Disclaimer:I don't own Spirited Away. I only own the plot, Yumi, Yuki and Aryn.
Author's Notes: This is my first Spirited Away fic so I hope you all enjoy it. I had a blast writing it!
WARNING!!! This story contains violence and adult themes. If you don't like it, you don't have to read it.
Brave the Betrayal
Chapter 1: Anniversary
When Chihiro Ogino turned eleven, she received her second bouquet of flowers, arriving on her doorstep at the exact time of her birth: 3:42 pm.
The flowers were a wide variety of colours and species, their combined scents making her heady and slightly giddy. But as the flowers wilted and died (and she had not the heart to throw them away) they revealed a beautiful surprise.
In the middle of the bouquet, and looking as fresh as the day it had been cut from its bush, was the strangest rose Chihiro had ever seen. Its colour was a light blue, gradually fading into a darker royal blue at the tips, with bright pink splashes of hot pink at the very tips of each petal. The flowers scent was soft and breezy, smelling faintly of the ocean on a cool spring day, and (quite by accident) sounded like waves at the seashore when the breeze would stir through her room.
A card had come with the now dead bouquet – printed in a curly design, but not signed – but the message that had been on the card had left an ear-splitting grin on her face for weeks afterwards.
Every year since she had turned eleven, Chihiro received the same bouquets of flowers on her birthday that raised questions from her parents. Her explanation to them had been simple and the truth: her friends simply wanted to wish her well on her birthday. They never knew about the hidden roses that she kept hidden away in her closet, they simply wouldn't understand the meanings behind them.
For her thirteenth birthday, Chihiro's rose was a bright orange with three brown stripes on each petal. This flower smelt like chocolates and oranges, and reminded her strangely of Granny's kitchen. She received many more roses, each on her birthday, but her two favourites were the ones that she received on her sixteenth and twentieth birthdays.
The first was a pale yellow that had gold flecks that glinted in the sun and glowed faintly in the dark. It smelt like sunshine in summer and reminded her strongly on the Spirit World.
Chihiro's twentieth birthday rose was slightly more special that any other because it of the fact that it had come with the first hand-written card. Like all the other notes, it was simple and straightforward, but it pierced her to her hearts core, leaving a smile on her face even as she shed tears.
The rose itself looked like any normal blood-red flower of its calibre should, complete with dangerous thorns and long, dark stem, but only Chihiro could see it for what it really was. Only those Spirit Touched could.
The petals were a rich ruby colour that glistened like dew-drops in the light and were completely translucent – like real gems perfectly cut to shape a rose. They were soft to the touch and smelt purely of dark hunger and passion embodied into the flower. When she realised the symbolism of the rose, Chihiro had blushed so badly she had gotten light-headed. Whenever she was alone, she could feel the rose give off a maddening heat that she was forced to keep locked away.
But still she loved that rose the most.
It was the eve of her twenty-first birthday and Chihiro Ogino had yet to go home. Her job as a bartender-slash-waitress required long hours and limited study time – but it was worth it if it meant food on the table.
"Chihiro, you haven't been listening to a word that I said!" a tall blonde woman exclaimed, polishing the glass cup in her hand with a rag. Her blue eyes sparkled with worry.
Startled, she looked up, brown eyes wide as she took in her friends words. No, she hadn't been listening at all, her mind elsewhere. She gave a wan smile, picking up the empty crate and placing it under the bar for later use. "Sorry, Amy. I've been off with the fairies, as Evan says." She replied, scratching her head lightly.
The other woman sighed, placing the glass down amongst the others and putting her hands on her hips. "You've been doing that a lot lately. Something going on at home?" she asked, frowning when a customer waved to her. "You can tell me, you know."
Chihiro smiled, nodding her head. "I know that, Amy. It's just there's a lot of stuff going on at home. The twins birthday's coming up, stress-stress-stress." She laughed, watching the smile bloom on her friends face.
"True, but they're both big girls. Whenever you need help, all you have to do is tell us." Amy said, flicking the rag over her shoulder and scowling at the customer who continued to wave impatiently.
"You remind me of that every night." Chihiro stated, reaching into the mini-fridge behind her to retrieve two bottles of Vodka. "Now go serve that guy before he has a coronary."
Amy laughed, walking to the end of the bar and grinned as the man angrily ordered his drink.
"Go home, Chihiro, you shouldn't be working on your birthday." A low voice spoke behind her and Chihiro spun around, startled by the tall, good-looking man on the other side of the bar. His blue eyes were electric, but glowed with an inner warmth.
"So says the man who practically begged me to work because you were understaffed." She replied sarcastically, closing the fridge and placing the bottles of vodka on the shelf above it.
The man snorted, pulling out a bar stool and sitting down with a big sigh. "Who would have thought we'd get this busy on a Wednesday night? Besides, it's raining cats and dogs outside." He loosened his tie and raked a hand through his hair. "Has Amy been neglecting her duties again?"
"She owns half this place and she's stuck behind the bar. You know how she hates it, Evan." Chihiro chided, leaning against the bar and glancing at the clock on the wall of the bar. 2:13 am. She sighed and pulled out a clean glass, filling it half with lemonade and adding a shot of green Midori. She handed it over to Evan who took it and downed the entire thing in one gulp.
"I know, but the customers come to see her, the busty blond, not her gay brother who owns half the joint." He sighed, handing the glass back to Chihiro who took it and placed it in the pile of dirty dishes. "She's good for business."
Amy chose that moment to return, giving her brother a dirty. "And you've just successfully cast the women's independence movement back two decades." She drawled, reaching under the bar and pulling out Chihiro's purse. "But Evan's right. He's sorry for calling you in on your night off, and for that you get to go home early with complete pay!"
Chihiro stared, so too did Evan. "You can't do that!" Chihiro exclaimed, shaking her head. "I'll finish the shift!"
