Author: korinaka PM
Hunger is all that No-face knows. And around Sen, he is ravenous.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Friendship - Kaonashi & Chihiro O. - Words: 10,498 - Reviews: 35 - Favs: 90 - Follows: 12 - Published: 08-15-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8432775
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to Spirited Away.
He is hungry.
Before him is a lavish feast of noodles and fried pork, stewing with flavor and scent, laid out by a trembling but willing vendor. Three bowls twice the size of the vendor's bald head sit garnished with herbs and dried salmon cut into the shapes of stars. A breeze passes through the open shop and tendrils of steam snake around him. No-face cannot smell it, but he knows it must be wonderful. Out of gratefulness, he regurgitates a silver coin that he had picked up earlier. It clatters to the floor on a hollow sound, and the vendor rushes to gather it up and place it with the others.
From his form, a tendril emerges, black and gelatenous, and fumbles briefly with the flimsy wooden chopsticks laid out for him. He cannot grip them. He cannot form fingers deft enough to grasp them. Defeated, he leans heavily over the counter, over the feast, and spills himself into the bowls.
He cannot enter the bathhouse, but he wants to.
He watches spirits rush in and out of it, some servents and some clients, their statuses always obvious by their girth and manner of dress. No-face does not have clothing, cannot ever remember a time when he wore clothing, but he is large now. He is taller than most and wider than many guests who enter the towering bathhouse. He moves toward the bridge, making quiet noises of discontent when he feels himself being repelled. Around the lower part of his body, several small creatures rush forth carrying smooth flat riverstones, chattering anxiously as they cross the bridge with ease. One trips over a wide crack and drops its stone, sending it skidding toward No-face. It disappears into the darkness of his body with a muted slurp.
The creature stares up at him, wide-eyed, and No-face's mask stares wordlessly back. Presently, another creature tugs at its clothing, whispers harsh words, and they all continue on their way, one now bereft its prize.
For many days, he has not moved from the edge of the bridge. No-face is not hungry now, and he is still very large, and he does not know where else he should go. Bridge-goers cease to be frightened of him by now and instead look upon him curiously as they pass. Some try to offer him appeasements, as if he is the guardian of the bridge, in the forms of fuzzy round peaches and shiny sour grapes, but he shies away from these gifts. He is not hungry, and this thought is disturbing. Hunger is all that he knows. Without hunger, he is nothing, has no purpose. The river stone sits heavily near the bottom of his body, weighing him down, rooting him to the ground like a sapling taken hold. From time to time he drools black sludge, and in these times, he can feel himself slowly growing smaller.
But he is still very large, so he does not make a move to leave.
Soon, No-face comes to recognize pain.
He breathes deep and gestures at those who pass by as best that he can, but they ignore him now. No more do servants glance sidelong at him and no more do clientele peer at him from behind fanciful folding fans and sleeves. He receives no more offerings. The stone has created a pit now, and it burrows through him toward the ground ever more each day. He is very small now, perhaps no more than half the height of a lamppost. Sludge leaks from his mouth, staining the backside of his mask.
He is not well, and he is pained, and now pain is all that he knows.
When he feels that he will not ever be hungry again, it is dark, and even the bathhouse has few lights lit within its citadel-like confines. He wants to lie down but does not know how. He hears footsteps approaching him from the distance, but he does not care to look. He knows it is another servant, late in returning to their quarters.
The footsteps stop before him, and when he looks, he sees a young servant girl. But this one is different. This one is human.
She looks up at him in open awe, and though she is obviously fearful, she is also intrigued. She tilts her head from side to side to examine him, and he mirrors her, interested as well despite the river stone ripping him apart from the inside.
"You're hurt." Her words are simple, stated as matter-of-fact, and he nods slowly, carefully.
She bends to inspect him further, looking up and down the length of his dark form. He feels the stirrings of something else, perhaps shame, and wishes to hide himself away. He is small now, and he is plagued with a pocket of air and a stone, foreign obects that do not quite belong. The stone holds some magic properties, probably, and it is killing him, probably.
Without a word, the girl outstretches a small hand and touches fingers to him. The surface of his body ripples at the contact. Slowly, her fingers sink into him, toward the stone that has caused him such undue pain, such feeling that he has never felt; the stone that has made him forget his hunger. He has never been touched by a human. It feels wondrous. It feels as if his entire body is full to bursting, filled with life and light that shines into all of his dark places. When her hand closes around the stone, his pain vanishes, and he is instead left with a feeling of bouyancy and elation.
When she withdraws her hand along with the stone, the air pockets immediately close, and his body trembles with relief. He sways side to side, bobbling, watching her toss the stone into the water beneath the bridge. At seeing the stone so far away, he makes a joyful noise and inches toward the girl.
She seems not to notice him and is instead enraptured by the red bridge. She puts a toe on it, then another, and then begins to cross it. No-face no longer feels repelled. He follows her at a distance, wanting more of her light, wanting her human life to fill him again. He follows her up a winding path toward the back of the bathhouse before she manages to disappear from sight in the darkness. Whether or not she had intentionally sliped away is lost on him; all he feels now is loss. Without her presence he is empty again. He is pained again, despite the absence of the magical stone. His corners have again been shadowed. His body shudders and rocks, and he searches frantically, moving slow and sluggish despite his desperation.
Without her, he is ravenous.
He has not seen her for some time. Every moment he spends thinking about her, her small hands and her wide eyes, her strange way of dressing and her unabashed way of speaking. No-face does not sleep and he does not do much else but roam the grounds outside of the bathhouse, unable to enter without prior invitation. Sometimes he fades from view, unwilling to attract the attention of workers and guests, but sometimes-during the night and in places less populated-he walks freely, unbound, and searches on.
It rains, and he is still starving. And he sees her outline through a paper screen that lines a hall, carrying what seems to be a bucket. He stops among the bushes that he was treading through, now the smallest he has ever been.
