Disclaimer: Spirited Away is owned by the genius Hayao Miyazaki and by Ghibli Studios. I am merely a fan of said movie and I do not gain any profit or whatsoever from making this story.
She woke up with a startled gasp, her eyes immediately searching left and right for any signs of danger. Thankfully, there was none, but the strange feeling, that nagging presence, told her something was out of place and urged her to get up and investigate it. She made a loud and tired sigh as she slowly rose, her bed squeaking pitifully in its old age.
She sluggishly approached her crystal ball, moaning slightly as her old bones screamed for rest. Although she would never admit it out loud, Zeniba was not a morning person. She disliked the sudden change of temperature, from the cool night breeze to the warm rising sun, because her body took a while to adapt to it. She also hated the way her bones refuse to budge for a few minutes upon waking up, or the way her joints burned in her every movement.
It would have been easy, Zeniba though morosely, if she could alter her appearance to a younger and more energetic state. But try as she might, Zeniba could never do so because she was cursed.
By her own mother, to add.
Zeniba finally reached a chair settled near her window, and she immediately sat on it to relieve her tired muscles. Her gaze turned to the scenery on her window before she waved a hand, making the Golden Seal react to her wishes and zoom itself towards her open palm.
As Zeniba fiddled the item, she closed her eyes and remembered.
Ever since they were children, she and Yubaba never got along, because despite their very similar physical features, they differed too much regarding everything else, and their differences caused a rift between them.
First of all, they were different with regard to their behaviours. Zeniba was always the shy and quiet one, opting to hide herself behind their mother's legs or inside her room rather than facing other spirits. However, Yubaba was the more outspoken one between the twins; she loved getting the attention and always aimed to be the center of it. She was also the loud and impatient one, with a temper as unexpected as lightning,
Second, they also had different hobbies. Whereas Zeniba loved cooking and gardening, Yubaba took delight in collecting money and precious jewels. Zeniba had once asked, although a bit sarcastically, her sister why she lover those material things, and Yubaba merely scoffed in reply before telling Zeniba that s he was just sophisticated, and all sophisticated ladies loved things that shone and sparkled. Zeniba could only roll her eyes at that before she returned her attention to the cake she was baking.
Lastly, they differed in their abilities. Zeniba inherited most of her magic from their mother; a witch who specialized in potion-making and hexing. On the other hand, Yubaba's magic focused more on flight, a technique she must have inherited from their father who was also a practitioner of magic and was known for his ability to soar with the wind. Unfortunately, the man had passed on before his children could actually meet him and had melded himself to his greatest possession, a magical cloak that granted its user the skill to fly as easily as a bird.
However, even when the two sister always fought like cats and dogs, their mother always remained hopeful that someday, both girls would treat each other as family.
But decades passed, and neither twin budged. It was only when their mother had gone ill that Zeniba made an effort to reach out to her sister, but by then, Yubaba had turned bitter and hateful because her lover had left her when he found out that she was carrying his child.
Their mother's life was slowly dwindling, and in her desperation, she cast a curse on both of her children. The condition was that both would continue to age as time moves on, and any efforts to dispel the curse will only end in failure. Only love could remove the curse.
The woman had hoped for change, but instead, the opposite happened. When Yubaba learned of the curse, she shrieked indignantly and immediately left their little cottage, taking with her their father's prized cloak.
Zeniba decided to stay in their little home and looked after the Golden Seal, the item where their mother's soul now resided. She consulted thousands of her books and her mother's journals to see if there was any way to dispel the curse. There was none but love.
By then, Zeniba had given up hope. For her, love was too complicated for an emotion, and she was sure that Yubaba fully agreed with her on that. After all, both witches only experienced love from their mother, but now that she was gone, how will they start? Moreover, if one loves, must there be a price to pay for it? Perhaps so, because when Yubaba did love another person, she ended up with child and its father nowhere to be seen.
Although she could not speak for her sister, Zeniba had decided long ago that she would let fate take its course. If she were to die, so be it. However, she could not also let go of the thought that things would have been way better if she and her sister did reconcile before that happens.
The sounds of clinking pans effectively brought Zeniba from her musing, and she couldn't help but smile a bit. It seems that No-Face was getting hungry, and the poor guy was searching the kitchen for something to munch on.