Amy scoffed, waving one hand in the air while the other rested on her hip. "Nonsense! It's the least we can do. Isn't that right, Evan?" she asked, sending a scathing look to her brother, almost daring him to contradict her.
He smiled sheepishly, nodding his head in defeat. "How can I argue with that logic?" he said calmly, standing up and smoothing out the imaginary wrinkles in his light blue suit. "Now you skedaddle on home, you hear. I bet the twins are still up and waiting for you."
It was Chihiro's turn to smile sheepishly, grateful that she had the kind of bosses that she did. She had been working for Evan and Amy for a little less than a year and were some of the most kind-hearted, if a little bit strange, people that she had ever met.
When she had first come to the bar, she had been desperately looking for a job to help pay for a home for herself and her two little sisters. She had no experience, but was willing to do the hard work needed to gain some form of employment. It must have shown how desperate she really was when Amy saw her, almost immediately taking her under her wing and showing her the ropes of how The Thorn And Vine worked. It also helped immensely that she was paid under the table. At first, Chihiro had been worried that Evan and Amy would get suspicious about why she needed the money in such an illegal capacity, but as time passed and they failed to say anything, she started to relax and enjoy working for the two siblings.
Needless to say, Chihiro felt that it would be time to move on soon, praying to what ever deity that was listening that she and her small family would be safe for a while longer.
"Alright, alright. You win. I'm going." She laughed, taking her purse from Amy who gave her a hug as she turned to leave. "Thanks, Amy." She whispered, moving away from her and smiling.
"You take care of yourself." Amy said suddenly, her blue eyes slightly glazed.
A shiver of foreboding clawed up Chihiro's spine at Amy's words. She stared at her friend who simply blinked, the glazed look leaving her eyes almost as soon as it had appeared. She smiled, frowning when she spotted Chihiro's confusion. "What? Is there something on my face?"
Chihiro shook her head, trying to ignore her sudden sixth sense that felt like it was telling her that now was the time to say goodbye. "No. Just, uh, trying to remember something is all." She smiled, but it didn't reach her brown eyes. "Bye Amy. Take care." She said, turning around and leaving the bar.
"See ya Chihi! I'll see you tomorrow night!" Amy called, turning to a customer that had approached the bar.
It wasn't as crowded inside as it had been the hour previous, but Chihiro still made sure to wander around the club and say goodbye to all the friends that she had made, the sense of foreboding settling into her stomach, as if to warn her that tonight was the last night that she would see any of these people ever again.
Sweat started to bead on her forehead as she finished talking to Aoshi, the DJ for the night. Turning, she saw Evan by the stairs that lead to the entrance, leaning like a male model against the black wall. She smiled, feeling tears prick her eyes as she made her way over to him. He pushed off the wall and collected her into a bear hug, holding her close. She laughed, hugging him back and wrapping her arms around his broad shoulders. "Careful, you'll make Aoshi jealous."
He pulled away and grinned, scratching the back of his head. "He'll get over it. Can't I wish one of my best employees a happy birthday?" he asked, his blue eyes shadowed.
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She hugged him again, collecting herself as she let go. "Thanks, for everything you've done for me Evan. You have no idea how much it means to not only me, but to the twins as well." A tear rolled down her cheek and she hurriedly wiped it away.
"Amy and I were taught to look after the people who ask for help. Our mother was very peculiar when it came to that; karma, I think she called it. What goes around come around." He looked around and reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a long jewellery case, covered in black velvet. "This came for you earlier today. Don't open it here." He pushed it into her hands, his eyes fixed on a spot some place behind her, in the throng of people that still crowded the club. "Wait until you get home." He spun her around, hands on her shoulders. "I'm driving you home so you won't have to walk in his horrible weather."
To say that Chihiro was confused was an understatement. The thrill of foreboding that had settled in her stomach, flared to life under his touch, making her insides bubble and boil with an unreasonable fear. Evan was pulling her up the stairs towards the entrance, his whole body giving off a vibe that she couldn't name.
They made it outside just as a clap of lightning split the sky, thunder booming so loudly above them that the hair on Chihiro's arms stood on end. The humidity was so high that sweat started to trickle down both their faces even before they stepped out into the rain. "There's something you're not telling me Evan." Chihiro yelled over the sound of the pouring rain.
He said nothing, simply sighing and running a hand through his hair before ducking out into the rain and pulling Chihiro along behind him. She managed to step into a large puddle of dirty water and soak her shoes completely. He didn't stop, simply pulling her along until they reached a parked car she recognised as Amy's black Jaguar. Evan already had the keys out and the doors open when the door to the bar slammed open and two men in black suits strode out.
"Shit!" he cursed, shoving Chihiro inside and running over to his side. He jammed the keys into the ignition and revved the engine to life even before she had slammed her doors closed.
Chihiro's mind was in turmoil. Shock and fear spiked in her gut, making her nauseous. How did Evan know?
Evan pulled the car away from the curb and drove down the street as if the very Hounds of Hell were nipping at their feet. "It's going to be a bumpy ride, Chihiro, better hold on to something."
Suddenly, she was angry, the box that she still clutched in her hands feeling strangely warm. "How do you know?!" she hissed, grabbing onto her seat as he skidded around a corner. "You knew who those men were!"
He glanced in the rear-view mirror, muttering under his breath as he ran a red light. "They came in earlier tonight, said they were looking for you in relation to some murders. Didn't believe a word they said." He swerved suddenly to the left to avoid hitting a slower car. "No police officer can afford a tailored Gucci suit!" he scoffed.
Her heart was in her throat as he said those words. She knew exactly who's murders they were talking about. "Did you tell them anything else?" she asked, her voice coming out strangled. "I mean, about the twins?"
