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Hifuu Club Investigations No.1 - Chapter 1: First Encounter

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Secret Sealing Club Investigations No.1

First Encounter with Another Life Form

Chapter 1: First Encounter

My name is Maribel Hearn. I guess I'd better start at the beginning, back when everything looked like it made sense.

On the outside, I was a perfectly ordinary American girl, studying abroad at Kyoto University for reasons which had probably sounded brilliant when I was seventeen, and which I could barely remember seven years later. I shouldn't really complain too hard, though; this is where I met Renko, after all. It's also where I stopped being able to ignore my own weirdness, and my life was turned on its head forever.

We happened to meet in an Existentialism in Film class, of all places. Kyoto University isn't a liberal arts college by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought the subject matter looked interesting at a glance, and the professors of the more eclectic courses tended to be enthusiastic about the material.

My interest would be short-lived.

As the various students wandered into the classroom, I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb, which was the usual state of affairs. It was my blonde hair, of course; I was lost in a sea of black and brown. As usual, the boys were all wearing the kind of casual wear that had been more-or-less fashionable for the past fifty years with only slight variations, and all the girls wore bright colors and soft styles — cute was the in-thing for Japanese women's fashions in 2065. My own outfit was a mauve blouse, a matching skirt with a white ribbon-belt, and a white mob cap: distinctive, without looking like an over-designed anime character.

"Welcome to Existentialism in Film," said Professor Asakura, a brightly-smiling balding gentleman in his forties. "Today is the first day you will embark on a journey which will combine the only true modern medium of art with one of the purest forms of philosophy."

I thought I heard someone behind me let out an exasperated sigh. I just ... smiled politely.

"Now, I understand that most of you have downloaded the syllabus onto your various devices," Professor Asakura continued, "but I'm a bit of a traditionalist, so I'll be passing them out to you on paper."

I wondered what the hell kind of "tradition" he was talking about; he couldn't have been more than, what, forty-five years old? Maybe forty-eight, if I wanted to push it. I surreptitiously checked his faculty bio on my phone. Yeah, 2022, he was forty-three.

"Now, this is of course just the syllabus day, but we're going to be jumping right in on Monday," said Professor Asakura. "Some of you have asked if we'll be examining 'popular' works such as The Swords in the Sky, but I think we can set our sights higher than that, can't we? We'll be starting on an overview of the oeuvre of Kurosawa Akira, followed Ingmar Bergman ..."

I grabbed my backpack and scooted out of my seat, and saw that the girl behind me was doing the same thing. Our eyes met, and we both grinned.

We escaped from the classroom without incident. "It sounded like he was holding the word 'devices' with goddamn tongs," she said, slipping on a black hat with a white bow. She was a skinny girl about my age, wearing a white button-down shirt and a black skirt.

"Yeah, that and 'popular'," I said. "I've never seen that much enthusiasm mixed with passive-aggressive disdain before. I was only there to pad my electives."

"Same here, plus his niece Rikako is one of my study partners," she said. "I should've listened to her warnings ... Anyway, my name's Usami Renko, what's yours?"

"Maribel Hearn, nice to meet you," I said. "That's with family-name last."

She nodded. "Nice to meet you too, Ma ... eri ... baeri ..." Her face went red, and her smile crumbled. "... um ... Miss ... Han."

I smiled back very politely. Well, that wasn't even the worst my name had gotten mangled that year. I said, "'Miss Hearn' is fine, Miss Usami." Which was a few notches more formal than you usually had between students, but whatever.

We made our way through the hallway. "So, uh ..." Renko looked like she was trying to find something less embarrassing to talk about. "What's your major? Mine's theoretical physics."

"Psychology, here," I said. "I've been poking at the handful of liberal arts courses they've got here just because the professors are always so enthusiastic about them."

"Well, yeah, but at the same time, you get guys like Asakura Jiro," said Renko. "I've been heading online to scratch that particular itch."

"That's fair," I said.

We went around a corner, and I could see the boundary between the two hallways. It was just a faintly-visible "edge", separating the concept of "the hallway containing the classroom we just left" from "the hallway containing the exit."

I decided to ... bring up the subject. Not to reveal my "second sight", but just to talk about the general idea. It probably wouldn't lead anywhere, it never had before, but I could still hope. Someday, I'd meet someone I could talk to about my special eyes. For some reason, I felt that hope stirring when I looked at Renko's face.

"Actually, I've been thinking of doing the same thing," I said. "I'm kind of interested in things like ... modern mythology, the occult, that sort of thing, but I've never really seen anything good here."

