All I wanted was some Tanuki Udon after a bad day and now I'm trapped in Japan intent on stopping an invasion of tentacled demon-beasts... probably not the best time to be stuck in a Fuku!
Kage Hime Part 1
By Dr. Bender
Japanese noodle bars aren’t as rare in my city as they once were. Good ones, however, are still at a premium. Uncle Fumio’s wasn’t just a good noodle bar, though; it was authentic right down to the wooden paneling and Uncle Fumio himself, who seemed to sit behind the bar twenty four by seven. Fumio was much less a man than he was an ambulatory mountain. He explained to me once that the white kimonos he wears to work are made for Sumo wrestlers because the regular ones don’t come in his size. Where a Sumo wrestler is overweight, however, Fumio is all muscle; his arms thicker than some tree trunks and a neck like a bull’s. He keeps the sleeves of his kimono tied up around his shoulders, wears a matching white cap to keep his short, spiky, graying hair in check and wears a necklace of small brown prayer beads around his neck.
“Hey, Fumio,” I greeted sullenly as I ducked through the short curtain that hung from the front door, “better make it a Tanuki Udon.”
Fumio gave me his usual growl before burying his oversized nose into his work. I slipped out of my loafers before stepping up onto the floorboards and taking a stool at the bar, pulling at the knees of my black suit pants so I could sit without stretching the fabric. I’d need the suit in the coming weeks. I stared at the boiling water behind the bar, entranced by the way the noodles writhed in the froth.
“I got downsized today,” I admitted to Fumio.
Fumio frowned. Fumio has this strange way of communicating without speaking and yet managing to get his message across anyway. Don’t ask me to explain it, I’ve got no idea how he does it.
“I know, times are tough,” I agreed. Sighing as Fumio placed the bowl before me, I picked up my chopsticks and began twining the noodles around them. The smell of the udon noodles wafted up from the bowl and my stomach growled as I bathed in the scent. “I don’t get it, Fumio. Ever feel like a piece of your soul is missing? Like there’s supposed to be something there that isn’t?”
Fumio raised one eyebrow and cocked his head to the side, looking at me from the corner of his eye while he busied himself with the rest of the noodles he had on the boil.
“I guess not,” I said, slumping a little in my chair. Finally able to lift the noodles out of the bowl without splashing myself, I concentrated on chewing my food rather than thinking about my life, the subtle taste of chicken spreading pleasantly through my mouth. That’s Fumio’s real gift, knowing what you’d like to eat before you do.
I was always amazed at the consistent lack of customers at Uncle Fumio’s. Since I only came to eat at night, however, I always assumed that he did brisk trade during the day. From between five and six in the afternoon, however, I’ve never seen another soul enter the shop apart from me. That was another reason I ate at Fumio’s, after a busy day of commuting the peace of the noodle bar was balm for my soul.
That’s why I jumped when I heard someone else slide under the short curtain that separated the bar from the outside world. I heard the click of high heels against polished wood as she stepped inside (at least, I assumed it was a she unless it was a transvestite which I figured was a low percentage bet) but I didn’t turn around to look. Fumio was glaring at the newcomer, his eyes narrow as his shoulders bunched. Though he continued to stir the noodle pots, his movements suddenly became unusually stiff, even menacing. I didn’t hear anything after the click of her heels, so I figured that she’d paused to remove them before stepping up to the bar. I was proven right when she slid gracefully onto the stool next to me, laying her petite hands delicately on the counter to steady herself.
I couldn’t help but glance her way and once I got an eyeful of her I didn’t want to look away again. She was sleek and lithe, five foot nine and mostly le; her skin golden in the warm light of the bar as her luxuriant obsidian hair shimmered with every movement. Her gorgeous, long, legs were clad in dark pantyhose, shown off in all their glory by the short black dress that barely reached her quarter thigh. Straps displayed her elegant shoulders to perfection alongside the plunging neckline that enhanced the size of her breasts which must have been verging on D-cups. She was Asian, her ethnicity adding an exotic touch to a face that looked as if it had been sculpted by one of the old masters. She somehow managed to be exotic, mysterious, voluptuous, athletic, beautiful, accessible and natural all at once. She was the most perfect specimen of womanhood I’d ever laid eyes on.
I forced myself to look back at my noodles, knowing in my heart that I had no chance with the vision sitting next to me. With that realization came a wrench as a piece of my soul that I didn’t know existed died. Yes, now you know just how much of a hopeless loser you are, my inner critic observed dryly.
Fumio, however, wasn’t impressed. He thrust his chin towards the door in an obviously dismissive gesture that screamed ‘get out of my store, bitch’. The newcomer pointedly ignored him, crossing her legs gracefully as she stared across the counter at the bubbling water. She sniffed daintily as if she’d caught a whiff of something interesting.
“Tanuki Udon, Fumio?” She teased without looking up, still intent on the boiling water. I swear I saw Fumio blush. Fumio doesn’t blush; he’s the most stoic man you’d ever meet.
She turned and looked at me as if I was suddenly something of interest; deep brown eyes the colour of honey examining my face intently. “And what’s your name?” She asked, her voice as sweet as her body. The way she smiled at me made my knees melt; I didn’t think I could stand up if I tried.
“Don’t play with him,” Fumio warned aloud, his voice bringing to mind the crashing of waves against rocks.
“Forget the old stick,” she commanded without so much as a change in her inflection, I couldn’t look away from those enchanting eyes, “what’s your name?”
“S-Simon,” I stuttered, “Simon Pachenzo.”
She smiled and I felt like I’d just hit the jackpot. I would have divulged my deepest secrets, become her slave or sacrifice an orphan to her just to see that smile again.
“And what makes you so special, Simon Pachenzo?” She asked.
“Nothing,” I admitted immediately, much to my shame, “I’m ordinary.”
I immediately panicked, suddenly feeling the need to spill my life story out all at one. “I’m a Graphic Designer; I just got fired from an advertising firm; my hobby is collecting Anima and Manga, particularly Hentai; I went to school at…”
I was interrupted by Fumio bashing his enormous hand down on the bench between us. If he made a fist, I swear it would have been as large as my head. “That’s enough,” he growled, “he’s under my protection, Chiyo.”
The three of us froze in place for a while like actors in a Noh play. Fumio glared at Chiyo, muscles bunched tightly under his kimono. Chiyo smiled winsomely at Fumio, as if she were hiding a grand secret. I stared at them both like a deer caught in headlights. Finally Chiyo turned back to the boiling water. I let go of a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. Fumio relaxed and eased his hand back to his side.
“Simon,” Fumio ordered in a voice that warned of impending danger, “you better leave.”
I started to rise.
“No,” Chiyo commanded, “you stay where you are.”
Fumio’s face literally started to turn red. “Chiyo…”
“If he takes one step across the threshold of this establishment, he will drop dead where he stands.” She said. She didn’t threaten, she simply stated a fact.
I sat again, watching Fumio force himself to calm down. The red slowly drained from his face as his fists clenched and unclenched, tendons working like the pistons of a great machine. Finally then tension in his body eased and he sighed, closing his eyes. “Why are you here?”
“Sake,” she said.
Grumbling, Fumio reached under the counter to retrieve a bottle and some cups. He placed on in front of me. “You know I don’t drink, Fumio,” I protested. Fumio ignored me and poured. “Guess I do today,” I sighed in resignation.
Chiyo grinned as if she hadn’t just proclaimed my death sentence. “Come on, lighten up! You only live once.”
“Yeah, you can only die once too,” I retorted.
Fumio snickered at her expense.
She scowled, looking up at Fumio. “I’m here to take you back.”
Fumio’s smile fell from his face. “Not going back.”
“Yes you are,” Chiyo pressed. “We need your help.”
“I had my reasons for leaving.”
