Spirited Away
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A chill seeps into the bones of your arm, waking you from your sleep. The cold more clear as you wake.

Opening your eyes you find yourself in a dark room, lying prone on the stone floor with nothing but old rags for clothing. Your hands and feet lay bare on the cold floor, covered in a film of dirt.

Light throbbing on the back of your head interrupts your thoughts. You struggle to remember what happened.

What... happened...

Something has changed. Although you cannot identify what has changed, a nagging feeling persists and lingers in the corner of your mind. As much as you want to keep thinking over your situation, the floor continues to chill you, stealing the remaining vestiges of warmth from your body.

You roll onto your front and push yourself up from the ground. The rags brush over your chest. The rough fabric rubs against your skin, causing a weird sensation to run down your back. Your normal clothing may have been of better quality, but never had you felt such a reaction to a little contact friction.

The lack of light makes it hard to see far beyond your own body and impossible to make out details besides those close enough to touch. You reach out and find the wall.

More stone, without the slightest surface layer of cover.

Stone floor. Stone walls. If the wall wasn't so smooth it could have passed for a convincing cave. Pushing the distracting thoughts to the back of your mind, you place your palm to the wall for support and keep it to your left. You follow it, looking, listening and feeling for any key features.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The day had started out well. Your best friend Tony had invited you to watch the latest blockbuster to hit the big screen. There was no way you could refuse. Janet, the hottest girl in the school, would be there and if you weren't then how could you get her to notice you? You weren't one of the popular guys, even on the best of days.

Chances were she didn't know I existed.

The movie was fun, but you had no chance to impress her. Not when you couldn't even get near her to say hello. The after party was just as bad, your friends never left you alone, blocking any attempts you might have made to go introduce yourself. Sometimes you would get an odd feeling like a predator had targeted you with its gaze, dissuading you from making any foolish moves.

The party soon ended and everyone was taking off back home when you spotted an opportunity. Janet was waving off the last of her friends and entered an alley alone.

You found it odd she would walk down a dark alley in one of the roughest areas in the neighbourhood. But in your haste to follow, you pushed aside the thought.

The alley was dark and quiet, the lack of activity giving it an ominous, spooky vibe. Despite entering close behind Janet, she was nowhere in sight. No shadowy silhouette, no sound of footsteps, just the night breeze rolling by devoid of scents.

You couldn't have been that far behind her. You were certain she had entered this alley before you and yet here you stand, looking down an empty pathway. Disappointment set in as you recognised another lost opportunity. Maybe it wasn't to be, maybe your friends were right, and you were reaching too far out of your league. But at least you tried, and that's the important part. Tomorrow will come and with it a more realistic goal.

You turned to leave, but saw a figure moving in the shadows. Before you can focus, a sharp pain spread from the back of your head. Your legs collapsed, sending you sprawling across the squalid cobblestone path. The pain too great to stand. Unable to organise your thoughts, never mind control your legs.

You pushed at the ground beneath you, succeeding only in rolling onto your back. The shadowy figure walked out into the light looking down on you, their face visible under the scarce light. Janet. A distorted smile on her face, an expression of ecstasy and bloodlust.

Garbled sounds ring out in the alley as you sought to form coherent words and fail. You continued your futile attempts, blacking out soon after.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

After turning right twice, you bump into something resembling a small table. The table has nothing on it and the lack of further sounds tells you that nothing has fallen to the floor. Past the table you feel a wooden surface instead of stone, arm-length in width and taller than you can reach.

You reach around for a handle having found the door. You find the handle on the right side above your shoulder.

Surprised at the unexpected find, slight confusion sets in as you wonder about the weird dimensions of the door. Why would the handle be there? Is the room meant for a race of giants, or maybe the handle acts as a barrier to deter the short and immature snooping around. At five feet nine inches, you could be certain you were at least average height if not above average. What size of person would require a door handle so far up?

Not now. Focus. I need to focus. If I am to find out what happened, I mustn't let myself get distracted.

