A Deal Is Made
It is common wisdom that if you are asking for something rare or exotic, you have to pay an equally rare or exotic price. So when I learned the price for the exotic prize I sought, what it would cost me to get the rarest of things, I was all too eager to pay it. You see, I have long sought immortality, eternal youth and after much searching, I found one of the more reliable sources of such an exotic boon.
My name is Nicole Dumont, a young lady of twenty-six on my first trip to Kyoto, Japan. I came to seek out someone I was almost certain didn’t exist, couldn’t exist. That is, until she sent me both a message and a plane ticket to seek her out. I came to seek a person whose name was dropped in some very unusual, very eccentric circles. I came seeking the services of the one commonly known as the oni-shoujo – the demon lady. Of course, she wasn’t nearly as ominous or intimidating when I actually met her face to face in her apartment above her shop of oddities and out of place artifacts – seriously out of place artifacts.
The shop looked really ordinary from the outside, with the shop’s name, The Curious Curiosities Shop, spelled out on purple and blue neon lights both in kanji and English. It was easy to spot in that poorly lit, narrow Kyoto back alley – though I noted the look of surprise and terror on the cab driver’s face when I told him where I wanted to go. Not that I paid that much heed, though. On the outside of it, the shop didn’t have any windows except for the one on the door and that one was covered by a black curtain. The door knob seemed a little odd since it looked rusted, worn and old despite the exterior of the shop having the appearance of having been newly constructed or at least being very well maintained. I stepped in and I thought I heard a strange scratching.
The moment I stepped in, I saw some highly unusual things. There looked to be some sort of scratched, mildly burned around the edges book that I think I recognized the lettering on the cover as being Latin. Next to it was some sort of preserved appendage, though I couldn’t quite recognize what it could have come from. There was a thin, light grey mist floating around the inside of the shop and I could feel a strange coldness to it that didn’t feel…right. I saw a large clay pot that almost reached to my waist, the lid was lifted and inside I saw a number of scrolls that I’d love to open up and see the contents of but appeared to be too fragile to even lay a finger on without it crumbling to dust. Beside that jar was a massive mahogany bookshelf that was stacked with countless tomes and books, though I had no idea what they were about since I couldn’t read any of the lettering. I took a look around and saw some mundane things like mirrors and knives with some rather disturbing designs and demonic figures sculpted in bronze, carved on wood and the like. As I’ve said, the whole place was filled with some very strange artifacts.
Then, I finally got a look at the source of the unusually cold mist. It was some sort of ceramic bowl or pot or something along those lines. As I approached, I could see there were some coals on it and there was a rig above it that was set up to continuously release drops of some thick green liquid onto the coals and upon contact, it produced the strange mist that filled the shop. I was curious as to what the liquid was but as I reached out to touch the container dropping it onto the coals, I was stopped by the shop’s owner, infamous oni-shoujo herself.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you. Melabrothax blood can be poisonous to certain people.” She said to me before she pointed me to what looked to be a solid black ball in a dog cage. “That, in case you choose to be inquisitive, is a Melabrothax. Go on and tap the cage and back away.”
I did as she said and barely before I could step back, the black orb made a sudden move and revealed itself to be a living creature! It had reminded me of the hydra of Greek mythology with its multiple, snake-like heads that hissed and reached out in multiple directions and lashed out, biting nothing. One or two heads started to gnaw on the bars and it remained still enough for me to notice that the eyes were a sickening shade of green. The heads were all attached to a body that resembled a sphere cut in half; mobility was provided by several heads sticking out of the bottom slithered about like a snake would. The central head had a thicker neck than the others and was decorated with a single streak of red scales along the back of it. I took note of two prominent, fang-like teeth ready to rip into anything; the rest seemed to drip the same green liquid that was being dropped on the coals. The way all those eyes fixed on me and had that fierce, predatory glare made me more frightened than ever in my life. It looked at me, stared at me then let out a long, chilling hiss before it returned to the shape of a ball.
