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Helpful Truths For the Chosen One Who Has Returned Home

Cislyn Smith likes playing pretend, playing games, and playing with words. She has been known to crochet tentacles, write stories at odd hours, and study stone dead languages. She is occasionally dismayed by the lack of secret passages in her house. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Strange Horizons, Diabolical Plots, and Mermaids Monthly. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise Workshop, a first reader for Uncanny and GigaNotoSaurus, a founding member of The Dream Foundry, and co-chair of the Flights of Foundry Convention. She's terribly fond of lists, and wears many hats both metaphorically and literally.

* It's ok to mourn. You lost something very important.
I'm not talking about your magic lantern, or your friends, or even access to that world. I'm talking about certainty.
Destiny means guarantees, and there aren't a lot of those in this world. It's ok to grieve for what you don't have any more. It's ok to take time to adjust.
* For that matter, it's ok to mourn for all of it.
Being thrown back into a world where anything goes--but usually doesn't--is rough. It's also rough losing your friends and your enchanted sword and your really good backpack and that entire world you just saved. Give yourself time and space to think on it all, and to be sad.
* It's also ok to celebrate.
You did some really, really amazing things. You adjusted to a completely alien world at an amazingly rapid pace. You shifted your expectations about privacy, about technology, about religion, about culture. You dealt with Prophecy and Destiny and defeated the Dark Lord! You did Good with a capital G. You made friends. You fell in love.
You have a lot to be proud of.
* It's not your fault.
This was always part of the deal. You went to another world, you fought, you won. And then the world decided it had enough of you and kicked you out. That world isn't kind, and it isn't welcoming to strangers. It wanted you there to help remove The Dark Lord, but once you did that, Fate sealed up around you like you were a splinter.
Don't beat yourself up about it.
* And it's not the fault of your friends and allies either.
Most of them didn't know the world would expel you. Seremensis might have--she got a lot out of those ancient texts, right?--but the rest had no idea it was coming. They were as surprised as you were when you walked through that door.
He didn't know.
I swear, he didn't know.
* Things like grocery shopping are legitimately difficult.
Staring down sixteen different choices of white bread is overwhelming. And let's not even get started on the shampoo. It was simpler washing your hair in waterfalls (or not at all, which, let's be honest, was most of the time and also kind of gross). It was easier just eating waybread and potatoes for months at a time on your quest. A lot easier.
Just pick a single product and stick to it. And start shopping at the co-op. They have a smaller selection and it's nicer there anyway.
* Microwaves are basically magic. Use yours more often.
For three years you mostly cooked things on a campfire or over magical glowing blue rocks. It was easy. It was relatively fast. And unless you want to be in serious violation of your apartment's fire regulations, it's not really an option anymore.
The solution is simple: microwave things. You can microwave anything. And it's almost as fast as those magical glowing blue rocks, but doesn't leave that weird aftertaste.
* You were more used to magic than you admitted.
It was kind of a joke after a while, to grumble about the spells and the circles and all the little fiddly things they had to carry around to make the incantations more than just words. But magic was the technology of that world, and you adjusted rapidly to how it changed people's lives. And really, it was beautiful, wasn't it?
The sparkles. The light. The arcs of power singing quietly to each other, harmonizing and crystallizing the spells.
It was amazing.
There's not really anything like that here. There are smart phones and computers and amazing fabrics and all those technologies can do amazing things. But it'll take a while to find that kind of beauty again, in so many places.
* It's ok to relax at night.
You're not going to get ambushed - not by orcs, not my scimitar-wielding fairies, not by skeletal warriors, and not by roving packs of talking frogs croaking out dire warnings. You want to set watches and sleep in the daytime and seal the windows and plan your escape routes, but really, truly, it's ok.
There aren't any ninja fairies. The only orcs are in books and video games. The frogs don't talk. The dead don't walk.
You're safe.
I promise.
* You're going to need to get a job soon.
The gold and silver you had in your pockets when you went through that treacherous door aren't going to last you forever, and frequenting those shady pawn shops to trade your coins is not really a good long-term solution. You need to start thinking about this soon. I know you feel like your skillset doesn't exactly qualify you for anything, but there are jobs out there you'd really enjoy.
Night security comes to mind, just as something to cover the bills for a bit, while you get your ambush-expectation problem under control.
* Political machinations aren't about you anymore.
Reading the news and trying to dissect it for schemes and alliances and the intrigues of The Dark Lord is an interesting technique for handling modern politics, but really, it's kind of weird. Trust that politicians are doing their own thing, and don't become another Chosen One statistic and fall to conspiracy theories and paranoia.
* Of course there are Chosen One statistics.
Did you think you were the only one? No. Not even the only one who went to that particular wonderful, betraying, beautiful, lousy world and got kicked out afterward. Closets, mirrors, pocket portals, suddenly appearing free-standing doors, puddles, music, dreams, train cars, wardrobes - there are so many ways to end up in another world. And once you're there, there's always Something Important to do, and you always end up back here when you've done it.
We tend to die young. We tend to have trouble holding down jobs. We tend to take a lot of medication to help us sleep.
We also tend to be pretty awesome.
* Why yes, this list does seem very specific.
Well, I didn't say there was NO magic in this world. Just not the magic you're used to. Not the magic you're expecting. It's subtle. But like calls to like, and we try to help our own.
We're family, now. And we can help.
* There really isn't any way back.
I'm sorry. I know you think about it all the time - stepping through doors with your eyes closed, hoping you'll open them to see that pearly green sky. Hoping to smell that air. Hoping to hear the voice you want to hear. Hoping.
You need to starve that hope, because it will end up doing much worse to you. Or better yet, you should transform it into something else.
* But there might be a way to get someone from that world here.
Might. Maybe. Possibly. It's something to consider. And like I said, he didn't know.
* We've done it before.
Not that world - not the one you saved. Another. But we did it.
* There's something precious here, something he could never have in his world.
Yes, he'd be giving up a lot. And you're so focused on the wonders of that world that it's hard to think about the wonders of this one.
There's no Destiny here. No Fate. No Prophecies that mean anything real. There's no road to overthrow Evil and no clear and defined single way to be Good. You have to make your own purpose, define your own quests.
It would be strange. It would be different. It would be alien. But maybe he'd like it. There's a lot to be said for Freedom.
After all, isn't that what you were fighting for?
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 8th, 2022

Author Comments

This was an accidental story. I started writing a list just to get myself unstuck and past a block, and before I knew it there was the aftermath of a portal fantasy on the page.

- Cislyn Smith
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