You try to clear your head and focus at the task at hand. Holding tight the door handle, you turn and pull as hard as you can. It grinds along as if years of rust have determined to make the door impassable.

Relief wells up in you as you hear the latch grind free from the strike plate, allowing the door to swing open on its hinges. Overjoyed, you rush out. The passage, no brighter than the room, leads towards a single direction. It seems your room was in the deepest corner of this damnable place.

You walk down the path in complete darkness, passing door after door, all locked and identical to the door that barred your own cell. There are no sounds coming from any of the locked rooms you pass, leaving you to assume they were empty, the alternative being too horrifying to dare imagine. Having seen only the insides to your own room, you ponder whether all the rooms are the same or if some have more sinister features. Pictures and stories of mediaeval torture rooms from history class and many horror movies come to mind before you banish the thought.

Only now you are in this situation do you feel that the sounds of torture would be a welcome release. The darkness blocks your vision. The silence penetrates to your core. At least with torture there would be screams and with screams you must have other people, most likely your abductor and fellow victims. The silence, however, is much harsher. It reminds you of how alone you are. Your isolation from the world. The silence hammers into you how futile it would be to try calling out for help.

The ground beneath your feet wears away at your energy, the prolonged walk without protection leaving many bruises and small cuts across the soles of your feet.

After minutes of walking, following a slight curve to the right, the ground feels cleaner and harder. You set foot onto the bottom step of a spiral staircase leading above.

Torch-light illuminates the staircase, releasing you from the confines of the void that surround you. The flames on the torches don't burn the bright orange you would expect, but light the room in a calm azure glow. The light feels warm to the touch, yet slipping a finger near the flame, you feel not the slightest bit of heat. Illuminated by the flames, your skin glows with the same gentle azure light.

Torches line the wall, hanging loose from a chain and hoop. Although the torch feels light in your hands, you struggle to move the chain and achieve only a low rattling noise, the hoop unmoved. Frustrated by your weakness you move on and continue ascending the flight of steps.

The stairs wind upwards for what feels like hundreds of steps and open out in a rundown courtyard. Piles of rubble litter the ground. Walls half collapsed, gone entirely in places.

"What happened here?"

Awe washes over you as fear creeps into your voice. The pitch masked by your lungs ridding themselves of the dust inhaled in the underground. It sounds different somehow, but you suppose that is normal with a throat full of dust.

"Is there anybody out there? Hello..."

No matter how many times you yell out, no response ever comes.

You look around once more and understand why. These ruins must be old. Not just years, but centuries, perhaps even millennia should have passed to become so dilapidated. Dust coats the walls. Dirt covers the floor. Moss and vines growing from exposed surfaces everywhere. It looks like the forest has been hard at work reclaiming the site and was halfway there.

This makes little sense. Why am I here? What happened after I got attacked and why can I not remember any of it?

Only after looking around again do you notice things previously missed. The sky is dark and full of clouds. A full moon hangs high in the sky above a crescent moon.

It must be night... wait, two moons? Am I hallucinating or are they real? Curiosity sprouts in your mind.

Waking in a dark room wearing nothing but rags and climbing a staircase lit by blue flames without heat opens your mind to the possibilities.

Close to your current position you can see a dilapidated castle, its walls overrun with vines but almost entirely intact. A small wooden door stands ajar, allowing you inside.

Well. It's a better option than staying out here in the miserable cold. If those clouds are anything to go by, it should rain soon.

Finished convincing yourself, you enter the castle and escape the cold night winds. More torches like those in the staircase light the way and make it easy to find your way around.

I wonder what that place I woke up in was. A cellar? Or maybe a prison. Did I warrant being thrown in prison though? Ah, damn it. If I could remember what happened, maybe I would at least know what is going on right now and what I am supposed to do about it...

Countless doubts and emotions pass through your mind. You continue to explore the ruins of the castle. The door you entered must be the servants' entrance because you find the kitchen, pantry and servants' quarters soon after.