He flashed his eyes to her for a second before facing the road again. "I'd sooner slit my own throat, Chihiro. I know you're in some kind of shit right now, but you're a good person." He said whole-heartedly. "When I agreed to hire you, I knew you were in trouble, but it was something that Amy said to me, something that really cinched the deal." He yanked the wheel to screech around another corner and slammed on the breaks. "She said to me that you will make a difference, that you should be protected until such a time that you would be free."
Chihiro looked at him quizzically.
"Yeah, I didn't get it either, but I've learnt to trust those feelings of hers over the years." He grinned. "But we gotta get you and the girls to a safe place." He glanced in the rear-view mirror and turned the car into a little ally between her building and the next. "I'll wait here while you get the girls. Now hurry! Those guys will turn up soon."
She didn't need to be told twice.
Throwing open the door, she winced as it banged against the brick of her apartment building but scrambled out anyway, dashing to the front. One hand clutched the box that Evan had given her while the other scrambled for the keys in her purse. Terror was eating away at her, making her fingers numb, useless. The door slammed open just as her cold fingers slipped around the metal of her key-chain. She blinked, feeling the familiar tang that accompanied the presence of Spirit Magic.
Her sisters knew she was home.
She took the stairs two at a time, dashing from floor to floor. She heard the front door to the building slam shut with a snap, echoing in the stairwell. She rounded the last turn, starting on the final stair-case that lead to her floor when she saw a dark shape appear at the top of the stairs.
The sudden appearance of her young sister spurred her onwards, barrelling right into her and picking her up by the waist in a hug. "Yuki!" she sighed, picking her up and sprinting down to the hall to where the front door to her apartment was wide open. She set the eleven-year-old down on the floor and closed the door behind her, flicking all the locks into place. Turning around, she noticed that both twins were standing calmly in front of her, their light eyes glistening with tears.
"Something bad is gonna happen." They whispered in unison, lighting flashing behind them.
Chihiro's breath hitched in her throat, her heart breaking in half as she saw her little sisters tears. She rushed forwards, hugging both young girls tight. "We'll get through this, just like we did the first time." She whispered, kissing each girl on the forehead. "Do you have everything packed and ready?" she asked hurriedly, eyes scanning the apartment that they had called home for six months.
They both nodded their heads, turning to pick up a duffle bag and large travelling back-pack each. "Aunty Aryn is at the door." Yumi said suddenly just before a loud knock sounded on the door.
"Open the door Chihiro!" came a muffled voice through the thick door and one by one the locks on the door un-did themselves. The door opened to admit a short woman who's hair was pulled up in a messy pony-tail. She kicked the door closed with her foot, dropping a duffle bag onto the floor. She didn't bother to take off her shoes, just as Chihiro had neglected to do as well. "The twins have been scaring the hell out of me all night, Chihiro." She snapped, hazel brown eyes flashing.
A clap of thunder made everyone stop. The lights flickered for a second before going out completely.
"Shit." One of the twins said.
"Yumi!" Chihiro scolded, feeling slightly normal in such an abnormal situation.
The lights flickered on just as quickly as they had gone out and Chihiro moved, breaking the sudden tension. Striding passed Yuki, she walked into her bedroom and, without turning on the lights, reached under her bed and retrieved the duffel bag that she had made the previous week. She sat on her knees for a second, going through her mental inventory, sorting through the things that she needed and the other things that could be sacrificed. Her mothers jewelry box was on her dresser, her father's pocket-watch right next to it. Her small collection of journals was tucked away in her closet. All were relatively easy to get and put into a spare small backpack.
It wasn't until she was standing up to turn on the lights that she remembered about the jewellery box still clutched tightly in her right hand. Flipping the light switch, she stared at the box, almost afraid to open it to see inside. Her world narrowed down to the box as it seemed to warm in her hands. Swallowing, she turned it and opened the lid, gasping in dismay at the silver piece of jewellery that lay inside.
A silver dragon stared at her with emerald eyes, each scale crafted onto the dragon so finely on the thin chain, it looked almost alive. Tiny chinks woven into the jewellery created the illusion of movement, four small feet were sculpted into the body to protect her neck from getting scratched by the perfectly made talons.
Fingers trembling, she picked up the delicate necklace, amazed by the careful construction. Her heart was fluttering inside her chest, making her light-headed. Unconsciously, she placed dragon necklace around her neck, feeling the warmth seep into her collar-bones and then spread through her body. Her terror melted away, replaced by calm. With deft fingers she tried to lock the necklace in place, but was amazed when she felt the head of the dragon bite down on its tail, securing it tight to her throat, but leaving enough room for her to breath comfortably. The end of the tail dangled down, tickling the delicate skin on her upper chest.
She snapped out of her daze, remembering the dilemma that she was in and tore around the room, picking up her mothers antique jewellery box and fathers pocket watch and dumping them on her bed before ripping open the sliding door to her wardrobe and reaching for the small box filled with journals. Rummaging through the small pile of clothes on the floor, she found a suitable back-pack and shoved everything inside it, wincing when she head the distinct crack of wood breaking.
Ignoring it, she threw the backpack onto her back and grabbed the duffel bag. As she was about to leave the room, she noticed the discarded jewellery box on the carpeted floor and she scooped it up, picking up the small white card that had fallen out of it. Her heart thrilled when she recognised the writing.
Without reading it, Chihiro placed the card in her pocket and shoved the jewellery case into the open duffel bag. "I'm finished!" she called out, bursting out of her room and running into the living room.
The twins were sitting next to each other, eyes closed tightly as they held hands. Aryn had opened the window leading to the fire exit and had begun to put bags out onto the rusty fire escape.
It was then that Chihiro noticed that the rain had stopped.
"It stopped two minutes ago."
She turned to face Yumi, watching as she tucked a dark strand of hair behind her ear. Yuki stood up from the couch, waving a hand absently-mindedly towards the door. The locks flicked back into place and the lights around the apartment started to go out one by one. Her face was drawn, pale eyes tired from the stress.