“Those reasons are no longer valid. The treaty expires soon and we aren’t ready.”
“You had time…”
“Time,” Chiyo interrupted, “yes, we had time. We had time when a strong Emperor sat on the throne. We had time when the Kami paid more attention to the world around them. We had time when the Tengu stood beside us and we had time when the Yokai stood united in the face of a common enemy. But now the Emperor has forgotten that we exist. The Kami indulge in their excesses. The Tengu fled from a country mad with the ideals of conquest. And finally the Yokai have become fragmented, content to feed off of the scraps humanity deigns to share. The Oni are all but knocking on the gates, demanding to be allowed back inside. We aren’t strong enough to stop them anymore.”
Fumio looked concerned. “You were supposed to draft a new treaty.”
“We’d be dealing from a position of weakness. If we drafted a treaty right now, it could mean the dissolution of the Yokai Courts. The clans are already starting to break apart; many are ready to side with the Oni if not out of practicality then out of greed or bloodlust. The last of the Ninja already have their hands full dealing with what’s already leaking through. We need your wisdom and strength.”
“I vowed never to return. I will not be a pawn to those with delusions of grandeur.”
“I knew you’d say that,” Chiyo smiled, “and I told them how you’d answer.”
“Then why come?”
“They told me to do anything to bring you back. Free reign.” She almost purred.
“I couldn’t pass up that opportunity now, could I? Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes… maybe a complete smorgasbord of apocalypse right on your doorstep would convince you?”
I gulped. It wasn’t that she sounded serious it was that Fumio was taking her completely seriously that made her scary.
Chiyo grinned, showing off her little, pointed, canines. “Of course none of that would move you. You’re far too pigheaded, I told them that. I’ve got a better idea. This man is coming with us to Japan. If you don’t give your word to come back with me and defeat the Oni clans, I’m going to take it out on him. You are also going to swear that if he tries to run away from me, you will kill him personally. If you fail to do this he will die tragically.”
With the end of her speech she threw back her Sake and began to pour herself another. Fumio was twitching as if caught in a helpless rage. I was dumbfounded, my brain refusing to deal with what I was hearing.
“And what’s stopping me from just killing you?” Fumio asked. His voice was deadly quiet.
“I don’t think you will,” Chiyo shrugged, “I may be a monster but we are old and among the last of our kinds. You’re above genocide, Tengu Fumio. Besides, if the Oni win then it will be your precious humans who will suffer anyway. Would you prefer him to meet his end now, later or perhaps never? If you come back with me you merely break a vow that applied to a world that no longer exists and save face by upholding the bond of friendship and sacrificing your pride for the good of all.”
Fumio poured himself some Sake. “And you’re willing to be the villain of this play?”
“This isn’t the time for pride,” Chiyo shook her head. “I will do what I must.”
“I have one condition. I will swear by this Sake only if you swear that you will inflict no harm upon him by your own hand and protect him as if he were your own flesh and blood.”
She nodded without hesitation. “I will.”
With that, they struck their cups of Sake together and sculled the whole contents, sealing the deal.
“WHAT?!?” I shouted, leaping to my feet. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
“No,” they answered together.
“B-but I have friends! Family! They’ll notice if I just drop off the face of the Earth!”
“Your friends and family will think that they just heard from you the other day,” Chiyo informed me, “you got a job abroad and you’re doing very well. You call regularly so they know you’re all right. Other than that they will forget about you. They won’t get the urge to find you or contact you; they won’t think about you at all. But if you contact them and disabuse them of this notion, they will die in agony. This is the first curse I proclaim upon you, Simon Pachenzo.”
My mouth dropped open. My throat went dry. “C-come on, you’re joking right?”
Fumio looked down into his empty Sake cup, sorrowful. “Nicely twisted, Chiyo, you haven’t lost your touch.”
“Oh, I’ve only just begun Fumio-chan!” Chiyo squealed brightly.
I collapsed back onto my stool. “This is the worst day of my life,” I moaned.
“It could’ve been worse,” Fumio sighed regretfully, “but for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. This bitch…”
Chiyo toasted his insult like it was a compliment.
“…has me over a barrel. I trust that you’ll honor our friendship.”
“What are you talking about?” I babbled. “This isn’t real, this can’t be real! There’s no such thing as Yokai, Oni, monsters, demons, whatever!” I jumped to my feet, determined to storm out after I’d had my say. “I don’t know what sort of practical joke you two are trying to play here but I’m not going to perform for the hidden cameras! I’m leaving and don’t you expect me back!” My tirade over, I stormed out of the noodle bar leaving the two of them calmly sipping their Sake.
I stopped in my tracks two steps from the doorway. The street was different, narrower than I remembered. The buildings were clustered together; not a single millimeter of space wasted. Neon signs clustered above me in an unreadable profusion of calligraphic characters that I vaguely recognized. Everything was impeccably clean, not a stray piece of litter out of place. It was much later at night than when I entered Fumio’s, the streets were deserted as far as the eye could see. Turning around I saw that the sign over Fumio’s had changed, now written entirely in Japanese with a plain little English subscript underneath.
Storming back into the noodle bar, I snatched up my cup of Sake and threw it back in one gulp without letting the fluid hit my tongue.
“Welcome to Japan,” Chiyo greeted me with dry humour.
I walked sullenly through the deserted streets of Kyoto with Chiyo hugging my arm possessively.
“Don’t be such a misery guts,” she over-cheerfully admonished me, “think of it as a grand adventure! Goddesses at your feet, hordes of robotic ninja, giant mecha, princesses to be rescued from the clutches of evil!”
“And me,” I sighed, “a gaijin stuck in a foreign land I know little or nothing about, held hostage by a psychopathic monster that was willing to blackmail my friend into vowing to kill me if I ran away. I’m doomed.”
She hugged me. I’ll admit that bit was good.
“Kiya! You say the sweetest things,” she squeed.
Quite honestly the cute act was even creepier than the whole threatening to kill me thing.
“Here we are,” she proclaimed, pulling me to a halt. I made a mental note that she was far stronger than she looked. “This is where we’re staying tonight.”
Japanese buildings don’t look like western buildings. Westerners feel the need to have lobbies and waiting areas no matter what the function of the building is. Even a General store will have a little clear space in front of the entry way for people to loiter around the counter. Maybe it’s because space is at a premium or maybe it’s an Asian thing but there’s no wasted space around Japanese buildings; you do your thing and get out with as little contact with a human being as possible. The hotel in front of us epitomized the philosophy. Next to the front door were rows of pictures depicting the rooms inside and next to each picture was a little blurb written in Japanese. The idea was that you could pick the room you wanted, which was lit from behind by a light if it was available and dark if it was occupied, step inside, tell the clerk behind the glass what room you wanted, pay the money and grab the keys; efficient but terribly impersonal. Looking at the pictures of the rooms, however, I got a clear picture that the people who rented these rooms would much rather the least amount of exposure possible.
“No, no, no, no, no,” I protested, trying to back away from the door, “this is one of those Love Motels. I’m not staying with you here.”
The wolf in sheep’s clothing attached to my arm pressed herself against me, looked up at me with big, glistening, honey eyes and pouted; the perfect picture of disappointment. With her thigh pressed against my crotch, I couldn’t keep my arousal a secret. “Awwww, come on,” she cooed, licking her lower lip seductively, “I promise we won’t do anything… too naughty.”
I gulped. Heat crawled up my neck as my heart hammered against my ribcage. Hormones do strange things to the brain. In that moment it didn’t matter that she was holding me hostage, had cursed me so that I could never see my parents again or came close to murdering me. As long as she pressed herself against me like that, she could douse my scrotum in gasoline and set fire to it with thermite. I’d forgive her. “O-ok, then.”
“Men are so easy,” she purred as she dragged me through the door.
