Chapter 1 - Intruder in the Spirit World

Kohaku was bored. Bored and lonely. He wished he could return to the human world to search for his Chihiro, but he had found out that even though he was free from Yubaba's contract, he was still bound to the Spirit World. He had tried to go back, but he found it impossible.

After Chihiro, he had gone back to Yubaba and demanded that she set him free, for he knew his real name. She had, and he had joyously gone to the tunnel to find his Chihiro. But a barrier stopped him. He had gone back to Yubaba and demanded to know what was happening. Her words sent his blood cold, "You only said you wanted to be free from my contract, you never said you wanted to leave the Spirit World. Besides, you don't have a home there. Your river disappeared long ago."

All he remembered was that he felt as though his heart had stopped beating, and the next thing he knew he was dragon and flying over Yubaba's Herb Fields. He had tried to find other portals to the human world, but there were none. He had gone back to Yubaba's Bathhouse, and she had re-hired him, but not under contract (he didn't want to forget his name again), and now he was the Master of the Bathhouse, second only to Yubaba. She still controlled everything, but she also spent a lot more time with her sister, leaving him to look after things.

Now all he had were memories. He remembered Chihiro, as she had first come, brown eyes impossibly wide with fright, her soft skin touching his hand, the feelings that that simple touch had produced. He had been overwhelmed by the urge to protect her, from any harm, to hold her when she was scared.

But that was many years ago. He often wondered what his Chihiro had been doing. Wondering if she had forgotten him, if she had ever found love in the human world. About 17 years ago, he had thought he had seen a woman, who looked like his Chihiro walking around, but when he asked, no one could give a straight answer. When he eventually got an answer, it was to say that the woman had already passed back over the river.

He had changed in looks as well, and even though he still had dark aquamarine hair, most of it going down to his shoulders, he had let a section at the back of his head grow out down to his waist. He had tied a golden band around the part where the shoulder length ended and the waist length began, as well as another one halfway down. He had deep green eyes, and a very lithe, yet firm body. He looked about 20ish, although he was older than that; Spirits did live for such a long time. He wore a loose white kimono shirt, with aquamarine trims, and a tight pair of aquamarine pants, that went down to his feet, with an aquamarine and white belt around his slender waist.

Today Kohaku was doing a 'fly-by' over the Yubathouse, the best bathhouse for spirits to come and refresh themselves, in his dragon form. He still looked the same, white fur with aquamarine mane, but he was larger than he was before. He looked down and saw a very strange sight. It looked like a human girl, he couldn't see her face, but he could tell she was pretty, with long white hair, done up in a two plaits that went down to her thighs. He settled himself down on the top spire of the Bathhouse, the best place to see all that went on below.

He watched her finger a small locket around her neck, and look around. She then looked up at the waning sun and waited. The sun finally set, and she began to fade, as did most humans who came to the spirit world. But then he took a closer look. She had opened locket and taken out a small berry. She popped the berry in her mouth and chewed. She grimaced, as if she had tasted something quite bitter, but she persevered and swallowed. He watched in amazement as she came back into focus.

*She must have eaten a spirit berry from here,* he thought, *But how did she know that you had to eat something from this world to prevent fading away?* he wondered.

He had more cause to wonder as he saw that when the guests began to file over the bridge, she began to take a few very deep breaths, then take in one last one and start to walk over the bridge. She stopped on the other side, then quickly darted into the small door that led into the garden. Only then did she take a breath. He watched her go out the garden door and move carefully down the rickety old stairs and disappear into the boiler room.

He frowned. Something was not right with this scenario. The human girl knew too much about this place, what to do, where to go, for it to be a simple coincidence. He flew down from the spire and alighted on the top floor, changed back human, and began to make his way down the building, watching the guests file in and begin to take their baths. He walked past serving girls, taking food, and drinks to the hungry spirits. He passed the foreman, handing out the bath tokens.

He went out into the garden then moved over to the door. He went down the stairs into the boiler room to find a very pleased looking Rin and Kamajii. Even the sootballs looked happy. As soon as they saw him, they stopped smiling and Kamajii ordered the sootballs to continue working. Kohaku saw them carrying small candies in the shape of stars to their holes, then come back out again carrying the charcoal needed to heat the baths above.

He walked passed them, his dragon senses on alert, sniffing the air. He could detect the scent of human, but there was something else, lingering in the air with the scent, a something not quite...human.

"I know that a human girl came down here," he said moving passed them, looking around, "Rin? Is there a human girl here?"

Rin began to stammer, "A h...h...human girl?" she said, "Hahahaha...human girl? D...did you see a human girl Kamajii?"

Kohaku turned his dragon stare on the boiler man, who flinched and looked away.

"Human girl? No...there is no human girl here, Master Haku."

Kohaku looked at them carefully, and started to walk around again, getting the uneasy feeling that Kamajii's answer wasn't quite right. He turned his dragon stare on them one at a time. Rin shifted nervously, and he realised she was hiding something behind her back. With a swift move, he grabbed her arm and gently, yet firmly drew it out into the open.

"A roasted newt!" Kohaku cried, "Do you know how difficult it is to get these? Where did you get it?!"

"Ka...Ka...Kamajii gave it...to...me?"

He turned his gaze on Kamajii, who trembled once before darting a look at his personal cabinet. With a bound Kohaku was over there, rifling through the contents. As he was doing so, he realized something was missing.

"Where are the train tickets I gave you? I know you haven't given them to anyone here, and you yourself haven't gone on a train ride, so where are they?"

Kamajii ground his teeth once, before answering, "Ok, there was a human girl here. She just asked for the tickets, I gave them to her, and she left."

"You gave train tickets to an unknown HUMAN?!" Kohaku shrieked. He looked stunned before asking, "What ever possessed you to do such a fool thing?!"

"She asked very nicely..."

"And gave me the newt..."

"And some candies for the sootballs," were the answers from Kamajii and Rin.

Kohaku looked away from him then asked, "Where is she going? What is her name?"

"I didn't ask, and she didn't tell me."

Kohaku glared at them both. "I'll get to the bottom of this, and when I do..." he left the threat unspoken, but they all knew what the Great River Spirit could do.

As soon as Kohaku was out of sight, Kamajii said to Rin, "Quick! Quick! He must not see her! Go to Yubaba and tell her that she has arrived and Kohaku is going to confront her. Go! NOW!"

Rin raced up to Yubaba's quarters and banged on the door. The doorknocker said, "What is all this racket about? Rin, what is it?"

"She's here," said Rin breathlessly, "And Kohaku is suspicious."

"Hmmm... Leave it to me, I'll take care of it."

Rin turned and walked back down the stairs, confident that Yubaba knew what she was doing. In Yubaba's study Yubaba turned to her bird and told it to tell Kohaku to immediately come up to her study. The bird left, to fly to the train station.

As Kohaku ran out of the boiler room, and ran down to the train station, he saw the girl hop on the train. He was just about to turn dragon, to follow the train, when Yubaba's bird came with the summons. He grumbled, looking at the receding train, feeling quite trapped, then sighed, and began to make his way up to Yubaba's room.