She opens the screen, dumps the bucket she is carrying, notices him. He cannot come further and she does not exit the building.
She speaks to him, and her words give him the briefest taste of that light he needs, the teasing flicker of a candle's flame when he wishes to be set aflame. "You're getting wet. Aren't you cold?"
The rain pours, slides off of his slick body in torrents, and a mournful want rolls inside of him.
From inside the bathhouse, a voice calls. The girl glances away, then back at him. Then: "I'll leave the door open for you." She is swallowed again inside the building, her silhoutte racing out of view as she responds to the call.
He steps inside cautiously, artificial lights making most of him translucent, his hunger overpowering him in a way that it never has before.
She argues with a toad-like man at the reception desk for the tubs. She is timid, frightened, very unlike the young human who had reached unafraid inside him and removed his malady. He materializes and towers behind the toad, still so very small but so very much larger than him, and watches her. Her eyes flick to him in a moment of surprise and curiosity and mild panic, and he nods, and when the man turns to look at the direction of the girl's stare, No-face has gone.
Her eyes fall on a rectangular wooden token as the man answers the phone-"Foreman, speaking!" with his voice fat and saccharine with arrogance-and No-face picks one up in his once-fumbling grip. Now clutched around the token, it is firm, sure. He thrusts it against the girl's chest, and without letting the toad-man recover from his startled croak-blubbering, she bows, thanks him, and scuttles off. He follows closely, stepping where she steps, soaking in every bit of light that her bare feet leave.
He watches her until she is alone, not wanting to reveal himelf to the other servant girl. He stands quietly in the corner, invisible, reigning his urge to consume what light she can give.
The room fills with salty steam that stings his body, and the other girl leaves to fetch breakfast. The human is left standing on the edge of the tub, her body small and lanky but the life around her oppressing all darkness within the room. He reveals himself, and she looks at him, startled, before slipping down the side of the tub to land on the floor.
He approaches her, feeling heavy, every foot closed between them feeling like a mile. He is so close now that he can feel the heat from her body. He can see the concern on her face. Concern for him, concern for himself, he does not know, and he does not care to know. All he knows is his want. All he knows is his hunger.
"Sir," she manages, sounding hesitant, still rubbing her injured head, "the bath's not ready yet."
He does not want a bath. From within him and in the cradle of dark palms, he produces a pile of the wooden tokens. He gives them as offerings, as bridge-crossers had given him. He gives them as signs of goodwill. As signs of admiration. He wants. He needs. He hungers.
She is visibly shocked, and he jostles them in his hands, gesturing them toward her. These are the items she wanted. She wants just as he wants. Perhaps she can return his favor. Perhaps she will understand. She starts to speak, her voice wavering and unsure. "There's...so many."
He pushes his outstretched hands toward her again, and the wood tokens clatter together. He makes a noise of distress, a noise of bare communication, the only noise he knows how to make. His body pulses.
"What? They're all for me?" She leans away from him. He leans forward, nods, towers over her small human figure. The brightness of her being sears again into him, making him warm.
"Thanks, but I don't need any more." She shakes her head.
He pushes them toward her again, makes a noise.
"No, I only need one!" She sounds frantic now, her hands clutched to her chest, wringing them. With her growing fear, the light recedes, and No-face feels dark again in places that he does not wish to feel dark.
Defeated, sensing the approach of another servant, he sighs and slinks into nothing.
It takes a very long time for No-face to appear before the girl again. He lurks in corners, behind boxes, at the ends of halls, listening for mention of her, learning who and why she is. He learns what the servants call her, Sen, and compared to he, who has no name, it is beautiful. She earns notoriety soon by helping a rich and powerful spirit, and in return for her aid, the spirit litters the bathouse with pieces of gold. No-face knows hunger, and No-face knows want, and now No-face knows opportunity. Quickly, before other scrambling servants can find him, he swallows much of the gold that had fallen in corners, storing it safe inside him for a time when he would need it again. For a time when he can sate his hunger. That time is not now, despite how his hunger drapes his thoughts as a blanket, and now that No-face knows opportunity, he must learn to use it.
He sees her, sitting on the balcony with her woman-servant friend, eating a steamed dumpling and watching the moon reflect off of the water. He knows she is watching the reflection because it is the only thing to watch in the sea-like flood expanses. He watches her watch from his place around the corner, invisible, itching to steal her light and her steamed bun. He is starving and his want is intense. It turns angrily, fitfully, in the dark places inside of him.
She is forlorn. He knows this beecause her light does not reach nearly as far as it usually does. It comes off of her in dull pulses, barely reaching him, but he does not dare creep closer. Sen cannot sense him, as she is a human, but the woman-servant is not, and she most likely can.
Her sadness burrows a pit inside of him, deeper and fouler than the magic river stone had done. It burns inside of him, makes him ache, puts a sharpened edge to his hunger and want. Sen searches the sky, leafing through the bright stars with her eyes, steamed bun all but forgotten, and he knows what she is searching for. She is searching for Haku, the dragon boy, and No-face feels the pit within him grow. He must fill it, and soon.
He slinks away from her and toward the baths, toward the tub where he had first offered her the wooden tokens. It is clean now, empty, dark and quiet. He is large again, but not nearly as large as he had before been. He is large from gold pieces and not from food, and though his body is imposing, he still feels the emptiness of hunger. Effortlessly, he climbs over the rim of the tub and sinks inside of it, feeling encompassed by its high walls. He fits it quite well.
Here he sits for some time, thinking, wallowing, the sharpened ends of want and hunger and something else from that boy Haku stinging him over and over again. He remains silent but visible, knowing no servants are awake and no customers lodge in this area. Then, distantly, he hears the soft pattering of quick feet. For a moment, his body pulses. The footsteps stop before the tub. He rises, not feeling Sen's life but wanting only to make sure.
