Soooo, Chicago was interesting. I'm a middle-of-nowhere-country-girl, so it was a bit of a culture shock! Never before in my life had I ever been in a Taxi or on a Subway. I also had never been on a bus where you pay a toll to get on. It was definitely an enlightening experience, and it was pretty worthwhile. I no longer have an excuse to put off writing my book.
Today's advice is courteousy of my dad, aka Chuck Norris: Don't spit into the wind.
Chihiro woke up as the sun began to set down. The first thing she was aware of was the fact that the green flames had died away sometime while they were asleep. The second thing she was aware of was the fact that Haku had managed to move on his own in his sleep and he had her pinned against his chest as tightly as he had the other night. Chihiro couldn't really say that she minded, his body was like a furnace now that he had recovered some of his energy and their bodies fit quite nicely together.
Chihiro sighed and was tempted to fall right back to sleep, but she really needed to pee. Careful not to jostle him too much, she carefully extracted herself from the tangle of their limbs and tucked the blankets around him. Checking him over, it was obvious to see that he wouldn't be waking up anytime soon. He was no longer in a coma as he had been earlier, but his breathing was still heavy and his limbs were like dead-weights. He barely twitched as Chihiro touched his face, the skin now pleasantly warm.
The chill of the cave immediately began seeping into her skin as she rooted around for a suitable place to relieve herself. Even if Haku was sound asleep, she didn't feel comfortable going anywhere in his immediate presence and going outside was out of the question. The oppressing feeling she had had made her shudder at just the thought.
Chihiro finally opted for the other side of the icy pool. There was a thin ledge along one side that she used to make her way across, gripping the wet stone with her bare toes. On the other side she found a convenient alcove that she utilized for her human purposes.
Once the deed was done, she was about to go back to Haku when she noticed a faint greenish glow deep in the cave. Her curiosity peaked; she began stumbling towards it through the semi-darkness. It only took seconds to reach the source of the glow. It was a stone tablet with stalagmites grown tightly around it. Harsh symbols were carved into the surface, but Chihiro couldn't see much of it through the thick mineral deposits. The tablet had to have been there for thousands of years.
The closer she got to the stone, the more she became aware of the air around her. It seemed to be moving in a steady breath-like rhythm. Chihiro reached out a hand and carefully touched it. The stone was wet and slick, but it was warm reminding her just how cold she had gotten since leaving the sanctuary of the blankets. Her bare feet were now numb with the cold so she reluctantly shuffled back to the pool and crossed to the other side.
Haku still hadn't moved, but when Chihiro climbed back under the quilts and shoved her frozen feet into his calves he jumped and his eyelids fluttered open.
"Wha-?" he murmured, looking around with blurry eyes.
"Sssh. It's okay," Chihiro whispered, placing a hand on his shoulder. Haku relaxed and took her hand in his, rubbing his fingers over her chilly knuckles.
"How long have I been asleep?" Haku slurred, rubbing at his face with his free hand.
"Just all day and part of the night. I'm sorry I woke you up."
"No, that's fine. I need to wake up," he mumbled. He carefully pulled himself away from Chihiro and sat up, blearily looking around the cave as though seeing it for the first time.
"You didn't leave the cave at all, did you?" Haku asked, finally taking account of Chihiro's frozen extremities.
"No, I just explored a little deeper," Chihiro waved towards the black expanse beyond the glowing water. "I actually found something pretty interesting. When you feel up for it I can take you to see it." Haku frowned.
"Interesting in what way?" he asked.
"I don't know. It's some sort of glowing marker," Chihiro shrugged. Haku's frown deepened.
"Take me to it, now," he said, his voice hard. Chihiro hesitated. She hadn't felt anything around the tablet to cause her to worry. It had seemed innocent enough to her. Haku had reached into his bag and seconds later he pulled out a pair of shoes which he began slipping onto her feet before she could protest.
