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Sticks and leaves burst over the spillway, carried by the force of the water behind. Sun was strong today: it was probably the last of the snow melting on the cold mountains up north. Once the wind turned cold, there was no going back to the hot summer. Summer would come again next year—an eternal cycle.

Judging by the bitterness of the wind, autumn had come early and winter would be harsh this time. Konoha higher ups would have their work cut out for them. Crops died, some wilted, and the rice produced no grain. The fields they made to sustain themselves if the burden of war and famine was upon them—that was a dead end.

They would just have to beg before the Daimyō to give them funds for more supplies. Tsunade's reign was going smoothly, but it was not as if she could control weather.

He found it hard to stand still against the wind, his feet firm on the ground. The wind turned so cold at night and gained speed and muscle. Leaves blew and shushed and swayed; it created such a loud dissonance of sounds around him.

Dark clouds divided, wind lost its strength suddenly, and a glare of the half-moon bathed the lake. Choppy combers on the silent surface rolled in and made a dull sound that came throbbing through the trees. He could barely hear it. Standing before the meadow, he gazed, mesmerized, at the delicate stems that burrowed out of the ground. The petals opened. There were so many. He took out his Sharingan, but it was impossible to count them all.

They shone like chariots, trying desperately to catch the slivers of white light. Above them fluttered those autumn moths: they were purple, too, with circular black lines painted by nature to create an odd eye-shape upon their wings.

He moved his head back and caught sight of one fluttering just overhead. He moved swiftly; it tried to flutter away on a current with such haste, but he was too fast. With a single leap, he grabbed it out of the air. It struggled with near futile attempts to get out from between his fingers. He stared down at it with a curious disposition as though it aroused something in him, something long forgotten and old.

"Still chasing moths, huh?" Naruto asked as he appeared from the shadows of the trees to the right. "They're waiting ahead for the mission."

Sasuke let the moth go, face as cold as the wind. He did not say anything and started walking ahead.

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Incense and mist laden air . . . that was all he could see and smell. Without his Clan's gift, it was a vulgar suasion to entice the flesh. He did not enjoy coming here, not unless it became a necessity for his own flesh: it was a slave to few things; he never denied that. He fed it when it was starved and bore the bouts of a delightful sensation, an itch, as he trained it daily to wait for the melody to rise within him to a crescendo. Then the release was . . . almost sweet.

He felt pride in the fact that he had conquered his flesh, his worst enemy, tamed it on his own terms; and the man struck the gong, a wordless song blasting in their direction. Harlots swathed in red decadence glided over to the centre, their hair inky in the white light spilling from overhead.

The drum pounded. Louder. Louder. Then the sound vanished, absorbed by the walls that drank it greedily. They just could not wear the blush of a drunkard upon their facades. They stood silent, watching, listening, sleeping.

The harlots leant over, and their pliant backs formed an arch like a taut bow. Runnels of sweat ran between their breasts, squeezed together, spilling over from between the collars of their kimonos. They folded into a sudden dance: hips swaying, hair whipping, patient feet kicking up the small amount of earth there; and then they stamped it down and sank to their ankles in the soft ground. It was a cheap trick of the Doton users in the near vicinity. A Genin could produce the same results, but this was not about the child soldiers: it was about moulding the flesh into the demanding form of desire.

Men sat idle upon the mats all around, eyes watching the rippling young flesh, mouth slavering at the corners. Their wait was a test of patience, their pockets full of coins—buyers and chattel. As long as there was a buyer, every willing body was bought. It just had to yield to their demands, cringe with servility.

A soft sigh passed his lips, and the mist parted in the exhalation. Next to him, his shy subordinate was sitting with his head bowed. He did not want to lay his eyes upon the enticing temptation. He was married with a child, and his vows mattered to him, though the vulgar moans spilling unabated from plump lips were testing his resolve and loins.

The women turned on their heels fluidly, and their shadows ran about the room. Bits of earth floated up and went away. Water rose up in its place and soaked through the silk garments; their sartorial brilliance was rendered almost obscene. Cheap. You would not need a Sharingan to see their inviting miens, the sweet sheen of their skin, and the flare of their thighs and tight buttocks. That drew such excited groans from a few men. They had already decided to spill between their thighs tonight.

With arms held loose along their sides, they let the Kimonos fall down to their waists, revealing pretty, corpulent breasts and flushed skins—tight crests beaded with pearly drops of sweat and water. It was such a show for wanting eyes and heated groins that throbbed with anticipation. Then they jerked their heads back, and the hair flew behind them, lashing their spines like whips and propelling the water away from their red prints—red against white. And now his Sharingan flickered to life and counted the drops in the lull only his eyes could grant him.

They floated there around the blushing skin, falling slowly . . . slowly down through the mist, making little holes in the faint light from the lantern that had suddenly turned purple and then light grey around the edges. Mist fluttered there like the wings of an autumn moth. Stone-cold chill went through his skin and rippled there the way the air was disturbed by their chaotic dance; it overpowered the red, cooled it down, and it went to sleep again, enjoying its slumber.

The drums beat louder and louder and louder, reaching a frenzied crescendo of music. The distorted voices from men sounded as though they were chanting in a choir. His head was pounding, and he rose the glass to the lips and took a little sip to cool his temple. He sighed and the drumming sound rose in answer; and the dancers' song reached a high wail and then sank back to a low moan. The music ebbed away into a kind of comforting silence he welcomed.

The girls-in-red scampered away laughing into the shadows behind the partition screens, and the light overhead turned white again. A drunkard tried to grab one girl's leg but missed and fell face first to the wooden floor. The floor stopped moving and the music rose with an exquisite and resonant chord again.

He took another sip. The spectacle was over. Mist cleared the area, and the good aristocrats showed approval in a politely efficient manner, with faint gestures of their soft hands and well-mannered smiles. Clever raconteurs.

A woman clad in such a dazzling kimono emerged from behind the richly painted partition-screen: it had a scene of battle upon one corner and a wild storm upon the other. He thought it looked so odd for such a place. It was probably a gift from a wealthy customer. Shadows of girls and men slithered cross its rippling surface.

The woman daintily crossed the room, a fan held tightly in her right hand. Bowing lowly, she settled herself down before him and pulled out a scroll from her sleeve. A smile forced itself onto her red-painted lips; they were like a stain of blood upon her powdered face.

"Uchiha-Sama," she spoke in a lilting voice, "they used the caves."

She held out the scroll and he took it from her hand. This would do. He rose to his feet, and his subordinate scrambled to stand up as though he had been knocked over by a heavy blow.

She bowed again and placed her forehead and hands on the floor. "You aren't staying, Uchiha-Sama?" she asked, but when no reply came from him, she spoke again, more sweetly this time, "I shall give the money to Hanakoto-San. Have a safe journey."

She wore his shadow for a few seconds as it got dragged off her body. Finally, it disappeared from upon her, and she raised her head and shoulders, breathing in such a loud sigh as if an impossible burthen had been lifted from her body . . .

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