Warning – to be read after Shinigami, or you will be spoiled
I was not welcomed here.
I sensed it in my guts, as the birds ceased to sing at my approach and the sun vanished behind gray clouds. It was in the chill seeping into my bones like a wet blanket that grew heavier with every step I took. It was in the mist, rising from the ground as if to bar the way.
The clearing had changed. The old secular cedars were nowhere to be seen. They must have burned a decade ago in that terrible wildfire. Saplings and younger trees as thick as my leg had replaced them. Yet, some things remained as I remembered.
I found the spot where Kogitsune and I often sat for lunch. I found the lake where we used to swim, and in a field of chrysanthemums, the unfinished shrine of the Inari god, covered in moss and blackened by time.
My imagination played tricks on me in this place of memories. The wind in the branches had me turning left and right, chasing a sound that resembled his laughter. Shadows made me stir, hoping they were his. Everywhere I looked I saw effigies of an unrequited love and a past filled with regret.
Destroy a nation, but its mountains and rivers remain.
The shrine was cold to the touch. I stroked the stone remembering how we had struggled together to bring this boulder up the mountain through sluice. I rubbed my eyes. A chuckle escaped me, then a sigh.
Over the years, he came to me in dreams shaped around the colors of summer. In the beginning we laughed, played and swam in the lake. Then as I grew up, he stopped laughing and began keeping his distance from me, speaking words I couldn’t hear. Those were the nights I woke up crying, with only the darkness and the moon to keep me company and witness my sadness.
I sank to my feet and bowed my head. “I miss you,” I whispered. “I wish I could see you again.” Even if he was a yōkai. Even if he was a demon. I did not fear him like my mother had. He had saved me from the ayakashi. We had shared the buns I made for lunch. He was my friend.
I closed my eyes and prayed.
When I opened them again, I found a thick mist had surrounded me. I could barely see the shrine, even though it was an arm’s length away. Shapes danced about. A crow cawed from above.
I turned my gaze to the darkening sky and gasped. A murder of crows was gathering, blocking the sun. I watched them fascinated for a moment, but then I glimpsed their red beaded eyes, and I broke into a cold sweat. Those were karasu, crows born in the underworld. My mother used to tell me stories about them. Spies for demons and shinigami.
“Do you love him?” an eerie voice called from the mist.
I tried to turn, but I couldn’t. I was paralyzed as if I had dived in a frozen lake. As much as I wanted to move, my limbs wouldn’t listen.
“You pray and pray to get him back. What makes you think you deserve him?”
I wanted to answer with all my might, but the words were stuck in my throat. I concentrated on fighting this darkness, but fear ate at my will. Was this the work of a demon?
“What if you hurt him again?”
“Never!” I cried, startling the circling karasu, who cawed at me in contempt.
“Do you love him?”
“Yes,” I whispered. Then stronger, with more courage, “Yes!”
The twinkle of suzu bells chimed in my ears. The crows cleared the sky and landed in a circle, surrounding me. Long clawed fingers spread over the back of my scalp and cruelly snapped my head back. “If you hurt him ever again, I will destroy you.” It was nothing but a whisper in my left ear, but the force of the words drummed like a gong in my body.
“Eggs and promises are easily broken. I want you to vow on the Inari shrine.”
“Who are you?” I asked. “Are you Inari-sama?”
The presence laughed. “No, mortal. I am what lies beyond your death.”
He released me, and I fell forward, bowed in supplication in front of the kitsune.
I didn’t hesitate. “I vow on the Inari shrine I shall never hurt Kogitsune again.”
“Break it, and your soul will be mine.” Something sharp like a claw touched the back of my neck.
I hissed from the pain. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m sealing our pact.” My skin burned with every stroke he made. “You have six weeks to complete what you have started ten years ago. On the first day of the seventh week, you will receive a royal envoy demanding you to forge a special sword. You cannot make the sword without the divine aid of a supernatural smiting partner. Come back to the shrine and ask for a miracle. Your wish will be granted then.”
Your wish will be granted. The words echoed in my head. Kogitsune.
With a great heave the crows took flight, and the flap of their wings blew dust and leaves in my face. I raised my arms to protect my eyes from the debris. Out of a sudden it was quiet. I could move my body at will again.
“Thank you,” I gasped, watching as the mist covered me completely. I dropped on the ground, sucked dry of energy.
I woke up at dawn. I had fallen asleep, curled around the base of the altar. I stood and stepped away from the kitsune sculpture, frowning at my quivering fingers. I pushed a hand through my hair and exhaled. What have I been doing? It was as if I had been kicked by an ox. My head was reeling and my legs wobbled.
I leaned on the sculpture to steady myself. I looked around, taking deep breaths. I had no recollection of returning to the mountain. I should have been frightened by this, but something in my chest didn’t allow such emotion. I was glad I was here. The most compelling need to finish the shrine overcame me.
I bowed and promised the Inari God, “I shall return tomorrow.”
