A/N This is it the last chappie! Read on and don't kill me.
The Calm Before the Storm.
Chihiro had recovered slowly from the incident with the sword. It had shaken her more than she had admitted to Haku or her sisters. On the up side the trio seemed to be getting on much better; even Rin was making a great effort to be nice to everyone. However, with the loss of tension in the group, Rin's memories seemed to have stopped returning to her. Rin seemed happy enough for the moment so Chihiro had decided not to push her. Perhaps what she needed was a rest more than a past, for the time being.
Chihiro had taken it upon herself to find out as much about the bathhouse as possible. This meant raiding Yubaba's personal library. Chihiro was amazed at the amount of books the witch owned. She nearly damaged her barely healed ribs by laughing herself breathless after discovering a copy of the "Wizard of OZ" hidden behind a stale tome on magical theory. Spirit history was complex and time seemed to be marked in eras and ages rather than years. Obviously the reader was expected to know when each occurred and how long it was, as most spirits were probably alive when the events happened.
She persevered however, and managed to glean that Yubaba and Zeniba had been on much better terms at some point in the distant past. The twins had worked together to build a place to service Gods and spirits of every description. Not only because it was needed, but both wanted comfortable, independent lives and the money they would earn would provide this. The Lord, on seeing their hard work and the benefit their establishment would provide all spirits of the area, decided to reward them.
To Yubaba, he gave a flying cloak; a rare object of great power. To Zeniba, he gave the gold seal that Haku had stolen when Chihiro was ten. Both were objects of power and were deemed by the Gods to be well suited to their individual personalities. The seal however, was an ancient artefact that acted as a conductor for magical power, concentrating and purifying it to make the owner more adept at spells and magics. Yubaba felt she had been hard done by and voiced her grievance to the God. He became enraged and cursed them both to an eternity of crone-hood.
Zeniba accepted her fate and went to live in obscurity, content with her lot. Yubaba's ambition and greed only increased and she built a mighty miniature empire within the bathhouse. Her ambition even extended to offering herself to a Troll in return for an object that boosted her power. Bou was the result of that liaison. The Gods tried to curb her avarice by extracting a promise from her that she would give a job to anyone who asked. Again, Yubaba bent the rules to her advantage and started the practice of stealing employee's names. When word got around about the new employment prerequisite, the bathhouse had no trouble keeping staff numbers under control. But many of the lost and the desperate still came and the bathhouse prospered. The story made Chihiro sad for both sisters.
She related the story to Rin and Linca one night when they were all gathered in her room.
"It seems a little harsh," yawned Rin. "I was not as if Zeniba was ungrateful."
"Who are we to question beings of such power? They work to their own objectives; we do not know their true propose; we just get used by them," said Linca philosophically. Chihiro frowned; did she hear a hint of bitterness in her sister's tone?
"Besides, it was all a long time ago. The Gods have mellowed in their attitude since then," Rin nodded in agreement. Chihiro sat back on her bed and sighed.
"There is so much to learn. I don't think I'll ever know enough to be a real help around here."
"You are already a help around here," said Linca. "Your shenanigans with that dragon provide an endless source of gossip." Linca leaned towards Chihiro from her perch on the bed and whispered to her huskily. "Speaking of his scaly-ness, how was he?" Chihiro rolled her eyes dramatically.
"I was wondering when you would bring that up. Really, Linca, nothing interesting happened."
"That is a blatant lie!" cried Linca as if offended. "You should know better than to lie to me. My sources tell me you two were at it like dogs on heat while you were away." She shook her head and sighed. "Have you learned nothing from me?" She leaned closer and breathed into the human's ear. "If you are going to do it out of doors, have the good sense to keep your voice down. People may not see but they can certainly hear." Chihiro flushed crimson. Linca laughed at her mortified expression.
"You must be more discreet; you are starting to make me jealous."
"Stop embarrassing her, Linca," said Rin poking the spirit in the ribs.
"She needs no help from me," chortled Linca. "She is doing a very good job at embarrassing herself."
"Just because you heard a malicious rumour, does not mean it's true," said Chihiro while desperately trying to control her blushes.
"It's true," said Linca, still grinning. "I can tell by the look on your face."
There was silence for a moment and Chihiro realised denial would get her nowhere but she was not about to share the intimate details of her love life with her sisters. Knowing Linca, anything she told them would be public knowledge by the morning.
Finally Rin said, "So, was he any good?"
"Rin!" exclaimed Chihiro. Linca gave her spirit sister a quizzical look.
"I'm having a bad effect on you," she murmured.
"Well, why do I have to be the sensible one all the time?" whined Rin. "It's not fair."
