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Hifuu Club Investigations No.1 - Chapter 5: Another Life Form

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Chapter 5: Another Life Form

We made it to the next crack without incident. However, as soon as we passed through, a girl's voice behind us called out, "Oh, excuse me!"

Mokou whirled around. "Crap!"

Behind us, a humanoid shape was floating a dozen meters above the ground. It had what looked like long ears or antennae, and glowing red eyes.

Our eyes met. There was a crashing sensation, and I screamed. Those EYES ...

(Renko jerked awake as I made a strange noise, then silently cursed herself as she realized she'd dozed off.)

It wasn't like the thrill of fear that I got from the sound of the youkai cries. This was orders of magnitude worse. It was like something had reached inside my brain and turned my fight-or-flight response up to eleven.

"Ow!" exclaimed Mokou's voice. "What's with those eyes ...?"

I turned to run, and immediately stumbled and fell — the world swam around me, and there were dark shadows at the edge of my vision no matter where I looked — a whoosh of flames from Mokou's direction, and the world was bathed in an orange glow —

"Oh, whoops, sorry!" said the monster-girl's voice. "Here, let me undo it!" There was a hissing roar, and she said, "Wait, hang on!"

I fumbled with my purse, looking for something to throw — tore a page out of my notebook and threw it back at the monster — threw the notebook — threw the purse — picked up a rock off the ground and threw it — grabbed at a bamboo stalk — suddenly, the red eyes seemed to swim back into my vision — I inhaled to let out another scream —

There was another crashing sensation. The world returned to normal, and I collapsed onto my side. I lay there panting for several seconds, then looked back.

(Renko turned on the lights as she realized I sounded like I was hyperventilating. The expression on my face in my sleep did not look pleasant.)

Mokou was hovering a few meters above the ground with great big wings of flame, and she was also surrounded by a strange red-and-blue aura. In the light of her fire, I could see that the monster-girl had long purple hair, a pair of rumpled-looking rabbit ears, and was dressed in a black jacket and a pale red skirt which ... looked like some sort of school uniform. A vague memory of another dream poked at me. I was distracted at that moment, though.

"I-is that a spell card!?" exclaimed the monster-girl.

Mokou seemed to glare at her for another moment, then descended. Her aura vanished. "You're lucky I got bigger fish to fry, moon-rabbit," she growled.

"S-sorry," stammered the rabbit. "I'm ... I can't always control my lunatic eyes ..." She landed, and looked nervously towards me. "Um, miss phantom, are you all right?"

"I ... probably," I said. My voice sounded strange. I'd never even heard myself sound this ragged or unsteady before.

"She's a human, she's just astral-projecting," said Mokou irritably.

"Oh," the rabbit said sheepishly.

Mokou's wings turned into a fireball, and she walked over to me, picking up the notebook and purse as she went. "You okay?"

"I-I think so," I said.

"It's all right," said Mokou softly. "No, don't try to stand up yet. You looked like you just completely panicked." She handed me my things. "Here you go ..."

"Oh, thanks," I said. The purse and notebook looked solid and opaque when Mokou held them, but they changed to being transparent as soon as she let go of them. I didn't have any energy to think about that at the moment, though. I grabbed a nearby bamboo stalk to steady myself, and looked over at the rabbit-girl.

She bowed her head. "I-I'm terribly sorry about all this!" she said. "Just give it a few minutes, the remaining effects should wear off."

Mokou grumbled under her breath, and went back to pick up the page I'd torn out. "What're you doing on Earth to begin with?"

The rabbit looked even more guilty. "I'm a deserter from the Lunar Rabbit Army," she said finally. "My name is Reisen. There was an invasion from Earth nine days ago."

"What do you mean, an invasion?" I said. The bamboo stalk promptly broke under my weight. "Ah!"

Mokou spared me a glance. "Careful."

(Renko made a decision. She still couldn't decipher my sleep-mutterings, but my tone and expression were clear enough, and she decided that enough was enough.)

Reisen shrugged. "That's what they told me," she said uneasily. "These machines from Earth descended from the sky, and —"

I felt a dull pinch on my cheek. I blinked. I was back in my apartment with all the lights on. Renko was sitting next to me, looking frantic. "Merry, are you okay?" she said urgently.

