The apothecary’s eyes narrowed as he lay hidden among the crowd of alien and human alike. He saw the blue-skinned entity walk down the street as just about everyone near him swooned. Especially that young and innocent child. He carried his enormous medicine box. He knew there was a demon possessing a twisted soul, but what sort of twist was there? Was it hatred? Revenge? Restless injustice? The apothecary needed to know.
Albert smiled, sitting across form the Count who was telling a chilling story about Eastern Space, about a young girl whose mother was murdered and the girl was sold into slavery. Franz, Maximillian, and Robert were all listening intently. Franz being more horrified than the other three, he commented on the brutality of the story.
“Yes, it is not a faerie tale or princess story. Much worse than any Grimm’s story, it is one of petty hatred, unnecessary violence, and cruelty. Have I made you uncomfortable? I apologize,” said the Count with a smug curl of his lip.
The Viscount was sure to correct him. “No, not at all Sir! It really is tragic, the poor girl, having no where left to go and forced to do the bidding of disgusting old men like that…”
The four of them sat in silence for a moment.
“Well, if this is a true story, how on earth did it spread? If it’s well known, the men must have been caught and turned in if it were really in our section of Space.” Robert needed every detail and every plot hole filled, of course, being as detail-oriented as he was in his line of work.
“Of course. She was later saved as two previously-thugs-turned-hired-arms murdered the lot of them. It was an incredibly bloody fight from what I gather.”
“Oh? And what, they somehow weren’t tried for murder because these men were in slave trade? Sounds unlikely.”
“Of course it is, because that’s not how it happened.
The Count was thoroughly annoyed by the journalist’s prodding. He was sure he has outright behaved in such a way that Robert would get the idea, but the youth persisted.
“Don’t be rude, Robert!” scolded Albert.
“Sorry, sorry! Now, about that story…”
The Count was interrupted by the slightest chime in the room. The three younger men looked up to the ceiling and around the room. The Count still held his sanguine expression but shifted his gaze from one end of the room to the other. Bertuccio approached them.
“Sir, there is a medicine seller asking if we’re in need of any supplies. He also sells herbs, spices, and various recipes.”
The Count knew Baptistan’s fondness for cooking would want him to buy some of the apothecary’s wares.
“What’s some wandering peddler doing at a place like this?” asked Maximillian.
“Really, have you seen the place? Obviously he just wants a quick scam to get some cash,” replied Robert.
Franz stepped into the conversation to add, “But the outside is just the villa. The Count’s additions are subterranean.”
“Why don’t we ask this peddler to come inside? It wouldn’t hurt to at least be hospitable.” The Count wouldn’t mind an extra future pawn to his plot in the long run, anyway.
“Really? That’s so kind of you, Sir.” Of course Albert would e the one to compliment him. An added boost to his ego.
Bertuccio bowed and left the four of them to sit in silence before returning with a young man clad in colorful attire.
The Apothecary was dressed no different than he was thousands of years ago. So long as there were still Mononoke, he would not rest. He would not die. It was an endless cycle of which he never tired. He bowed respectively.
“I am humbled by your beautiful home, Count of Monte Cristo.”
“What’s with the getup, man,” asked Robert.
Before Viscount Albert could scold him again, the peddler simply said, “I am a medicine seller.”
“And that’s supposed to explain it? What exactly do you sell? Snake vodka? Scorpion stingers? Hm?”
“Yes. And mint, lemongrass, space rations, and much more.”
Maximillian was the first to notice the scales that stood on top of his large backpack.
“What exactly is that?”
Albert furrowed his brow. “But they’re so tiny! What does they even weigh?”
The Count listened to the banter, sitting back. The curious little thing intrigued him.
“Scales that don’t measure any weight? What’s the point of that? How do they measure distance?” Franz was as skeptical as ever.
Apothecary did not reply. Instead, he asked, “This woman you speak of. Is she still living?”
“Oh, you heard that, did you? Yes, she is. Her name is Haydée..”
The three young aristocrats looked at him in shock.
“Haydée?” Started Maximillian. “The woman who plays harp? How awful!”
Apothecary narrowed his eyes. “How long ago was this incident?”
“Hey, what’s with the interrogation?” Robert crossed his arms and sat back.
“Don’t get offended, Robert, just because someone else decided to ask the Count intrusive questions.”
“It’s my job!”
The Count waited or their banter to end before speaking.
“I’m afraid I forget just quite how long ago.”
