Chapter 13:

"You Came In With The Breeze"


A few more Hantei officers fan out from behind Rina Nobuko across the konbini, cold fusion equipment in their hands to take measurements and readings. There’s no sight of the monster - it vanished without a trace. Nobuko doesn't seem too perturbed - she casually runs one hand through her brown bob and waits for me to catch my breath.

I take Nobuko’s hand and she hoists me to my feet. For the first time in my life, my legs feel like jelly. I put a hand on the counter to steady myself; the fluorescent lights spin around for a moment, but I blink and calm myself best I can. Which is to say - my hands still tremble, but Nobuko has one of them in hers, which at least steadies me.

“C’mon,” she says, as if she hasn’t just fought something from out of this world. “I’ll walk you home.”

Still holding my hand, she leads me out of the devastated store. Outside, the Hantei man a makeshift barrier while cops armed with rifles guard the street. They all give Nobuko a knowing nod - everyone here from the cops to the Hantei understand that a monster appeared in the store. All of them wear black gloves with white stripes in their dominant hand, the same as Nobuko does.

We walk in silence for a long while. Amazing how things can move so fast. I was on the hinge of life and death, and now I’ve been pulled back into the land of the living. Just like that. Whether or not died, life would proceed as normal for the island. Up above on the towers and skyscrapers, the blinking red aircraft warning lights we think of stars and constellations continue to shine.

Nobuko is a half-step ahead of me as we walk. That's how it's always been. Nii-chan, Nobuko, and I use to be thick as thieves, growing up in the undercity of San-Machi. We drifted apart eventually, because that's just how it is sometimes. 

“You must have a lot of questions to ask,” Nobuko says with a smile.

“I do,” I admit. I free my hand from hers and try to make a fist, but my fingers still tremble. “I don’t even know where to start. I guess…what was that thing?”

“We call them Nightmares.”


Nobuko leads me down quiet side streets. “To simplify things…humanity is a social species. We regularly interact, with our dreams and desires constantly intersecting and intertwining. Think of the red string of fate, but don’t limit it to love. I follow my own path, as do you. Tonight, our strings intersected, and perhaps will become intertwined permanently.”

I stuff my hands in my pockets. I can get on by myself just fine, thank you very much.

Nobuko giggles at me. “Think of how many strings intertwine in a neighborhood, let alone a city. Let alone a country. Let alone the globe. And the connections aren’t always obvious. A lonely Burmese girl gets up in the morning to listen to an English musician on the radio. An American politician orders a bomb dropped on a Mexican village. Humanity’s connections are vast and infinite. Many are good. Many are bad.”

“I take it the Nightmares somehow come from the bad.”

“Indeed,” Nobuko confirms with a nod. “When enough negative connections come together, humanity’s fears can manifest into existence. Nightmares are the rat kings of our intertwined fears and worries.”

I raise an eyebrow. “What, like magic?”

“Not like magic. It is magic. Good energy produces good magic. For centuries, shrine maidens have used good magic powered by humanity's positivity to fight against the Nightmares. They’re what we now know as magic girls.”


The whole thing sounds pretty unbelievable, but when you live on a gigantic, artificial island, your tolerance for the strange increases. That, and I did see something with twenty-one faces when we usually only have the one.

“Humanity’s interconnectivity has skyrocketed in the past few centuries,” Nobuko continues. “Lone wolf magic girls still exist, but the sheer number of Nightmares meant that an organized force needed to be assembled in order to stop them. When I said ‘we’ earlier, I meant this force. We’re called the Association.”

“Just the Association?”

“We exist below the veil of normal, just south of strange,” Nobuko says with a wink. “There’s no reason to be called anything further than the Association if we’re the only association that matters in our line of work.”

“And that line of work is fighting Nightmares?”

Nobuko nods again, bright neon and the white glow of streetlamps shining on her face. “It’s why I get up in the morning. It’s my ikigai, my reason for existence, my meaning.”

A light bulb goes off in my head.

“Just how bad are these Nightmares?” I ask, feeling a sense of light giddiness rise within me.

Nobuko shakes her head. “Nightmares follow humanity. They proliferate and inflict further misery in areas of war and destruction and instability.”

“Like Shikishima?”

“They haunt large parts of San-Machi.” She shakes her head again. “The people of this island…the apathy, the self-loathing, the dissociation, the desire for death, or at least to go to sleep and never wake up again…it all contributes to the rise of the Nightmares, who inflict further misery, which creates breeding grounds for more Nightmares, which threatens to set off a chain reaction that might sink this island entirely if they're not stopped. But Nightmares only arise when society as a whole is sick.”

She smiles a sad smile. “We fight the symptoms. But we’re not so good at fighting the cause, you know what I mean? On Shikishima, we’re just a rag-tag band.” Nobuko shrugs. “We do what we can. I mean, I saved you tonight, right? Saving one life is nothing to sneeze at.”

I scratch my head, averting my gaze from her. “I guess I never thanked you for that, did I? Thanks, Nobuko.”

She holds up her fingers in a peace sign. “Don’t mention it!”

We settle back into a comfortable silence. I’m waiting for her to ask me if I want to fight, because I really do. I saw something not of this world tonight. Something that haunts and kills and inflicts pain and misery. What if instead of myself, the Nightmare tonight got hold of my brother, or poor Saito Michi, or even fish-eyed Hayashi Hanzo?

I’m tough. I can fight.