"Where are we gonna go, Chihiro?" Yumi asked in a small voice, coming to stand beside her.
That was the million dollar question now, wasn't it? Where were they going to go? They couldn't just keep running for the rest of their lives, living in fear of being found out. Nor could they just hand themselves over. Chihiro would rather die that see her sisters subjected to that torture again.
The dragon that now rested around her throat suddenly warmed, flaring hot against her skin pleasantly. And suddenly she knew.
"Home." Chihiro said finally, turning to Aryn as she called them over. "We're going home."
They jumped down into the alley from the fire escape, covered in cuts and bruises from the numerous slips down the thin metal stairs, but none the worse for wear. The problem was that they had to make their way to the other side of the building where Evan was waiting for them in the car.
"Is this really such a good idea, Chihiro?" Aryn asked, holding tightly onto Yumi's hand as they passed by dirty dumpsters. "He's a great guy, but is he trustworthy?"
It was dark, but thankfully the rain had washed away the smell of human refuse, leaving behind the sweet tang of rotting food and waste. The humidity from earlier had all but disappeared, the temperature dropping so fast that they could see the white puffs of their exhaled breath in front of their faces. Puddles lined the narrow road, an inky blackness that reflected the flickering blue lights from television screens in the apartments above them.
"With my life, Aryn. He's the one that saved all of us in more than one way." Chihiro replied softly, turning around the corner of the building and gasping in shock, her eyes going wide at the scene before them.
Whirling around, she pushed Aryn and the twins backwards, down behind a shadowed overhang that hid them from prying eyes. She followed, ducking low into the shadows and peeking her head around the corner. "They've found us!" she hissed through clenched teeth, turning back around and watching the blood visibly drain from her friends face, leaving her the visage of a ghost. She prayed that the men in black suits hadn't heard or seen them coming.
The atmosphere around the small group was tense, the steady drip-drip of a broken pipe above their heads cutting through the thick silence like the beat of a heart. The noise distorted the dialogue between the two men and Evan, and Chihiro found herself leaning forwards to listen to their conversation.
"You said you'd lead them to us, Smith." One of them said, his bald head gleaming in the headlights of the car. He had Evan pinned down to the hood of the car, one arm viciously twisted behind his back. Chihiro's heart broke at this revelation, her mind not accepting the man's words.
"Yea, I say a lot of things buddy." Evan spat back, choking back a scream as the man pulled back on his arm. The appendage cracked loudly in protest. "I changed my mind." He wheezed.
The second man cracked his knuckles threateningly, dark eyes glinting maliciously. "Now, now. Tell us where they are and we'll only break every bone in your body." He sneered, revealing a missing front tooth.
Evan released a strangled chuckle. "And if I don't, I'll be sleeping with the fishes, right?" he retorted, only to scream out in pain as the man holding his arm suddenly wrenched it back, popping it free of its socket and snapping his bones like toothpicks.
Chihiro jolted forwards, nearly exposing herself to the men as they chuckled in glee, leaving Evan to drop to the dirty ground in front of the car. The headlights spilled over him, leaving ghastly shadows on his face as he heaved for breath. His betrayal cut deep, but seeing him in such agony seared at her heart, leaving a fierce burn of anger in its wake.
The two men laughed, an ugly sound that left Chihiro's teeth on edge. "What's the matter, fag? Too man enough for you?" Baldy chuckled, kicking Evan's prone body for good measure.
A breeze whipped down the alley way, the air getting suddenly that much colder than it already was. Chihiro's skin prickled, but not from the cold. Every hair on her body stood on end as the breeze intensified, bringing with it the noxious odour of sulfur and brimstone. Realisation dawned on her then, making the blood rush from her face. "No!" she breathed, whipping around to face her sisters.
Baldy stopped kicking Evan, standing up straight and scenting the air like a bloodhound. He turned to his partner and grinned maliciously. "They're close."
The wind tore down the alley as they both moved to take a step forwards, the man-made walls of brick and metal creating the perfect wind tunnel, pushing them backwards and away from the small group who hid in the shadows.
But the wind left no sound, creating an eerie sort of silence that stole any attempt at sound. Shadows elongated from the darkest of corners, creating terrifying shapes across the blue-black concrete of the alley. They stretched out, long tendrils of blackness reaching out to touch anything in their paths. It would have frightened Chihiro stupid if she hadn't been so focused on stopping her sisters.
A shout bubbled from her lips, only to be drowned out by the sudden sonic boom of thunder.
Lightning clawed through the sky, brightening the heavens above and swallowing all the shadows with its electric blue light. Another boom of thunder shook the ground they crouched on, and Chihiro felt it all the way to her core. A brilliant flash of lightning struck the building above them, sparks raining down on them all, leaving the air humming and buzzing with the aftershock of electricity. It knocked out all the power in the area, plunging the space into an unnatural darkness that was punctured by the blue-white glow of the parked cars headlamps.
The wind died abruptly, the tang of sulfur and brimstone burning Chihiro's tongue.
"The fuck is that?!" Gap-Tooth screamed, pointing a meaty finger at an area between Chihiro's corner and themselves, where the darkness seemed to gather and become impenetrable. Not even the cars headlights could pierce through – almost as if the very darkness was swallowing it whole.
Wasting no time, Chihiro reached into her duffle bag for her only weapon, pulling out a long, black-lacquered sheath that contained her great-Grandfathers ornamental sword. Grabbing the sheath, she slid out the katana, wincing as the metal scraped against the wood.
The air was thick with tension, both Chihiro and the two men seeming to hold their breaths, as if afraid that any sudden movements would break the precarious spell.
"Bastards!" Evan cursed unexpectedly in English, breaking the tenuous enchantment. His back was to the shadows, and he didn't see the creature emerge behind him.
But Chihiro and the goons did.
The demon took a thundering step forwards, letting loose a bellow of rage that threatened to make the ears bleed of everyone in the surrounding area.
