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Kita, Mita, Katta

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The swordsman released his grip from the demon's horn and the swart head of which bulk exceeding that of man thudded against the ground, blood oozing from the base of its severed neck. It bounced and landed near a middle-aged villager's foot, causing the man and those who stood near him torecoil a few paces. Lifeless as it was, the fiend's grotesque form still evoked dreadful recollection amongst them still—how that large, crooked nose had smelled its prey wherever they fled; how those four yellow eyes had reflected the victims' frightened faces; and how those fangs tore flesh from bone.

For an ephemeral moment, nothing violated the summer day's tranquility save for the chirping cicadas who crawled upon foliage at the sun-flecked meadow yonder. Then, the oldest of the village dwellers addressed the wanderer, "We are thankful, o valiant swordsman. Without you, it would be our bones on which you presently stand." A tremor wove through the village headman's voice even as he leaned on his stick and gestured a young woman to step forward to hand the demon slayer a small pouch. "Here is a humble token of our gratitude, sir."

No word fell from the swordsman's mouth as his blood-spattered hand accepted the villagers' payment. He poured the content of the fabric pouch onto his other palm: five pieces of silver momme were glinting in the afternoon sun. He looked up again and peered at the bearer. There had been neither hesitation in her steps nor trembling in her fingers. Yet, behind her mask of impassiveness, he could sense disquietude exuding from her—having mastered the art of stealth himself, he could hear another's breathing aberrations within a five-kōrai-shaku radius.

It was, of course, possible that she was afraid to cede her chastity to him. After all, her appointment as his bed partner that night had been decided by the populace rather than by her own choice, owing to their inability to afford his service. He had named ten momme as his price, but the accumulated riches of the entire village resulted in no more than half the required amount. Although Asami Ryūichi had been reputed to exceed most others in his fee, he knew better than to delude himself with the notion of earning his livelihood through nonexistent coffers; the crops were failing regardless of the peasants' toilworn fingers, the villagers' vesture was tattered, and even their dwellings were decrepit with the passage of years. Due to this pecuniary depletion, he contented himself with their offer that the fairest village maiden would be assigned to accommodate his needs for the night.

The maiden's parents, who were standing in front of their thatched hut, were eyeing their daughter with profound concern—not only would a woman face an increasingly difficult matrimonial match after defloration, but her fatherless child would also grow up as the subject of the neighbors' censorious eyes. Such was the childhood Asami himself had undergone. On her deathbed, twenty-three years prior, his mother had said, "It was the beginning of winter when some mercenaries, having lost their livelihood after the Battle of Sekigahara, pillaged our village and ravished its women. I am ashamed, my son, that I cannot even tell which of the five men who stole into this hut fathered you." It was for this reason that Asami had never left his seed inside any woman he had bedded; nor was it in his nature to force women who were not given to him.

The look in the current maiden's eyes, however, showed a different concern. It had to be a secret that in all likelihood she kept to herself. Beneath his scrutiny, Asami deemed that although no fineries embellished her, nature had endowed her with enough beauty to outshine even feudal lords' daughters. The absence of powder to blanch her complexion made it evident that she spent much more of her time under the sun than under a roof. Yet, something was amiss. Why would one who wore so creased a kimono have no single strand of stray hair?

With an effortless tug, Asami pulled the maiden's long hair, his eyes widening as it came away in his hand, revealing the much shorter hair that had been underneath—the true hair of a young man, which bristled unkempt from the well-shaped head.

"Akihito! What … what is the meaning of this?" The shock from the revelation flickering in his aged eyes, the village headman berated the young man in female attire. Some men reached for the hand towels tied to their heads and dabbed their sweat with the tenugui, anxiety all over their physiognomies. The multitude of village habitants glanced at the so-called Akihito with disgust before casting an accusatory look at the Takaba couple.

"It was beyond my parents' ken that I traded place with my twin sister," the youth stated forthrightly. "In nowise could I allow Akina to succumb in the embrace of a stranger who would be gone by the next sunrise."

Murmurs circulated amongst the onlookers. The manifold women were of one voice with Akihito—while this stranger was tall in stature and comely to behold, he would not be by her side to share her joy and sorrow after a single night. The men, on the other hand, thought otherwise. "We have our price to pay," one of them asserted, his mottled skin folding and unfolding at his jowls with each syllable. "Even though it means the sacrifice of one of us, we ought not to dishonor our word. Where is your sister?"

Akihito's jaw clenched briefly before he uttered, "I shall not let you do as you please with Akina."

