AN: Okay. I promise I will NOT start anymore new fics. I really need to learn to finish a story before I start another. But this one was too tantalizing to put on hold! Okay, okay… I'm going to focus on at least ending this particular story before summer. Then I can concentrate on my other fics.
If the title seems anywhere near familiar then I won't have to tell you this story was inspired by Howl's Moving Castle. It's not 'based on' so much as 'influenced by'. The charming animated version tickled me so much I just had to get the original novel. In which I was captivated with. In which I decided to make a fic dedicated to.
In which I find myself parodying the titles of the chapters in this very sentence. In which I find myself asking, 'If you don't understand why I'm talking like this then go read the book.'
In which I follow with, 'Fine, I'll stop talking… but first…'
Disclaimer: I am NOT taking credit for Diana Wynne Jones or Miyazaki's work. Oh, I also don't own Inuyasha. Be warned; a natural beast bred in the wilderness should NOT be domesticated. To maintain the species they must remain untamed. Save the species! (Conservationists must be so ashamed of Kagome right now.)
And now, presenting from Snowgirl's Basement Studio, I give you…
The Moving Castle
Cleaning and Cursing
Kagome Higurashi was neither the eldest nor the youngest of four children. Actually, she was not a very special girl compared to her siblings.
Her parents were popular shrine keepers and kept a little jewel store in the bustling city of Tokyo. True, her own father died when Kagome was young and her brother Souta was barely born, and their mother married her coworker, a handsome man from Shanghai called Feng, who had his own girls; Kikyou and Kaede.
This ought to have sparked major rivalries among the girls and boy, especially Kikyou and Kagome, but in fact all four children grew up happily, though Kikyou was the one everyone doted on.
Feng treated all four children with the same kindness and did not favor Kikyou or Kaede in the least, which was a very good thing indeed.
Mrs. Higurashi, or now known as Mrs. Wen, was very proud of her four children and sent them all to the best school in the city. Kagome was the most studious. She read a great deal, though realized she would never understand Trigonometry, and very soon recognized how little chance she had of a successful future.
Kikyou, no matter the eerie resemblance, would always be more beautiful and elegant than Kagome. She was the eldest and brightest of the four. Kaede followed in her sister's footsteps and diligently worked for greatness. Being the second youngest seemed to fuel her determination, helping her skip three grades and achieve scholarships to several private institutes.
Souta, Kagome's brother by blood, was the youngest of the four and the only male of the four. They expected great things out of him, and already he showed talent in soccer and attained top ranking in all his classes.
The third eldest was disappointed, but she was still happy enough, looking after little Kaede and Souta and grooming Kikyou to seek her fortune when the time came. Since Feng was always busy in the shop and Mrs. Wen took care of the shrine, Kagome was the one who looked after the younger two.
"No more video games!" Kagome would shout. "You two will be wearing glasses by the time you get to high school!"
To which Souta always retorted that she'd be wearing one as soon as she graduated middle school, to which Kaede politely pointed out her excessive reading habits.
Then Kagome would have to stomp out and grab her bow and arrows, an only way in which she could release her anger in a healthy manner. She'd change her mind and instead go upstairs to read if she found her sister in the backyard; it was one of those moments when envy found a way to pester her.
Kagome had other things on her mind before long, however, for Feng died suddenly just as Kikyou was old enough to leave high school. It then appeared that Mrs. Wen had been altogether too proud of her children. The tuition costs Feng had been paying had left the family with quite heavy debts. When the funeral was over, Mrs. Wen sat down in the office in the house next door to the shrine and explained the situation.
"After I'm Ms. Higurashi again, you'll all have to leave that private school, I'm afraid," she said. "I've been checking the numbers back and front, and the only way I can see to keep the shrine and keep the business is to see you all switch to a public school. Kaede, I've checked and you're already in the most advanced classes."
"And me?" Souta looked up, cheeks still stained with tears.
"Don't worry dear; I'll take care of everything before the end of summer."
Souta managed a small smile even though his eyes began to water again.
"Now Kikyou," she said. "With your full scholarship I don't see a problem with you attending Tokyo University. But you'll have to sacrifice the student exchange program, at least until the debts can be repaid."
The eldest conceded, simply feeling resigned to giving up a trip to the Americas for a year or two.
Mrs. Wen, or now known as Ms. Higurashi, looked relieved.
