© 2019 Snekguy. All rights reserved.
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Disclaimer: This work of erotic fiction is intended for adults only. The story contains the following themes: Oni, demons, Japanese period setting, size difference, muscle, sweat, first time, gentle femdom.
CHAPTER 1: WANDERLUST
“Onward, you dumb beast,” Satou said as he slapped the ox on its rump. The animal lurched, digging its cloven hooves into the soil and dragging the plow that was strapped to its back. It was May, rice planting season, and the terraced paddies were being tilled in preparation.
He removed his straw hat for a moment and wiped his brow with the sleeve of his kasode, the hemp rough against his skin. It was a hot day, and the dragonflies were swarming, knowing that the paddies would soon be filled with water in which they would then breed. There was a rhythm to life here, like the beating of some celestial heart. The men irrigated the fields, the water brought the insects, then the insects brought the frogs which in turn brought the storks.
His family's farm was built into the pocket of a valley amidst rolling hills, surrounded by dense woodland and encircled by the grand peaks of a mountain range. Their snowy caps stood tall, their rocky faces partially obscured by a blue haze and their sprawling lowlands enveloped by forest, the trees gently swaying in the breeze. The rice paddies were carved into the foot of one such mountain, where the valley channeled life-bringing water that was used to irrigate the crops. They were tiered one on top of another, with rock retaining walls to hold the soil in place, each one a unique size and shape to conform to the available land. When they were full of water, they shone like mirrors, reflecting the natural beauty that flourished around them and serving as habitats for all manner of wildlife. But right now they were just dirt waiting to be tilled before the planting could begin.
“Gazing longingly at the mountains again, Satou?”
He turned to look over his shoulder, seeing one of the laborers standing behind him. It was Nagao, an older man, one of the villagers who lived on his father's land. He was clad only in a loincloth and a sweatband, the heat of the spring afternoon making his already taxing work all the more difficult. His face was leathery, and his skin was tanned by his years of hard labor, but he always seemed cheerful. All of the inhabitants of their mountain enclave were tasked with cultivating the land, even the son of the proprietor was not exempt from such duties.
“Nagao,” Satou replied, the man's comment snapping him out of his stupor. “Aren't the mountains beautiful today?”
“Indeed they are,” the old man chuckled. “But your task is to plow the paddies, not to appreciate the mountains. Come now, or your father will become angry.”
Satou reluctantly tore his eyes away from the far-off peaks and resumed his tilling, guiding the ox along as the hoe churned up the earth behind it.
“You're always looking ahead Satou,” Nagao said as he walked along beside him, spreading ash on the disturbed soil as he went from a straw pot that was slung across his shoulder. It would serve to fertilize the earth before the planting of the seedlings. “You should pay more attention to where you are right now. That is your chief concern.”
“Are you to be my mentor now, Nagao?” Satou asked sarcastically.
“No,” the old man laughed, “but you would do well to listen to your elders.”
“You've worked these lands longer than I've been alive,” Satou began, “what do you know of the mountains and forests?”
“When your grandfather led a group of farmers up into the valley,” the old man began, “it was to escape the harsh labor and the crushing taxes imposed by the provincial governors. He founded a shōen, a farming community out on the edge of what is known. Because of its remoteness, it continues to enjoy autonomy. Beyond the boundaries of your family's holdings, there is naught but wilderness.”
“So nobody has ever explored these forests?” Satou asked, “nobody has ever scaled those peaks?”
“Not to my knowledge, no. Where is this wanderlust coming from, Satou? You have a privileged position in this community. One day you will inherit these lands from your father, and you will be tasked with managing the shōen in his stead, as his father did before him. You are becoming a man, you can no longer while away your days playing in the woods.”
They reached the end of the paddy, and Satou turned the ox around, leading it back in the opposite direction. At least the sun was beginning to dip behind the mountains in the West now, and his work would soon be over. His gaze was drawn to the East, where the golden rays illuminated the naked mountainsides in an orange glow, casting deep shadows on every crack and crevice. Their skirts of dense forests seemed all the deeper and more mysterious in that eerie light.
“There is one thing that I can tell you,” Nagao added, noticing the youth's wistful expression. “The Northeast is bad luck, it is kimon, the demon gate.”
“A demon gate?” Satou asked incredulously.
“Yes, legends say that evil spirits travel from that direction. Temples must be built facing that way, and you must never venture Northeastward alone lest you encounter a gaki, a hungry ghost that preys on unwary travelers.”
“Those are just stories told to scare children,” Satou insisted, disappointed that the old man was telling him folk tales rather than anything useful. “How could a direction be bad luck? We must be Northeastward of someone, somewhere. Does that make us unlucky?”
“That is the wisdom of our ancestors, you should not be so quick to dismiss it. If I were you, I would keep my head out of the clouds and focused on the earth beneath my feet. There is nothing for you out there, Satou, you would do well to realize that.”
He didn't reply, keeping his hand on the ox's lead as it stumbled through the mud, his eyes wandering back to the distant horizon.
Satou accepted the bowl of stew from his mother, bringing it up to his lips and shoveling a piece of meat into his mouth with his chopsticks. It had the texture of venison or perhaps rabbit. The game was plentiful at this time of year, and the community was able to supplement its diet of grains and vegetables, mostly barley and soybeans, with some much-needed protein. While they grew rice, it was rarely eaten by the farmers themselves. Most of it was carted off to be sold or traded with other settlements. Although their shōen was autonomous, they could not avoid paying taxes to the local government in the form of produce. There was a lot of politics and social maneuvering involved that Satou did not yet understand, but that he would no doubt be expected to learn once he took over stewardship of the farmland from his father.
His family sat around a squat table in the center of the room, kneeling or sitting cross-legged on a reed mat, his father seated across from him as he ate from his bowl. His mother was on his right, clad in a colorful silk kimono, and his younger brother Nishio was on his left. Their house was lavish by local standards, the floors were made from wooden boards instead of bare dirt, and the roof was lined with tiles instead of straw. As the leaders of the community and the owners of the land, the Hisatomo family had accumulated a great deal of wealth and status.
They were beloved by the peasants who lived under them, their methods less stringent than those found in the shōen down where the land was flat, as was the tradition passed down by his father's father. Satou had never visited such a place before, he was accustomed to the slopes and crags of the mountains and valleys, but he could imagine what it might look like. On a clear day, he could see far enough to make it out in the distance, land as level as the table that he was eating from. Down there were the great cities and the battlefields where warriors fought for Shoguns and Emperors. It all seemed so far removed from their peaceful rural life.
“Satou, how goes the tilling?” his father asked.
“It's going well, father” he replied as he set down his bowl. “The dragonflies are already back, it's like they know that the paddies will be filled with water soon.”
“That they do. It must be twenty-five years ago now that the hillside was burned and cleared. Those dragonflies have been spawning there since before you were born. I think the yield will be good this season, the weather has been favorable.”
“There's something that I wanted to ask you, father,” Satou said hesitantly.
“I was talking to one of the laborers today while I was working in the paddies, and he told me a legend about bad spirits traveling up from the Northeast. I wondered if there was any truth to it?”
“Satou!” his mother sighed, “I wish that you would concern yourself with more important matters rather than letting your imagination wander so. Leave the ghosts stories to your younger brother.”
“It's a superstition,” his father grumbled, pausing to take a draw from his bowl. “Some of the older members of the community believe that evil spirits dwell in the Northeastern forests and that they will travel down to our shōen if they are not appeased. The old women like to scatter roasted soybeans as a ward against them.”
“Would you say it's frivolous?” Satou asked.
“I would say that as the stewards of this community, we should not mock the customs of our friends and neighbors. Let them perform their rituals and spells, it's harmless.”
“Grandfather never said anything about the subject?” Satou pressed, but it was his mother who answered him this time.
“Your grandfather had more important things to worry about.”
He bowed his head and continued to eat, knowing better than to bring up the subject again. After a short while, his mother spoke up, this time with an excited tone.
“Satou, your father and I have some news for you. We were waiting for the right opportunity to bring it up, but now seems as good a time as any.” She looked to her husband, waiting for his permission, and he nodded to her. “We have found you a wife!” she proclaimed happily.
“A-A wife?” Satou stammered, stunned by her outburst.
“Yes! She is the heir of a nearby shōen, a woman of high standing. When you wed her, it will unify our two communities. It will create a great alliance between our families, and our collective workforce would very nearly double overnight. Their family is of equal social standing, and her father is honorable, she will be a perfect match for you.”
“I-I see,” he replied, concealing his shock as his mother looked on with a wide smile. “What is her name?”
“She is of the Matsuyo family, their farming community lies a day's hike to the South.”
No first name? He didn't press the issue, his parents probably didn't even know her full name, they only cared about her lineage and her family's holdings. He had known that he would be expected to marry one day, but he had always quietly hoped that he might be allowed to choose his own bride, perhaps someone from the village who he got on well with. He had never even seen this Matsuyo girl before, he hadn't exchanged so much as a word with her. What if he didn't like her? Arranged marriage was a common occurrence among those of the higher classes, but he had felt confident that such traditions might be overlooked in a place as remote as this.
His father seemed to sense his apprehension, addressing him by his full name, Satou standing to attention reflexively.
“Satou Hisamoto, this marriage will benefit your family greatly. As the inheritor of this shōen, you must put the needs of your community before your own. Remember the old adage, those who come together in passion stay together in tears. It is not only politically expedient to wed this girl, but it will make you happier in the long run. Your mother and I were wed in much the same way.”
Satou bowed his head, not daring to argue with his father, and his mother chimed in with a cheerful expression on her face.
“Do not worry Satou, you'll like her! She's a fine young lady, and she will make you a fine bride.”
Satou could not defy his parents, and so he acquiesced, bowing his head as he resumed his meal.
“As you wish, mother, father...”
“I want you to open the sluice gate this season,” Satou's father said, walking beside his son as they made their way along the grassy embankment of one of the rice paddies. “The fields are all prepared, and the rice is ready to be planted, it is time.”
“Me?” Satou asked.
“Shouldn't one of the laborers do it?”
“Satou, if you are to lead this community one day then you must learn every aspect of the shōen's operation. The sluice gate is essential for irrigating the paddies, the farm cannot function without it. Follow the dry stream bed up from the highest paddy, it will serve as a footpath, and after three miles you will reach the gate. Take a rake with you and remove any dead leaves that might be clogging the flow, then open it up.”
“Isn't the sluice gate...to the Northeast, up the mountain? Nagao says that I am not to travel that way alone.”
“Nagao is an old man who thinks that there are yokai hiding behind every tree,” his father replied impatiently. Satou considered for a moment. He was always looking for opportunities to venture out into the wilderness on his own, and this was as good an excuse as any. He wouldn't exactly be treading new ground. Generations of laborers had been up and down that path a hundred times, but he would be able to spend some time alone in the woods at least.
“As you wish, father.”
That seemed to please the man, and he patted his son on the back with his calloused hand.
“It is a great honor to be responsible for the sluice gate. Opening it signifies the beginning of the growing season, a time of plenty. I will have someone fetch you a rake.”
The dry stream bed wound its way through the trees, hugging a sheer rock face on the left as it climbed its way up the mountainside. It had been carved out two generations prior by the original settlers, its purpose to divert the water flow from a mountain stream and redirect it down into the rice paddies. It was quite a feat of engineering, Satou didn't want to imagine the time and effort that must have been required to dig a three-mile-long ditch in this rough terrain. He had his rake with him, pausing occasionally to clear away the dead leaves and debris that had fallen into the recess.
The forest was quiet save for the rustling of the trees and the sounds of chirping cicadas, there was a pleasant breeze to stave off the humidity and the canopy above shielded him from the sun. It was certainly more pleasant work than tilling paddies.
After a while, he finally heard the sound of running water, and he spied a small waterfall in the distance. Here fresh water from melted snow made its way down from the icy peak, cascading down the rock face before reaching the forest soil, then carving a new channel down the mountainside. As he marveled at the natural beauty of the scene, he came across the sluice gate. It was carved from rock, like a miniature dam with two possible routes, one of which was currently blocked with a wooden panel that was slotted into grooves in the stonework.
Satou kneeled and reached into the water, feeling the cool liquid against his skin, removing the wooden panel. Immediately the water began to spill into the stream bed, and he quickly placed the panel into the adjacent groove. He stood and watched as the stream was redirected, slowly making its way down towards the shōen. When it reached the highest rice paddy it would fill it until it almost looked like a pond in its own right, then the water would cascade down into the lower paddies, and so on and so forth until each one was full to the brim with fresh water. Then the laborers would plant the rice seedlings and the growing season could commence.
He sat beside the stream and dipped his fingers into the flowing water, enjoying the sensation. There was nobody to order him around up here, nobody to prevent him from taking a deserved rest for a few minutes. His father so often acted as if pausing even for a moment to take a breather would somehow impact his productivity. You must serve as an example to the other villagers, he would say, as if being a leader meant that you could never catch your breath.
Come to think of it, there was nobody here to prevent him from exploring either. As regimented as his father was, Satou thought it unlikely that the man would know precisely how long it would take him to climb the mountain and then return. The water would arrive long before he did, which would serve as proof that the work had been completed.
He looked up at the waterfall as it splashed against the rocky outcrops, and he wondered where it came from. What lay above that rock face? Did the water pool in places, or was it a continuous stream that came all the way down from the snowy peak? If he followed it a little ways up the mountain, it would be impossible to get lost, and his father would be none the wiser. He briefly considered Nagao's warning, but he hadn't encountered any evil spirits so far, perhaps the old man really was just blowing hot air.
He stood and stretched, appraising the forest ahead as he planned his route. He didn't want to risk climbing the rock face, but he could skirt around the edge of it and find another way up, then follow the stream up the mountainside. Using his rake as a walking stick, he began his explorations.
The stream snaked through the forest, Satou marveling at how it traced the natural contours of the land, carving through the soil as it sought out the path of least resistance. He had been following it for perhaps another mile. The incline here was steep, and the woodland was dense, ferns and other roughage making the going more difficult. He had to be careful of protruding roots, twisting his ankle or taking a fall up here would be dangerous as nobody knew that he had left the beaten path.
This was unexplored forest, he could be sure of it, not only due to the harsh terrain but because of the superstitions that so many of the older villagers seemed to share. They would come this way to find water to irrigate the farm, yes, but they would venture no further if they didn't have to. He laughed to himself, imagining them scattering roasted soybeans all the way in an attempt to ward off spooks and ghouls.
The water was crystal clear, so pure that he could see the stones and pebbles beneath it that had been smoothed and polished over the eons. At one point he came across a deer that was drinking from it, taking a moment to watch the majestic creature before it noticed him, prancing off into the forest with surprising grace and speed. It moved like it was itself a ghost, unhindered by the bushes and plants that served as an almost impenetrable barrier for Satou.
He felt happy, at peace, the songs of birds and insects his only company as he made his way into the unknown. Was he not his father's son, if he was not burdened with the responsibilities of stewardship and marriage, he would have liked to dedicate his life to mapping these mountains. He would make a record of every tree and stone, give a name to every peak, explore every crag and cave. Alas, the closest he could come to that aspiration right now was taking a short hike off a well-trodden path.
As he walked, he began to hear the roar of splashing water. It sounded like another waterfall, larger than the first, somewhere up ahead. The trees were too dense to see through, and so he followed the stream towards the noise. He arrived at the edge of a clearing, the trees so tightly packed that they almost formed a solid wall around it, and he poked his head between two of the thick trunks to get a look. Before him was a shining pool that fed into the stream, with a tall cliff behind it from which the waterfall that he had heard was gushing. The liquid reflected the sun as it took what must be a thirty-foot plunge, kicking up a cloud of mist where it pounded the rocks below and creating a hazy rainbow in the air. It was a beautiful scene, pristine, the surface of the water reflecting the sky above to give it an azure shine.
Satou had discovered something entirely new, a small wonder of nature that had been hidden away on the mountain. He felt a surge of excitement and pride, his curiosity and wanderlust vindicated in some small way. He couldn't tell anyone, of course, his father would punish him for straying from his duty. But he knew that it was here and that was enough for him.
He took a moment to appreciate the sight, but just as he was considering turning around and heading back, a sudden movement caught his eye. The trees to the right of the shimmering pool were moving, shaking as if something large was making its way through them. Satou grasped the wooden handle of his rake in his hands, fearing that it might be a large boar or some kind of bear. The wood creaked, the undergrowth rustling, heavy footsteps becoming louder and overpowering the sound of the waterfall as whatever it was neared the edge of the clearing. It could not be a bear, it could not be an ox or a boar, they didn't make sounds like this. Whatever was making the noise sounded like it was walking on two legs...
A monstrous figure emerged from the trees, pushing them aside as if the solid trunks were as flexible as mere reeds. It was a giant, humanoid in shape and at least eight feet tall. It was so large that its head very nearly skirted the treetops.
Satou recoiled in terror, his blood running cold as he hurried to conceal himself in the dense brush. He wanted to flee but his legs had turned to jelly, he couldn't muster the strength. All he could do was watch as the figure emerged into the light.
The first thing that he noticed was its red complexion. Its massive, brutish body was clad in what looked like animal pelts, carelessly stitched together to form a cloak with no concern for whether they matched in color or in pattern. He could make out the dark pelts of bears, the spotted coats of deer, and the distinct reds of tanuki and foxes. Where its body was visible beneath the haphazard covering that the giant had wrapped about itself, the skin was as red as a blushing cheek, uniform in color and texture.
The second thing to jump out at him was its mane of white hair. It looked like a wispy cloud was perched atop its head, hair as white as snow cascading over its broad shoulders and down to the small of its back, much like a waterfall in its own right. It looked so fluffy and thick, enormous and puffy, Satou had never seen anything like it. Everyone that he had ever met had been pale or tanned in complexion with straight, black hair. This creature was so exotic and strange in comparison.
He realized that he was holding his breath, watching as it dipped a bare foot into the pond. It seemed to be testing the water, did it intend to bathe?
As if to answer his unspoken question, the great figure shed its cloak, and Satou's mouth hung agape. It was a woman! A woman larger and more heavily built than any that he had ever laid eyes on, yet distinctively a woman none the less.
The moment that her thick cloak fell about her feet, his gaze was drawn to her figure, curvy and feminine. She had round thighs as thick as the tree trunks that she had so easily pushed aside, and above them were wide, flared hips that tapered into a pinched waist to give her an alluring hourglass shape. She wore a loincloth that just barely served to preserve her modesty, made from the same mismatched material as the long cloak.
Her torso was heavily muscled, thick and strong, Satou had never even seen a man that was this powerfully built. She looked able to lift an ox as if it was no heavier than a dog, a six-pack of firm abdominal muscles bulging conspicuously from beneath her crimson skin, flexing and shifting as she moved in a way that was almost mesmerizing. They looked like they had been chiseled from stone, the humid day making them slick and shiny with moisture, reflecting the sunlight that washed over them. His heart skipped a beat as he traced the contours of her muscular body with his eyes, reaching a pair of monumental breasts. They were as large as a full sack of rice, the kind that a grown man had to sling over his back to carry, her sumptuous bosom contained within a sling made from animal pelts.
Her arms too were just as developed as her torso, large and toned, but not unpleasantly so. The musculature of her shoulders was so finely detailed, the shadows cast by the sun accentuating every bump and bulge, her biceps each the size of his head. Even so, her features did not detract from her femininity, she was so large that they seemed almost appropriate on her massive frame.
His cheeks flushed near the same red as her skin as his eyes rose to her face, her sharp and striking features standing out beneath her mop of silky hair. She was downright beautiful, with a straight nose and full lips, her eyes a captivating shade of gold. They were framed by long lashes and bushy eyebrows that were the same pristine white as her fluffy mane. From her forehead protruded a pair of long, straight horns. Unlike those of a deer or an ox they weren't bony, they were the same color as her skin.
Every woman that Satou had ever met had been meek, small, unassuming. His mother had always made a point of being quiet and feminine, of deferring to his father in all matters, but this one was completely different. It was like she had stepped in from another world. He could sense confidence radiating from her as she stepped into the pool, the water rising to her knees.
He realized that he might be peeking, but his curiosity could not be sated. Not only had he discovered what must be some new tribe of monsters or ogres that shared the mountain, but it was...a woman. Satou had never seen a woman before, not in the flesh at least, not bare for all the world to see. He was old enough to marry now, he had become a man, but his position as heir to the shōen meant that his interactions with those outside his own social class had been rather limited. Boys and girls were educated separately, and every woman in the village was of a lower class than him, save for his mother. His conversations with them were formal and stilted at the best of times.
He felt painfully aware of every breath that he took, of every rustle of the ferns that he was hiding behind as he watched, his mouth becoming dry and his heart beating like a drum. The strange woman proceeded deeper into the pool, the water rising to her waist. She reached behind her back and unfastened the sling that served as her top, casting the garment towards the bank and letting her breasts fall free.
Satou's eyes were drawn to them with an almost magnetic power, the twin globes of supple flesh wobbling gently as they hung from her chest. They were impossibly large, so voluminous that he could have fit his head inside one of them several times over, her oddly colored skin shining like varnished wood. Her nipples were pink, standing out against her rosy skin, and he felt a twinge in his nethers as she reached a cupped hand into the water and began to wash them.
Her hands slid across their glass-smooth surface, the weight of them making the fat spill through her fingers like melting candle wax when she lifted them, the globes deforming and spreading as she cleaned herself. Her slim fingers roamed down her torso, wetting abdominal muscles so prominent that she could have used them as a washboard. It was not a sensual display, she was just going about her business, but Satou was captivated. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the strange figure as she washed under her arms and splashed water on her face.
She submerged her head, her massive puff of hair floating on the surface for a moment before it became waterlogged and sank. She vanished, and for a second Satou panicked, fearing that she might emerge somewhere unforeseen and catch sight of him by chance.
Instead, she surfaced in the same place, taking a deep breath and throwing her mop of wet hair back over her shoulders with her arms. It sprayed droplets of water that glistened in the light, her white mane now damp and heavy, clinging to her back. She ran her fingers through it, her eyes closed and her face tilted towards the mist created by the waterfall, no doubt enjoying the sensation. He watched as she continued to bathe, running her hands over her arms and neck, and then she reached down between her legs.
When she withdrew her hand it was clasping her animal skin loincloth, Satou's blood pulsing in his ears as he watched her fling it towards the bank where the rest of her clothes were piled. Her hands moved beneath the water, the woman washing her lower body, but the surface of the pool was so reflective that it completely obscured her. All that he could see was a mirror image of the blue sky above. It was frustrating, the smooth mound of her lower abdomen was tantalizingly visible above the pool, but he couldn't make out anything below it.
With a start, he realized what a precarious situation he was in. Perhaps Nagao had been right all along, and this was some evil spirit, or a monster that preyed on unwary travelers. Even a normal woman would be angry if she caught him peeping, never mind this gigantic, red beast. She might well pull his arms out of their sockets for daring to dishonor her.
He willed his limbs to move, and ever so slowly, he began to creep back in the direction that he had come. He was wary of twigs and bushes, he didn't want to draw any attention to himself, retracing his steps back down the stream towards the sluice gate. When he was certain that he was out of earshot, he increased his pace, not quite jogging but walking swiftly. His adventuring had very nearly gotten him into trouble. What if he had arrived a minute earlier and he had taken a dip in the pool himself? He would have been out in the open when the giant had arrived.
On the other hand, he had discovered something entirely unknown, and he had been rewarded with a closer and more intimate look at a woman than he had ever expected to see before his wedding night. His heart was still pounding and, his head was swimming with unfamiliar thoughts and desires. She had been so beautiful, unearthly, magnificent. He couldn't get the scenes of her glistening, red body out of his head, like the afterimage that lingered after glancing at the sun.
He wanted to tell everyone, to proclaim to the whole village what he had found, but he dared not speak a word of it to anyone. Besides the fact that his father would be furious at him for venturing into the wilderness, some of the villagers were very superstitious, and they might become frightened.
He reached the smaller waterfall that fed into the sluice gate, and before long he was making his way back down the path towards home. The stream was flowing now, running down the mountain, and it was probably already beginning to fill the rice paddies. Satou was carried by a mixture of exhilaration and fear, alternating between marveling at his discovery and looking over his shoulder to make sure that there was no red demon on his tail.
What was that woman? Maybe Nagao would know? It might be worth asking him if the old man could keep a secret.
“You have done well Satou,” his father said, gesturing to the topmost rice paddy. It was brimming with clear water, overflowing down into the next terrace. The dragonflies were already swarming as they prepared to make it their new home. “We can begin planting now, the harvest this year will be excellent I'm sure.” He paused for a moment, looking his son up and down. “You seem distracted. Did something happen up on the mountain?”
The question snapped Satou out of his stupor, and he shook his head.
“No, father. I'm just a little tired from the hike.”
“Well I have some news that should cheer you up,” he said with a smile. “Your wife to be, the Matsuyo girl, will be visiting tomorrow. You will be able to meet her before the wedding.”
“O-Oh,” Satou stammered, “that will be...nice.”
“She is a fine girl of good stock,” his father said as he looked out over the rice paddies where some of the laborers were already preparing the seedlings for planting. “She will do our family proud.”
“Why don't you go down and help them, Satou? It will do you good to see how the planting goes.”
Satou nodded, making his way down towards where the laborers were congregating.
“What do you know of giants?” Satou asked, leaning down to plant a seedling in the wet soil from a straw basket that was strapped across his back. The water in the paddy was as deep as his ankles, and he could feel the cool mud between his toes.
Nagao gave him a quizzical look as Satou did his best to sound casual.
“You have an interest in my folk tales all of a sudden, young Satou? You were so quick to dismiss them before. Why the change of heart?”
“No reason,” he replied with a shrug.
“What manner of giant are you speaking of?” the old man asked as he dug a furrow in the earth with his thumb and then filled it with a fresh seedling. The plants had already germinated in a seedbed, and now the laborers were transplanting the growing stalks into the wet field.
“I just wondered if you knew of any stories about giant people living in the mountains.”
“Where did you hear about such things? Is one of the old women in the village spreading soybeans to ward off Oni again?”
“What's an Oni?”
“Oni are a kind of yokai, a bad spirit. They are said to be wardens of Jigoku, the afterlife where sinners are sent to pay penance. There they carry out sentences and torment those who were evil in life.”
“What do they look like?”
“They're very large and strong. They're said to have wild hair, strangely colored skin and horns protruding from their heads.”
“If they're said to torment sinners,” Satou mused, “wouldn't that make them good? They're law enforcers, honorable people.”
“I wouldn't say so,” Nagao replied, groaning as he rose from a crouch and placed a hand on the small of his back. “Oh, I'm getting too old for this kind of work,” he grumbled. “The legends describe Oni as brutish and warlike, they're usually depicted carrying a giant iron club.”
“What would you do if you came across one out in the woods?”
“I'd turn tail and hope that it didn't see me,” Nagao laughed. He glanced at Satou suspiciously, his eyes narrowing. “You traveled Northeastward up the mountain today, did you not? Your father was talking about how you were to open the sluice gate this season. I assume that he sent you alone?”
“That's true,” Satou said nervously. “I opened the gate today.”
“Perhaps you opened more than one kind of gate?”
Satou didn't reply, crouching to plant another seedling.
