The Mark of the Spirit
Disclaimer; Why would you think I would own this movie? This movie is the intellectual property of Studio Ghibli, and the amazing Master of the non-real worlds; Hayo Miazaki-san. I own only the story, and my original characters. Miazaki-san rules as an author and director.
She stood before the class, her skin darker than ours, her hair in dreadlocks, and braided down her back. She wore a long sleeved shirt with loose sleeves from her elbow down. She wore blue jeans that had belt loops around her lower thigh.
"Greetings to my classmates," she said in badly accented Japanese, "My name is Sha're (Sha-ray) Lanza. I look forward to working with you all." Sha're was assigned to sit next to me, which was a good thing; to sit next to a friend.
"My name is Chihiro," I said after she sat next to me "It's nice to meet you, Sha're."
"The pleasure is mine Chihiro," she said and shook my hand.
This sounds crazy, but when I saw her, and when I touched her, I could feel... something... that reminded me of Rin and Haku. And no one from the spirit world, attending my school, would remain friendless while I knew she was there. Foreigners were no exceptions.
It didn't take long until it was rare to see either of us alone, so close we became, almost like sisters. She was from Egypt, her parents were ambassadors, she was fifteen years old, a year younger than me, but was so smart, she passed the entrance exams for high school when she came to Japan. It always amazes me, looking back on those times, that I didn't notice sooner.
Winter break had come, and Sha're and I were planning on a sleepover at my place. During the day we went to the next town over, with mom, to do some shopping. Mom left us alone as soon as we got there. Two things happened that day.
Between stores, a pair of yankees with knives held us up. Sha're's face lit up like a Chinese New Year. "Sweet! Time to play!" She said, and moved her arms... some kind of cross between a twitch and a pull. She suddenly had a knife in each hand.
Victims didn't have knives, and neither, after about two seconds, did they. She flipped her two daggers, and they seemed to disappear, then she picked up their two knives. She held those two knives between her knuckles. Sha're then smiled at me, and flipped one, catching the blade between her knuckles, and held it out to me.
"How..?" She smiled, and threw both blades in the air, catching them, in the same form, in her other hand.
"Before we were here, I spent my last decade in America, I know knives like nothing else. I handle swords just as easy as switchblades. Remind me to show you the swords I carry with me when we get back to your place."
"You have swords?" she nodded with a smile.
"Yeah, two of them, a short sword, Japanese," she said with a wry smile, "and an English broadsword." She then took the one knife, and put it in her back pocket, and the other, she extended to me. I took it from her hesitantly, and she smiled; "Don't worry, I'll show you how to use it."
We were getting ready to meet back up with my mom when the second one happened.
It really shouldn't have caught my attention like it did, the motion, she took the dreadlocks on the side of her face and swept them behind her ear.
In her lower ear were three holes, each with a string of three emeralds, and threaded together in a grid of gold. A silver chain fell from the back of the center emerald to climb her ear to a cuff around the upper part of her ear, on which rested an unfinished fire topaz. It was really out of this world, the entire situation, yes, but particularly the earring.
"Wow that's pretty. Where did you get that?"
"Get what?" she asked, distracted, searching through a rack.
Not plural, but singular to be both honest and precise. How had I forgotten about the mark of my insanity, the earring that only I can see?
"You must be mistaken Chihiro," I said with a shake of my head, sending the dreadlocks back in place. "I don't wear earrings." She blinked and hesitated. Opened her mouth to say something, but then shut it as quick.
In the past few months I had come to know Chihiro, as she had come to know me. Being who she was, she did NOT give up that easily, something she told me she had learned from a friend of hers named Haku. But she didn't pursue the earring.
All right Chihiro, I can tell you... later. I nodded.
I dared not hope that she forgot. After we had gone to her room for the night, she crossed her arms over the nightgown she wore, a Chinese dragon print, with one large silver dragon over her heart.
"Nine emeralds waving in a breeze, below a single fire topaz, connected to each other by a silver chain." I took my hands, and brushed back the dreadlocks on both sides. She studied the one she saw, but then noticed it's mate's absence. "Did you lose the other one?" I shook my head, both replying to my friend, and returning the locks to their place.
I searched my bags for two things that Chihiro would recognize; my camera and my photo album.
"Yes, you have seen this, but you've never seen the first page. Mom and Dad gave me the camera and the album for my eigth birthday. The album is kinda like my baby book." I opened it up to the second page, a picture of me after I was born, in the nursery.
"Everyone says I was a cute kid, but I didn't like the fact that my hair was so short."
There she was sleeping, her earring very visible. "If you took this picture down to your mom, She would not see it. If I walked up to your mom, bald, she STILL would not see this earring."
