By: jaded image
AN: I realize it's been forever, but truthfully speaking, I sort of lost interest in this fic. I began this story back in 8th grade, as can be seen by the immature writing in the earlier chapters. That's not to say I don't like it. I will finish this story, no matter what. So no worries there :)
Now, I'd like to thank everybody that bothered to review. I've reached the 100 mark! Ah, you've all made me so happy, with all the bribes, plushies, and regular incoming death threats. This chapter is especially dedicated you readers…although technically speaking, every chapter is for you guys.
Disclaimer: If I owned SA, the end of the movie would have Haku carrying Chihiro off to Never Never Land.
Chihiro slid open the flimsy paper door and slowly made her way to an unrolled futon before collapsing.
She felt incredibly exhausted, which was pretty silly, as she didn't do much that day. Draping an arm over her closed eyes, she attempted to straighten her rampaging thoughts.
The last hour in Haku's presence had been somewhat of a mental strain. Her innocent slip-up of Kaisuke's name had provoked a sudden change of mood in the god. He had started muttering to himself and she could not squeeze a word in while he brooded.
Resuming their trek down the stairs, Chihiro's only option was to follow him. She kept her gaze on the floor.
She had made him angry, again.
Guilt tore at her as she listened to his mumbling.
They made their way through the busy kitchen. Haku had barged through, paying no mind to the scrambling workers. Chihiro straggled behind, her eyes downcast.
Her mind mentally commented on the spectacle they must've made: A highly disturbed god followed by a subdued human. The same human that had been assigned to one of the most highly regarded guests of the bathhouse.
Chihiro winced as she imagined the countless rumors that must be circulating by now.
Haku had left her in front of the entrance to the servant's quarters without so much as a good-bye.
Chihiro had wanted to speak to him, get him to open up a little, maybe share a bit of his past with her over a nice cup of steaming tea…the usual human-god bonding routine. But it was never wise to question an irritated god. It could lead to disastrous results.
The door slid open again, and a familiar voice exclaimed, "Sen! What are you doing here?"
Shifting so that she could peek out at the woman, Chihiro rolled her eyes. "I'm glad to see you, too, Rin."
Rin blinked at the curtness in her voice. She seemed otherwise unbothered by the girl's little show of attitude and placed herself beside the human on the futon.
"No, I mean, why aren't you with Shinrin Kaisuke? By the gods, he didn't try anything funny, did he?"
Chihiro gaped a little at her friend. Memories of her nestled in Kaisuke's arms drifted through her mind.
She felt her face heat up and hurriedly denied Rin's implications. "Nothing like that! I just decided it was time for me to come back." She desperately hoped her friend would not question her about what happened.
Rin tilted her head to one side, thick strands of dark hair drifted over her shoulder. "But why did you come back?"
Chihiro found herself staring at the woman. She sounded like she didn't want her back.
"In case you've forgotten, this is where I sleep."
Rin shook her head. "But I heard Yubaba give you to that forest god. Hell, I saw him carry you out of the tubs with my own eyes."
Chihiro sat up, uncomfortable under her friend's steady gaze. "So? That doesn't mean I have to stay the night with him." She laughed as if the idea was too silly for words.
Rin shook her head again. "I keep forgetting you've only been here a day. Let me put it this way, Yubaba granted tall, dark, and handsome's request for you to be his personal maid. In other words, you're basically his. You serve him and tend to his needs during the day, and sleep in his designated room at night. As a result, you are exempted from other bathhouse duties."
She smiled at the girl's shocked face. "You sure are lucky, Sen. You have no idea how many girls here wish they were in your place. I mean, seriously, to get special treatment, or even a minimal amount of their attention."
Chihiro felt a wave of nausea threaten her vision and shook her head. Not for the first time did she wonder at her predicament.
How the hell did I manage to get into the service of Kaisuke?
A shiver ran up her stiff spine and she could feel herself shaking.
She was only fifteen! Not yet old enough to spend the night with a strange man.
But you're old enough for marriage, which means…Her thoughts were interrupted as Rin continued speaking, the woman's wide brown eyes studying Chihiro's face in thought.
"There must be something about you that appeals to gods. Otherwise, how else would you have two chasing after you?"
"Eh?" Chihiro's vocabulary shrunk impressively.
"Oh, come on, Sen. Everybody saw you and Haku just a few minutes ago."
Chihiro actually started sputtering in her attempt at a coherent excuse. "Wha…Ha—eh?"
"Getting mighty close, you two."
"And the way he's actually civil towards you. Instead of stomping all over the place."
Chihiro felt feverish and slightly dizzy. Somehow, the mush that once resembled her thoughts manifested into words. "It's not like that! We're j-just friends…"
Rin grinned at the flustered girl. "Just friends? You sure about that?"
Chihiro nodded emphatically, her hair bouncing in messy waves behind her. Remembering the name Haku had been mumbling, she thoughtlessly blurted it out.
"He already has Riku."
The laughter in Rin's eyes faded as she stared at her. "How…do you know about Riku?"
Chihiro struggled to not crumble under Rin's intense stare. It looked like she was trying to read her mind.
A rueful voice commented that she'd have a hard time sorting through her mess of thoughts.
"He…that is, Haku, sort of said it…I, well I automatically assumed…"
Rin's stiff shoulders relaxed and sloped downward as if weighted down with exhaustion. Leaning back with her hands supporting her, she allowed a small smile to grace her lips as a way to comfort her friend.
