Staying Behind

Date: 9/10/2019

By Keraniwolf

This dream is an isekai. Several teenagers get transported to another world. While there, one of the girls becomes totally engrossed in studying the (largely magical) wildlife of this fantasy world. She learns magic, herself, and uses it to study more and more as her life progresses. None of the isekai children really age in a normal way as time marches forth in this world. Their bodies go through the changes of growing up to a point, but then they stop. If nothing else, they slow down drastically. The once-teenagers have lived at least a hundred years in this world, maybe more, and yet their bodies are only in their thirties or forties at most.They speak like old people, reminisce like old people, share wisdom only time can grant, and move slower and more deliberately when they have the choice; but they are as physically capable as any regular adults. Perhaps moreso, thanks to years of navigating this world and all that comes with an isekai experience. They're seen as undying ancients in this world. Heroes of an age past. Most of them are done adventuring, themselves. Done exploring. Done hunting. Done with swords and sorcery and all that entails. They've accomplished what they needed to accomplish, reached the goals set for them -- whatever those may have been for each of them. Alone or in small groups, they travel back through some kind of portal to their original world. Their bodies return to their teenage states, and they go back to the time right before they left. Like Narnia. Finally, only the zoologist and her childhood best friend are left. Her friend has to go. The zoologist understands. They spend a few days preparing. Having last conversations. Reminiscing. Talking about their futures. The zoologist talks about how she always knew the others weren't as suited to this world. Felt out of place with the magic, the society, the aging. They're so old now, but keenly aware that their youth isn't over. They'll keep going. It's a strange feeling, one the others -- including her best friend -- could never fully reconcile. Being in young bodies with old minds is something they might be able to forget when living young lives in their original world, but not here where they face the places and things and (those still living) people that saw them grow up already. The best friend apologizes for not being able to make it here, but the zoologist assures her there's nothing to apologize for at all. They have different paths. That's okay. She's figured things would go this way for a long time. They call each other "my dear" in the platonic way old ladies do a lot of times while they talk. The zoologist more than her best friend. Gradually, as they make their way to the portal, the best friend returns to talking like a teenager or regular adult. Only the zoologist is still talking in a way that shows her age. Only she is holding on to the aging and growing and life she's had here in the magic world. She knows where she belongs. Even so, she goes through the portal with her friend. They make their way back to the zoologist's house in the original world. When they get there, lights dark and family out for the day, the zoologist writes a note. She tells her family that she's happy where she is and not to look for her, firmly and yet without revealing the existence of the other world. She writes like an old lady, too, which makes her best friend laugh through her tears. Wishing she didn't have to say goodbye, the best friend says it anyway and hugs her friend one last time. The zoologist's body isn't old, but it becomes older than the best friend's body again once the portal appears and her hair goes white with returned time. It's like a mother or grandmother hugging a child, especially when the zoologist calls her friend "my dear" one last time. She tells her best friend to assure the others that their zoologist teammate is happy and okay as well, and then vanishes. The portal stays open just long enough for her to see her family come home and watch her best friend start to explain the note. Then it closes, and she's back in the magic world. She smiles and starts on a trek back to a familiar forest, which has a type of dog-sized bug she's been itching to research for awhile now. At this point, the dream seems to split apart slightly. It shows several possible timelines. Times when her parents catch her just before she steps through the portal, and (knowingly or not) manipulate her into staying. She still studies animals, but always thinks about the ones she's left behind in her magical world. She never shakes off her age nor the habits thereof, not the way her friends and teammates did when they returned. It's obvious that she doesn't fit here. Her parents notice she doesn't behave how she did in their version of yesterday. Her classmates feel like she's a different person (she's grown up in another world, their life experience doesn't match up anymore). As she progresses in this world, even her coworkers feel she's distant and hard to understand because of how she behaves. She is still, even in this timeline, a person of another world. There are also timelines when the portal becomes a power of its own, and she's able to slip back and forth between worlds. This one worries the best friend more than saddening her the way the fully mundane timeline would. The mental whiplash of trying to act normal in one world and continuing her life as she pleases in the other takes a toll on the zoologist. She hates deceiving her family. She hates being torn from her work. She loves being able to see her little brother grow up. She loves being able to stay by her best friend's side. She loves the wildlife and animals of both worlds. She has a hard time reconciling these things. In the end, she chooses her magic world just as she did in the original timeline. It just takes a little longer, and comes as slightly more of a shock to her old teammates who thought she'd been acclimating alright. In other endings, however, she simply doesn't survive. The whiplash wears on her and she dies in her home in the other world, while writing research reports. There are also timelines where her family catches her, but doesn't manage to convince her to stay. These are most like the original timeline, but with more tears and exposure of non-isekai-participants to the idea of other worlds. They see her vanish through the portal. They know she's gone where they can't look for her even if they try. In a way, this timeline has more closure than just a note and a missing teenager. In others, it has less. Questions always lingered in the original timeline, but they could always come up with plausible answers. This time, that's less of an option. The sight of a child stepping through a portal and growing up only to vanish sticks in their minds in a much different way than the note alone. In every timeline, she holds on to who she's become in the other world. She's a magical creature zoologist, and a wise old lady, and that's who she stays -- as much as she's able -- in every iteration of her experience. That's what I remember most from this dream. Until next I wander.