“You know...” Nagao continued. “If a member of the shōen's ruling family was to ask me to keep a secret, I would be honor bound to obey, lowly peasant that I am. Hypothetically speaking, of course, if a certain young man had disobeyed his father's wishes and gone exploring instead of accomplishing his assigned task then heading straight home, I wouldn't rat him out. Assuming of course that this young man stopped beating around the bush and told me about the Oni that he so obviously saw.”
“Okay,” Satou sighed, “I did see...something.”
“Tell me about it!” Nagao whispered excitedly.
“I followed the stream up past the sluice gate, I wanted to see where it came from.”
“Of course you did,” Nagao sighed, “it seems that your curiosity can't be helped.”
“After following the stream for maybe a mile, I came across a waterfall that drained into a large pool from the cliffs above. Then a great beast emerged from the woods to my right. It was a person, but twice the height of any that I've ever seen before. She had skin the color of an akaibara flower and a huge mass of white hair, with two horns sprouting from her forehead. I watched her for a while, then I turned around and headed back.”
“I told you that there were bad spirits to the Northeast,” Nagao chided, “it has been known for generations that traveling that way brings bad luck. Did the Oni see you?”
“No,” Satou replied, “I'm sure of it.”
“You wouldn't have made it back here if it had,” the old man said pointedly. “Far be it from me to order you around, but you should not go there again. I know you Satou, you are too curious for your own good. You didn't heed my warnings the first time, now fate has given you a second opportunity to take my advice, so please do as I ask and keep away from that pool. Do not travel beyond the sluice gate again, unless you seek to end up in the belly of a yokai, or if you wish to bring doom down on our shōen.”
“Alright,” Satou grumbled.
“Needless to say, you shouldn't speak of this to anyone else. The people here will either think you crazy, or it will send them into a superstitious frenzy. Let's keep this between you and me.”
Satou nodded, reaching behind him to pluck a new seedling from his basket.
“Though I have to say,” Nagao added, “you are quite the young explorer. I doubt anyone has seen an Oni in the flesh for a very long time.”
CHAPTER 2: PAINTED DOLL
Satou tossed and turned on his sleeping mat, images of the beautiful red woman flashing through his mind. He couldn't stop thinking about her, about the way that her red skin shone in the sunlight, about how her hair looked as fluffy as a cloud. Those golden eyes, her alluring body...
He didn't care what Nagao said, he had to see her again, he would go crazy if he didn't. He felt like there was a hot coal burning in his belly, as if the only way to quench the fire was to gaze upon her one more time. He didn't know what he was feeling, it was strange and unfamiliar, a kind of compulsion. He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling, mulling over the day's events and trying to calm the rapid beating of his heart.
Tomorrow he would meet his bride to be for the first time. Would she be pretty? Kind? Would she like him? He couldn't imagine spending the rest of his life with someone that he had never met before, with someone whose full name he didn't yet know. But that was the way of things, it was his culture, his family's tradition. Like an ox plowing a paddy, Satou had to drag around so much responsibility, and now the promise of marriage had added another crushing weight to that burden. He had to do it, for his family and for his shōen, so why did he feel so apprehensive? Was he a bad person for desiring only to shirk these duties, to avoid his responsibilities?
“Ancestors...give me strength,” he groaned, turning over to stare at the wall. Again his mind turned to images of bulging muscles beneath wet, red skin, of womanly beauty the likes of which he had never beheld before that day. The Oni had seemed so wild and free, she was everything that Satou desired, everything that he wanted to be...
The kimono was hot and stifling in the May heat, weighing him down, Satou adjusting it uncomfortably as he watched the Matsuyo procession emerge from the trees. They had followed the footpath up from the West, their shōen was situation further down the valley, it must have been a long and arduous climb.
His father and brother were clad in similar kimonos, formal clothing in a shade of black with white undergarments, while his mother's was made from fine blue silk and decorated with floral patterns. Many of the laborers were standing nearby too, clad in what formal clothing was available to them as they waited to greet the visitors. Everyone was standing to attention like soldiers, unmoving, adhering rigidly to ritual and tradition. Every step of this meeting had been planned out, everyone knew what was required of them far in advance, having learned these customs by rote. It was liberating in a way to know exactly what to say and do, and to know precisely what the response would be. Yet at the same time, it seemed almost insane.
For example, the visitors would be offered a beverage once they were inside the family home, and they must decline three times before finally accepting the fourth offer. That was considered polite and proper, and although both parties knew what the eventual outcome would be, they still had to go through the motions. That was just one of many such rituals that Satou would be required to participate in, it was going to be a long day...
As the party came into view, Satou saw that the members of the Matsuyo family were traveling by kago, a kind of seat suspended beneath two bamboo poles and carried on the shoulders of servants. They would allow the rider to travel in relative comfort, with coverings protecting them from the elements.
The bearers were clad only in their loincloths, Satou didn't want to imagine what carrying such a load in this heat and through such rough terrain would be like. If they were to be offered cool beverages, he doubted that they would refuse three times before accepting.
The servants set the three kago down on the grass, and from within emerged their guests. There was an older man who was sporting a similar black kimono to the one that Satou was wearing, a woman who was wearing orange silk that was embroidered with birds and flowers, and finally...
Satou looked upon his future wife as she stepped out of her kago. She wore a flowing kimono that was not too different from those of the other women, the silk a shade of red with a black collar and floral patterns sewn into the fabric. Around her waist was a large sash that was pink in color, tied in a bow. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun, adorned with a kanzashi in the shape of a blooming rose, a traditional hair ornament that was said to bring good fortune to the wearer.
Her face was painted a shade of snow white, her lips dyed blood red, and her eyebrows shaved, replaced with small dots. She looked like a ghost to Satou, somehow unnatural, and she was wearing so many layers of heavy clothing that she could barely walk.
The two families went through the motions of greeting one another, there was plenty of bowing and nodding, Satou smiling until his cheeks began to ache. He noted that the girl's teeth had been dyed black, as was currently in fashion, making her smile dark and strange. When the formalities had concluded, they led the Matsuyos back to their house. His mother had fretted over the place all morning, making sure that everything was perfect, as if the visitors would notice and be offended if a single mote of dust was to be found.
They sat around the table in the center of the main room, and more formalities followed, the two families eventually progressing to a point where they could begin eating and chatting more readily. Satou's mother had broken out the good stuff for this visit, what few luxuries the Hisamotos could afford. Although they were a wealthy family by farming standards, the luxuries enjoyed by the higher echelons of Japanese society were mostly out of reach to them.
Today they were going to dine on boiled rice and salted fish, with tea for the women and sake for the men. Satou had never liked the taste of the alcoholic beverage, but he was expected to drink it, and so he did. Even the act of raising a cup to one's mouth was a ritual in itself, every action precise and measured, almost like they were performing a kabuki theater show.
During the meal, the two patriarchs discussed the expected yield of the rice paddies this year and Satou shared a few tentative glances with the girl. He still didn't know her name, and it would not be proper to ask her at the table. She didn't seem to want to meet his gaze, she was so shy, meek. It was the way that women were expected to be, delicate and fragile, like a lily floating on the surface a pond. It held no allure for Satou, and not for the first time he wondered if there was something wrong with him. Why was it that the other men all seemed to desire such traits in their partners? Why did they want them to be submissive and deferential, small and soft?
As his father had warned him, those who come together in passion stay together in tears. Marriage was not an affair of love, it wasn't about passion or attraction. It was at best a kind of alliance for social or political purposes, with the ultimate goal of producing heirs and joining families. Perhaps a kind of friendship could develop between a man and his wife over time, a certain tolerance, and it was always possible that having children might bring them closer together. His mother and father got on well after all, but what choice did they have? Their marriage had been arranged just as his had, they could either live in misery or accept their situation and make the best of it.
Satou looked across the table at the porcelain doll, her face white and expressionless, her eyes fixed on the table in front of her. Could he ever grow to love this person? Perhaps she was kind and loving and wonderful, and he just didn't know it yet? Images of the beautiful red woman flashed in his mind, so strong, so wild. This girl was the polar opposite, and he didn't really know any more about her than he did the Oni.
The meal took a long time, and by the time that it had concluded the sun was just beginning to dip behind the mountains. It was suggested that Satou should take the girl for a walk amongst the rice paddies so that they might chat a while and get to know each other a little better. It was not Satou's place to refuse, so the two prospective spouses left the house and walked up the pathway that led to the farms. They passed many of the shacks and huts that the laborers lived in along the way. There was more than one face peeking out of a doorway and whispering behind a hand as they walked by.
The village was abuzz with the news, everyone was excited over the prospect of Satou marrying. The shōen was more than just a farming community, it was an extended family, like a tree with the Hisatomos serving as the trunk and each peasant family making up one of the branches. The joining of the Hisatomos and the Matsuyos would benefit everyone, and he felt the weight of their expectations on his back along with their stares.
When they were clear of the prying eyes of the villagers, Satou spoke up, his curiosity overriding his strict adherence to protocol.
“What's your name? Mine is Satou.”
“Sasaki,” she replied. Her voice was quiet and soft, she sounded like a mouse. Even as she spoke to him, she kept her eyes on the footpath, her long kimono dragging behind her.
“I hope that...your journey was not too arduous,” he continued, struggling to find subjects of conversation. “These mountain paths can be rough and difficult to traverse.”
“The journey was pleasant, thank you,” she replied.
“Of course, you rode in a kago, so you might not have noticed. I can't imagine you scaling the mountain in that kimono,” he joked in an attempt to break the ice.
“Does it please you?” she asked.
“The kimono? I...yes, it's beautiful.”
They stopped at the bank of the highest paddy and looked out over the terraces, the valley visible far below in the fading light. The rice seedlings had been planted in orderly rows, and the dragonflies were swarming, the males locked to the females as they danced through the air in tandem. Spring, reproduction, new life. It was all so poetic, so fitting, and yet Satou felt nothing but apprehension.
“It's a nice night,” he said, making more idle conversation. “When the sun sets it will cool down a little, and you'll be able to see the fireflies.”
“I look forward to becoming a productive member of your family,” she said, seeming to ignore his comment. “I hope that I will be able to serve you well and bear you healthy children. My father says that we are to unite our two shōens and that it will be of great benefit to both families.”
She didn't seem much more excited than he was, staring down into the valley as she spoke.
“My parents say the same thing,” he replied, and an awkward silence followed that was punctuated only by the chirping of the cicadas. After a minute it became unbearable, and Satou felt that he had to do something to break it. “Shall we walk some more?” he asked, “let me show you the stream.”
He led her further up the slope, showing her where the flowing stream that came down from the mountain drained into the topmost paddy. He explained to her that the water traveled all the way down from the mountain's snow-capped peak, and how the sluice gate worked. She must have a similar system in her own shōen, and yet she seemed disinterested. Was she not the heir to her own family's farming operation? Was she not also instructed in its varied functions?
She seemed to sense that he was confused by her lack of enthusiasm.
“Women of our class are not expected to tend the farms,” she explained. “I have been instructed in other skills that might be of use to your family. I can read, and I have been trained in calligraphy so that I might one day handle administrative and financial matters. I can play the shamisen, if music pleases you. I can also sew and weave.”
“Yeah, everyone likes music,” he mumbled. “Did you sew your kimono then? It's very fine work.”
“No, it was a gift from my aunt.”
The lack of chemistry was palpable, as was the awkwardness. Would this really get better as his father has suggested? It certainly didn't feel like it...
“So, you like reading? Do you read any poetry? Are you familiar with the works of Matsuo Bashō perhaps? His book The Narrow Road to the Deep North is especially good I think, his travel sketches too. He once famously wrote, do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise, seek what they sought. It's very inspirational, wouldn't you agree?”
“I am afraid that my reading has mostly been confined to study,” she replied.
He led her down the hill, weaving between the rice paddies, the sky bleached in wonderful shades of pink and orange by the setting sun. There was a pleasant wind that cooled him, blowing his hair and making the treetops sway gently in the distance. Sasaki never seemed to look up at it, her head was perpetually bowed, he couldn't understand how someone could help themselves from marveling at the sight. He stopped suddenly beside one of the paddies, crouching down to reach into the water.
“Look Lady Sasaki,” he whispered, plucking something from the pool and extending his cupped hands towards her. “It's the first of the May tree frogs. They will be spawning in the paddies soon, the water will be full of tiny tadpoles.” The little green creature blinked its dark eyes idly, inflating its throat and loosing a ribbit sound. The girl recoiled, a look of disgust etched into her painted face. “H-He won't hurt you,” Satou insisted, confused by her reaction. “See? Isn't he cute? Would you like to hold him?”
She shook her head, and he released the little frog back into the paddy where it slowly swam away. Sasaki wasn't a fan of nature apparently. How could a girl who had been raised surrounded by such a wealth of natural beauty be so averse to it, so disinterested? Worried that he might have offended her, he decided that it was probably time to return her to her parents.
“Why don't I walk you back to the village?” Satou suggested.
The Matsuyo family stayed the night, then at first light, they returned home. There was a lengthy farewell ritual that concluded as the trio mounted their kago and made their way back down the mountain, Satou and his family standing rigidly to attention until they lost sight of the procession in the trees.
Once they had vanished, Satou let out a long sigh, immediately loosening his kimono. His parents seemed pleased, his brother disinterested. It would be many years yet before a bride would be chosen for his sibling.
“Well? What did you think of her?” his mother asked as they made their way back up to the house. “Was she to your liking? Did you think that she was pretty?”
“The Lady Sasaki?” Satou replied. “She was...about what I expected. Refined, proper, she will make a fine wife I'm sure.” But not a fine companion and probably not a good friend either, he neglected to add.
His mother knew him well enough to see that he was trying to conceal his disappointment, and she tried to reassure him.
“I'm sure that after you two have been living together under one roof for a while, you will come to appreciate her more. She will care for you and your home, mother your children, support you in all things. It is not something to be taken lightly, it is a lifelong commitment. Tell me Satou, when you first took up reading, did you succeed right away?”
“No,” he replied. “It took me some years to learn.”
“Marriage is like reading,” his mother explained. “You might not take to it immediately, you might not even like it at first. But over time you will learn and grow, you will adapt to your new situation, and just like reading it will open up a new perspective for you. You have to work at marriage, and on some days it can make you feel like an ox pulling a plow in the hot sun, but your efforts will be rewarded with the laughter of your children and the respect of your community.”
“I understand, mother.” He hesitated for a moment, then mustered the courage to ask about what had been bothering him. “I noticed that Lady Sasaki seems...out of her element when she's outside the house. She wasn't interested in the dragonflies or the sluice gate, and she recoiled when I showed her a tree frog. Why is that?”
“Oh, Satou,” his mother groaned in exasperation. “You are too old now to be catching frogs and playing in the dirt! The Lady Sasaki has not been laboring under the sun or exploring the woods, she has spent her time studying the arts and refining her academic skills. A lady of her class must keep her skin as pure and as white as a lily, she cannot be seen to work the fields like a peasant.”
“But she painted her face white anyway,” he grumbled, “nobody would be able to tell the difference...”
“All noblewomen are careful to keep their skin pale, it is a sign of status. Would you rather your wife had skin as smooth and as white as silk, or tanned and leathery like your friend Nagao?”
Satou dropped the subject, knowing that this wasn't an argument that he could win. When they reached the door, he waited for his father and brother to enter, then took his mother aside once they were out of earshot.
“May I have some paper and ink, mother?”
“Oh!” she replied with a wide smile, “are you going to write a love letter to Lady Sasaki? How romantic.”
It was traditional for suitors to exchange letters and poetry during their courtship, and as the future head of his household, Satou too had been trained in literacy and calligraphy.
“Something like that,” he replied.
CHAPTER 3: LOVE LETTERS
Hair like winter snow
Tall and strong as cedar tree
Love blooms from afar
It had somehow taken him over an hour to compose his poem, but he finally felt that it was complete. Night had fallen, and his family was fast asleep. He would travel back up to the hidden pool and leave this note there for the Oni to find, nobody would even know that he had been gone.
He folded the paper neatly, taking care not to smudge the ink, then blew out the candle on his desk. He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, then slowly crept out through the main room and exited his house. The moon was full, bright enough to see by, and so he set off up the path towards the sluice gate.
The undergrowth rustled as Satou crept out from between the trees, his letter in hand as he scanned the area. The Oni was nowhere to be seen. She wasn't in the pool, and she wasn't nearby, so he quickly made his way over to where she had emerged from the forest the first time that he had seen her. If she had come once before, then it was likely that she would do so again, but perhaps he would have to visit at the same time of day to catch her.
There was a boulder nearby, and so he placed the folded paper on top of it, making sure that it was conspicuous. He secured it with a small rock to prevent it from being blown away by the wind and then retreated to the cover of the woods. He wanted sorely to wait there, to see how she reacted when she read the poem, but if he was not back by morning when his parents awoke he would be missed. Even so, he was determined to return here. He would have to find an excuse to visit the sluice gate again.
He grinned as a devious plan began to take shape. He would walk back down to the sluice gate and sabotage it, simply by replacing the wooden board and blocking the flow to the rice paddies. By morning the stream would have completely dried up and then he would offer to go and solve the problem. The laborers were still planting, and they would be too busy to do it themselves. The rice seedlings would be absolutely fine, it wouldn't do them any harm. In the time that it took him to return to the gate and release the flow, the paddies wouldn't have had nearly enough time to risk drying out.
Satou made his way back down to the sluice gate, following the stream through the gloomy forest.
“I just don't understand it,” his father said as he and a group of laborers stared at the dry stream bed. “Where did the water go? This has never happened before...”
“What's wrong father?” Satou asked as he sidled up beside him, the laborers muttering amongst themselves.
“It's the stream,” he replied, taking off his straw hat and scratching his head as he looked up towards the mountain. “It's dried up, the flow has stopped.”
“I'm sure that I opened the sluice gate properly when I went up there,” Satou replied, shielding his eyes from the midday sun as he followed his father's gaze.
“Oh, you did. If you hadn't accomplished your task, then there would have been no water at all. Perhaps there has been a rock slide, or a tree has fallen and blocked the stream.”
“I can go and take a look,” Satou suggested. “I've been up there before, I know the way.”
“Very well,” his father replied, “go see if you can find out what the problem is. If there's a blockage that you can't clear on your own, hurry back. We may need to send up a team if we are to save the seedlings from drying out.”
Satou set off up the pathway, his heart beginning to beat faster in his chest. His ploy had worked, and now he might be able to catch another glimpse of the beautiful red woman.
The sounds of the waterfall reached Satou's ears as he crept through the brush, doing his best to avoid stepping on any twigs or rustling any branches as he snuck up to the spot between the two trees where he had last watched the Oni. The sun was at about the same position in the sky, and if she was anything like the rest of the people that he knew, then she would bathe every day. Even the peasants washed themselves regularly in rivers and streams.
He had already restored the flow of water, before long the stream would reach the paddies and his father would know that he had succeeded. He could make up a story about moving some fallen branches or something to justify his dawdling.
He settled in for what might be a long wait, keeping his eyes peeled and his ears alert for the sound of heavy footsteps and creaking trees. The letter was still where he had left it on the boulder, the small stone stacked on top of it. What would she make of it? Could she even read? Her clothing was that of a barbarian or a vagrant, what if she wasn't literate? He would just have to wait and see.
Only a few minutes had passed before he heard the sound of something large moving through the forest somewhere to his right. His breath caught in his throat and he crouched down low, keeping out of sight as the trees began to creak and rustle.
The red woman strode out from between their trunks, tall and majestic, clad in her patchwork cloak of animal skins again. Her massive puff of white hair was just as wild and unkempt, bobbing as she walked, like a giant mass of unrefined silk. This time however she was carrying what at first glance looked like a large sapling across her back, secured with vines that had been woven together into a thick and sturdy rope. When he looked closer, however, he saw that it was not a tree but a massive cudgel. It was made from black iron, studded with dull spikes, the long handle wrapped in tanned leather. It was enormous, far larger and heavier than any man could have hoped to lift, almost as long as she was tall.
He felt a twinge of fear. Nagao had told him not to come here again, that an Oni was a bad spirit that might eat him, but he had seen no evidence of that so far. What if she just used it for hunting? A girl that large would have to eat a lot to sustain herself, and she had to have gotten those skins from somewhere.
As he watched, she set the cudgel down on the grass at the edge of the pool. It was so heavy that it visibly sank a couple of inches into the ground. Then she flung her cape off and let it fall, revealing her magnificent body as she stretched her arms above her head and yawned widely. Satou could see that she had sharp, almost tusk-like incisors, similar to those of a boar but less prominent.
Once again he was able to gaze upon her womanly figure, her crimson skin glistening with beads of sweat and moisture from the humid air, giving her entire body a captivating sheen. Light and shadow conspired to make her sculpted abdominal muscles jump out at him, the sun reflecting off them and casting them into deep shadow. Despite her impressive brawn, she was also soft and round in places. She had an ample chest, along with thighs and a rump the likes of which he had never seen before, giving her a curvy figure that triggered something deep in his brain. He had never felt such desire for a woman before, certainly not for the Lady Sasaki, whose womanly assets were hidden beneath so many layers of clothing that it might be more fitting to refer to her as an onion rather than a woman.
The Oni looked around the clearing, Satou shrinking back a little to make sure that he was still hidden in the shadow of the trees, and then she turned her head towards the boulder. She hesitated, looking confused, then she began to walk over to it.
Satou's stomach lurched with excitement as she lifted the rock and picked up the piece of paper. It looked so tiny in her large, red hands. She opened the folded parchment and stared at it for a moment, her eyes lingering on the page long enough that he could be certain that she was reading the poem. She was facing away from him, he couldn't see her expression, he couldn't gauge her reaction to it.
He waited for her response, and then he heard the sound of crumpling paper. She balled up the parchment in her hand, turning to glare at the trees, her golden eyes narrowed. She scanned the edge of the forest, searching for her secret admirer, her expression less than welcoming. Satou had hoped that he might be able to emerge from cover and announce himself if she had responded well to his letter, but right now she looked like she would smash him into the ground like a fence post with her cudgel sooner than return his affections.
She marched back over to her cloak, her red skin shining in the sunlight, the movements of her muscular body hypnotizing him. The Oni leaned forward to retrieve the garment and wrapped it around herself, hefting her heavy club and setting off back the way that she had come.
Satou felt deflated. She didn't seem to like his poem, and he wouldn't even be able to admire her from his hiding place again, his love letter seemed to have scared her away. He waited a while before moving back down to the sluice gate, ensuring that she wasn't lying in wait for him somewhere nearby, and then he began to make his way home. He needed to come up with a new approach...
Night fell once more, and as soon as Satou was certain that his parents were fast asleep, he again crept out of his house and made his way back up the mountain. This time he had prepared a new poem for the red woman, this one styled in a more traditional format. Perhaps the Oni just didn't like Haikus? He unfolded the page and lifted it, reading the calligraphy by the light of the full moon.
I chanced upon you in the pool
The shimmering water a reflection of your beauty
Skin the color of fire and passion
Entranced me, like no one had before
I would weather the blows of your mighty cudgel
For just a moment of your company
That should do it. Surely she couldn't reject such a heartfelt confession? As well as the poem, he had been collecting wildflowers on his way up the stream. By the time he reached the sluice gate, he had accumulated a sizable bouquet, the varied colors and shapes of the petals standing out in the silver moonlight. He rounded the rock face where the small waterfall drained into the stream and began to climb the slope that led to the hidden pool.
All he had to do was place the letter and the flowers on the same boulder, and she would surely find them. Perhaps he could come up with another excuse to return during the day so that he might see her reaction?
He crouched in his usual hiding spot, peering between the trees and making sure that the clearing was deserted. All that he could hear were the cicadas and the rustling of the leaves in the wind, no heavy footsteps or creaking wood. The Oni didn't seem to be present, and why would she be? She hadn't been there the night before either, she only seemed to visit the pool during the day.
Satou emerged from the forest cautiously, the letter and the flowers clasped in his hands, making his way over towards the boulder. He placed the letter on top of it, then crouched, sifting through the wild grass to find a stone with which to secure it. He found one that was suitable and then drew a piece of string from his pocket, winding it around the stems of the flowers and tying them together in a bunch. Just as he was about to place the bouquet beside the letter, a booming voice shook his bones.
“Well, what do we have here?”
The voice was a deep contralto, gravelly and coarse, yet distinctly feminine. Satou winced, slowly turning around to see the Oni staring at him from the treeline. She had been hiding there, just as he had, the shadows of the forest and her camouflaged cloak concealing her from view. She stepped out into the clearing, her red skin shining under the moonlight, planting her cudgel into the soil with a thud that made the ground tremble. She rested her other hand on her wide hip as she stood before him, those yellow eyes peering down at him.
He realized that he was still holding the flowers, glancing down at them, then back up at the Oni. She seemed more suspicious than angry, cocking her head at him like a curious dog. She was even larger up close, almost twice his height. Even from a distance of ten or fifteen feet, he had to angle his head upwards to see her face.
“So you're the one who's been snooping around and leaving notes,” she mused, Satou's cheeks turning almost as red as her skin. “I didn't know that your kind came this far up the mountain.”
In one swift motion, she stepped forward, leaning down to scruff him like a kitten. She lifted him clear off the floor, his legs dangling as she held him by the collar, narrowing her eyes and examining him. He hung there, frozen solid through a combination of fear and shyness, the bouquet of flowers still clasped in his hands.
“Spying on me are you?” she asked as she watched him slowly rotate.
“N-No,” he stammered, swallowing conspicuously. “Well...yes, but not on purpose!”
“What are you doing all the way up here, little one? Your place is down the mountain with the rest of your kind. You're a little far from home.”
“I followed the stream up here, I wanted to see where it was fed from.”
“I came across the pool,” he continued.
“And?” she repeated, more sternly this time.
“...and I saw you.”
“So you like to hide in bushes and peek at women while they're taking a bath, is that it?” She opened her mouth and bared her pearly teeth. Her tusk-like incisors were almost as long as his finger. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn't eat you up.”
It was hard to tell whether she was joking or not, she seemed amused more than anything. Even as she was threatening to devour him, he couldn't stop gazing up at her. He was enraptured by her sharp features, the way that her golden eyes reflected the moonlight, the way that her puffy hair framed her red face. She noticed that he wasn't pleading for his life, cocking her head at him again.
“Are you not afraid of me?”
“Yes, I am afraid,” he replied. As much as he wanted to flee back down the mountain, this was what he had dreamt of. He was finally close to her, he was talking to her. She wasn't just a distant, intangible figure that was perpetually out of his reach. His heart was pounding like a drum, and he didn't know if it was because of his fear, or because of his excitement.
“Do you know what I am?” she asked.
“Yes. You're an Oni.”
“And that doesn't scare you? Have your people not told you stories about us?”
“I was told that Oni are...yokai, evil spirits who prey on travelers. Not to imply that you are evil, Miss, I don't yet know you. But you have threatened to eat me...which is consistent with what I was told...”
She seemed completely perplexed by his reaction, not knowing how to proceed, and so Satou seized the moment. He thrust the bouquet of flowers towards her, the Oni raising one of her white, fluffy eyebrows. There was a heavy thud as she let her massive cudgel fall to the ground, then she reached down to take them from his hand. Her red skin brushed his, and he noted that her fingers were nearly as thick as his wrist, her nails black and pointed like claws. She examined the flowers with a confused expression then turned her eyes back on Satou.