"How do you know?"
"My parents threatened me with counseling because of this thing. 'Course I was six at the time, so I was able to understand that there are some things adults aren't capable of seeing. but then I asked my classmates..."
"And became an outcast." I smiled at my friend, and then showed her the first page in my album. I hadn't even been cleaned yet, but my mom and dad held a squalling me between them. Time stamp on the picture and birth certificate showed that I had been born about a minute before the picture was taken. Chihiro and I both looked at the earring the baby wore.
"So why can you see it?" I asked myself, looking out on the back yard.
"I may have an idea about that."
I placed my hand on Haku's image, drawing strength from him. The only reason I might see this earring is because I had been to the spirit world. But if she had been to the spirit world, it would have been in Egypt... or America. Too far to know Yubaba or Zaniba... or Haku. So I had a theory, but no way to prove it. But wait a sec, she had been BORN with it...
"Would you like to hear a story?" She nodded, so I told her of my time in the Spirit world; of my parents and their folly, of Haku and his earnest wish to keep me safe, of Kamajii, who helped me stay in the Bathhouse, of Rin, who became my friend, of Yubabba, who reluctantly agreed to employ me, and of Zaniba, who helped me free Haku. And, finally, of Haku's Promise.
By the time I was finished, Sha're was on the borderline between awake and asleep.
"That's sweet. Have they seen each other again?" she asked around a yawn.
"That's sad... We need to make... a happy... ending." she said, and then was asleep.
"Good night, my friend."
I woke instantly, knowing exactly where to go. I reached over and shook Chihiro awake.
"We have to go Chihiro, we have to go NOW!"
"Where?" she asked, groggy. She never was a morning person.
"To the west a short distance, there's a forest. In that forest there is a wall. In that wall there is a door that opens onto a long dark tunnel. In front of that door is a guardian statue protecting the door from us."
Chihiro was now sitting up, looking at me, her eyes not at all clouded.
"Then let's go." We each got dressed in silence; Chihiro's purple hair band was almost glowing.
I put on my clothes, and then equipped my weapons; long daggers in my sleeves, broad sword across my back, short sword across my waist, and four braces of throwing knives, two across my thighs, through the belt loops, and one beneath each arm sheath.
I think I took leave of my senses at this point, because Chihiro, who had finished dressing, left to wait downstairs. In the mirror over her desk, I saw my dreadlocks hiding most of my head. I spotted a green bandana with orange Chinese dragons printed on it hanging from the mirror. I grabbed the bandana, and gathered my hair near the top of my braid, and then wrapped it all together.
"No turning back."
"It was a dream Chihiro! But it was more real than... Than this entire place, all of earth!" Sha're was ranging between Egyptian, American and Japanese, but she was just saying the same thing over and over again; describing the dream that woke her up.
"You were there, with me, and you had your arms around this guy with dark green hair, almost black it was so dark. He was wearing black work clothes, lined with some kind of neon blue. There was this HUGE hag wearing a blue dress. her body should not have been able to even hold up her head."
"Was I yelling at her?"
"Yubaba, and the guy must have been Haku... though I can't imagine him wearing black."
"How close were you and Haku?"
"He's saved my life more than once, and walking away from him was the hardest thing I have ever done." she nodded, distracted, and in a Well-that-explains-THAT kind of way.
Then we stood in front of the Guardian.
I have been down this path many times since I had returned, but the wall was never there.
Here in the moonlight, the wall looked exactly as it had six years ago.
"The wind is pulling us in," Sha're commented. I nodded, and took a step. One after another, until we emerged beneath the tower. It was night time over here as well, the stars were up, and the river was full.
"You're lost." We looked that way to see a spirit, obviously standing guard. He wore a sword, and a dagger, and a large emerald. Of the three, it was the emerald that worried me the most; a multi-faceted beauty that I felt the power rolling off of.
I held a hand out to Sha're, halting the progress she made towards her short sword.
"You go back through the tunnel, and down to the main road, and find the turn you missed."
"Listen, Spirit, I don't know who you answer to, but we are exactly where were planning to go!" Sha're yelled at the guard.
"We are looking for Master Haku," I added. He glanced at me, and took her in, and then glared at her oddly; suppressed rage, an entire wildfire behind his eyes, but the cold fire of obedience suppressed it even further.
"Very well then... my Lady. I will take you to Yubaba."
Sha're and I looked at each other, and I saw she bound the locks hiding her ears with one of my hair ties. I wondered what that earring said to spirits. I nodded to Sha're, and we followed the spirit to the river. With a wave of his hand a small boat appeared, and with a spell, powered by the emerald around his neck, we crossed the river to the lands surrounding the Bathhouse.