How nice, having the servants all tucked away, where no one can see them do all the dirty work. your expression stiff, your thoughts dripping with sarcasm.

You pass by some large empty rooms, assuming they must have once been the dining room, ballroom and grand hall.  The furnishings having long fallen to rot and decay, nothing but sheets of torn cloth remain, piled in heaps by the walls.

Those must have been the banners with the family crest emblazoned on them.

You enter the last room and ascend the staircase to the next floor. The rooms on this floor are in much better condition than those below. Various wall banners, cupboards and desks bear the marks of an old conflict, some chairs and benches surviving, aged but unharmed.

Isn't this castle in ruins? Why is the furniture in such good condition? this is nothing like what I saw below.

All the rooms on this floor appear to either offices or barracks. An armoury lies at the east wing of the floor, complete with rusted weapons and degraded armour. You search through the room and leave disappointed with your loot. Something serious must have happened, you feel so much weaker than you remember being. You couldn't use the gear that were several sizes too large, but at least should be capable of lifting or moving them around.

Yet no matter how hard you exert yourself, you can only lift a dagger with a narrow blade. The dagger looks like a stiletto only bigger and while not much to look at, at least you have some self protection.

The dagger looks too fancy to be in a castle armoury. Maybe it was left behind by a noble. Running your fingers across the handle you make out a small carving. Unfortunately, the dagger has aged too much to indentify the crest that was one there.

You head out of the room and head to another set of stairs to ascend yet another floor. At first you thought just the design of the doors were odd. But with torch-light illuminating the castle halls you realise that the dimensions of every door look the same as normal, just at a larger scale. Upon arriving on this floor you noticed that not only the doors were large, everything else was too. The surviving furniture made it look like the castle was for a race of half-giants. Maybe being 6 feet tall was on the shorter end of the spectrum for the past inhabitants.

Climbing the last flight of stairs you are let out onto a floor with but a single door leading to a room. In the hallway before the room are various couches, lounge tables and bookshelves of high quality. Every piece of furniture is in pristine condition. You could find no layer of dust on the walls, the floor or any of the rich tapestries lining the wall. It all seemed as if it was cleaned only moments ago by a team with almost godly skill.

My mom is a clean-freak and even she couldn't get rooms this clean.

The stray thought deflates your excited mood.

That's right, my mother must be looking for me. I went to a party and then just disappeared. Oh God, I hope she doesn't suffer a breakdown or something because of me.

Your mood calmed by the sobering thought, you snap out of your distraction and test the door to the last unexplored room.

If the previous results are anything to go by, then something amazing must be behind this door.

The door clicks and swings open, smooth and light on its hinges. Not a single groan or squeak from the door. You see no locks or bolts anywhere. It must have been guarded by those using the armoury downstairs. Maybe in the past, two guards would stand in front of the door, barring all unauthorised entry.

Past the door you find a room the size of a small house. Soft white lights line the walls. A canopy bed stands against the farthest wall. Covered in velvet, down pillows and silky sheets. The mattress must be a queen-size at the smallest. Stood near the bed is a full-length mirror. The mirror looks similar to the exotic ornate mirrors of renaissance France before the fall of the monarchy.

You find two doors in the room besides the one you entered. A brief check of each reveals an en-suite bathroom with a bath the size of a small pool and a walk-in closet. Dresses and outfits of all shapes, styles and colours fill the closet. Shoes line the bottom of the walls, heels, boots and pumps everywhere, placed beneath the dress or outfit you suppose they pair with. Drawers full of inners and corsets, accessories and jewellery, Tights, leggings and stockings, yet not a single sock.

Judging by the clothing, this room must have once been residence to a very wealthy noble lady. The lack of anything resembling a throne room eliminates the possibility of this castle being host to a royal family. On hindsight, you suppose it should have been obvious. The castle is large by Earth standards, but the low number of rooms would suggest it is not large enough to have been so important.