"Oh, you too?" said Renko. "Yeah, I've just had trouble finding professors who have interesting to say."

That hope stirred again. At least she didn't sound disinterested. But I kept my voice neutral. "Maybe we should look for a student club or something."

We stepped out into the warm April evening, and started wandering southward; the building we'd just left was way off in the northeast corner of the main campus. It was just warm enough that I was starting to wish I'd worn short sleeves. The sky in the west was a motley orange, and the rest of the sky was black against the city lights.

Renko looked thoughtful. "Actually, I've looked into that," she said. "There aren't any clubs like that at the moment, but when my great-aunt Sumireko was in high school, she started this thingy called ... the Secret Sealing Club."

"Hifuu Club," I echoed. "What kind of club was it? It doesn't quite sound like what we're talking about."

"Well, it was more of an occult investigation deal," she said. "Chasing ghosts in graveyards, kind of thing. Not something you'd do in a classroom."

"I see," I said. "Were there many members?"

"No, it was actually always just her," said Renko. "The impression I got was that she was kind of using it to try to avoid making friends? She was sort of a pompous loner when she was fifteen. No friends, no boyfriend ... though I've had the opposite problem," she added under her breath.

"The opposite problem?" I said. "Too many suitors?"

Renko looked slightly tense, as if she hadn't meant to say that aloud. "Uh ... no, I'm gay."

"Oh, got it," I said. "I'm bi, for the record." Actually, I identified as panromantic and demisexual, but I couldn't remember the Japanese word for either concept off the top of my head. "Also, I can't believe it's the year AD 2065, and we still have to do this whole contrived dance about sexual orientation."

She laughed, but I could tell she was relieved. "You're telling me," she said. "But anyway ... where was I?"

"Your great-aunt Sumireko in high school?" I said.

"Oh, right," said Renko. "Not much else to say about high school, but she left the Secret Sealing club to my other aunt Keiko, and she gave the materials and things to me when I was ten because I was already on an occultism kick." She glanced at the sky to the east. "If you're interes—"

I saw ... something in Renko's eyes.

The instant her gaze turned to the sky, a boundary blossomed into view around her eyes, representing a difference between them and the rest of the universe. It wasn't a difference in substance, and it wasn't exactly a difference in location — insofar as every physical object has an inside and an outside, geographically speaking — but there was something in Usami Renko's eyes which meant something different from the rest of the world.

My head whipped around to follow her gaze. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. A few stars were faintly visible against the city lights.

"Miss ... Han ...?"

I turned back to face Renko, who looked like she was about to panic. The boundaries in her eyes had faded, but I realized they'd always been there. I could still see them, very faintly. "What ... were you looking at?"

"What did you see?" she said urgently.

"I ..." I shook my head. Several people were watching us. I lowered my voice and said, "I just saw ... something in your eyes when you looked at the sky!"

Renko stared at me for several seconds. Then she took a few deep breaths, and shook her head. "This way."

We took a winding route away from the crowds, and found a spot at the edge of the campus where we had a good view of the darkening night sky.

Renko looked up at the sky. The boundary returned in full force.

"The current date is Thursday, 2 April 2065 at 18:35:43, Japan Standard Time," she said. "And our current location is 35 degrees 1 minutes 38 and a half seconds North, 135 degrees 47 minutes 2 seconds East," she added. "Not as impressive, since Kyoto University's location is well-documented, but ..."

I pulled my phone out of my purse and opened the GPS. 35°01'38.6"N, 135°47'02.3"E. The time changed to 6:36 PM as I watched. "No, I'd say that's ... pretty good, Miss Usami," I said. My heart was thumping in my chest.

Renko was still looking at the sky. "I can see the date and time and my location by looking at the stars," she said. "... even if it's hard to see them because of the city lights." She looked back down at me. "So ... what did you see, Miss Han?"

I looked into her eyes, trying to get my breathing under control. "A boundary," I said. "Some kind of ... difference between your eyes and everything else. It's almost invisible now, but I can see it bright and clear when you look at the sky."

Renko nodded slowly. "So you can see a supernatural power there."

"Sort of," I said. "I can tell it has something to do with your ability, but I don't think I'm just ... seeing magic, exactly." I looked around; there wasn't anyone near us at the moment. "I define my power as the ability to see 'boundaries'," I said. "Mostly geographical boundaries, like I could see the boundary between the two hallways when we went around a corner, and I can see the boundary of the edge of campus right in front of us, but I've seen ... 'meaningful' ones before."

