there’s dozens of stories about some kid from our world falling into a different, magical one, being the chosen one or the close companion of the chosen one and saving the world, and then going home where they’re delighted to see their family again and have a new appreciation of their own life. but what about someone who didn’t miss it? what if you save the world and you’re given your medal and stripped of the magic you learned and put back in a world you never missed? and you’re furious.
maybe you gave up a few years of your life. you have callouses and muscles and a few scars and maybe a missing eye or something. you definitely have some blood on your hands. you might have PTSD you can’t talk to anyone about. and suddenly you’re fifteen again, in a body that’s too soft and too short and too complete. you’re always cold because there’s no magic burning in your veins anymore, and even as you grow up the feeling of not fitting doesn’t go away because when you look in the mirror at eighteen you look all wrong: this is not what you’re supposed to look like at eighteen. the sky clouds and you rub at the phantom ache of injuries this body never received. you wake up screaming sometimes remembering the sorcerer who burnt your hand to ashes, or the final battle you almost didn’t make it through, or the moment you felt the magic in you go out.
but here’s the thing: they took you and made you into a weapon that was determined enough and powerful enough to save a whole world. they can put you back where they found you but they can’t undo everything. and there’s this, too: the place between worlds clings to you. you can’t tease fire out of the air but you can feel the pull of the doorways all the time, although none of them so far go to your world.
but you try to make it work for a decade, anyway. you’re dutiful. but one night you leave work late and for the thousandth time you catch yourself searching the sky for firebirds. and you break. of the three portals within five hundred miles, one is a howling, frozen wasteland and one is a deep violet void, but one opens into a misty forest that you step into and don’t look back. it’s not your world, but if you keep going long enough, you’ll get there.
(and maybe much, much later, hundreds of worlds later, you climb through a window, or a door of woven branches int he middle a field, or push aside a curtain, and as you set foot on new land you feel the fire in your veins and sparks at your fingertips and finally, finally, you’re home)
this is going around again and I want to add that if you want to think about sad, angry ex-heroes trying and failing to live normal lives, nothing left to say by imagine dragons is a good song to do that to.
I really want to write a novel about thus.
Imagine the families of the people that came back. Imagine seeing your child, kissing them goodnight one night and shutting their bedroom door, or seeing them off to school. When you see them again they’re angry (but they won’t say at what), and a noise that sounds like an arrow whistling through the air makes them turn. For a moment you see their eyes darken.
They left for school with hunched shoulders, slouching over their work; but they come back and hold themselves tall, and even though they’re a teenager you can’t help but think that no fifteen year old should have that kind of posture, that kind of fire that flashes out sometimes. No fifteen year old or sixteen year old should have muscle memory that falters, suddenly, when it realizes it can’t keep up with this body
One lost an eye, in their world (not this empty shell of a world that they returned to) and even though they know perfectly well that their left eye here sees just as well as the right one, they find themself spinning to look at people when they talk to them. Sudden noises make them whirl. Reigning in their intense feeling of self preservation that’s been honed to make them a hero is too hard to do here, where the skidding of tires is frequent. Heroes with missing arms have to explain to their siblings and friends why they are left handed now.
The problem of Susan by Neil gaiman is a great read for anyone into this concept
Fantasy adventure hero veterans are a topic I am willing to throw approximately all of my free money at until they get more love. “What happens next?” is always a fascinating question.
READ EVERY HEART A DOORWAY BY SEANAN MCGUIRE