“What is this?”
“I picked them for you” he explained.
“Because...w-well,” he muttered, struggling to get the words out now that he was face to face with her. “Didn't you read my poem?”
“I can't read your script,” she said, “I don't know what those squiggles meant.”
He had assumed that she had read the Haiku that he had written for her, but perhaps she had just been confused by the symbols and that was why she had looked at it for so long. Having decided that he wasn't a threat, she set him back down on the ground, Satou straightening his clothes as she puzzled over the flowers. Did she really not know why a man would present a woman with such a token? Did Oni not court that way? Their customs might be entirely different to his own.
The red woman opened her mouth and moved the bouquet towards it, Satou waving his arms at her.
“No, no, it's not for eating!”
“Then what are they for?”
“For looking pretty, smelling nice...”
She paused, then her eyes turned to the boulder where the second letter that Satou had written for her was pinned beneath a stone.
“What's this?” she cooed, striding over to it and lifting the rock. Satou hurried after her, but before he could snatch it away, she had opened it and was holding it up to the light of the moon.
“It's nothing,” he insisted rather unconvincingly. He hopped up to grab for it, but she held it far out of his reach, teasing him as she smirked down at him.
“Read it to me,” she demanded, leaning down and handing the letter to him.
“I can't read your writing, so read it aloud to me. It must have been something important if you traipsed all the way up here and risked being eaten by yokai to deliver it to me, right?” She planted a hand on her hip again, watching him squirm with a sardonic smile on her face, sniffing at the flowers experimentally as she waited. “Well? Get to it.”
“Let me put it this way. If you came here to deliver an important message, then maybe I can forgive you for peeping at me. But you just came up here to ogle me, I might have to eat you up and pick my teeth with your bones.”
Satou cleared his throat nervously, his face burning a shade of beet red as he scanned the page before him. He had expected her to read this herself, ideally with him watching from afar. This wasn't how love letters were supposed to work, they were for communicating what you couldn't say in person, that was the whole point! It didn't look like he had much of a choice, however.
“I...I chanced upon you in the pool, the shimmering water a reflection of...a reflection of your beauty...”
“Oh, I see where this is going,” she said as her grin widened. “Looks like I got me a secret admirer. Go on then, read the rest of it.”
“Skin the color of fire and...p-passion, entranced me, like no one had before. I would weather the blows of your mighty cudgel, for...just a moment of your company...”
He folded the letter and placed it in his pocket, wringing his hands as he chanced a glance up at the Oni. Satou had never been so embarrassed in his life, he felt like he might shrink down to the size of a tree frog and hop away. The red woman seemed pleased, but perhaps not for the reasons that he had intended, covering her mouth with her hand as she stifled a chuckle.
“Where have you come from, boy? You aren't a farmer or a hunter, your clothes are too fine. No peasant would spend his time writing poetry, that's if he could write at all...”
“I am Satou Hisatomo,” he said, straightening as he announced himself. He was not accustomed to talking with women, but he had been trained extensively in formalities and social graces. “I am the heir to the Hisatomo shōen.”
“Oh, is that right?” the Oni replied with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “Well forgive my ignorance, my lord. I'd bow down, but I don't think that I can reach that low. So tell me, heir to the Hisatomo shōen, why are you trying to woo an Oni with fancy words?”
“Well, the things is...” Satou couldn't find the words. All he could do was stare up at her. She was so pretty, her mane of fluffy hair blowing gently in the breeze, her eyes shining like gold coins. Just the fact that he had to crane his neck to meet her gaze made him feel...odd, he couldn't pin it down.
“Come on boy, I don't have all night. Spit it out.”
“I...I meant what I wrote. I think you're beautiful,” he blurted out, his heart skipping as the words left his mouth. Now that the ball was rolling, the confessions just kept coming. He had already dug himself into a hole that he had no hope of climbing out of, why stop now? With any luck, she might appreciate his candor. “I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since the day that I stumbled upon you in the pool.”
The Oni crouched down, putting herself at near head height to Satou and resting her hands on her knees. He took a step back, blushing again and turning his eyes down towards the grass as she inadvertently gave him a view of her boundless cleavage. Her mannerisms were so unladylike. She was boisterous and loud, there was none of the fragility and deference in her that he saw in other women. Her manners were poor, by all accounts she would make a terrible wife, so why did he feel such a burning desire to be around her?
“You're a funny one, aren't you?” she muttered as she examined him like he was some kind of strange insect that she had come across. “How old are you, boy?”
“I'm not a boy,” he insisted, “I'm a man. My father says that I am soon to become the leader of my shōen.”
“You're not like any man that I ever saw,” she muttered, reaching out and tugging at the folds of his clothes as she examined them. “Oni men don't slink around in the shadows and leave people notes when they want a girl, they challenge them. They lock horns and make their intentions known.”
“Well then...I'll challenge you!” Satou exclaimed, the Oni's full lips curling into a smirk again.
“Well you got spirit, boy, I'll give you that. But you lack the horns to take me on,” she added with a chuckle. She reached out a finger and pressed it against his forehead, pushing him over so that he fell to the grass. He scrambled to his feet again, brushing himself off and glaring at her as she laughed at him. It wasn't cruel laughter, however, she wasn't mocking him. Her smile was warmer now, her snickering sympathetic. Perhaps she found him endearing?
“So what exactly is it that you want with me, little Samurai? If you thought that you could steal my heart with poetry, you might be disappointed. I don't think I'm your type.”
“I...I don't know,” he admitted, wringing his hands again as she watched him with a toothy grin. “I guess I didn't think this far ahead...”
“Don't you know any women your own size? There must be some down in your village.”
“My father would never allow me to court one of the villagers,” he replied, “my parents say that it is below my station.”
“Well that doesn't sound like it's any fun,” she said, “the people in your village can't court who they please? Why is that?”
“It's tradition,” he explained, “it's always been that way. I'm supposed to wed a lady of my own class, the heiress of another shōen, but I don't like her.”
“How come?” the Oni asked, “is she ugly?”
“It's not that. We just don't have anything in common. She's so fragile and meek, she won't even look me the eye. She's afraid of frogs.”
The Oni laughed again, her booming voice startling him.
“But you like me, is that right?” He nodded, the red woman's amusement apparent. “I don't suppose that your parents would be too thrilled about you courting an Oni?” Satou shook his head. “So you're going against their wishes, sneaking off in secret to come see me? Defying the customs of your people?” Again he nodded, and she scratched her chin, considering. “Does that make me the first girl that you've ever taken a liking to?”
“I suppose so, yes,” he replied sheepishly.
“So do the girls where you're from lift their skirts for poems and bundles of flowers?”
“Lift their skirts?” Satou repeated, not understanding the expression.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she muttered with a shake of her horned head. She stood suddenly, crossing her arms as she looked down at him. “Alright little Satou, we can spend some time together.”
His chest swelled, and his eyes brightened, the Oni smirking at him again.
“I'm not going to marry you,” she clarified, “but you're rather funny, and I could use the company when I'm down in the forest. If you return tomorrow when the sun is at its highest, I will be here, but do not dawdle. I will not wait all day.”
Tomorrow, during the day? Damn, that might be difficult, but he wasn't about to refuse her.
“I'll be here,” he announced confidently, and she laughed behind her hand again.
“Then until we meet again, little Satou.”
She retrieved her cudgel and slung it across her shoulder, making her way back towards the edge of the clearing and vanishing between the trees. Satou watched her leave, his elation making him feel giddy. He had done it! He had made contact with the strange woman, he had even spoken with her and made his feelings known. Now she wanted to see him again! It didn't seem like she was interested in him romantically, she seemed to think that he was cute more than anything, like a pet. But he had a chance to change her mind, and that was all that he could ask for.
He turned and headed back down the mountain, a spring in his step.
“Flowers?” his father asked as he examined the paddies, Satou walking along beside him as the sun beat down on them. The seedlings were taking to their new soil well it seemed, their stalks beginning to grow already.
“Yes,” Satou replied, “for the Lady Sasaki.”
“And why do you need to venture up the mountain to pick flowers? I am glad that you have taken a liking to her, Satou, but you have duties here. It will not do for the head of the shōen to go gallivanting off while his laborers do all the work in his stead. That might be how things are done down in the valley, but that is not our way. Remember, while status might be inherited, loyalty and respect are earned.”
“I know father, but I saw the most beautiful flowers while I was clearing the blocked stream. They will make a wonderful bouquet.”
“I don't see that you have to woo the Matsuyo girl, she is already engaged to be wed. Then again you have always been a...sensitive boy, and you have been taking your responsibilities seriously as of late. Very well, Satou, you may go pick flowers up the mountain. But do not stray too far, and be back before dinner or your mother will be upset with you.”
“Thank you father,” he said, followed by a short bow. He wasted no time, following the stream as he headed off up the mountain.
CHAPTER 4: RED SPIDER LILY
The Oni was waiting for him when he arrived, sitting on the boulder with her cudgel leaning against it at her side. She looked as magnificent as ever, her massive legs crossed and her red skin shining in the sunlight, her white hair blowing gently in the breeze. She greeted him with a wave, Satou taking a moment to catch his breath. He had hurried, and the terrain was difficult.
“Welcome back, little Satou,” she cooed. “I trust that your journey wasn't too taxing?” She was making fun of him of course, smiling at him as he recovered from his hike. “Don't get too comfortable yet, we're going for a walk.”
“A walk?” he asked.
“I come down to the forest to hunt in the spring. It's the season when most of the game is looking to mate, which makes them loud and imprudent. Kind of like you actually. You can tag along, but only if you promise to be quiet.”
“I can be quiet!” he insisted.
“Have you ever been hunting before?”
“No,” he admitted, “but I've watched plenty of animals. I know how to stay hidden.”
“Well you managed to sneak up on me, so I'll trust you. But if you scare away a deer, I might just decide to have you for supper instead.”
The Oni bared her pointed teeth in a grin, laughing at her own joke. She gestured for him to follow, rising to her feet and returning the heavy club to its place on her back. She was wearing her long cloak again, the patchwork of animal skins doing a good job of hiding her red complexion from view. Perhaps that was its purpose as well as keeping her warm, to conceal her from her quarry? Satou hurried along after her, struggling to keep pace with her long strides.
“So you said that you come down to hunt,” he said as he made his way into the forest behind her, “does that mean that you live higher up the mountain?”
“My village is higher on the peak,” she replied, moving between the trees and keeping her eyes on the woods as she weaved through the undergrowth. “We rarely descend this low, where the air is thick and stifling, but it's the only way to find good game for meat and furs.”
“None of my people have ever scaled the peaks, at least not that I know of,” Satou replied. “What's it like up there?”
“Humans like to farm, and there is no soil that high,” she said as she squeezed between two trees. “It's cold, windy, the air is thin enough that you would probably have trouble breathing. There is snow all year round.” Despite her size, she was pretty fast, she knew the terrain well and was clearly experienced at navigating it. “I am surprised to see humans even this far up the valley. Why aren't you down on the plains?”
“My grandfather led his people here to escape oppression,” Satou explained, “they established a farming community in the valley so that they might be free to rule themselves.”
“And you grew up here?” she asked.
“Yes, I have lived on the mountain all my life. I have never seen the lowlands, or at least I have never visited them. I can see them from the terraces on a clear day.”
“Perhaps that is why you behave so strangely...”
“In what way am I strange?” Satou asked, hopping over a protruding root.
“Well for one, you didn't flee the moment that you saw me. The humans tell tall tales of evil Oni, they say we bring disasters and eat travelers. Only an inattentive child would be so careless.”
“I'm not a child,” he complained, “I'm old enough to marry.”
“You're the size of one,” she laughed, amused by his indignation. “At least an Oni child, I don't know how large humans grow.”
“I'm almost five foot six!”
“Is that supposed to be impressive?”
“Maybe not to you,” he grumbled.
“You're also high-born, isn't that right?” the Oni asked as she pushed a branch out of her way with a loud creak.
“What of it?”
“Aren't the high-born supposed to stay inside their fancy castles and never interact with anyone who wasn't born with a silver spoon in their mouth?”
“Perhaps the upper classes,” he said with a shrug, “but not me. My family might be the leaders of a shōen, but we are still only farmers. We have a respected position in society, even a Shogun cannot live without the rice from our paddies, but we don't own castles and servants or anything like that.”
“But still, would you say that it's normal for someone of your class to be running around the woods and exploring?”
“I suppose not,” he grumbled, “now you're starting to sound like my father.”
She laughed at that, turning to look back at him over her shoulder, her large tuft of hair bouncing as she walked.
“So you don't pay attention to your elders, you disobey your parents, and you'd rather be out in the woods than sitting on a silk pillow? Maybe we have more in common than I thought.”
She held up her fist and went silent, Satou stopping behind her and crouching low. He waited for a few moments as she scanned the trees.
“Never mind,” she said, “thought I heard something moving around.”
“What are we hunting?”
“Whatever I can get my hands on,” the Oni replied. “Deer mostly, maybe a bear or a wolf if one crosses paths with us. The more pelts I can bring back, the better.”
“Do you sell them?” Satou asked.
“No, we use them.”
He followed her through the woods for a while longer, the conversation dying down as she turned her attention towards tracking animals, but Satou didn't mind. He was just glad of her company, peering up at her to admire her every so often when he was sure that she was looking away. Her hair was so huge. It was fluffy and bouncy like a cloud, extending all the way down to the small of her back, cascading over her shoulders and contrasting sharply with the dull browns of her cloak. He couldn't see much of her figure beneath the garment, but she still radiated that confidence that he had found so alluring the first time that he had seen her. It was like she never made a wrong step, so sure of herself, moving with deliberate intent.
Satou was thrilled to be exploring the forest too. As the Oni herself had said, not many humans came up this way, and they were venturing far from the beaten path. He might be the first person to ever tread this ground. Well, the first human in any case. Perhaps the Oni had already explored and mapped the highest reaches of the mountain range? The idea filled him with wonder, he burned with the desire to know what secrets those snow-capped peaks held.
“Quiet,” his giant companion whispered, gesturing for him to stop. He listened intently to the chirping of the birds and the rustling of the treetops, then he heard it too, a distinctive sound like two sticks being scraped together. He peered past her, searching for whatever was making the noise. It took him a few moments, and then he spotted it. There was a majestic stag in the distance, he could just about make it out through the trees. It was grinding its impressive set of antlers against one of the rough trunks and making a racket, trying to attract a mate or ward off rivals perhaps?
“I'm going to get closer,” the Oni whispered, “stay here and don't make a sound.”
He nodded, watching as she began to creep towards it. She was remarkably quiet despite her immense size, able to move through the undergrowth without making much noise at all. She crouched low, covering herself with her cloak, the skins from which it had been woven concealing her against the woodland backdrop.
Satou realized that she didn't have a bow or a spear. How would she take the animal down? Surely not with her massive cudgel? She would never get close enough to use that without startling the deer.
He watched with bated breath as she drew ever closer to the clueless creature, which was far more concerned with making a racket than paying attention to its surroundings. She was getting incredibly close to it, freezing like a statue whenever she thought that it might be looking her way. The cloak made her look like a giant clump of brown moss, she blended into the scenery perfectly.
The Oni reached behind her back and slowly drew her cudgel. No way, was she really going to attempt to bring the animal down with that? Was she going to throw it?
When she got close enough to the stag that it ceased its strange activity, turning its head to face her as its ears twitched curiously, the Oni threw back her cloak and loosed a bellow that shook Satou's bones. Her crimson skin flashing under the sunlight, she charged at the deer, crashing through the forest like a charging ox. She was so massive and heavy, splintering wood and tearing up the undergrowth, but she closed the distance impossibly quickly with her long strides. The stag was so startled that it very nearly fell over itself attempting to escape, stumbling and lurching as its limbs flailed, scared out of its wits by the sudden appearance of the red demon.
It was too late, and the Oni closed, bringing her massive cudgel down on the deer. She landed the blow in the middle of its back and the deer crumpled under the weight of the weapon, loosing a pained cry as it vanished out of view beneath the ferns and bushes. She hit it again with a sickening crunch, presumably in the head as Satou could no longer see it, and the animal went silent.
“Got it!” she declared, resting the cudgel across her shoulder and wiping her brow with her free hand. “Damn it gets hot and humid down here...”
Satou approached cautiously, eyeing the clumps of gore and fur that were clinging to the studs of her iron club. It seemed like overkill to him, like smashing a mouse with a hammer. The cudgel was so large that it might well have pulverized the deer into an unrecognizable pile of mush. She had said that she also hunted bears, however, and that might be a more suitable foe for such a deadly tool.
He felt like he should have been frightened by the sight, but all he could do was marvel at how powerful she was. There was nothing like her in human experience, no one as strong or as fast, no one able to swing such a giant weapon or able to smash through the forest like a rolling boulder.
He peered around her leg, itself almost the size of a tree trunk, seeing the corpse of the deer. Its spine was snapped, and there wasn't much left of its head beside a pool of blood and bone. As barbarous as her hunting method seemed, the animal hadn't suffered unduly, it was extremely dead...
“He's a good sized buck,” she mused, giving it a prod with her foot. She wasn't wearing any shoes, and her toenails were much the same as her fingernails, black and pointed like claws. “Let's take him back to my camp and skin him.”
“Yeah,” she said as she leaned down to pick up the dead buck by its rear legs, “you didn't think that I lived in the pool did you?” She swung the animal over her back like it weighed no more than a sack of grain, turning about and heading back the way that they had come.
“I hadn't really thought about it,” he admitted, following along behind her. “You're going to get blood in your hair,” he warned, watching as the deer's ruined head bobbed with every step that she took.
“I'll wash it out later,” she chuckled, “maybe you can lend me a hand with that?”
Satou blushed, going quiet as she looked back over her shoulder at him with a toothy grin.
The Oni led Satou to a clearing in the forest where she had set up a large tent, made from the same patchwork of animal pelts as her cloak. There was a fire pit in front of it that was full of charred logs, and there was a large iron cooking pot nearby. She made her way over to a tanning rack that was already drying several pelts, dropping the lifeless buck beside it and beginning to carve it up with a nearby knife that was the size of a Samurai's sword.
Satou wandered around the clearing as she did her work, inspecting the Oni's campsite. He wasn't sure exactly where they were now in relation to the shōen, these forests all looked exactly the same. The only point of reference that he had was the nearby mountain that loomed over them, its peak capped with white snow and its bare rock face shrouded in mist. He peeked inside her tent, seeing that it was crudely stitched together from mismatched pelts, supported by a conical structure of branches and logs that were tied together with lengths of vine. It wasn't quite large enough for her to stand inside it, but that still made it huge by human standards. She slept on a rug that was made up of animal furs, and there was a large bag inside along with a few other sundry items. Was she able to pack all of her belongings in that huge sack and lug it all back up the mountain, along her with her cudgel and her take of furs? She certainly seemed strong enough.
She quickly finished butchering the deer. Before long its skin was drying on the rack, and there was a large pile of meat lying on the grass beside it.
“You like venison?” she asked.
“Sure do,” Satou replied, marveling at the quantity of meat that lay before him. Back in his farming community, the meat was always shared between everyone when there was a successful hunt, which meant that each family got comparatively little. With just the two of them, there was enough food here for him to eat his fill three times over.
“I don't know how much humans eat,” she said as she gestured towards the glistening meat with her bloody knife. “But it can't be very much, so just take what you need, and I'll eat the rest.”
“Er...how should I cook it?” he asked.
She looked at him quizzically, cocking her head.
“What do you mean?”
“I don't know how to cook it,” he admitted. The Oni rolled onto her back, holding her belly as she laughed at him. Satou stood with his arms crossed, waiting for the racket to die down.
“Boy, you really are a pampered little lord, aren't you? You don't even have to cook for yourself back on your farm?”
“Well...no, that's a task for the women. The men hunt and tend to the farm.”
“So who does your cooking for you, not your future wife I'm sure?”
“My mother does.”
She laughed again, wiping a tear from her eye as she sat up straight.
“This is why I wanted to keep you around, Satou, you're a riot. Now c'mere, I'll show you how to prepare the meat.”
They prepared a stew in the pot, chatting about cooking methods and hunting as the Oni showed him how to prepare the meat. She threw in a few herbs and root vegetables that she had collected beforehand, and by the time it was done it smelled very good indeed. She poured his helping into a bowl that was far too large for him, drinking her share from the cauldron itself with a ladle.
“Watch you don't burn your tongue,” she said, “it's very hot.”
He sipped at the steaming broth experimentally, his eyes widening as the flavor reached his tongue. It was good, great even. When he fished out a piece of venison, he noted that it was incredibly tender and juicy. The Oni watched him eat with a smile on her face, the pair sitting on the grass beside the fire pit as she let the crackling flames die down.
“So how does Oni cooking compare to human?” she asked, slurping at her ladle.
“Good!” Satou exclaimed, blowing on his stew before lifting the bowl to his lips and taking another draw from it. “We mostly eat millet and vegetables.”
“I thought you guys farmed rice?” she asked, raising a fluffy eyebrow.
“We do, but the majority of that is sold or paid in taxes.”
“What is taxes?”
“We have to pay a fee to the local government.”
“Why? You grew the rice, why should you give it away? What do you get in return?”
“I don't really know the ins and outs of it yet,” Satou admitted, “I just know that we can't eat most of what we farm. Things are better now, my father says that things were worse when his father used to live down where the land is flat. The taxes were exorbitant, and the workers were no better than slaves. I'll be expected to learn how it all works if I'm to lead the shōen one day.”
“You humans and your weird customs,” she muttered as she chewed on a hunk of meat. She was talking with her mouth open, fishing out pieces of venison with her fingers, but Satou held his tongue. She was a wild creature, she couldn't be expected to observe proper table etiquette. “We live just fine without taxes and governments.”
“I never asked you your name,” Satou said, glancing up at her.
“It's Higanbana,” she replied, “but you can call me Higa.”
“Higanbana,” Satou repeated, “the red spider lily?”
“That's the one.”
“In my culture, the red spider lily grows in hell and guides the reincarnated to their next life...”
She gave him a shrug as she drank from her ladle.
“It's a pretty name,” he added, “and a beautiful flower. It's...fitting.”
“There you go again with your poems,” she said, reaching down and ruffling his hair with her massive hand. It was nearly large enough to encompass his entire head. He fought her off, making a futile attempt to straighten it as she chuckled at him.
“Are all Oni named after flowers, or just you?” he asked.
“We get named after lots of things. What does your name mean?”
“I don't know that it has one,” he replied, “it's probably traditional.”
They finished up the stew, the Oni eating an impressive amount as befitted her exaggerated size and strength. He wondered how much food she had to consume in a week to sustain herself, how many deer she had to hunt.
“You should eat more,” Higa said, apparently making the same observation about him. “Maybe that way you'll grow a little bigger.” She laughed at her own joke as he frowned at her.
Satou set the bowl down, then stood to gave her a short bow as was customary when giving thanks.
“Thank you for the meal, and for inviting me into your home,” he said as his companion smirked at him.
“Come on Satou, you can drop the formalities. If you hadn't noticed, this isn't exactly a castle. It is cute though...”
She swept him into her arms suddenly, just as fast and as unexpected as when she had slain the deer, Satou finding himself pressed up against her huge body before he had a chance to react. Her strong arms were closed around him, he could feel her bicep as one of them pressed against his cheek, firm and slick with her sweat. The Oni trapped him in a tight bear hug, laughing at his struggling. She thrust his face into her bust, or rather into the sling made of animal skins that contained it, but he could feel her ample flesh yielding beneath the fur as it tickled his nose. Her scent was pleasant, strange, her odor making his head spin. She smelled of exertion and herbs. It was oddly feminine, triggering something in his brain that set his senses on fire.
She reached down and messed up his hair again, the sensation of her fingers on his scalp making an appreciative shiver roll down his spine. She was teasing him, yet it felt...good. He had never been touched like this before, she was so unreserved, it felt so natural. His wife to be wouldn't so much as look him in the eye, never mind hold his hand. She certainly wouldn't have hugged him like this. He liked this feeling...
“How's this for formalities, little Satou?” Higa chuckled. “I'm going to teach you how to act like a proper Oni, it's unnatural to be so stiff and prissy.”
She held him there until he ceased his struggling, Satou letting himself sink into her bosom, her tight grip on him loosening. He could feel her warm breath blowing in his hair, he could feel her skin against his own, softer and smoother than her fearsome appearance would have suggested. He wondered if all women felt this way, or was it just Higa? Would the Lady Sasaki have skin as soft as this, would she hold him as tightly, if at all?
Such displays of physical affection were not customary in his culture. Even between two married people it was considered at best in poor taste and at worse a huge social faux pas. He never saw his parents embracing one another, they never shared a hug or a kiss, they just performed their roles as dutifully as a laborer tilling a field. It was as if love was a job for them, and was that not exactly how his mother had described it to him? She had told him that on some days, marriage was like being an ox pulling a plow in a field. Was that what he wanted for himself? An eternity of tolerance and compromise?
Satou felt a sudden surge of longing for Higa, mixed with dread. He didn't want to marry Sasaki. He had known that from the moment that he had met her, with her strange face paint and her black teeth, but he had never felt it more strongly than he did right now. What was he going to do? Even if Higa agreed to it, which didn't seem remotely likely, his family would never allow him to reject Sasaki and marry an Oni of all things. Their union was about more than just marriage, it was about unifying their two shōen, to benefit both communities along with hundreds of people. How could he refuse that responsibility?
Higa released him from her grasp, smiling at him as he wrung his hands, his face burning. She reached down and closed her hands around his, encompassing them entirely in her giant, red fingers.
“Stop fussing,” she laughed, “there's no need to be so shy. What's the matter, don't people hug each other where you're from?”
“Not often,” he replied, averting his eyes as she peered down at him. He was behaving just like Sasaki had, it was programmed into him by a lifetime of social conditioning. She hooked her finger under his chin and turned his face upwards, forcing him to meet her gaze, Satou staring into her golden eyes as she batted her snow-white lashes at him.
“We're going to have to work on your confidence. Tell you what, I'm going to give you the full Oni treatment, a crash course. You're going to be the toughest human in your village, how about that?”
“Why?” Satou asked, “why does it matter to you that I'm shy?”
“While you might dress like a little lord and you mind your manners like your life depends on it, I don't think that's who you really want to be.”
“Nope,” she said, tapping her finger against his chest. “I think there's the spirit of an Oni inside you. I think you want to be out here in the wilderness hunting and exploring, not taking part in tea ceremonies and bowing until you throw your back out. Why else would you be out here, with me?”
She grinned at him, knowing that she was right because of the way that he was peering up at her. They had hardly spent a day together, and she already knew more about him than his own family did. Was she just that perceptive, or was he that obvious?
“Headbutt me,” she said.
“What!?” Satou exclaimed.
“Headbutt me,” she insisted, tapping her finger against her forehead. “That's what an Oni does when he gets into a confrontation. He locks horns, and he stares his opponent in the eye until they back down.”
“I...I can't do that,” Satou stammered. “It wouldn't be...”