"I'm not discussing this with you two and that's final!" snapped Chihiro.
"Will you discuss it with me?" said a low musical voice. The three women jumped and turned to see the unofficial Goddess of the spirit world sitting in Chihiro's windowsill.
Chihiro pursed her lips and gave the beautiful Goddess a flat look. The other two spirits seemed torn between the urge to run and the urge to prostrate themselves under the Lady's violet gaze. The Lady flicked her black tresses back behind her shoulder and smiled radiantly.
"Unfortunately, I cannot see into your dragon's realm but I got a good idea of what went on from his neighbours. Good news travels fast in this world, my dear, and juicy news even faster." She shifted and started to swing her legs. "I must say I was pleased to hear of your betrothal. It is as I had hoped; once he had had a taste of you he would make very sure no one else ever did." She put her head on one side and peered at Chihiro through the raven locks that framed her heart shaped face. "I am most pleased with you both. You will need a strong bond to face what is to come. Things will start to move now; for good or ill the prophecy will come into play."
"What is the prophecy?" asked Chihiro tightly.
"Oh, just a little something that one of the spirit world's most prolific seers came up with. It's quite old and involves an awful lot of 'maybes.' It would really be best if you did not know. Prophecies are just someone foretelling a sequence of events that may happen. They are not set in stone; you still make your own choices," said the lady breezily.
"All the same, surely these events are likely to happen. This prophecy is meant to give me guidance. I would like to know what I'm doing," said Chihiro with a sharp edge to her voice.
"You will know what to do when the time comes," said the Lady evasively. She stood and staggered a bit under the weight of her swollen stomach. She winced and rubbed her back.
"My ankles have been swelling lately and my back really hurts. This is normal in the late stages I take it?" grumbled the Goddess.
"How should I know?" Chihiro almost snapped. "I've never been pregnant." The Lady gave her a sharp look.
"You are displeased with me? I have done nothing but what you have asked. I bonded you so you could be with your dragon and you have the impudence to loose your venom on me?" The Goddess seemed hurt. Rin and Linca seemed to want to be anywhere else but in Chihiro's room at that moment. Both were looking at the floor. Rin plucked at the rug and Linca bit her nails.
"You bonded me for more reasons than my happiness. I am of use to you so you tolerate me and my impudence." Chihiro drew in a shaky breath. "What I don't know is why you need me." The Lady sighed.
"I know you want to know what fate may intend for you but I will not burden you with knowledge. As I said, it may or may not come to pass or only be fulfilled in part…"
"But it's likely to," repeated Chihiro.
"Probably, but in truth I don't know." The Lady's violet eyes searched Chihiro's face. "In bonding you, I knew I there was a strong possibility I would trigger the prophecy. I could have refused you but it is likely that in a few hundred years time another would come to fulfil it. I of all people know how often history repeats itself." She gave Chihiro a sad smile.
"With the connection between you and Haku I knew I could make you my instrument and guide you as I saw fit. Yes, I intended to exploit you at first, but I have decided to let you find your own path. A bit rash of me perhaps, as so much is as stake; your failure is not an option really. But I have a feeling that you must do this on your own, no matter how sorely I am tempted to direct you." She sighed and rubbed her back again.
"In bonding you I demonstrated to the entire spirit world that I believed that spirit and human could live in harmony. This is something that has not been thought possible for many millennia. Both species only dimly remember a time when we walked the earth together; the worlds were much closer then. Back before humans even evolved, the worlds were one, both dimensions coexisting in the same space-time and travel between them was a matter of thought. However, when the clever sentient creatures that were your predecessors showed up, we felt it necessary to create a distance between us for our own protection. Human species came and went and all was well until one species claimed dominance and started to change its environment. Many feared you and it was decided to slowly separate ourselves from you. Humans advanced and spirits retreated; even those bonded to the land and water increasingly shunned you. Now, contact is sporadic at best, our worlds nearly severed from one another. What many do not know, however, is that the two worlds are co-dependent and if one dies the other will also. They can never be severed, only stretched to breaking point. Things change slowly in the spirit world, Chihiro, you are a catalyst and your coming here has changed more than you can realise." The Lady shuffled towards the perplexed looking human. She touched her face, running a soft cool hand over her cheek in a maternal gesture.