Addressing four men, the livid village headman gestured at Akihito, "That brat has earned himself a condign punishment. Restrain and chastise him until he relents."

"No!" Akihito's mother cried in dismay. She was joined by her husband, who besought the village elder, "Please grant our son your pardon!"

Heedless of this plea, the headman turned to a burly man with prominent front teeth, "Juichirō-dono, bring ten men with you and search for her in the nearby forest." Next, the wizened man spoke thus, "The rest of you, search the Takaba house and the neighborhood."

The droning lamentation of Akihito's mother swelled louder upon their ears until it became one protracted, sonorous wail of distress as the first four men who had undertaken the task of torturing Akihito approached him. It was then that two men with disheveled hair dashed from the direction of the forest. Their eyes blazed with fright, not unlike those of fawns on a tiger's pursuit. From crown to toe, they suffered more grime of peat and soil than such as would be proper to agrarian helots. Not only did their feet bear the earth-stains from the arboreal roots over which they had stumbled, but blood also streamed from where they had lacerated their garb and skins on savage brambles.

The man in an indigo hanten yelled, "Run for your life! Ru—"

He fell and spoke no more, eyes bulging in tangible horror even in death.

His brother, too, fell, but ere life expired from his body, he breathed out with great difficulty, "They are coming."

"What are coming?" His closest comrade rushed forward from the cluster of spectators and shook him on the shoulder. "Kansuke? Kansuke?"

The man's words fell to the ears that no longer served a purpose, for the somatic shell was sprawled on the dirt without even a tingle of departing animation.

"What beast pursued and inflicted so many a wound on them?" Another onlooker commented, shaking his head. His condolent face was seamed with lines of weariness, the hanging pouches under his eyes were leaden in color, and his mouth curved downward at the corners. "To think that Kotarō-kun was going to wed my niece next week…"

Even then, none of those who were present realized the impending doom presaged by the sigh of the wind when it carried ill-smelling odor unto them. Four men, two women, and a child, who had not presented themselves at the gathering, came tottering.

"Isora-san," a bystander addressed one of the cheerless newcomers. "Whence have you come? The demon is dead and gone. Lo!"

But Isora's eyes seemed unable to focus. Her gaze was as empty as a cloudless sky and her demeanor eldritchly uncaring, whilst her body reeked of decay.

"Isora-san, are you indisposed?"

Isora opened her mouth, but rather than spouting words as an answer, she sank her teeth into her friend's neck.

Omatsu screamed, but hers was not the only one. The remaining six newcomers also attacked the other village inhabitants.

A little girl with a blood-red dahlia tucked behind her ear was tearing the skin of a man thrice her age. "Yoshie, cease! Why are you assailing your own father?!" The man pushed her aside, but to no degree did she budge, her unfeeling hands continuing to sink into his wound, his blood dribbling from her blunt nails.

"Yoshie!" he wauled her name over and over, but the longer he squalled, the larger the cavity on his left thigh grew. His exposed flesh and sinews were coated with spurting blood.

One woman in sallow udenuki was bitten on the back and fell awkwardly as she tried rising to one knee. Another village indweller was gouged in the eyes, and then assailed on her arm and stomach—enceinte with child—while she was yapping in excruciation. The fallen did not rise again, but their number was a mere handful compared to those who had fostered the rampant trait. Without preamble, about two thirds of the denizens had transfigured into entities who exhibited no longer any reasoning of mankind, but upon whose existence peril resided.

As the raving villagers sprinted across the field with their teeth and nails bared, ready to charge, the sane ones began swinging their agricultural tools against them. A woman, smitten with fear, lashed her sickle across one of the ravagers' throat. The attack forced him to stagger back a step. Blood gushed like liquefied ruby from his neck and the head lolled backward, showing the grotesque rictus of a physiognomy that endured no slightest pain. Nerves and spine disjointed, the head remained connected to its neck only by means of a strip of skin; howbeit, he did not drop where he stood, nor did he submit himself to the petty disturbance of human molestation. The woman's terrified husband took his turn next, but had no better results before the nearly headless living corpse plucked her palpitating heart out of its ribcage.

Chaos presided over the village of Fukuta. Since the predatory ones did not differ in physical appearance from their normal brethren, no one could be certain in regard to which persons they should defend themselves against before the baneful attack came upon them. Amidst the tumult, Asami questioned himself as to why a number of villagers suddenly decided to lay their pernicious hands upon their kith and kin. They had showed no inclination toward abnormality, no less frightened than their fellowmen before the unwholesomeness plagued them. What could have triggered this alteration?