Kagome, listening, felt that her mother had worked everything out just as it should be. Kikyou would still go to the best University in Japan, and Kaede and Souta would still attend school and undoubtedly acquire the highest grades within a month's time. As for Kagome herself, Kagome had no doubt what was coming. It did not surprise her when her mother said, "I tried to keep you in school, really I did, at least until you graduated high school, but the tuition costs were so high… please don't misunderstand. I tried, desperately mind you. I stooped so low as to beg in front of the school board, but they don't 'do charity.' Now, Kagome dear, it seems only right and just that you should inherit the shrine and store when I retire. So I've decided to hire you myself, to give you a chance to learn the trade hands-on. How do you feel about that?"
Kagome thanked her gratefully. It was better than the outcome she had expected.
"So that's settled then!" Mom said.
The next day Kagome's Grandpa arrived.
"Grandpa's going to live with us from now on," Mom explained. "Besides, we always needed help in the shrine."
The very next week Kagome helped Kikyou pack her clothes, and the morning after that they all saw her off on the bullet train, looking much more cheerful than Kaede and Souta when they went off for the first day of school two weeks later.
The little ones always had new things to complain about when they came home, chastising the outdated computers and analyzing the inferior periodic table of elements. A week later the mailman brought back a neat note from Kikyou, saying she'd call as soon as she was allowed her own phone. That was all Kagome heard of her sister for quite a while, because she started working the day Kaede and Souta started school.
Kagome of course knew the business quite well already. Since she was a tiny child she had run in and out of the jewelry store where the fineries and well-dressed folks seemed to glitter and sparkle like polished diamonds. The shrine was easy to handle as well. Most of the morning she swept the steps of dead leaves while Grandpa showed potential customers mainly consisting of tourists the way around.
"You lead up to the souvenir shop," Grandpa said. "Show them the fancy handiworks and sugarcoat the tour, so they know what a bargain it is as soon as they get to the souvenirs."
In fact, Kagome did not talk to customers very much. After a day or so observing Grandpa maintain the shrine and another day going round the store with Mom, her mother set her with janitorial works. Kagome didn't like to speak to the glamorous customers at the store and could not help but laugh at the foreigners with the horrible accent at the shrine. She was good at mopping and sweeping. She quite liked doing it, for it gave her something to do. But she felt isolated and a little dull. The only person working at the store was her mother, because the store was small and her mother was stubborn, so she could not socialize with anyone other than the egotistical customers she would much rather avoid.
By the end of the month she could not do anything but sweep or mop. Either she could not find the time, or she could not find the energy, or she remembered she was a shameful dropout—anyway, every day it seemed more difficult to go and enjoy life.
"This is absurd!" Kagome said. "I can go to the mall at least. Tomorrow—" And she swore to herself she would go out when the store closed for the weekends.
Kagome made more and more ludicrous promises as days went by, soon turning to weeks, and then months.
Then, one day, a surprise in the form of a phone call shook her morning ritual.
"Hello?" Kagome answered.
"Oh Kagome!" Kikyou's voice was rich with delight. "I'm so relieved you answered."
Kagome was more than shocked to hear her sister's voice again. After all those days watching dust form on her work shoes a voice so soothing and melodious did nothing but frighten, even overwhelm, the poor cleaning girl.
"It's been a whole semester. I haven't spoken or seen you in six months! How have you been?"
"I'm… I'm doing fine."
"Fine? I would've thought you died if Kaede and Souta didn't write to me everyday!"
Kagome hadn't known her siblings had been writing to anyone. Indeed, she didn't know what anyone in her family was doing anymore.
"I finally got my phone. I should be very well pleased. But Kagome! You sound so dreadful! What's happened to you?"
"Nothing," Kagome said. "I told you, I'm fine."
There was a pregnant pause.
"The kids say you've become a janitor."
"Only because I chose to. I never liked speaking to the rich."
"Grandpa's been doing all the work, hasn't he? Why won't you help him at the shrine?"
"I sweep. It's not good for Grandpa to strain his back, so I sweep for him."
"Don't speak like a failure."
Kagome winced. Kikyou's words stung, but it was the truth more so than the order it was given in that really hurt.
"The Kagome I knew was full of life and settled for nothing less than greatness. Don't deny it," Kikyou said, "because Kaede is a very observant girl, and Souta can be surprisingly keen."
"Lies," that's what they were: Nothing but lies. "I might as well be invisible."
"Don't be so blind. I'm your sister—I've lived with you long enough to know that. You are not a failure and you deserve so much better. Tell Mom or Grandpa you want to do something different. You need to, you know."
"I hope you didn't call just to criticize me." She tapped her foot. Kikyou always knew how to agitate her best.