The transaction was even quicker than I’d expected. Chiyo paid in cash that she seemed to pull out of thin air. The clerk hardly looked up from his novel. After leaving our shoes in the proper locked cabinet, she dragged me into a room that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a porn flick. You know you’re in trouble when the ceiling is mirrored. Circular beds big enough for the whole hockey team draped in purple silk are a bad sign. Adjoining showers with a two-way mirror wall that displayed everything going on inside to anyone sitting on the bed were probably illegal. Wall-to-wall purple and pink décor with gold fittings probably wasn’t illegal but should be. I think the heart-shaped cushions capped it off for me. In short, the room was overdone to the point of making me physically ill.
I stopped stunned in the middle of the room as Chiyo closed and locked the door behind us, putting the ‘do not disturb’ hanger on the doorknob outside. She then sashayed over to the bed, wiggling her hips so I could watch them sway and spun gracefully on her heels so that her legs were crossed as she alighted on the bed. Her performance was so perfect that the right strap of her dress artfully slid down her shoulder as she laid back onto the silk. There are few women in the world that are truly beautiful. There are even fewer that can manage to be both beautiful and slutty. Beyond that, you can probably count the number of women who can be beautiful and slutty but not cheap without out the aid of a computer. Chiyo had the last one down pat.
“So… where are we going?” I queried, trying to look at anything but the vixen on the bed in our room. If any more of my blood went south, I’d need a transfusion.
“Nowhere if you don’t sit down here next to me,” she cajoled, rubbing the empty spot on the bed next to her.
“Well, actually,” I stammered, trying to keep my panic from rising, “I’ve been sitting down all day and, well, I’d much rather stand for a while.”
She gave me a poignant look. “Simon, if you don’t sit down I’m going to feel… insulted.”
I slinked reluctantly over to her and flopped into a sitting position on her left, making sure to keep twelve inches of light between us. She sat up and smiled at me, resting her left arm across my shoulders while her right hand caressed the crook of my elbow. “Now was that so hard?”
The word ‘hard’ reminded me of just how uncomfortable my underwear was. When she leant over and pressed her breast against my right bicep, resting her cheek on my shoulder, it got worse. She shifted, wiggling her hips to snuggle against me, the soft curves of her body molding to mine. “Oh, come on, why so stiff?” She inquired as she massaged my tense shoulder muscles. “Relax, have some fun. Haven’t you ever been with a woman before?”
I must’ve blushed beetroot red.
“Oh! Oh, you really haven’t,” she chuckled wickedly.
I wanted to crawl into a dark hole and rot.
“Ok,” she relented, pulling away from me a little too quickly, “we’ve got work to do anyway. Be a dear and try to find an ashtray, would you?”
Grumbling, I crawled over the bed to rummage through the draws in the side tables on either side. I found it there, a thick black plastic thing that was lighter than it looked. Crawling back to where she still sat on the bed with my hands, I placed it on the bed next to her while I peered over her shoulder to see what she was doing. I hardly looked down her dress at all, I swear. Chiyo seemed to be wrapping some sort of thread around a silver needle. A strip of paper was draped over her knees.
“What are you doing?” I asked, unable to hold in my curiosity.
“Magic,” she said simply, tying off the dark thread to hold it in place just over the head of the needle. We both winced when she stabbed herself with it on the left index finger. Blood welled out of the prick and soaked into the thread.
“Ouch,” I sympathized, “what is that anyway?”
She picked up the ashtray and placed it in her lap and, holding the needle upright as if it were a calligraphy brush, began writing on the surface of the ashtray. “One of Fumio’s hairs, I picked it up while we were at the noodle bar. And I don’t have a phallus with me so this silver needle will just have to do.”
I blinked, slightly stunned at the last remark. Looking down at the writing, it took me a moment to realize what was wrong. The blood on the needle was still wet, still writing cleanly. The tiny drop of blood from her fingertip should have dried in seconds. The writing itself looked a little like Japanese, familiar enough to me that I thought I could recognize some of the characters, but I couldn’t read any of it.
Finally finishing, Chiyo removed the strip of paper from under the ashtray with a quick tug then blotted it on the wet blood. I watched the writing fade into view, forming impossibly neat, precise, characters on the absorbent paper. When it was finished, the crumbled the paper up, dropped it into the bowl then stood up and walked into the bathroom. From my position on the bed, I watched her place the ashtray with the crumpled paper onto the bench in the wet area before producing some matches. She calmly lit the paper, watched it burn for a moment, then stepped back out into the bedroom area.
“Ok, now I’ve got a few errands to run,” she informed me. “Avail yourself of the facilities until I return but do not leave this room unless it’s a dire emergency. If you do, I expect Fumio will make it a short sojourn. Do you understand?”
I gulped and nodded. “What; was that like a protection spell or something?”
“Yes,” she said simply before popping out of existence.
I blinked again. I got up off the bed and walked gingerly to where she’d been standing moments before. I couldn’t see anything so I waved my arm through the space. It passed through cleanly. I leant forward and sniffed. There was a subtle trace of perfume in the air but nothing compared to when she’d been pressed against me. Feeling adventurous, I jumped through the spot several times in quick succession to reassure myself that she wasn’t there and made myself dizzy.
It was the last straw that broke the camels back, to use a cliché. My anxiety coupled with the impossible events of the last few hours coupled with the devastating loss of my job, family and friends hit me all at once. I rushed into the bathroom as the bile rose in my throat, barely able to collapse over the toilet before the contents of my stomach overflowed into the bowl. When it was over, I felt exhausted, the taste of acrid, half-digested, Tanuki Udon swirling around my mouth as I sat on the cold, hard, tiles. Absently, I flushed, dismissing the physical evidence of my humiliation.
Breathing deeply to try and calm myself and clear my lungs, I realized that the air in the bathroom was sweet and fragrant but it wasn’t the overpowering stench of bathroom air fresheners that delighted my nose. Pulling myself to my feet, I walked over to the ashtray where the piece of bloody paper was still burning. I noticed that she’d crumpled it into a tight ball and then pierced with the needle and hair it when it was out of my sight, probably just before she lit the paper. Now the paper was burnt almost to ash and the needle lay at an angle in the debris. Sniffing again, I detected a fresh, floral, scent wafting up from the strangely smokeless fire. My heartbeat slowed almost immediately as my nerves calmed. As I breathed in the sensual fragrance, my anxieties became distant and unimportant to me, replaced by the enjoyment of such a simple, pleasant, sensation.
Deciding that torturing myself would only be counterproductive and taking Chiyo’s advice to try and relax, I retrieved a fluffy pink bathrobe (all they had was pink) from under the sink and took it back out into the bedroom. Placing it on the bed, I sat down and peeled my socks off my poor, strangled, feet. Relief was immediate. I rolled onto my back in the soft bed to get rid of my belt and pants. I threw my jacked across the room so that it sprawled over a chair, unable to care about it getting wrinkled, then carefully unbuttoned my shirt. I debated for a few seconds over removing my briefs and decided, in the interest of maintaining good circulation that they needed to come off. I discovered that the pink bathrobe was too small when I finally got it on; barely covering what needed to be covered and a little tight around the shoulders and hips once it was belted. But it felt wonderful against my skin as I laid back on the bed and sprawled out, watching my reflection in the mirror above.
I started using some of my relaxation techniques as I allowed my mind to drift away from unpleasant topics. Consciously relaxing my muscles starting from my crown and moving down my body to the tips of my toes, I allowed my troubles to melt away. Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to drift, conscious and awake but purposefully unfocused. Time became meaningless and, when I opened my eyes again, I found that several hours had passed by the clock next to the bed. Standing again, feeling refreshed, the fabric of the bathrobe rubbed against my nipples enticingly, almost uncomfortably hard. I was surprised to find that the robe had stretched a little bit too; it felt a little looser around my shoulders than before.