Evan turned his head to the side, his face draining further of colour as he spotted the creature so close to him. He screamed, a high pitched sound that ended abruptly as he fainted.
It was then that all Hell broke loose.
Yumi and Yuki gasped at the same time behind Chihiro, their hands flying apart as their control over the demon broke, sweat beading on their foreheads. Aryn gathered them close to her. Sweat dotted her temple as well, her eyes large in her face and dark with worry and fear.
"We're sorry, Chihiro." Yumi whispered, looking every bit the eleven-year-old that she was.
Yuki sobbed. "It was the only way and we screwed up!" her light eyes glowed eerily in the darkness.
Chihiro knew that there was something that they were not telling her, her gut instinct saying that their earlier prediction was coming true. She hardened her heart, smiling at her sisters with understanding. "It's okay, girls." She whispered gently, her hand clutching the hilt of the katana before she turned around, trying to ignore the quiet sobs coming from her sisters.
They knew what was going to happen, had probably seen the events of tonight many times before. Judging by the familiar heart-breaking looks in her sisters eyes, tonight someone was going to die, and she just prayed to any God or Spirit listening that it wasn't someone that she loved.
She knew, though, that it was not meant to be.
Chihiro dove out from her hiding place, swallowing the lump of fear that had appeared in her throat as she faced down the demon. It was well over six feet high, black fur covering its bear-like body but revealing the sharp thorns along its spine. Angry black eyes gleamed in the light from the cars headlamps, mouth open wide and bearing its equally angry, sharp teeth. Saliva dripped down in large globules, splashing onto the ground with a hiss as it dissolved the concrete at its feet.
The two men in suits had left Evan alone, backing away slowly as they reached into their jacket pockets to pull out their hand-guns. They took aim just as another flash of lightning lit up the sky, and the demon roared, taking a staggering step forwards before seeming to dissolve into a pile of ashes.
And Chihiro was left exposed.
"Looks like you've been quite useful after all." Baldy smirked, taking aim at Chihiro and firing.
She ducked, but not fast enough, the bullet winging her in the shoulder. She went down, the katana slipping from her fingers as she hit the concrete hard. "RUN!" she screamed out, watching in satisfaction as Aryn grabbed the twins and bolted down the alley, seeming to dissolve into grey mist the further they got away.
The goon with the missing tooth took off after them, kicking Chihiro in her wounded shoulder as he passed. She choked back a scream as pain flared through her entire body, the feeling of her blood spreading on her black shirt a foreign feeling. "You'll never find them." She hissed through clenched teeth, watching through narrowed eyes as Baldy swaggered up to her, playfully taking aim at her head with his gun and making a cocking sound.
"We will." He said nonchalantly, deciding that Chihiro was incapacitated and turned his attention to Evan who hadn't moved since fainting on the dirty concrete. "Now what shall we do with mister over here?" he chuckled darkly, bending over Evan and examining him, "Execution style or slow and painful?"
"Don't you dare!" she screamed out, struggling to sit up against the pain. Her injury wasn't fatal, but if she didn't get it checked out, she ran the major risk of bleeding out, or infection. She could literally feel the bullet lodged in the shattered bone of her shoulder-blade. That, or these goons would see fit to torture her some more before they let her die a slow death.
Before she could blink, Baldy had stood up and fired off his gun.
The world stopped moving, the blood freezing in her body as her lungs refused to work. The cry was torn from her throat before she realised. "EVAN!" she screamed, her pain forgotten as she jumped to her feet, scooping up the discarded katana and throwing herself at Baldy.
She didn't know how it happened, only that everything was a blur as if someone had pressed the fast-forward button on her life. One moment she was laying on the cold, wet concrete, and the next she was driving her great-grandfathers katana into Baldy's back, feeling his blood splash on to her face as the life was driven out of him.
The necklace on her neck burned her skin, scorching her back into reality.
Her hand still clasped the hilt of the katana that protruded from Baldy's back, but he was dead, slumped over on his feet, dark eyes glazing over with the call of death.
Chihiro recoiled, the blood pounding in her veins so hard it was the only thing that she could hear. Her world tipped beneath her, bitter tears welling up in her eyes as the past replayed itself over yet again. She yanked the bloodied katana out of the body, trying to ignore the sickening squelch of sound that was made as it slid out of flesh. She dropped it to the ground, numbness taking hold of her as she stared down at Evan's lifeless body.
Her knees buckled, hot tears of regret, anger, pain and sadness splashing down her cheeks as the heavens opened up above her. She cried, her heart breaking in to millions more pieces as her shattered past came back to haunt her.
Again. She had killed again. All in the name of protecting her sisters from a fate worse than death.
The sound of footsteps made her look up, her hand instinctively reaching for the katana at her side.
Yumi, Yuki and Aryn appeared like wraiths from the darkness of the shadows, walking calmly over to her. The twins had tears streaming down their faces, flecks of blood dotting their pale cheeks. Aryn walked unsteadily on her feet, wobbling ever so slightly as she approached.
With a numb nod, Chihiro stood and mechanically retrieved their bags, walking over to the open door of the car and chucking them inside. In the distance they heard sirens, warning them that their time was limited.
Aryn climbed into the drivers side seat, pulling the front passenger's side chair forwards to that the twins could squeeze into the back. "Come on Chihiro," she said quietly, watching Chihiro as she looked sadly at Evan's body, "There's nothing more you can do."
Taking a shuddering breath, Chihiro nodded, her bullet wound all but forgotten – until she suddenly passed out on her feet.
Trees blurred by the windows when Chihiro awoke next, her head throbbing in tune with her heart. Bits and pieces from the night before filtered through her skull, but she was having trouble focusing.
Had she really been ready to face off against a demon? Did she really get shot? She must have been, judging by the amount of pain that her body was in. It was strange, though, because the area of her wound felt numb, like someone had left a cold compress on her shoulder overnight and she was starting to feel the effects of frostbite.
