“Doesn’t it get cumbersome to wear such antiquated clothing?”
“It’s only been a few centuries,” the Medicine Seller says in the seat across from his usual corner. He sips his cup of coffee quietly. “It’s more bothersome to acquire new clothes every few years.”
No matter how many decades pass, the Silver Star Teahouse continues to survive thanks to the help of certain powers-that-be named Kairi and a few others. Business is slow as usual, even as the country starts to transition into the new Heisei Period. The ownership of the building and the teahouse has been passed down to Hifumi and Mizuki’s descendants: a brother-and-sister team who are as equally patient and strange as their grandparents.
“Even if you say that it helps your surface trade—since people supposedly expect a peddler of folk remedies to dress exotically—I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of criticism on your choice of attire,” Hiruko says. Not even the strangest fashion trends that managed to filter in over the years could compare to the gaudy Edo-style kimono that the Medicine Seller wears. The obi must have made quite a statement, too, the baku thinks quietly to himself. “Humans love to criticize, after all.”
The Medicine Seller hums, low and rough. “As long as I can fight the mononoke, I care not of much else. The same goes for you, no? You have had every opportunity to rid yourself of your predecessor’s clothes, yet you have not changed it since you took up his mantle.”
“Point taken.” Hiruko rather liked his coat and the sleeveless shirt that held the markings of baku, but he supposes it would look strange to any random passerby regardless of how understated it is compared to the Medicine Seller’s kimono. At least it’s easy to put on. Unlike the kimono and definitely unlike a certain colleague’s three-piece suit and chains. “So, where will you be traveling next?”
He’s greeted with silence instead of an answer. The Medicine Seller is awfully fond of those. Hifumi’s grandson drops by their corner table and refills the Medicine Seller’s cup with experienced precision, quickly and quietly. The Medicine Seller nods gratefully. The young man leaves them to their discussion and goes behind the counter where his sister was skimming through the newspaper, waiting for another pot to brew.
“Akita,” he responds at last. “From there, I will see Enma Ai and we will both go to the Underworld.”
Huh. “I thought you report to Hoozuki biannually.”
“Quarterly now,” the Medicine Seller corrects. “I suppose the coming end of a millennia is giving rise to apocalyptic superstition. The humans are using their supposed final decade to show their worst sides and the other creatures lurking around...”
“...Are milking it for what it’s worth,” he finishes.
Hiruko sighs. “I don’t have to report to Hoozuki, do I?”
The Medicine Seller takes another sip. He sees the slight twitch of the lower eyelid and it’s all Hiruko can do not to smirk—the man still isn’t used to coffee, no matter how much time has passed. (He’ll leave it to his colleague to figure out that the Silver Star also serves their namesake beverage. Or maybe the Medicine Seller already knows and doesn’t order it anyway out of a weird sense of pride.) “Your case is technically not a matter of national importance, so no. Consider yourself an independent enterprise while I work for a branch of a governing body that specializes in paranormal affairs.”
This time, Hiruko cannot suppress his laugh. “You’re just about the third person who used business terms to describe what I do.” Asutsuo was rather fond of referring to them as the Trio of Odd Businessmen. Of course, Hiruko knew that the network that overlaps with the normal human realm is vast: spanning countries, time periods, planes of existences. He and his two colleagues are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. “But I rather like the analogy myself—and the way you put it is rather apt.”
Another silence settles between them. The Medicine Seller finishes his coffee with a subtle vigor. He stands up soon after, leaving money on the table.
“Duty calls?” he asks.
The Medicine Seller merely says, “As long as the mononoke continue to exist, I will continue to defeat them.”
He vaguely hears the din of the radio, sprouting news of strange occurrences in the subway. “Looks like your bakeneko’s appeared again,” Hiruko says with a smirk. This time, the slight twitch from the corner of the Medicine Seller’s eye was from a situation all too familiar. It’s all the more hilarious. Hiruko waves goodbye nonchalantly. “If you hear of anyone suffering nightmares, you know where to send them.”
The Medicine Seller leaves without another word, but had acknowledged the baku one last time with a small nod of the head. The bell at the door dingles as he exits. One of the siblings changes the radio from the news to a music station. The afternoon is slow, quiet, with an easy jazz song filtering through the speakers. Just another day in another decade.
The bell at the door sets off again and someone approaches his corner, ignoring the siblings’ practiced greetings.
“Are you Hiruko the baku?”
Hiruko smiles. Another day in another decade—no matter how much time has passed, some things just never change.