Feeling lighter on my feet, I walked back into the bathroom, letting the sweet fragrance wash over me once more. I had to chuckle at the man in the tiny fluffy pink bathrobe that presented himself in the mirror. I looked so dopey in the thing that I decided to let it slip to the floor. Checking myself out, I noticed that I had, indeed, seemed to have lost a little bit of weight; the usual springiness of my gut gone along with the puffy look of my arms. In fact, probing my skin with my fingers, I seemed to have bones and muscles I’d never felt before. I needed a haircut, though, my brown hair looking a bit shaggy. A slight prickling sensation made me scratch a few places, pulling away a few tufts of old body hair.
Cheered by the prospect that my diet and exercise was paying off and keen to wash away the accumulated dirt of a day at work, I turned the water on in the shower and stepped in after making sure it was at a pleasant temperature. Squeezing my eyes shut, I stuck my face under the warm torrent, letting the water wash down my whole body. Pleasant sensations made me moan lightly as the water cascaded over my chest; my nipples hardening despite the heat. Reaching up to prod the hard flesh with my fingers I was surprised to feel more of my chest hair pull free with the brush of my fingertips. When I looked down to see if anything was wrong I gasped in surprise.
The floor of the shower was covered in short, dark, hairs. I’d always been fairly bushy but now there were strips of clear, white, skin where rivulets of water had eroded it away. Carefully, I rubbed some of the remaining patches, convincing myself that what I was seeing and feeling was real. Not knowing what else to do, I continued to scrape away the hair until gone, leaving me hairless from the neck down. It felt good, like scratching an itch that you never noticed was there until it was gone.
By the time I was done, the effect of the water on my nipples was even better than it was before, arousal stirring things down below. Feeling wonderful and wanting more, I stretched, arching my back and standing on the tips of my toes as I raised my arms high over my head, presenting my chest to the full force of the shower. My spine popped in several places causing little thrills of comfort to tingle through my body.
When I came, it was so sudden and unexpected that I almost slipped. I managed to wedge myself into the corner between the wall and the glass before I came again more explosively than before, spraying my seed onto the wall. I must’ve cried out because my throat felt dry as it subsided, spots exploding before my eyes. I was giddy when I eased myself back onto my feet, swaying unsteadily as the world wobbled around me. It didn’t worry me, everything felt so good in that moment that I didn’t think anything would worry me ever again.
It wasn’t until I felt something clinging to the back of my neck that I felt like something was wrong. Reaching back I felt something wet and soft. Pulling it around I found it to be hair at least long enough to drape over my shoulders or cover my face; the tips brown but darkening quickly into silky, jet black, strands. Further examination found more of it down the sides of my face and slowly creeping down my back and a quick tug proved that it was actually attached to my scalp.
Then I noticed my hands. They were shrinking.
Spots of golden skin slowly bloomed on the back of my hand as the bones popped and cracked, spreading and merging as new spots appeared further down my arms. Muscles withered as my skin shrank. A second wave of pleasure broke through my shock, doubling me over as I clutched my stomach and cried out, my voice higher than I remembered. I felt bloated as if a new organ had moved into my abdomen and I could feel something writhing inside my stomach.
The orgasm was volcanic. I unleashed a fountain spray that managed to cover every surface in sticky, slimy, fluid but fortunately most of it was washed away by the water. I came until my genitals hurt deep inside, drained and empty. When it was over, I found myself on my knees, the spots of golden skin creeping onto my shoulders as my wet hair curled around the base of my rib cage. There was a sucking sensation and, when I looked down between my slightly parted legs, I saw my scrotum pull itself inside me leaving nothing but an empty chasm beneath my flaccid penis.
Reaching up, my hands shaking, I used the cold water knob to help myself to my feet, carefully so as not to turn it up or down. My other hand steadied myself on the wall as I rose, with my legs being less than cooperative. It quickly became obvious that I was getting shorter. The taps had been about crotch height, now they seemed to be at my hip. I could feel the skin of my palm shifting against the wall as I continued to shrink.
Stumbling out of the shower, leaving it still on behind me, I clung to the walls and benches, practically pulling myself in front of the full length two-way mirror so I wouldn’t fall over. I didn’t recognize the reflection that greeted me. My face looked distorted, smaller yet slightly puffy and smooth around the eyes, framed by an unruly mop of hair that now reached my waist. As I watched, my shoulders cracked and rippled, pressed inwards as if two great hands had shoved them into my chest. A squeezing sensation followed as my waist began to contract.
As I leant against the bench, clutching my arms across my chest, I did nothing but watch in horror as the changes gained momentum. Different parts of me shrank differently and at different speeds. My torso, for instance, shrank noticeably and quickly even as my hips widened and my waist and shoulders contracted. Comparably, my legs and arms almost shortened unnoticeably, though they seemed to become stick thin to my mind’s eye and certainly longer in proportion to the rest of my body. My neck thinned yet seemed to grow longer, if anything, in comparison to my changing height.
The golden spots overtook the rest of my body quite quickly, subsuming my head before covering the rest of my torso and overtaking my legs. I couldn’t help but notice that where it spread, the skin seemed softer and more sensitive than it had been before. My penis withered quickly after that, the shaft merging down with the lips of the opening below until only the head remained, peaking out from under a hood of skin before shrinking further into nothing but a nub. The bones of my hips crackled as they spread apart, new layers of fat forming where my butt rested against the corner of the bench. My figure seemed impossibly slender and delicate, my waist no thicker than a strong man’s upper arm. It wasn’t until then that my legs shifted, muscles and bones realigning smoothly and painlessly into a more pleasing shape to my eyes as my feet compressed into a petite size.
The last thing to change completely was my face, my skull reforming with several audible cracks. My features flattened considerably, though my nose gained a downward sloping curve that ended in a cutely pointed tip. My eyelids puffed out until it was hard to tell where they ended and my cheeks began. In addition, they gained a more almond, slanted, cast. The rest of my features smoothed out until the face was unrecognizable as my old self. Then something pushed back against my arms as they clasped my chest. Letting go, I saw them. Breasts. Cute, soft, dumpling-shaped formations that rapidly expanded behind my nipples, stretching the areolas as they settled into at least a large A cup, if not a B.
It took me a few minutes to realize that whatever had changed me was finished, done. The person standing in the mirror was someone else. It was a she. A Japanese girl, approximately thirteen, five foot three inches tall, slender but athletic. Hair like ebony trailed down her body until it brushed the floor around her ankles where it faded into a dark brown. She looked like a model or an idol singer, curved in all the right places with a flawless complexion and face, with lips that begged to be kissed and breasts for men to fondle without reserve. Completing the picture were long, supple, legs for wrapping around a man’s waist as they rode her all night long.
Trembling, I watched my reflection mirror my movements as I stood upright. Slowly, I reached out and touched the mirror with a foreign hand. The girl on the other side touched her fingertips to mine and the reality of it all crashed down on me. I screamed a long, high pitched, scream rather like an air raid siren.
Chiyo chose that point to pop back into existence. “Oh my god,” She bubbled, “you’re just so CUUUUUUUUTE!”
“KAWAII!?!” I screeched then immediately clamped my hands over my mouth. I couldn’t speak Japanese. I couldn’t understand Japanese. But Chiyo had just spoken in Japanese and I knew exactly what she had said. Even worse, I had answered in perfect, unaccented, Japanese.
Chiyo, pushing ahead with the inevitability of an avalanche, grinned as she held up a luggage bag. “Clothes! We need to get you all dressed up for the trip home.” With that, she skipped over to the bed and carefully placed the bag down so she could open it comfortably.
