Smoke pours from the Medicine Seller's lips, sweet and luminous, billowing like silk. Swirls of shadow and light suggest images, memories, forgotten things.
The mask is the first thing to take shape.
The Medicine Seller regards it curiously. "You are an illusion which has overstayed its welcome."
Its teeth snap together, and it chuckles softly. The curtain of smoke is swept aside, and the man in the fox-mask steps out from behind it. Smoke combs into shining white hair in his wake.
"Why," the Medicine Seller asks him, "are you still here?"
The man gives a derisive grunt. "You're in no position to ask me that."
The Medicine Seller breathes out another thoughtful cloud of smoke. Snarls float through the thin walls, chasing after a woman who is no longer there.
"Well then," says the Medicine Seller, rising to his feet. "Why don't you tell me a secret?" He lifts his hand, runs his fingertips over smooth lacquer, tracing the contours of teeth and muzzle. "If I pull this mask aside, what will I find underneath?"
"You already know the answer."
"I might. But perhaps you might tell me yourself."
"Well then," says the man in the mask, slipping the pipe from the Medicine Seller's hand. "Perhaps you'll tell me a secret."
"Oh?" The Medicine Seller tilts his head, waiting. Clouds of smoke boil up from the pipe, wrapping around them and veiling the world in white. From the next room angry cries still filter through, muffled and distant.
"If Ochou did not murder those people beyond the door, then where was her jail cell?"
"Bound up in her own illusion," the Medicine Seller says.
"Then why," the man in the mask demands, leaning closer, "did you try to keep her there?"
The Medicine Seller lowers his head and smiles softly; and then he pulls the mask away.