Some survivors sought sanctuary inside their cramped cottages or climbed on top of their roofs. Even then, Asami descried changes among those on the rooftop. A man's gaze turned empty, and he bit his wife's forearm next. Their child shrieked at first, but then she, too, fed on her mother's calf. With faces congested with the fresh blood of their prey and their vacant eyes rolling insensately, the once harmonious family now became horrendous to gaze upon.

Was there a commonality that the pestilential villagers shared?

One maddened villager charged in front of Asami, another from the rear. The swordsman took a rightward turn and forestalled the rear enemy's attack before it began by delivering a tsuke strike, leading with his right foot. Next, he turned back and performed nukitsuke to control the front enemy with his sword draw while bringing back his left foot. He advanced two steps and cut down with the back of his blade.

What Asami had not expected was how impotent his strikes were against these adversaries. The attacks that were usually enough to knock men unconscious only made his current two opponents careen. And with such monstrosity of strength came a fetor so overpowering, which grew more and more malodorous the closer his opponents drew to him. As Asami held his breath, a sudden thought sojourned in his mind: the virulent disease had been spreading through the air in lieu of skin contact. Whoever had breathed the stench of the pestilential miasma transmogrified into the creatures so precarious to dispose of.

Asami recalled an old tale amongst the wayfarers of a certain tribe of yōkai who abided in the darkest depth of the jungles wherein the canopy of gargantuan trees barred sunlight and none but the doughtiest of men with dire need would care to trespass upon their dominions. These yōkai were vested with an aura so powerful that men and beasts who inhaled their breath would inherit a portion of their flagitious strength as well as their lust for blood.

Quickly, Asami took out a small twig from the pocket of his sleeve and placed it between his teeth. He tried his best to ignore its coppery taste, for in lieu of sap, the plant exuded blood—it was for this property that it protected him from impurities.

The deathless kept coming, and by the second time Asami launched his attacks, he had resigned himself to the decision that preserving these opponents' lives was no longer an option. He had taken several lives before, and today was verily not going to be the last. He gripped the handle of his sword tighter; his own code of chivalry had barred him from harming the weaponless and the innocent heretofore, but the minacious chasers swarmed all over the field, swooping toward the survivors with an inhuman rapidity of motion.

"Kō!" Akihito's yell made Asami turned sideways. The young peasant hied across the field in endeavoring to rescue his comrade. A young man around Akihito's age kicked another in the face when the rabid-looking assaulter ensnared him. His freedom lasted no more than five steps. Two more assailants pursued him, and however much he struggled to wrench himself free from their baleful fingers, he could never outmatch their ultramundane strength. Anon, his soul departed to the land of perpetual darkness.

A horripilating disquiet crawled up Asami's being: how could Akihito be saved?

Taking the plant from his mouth, Asami ruptured it into two, and then proceeded to obturate Akihito.

"Hinder me not; Kō is my best friend!" Akihito protested and kept trying to get past Asami, but the taller man chopped his target's neck with the side of his hand. It struck the raging pulse with pinpoint accuracy as well as measured strength, just enough to render him unconscious. The swordsman shoved the plant's other half into his mouth before slinging the young peasant over his shoulder and taking refuge in the nearest hut.

Asami caught a glimpse of an ax at the woodpile by the hearth of the single-roomed dwelling, with which he barred the door he had just bolted. Time was pressing; the feculent pursuers' fingernails were clattering at the other side of the door and more sounds of dragging footsteps were behind them. The humble hut yielded no more than a short rope and two tasuki cords to the swordsman's hasty search. With the cords, Asami tied Akihito's shoulders to his own. After covering Akihito's back with a futon to forefend any attack from the rear, he used the rope to encircle them both at the waist.

Having gathered the firewood by the hearth, Asami dipped their tips in cooking oil next. Never before had sweat drenched him during such a menial task; and yet, the weight of another full-grown man was currently encumbering him.

As was common with rustic dwellings in that era, the hut was not equipped with a back door. Throngs of the ghoulish villagers were swarming at the front door—deadly shadows ready to obliterate him, to tear him into pieces. His heart misgave him sorely, for a lone swordsman with a burden on his back was hardly a defense against their numbers. He glanced over his shoulder and a small smile graced his lips: if Asami Ryūichi were to die today, it would not be just his own skin he protected.

After inflaming a piece of wood, Asami touched the wall at the back of the hut. It was made of hardened clay brick—a material he found not impregnable to the years of sharpened steel in practiced hand. The sword he drew had never dulled, and cleanly cut an aperture of size only large enough to accommodate the needed height and breadth. He poured the pot of oil onto the ground ere making his way through the newly-made back exit, dropping the torch flame to it as he departed with Akihito in tow.