I started to race back into the bedroom, trailing sopping wet hair, but stopped halfway through the door when I realized I was naked. Using the door to hide myself, I leaned out to swear at her, still surprised to here another language come out of my mouth as naturally as if I’d been born with it. “You did this to me!”
“So?” She replied.
“So? SO?” I forgot my modesty and stormed out into the room. It wasn’t until I had my finger in her face that I realized she was six inches taller than me now. “WHY THE HELL DID YOU DO THIS? CHANGE ME BACK, NOW!”
She slapped me. The blow rattled my bones like nothing I’d ever felt before, the shock seemed to melt something in my brain that started leaking out my nose. I couldn’t see for a moment then my vision started to come back in spots as I blinked reflexively. I couldn’t help the tears that began to trickle down my cheeks or the slight sob in my voice as my throat contracted. I touched where she’d hit my cheek gently with my fingertips and it was tender but it didn’t hurt as badly as I’d thought it would. “Wh-why?”
She grabbed my chin and pulled her face towards mine, forcing me to stand on the tips of my toes. Her claw-like nails dug lightly into the flesh of my cheeks. “Why? WHY? I am Nine-tailed Kitsune Princess Chiyo of the Snow Fox Clan. I have lived, loved and lusted over this land for generations uncounted. The world is my playpen and mortals are my toys. If I decide to dismember you, your severed head shall thank me for my time. Should I decide that you look better with your face transposed to your crotch then I expect you to praise me for my creativity! Your desires mean nothing to me, just another simple thing to play with and discard when it breaks.”
Then she kissed me. I tried to gasp (it came out more like ‘mmmurph’) and she took the opportunity to slip her tongue inside my mouth. My body responded to her despite my wishes, pleasure robbing me of my free will. I wanted her to touch me, complete me; mould me in ways that I could never imagine. I felt wetness between my legs, ready to be penetrated and taken, needing to be used.
She pulled back, leaving me breathless and wanting. I tried to follow her lips, to maintain the ecstasy, but her hand held me away. “Do you understand me now?”
I tried to look anywhere but in her eyes, utterly humiliated and defeated. “Yes, Chiyo.”
She smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile; it was the smile of the victor over the loser. “Call me Mom.”
I hesitated, confused. She tightened her grip slightly, threatening to break my jaw. “YES! Ok, Mom, I’ll call you Mom.”
Her displeasure melted as quickly as it had risen, as if the whole thing were forgotten the moment she won. Her smile became genuine and enthusiastic to the point where she positively bubbled again. “Mother or Mommy is ok too! Now, I’ve got some simply fabulous outfits for you to wear!” She even squealed. “Oooooh! We don’t have time for everything now but just wait ‘til we get home! First things first, though, I present to you… THE BRA!”
The contraption she held out for me to take was all too familiar, I just never expected to need to wear one in my entire life. It was simple white cotton with a light purple flower pattern. While Chiyo rummaged around through the rest of the clothes in the suitcase, I took my time examining the clasp at the back. Steeling myself, I undid the simple hook mechanism and shrugged my slender arms through the straps. Reaching behind my own back to re-do the clasp was awkward but not impossible; it only took me a few minutes. A small victory to be sure but I was making the best of what I had.
When I was done I noticed that the bra fit me surprisingly well. “Uh, how’d you know what size to get me?” I asked.
She snorted. “I changed you didn’t I? Duh. Ok, I think we’ll go with this.” Chiyo held up several articles of clothing that made me blush. The two main pieces composed a sailor fuku coloured black with red stripes around the collar. Underneath the broad collar was a kerchief of the same red hue, already tied in a simple knot. A separate black pleated skirt and short white socks completed the uniform while a set of white cotton panties with little pink hearts on them hung from Chiyo’s fingers.
Not wanting to push my luck with the schizophrenic psychopath that insisted on being called my mother, I started with the panties. I didn’t think they were going to fit at first, my hips seemed so wide for a garment so tiny, yet the thin elastic in the waistband stretched alarmingly, allowing the underwear to fit snugly. The hardest part of fitting into the fuku was pulling my hair out through the collar, long as it was. The skirt was simple, clips on the side loosening the waistband before stepping in and re-fastening around the hips. The upper part of the fuku was long enough that I’d only show off my belly button if I raised my arms over my head. After that, I learned that apart from size, socks are socks. While I was putting those on, my new mom trimmed the brown hair off the end of my hair and began braiding it while I sat in a chair.
That’s when I noticed the problems of sitting in a skirt and I started to wonder where exactly Chiyo had acquired a sailor fuku this late at night. For starters, the skirt was indecently short; short enough that if I bent over I was going to show off my underwear to everyone behind me. Despite what anime has taught me, I seriously doubted that the pleated miniskirt was an actual part of a Japanese schoolgirl’s attire. Not wanting to piss mother off any more, however, I concentrated on trying to cross my legs which turned out to be a lot easier when you don’t have anything getting in the way.
“This is only temporary,” Chiyo explained to me as she braided, “once I teach you how to use bobby pins, be sure to keep this beautiful hair nice and loose at all times.”
I bit back a biting retort, keeping my eyes fixed on the floor. “Yes, mother.”
“Good, you’re learning,” she congratulated me.
“Where do we go now?” I asked, trying to keep my mind on something constructive.
“Now we go home,” she said, tying the last of the braids off. “There. That should keep it out of your way for now, just be careful it doesn’t catch on anything. If you must, drape it over your shoulder and for the love of the thousand Kami DON’T chew on it.”
Nodding, I stood up and immediately saw that my hair was going to be irritating. It bounced off of the chair, swung around when I moved my head, whipped around when I turned my body, bounced when I walked… and if I even suggested cutting it my mother might decide to scalp me. I settled for draping it over my shoulder where I could at least keep it in sight.
Then I noticed my old clothes still lying around the room. “Uh, what about my suit?”
Chiyo blinked as if she’d forgotten about them completely. “Oh, those.” She waved her hand and the discarded clothes evaporated, erased from existence. I was so stunned that I didn’t notice her closing the suitcase and walking to the door. “Coming?”
Snapping out of my astonishment, I ran after her.
We retrieved our shoes; my old pair mysteriously replaced by a set of red sneakers precisely my size. I didn’t bother asking any more stupid questions since my guide seemed to bend reality itself to her will. I was as impressed as I was scared, I’ll admit. At that point, I figured that she’d teleport us both somewhere and that’d be that. I was more than a little surprised and put out when she made me sneak past the clerk’s window by ducking under the bench and crawling past on my hands and knees. I waited patiently on the other side while she handed in the keys.
A dumber person might’ve tried to press their luck and a smarter person might’ve tried something tricky in an attempt to escape. I didn’t see any point; I was dealing with creatures that could teleport noodle bars across oceans and transform matter, as unreal as that sounded even to me. A lifetime of instinct honed by fiction told me to stay put. Besides, I have to admit, a small part of me was having fun. Ok, I’d been turned into a teenage girl. So what? It could’ve been worse. She could’ve turned me into a dog or a turtle; something without hands that can’t speak. Amazingly, I was grateful just to be human.
She smiled when she saw me and stroked my cheek. For some reason, I tried to smile back. That seemed to please her. “Come on,” she encouraged, prodding me in the right direction, “we’ve got a train to catch.”
We started walking through the dark streets. Cars flashed past us on the road. Curiosity got the better of me two blocks later. “Uh, mom?”
“Why can’t you just… teleport us to where we’ve got to go?” I cringed, waiting for a sharp retort.
“Good question,” she said, smiling. “I’m not as good at teleporting as Fumio. Aside from that, even I can’t cross into the spirit world without a gate. That’s where we’re going now.”