“If I asked to join the Association, would you say no?” I ask.

Nobuko speaks in a neutral tone. “I would strongly recommend against it.”

“But you wouldn’t say no?”

“I’d say to sleep on it and think of the risks. Death is part of the Association's business. Missions don’t always go as smoothly as this one did.”

“Let’s say I did think on the risks and decide they’re worth it,” I answer. “What should I do? Where would I go?”

A hint of a smile appears on Nobuko’s face, reminding me of when we were young. Nobuko was the trouble-maker, stealing oranges from neighbor’s trees or exploring off-limit areas. I’d always follow along while Nii-chan pouted and told us it wasn’t a good idea. We never listened, and he’d follow along sooner or later, complaining while smiling the whole time.

Nobuko and Nii-chan found something to do. I guess I haven’t until now.

“Tomorrow morning, head to the Hijoshikina Asylum in the undercity,” Nobuko says. “We got reports of Nightmare activity there. We could use some backup.”


“Sure,” I answer stoically. “Only if I think it’s worth it.”

We approach my apartment complex. There are three figures outside of it. I wonder if the Senko’s come back to ambush me or something, but nothing alarms Nobuko. As we get it closer, the distinctive forms of the three girls in the Historical Research Club come into view.

Nobuko grins and waves farewell, leaving me to deal with the three girls. They stand beneath a streetlamp while I remain beyond the array of light. Fuumi squirms and scratches her stomach; a damp puddle of sweat has formed beneath Mizushima’s loafers; Michi waves.

“Hey, Michi,” I greet. “Fuumi-buchou, Mizushima.”

“H-hey,” Fuumi answers.

I hear Michi whisper, “Go get ‘em, nee-san!” while Mizushima Irish-whispers, “Fuumi, if you die, I get to be the new buchou, right?”

Fuumi gives her an indignant look that somehow steels her to the task at hand. I tilt my head, waiting.

“Um, Sumiko…first off…are you okay?” Fuumi says. “You, you know…just got a gun pointed at you.”

I shrug. “It happens. Are you okay?”

Fuumi scratches her temple. “I’ll, uh, live…I guess…but, um, that’s good, good you’re okay, uh…”

She coughs into her hand to settle herself. “Sumiko, you’re a member of the HRC and all…at the culture festival, if we lose a trivia contest, the club’s gonna be dissolved. I think that…I think that we need your help. You’re smart and tough and I don’t think we can win without you. So, you know…will you attend the trivia contest?”

“Eh?” I tilt my head. “I don’t really care about some dumb contest.”

“Dumb?” Fuumi’s hands ball up into tiny fists. “Our club is on the line, and you’re calling it dumb? You put your name on the club roster and you won’t take responsibility for it?”

I pause. I respect this line of thinking, nor did I expect this fire in her. I did join the club, only because I would be expelled for not joining a club otherwise, but my name’s still there nonetheless.

“Fuumi,” I ask. “Do you find meaning in your club?”

Fuumi pauses, clearly expecting me to sucker punch her. I don’t, of course, so she thinks and answers. “I mean…I guess so.” Then she shakes her head and stands up straight. “I do. I really do. I’m the buchou, after all.”

I rub my chin. Why wasn’t I able to find meaning in this club? Why do I find meaning in fighting Nightmares, not in this trivia thing?

Ah, I see. The club’s been poisoned in my mind by the taint of modernity. Everything in modern life has been polluted by irony, insincerity, nihilism, atomization, consumerism. Meaninglessly pervades everything in the 21st century. Nothing’s important. Nothing can be important.

The Nightmares are an ancient threat, from the golden days of humanity when things mattered. Saving the island from them will make me matter.

And plus I can kick some ass.

“I respect your ability to find meaning in your club,” I answer. Fuumi gives me a puzzled look. Then I sigh. “Sorry, buchou, but I can’t do the same. Best of luck.”

Fuumi’s gaze slowly drops until she’s looking at her loafers. I move to go past her, but then Mizushima goes, “Quickly, Imouto-san, Plan B!”

Michi leaps forward and stands before me. “Are you scared?” she asks in her singsong voice. She can’t help but giggle. “Are you afraid of losing the contest? Are you frightened? Are you just a little bitch? A chicken? Bawk, bawk bawk bawk-”

Michi mimics chicken wings with her arms, but then Mizushima tackles her from behind. “Imouto-san, w-we canceled the original Plan B, remember!?”

Mizushima then sighs and adjusts her glasses. “Guess I’ll have to do the updated Plan B myself then.”

Mizushima steps before me, looking as serious as a shark attack. Then she drops to the ground and prostrates herself before me. “Pleasepleasepleaseplease Sumiko-sama, y-you gotta help us! I love being the vice-buchou, I’ll lose this position if the club dissolves!”

Michi’s actions amused me, but I scoff at Mizushima. “Die on your feet, don’t live on your knees. Goodnight, all of you.”

I stuff my hands in my pockets and step past them. As I do, I hear Mizushima sigh and go, “Well, that sucks. Let’s get some sushi.”

But then, as I reach the door, I hear the ground rumble. It almost sounds like a motorcycle, but then it grows louder and louder, like Shikishima itself is letting out a guttural roar. I look to the sky for the source, as does Fuumi, Mizushima, and Michi.

We stand in wonder as a cold fusion rocket blasts out of Shikishima and arcs across the night sky, a long plume of white smoke trailing behind it, as it heads for parts unknown.

Steward McOy