Mononoke x-over ficlet. Ginko comes to a strange town with a strange ailment, and meets an even stranger fellow traveler...
Two travelers sat side-by-side on the terrace of a soba shop, right at the outskirts of a small town. One smoked a slightly crumpled-looking cigarette, eying the other up and down with subtle incredulity.
"A medicine seller," Ginko repeated flatly.
"Yes..." the other man answered, drawing the word out slow and languid as syrup. His voice made the hairs on the back of Ginko's neck prickle. This was definitely the strangest person he had ever met; and he had met a great many very strange people. "Just an ordinary... medicine seller."
And then the top of the "medicine seller's" painted box flipped open of its own accord, revealing a small case covered in paper charms - which then opened up of its own accord. A jeweled sword grinned up out of it, the hilt fashioned into a ogre's fearsome visage. Ginko's brows climbed his forehead by gradual increments as he watched the stranger lift the sword from its case, watched his painted lips move as though he were talking to the thing, all without a sound.
"Right..." said Ginko.
"And you?" the Medicine Seller said, turning his pale eyes back on Ginko. "What has brought you to this place? Pardon my impudence, but... You do not look like a local."
"Hey," Ginko muttered under his breath. "I don't want to hear that from you."
The Medicine Seller's lips twitched upward. "I suppose you have a point."
Ginko rubbed the back of his neck, sighing, and tapped ash from the end of his cigarette. "Well, I sell medicine too, of a sort," he explained. "I'm Ginko, a traveling mushishi."
"A... mushishi," the colorful stranger echoed, as if testing the word.
"I came because I heard some strange rumors. The townspeople here -"
"Are losing their time."
"Oh?" said Ginko. "You've already been into town?"
"Yes..." The Medicine Seller laughed softly. "Normally, medicines to preserve youth are requested, rather than medicines to restore age. The fear of growing younger is... unusual."
"And then there's -"
"So you can see it, then," Ginko said, not really surprised.
"And the strange lights clustering around you... yes."
They both turn to look back at the giant, poisonous green coil of smoke that undulates past. On his way down the mountain, Ginko had seen it quite clearly; it encircled the whole town, growing thinner and thinner towards one end until it simply fed back into itself. It resembled nothing so much as a snake eating its own tail.
"The thing is," Ginko said slowly. "It seems like a mushi called tokikui hebi. Only..." He took a drag off of his cigarette. "It usually only affects individuals. It'll wrap around their little finger, and then they'll start getting younger day by day. Sometimes it'll affect objects or plants or other animals, and there's one or two recorded cases of it wrapping around a whole household, but..." He gestured at the enormity of the thing. "Never anything like this. Never a whole town."
"Ho..." murmured the Medicine Seller. "Tokikui... hebi... is it?" And then, of all the inexplicable things, the little ogre on the man's sword opened its jaws and snapped.
Ginko just stared.
"Mushishi-san..." Another drawer of the Medicine Seller's box opened up; several colorful scales rose up out of it and sat themselves down to balance on their points, lining the edge of the terrace at their feet, and there was a soft jingle as little bells dropped down from each of their corners. "I believe," said the Medicine Seller, his painted lips pulling back from his teeth in a terrible smile, "we may be of some... service to one another.