“A curious creature, the Melabrothax. Rather hostile when disturbed but it prefers to simply sleep for most of the four decade lifespan it has. It appears that bleeding it every month or so actually helps the little creature’s disposition.” The oni-shoujo said as she walked up to where I was. I can honestly say I was still quite unsure what to make of what it was that I had seen and had almost been bitten by. “Now, I’ve wasted enough of your time already. You came here for some sort of strange and obscure artifact, likely one that even the most knowledgeable occultist has never heard of? Well, I am here to provide what I can.”
“Actually, you sent me a message and told me you had what I wanted.”
She examined me for a moment and made no effort to hide the fact that she knew I was also taking a good look at her appearance. She could not have been any older than sixteen based on her appearance, though I made the discovery later on how mistaken I was.
Her hair is blacker than the night sky, though it had a shine to it that made it almost seem…alive. She has a fair, creamy complexion that has an odd trait of looking deathly pale when exposed to sunlight, as I found out when I pulled back the curtain that covered the door’s window. It made the part of her touched by sunlight turn as white as porcelain and she made a frown to mark her displeasure at it. Her figure was slender and petite, though there was a certain air of femininity hinted at by the way she walked in her black and purple kimono. Her eyes are quite an oddity, the left one being the most peculiar shade of chestnut and her right is a cold, icy blue.
After she was done looking me over, she smiled and giggled a little much like a little girl would. “I see. You must be Dumont-san, ne? I believe I did send for you, though that was nearly a month ago. I was worried I might have to punish Elena for taking so long to make your arrangements. She is usually so efficient in her tasks, you see.” She said while she pulled out a pipe from the sleeve of her kimono. “Well, she’s efficient for a Forsaki, at least. Oh but that’s only a minor detail. Let’s get to business, shall we? You seek eternal youth and I happen to have a few vials of it lying around the back of the shop. Available for sale.”
“I’d rather you answer a few questions for me first, if you don’t mind, oni-shoujo.” I said, tried my best to sound respectful and afraid but I was neither, to tell the truth. At least, I wasn’t afraid of her.
“Questions, questions. Always with the questions, you humans.” She said before she sighed. “However, I can see you are, like the others, going to be quite insistent on it, so arguing against it would be a waste of time, ne? Fine then, ask away. And you may address me as Tohya.”
“First off, how exactly did you know what I’m looking for?”
“I have my ways, though it’s not unlike getting information of some degree of usefulness from a friend of a friend of a friend. I make it a point to always have my eye out for potential business. Next.”
“Alright, assuming you do have what I’m after, how do I know it’s real and not some sort of concoction designed to rip me off?” I asked her as sternly as I could, though the sudden thought of having to deal with any number of odd things and creatures in her shop came to mind.
“Feel free to doubt if you wish, though I do not ask payment until you have actually taken the concoction so as to avoid the nasty accusations of poisoning you once I’m paid.” She answered while she walked ahead of me, towards what looked like a cupboard full of porcelain containers. “I also take no interest in financial payments for that which you seek. For that item, I charge something far more substantial to compensate me.”
I was more unnerved by that than anything else; though I was quick to see she didn’t quite answer me. “You didn’t answer my question, Tohya.”
For a moment, she put her finger to her chin before she spoke again. “I do believe I didn’t. Well then, I shall have to rectify that.” She said as she smiled and took out one of the containers. “Truly, the prospect of an elixir to eternal youth is quite difficult to swallow, even for a seeker of it such as yourself.”
“So you recognize my question as valid?”
“Quite.” She said as she took a whiff of the scent – I assume – of what it was the container she took out had inside. “Tell me, how old do you think I am, Dumont-san? Be honest now.”
I admit that the question had never crossed my mind and it struck me as highly unusual, if strangely cliché. “You’re clearly seventeen.”
“Try a hundred and seventeen.” She said as she pulled back the sleeve on her right arm to expose her wrist. “I don’t look it, do I? It all stems from my having taken the same concoction I am offering you now.”
For a moment, there was a cold silence that passed as I tried to figure out or gauge just how truthful she was. I think I’m pretty good at that, so I was sure I could figure out if she was playing a game with me. She was playing a game but it wasn’t the type of game that I thought she was playing. She pulled up a knife and showed the blade to me before cutting her wrist and letting it bleed. As if that wasn’t enough, she picked up the knife, smiled at me calmly and stabbed it into her jugular, letting the blood spurt out like some sort of twisted crimson fountain.