I decided to hedge my bets and shut up for a while after that. We came to a train station, I couldn’t tell you which one because I was too preoccupied with trying to walk in the ridiculously short skirt without flashing everyone. It seemed that my mother and I couldn’t walk past someone without creating a stir, I even heard a lady ask her friend if she recognized us as models. If found myself constantly blushing as men stopped to stair at us, some younger, more brash, ones even giving us a wolf whistle from the other side of the platform. Chiyo acted aloof and mysterious but a tiny smile on the corners of her lips betrayed her satisfaction.
By the time our train arrived I was feeling a little shell shocked. My sense of identity was crumbling around me, the horror of the past day threatening to break through all at once. I practically fled into the empty carriage when the doors opened, desperate to get away from the stares.
Chiyo stroked my cheek again as she sat down in front of me, a gesture that for some reason made me feel better again. I didn’t even mind it when she giggled at the look on my face. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. If it’s any consolation, you’ve lasted a lot longer than my other daughters.”
I sighed. I dreaded asking the question that was burning in my brain but I couldn’t keep it in any more. “Um… mother… I don’t want to upset you but… why a girl? I mean, you could have turned me into a cat or something if you just wanted me out of the way.”
She considered my question for a moment as if she actually wondered why she’d done it herself. “I think there were a few reasons. I mean, I couldn’t have a guy hanging around me all the time, the rest of the men would think we were an item or something. And I can send you off to school and get rid of you for at least eight hours a day without Fumio popping in to murder you. Besides, pets are annoying, you’ve got to feed them and bathe them and clean up their poop, yuck. This way, you’re like a living Barbie doll that I can dress up and play with only you can feed yourself and clean up your own shit. It’s all win.”
I think my eyes bugged out in horror.
“On top of that,” she continued, “I killed all my other daughters. The ones I gave birth to were just rotten little screaming sacks of meat; I swear I don’t know how mortal women put up with it. So I ate them, saved me a trip to the supermarket. Of course, eating your children in fits of pique isn’t very good for the continuation of the species. My promise to Fumio means I can’t kill you abuse you permanently, though, but now I think I’m actually looking forward to tormenting you for the rest of eternity! I guess that’s what they mean by the joy of motherhood! Really, I should’ve thought of something like this centuries ago. Why start at the shit machine stage when you don’t have to? So simple! Honestly, we’ve been together a few hours now and I haven’t had a single urge to rip you to shreds with my bare hands. It must be love; my babies didn’t last five minutes.”
I ripped open the window, leant outside and hurled. I vomited until my stomach was empty then dry wretched for a few minutes, stomach juices burning my throat. I felt empty and hollow; nothing left inside me to regurgitate.
“There, there,” my mother comforted me with some gentle pats on the back. “I know it’s hard for you to understand now but one day you’ll have your own little maggot sucking on your internal organs, making you swell up like a balloon and you’ll think ‘if they didn’t taste like chicken, I wouldn’t go through all this’.”
I was wrong about there being nothing left to evacuate from my stomach.
I found myself standing on a deserted train platform with Chiyo standing beside me. We’d spent the rest of the train trip in silence; I hadn’t dared ask another question out of fear of the answer she’d give me. Babies? The realization suddenly struck me, my hand absently straying to my stomach. I can get…
My mind refused to complete the thought.
“Come,” Chiyo commanded simply. I obeyed automatically, too dazed and frightened to object.
The station we’d arrived at was in the middle of nowhere. There was one road at the bottom of a valley, a pine forest and a pathway leading through the forest up the slope of a mountain. There wasn’t even anyone on duty at the station or cars driving past, though I could still see the diffuse glow of the city in the distance. I followed as Chiyo started up the path through the forest. We walked in silence, the click of our heels on the paving stones echoing through the trees. It was cold and I was practically naked but somehow the cold didn’t bother me as much as it should have. Shortly, we came to a tall stone stairway. Way up the mountain I could barely see the shadow of a tall archway in the moonlight.
I started up the steps behind Chiyo without protest. Looking up, I could see the stars in the clear night sky as I walked, the moon’s slender crescent shining down on us. When I glanced back over my shoulder I was shocked. Half way to the top and I’d hardly noticed, my breathing steady and my heartbeat slow and regular. By the time we reached the top some of my fears had been replaced by excitement and wonder. I paused to marvel at the stairs but Chiyo continued on through the row of archways that welcomed us and I found myself trotting after her before she left me behind.
The archways were tall and red, in the style that you see all the time in pictures of Japan or anime with two pillars supporting tapered, curved, cross-beams at the top. The one I’d seen from the base of the mountain had about thirty friends lined up in a row that ended at a plain stone rockface. Questions began burning inside my brain again but I forbore saying anything. After all, whatever was going to happen would in a few minutes, I could be patient and wait to find out.
It didn’t take a few minutes. As we walked toward the rockface, it seemed to become more blurry and indistinct. I blinked a few times, assuming there was something wrong with my vision at first. Then it became plain to me that no matter how I tilted my head the spot beneath the final archway was always blurred. By the time we reached the blurry spot it was an entirely grey field hovering in space. Chiyo stepped through it without pausing, still visible but plainly out of sync with the rest of reality as the sound of her movement changed unexplainably inside the grey space. Taking a deep breath, I followed, jogging to keep up.
The Greyness closed in on us for a moment, Chiyo continuing to walk as if nothing strange was going on. Then the greyness was gone and I was left blinking in the cold twilight of somewhere else. Before us lay a town but it had to be the strangest town that I’d ever seen. The roads were composed of ancient paving stones worn smooth down what was probably centuries. Strange houses clustered together surrounded by high walls, each appearing to be a fortress of some type. Despite the obvious functionality of each building, they were also composed of elements more common to traditional Japanese temples with enormous, gracefully arching, rooftops and extensive gardens built into the aesthetics of their design. Dominating the city was a structure that towered over everything else, glistening in golden hues as the sun crested over the mountains in the east, answering the brilliance of the sun with its own light.
I could see all this because we were standing high atop a mountain under an archway like the others only this one stood alone at the very peak. Despite the sun, the air was cold and crisp and clouds gathered in the distance over the western mountains, the city contained in a valley ringed by peaks. Next to us was a sign that read: Welcome to Kageshima.
My mother allowed me to gawk for a minute before losing patience and dragging me down the path towards the city by my right arm. We stopped, however, when we reached a stone platform a short way down composed of enormous stone blocks. Each block was inscribed with a name like ‘The Fortress of Iron Will’ or ‘The Pogoda of Temperate Delights’. In the center was a circular stone block inset with a golden seal that read ‘The Golden Palace, gate 72’.
“Stand here,” Chiyo ordered me, placing me beside her on the central stone block, “you may feel a little disoriented your first time.” She then put on a pair of sunglasses which seemed like a strange thing to me at the time.
I blinked and we were somewhere else again; on a small circular platform the exact size of the stone block where we had been only this one was made of solid gold. A small, gold, walkway led to more golden stairs that surmounted the sides of an enormous building made of gold. The light was so bright this close to the structure that it made my eyes water, forcing me to look away. That’s when I noticed that:
A) The platform didn’t have any railings.
B) We were several thousand feet above ground level.
C) It was blowing a gale.
In the millisecond that realization took to sink in, I squeaked and clutched my mother’s elbow, screwing my eyes shut so I wasn’t blinded by the glare.
Chiyo giggled. “Oh, so cute!”
At that point I decided that I hated my new mother. She then undermined that hatred by producing a second pair of sunglasses and placing them on my face while my eyes were screwed shut, so I could at least see where I was walking as she led me across the perilous walkways with me holding onto her arm as if it were a matter of life and death.