With nowhere left to explore and nothing better to do, you return to the bathroom to wash off all the dirt and dust, courtesy of your time spent underground. You turn the faucet of the bath and release the hot water before walking over to the washbasin to clean your face. The basin looks like a large bowl engraved with fancy decorations covered in gold leaf. You could swear you saw the basin flash for a moment, but chalk it up to exhaustion from a long, painful and tiring day of exploration.

The basin fills with warm water and you wash off the dirt and grime covering your face. Though you haven't been sweating, your face feels covered in a layer of grime. A mix of dirt, water and dust cake the surface of your skin and you revel in its removal. As you reach out for a cloth or towel to wipe down your face, a strand of hair drooping past your eyes catches your attention. For years you have kept your hairstyle short and easy to manage, so why do you now see a shoulder-length strand of obsidian black?

What is this? My hair isn't supposed to be black. I have a light brown, inherited from my father's side of the family. Did the person who abducted me do something to my hair? What else have they done?

You look up at the face-sized copper mirror above the basin, but struggle to make out any details. You know something is wrong, but no matter how you tilt your head, you cannot make out anything besides more strands of hair covering your eyes.

The mirror in the bedroom.

As soon as you remember the full-length mirror by the canopy bed, you rush as fast as possible without tripping. A sense of crisis and urgency in your mind.

For the first time since waking in this desolate place you note your current appearance. The darkness of the dungeons made it impossible and the awe of seeing a castle in person had distracted you from any other endeavours.

Stopping to catch your breath, you walk to the front of the mirror and inspect the reflection. You find a small female child with a soft round face, bright eyes and shoulder-length obsidian black hair. The once freckled, tanned skin now as white and clear as porcelain. Even covered in dirt, you can see the child would grow to become a stunning beauty. Rags like a worn burlap sack dress the girl, a few sizes too large.

You make out two small mounds on the girl's chest. Dainty hands and feet hang where coarse, bony limbs once hung. Looking at the girl's face you realise the eyes aren't just bright, they are glowing. No iris or pupil shows between the eyelids, just a deep darkness, home to countless miniature stars.

A small button nose and small cherry coloured lips sit beneath her eyes. You continue to examine the girl's face as if locked in a trance; tilting your head side to side and the girl in the reflection mimics you. No matter how you position your head or pull back your hair, you cannot find your ears. They must be somewhere because you can hear; without ears you would be deaf, so where could they be? As you focus on your ears, you feel a slight twitch from the top of your head. Two small folds of flesh lay embedded in your hair atop your head. You poke at them and they continue to twitch at the odd sensation. The repeated touching causes the folds to raise, displaying a small pair of cat-like ears. The two triangular ears pivot in all directions at various speeds as you try to familiarise yourself with your new appendages.

You can hear the air currents drifting around the room without having to turn your head even the slightest bit. The sound of cloth rustling as you breathe enters your ears as if happening right beside them.

Shock sets in as you realise that the mirror-girl is you. An impossible situation has appeared before your eyes and to refute it would be to turn away from reality. You realise that the castle and its rooms and furniture are not designed for a race of half-giant people. It is just that you have shrunk to almost half of your previous size. Everything only looks bigger because you are now so much smaller.

"No. This can't be real. I have to be dreaming. You don't just wake up in a body so different from your own one day and act like everything's normal..."

You pace back and forth, getting faster and more crazed with every step.

"Yes. This is all just a dream. A very realistic dream. Any moment now my mom will call me or my alarm will go off and I will wake up... Yes, that must be it. All of this was just a crazy hallucination caused by too much partying and my drink being drugged. That's more logical... right?"

"All I need to do is figure out how to wake up. Right? Maybe if I-"

Before you can continue, a knock reverberates throughout the room. You focus toward the sound, your ears peak and alert, but no matter how you try, you detect nobody nearby.

After a short pause the knocking resumes once more. A muffled voice calling out from beyond the door, a sense of urgency in their tone.

Though dangerous it may be, you catch your breath and walk over to open the door.

What's the worst that could happen...

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