The Apothecary stood silent. His makeup made it seem like he was smiling. The Count knew better; he saw the downward curl of his lip. He was scowling under his colorful visage.
“Aren’t you going to try and sell us anything or are you just going to stand there asking weird questions?”
Kusuriuri took wares from his drawer, showing them various medicines and antioxidants. Albert found a small mixture that was lime green in color. Its bottle also held a scorpion.
“Hallucinogenic,” Kusuriuri explained briefly. “A special mixture that allows one to see ghosts and spirits.”
“And you expected us to believe that?” Robert said while taking pictures of the Apothecary’s oddities. Kusuriuri shrugged. The peddler was showing his wares to the young aristocrats. The Count did not move from his seat, only watched them have their fun.
“What is that…?” General Maximillian asked, breath taken by the sheath of the short sword in the medicine box’s drawer.
“Well, yes I can see that… But it’s very different. Is it Japanese? The details are amazing.”
“It is not for sale.”
“I apologize! But… Would you be able to draw it out? I would like to see it.”
“It cannot be drawn.”
The nobles were intrigued.
“What you mean ‘cant be drawn’?” asked Maximillian.
“It needs to know the Form, the Truth, and the Reason behind a mononoke.”
“You talk like it’s a sentient being…” Franz said in annoyance.
The Apothecary turned to him. The scale’s bells fell and it chimed.
“That sound… Really, what are they…”
“I told you. Scales that measures distance.”
The Count glared. “Distance to what, exactly?”
The lights flickered.
“Don’t use your parlor tricks to scare us!”
“I’m just an Apothecary…” Kusuriuri said in a voice that was soft and silver-gilt.
“What’s a… Mononoke?” Albert was curious if not intimidated.
The Count spoke instead. “A type of ghost. It means spirit, and usually is a type of spirit that is restless in this world and refuses to go back to its own.”
“They have purpose. They desire what they once had, desire justice for their loss, and desire others to suffer for them.”
Although the Count kept his composure, he felt a dark suspicion towards the peddler. “But why would an apothecary need such tool for spirits?”
“To exorcise them.”
“Right, so now you’re an exorcist now,” Franz sneered. “There’s no such thing as spirits or mononoke.”
Kusuriuri looked to the Count of Monte Cristo.
“I came here because there is a spirit, a mononoke, among you.”
The Count needed this man to be dealt with.
Maximillion was just as fascinated as Albert. “And you use this sword to take care of such spirits?”
“Yes. But in order to use it, the Form, Truth, and Reason for the mononoke but be known.”
“Form, Truth, and Reason…” Albert echoed the words as if they were foreign to him.
“Form: its physical appearance as well as what it actually is. Seeing something does not simply tell you what it is. Truth: The events surrounding its progression into spirithood. And Reason: Its purpose and reasoning for remaining in this world. Reason, Regret, Purpose, they are the same, but all very different. It is annoying; your language limiting the meaning of kotowari.”
As if the world around him had paused, Kusuriuri was now looking up and yet down, standing on the ceiling-turned floor, watching the aristocrats. The Count and he were both standing across from one another at the gilded ceiling as a creature with the upper body of a bird and the bottom half of a human gasped for air. It had no wings nor arms; it simply struggled, feathers flaring, twitching against the golden surface as it gurgled and made crying sounds like an infant. The lights flickered again.
“Hey, I thought I told you-“
“It isn’t him.” The Count sitting back against the chair interrupted.
“Oh no... Don’t tell me, you think it’s a ghost too.”
“There have been occurrences for quite some time, now. Bertuccio and Baptistant insist it is nothing, but they are good and would rather I not worry.”
“Oh shit, we’re going to be late…” Started Franz. “We have to see Eugenie’s concert or she’ll kill us!”
The younger men sighed, gathered what things they had, and said farewell to the Count. The Apothecary bowed to the Count respectively.
He lingered behind the aristocrats, pasting his charms to the walls. The letters swirled and twisted, becoming the eyes that would watch for Mononoke. Albert told the others to go ahead without him. He ran back to Kusuriuri and gave him a sum of francs for the bottle. Curious, he opened it and took a sip. He was startled by someone yelling.
“Christ of shit!!”
Albert and the Apothecary turned around to see Baptistan running with full force. He ran past them to get to a trollie to take a collection of steak knives and stand ready for a fight. There was nothing behind him but the sound of puttering feet could be heard all around them.
“Not this shit again, come on.”