It simmered in my chest like a candle as I climbed the slope leading to the lake. I needed a miracle. An envoy had come with a peculiar request. A sword for the emperor, foretold by the gods through the power of a dream. From the moment I saw the plans for the sword, I knew I could not finish it alone. It required the touch of a god, and there was no one like this in my humble forge.
The closer I got to the Inari shrine, the harder my heart drummed like a taiko.
I reached the clearing. The kitsune with the golden key stood proudly overlooking the glen, tails fanned at its back. My stomach leaped when I noticed the offering I had left the day before was missing.
I knelt and touched my forehead to the ground.
“I have been given a tremendously difficult challenge, and though it pains me to ask you, I need help to complete such a difficult task. Inari God, would you send me a miracle? Please.”
The silence stretched. The wind rustled in the trees and the birds chirped. The chrysanthemums in the glen basked in the sun, insects buzzing around their petals. The mountain had rejected me when I first returned to finish the altar. It had been gloomy and unwelcoming, but with each day it changed a little for the better. The birds began singing in my presence, the sun was warmer on my face and even small animals began approaching me with curiosity instead of eyeing me with hostility. It was a beautiful place. I wish I could live here and not down in the village, but I knew this glen was not meant for humans. It had a supernatural quality I could hardly describe with my limited education.
I stopped breathing. I knew that voice.
“I heard you need to make a sword.”
I straightened, suddenly anxious. “You heard correct.”
Please don’t be a figment of my imagination. My breathing grew shallow. The knot in my throat was thick and sharp, as if I had swollen needles.
“Someone once told me about the virtues of the Three-foot sword possessed by the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, who could govern the enemies in all directions without leaving the capital city. Is this the type of sword you have to make?”
“Kogitsune,” I whispered. I wanted to turn and see him. I wished to crawl and seek absolution at his feet.
“Don’t. We are not friends anymore.”
My eyes filled with tears. Please don’t reject me. Forgive me for breaking my promise.
“You threw me to the crows, prey for the long nosed tengu to carve at my heart. But I will grant you this blessing because last night I learned about forgiveness. Go home. Consecrate the forge in the name of the Inari god. And I will come to help you.”
Kogitsune vanished before I could turn my eyes on him. I sat there for a long time, staring at the blades of grass on the ground. It took me hours to return to my home. I ambled like a dead man, unseeing anything in front of me.
We are not friends anymore.
Kogitsune did not want me back. Was it right what I was asking of him? Did I deserve his aid?
My neck burned as if a claw was repeatedly scratching a symbol on the skin.
Kogitsune woke me up early in the morning and demanded to be shown the forge and how to hammer the metal.
We worked in silence. I tried to talk to him, but he refused to speak, glaring at me whenever I opened my mouth.
It was torture witnessing that the friendly, cheerful boy I had known had turned into this cold, unsmiling young man. It was all my fault.
“When did your Mother pass away?” he asked out of a sudden.
I looked out the window. The mountain peak was visible from here. “The day before I returned to the Inari shrine.”
“Condolences,” he said.
“Why did you return to the shrine? Why did you finish the kitsune?”
“I always meant to finish the shrine. I had promised my mother I would stay away from you…”
“I know that!” he growled, golden eyes shimmering with fury.
“… only as long as she was alive. After that, nothing bound me to the promise I made to her.”
His eyes widened, and he bit his lower lip. He turned his back to me and hugged himself. He began trembling. I realized he was suffering, just as I was, and it was killing me.
“Kogitsune,” I whispered, taking a step toward him. “Every day I thought of you. Every day. I spent the last ten years dreaming about us swimming naked in the lake. I spent my free time drawing you. Please, don’t shut me out, now that I can finally speak to you. Now that I can see your face. Your beautiful golden eyes. Please.”
I wanted to hold him, to kiss him and whisper how much I loved him, and had missed him.
“Please.” I hugged him, my hands wrapping over his chest, my forehead leaning on the back of his neck.
He twisted in my arms, whispering my name. I kissed him, unable to stay away from him any longer. He kissed me back and my head reeled with the knowledge he wanted me.
The forge was no place for this. I took him in my arms and walked with him to the room where I slept. I held him, all bone and muscle, silky skin and magic. We kept kissing, making up for lost time.
Gently, I lowered him on the mattress. He pushed on his arms and allowed the kimono to slip over his shoulders and I trailed my fingers down his back, imprinting in my mind the mountains and valleys of his body.
“Beautiful. Always beautiful,” I said, gazing reverently at him.
I was an innocent to this play. It was the first time I had kissed anyone. I thought my soul would leave me when he opened his arms to welcome me. Our mouths were hot, lips tasting lips, tongues exploring.
He tugged my kimono away and spread his palms over my chest. I was shaking, enthralled by the gleam in his golden eyes. One hand followed the trail of hair under my belly button, while the other mapped my body, squeezing muscles, bringing goosebumps to my flesh. He kissed my neck, sweet pecks at first, that turned to nips and licks.