A frog in blue servant's clothing picks between the floorbooard with a nail file, surely attempting to root out stray gold pieces.
No-face regurgitates a single gold chunk. An offering. An eye for an eye. No-face wants this frog's help-help with what, he is not entirely sure.
The frog pounces on the gold, ecstatic, exclaiming "It's gold!" in a hushed voice. He has the presence of mind to look up, and No-face stands there, one hand outstretched now, waiting to give more if it is required.
The frog takes on an uglier expression. "What do you think you're doing?" he shouts, loud now, confident in his new alibi. "The bath's closed. Get out of there, you! Get out of there!"
Slowly, No-face turns his palm downward. A few more pieces of gold fall from it to clatter noisily onto the floor. Again, the frog is upon them, snatching them into his webbed hands. "More gold!" he cries, excited, looking up at No-face with newfound appreciation "Are you-are you giving them to me?"
No-face nods, and in his now-upturned palm, a small pile of gold materializes. The smile on his mask stretches as the pile of gold grows larger. No-face is stll very hungry as he gestures the gold toward the frog, much as he had done with Sen. However, unlike Sen, the frog inches toward him. "You can make gold?"
No-face nods again, retreating further away from the rim of the tub, as the frog scrambles up its side. The pile of gold is now quite significant in his hand. No-face's hunger is now strangling him, wrapping dark tendrils around his thoughts, taking precedence above all else.
The frog snatches the gold from No-face's hand with a gluttonous, greasy, "Gimme," and in an instant, his hand becomes talons that squeeze the frog's throat. It does not have time to either croak or squeak before No-face's mouth opens just below his mask, a gaping maw with large, flat, white teeth. He devours the frog whole, greedily, growing larger as he does, feeling the dark pits of his hunger subside only partially. He feels the frog stir inside of him and is suddenly fearful. He has never eaten a living thing before, and he feels this is a turning point. He feels the essence of this frog, its personality, its mannerisms, take over. He grows long bent legs and webbed fingers. He feels a voice-something he has never had, something he has never felt the need to have-rip up through his mouth. Now very large, he climbs atop the bath's divider, waiting for a new prey. Now No-face is very hungry, and the frog is also very hungry, and both hear approaching footsteps.
The toad-man that had at one point given Sen trouble appears, leaning into the tub's room, peering for sources of the noises he had heard. No-face boils with emotions now that are his but not. With the frog's essence added to his, he can feel full ranges of emotions. He feels envy at this man's position-undoubtedly the frog's-but he also feels rage at him for his mistreatment of Sen, and he feels unrelenting hunger, and these emotions belong unquestioningly to No-face.
"Hey, boss," No-face croaks in a voice that is not his own, in a speech mannerism that he would never perpetuate. "Up here." Gold drops from his oustretched hand, startling the toad-man. "I'm hungry. Starving!" He leans closer down, taking pleasure in the toad-man's terrified expression, and he is not sure who this emotion belongs to. "And I want you to serve me."
The toad-man bristles, withdraws, breathes, "I know that voice," before gold falls into his startled hands in a stream.
"Here," No-face says, "I'll pay you up front." Gold continues to fall, and the toad-man seems unsure of whether he should bother to collect the gold or just run. "And...I want to take a bath, too." No-face's voice grows angrier, more sinister. He waves his hand around as gold pieces dribble from it. "Why don't you wake everyone up?"
The toad-man, no longer very hesitant, scrambles to collect the gold.
No-face struggles to follow the toad-man up the stairs and into a room lined with beautiful painted servant women holding empty boxes. He does not have a point of reference for what "beauty" is, and even if he did, he does not have much of a need for it or the notion of it, but the frog still taking root inside of him seems to. He openly admires these women, and a strange feeling stirs inside of No-face, making his body warm, making his thoughts fuzzy, but it belongs wholly to the frog. He feels disgraced for containing this feeling at all, no matter whose it is.
He waddles up the stairs, now larger than he has ever been thanks to the feast he had been granted in exchange for what gold he harbored within himself. The toad-man sings a song that the frog found amusing and the servant girls bow and giggle and blush. No-face looks but can not make out Sen among them, and for this, he finds he is very glad.
"Beg for tips!" the toad-man sings, and the servant women outstretch their boxes toward him, singing and tittering at him, calling him a rich man. No-face is neither rich nor really a man, but the frog seems partial to these titles, so he waddles on, continuing down the hall, footsteps pounding against the wooden floorboards. He is no longer hungry, and his want has subsided for now, and for this he supposes he should be grateful to the frog.
Amidst the din of servants and the singing and praising of the toad-man, No-face almost doesn't notice the sound of light footsteps pattering somewhere near him. The feeling of life is unmistakable, though. It is so heavy, so heady, so intense, that it latches straight to him and fills him to the brim, and he looks immediately in the direction it comes from. There, in front of an elevator, is Sen, looking up at him as though he is blocking her path. And, as he looks around the room, he realizes he is.
She stiffens, her lips tighten, and then she bows to him. The brightness he feels within himself is unfathomable. He wants to shower her with offerings, bury her in gold and delicious sweet fruits, but she is quick to speak. "Thank you for helping me," she says formally, and her gentle voice, her small stature, her round face touches something within the frog that absolutely enrages No-face.
"Hey!" the toad-man shouts, stopping his fan-waving in order to step toward her. "Don't talk to him!" He moves toward Sen as if he is going to hurt her, and while the frog is intrigued and rather amused by all of this, No-face is boiling inside. He reaches out a hand to grasp the toad-man by the collar-the first action he alone has performed since he devoured the frog-and tosses him aside like a small child. He crashes into a crowd of people, scattering empty tip boxes. Sen gasps. No-face battles for dominance over the frog, who is excited by the treatement of the toad-man but angry that his control is being overriden.