“Proper? Forget proper, me and you are gonna be improper from now on. Come on, you really think that a puny human like you could hurt me? Watch my horns though, don't want you getting stabbed.” She crouched down low, resting her hands on her knees and presenting her head to him, her two pointed horns angled upwards so that they were out of his way. She pointed to her forehead again. “Come on kid, headbutt me. Do you want me to teach you how to be an Oni or not?”
He steeled himself, trying to look determined, and then leaned forward to tap his forehead against hers. It was too light, and she laughed at him, slapping her knee.
“That was terrible! Come on, like you mean it this time.”
He hesitated for a moment, then did it again, much harder this time. Their heads knocked together with a thud, and he stumbled backwards, clasping his forehead.
“Ouch,” he grumbled, rubbing it as he looked back at Higa. It was like headbutting a tree, she hadn't even flinched.
“That's more like it,” she said, exposing her tusk-like teeth as she grinned at him. “You got a hard head kid, you might make a half-decent Oni yet.”
“Yeah?” he asked, her smile contagious.
“With a little more practice maybe you can proposition me properly. Oni do it with headbutts, not with poems and flowers.” He reddened again, and she laughed at him, rising to her feet. “The sun is setting,” she said, looking to the sky which was now turning a shade of pink. “It's going to be a warm night again. Are you heading back down the mountain, or are you staying overnight? There's a place for you on my furs if you want it.”
He wrung his hands again and glanced back over his shoulder, looking down the slope of the mountain. It was a difficult offer to refuse, but he had told his father that he would be back home for supper. If he failed to return, his parents might organize a search party and get the whole village involved. He didn't want to cause any undue worry.
“I...should get back,” he said, his disappointment obvious in the tone of his voice. “I told my parents that I would be back before supper and I'm not really supposed to be up here...”
“Oh, so you're rebellious and you disobey your parents, but you still have to be home in time for supper?” He nodded, and she sighed. “Alright, I'll walk you back to the pool. You can find your way home from there.”
“I could come back once my parents are asleep,” he offered. But she shook her horned head, her mane of white hair bouncing with the motion.
“Even little Onis need their sleep, kid. If you spend all night running up and down the mountain, you'll be exhausted. Get some shut-eye, I'm not going anywhere until hunting season ends. Tell you what, every day I'll go down to the pool around the same time, when the sun is at its apex. I'll hang around for a little while, and if you show up, we can hang out. Sound good?”
He nodded enthusiastically. He would have to find more excuses to visit the sluice gate. That might be difficult, but it was worth the risk to be able to spend more time with Higa.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, “I was supposed to pick flowers!”
“What?” Higa asked.
“I told my father that I was heading up the mountain to pick flowers. I need to bring some back with me.”
“We can find some on the way back,” she said, taking him by the shoulder and steering him around. “Come on kid, on your way.”
CHAPTER 5: KISS FROM A ROSE
“Are you feeling well, Satou?” his mother asked as he prodded at his food with his chopsticks. “You aren't eating very much.”
Her voice snapped him out of his daydream, and he resumed his meal. He couldn't tell her that the reason that he had lost his appetite was because he had dined on venison during his time on the mountain of course.
“I'm fine mother, I was just...distracted.”
“Those flowers that you picked,” his father said, gesturing to the bouquet that was now sitting in a vase in the middle of the table. “They don't look any different from the ones that grow down in the valley.”
“No, these ones are...prettier,” Satou insisted. “I wanted only the best flowers for Lady Sasaki.”
“I'm so glad that you've taken such a liking to that girl,” his mother said, Satou grateful for the change of subject. “Such romance in the context of an arranged marriage is rare indeed. You should consider yourself lucky, Satou.”
“This is entirely hypothetical of course,” Satou began, avoiding his father's gaze as he tried to conceal his nervousness. “But what would happen if...the Lady Sasaki...rejected my advances? What if she refused the marriage because she didn't like me?”
“That won't happen,” his mother insisted, “you have nothing to fear Satou. Lady Sasaki is an obedient girl. She has been reared well, by a good family. She is well mannered, dutiful, a proper lady through and through. No one in her position would dare to dishonor their parents and their shōen by refusing such a beneficial union. It would be unthinkable.”
He swallowed a mouthful of soup, trying not to look as guilty as he was starting to feel.
“Love plays no part in a marriage of this nature,” his father added sternly, “duty to family and to society must come before one's own whims. Remember what I always tell you Satou, those who come together in passion...”
“...stay together in tears,” Satou finished.
“Very good. Now finish your soup and get a good night's rest. I want you working tomorrow, you'll need your strength.”
“You seem even more distracted than usual today,” Nagao said, holding the fence post as Satou hammered it into the ground. They were repairing the fence that encircled the farm, used to deter scavengers and animals like deer that might try to eat their crops. The sun was already high, and Satou kept glancing up at the mountain, a kind of tension overcoming him. He longed to visit Higa again. The idea of her waiting around for him beside the pool only for him not to show up was maddening.
“I saw the Oni again,” he admitted, “I spoke to her this time.”
Nagao sighed with exasperation, standing up and wiping his brow.
“Will you heed no one's advice, young Satou? I warned you not to go exploring beyond the sluice gate a second time, and you did exactly the opposite! If you were my son, I'd box your ears.”
“She's not what you think!” he insisted, “she isn't a vengeful monster that wants to destroy us. She's kind, reasonable. She didn't try to eat me or trick me, or anything of the sort. She hasn't caused any earthquakes or plagues. She's just visiting the forest to hunt during the spring.”
“She is a yokai, a mystical creature,” Nagao said. “They are mischievous Satou. Just because she didn't immediately try to eat you doesn't mean that she won't try something later! For all you know, she might cause a rock slide to crush the whole village, or she might conjure a blight that kills all the crops.”
“The Oni was kind to me, she fed me, she seems to want to teach me.”
“Teach you?” Nagao asked quizzically, “what does she want to teach you?”
“About her people and her culture, at least that's what I think...”
He glanced longingly at the mountain again, Nagao shaking his head and muttering to himself as he retrieved another fence post from the pile.
“I know that look,” the old man grumbled, digging a furrow in the earth with the pointed end of the post. “I've seen it enough times to know that no amount of arguing is going to sway you. You're smitten with her, aren't you?”
“She's like no one I've ever met before,” Satou admitted, “she treats me differently to everybody else. She understands me. The way she acts, the way she talks...I can't stop thinking about her. I dream about her.”
“Young love,” Nagao sighed, “as beautiful as it is destructive. You haven't forgotten that you're engaged to the Matsuyo girl, I assume? Let me guess, you don't like her? She's too demure for you, too prim and proper?”
“Nagao,” Satou began, “I-”
“Remember Satou, that as the heir to the shōen you have responsibilities and duties that go beyond your own happiness. Granted, being the lowly peasant that I am, I cannot imagine what it must be like to be compelled to marry someone that you don't love. The lower classes of society might not get to enjoy the same luxuries and privileges as those at the top, but there is balance in all things. We enjoy freedoms that you do not. Do you have any idea what will happen if you refuse the Lady Matsuyo's hand?”
“I don't,” he admitted, “I have no plan. I don't know what to do, I don't know what will happen. All I know is that when I met the Lady Sasaki, I felt nothing for her. I might as well have been engaged to a tree or a rock. But when I'm with Higa, the Oni girl, I feel alive in ways that I never have before. It's like there's a furnace burning inside me, like I can feel the blood coursing through my veins. Food tastes better, the world seems more colorful, and the thought of being without her makes my guts twist into a knot. What should I do, Nagao? How can this be wrong if it feels so right?”
“I remember when I met my wife,” he replied as he leaned on the post and stared into the distance, his eyes losing their focus as he dredged up old memories. “Nothing could have kept me from her. Your heart has switched places with your brain, and it's making the decisions now. You're in the prime of youth, you're experiencing all of these emotions and feelings for the first time. It's like being drunk on sake, you feel like you could move a mountain if it meant winning her heart, like she's worth risking everything for...”
Satou was surprised that Nagao understood how he felt. The old man was wise indeed, he had lived a long and fruitful life, accumulating so many experiences.
“You were never one to heed my advice before,” Nagao continued, “and you certainly won't listen to me now. But I have to try to get through to you, Satou, I owe as much to your father. If you commit to this, if you go down this path, then you will put not only yourself but your entire family in a very difficult position. They have vouched for you, they have gambled their honor on the notion that you will be obedient and dutiful. The inhabitants of both our shōen are depending on this union to improve our quality of life, to elevate our position as a community.”
Satou began to speak, but Nagao cut him off with a wave of his hand.
“I know that you didn't choose this, none of us can choose to whom we are born. But never the less, it is your duty to take care of your people. Do you understand that? Your father didn't act impulsively, he didn't get where he is today by chasing dreams. He did what was necessary, regardless of how he felt about it, and a result there are dozens of families here who live in peace and security under his guidance.”
“Will you tell him?” Satou asked, his eyes turned to the ground and his head bowed. He wasn't accustomed to being scolded by Nagao. The casual and friendly way in which he did it somehow made Satou feel worse than when his father subjected him to another one of his stern talks.
“I promised that I would keep your secret,” Nagao replied. “If I went back on my word, the spirits of my ancestors would rise from their graves and haunt me for tarnishing their good name.”
Satou breathed a sigh of relief, glancing back up the mountain again.
“She's waiting for you, isn't she?” Nagao asked. Satou nodded. The old man rolled his eyes and held out his hand, gesturing for Satou to pass him the hammer. “Go on then, but it would be wise to return before your father comes looking for you. He won't miss you for a few hours.”
“You mean it?” Satou asked, his expression brightening. “But...will you be alright on your own?”
“I'm not so old that I can't repair a fence without your help,” he grumbled, “now off with you. I don't agree with what you're doing, but I know that you'll do it anyway. The best I can hope for is that you'll get over this girl and come to your senses in time for the wedding.”
“Thank you, Nagao,” Satou exclaimed, practically hopping with excitement. He composed himself, then gave the man a more sincere bow to express his gratitude, Nagao waving for him to stand.
“I'm only an old farm hand, boy, I'm not worth such formalities. Now off you go, and take the forest path lest someone see you.”
Satou nodded enthusiastically, jogging off in the direction of the dense woodland that surrounded the farm.
The ferns rustled as Satou pushed through them, arriving at the border of the clearing. He peeked between the trees, his heart racing, not just from his hurried climb but because he feared that he might have missed Higa. She had told him that she would only wait there for a short while.
He was relieved to see a massive puff of white, only her hair and her red shoulders visible from where he was standing. She was lounging in the water with her back to him, resting her elbows on the grassy shore. Satou could see her cloak and her clothing lying on the grass nearby, which meant that she must have shed them before entering the water. He watched her for a moment, wondering if it would be intruding to announce himself right now, but the snap of a twig alerted her to his presence.
She reached a hand over her shoulder and beckoned to him with her finger.
“Not peeking again, are you Satou? You took your time, I thought you might not be coming today.”
“I'm sorry,” he stammered. “I wanted to come sooner, but I had some trouble sneaking away.”
“Oh, you're being rebellious again today? Come join me. It's a hot afternoon, and the water is wonderfully cool.”
He hesitated, then emerged from between the trees, his face already reddening as he made his way over to her.
“It's so nice to be able to bathe here” she sighed, leaning her head back and enjoying the spray from the waterfall. “It's easy to work up a sweat while hunting, especially since it gets very hot and humid down at this altitude. I'm used to the snow-covered mountain tops, I'd never come down to the tree line if it wasn't where the best game is found.”
He approached the edge of the pool and stopped beside her, Higa turning her head, looking up at him with a toothy grin that was becoming all too familiar. The water was crystal clear, there was nothing preventing him from copping an eyeful of her magnificent, red body. He averted his gaze, steam practically rising from his ears as she chuckled at him.
“Now now Satou, an Oni wouldn't avert his eyes when faced with a beautiful woman. We go without clothing all the time, there's nothing to be ashamed of. Speaking of which, you can't very well take a dip with yours on, can you?”
“Maybe I should just...stand at the water's edge,” he mumbled.
“Nonsense, you worked up a sweat climbing the mountain, come and cool off for a while. You don't have anything that I haven't seen before.”
He considered for a moment, then did as she asked, walking a short distance behind her so that she couldn't watch and shedding his clothes. He stripped down to his loincloth, not willing to go fully nude, and quickly slipped into the water a few feet to her left. He gasped as the cold liquid touched his feet, sliding down until he was sitting on the rocky bottom. The water reached his neck, while barely serving to cover Higa's bosom due to their difference in stature. At this angle the sun was reflecting off the surface of the pool, obscuring what lay beneath, and he felt a little more comfortable.
Higa was right, the water was pleasantly cold, and the spray from the waterfall felt lovely against his face. It was nice to be able to wash off all of the sweat that he had accumulated during his hike, those heavy clothes didn't do him any favors. He allowed himself to relax, sinking a little deeper, blowing bubbles as the water reached his mouth.
“That's gonna chafe, you know,” Higa said as she gestured beneath the water at his loincloth. “Better let it dry in the sun for a while before you head back down the mountain.”
Satou didn't reply, enjoying the peace and tranquility, enjoying being around Higa again. All of the tension that he had felt during his time away from her had evaporated the moment that he had laid eyes on her again, like surfacing for a gulp of air after holding his breath for a long time.
“What are you doing all the way over there?” Higa asked, making waves as she shuffled closer to him. Before he could escape, she wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him tightly against her body. Her nearest breast cascaded over his shoulder like it was trying to swallow him up, his body going as stiff as a board as he felt her smooth, wet skin against his own. Her flesh was so malleable, molding around him like a sack of grain, the weight of it threatening to push him beneath the surface.
She laughed at his expression, their cheeks now the same shade of red, loosening her grip a little.
“That's better. You didn't trek all the way up here only to sit so far away from me, right?”
His apprehension slowly melted away, his desire to be near her overpowering his social graces. It was everything that he had been taught not to do, and yet just the contact of her skin, the warmth of her body made him feel like he was floating on a cloud. He even dared to rest his head against the cushion of her breast, feeling it sink an inch or so into the red globe, its texture smoother and softer than even a silk kimono. He waited for her to push him away, to scold him for his unsolicited contact, but she never did. It was intoxicating. He felt blood rushing to his nethers, and he thanked his stars that he was still wearing his loincloth.
“There you go,” she said, ruffling his hair. “It's called intimacy, it won't kill you. You just need a little practice, and you'll get the hang of it. So have you told your dad that you don't want to marry that posh girl yet?”
“N-No...” he admitted.
“What are you going to do about it? You'll have to do something, right? You've made it clear that you don't like her, are you just going to keep pretending that everything is fine?”
“I don't know,” he grumbled, sinking deeper into the water and blowing bubbles again. “Everyone is depending on me to unite the two shōen. It's all anyone ever talks about. My father keeps saying how proud he is of me for taking responsibility and being obedient. My mother won't stop talking about married life, like she's trying to give me advice. Whenever I walk past them, the villagers chatter and whisper, they're as excited about the wedding as my mother is.”
“Sounds like a lot of pressure,” Higa said, clasping her hands behind her head as she leaned back. “You haven't told anyone besides me how you're feeling?”
“Only my friend Nagao knows about it, and about you.”
“Oh?” Higa asked, “what did he say about me?”
“He thinks you're going to eat me or cause a plague...”
“Figures,” she snickered. “I won't bite,” she added, baring her sharp teeth. “Not unless you ask me nicely...”
“What do you think I should do?” Satou asked, looking up at her with wide eyes.
“Hard to say, Oni society is very different from yours. We wouldn't ever find ourselves in that situation. But I can tell you that if someone tried to force me to do something that I didn't want to do, I'd fight them tooth and nail.”
“I can't fight my parents...”
“No, but you can tell them the truth. What's the worst that could happen, and is that worse than spending the rest of your life with someone that you don't love?”
“I don't know that either,” he grumbled. “My father would be furious, my mother would be disappointed, my community might reject me. Maybe they would throw me out of the shōen to fend for myself in the wilderness.”
“Are you sure they'd react that badly? Even if you pissed them off, your parents would still love you, surely?”
“I can't say for sure, but all my father seems to concern himself with is honor and duty and the family name.”
“Oni are expected to survive on their own in the wild from a young age,” she said as she draped an arm about his shoulders again. “It's not that hard you know, especially down at this altitude. There's plenty of game, fruits and vegetables growing wild, medicinal herbs that you can make use of. If they really do kick you out, I can teach you how to live off the land. You'll be fine.”
“You'd really do that for me?” Satou asked.
“Of course, it wouldn't be any trouble. If you lived with me for a month or two, you'd pick it up in no time.”
The prospect certainly cheered him up a little. He didn't want to leave his home, of course, it was all that he had ever known. But he had no idea if his parents would go as far as to disown him, or if his community would exile him. Suicide pacts between lovers who were not allowed to be married were not uncommon, nor was being denied inheritance for going against the wishes of one's family. At least he had somewhere else to go if the worst was to happen.
“You need to learn to stick up for yourself,” she continued, “headbutt your dad if you have to. Assert your dominance.”
“I can't headbutt my father,” he laughed.
“Well you're going to have to do something, right? It seems cruel to me, forcing someone to marry when they don't want to. You're so young, you shouldn't be shackled to a woman you don't even like. You should be enjoying yourself, experimenting, messing around with girls.”
“Messing around?” Satou asked. Higa laughed at him, trapping him in a headlock and rubbing her knuckles against his scalp. He struggled but it was futile, her muscles were like iron.
“You're such a little...I don't even know,” she chuckled. “You're so sheltered, it drives me crazy. I want to get you drunk off your lordly face and throw you into a brothel just to see what would happen. Nobody should be this innocent at your age.”
“Well you won't find any brothels around here,” he said, straightening his hair as she released him. “So...have you ever...”
“Have I ever messed around? Yeah, plenty. My people aren't like yours, we have a different concept of romance. We don't have to wait around until we're married.”
“Is there someone back at your village that you...like?”
“You're asking if I have a lover? No, not officially.”
He tried to conceal his relief, Higa watching him out of the corner of her eye as he sat beside her in the water.
“You can ask about sex, you know,” she added. Satou nearly jumped out of his skin, averting his eyes and wringing his hands again. “Watch you don't boil the water there, kid. You're more than old enough, it's normal to be curious. I suppose you haven't had any exposure to it. Do they teach you about it at all in your culture?”
“That's...between a man and a wife,” he mumbled. “It wouldn't be proper...”
“Yeah, maybe in your fantasy land. Do you think that everyone holds out until they're married, even in your society? How many lords and ladies go around doing the nasty in secret before they're auctioned off to whichever family has the most oxen? Most of them I'd bet.”
“Passion has no place in a marriage,” Satou insisted, repeating what his father had endlessly drilled into him.
She pulled him tight again, her breast pressing against his burning cheek.
“That's nonsense. Come on, there's nobody around to overhear us. You and your bride will be expected to consummate your marriage, right? Aren't you curious about what it would feel like? What will happen?”
“I haven't thought about doing that with her,” he replied.
“What about with me? You called me beautiful, right? You got a good eyeful of me without my clothes on. Was that the first time that you saw a girl in the nude?”
Satou couldn't even think straight anymore, he felt like his brain was frying in his skull, like his rapidly beating heart was about to explode out of his chest. His mouth was dry, he felt drunk, all that he could focus on was the feeling of her massive body pressing against him. The smoothness of her skin, the way that her thigh was squashed against his, the way that her breast weighed down on his shoulder. He wanted to so badly to look at her, to drink in every contour of her figure, it was so tantalizingly close and bare. But he couldn't bring himself to do it, he was almost afraid of her.
“I won't be offended,” she said, leaning down close to him so that she could whisper in his ear. “It's kind of flattering, you peeking at me from behind the trees, sending me love notes and picking me flowers. Come on little Satou, you can tell me. I won't breathe a word of it to anyone else.”
His lips were sealed tightly, but as much as he wanted to be respectful, there was also a burning desire rising inside of him that he couldn't suppress. He wanted her to know how he felt, even if it went against every taboo. Higa was the only person that he could tell the truth to, the only person who understood him. He found it almost impossible to lie to her.
“Yes,” he mumbled.
Higa laughed, her tone seductive rather than mocking, apparently amused by his reaction to her teasing.
“You look like you're about to explode, Satou. Do you even know enough about sex to fantasize about me?”
He didn't reply, his hands clasped in his lap.
“You've probably never kissed anyone yet, right? That's step one right there.”
He shook his head, and she chuckled again.
“Shall I teach you how?”
Satou was at the end of his rope, looking up at her and seeing those yellow eyes peering down at him expectantly. Her white hair framed her red face, blowing gently in the breeze, and he suddenly realized how full and plump her lips were. They were slightly darker than the surrounding skin, flushed, inviting.
“Yes with me, you see anyone else around? Maybe your wife will warm up to you if you give her a good kiss, what do you say?”
“Alright,” he said, nodding his head slightly as he swallowed. She grinned at him, then he flinched as he felt her cup his face with one of her large hands. Her skin was wet and cool against his hot cheek, and he stared up at her, waiting. She was so much taller than he was, he had to crane his neck to meet her gaze. Why did that make him feel so...shivery?
“Relax, you act like I'm going to wrench your head off. Start like this, hold her...”
His eyelids were fluttering, and it felt like there was a swarm of butterflies roiling in his stomach. What was happening to him? She drew closer, her puff of hair casting him into shadow, her eyes shining as they seemed to reflect the surface of the pool. He couldn't peel his gaze away from them, like he was being hypnotized.
“Then you do it like this,” she whispered, her lips pressing against his. They were so soft, so full, like a ripe plum as she held him there for a moment. He didn't know how to react, at least not at first, a wonderful shiver coursing down his spine as she slowly opened her lips. It was instinctual, he suddenly knew what to do, following her lead as something slippery and warm slid into his mouth. It was her tongue, its velvet texture and its metallic taste immediately blanking his mind, like pulses of white light were filling his head. He was so absorbed by her kiss that he couldn't process anything else, like all of his senses had suddenly become hyperfocused on the new and exciting sensations that were assailing him, his eyes closing of their own accord.
Their tongues entwined, wet muscle sliding against wet muscle. He could feel every twitch and stroke as Higa moved with practiced grace. She was an artist, so measured and gentle despite her size, treating him like he was made of glass. Did this come naturally to her, or had she done this many times before? Her organ was so much larger than his, he felt like she was filling him up, the sheen of her saliva that coated it making it as slippery as a snail.
She pushed deeper, using the tip to stroke his inner cheeks, drawing shapes on the roof of his mouth like she was painting him from the inside. It tickled, and he shivered as she caught his lower lip between her teeth, tugging gently before resuming her explorations. He tried to meet her embrace, but she was so strong, and he was so inexperienced. He resigned to let her do as she pleased, leaning into her as her sordid kiss dragged on, her tongue dancing and roiling in his mouth.
She finally broke off with a wet smack, drawing back and watching him as he slowly opened his eyes, swaying drunkenly. He felt dizzy, somehow sapped of his strength, but it was one of the most wonderful things that he had ever experienced. A taste of heaven.
“And that's how you kiss someone,” she added, unable to suppress her wide grin. “You alright there, Satou? Do you need a minute?”
“I...I didn't think it would feel like that,” he mumbled, leaning against her again as she released his face and wrapped her arm around him. He was all tingly, his member now straining against the fabric of his loincloth, blood rushing in his ears as his heart throbbed in his chest.
“Well, it doesn't always feel like that, but I think I'm pretty good at it. Amongst other things...”
He realized that he was resting his head on the side of her boob again and one of his hands had snuck down below the water in an attempt to hold onto her. He pulled it away hastily, but then he felt her grip his wrist, guiding his hand around her waist. At least as far as he could reach around such a large body. If he hugged her with both arms, he doubted whether his hands would meet on the other side.
“You can touch me,” she said. “I'm touching you, aren't I?”
Satou burned with a blend of emotions that threatened to drive him crazy. He was ashamed and embarrassed, this wasn't behavior befitting of his station. And yet at the same time, he was more aroused than he had ever been, swimming with a desire for Higa that bordered on adoration.
His fingers brushed something firm, and Satou realized that he was touching the chiseled six-pack that he had so admired from afar. He couldn't see it, all he could see were her red breasts, but he could feel the hard muscles as they flexed beneath his hand.
He could no longer help himself, his heart thudding in his ears as he traced their contours, bulging muscles as hard as iron shifting beneath skin that was smooth like glass. The water made her slippery, frictionless, his hand gliding as he stroked her. Higa shifted her weight, apparently enjoying his clumsy explorations, her every subtle movement making her abs move and shift. They cut deep channels in her torso, cleanly separating each muscle, so perfect that if it was not for the warmth of her body, he might have assumed that they were hewn from stone.
“I take it the women in your village aren't built like me?” Higa chuckled.
“No,” he breathed, “I've never seen anybody like you...”
Again images flashed in his mind of his small, meek, fragile bride to be. What did she have under all those layers of fancy clothes? Nothing like this, that was for sure. Higa was strong and boisterous, not just in terms of her developed body, but in the way that she challenged him and teased him. She was fun, interacting with her was stimulating, she didn't just bow her head and agree with everything that he said like some kind of slave. She had an energy to her, a vitality that was missing in all of the women that he had met up until now.
He slid his hand downwards, feeling the indent of her navel, her muscles like stones that had been smoothed by the flow of a river. Beneath it was a flush mound that contained more firm muscle. His forearm brushed her thigh, so large and round that it must have been near the size of his torso.
“Getting a little low there, aren't you?” Higa commented. He drew back his hand, mumbling an apology, fearing that he had crossed the line. She just laughed at him, messing up his hair again and pulling him tight, her bicep pushing against his cheek as she rested her heavy arm across his shoulder.
“What would your father say if he knew that his sheltered son was being led astray by an Oni temptress?”
“He wouldn't be very happy about it,” Satou mumbled.
“You're a lot of fun, you know,” Higa said. Satou perked up at that, his heart skipping a beat as she relaxed and let herself sink deeper into the water, laying her head on the grass. “It's like my own personal kabuki play. We could call it the drama of Satou,” she added with a dramatic wave of her hand. “I find myself wondering what mischief you've gotten into today, whether your parents have discovered your secret yet. You have such a huge crush on me, it's adorable...”
“Adorable like a little brother or a pet?” Satou asked hesitantly.
“Nah,” she replied, “adorable like it makes me want to indulge you. I'm your first crush, that's obvious enough, and I'm in the perfect position to make it a great experience. Now I've stolen your first kiss, and I'm thinking to myself; should I be doing this? Am I humoring you because it's what you want, or because it's what I want? You're so young and naive, maybe I'm taking advantage of you...”
Satou felt a sudden surge of emotion, rising to his feet in the pool and sliding out from under her heavy arm. Higa watched him curiously as he reached out and took her cheeks in his hands. Her skin was like red velvet against his palms, and she blinked those yellow eyes at him, batting her snow-white lashes. He couldn't help but sneak a hand into her hair, feeling the silky strands as he combed them with his fingers.
“Hold her...” he said, “then do it like this...”