"Don't touch it." A tired voice spoke from beside her.
Chihiro turned her head, watching Aryn's drawn and pale face as her eyes focused on the road in front of them. Looking down at her shoulder, she blinked in confusion to see her uninjured hand creeping up to inspect the wound. She stared unhappily at her injury, watching as the bullet hole pulsed with a green glow that kept in time with the beat of her heart. Aryn was using her powers again, something she strove hard not to do.
"Stop it before you pass out and make us crash." Chihiro chidingly croaked, struggling to sit up in the front seat. She stared out through the windscreen, seeing the country flash by in a blur of green and the occasional blue of the sea. She recognised this route, having travelled it what seemed like hundreds of times before to visit her family for the weekends from collage.
"It's not just me." Aryn sighed suddenly, tired lines making her look far older than her twenty-three years. She swerved the car to the side, overtaking a mini-bus full of holiday tourists. "It's your dragon that's been doing most of the work."
The blue outside her window started to diminish, signalling that the road they were on way winding its way further in-land, towards the ancient mountains that would be their final destination. Her mind was elsewhere, struggling to latch on to Aryn's words and make any sense of them. Her dragon? The only dragon she knew about –
As if sensing her thoughts, the silver dragon around her throat warmed up slightly, humming gently against her skin. She reddened, the memory of opening the jewellery box the night before coming to the forefront of her mind. "Oh, that dragon." She said in a small voice, running the pads of her fingers on her uninjured hand over the surface of the delicate chain, feeling the magic tingle against her flesh.
"Besides," Aryn said quietly, blinking her eyes wearily, "If I didn't help stop the bleeding, you would have bled out and then where would I be?" she grinned, ruined by the yawn that erupted from her mouth.
Chihiro chuckled, hissing as the movement jostled her shoulder. "Ouch." She winced, resisting the urge to rub her shoulder. "Remind me not to do that again." She sighed, leaning back in her seat as gently as she could, and turning her head to check on the twins.
They slept soundly against one another in the backseat, surrounded on all sides by their bags that contained what little remained of their lives. Their hands were clasped tightly together, knuckles white even in their sleep. Dark circles ringed their eyes, faces pale in the grey light of the partially cloudy day.
"How long was I out for?" it was a question that Chihiro was dreading an answer to, but nonetheless wanted a response.
Aryn's eyes flickered to her for a split second, her hazel eyes ringed by a gentle blue-green light. "Nearly thirteen hours. It's about five in the afternoon."
Chihiro let out a breath she didn't realise that she had been holding. "Thirteen hours?" she echoed, incredulous that the older woman was able to use her talents for so long. No wonder the strain looked like it was crippling her, ready to snap her under its weight like a twig.
"The only problem is, how long is it going to be before they hunt us down. I drove for hours around Tokyo, trying to cover out tracks, but they'll know where we're headed in a heart beat." Aryn was worried, her hands turning white on the steering wheel. "I hope you know what you're doing." She added in a whisper.
Looking out her window at the landscape that steadily appeared to get hillier and thicker with vegetation, Chihiro was wondering the same thing. Did she know what she was doing? Not in the slightest, a small ball of fear and doubt gnawing at her heart.
It was a risky plan at best, a deadly one at any opportunity that would most certainly back-fire and undo all the hard work that the two woman had committed over the past year. They couldn't afford to get caught now, not when Chihiro and her sisters had an opportunity to go home. All they had to do was reach the Gate before the sun disappeared over the horizon, still another three hours or more away. If the plan would work the way in which she wanted it to go, they would make it to the gate with some time to spare, finally being rid of the people who had started this entire mess in the first place.
Anger replaced the fear and doubt as quick as lightning, making the blood in her veins boil. It was all their fault that Chihiro's world had come shattering down around her ears than night almost exactly a year ago, when she had discovered the truth behind the lies; when she had witnessed the extent of human evil and greed to get what it wants.
Those events of that dark night had scarred Chihiro in more ways than one, the loss of her innocence one of the many sacrifices given during the later hours of twilight. It created a different Chihiro, someone that she never wanted to be but was forced to become in order to survive and flourish in her new reality. The responsibility had fallen on to her shoulders, the weight stifling, threatening to bury her under its burden.
But earlier events in her life had made her a stronger person, able to help her cling to the sanity that was quickly slipping away to the paranoia that became a daily reminder of what was hunting them down like prey.
A sigh escaped her mouth, eyes following the road signs that indicated how much further they had to go. She was tired, bone-weary of running from the inevitability of their enemies finding them as they had twice already. The pressure in alluding capture for so long was more than she could possibly bear, and for one agonising minute, she wondered if she should just give it all up. What was the point in it all?
She nearly slapped herself, suddenly angry at the turn in her thoughts. What was the point? One look back at her sleeping sisters and her answer was clear. She had done it for them, survived and grew to be something she was afraid of.
And she knew that she would do it all again in a heartbeat. They were her sisters, her last remaining kin and there was no force on Earth that would stand in her way to protect them. She felt a smile blossom on her face, her soul feeling strangely lighter.
"I haven't seen a smile like that in a while." Aryn said quietly, making the appropriate turn-off and speeding up a hill.
The blood in Chihiro's veins started to sing. "That's because I've just had an epiphany." She retorted, watching at the sporty car turned onto an over-grown dirt road. They bumped along for a few seconds before disappearing into the foliage of the small forest, memories drifting to the forefront of Chihiro's mind as they past the first grinning statue. "Slow the car down," Chihiro said, her smile a beam. Behind her, Yumi and Yuki were waking up and rubbing their eyes sleepily. "It's so overgrown up ahead that we're gonna have to walk it."
Aryn nodded, doing as she was told, and soon stopped the car when a small, but sturdy tree grew in the middle of the road.
