Title: Basilisk (part 1 of ?)
Fandom: Mononoke/The Etched City (x-over)
Word count: 2632
Rating: PG
Date: Dec 02, '07


This is what the gunslinger saw, as he sat upon the bridge over the river of dreams:

A man (was it a man? The gunslinger wasn't quite certain) in a brilliant swirl of foreign robes, his pale face and nails painted brightly, most of his wheat-colored hair caught up in a purple scarf around his head. His lips, the gunslinger discerned, seemed curved in a perpetual mocking smile. The stranger stood at the far end of the bridge, a large wooden box borne upon his back, his mouth moving without a sound.


This is what the foreigner saw, as he stood at the edge of the bridge over the river of dreams:

A man (and it was certainly a man, albeit an uncommonly decorative one) in clothing no less elaborate than the foreigner's own, his long frock coat of a curious, leathery material that shone all in iridescent shades of black and green and blue. His skin was rice-white, his hair a long dark spill over his shoulders. Two pistols and a short sword hung from his hips. He reclined against the guardrail, black hat pulled low over his eyes for shade, spurred boots crossed over one another.

A lotus blossom lay discarded by his feet, its roots gored with blood and thicker things.


The foreigner stepped out onto the bridge; paused; and smiled.

Klok, klok, klok, sounded the foreigner's wooden shoes against the stone. The gunslinger watched the approaching man with lazy interest. The air shimmered and smeared in the mid-morning sun, and the foreigner's long sleeves fluttered like wings as he walked.

The man stopped abruptly by the gunslinger's feet. "Pardon my intrusion," said the colorful stranger; and it was most assuredly a man's voice, deep and slow and languid as the river below, softly accented with some lilt the gunslinger could not identify. "I wonder if I might ask from where this flower came?"

The gunslinger peered up from beneath the brim of his hat. The foreigner's face was as smooth as a mask. What had appeared to be a mocking smile from afar was in fact the deliberate illusion of one; his top lip was painted with a line of violet that flicked up playfully at the corners. The gunslinger found his own mouth curving, reflecting the grin automatically.

"It's something of a relic, I suppose," the gunslinger answered. "I don't need it."

"Then," said the stranger, "shall I throw it into the river?"

The gunslinger shrugged. "Go ahead. It might take better root now than it did before."

The foreigner put down his enormous pack. Something within it rattled mysteriously of its own accord. A stylized eye painted in gold looked out from the face of the box; a matching eye looked out from the back of the stranger's robes.

The foreigner bent down to retrieve the gruesome flower, lifting it to his nose to breathe the fragrance. His shoes then kloked their way to the side of the bridge.

The river's surface reflected the blue of the sky and sparkled in the sunlight; but beneath this, close inspection revealed its contents to be murky and foul. With a careless sweep of his arm, the foreigner flung the lotus down the long distance to the water. He watched for a moment as it drifted downstream. Then, returning to the gunman's side, he settled himself down beside him.

Waiting.

The gunslinger wondered what the man could be waiting for.

"I wonder," the stranger said, "if you might tell me where I am? I am unfamiliar with this city, and I believe I have lost my way."

"Ah," said the gunslinger. "The city is a labyrinth, and everyone in it is a foreigner, I'm afraid. You're not the only one. I used to know these streets quite well, but at the moment I seem to have no idea where I am."

"Ho...?" the stranger murmured. "Well, then I suppose we are lost together."

"I suppose we are," the gunslinger agreed. He tipped his hat at the man with gloved hands. "The name's Gwynn, for now. And you?"

A subtle smile played over the stranger's lips. "I am but a simple medicine seller," he said.

"A medicine seller, is it?" said Gwynn. "I wonder, then, if you might have any medicines of the more... recreational sort? Just to pass the time, you see. While we're lost together."

"Aah," said the Medicine Seller. "I might well have something to your tastes."

The Medicine Seller reached for his box.


-----



"A 'mononoke'?" Gwynn asked, trickling smoke from his lips.

"Yes."

"And what, precisely, might a 'mononoke' be?"

"You might best understand me if I were to say... A demon. A spirit which has become diseased."

"A demon," Gwynn repeated flatly.

"Yes," said the Medicine Seller.

"I thought you said you were a 'simple medicine seller'?"

"Yes," said the Medicine Seller.

"And you came here to find a demon?"

"I came here to kill," the Medicine Seller corrected, his teeth flashing small and white and very, very sharp. "The mononoke."