"You are young, Chihiro, enjoy your youth while is it still relatively worry free. You have much to cherish in your life; I want you to do so without the weight of worlds on your shoulders." Chihiro really did not know what to think; her mind buzzed with new information, trying energetically to make sense of it all. She looked into the Lady's ageless eyes and saw compassion and quite possibly fear, although fear of what, Chihiro did not know. She felt hopelessly confused. The Lady bit her lip and then said a word in a language Chihiro did not understand, but it sounded like an expletive. It reminded Chihiro that this entity was one the most powerful beings in the entire spirit world, not just her little corner of it. All spirits who lived in every part of it, bonded or non-bonded, from Russian land spirits, to Egyptian sand sprits, to pixies from Britain, to throws in Norway; all who existed in the spirit world respected her and her mate. She may not have been truly worshiped, but she was effectively the Goddess of all things. She had more names than Chihiro had hairs on her head. For the first time, Chihiro felt humbled in the Goddess's presence, a being almost as old as the world itself.
"Oh, very well," the Goddess sighed. "I will tell you part, but not much, and your dragon will not get any more information from any creature in contact with him, no matter how much he pays them. This is your prophecy not his." The Lady looked deeply into Chihiro's eyes and her hauntingly beautiful voice echoed in Chihiro's head, excluding her sisters from the conversation.
"Are you sure you want to know more?"
"Yes," replied Chihiro firmly.
"It will only create more questions."
"I beg you old one, tell me what you can," pleaded Chihiro. "I am desperate to know."
The Lady nodded and said, "At the end of all, however, she will have to decide between her future and the future of a world that loathes her kind. The options are numerous and the choices hard. If she can faithfully place one foot before the other, she will walk on into the dark."
The Lady cupped Chihiro's chin in her hand and said out loud, "Don't over analyse it. It is meant to be obtuse and cryptic so none but she whom it prophesises will use it to guide her. If it was too explicit then it could be exploited by others who should not be privy to such information and it is but a few lines." Chihiro nodded dumbly. "Trust your heart, Chihiro and use your intellect. With both of these you will not go far wrong. You have my confidence, child."
With that, the Lady vanished. Chihiro folded her arms and shuddered. There was a deafening silence for some time. Finally Linca piped up.
"I don't know what she said to you and I suppose I don't really want to know from the shocked look on your face but I do know one thing."
"What?" asked Chihiro in a whisper.
"I really need a stiff drink." Chihiro smiled distractedly.
"Linca," she said, and the white-eyed spirit looked up at her. "I think that's the best idea you have had all week." Rin stood up and helped Chihiro to her feet.
"Let's steal some of green and handsome's wine," she suggested happily.
"I've got a better idea," said Chihiro, taking Linca and Rin by the arm. "Let's share it with him."
Yubaba stared fixedly into her crystal ball. Her eyes were large but they were weak these days and she needed a magnifying glass to improve her vision so she could more easily see the tiny images moving in the ball's heart. There was that scrawny little human and that cursed dragon blithely strolling through the bathhouse gardens, arm in arm. Yubaba felt a brief wave of sympathy for the human. She did not truly deserve to be caught up in the games of Gods. It was not her fault events had swallowed her up.
Then the moment of weakness passed and the witch sneered at the happy couple. The ball clouded over and the next object to appear was her despised sister's house. Her twin was a force to be reckoned with, but rarely used her power. Yubaba saw her as spineless; a bumbling meddler who refused to commit her power to steer events like any respectable Witch would have. Coward or not, her sister had her child; it had been difficult for Yubaba to leave her infant behind, but need had forced her hand. She could not have borne to accept that small share she had of the bathhouse back from Haku, who had never trusted her anyway. Had she returned, she was quite sure that the dragon would have found a way to drive her out. No, she had been right to leave; if all went well she would gain everything back, including her child. The thought of the Dragon running her bathhouse made her blood boil. What a way to repay her for all those years of her tutelage; all she ever asked him to do in return was help her out with the odd favour. No, he was a sly traitor and she wanted him to suffer.
If there had not been so much at stake she would have never disturbed the spirit whose home she shared now. It had been a dangerous move, waking him after all these years. She had known him before the darkness took him and he owed her a favour. So instead of obliterating her he had listened to her plight and to her surprise he seemed actually interested, if not sympathetic.
"Tell me of this prophecy you mentioned." His smooth deep voice seemed to cloud her mind like a warm fog. She knew he was subtly using compulsion. But she was at his mercy. Few had the power to intimidate Yubaba; the only people she truly feared were her sister, Haku, and the old ones themselves. She had recently added another to the list.
"I can't tell you," she murmured. "I am bound to secrecy by the old ones. They bound me and my sister on the day we heard the all seeing one foretell it."
"But you will tell me," he reiterated. "I must know it if I am to help you."
Of course she had told him. The words tripped off her tongue with frightening ease. He sat back and a slow smile had spread across his face.