No-face crouches as low as he can, suddenly uncomfortable with being so much larger than the girl. He is so large. He is larger than he can ever remember. He cannot ever remember regretting becoming large.
He outstretches cupped hands, pushes them toward her, makes a noise that is only his. The frog has not retreated. Gold fills No-face's palms and the smile on his mask stretches, and at seeing that No-face wishes to give this gold to the girl, the frog begins to claw and scratch for control. All that No-face can feel is want. Want for Sen's light. Want for Sen's attention. Want for Sen's approval. Gold spills from his palms and he continues to voice unintelligable sounds at her, now sounding strained with the desire for Sen to accept his offer and his struggle to keep the frog at bay. Sen continues to look both baffled and mildly frightened. It is the "frightened" part of this equation that makes No-face ache most.
She shakes her head. No-face thinks he may die.
The pile does not continue to grow. It is all he has. He pushes it into her face. The smile on his mask has shrunk now. The noises he is making sound desperate, defeated, pleading.
"I don't want any," she says quickly, "but thanks."
The smile has completely fallen. It is almost a frown now. No-face does not ever remember a time when he has frowned, not even when the magic river stone was lodged inside of him, not even in his hungriest days. He withdraws, voices unformed words of protest and bargaining, and the frog thrashes violently. His body trembles. The feast turns to ash within him. His hands, still outstreched, shake. Gold slips through his fingers like water. Around him, quiet servants hungrily watch as each piece falls to the floor. And still Sen refuses, still Sen shakes her head, stll Sen does not accept him.
"I'm sorry, but I'm in a really big hurry!"
He sees blood on her hand in that moment. He sees the frantic way she darts her eyes around the room.
He knows she is going to Haku.
No-face's hands separate, letting all of the gold hit the ground, sounding like marbles falling on a child's bedroom floor. At this action, the servants rush forth, desperate to swipe what they can. Within him, the frog howls in frustration and anger. No-face watches Sen push her way through the crowd, agonized, feeling pain as he has never felt, pain that rocks his body and deepens the frown on his mask into one of utter despair. Sen moves freely down a hall, and the light leaves him all at once. He is bereft. Emptier than he has ever been.
The toad-man clears the crowd, whacking heads with his now folded fan, and then approaches him with an apology. Among all of these words that No-face does not care to hear, he catches one bit:
"You'll have to excuse the little girl; she's just a human."
No-face relinquishes control of himself, and the frog immediately jumps to the forefront. He looms over the toad-man, angry at having been overriden and having let the girl retreat without properly examining her. "Wipe that smile off your face," No-face says, his voice smarmy and croaking. His mouth opens, white teeth gleaming beneath the mask, and the toad-man takes a step back. No-face pauses, and then with a sick satisfaction says, "You're still smiling!" In a deft movement, he snatches up the toad-man and an unfortunate servant girl standing too close and shovels them both into his mouth, chewing and swallowing with some effort. He is already very large. He is unsure of how much larger he can be. The two fight and fret within him, distorting his dark form, and the room full of once adoring servants screams and scatters. It is pandemonium. A small part of No-face-one that he cannot attribute concretely to either himself or the frog-revels in it.
No-face becomes much larger than he ever imagined possible, but he does not enjoy the feeling. He does not feel full and satisfied. He hungers endlessly. He devours all. Servant girls bring him platter after platter of food, but he is not sated. He is finally, woefully, cornered by Yubaba, the grand witch and head of the bathhouse, who coaxes him into a secluded room with promises of food, women, and Sen. No-face cares little anymore for food and had never cared for women in the first place, but at the mention of Sen, he cannot turn down the witch's offer.
He thrashes inside of her room, locked inside, kicking empty dishes toward her and slamming his body against the walls. She has trapped him in here. He is enraged, but usually he would not behave in such a fashion; the frog inside of him as well as the toad-man now fight for dominance, both projecting their anger to the surface. No-face's desire-his want-his need-to see Sen, to make sure that she hasn't completely abandoned him, to make sure that Haku, that dragon boy, that worm, that thief, hasn't aken her away for good spreads to the frog. The frog has control now, but he voices No-face's wishes. He throws something hard against the doors and stamps his feet. An extra pair of legs have grown to support his enormous body. "Where's Sen? I want Sen!"
Yubaba coos some soothing words, but No-face cannot be calmed. Sen's words ring in his mind, her worried expression-all for Haku, never again for him-poison his thoughts. Her light would never be his. Her light would ever be given to Haku, and what did the boy want from her? Surely he only wanted to take what was not his. No-face desired this light as well, but he was prepared to give back-had already attempted to do so many times over. No-face would give anything.
Yubaba is distracted by whispering coming from the door. She whispers harshly back to it, then turns to No-face and says, "Sen has arrived, sir; she'll be with you in just a few minutes." She steps outside the door and all of No-face's newfound emotions roil fitfully.
In a few moments, after No-face is sure he is going to explode from the pressure of his need, his anxiety, his fear, a small figure outfitted in pink servant clothes is pushed through the door. "Here's Sen," Yubaba lilts and then slams the door.
Sen sits on her knees on the floor, a fat mouse sitting on her left shoulder and a small round creature buzzing near her ear. She has found more friends.
The room is ruined. No-face is huge. Trash and broken items litter the ground. He stares down at her, his partially open mouth drooling from the strain of keeping the feast and the three living beings inside of him. He wants to take control, he wants to speak with Sen, he wants to tell her about all he will give her, but the grip the frog and the toad-man have is too strong. From behind all of the food and these living things, No-face cannot even feel the touch of Sen's brightness. He mourns as the toad-man hobbles toward her and speaks.
"Try this." He picks up a plate of fruit. "Its delicious." His voice is runny and sweet like syrup. The frog speaks now. "Want some gold? I'm not giving it to anybody else." Both of these men want Sen. No-face does not know why. No-face does not care to know why. But No-face knows that they cannot have her.