She glanced at the Golden Seal one more time before she closed her eyes and placed her hands on the crystal ball situated in front of her. With a sharp intake of breath, Zeniba focused on the task at hand.
Chihiro groaned softly as she rose from her sleep. She didn't sleep well last night as she was worried for Kohaku. After all, the dragon did say that there was something sinister out there, and Chihiro could only hope that her friend would return safely.
It was Rin who had coaxed her to sleep that night, telling her that the 'stupid lizard' was strong enough to defend himself if the need arises. Chihiro merely nodded absentmindedly at that, but it was more than enough to fool Rin.
Now, Chihiro felt tired as she quietly left the room. The girls were still peacefully snoring, and Chihiro carefully avoided stepping on any of her roommates' body parts. Because of her lack of sleep, Chihiro was suffering from a splitting headache. The moment she finally exited the room, she had to massage her temple first before making her way towards the boiler room.
Kohaku did promise her he'd return today, and Chihiro wanted to be there to greet him the moment he arrives. It was the only way she knew that would quell this anxiety of hers and this fear gripping her heart so tightly.
But when she arrived at the boiler room, the place was eerily cold and quiet, except for Kamaji's loud snores. Her eyes frantically searched for her friend, but she was not able to spot him in the room, and her heart started beating faster in trepidation.
'Relax, Chihiro,' she thought to herself as she sat on the floor, making sure she was facing the door. 'It's still too early anyway. For sure, Haku will be here any minute now.'
She reached out for a thick blanket and wrapped it around her body to fight the chilly air. She firmly situated herself on the floor, eyes glued to the door where she was sure Haku would come in later. But fatigue was also slowly consuming her, and her eyelids stubbornly battled against the sleepiness until they could no longer fight it.
Chihiro was sooner or later found by Rin, snoozing lightly on the wooden floor of the boiler room. The sable spirit made a move to wake the human up, but was soon stopped by the boiler man.
"She needs rest," Kamaji explained as he lightly placed a hand on Rin's shoulder. "Especially with the news we are about to tell her."
Kohaku never made it back.
Chihiro learned of this from Kamaji the moment she woke up. Fearing for the worst, Chihiro opened her mouth, but words failed her. Instead, her eyes pricked, and she suddenly felt the need to cry. Luckily for her, Rin immediately engulfed her in a hug to effectively stop her from crying, although Chihiro could not stop the sob that escaped her lips.
"I'm sure the lizard's just a little late," the sable spirit said, hoping to alleviate Chihiro's sorrow, "I bet Zeniba gave him an earful for not reporting sooner."
She gave the human spirit a reassuring smile, and Chihiro nodded in reply, but she could not return the smile. There was, after all, an odd feeling blossoming in her chest that told her that all was not well.
But she could not telly anybody that, and instead focused her attention to the chores she was supposed to do for now. She silently hoped that she was wrong and that Kohaku would return sometime today.
Try as she might, however, Chihiro could not erase the nagging feeling that somehow, Kohaku was in danger. Even as she worked with the other girls, Chihiro could not shake her worries and her fears. As such, she moved mechanically, only doing the errands ordered to her by Rin like a robot, making the sable spirit concerned about her well-being.
It didn't help that by lunch, there were still no signs of the dragon spirit. By then, Chihiro had become fidgety in her seat, wringing her shirt in fistfuls whereas her eyes kept darting at the untouched food in her hands to the door, as if expecting someone to magically appear in a matter of seconds.
And apparently, Rin has had enough of the human's antics.
When Chihiro's attention flew to the door for the nth time, despite Kamaji's pleas for the girl to eat, Rin immediately stood up, ordered the sootballs to bring Chihiro's human world clothes, and hoisted the human spirit up in a flash.
In return, Chihiro blinked confusedly at Rin, but the sable spirit said nothing. Instead, she hastily placed the unused train ticket in Chihiro's palm before bending down to retrieve the girl's clothes.
"You're worried, even if it's not right for you to be," Rin explained to the human spirit, "so I think you should go to Zeniba's yourself and find out. I'm sure you'll see the lizard there, safe and sound and probably stuffing himself senseless with goodies."
Chihiro opened her mouth to reply but was cut off when Rin shoved the human her school uniform, urging her to put it on immediately before Yubaba found out.
