"I've seen all of it now," he said, his voice gone strange and thin and papery, the chink of his sword's teeth still trembling on the air. The grin that stretched across his bloodied face was stripped down to the gleaming sharp curve of a blade. "Your truth. Your regret. I've seen it."

It was fortunate, he thought. Fortunate, because it was conceivable that he would not have survived for much longer. Had he died here, the mononoke would not have been scourged from this place. The eagerness burned hot within him, and he lifted the yoke, unleashed it into the world.


He danced on puppet strings as his other slid out of him, and it was a relief to give himself over to the killing, to the purpose of his existence.


Kayo crept her way near to him, her eyes wide and stinging with horror as she watched, watched him continue to move as though the swipe of the thing's claws had not just nearly disemboweled him, as though blood were not pouring from his lips. The blade passed from his hand to the golden creature that spoke with his voice, breathed with his breath, and then the mirror, as they danced. And surely it was a dance; it couldn't be called anything else. Even as he bled his life out onto the floor, still he danced.

And even now, even as she crouched in terror for her life, and for his, she couldn't look at that creature and his blade arcing through the air without her chest aching at the beauty of it.

Finally the thing succumbed, its glittering remains falling through the air like confetti. The Medicine Seller swayed; Kayo rushed up behind him, and he fell into her arms with a soft grunt. He was far heavier than he looked. She sank down to her knees, cradling his head in her lap.

Her heart panged against her ribs as she saw his face - it was still bare of its colorful markings. She had watched him before, watched his face wiped clean whenever his strange partner emerged; she wasn't quite certain, had been too distracted to pay close enough attention before - but hadn't they reappeared immediately those other times, as soon as the mononoke had been destroyed?

Was he breathing? She wasn't sure he was breathing.

She glanced up, looking for the other one. Then she let out a squeak of surprise; the shining man was right there, towering over them. Her breath strangled off in her throat, and she suppressed the ridiculous urge to cover her eyes against the heartbreaking, terrifying brilliance of him. A god, she thought. He must be a god. Perhaps this man in her arms was merely his earthly shell.

Well. Even if he was a god, she had more immediate things to worry about right now than bowing in supplication. But she couldn't seem to tear her gaze away no matter how she tried; those alien eyes of his held her trapped like a rabbit.

The creature knelt down, his snowy hair falling like a cloak around all three of them, brushing against Kayo's cheeks as it swept forward. He smelled of scorched earth and cinders. His face bent down toward her, and she was possessed of the sudden, insane notion that he was going to kiss her; but his lips just quirked into a faint smile, and the golden markings bled out of his dark skin.

And then he was gone.

She blinked, startled. It wasn't that he had disappeared before her eyes; it seemed more like time had just escaped through a crack somewhere, and the moment in which he had left her presence had simply been lost.

"My apologies, Kayo-san," came the Medicine Seller's voice, faint but steady. Kayo jolted, and looked down. His face was painted again, a sweep of garish color across his grayed skin. His eyes were still closed. "He has never had much... restraint." She felt the muscles of his shoulders tighten, his arms moving as if to push himself up; but she didn't even have to try and stop him before he gave up, his face twisting in pain. He did not open his eyes.

"You -" Her hands clenched in the fabric of his kimono. "You stupid man!"

"Kayo-san," he said, "you're crying."

"I'm not -" she started, but then her breath hitched and she saw her own tears dripping down onto his cheek. She sniffed, and angrily wiped her eyes with a fist, smearing his blood across her face. "But you're not even looking," she snapped pettishly.

His mouth curled infuriatingly; even with his chin a mask of red, he managed to look satisfied with himself. She'd hit him, if she wasn't afraid it would be enough to kill him.

"I will not die," he said.

"I know that," she snapped, sniffing again. "But you might have."

"It's possible, yes." His eyes slit open a fraction, and he took a deep, rattling breath. "I am done here. I must leave."

"You - you can't even move! You need treatment!"

"That won't be necessary," he said, sounding amused. "But I suppose you may... treat me, if you like. I have many excellent salves. I could tell you how to prepare them, and how they are... applied."

"Stupid," she said again; but her cheeks flushed, and the corners of her mouth twitched traitorously.

"I would not mind resting here for a moment. You are a very soft pillow, Kayo-san."

"Be quiet and rest then," she said, but there was no heat in it.

His eyes drifted closed, and he smiled.