Asami saw no threat on this side of the house, though he knew it to be just a matter of time until they would be once again in the midst of turmoil. Carrying Akihito on his back, Asami moved quickly from one cottage to another, setting each thatched roof aflame—conflagration was the only way to purify the contagious air as well as to prevent further spreading of the pestilence. The infernal creatures who could still move were hauling themselves toward Asami and his burden, some of them missing limbs, others shuffling forward with no heads. These passing gruesome creatures he also burned, even though they appeared to suffer no torment with the scorching of their skin.

To Asami's left, a freckled little boy pelted his demonic huntress with rocks, but his piffling projectiles merely bounced off the middle-aged woman's forehead and soon she had him pinned onto a tree. The boy's lanky elder sister fended off a lurid old man with a rake. The unearthly beast that had once been a human slouched forward, one leg bent underneath it all wrong. An older woman nearby succeeded to behead her anthropophagous attacker with a spade, but its headless body knew no languish and went back on its chase unhampered.

It was not until Asami had burned down a third of the rural cottages and run short of firewood did he decide to face his pursuers. His opponents were closing around him from four directions at once, one for each of the four winds. Drawing his sword, he was upon them with the swiftness of an arrow. First, he cut the one to the east with downward overhead cut. Then, he subdued his southern opponent, advancing one foot while winding his sword and cutting down. Next, he stepped in the direction of his western opponent, while slashing horizontally. At last, using a full step with his right leg, he finished his northern opponent. The full circle having been completed, he felled his opponents as silently and as deadly as a night storm.

The blade of his katana flashed in the light of the burning cottages as it discerped the head and limbs from his first fallen enemy. Asami repeated the process to dismember the other three, swinging his sword in a manner no different from that of a woodcutter chopping tree bark. Amidst the screech of shattering bones that fretted his ears and the scent of rotten meat that assaulted his nose, a part of him cursed his own savagery, urging him to flinch, to turn his back, to flee that damned place that very instant. Nevertheless, no matter how much he might have longed to forbid his eyes to cast a glimpse at their miserable limbs, he had to proceed all the same. He needed their body pieces. He needed a fresh supply of combustible materials to burn the rest of the houses. The swordsman hurled an exscind arm at the thatched roof of a cottage. And the next one. And the one thereafter.

The rest of the demented kept hunting Asami down. The vagabond's blade, twisting and darting too quick to see, was never still. It moved as naturally as his wrist and hand and arm could, albeit the combined weight of Akihito and the futon cumbrously limited Asami's movements. When the swordsman was down to the last opponent, he made one fierce cut at her, driving the point of his blade through her throat, and she fell across the body of her own kill.

Panting in exhaustion, Asami wiped the sweat and blood from his temple. His frontal part was doused with the blood of the slaughtered. Around him lay severed bodies, torn away limbs, and exposed bones in disarray— the handful of survivors who had initially resisted the unhallowed creatures now reduced to carcasses. Splotches of blood garnished the field in the likeness of a vast, ill-patterned rug.

A hot breeze engulfed the swordsman, making him blink away grit and dust. Detritus was everywhere and everything went gray for a second as the expanding smoke rolled over him. The air was suffocating; behind him, puffs of murky fume soared into furious sphere of swelling smoke. Without sparing a second glance for those slain, Asami departed the accursed demesne with the sleeping Akihito on his back.

Gone was Fukuta—once a teeming village of which name meant "Good-Fortune Rice Field," now mere ashes on the face of earth.

###

The sun had far ascended westward into the nacarat vault of heaven when Akihito opened his eyes. His back leaning against the bole of a large tree, the peasant found himself seated upon the duffs on the forest floor, whereupon the wafting aroma of roasted meat, which derived from a fire tended by Asami, tickled his nostrils. With drops of water upon his sable hair like bejeweled morning dew, the swordsman was bare save for his loincloth, his wet kimono hanging on a nigh tree bough.

"Ugh, what befoulment did you put in my mouth?!" Akihito exclaimed with a great disgust as soon as he spewed out the blood-dripping sprig.

"Jubokko," the swordsman remarked without so much as sparing Akihito a glance; his sole attention was chained to the serow on a spit he was placing over the fire. "They are monstrous trees that came into existence from the absorption of the blood of the dead in battlefields and flourish by sucking the blood of passing humans. A jubokko twig has healing and decontaminating properties."

Akihito studied his surroundings and, upon regaining the familiarity of the forest, he inquired with a perceptible hint of alarm in his voice, "Why am I here? What has befallen my village?"