Sen remains impassive. Perhaps she knows that it is not him who speaks. The thought soars within him, and for a moment, he feels stronger.
The toad-man inches toward her on all fours, stretching his long neck toward her. "Come closer, Sen," he pleads, an edge to his voice that makes No-face feel sick like the river stone had made him feel. "What would you like? Just name it."
"I would like to leave, sir." No-face withdraws from her as if she has burned him. "I have someplace I need to go to right away, please."
No-face catches his reflection in an overturned silver platter. The mouth on his mask is downturned, the holes for eyes are wide. He has hair now. It falls over his mask in thick brown locks. He wonders if Sen likes Haku because of his hair. He wonders if Sen will like him because of his.
But Sen continues to speak, and each word jabs a searing pit into No-face's insides. "You should go back to where you came from." She shakes her head firmly, resolutely. "Yubaba doesn't want you in the bath house any longer."
No-face withdraws further. His rage, his loss, his torment ripples through his body as a physical presence. He is in turmoil. Sen continues to speak.
"Where's your home?" She leans toward him. The mouse and flying creature appear terrified. "Don't you have any friends or family?"
No-face's mask disappears within his own body. He is ashamed to show himself. The frog and toad-man are as well. They have no home, no friends, no family, just as No-face doesn't. "No," the frog croaks. "No. I'm lonely. I'm lonely." He walks toward Sen unseeing, and he hears her back up, hears her press her back against a wall. Her friends hide behind her hair.
"What is it that you want?" She does not sound fearful.
An eye of the mask emerges from No-face's body, and when he speaks, he is not sure who exactly it is that is in control. "I want Sen. I want Sen." His mask reveals itself completely again, and he pushes a hand toward her, palm already swelling with gold. Again, he is unsure who speaks. "Take the gold," he pleads, desperate. "Take it."
"Are you going to eat me?" She is still not afraid. She watches his fingers curl into talons.
"Take it," No-face urges. The side of his hand presses against her face, against her lips. Her skin is soft. A second later, he feels a sharp but inconsequential pain, and he looks down to see that the mouse has bit him. Distracted, sinking again from control, the toad-man grunts, "Huh?" and lifts the hand, mouse and all, to his face, closer, so that he can inspect it. Gold dribbles from his palm. He turns it over. "Ow," says the frog, amused. He slaps the hand, wanting to swat the mouse away like a bug, but the flying creature lifts it to safety and returns it to Sen.
"If you want to eat me," Sen says, stepping in front of her friends, "eat this first." She stretches her palm toward him, much like he had done many times to her. The implications put No-face into an internal frenzy. In her palm is a small greenish-grey sphere. An offering. A gift. "I was saving this for my parents, but I think you'd better have it." No-face opens his mouth. He will eat this offering. He will accept this from her. He will accept anything that Sen can give. Fat with too much food and these living things, he cannot feel her light, but at least he can have this. Sen throws the sphere into his mouth, and he swallows it greedliy, hungrily, as though he has not eaten in many days.
It is immediately vile. His first thought is of betrayal; surely she must have fed him poison. Surely he will die now. But as he retches and vomits black sludge, he is reminded of the river stone, and of her small human hands reaching inside him to retrieve it. The sphere settles inside of him heavily, rejecting all foreign matter around it. He waves his tongue, turns his massive body around, kicks up dishes and food, and begins to vomit large quantities of his own body.
It is like the river stone. He is being killed by this sphere in his body. Sen has hurt him. Sen must have betrayed him. The toad-man and the frog go mad with fear and rage, but No-face stews quietly, knowing this is not the case, knowing surely she would not harm him-not after she has helped him so.
"Sen," the toad-man and the frog wail together, advancing upon her, black sludge dripping from his mouth. "Sen, what did you do to me?" He vomits another round of black sludge and then charges at Sen, an action that No-face protests violently and vocally at, the noises coming out as no more than weak grunts.
Sen races through the doors and down the hall, and the toad-man and the frog give chase with No-face wailing and begging and clawing for control. His body leaves large slimy pieces of him behind on every surface that he touches, and he grows steadily smaller.
No-face barrels down hallways after her, mouth agape, panting, the toad-man and frog wanting to catch her and enact their vengeance. He watches as Sen races around a corner and Yubaba flies around it in front of her, face stony and set, mumbling and babbling words that No-face doesn't care to hear. She summons some kind of bright orange light between her hands and shoots it toward him, some weak magic that he pays no mind to. It slaps into his mask but it doesn't even slow him down, and in response, he vomits more black sludge onto her. Her magic is child's play; he cannot remember who he is, but he remembers that he is powerful, and he remembers that he can rend her apart if he so desires. He does no such thing, however, instead bypassing her completely in order to find Sen once more.
He is rapidly losing his size. He is perhaps half of what he was. He hangs over a staircase and vomits onto the floor below, onto poor unsuspecting servants. He hears Sen's voice then-"No-face!"-and the name feels so sweet coming from her, it stirs something deep inside of him untouched by the frog or the toad-man or the darkness he always carries. "Over here!" He climbs the walls toward her, following her down stairs and over balconies, significantly smaller now but desperate to reach her. His mask is twisted into a pained expression, and after knocking bodily into an ascending elevator, he spits up a servant woman and the toad-man. Instantly, he can feel faint traces of Sen's brightness as she rushes away. It thrills him.
The frog still remains within him, though. He leans heavily against a wooden pillar and pants, glancing in the direction Sen had fled. "I'll get you for this, Sen," he babbles, slobbering all over himself, the frog still determined to catch Sen for what was obviously a murder attempt but No-face content in realizing that she was cleansing him. Again she had helped him.
