Part 2~ Weeeoo~
Eventually, I found my way back to the field, running down the steps where it ended, only to be greeted by...'Water?!' I yelped, very nearly falling head first into the river that most definitely hadn't been there before. Across the way, I could see the exit to the tunnel, fully illuminated and now surrounded by even more buildings. This had to be a joke...no way was I seeing all of this. Crouching down, pressing my head against my knees, I began to rock back and forth, repeating "I'm dreaming" over and over again as if it were a mantra my whole life depended on. Once I was sure I was awake, I raised my head, instantly noticing that I could see the ground through my legs. 'W-what?!' My legs, my hands, my whole body was translucent. Through my hands, I could see an old fashioned ferry boat docking against the steps, hundreds of figures of all shapes, sizes and colours descending and floating towards the town. With another terrified scream, I was scrambling back up the steps, quickly finding somewhere to hide and convince myself this was all a horrible dream.
Not long after I'd curled up into a ball behind a pretty run down house, I felt two hands press against my shoulders. Jerking away and backing up against the wall, I was greeted with the boy from earlier.
'Jeez, you're jumpy,' he commented, giving me a flat look.
'Get away from me!'
'I just want to help.'
'No! Get away!' Why wouldn't this wall just swallow me up? It'd make keeping away from this guy so much easier.
'Stop pulling that face and eat this!' He was trying to force a small red berry into my mouth, but I was having none of it. After more struggling, I finally managed to fall back through the wall, half of my body still left outside. I groaned quietly, sitting back up and giving the boy a wary look. He didn't seem to pleased either, and before I could make any more protests, the berry was shoved in my mouth. 'Swallow it.'
'It won't turn you into a fish.'
It tasted so gross...why couldn't he give me some of that nice smelling stuff from earlier. Swallowing it down, he finally gave me a softer look, taking my hand in his own. 'There, see? All better.'
'W-what did you say...about a fish?'
'Humans who eat the food of spirits need to be punished.'
I paled, instantly grabbing at the guy's shoulders. 'T-then Grandma...that fish...she...'
'...no...' I slumped back, dragging my fingers through my hair. 'W-where is she?'
'You can't see her now-' He quickly trailed off as he glanced over his shoulder before promptly shoving me up against the wall. 'Don't move.'
A white duck flew above us, peering across the rooftops and buildings as it went. From where I was, it almost looked like it was wearing a crown. I'd comment on how bizarre that is, but I don't think anything else could surprise me, really.
'That bird's looking for you...let's go.'
Some strange sensation surged through my arm as he grabbed it, breaking out into a sprint, pulling me along with him. I could only watch the scenes around us blur into one large mess as we whizzed past, manoeuvring through alleyways, down small staircases and across seemingly endless corridors. We briefly passed one that resembled a large aquarium, thousands of tiny fish fluttering about in an enormous tank. I could only wonder if Grandma was in there somewhere...
We eventually came to a large bridge, hundreds of the weird looking figures all crossing it at the same time. Considering the size of most of them, I'm surprised this old bridge was holding out. Then again...if these guys were spirits, they couldn't weigh too much.
The bridge lead to a large, old fashioned building, keeping with the theme of the whole town. It resembled a bath house, but I couldn't be sure. If only I had internet connection...then I'd be able to look up what they actually looked like back in the day...
'You need to hold your breath when we cross this,' the boy explained, keeping me close.
I cringed. 'W-we're going in there?'
'Is it a problem?'
'Of course it's a problem! I wanna get out of this place.'
He gave me a flat look before giving my arm a sharp tug. 'You can't right now. Stop complaining and cross the bridge.'
It didn't go well.
We'd only just set foot on the thing before some weird slimy creature touched my arm, causing me to scream, every single spirit in the area turning to look at me, almost perfectly in sync.
'Idiot,' the boy muttered, dashing through the crowd and hurriedly shoving me through a tiny door close the floor, movements too fast for most of the figures around us to notice. Within minutes, the staff working within the bathhouse were going nuts, calling out for help from someone called "Natsuki." I could only assume that this was the name of the person currently shoving me into a bush to keep me out of sight.
'Is that you? Are they looking for you?'
He adjusted his glasses before running a hand through his hair. 'Yeah. Good job. Everyone knows you're here now.'
'...and that's bad?'
I cringed again, moving a branch out from my face. 'W-what's going to happen to me?'
'Probably boil you in a stew. It's not often that a juicy human comes along.'
For a second there, I believed him and scrambled further into the bush.
Natsuki chuckled, leaning in. 'I'm kidding. We're not gonna eat you...anyway, you need to go down the stairs to the boiler room. Talk to the worker there and ask for a job.'
'...I thought you were helping me get out of here! I don't want a job!'
He clicked his tongue. 'Why are you humans so lazy?'
'What's this got to do with saving my Grandma?!'
'Nothing...well...you need to stay here until you save her. Getting a job and keeping your head down while you do that is important.'
'Can't I stay here?'
Natsuki raised his eyebrow, sitting back on his heels. 'You want to stay in a bush with a spider crawling up your arm?'
Another scream and a few flailings later the bush was no more and Natsuki was clamping his hand over my mouth. 'Will you shut up?! You're going to get us both in trouble if you keep making all that noise!'