He drew Higa towards him, pressing his lips against hers, hearing her giggle in surprise and amusement as he locked her in a kiss. He did his best to replicate what she had shown him, parting his lips as he slid his tongue into her mouth. Her familiar flavor set his senses aflame, the sensation of her slippery tongue sliding against his own making sparks fly in his head. Her lips were so smooth and plump, her tongue so agile, her warmth permeating him in the cold water.
Just like when she had asked him to headbutt her, he had to assert himself. He had to show her that he could be strong and confident, that he too possessed the traits that he so admired in her.
Their tongues coiled around one another like a pair of mating snakes, their embrace growing more passionate as it dragged on, Higa responding to him in ways that he had not expected. She was no longer merely teasing him, her slow, doting strokes felt more sincere now. She sank her fingers into his hair, holding him close to her, her claw-like nails pricking his scalp. He was slightly taller than her now due to the fact that she was lounging in the pool, and he found that somehow encouraging.
He trapped her lip between his teeth and tugged on it gently, just as she had done with him, and he heard her chuckle through their kiss as she failed to suppress a smile.
“What's gotten into you all of a sudden?” she laughed, Satou pausing to catch his breath as he brushed his forehead against hers.
“You're not taking advantage of me,” he insisted, leaning in and picking up where they had left off. Higa was becoming more aggressive now, her tongue probing deeper than Satou could manage due to its exaggerated size, shivers running down his spine as he felt its satin surface glide across his palate and bulge his cheeks. Flesh on flesh...it was so raw, the sensations so harsh and unfiltered, intimacy like he had never known it.
“I want this,” he gasped as her tongue slid out of his mouth, linked to his lips by a thin strand of her saliva that glistened in the midday sun. “You can't steal my kiss if I give it willingly...”
“I'm going to steal more than a kiss if you keep this up,” she mumbled, taking a handful of his hair as she rose from the pool. The water poured from her red shoulders in sheets, sliding down her muscular body as she pressed his naked back against the shore, maintaining their lurid kiss as she loomed over him. Satou's eyes were tightly closed, but he felt the weight of her breasts as they came to rest on his chest, pressing him down and molding around him like melting wax. He felt the fluffy mass of her white hair as it fell about him, the fine strands tickling his skin as she cast him into darkness. Now he had to turn his face upwards, practically lying on the grass with his legs still submerged as she pinned him beneath her bulk. They stayed that way for what might have been minutes or seconds, he couldn't tell anymore, all he could think about was Higa...
When she finally broke away, she left him red-faced and gasping, her taste still lingering on his lips as she slid back down into the water. When he recovered enough to open his eyes and get his bearings, she had submerged herself up to the neck, her alluring body once again hidden just out of sight. It was maddening.
She dunked her head for a few moments, her white hair floating on the surface like a giant, furry lily. When she emerged again, she splashed the cold water on her face with her hands, shaking her head like a wet dog.
“D-Did I do something wrong?” Satou asked, rubbing his arm nervously as he sat on the shore beside her.
“No, you did something right,” she replied. “I gotta cool off, or I might...”
Satou blushed again as she trailed off, the implication conjuring sordid images of her red, shining body moving atop his own. He willed his conspicuous erection to recede, resting his hands in his lap again in a futile attempt to conceal it.
“It's not quite locking horns,” she said, “but it's better than a poem.”
“You didn't steal my first kiss,” Satou said, “you aren't taking advantage of me. I wanted you to have it...I want you, and if you want me too then why shouldn't do we this?”
“Do what?” Higa asked. “You don't even know, do you?”
He shook his head, and she looked over her shoulder at him, attempting to slick back her mass of wet hair and failing.
“I guess that's one of the things I like about you, I can't question your motives. Most guys just want a quick roll in the furs with me, and there's nothing wrong with that. But you...you wouldn't even know what to do with me, you just know that you want me. I like that, it's...innocent. But listen, kid. I'm an Oni, you're a human. A naive one at that. Even I don't know exactly how this will work, it might not go the way that you expect.”
“I don't care,” he blurted, “if my father refuses then...I'll run away!”
Higa threw her head back and laughed again.
“You thought I was talking about marriage? I was talking about...never mind. See, this is what I mean, you're so naive it hurts. But it's cute, really cute.” She reached over and playfully pulled him into the water, Satou surfacing with a gasp. “Marriage is a bit premature, but I can show you a whole lot more than kissing. Would you like that?”
He nodded, and she shot him another toothy grin.
“I see that you took my advice to heart,” she added “you're learning to assert yourself. I'll make a little Oni out of you yet.”
She splashed him, and he splashed her back, the two laughing as they showered one another with water. When he tired, Satou drifted closer to her, sitting at her side as she wrapped an arm around him again. It seemed like the dynamics of their relationship had changed, in a good way. He got the impression that she saw him differently now, less of a source of entertainment, and more...something else. He couldn't believe that he had kissed her like that, the fresh memories of what they had done flashing through his mind. He could still feel her tongue moving inside his mouth, he could still taste her.
It had felt good to take initiative, it bolstered his confidence. If he could kiss an Oni, then maybe he could stand up to his father too? He was certain now that he couldn't marry Sasaki. If he did, he would spend the rest of his days pining for Higa.
“We should dry off,” she said, shifting as she began to climb out of the pool. Satou averted his eyes reflexively as the mass of red muscle rose from the water beside him, stepping onto the shore and making for her pile of discarded clothes. “I need to do some more hunting before the sun sets. Want to come along?”
“I do,” Satou sighed, “but I can't be away for too long. If my father comes to check on me and notices that I'm missing, there will be hell to pay.”
“Alright, little Satou. Run off home then. You said that you could visit me at night, right?”
“I did,” he replied, keeping his eyes on the forest across the pool.
“Come see me tonight,” she said. “Think you can find my campsite again?”
“Probably,” Satou replied. He had visited it only once, but he had a pretty good idea of where it was in relation to the sluice gate.
“Consider it a test then,” she said as she dried herself off with her furry cloak, “come find me when the sun goes down. I'll be waiting.”
“You took your time,” Nagao said, shielding his eyes from the rays of the setting sun as Satou emerged from the forest. He was coated in sweat, breathing hard, doubling over as he came to a stop beside the old man. Nagao waited for him to catch his breath, leaning on a recently planted fence post.
“So, did you have fun with your Oni friend?” Satou's grin told him everything that he needed to know, and he shook his head in exasperation. “And here I was thinking that you'd get her out of your system, but now you look happier than ever. You're lucky that your father hasn't been back to fetch you yet. Here,” he said as he threw him the hammer. Satou caught it, standing and wiping his brow.
“Thanks, Nagao, I got back as quickly as I could.”
“Well? Are you going to tell me what happened?” the old man asked as he readied the next post. Satou lifted the hammer and gave it a tap, driving the post into the earth.
“I think she likes me. She asked me to visit her campsite tonight, I'm going to slip away once my parents have fallen asleep and go to her.”
“Really? Well good luck to you, young Satou. It sounds like you're in for quite the night. How...large is she exactly?”
“Maybe eight or nine feet,” he said as he gave the post another whack.
“I...see, quite the night indeed...”
He turned, hearing someone calling his name from further up the terraces. It was his father, come to fetch him for supper no doubt. Satou exchanged a glance with Nagao, he had beaten his father by only a minute or two. If he had dawdled on his way back down the mountain, then he would have been discovered.
“You look like you've been working hard,” his father said as he came to a stop beside the pair, appraising the fence. “You've certainly earned a break. Nagao, how are you?”
The old man bowed low, addressing Satou's father in a formal manner.
“My family and I are well, thank you. Your son is a fine worker.”
“Good to hear, good to hear. Come Satou, your mother has prepared supper.”
“Yes, father,” Satou replied as he shared another glance with Nagao. The old man winked at him, ever faithful to his word, and Satou waved farewell as he followed his father up towards their house.
CHAPTER 6: LOCKING HORNS
Satou boiled with conflicting emotions. He was elated, his heart still racing after his encounter with Higa. He couldn't keep his mind off her even for a moment as his family chatted around the table. Whenever he closed his eyes, all that he could see was her red skin and her white hair. He could still taste her lips, feel the smoothness of her body, like an afterimage that lingered in his mind.
But at the same time, his gut was twisted with dread. Like a charging ox headed towards a cliff, he knew that he would soon plunge over the precipice. Conflict with his family was inevitable. There was a heat inside him now, rising up from his belly, a sort of reckless and urgent need to get it over with. Like amputating a gangrenous limb, it was better to do it fast, before the rot spread.
He knew now that he could never marry Lady Sasaki. It was not uncommon, it was even expected for those of the upper classes to seek pleasure outside of their marriage, especially when it had been arranged with someone that they didn't get along with. Wives were for reproducing with, concubines and prostitutes were for pleasure. Satou could probably get away with sneaking off to see Higa even after his marriage to Sasaki and nobody would question it.
But that wasn't what he wanted. His sense of honor commanded him to marry the Oni if she would have him, nothing less would do. If she refused his hand, then he would accept the consequences willingly, as his life would have lost all meaning. He could not pursue two women, however. Nor could he have two wives, even if one of them was in name only. It was all or nothing, he would either have what he most desired, or he would lose everything.
He had thought long and hard about it. In the worst case scenario, the marriage would have to be delayed until his brother came of age, and he would have to marry the girl in Satou's stead. The practice was known as gyauenkon, and it was common in circumstances where the older brother was killed or otherwise rendered unable to fulfill his marital obligations. The shōen would not suffer because of him.
It was time.
Satou stood, clearing his throat, his family setting down their cups and chopsticks as he got their attention.
“Mother, father, I have something to announce.”
They shared surprised glances, his younger brother watching curiously. The words were so hard to find, sticking in his throat like honey, but he mustered all of his willpower. It was just like the kiss, he had to take charge, he could do this...
“What is it, Satou?” his mother asked.
“I do not intend to marry the Lady Sasaki.”
There was a moment of shocked silence, and then his mother bowed her head, covering her mouth with the long sleeve of her kimono. His father's face began to redden, his brow furrowing as he glared across the table.
“What!?” his father spat, as much disbelief in his voice as there was anger. “What are you saying!?”
“I do not love the Lady Sasaki,” Satou explained, struggling to keep his voice from wavering. If his years of social conditioning had imbued him with any kind of skill, it was the ability to go through the motions, to speak clearly and concisely when he needed to. The more he tried to think of this as some kind of formal function, the easier it became.
“I can't believe what I'm hearing,” his father replied. “We've raised you for nearly two decades to respect this family, to understand your place in society, to put the honor and the needs of your shōen above your own desires. And this is the result? You reject everything that we have taught you, all of our values!?”
His mother was still covering her mouth, shocked by his declaration, looking away as if she didn't want any part in the argument that was beginning. His brother glanced between Satou and his father with frightened eyes.
“You will marry the Matsuyo girl,” his father ordered, slamming his fist on the table and shaking their bowls of soup. “I will not allow you to tarnish this family's good name, the name that your grandfather toiled to elevate. We have made agreements, plans, I can't believe that you would act so...so selfishly!”
“Selfish!” Satou exclaimed, his father recoiling as if he had been struck by a blow. “I was never asked, you just planned out the rest of my life without even consulting me. Have I not been a good son? Have I not been obedient? Have I not done everything that you have asked of me up to this point? Now I ask one thing in return, the right to choose my own wife, and you won't even consider it?”
“This isn't about what you want, Satou. This is about our family, our shōen. The future of our community depends on this union, you told me that you understood that.”
“You keep telling me that family must come first, even if it makes me miserable. I can't marry Sasaki, I'm in love with someone else. I will leave if that's what you want, you can pretend that I never existed or that I was killed if it will preserve your status, but I cannot go through with this marriage.”
“And where does that leave you?” his father asked. “Do you think that come together in passion and stay together in tears was a joke? Something that I tried to instill in you for fun? Look what your passion has brought you,” he said as he gestured towards Satou's mother, who was now sobbing quietly into her sleeve. “Marriage is not about love. Reckless romances tear apart families and end noble lineages. You will do your duty, or so help me...”
“What?” Satou asked with a shrug, “what can you take from me that I would not give up willingly? I will renounce my name and my inheritance if necessary, you still have a male heir in my brother Nishio. I will give it up gladly if it means that I can't marry Sasaki.”
“That would make you an outcast, a barukamin,” his father snapped. “You'd be no better than someone who carries away corpses or collects the night soil from privies.”
“What will we tell the Matsuyos?” his mother wailed. Her words stung, not because of how upset she was, but because her primary concern was for their family's relationship with the Matsuyos rather than for the welfare of her son. He had hoped that she might support him, she had always seemed more sensitive than his father, but it seemed that his hopes had been misplaced.
“Tell me who this girl is,” his father snapped, standing so hastily that he almost knocked the table over. “Tell me who she is, and I'll have her family exiled into the wilderness.”
“You can't exile her,” Satou laughed, growing bolder the longer their confrontation went on. “She doesn't live in the village, she is an Oni who came down from the mountain.”
His father hesitated, confused, his mother looking up from her sleeve.
“Oni...aren't real,” his father insisted. “Do you dare to lie to me Satou? Is there no dishonor that you won't stoop to?”
“She's as real as you or I,” Satou said, “I met her when I was tasked with opening the sluice gate.”
“It must be true,” his mother said, choking back her tears. “It's a yokai, a demon has bewitched our son and turned him against us!” She resumed her sobbing, covering her face, his father not knowing how to respond.
As bad as Satou felt, there was also a kind of elation, a relief now that he had finally come clean and his secret was out in the open. It felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He was now free to do as he pleased, for the first time in his life he could go where he wanted and do what he wanted. Nobody would be able to stop him, he no longer had anything to lose, and thus there was nothing more to fear.
“I have never felt such shame,” his father spat, Satou staring him down across the table. It was as though nothing that Satou had done up to this point had counted for anything. A lifetime of obedience and respect, and all that his family could focus on was a single incident of rebellion. Rebellion which could not be more justified from Satou's perspective.
He turned around, storming out of the house and making for the sluice gate. His father followed after him, but his mother fell to her knees, clinging to her husband's leg and preventing him from pursuing their son.
“Let him go,” she begged, “he may yet come to his senses!”
A few of the villagers who were still working the fields nearby or carrying sundries to and fro paused to watch the commotion, Satou keeping his eyes fixed on the forest as he marched away from the village. He vanished between the trees, the shadow of the mountain looming over him.
The sun had dipped behind the mountain, casting the valley into darkness as Satou stumbled through the dense forest. He had followed the stream up to the sluice gate and then he had tried to retrace his steps back to Higa's campsite, but he was starting to think that he was lost. He just kept walking, he was giddy, full of nervous energy. He had really done it, he had really stood up to his parents. He had no clue what was going to happen now. He dared not turn back, at least not until his father had been given enough time to cool off. Would they even take him back after what he had done? It was impossible to know.
The snowy peak of the mountain was visible through the canopy here and there, so it was impossible to get completely turned around. It would be best to just keep heading in the same direction.
Satou froze, listening intently. Something large was moving around nearby, he could hear it crushing fallen sticks and rustling the undergrowth. He felt a pang of fear. Could it be a bear? He looked around for a nearby tree to climb, but before he could make his move, a large furry mass burst out from between the trees a short distance ahead of him. It charged towards him, impossibly fast for a beast of that size.
He turned to flee, but it was too fast, and he felt something wrap around his body and lift him off the ground.
“Looks like I caught me a little lord,” Higa said, throwing her fur cloak back to reveal her red skin and laughing as he kicked his feet in the air. “I wondered what kind of animal could be making that much noise.”
“Damn it, Higa, you scared the life out of me!”
She set him back on the ground, and he turned to glare up at her, brushing himself off.
“So what brings you back to the mountain so soon? I wasn't expecting to see you for a while yet, I was going to do some more hunting before you came back. Did something happen?”
“I told them,” he declared. Higa's yellow eyes widened, reflecting what little light was available like those of a cat, and she planted her hands on her wide hips as she looked him up and down.
“I knew you had it in you, but I'm impressed, Satou. How did they react?”
“Uh...not well,” he replied, wringing his hands. “They didn't kick me out, I left on my own, but I don't know if I can go back. At least not right now. My father was furious, my mother wept...”
Higa cocked her head, her expression sympathetic.
“All of this upset on my account,” she muttered, “I'm not sure that I'm worth it.”
“Of course you're worth it,” he insisted, “and this isn't your fault. I never wanted to marry the Lady Sasaki,” he added bitterly, his brow furrowing. “Meeting you didn't change that, it just gave me the confidence to stand up for myself.”
She smiled and reached down a massive hand to mess up his hair.
“Let's get you back to my camp, I'll make you some tea. You'll feel better with something warm in your belly. You can tell me all of the juicy details on the way.”
He nodded, following behind her as she turned and headed back into the dark forest.
Satou lifted the steaming cup to his lips and took a draw from it. The tea was brewed with wild herbs, and its flavor was mild, calming him as the warmth spread through his stomach. The cup was too large for him, more the size of a bowl, but Higa didn't have anything that was more appropriate for someone of his stature.
“Human family dynamics are...confusing,” she said, sitting beside him as the fire pit in front of them crackled. She took a sip from a saucer of sake, the alcohol warming her in a different way, looking up at the moon as it cast them in its pale light.
“What are Oni parents like?” Satou asked, setting down his beverage on the grass and looking up at her.
“My parents wouldn't care who I married,” she replied with a shrug, “Oni don't have complex lineages and political unions like your kind do.”
“It's only really the upper classes who do that,” Satou added, “the peasants can marry who they want most of the time. Like my friend Nagao said, there's balance in all things. They might not enjoy the luxuries and privileges that a Shogun does, but at least they're free to love whoever they want.”
“So are you now,” she chuckled, nudging him with her elbow. “You gave up your name and inheritance. Assuming that they take you seriously, you're as free as a peasant as of tonight.”
“I guess you're right,” he mused, taking another drink from his bowl as he stared into the dancing flames.
“Aren't you going to miss your silk pillows and your servants?”
“I don't think you have a very clear picture of what my family does,” Satou laughed, “we're just farmers. I never had silk pillows or servants, or anything like that. But even if I did, that life doesn't suit me. I want to be out here under the stars, I want to wander the forests and scale the peaks, like you.”
“Are you sure that one of your parents wasn't unfaithful?” Higa asked, messing with his hair again as he batted her hand away. “Sometimes I wonder if you're hiding some stubby little horns under this mop.”
“No, or I'd be taller.”
She laughed at him, taking another drink from her saucer. She upended it, shaking it as if the motion might somehow produce more sake.
“Damn, I'm out. I guess the fates have decided that I've had enough for tonight.” She reached across and caught him in a headlock, pressing his face into the furry sling that concealed her bosom as Satou struggled to keep his drink from spilling. “And why don't you drink, little Oni? My mother always told me never to trust someone who won't share a cup of sake with me.”
“I don't like the taste,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by her bust.
“It's not supposed to taste good, it's supposed to get you drunk! It might help you to loosen up a bit, you're so stiff.” She released him, smirking at him as he took a defiant sip from his mug. “How's the tea?”
“Good,” he replied.
Higa stretched her arms over her head and yawned widely, her sharp tusks flashing in the moonlight.
“We should probably turn in soon.”
Satou eyed her tall tent, a blend of excitement and anxiety rising in his chest. Were they really going to share such a cramped and private space together? Well, cramped by Oni standards at least. When they had kissed in the pool, she had teased that there was more to come, that she had more to show him.
The Oni noticed him staring, suppressing a hiccup as she grinned at him.
“There's nowhere else for you to sleep kid, not unless you want to sleep outside on my cloak. Besides, I want to...show you something. I think you'll like it.”
She caught his face in her hands and leaned down to plant a kiss on his forehead, leaving him sitting on the grass with reddening cheeks as she rose to her feet, making her way over to the tent. He watched her as she walked away, shedding her cloak as she went. She reached behind her back and unfastened her furry top, letting it fall away, then she reached down and slipped off her loincloth. She was facing away from him, but the moonlight reflected off her red body wonderfully, accentuating the developed muscles of her back where they were visible beneath her long hair. Her spine carved a deep dimple that ran down to her rump, her ample cheeks rolling enticingly as she moved.
She crouched and opened the flap of her tent, closing it behind her as she vanished into its dark interior.
Satou snapped his head back around, staring into the fire with wide eyes, unblinking as he nervously chugged his tea. He discarded the empty bowl beside him, swallowing and wiping his mouth with his sleeve as she steeled himself. Somehow this was almost as difficult as announcing his intentions to his parents. Part of him wanted to flee into the forest, the beating of his heart and the fluttering sensation in his belly making him feel like he was standing on the edge of a cliff and looking down at the long drop.
He leapt to his feet then took in a deep breath, turning and following after Higa. With every step his heart seemed to beat faster, apprehension and anticipation making his head spin. Before he knew it, he was opening the animal skin flap that led to her tent.
He ducked inside, then stood, the tent large enough that it wasn't a hindrance to him. As his eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, he saw Higa, watching him with her yellow eyes as she lay on her bed of furry pelts. She was covered by furs, her red body only visible above the chest, her mass of white hair spreading beneath her head like a giant cotton pillow. She watched him with those reflective eyes, Satou unable to meet her gaze as he looked away, wringing his hands again as he so often did when he was nervous.
“Will you stop that?” Higa cooed, beckoning to him with her finger. “Come over here, there's no need to be so shy.” He inched forwards until he was standing beside her, the Oni wetting her lips, propping herself up on her elbow as she waited. “Take off your clothes. Let me see you.”
His hands trembling, he did as she asked, untying the belt on his yukata and letting the garment fall about his feet. He stood before her wearing only his loincloth, but he didn't feel self-conscious any longer. The way that her eyes played over his youthful body, hardened by years of working the paddies, made him feel...good. He wanted her to see him, he wanted to be desired. Nobody had ever looked at him that way before, there was hunger in her eyes.
“That too,” she said, gesturing to his loincloth.
He untied it and let it fall to join his yukata on the floor, the fabric catching briefly on his erection. Despite his fear and uncertainty, he had never been so aroused in his life. It was enough to make his head spin. He was as hard as a rock, and Higa's yellow eyes turned downwards, a smile curling her lips.
Satou wondered what she thought of him, but he was too afraid to ask her, standing there as he waited for further instructions. There was a rush of air and a loud rustling as Higa threw her covering back, exposing herself to him. It was impossible to keep his eyes off her. Just like when he had first happened upon her beside the pool, his gaze was drawn to her with an almost magnetic power.
There was just enough light spilling into the tent through the many breaks in the mismatched pelts that her body shone, glistening like she was coated in morning dew, the hot and moist climate making her skin wet.
Her breasts were so full and heavy, gravity pressing them together as she lay slightly on her side, the delicate fat spreading on the fur beneath her. Her pink nipples stood out against her crimson skin, Satou finally able to drink in her figure with nothing concealing it. His eyes roamed lower, his breathing growing heavier as he admired her toned stomach. The muscles were so defined and prominent, the shafts of moonlight reflecting off them, droplets of moisture clinging to their firm surfaces. The curve of her hip was like a mountain in its own right, so feminine despite her brawn, her smooth and rounded contours starting a fire inside him. Her thighs were as thick as tree trunks, the hard muscle that could propel her heavy body through the forest at such incredible speed sheathed in a layer of soft flesh, her skin so smooth that it looked polished.
Why did it feel so right? Why did he ache for her like this? It was as if a sickness had overcome him, a fever, burning him up from the inside.
“Are you just going to stand there and stare at me?” Higa asked, patting the pelt beside her in invitation. He knelt and lay down next to her, shuffling up so that his face was level with hers. She reached out and cupped his cheek, pulling him closer and subjecting him to a slow, teasing kiss. The measured strokes of her smooth tongue calmed him, her lips soothing, his tense muscles starting to relax as he sank into the soft fur beneath him.
She released him with a smack, her amber eyes seeming to glow in the dark as she watched him. She was so intense, unblinking, and yet there was a gentleness in her eyes that drew him in like a moth to a flame.
“What...do we do now?” Satou stammered, Higa stroking his cheek with her fingers.
“Just follow my lead. It will come naturally, you'll see.”
She slid her fingers down to his neck, her merest touch electrifying. Satou had never imagined that being touched could make him feel this way, his nerves were on fire, like she had awakened in him an entirely new sense. Her hand roamed down to his chest, then she drew slow circles on his belly with her pointed nails, her gaze too sliding lower as she explored his body.
“I thought you'd be all soft,” she whispered, “a pampered little lord. But you're hard, strong for your size. I guess you weren't exaggerating when you told me that your family were farmers...”
She liked him, and the thought filled him with warmth. He watched with bated breath as those red fingers crawled down towards his loins, Higa brushing his member so lightly that she barely touched him.
His spine arched involuntarily, his member surging as a jolt of raw pleasure coursed through his body like a bolt of lightning. It was nothing like when he touched himself, nothing like he had expected, the sensation so powerful that it made his eyelids flutter. Higa chuckled to herself as he slowly relaxed again, his fingers digging into the pelt that they were lying on.
“So sensitive,” she crooned, “I'll have to take things slow.”
She reached up and took his wrist, guiding his hand towards her bosom, Satou watching with wide eyes as she pressed it into one of her breasts. His fingers sank up to the knuckle, her flesh so malleable and yielding. It was like nothing that he had ever felt before. He squeezed, feeling the delicate fat spill between his fingers, filling his palm. It was like taking a handful of melting butter. Her red skin was akin to the most exquisite silk, softer than any material that he had ever felt before.
“I want you to touch me,” Higa whispered, his head spinning as she breathed warm air on his ear. She paused for a moment, sucking his earlobe into her mouth and chewing it gently, the lurid sound filling his head.
He lay on his back beside her, bringing his second hand to bear, exploring the copious mounds of her breasts as she grinned at him. She closed her eyes, her long lashes the same shade of white as her hair, her abdominal muscles twisting and flexing beautifully as she began to slowly writhe. They bulged from beneath her crimson skin, the sheen of moisture making them shine. Satou couldn't take his eyes off them.
She was enjoying his attentions. As large and as powerful as she was, she was not untouchable, the idea that he might be able to please her imbuing Satou with a new determination.
He gasped as her fingers found his erection again, wrapping them around him, her warmth permeating him to the core. She squeezed gently, and another burst of pleasure made him its plaything, his toes curling. He would never have imagined that a hand could make him feel this way, her palm brushing against his glans like wet satin as she began to stroke him slowly and deliberately.
Unlike when he did it to himself, her goal was not to finish him quickly but to prolong his pleasure. She wasn't giving him enough to send him over the edge, she was teasing him, making sure that he had time to enjoy every stroke and squeeze. He shivered, his body starting to slip out of his control, his hips thrusting into her fist as if they had taken on a life of their own.
She hooked her other hand behind his head, drawing him closer and pushing his face between her breasts, her cleavage so deep that he was quickly buried in her warm flesh. Her scent filled his nose, exciting him in new and unexpected ways. She smelled like exertion, sweat, but there was also a feminine scent beneath it that drove him crazy. It was primal, instinctual. She smelled like a woman should smell, and it aroused him on a base level. Her skin glided against his cheeks, his hands delving into her breasts as she continued her stroking, his excitement mounting.