"Rin," Kamaji spoke softly, "don't you think it's dangerous for her to go by herself? You heard Haku; there's something out there."
Rin snorted in an unladylike fashion and crossed her arms across her chest. "Well, what do you want Sen to do, Kamaji? Wait for the lizard worriedly until her hair turns gray because of stress?"
"No, no. Nothing of that sort," Kamaji replied, scratching his head. "I was just implying that waiting is the best option right now, especially because we do not really know where Haku is. We are not even sure if he is safe or not."
At Chihiro's flinch, Kamaji immediately rectified his statement, "But I'm sure he is alright. There is nothing to worry about. None at all."
Rin didn't look convinced and even Chihiro seemed a little wary. "I," the human spirit said, her eyes darting from Rin to Kamaji. "I would like to go to Zeniba's, Kamaji. I really want to see her."
Kamaji sighed exasperatedly as Rin let out a victory whop. "That's reckless, Sen. And what will Rin and I tell Haku in he ever arrives here just in time you boarded the train?"
"He'll be furious, Sen. And besides, I am not letting you leave without an escort. Your safety is my top priority, granddaughter."
"Kamaji..." Chihiro started, suddenly feeling guilt for not thinking about the old spider's feelings. "I'll be fine, you know. I'll be extra careful. I —"
"If you're so worried, why not let me be Chihiro's guide?" chimed in another voice that was very familiar to everyone in the room. They looked around, trying to find the source of the voice but could not locate it. Making an annoyed huff, the voice spoke again, "I'm down here!"
Several pairs of eyes looked down and widened in surprise when they found a tiny floating man-shaped paper standing on the ground. The piece of paper floated an inch or two from the ground, before its pointed tip, the area where its legs were supposed to be, touched the ground.
Almost immediately, a see-through version of the bathhouse's owner popped out from where the paper had landed, shocking everyone in the room except for Chihiro.
The sootballs scurried to their home instantly, Kamaji turned and started grinding random herbs in an effort to look busy, and Rin stood numbly for a couple of seconds before she immediately backed away, her eyes searching for anything that could help make her look like she was doing something as well.
It was only Chihiro who greeted the intruder enthusiastically, her mouth splitting in to a wide grin, which was a huge contrast to her depressed state seconds ago.
"Granny!" Chihiro exclaimed, rushing to embrace the old witch but was disappointed when she ended up passing through the woman. "Still see-through, I guess," the human spirit mumbled, pouting just a bit.
Zeniba laughed kindly at the human spirit, beckoning the girl to come closer. "My, look how you've grown!" Zeniba gushed as she examined Chihiro proudly, almost like a real grandmother would to her grandkids. "You look very lovely, Chihiro. Very pretty!"
The human smiled shyly in return, awkwardly tucking a stray hair behind her ear as she blushed prettily. It was also at this moment that Rin decided to speak and clear the confusion, seeing as neither human nor witch seemed inclined to explain to her or Kamaji.
"Granny?" She asked, her question directed to Chihiro while pointing a finger at Zeniba's way. When her partner merely nodded, Rin turned to the witch. "Then, I'm guessing you are Zeniba?" The witch smiled kindly as she nodded her confirmation, making Rin sigh in relief. "Good. I would have freaked out if you were Yubaba."
When the witch laughed wholeheartedly, Rin relaxed her tensed muscles before chuckling as well. "Not to be rude or anything, but what brings you here, Zeniba?" The sable spirit asked curiously once their laughter had subsided.
Almost as if someone had cast a horrible spell, Zeniba's mirth was quickly replaced by sadness and weariness combined. At the look on the witch's face, Chihiro's stomach churned uncomfortable, and her heart thudded painfully against her chest.
"I cannot speak right now. My sister might sense my magic if I stay too long, and she'll demand explanations."
Then, the witch turned her attention back to Chihiro, who immediately straightened up to listen to the witch.
"I'll wait for you at the station, Chihiro. You must go to Swamp Bottom immediately. To help Haku, I must give something to you."
Chihiro could feel the cold sweat running down her back when she heard and fully processed Zeniba's statement. Gulping, the girl tried to look calm, but she could already sense the trouble as she heard her heart's rapid beating. "He-help Haku?" The girl stuttered, hoping she had heard wrong.
