When Shougo Mikadono woke, he was strapped to a cross. The sky was blood red, cloudless, and the horizon curved in an odd way so that it seemed to close in on him. Shougo tried to move, but his hands were nailed to the side of the cross, as were his feet. No blood dripped from the wounds in his palms or feet; neither was there any pain. They merely kept him in his place.
“How do you like your new arrangement?” a voice said from the shadows. Shougo could not see the person, but he knew the tone immediately.
“IMOUTO!” he shouted. “What is this?!”
“I got bored and decided to move things along,” IMOUTO said, stepping out into the light. Shougo could see every inch of her body, save for IMOUTO’s face, which was blotted out no matter where she moved. “I hope you don’t mind, Onii-chan.”
IMOUTO ran her index finger all over Shougo’s body. He recoiled as best he could. But IMOUTO didn’t stop. She pushed harder until the tip of her finger plunged into Shougo’s stomach. He screamed.
“Now, now, Onii-chan, don’t complain,” IMOUTO said. Her arm was inside Shougo up to the elbow. “We can be together forever now. Isn’t that what you want? I can be close to you wherever you go. I’ll always be inside you. Isn’t that wonderful?” Both her arms were inside Shougo, and she started climbing into his body headfirst. Shougo tried to look away, but he couldn’t. He abdomen was split wide open; still, no blood poured out, nor could he feel pain. He just felt cold all over as he watched IMOUTO clamber inside him as if she were putting on a tricky pair of pajamas. Shougo could feel IMOUTO moving around in his body, rearranging his insides like furniture. Shougo’s abdomen closed and healed itself once IMOUTO pulled her leg in.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” IMOUTO asked. Her voice came from somewhere inside Shougo’s skull and echoed around his brain. “It’s so comfortable in here. So warm. I never want to leave.”
Shougo tried to rip himself off the cross, but to no avail. He could only stare into the bloody sky. After a moment, Shougo saw a black dot in the sky. As he looked at it, the dot slowly expanded. It grew larger and moved closer to Shougo; he could feel intense heat licking at his face, a hot, dark nothingness threatening to swallow him up.
Shougo woke up screaming in his bed, drenched with sweat. What a nightmare, he thought. The search for IMOUTO was taking a toll on Shougo’s mind. He was obsessed. IMOUTO was on his mind 24/7. He scarcely had any idea what was going on in school or with his friends anymore. That all-important question burned its way into his brain and wouldn’t leave: Who is IMOUTO?
“Why do you need to know?” a voice said inside Shougo’s mind. “I am here with you, always. Isn’t that enough?”
Shougo darted up and fell out of his bed. He looked all around his room for any sign of IMOUTO. It was then he noticed that he wasn’t in his normal room. There was no furniture except for his bed. The walls were pure white, padded. Shougo was dressed in a plan gray shirt and pants. The only door was locked tight, with a barred window near the top. Shougo’s eyes darted around the room frantically; he tried to make sense of the situation to no avail.
“Where am I?” he whispered. “How did I get here?”
“You’ve always been here, Onii-chan,” the voice said. “We’ve always been here.”
“Shut up!” Shougo shouted. “That was just a dream! It’s not real!”
It was then the door opened. An orderly stood at the door, her face shrouded in shadow.
“Come with me,” she said. “It’s time for your daily exercise.” Shougo tried to resist, but his body rose automatically. He followed the orderly to the main room. Other people were already there — people he recognized. Rinka was there, and Mei, and Mana, and Konoe and Miyabi. Everyone was there. They smiled when Shougo entered the room.
“You’re finally here,” Rinka said.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Mana asked.
“Everyone’s together,” Mei said.
“Doesn’t it feel like . . . home?” Konoe and Miyabi asked.
Shougo didn’t answer. He tried to turn away, but his legs wouldn’t let him leave the room.
“Don’t be that way, Onii-chan,” the voice inside Shougo’s head said. “Stay. Get comfortable. Have fun.”
“I don’t want to have fun here,” Shougo said. “This isn’t real! This isn’t right!”
“Maybe we should make it real, then,” the orderly said. She sat Shougo on the ground and hovered over him. He still couldn’t see her face. “Why don’t you stop being afraid? Why don’t you make a choice? Can’t you be happy?”
“What choice?” Shougo asked.
“The only choice that matters,” the orderly said, gesturing to the five young women who suddenly surrounded Shougo.
“Don’t I look just good enough to eat?” Konoe asked.
“Let’s run away and get married!” Rinka said.
“We could start our own business, maybe use our own experience to better know the customers,” Mei said.
“Just you and me together forever,” Miyabi said.
“Let’s do it!” Mana said.
“But . . . but one of them could be . . .” Shougo said.
“Who cares?” the orderly asked. “Who is IMOUTO? What is IMOUTO? Where is IMOUTO? Why is IMOUTO? When is IMOUTO? How is IMOUTO? Do any of those questions actually matter? Isn’t it better as a rhetorical question? Do you really need to know the answer? Isn’t better to just throw yourself into this and forget the consequences?”
The idea was enticing: to forget his fears and do something would be wonderful. But is that what he really thought? Or was that just the voice in his head whispering sweet nothings to his brain? Shougo resisted. It just wasn’t right. He couldn’t let any of them get too close. It terrified him. The feelings running through his body were exquisite, but they were also evil. He couldn’t give in to temptation. One of them could be her — or ALL of them. Who was to say?
Shougo summoned all his strength and crawled to a table on the other side of the room. There was a small mug on the corner. He grabbed it and threw it at the window. The glass shattered into pieces that fell onto the floor. Shougo dragged himself to the glass and took one of the long, sharp shards. He raised it high and jammed it into the palm of his right hand. Pain shot through his body. Blood poured out of his hand onto the ground. Shougo’s body quickly lost energy, but his soul was sharp. Everything was clear. Everything was right. Everything was good. The girls ran up to Shougo, fearful, but they were already fading away. The room went dark.
When Shougo awoke, he was back in his normal bed in his normal room in his normal apartment. He looked down at his hand. It was fine — neither scar nor wound could be seen. Shougo sighed and leaned back against his headrest. A terrible dream. That’s all it was: a terrible dream.
Still, there was work to be done. IMOUTO was still out int he world, and she had to be found, no matter the cost. Shougo staked his life — his soul — on this journey. Nothing could stop him. He had to find IMOUTO.
“That’s right, Onii-chan,” the voice in Shougo’s head whispered. “You have to find me.”
Yes. Shougo got dressed and went outside. His friends were waiting for him downstairs. Any one of them could be IMOUTO; or, perhaps, none of them at all. But Shougo would track down IMOUTO. Yes.
Until then, life would go on, as always.