Gwynn had a sudden sense of this conversation having been predetermined. It felt like a conversation that had happened many times before. He fancied that he had been dropped into the midst of some sort of divine play; he had a specific part and a script to follow, though he did not know his lines until he spoke them. Though the feeling was rather disconcerting, a part of him rather liked the notion - he had always thought himself something of a performer.

However, he had more of a mind to define his role for himself.

He blew several thoughtful smoke rings, and returned the colorful stranger's pipe. Lifting it to his painted lips, the Medicine Seller proceeded to blow forth several pale, diaphanous butterflies, which fluttered through each of Gwynn's rings in turn before dissipating into the hazy air.

"Ah," sighed Gwynn with delight. "I once knew a man who could do just that. How nostalgic."

"Did you?" said the Medicine Seller. His blue eyes shone with amusement. "I did not think it was a very common skill."

"Indeed not. Those sorts of illusions aren't quite my forte, I'm afraid." Gwynn took the pipe proffered to him, and took another draught of its strange, fragrant smoke. It filled his head with a drowsy swirl of colors and a pleasant warmth.

"So," said Gwynn. "This mononoke. Where shall you find it?"

"Saa," said the Medicine Seller. "It would seem that the mononoke I came here to kill has already been destroyed."

"Is that so? You came all this way for nothing, then?"

"No," said the Medicine Seller. "Fortunately..." Another rattle came from the medicine box; Gwynn glanced at it curiously. The pipe changed hands. "It seems that another mononoke has appeared."

"Oh? Then where might this new beast be?"

"It is... nearby, I believe." The stranger smiled his enigmatic smile. "Forgive me for saying so, but you do not seem very surprised."

"I find very little surprising, in these mislaid days." Again the pipe passed between them. "Very little." Gwynn glanced over the man's slender white hands with their bright nails; his outlandish but beautiful clothes; his long, tapered ears; and his painted face, perfect as a sculpture, with its narrow, vulpine features and its sharp little teeth. "I would not be surprised, for instance," Gwynn said slowly, "if you were to tell me that you were the same sort of creature that you're hunting."

"The same... is it?" murmured the Medicine Seller. "Then... Would you be surprised if - for instance - I were to tell you that you were also one of these creatures?"

Smoke slowly streamed from Gwynn's mouth to form a bright white wreath around his head. "Hmm," he mused. "No, I can't say I'd find that particularly surprising, either."

They smoked for a while in silence. The bridge remained empty and still, and the sun burned hot on their covered heads. "So," said Gwynn at length. "How do you go about finding these demons, these mononoke?"

The Medicine Seller's mouth moved rapidly, silently, and he reached out with his hand. "My sword," he said after a moment. "It leads the way." The top drawer of the box beside him opened of its own accord. Out of it rose another, smaller box, this one covered in an assortment of quaint paper charms. The box came to rest on the ground in front the stranger. It then opened to reveal a small sword with a beautifully lacquered sheath covered in glittering jewels, its hilt carved with the terrible, grinning face of a fanged ogre.

Gwynn whistled through his teeth. "That's quite a piece of work. Mind if I take a look?"

"Please," said the Medicine Seller, bowing his head graciously. "Go ahead."

Gwynn reached over and lifted the sword in his hands. It seemed to him that the ogre's grin stretched a little wider as he held it; despite himself he felt a pang of unease. Wishing to see its blade, he tried to unsheathe it, but it held fast.

"It cannot yet be unsheathed," the Medicine Seller told him.

"'Yet'?" echoed Gwynn.

"I must first discover the katachi, makoto, and the kotowari of the mononoke," the Medicine Seller explained. "Its form, truth, and regret. What shape does it take? How did it come to be? And why did this come to pass? Until I know those things, the blade cannot be released."

"...I see," said Gwynn. He laid the sword back down in its box. Resuming his former position of comfortable recline, he returned his attention to the matter of the pipe. It was a very important matter, after all.

"If I might ask," started the Medicine Seller. "How did you come to be here, on this bridge? It may shed some light on our... situation."

"Well -" Gwynn winced uncomfortably. "This is slightly embarrassing, you see. There was a bar."

The Medicine Seller inclined his head, waiting.

"In the bar, there was a little girl in a green and silver dress."

"A little girl..." echoed the Medicine seller. "In a bar."

"She gave me the lotus; then she took my hand and led me here."

"And you no longer remember the way back?"

"I'm afraid not," sighed Gwynn. "It seemed almost like the streets were alive and shifting around on their own. I've never seen this bridge before in my life."

"Where did the little girl go?"

Gwynn knocked his knuckles against the guardrail. "Jumped."

"Oh?" said Medicine Seller. "A suicide?"