The need grew in my loins like a tsunami. I barely contained myself, starved to be with him.
“You are very good at this,” I hissed when his hand began stroking my length. “Have you done this before?” I was asking stupid questions. I did not want to know he might have had this with someone else.
He frowned and paused his touches to consider my question. “I… don’t know. I mean, I know I’ve never been with anyone before. And yet, this,” he said tweaking my nipple, smiling impishly, “doesn’t seem unfamiliar.”
He pulled away the cloth covering my groin, exposing me to him. With inhuman ease, he flipped me on my back, switching places. I moaned when his tongue brushed over the tip of my cock.
“Stop! Wait!” I cried just as he opened his mouth to taste me in full.
“What?” he asked, startled.
I blushed, my chest raising up and down as if I had ran for ten ri. My words came with a stutter. “If you are going to do that, I will not last long.” I could sense my ears burning. It was embarrassing.
The sharp tips of his canines shined as he grinned. “Don’t think about it.” Then he engulfed me. It was so sudden, I was a goner in seconds. That’s all it took to have me shooting white ribbons of my seed in his mouth as I spasmed and contorted, my hands in his hair, my pleasure loud in the room.
I fell on my back, dazzled and happy, my mind forgetting if this was reality or just a dream. In a matter of minutes he had utterly and completely disheveled me.
Kogitsune stared down as I sprawled before him and whined. It was the most animalistic, basic sound he had ever made. His eyelids dropped to half mast.
His eyes found mine, seeking permission. I nodded, gulping. He filled his right palm with my spill, and spread my cheeks with the other. He coated me, and then himself. His lower lip trembled. When a finger entered me, I hissed, brought back to reality by the burn. He stopped, watching my reactions.
His long hair was a fiery halo around his head. It brushed my chest, tingling my nipples, taking my mind away for a moment from what he was doing.
“I’m ready,” I encouraged him. “I want you.” I wished this night would never end.
He looked so powerful standing over me, having me. My body was larger than his, but I felt as vulnerable as a twig in his presence. His golden eyes were filled with lust. For me, a mere human. If I worked my entire life, I would still never be worthy of him.
Kogitsune pushed the tip of his cock against my bottom. He closed his eyes as he met with resistance, but I kept urging him to go on, to stretch me open for him. Slowly he moved. It didn’t take long before my pain was overwhelmed by need. We were wrapped in its talons, fiery passion melding us together.
I spread my legs, pushing my heels into the futon, meeting his thrusts. We both sighed every time he pulled back and pushed further in.
“Kiss me,” I begged, and Kogitsune dropped on his hands and took my mouth, his hips rolling, pulling moan after moan from my lips. I embraced him and hid my face in the crook of his neck, my teeth scraping his unblemished skin.
“I like that,” he hissed. “Do it again.”
I licked and bit his skin, as he had done to me. It was driving him wild, the animal in him gaining possession. Our lovemaking grew rougher as he mounted me with animalistic vigour, keeping me suspended on the edge between pleasure and pain. I loved it so much my cock stiffened again. I wrapped my hand around it, but he growled, grabbing my wrist and pinning it to the mattress. The movement had me rubbing on the muscles of his belly.
I felt like I was being claimed.
“I’m going to…” I sputtered.
“Yes,” he grunted in my ear. “Me too.”
Higher and higher we pushed each other until we reached the precipice. He looked into my eyes then, so filled with trust and love and warmth, that I exploded, this time the orgasm shaking my core. My vision blurred. I felt him stiffen and warm liquid filling me inside. Careful, he dropped his head on my chest and gave one last shudder.
We sat there, connected, our limbs tangled, our breaths the only sound in the room. We were going to have a lot of bruises tomorrow. I smiled at the thought.
“I love you,” I said. “I swear I would do anything in my power to be worthy of you. I will spend the rest of my life making amends for hurting you.”
He wrapped his fingers over my hand and squeezed. “You better.” Then, kissing me sweetly he said, “I love you too.”
Two gods watched from beyond the veil, one of Storms with golden eyes, and one of Death with an incarnadine gaze. One with skin like jade, the other dark as charcoal.
“Are you satisfied?” the golden-eyed god asked, palm lightly squeezing the other’s shoulder.
“He deserved a happy ending,” the shinigami said. In his clawed hand appeared two wedding bracelets, dusty and three centuries old. They were enveloped by a gray haze. “I’m going to destroy these.”
The God of Storms frowned. “You took them from the grave,” he said, surprised. “They hold his memories?.”
The shinigami nodded. “There is no gain from dwelling on past lives, when a far better future awaits him.” He placed his palm over the hand clasping his shoulder.
They looked at each other, communicating with their eyes, their fingers intertwining. The haze grew darker, turning the bracelets to black dust. The speckles dissipated like soot, sending into nothingness a lifetime of memories.