Enough of Haku's strength had returned that he made it across the narrow ledge with relative ease. He was breathing a little harder than normal, but otherwise as perfect as ever when he motioned for Chihiro to stand back while he approached the source of the greenish glow. He walked towards it slowly, one hand outstretched and feeling the air in front of him.
As he grew closer to the stone Chihiro could see his shoulders relaxing even in the gloom. He didn't even need to tell her that it was okay to follow him. Soon she was beside him looking down at the tablet.
"Do you know what it is?" Chihiro asked. Haku bent over and touched the slick surface.
"It's a grave marker," Haku replied. "This is a sacred burial ground." Haku stood up straight and raised his hand in front of his face. He blew lightly into his palm and a bright white orb began growing from his breath.
The shadows drew away and the wet stones around them began to glimmer in the light. Chihiro squinted against the sudden brightness and began taking in the cavernous tunnel. She let out a short gasp and grabbed Haku's hand when her eyes registered what they were seeing. All around, imbedded in the walls and ceilings or overgrown with stalactites, were people.
Clothes, flesh and hair had long since rotted away leaving perfect white skeletons placed with careful precision along the tunnel like some macabre archway, their long claw like hands all stretched as though beckoning them to travel deeper into the cave.
"It's alright," Haku whispered, squeezing her fingertips.
"What is all this?" Chihiro asked, her voice barely audible to her own ears. Haku shifted beside her, causing the light to drift, the shadows to move and Chihiro to jump.
"Don't worry, we aren't in danger here," Haku said.
"That doesn't stop it from being creepy!"
"I think we should go in further."
"Are you insane?"
"Chihiro, just trust me." Chihiro glared at him until the cold air and the bright light made her eyes water. Finally she sighed and gave up.
"Fine. But don't you dare let go of my hand or I swear I'll kill you!" Chihiro whispered, lifting their joined fingers. Haku surprised her by smiling.
"Don't worry, I promise," he chuckled and led her into the deep tunnel. Chihiro kept her eyes down, focusing her concentration on not breaking her ankle and trying to ignore the hundreds of black stares and permanent grins surrounding her. However, her morbid curiosity couldn't keep her gaze cast down for long and she found herself glancing up at dense collection of bodies more than once.
"You never answered my question," she finally whispered when the silence became too much.
"I'm sorry," Haku said, pausing to help her over a wide boulder. "This is one of the dead cities. I never thought that I would live to see one for myself, almost all of them have been destroyed over the millenia. You see, when the mortal and spirit worlds were first separating from each other, there were entire cities of humans that tried to keep the connection between the worlds tied. They worshiped the spirits so completely that they didn't even mind sacrificing themselves to remain a part of this world."
"Sacrificing themselves?" Chihiro asked in wonder, her eyes moving from face to face. Some of them were so tiny they could only be children. A small knot began forming in her stomach.
"Yes. They didn't last long in the spirit world, and they all perished. But there were spirits who felt pity for them, so they buried the cities and cast spells on the bodies so that they wouldn't fade away, giving the people peace by making them a part of the realm they cherished and building these shrines for them…er…out of them." Haku stopped talking as the tunnel abruptly became so narrow that they had to edge through single file. Chihiro tightened her grip on his hand as she squeezed through, trying to keep herself from brushing up against the leering corpses.
"That's horrible! How could they just give up on life like that! How could they do that to their children?"
"These were different times, Chihiro. These people were superstitious and their superstitions were fueled by rogue spirits who found it amusing to grant them consequential favors and destroy their properties on a whim," Haku said. Chihiro noticed that his breathing was getting more haggard and began prompting him to stop and rest. He finally conceded, sitting down on a block of stone as close to the center of the room as he could find. Chihiro sat down beside him and closed her eyes, trying to imagine that they were somewhere else. Anywhere else.
"Are you alright?" Haku whispered.
"No. I want to go back," Chihiro hissed.
"Please, Chihiro. Just a little bit further," Haku was actually begging her now. Chihiro squinted at him with one eyebrow raised skeptically.
"Why does this matter so much to you?" she asked. Haku paused, his lips pursing in thought.
