Author's note: Unlike most of my other stories, I don't have this one plotted out from start-to-finish. It started as a one-note joke, an inversion of the current glut of isekai anime (for non-anime fans, isekai is Japanese for "another world" and is the anime sub-genre where the protagonist(s) end up in another world with knowledge of the real world). "What if the hero is the only person who isn't reincarnated in a world of isekai people?"

I'm writing it as drama because I have a hard time tuning into what other people think is funny fiction, though this concept pretty much screams for a joke treatment. If you want to try your hand at it, please do!

I'll write more chapters as ideas come.


"What?!" My father, Lord Tilbert the Salaryman, rarely raised his voice, but for this, I doubt anyone would blame him.

The crowd gathered for my fifteenth birthday, my Coming-Out, shushed.

"I said, she doesn't have a pre-life, Your Grace." The cleric's voice tightened to almost a squeak as his last words wilted into nothingness. As an NPC, he was automatically a lower class person to that of our family, who are Heroes. We have pre-lives; they don't. We are nobility; they aren't. We respawn when we die; they don't.

That last bit was probably foremost on the priest's mind right now.

"That's impossible! We had pre-lives, so Scilia has to have one!"

Scilia. That's me. Daughter of the Assistant Director Quartermaster of the Army. My mother was a maid in her pre-life, so her skills couldn't benefit the kingdom, though her keeping my father happy was considered service in itself.

"Try it again. Test her other hand!"

"Your Lordship, the Codex says it must be the -"

"Urk!" My father yanked me off-balance, so desperate was he force my right hand onto the tablet.

Nothing.

It was supposed to light up, bright neon blue against the cobalt tablet with the chiseled outline of a left hand. According to Academy, I was supposed to have some vision of my death, usually of a large self-propelled cart named Truck-kun bearing down on me. Some might see themselves in some form of indentured servitude in their guild house. Others would see themselves in some kind of Academy, often with the boys uniformed in somber blues or black and us in very impractical, somewhat hazardously-short blue skirts and buttonless white blouses with some sort of silly blue micro-cape behind us. In the generous space between the fingertips and the semicircular top was expected to appear words to brightly declare what I did in my pre-life and/or how I ended up here, in a JRPG-ish pseudo-fantasy realm, the Kingdom of Isekai. Yes, I'm serious. We're Isekaians.

"It-it-it sometimes happens, Your Potency. For instance, if your-"

"Choose your next words very carefully, NPC..."

I yanked my wrist free of his wrist. "Father! Don't say ... don't be like ..." My father always, always, always extolled equality between Heroes and NPCs. In fact, he forbade me from every again seeing Bristan, my proto-boyfriend, for him voicing support for a Hero-only political faction. As if the words of a 13-year-old boy could indicate how he would feel after he became a true Hero.

"Scil! I'm sorry! I... I didn't mean to..." He turned and ran off the dais. I didn't know it at the time, but that will be my last memory of him.

"Ahem. Priest, I'm sure this will all work out. Here, please take this." My mother pressed the customary drawstring bag with the service fee into his hand.

He was in such shock that the sack tumbled out of his hand. Upon striking the wooden platform on which we all stood, the cord loosened and a glint of gold stole its way to my eyes. They were hoping I would be a Savior. I thought back to last night, where we all talked about the ceremony, how they reassured me that any pre-life wouldn't change how they loved me.

"Except a NEET," my father said with a wink. He flinched, expecting mother to lightly slap him as part of this standing joke routine. She didn't. Instead, she looked at me with eyes pooled deeper than ever I saw them. "Honey, we'll always love you. No matter what."

A fuzzy shape started to form out of confusion's fog in the back of my thoughts. My attempts to recognize it were interrupted by my mother's words, this time in her outside voice.

"... us while we retire to discuss some personal matters. Please carry on."

The second time today, I was pulled off-balance by my right arm, this time by my mother.

§§§

"It's just like him to run away in a time like this!"

We had searched the house, top to bottom, excluding the entertaining rooms out of fear of encountering guests from my coming-out disaster. We were sure father wasn't going to be in any of those. We even checked his study, which I had only seen through the gap of a closing door all my life.

It felt ... wrong to be in there.

Still, mother was possessed. Every sinew drove her to find him, to confront him, to say ... what?

We collapsed on the overstuffed armchairs in the practice room, where the older piano hulked out of the furthest, darkest corner. "I can't believe he would think that. After nearly twenty years together."

"Think what, Mother?"

"Scilli, you remember what I told you about Heroes and NPCs and families?"

"Of course - Heroes marry Heroes, and NPCs marry NPCs."

"Let's say a Hero marries an NPC. What are their children?"

"Heroes?" That shape in my mind sharpened its edges, formed into a blurry thought.

Mother sighed. "We don't know. It's never happened before. But, people think they will be NPCs."

"Do they think that I'm an NPC?"

