I am lost. I don't know who I am. I don't my name. Yubaba stole it from me. That theft has cost me my freedom and now I work as her apprentice, in the hope that someday I'll be able to remember my name and steal it away from her.
Until then, I am forced to go on these ridiculous missions for her, like my current one, to find a river spirit and fetch a favor from it that it owes her. In other words being Yubaba's apprentice is often more like being her messenger boy.
Which in this particular case also includes getting hit repeatedly over the head with a Purification Wand. "Don't you understand?" The spirit mocks whapping me yet again over the top of my head. He shows no concern for the ordinary humans that have gathered at the shrine, despite that he is dressed as a priest and should have acted more like one if only because people are watching.
I clutch my head defensively; it aches more than I'd ever admit. "Do you have to keep hitting me?" I question in frustration.
The old man face grins wickedly at me. "I'm just trying to help you understand."
"By knocking me out?" I snap furiously.
"The ways of spirits are mysterious." He teases.
I simply glare at him. He doesn't even shift around uncomfortably, so I am forced to speak first. "Are you going to fulfill Yubaba's request or not?"
"I owe her no gifts." He says firmly.
Of course he would want to be difficult about this. "A favor for a favor." I clarify.
His eyes watch me almost blankly.
"Years ago Yubaba did you a favor. Now she requests repayment for that favor. Not a gift a favor." I emphasize.
He doesn't move for several moments before nodding slowly. "Alright dragon boy. Come with me into the shrine."
He leads the way. We step into the shrine. It is surprisingly small, a single room lit by candlelight. I've always thought shrines would be bigger on the inside, but perhaps this spirit simply prefers a cozier dwelling than the sort of spirit that I am accustomed to running into in the bathhouse. As my gaze wanders around the small room, my eyes alight on a small pink shoe that sits on a pedestal in a corner. I jerk back in surprise. For an instant a memory of a pink shoe floating on water flashes through my mind, but as quickly as it comes the memory vanishes again, sinking into the depths of my mind.
The old river spirit is grinning mischievously as I manage to pull my attention from the shoe. "Remember something?" He asks his tone light and almost purposefully casual, but an eager glint in his eye seems to undermine this attempt.
I shake my head forcing the shoe from my mind, as it is so completely unrelated to my mission and the strange memory of it is meaningless to me. "The favor?" I repeat brusquely.
The spirit seems disheartened. "Here," He holds out a fist wrapped tightly around an object that is small enough to be hidden in his palm.
I hold out my palm beneath his fist. He drops something small and round into my palm. It is perhaps the size of a pea, small and red, hardly something that looks like a returned favor.
"Take care not to swallow it on the flight back." He instructs. "That is not for Yubaba, rather something you will need very soon."
I stare at him surprised.
He ignores the look. He turns away from me and rummages for a moment in the corner of the room behind him. "This is the favor for Yubaba." He holds out what looks like an ordinary quill.
"A quill?" I ask unable to contain my surprise.
"Yubaba will have uses for it." The spirit responds cryptically. "She likes the ink I make."
Tentatively I take the quill, dubious of it having any special qualities.
"Now go away." The spirit commands sounding abruptly crabby.
Wondering at his unexpected change of personality, I bow and make my exit of the shrine.
I take my dragon form out of the sight of the humans and begin a semi-leisurely flight back to the bathhouse. I can't take too long because it will be dark reasonably soon, but I have no reason to rush either. I merely have to arrive before Yubaba and she always returns after dark. She will expect my report as soon as she arrives, but I can easily be there before her, knowing that it will be dark by the time she returns.
As I fly, the pink shoe keeps appearing in my mind, floating on water, drifting away. But each time it appears in my thoughts I push it away. Dwelling on the mystery doesn't help anything because the pink shoe means nothing to me. I don't understand why I keep thinking of it. I try not make the comparison of the liquid motion of my flight being similar to swimming, it only brings the shoe back more often, and I don't want to constantly think of something that has so little meaning to me.
Although...as I consider it, the little pink shoe almost has to have some sort of significance to my lost memories, otherwise why would it be so hard to drive from my mind? This line of thought, if anything, is even more frustrating to me. Puzzles have never been particularly soothing to me, I prefer things black and white, easy to see and understand.
Not wanting to dwell on this anymore, I accelerate and try to get back to the bathhouse more quickly than I had originally planned. Anything seems better right now than thinking of that shoe.