She looked exactly like an interviewer studying my resume.
“Based upon your character and actions, the admissions staff has identified you as a hero.”
I snorted. I couldn’t help it. “Hero? I fry chicken for a living.”
“Robert Stewart,” she read out loud. “25 years old. Graduated from university at age 22 with an English Lit degree. Manager of a fried chicken fast food franchise. Obsessive reader, primarily on-line or at the second-hand bookstore. Has attempted without success several times to persuade same bookstore or similar businesses to hire him. Lives alone, no wife, children or animal companions. One living parent, two siblings. None of these depend upon him for support, nor does anyone else. Many details follow about your education, childhood and the like, but nothing that separates you from the average young, single man. I do agree with you that, for most of your time on Earth, you have not done much with the life the Almighty granted you.”
I felt a bit sad to have the meaninglessness confirmed like that, but it wasn’t any sort of surprise to me.
She kept scanning the document, then resumed, “However, there is one final item that stood out to the Admissions Department. ‘Cause of death, deliberately pulling his car into the path of an out-of-control delivery truck, in order to prevent it from striking several schoolchildren in a crosswalk. Last dying thoughts showed no sense of resentment over his fate, only a slight regret over never learning the ending of his current favorite light novel series.’ An exemplary and irreproachable heroic ending, one might say.”
After a brief glance up to me, she added, “I don’t know if you will find it a comfort, but, as I mentioned before, you were the only fatality. The children, although scared, were unharmed. The truck driver had lost control while suffering a crippling heart attack, but he received no further injuries in the accident, which allowed the healthcare professionals to revive him and return him to good health. You did well.”
She put down the resume and steepled her fingers. “This paper is just the executive summary of your case, but it should suffice as an explanation. My staff chose a destination which is, to my mind, a remarkably appropriate one for you. Hero relocations into literature or games, which are common in your favorite stories, are not normally possible in reality. However, your favorite series is an unusual case, as it is both substantially non-fiction, and has developed a heroic need.”
What did she just say? What?
“Isenai is non-fiction?”
That was the novel she meant. “Isekai de niito ni wa narenai!”, abbreviated Isenai. I was following an amateur translator’s English translation of it online.
The woman… angel?… pressed her glasses into place again. “The author is a clairvoyant. He does not create original stories. He keeps a journal of his observations of the other world and turns the material into books.”
That was too wild to be true. I mean, there was magic and dragons and all kinds of fictional things in that story. “You can’t be serious?”
She ignored my doubt after a momentary librarian’s glare and returned to the main subject. “We will be in contact with you if anything goes wrong with your relocation. Please do your best continuing the story, Mr Stewart.”
I felt a strange feeling, like I was going to gray out, and I suddenly seemed to have a serious case of tinnitus. The floor around my chair was glowing with a standard, manga-style magic circle…
“Wait! I’m going right now? I don’t have any choice about this?”
The HR lady steepled her fingers across the ledger again. “Sorry, but no. You took too long to get here, so we had to put it together without your input. Bon Voyage, Mr. Stewart.”
# # #
I consider myself an other-world expert. Adventures in other worlds have been around for ages, and I’ve read tons. As a kid, I devoured Edgar Rice Burroughs and CS Lewis. I’ve loved stories where people from our world end up somewhere else, whether it’s in time, like HG Wells or Buck Rogers, or in a storybook reality, like Enchanted or Neverending Story. And I went hog-wild with it when I discovered Japanese “Isekai” novels.
There are many ways to enter an otherworld story.
You can die and be reincarnated, having to slog your way through babyhood and childhood while the memories of your past life turn you into one weird kid.
You can die and be reincarnated, but not remember your past life until one day, you fall and hit your head, or the prince declares he’s annulling your engagement.
You can die and God apologizes and says it was a mistake and sticks you, full grown, into a different world, with some cheat power as compensation. I would really hate to live in the universe of a God who kills people off by mistake, but whatever.
You can fall through a dimensional crack, and be scrambling for your life in the middle of a monster-infested wilderness.
You can fall asleep playing a video game and wake up stuck inside it.
You can be summoned by a medieval king and his lovely daughter, who want you to go fight the demon lord, because some weak teenager from Earth is bound to be better at it than your kingdom’s best knights. Actually, this is exactly what happened to Ryuu Kowa, the hero of Isenai.
Or you can feel blinding, unbelievable pain beyond anything you’ve ever experienced, as you discover your are being crushed by a row of lizard teeth the size of baseball bats.
# # #
The massive maw opened, perhaps to try to turn me for a trip down its gullet, but my foot was braced against something– the teeth on the opposite side of the mouth, perhaps. I somehow kicked free at that moment. Now I was free-falling, and watching the receding lizard head as it expanded into a dragon the size of an airliner.
I could see a sword stuck in its wing root. Something told me that sword was mine, somehow. And I felt strange pressure in body parts that shouldn’t exist, far to my left and right. Turning my head, I could see six feet of black wing extending out from my back. Looking the other way, I saw six more. Then some instinct caused me to tuck those wings in, like a bird. I began rotating, and, again by instinct, stretched those wings out as the ground below came into view. Suddenly, I was flying.
Blood was flowing out of me… I could see the trail I was leaving behind me. But I was able to maneuver, which was good, because that dragon had just lined up on me.
This was all happening without any real thought on my part. The instincts built into my body were in charge at the moment.
Desperately I clawed air to change course, and avoided his mouth, but I didn’t get entirely out of the way, and wound up plastered against his foreleg. I grabbed on, somehow. I could see that sword several yards from where I was, stuck into the underside of the wing. I had to get it back. I struggled my way closer, then latched onto it.
My weight on the blade dragged it free, and I was falling again. Getting a two-handed grip, I regained control of my flight, then began pursuing the dragon.
Was chasing it an insane thing to do? Yes. I will agree with that, unequivocally. I was a confused mass of habits that didn’t belong to me and I was desperate to live. All I was thinking was, if I didn’t do something, the dragon would kill me. So I did something. I caught up with it, and managed to slash an enormous gash in its wing, all the way to the trailing edge. Suddenly, he wasn’t flying so well.
I recognized that I was close to passing out from blood loss, and probably had internal damage from being crushed in that massive maw. I got to the center of the body and stabbed my sword into it, holding on with a death grip.
The dragon was unable to maintain altitude, and it was in a spiral, descending fast. I could see some people that looked like adventurers watching from the ground. I somehow used the resistance from my wings to force the creature to steer towards them as it plummeted. The ground rushed up at us.