He continues after her, much slower this time, through the kitchen. The cooks cower behind their counters, and though there is food piled everywhere, No-face does not even give it a second look. He is no longer hungry. He does not know if he will ever be hungry again. All that exists now is the frog and his desire to capture Sen. No-face knows he also has a desire, some kind of desire for Sen, but it is buried deep down beneath the overpowering wants of the frog.
He continues towared Sen sluggishly. She is leading him out of the bathhouse. The frog does not realize it but No-face does. He vomits sludge every so often along the way, clutching to walls to keep balance. He is now not much larger than he had been when he had first met Sen.
Sen disappears out a doorway that is too small for No-face to fit through. Frantic, the frog climbs up a ladder and out onto a steaming pipe. He watches Sen climb into a wooden raft with her woman-servant friend, watches the two of them row away out into the flooded land. He does not know where they are going. The frog doesn't care. No-face vomits again, and it sizzles and dries atop the hot pipe.
"Hey!" Sen shouts, removing her pink sevant clothing to reveal strange dress he has not seen before.
He vomits one more time, and the frog tumbles out, disoriented. No-face is free again. He feels light, empty, but it is not a bad empty. He can feel Sen and her light fading, though, so he quickly drops into the water below.
He moves as a shadow through the water, his form very small-and he does not mind this one bit-until he reaches the train tracks. It must be where they are going, Sen and her friends. It is the only place. He emerges from the water on them, keeping his distance, and hear's Sen say quietly, "He won't hurt us." And she is right.
"You'll have to walk from here," the servant-woman says, allowing Sen to exit the raft. Sen steps gingerly onto the raised train tracks, though the water reaches just below her knees.
"Thanks, Lin," Sen says, watching Lin row away.
"You'd better come back, you hear me?" Lin replies, looking pained.
Sen waves. "I will!" No-face feels strange for being witness to this scene.
They continue to exchange words, growing louder the further Lin rows and the further Sen walks, until both are far enough away that they cannot hear.
Lin rows past him, levels a glare on him, but he does not pay attention. He is focused fully on Sen many paces ahead of him, focused on how he can ever make her forgive him for allowing the toad-man and the frog to take control and terrorize her. "No-face," Lin calls, and it is nowhere near as sweet-sounding as when Sen had said it, "if you put even one scratch on that girl, you are in big trouble."
No-face says nothing. He continues to trail Sen as she reaches the train platform and walks onto it. The train approaches, creating waves that push No-face away from the tracks. He struggles to right himself and continue following. Sen steps into the train, produces her tickets for the conductor. No-face steps behind her.
The conductor points at Sen, at the fat mouse, at the strange flying creature, and then at No-face. Sen turns to look at him.
He is not expecting to be allowed on the train, but he wishes to see her again before she inevitably disappears, before he is left alone and empty once more on the other side of the bridge from the bathhouse. Sen smiles slightly, and it brightens No-face's entire being. He is used to it by now, but he will never tire of it. "Oh," she says, surprised, "you want to come with us?"
No-face nods, makes a noise of assent.
Sen turns back to the conductor. "He'd like to come too, please."
The conductor shreds the tickets, steps aside. No-face reaches a hand out to Sen's back, wanting to thank her, wanting to apologize, but feeling incapable of doing so. He does not know how. He cannot speak and he does not know what he can do. His hand lingers over her shoulder as she hesitates to board. His hands are fully defined now, five long, thin fingers extending from a large palm, where not much long ago he could not hold chopsticks. Sen steps aboard and his hand falls away. He follows, as he always has.
Aboard the train are people ensconced in shadow, much like him. Except these people are in the shapes of people and wear clothing. Sen appears nervous but chooses an empty seat near the back of the car. No-face hovers near the entrance, unsure, making quiet distressed noises, looking frantically about the car. He doesn't know where to sit. Is he welcome beside her after what he had put her through? Will she reject him completely if he tries to stay near her?
She looks up to him, wide eyes so bright and full of life, and motions beside her. "Sit here," she says, and No-face does. "Behave yourselff, okay?"
His body is very thin now, ghostly, almost translucent. He cannot ever remember it being that way. Sen sits still and quiet beside him, and he sits mere inches away. He can feel heat from her body. He can feel her light flooding every inch of him. He is sure that is why his body is so wispy now. He slouches. His side touches her. She is so warm that it is overwhelming, and he sinks into the feeling as the train rushes down the tracks, toward whatever destination Sen has in mind.
No-face is not hungry at all.
The train leaves them at the end of the world. The end of the world also appears very similar to a swamp.
They walk in silence for a time, No-face hanging a few paces back and marveling at the shape of his hands and thin arms, and the flying creature carrying the mouse. The creature tires eventually, and it sinks, mouse sinking with it. The mouse continues on foot, snubbing Sen's offer to allow it to ride on her shoulder. No-face would never have passed such an opportunity, but he knows he is too large to do such a thing.
In the distance, a lamppost hopping on one foot approaches them, bows, and then leads them down a path. They follow unquestioningly.
As they walk, No-face begins to realize that he has also formed well-defined legs and feet, complete with kneecaps and toes. They are hidden behind the cloak of his body, but he tests them, how they feel, how they move, and begins to remember a time when very much of his body looked like this-long, sinewy, very human-like in shape.
Zeniba's cottage is cozy and comfortable, and No-face is surprised that he recognizes those terms and their meanings at all. The old woman much resembles her sister, Yubaba, in appearance, but in mannerism, they are opposites. She and Sen talk long into the night, discussing many things but mostly Haku-a topic that No-face attempts desperately to ignore. They sit at a table and have cake and tea, and No-face uses his new appendages appropriately to pick up a knife and fork, cut the cake slice, and then eat it gracefully and without slobbering or swallowing whole. He savors the taste. It's sweet. Light. It reminds him of Sen.
Zeniba and Sen discuss her parents. No-face knows nothing about this, so he concentrates on his cake.