Her smile was visible even through the phone. "Now there's the Kagome I know; annoyed and hot tempered. All right, tell Mom and Grandpa I called. I still have classes, after all."
Kagome thought and thought, most of the following week, and all that happened was that she became confused and disoriented. Things just did not seem to be the way she thought they were.
There was a lot of time for thinking, because she was left alone for most of the day and evening. Mom did seem eager to have her as a janitor in the shop, and Grandpa never had anything else for her to do in the shrine. But she had been the one to give in without so much as protesting. After three days Kagome plucked up courage to ask her mother, "Shouldn't I be earning a wage?"
"Of course, Kagome, with all you do!" Mom answered warmly, fixing her hair in front of the shop mirror. "We'll see about it as soon as I've done the accounts this evening." Then she went out and did not come back until Kagome had shut the store.
Grandpa was no better, only because he was not good with money, numbers, or remembering any minor details.
Kagome at first felt mean to have doubted her own mother, but when her mother did not mention a wage, either that evening or any time later that week, Kagome began to think that Kikyou was right.
"I need to get out," she told herself in the mirror, "but someone has to do this."
The next morning she was busy sweeping the steps of the shrine. Wearing the traditional shrine outfit, she stopped only when a light breeze blew the leaves away from the steps and to the trees.
"That was easy," Kagome blinked. "I suppose I should rest while I have the chance."
Kagome tried edging past the group of tourists, and when that failed she jostled her way through the motley crew in a huff. Kagome escaped the suffocating bunch and sank onto the steps of the Well House. She watched the foreigners, in an absentminded way, and tightly held the broom on her lap.
"They're all so happy," she mumbled. "I wonder what it's like to visit another country."
When one of the visitors suddenly came her way Kagome shrank on the steps and tried to hide in the shadows.
The young man looked at her in surprise. "It's all right, you little rabbit," he said, chuckling rather pityingly. "I only want to take a picture of you. Don't look so scared."
The pitying look made Kagome utterly ashamed. What really affected her was not how he acted, but what he was.
Demons were scarce in this time and age, yet the majority knew monsters and unholy beings still existed in secrecy, if not then in infamy. But this dashing specimen didn't bother hiding his inhuman features. He had elaborate silver hair with piercing amber eyes. Not to mention his incredible mastery over the Japanese language.
And, last but not least, his dog ears…
He took out his digital camera and waited for her approval.
"Oh, yes, of course," Kagome stammered. "I'm not busy, so, by all means…"
"Well thank you," laughed this advanced young man. "Now stay still please."
Kagome drew back when the flash went off, slightly alarmed by the intensity of the light. A queer feeling traveled down her spine and lingered before quickly passing.
"Goodbye, Miss Miko!"
He meant it kindly, which made Kagome more ashamed than ever.
That evening, as she mopped the store, Kagome wondered why a demon would visit a shrine of all places. It was funny, really, for a demon to have taken a picture of her, the daughter of the shrine. Since the warring period the Miko and demons had been mortal enemies.
"Times have changed," Kagome swung lazily on the wet, slippery floor.
The shop door tolled like a funeral bell when two eager customers entered.
"And I hear," whisper, whisper…
"I've heard that," whisper, whisper…
The most interesting thing about the shop was the talk from the customers. Nobody can buy jewelry without gossiping.
Kagome silently mopped the backroom and heard that a handful of demons had come to Tokyo, for a much needed vacation or an important business trip, and that one of them was a Halfling, really that man, whisper, whisper, whisper…
The voices always dropped low when the details became juicier.
"Are you ladies looking for anything in particular?" her mother came in wearing a fashionable business suit. "Oh, those are lovely fur coats! Let me guess, blue fox fur?"
It was always good to lavish the customers with compliments.
"Not till eight," her mother said when the pair asked for the closing time.
That meant they'd be here until nine.
Emptying the wastebasket, Kagome overheard another interesting bit of gossip. Apparently, the so-called Halfling was an infamous heartbreaker from the continent, known for breaking female hearts and stealing the shattered pieces before pouncing on a new heart. Some said he was sucking their souls, not eating their hearts, out of pure amusement. He was utterly cold-blooded and no young girl was safe from him if he caught her on her own. There was no real reason for his behavior. Maybe, because he was half-human and half-demon, he needed young hearts/souls to feel complete.
Nevertheless, demons saw him shameful for he practiced no magic or sorcery, and humans feared him for his humanlike qualities, capable of stealing hearts of innocent and naïve girls alike.
