A/N: To all my Speed Oni followers, I apologize. My muse has fled yet again, cackling her head off and throwing plot bunnies over her shoulder. This is one of those plot bunnies. I hope you enjoy while I try to coax her back to the big project.
Spirited Away and The Cat Returns both belong to Studio Ghibli. My most humble thanks to Miyazaki-sama for not minding us fanatics borrowing.
There was something absolutely fascinating about him. Maybe it was his hair, how it shimmered with dark green highlights in the sun. Or perhaps it was his clothes, obviously of high quality and obviously about 200 years out of date. Could he be an actor, walking around in costume? The walking alone was amazing, he flowed and drifted through the weekend shoppers. Maybe he was a dancer. Or a master martial artist. Or both. Whatever his background, his bearing was clearly regal, his sea-green eyes determined as they swept the Crossroads, and his teeth looked just a little too sharp when he smiled.
Stopping next to a cafe table, he crouched beside the fluffy white cushion with a funny brown spot, put his hand to his mouth and whispered two words.
"WAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!" Muta leapt three feet off his chair, legs and tail flailing madly. The green-haired, green-eyed man sat back on his heels, a pleased smirk on his lips as the very fat cat somehow landed paws down on the table. Muta puffed himself up to an impressive size.
"What's the big idea!?" He shouted. "Can't a guy nap in peace without people sitting on him or tickling his ear?"
"You are Muta, yes? Of the Cat Bureau?"
"What's it to ya, buddy?" Muta's whiskers stiffened and he leaned closer to the strange man, sniffing suspiciously. The stranger returned the favor, making Muta scramble back with a sneeze.
"Man, don't think any of your kind's been to the Bureau before."
"So you are Muta. I must speak with Baron. Can you lead me to him, please?"
"Can't imagine what someone like YOU would need the Bureau's help with. Well, no fur off my tail. Keep up, rock-pusher." Muta flicked his tail, leaped off the table and dashed away. A deep chuckle answered as the stranger joined the race, easily keeping up with the hefty feline. Through the alleys and byways to the Creation Refuge the odd pair ran, Muta's fur getting fluffier and fluffier. Arriving at Toto's pedestal, Muta skidded to a stop, dusted himself off and claimed his usual chair. Leaning back, he rapped on the window.
"Come on out, Baron, we've got a live one!" The stranger looked around, his smirk firmly in place. Above him, Toto shivered, glowed, and stretched his wings. The Crow Creation settled his feathers and peered down.
"You really DON'T have any manners, do you, Fatso?" Toto asked, cocking his head. Lights began dancing around the windows. Muta pounded on the wall.
"NOT going to work, Baron!" The lights seemed to sigh as they winked out. Twin wooden doors near Muta flew open and a dignified cat-man in impeccable clothes walked out, cane hooked over one arm and top hat perched between orange ears. Baron Humbert von Gikkingen looked up at the stranger and nearly lost his legendary composure. Sweeping his hat off, he made an elegant and very deep bow.
"Welcome to the Bureau, my lord...?" He glanced up. The stranger smiled broadly and promptly shrunk to match Baron's height. The Creation tightened his grip on his hat until he nearly crushed the brim.
"Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi," Kohaku replied, inclining his head and shoulders respectfully. "I need your help, Baron."
Kohaku gentled his smile as the Creation forced his composure back into place. Returning to an upright position, the top hat was smacked firmly into place, looking a little bent on one side.
"Of course, Lord Kohaku. Please, do come in. The Bureau prides itself on being of assistance to anyone in need." With a smart about-face, Baron marched to the doors and flung them open as grandly as a butler. Kohaku nodded to Muta as he passed, the fat cat huffed and pulled out a newspaper. Kohaku looked around curiously after he entered the house. It was a good thing he had shrunk himself, the place would have been much too cramped for his normal human form, to say nothing of his dragon form! Baron worked busily at a cabinent.