"No, I don't believe it was."

The Medicine Seller raised his brows, but did not comment. "Did you know the little girl?"

"No."

"Then why did you go with her?"

"Well," said Gwynn. "Firstly: what was a little girl doing in a bar? And why was she so unafraid of the many unsavory sorts around her? I've only known one other person so fiercely careless of her environment - and she, at least, was a grown woman." Gwynn nursed at the pipe, thinking. "I didn't know the little girl, but she seemed familiar somehow - her hand in mine was like something half-remembered from a dream. And the lotus - how had it come to be in her possession? I was merely curious, you see; I wanted to know who she was, why she was there, and what she wanted from me."

"Curious indeed," the Medicine Seller agreed. "And the lotus? Was it something you recognized?"

"Oh, yes," said Gwynn. He did not elaborate.

After a pause, the Medicine Seller murmured, as if to himself: "It must have needed a way back to the river." He, too, declined to elaborate, breathing out long ribbons of sweet, thick smoke.

"Do you suppose," Gwynn asked, "that this little girl is your mononoke?"

"Saa," said the Medicine Seller. "It may be a possibility."

"You don't think that she is."

"No," the Medicine Seller agreed. "I do not."

"I didn't think so either. Still, it was a very strange thing."

"Well..." The second drawer of the strange box opened with a soft, dry creaking. "There are many spirits that may not belong in this world. Even if I were to try, I could not possibly destroy them all. A mononoke, however, is a different matter." Out of the drawer rose up a small, colorful metal object, vaguely triangular in shape; it floated over to balance on the tip of the Medicine Seller's outstretched finger, whereupon two little bells dropped with a jingle from the top two corners, suspended from strings. "If it is a mononoke," the Medicine Seller finished, "I must definitely destroy it."

"I see," said Gwynn, watching him. "And that thing you're holding is...?"

"Scales."

"Scales," repeated Gwynn flatly. Again he was possessed of the sense that he was repeating lines from a script, one that had been acted out many times before -

"Scales to weigh what?" he asked, curiously unable to stop himself.

"These scales do not measure weight; they measure distance."

"Distance?" Gwynn asked - or rather, the script asked through him.

"The distance," the Medicine Seller answered, "to the mononoke."

"Of course," said Gwynn.

"Of course," the Medicine Seller agreed.

They stared at each other.

"I wonder," said the Medicine Seller, drawing the word out. "I have never seen a coat such as yours before. Is it made of snakeskin?"

A grin slowly spread across Gwynn's lips. "Of a sort, you might say," he answered.

"It is a beautiful garment."

"Isn't it, though?" Gwynn fussed with his cuffs. "I'm rather fond of it."

"Might I ask you," said the Medicine Seller, slowly moving the scales from right to left before Gwynn's face, "from where you got it?"

Gwynn felt the rest of the script unfolding before him. In the clouds of smoke he could almost make out images - familiar images; memories of things that had not yet happened. He started to chuckle softly, and found he could not stop for several moments. Collecting himself, he pushed up off of the ground to stand before the colorful stranger, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"My dear fellow," he said, raising his other hand apologetically. "Allow me a short digression." He unsheathed his sword, holding it out for the Medicine Seller's inspection. Light gleamed down the curved blade, almost blinding. "This sword of mine wasn't forged for fighting demons, but I've had it for a very long time, and it has served me well. Though for a short time I lost it, I soon found it again, and I haven't been parted from it since. Would you like to know the name I gave it, a very long time ago?"

The Medicine Seller waited in silence.

"'Gol'achab'," said Gwynn. "It's from my native tongue. Do you know what it means?"

Again, the Medicine Seller waited.

"It means, 'Not my funeral.'" He returned Gol'achab to its sheath. "Do you understand what I am trying to say?"

"I think..." murmured the Medicine Seller, his lips curling wryly as he lifted his eyes to meet Gwynn's. "That I may have a fair idea."

"Well, then," said Gwynn, and bowed low with a sweep of his arm. "Our conversation here has been truly delightful, and I thank you for the experience - and for whatever wondrous substance you put in that pipe. However..." He straightened, and took several easy steps backward to the opposite railing, a shit-eating grin spreading across his face. "You can't possibly expect I'll help you to kill me," he finished; and with that he leapt lightly over the railing and disappeared entirely.


The Medicine Seller lifted his pipe to his lips, and blew out a long stream of smoke. "My, my," he murmured. "This will be most difficult."

He stood, smiling eagerly.
.

lim⋅i⋅nal ho⋅ri⋅zon

–noun
a place only seen through a green door.

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