In response, she hugged me. And held me. It grew warm, then uncomfortable. I sensed strong reluctance when she let me go, and only after I shrugged and struggled.

"Yes. And they think that I had you by being with an NPC."

"Being ... with?" Laugh all you want, but this was the first time I realized that babies didn't come because of a summoning ritual that Mommy and Daddy held.

"That I, uh, acted like I was married to an NPC. But I didn't. I've been faithful to your father for all these years."

I broke free of her desperate stare. "I believe you, Mother. You and Father have always been there for me."

"Until now, anyhow." She shot a vicious side-eye at the piano, as if it was somehow an alternate form for my father.

§§§

As I laid in bed, I tried to envision, to work around this unexpected gap in my future. I was supposed to find out my pre-life's occupation, or how I died, or at least something to help me plan my Transit, my "journey of self-discovery" to fully discover my pre-life. Upon returning, I was supposed to join the appropriate guild based on my pre-life's career (or the generic Truck-kun Victims Guild for all the leftovers) and then use my pre-life's skills, experiences, and memories for the good of Isekai, our kingdom.

So, now what? Maybe I could marry some other Hero, help him contribute to Isekai like Mother did? I mean, she was a maid like Eleni in her pre-life, so she wasn't able to help the kingdom such as streamlining supply-trains. Which made no sense, by the way. A bunch of the Salaryman Guild members have been talking about building something they called a train for years, and all they've been able to do is make metal cylinders. Whatever it meant, that's what Father said he did, and he was very good at doing it.

Yeah, that's it. I'll just become the best housewife a Hero could want, and I'll be set.

§§§

"No one would want you as a wife, Scil. They think you're an NPC, and Heroes don't marry NPCs."

"Do you think I'm an NPC?"

"No, honey, of course not. There's a chance the Church made a mistake."

"Yeah! Maybe the tablet was broken?"

She sighed again. "No, they tested it on a few people before the ceremony. I saw it light up."

"So, what do I do now?"

She gave me a reassuring smile, or at least an attempt. "Just do what you normally do. I'll see what I can do with the Church."

§§§

Doing what I normally did wasn't working. My friends wouldn't talk to me. The Academy wouldn't let me enter. I wasn't allowed into the usual places I enjoyed spending time: the library, the sweet shop, or the musical studio.

I ended up sitting in the park, on a swing, swaying only slightly side-to-side.

"Well, that's a pretty pre-life thing to do."

Those were the first friendly words I heard all day. I nearly fell out of the leather strip that served as the seat in turning around so fast. "Bea-Bea! Oh, it's so great to see you!"

Bea-Bea, or Brenshra Bullanmae, steadied me with a hug and kept me from completely spilling onto the sand. "Sorry yesterday sucked so bad."

"Yeah."

"Sorry I couldn't make it."

"Yeah."

"Sorry everyone's being such a jerk."

"Yeah."

"Sorry this is all I got to say."

"Yeah- huh?"

She giggled. "Wanted to make sure you're still paying attention, that's all."

"Are you sure you want to be seen with me?"

"Sure, why not? I hang out with NPCs all the time."

My glare at her instantly melted when I saw her spritely grin. I've known Bea-Bea for as long as I could remember. I think I once heard Mother say that Father and Bea-Bea's dad used to work in the same guild in their pre-lives or something like that. I should have known she wouldn't be that cruel.

"Seriously."

"Yes, seriously. Pre-life or not, I don't care. You're still my friend. 'Sister from another mister,' as some of the Heroes say."

Something tore inside my belly at hearing those words.

"Crap. Yeah, that was stupid of me to say."

"S'alright."

"Look, you're not an NPC, okay? There's no way you're an NPC. You were just too crazy to be an NPC."

I gave that a bit of thought. NPCs had initiative, but mostly they generally did ... predictable stuff. Most of them did what they were told, or what they used to do, or only did what they knew. But lately, that's been changing. More and more NPCs have started crafting, creating, and being less predictable. I even heard Mother and Father debating whether they should be called NPCs or something else.

"Heh." I gave a bitter smile. "I know exactly how to prove I'm not an NPC. I'll just respawn."

"Uh, no. Make that, 'Hell, no.' I'm not going to let you kill yourself just to prove a point."

"It's not like I have levels to lose."

"Yeah, that's the problem. I've heard that you start losing other things, like memories."

"Oh. Okay. Don't do that."

"So what will you do?"

"Whatever it is, it won't involve school or going shopping or playing the flute."

"Well, you could go on a Transit even though... You just won't have any starting point, that's all."

"What?"

"Look, Transits tells you who you were, but that's not as important as figuring who you are going to be. And, pre-life or not-"

"I'm going to have to figure that out either way." See? This is why she's my sister from another mister.


Changelog

2021-02-19 - Implement some of TamariMizu's suggestions, specifically: clarifying NPCs earlier and elaborating on the "Tablet of Pre-Life" experience.