"Specific hearts…" whisper…
"Special souls…" whisper…
The pair giggled like schoolgirls. Kagome gathered that he had caught the attention of the Princess of Japan, and now the Emperor was searching for him.
Kagome sat down on a stool, leaning on the wall. She needed to get with the time; even old crones knew how to gossip better than her, a female teenager. No doubt the kids were whispering the same thing while Kagome slaved away in the store and shrine.
"No one's seen him yet…" whisper…
"We need to beware…" whisper…
Kagome shuddered at the thought. "What a retched demon," she pulled herself together. "But I should be fine. He's looking for special hearts… mine must be so utterly grey. I'm too plain for him."
She was still discontented when the two customers left. Her mother left through the backdoor, leaving her daughter to close up the shop.
Kagome had no time to lock the door. As soon as she was alone the shop bell clanged and a bewitching woman sailed in, with two green emeralds hanging from her earlobes and opals winking all over her layered kimono, plated with butterflies and flowers. Kagome's eyes went to the lady's face first—a bony, sophisticated face with makeup daintily accenting her features. Her face was carefully beautiful. The smooth black hair bound by two slender feathers made her seem young, but…
The blood red eyes told all.
What luck to see two demons in one day! Some people died in their nineties without seeing a single demon their entire lifetime.
"Miss Higurashi?" the lady asked in a musical but commanding voice.
"Yes," said Kagome.
"I hear you sell the most precious diamonds," said the lady. "Show me."
Kagome did not trust herself to answer in her present mood. She went behind the counter and pushed out drawers and drawers of jewelry, packed beneath the glass casing. The sooner the lady discovered there were no fitting gems for her, the sooner she would go.
The lady began rejecting jewelries instantly. "No allure," she said to the rings, and "No youth" to the necklaces. To the pendants she said with contempt, "Too new. These have nothing to offer. Anything else?"
"That's all we have. I can show you the stockroom, but they're only copies."
"You're wasting my time, Miss Higurashi."
"Only because you came in and asked for jewelry," Kagome said. "This is a small shop, Madam. Why did you—" The lady glared intensely. "—bother to come in?" Kagome finished, undeterred. It troubled her to realize how very enjoyable this was.
"I always bother when someone tries to set themselves up against a demon," said the lady. "I've heard of you, Miss Higurashi, and I don't care for your attitude. I came to put a stop to you. There." She spread out her hand in a flinging motion toward Kagome's face.
"Put a stop? You mean you're a witch?" Kagome quavered. Growing up, she heard tales of demons with exceptional expertise in witchcraft and dark magic. They were known to curse anyone that got in their way, characterizing them a spiteful Witch or Wizard.
"A witch?" she smiled cruelly. "Yes, something of the sort I suppose. Some say I am the Wind Witch. Let that teach you to meddle with things that belong to my master."
"Master? Meddle? No, I don't think I did. There must be some mistake," Kagome croaked. She felt horribly cold all of a sudden, though she could not see why. The door was closed, and she was wearing a fleece jacket.
"No mistake, Miss Higurashi," said the Witch. She turned and swept to the shop door. Before exiting, she turned back to Kagome but did not look her in the eyes. "By the way, that was a gift from my master. It's what you wished for, after all. You should stay up till midnight; I've added an interesting twist to it."
Kagome watched the woman walk out, the darkness of the street almost immediately enveloping her. Kagome put her hands to her face, wondering what the Witch had done. She didn't feel any different. Kagome examined her hands. She did not see any hands. She pulled her gray skirt against her legs and looked down at… nothing. Her legs nonexistent, air filled the dusty skirt. She raised one unseen knee and felt it touch a part of her skirt, raising it to her waist. Her legs were there, but they were invisible.
"Invisible," Kagome said as she shuffled to the mirror. She did not see a face in the mirror. Only a fleece jacket floating above a drab skirt seemingly held together by magic. "Well of course I'm invisible. It's magic. This is what I wanted, isn't it?"
She thought about her situation, quite calmly. Everything seemed to have gone calm and remote. She was not even particularly angry with the Wind Witch.
"What did the Wind Witch say?" Kagome thought. "A twist? I'll have to stay up all night to see, won't I?"
It was an interesting choice of words, more ironic than humorous.
Kagome hobbled over to the shop door and carefully put up the CLOSED notice. She had to walk slowly, in fear of loosing her footing. The loss of her fragile coordination never seemed so important until now. She moved to the end of the counter at a snail's pace and held up the flap as she eased through it. She sat on the tall stool and inspected the shop. Her peripheral vision had unmistakably increased. She also felt incredible lightness, an unreal feeling quelling any erratic thoughts.