Apothecary’s world topped once more. He was no longer with Baptistan or Albert. There was a figure in the distance, hidden in the darkness of the hallway. There were tentacles splayed out along the walls and floor. Several fish-like beings with a single leg for their lower bodies twitched and gasped in agony. Kusuriuri found it odd, finding ayakashi and other sea-born spirits in the middle of this place. He wondered if they were brought here. The puttering was not of feet, but the tapping of tentacles along the walls and the struggles of these fish-beings.
The world as normal again, the sounds had stopped.
“What was that, Baptistan?”
“Hell if I know, but it’s starting to get real damn annoying.”
The paper charms began to glow red.
“Who the hell did this? Don’t just put your garbage on the Count’s walls!” Baptistan tried to touch one but was shocked by a strange current.
“Mr. Apothecary… What was that?”
“Huh?” Baptistan gave them a look. The Count emerged from the hall, carrying his staff. He was surprised to see Albert and Kusuriuri still there.
“Did you hear any of that, Sir?”
“No, I’m afraid I did not. Hear what, exactly?”
Baptistan sneered. “Those footsteps!”
“Oh? I see. Perhaps our Exorcist here could help rid us of a spirit.”
Apothecary didn’t say anything.
“An exorcist, huh? Jeez, sire, you sure know how to keep good company,” Baptistan joked. Albert furrowed his brow, not knowing either the pasts of any of the Count’s servants thus not understanding the joke.
The Count looked over to the wall covered in charms. They were still glowing. He knew Gankutsuou within him was setting them off. He was sure the Apothecary knew as well.
“I need to find out more about this spirit.”
“Count, sir, this is Villefort’s old home, is it not? Could we ask him?”
“I’m afraid His Honor is held at the capital, however from what I gather, there has been a few incidents before regarding his own grandfather at this villa. However, let us go back to the denroom. Baptistan, could you make us tea?” The servant bowed and went back to his work, keeping the knives between his fingers.
Kusuriuri put down his medicine box before taking a seat. He kept his legs tightly closed and his hands in his lap as he sat on the edge of the seat.
“These monsters appear to have come from a voyage, perhaps. They are of the sea from far away. Some are Japanese. Others I am unsure. I am unfamiliar with the creatures of Paris or the region of France…”
The Count of Monte Cristo tried his damn hardest not to sneer, to keep Gankutsuou inside.
“... It may prove difficult, as what these creatures are is a part of their Form. Without their entire Form, even with their Truth and Reason, I may not be able to draw my sword against them.”
“It wont otherwise be drawn? You have to know those things?”
Kusuriuri nodded. “Ah.”
“Then first they must be drawn out. However, it is unlikely these mononoke are completely independent of one another.”
“But, how would we do that, Sir?”
“Exploration,” he said simply.
Albert was somewhat drawn to his simplistic answers. “That’s all?”
"Then I propose we have a little fun, a game of sorts," proposed the Count. "To search for clues behind this lead mononoke."
Kusuriuri was intrigued by the Counts idea and grinned, his small mouth filled with more teeth than any normal human.
"What say you, Albert? Sir Merchant?"
"The mononoke are sure to be drawn by our play."
"Then it is settled. Shall we?"
Albert gleamed and followed behind the Count and his intricate cape. Kusuriuri stood and brought his medicine box along with them, sword securely snug at his obi. Albert lingered behind for a moment, wondering if he could try to see these spirits. He took another drink of that bottle.
"They come from the sea, this we know," said the Apothecary. "Are there perhaps rooms pertaining to this interest? Of fishing, sailing, or otherwise–"
"I had added to an old cargo hold and built a docking bay on the roof and top floors" interrupted the Count. "The Villefort Family once had it as a small cargo hold to do with a sailing expeditions he invested his time and effort in, one involving Danglars and... Morcerf."
"That's right! My father said he initially met them a long time ago while going on a voyage. He married my mother after he came back from that voyage to Eastern Space!"
Edmond could feel Gankutsuou grip tightly around his glass-encased heart, squeezing profusely. He fought back the monster; not here, not now.
“But, I didn’t think Villefort actually went on the voyage, or his family.”
“No, but he and his family did take direct shipments and cargo for themselves. I wouldn’t doubt he’s never seen a star any closer than the tallest building in Paris.”
Kusuriuri noticed the spiritual struggle of the Count and wondered about his inner dialogue.
"Then this docking bay is where we shall start."