Through the branches in the wood canopy above them, the sky was cast in a golden splendour, the clouds turning to pink and purple cotton-candy. In the cool shade of the woods, Chihiro led her small group through the overgrown foliage. Her smile had since been replaced with a neutral line, eyes and ears alert for any sight and sound that didn't belong. Shadows grew deeper the further away they moved from the car, carrying with them the last of their worldly possessions, the grass and trees becoming thicker as if to make a natural barrier to keep humans out.
The entrance to the abandoned theme park was just up ahead. They were so close…
Glancing at her watch, Chihiro bit back a growl. It was closer to six than she would have liked, but they still had an hour or more of sunlight left. They needed to make it past the dry river before the sun completely set, or they would be stranded. That left the very real risk of being discovered and that was something that Chihiro simply could not afford.
They were all tired, weary now to the point of exhaustion and it had been building up to this moment. Not for the past eighteen hours or so, but for the last eleven years. Tonight would be the night it all ended, whether for better or worse, but Chihiro knew in her heart that after this… after this she could rest for as long as she wanted.
They couldn't stop, they were so close. Chihiro's shoulder burned fiercely, Aryn having stopped using her power to help her focus on staying conscious, and a headache was building behind her eyes. To make matters worse, the small hairs on the back of her neck were starting to stand on end. Even with the combined magic's of Aryn and her necklace, she had lost a lot of blood and the little rest that she had gotten in the car was nothing when she forced herself to keep moving. 'I can get the wound looked at when we're all safe.' She thought, her breath coming in short puffs from her aching chest. She tried to ignore the stabbing, tearing pain that had started in her back, the growing wet patch on the front of her shirt indicating that she had torn open the semi-healed wound.
A flash of red caught her attention and a gasp was ripped from her throat before she could stop it.
"What is it?" Aryn asked, instantly more alert than she had been previously. Her tired eyes darted around them, watching for any signs of the enemy.
Yumi and Yuki laughed, a joyous sound that reminded Chihiro of tinkling bells. They ran passed her, their hands clasped firmly together as they replied as one: "Sanctuary!"
Chihiro's vision was suddenly blurry, the tears coming unbidden and pain all but forgotten. Staggering forwards, she grinned at the crumbling facade of the train station. Most of the red paint had fallen off from around the dark entrance, revealing the grey stone underneath. The path was overgrown with grass and weeds, the stones that lined the road barely visible.
As she stepped clear of the trees, her eyes spotted the grinning two-faced statue, greener than it once was due to the moss, but nonetheless a happy sight to see. "I'm back." She whispered, and a warm breeze seemed to come alive then, as if to welcome her home.
Aryn walked through the tall grass to her side, carrying both her own bag and Chihiro's. The twins had run off ahead with Chihiro's small backpack dangling from Yumi's shoulder. She stopped to stare at the sight before her, eyes closed as if to soak everything in. When she opened them again, there were tears glistening in the corner of each eye, a truly happy smile blossoming on her face. "I feel it." She whispered in awe, walking past Chihiro and following the twins into the dark entrance of the park.
Chihiro stepped forwards, feeling the magical breeze pull at her clothing, ushering her towards her safe haven. She smiled, her heart starting to feel whole once again for the first time in a long while. She stopped, taking one final look around the small tree-lined clearing.
This would be the last time she would see the human world, and she wanted to savour it. The sights, the sounds, the smells… granted, they were almost exactly the same in the Spirit World, but there it was much more… magical.
The breeze tugged at her pants, pulling at her long hair, almost urging her to hurry up and move. Hadn't she been in a hurry in the first place? The thundering footsteps of her sisters echoed inside the entrance, their voices floating to her from out of the darkness.
It was time to go.
"Hurry up, Chihiro!" Yumi's laughing voice taunted as she and Yuki emerged from the darkness, their hands still joined. Aryn appeared not a second later, a warm motherly smile on her face.
"You're the one who keeps telling us to hurry up." She pouted, earning a small giggle from Chihiro. "And you're the invalid here."
Chihiro laughed, watching and memorising the faces of her sisters and dearest friend. They all looked so happy, so relieved, so –
A puzzled look crossed Chihiro's face a second before the wind was knocked out of her lungs. The necklace at her throat flared up painfully, scorching her skin. She looked down, confused, watching in fascination as the blood-stained tip of a sword disappeared from her chest with a sickening slurp.
She didn't feel anything, her body shutting down all feeling as her knees buckled beneath her.
The world had suddenly gone deathly quiet and slow, as if someone had pressed the mute and slow-motion button on a television remote. She watched as Aryn screamed out her name, the fear and shock flaring painfully bright in her hazel eyes. Yumi and Yuki did the same, arms reaching out for her as if to catch her as she fell.
Her lazy brain trying to catch up with what had happened, until it suddenly clicked.
I've just been stabbed.
Like an elastic band snapping back into place, the world seemed to right itself, sound flooding back into her shocked mind and speed returning to normal. Pain the likes of which she had never experience in her entire life exploded in her body, overloading her senses in a fireworks display.
The man behind her moved then, a single, fluid strike that ripped a silent scream from her broken chest as the sword pierced her torso for a second time. Blood splattered onto the grass and stones as he yanked the sword out once more, leaving Chihiro's broken body to fall in an ungraceful heap at his feet.
"R-run." She whispered raggedly, watching through blurry eyes as Yumi and Yuki screamed for her, only to be dragged backwards by Aryn, the fear in her eyes overriding the grief. They disappeared into the darkness, their footfalls a rapid staccato that soon faded into the distance.
Her murderer sighed, almost sounding bored. He bent down and wiped his bloodied sword on the back of her shirt, watching as she struggled to breath. He said not one word, just watched in fascination as she lay there dying.
"I-If y-ou lay o-one ha-hand on any…" she needed to stop, her breath coming in shallow, ragged pants. She knew she was dying, but she needed to say this. "I w-w-will haunt-t you." Her voice died after that, her vision going black.