"I'm not quite sure. I just know my past is linked to one of these cities somehow."
"You've really lost your memories again?" Chihiro asked. Haku chuckled, a strange sound to come from his perfect throat.
"Pretty pathetic, huh?" he asked.
"Only a little," Chihiro shrugged. "Why won't you let me tell you?"
"Well…Yubaba kind of planted a torment bug inside of me. Whenever my brain registers something she doesn't want it to or when I'm being particularly rebellious, I experience a lot of pain," Haku said casually. Chihiro gaped at him. "Don't worry, it will die when she does. I'll just have to bear with the blankness for a few more days, then you can tell me…if you'd like."
"How dare she!" Chihiro barely kept her voice from shrieking. She had little respect left for the old witch, and it had been snuffed out in that instant. Haku merely shrugged.
"Shall we continue?" he asked, keeping his voice light as though he were asking her for a stroll down a garden path. Chihiro grimaced but allowed him to pull her to her feet. They continued down the tunnel for some time, both comfortably (for the most part) lost to their own thoughts. Thinking of Yubaba had Chihiro also thinking of Boh and Hebi. She wondered how the three of them were faring. Had the behemoths left them alone once she had gone? Then she remembered something Haku had said that night in the carriage.
"Haku?" she asked.
"You said that behemoths were harmless spirits, didn't you?" Haku glanced over at her in a way that gave Chihiro the feeling that he had been thinking about precisely the same thing.
"Yes. They are nothing but masses of collected spirit energy. They have no thoughts or need for aggression unless…"
"Unless what?" Chihiro prompted. Haku was silent for a moment.
"Unless they are prompted by someone powerful," he finished.
"So, someone sent them after us?" Chihiro asked.
"More like someone sent them after you." Haku admitted, casting a sidelong glance at her.
"Me?" Chihiro gaped at him.
"You are a pretty hot commodity right now," Haku shrugged. Chihiro knew she should be frightened to know that some powerful being was after her, or at least appalled. But all she could feel was relief. If they were after her, then the others should be safe.
"…you don't have to worry about it Chihiro. I promise you won't be touched." Haku was saying, snapping Chihiro back to reality. His voice was serious now, cold and harsh as it was at the bathhouse. Chihiro realized that she had been seeing a different side of Haku for the first time. A more carefree, human Haku. Freaked out as she had been from the thousands of corpses and oppressive darkness, she hadn't even noticed that he had been drawn from his shell, but something in that last minute had snapped him back into his distant, icy state. Even the way he was holding her hand was different. She felt somewhat disappointed in herself for not relishing this rare glimpse of him.
Chihiro opened her mouth to ask him what was wrong when he abruptly stopped. The floor in front of them cut off into sheer blackness and the walls and ceiling disappeared. Haku raised his hand that was holding the glowing orb. The ball of light zipped away from his palm with a distinct 'whirring' noise. It jolted upward in a frantic dance, seeking the ceiling. It finally seemed satisfied with a spot far in the distance. There was a deafening pop as the orb suddenly grew to well over a thousand times its original size, forming a sort of artificial sun above them.
The sudden glare of light burnt Chihiro's eyes. She blinked and squinted, trying to grow accustomed to the brightness. Gradually they adjusted and she could make out the forms of houses and temples, shops and farms. Miles and miles of the perfectly preserved city lay at the floor of a vast valley beneath her making Chihiro feel very small and quite lightheaded. The place was untouched, the red paint on the walls still vivid enough for Chihiro to see it from this distance.
"Oh wow." It was all she could say, but it summed it up perfectly.
I am soooooo sleepy. I've been having really weird dreams lately about the world ending, so I almost don't want to go to sleep tonight. It doesn't matter if I do or not, even when I do sleep the dreams I have exhaust me. I seriously don't even know how I'm functioning right now. (begins to drool)
Well, goodnight. And please remember to review. And thanks to all of my reviewers for last chapter. If I didn't respond to your review, I sincerely apologize. I've been trying to be better at that, but I just forget sometimes.