“Now, Dumont-san, watch.” She said as she pointed to the wrist wound.
In a matter of seconds, I saw that the wound had completely healed and no sign of the cut was present, the blood spilled left no visual signs of having been spilled, as if whatever they touched had absorbed them so completely as to leave no mark. I looked and saw that the jugular wound had done the same to itself and, again, not a trace of the blood could be found. There was blood on the knife, however, though it faded away in seconds as I watched it. I turned to her and was positive it was some sort of elaborate, cunning illusion that she’d crafted. She stopped me by placing a single finger on my lips before I could argue with her.
“I know you have some sort of argument to attempt to dispel what I have just shown you and I understand that. When I first discovered this, the idea that it was some sort of delusion due to my prolonged isolation had crossed my mind as well.” She said as she reached out to take a circular container with a short spout from a drawer on her desk. I looked and saw it was filled with a semi-clear liquid that shifted color from green to blue to red at random intervals, though retaining the same odd glow and my reflection in the liquid was always clear. “You can choose not take it now and…reconsider the offer, attempt to digest the idea of what I’m offering. I will, of course, understand should you decline.”
“You’re avoiding the issue.”
“Indeed. Frankly, if you don’t want to at least try, I won’t make any attempt to make you.” She said to me cockily. “You wouldn’t have come to this place upon an invitation from a woman you don’t even know if you did not, even a little bit, believe that what I offer is possible.”
I have to admit, she was correct. Somehow, I knew she was offering what I wanted to me; she was offering me eternal youth. The prospect of that alone rapidly outweighed any potential risks of taking up her offer to me and I was, to be honest, more than willing any price she might have had in store for me. For a moment, I thought about it and then, I felt that her offer, in that store, was the closest I could get to my goal.
I shook violently, swallowed my fears and accepted that if I was about to make a fatal mistake, it was my own fault. “What’s your price?”
She smiled and then sat down on a chair that I hadn’t noticed before and now, thinking about it, I’m sure that it wasn’t there before. “You know, the ingredients for this elixir are of the rarest variety. It is beyond difficult to obtain concentrated fire elemental essence, water from the river Styx, Methuselah blood and various other mystical ingredients are the parts that compose this. It cost me a great deal to obtain them and the decade spent to brew it to the required potency to give the desired effect is also an additional factor. Why, the procedure to mix dragon’s oils and the petals of the Blood Venus blossom alone is exceedingly…”
I confess she spoke more but it felt like she was dragging on and on for the duration of her explanation. The truth is that I didn’t understand a thing about the ingredients, the process or really much of the mystical and magical mumbo-jumbo she was talking about. I just tried to give her an appearance of being attentive in the hopes of appeasing her. I gave her enough attention to figure out when she stopped explaining and hit me with what she wanted in exchange, however. It wasn’t what I expected.
“In short, what I need as price for this is not financial. It isn’t even material. What I ask for this is simply two years of servitude as one of my attendants here at the shop and in the realm that I call home.” She said as she presented the elixir to me. She looked at me and probably figured out I was trying to make sense of what she just said. “You see, I have taken on no great expense for the ingredients but I did undertake more than a reasonable amount of time to obtain them, as well as prepare it to an acceptable potency. In exchange for my time, I will require your time. Two years is nothing compared to the rest of eternity, ne?”
I probably made the mistake of not hesitating, not giving it too much thought – it’s a little too early to tell right now. “I’ll take it.”
She pulled out a contract from the sleeve of her kimono – which makes me wonder what else she has in those silk sleeves – and a pen along with it. She placed in on the table and signed her name before handing me the pen. I took it and signed and as I did so, I felt something press upon my chest. It wasn’t anything physical but I know I felt something do so. It was light as a feather but it felt as if it was lodging itself deep into my soul. She smiled once I finished and smiled as I drank.
“The deal is done. Your servitude will begin tomorrow morning.” She said as she hid the contract back in her sleeve. “Have a good night.”
For a moment, I fell silent as it all began to sink in.
She giggled a little before she spoke again. “You might need it.”