"Please, have a seat, my lord," The cat-man tossed over his shoulder, carefully spooning tea leaves into a silver pot. Kohaku chose a comfortable armchair opposite a large wooden desk. He continued to look around until Baron appeared at his side with a china teacup. "Here you are. This is my special blend. It never turns out the same way twice, so I cannot guarantee the taste." He sounded almost apologetic. Kohaku accepted the cup gravely and took a careful sip. His eyes lit up.
"Better then Granny's," He declared. Toto chuckled as he flew in to perch on his balcony.
"Really, Baron. It's only Muta who doesn't like your tea," The bird admonished gently. Baron turned back to the tea set and claimed his cup.
"One is never sure," He replied, taking a seat in the desk chair. After a few sips, Baron put his cup down and folded his gloved hands on the desk blotter. "Now, my lord, how may the Bureau be of assistance?"
"First, call me Kohaku. You are a Creation, you're not so different from myself."
"If you say so, m...Kohaku," Baron said, whiskers twitching a little. Kohaku leaned forward and put his cup on the desk.
"I am looking for someone, a young woman." Baron nodded, reaching for paper and quill.
"Can you give me a description?"
"That is the problem. My memory of her is from when she was ten years old."
"You are looking for a mortal, then?" Baron's quill began scratching.
"Yes, and it has been almost ten mortal years since I've seen her, so I know she will be different then my memory."
"I see. That does pose a bit of a problem. Let us start with the basics, then. Hair and eye color?"
"Dark brown hair, warm brown eyes. She wore her hair in a tail, with a purple tie. The tie was a gift from Granny, so it has some magical properties."
"Presuming she still wears it," Baron muttered softly, writing. Kohaku sighed.
"Yes, presuming she keeps it on her. It's a protective charm and she knew that." Baron's left ear twitched.
Baron looked up from his paper. "Kohaku, do you think she will remember you?" Kohaku sighed and reached into his tunic.
"It is my fondest hope she will remember and be glad to see me again. However, since she was a child and mortals tend to put childhood behind them completely, I brought this." He withdrew a scroll and handed it to Baron. Baron could feel something hard inside. "When you find Chihiro, Baron, please give it to her. I'm certain she will remember once she sees what's inside."
"Of course," Baron bowed his head slightly and carefully locked the scroll in a desk drawer. "Is there any more information you can give me?" He asked, taking up his quill again. Kohaku picked up his teacup and sipped thoughtfully. The Creation waited patiently, quill poised. After a few minutes, Kohaku nodded and lowered the teacup.
"She spent several weeks at The Bath House as a worker," Baron's ear twitched twice as he wrote. "She still carries a bit of the spirit world with her. I expect she won't smell right, there will be a wiff of wood and water that tickles the nose." Baron nodded, putting the quill away and dusting the paper with a light sprinkling of sand. He rose and bowed to the young River God.
"I will start immediately. With your permission, Kohaku, I would like to enlist the help of another mortal."
"Use whomever you deem necessary and whatever methods will work best, Baron," Kohaku said, standing and returning the bow. "The Cat Bureau has an excellent record and I have complete faith in you."
"We will not let you down, Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi. The Bureau gladly accepts your case. How would you prefer us to contact you once we have found Miss Ogino?" Kohaku flicked his right hand like a magician and held out a pure white scale. Baron took the scale, whiskers bristling a little.
"When you've found her, please bring her back to the Bureau and say to the scale, 'She is here'. I will hear you and come with all due haste."
"As you wish," Baron bowed again, locking the scale into the same drawer as the scroll. Kohaku smiled and left. Baron fell back in his chair, shock evident in his features. Toto and Muta burst through their respective doors.
"What in the world was THAT all about?" Muta demanded.
"Why would a River God come to see US?" Toto added. Baron blinked a few times, then shot out of his chair, both paws firmly braced on the desk. The Crow and the fat cat shrank back.
"Toto, we need to contact Haru immediately!"