A friend met us as we reached the shops surrounding the Bathhouse, Haku stood there, dressed just as Sha're described, older, but still Haku.
I smiled, and whispered, "Nigi Hayami KoHakunushi." Then I ran forward, and threw my arms around him, he wrapped his arms around me in relief.
"Chihiro... It's good to see you again." he said as he let me go. "Vilaire, on the other hand... After Chihiro had crossed last time, Kason had bound you to the tower as punishment. What are you doing in Yubaba's Lands?"
"He only bound me for five years." He didn't answer his other question, and so, Haku took in the sight of Sha're.
"I see." he said, turning back to Valaire. "You are trying to get yourself Unbound."
"Why would I do-?"
But Haku had turned back to Sha're; "My Lady," he said with a bow. "Kason should be here shortly to pick you up. For the moment, I suggest we go get something to eat while Vilaire returns to his post." he said, leading us towards the shops.
"Wait just a minute-!"
He turned to Vilaire. "Or I could unbind you right now." he said, holding up his hand. "Kason will hear of your treachery in due course, I promise." He turned and stalked away.
"I doubt we'll have time to eat much." Haku said. "Kason has been anticipating your return for some time... ten, twenty years."
"What do you mean 'my return?'" Sha're asked.
"I'll leave that for Kason to answer. So why did you come back Chihiro?" my jaw dropped in shock, and I replied;
"You have the GALL to ask me that after the promise you made me!"
"Oh, angry... You don't get to see angry very often out of her." Sha're told Haku "Might want tread careful, river spirit." I looked at my friend inquiringly, unsure.
"Probably instinctive," Haku commented in my direction. "This is not exactly the first time we have met."
"I would think I would remember meeting someone like you."
"Then how do you know I'm a river spirit?" he asked, which stumped her.
"And you called... Vilaire back there a spirit too, how did you know he wasn't human?" suddenly Haku felt something on the breeze.
"Oh my, he's angry..." Haku said, and then stood up from the table to face the approaching gale. A green blast of energy was aimed directly at Haku. Haku held it in a force field two feet in front of him. I could tell it was straining him.
"Curse you, Kason! She is as safe in my keeping as she would be in your own!" he then thrust the green ball of power back at the gale that had thrown it at him. The wind reabsorbed it.
The Gale coalesced into a human form less then ten feet from Haku. He stood over six foot six inches tall, and wore his hair like a black skullcap. His tunic was embroidered with the emerald design on Sha're's earring. Power radiated from him, and a demand for respect.
"Safe? As powerful as you have become in the last six years, and you call her safe?"
"She came here with Chihiro, that makes her safer than any human to enter this place; For just as you protect your Lady, I protect Chihiro. It was Vilaire that led them both to this side of the river-"
"Vilaire will be dealt with on my own time, you shall be dealt with now!"
He used a breeze around him to make a sword and rushed Haku. This will not do at all.
I drew my broadsword and met Kason halfway, in the middle of the battle frenzy, he attacked, and we exchanged blows.
"Do you want to fight, or dance!" I yelled at him. Suddenly the emeralds that were his eyes widened in recognition, he dropped the breeze that was his sword, and fell to his knees. "You don't match me as a swordsman Kason, you never did. Where did you leave your staff anyway?"
"Lady Ebony, forgive me. In my haste I left my staff..." as he trailed off, trying to remember just where he had left his staff, I remembered something I wanted to ask;
"And Also, do I know you? Have I met you before? because you seem so familliar, but I can't place you in Egypt or America..."
"Sha're!" Chihiro yelled. I looked over to her. "I think you can put your sword down now."
"Good point." I replaced my long sword, and checked on my short sword and the four braces of throwing knives. "Do you know who this is?" I asked her. She shook her head as Kason, himself, responded;
"I am Lord Kason; Elemental Spirit of all Wind, and one of the Five Guardians of All Elements." he said as he stood up. In his hand appeared a staff of twined Ebony, Willow and Iron, with a flame-stone near it's top. (Ebony's Note; Ebony for protection, Willow for flexibility, Iron for tenacity, and Flamestone for strength.)
When he stood, he drew his hands apart from each other, and between them appeared a weapon I recognized instantly as my own; the staff was five and a half feet long, and made of a un-rooted living plant called Star Fire. The blade was forged by Kason himself; a wind-stone blade two feet three inches long.
"Your Glaive, my Lady," he said quietly. "Normally, you would find it at home, because you are drawn to it... this time, I thought it best to bring it to you."
I reached out and took a hold of my glaive.