"Now that is very interesting; very interesting. This human, she fits in well here?"
"As well as can be expected," snorted Yubaba.
"Then she must be the one." He rubbed his chin. "We must separate her from the dragon if we are to play this to our advantage."
"Then you will help me?" Yubaba squeaked. "I'll get my bathhouse back?" He had given her a pitying look.
"There is much more to be gained here than a mere bathhouse, but yes if all goes to plan you will get it back and more. It will be well within my power to reward you also."
"Reward me for what?"
"For giving me the keys to the kingdom," he said enigmatically.
Yubaba shook off the memory and gazed at the image of her son playing in the mud outside her sister's house.
"Mummy will get you back soon," she cooed to the glass. She heard the door open behind her and the harsh desert sun streamed into the room, destroying the image in the glass. She sat up and gave the small shadow spirit who had just entered a cold look.
"He wishes to see me?" It nodded silently. Obediently Yubaba stood and followed the spirit through the arid gardens to the large black fortress. The spirit escorted her to the great hall even though she was quite sure of the way by now. It opened the doors and ushered her into the only light and airy room in the entire building. The walls and columns were white marble, as was the floor. By contrast the throne that her partner sat on was black jet and stood out starkly from the white. There was no roof and the desert wind howled across the tops of the walls, almost creating a haunting melody.
The spirit she knew as Kenshin was the most powerful and ancient air spirit Yubaba had ever known. He sat stiffly on his throne and watched her as she crossed the marble floor toward him. He was young in appearance but his grey stormy eyes shouted his great age and wisdom. He had straight dark hair that was just a shade off black; it seemed more an absence of colour than an actual shade. It brushed his shoulders and framed his very pale face. Yubaba supposed he was comely but she shuddered when she met his gaze. He had seen much pain and many wars. He had endured things beyond her comprehension, but instead of ending his long life as many would have done by now, he had continued. For the last thousand years he had been hibernating; until Yubaba woke him. She realised she had given him a purpose and perhaps that was why he tolerated her. She bowed to him respectfully and he inclined his head towards her as she spoke.
"Your plan was an utter fiasco; not only are they still together, but now I find out they are to be mated." Yubaba was upset; this was the first part of the scheme and they had failed already.
"I know," came the emotionless reply.
"As I said before, we should attack openly." He shook his head, his hair almost gleaming under the pounding sun.
"It was a mission designed to fail. I did not think for one minute that the girl would fall for my trick. Human hearts are more robust than you would think."
"Then why bother at all?" the Witch almost snapped.
"To test the water and determine for myself if the bond between then was as strong as everyone is claiming."
"Why should that be important?" Yubaba suddenly wished she had not spoken.
"I am not one of your lackeys, Yubaba. Please address me in a more civil manner." The rebuke was softly spoken but it carried such weight that Yubaba started to shake.
"Forgive me," she whispered.
"It is already forgotten," he replied his tone almost affectionate. "You should know by now that I never do anything without good reason. Trust my judgement." She nodded and managed to steel herself and meet his gaze. "I needed to know if what I am planning is necessary or if less drastic measures could be effective. It does not seem like they have a chance, however, so we will follow your original suggestion."
"An all-out attack?" Yubaba's heart leapt with glee.
"Yes, but you will not be involved. This is too personal for you." Yubaba's face fell. "We are playing the long game remember?" he said quietly. She nodded trying to hide her disappointment. "Have patience; you are no match for Kohaku and have no gift for strategy."
"When will it happen?" asked Yubaba slightly sourly.
"Not for a few months yet. We need to gather our strength, but slowly enough so we do not attract attention." He sighed heavily. "Besides," he whispered looking up at the hard blue sky that was devoid of clouds. "I want them to have their moment in the Sun." He looked back at Yubaba and she nearly fainted from the intensity his stormy eyes held. "Let them be mated; that way it will be all the more devastating when I tear their blissful existence to shreds."
A/N That's it, I am already working on part three but university must come first. Thank you to ALL my readers and reviews. Your support as always has been amazing. Forgive me if you got too emails for this, I uploaded the chapter without authors notes and I wanted to make sure I said THANK YOU. Also a big hug and lots of sloppy kisses for my Beta, se is a star. And thanks to my Hubbie too for tolerating my obsession. He's a prince among men, well to me anyway. So give me a month or so and you'll probably be seeing my name popping up again. But until then "may the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back".
P.S Review replies on live journal and I don't own any of the ghibli characters, I just like to pretend I do.
P.S.S I humbly apologise for the cliffie but it seemed the best place to end it. Besides none of you know where I live!