Higa let him thrust into her hand as he rolled onto his side, setting his own pace as she ran her fingers through his hair, keeping his face between her breasts. It was overwhelming. He had admired her beautiful body from afar, and now he was as close to her as he could get, the taste of her sweat on his lips as she pressed the heavy globes of fat around his face. He could feel her breathing, hear the beating of her massive heart, she was so alive. He slid a hand lower, her skin slick and damp, his fingers finding the firm bunches of her six-pack. He could finally touch them without reservation, he could trace their sculpted contours, feel them flex and move beneath his hand. They were as hard as rock, yet cloaked in her velvet skin, like someone had wrapped a box of apples in a silk kimono.
It was all becoming too much for him, he couldn't hold out any longer. He moaned into her bust, his voice muffled by her flesh, his body contorting as a sudden and powerful orgasm tore through him. He trembled in her arms as she hugged him against her body, milking him with slow strokes of her hand as he sprayed thick ropes of his emission onto her belly. White light flashed in his mind, stars swimming before his eyes as he closed them tightly, his muscles spasming. It was ecstasy like he had never felt it before, as if his nerves were extending beyond the bounds of his skin, invisible fingers running up and down his spine as the waves of euphoria washed over him.
He couldn't even think, reduced to a rutting beast as he thrust hopelessly into her hand, clawing at the cushion of her breasts as her warm breath blew his hair. It seemed to go on forever, his concept of time warping until his awareness finally seemed to resurface.
Satou emerged from between her boobs, his face beet red, breathing hard and swaying drunkenly as he looked up at Higa. She was smiling at him adoringly, her hungry stare betraying her arousal. She slowly released his member, still swollen and hard, an aftershock rippling through him as he loosed another wad of semen into her palm.
“S-Sorry,” he mumbled, “I couldn't...”
“Don't apologize,” she said as she laughed heartily, the motion making her boobs wobble and bump against his face. “Better to let one out quick and easy, that way you'll last longer next time...”
She drew him in and kissed him again, Satou's eyes rolling back into his head as he melted into her embrace, every glance of her tongue piercing through the haze of his afterglow like a hot knife. She released him, Satou panting as he lay on the furs, his member still almost painfully erect despite his recent climax. He glanced down, his heart skipping a beat as he saw the pearly strands of his semen clinging to her belly. He hadn't known that he could produce so much...
Higa reached down and wiped them away with her hand, the gelatinous strands smearing on her crimson skin, coating her abdominal muscles in a sticky sheen.
“Not bad for someone so small,” she muttered. She cleaned her hand and then her belly with the fur blanket, then cast it aside. It was far too hot and humid to justify using it anyway. When she was done, she reached down and made slow circles on his glans with the tip of her finger, still wet with his emission.
“You're still so hard,” she whispered, biting her lower lip. “I didn't expect a human to have so much stamina.” Satou twitched and writhed as her digits brushed against his tender head, the residual slime making her touch slippery, Higa watching him intently with her yellow eyes. “You're too cute,” she added, “I want to eat you up...”
She leaned closer and planted a sucking kiss on his throat, her sharp tusks grazing his skin, his spine arching reflexively as she mouthed at his neck and shoulder. It was so warm and wet, something about having her touching such a vulnerable part of his body making his legs go weak. He took the opportunity to push his face into her mass of white, silky hair, feeling the soft strands brush his cheeks. It smelled so good, she must have used some kind of soap or plant to treat it when she bathed in the pool. It was so fluffy, like pushing his face into a cloud. They stayed like that for a little while, Satou simply enjoying her, his lingering euphoria making him feel like he was in some kind of wonderful dream.
“Want to do something for me?” Higa whispered, Satou withdrawing from her mass of puffy hair and nodding. She smirked at him, rolling over onto her back and placing a hand on the top of his head, guiding him downwards. “Down there,” she said as he began to crawl lower. Higa lay back on the furs, her massive thighs parting as Satou came to kneel between her legs. She looked divine from this angle, her heavy breasts spilling over her chest under their own weight, the twin mounds obscuring her face from view until she propped herself up on her elbows to look down at him. Her abdominal muscles tensed as they lifted her, standing out from her flat stomach even more, casting deep shadows that gave them even more definition.
Her thighs were like two strong pillars, and he couldn't resist stroking one of them, the skin as flush as varnished wood beneath his palm. His oversized partner shivered, apparently her inner thighs were sensitive, and he repeated the gesture as she cooed happily.
Between them was her smooth, hairless mound, and Satou was faced with something that he had never seen before. So this was what women looked like...
Higa had a pair of puffy, vertical lips, flushed a slightly darker shade of red than the surrounding skin. She reached down a hand and parted them with two of her fingers, exposing the pink, wet flesh within. It almost looked like the petals of a pale rose, soaked with moisture in a way that reminded him of nectar. A blooming flower...
He found himself captivated by the folds and creases, it seemed so complex, an opening near the bottom twitching and winking at him. He looked up to Higa for further instructions, and she met him with a mischievous grin, no doubt amused by his ignorance.
“What does your heart tell you?” she asked.
Satou considered for a moment, then replied.
“I want to kiss you...”
“Good boy...gently now...”
He started with one of her legs, wrapping his arms around it like it was a small tree and planting a kiss on her burnished skin. He heard her sigh, and encouraged, he moved lower. He remembered where she was most sensitive, mouthing and kissing her inner thigh just above where it joined to her mound, copying what she had done when she had kissed his neck. She seemed to enjoy that. His eyes were drawn to her belly, the movement of her muscles captivating him again as she squirmed.
His lips crawled lower until they found her loins, the inexperienced young man hesitating.
“Use your tongue,” she suggested, “like you're writing on me.”
Satou did as she requested, dragging his tongue between her lips. Now it was Higa's turn to arch her back, a low moan escaping her throat as his smooth muscle slid across her sodden flesh. It tasted sour, the juices that coated it slimy and viscous, but something about it made him want more. Her womanly scent was back, stronger here, a musk that plucked at his mind like the strings of a shamisen.
A fresh surge of arousal spurred him on, Satou lapping at her hot flesh as she closed her eyes and lay back on the furs, quietly enjoying the sensation as he explored this uncharted ground. He could feel every crease and furrow of her loins beneath his tongue, so fine and delicate, like folds of satin that had been soaked in honey. She was so warm, almost feverish, more of her juices leaking from her in a steady flow. It was so slippery, making his tongue glide across her organ with almost no friction.
He tried to kiss it like she had taught him and she seemed to enjoy that, even if he was a little clumsy. Her hips were rolling, her smooth thighs brushing his cheeks. Strands of her slimy emissions were dangling from his chin and sticking to his cheeks in globs. It should have been off-putting, but his arousal was too powerful, and it only encouraged him further. He wanted desperately to please her, in that moment he felt like he would have done anything that she asked of him, no matter how lurid and obscene.
He kept it up for a minute or two longer, then he drew back as her red fingers delved between her lips, Higa looking down at him again. Her white hair was a mess, and her cheeks were flushed a deeper shade of crimson than usual. He watched intently as she pushed her index finger inside herself, moving it in and out slowly, her juices coating it in a slippery sheen.
“Like this,” she explained, “put your finger inside me.”
She pulled her digit out, linked to her opening by a sagging web of clear fluid, waiting for Satou to take up the slack. He eased a finger inside of her, his member throbbing as he felt a tunnel of damp flesh close around his digit like a fist. It felt like the inside of a mouth, but far softer and constantly in motion. He could feel her firm muscles through the thin walls, shifting and squeezing, almost like a throat swallowing. It massaged his finger, drawing it deeper, soaking it in her slick juices. This obviously wasn't designed for a finger...
What would it feel like to slide his member inside there, to feel it grip him and begin to suck and stroke? He could feel the heat coming off his cheeks, glancing up at Higa who was exposing her sharp teeth in a knowing smile.
“Move it inside of me,” she said, “and keep licking...”
He did as she asked, gently pushing his finger in and out of her, her insides clinging to him with a powerful suction as if trying to prevent his escape. He leaned closer again and resumed his mouthing and licking, playing his lips and his tongue across her pink flesh, her loins clenching rhythmically around his finger in response.
She had been right, at first her body had seemed so alien, but now it almost felt familiar. He knew what to do, like it was in his blood, his primal instincts surging through him in ways that he had never felt before. He was alive, aware, like he had been sleeping all of his life and he had just woken up for the first time.
His tongue brushed something firm, about the same size and shape as the tip of his pinky finger. Higa lurched, and Satou slowed his licking for fear that he might have hurt her, raising his head to peer up at her. She anticipated his reaction, cooing reassuringly as she reached a hand down to delve into his hair, pushing him back down between her thighs.
“Don't stop now, you're just starting to get the hang of it. Lick me there...suck it gently...yeah, like that.”
She lay back again, giggling to herself as he circled the hard nub of flesh with his tongue, pressing his lips around it and drawing on it softly. The Oni's massive, red body was twitching and shuddering, her thighs trembling around his head. They could probably have crushed him with ease, but she was careful not to apply too much pressure, conscious of his human limitations.
It amazed him to think that such a large and powerful creature could be so affected by someone as small and as uninitiated as him. There was no arcane knowledge required to make love, no great skill, he just had to listen to her and respond to what she was doing. It was so easy, it came so naturally. All that time spent worrying and wondering had been for naught.
She gripped his hair, a little painfully but not enough to really hurt, rocking her hips against his face as he doted on her. He was getting a feel for where he should focus his attention now, gauging how she reacted. He curled his finger inside her, drawing slow shapes on the smooth button, her breathing growing ragged as her rump rose from the furs. He had to wrap his arm around one of her thick thighs for fear that she might throw him off.
“Faster,” she breathed, “use two fingers.”
He slid a second digit inside of her, thrusting them in tandem. Her tunnel was incredibly tight despite her size, pressing his fingers together almost painfully, molding around them like it was consciously trying to fill every available space.
Her hand left his hair, and he watched as she sank both of them into her breasts, kneading and squeezing. She looked like she was shaping fresh dough, her fingers sinking deep into the fat, mauling her boobs and pinching her engorged nipples. Satou was transfixed for a moment, and she looked down at him, wondering why he was slowing down.
“Don't hold out on me now, kid,” she whispered. Her low voice was almost a growl, she sounded nearly as aroused as he currently felt. His heart was pounding against his ribcage from the inside, pulsing, his member jumping in tandem. Something about her scent and her taste captivated him, he couldn't think straight, he felt like his brain was stewing in his skull.
Another throb of passion overcame him, and he plunged into her sopping womanhood. He was no longer concerned with how slimy and wet it was, he reveled in it. He grazed her velvet loins with his tongue, dragging it across every inch of her intimate folds, parting her puffy lips as he roved. He left sucking kisses, crawling his lips up and down her pink slit, moving his fingers all the while as her ravenous passage engulfed him up to the knuckle. More of that clear, slippery fluid was leaking around them now. It was coming thicker and faster, tied to her arousal it seemed.
Her taste was in him, on him, that enticing scent filling his nose. He felt like he was getting drunk on it, her sour, somewhat metallic flavor tickling his taste buds.
“You're taking to this like a duck to water,” she laughed, running her fingers through her mop of snowy hair as she squirmed on the bed of pelts.
His tongue was starting to ache, he had never used it in this way before, but he didn't want to let her down. He could sense her excitement mounting, like a kettle that was about to boil over, the movements of her body growing more erratic as her skin glistened with a fresh coat of sweat.
She bit her lip, reaching down and replacing his tongue with her fingers, rubbing furiously as her juices made them slippery. He started to withdraw his fingers from her spasming tunnel, but she uttered a low growl that might have been intimidating under different circumstances.
“Don't stop, go faster, faster!”
Her spine slowly arched as he knelt between her quivering thighs, watching her body contort like a physical reflection of the pressure that was building inside her. He matched her tempo as best he could, pushing in and out of her as her velutinous walls seemed to wring his fingers with increasingly powerful contractions, her digits a blur as she rubbed the little nub of engorged flesh.
She gritted her teeth, grunting like a beast as her sodden passage seized violently around his fingers, Satou only able to withdraw them due to the glaze of slime that coated them. Her entire body seemed to tremble as she thrust her hips into the air, droplets of sweat rolling off her burnished skin and dripping to the furs below, her thighs locking shut with an audible clap. Fortunately, his head hadn't still been between them, or she might have popped it like a ripe cherry.
His eyes played across her shivering form as she rode out her orgasm, the pangs of ecstasy making her already prominent muscles bulge and flex, her eyes closed tightly and her tusk-like teeth bared as she endured the searing pleasure. She gradually lowered herself back to the ground, squirming as she slowly rubbed her nethers, her breathing ragged and labored. Satou took the opportunity to part her wet thighs with his hands, leaning in to lap fondly at her dripping sex, matching pace with her fingers as the thick strands rained down to mat the fur below. An appreciative shiver rocked her, and she glanced down at him, propping herself up on her elbows and swaying slightly. She cleaned some of the goo from his cheek with her thumb, biting her lip as he met her gaze.
“You don't have to give me those puppy dog eyes, little Satou, we're far from done. I need a minute though,” she added with a chuckle, dropping back down and lying spreadeagled. Satou knelt there like he was praying at a temple, watching her breasts shake softly with every breath that she took, his mouth watering as her red body lay before him. He reached out a hand and ran it across her belly, feeling her twitch, his touch tickling her. She opened one eye and watched him lazily, her silence all the permission that he required as he followed the deep channels that her abs cut in her skin with a questing finger.
She was so damp, whether from the moisture in the humid mountain air or her sweat he couldn't say, perhaps a combination of the two. She glistened and sparkled in what moonlight shone through the gaps in her makeshift tent, like a field of grass after a light rain shower, the droplets catching the rays of the sun. Emboldened, he ran his palm across her toned stomach, feeling mounds of muscle the size of his fist beneath his hand as it slid on her wet skin.
“You seem infatuated with those,” she murmured. “Rub a little harder, it feels nice.”
Satou followed her instructions, his cheeks warming anew, his needy erection aching as it bobbed in the air with every pulse of blood that his racing heart pumped through it. He massaged her, delighting in the softness of her skin, the brawn that lay beneath it firm and taut. He slid his hands across her hips, following their curves, trailing up towards her ribs as she shifted her weight.
“That tickles,” she chuckled. “Oh, I have an idea...”
She propped herself up again and reached out towards a pile of bags and boxes that were stacked beside the bed. She fumbled for a moment, knocking a few sundry items over, and then withdrew a ceramic jug. It was black in color, its texture rough, clearly hand-made. He noted that it was painted with white floral patterns and there was a string tied around the neck. She uncorked it and took a long draw from the contents, grimacing and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand when she was done.
“I know you don't like the taste of sake,” she said, smiling mischievously. “But maybe I can change your mind...”
She brought the container down to her chest, tilting it so that a small quantity of the colorless liquid spilled between her breasts. Her slightly upright posture guided the sake down across her abdomen, coating her six-pack with the clear beverage. It followed the channels of her muscles like a stream winding through a valley, pooling in her navel, some of it sloughing off her sides to wet the pelt.
“Clean me up,” she said, setting the jug down and watching him with a lurid glint in her yellow eyes.
Satou didn't need to be asked twice, leaning closer to press his lips against her torso. Her crimson skin was as flush as polished metal, her muscles tensing as he kissed her. His tongue left his mouth to lap at the sake that soaked her body, Higa sighing seductively as his smooth organ grazed her. He was surprised by the flavor, it tasted different to the sake that was made in his village. It wasn't as bitter, it tasted sweeter, almost like honey. Encouraged, he continued, licking slowly as she watched him covetously with her amber eyes. Higa's toned abs were in perpetual motion, every breath that she took making them shift subtly, her muscles responding to his touch as they flexed and twitched.
He could taste the salt in her sweat as it mingled with the sweet alcohol, dragging his tongue down between the twin rows of chiseled muscles, moving towards her navel. Her breasts, butt and thighs were heavy with fat, making them plump and inviting. Yet there was almost none on her midsection. Her belly was flat, and every muscle stood out prominently. Not only the six, fist-sized muscles that made up her core, but more that he didn't even have names for. There were knotted muscles on her ribs and hips, tendons and sinew moving beneath the surface, a few veins standing out against her silky skin. Everywhere that his eyes roamed they were met with more evidence of her superhuman strength, cast in shimmering moonlight and framed by dark shadows. How could someone be so soft and curvy, and yet at the same time so hard and strong?
He mouthed and licked, seeking out the honeyed liquid, his partner squirming appreciatively as he tickled her. The sake pooled in the recesses between her abs and in her navel, Satou sucking gently, probing with his tongue. Her heavy breasts wobbled a few scant inches above his head, her breathing growing less regular as he played his lips across her stomach.
She seemed to be enjoying herself as much he was, her white eyelashes fluttering as he planted lingering kisses on her burnished skin. He gripped one of her wide hips with one hand, letting his fingers sink into the subtle layer of fat that gave her such an alluring hourglass figure, sliding the other behind her. The muscles in her back were just as firm and developed as those of her abdomen, carving a deep dimple in her flesh that followed the elegant curve of her spine. She arched her back as he traced it with his fingers, brushing the taut muscles of her belly against his cheek, Satou once again noting that her red hide was softer than even the most expensive and extravagant of his mother's kimonos.
There was no resistance as his fingers roamed across her magnificent form. Her skin was sodden, making her slippery to the touch. He wanted to coat every inch of her body in kisses, to taste her all over, his mind was so fogged with arousal that he wasn't even sure what he wanted to do with her. Peppering her with sucking kisses and bathing her with his tongue was all that he could do to externalize the lust that was burning him up inside.
“Oh, so now you like the way it tastes?” she teased.
“I like the way you taste,” he replied, and she laughed at him.
“You're getting more confident, little Oni. Maybe I should find out how you taste?”
She hooked her hands beneath his arms, his stomach lurching as she flipped him over onto his back. In a moment he was looking up at her toothy grin, her white hair hanging about her face like a waterfall, so long that it was tickling his chest. Before he could protest, she leaned down, Satou loosing a low moan as her red lips found his neck. She bit him softly, gently, nibbling at his skin with her sharp teeth and sucking to leave welts. He sank his fingers into her hair, like a puffy mass of unrefined cotton, his eyes closing as she dragged her wide tongue across his throat. She nuzzled, rubbing her nose in the nape of his neck, her hot breath washing over him.
“You're lucky that Oni eating humans is just a myth,” she whispered, pausing to lick his ear pointedly. “Or you'd be a real delicacy, little Satou...”
He loved it when she touched his neck. It made him feel so vulnerable, which in turn heightened his sensitivity to her slow kisses and teasing bites. Her mop of hair was practically covering him like a blanket now, the fine strands stroking him all over his bare chest. It was so white and puffy, curly and feathery, its perfumed scent rising his nose as she began to move gradually down his body.
She kissed his chest, pausing to lick and peck, her saliva making his already damp skin even wetter. She crawled her oversized, puffy lips downwards, pausing at his abdomen to trace the lines of his far subtler muscles with her warm tongue. As she neared his loins, she planted hot kisses on his hip, the fine fibers of her hair brushing against his glans and making him lurch.
Higa poised there with her lips hovering mere inches from his throbbing erection, standing tall in the air as her warm breath blew across it. Those lips were so full and soft, was she really going to wrap them around him?
He remembered the sensation of her slippery, agile tongue coiling around his own during her probing kisses, a bead of clear fluid welling at his tip as he imagined what it might feel like if she were to take his member into her mouth and subject him to the same sordid attentions.
Satou took handfuls of the fur pelt as she drew closer, sliding her tongue out of her mouth and giving his tender head a tentative lick as though she was tasting him. Her organ was coated in her slimy saliva, smooth like satin and wonderfully warm, her touch sending sparks of pleasure rippling through his body. He had never felt so swollen, so engorged, his manhood was almost painfully hard. He could see his member pulsing as she pulled away, a string of her drool joining his glans to her tongue.
She maintained eye contact as she brought her rosy lips down towards his glans, already gleaming with a layer of her spit, sliding them over his sensitive flesh. She sealed them around the tip, her warmth permeating him to the core, her fluffy hair tickling his balls and thighs. She battered it with her tongue, every stroke hitting him like a lightning strike, his mind clouding as he lay back on the pelts. His instinct was to buck into her mouth in search of more, but she lifted his rear off the ground, wrapping her powerful arms around his body in a tight hug. Her biceps pressed against his hips, the Oni ensuring that she had total control over him, lifting him with such ease that he might as well have been weightless.
Her yellow eyes peered down at him through the gloom as she licked and sucked, spinning her silken tongue around his glans and creating a whirlwind of sensation, a trickle of drool escaping her tightly pursed lips to slide down his shaft. She lapped at the underside where he was most sensitive, his legs turning to jelly as his head began to spin.
It was more than pleasure, it was like she was puppeteering his nervous system, playing him like an instrument as she subjected him to searing throbs of ecstasy. Even as her lips slid further down his twitching shaft, she was smirking at him. He must look a sight. His hair was a mess, and his cheeks were burning, his skin coated in sweat.
Her cheeks pressed around his length as she sucked, like two silken pillows as they cushioned him, her tongue brushing him from below. Higa trapped him in a prison of hot, slimy flesh, drawing on him in intense waves that sent tingling pleasure shooting through his body.
Satou couldn't even distinguish the individual sensations any longer. It was overloading his nerves, her constant stroking and sucking forcing his eyes closed and making his toes curl so tightly that it was almost painful. His body was no longer under his control, he was at her mercy, and it felt like heaven.
She drew back, keeping her lips tight as they glided slowly up his length, then she released him with a wet pop. The Oni took a few moments to catch her breath, his member drenched in her saliva, shining as it caught the moonlight.
“How does it feel?” she asked, sucking her lower lip into her mouth and chewing on it lasciviously as she watched him pant. “You look like you're enjoying yourself.” He couldn't even find the words to formulate a reply, and she chuckled at him, squeezing him in her arms affectionately. “Oh little Satou, we haven't even gotten to the main course yet, this is just the appetizer. And I should warn you, I have an appetite befitting my size...”
She pressed down again and slid him into her mouth, her tongue roiling as she took him even deeper. Her lips kissed the base of his member, his glans sliding against what felt like the back of her throat. The suction was incredible, forcing the soft lining of her mouth to cling to him tightly, so smooth and slimy. She moaned softly, the sound vibrating through him, and he threw his head back as he opened his mouth in a silent wail.
When he met her gaze again, Higa was sliding back up, pausing at the tip to lick it softly. She suddenly slid back down, taking him in and out of her mouth as she found a slow and punishing rhythm. He was so wet with her bubbling saliva that there was little resistance, the pressure forcing the stringy fluid out of her mouth when she swallowed him to the hilt, leaking down his thighs and dangling from her chin in ropes.
She was squeezing him so tightly that he couldn't so much as wriggle, raising him higher from the bed as her pace increased so that he was practically hanging upside down, only his head and shoulders still resting on the pelt.
“Higa,” he moaned, “s-slow down. I can't...”
She paused, her gaze taking on a distinctly predatory quality, sliding his cock out of her mouth to leave it bouncing and dripping in the air.
“Oh...I like that,” she murmured, her voice low and laced with an almost palpable lust. “I've never heard an Oni make such a cute plea...” She lapped at his balls, the pleasure making colorful points of light dance before his eyes.
“Higa,” he mumbled, struggling to speak between his gasping breaths. “I need to...can I finish?”
She stopped again, peering down at him. She seemed confused for a moment and then she began to laugh, the motion rocking him in her arms. Her giggling took on a distinctly sordid quality, and she kissed his inner thigh, sucking to leave a red welt and ensuring that he could see it.
“You're asking my permission? What a proper little lord you are, Satou. Yes, you have my permission to fill my throat with your seed. I'd be offended if you didn't...”
She drew him into her mouth again, resuming her maddening sucking and licking, her pace reaching a fever pitch as she sought to bring him to completion. It took only a few seconds before his orgasm was once again scratching at the back of his mind, an all too familiar pressure and urgency rising inside him as electrical pleasure coursed up his spine. He was awash in ecstasy, his extremities tingling like he had slept on them wrong, his muscles wrenching beneath his sweat-soaked skin.
It came over him so quickly, he couldn't have prevented it if he had been trying, his body contorting as his member exploded inside her eager mouth. He writhed and bucked, but he couldn't escape her powerful embrace, the Oni keeping him trapped in her muscular arms and sealing her lips around the base of his cock as she watched him intently.
He covered his mouth with one hand, muffling an embarrassing moan, the wracking ecstasy making his entire body tremble. Stars danced before his eyes as if he had been rubbing them with the heels of his hands, his brain fizzing and sparking as his conscious mind took a back seat to his animal lust. It was so raw, harsh, unfiltered by any kind of social or moral conventions. For those scant few moments, he was reduced a rutting beast. It felt wonderful, it was liberating. He didn't have to observe meaningless protocols here, he didn't have to go through farcical rituals, he could simply exist in a way that felt natural and right.
Higa drank as he pumped thick wads of his ejaculate into her throat, the velvet muscles and smooth flesh massaging his length with all the fervor of a hand wreathed in wet silk, the suction drawing more of it out of him. She never so much as flinched, staying locked to him as her tongue moved ceaselessly to prolong his pleasure, Satou rendered so sensitive that he could no longer stand to feel that slippery organ scour his glans.
Over and over his body expelled pearly ropes of his emission, splashing against the back of her throat and filling her mouth, only her rhythmic swallowing preventing it from overflowing. There was even more of it that the first time, it just kept coming, each pulse of fresh pleasure more stark and intense than the last. His erection throbbed and jumped in her mouth like it had taken on a life of its own, brushing against her soft palate and grazing her inner cheeks, swelling with each new eruption.
The burning pleasure gradually began to subside, a deep and dizzying euphoria taking its place as she licked the last drop of his semen from the tip of his member. It made him feel like he was floating in warm water, and he was suddenly aware of how soft and pleasant the fur felt beneath him, the way that her silky hair tickled his skin. Everything was wonderful, Satou grinning stupidly, his eyelids drooping as Higa let him slide out of her mouth.
There was no mess to clean up this time. She dragged her lips up the length of his member, scraping away the sordid blend of her bubbling saliva and his milky fluids, leaving him almost dry. The Oni gazed down at him, licking her lips conspicuously with her pink tongue as she released him from her bear hug. His lower body fell back to the pelts, and he lay there in a daze, smiling up at her as she began to laugh again.
She let herself fall beside him, her massive body shaking the ground, and she scooped him up in her arms to pull him tight against her body. She thrust his face into the depths of her cleavage, her smooth skin slick with her perspiration, her copious breasts serving as admirable pillows. Her scent overwhelmed him, only adding to his afterglow, and he did his best to reach his arms around her wide midsection in a hug.
They spooned like that for a while, Satou too out of it to be sure for how long exactly, tingles of residual pleasure piercing through the calming haze where her fingers brushed his skin. She began to stroke him, running her large hand from his rump to his shoulders and back again, Satou unable to prevent himself from murmuring contentedly into her bust.
“You're so cute,” she breathed, blowing warm air into his hair. “Do I need to ask if that felt good?”
He shook his head, unintentionally rubbing his face in her boobs, Higa giggling as he tickled her. This was a whole new level of pleasure, satisfying him in ways that he had never known before, a sense of calm and happiness permeating him to the bone. It was a battle to keep himself from falling asleep in the Oni's arms, she had given him a little taste of paradise, and even as the powerful euphoria began to fade the satisfaction and giddiness remained.