Lady Ebony II
I send greetings to my future selves... Call it a hunch, I suppose... I know I will wield this sword forever. As my spirit ages, I know I will grow in wisdom and in knowledge. I hope I grow into someone worthy of this weapon... a Glaive that was forged for me by the one I love with my heart; Kason Gale. Kason forged it for me, but is unable to touch the weapon himself, for as I love him, this weapon, this Glaive, whom I have named Winds' Talon, loves me, and will tolerate only my hand on it's haft.
But enough about my weapon.
Kason... We first met... When I was ten in my last life. I wandered through a gate to happen upon Kason eating his lunch. I had an arrow in my back, so it was as much accident as serendipity that I found my way to him.
He knew instantly that I was human, but he also saw I was dying. His temper is short, but his heart is big, if he has the chance to save a life, he will... even a human life. He healed me, and sent me back home. But my village was gone... and the way back to Kason, was closed... I was alone. I took one of the dead raiders swords, and taught myself it's use, and I left what was my home, searching for a new place to give that title to.
For ten years I wandered, collecting an arsenal, including swords of all forms, throwing stars, and several magical talismans, but never did I find a place I could call home.
One day, I came upon a battle; mage blasts, spears, and swords. I shook my head and would have walked on, but I then noticed the wind. On that breeze, I felt something... How to describe it...? The breeze called out to a part of me... The healing breeze that Kason had used on me when we first met.
I pulled out an emerald that I liked, and called the breeze to it, and then sent it out with a request. Shortly all the people on the battlefield were asleep, and woundless. I followed the breeze back to where it had come from, and again, found Kason.
He looked at me suspiciously, and then frowned as he recognized the echo of his magic that resided within me. My magic, a mixture of his and my own hummed with his proximity, happy.
I walked up to him, and leaned against him, "Kason Gale, finally... I'm home."
"I'm home." Lady Ebony... Sha're said as she leaned against the powerful spirit who held her.
I looked at Chihiro and frowned. What do I do about you?
"Well, whatever you do, you are not sending me home," she said, not looking at me. "My parents are fine as they are, and I left them a message saying I was visiting a friend."
"I didn't say, they think you are a figment of my imagination."
"Very well then." I turned from Chihiro to Kason. "Lord Kason, might I have a word with you?"
"What do you want River Spirit?"
"Your help, my Lord. I'd like you to take Chihiro back to your palace with the Lady. Keeping her here is... tricky. At the very least, could you take her to Zaniba's? It is not exactly out of your way."
"Hmmm... I understand your meaning. Please contact her and tell her she has guests coming by train."
"You won't just take them?"
"She always forgets about her past lives. She remembers them, the more time she spends here, but at first, I know it's disorienting. The train is safe enough."
"It might be advisable if I send someone to accompany them."
"Well, I'd like to go, but I have things that I need to do here... Boh should be sufficient. He's been saying that he wants to visit Zaniba for a while."
He pulled a hand from her back, and then called to him three train tickets.
I took the tickets over to Chihiro.
"I asked Lord Kason to send you both to Zaniba's." I said, handing her the train tickets. "Boh might accompany you, but if not, I'll send someone else down to accompany you, someone I trust. I'll meet you there either tonight or tomorrow."
"Why so long?"
"Because I have a job."
"Thank you, I do have them on occasion. We will have much to talk about then."
Kason took Sha're and Chihiro then to the train stop, I turned back to the Bathhouse... Thank the Masters that Yubaba is gone.
Once a person, Spirit or human, is under contract, they are out of the Five's reach to discipline or to judge. The Five are they who rule the spirit world, the Five Guardians of All Elements; Kason is one of the Five, but for him to be judged he has to convince three of the four masters... his vote would not count.
Unless they were put under contract soon, the four of us would be judged before too long.
Before I got to the first elevator, I was assaulted, almost literally, by Rin (USA version Lin).
"Was it her?" I pulled the lever to call the elevator, and looked over at Rin.
"Her... and Lady Ebony."
"Lady...? What would THEY be doing together?" she wondered as I stepped onto the elevator. I pulled her on at the last second.
"It's not that surprising Rin. Lord Kason is sending them to Zaniba's for a while."
"No. I was going to send Boh with them. He is the only one I trust that can be spared from the operations of the Bathhouse."
"What about Randa?" (Pronounced Ronda)
"Randa?" A storm spirit with an affinity for fire, Randa was under contract to Yubabba and her power was bound in five ways... despite the binding, she had a Phoenix flooding her veins as a second form.
I nodded thoughtfully. "You'll need to take her to the train stop and introduce them. Kason will most likely wait with them until the train gets there, but you do have other duties to perform. Randa's on private tub nine today. Close that tub until she returns."
She held out her hand, and I handed her my crest; Three points of Sapphire with a Topaz at the top, my authorization.