She jumped up, however, when the store phone rang. The stool fell to the floor with a bang and Kagome stumbled into the counter. She held onto the ledge as she reached for the phone. Her hand felt the phone cord and trailed it up to the receiver.
"Hi," Kagome uttered weakly.
"What are you doing? Have you closed the shop yet?"
"Y-yes. I just thought I should clean up a bit before I went… actually, I want to stay for the night."
"What? Why?" her mother demanded, concern gripping her voice.
"I… I wanted to see what it's like. What it's like at night, I mean. Like a sleep over."
Her mother wasn't having any of it. "Kagome dear, close the shop and come home. This isn't like you—"
Kagome laughed in the way that showed she was not at all pleased. "Well, of course," she said. "Isn't it lucky that I'm such an obedient rabbit? Mother, dear, I'll skedaddle out of here as soon as I go blind!"
She slammed the receiver down, accurately on the holder.
Kagome scoffed. "The nerve of that woman! Making her own daughter a slave to the business! Who does she think she is? The evil stepmother? The absolute madness of it all!"
She smacked the flap aside and stomped to the center of the shop, pacing circles at a furious rate while mumbling nasty things and cursing all she knew. All the unhappiness she had withheld over the months, the restrained thoughts she could not bring herself to vocalize, fused and exploded like TNT.
This must've gone on for a good hour. By then she was sweaty and tired, throat dried from screaming and cursing. Oddly enough, she still felt cold inside and out.
"I'm too young for this," Kagome muttered as she fanned her face. "Too innocent and naïve."
She sat down on the stool again with a defeated slump. Kagome clasped her hands round her knees with her thumbs twiddling. When that got annoying, Kagome rocked on her stool back and forth, back and forth, back and forth… Her eyelids began to droop.
"Perhaps I should ask for a wage again; maybe tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow." Kagome went properly to sleep and snored. She did not wake up when there came a flash and a muted bang from the backdoor, followed by a hurriedly bitten-off swearword. She did not wake when two men in black ski masks unlocked the door and tiptoed into the stockroom. She did not stir when one of them knocked her mop down with a clatter, reaching over her for the glass cabinet, nor when the burglar, looking down at the fleece jacket, remarked to his accomplice, "Is this a mannequin?"
"Who puts a mannequin behind the counter?" the second burglar retorted.
The first one shrugged and further analyzed this mannequin.
In the middle of the night Kagome was woken by someone snoring. She jumped upright, rather irritated to discover that she was the one who had been snoring. It seemed to her that she had only dropped off for a second or so, but many things seemed to have happened in those seconds. She thought she heard her mop fall. Then she dreamt of two men screaming 'It's not a mannequin!' and stumbling out a door. No doubt a dream brought on by the blasted curse.
She looked to the clock. It was nearly midnight.
"The Wind Witch did say stay up till midnight," Kagome mused. "Perhaps I'll be sprouting more ears. And more mouths to boot! Then I'll be the perfect gossiper!"
"Or will I drop dead like a fly? No, no. That doesn't seem very creative for a Wind Witch. She did act like a slave driver. Then again, I'm already a slave," she cackled. "Oh, look at me. I'm acting like a witch myself."
"Curses. Maybe I will die. This is what that Witch wanted, isn't it? Now I'll have to wonder if I end up suffocating to death. Or crushed to death. Heart attack? Drown? Will I spontaneously combust?" She checked the time, more anxious than ever.
Three, two, one.
Midnight. Kagome looked around the silent store, expecting something out of the ordinary to pop up. She then examined herself. Nothing was happening, oddly enough.
"What a waste," Kagome grumbled. "And here I was, worrying for nothing. I just about worried myself sick!" Kagome did not notice she was forming a rather aggravating habit. An invisible person had the right to panic and feel victimized. Speaking out loud, however, stayed reserved for the sick and elderly.
She also did not notice her hands beginning to reappear on her lap. Her contorted face materialized along with her legs. Kagome did notice something amiss when the store dimmed. Her hair fell across her face in black fair hanks. She pushed her bangs apart and blinked. The room dimmed until it was barely visible. Squinting in the darkness she looked to the ceiling, where the lights hang brilliantly bright. The lights worked in proper order but the store still grew darker and darker.
Then she realized what was happening, hit by an epiphany in one terrifying moment. As the last traces of light receded in the gluttonous darkness Kagome clenched the counter ledge for dear life. She wasn't invisible anymore.
She was blind.
AN: This took longer than expected. Reviews will be appreciated and adored. Enough said!