I took a few breaths. "Yeah," I said. "A youkai rabbit from the moon just ... accidentally hit me with a psychic attack. She undid it, though. That was kind of bad timing, actually."

"Sorry, you looked like you were having a nightmare, so I pinched your cheek," said Renko. "You remember all of it?"

"Yeah," I said. "Can't fault you for being worried, though. Thanks." I swallowed. "Ugh ... need water ..." I pushed back my bedsheets.

I was covered in dirt and detritus from the forest floor, and my skirt was torn. A broken-off bamboo stalk was sitting right next to where my hand had been.

We both stared at it for what seemed like a solid minute. My heartbeat thumped in my ears.

"M ... Merry," Renko croaked.

"How about I get water for both of us," I said.

We each drank an entire glasses of water before Renko stopped procrastinating and opened the notebook. I sent the photographs to my TV via bluetooth, and we sat on the floor around it.

"I can't see the time and location in photographs, sorry," she said. "Even with the resolutions TVs have these days."

"Oh," I said.

"Also, I think a page of your notes got torn out," she said, frowning.

"It did ...?" I looked over her shoulder. "Oh. I sort of ... I threw it at the youkai-rabbit while I was panicking." I looked between the two visible pages. "On the page I dropped, I just said I thought I'd gone back in time."

Renko looked up at me. "Yeah, that would explain it," she said, sounding like she really didn't want that to be the explanation. "What happened after the last part of the notes?"

"Oh ... Miss Fujiwara accidentally said she was immortal," I said, talking on auto-pilot. "Since Keiun 2, and that it was twelve and a half centuries ago."

"That's CE 705," said Renko. "That's more than thirteen and a half centuries ago."

"Yeah," I said. "And then we met the rabbit, she said she was a deserter from the Capital of the Moon after an invasion from the Earth ..." I just ran out of energy to talk for a moment.

Renko stared at the TV screen in silence for a moment. "This is all real, isn't it?" she said. "You really did astral-project into another world, and meet an immortal woman with fire-powers and a lunar rabbit." She shook her head. "This must be what Sumireko found. Something that just ... blew everything she thought she knew out of the water. She must've —"

"Renko, should we be doing this at all?" I said suddenly.

Renko looked at me. "What?"

"What do you mean, what?" I blurted out. The events of this evening started to come crashing down. All the fear, all the dangers, everything felt like it had been dammed up, and now that I was safe, I didn't have a reason to control myself. "We're literally just a couple of university students fooling around! This is, that's, it's the kind of story that always ends with, with, 'and one of them w-went mad and the other was never heard from again.'" I was babbling, but I didn't have the slightest urge to stop. "For all I know, all youkai do that sort of psychic attack, and even if they don't, they might still be able to reach me, a-and if we keep doing this, I'm going to be the one who's ... who ..."

Renko scooted over and pulled me into her arms. "It's okay, Merry," she said softly.

I just burst into tears, and clung to Renko as though my life depended on it. I didn't bother to hold back at all.

"It's all right," she said, gently holding me close against her. "We can just leave this alone from now on. You don't ever have to go back into the dream-world again."

I lay there in her arms for several minutes, sobbing and trembling. It all just came pouring out. I didn't see why I should stop, let alone how. It was a long time before I my tears began to ebb, and longer still before I started feeling like I was remotely able to speak.

Finally, I gently pulled away from Renko, sniffling and rubbing my eyes. I took a deep breath, looked back up to her, and said, "Yeah I do."

"Huh?" This was obviously the last thing Renko expected me to say.

I grinned weakly. "I cannot believe we have access to literal, actual worlds of magic," I said, "and that we're seriously considering just not doing anything with them."

"Um, if you're sure," said Renko. "I mean, you did kind of raise an important point there?"

"There's probably things we can do to protect ourselves," I said. "Even if it's just like you said at the cafe, we can still ..." I stopped. "Her sleeping habits."

"Whose?" said Renko. "Wait, you mean ... Sumireko?" Her eyes widened. "Are you saying ..."

"I just remembered what woke me up in the dream the other day," I said. "She, she said I was astral-projecting in my sleep, and mentioned ... something about when she was fifteen, and I realized she must've slept all the time because ... Oh, she even looked like she was 65 years old!"