Says the one who was shouting at me to keep me quiet...
He soon pulled away from me, getting to his feet. 'Wait until it's quietened down, alright, Yuki?'
'Wait...how'd you know my name?!'
'I know more than just your name...don't worry. I haven't been stalking you or anything,' he smirked. 'Stay hidden.'
I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of being left alone here, but I still gave a firm nod. Natsuki smiled before turning to leave, calling out to make the rest of the staff aware of his presence and stop panicking. He must've been some bigshot or something...
I waited a couple of minutes before following the directions Natsuki had given me and after very nearly falling down the creaky wooden steps, I found myself outside the door to, what I hoped was the boiler room. It was definitely hot enough to be the boiler room...This had to be the place.
Hesitantly, I opened the door, yelping as I was caught off guard by copious amounts of bubbles that came flying out of the room. The bubbles were lining the whole room, floating into every nook and cranny...it almost seemed like someone had put too much powder in the washing machine.
'Close the door!' came a shrill voice from deeper within the room. I instantly tensed up, stepping into the room and closing the door behind me, trying to manoeuvre towards where the voice came from. Sitting in the corner was a small blond boy, who was in the middle of pouring an extremely thick pink liquid into a huge tub of water, more bubbles floating up to the ceiling. He glanced over at me, purple eyes widening before he dropped the bottle into the mixture. 'Oh...oh no!'
I quickly rushed over to give him a hand with fishing it out of the tub, holding him by the shoulders to keep him steady and stop him from falling in too. The bottle had pretty much melted. 'Ah...that was clumsy of me. Now it's all out of balance...' The boy wandered over to one of the various drawers lining the walls of the room, picking out two more bottles and pouring a small amount of both into the mixing bowl. 'There...that's better...' He turned to look at me giving me a huge smile. 'Hello! Who're you?'
So enthusiastic... 'I'm Yuki...'
'I'm Haru! Why're you here, Yuki?' he chimed, cocking his head to the side.
'A-ah...I..I need a job.'
Haru blinked at me owlishly before clasping his hands together excitedly. 'You're here to help me?! Oh, wow! I've been asking for help for ages but no one's ever come! Thank you! This is all so difficult by myself!'
I gave the large mixing bowl a wary look. The thing was enormous...almost twice the size of a normal kiddie pool. And with all the substances in there and bubbles flying about, I couldn't even begin to guess how deep it was. 'What...do I need to do, then?'
'Weeellll~ Are you good with lifting heavy things? Coz I'm not. I'm not strong at all. It gets really hard to stir that when there's so much in there...'
'What is it exactly?'
'It's the water we use for the baths! My own special recipe. It's very good for your skin! Cleans the dirt right of! Customers come from other realms just to try it!'
Great...I didn't know the first thing about cosmetics...and this kid was really too happy considering his situation. Alone in this room with only bubbles to keep him company...was he even getting paid for this?
'Y-yeah...I can give it a go,' I mumbled, reaching over to grab the large wooden spoon resting on the edge of the tub. Haru wasn't exaggerating...it was really heavy. Still, it at least it meant I had a job. Haru seemed pleased at least, bouncing off to start collecting more ingredients from around the room, chattering away to himself...or maybe me...I wasn't too sure. I just kept quiet.
By the time my arms were starting to ache from the excessive stirring, a door on the other side of the room slid open and a rather tall man wearing a turban stepped inside. 'Haru, who on earth are you talking to?' he asked quietly.
'Akira!' Haru giggled excitedly, dashing over to greet the newcomer. 'I'm talking to Yuki! He's come to work with me!'
The man glanced my way before giving me a reproachful look. '...Where'd you find him?'
'Dunno. He just came in through the back door asking to help me.'
'I see...' Akira narrowed his eyes at me before moving closer, leaning right in until he was about an inch away from my face, causing the muscles in my face to instantly tense up, skin turning a deep shade of red, which seemed to cause Haru much delight. The man inhaled sharply before reaching around and grabbing me by the scruff of the neck. 'Found you.'
I let out a loud yelp, wriggling against the other's gasp, desperately trying to free myself.
'Everyone's been looking for you, human. Thought you could hide in here, did you?' He glanced back at Haru, raising his voice. 'What did I tell you about letting strangers in here?'
The blond whined, running over and grabbing Akira's arm, trying his hand at freeing me. 'But his hair is red! And his face! He's so cool! Can't we keep him? Pleeeeaaseeeeee~'
'But he needs a job! He wants to help me!'
'I'll go get him a job if he wants one so bad!'
'You said that about the last one and then you fed him to Tapioca!'
At that point, I finally protested. 'Please don't kill me!'
Akira blinked at me owlishly before pushing past Haru and setting me back down on the floor. 'I'm not going to kill you. Leave your shoes here and come with me.'
By now, Haru was sitting next to me, arms and legs folded and cheeks puffed, obviously not happy with the way things had turned out. To be honest, I wasn't either, but there wasn't much I could say in protest. He took my shoes from me and I reluctantly followed Akira out of the room.
'You better come back to visit, Yuki!' Haru called out before the door shut.