Sen speaks again of Haku. She tells Zeniba that she has met him sometime before, and the notion that Haku knew Sen before No-face knew Sen unsettles him deeply. But he is happy to be beside her-happy that she has not rejected him and that she still chooses to fill him with her light.
Zeniba summons him to assist her in making something for Sen. He approves wholeheartedly of this idea and is excited to further put to use his deft hands and fingers.
No-face, as it turns out, is very good at spinning thread. He works the thread with quick movements as Zeniba crafts something and the fat mouse works the wheel. In the corner, Sen sits on a stool and holds her knees to her chest, but No-face tries to concentrate on his work.
He remembers a time when he had done something similar, or at least seen it been done before.
No-face knits now, his fingers slightly too large for the activity but recalling someplace deep in his mind seeing this done many times before. It takes little instruction for him to gain a rhythm.
Meanwhile, Sen continues to fret over Haku. Tears well in her eyes, and No-face is distantly aware of what these are and what this means. It bothers him on several different levels, but he finds it isn't his place to interfere or ask. It was never his place. Perhaps it never will be.
Zeniba hands Sen a hair tie that was woven by himself and the fat mouse, and Sen declares it beautiful. No-face learns the meaning of pride, and he swells with it.
The windowpanes shutter, and No-face knows that Haku has arrived. Sen rushes out to meet him.
He watches her back as she goes, watches the light glint off of her glittering hair-tie as the wind sweeps her out the front door. He is altogether and all at once saddened at the loss of her, at the loss of her brightness, but his need to feel her life is no longer overwhelming. It no longer consumes him. He lets her go, without saying goodbye, without so much as a final look, knowing that it is perhaps the last time he will see her.
He is satisfied at the memory of her, at the memory of her touch, her warmth, and he continues to sit with Zeniba and knit.
No-face does not sleep, so he does not sleep that night. Instead he pulls away his cloak and looks down at his legs. He can see muscle definitions in his shadowy calves and thighs, can see the slight bulge of veins and knuckles in his feet. He inspects his hands and arms in much the same way, noting that he is no longer very translucent.
Sometime in the night, when No-face is not paying attention, Haku returns with Sen to sweep away the fat mouse and leave forever.
No-face finds he does not mind much, and at this realization, the upper part of his body thin until he can feel the beginnings of shoulders and a neck.
Zeniba does not do much of anything in a day, which suits No-face just fine. He continues to do nothing wth her save for knitting and weaving and cooking. He continues to have very proper table manners, a fact that Zeniba marvels at. "A wonder where you picked it up from," she would sometimes say, a strange twinkle in her eye. But No-face would not say anything about this, because he does not know where he could possibly have picked it up.
One day, while No-face is helpig Zeniba pull carrots, he bends and notices that he no longer has a sort of cloak covering his body. He is thin and lanky, muscles lean and long, and his body resembles that of a human male, but still rather shadowy. He resembles the spirits on the train. He still cannot speak, but he makes a vague noise of distress, and Zeniba looks up only to follow this with a surprised "Ack! No-face! Your body has come in!" as if a body could "come in" just as a carrot could.
She rushes inside and then returns with a blanket. She drapes it around him and then ushers him in, tells him to sit in the corner and don't move. He does, for many hours, looking down at his body and realizing how familiar it all seems. He lifts a hand to feel under his mask, touching places that were once smooth and blank. He feels lips, a nose, cheekbones, eyes.
No-face has a face.
"It has been several years," Zeniba muses as No-face sits at the table with her, having tea and cake. Though he has a face now-however vague and dark-he keeps the mask, and the name has kept as well. He wears clothing now, long roughspun pants, a linen shirt, and a long brown trenchcoat. He has hair, as he did so long ago when he had devoured the living beings in the bathhouse, when he had frightened Sen and chased her through halls. He recalls upon those memories fondly now, recognizing them as a part of the past that he should not forever hate himself for. "I always wonderded what you really were," Zeniba continues sagaciously, narrowing her eyes good-naturedly at him. "Not a human, but something like it. Do you remember anything at all?"
No-face shakes his head. He lifts his mask in order to put another piece of cake in his mouth.
"Hmph." Zeniba shrugs, takes a sip of tea. "I suppose it doesnt matter. You're a shadow child now. If you keep this up, you could cross over, you know." She glances at him, waiting for a reaction, and then seems to remember that he wears a mask. "To the human world, I mean."
No-face leans back in his chair. It squeaks at his weight. He is more solid now than he can ever remember being.
For the first time in many years, the windowpanes shutter. Zeniba sets down her fork and looks at the door, waits for the telltale knock. It comes. No-face rises to answer it.
Haku is there, looking no different than he did all that time ago. He walks through the threshold, acknowledging No-face with a stiff nod. He sits at the table and has tea and cake and reminisces with Zeniba, and No-face listens intently.
"Have you been back?" she questions. "Have you seen her again, like you promised?"
Haku looks suddenly sad, and No-face feels a strange feeling of satisfaction. "I haven't," he admits, looking down at his lap. His dark hair falls in straight curtains over his cheeks. His hair hasn't even grown since then. He is forever in this state, this child form, while No-face towers over him in the form of a man. "You know I can't see her, Granny."
Zeniba smiles sagely, nods. "I was wondering if you'd be so foolish."
"She is better off this way. If she was ever sad about never seeing me again, she's probably moved past it now."
No-face hopes dearly for this to be true.
Several years after that, No-face looks precisely like a man. Or, rather, the man-shaped being that he was before he ended up in the spirit world.
"Something corrupted you," Zeniba states matter-of-factly, waving a sewing needle at him. "That's why you became that creature you were when you first came here. I think it was your greed that caused your death."
No-face does not know, and he does not care to know. His skin is pale, his hair and eyes dark. Often he stares at his reflection in the waters of the swamps when he is sure he is alone, wondering how he had ever gone from being an amorphous shadow to this person-this thing-that looked as human as any other human did. He wore his mask still, though, unless eating, sleeping, or bathing. It is comfortable. It offers familiarity.