"That village has become one with the earth." Asami still did not take off his gaze from the roasting serow. The song of the crackling fire curtained the two of them within the sylvan sanctuary, making everything else seem worlds away, if only for now.

The small comfort dissipated with the snap of a dry twig under Akihito's tread. "What do you mean?"

"Only fire could purify the contagion." Asami looked at Akihito straight in the eye, all truth and no remorse.

Akihito stared back with a look that Asami knew all too well.

Following the death of his mother over two decades ago, Asami had endeavored to earn his living in the city and had been admitted into a group of traveling street performers. For over a year, he had traveled with the troupe from one city after another until that accursed night when the beguilingly serene moon had presided over the ravine. They had been fast asleep on a subjacent vale, worn-out from the day's journey, when a group of mountain bandits laid their ambush. Had it not been for the corpse of his companion shielding him from the bandits' view, the thirteen-year-old Asami would have met his end back then. The bandits had vanished into the night with whatever valuables they had looted, but not before Asami memorized their bearings. It took five long years to hone his swordsmanship and another ten to hunt those felons down, one by one.

And now, Akihito had the same look as Asami had once possessed: disbelief mingled with rage. "You burned the whole village?"

Without waiting for Asami's confirmation, Akihito glimpsed at the sky to his north. His visage blanched after he saw smoke billowing above the clump of faraway trees. "It cannot be!"

Akihito scudded toward the direction of the smoke, but Asami obstructed him.

"Cease impeding me!" Akihito hollered when Asami gripped his shoulders. "I have to succor my parents and friends!"

"On what ground do you surmise them to be alive?"

Akihito's eyes widened. The bitter truth poured in. He must have realized deep down that finding any Fukuta villager alive was a mere wishful thinking. Akihito turned away from Asami, his body shivering but he did not alter his course.

"If they have perished," the young peasant affirmed, "it becomes imperative for me to entomb them."

"At the expense of your own safety?" came the rejoinder. "The fire may not have finished purifying the air. Inhale it, and you will become one of the same abominations that took your family's lives."

The peasant boy offered no word in reply, but he no longer struggled against Asami's grip. Instead, his eyes were downcast and his shoulders were drooping dolorously.

"At least your twin is safe," Asami continued, "You sent her outside the village, did you not? Back there, I found no woman who in lineaments bears a resemblance to you."

The peasant cast the swordsman the briefest glance, and then mumbled, "Why did you save me?"

Why indeed? Why would Asami Ryūichi risk his own neck for the sake of one he had just met?

The swordsman sneered and removed the loincloth from his midsection. "Has it slipped your memory that your body is a part of the payment rightfully mine?"

Akihito's body stiffened, his eyes flaring with dread and rancor at the sight of Asami's newly-exposed organ. "I AM A MAN!"

A simper upon his lips, the swordsman retorted, "Is the color of a flower the only thing that attracts a butterfly?"

The peasant leaped ahead and snatched a bough by the fire. He lit it, only to thrust the flaming torch at Asami.

Even so, the swordsman was too swift for the peasant. The moment Akihito lunged forward, Asami had already shifted behind him; so light was his footfall that the dried leaves on the ground remained unperturbed. "Assailing me in vengeance instead of crawling in fear? I like you, lad."

Akihito swerved, lunging again.

Asami did not even need to feint his attack. With what seemed to be an effortless movement, his blade skittered under the extended torch and smashing the side of Akihito's torch hand. The burning bough tumbled onto the ground, igniting the fallen leaves. Withal, paying the fire no heed, the vengeful assaulter resumed his attack.

The swordsman could execute a quick kill with his next move, but where was the enjoyment in that? Deciding to play along a little longer, Asami allowed Akihito the time to roll on his back and bring his torch up.

Akihito surged forward, to be predictably parried by Asami's poised blade.

The younger man retracted and struck again, and again, repeatedly, viciously slamming his firewood against the experienced fighter's sword. Although youthfulness facilitated him with agility, true speed in swordsmanship was attained not by moving faster, but by moving less, hence eliminating superfluousness from any movement. Each of Akihito's strike was well-aimed, but none escaped Asami's flawless interception. Still, what the green fighter lacked in technique he made up for in enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, the lambent tongues of the flame danced higher and higher. Disregarding their safety, the two combatants continued trading blow after blow. One of Asami's attacks sent Akihito fumbling on the ground. But the youth made use of what nature provided him: he threw a fistful of earth at Asami's eyes.