"It's okay, Sen. Just try not to mention her name here. It's a bit of a touchy subject."
Curiosity pushed aside embarrassment and discomfort, and Chihiro leaned over in interest. She knew she was being awfully nosy, but since asking Haku was out of the question…
"Who is she?"
The older woman's forehead scrunched in thought and her dark eyes narrowed.
He was starting to get a headache. A brutal beating mentally. He wasn't sure if he could handle something like that at the moment and tried massaging his temples as he followed the hopping frog down the hall.
The blasted amphibian had intercepted him on his way back to his room after ditching a bewildered Chihiro by her door, insisting that Yubaba requested his presence. Knowing there was no way he could deny Yubaba, he reluctantly trudged after the frog.
He felt a twinge of guilt as he remembered stalking away from the human girl without a word. He had been too deeply immersed in his own self-pitying thoughts over Riku. Just the mention of her name drove any and all plausible thought from his mind.
Damn that sprite. Haku thought viciously and a growl escaped his lips, startling the small frog in front of him.
He had been the one who found her, huddled under one of the bathhouse awnings as a storm raged on.
He remembered floating up to her level and demanding her reason to why she dared hide herself under the awning of his "mistress".
But when she didn't answer, he had threatened to use his magic.
Riku had raised her sopping wet head and glared balefully through her tears. Haku shut his eyes as he remembered what she said.
"Kill me then! Do it now before I do it myself. I've lost everything…my forest, my home…"
Thrown off by her outburst, he had awkwardly taken her hand and led her to see Yubaba. He understood how she felt; after all, he also had nothing.
And even though he hated the Aburaya like Hell itself, he knew the horrible feeling a homeless sprite felt.
A deity who has lost its charge, its guarded region, becomes a wandering spirit. Drifting aimlessly around the spiritual plane, they would slowly be eaten up by grief. In the end, their spirit withers away with nothing to tie them down.
That was how it had been for him before finding a place at the bathhouse. An evil witch might own the Aburaya, but it was his tie to the world.
Yubaba had readily accepted Riku. Almost instantly, Riku and Haku had been paired up to do her dirty work.
Haku reflected on the time he spent with the redhead.
He had started to smile after her arrival.
As Haku stepped into the lift that would raise him to the level of Yubaba's office, he reminisced over the very near past.
As days passed, Riku relaxed and the forlorn look abated in her brilliant emerald eyes. He had thought she was at least content, if just a little bit. But a few weeks after entering Yubaba's employment, she had suggested escape.
"Runaway together…" Haku whispered.
The frog was once again startled and let out a squeak. "Master Haku?"
Ignoring him, Haku continued his trip down memory lane. Riku had mentioned running away to Shinrin Forest.
"Kaisuke-sama would help us!" She exclaimed, her lilting voice rose in excitement.
There was that name again.
It brought a foul taste to his mouth and Haku felt the urge to wreak havoc rise steadily within him.
The little frog figure left Haku at the huge double doors leading to Yubaba's study.
Most people try to avoid a confrontation with the sorceress, if at all possible. The reason was obvious. The hag was beyond scary.
He didn't have to knock—since the doors swung open by themselves—and he strode through the dark hall before reaching Yubaba's desk.
He waited silently as she lit another cigarette.
"How is your search progressing so far?" She demanded after taking a long pull on her pipe.
"I found the traitor, but she managed to fend me off." He replied.
Yubaba glared at him through the rising smoke. Haku was in no mood to be humble and so he glared right back.
"Tell me, Haku," she puffed, "how is it that a mighty river god such as yourself cannot even mange to contain a measly forest sprite."
Her condescending tone knawed at his already frayed nerves. "She was strong."
"So it would seem. The Dragon's Eye must have been aiding her. But she still has not tapped into the full power of the gem."
She paused and Haku wasn't sure if he was expected to respond. Instead, he stood as rigid as a statue, cold and unfeeling.
Seeing his expressionless face, Yubaba blew a smoke ring and continued. "She does not have the key. Yet."
She paused again, perhaps trying to arouse his curiosity.
Haku inwardly sighed. He wasn't up for games, but he also didn't want to anger his mistress. "Key?"
He vaguely remembered Zeniba mentioning something about that. What did she say again? Key? Destruction?
"Of course, to unlock anything there must be a key. It's all simple logic."
The hag was speaking in riddles. She seemed to enjoy annoying Haku to the end of his wits.
"Of course." Haku replied, although in reality, he couldn't understand what the hell she was saying.
Yubaba looked satisfied seeing Haku utterly confused. A sly grin stretched her wrinkled skin.
"The key to the Dragon's Eye…is the blood of a direct descendant…to the First Immortals."
Haku's jade eyes widened.
The First Immortals were the ancient beings that created life itself, the ones who brought about the beginnings of the world, and the ones who forged the Spirit and Mortal realms.
They existed millennias ago, back when the world was just a fledgling and needed their guidance.
Even after all these years, any descendant of the First Immortals—those who carry the bloodline—are still extremely magically oriented, whether they realize it or not.
Haku's trepidation must've been plain to see since Yubaba burst out in cackles. That old hag found pleasure in discomfort.
"I see you realize the enormity of the situation. Anything that requires the blood of the ancients is valued above all else."
Haku nodded, his interest was definitely piqued now that such powerful magic was involved. Her next statement startled him.
"I have the key."
Not much fluff in this chapter, but all this babble was necessary for the plot. To those who are still with this story, thank you for still bothering to read this.
Review, por favor!