"I think I get it," said Renko. Her earlier panic had faded, and seemed to have been replaced by scientific curiosity. She turned to look back up at the stars. "So what kind of boundary are you seeing in my eyes?"

"Um ..." I looked at her face for a moment. "I'm not quite sure, which is unusual in and of itself, but ..." Then something clicked. "... I'm pretty sure I've seen it in my dreams before."

"Your dreams?" she said, still looking at the sky.

"Yeah, I ... sometimes have dreams about other worlds," I said. "The kind of worlds with magic, and gods, that sort of thing." I was less sure of that than I was of the other details, but it just seemed right to describe it that way. "They all seemed to have that ... I guess it was as if I was seeing the worlds through the same boundary as the one I'm see around your eyes. Or I was wrapped in a Maribel-shaped boundary, maybe, and what was inside your eyes was in the world around me."

"Interesting," said Renko, turning back to face me. "So you have more than one power?"

"No, my dreams are part of my boundary-vision as well," I said. I hesitated. "I mean ... I don't think they're separate ..."

"Then they probably aren't," said Renko. "When I was figuring out my power, I kept having these gut feelings about what I could or couldn't do with it or how it worked, and every time I tested them, the gut instincts were always right."

"Oh, really?" I said. "Then, yeah, I'm pretty sure it's a subset of the same ability. And your eyes ..." I thought about this for a moment, then shook my head. "Still drawing a blank, sorry. All I know is that it's the exact same boundary I can see in my dreams of fantasy-worlds."

"That's too bad," said Renko. "How well do you remember these dreams?"

"Well enough to keep a dream dairy," I said. "Except when I'm surprised awake, for some reason."

Renko nodded. "I'd like to see the diary, if that's all right. Uh, and you can translate it into Japanese."

"No problem," I said. "I've written everything in Japanese since I came over from America, anyway."

"All right," she said. "Sorry I'm asking a bunch of questions, Miss Han, it's just ..." She grinned. "I just never expected to meet someone else with some kind of power, y'know?"

I grinned back. "Same here," I said. "I mean, I did kind of raise the subject of the occult on purpose, but I didn't actually think, uh ..."

"Yeah, I mean, wow," said Renko. "This is kind of exciting?" She laughed. "I don't even know where to go from here!"

"Me neither, really," I said.

"Do you ..." Renko hesitated. "Do you know if it runs in your family, or anything that?"

"Maybe-possibly," I said. "My family on my dad's side has apparently been quote 'spiritually sensitive since ancient times' unquote, according to a sort of family mythology, but I don't actually know what that would mean in practical terms. Why? Does it run in yours?"

"Maybe-possibly here, too," said Renko. "My great-aunt Usami Sumireko supposedly had psychic powers, but I don't actually know if it was true or not because that was actually the least-weird thing about her."

"Oh boy," I said, grinning. "This'll be good ..."

"Okay," said Renko, grinning back. "Basically ..." I could tell that she'd kept this all bottled up, just like I had, and was relishing the opportunity to finally talk to someone else about it. "There were all sorts of weird stories and rumors about her. Like how, when she was fifteen, she once supposedly fought against a shrine maiden in the skies above Tokyo."

I laughed. "What? Who won?"

"The shrine maiden, I think," said Renko. "Or maybe it was a shrine-maiden themed magical girl, it wasn't quite clear. But around the same time, she also started taking these legendary power naps, sleeping through class, and generally ruining her waking life."

"Okay ..." I said.

"Then one day in 2016, about a year after that," she said, "she got this great big fish, took one of her naps ... and then the fish vanished. It was just gone. No evidence that it was ever there in the first place."

"Wow," I said. "That's amazing, Miss Usami."

"And the stories just go on and on like that!" said Renko, shaking her head. Then her expression sobered. "And then about seven years before I was born, she just disappeared one day. She just posted a status about heading to the bus stop for work, and no one ever saw her again."

"Really?" I said. "Like ... the fish?"

Renko shook her head. "I've thought of a dozen ways she could've snuck that back out, assuming it even happened in the first place, but for an actual person to disappear ... I don't know." She shrugged, and gazed back up at the evening sky. "For all I know, she actually found something in one of her supernatural investigations."

"How likely is that?" I said.

Renko shrugged, and made a face. "Well ... there's you and me," she said. Her grin returned. "Still, though, you've got to admit that I have quite the legacy to live up to, huh?"

"No argument here," I said.

"So, Miss Han," said Renko, "would you like to join the Secret Sealing Club?"

"Of course, Miss Usami!" I said, grinning.

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