Temporarily blinded, Asami lowered himself. Drawing horizontally, he swept the sword close to the forest floor, while advancing his right foot. The moment he came into contact with Akihito's shin, the experienced fighter evaded to the left whilst remaining on his knees and struck his opponent down with the back of the blade. The taller man finished their duel by pummeling the pit of Akihito's stomach with the base of his sword as the peasant collapsed. The breathing difficulty Akihito underwent when Asami's blow took his breath allowed the swordsman to extinguish the fire on the forest floor.

By the time the young peasant was able to move again, his adversary had loomed over him. One vertical cut, and Akihito's kimono was sundered in two, exposing the smooth expanse of his back: the sinuous line of the youth's spine showed in a delicate trail down to the voluptuous curve of his buttocks, which flanked the narrow strip of his loincloth and were highlighted by a dimple above each mound of flesh. Despite his oft encounters with vicissitudes of feminine charms—from the slenderest to the most buxom, from the most petite to the grandest, from the coyest to the most promiscuous—the sight of this bucolic beauty did not displease Asami.

There was always a first time for everything.

"Unhand me!" The pitch of the boy's voice escalated, his bellow laced with panic.

Asami bit his own finger and smeared his virility with the dripping blood. He pried Akihito's rear cheeks open and rammed his blood-slickened manhood into the youth. Aware though he was that he should have prepared the boy with his fingers first, at the moment he required both hands to subjugate his resisting captive.

"ARGH!"

A yelp pierced through the air as the tip of Asami's erect flesh breached Akihito's tight entrance. The formerly untouched body jolted. His back arched as tautly as a bowstring, the youth struggled to liberate himself from his captor.

Asami held Akihito's forearms with grips of iron. Without giving his captive so much as a chance of reprieve, the swordsman continued his plunder. Akihito's body showed no sign of relaxing; blood even streaked down his thighs the moment Asami was fully sheathed inside him. The boy's inner walls assayed to deter the intrusion to the passage no other man had aforetime ventured; and yet, the invader kept shoving in with undeterred persistence.

"NO!" Akihito struggled again, wriggling and writhing, one of his knees besmirched with blotches of vivid red he had himself emitted. Nevertheless, the shuffling of Akihito's legs, the contraction of Akihito's muscles, and the twists of Akihito's hips made the older man squirm with a fresh desire that trickled into the pit of his stomach. The sinfully luscious body was tempting him, beckoning him to maunder and maraud it.

What Asami Ryūichi wanted he would acquire. Just as a wild beast mounting his partner whilst mating, Asami pinned the shorter man beneath him, holding Akihito in place as he entered the innocent village boy in the recesses whereof the youth had previously not been aware. Delving in, Asami claimed Akihito fully with hands and mouth, marking the peasant with the tenacity of his speed and the intensity of his thrusts. He considered apprising his inexperienced partner that relaxation would palliate the pain, but decided against it, for he highly doubted the boisterous youth's obedience.

"You took the trouble of disguising yourself as a woman; did you so strongly desire to give yourself to me?" Asami teased Akihito through laborious breathing, taking delight in watching his captive, petulant and proud, reduced to a desperate jumble of need and denial.

"Who would be willing to lie with you, loathsome defiler?!" Akihito replied through gritted teeth. "You were supposed to sink into slumber after I served you the potation."

"Ho?" Asami sneered, "You intended to slip some soporific into the sake? Truly, you amuse me, Akihito."

"Call—ah—call not my name in such a familiar fashion!"

"Akihito," Asami whispered the name again with a voice so low that it made the hair on Akihito's nape stood on end and he enjoyed every reaction the boy gave him. Nothing could be quite so arousing, and he yearned for more … more of Akihito striving helplessly against his touches. "At any rate, I should have tried taking men to my bed sooner. That way, I needed not worry about any child born outside wedlock."

"You depraved lecher!"

The captive grew more impudent with every invasion. Yet, on account of the young man's waning endeavor to disentangle himself from his conqueror's embrace and his telltale shudder from the teasing of his seducer's every movement, it could not have been plainer that Akihito had lost himself to the sensation of Asami's flesh inside his body and Asami's warmth upon his being. In spite of all Akihito's indignation, Asami had touched something inside him, something that set every vein, every muscle, and every cell within his body afire. The youth's eyelids were heavy and his cheeks stained crimson.

"Let me hear more of your cries … I shall taste all your hidden places," Asami husked onto Akihito's ear, his searing breath tickling the side of Akihito's neck.

In his defiance, the captive refused to emit a sound thenceforth. It did not, however, mean that the harasser could not make do with the flutters of Akihito's eyelashes, the hitches of Akihito's breath, and the curls of Akihito's toes.