But the witch only looked even grimmer as she eyes the shaking girl. "He has been captured."
Chihiro immediately headed for the station after she changed her clothes. She was thankful that Yubaba wasn't able to sense her sister's intrusion nor was she able to spot Chihiro leaving the bathhouse in a hurry.
The human girl ran in full speed, clearly intending on not wasting any more time, that by the end of her running, she was panting and sweating. She looked around, trying to spot her escort. Zeniba did say that she was going to escort Chihiro to Swamp Bottom. Taking large gulps of air, Chihiro smoothened the wrinkles of her shirt when something light landed in her shoulders.
Surprised, Chihiro immediately faced whatever was on her shoulder and came face-to-face with a gray, chubby little mouse. Chihiro blinked rapidly as the mouse blinked in reply.
"Boh?!" Chihiro almost shrieked as the mouse eagerly bobbed his head up and down. "What are you doing here?! How did you even get here?"
To answer her question, the mouse pointed to a tiny mosquito-like animal floating in the vicinity. Chihiro paled, immediately recognizing the flying thing to be Yu-bird, who only gave her a short nod as a greeting.
"You didn't answer my question," Chihiro started, looking at the two sternly. "What are you doing here?"
Both mouse and mosquito started squeaking and buzzing as answer, making Chihiro sigh in exasperation. She had a dreaded feeling what these two wanted to do, but Chihiro would actually feel a little bit better if they were to stay in the confines of the bathhouse, where they would be safe from harm.
"It seems," Zeniba suddenly spoke up, making Chihiro jump, "that my nephew was listening to our conversation a while ago." Then, turning to the mouse and the bird, Zeniba asked if the two had their own tickets.
The two nodded eagerly before showing the witch their own tickets for the train ride, leaving Chihiro to wonder where and how they managed to hide it when they had such small bodies.
"Very well," the witch acquiesced, seeing as both mouse and mosquito looked very determined to help. "You can go with Chihiro. Help me protect her, won't you?"
At their nods, Zeniba smiled and turned to Chihiro, explaining to the human that Boh and Yu-Bird would be fine. Then, with a wave of her hand, her see-through figure disappeared and was transformed back into the human-like paper, before folding itself neatly and tucking itself securely in Chihiro's skirt pocket.
Chihiro was about to say something, maybe a protest because she really did not want to endanger Boh or Yu-Bird in any way, when a certain sound stopped her. Turning to where the sound came from, Chihiro soon found the train coming her way before stopping on the platform where she waited.
Taking a deep breath, Chihiro steeled herself as she boarded the train and gave her train ticket, along with Boh's and Yu-Bird's.
I regret to inform everyone that I will be abandoning this story. My brain hasn't been fed well these past few days, and most of my creative juices (if I had any) have run dry. Not to mention, my inner fangirl's getting weirder and weirder as the days pass. Truthfully speaking, I already wrote Chapter 15 days ago, but inner wasn't satisfied with it. In fact, so unsatisfied was she that she deleted said file and ordered me to write everything all over again.
I just hope that with this chapter, I managed to capture everyone's attention. But I'm really not going to continue anymore, I'm sorry.
And lastly... yes, that was just a joke. No, I'm not abandoning this story, and yes, I will end this, even if I have to miss a few hours of sleep. Why did I pull a joke on you, you ask? Well, it's because I'm FruitySmell, and I'm a fruitcake. And besides, who ever said that you can pull jokes only on April Fool's Day?
But back to the story... Hohoho, what's this? The gang is back! And they are off to rescue Haku again, because Haku is such a damsel in distress! Hohoho!
Anyway, a huge THANK YOU to those who left a review. I hope I was able to send everyone a private message containing my gratitude. If not, I apologize, and I give you the freedom to give me a virtual-slap. Ah, but before that, there is one person whom I cannot actually send a private message because she has no account in FF.
So, let me say THANK YOU to DeathTheKid20 for leaving me those lovely reviews. Also... what's this?! A Neji fan too? Dear God, woman! I need to talk to you personally! So I may pour all the "FEELS" I have since the introduction of Chapter 614.
(Last note as well. Are you, by any chance, a NejiTen fan too? -crosses fingers- )
Once again, thanks for reading. If you have the time, don't forget to leave a review. Thanks!