Renko stared at the bamboo shoot, which was still sitting exactly where I'd left it on the futon. "And that fish disappeared," she said slowly, "because she took it into the dream-world, the same way you took that piece of bamboo out."

"Oh, wow, I didn't even think of that!" I said. "But ... yeah, she looked fine, even though she'd been doing it for, what, 50 years? And she's been living there for ..."

"... almost thirty," Renko finished. "I don't know, though, Merry. Her psychic powers might have given her an advantage in defending against youkai? Or maybe something's changed since the 1960s. 1960s ..."

"Well, if it's gotten safer, then that kind of ..." I began.

"No, hang on," said Renko, hurrying over to her laptop. "Did that moon rabbit say when the 'invasion' was?"

"Um ... nine days earlier?" I said.

"And it was a full moon," she said, typing furiously.

"Right," I said.

Renko turned her laptop to face me. A browser window was open to a calendar of the phases of the moon for July, 1969. The 29th was a full moon.

The 20th wasn't labeled on the lunar calendar as anything other than "Waxing crescent/visibility 30%", but I still new that date by heart. Everyone knew about the Apollo 11 moon landing.

I just started laughing. There were still tears in my eyes, and I probably needed to blow my nose, but I didn't even care anymore. "See, this is my point," I said. "We can't leave well enough alone. We're both scientists, even if it's in different fields. We have to go through with this, don't we?"

Renko shook her head and let out a theatrical sigh. "This is completely nuts, and I can't believe I'm agreeing with you," she said, grinning. "Well. One thing's for sure, Merry: the new Secret Sealing Club's activities are going to be a lot weirder than either of us expected."

"You can say that again," I said, grinning back.

"And I bet I'm going to be the one who goes mad, and you disappear," she said.

I laughed again, and bopped her over the head with my pillow. "Not funny!"

96 years earlier ...

Mokou went over to pick up the scrap of paper Merry had thrown, and incidentally so that she wouldn't have as far to throw a fireball if the moon-rabbit tried anything funny. "What're you doing on Earth to begin with?" she said, trying to keep the rabbit's attention on herself.

The rabbit looked even more guilty. "I'm a deserter from the Lunar Rabbit Army," she said finally. "My name is Reisen. There was ... there was an invasion from Earth nine days ago."

"What do you mean, an invasion?" said Merry. The bamboo stalk promptly broke under her weight. "Ah!"

"Careful," said Mokou, then turned her attention back to Reisen.

Reisen shrugged. "That's what they told me," she said uneasily. "These machines from Earth descended from the sky, and two men came out and — oh!" She looked past Mokou at Merry.

... who wasn't there anymore. Mokou glared back at Reisen, inwardly cursing herself for taking her eyes off her. As if she didn't have enough reasons to curse herself already. "What happened!?"

"I-I don't know!" stammered Reisen. "I thought I saw this red mark on her cheek, and then she just disappeared!"

"Oh," said Mokou. She looked at the spot where Merry had been just a moment ago. "Well ... she did say she had someone watching her body," she said finally. "That craziness you gave her must've shown on her face." She still wanted to beat herself up over the fact that something could have happened, but ...

"I'm sorry," the rabbit said softly. "I'm ... well, you're lucky it didn't affect you as much ... When you used that Spell Card, I thought I was going to get burned to a crisp!"

Mokou shrugged. "I guess she's just more spiritually sensitive than me." She peered at Reisen. "So, uh ... deserter, huh?"

"Um, well, yes," said Reisen. She looked like she wasn't sure she should have even revealed that much.

Which was typical of lunar rabbits in Mokou's experience, but Reisen was a lot more jumpy than usual. Well, even considering that she'd just accidentally attacked someone. Anyway, Mokou decided that she could at least trust her with the truth.

"Or maybe it's because the Hourai Elixir stops me from going too nuts," she said casually.

The rabbit's eyes widened. "You what?" she exclaimed. "Who are you!?"

"My name is Fujiwara no Mokou," said Mokou. "You came here looking for Princess Kaguya's mansion, didn'cha? I can take you right to it, it's not far from here ..."

⇐x2 Be Continued Combo⇒

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