“Does it always feel like this?” he whispered. She grumbled to herself and pulled his head out from between the cushion of her bosom, cupping his face in her hands and subjecting him to another greedy, invasive kiss. It seemed that his question had been too much for her.
Somehow her taste was even sweeter now, the doting, passionate strokes of her tongue even more affecting. He sensed a desire in her that hadn't been present before. There was an urgency in her embrace, a need. His erection was already returning, and she pushed her thigh gently between his legs, his shaft pulsing against its firm surface.
“Good to go again already?” she whispered, sliding her tongue out his mouth as she reached down a hand to stroke his member. The touch of her fingers made him shiver, and she seemed to enjoy that, lightly brushing him a second time and watching as a tremor rolled through him. “You're so sensitive...”
Her gentle touch suddenly became firmer, and she took his hands in hers, their fingers interlocking. She rolled him onto his back and pinned his arms against the furs, her long, white hair framing her red face as she gazed down at him. She swung a leg over him, straddling him as she knelt with one leg to either side of his hips. Her thighs were so long that although she was positioned level with his groin, her knees reached his armpits, Satou finding himself sandwiched between the two firm pillars of muscle and silken skin.
She was being so aggressive all of a sudden, it was making his heart flutter. Her amber eyes peered out at him from beneath the shadow that her mop of hair cast over her face. There was renewed hunger in those eyes, he could feel them as they played across his body, like a ravenous wolf about to pounce on a fawn. Her breasts hung from her chest enticingly, swaying with every breath that she took, shining as the moisture that coated them caught the light.
He might have been intimidated if he had not been so smitten with her, her red, imposing body dripping with sweat as her muscles rippled beneath her skin. She could have crushed him with her weight, but she was careful, resting the majority of it on her legs. Even so, he could feel her oppressive bulk bearing down on him, just enough to let him know who was going to be taking the lead.
Satou's gaze wandered downwards, passing over her sumptuous bosom and trailing over her shining abdominal muscles, focusing on the enticing gap between her meaty thighs. He could just make out a strand of her excitement as it hung from her loins, dangling a hair's breadth from his own pulsing sex. He knew what was coming next, memories of her sucking, sodden womanhood flexing and squeezing around his finger flashing in his mind. He was beyond arousal, he wanted her so badly that it made his heart ache.
“Tell me if I go too fast, or if I'm not gentle enough. I've never done this with a human before, I wouldn't want to hurt you by accident...”
He swallowed heavily as she positioned herself over him, lowering her hourglass hips slowly downwards. She kept his hands pinned, squeezing them as if trying to reassure him, it was oddly intimate. They gasped in unison as his exposed glans brushed against her burning flesh, sliding between her puffy lips, coating it in a layer of her syrupy juices. Higa tried again, this time driving his erection against her entrance, Satou feeling her muscles twitching as she slowly slid him inside her.
The moment that the tip of his cock penetrated her, he felt her silken innards close around him, gripping him fiercely as the slimy fluids that coated them eased him along. She was so slippery and hot inside, moreso than the inside of her mouth, her nethers tighter and softer. Her pillowy depths moved around him, shifting and roiling ceaselessly, drawing him deeper in a relentless massage.
He felt a bump as she took him all the way to the base, his entire length engulfed in what felt like soaking, spasming velvet. This time it was not merely one of them who was gasping and shivering, their pleasure was shared as if their nerves had been linked together. Neither one of them moved for a few moments, simply enjoying the sensation of being joined, every throb of his member making her grip him more tightly in a delicious feedback loop.
“I'm gonna start moving,” she murmured, “tell me if I put too much weight on you.”
She seemed so concerned with his wellbeing, but Satou trusted her implicitly, he could never imagine her hurting him. She very gradually began to rock her hips forwards and backwards, not thrusting him in and out of her as he had expected, but driving his member against her quivering walls. Her luxuriant passage rubbed against him, the Oni opening her rosy lips in a silent moan, closing her eyes as the exquisite sensation drew all of her focus.
Satou's instinct was to push into her, to rut furiously like a rabbit, but he had no hope of lifting the massive woman. She had him completely pinned, dictating their pace, taking her time to savor every subtle movement. He could feel the firm muscles wringing him from the other side of her satin flesh, strong and rigorous, her contractions coming in waves as she rode him into the ground.
He wanted more, he longed to go faster and harder, his body demanded it. Yet Higa had other ideas. She was far more experienced than he was, she knew how to draw out their encounter and make the most of what time they had.
“I can feel you moving inside me,” she said with a grin, opening her eyes to peer down at him as he writhed beneath her. “You're all mine, little Satou, you can't escape.”
He watched as her abs flexed and twisted beneath her wet skin, Higa performing a slow dance atop him, every graceful shimmy and shake creating sparks of pleasure like two pieces of flint being struck against one another.
He lay back and let Higa dictate the pace of their coupling, slow and steady, every rock of her hips making her warm flesh grind against him. It was like she was trying to scratch an itch deep inside of her, rubbing and scraping, flashes of white light flaring inside his head. There was no longer any barrier between them, flesh on flesh, her sodden insides wrapped around him like a glove.
It almost felt as if dozens of tongues were sliding from the base of his member to the tip, every fold and texture of her passage teasing him as her muscles milked and wrung his length relentlessly, like her body was trying to draw his ejaculate out of him through force alone.
She increased her pace, her puff of hair bobbing along with her as she shifted positions, gripping him between her thighs as she began to slowly rise and fall on his shaft. Her tunnel sucked on him, almost seeming to seal around him as it dragged up his throbbing length. He could see the thick juices that were clinging to his member, making it shiny and wet, her pink folds visible between her red lips as she reached her apex. She paused there for a moment, only his tip still lodged inside her. He could feel her heart beating, her blood rushing, her muscles tensing and flexing.
She let her weight carry her back down, their bodies slapping together, a wet and obscene sound emanating from their joined organs. In one thrust she engulfed him all the way to the hilt again, Satou squeezing her hands as a wave of pleasure rocked him. He felt like he was melting into her, the warmth and moisture of the spring air coating their bodies in slick sweat, compounded by the heat and the dampness of her insides.
Higa released his hands, and he immediately sank them into the meat of her thighs, her skin so wet with their combined exertion that she felt as if she might have just left the pool. It made her as slippery as ice, his hands sliding across her skin as they groped and squeezed. They were generating so much heat together, only adding to their fevered coupling, their bodies dripping as they moved in sync. She bit her lip again as his digits delved into her flesh and he felt the hard muscle that lurked just beneath the surface tensing in response. She had enough strength to kick down a tree like it was nothing more than a fence post contained within those crimson thighs.
She leaned forward, the heavy mass of her breasts spilling over his chest as she bent double to reach him, her face pressing into the nape of his neck. She bit gently, mouthing and kissing, nibbling at his skin as she kept up the punishing pace of her forceful lovemaking. Satou wrapped his arms around her neck and delved his face into her feathery mop of white hair, feeling the fine strands brush his cheeks and taking in her feminine scent with every staggered breath.
He clung to her as if his life depended on it, the Oni driving him into the ground with her powerful thrusts, her breathing ragged as her warm breath washed across his neck. She was coming down almost hard enough to bruise him, the impact shaking him, the Oni getting lost in her fugue as her pleasure mounted. It was like she wanted to encompass him entirely, her hands sliding behind his back to trap him in a tight hug, her arms squeezing him and her thighs locking him in place as she moved on top of him.
His entire world became sweat-soaked skin and firm muscle, contrasting with her fluffy hair as it fell over him like a blanket, the softness of her body where her feminine figure was plump and curvy impossible to resist. He clawed at her, overcome with desire, running his hands everywhere that he could reach. He couldn't even see what he was groping, he could only feel it. Toned muscle moved beneath satin skin, doughy fat that begged to be taken in handfuls and kneaded like dough wobbled, the Oni grunting and panting as she sandwiched him between the furs and her heaving body. The tent was filling with the prurient smell of exertion and sex, the heat becoming uncomfortably oppressive. Rather than discourage them, it only added to their frustration, like a fever had come over them.
“S-Slow down,” Satou gasped, and her tight hold on him immediately began to loosen. She released him from her bear hug, sitting upright as she made slow figures of eight with her wide hips, keeping the pleasure going as they both took a few moments to catch their breath and cool off.
“Sorry, I got a little...carried away there,” she said, trying and failing to slick back the curtain of white hair that was falling over her face. “Did I hurt you?”
“No,” he chuckled, “it felt wonderful. But it was a little intense.”
She seemed reassured, reaching down to run her pointed nails lightly across his chest as her slow rhythm made her satin flesh swirl around his buried erection. She smirked as he twitched, drinking in Satou's shivering body with her yellow eyes.
“You're tougher than you look, young lord...”
She had been right when she had told him that his earlier climaxes would help him to last longer. If it hadn't been for that, he doubted that he would have endured for a single second inside her seething, oozing tunnel. Even when she stopped her rocking and thrusting he could feel her slimy walls moving around him, spasming and sucking like a hungry mouth.
“Maybe we should try something different,” Higa said. Before he had time to ask what she meant, she curled one arm behind his back, lifting him off the pelts and pressing him against her body. Once again he found himself nestled between her breasts, her skin damp with fresh sudor. He could taste the salt on his tongue, her scent was all over him, the heat of her body radiating from her. His stomach lurched as she rolled onto her back, taking him with her and keeping his member lodged inside her, and a moment later he was lying on top of her giant body.
He rose from her bosom to see her grinning at him, now lying on the furry animal pelts in his place, her thighs parted and her arms resting above her head. Once again he was struck by her womanly beauty, her crimson figure speckled with shining droplets of moisture, decorating her developed muscles as they shifted beneath her skin.
“Take me, my lord,” she giggled, unable to keep a straight face. She might have been mocking him, but her breathy request and her shimmering body ignited a fresh fire in him. He sank his fingers deep into the soft fat of her hips for leverage and began to move, letting his instincts guide him as he drove himself in and out of her sopping passage.
“You can set the pace,” she added, watching him eagerly as he moved between her massive thighs. They were standing upright to either side of him like a pair of red tree trunks that were near as tall as he was.
Now that he was on top, he could peer down to watch as his erection slid into her cushioned tunnel. His girth parted her puffy lips, slowly vanishing as it was swallowed up by her pink, slick flesh. Her clear juices dripped around his shaft, her loins drooling like the maw of a wolf, the slimy fluid coating her inner thighs and leaking down onto the fur below in strands.
Their hips clapped together as he rutted, a bestial fervor overpowering him. Higa seemed to like it, watching his furious thrusting with a wry smile. He could get so deep inside of her in this position, grinding against her deepest reaches, every bump and crease of her silken walls scouring him in ways that made his mind go blank. It was all that he could think about, all that he could focus on, driving him inexorably towards an orgasm of such intensity that he almost feared it.
Higa leaned forward and cupped his cheek in her hand, bringing him out of his trance and back to reality, her golden eyes greeting him as she shot him a warm smile.
“Slow down, it's not a race,” she whispered. She stroked his cheek with her thumb, soothing him, and then she brought it to his lips. She parted them, pushing her digit gently into his mouth, Satou drawing on it dutifully and running his tongue around it. “Good boy,” she said, her husky voice making his head spin. It was like she was bewitching him, he hung on her every word, her praises having the same effect on him as the touch of her lips or the sensuous stroke of her fingers. He wanted so badly to please her, to make her happy, and he seemed to be succeeding.
“You should see your face,” Higa added, stroking the flat of his tongue with her thumb. “You look like you just stumbled in from a drunken brawl.”
He was drenched in sweat, his damp hair sticking up at unusual angles, his face beet red and his wandering eyes unfocused.
“Keep fucking me,” she whispered, the crude comment making his member jump inside of her. “You're doing a good job so far.”
She slid her thumb out of his mouth, lying back down again as he resumed his thrusting, this time slower and more measured. It was a battle to control his impulses, but he tried to copy the way that Higa had done it when she had been on top, the way that she took her time and enjoyed every subtle sensation. Getting to the finish line as fast as possible wasn't the goal, in fact, it would cut this ecstasy short.
Satou found a new tempo, heavier and less frantic, Higa murmuring happily as he watched her rippling six-pack flex and tense with every thrust.
“Maybe I should throw you into my pack along with the pelts and take you home with me,” she sighed. “With a little more practice you're going to be quite the catch. You're so much more...considerate than those oafs up the mountain.”
“I want more practice,” Satou gasped, brushing his wet hair out of his face as she laughed at him.
“Oh, I'm sure you do. Don't worry little Satou, I'm going to teach you every trick in the book. I'm going to show you everywhere that a woman likes to be touched and how to touch her, where to lick and where to suck. How to find all of her sweet spots and how to make her scream your name.”
She batted those white lashes at him, and it was all that he could do to stop himself from collapsing onto her taut belly in a shivering mess. He had never heard such things before, let alone uttered from the lips of a woman. Higa was so unashamed, wanton, reveling in her sexuality in a way that Satou had never thought possible. Back in his village, sexuality was something to be repressed, passion was to be curtailed, and love took a back seat to politics. Now here was Higa, like a living embodiment of all of his repressed desires, everything that his family and his community had deemed unacceptable. She was strong, fierce, and there was no hesitation in her.
“I want to kiss you,” he mumbled, “but I...can't reach.”
She cooed sympathetically, her stomach muscles tensing as she pulled herself upright, reaching down and hooking her hand around the back of his head. She drew him closer, a struggle due to their difference in height, but they managed to lock lips. Satou continued to move inside of her, Higa slowing his pace with the delicate strokes of her tongue, her leisurely embrace ensnaring his senses.
She teased him with her tongue, her touch light and pacifying, her artful movements succeeding in distracting him even as her narrow passage flexed around his cock.
The position was difficult to maintain, and so she broke off after a few moments, but it was enough to imbue Satou with fresh determination. He felt electrified, his very skin seeming to tingle. He wanted to prove to her that he could go slow, that he could take his time too. As much as his body begged for swift release, his member aching and his heart hammering, he didn't want this to end.
Higa seemed to appreciate his efforts, her spine rising from the now sodden and matted pelts every time that his member kissed her deepest reaches, parting her tight walls of silken flesh like a stake being driven into the earth.
He had never felt so close to someone before. In fact, it was not possible to be closer to someone, he was quite literally inside her. They moved in tandem, as if they shared a single mind, a single desire. Each thrust of his hips was reciprocated, every twitch and clench of her loins provoking a throb or a gasp in him. It was like they were spiraling, pushing one another higher and higher, every burst of pleasure felt by one reflected in the other.
It was bliss, nirvana, and they reached a point where their two minds and bodies were perfectly in sync. Higa was all that existed, all that he could think about, time itself seemed to slow and warp as if it was no longer of any concern. Even the tent around them appeared to melt away. All that he could see was her red, glistening skin, her body squirming beneath him in a dance of ecstasy. All that he could smell was their sweat and fluids, the scents of ardent lovemaking. His ears were filled with her breathy, needy voice, her gasps and comely moans driving him on.
This was different from the first two times. When she had finished him off with her hand, it had been quick and intense, surprising. Her sucking and licking had driven him to heights of pleasure that he would never have imagined possible, and yet this growing pressure inside him threatened to trivialize it. He felt it all over his body, as if every muscle and every inch of his skin was swimming in euphoria, the slowly mounting pleasure and excitement threatening to rob him of his sanity.
His could no longer hold back, abandoning the slow pace that he had been struggling to maintain, rutting fervently and even managing to shake the Oni's massive body with his thrusts. Her thighs and breasts rippled like the surface of a pond with every impact, and he felt her insides further tighten around him.
The gentle bouncing of her oversized bust became irresistible to him, and he lunged for one of the heavy globes, catching it in his hands and plunging his fingers deep into her malleable flesh. Because of their difference in stature, his face was level with her bosom, putting them within easy reach. He kneaded and squeezed, feeling her muscles tense around his buried member, her body twisting as she loosed a guttural groan.
Her strong reaction encouraged him, and he took great handfuls of her fat, feeling it spill between his fingers. They were as large as her head, which was itself far larger than his own, and he needed two hands to handle a single one of them. He marveled at how strong she must be to be able to carry these around. Two sacks of grain that were the same size and weight would have been hard for a grown man to lift on his own.
Satou pressed his lips around one of her swollen, pink nipples and sucked it into his mouth, flicking it with tongue. He felt her fingers in his hair, the Oni growling appreciatively as she held him there, sinking his face into her breast. It was like a giant pillow, her crimson skin damp and slick, her flesh molding around his cheeks as she pressed him down.
“Bite it,” she hissed, “gently...”
He did as she asked, trapping it between his teeth and chewing softly, keeping up his licking as he went. He circled it with his tongue and tugged at it, coating it in his saliva, maintaining his frantic pace all the while.
When she released him, her nipple slipping out of his mouth, she delved her own hands into her breasts as Satou looked on. She was so rough with them, like she was trying to mold a wet lump of clay into a new shape, her wide hips pushing back against him more ardently now.
“I'm nearly there,” she breathed, her husky voice scarcely a whisper. “Don't you dare stop,” she added with a snarl.
It wasn't a threat, she was just as overcome by the pleasure as he was, he could feel it in the way that her tunnel was massaging him in wracking waves. Higa was so strong. She could have crushed his manhood between those toned muscles if it was not for the softness of her insides, so delicate and plush. Even deep within her, there was that same contrast of strength and femininity, hardness and softness.
Satou lurched as he felt her iron thighs close around him, trapping him inside her and preventing him from pulling out. When he glanced up at her, she was looking down at him with a fierce glint in her yellow eyes, her white hair partially obscuring her features. Even so, he could make out the greed in her expression, the lust as she wet her lips with her tongue. It was like she was eyeing up a tasty cut of venison.
She used the leverage to pull him into her, slamming his hips against hers and plunging him deeper into her hot, slimy reaches than he could have managed under his own power. The Oni did it again and then again, finding a new and punishing pace as her loins rippled and shivered around his needy erection.
He was close too, he couldn't hold out for much longer. Like the stonework of a dam that was about to burst, he could feel his resolve beginning to crack and leak. He let himself fall forwards, planting his face between her wobbling breasts, running his hands across her damp skin and feeling her muscles bulging beneath it.
The friction was incredible, like rubbing two pieces of wood together to start a fire, her burning passage wringing him violently with its pulsating contractions. This new surge of frantic activity was too much for him to endure, and he pressed his face into the meat of her bosom, muffling an unbecoming moan of desire.
“Fill me,” she demanded between ragged breaths, “let it out.”
She wrapped her arms around him, crossing her legs as she forced him into her depths, the firm muscles in her thighs pressing against his hips. She loosed a growl like an angry bear, and Satou's eyes widened as he felt the first pulse of her orgasm tear through her, her entire body seeming to shudder. Her sex gripped him like a fist, refusing to let go as the muscles beyond her delicate walls kneaded him, spasms traveling from his base to the tip like the hand of a farmer milking a cow.
Her breath caught in her throat and her body went stiff, her hold on him nearly strong enough to choke the air out of his lungs. Over and over again he felt the waves of pleasure roll over her, like the tide crashing against the shore. Her shiny, slippery body bucked and struggled, Satou able to feel every twitch and moan as she held him tightly against her sweat-drenched skin. He could hear the labored beating of her heart, every breath that she took, the comely sighs and whines that slipped past her lips.
It was too much for him, and his resolve crumbled, following after her as a surge of unbearable pleasure rose up inside him. It spread throughout his entire body, bubbling up inside him like a geyser, his member erupting with an intensity that forced his eyes shut. He felt her fleshy walls draw on him, almost seeming to drink with a very real thirst as his emission flooded her. It filled every crevice, coating her most intimate reaches in his seed, thick and hot as it spilled forth in fat ropes.
Higa moaned softly, no doubt feeling its heat spread through her, another throb of acute ecstasy chasing the first as he gritted his teeth and buried his red face in her soft flesh. The sensation was beyond compare, his naked glans grazing against her tender walls, a sordid blend of their fluids making their coupling even wetter and messier than before. The obscene concoction spilled out of her, leaking down her thighs in clumps, even as he drove the mess towards her womb with his ceaseless pumping. His body was giving her everything that he had, it felt like she was sucking his very essence out through his cock, his muscles burning as they strained with every new stab of pleasure. The wringing of her insides would not relent, every stroke and squeeze provoking another rushing climax, their intensity slowly diminishing as they became less frequent.
It felt like it lasted for hours, but it could not have been more than a minute or two, the pair adrift on a sea of euphoria as they moved together. Their instincts drove them on, their bodies pushing into one another mechanically as they rode out the last pangs of their ecstasy, struggling to recover their senses like someone climbing out of quicksand.
Satou rose from between her breasts to look up at her, Higa shooting him a cheeky grin, her fingers running through his damp hair as she stroked his head.
“Not bad for a human,” she chuckled drunkenly, “especially one so small.”
He was still lodged inside her, her muscular passage refusing to release him, and he shivered as an aftershock set his nerves alight once more. They remained that way for a minute longer, letting the exhaustion wash over them, resting after what felt like a marathon and enjoying the fading embers of their lovemaking. Now that his arousal was dimming, Satou became more aware of how sticky he was. Both of their bodies were coated in a mixture of sweat and sexual fluids. When he finally withdrew from between her still quivering thighs, their loins remained joined by a web of sagging juices, more of their shared emissions sloughing out of her to slide down her shining skin. He didn't hold out much hope for the pelts, they would probably have to be discarded. He doubted that any amount of washing would get this raunchy scent out of them.
Before he could move away, Higa trapped him in her arms and pulled him into the bed, rolling on top of him and squashing him beneath her red bulk. She laughed as his face emerged from between her breasts like a field mouse peeking out of its burrow, enveloped in her soft flesh.
“You'll get used to it,” she said, no doubt in reference to the fluids that were currently gluing their bodies together. “Catch your breath, then I want to go again.”
“Again?” he asked, his eyes widening. She felt his still rigid member pulse as it pressed against her belly, and she rubbed against him, his eyelids fluttering as the slimy residue from their encounter made her abs glide against his shaft. He could feel the bumps as they passed over him, her smooth skin caressing him, the Oni smirking as she watched his expression.
“Yeah. You're a young guy with plenty of stamina, you can handle it.” She was a large woman, and it seemed that she had an appetite to match. He shivered as she pressed closer and nibbled his ear gently, whispering softly as he lay beneath her. “Besides, we've only scratched the surface. I have so, so much more to show you, little Satou.” She pushed her tongue into his ear, his member aching as it throbbed against her taut belly. “See?” she chuckled, “you've got a lot left to give me...”
He was in no position to refuse, leaning up and fighting against the weight of her breasts to kiss her again, their tongues spiraling around one another as they prepared for another round.
CHAPTER 7: PROPOSITION
Higa emerged from the woods at the edge of the campsite, a freshly killed doe hanging limply across her broad shoulder. She set the carcass down beside the tanning rack, then planted her massive cudgel in the ground, leaning on it as she wiped the sweat from her brow.
“That's three today,” she announced, looking over to where Satou was preparing a stew beside the fire pit. “I swear, they're so loud and careless when they're horny.”
“Just like you,” Satou replied. She marched over to him and lifted him off the ground with one arm, feigning anger as she playfully bit at his neck, his feet scrabbling in the air.
“Set me down, I have to stir the stew!” he protested between bouts of laughter. She placed him back beside the crackling fire, and he resumed stirring the broth that was cooking inside the large, iron cauldron with his ladle. After a few stirs, he brought the ladle to his lips, blowing on the liquid to cool it and then taking a quick taste.
“Let me try,” Huga said, crouching as he lifted the ladle to her lips. She took a sip, smacking loudly as she played the broth over her tongue, then nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, this is good! You've become quite the cook over the last few days, little Satou.”
“Well, you taught me where to find the herbs and how to prepare the meat,” he added as he resumed his stirring.
“You've improved on the recipe, this is better than mine. I'd better not teach you to hunt, or I'll be out of a profession.”
After their night of passion he had decided to stay with Higa for a while longer, they had been living together in the camp for five days now. She had been teaching him how to cook and how to forage for food, how to track animals and how to build his own tent. She was imbuing him with all of the knowledge that he required to make his own way in the world, as she had promised. It had been like a dream for Satou. He got to spend all of his time with her, there were no nagging family members or tedious duties to come between them, and they had made love every night. Once or twice during the day, too. Higa seemed to enjoy his company as much he enjoyed hers. The life of a trapper was a lonely one, and he was becoming proficient at more than just cooking...
She walked back over to her latest prize, skinning and butchering it as Satou finished preparing their meal, hanging its pelt on the rack with the rest. When she sat down by his side on the grass, he passed her a large bowl, and she began to eat hungrily. She must have worked up quite an appetite during her latest hunt.
“So have you thought about what you're going to do about your family yet?” Higa asked, pausing as she fished out a hunk of venison with her fingers. Satou had tried to push the thoughts of his family and his shōen from his mind while they had been bunking together, not wanting to let it ruin his good mood. His short-lived escape from reality had been pleasant, but he couldn't keep putting it off forever. Eventually, he would have to decide what he was going to do.
“I've been trying not to think about it,” he admitted, staring into his own bowl of stew and watching the pieces of root vegetable float about on the frothy surface.
“You can stay with me,” Higa offered, “if that's what you really want. I have to leave once the hunting season is over and I'll be heading back up the mountain. I could take you with me. Truth be told, I think I'd miss you. I've come to enjoy having you around, you're good company. Problem is, the air up there is thin, and the environment is cold. I don't know how well you'd fare, and past a certain point turning back becomes difficult. I can't just take you home if you decide that you don't like it.”
“I did say that I wanted to scale those peaks one day,” he muttered, turning his gaze up towards the towering mountain in the distance. The snowy cap shone white in the glare of the sun, wispy clouds cloaking its bare rock face above the tree line.
“I think you should return to your farm,” Higa added. “At least once, just to see what's been happening there since you left. Maybe your parents have cooled down by now and reconsidered, they could be worried sick about you.”
“What if I stay here and you leave?” Satou asked. “When would I be able to see you again? Would I have to wait an entire year until next spring?”
She seemed conflicted for a moment, her brow furrowing as she considered her reply. Satou got the impression that she liked him a lot more than she let on, especially since their first escapade in her tent. The Oni seemed to want to remain detached, more of a teacher than a lover, like she was humoring him for her own entertainment and not because of any deeper romantic connection.
But Satou wasn't stupid. He had seen it in her eyes when they made love, felt it in the way that she clung to him during their most passionate moments, as if afraid that he would escape her grasp. He had awoken to her gazing longingly at him on more than one occasion, and when they slept together, she liked to stroke his hair, holding him close to her and burying her face in the nape of his neck. He had even heard her murmur his name in her sleep once, as if she had been dreaming about him.
“I...don't know,” she replied solemnly. “During winter and autumn, travel on the mountain is very difficult and dangerous, sometimes impossible if there's a lot of snowfall. For six months out of the year, it's usually unsafe to travel to and from the Oni village.”
“And what if you were to stay down here?” he suggested.
“The summers are a little too hot for my kind, but more importantly my village relies on me to bring them meat and pelts to last them through the winter.”
“Are there no other hunters besides you?”
“There are,” she admitted, “but I have an important role to play. I can't just abandon my kin.”
