A light breeze coiled through the air, rustling the leaves of the trees and tugging at his hair. This peace… It had been so long since he had had a moment just to himself. No traces of a mononoke's energy tearing at his senses, nothing to disturb him. He had come to that secluded little town after hearing of the strange occurrences that had, for some reason, become commonplace, thinking that there was, perhaps, a mononoke.
As it turned out, there had been a mononoke wreaking havoc in that town, but it had already been eradicated by some force he had never encountered before. The traces of that power were fairly recent, too; they were a week old, two, maybe three at the very most.
As for what that power was, he couldn't even begin to say. It was pure, simple, and beautiful, almost comforting in its warmth. It was completely the opposite of his own power, which he could only describe as being harsh, almost cruel in the way it literally burned corrupt spirits from existence.
The faint sound of disturbed water drew his attention. Scanning the surface of the lake in front of him, he saw a little yellow duck paddling around in the shallows of the opposite bank. It was an awkward little thing, looking as though it had not yet reached adulthood. There was something else about it, too… It didn't seem to be acting quite like a duck ought to… The way it looked around almost seemed as though it was looking for something. Or someone…
At some point, the duck spotted him. Their eyes met, and neither moved.
Blue eyes, he thought. Odd.
After a moment, the duck seemed to decide that it was alright for it to get closer. Its eyes never looked away as it paddled towards him. When it stopped, it was barely three feet from where he sat at the edge of the bank.
The duck tilted its head to one side, large blue eyes full of curiosity and uncertainty. Reaching into his sleeve, he pulled out a leftover piece of bread wrapped in wax paper. The paper crackled as he broke off a chunk of bread that would be small enough for the little duck. He held his hand out, offering it to the bird. The duck stretched its neck out tentatively, almost unsure of whether it was alright to take it, but after a moment, with a quick snap of an orange bill, took the bread from his hand. The duck's head tilted back as it swallowed the bread before looking back up at him. The hesitance in the bird's eyes was gone, replaced by a look that, had it been capable of it, could have been a smile.
That little duck was… puzzling. Animals were rarely afraid of him, though they did tend to avoid him, preferring to acknowledge him as a potential predator. Humans, on the other hand, were nearly always drawn to him, what with his colorful attire and tendency towards the mysterious and nonsensical.
And that duck was behaving more like a human than an animal.
He did not feel any strong power from the little bird. There were traces of that same warmth he had been feeling since he had entered that town, but, then, those traces were everywhere and on everything.
"What… are you?" he murmured. The duck tilted its head to one side, curiosity creeping into its eyes once again.
"Hmm," he sighed. "The power that lifted evil from this place…" The duck's eyes seemed to widen. "Who was it?"
The duck didn't answer. Of course it didn't; it was just a duck. It couldn't speak even if it wanted to.
"I suppose…" he continued, talking more to himself than to the bird, "it doesn't really matter. The evil is gone… the disruption… put right." He brushed a few strands of hair out of his eyes, only to have them fall back into his line of vision again. "Someone doing my work for me, it seems."
The duck scrambled out of the water and up onto his knee, still looking at him inquiringly.
"I'd like to meet… whoever healed this place," he said softly, stroking the duck's head gently with two fingers. "Because of them… there is a peace here… that I have not felt… for a very long time."
The duck quacked softly and nudged his hand for a moment before snapping its head around to look towards the path. The sound of footsteps met his ears, but he ignored them, preferring instead to return the remaining piece of bread to its place inside his sleeve.
"Who are you?"
He looked up to see a dark-haired boy frowning down at him. The boy, who looked barely midway into his teen years, had a seriousness etched into his features that was hardly befitting one so young.
There was silence as he appraised the boy. Dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, plainly-colored clothes… He was a little skinny, not uncommon for his age, but physically, there was nothing strange about him.
And yet, the boy carried a certain air that almost demanded a second glance.
The boy seemed to get frustrated at his silence. "I said, who are you?" he repeated, a little irritation creeping into his voice.
Ah, that question again. In years past, he had always known the answer to that question. Just a simple medicine seller… But now, after so many centuries, not even that was a suitable response.
He looked up at the boy and gave him a small smile.
"Just…" he paused. Just… what? He couldn't say 'medicine seller'; he hadn't been a medicine seller in years. "Just…" he repeated as his eyes scanned the boy's face. "Just one seeking the end of the story."
The boy seemed taken aback by his reply, but after a moment, his shoulders slumped and he sat down on the grass. The little duck scuffled over to him and quacked softly as if in greeting. The boy patted the bird's head gently.
"You, too, huh?"
He glanced back over at the boy. The latter was frowning again, this time in thought as he ran his hand down the duck's neck and back.
"Just when I think I finish the story the way it's supposed to, I find myself in one I can't change," the boy muttered, half to himself, half to the duck.
"Perhaps… that is best," he said, partly to let the boy know that he was still there and listening. "If you could change… your own story, then… the future would no longer be… uncertain. For if you knew the end… then… dreams become meaningless."
He could feel the boy staring at him in alarm, but he said nothing. He felt power from that boy. It was not the same one that was scattered across the little town; it felt older, rougher, less defined, but no less potent.
Reaching around his neck, he grasped the gold medallion and pulled it over his head. He turned it over in his hands, watching his reflection flash in front of him every time the mirrored back of the medallion came into view. It unnerved him every time he saw himself in that little mirror; instead of the face the humans saw, he saw only the face of the demon sealed within him. Flame eyes, gold markings… It never failed to unsettle him.
"What are you… truly seeking?" he asked, still gazing at the disk in his hands.
There was silence for a moment. "A way to set things right," was the boy's response.
"Are they not already so?"
Another pause. "I don't know."
He held up the medallion so that the mirror side faced the boy.
"What do you see?" he asked.
The boy leaned forward to look into the little mirror. "Myself," he replied.
"What else?" he angled the mirror down a little so that the duck was also in view. The boy gasped a little in surprise as his eyes flickered between the mirror and the duck. "Is it different… from the current… reality?"
A nod from the boy.
The corners of his mouth tilted upward into a smile. "Then perhaps… you can make things… the way they… ought to be."
He got to his feet, and, putting the medallion back around his neck, started to walk away.
"Wait!" the boy called, making him stop in his tracks. "Who are you, really?"
He turned to face the boy. Again, he smiled.