The strangest thing, however, were the other ‘people’ walking by. Some appeared normal, if dressed somewhat oddly in fashions that were probably centuries old. Others were not only oddly dressed but odd in appearance on top of that. A portly humanoid badger hobnobbed with a faceless man in a pinstripe business suit. A little girl in a school uniform allowed herself to be carried up the enormous steps by a thirty foot, red-skinned, giant with one eye wearing a tiger skin. Suits of empty samurai armour with glowing orbs for eyes patrolled the platforms that divided levels of the mountain-sized stepped pyramid. Small men in blue maintenance overalls swore profusely at two man-sized slugs as they crawled up the walls of the building, leaving a trail of slime that the little men cleaned as they went.
I thanked whatever deity I was indebted to when we didn’t take the stairs; navigating the hustle and bustle of a thousand monsters about their daily business might’ve been the last straw my sanity could take. Instead, my mother led me through a door into the palace itself, the inside lit by glowing green fires that hovered near the ceiling. The glow that emanated from the fires seemed vaguely reminiscent to me of fluorescent light. Thanks to the diffuse quality of the light, however, we could forego the sunglasses inside the cavernous gold hallways. I fussed for a moment over my lack of pockets before deciding to put my pair up onto my head.
“You people ransack El Dorado for all this?” I asked, awe plain in my voice.
Chiyo chuckled. “Actually, mortals wander in here occasionally through the gates. It’s a labyrinth down here, so usually we don’t have to worry about them getting back but sometimes a particularly creative explorer will find a way home. Of course, they can never return since getting here is an accident in the first place. Legends of cities of gold are partly born from the tales told by those explorers.”
Curiosity piqued, and with what seemed like a long walk ahead of us, I had to ask. “How come we don’t know anything about you people? I mean…”
“You people?” Chiyo grinned. “My dear, you’re one of us now.”
I paused for a moment but Chiyo kept on walking so I shoved my feelings aside and ran to catch up.
“But to answer your question,” she continued as if I hadn’t paused at all, “humans do know quite a bit about us. We just keep them in the dark about most of it.”
“I don’t believe it,” I grumbled, “someone has to have seen something. You can’t keep a secret this big! The media, cell phone cameras, video surveillance…”
Chiyo shrugged. “None of that matters. We control the entire system after all.”
I stared at her incredulously.
“Oh yes,” Chiyo grinned maliciously, “we’ve had the whole civilization thing under our thumbs from the get-go. The deities realized that if they let humans off to their own devices, they’d exterminate each other eventually. But, unlike the dinosaurs, they were just too much fun to let die, so we built civilization as you know it to keep them happy and contained. It’s like a big safari reserve with unlimited hunting rights.”
“That’s impossible!” I whispered, too stunned to shout. “Someone would figure it out, tell people. Science is advancing all the time, looking into the way things work.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well of course they do! Most of them get thrown into the loony bin or medicated into docility. If anyone gets too annoying, we eat them. Besides, science is just a big con, like global warming, democracy and the sanctity of human life. The television and the computer are great examples; we created them to keep the humans entertained. On top of that, the humans power them through their own belief in ‘science’, so we don’t have to do any work on the enchantment. It’s a really elegant solution to the problem. We don’t even have to stage events for them; humans manage to entertain themselves with their own antics just as much as they entertain us.”
“What about the government?”
“Oh, that’s the BEST part! We designed bureaucracy as a regenerating, self-replicating, system that does nothing but apply a set of rules. In fact, the whole system is about removing all responsibility from everyone in the chain of command. Everyone from the lowest peasant up to the highest nobility has absolutely no power to change any of the fundamental precepts of the system. It’s brilliant.”
Aghast, I walked along behind Chiyo like a zombie. Absently, I wondered when I was going to learn to stop asking questions. I might’ve thought it unbelievable except that I was standing in a golden palace inhabited by monsters… and apparently I was one of the monsters. “So,” I began again, steeling myself for the answer, “the humans are completely hopeless then?”
“No, of course not; they’re very entertaining, watching them scurry around before you pounce. Their lives are so short anyway and they spread like cancer, it’s not like anyone cares when a few of them go missing or die.”
“Other humans would care; friends and family.”
“I did mean anyone that matters, of course,” she muttered, “besides, they get over it. People die of natural causes and accidents all the time, death is just another part of their simple existence that they have to live with. Until then, we keep them as happy and content as possible in their tiny little world. Here we are!”
We stopped in front of a golden door with a sign next to it labeled ‘Registration’. After a moment, it opened itself so that we could pass through into the room beyond. It was a simple room with four walls, a roof, a floor, a slab in the middle for a table and several chairs all made out of gold. Behind the table sat a woman wearing an ornate pink and orange kimono with white flowers and a three meter long prehensile neck that bobbed and weaved like a cobra. Upon seeing us, she immediately scrambled to her feet and bowed low. “Good morning, Princess, it is an honor to greet you this morning.”
Chiyo inclined her head slightly in return. “Nanako; bored as ever I see.”
“So much time passes between births these days. May I ask, who is your beautiful companion?”
I blushed at the description. Chiyo laughed at my reaction. “Of course you’re beautiful, dear; you are my daughter after all!”
Nanako, if anything, looked more shocked than I did. “Daughter? You let one live?”
My mother slapped her. The effect was much like watching someone play teatherball in a small room. Nanako’s head flew across the room as her neck stretched impossibly long, bounced off the wall, the ceiling and the opposite wall before her neck wound around her body. In the end, she stood wrapped up like a mummy in her own neck, arms and legs pinned, before she fell over, too dizzy to stand.
Chiyo walked around the table and leant over Nanako’s prone form. “Do I have to remind you again that I don’t answer to you, Nanako?”
“No, Princess,” Nanako replied, her words sounding strangled.
“Good. Extricate yourself, my dear, and do try to retain some dignity.”
It took a while for Nanako to unwind herself but Chiyo seemed amused by the process. When she was done, she still looked a little shaken but otherwise fine. “Sorry for the delay, Princess, may I ask your child’s name?”
“Shizuko,” Chiyo answered.
I didn’t question it; I knew my mother’s response would be violent and unpleasant.
Nanako turned and bowed to me, not as low as she had bowed to Chiyo but more than a mere nod of the head. Not knowing what to do for a moment, I bowed back stiffly attempting to mirror her as best as I could. When I rose, Chiyo nodded her approval.
“Pleased to meet you,” Nanako greeted me, “I am Nanako of the Thousand Sunflower clan, Keeper of the Scroll of Generations. After I inscribe your name into the scroll, you will henceforth be Shizuko of the Snow Fox clan, first daughter and heir of Princess Chiyo. Do you understand?”
I gulped. Glancing at Chiyo I could almost see the thoughts behind the enigmatic smile on her face. If I said no to this right now, the small men in blue overalls would be peeling me off the gold floor with squeegees. Saying yes, however, was more important than it seemed. I could live as a monster or die as a human, this was my choice.
“Yes,” I answered quickly. The tiny flinch of shock on Chiyo’s impassive mask of a face was worth it. Besides, I’ve never been that impressed by martyrs.
Nodding, Nanako reached into the left sleeve of her Kimono and produced a wide strip of paper that seemed to unroll from inside the volumous expanse of cloth. From her right sleeve, she pulled a calligraphy brush wet with ink that didn’t seem to stain her clothes. She wrote down my new name, title and the date solemnly on the blank-seeming scroll. When she was done, my name faded as if it were written in invisible ink until the paper returned to its untouched state. Without further ado, the scroll was pulled back into one sleeve and the calligraphy pen went into the other.
“All done,” Nanako smiled and bowed to us both as if Chiyo had never brutalized her, “it’s nice to see you again, Princess.”
“Likewise, Nanako, though you’ll forgive me if I don’t pump out another brat for a few more millennia.”
Nanako sighed. “Oh, of course, I only keep mine around to do the chores. May I ask who her father is?”
“Fumio,” Chiyo grinned.