Perhaps Satou should not be abandoning his kin either. What of Nagao and the other villagers? What would become of them if he should shirk his duties to follow Higa up the mountain? His brother could take his place in time, even marry the Lady Sasaki in his stead. But even if he felt justified in rejecting the sham marriage that had been forced upon him by his parents, he could not bring himself to forsake his shōen and all of the people who lived there. He had left the village angry and exhilarated, but now his head was clear.
“There must be some way to make this work,” he grumbled, “some way to make everybody happy...”
“I think that if you try to give everybody exactly what they want, you'll end up being disappointed,” Higa said as she finished off her bowl of stew.
“Exactly what they want...” Satou mused, deep in thought as Higa looked on curiously. “You're right,” he finally said after a minute of deliberation. “I at least need to try to patch things up with my parents. It's a long shot, but perhaps they've come around. I'll head back down the mountain tonight and see what happens. If my fears are realized and they're still furious, I'll be back again before morning, and my decision will have been made a whole lot easier.”
She reached down and ruffled his hair sympathetically.
“Don't worry too much kid, things are rarely as bad as they seem.”
With the moon lighting his way, Satou descended the mountain. He now knew these forests well enough that he didn't have to rely on the stream to guide him. He had thought it better to arrive after nightfall as there would be no villagers tending the fields, and so he could visit his parents relatively unmolested.
It had only been a few days, but as he emerged from the trees by the edge of the terraced rice paddies, it felt like had been gone for years. The crop was growing quickly, the green chutes reaching higher than the last time that he had seen them, that was good. It was the first time that he had been away for so long, it was so odd not knowing what had been happening within the tightly knit community since his departure.
The village was quiet, the small huts spread out at random between the fields as they made use of what space was available, dirt paths worn away through years of use linking them together. At the top of it all, perched on the highest terrace, was his family's house. It was grandiose compared to the rest, even though the building materials were not too scarce and it was only lavishly furnished in comparison to their neighbors. Even the quality of a person's home was tied to their social status, all of these people could have built similar dwellings for their own families, but some misplaced sense of duty and obedience kept them from doing so. What had once seemed so natural and orderly to him now seemed perverse and unnecessary.
He arrived at the door and rapped his knuckles on the wood, waiting a moment as he heard the sound of shuffling feet from the other side. When it opened, he was cast in a golden glow from the flickering candles within, his mother standing before him in one of her flowery kimonos. She wrapped her arms around him before he even had a chance to greet her.
“Oh Satou, you've come back! I was so worried that you might have gotten lost or hurt!”
He had been prepared for a shouting match, but her uncharacteristic show of affection softened his heart, and he returned her hug. After a few moments, she stepped back, looking him up and down. On top of his clothing, he was wearing a downsized version of Higa's fur cloak, camouflage for when he accompanied her on hunts. Satou had also foregone his straw sandals, choosing instead to bind his feet with furs and strips of tanned hide, more practical for hiking through the rough terrain of the forest. Higa went without shoes, and she seemed to have done so for her whole life, but Satou lacked the tough soles and callouses that she had developed. He must have looked strange to his mother, she had only ever seen him dressed in more formal attire.
“I'm so glad,” she continued, “have you finally come to your senses?”
“I was going to ask you and father the same thing,” he replied. At that, he saw a shadow cross the room. His father appeared behind his mother, who then bowed her head in deference and stepped out of his way. Satou stared the man down for a moment, his gaze unflinching.
“Have you reconsidered your marriage to the Matsuyo girl?” his father asked, not even taking the time to greet him. He was a stubborn man, as immovable as an ox, and he seemed just as angry with Satou as the day that he had left. Satou wanted to reply in kind, but he wasn't here to butt heads. He had been given a lot of time to think during his descent down the mountain, and something that Higa had said had stuck with him. He might not be able to give everyone exactly what they wanted, but what if he could give them something equivalent, perhaps even something better that they didn't even know was a possibility? He had formulated a plan, drawing from much of the knowledge concerning the operation of the shōen that had been drilled into him over the years by his father, and now he had to set it in motion.
“No, father,” he replied.
“Then you have no business in my house,” the man said, turning his back.
“Wait,” Satou continued, “I have a proposition. A solution that I think will work for everyone.”
His father paused, and for a moment Satou wondered if he was going to reject the very notion, but then his mother spoke up.
“At least hear him out,” she pleaded, and after a moment his father's shoulders seemed to physically sag as he gave in.
“Very well, but be quick about it.”
Satou stepped over the threshold and joined his parents around their table, his father refusing to make eye contact even as they sat across from one another. His mother seemed nervous but optimistic, clearly happy just to have her son back in their home again.
“You have arranged for me to marry the Lady Sasaki,” Satou began, laying the groundwork before pitching his recently concocted idea. “You intention is to unite our two families and in doing so, combine our two shōen. We would have a larger workforce, more land, and we would produce more rice.”
His father waited, stony-faced as he sat there in silence.
“This cannot happen,” Satou continued, his father's brow furrowing. “The marriage was arranged without my consent or my knowledge, and my heart belongs to someone else. However, I have a responsibility towards my family and my shōen, one that I do not intend to shirk. I have a different proposition, a way to expand the shōen and bring prosperity to its inhabitants without me marrying the Matsuyo girl.”
“And what is that?” his father scoffed.
“When grandfather founded this community, it was to escape unjust taxation and the mistreatment of farm workers. He wanted us to be free, self-sufficient, is that correct?”
His father nodded.
“And yet even today, do we not pay a significant portion of our rice crop in taxes and bribes? To the point that we have scarcely any for ourselves and must subsist on inferior grains like millet?”
“Now you suddenly concern yourself with finances and bureaucracy?” his father complained.
“Is it not true?” Satou pressed, “how much of our crop do we give away in exchange for being left alone by the greedy magistrates down in the lowlands?” He directed the second question towards his mother, who handled most of the finances herself. She looked to her husband for a moment, as if waiting for his permission, then decided to reply.
“Eighty-five percent of the yield goes to taxes paid to the regional Daimyo and bribes for local officials. Much of what remains is used in trade or sold to merchants.”
“What if we could keep all of the rice that we produced?” Satou added, “one hundred percent of it? What if we only had to part with the take that we chose to sell or trade, and none of it went towards lining the pockets of corrupt officials?”
That seemed to pique his father's interest, but the man remained surly and skeptical.
“How would you propose that we achieve such a thing?” he asked.
“I will ask the Oni to carry a message to her people on our behalf, and request an alliance between our two villages. No debt collector would dare come to the valley if they knew that we were allied with Oni. We could also trade with them, they're fine hunters, we could exchange rice and other grains for meat and furs. The entire village could feast on venison and rice every day, we would have ample stores of food for the winter such that we would no longer need to ration during the coldest months.”
“Then this Oni that you speak of is real?” his father asked, “it was not an ill-conceived excuse to avoid marrying?”
“She is as real as you or I,” Satou replied adamantly. “You see the fur cloak that I'm wearing? She made it.”
His father considered, stroking his chin as he went over the details of Satou's plan.
“You would have me reject the rule of the Daimyo, reject the traditions and the laws of my forefathers? You know well that it is not the place of a mere farmer to defy his betters.”
“Grandfather removed himself and his people from a society that treated them with cruelty and contempt,” Satou argued, “and yet the culture that originated that cruelty still persists. You have brought it with you, kept it alive. Tell me, what does it matter if the Daimyo gets his due from our poor farming community or not? If the magistrate is denied a fraction of his ill-gotten wealth, then what of it? Why cling to these traditions when all they do is harm us? If we are to become truly self-sufficient as grandfather intended, then we should make our own rules, our own customs. The only reward for our obedience is poverty, we get nothing in return for our taxes.”
“And what of the Matsuyos? Would you have me go back on my word and disgrace our family too? I promised them a marriage and an alliance.”
“Marry the Lady Sasaki to my brother. There is legal precedent, the practice of gyauenkon. But only if he consents. The two are very alike, both bookworms who prefer to spend their days indoors. I'm certain that they will get along well, but the choice must be his alone to make. Arranged marriage is an ugly custom that we should have left behind on the lowlands.”
“But your brother is too young to support a family,” his father protested.
“He's only a few years younger than me, and this was always going to be a political marriage. The girl will live here with you regardless. A wife is married as much to her new family as she is to her husband, so what does it matter? The goal is to unite the two shōen, heirs will follow in time.”
“Then you would give up your title and your inheritance so that your brother can take stewardship of the shōen in your stead?” his father asked. “If so, how will you forge an alliance with the Oni that you speak of? Without a title, you cannot bring their family into the fold through marriage.”
His father was still thinking in such rigid terms, as if he could only see the world through the narrow lens of lineages and inheritance.
“It would be an alliance of friendship, not of blood,” Satou explained. “They have things that we need, meat and furs. We have things that they need, grains that they can't grow up on their peak and goods from the lowlands that they can't access any other way. Just imagine it, two shōen and an entire village of Oni, all trading and cooperating together. We would have access to the yields of both farms with no taxation, enough rice and meat for everyone, furs enough to make a coat for every villager during the winter. The whole mountain would become like a nation unto itself.”
“And you are sure that these Oni would protect us in the event that the Daimyo sent tax collectors after us?” his father asked.
“Why would they not? The benefits are obvious for all parties. Even if the Daimyo marched an entire army of Samurai up the valley and demanded tribute, a single Oni could knock them down like a game of daruma otoshi. I've seen one of them kill a bear in a single strike with an iron cudgel that was longer than a man is tall. The threat alone should be enough to dissuade them.”
His mother and father exchanged glances, clearly surprised and intrigued by what Satou was suggesting. He had presented a solution that they didn't even know was an option, and it would benefit everyone who had been wronged by his refusal to marry. Even his father's expression had softened, could he be winning the old man over?
“This is...a lot to take in all at once,” his father finally said. “It seems too good to be true, and it will be a challenge to convince the Matsuyos. It all sounds like an elaborate excuse to get out of our obligations. I must admit that I am not yet convinced myself.”
“What would it take to convince you?” Satou asked.
“I would like to see this Oni with my own eyes, for one.”
“We should hold a meeting,” his mother interjected, her excitement at the prospect making her unusually outspoken. As the bookkeeper of the shōen, perhaps she had more insight into the potential financial gains than either of the men did. “We should invite both the Matsuyos and the Oni to the village and hold a meeting between all three parties. Then they would be able to see for themselves that Satou's Oni is real, and we could discuss the arrangement in greater detail.”
“Very well,” his father said, “I accept your proposition Satou. We will send word to the Matsuyos and have them send a delegation. It will be your responsibility to bring the Oni here. Do not let me down again.”
Satou knew that all was not forgiven, but at least now he had a chance to make amends in his family's eyes and to fulfill his obligations to the shōen. If everything went according to plan, the villagers would become far more prosperous than if he had simply gone through with the marriage.
His parents stood, and Satou followed suit, rising from his kneeling position at the low table.
“It will take at least a full day for a courier to reach the Matsuyo shōen and then return with their answer,” his father said. “Return tomorrow night.”
The implication was obvious enough, Satou's father did not want him staying in the house overnight. His wife glanced at him, but she didn't try to make Satou's case. It was of little concern, he preferred living with Higa in the woods anyway.
His parents escorted him to the door, and then he gave them a respectful, low bow before vanishing into the night.
“But I can't make this decision for my village, I'm just a hunter!” Higa protested. Satou leaned forward and stoked the fire with a long stick, a plume of grey smoke rising into the starry sky.
“Think about it, you'd have all the rice that you could eat, amongst other things. Goods from the lowlands, medicines, you name it. Do you think that your leaders would refuse the offer?”
“Well, no,” she grumbled. “I'm sure they'd jump at the opportunity. We never sought to build a relationship with the human settlements on the mountain because of their superstitions, we assumed that they would drive us off. Remember when your friend told you that I would eat you, or cause an earthquake to destroy your village?”
“Yeah,” Satou replied. It had seemed humorous at first, how off the mark Nagao and the other elders had been, and yet it posed a serious threat to Higa and her people. Even now it would take some convincing to sway the more superstitious villagers, but if she had his father's blessing, then the rest of the shōen would no doubt fall in line.
“But I don't have the authority to make promises on my people's behalf,” she continued.
“Who does?” Satou asked, “do you have tribal leaders or a Shogun or something?”
“The oldest among us make the decisions together,” she explained. “But there's no way that I can climb up to the peak, ask them to deliberate, and then return with their decision in time for the meeting. The journey takes days.”
“You're confident that they would agree, though?”
“Pretty confident, yeah.”
“I'm sure that both shōen would agree to postpone the deal until you can bring back a decision from your elders, but if you don't make an appearance in the village, then nobody will believe that you exist. Oni are creatures of myth to us, like Kappa or Dragons.”
“Just wait until the Dragons hear about this,” she muttered.
“T-There are Dragons!?” Satou exclaimed. She shot him a grin, and he leaned over to punch her arm playfully. “Very funny, now are you going to visit the village or not?”
“Fine,” she conceded, “I'll go.”
“Thank you!” Satou said excitedly, a wave of relief washing over him. “If they can just see that you're real with their own eyes, then everything will work out, I'm sure of it.”
“You know, it's funny,” she added. “Your father insists that you'd make a terrible leader and that you only try to avoid your responsibilities, that you never listen to him and don't pay attention to your studies. But look at you now. You're brokering a deal between three different clans that will benefit everybody, you're drawing from all of the knowledge that you supposedly ignored. Sounds like the behavior of a leader to me.”
“You think so?” Satou asked, his cheeks flushing.
“How else would you describe it? Maybe the people in your village need a fresh perspective, someone who is going to take risks and try new things. See, that's the problem with adhering to tradition, you can't adapt to changing situations.”
Satou stared into the dying embers of the fire pit, feeling a swelling in his chest. Was that pride?
“Well, I've given up my title and my inheritance to my brother, so I can't be their leader. But if I can make this work, then I will have done enough good that I can leave with my head held high.”
“You think they'll still want you to leave after all of this?”
“I...don't know,” he replied. “By law, if I have no title, then I have no status, and a person with no status is a vagrant. They can't stay in one place for too long. It makes me the lowest of the low, worse than a peasant or a merchant. That said, we're going to be bending a lot of rules to make this happen, maybe they'd be willing to bend a few more.”
Higa ruffled his hair again, then stood, yawning widely and exposing her sharp tusks.
“We should get some sleep, come on little Satou.”
He perked up at that, rising to his feet and following her towards the tent. Sleep would no doubt occur, after a time...
The Matsuyos had sent their reply. They were open to Satou's plan, and they would attend the meeting so that they could see the Oni for themselves. The date had been set, and now it had arrived. The Matsuyo family was traveling to the Hisatomo shōen and Satou had been tasked with bringing his giant companion.
Higa walked beside him as they made their way down the mountain towards the village, her fur cloak draped over her shoulders, and her giant cudgel slung across her back. He had been a little wary of letting her bring the weapon along, but he thought it best to demonstrate the martial prowess of the Oni. It should make the two families feel more confident about defying the tax collectors.
“I've never been to a human village before,” she said, “are there any special customs that I should observe?”
“Not really,” he replied, “just let me do the talking. They'll probably be too scared of you to raise a fuss if you fail to bow at the right time or if you mess up a tea ceremony. I've never seen you nervous before,” he added with a chuckle.
“I'm not nervous!” she protested, “it's just...I've never been around so many humans before. If you hadn't noticed by now, I don't attend many formal functions.”
“Don't worry about it, everything will be fine. Just follow my lead. If you can teach me to hunt and cook, I can surely get you through one meeting.”
They reached the edge of the treeline and emerged at the top of the terraces, the sprawling village spread out across the inclines below. The sunlight reflected off the rice paddies, their green stalks forming orderly rows, the lowlands visible in the far distance at the bottom of the valley. Higa took a moment to appreciate the view. It wasn't often that the day was clear enough to see so far, they could even make out the silver gleam of the snaking rivers that spread out across the plains.
“So, how does a human village compare to an Oni one?” Satou asked.
“It's smaller for a start. I suppose you don't get as much snow down here, everything is at ground level.”
“Oni dwellings aren't on the ground?”
“They are, but they're raised on stilts, otherwise the snow would bury them.”
“Interesting...” Satou muttered. “We'd better get moving, the Matsuyo delegation is probably here by now. My house is over there,” he said as he pointed to the largest building. “Remember, just follow my lead and let me do the talking, unless they want to ask you a question directly.”
He led her down the slope, the Oni having trouble keeping to the walkways between the paddies with her oversized feet. There were villagers working in the water, some of them staring in awe of the towering, red-skinned woman. Others quickly made for their homes, shutting the doors behind them and peering warily out of their windows as she passed by.
Satou noticed the kago that the Matsuyo family used to travel, they were empty, resting on the ground a short distance from the house. The bearers who were standing around them scattered as Higa came into view around the side of the building, her head high enough to skirt the roof, retreating to a safe distance. She seemed more amused than offended by their reaction, which was fortunate.
Satou knocked on the door, and after a moment his father opened it.
“Ah, Satou, right on time. The Matsuyo family has already arrived. Where is your...” He leaned out of the doorway, looking to and fro as he searched for Higa. It didn't take long for him to spot her, his eyes slowly climbing higher and widening as he examined the eight-foot Oni. “...friend...”
“Father, this is Higanbana, she is an Oni who hails from the mountain peak.”
Even his father forgot his manners for a moment, staring at the giant figure, her white hair blowing in the wind.
“H-How do you do,” he finally said, giving her a low bow along with the formal greeting. Higa looked to Satou for advice, and he gestured that she should do the same, so the giant Oni bent at the waist to return the greeting. “If you'd like to proceed inside,” Satou's father continued, “we can get underway. I...uh...”
He sized up the doorway, realizing that there was no way to get Higa's massive frame into the house, she was far too tall and broad-shouldered. She could perhaps have crouched down and turned sideways, but even then there would be nowhere for her to sit, and it wouldn't be very dignified.
“Perhaps we should hold the meeting outside?” Satou suggested, “it's a nice day after all.”
“Yes,” his father replied, clearly relieved that Satou had suggested a solution to the problem. “I will fetch the other guests.”
He went back inside and closed the door behind him, and after a couple of minutes, he emerged again. One by one the rest of Satou's family left the house, each one reacting with surprise when they looked over and saw the Oni. His brother Nishio seemed more awed than afraid, and his mother simply stared in disbelief. Next, the Matsuyos walked out into the sunlight, recoiling when they noticed the towering demon. It seemed that they hadn't brought their daughter, which was probably for the best. Not only would Higa have terrified her, but Satou didn't want to have to explain why he had rejected her hand in marriage...
They exchanged stilted greetings then assembled in a clearing near the house. The bearers brought pillows for the Matsuyos to sit on and a few of the villagers did the same. Before long everyone was seated in a circle, Higa towering over them, happy to sit cross-legged on the grass as she looked down on the humans in their formal kimonos. She seemed so out of place, yet her presence was commanding, making everyone else feel as small as they looked. His father cleared his throat, getting everyone's attention.
“Now that we are all assembled, let us begin the deliberations.”
The discussion dragged on until the sun was just starting to dip behind the mountain, the two families going over the finer details of Satou's proposition, working out everything from trade routes to rice yields. Higa became more relaxed the more that people engaged with her, and soon she was discussing the treacherous climb to her village along with what logistical difficulties merchants might encounter during their journey. She was only a hunter, and so she didn't know too much about the financial details of her village. She knew the terrain better than anyone alive, however, and so her input proved more useful than Satou had anticipated.
The Matsuyos were receptive to the idea, as Satou had known that they would be. It just made too much sense to refuse. More than simply doubling the yield of rice and the size of the workforce by uniting the two farms, this way they could multiply their take by a factor of eight while having to make comparatively few changes. The merger between the two families would still happen of course, but later down the line as it was no longer a pressing issue. It seemed that his brother's marriage to Sasaki would not even be necessary for this new partnership, although it would be welcome.
The Oni was of course of great interest, and they quizzed her at length about the day to day activities of her village and the culture of her people. She explained how her settlement was located near the mountain's snowy peak, and how their large, stone dwellings were raised on stilts or perched atop the rocks to prevent them from being buried beneath the snow. Each house was equipped with its own fire pit, used for both heating and cooking, and thick fur coats kept them warm when they had to venture outside. It seemed that several generations ago, likely due to humans encroaching on their territory, the Oni had decided to live further up the mountain. Their existence had since passed into legend, living on only as myths and stories that most dismissed as either allegory or pure fantasy.
Her people might not have many of the amenities that were enjoyed in the shōen, they had no land suitable for farming up there, and they didn't engage in trade. But they had some advantages over their human neighbors. Higa's cudgel had been forged in their village, for example, which meant that the Oni had the ability to smelt their own iron. Currently, all of the iron tools that the shōen required had to be bought from merchants, and so that presented yet another opportunity for trade.
Satou was surprised that the two families had accepted Higa so quickly. While her appearance might be fearsome, once they had managed to get her talking it had been obvious to everyone that she wasn't a monster, but rather a perfectly reasonable and articulate woman. Their apprehension had melted away, replaced by a curiosity that Higa was more than happy to indulge. She was boisterous, she liked the attention, and it was the first time in many weeks that she had been able to talk to anyone besides Satou.
When the meeting was adjourned, everyone said their farewells, then the Matsuyos followed Satou's mother into the house. They would stay overnight again and return to their own village in the morning, the mountain paths were treacherous in the dark. Satou got up to leave, gesturing for Higa to follow, knowing that he was not wanted in his family's home. He didn't let it bother him. There was nowhere that he would rather be than sleeping beside Higa in her patchwork tent.
He made his way back towards the edge of the forest, heading in the direction of Higa's camp, but he was stopped by a figure that emerged from one of the houses. He paused, gesturing for the Oni to stop, worried that one of the superstitious old women was about to pelt his companion with soybeans as part of some banishing ritual.
Instead, Nagao emerged from the shadows.
“Nagao!” Satou exclaimed, “I was worried that I might not get to see you again before I left.”
The old man looked the Oni up and down, his expression remaining neutral.
“Miss,” he began, “I've seen a lot of strange things in my years. But you're by far the most unusual thing I think I've ever laid eyes on.”
“Uh, thank you?” she replied hesitantly. The old farmer turned his attention back to Satou, his wrinkled face breaking out into a smile.
“Looks like you didn't get this Oni business out of your system like I had hoped, young Satou. I suppose it can't be helped. Now this unfortunate woman is stuck with you. At least your sons will be stout and healthy, that's all a man can really ask for in this world.” Satou gestured hurriedly for Nagao to be quiet, Higa already starting to laugh. “Looks like I don't have to keep your secrets anymore, and rumor has it that your brother is going to be taking up your mantle and leading the shōen in your stead. It's a shame, that. He's a bright boy, but you've proven your worth as a leader. Is it true that we won't be paying taxes to the crooks down in the lowlands any longer? That my family will soon be able to eat rice and venison every night?”
“If all goes according to plan,” Satou replied with a nod.
“That'll be another new sight for these old eyes.”
The two friends embraced, then Satou and Higa continued on their way. As the pair reached the edge of the forest, he heard someone call his name.
He turned and was surprised to see his father making his way up the terraces towards him. He looked at the man in confusion, waiting for him to catch his breath.
“I wanted to tell you,” his father continued, “that I may have acted...rashly. I thought that you had forsaken your family and your responsibilities, that you had rejected everything that your mother and I had tried to teach you. That wasn't the case, I see that now. Even after we let you storm off into the woods, you still found a way to help your shōen. If this...woman,” he said as he gestured towards Higa, “means so much to you that you would go against the wishes of your family...then I cannot stand in your way. You can return home if you so choose, we could even build accommodations for Miss Higanbana if she wishes to remain here with you.”
“Thank you for the offer,” Higa said before Satou could reply. “But I have my own duties to attend to. I must return to my village to relay your proposition, and then once the hunting season ends, I won't be coming back down the mountain until the following year.”
“But it doesn't have to be permanent,” Satou added, looking up at Higa. “What if during the hunting season, you and the other hunters set up camp in our village? We're right in the middle of the forest, you'd have access to the whole mountain without fear of being driven off. It's better than being out on your own in the wilderness, right? We have food, shelter, everything you'd need.”
“I suppose,” she replied, considering. “It would give us access to new hunting grounds too. I'll suggest it to the elders when I arrive at the village.”
“And until then?” Satou's father asked.
“Until then I'm staying with Higa,” Satou announced, giving her a pat on the thigh. “I'll return to her village by her side.”
“You did always talk about wanting to scale the peak,” his father replied. “Very well, you have my blessing.”
They exchanged one last formal goodbye and then his father turned back, Satou and Higa heading off into the forest. Satou could scarcely believe what he had just heard. His father never apologized, and he had never known the man to change his mind once it was set.
“That went pretty well,” Higa said once the village was out of view behind the dense trees. “When I left my village at the start of the season, I didn't imagine I'd be serving as an ambassador.”
“I think I've finally earned my father's respect,” Satou replied, “and all it took was me disgracing the family and running into a mythical creature in the woods. If only I had thought of that earlier...”
She gave him an affectionate pat on the head.
“Are you sure you want to come back to the village with me? It's a long hike up and down the mountain, and it's going to be pretty cold at the summit.”
“Yeah, I want to stay with you,” he replied without hesitation. “And when I say that I want to stay with you, I kind of mean...long term. Is that something you'd be okay with?”
She scratched her chin, feigning indecision for a few moments as he looked on.
“Well...you are more portable than an Oni bed warmer, so you've got that going for you.” She grinned at him as he trotted along beside her, peering up at her expectantly. “Aww hell kid, you look like a lost puppy, how can I say no to those eyes? My life would get pretty boring and lonely without you around anyway. At least I'll have someone to stoke the fire pit in my hut when I'm out gathering wood.”
“You mean it? You really want me to stay with you?”
“Sure, you can travel with me when I'm hunting, and you can stay with me in the village if you think you can cut it. Don't worry, I won't let anyone snack on you when the venison starts to run out. You'll be able to visit your family again when we set up camp in your village. You have to do something for me first, though.”
“Anything!” Satou replied excitedly.
“Recite your poem again, the one that you left for me on the rock when we first met.”
“O-Oh,” he stammered, his cheeks already starting to flush. “I'm not sure that I remember it...”
“Of course you do. You wrote it, didn't you? And knowing you, I bet you agonized over every line for hours.”
She laughed at his expression, knowing that she was entirely correct. He had poured his heart into that love letter, as if perfecting every word would somehow cause her to fall madly in love with him. In a way he hadn't been wrong, it was only because of that poem that they were together right now, it had been the catalyst that had set all of these crazy events in motion.
He began to speak, Higa smiling as she listened to him.
“I chanced upon you in the pool, the shimmering water a reflection of your beauty. Skin the color of fire and passion entranced me, like no one had before. I would weather the blows of your mighty cudgel, for just a moment of your company.”
Satou wasn't sure that the Oni would ever admit it, but he could see how his words warmed her, the way that her mischievous grin took on a more sincere and sentimental quality.
“You dork,” she giggled, patting him on the back and very nearly knocking him off his feet. “You're a cute dork though. Real cute. Let's hurry back so that we can put that silver tongue of yours to better use...”