Asami groaned, his body raking with pleasure. He had gone deep, deep, deep inside his partner, so deep that he could not possibly press any deeper, his groin cushioned tightly against the curves of Akihito's backside. He withdrew until the penetration was shallow, and then slammed back in, exploring his captive in earnest. Beads of perspiration cascaded down his chest as a part of him hammered deep into Akihito.

The boy still had his pride. He would not let his voice out. All the agony he kept to himself, tightly guarded by the clamping of his lips. When Asami jostled too vigorously, Akihito would bite himself until he bled, preventing voice from escaping his throat by any means possible.

It would not do for Asami. Although the swordsman regarded no slight on the young villager's courage, he craved to hear Akihito whimper, to see his captive tremble for him.

He ran his teeth over the side of the younger man's neck then, alternately kissing and biting him, vehemently demanding, as if he was going to devour Akihito, starting with that delectable nape. Whichever way Akihito flinched, Asami chased him with his tongue in the manner of a ravenous wolf preyed over a quivering hare. He ran his hands relentlessly over the youth, rousing his desire with the obstinacy of his touch. The sensation made Akihito's breath catch faster. Akihito's fingers even clawed at the ground as Asami drove into the farthest point of the boy's deepest place again and again.

Even so, this still did not suffice. Other than their joined flesh, could there be no connection between the two of them?

Asami grabbed one of Akihito's ankles and tugged the leg backward, hence coaxing its owner to lie on his side. Pressing one knee between his thighs and holding Akihito's back against his own chest, he slipped the youth's top leg over his hip until those thighs were spread apart so widely that he heard Akihito's breath hitch. Complacent with the result of his work, he dug his thumbs across Akihito's hip bones to drag his partner's rear backward against his groin. He resumed his penetration more tenderly henceforth. From this new position, not only did he gain wider entry into the boy's body, but it became feasible for Asami to angle Akihito's head to meet his own.

With his mouth, Asami pried Akihito's lips open. With his tongue, Asami slithered past Akihito's teeth, flooding the youth with a torrent of passion. With his arms, Asami wrapped around the boy and pulled him closer. He sensed his adversary's outrage, followed by resistance; Akihito adamantly shut his lips again at the earliest opportunity. All the same, Asami refused to give up sucking at Akihito's delicious lips to inveigle him to kiss back.

Wetness streaked down Asami's countenance and he came to realize that the source originated from his own blood as well as Akihito's tears. The gush of pain on Asami's lower lip hurt less than the pang of guilt in his guts. Notwithstanding the rejection conveyed by the boy's teeth, in nowise did the older man wish to cease.

"I abhor you; never shall I forgive you so long as blood flows within my veins! No matter how many years it may take, I shall be the one to remove your insufferable head."

Asami's blood sang with excitement; how far would this boy, whether by negligence or by design, serve to enthrall him? "All the more reason you should exceed me in swordsmanship, then."

"I shall … bring you—ah—demise the moment you let your guard—haa—down, you hear that?!"

Asami's lips curled upward; even a rat could bare its teeth when it was about to be crushed. "It would be more convincing if you delivered that threat without those moans and gasps."

"You despicable creature! Whose fault it is tha—" The last of Akihito's umbrageous words was punctuated by something akin to a mewl; Asami had hit a certain spot within him with such a precision that it sent sparks up his spine.

It was ever so slight, and the boy probably did it out of instinct rather than volition, but Akihito did arch his body and this, in turn, granted Asami even further access.

Asami pushed firmly at Akihito's core, spearing the thick shaft in its entirety inside the boy's passage until his groin collided with the youth's buttocks, flattening the bountiful mounds before him, and his balls ground ardently against his captive's entrance. Then he withdrew, pulling his hardened flesh back through Akihito's opening until only the tip remained within the cleft. Afterwards, he rammed his rigidity full force into Akihito's puckered ring of muscle again. Thereby, he elicited strangled noises that did not quite manage to get past the youth's throat, teasing until Akihito was panting and writhing under him.

"You belong to me." The allurement in Asami's voice, combined with his searing breaths against the side of Akihito's neck seemed to send heat between Akihito's loins, for the villager wiggled in desperate attempts to evade the inevitable. Albeit resentful, Akihito made the most erotic expression when he was like this, and Asami took pleasure in the knowledge that he was the only person to ever see this aspect on that boy. The swordsman murmured again as he pounded more rigorously into his captive as if to emphasize his words, "Until the last breath I draw."