"You were still young," Zeniba continues, hands trembling slightly from age as she continues sewing. "Twenty-six, maybe." She glances up at him from beneath her thick spectacles. He stares back down through the eyes of his mask. "You can go see her now, you know."
No-face stills. He did not know this.
She continues sewing, unaffected by his reaction. "You've redeemed yourself. You'll never be alive again, but you can visit her. As long as you keep a low profile, I'm sure you'll be permitted to stay as long as you like."
Permitted by whom? He does not ask. He wonders, but it is a question best left unpondered. Instead he gathers his belongings-black shoes, the trenchcoat-and nods at Zeniba.
"Can you speak?" she asks without looking up.
He has not tried. He opens his mouth, tries to form the words, but cannot. He makes a small noise of discontent.
She laughs softly. "You will, in time. There's a train ticket pinned behind the clock. Take it. Get off at the last stop. From there, you'll know where to go."
No-face hesitates, then aproaches the clock, setting his items down momentarily. He lifts it, slips a hand behind it, and then produces a single yellowed, brittle ticket. He stares at it, stares at Zeniba. Zeniba does not look up, but she must know he is looking.
"Go on," she urges. "Take it. I'll never use it. It should go to good use." She laughs again, full and happy. "And don't worry about me. Haku comes around every so often. He'll come around more when you leave."
He slips on his shoes and pulls his trenchcoat on. His expression is strained behind his mask, full of unsaid goodbyes.
Zeniba smiles. "Tell her I said hello, No-face. And tell her she is missed."
He turns to leave, exits through the sturdy front door, and closes it gently behind him.
His feet and pant legs get soaked as he wades toward the train platform, but he does not mind. All that he can think of is Sen-Chihiro, Zeniba had told him once. But she will always be Sen to him, just as he supposes he will always be No-face to her.
He wonders what she is like now. He knows distantly that humans age and change, and he knows that by now she must be an adult. He wonders if she'll like his human body or if she'll shy away from it and prefer the neutrality of his shadowy form.
The train arrives and he gets on, hands over the ticket to the same conductor he had seen so many years ago. The conductor gives him a calculating look before shredding the ticket and stepping side.
No-face sits on the train for a long time. He passes great oceans, vast deserts, far-reaching forests, and tall mountain peaks. All passengers file out one by one until he is the only one left. Finally the train stops in what appears to be a field, and the conductor calls for the last stop. Again, he gives No-face a calculating look.
No-face nods distantly at him and moves to step off. His feet step onto soft grass and he looks out at a riverbank covered with wildflowers and clovers.
The train moves slowly away, grass swaying from the breeze of its movements. For a long while, No-face is at a loss for what to do. Where is he? Where can he go from here? Would he ever even be able to find Sen? How big is the human world?
He begins by walking over the rounded curve of the riverbank, and there at the bottom, he sees a familiar but somehow different form hunched over the water. The form is holding a stick and it is treading water lightly with it.
It's Sen. Her hair is much shorter now, and she is taller and larger, but it is unmistakably Sen.
She stands presently, back to him, and when she does so, he stops immediately. He is not more than ten feet from her. He finds he doesn't have the courage to move forward. He bends down and plucks a handful of wildflowers, holding them in his palms. He studies her figure as best he can. She looks a good deal like Lin, but with a more rounded body. Her legs are long and thin, as are her arms, and her waist pinches in the middle to create a flare at the top and bottom. He recognizes this shape somewhere deeply hidden in his mind, and he finds it pleasing. He takes a cautious step toward her. He can feel dim traces of her light, of her brightness, filling him as it did very long ago. He can feel her presence, but it's different this time-it isn't the innocence of a child, but the beauty and fullness of an adult. It is the familiarity that strikes him hardest.
He takes another step, and she seems to hear him, for she turns around. She looks shocked at first, frightened, but realization dawns over the soft features of her face and her mouth falls slightly open. He takes another step.
"You..." she begins, her voice deeper, more pleasing, and No-face feels a place long-buried in him stir with emotion. It bubbles into his throat. "You're not Haku?" She seems only mildly disappointed. No-face feels only mildly stung.
He shakes his head, comes closer, outstretches his palms to her as they contained the flowers.
Her eyebrows turn up, her eyes water. She closes the distance between them until she is very close. She has certainly grown, but he is still taller. "No-face?" she asks, her voice shaking with disbelief and anxiety.
He nods, gestures the flowers toward her, bounces them in his hand. One or two fall out and flutter softly toward the grass. He makes a pleading noise.
She laughs gently, and it is beautiful. No-face knows what beauty is now. It is Sen's voice, it is Sen's kind gaze, it is the way that Sen's eyes water when she looks upon his mask and takes a flower from his hands. She accepts his offer, his gift, and he finds such beauty in this that he almost cries out. "I didn't expect you to meet me, after all this time."
He begins to tremble slightly.
She places her palms over his, encapsulating the flowers between their hands. "I'm happy, though. I'm happy to see you, No-face. I've missed you. I've missed you so much. And you look...so different! I didn't know you had a shape under all that black."
He tries very hard to speak. He wants to say something. He wants to say something meaningful. He strains against his throat, his fingers shake, and he finally manages a weak, quiet, "Sen." His voice sounds so foreign to him that even he is shocked into stillness.
Sen is wide-eyed, but after a moment she laughs, smiles, and takes one of his hands, causing him to drop the flowers. "Will you be staying for good?"
He nods. He does not know how long he can or will stay, but for now, staying for good sounds like the best option.
She drags him toward the river, hand curled warmly around his, laughing about all the things he needs to see, wondering how everyone in the spirit world is doing, and he takes in the moment, just how it is.
He knows he will never be hungry again.