Ines Johnson

Spirited Away Chapter Twenty-Four

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Spirited AwayChapter Twenty-Four: BURDENS

Shanti rested her head against Hsing’s chest. Her body felt exhausted. She thought she heard the sound of two heart beats. Then she thought she felt two beats on different sides of her face.

“Yes, I have two hearts.” Hsing wrapped his arms around her and the world fell away from them.

“Is that what makes your kind go crazy? Because you love twice as hard?”

When Shanti heard his sharp inhale she wanted to take the words back as soon as she said them.

“The process of circulating liquid through the body is different from circulating pure energy. Love is a concept in the mind, not the circulatory system.”

It was an explanation she would’ve given only a few days ago. Love wasn’t real. It was made up. But that was before she’d met Chen and he’d burned himself into her single heart, made it beat twice as fast whenever he was near. Chen loved her and she knew that was real. She knew it in her mind, her body, her soul. And she felt the same way about him.

Hsing didn’t love her, he tolerated her. But that was okay. She enjoyed the way he tolerated her. And, if she was honest with herself, his pushing and prodding her to walk her talk was making a difference in her. Both of them were.

Shanti looked away from the male that looked so much like the one who loved her, the one she loved in return. She looked away from Hsing, but she didn’t let him go. She let Hsing be her strength, her anchor. She knew that, although he didn’t love her, he would never let anything happen to her, never let any harm befall her.

It was barely a breath before they were on the heliopad and beaming up. Shanti looked down to see the Earth falling away from her, out of her reach. She felt something feather-light running down the side of her face. She assumed it was a tear from her worries over Chen. But it wasn’t. It was a hand. Hsing’s hand. The gentleness of the movement caught her completely off guard. Her heart stuttered, sounding as though there were two organs inside.

“I will bring him home to you, little one.”

Shanti turned her head into the cradle of Hsing’s large hand, and wonder of wonders, he let her. He guided her head back to his beating hearts and allowed her to rest there.

A sense of safety, security washed over her.

Shanti had been fiercely independent her entire life. She’d never allowed herself to lean on anyone. But now, she allowed all of her weight to rest on the strong post of Hsing.

Hsing’s arms tightened around her. Shanti felt herself lifted off the ground. They were still moving, not up but forward. And it was no longer the whooshing stream of air sounding in her ears from the heliopad. She heard words, shouts really. They were in the lyrical tongue of the Eloheem, but somehow she understood every one of them.

“Pakua, follow these coordinates. It appears their ship was stationed in the western hemisphere of the planet.”

Shanti looked up to see the dark purple Eloh, Pakuua, nod and punch in coordinates on the command center. There were other Eloheem around her, including Niao who looked at her with wide, teary eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Shanti,” the little boy said into her mind.

Shanti tried to step away from Hsing, but he held her firm. He peered down into her face, searching her eyes. Shanti opened her mouth to speak, to tell him that she was okay, that she just wanted to go to Niao and comfort him.

Before she could open her mouth, Hsing nodded. With a squeeze of her hand, followed by a fleeting brush of her temple, he released her. He walked past her, barking urgent orders. Shanti stood still for a moment. Her legs felt wobbly without him.

She took a deep breath to steady herself and then she made her way over to Niao. The young child wouldn’t meet her eye when she knelt down to be on his level.

“Niao?”

“It is my fault.” His lips trembled. “My father took Chen-Na from us. He wants to send us to the next life so that he will be free of any link. He’s going to use Chen-Na to accomplish his goals.”

Shanti wanted to dispute what he was saying, but something in her knew it was true. She looked over to where Hsing had went off to. His eyes were trained on her and Niao, a shadow crossed his stern face. It seemed to sink down his neck, over his shoulders.

Shanti stood, unable to stand the thought of it going any further. She turned to Niao and squeezed his hand. “We’re going to find him.”

Niao nodded, a light of hope in his eyes.

Shanti turned and made her way to Hsing. Without thinking, she reached out to him. Her hand met brick when it touched his shoulder. “We’re going to find him,” Shanti repeated the words to Hsing.

Hsing didn’t answer her verbally or psychically. He clenched his jaw and then he shrugged off her hand and went to the command console. He all but shoved Pakua from the seat and took the controls. The ship lurched under his hand. Everyone reached out for stability.

A blip came onto what looked like a radar screen.

“There they are,” Pakua said.

Shanti could feel the ship accelerate. She watched the screen. They were going faster, but the distance between them and the dot on the screen seemed to get larger and larger until it went out of sight completely.

Hsing smashed his fists against the console. No one spoke. Everyone looked at him with large eyes as though he were about to burst. Or worse, go insane.

“Hsing?” Shanti’s voice was low when she spoke.

He didn’t respond. He ran his hand over the cones atop his head.

“Hsing,” she tried again. But this time she called out to him from within. She knew he heard her when he sighed. “Hsing, come here. I need you.”

He closed his eyes. For a long moment. She didn’t think he would come.

Finally he rose. “Stay the course,” he said to Pakua, relinquishing the command center.

Hsing preceded Shanti out of the room.

“I have to get off this ship,” he said. “When they kill him, I’ll go mad.”

“He’s not dead. We’d feel it if he were, wouldn’t we?”

“It’s my duty to protect everyone. They left me in charge.”

“Hsing, we can still find him. We just have to-“

“I’ll kill you. With my bare hands. I’ll likely come to you first because you live in my very soul. That’s what happened to them. They destroyed everything good about themselves. I may be in charge but Chen is the best of both of us. And you…you are bringing out the best in me.”

Hsing’s eyes glazed over her. He was open and vulnerable. For a moment, the weight surrounding him felt stifling to her. She’d never shouldered another person’s burden. Never had gotten close enough to. Shanti wrapped her arms around Hsing’s broad shoulders.

“They’re hurting him, Shanti. Can’t you feel it? I can feel his pain.”

She did feel his pain. She felt both of their pain.

“You have to get away from me, little one.” But he did not pull away from her. He seemed to slump deeper into her embrace.

“You need to forgive yourself, Hsing. You take responsibility for everything and you won’t let anyone shoulder the burden. Your parents left you with an awesome task and you did better than anyone could’ve expected. You have nothing to feel ashamed for.”

Shanti had trouble keeping the irony out of her voice. She could’ve been telling her own life story. Her own parents, though they loved her, they had left her to her own devices at such a young age. Given her far more independence than she was ready for, and she’d never learned to share any of her own burdens either.

“Since the moment I met you,” she continued, “you’ve told me that I don’t know my own mind. And you were right. I didn’t. But you always knew. You know me and you know yourself. You don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t believe that you will. We’re your family.”

Hsing swallowed. There was still doubt tensed in his shoulders, but he was listening to her.

“I know that you care about each being on this ship. Chen said there’s power in humbleness. Admit that you can’t do this alone. Let me help you Hsing. Let us all help you.”

Hsing rested his coned head against hers. Shanti placed her hands on his shoulders again. They were still hard, but now there was some give.

Hsing leaned into her. His weight was heavy, but Shanti took as much as she could bear.

And then she heard it.

No, they heard it.

Hsing opened his eyes wide and blinked at her. “Can you hear him?”

Shanti nodded. Her heart raced, and then her anger boiled. “Don’t worry. Once we get him back, I’ll kill him myself.”

In unison, they both turned and marched down the hall. Chen had sent them message down the bond link. A message they both intended to ignore.

“Let me go,” he’d said to them.

Like hell they would.

Stay tuned next week for the next installment!