seemed like they didn't truly care. There were the usual congratulations and questions about his trophies, but then the same people would sometimes criticize him, ignore everything else about him and forget that he was a man with a heart and soul. They didn't care about the effort, the sweat, or the blood that was spilt in the process or the pain that he went through. He was a celebrity to the people…and nothing more. He had truly become too famous for the public eye, and he wasn't sure if that was a good thing, let alone something that he wanted from the start of his training as an apprentice in the Hero's Guild.
Looks like Briar Rose knew what she was talking about after all…
He clenched his fist around Maze's clasp at his thoughts. His heightened senses suddenly picked up the presence of someone nearby and coming toward him. He could hear the crunching of footsteps in the sand and by the heavy sound of it, it was a man. The Hero gazed to the left and spotted the short, kindly figure of the Guildmaster walking toward him from the town. When he was merely a few feet away the Guildmaster stopped, baring a friendly smile beneath his bushy moustache.
"Hello there, Hero." He said. "Somehow I'd thought you'd be here."
The Hero gave him a small smile and then slowly turned his gaze back toward the sea. The Guildmaster stepped closer until he stood right next to the Hero. At least he wasn't some random villager coming over to bother him with trivial matters.
"Sorry to disturb you…" The Guildmaster said simply. "But I figured I'd go ahead and find you since you haven't been answering your Guild Seal. Briar Rose is still waiting for you in Hook Coast and is starting to wonder whether or not you're going to show up."
The Hero gazed silently back into the ocean, listening to the gentle waves washing up the shore ever so peacefully…
"Something troubling you, Hero?" The Guildmaster asked, eyeing the clasp in the Hero's hand.
The Hero glanced at the Guildmaster for a moment, and then down at the clasp. He shrugged his shoulders. The Guildmaster raised an eyebrow.
"Mind if I have a seat?" He then asked.
The Hero looked up at the kindly old man and considered him for a moment. When the Guildmaster asked such things it meant that he wanted to engage in deep conversation, usually about him. He wasn't sure if he was in the mood for any sort of talk, whatever it may be about. At times like this he would rather be left alone with his own thoughts. Still, he never did mind the Guildmaster's company and he usually had words of wisdom or comfort for him and he would be willing to listen. The Hero motioned toward the space next to him with his hand and the Guildmaster smiled again and sat cross-legged in the sand.
"Lovely evening, isn't it?" The Guildmaster said softly. "It's always nice to find the time to enjoy sites like this while adventuring if I say so myself. During my youth as a Hero I would sometimes ignore the quests I was given and would simply explore the countryside to find peaceful places like this."
The Hero nodded in agreement. The sun had begun to sink into the ocean toward the right, making the clear sky a bright golden color and creating flecks of gold in the sea. The breeze from the waters became cooler and more consistent, bringing a welcome sensation to the Hero's face as it blew through his light locks of hair.
"It bothers you, doesn't it?" The Guildmaster suddenly asked.
The Hero turned his head to him with uncertainty, though he had a feeling he knew what he meant. The Guildmaster's smile was gone and was replaced with a concerned look in his eyes. Knowing that he couldn't lie to him, the Hero slowly nodded his head. The Guildmaster sighed.
"Well…on one hand you can't really blame them. They have their own lives to live. They have their own goals, beliefs, and their own problems. Many of them try to shun out anything outside of their own world, and for good reason. On the other hand, it's not really fair of some of them to criticize you and your own way of living, considering what you've done for them in all your years as a Hero. But you seem to getting along well regardless."
The Hero listened to his words, not surprised at how close to home they hit.
"There is something I'm quite curious about though, Hero." He continued, scratching his chin. "I've noticed that you tend to keep all of those hard earned trophies on your person. I think the last time I saw you show one to your peers was when you became Arena Champion. Surely there's a reason why you carry around all those trophies with you rather than adorn your homes with them or show them to the world?"
The Hero lowered his gaze onto the pile that he had created next to his pack. He had more of them still in his pack and a few of them he had indeed decorated his homes with, but the ones he had with him stood out in his heart and mind, mostly the bright orange surface of Whisper's Brooch. He never understood as to why Whisper gave it to him after their first duel as Heroes, especially considering how important it was to her and her family. But he was sure she had her reasons other than so he had something to show for his victory at Orchard Farm. He still hung on to it closely however and saw her face whenever he looked deep enough into it.
He then looked down at Maze's clasp again. This one somehow felt like more than just a mere trophy. The victory that it represented was all but forgotten to him. He could still remember the day Maze brought him to the Guild, trained him beside the Guildmaster, his final test of Apprentice training, how he lead him toward his missing sister Theresa, and his doomed betrayal. The memory of that last battle still stung his heart, the images of seeing his fallen form hit the cold and unforgiving snow of Hook Coast where their long battle took place. He never liked to think about it, but he knew it was true; he could have saved Maze, but Maze chose death instead, despite his own fear of it.
Whisper didn't have to leave, but she did. Maze didn't have to die, but he did. His mother didn't have to die, but she did. Theresa didn't have to leave, but she did…
He felt…rather alone…
"You know what I think?" The Guildmaster said, pulling the Hero out of his thoughts. "Those trophies of yours aren't trophies at all to you, they're something…more."
The Hero glanced at him, his eyes asking him to proceed.
"Even though you have your memories of each adventure, you want some other means to remember those you lost. That clasp, for instance. To me, it seems like…a keepsake of sorts."
The Hero raised the clasp into the air by the purple cloth. He held it in the direction of the setting sun, watching it glow with a dim but golden light. The face of Maze began to appear before his eyes again, back when he was the head of the Guild. Even though he never saw him often, the mark that he had left on the Hero was a permanent one, just like Whisper and his family had done.
"Let me know if I'm veering off the road, Hero." The Guildmaster said. The Hero lowered the clasp and turned to him, shaking his head. The Guildmaster smiled.
"Just remember one thing for me, would you?"
The Hero listened carefully.
"The memories you hold dear will always be close to heart, and are often times the greatest of rewards. Cherish them, just as you cherish that brooch and clasp. The only thing that counts is that you think about them, as that is proof of how much they meant to you. It doesn't matter if the people care about them or wish to know, just as long as you do. And who knows? Maybe they do as well."
The Hero narrowed his eyes, but now he felt that he understood. He smiled, and slipped his memories back into his pack along with all his other items. The people he loved were gone, but in a way, they never truly left, for they were still close to him in his heart. He knew, and perhaps deep down in their simple, feeble minds the people knew as well, that those were the only things that really mattered in the end.
The Guildmaster stretched out his legs and leaned back on his arms and the Hero mirrored his actions, feeling much more relaxed now in both mind and spirit. They watched as the sun dipped further into the sea, its golden glow dying, but ready to greet its next journey across the sky.