Akihito stuttered his retort—or, at least, tried to—but in the end, all he could do was meet Asami's movements with his own.

Insurmountable rapture coursed through Asami, numbing his body. Shuddering, he relished the heat of Akihito's constricting hole. Passion raged within the older man, giving him the sensation as though his body were plunged into a sudden fever. He had meant to consume the youth, but at this rate, he was going to turn into the one who would be consumed. He was incapable of restraining his wild desire; the entire nerves within his body were screaming for the boy underneath him.

He wanted Akihito—all of him!

With one final thrust, Asami arched his back and let out a bestial grunt. His eager flesh stirred and pulsated. His completion had transpired ere he could restrain it: he spilled inside Akihito's fiery sheath. Asami knew he would always bethink the way Akihito tasted for years to come, this elation beyond compare. No woman had ever pleasured him to such a surfeit of bliss.

As the youth's body convulsed around his length, Asami considered the possibility of Akihito's mortification for his ejaculation. The taller man sighed. What had he done? He had always been more than capable of satisfying his partners hitherto. All those women had reached their peak before he did; not the other way round. And yet, this boy

Now that Akihito had stopped struggling, Asami showed him that the piacular hands that had slain so many could also touch so tenderly. The swordsman's fingers roamed, tracing the uncharted, forbidden territories of Akihito's bareness. Caressing. Grasping. Seizing to claim. Akihito's pectoral nubs tautened and even the robust planes of Akihito's abdomen, tempered by years of farming, shivered.

Leaning forward, Asami then reached for Akihito's genitals. Repulsion crept through him—he had never touched another's masculine area and would rather have remained so, on the grounds that it was not his tendency to please another man. Nathless, today he was determined to make the youth howl with delight.

The swordsman's hand moved over the village boy's length, pumping him once, twice, for good measure. Taking it as an encouraging sign that Akihito gasped at his ministration, Asami caressed the shorter man in slow, advertent touches, just enough to inspire lust. With every stroke, the rising and falling of the boy's chest became more apparent. When he fondled Akihito's balls, the youth strained amid his unacknowledged desire. None of this, howbeit, brought Asami higher satisfaction than the cochineal shade that imbued Akihito's cheeks as he watched his own length disappeared and reappeared between the curl of Asami's fingers.

Increasing his speed, Asami felt every muscle in Akihito's body ripple and throb. He teased the ridge underneath the head of Akihito's manhood with feathery touches, fingers tickling sensitive skin. Even though Akihito was determined not to concede, all the while he repeated his moans with an embarrassing frequency. It did not take long until the boy stiffened and threw back his head, silently crying out to the skies as dignity forsook him and spurt upon spurt of white fluid shot out of his sex.

The satisfaction Asami had ever obtained from touching himself in the unavailability of a bed partner was nothing compared to this; from the appearance of Akihito's visage, it was likely to be the most tremendous release the boy had ever experienced in all the years of his young life. Hence, Asami vowed to himself: next time, he would bring Akihito to completion without even touching the boy's front.

Tilting Akihito's chin, Asami invaded his partner's mouth. The hesitation that followed lasted briefly. Soon, Akihito resolved to answer Asami's challenge instead of cowering back. Craning up his neck, the youth returned the kiss with an unheralded vivacity. Their tongues collided as one, each man tracing along the other's lips and stealing the other's breath. Their two bodies melded together into a singular stream of prurience. Even after the kiss ended, Asami continued leaving bite marks across the slope of Akihito's neck whereas Akihito stifled his groans.

Only after Akihito's muscles had started to relax did Asami move once more. He flipped Akihito's body so that the young man lay atop him, his fingers squeezing the curvaceous buttocks above. Putting the sensitive condition of their genitals after sex into advantage, Asami ground himself against Akihito. He rolled his hips, undulating with slower, gentler frictions and relishing every part of his partner's body—the palpitating chest, the tremulous stomach, the jutting hipbones, the smooth thighs. Each movement was designed to draw the lightest gasp from Akihito's lips, and this time, Asami accomplished his purpose. He gradually revived their pendulous jade stalks from mild twitches to full glory.

Akihito coiled his arms around the swordsman's broad shoulders as he declared with a mutinous glare, "I shall follow—huff—you—huff—closely … and hound you down … and—huff—kill you."

Nonetheless, seeing Akihito's parted lips, Asami seized the opportunity to dip forward for another kiss, ravenous and unquenchable. "But until such a time comes…"

Asami gentled his touch until the kiss became nothing more than a murmur, smirking as he whispered, "…you are mine."

OWARI