The last thing she heard was the man's chuckle and the distant roar of a dragon.
Emerald eyes snapped open, bleeding into liquid gold as anger consumed him. His cave trembled around him as his wrath heightened to dangerous levels.
Her pain was his, their two souls linked by the thin silver chain around her throat.
He felt her last breath leave her body as if it were his own, and her soul disappeared, leaving him empty and alone once again.
"They escaped, sir." Came the static voice of one of his men.
Ancient eyes gleamed in the dark with fury, knuckles cracking in warning. "You mean to say that you let them get away." His voice was deadly calm, speaking of hidden threats and pain.
There was a pause at the end of the line, static filling the dark interior of the opulent office. City lights twinkled from outside the large windows, casting long shadows around the room; giving the illusion that they were alive and moving.
"We managed to get the older one; she's dead though. You're mercenary ran her through."
A growl erupted from the mans throat, the shadows writhing as if in pain. They rippled, growing larger across the carpet, more darker and impenetrable. "You will detain the mercenary so that I shall have a word with him." His voice was guttural, almost alarmingly so. The room had become pitch black, the twinkling of the city lights repelled by the darkness.
Another pause on the line, the other man clearing his throat nervously. "Actually, sir, he took off. Uh, after the twins and Delta."
The room seemed to suddenly shatter. A sonic boom flashed throughout the room; glass exploded outwards from the windows behind him; breakable artefacts blasting into millions of fragments all around the room. Wind ripped through the room, kicking the storm of glass and paper into a tornado that tore throughout the office. The shadows had come alive, reaching and snarling for anything of substance.
The man in the centre of the storm stood with a cold fury pounding through his veins, long brown hair whipping past his face. His eyes glowed a piercing blue as they stared out at the city below him.
The last of the suns rays disappeared over the western horizon, the orange-pink glow deepening into blue and darker still. This was his domain, where his true powers lay: where his power was the greatest.
"If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself." He hissed, forked tongue sliding over his lips.
Almost as soon as it had begun, the storm behind him stopped, the carnage absolute. Furniture lay in tatters, expensive paintings and artefacts ruined beyond any hope of reconstruction. He ignored the voice of his henchman on the phone, stepping up to the destroyed window instead and peering down.
Blue lights flashed up at him from the various emergency vehicles that were just arriving at the scene, treating the bystanders that had been caught by the falling shards of glass caused by his tantrum.
A smirk alighted his handsome face as he took a step out the window and threw himself into the night.
The rickety train pulled to a stop, its doors opening with a surprising snap. Outside the world was dark, night having fallen on swift wings.
The conductor stood up from the front of the carriage, walking calmly over to his last remaining passenger that had stepped on not that long ago.
"Your stop. Swamp Bottom."
The Shade lifted its head. It stared at him for a second before nodding its head slowly and standing up. It descended the short stairs and onto the platform, almost becoming one with the darkness of the night outside.
An old-fashioned whistle indicated that the train was ready to depart, the doors closing with a resounding snap behind the Shade. It stepped away from the edge of the platform, gliding calmly over to the only path that it sensed.
Behind the Shade, the train continued along its course, soon becoming a dark spot on the horizon.
A sound of squeaking metal filled the night air as the Shade stepped onto the dirt path. Up ahead, as the path turned and merged with the forest, a spot of light seemed to dance between the trees, disappearing one second and reappearing in the next. With each passing tree, it came closer and closer still; the Shade watching with a curious turn of its head. At last the bouncing light emerged from the forest and stopped, the lantern waving in a boisterous manner, attempting to coax the Shade into following it.
A dark arm appeared from its amorphous form, seeming to point to itself and then, with slow deliberateness, the lantern.
It nodded, old-fashioned lantern swinging from side-to-side as the stand that comprised of its body bent vigorously. It turned and started to hop away, back the way it had come, disappearing around the corner and behind the trees.
The Shade stood for a minute before following slowly behind the lantern. It passed by swamps and marshes, fireflies illuminating the dark liquid surfaces, but the Shades attention seemed riveted to the path and hopping lantern infront of it.
Time passed – how much, the Shade could not measure – but eventually they emerged from the surrounding forest, a large clearing opening up before them.
The bouncing lantern continued on ahead, travelling along a well-worn path until it reached a large wrought-iron and wooden gate. It paused, turning to the Shade, motioning it to continue on towards the little cottage.
Orange firelight glowed from the curtained windows of the cottage, beckoning the Shade to come closer. It tilted its head, acknowledging the lantern and walked forward, watching as the lantern jumped up towards the iron arch in the gate and became a part of the decoration.
As the Shade walked beneath the archway, the lantern winked out.
Unperturbed, the Shade continued on, moving slowly toward the front stoop. As it raised an amorphous hand to knock, the door was thrown open, a short, grandmotherly-type woman appearing in the door-way. There were tears in her over-large eyes. "Oh, darling!" she whispered, her hands reaching for the Shade of their own accord, but then thinking better of it. "Come in! Come in! I've been waiting for you." She moved out of the way, into the cottage.
The Shade tilted its head, watching as the woman bustled about the kitchen, not bothering to hide her tears as she grabbed pots and pans and clanged them together in an already full sink. Without further thought, it moved inside to quaint little cottage, the front door slamming shut behind it.
PREVIEW of Chapter 2: Ghosts
"You can't hide from me, Chihiro." The face smirked, the pain she felt intensifying.
A scream was torn from her throat –
And the Shade exploded.
Zeniba was worried. It was something she never did, but nonetheless found herself doing.
"What do you mean 'She's dead'?" Rin asked angrily, staring into Haku's livid gold eyes. He only had eyes like this when his Dragon was out for blood.
"That's exactly what I mean, Rin. Chihiro is dead and I am going to find the person responsible."