Already quite pale, Nanako’s face turned white. I had to resist making strangled noises myself. Chiyo turned and beckoned me to follow her, however, so I did as she bid, keeping my questions (would I ever learn?) to myself. A quick glance through the golden doors as they closed behind us showed me a frozen portrait as Nanako continued to stare at us, stricken. Then the doors closed with a hollow boom and she disappeared from my sight.
Chiyo put her sunglasses back down over her eyes. “Now for home,” she said, moments before grabbing my shoulder. I barely got my own sunglasses down before my eyes were stabbed by the brilliant light of the sun as we suddenly appeared outdoors.
Even with the sunglasses I had to shield my eyes with my hands. “Oh crap! Give me some warning, would you mom?”
“You’re not mistreating our daughter are you, Chiyo?” A familiar voice boomed.
I stiffened, still half blind as my eyes adjusted to the light.
“No more than necessary for her education, husband.” Chiyo answered.
“Husband?” I squeaked, surprised. Blinking, my eyes cleared enough to see Fumio walking down some steps toward us. Behind him was a huge temple high atop a mountain. A quick glance behind me showed another red gate that led to a path down the mountain through which the Golden Palace was visible in the distance. Were weren’t in the city proper, however, surrounded by lush gardens and tall, dark, pines.
“Since it seems that we now have a daughter,” Fumio growled more at Chiyo than at me, “yes.”
Chiyo looked up at him defiantly. “What are you complaining about? You get to share my bed, isn’t that enough?”
I took a step back as he clenched his gigantic hands into fists. “Share it with you and every other man you bed, don’t you mean?”
“Well,” she sighed lustily, pressing herself against him as she stared into his eyes, “we all know how much you like little sluts, don’t we?”
He slapped her, hard enough that she stumbled for a few steps. I watched her stand, half bent over, for a moment, blinking in surprise at the pain. As she came back to her wits, a triumphant smile spread across her face. By the time she looked back at him, she was the old mysterious seductress again, moaning as if the pain was orgasmic. “Mmmmm, you do know how to touch me so, husband. I’ll be waiting in my bedroom… if, you know, you’d like to have a longer chat.”
She disappeared again, leaving me staring at the space she’d occupied and Fumio swearing at her former presence. He paced and muttered for several minutes until he realized that I was standing there, watching him. He stopped still for a moment then turned to regard me from his lofty height. Finally he sighed, scratching the back of his head as if he didn’t know what to do.
“I think I need some Sake,” he said, “I’m sure there’s some tea around here as well.”
I took it for an invitation and followed him as he walked back into the temple. The interior was spartan, a low wooden table with cushions occupying a single room. The rice paper walls controlled the breeze and blocked off corridors to other rooms deeper into the complex. A stairwell led to the upper levels down a short corridor near the front doors. On the table was a bottle of Sake, an empty cup and a steaming mug of tea waiting for us.
“The Snow Fox clan was always decadent,” Fumio said, grunting in disproval when he saw the beverages. It didn’t stop him from taking a seat and pouring for himself. I tried to emulate his sitting position, folding my legs underneath me on the cushion, and found the position quite comfortable and natural. The mug seemed enormous when I picked it up with both my dainty little hands and took a sip. The hot fluid tasted fresh; washing away some of my stresses as it slid down my throat.
We sat in silence for a while before he spoke. “Would you prefer death?”
I blinked. The answer seemed obvious. “No.”
He nodded as if pleased. “Good. I hope you’re not sorry things turned out like this.”
I considered my answer, silently wishing that everything I’d been through in the last twelve hours hadn’t felt like some sort of test. “Things could be worse,” I said.
“HA!” He laughed. “Well said. I gather you’ve been exposed to Chiyo’s delightful personality then?”
“I don’t know.” I pretended to ponder, putting on a show of innocence, “is she really the queen bitch of the universe?”
He snickered a little. “Oh yes. She’s been the Kami’s hatchetman for a long time. Even before that, she was twisted; had a gift for the work. I never thought she’d ever try to settle down.”
“This is settling down?” I asked, eyebrow raised in askance.
The smile fell from his face as he took another drink. “You don’t understand yet. Knowing Chiyo, this is the only way this could have happened. I don’t know why she picked us; I don’t claim to understand women at all. What I do know is that we might be her only path to a better life.”
“You feel sorry for her?”
His eyes went glassy and sorrowful. “More than you know.”
I sighed. I didn’t want to feel bad for my mother but I could allow myself to feel sorry for Fumio. Somehow he was in love with the terror waiting for him in the bedroom. Looking at him now, I knew he’d go to her. I didn’t know why but I could feel his pain. Another choice loomed large before me, another that I’d never expected to have to make.
I reached out and put my tiny hand in his enormous, meaty, paw and put all the feeling I could muster into my smile. “Shizuko,” I introduced myself, “Shizuko of the Snow Fox clan. It’s nice to meet you, daddy.”
His hand closed around mine and he smiled back, the pain in his eyes falling away. “Fumio of the Green Blood clan; it is a pleasure to finally meet you, daughter. You seem to be taking this awfully well.”
I sighed. “No point in kicking and screaming about it. Would you really kill me if I ran away?”
Fumio frowned. “I gave my word.”
“I thought so. As long as I cooperate, my friends and family are safe and I won’t force you to kill me. I know I haven’t been a girl for very long and things are a little bit weird but… honestly, I don’t feel that different.”
He nodded sagely, taking another sip. “Many men in your position have committed suicide or even mutilated themselves. Certain Yokai take great pleasure in such poetic torments. But a deity has both male and female aspects and is happy in both, wise men look to their example and bend with the wind.”
I grinned. “Don’t get too excited, I haven’t been to the toilet yet. Speaking of which…”
“Down the hall,” he pointed, “the only door not made out of rice paper. If you’ll excuse me, I think I have kept Chiyo waiting long enough. I’m sure you have a million questions but today, content yourself to explore your new home while I distract your mother. Try to relax, anything you need will appear on this table.”
I thanked him before he disappeared. I was starting to get used to people teleporting, which worried me.
Don’t worry; I’ll spare you the toiletry details. Truth be told, however, the whole process was rather boring. You hear a lot of crap from everyone but the big mysterious truth is that it’s not that big a deal. Honestly, after thirty years of build up, it was a huge let down.
What wasn’t boring were the bathroom facilities. Sure, there were the usual things you expect to find in a modern Japanese household: a toilet, a sink, a mirror, taps, etcetera; those things were pretty much the same as western bathrooms despite the fact that I seemed to be in a realm full of supernatural entities and legendary monsters. I guess they import good ideas from the moral realm, like plumbing. What was unusual were the bathing facilities.
Now, if you’re passing familiar with Anime you’ll probably know that bathing has different standards in Japan than in the west. You wash before you get in the bath, using soap and a pale of water or possibly a shower hose in modern houses. Then there are the infamous hot spring resorts that appear at least once in every Anime, or at least that’s how it seems. It also seems, if you took Anime for granted, that half of all Japanese houses have their own hot springs in their back yards. Of course, in real life, they don’t; that would be ludicrous.
But we did. I was in such a hurry on the way in that I hadn’t noticed much, so it was a bit of a shock when I stepped back out of the small toilet into the cavernous bathroom proper. The room was tiled in white and had several shower hoses hanging on the wall to wash with but the end of the room was open to the outside and I could see the steaming pools of water underneath the short hanging curtain that cut down the light from outside. Padding across the cold tiles in my socks, I parted the curtain so I could peer out.
A wooden balcony led to a series of steps that disappeared into the rocky pool, steam drifting lazily into the air from the water’s surface. A high wall surrounded the pool, cutting off lines of sight to preserve a bather’s modesty. The balcony also hugged the side of the house, leading to a narrow door that was the only other entrance to the hot springs. Small pink blossoms drifted into the enclosure on the breeze, settling gently on the still water without causing so much as s ripple.
Suddenly I needed a bath.
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