Hirogato pulled the double doors closed gently and turned towards the waiting group. All men, all in suits, they stood stiffly and formally around the quietly decorated anteroom. None of them had ever really known her. None understood her the way that he had. One â€“ one had been the cause of her demise and the others where simply puppets: mute witnesses to a dance of succession.
Bowing low and solemnly, Hirogato addressed himself to the group and to one tall thin man in particular. â€œMy mistress is dead,â€ he intoned, a hint of accusation in his voice.
There were no signs of grief. Her death had been hoped for but unexpected. Only the low murmurs of men who now found themselves at a loose end until the new head of the Zaibatsu was chosen. This was a task that could not wait; the massive Japanese conglomerate depended on strict authoritarian rule from the top. The body must not be allowed to remain headless.
They filed out, straightening their ties and tugging on their cuffs, ill at ease to remain in the room where word of their young leaderâ€™s death had impolitely stained the walls. Hirogato, who had been treasured by her for his dark sense of humour and his passion for European history, waited until the room had emptied. Then he announced to the hollow chamber in perfectly intoned English, â€œThe Queen is dead. Long live the King.â€
She would have really enjoyed that.
Mitsue Yatsuda had been many things. No one knew her origins but old Zenjiro Yatsuda had adopted her at the age of sixteen. People had whispered that the old man had had an appetite for young girls and that she was not so much his daughter as his plaything. He kept her shut away in his summer house outside Kobe.
It wasnâ€™t until Zenjiroâ€™s fifty fifth birthday celebration that the rest of the Yatsuda family laid eyes upon the girl. Zenjiro, it was said, seemed wizened and shrunken â€“ far older than his years. But the girl Mitsue sat quietly and attentively at his side, dressed demurely in the furisode kimono of an innocent. The gold silk patterned with chrysanthemums and peonies set off her milk white skin and the back of her kimono drooped gracefully, revealing the two dark, sinuous hairlines that follow the neckâ€™s tendons down and evoke the lips of a womanâ€™s vulva. Zenjiro sat with his gnarled hand casually tucked between the folds of her robe as she served him. And from time to time his hand, nestled between the silk layers, would become agitated and his eyes would glaze over. But the girl maintained perfect composure as if nothing were amiss. People said it was obscene. She was just eighteen.
The following year, in the autumn, Zenjiro Yatsuda died and left his entire fortune and the leadership of the Yatsuda Zaibatsu to his two sons, Akira and Toshiro. This was entirely expected. One provision of his will, however, was exceptionally odd. In order to inherit, Akira was obligated to marry Mitsue. And, odder still, should tragedy befall Akira, Toshiro would not only take over his brotherâ€™s place as leader but also take his wife. Finally, and strangest by far, was the condition that Mitsue would take a seat on the board of management of the Zaibatsu.
This was virtually unheard of. Women simply did not sit on the board. It was inappropriate and destabilizing for a woman to wield the power that the vote afforded her. Both Akira and Toshiro protested bitterly to their fatherâ€™s attorneys, but it seemed the will was clear and incontrovertible on this point.
Akira was vociferously resentful of the conditions of his inheritance and, insulting the memory of his dead father, turned up late for the wedding and sat opposite Mitsue, glowering at her as the matrimonial sake cups were brought in. Some of the invited guests commented privately that this was no marriage blessed by heaven.
Indeed it seemed that the guests were correct. By cherry blossom time, Akira was a shadow of what he had been. Once a tall strapping young man, he was now pale and ailing. Visitors to their house said that Mitsue was everything an attentive wife should be and that her husbandâ€™s wellbeing was her only concern. In fact, it was grudgingly admitted that Akira seemed to have entirely overcome his initial dislike of his marital arrangements.
One guest told anyone who cared to listen a story of arriving for an afternoon visit and being asked to wait in the reception room for over an hour. The couple, it seems, were â€œindisposedâ€. In fact, they could be heard quite clearly through the shoji panels engaged in conjugal activities of the most energetic nature. With all that marital bliss, one would have expected Akira to be the picture of happiness and health. But upon their tardy attendance of their guest, Akira looked drained and exhausted. The guest surmised jokingly that he was fucking himself to death.
In the middle of the worst of the summer heat, at the end of July, Akira died. And now the rumours began in earnest. Mitsue, gossip had it, was barren and Akira had exhausted himself in an effort to produce an heir. At the funeral, instead of the modern black mourning kimono, Mitsue wore the traditional ivory. She sat as impassive as ever, neither crying nor disturbed. It was the tiny crooked smile that played at the edge of her scarlet mouth as she accepted the urn of her husbandâ€™s ashes that caused someone to suggest that she was, in fact, kitsune â€“ a fox demon. That Mitsue appeared not a year older from when the family had first set eyes on her did nothing to dispel the rumour.
Of course, this is exactly what she was. And being kitsune, it was not long before Toshiro too fell under her power. In accordance with his dead fatherâ€™s wishes upon Akiraâ€™s death, Toshiro dutifully married Mitsue. Not quite as reticent as his brother had been, Toshiro embraced his newly found state of matrimony with studied enjoyment. Leaving the Zaibatsu to run itself, he secreted himself away with his new bride just as his father had done before him, at the house outside Kobe.
It was in the months following my induction into the Yatsuda Zaibatsu that I came to the house in Kobe on an urgent errand. The conglomerate was vying with the other zaibatzus for a lucrative commission to supply steel to the Japanese naval shipyards. I had been sent by Toshiroâ€™s cousin to beg his attendance at a crucial board meeting. The afternoon that I arrived, Hirogato, the fawning attendant, directed me out to the garden. I found them in the orchard under the blossoming plum trees in the most compromised of situations. Mitsue stood with her back to a tree and her hands grasping the branch above her head. Her kimono yawned open, revealing her pale loveliness, and her husband knelt before her, his face buried between her slender legs.
They were completely unaware of my presence as I watched them. Her small beautiful face was flooded with pleasure and she raised one dainty leg and perched it on his shoulder, pushing herself forward to meet his eager tongue. She shuddered suddenly, closing her eyes and crying out delicate yips of delight. Then, releasing the branch above her, she pushed him backwards onto the fallen petals and settled down upon his rigid prick, cooing as she took him in.
That is when I saw her change. Her pert face took on an almost feral appearance as she rode his cock. Cascades of her auburn tinted hair fell across his chest as he writhed beneath her and she bent forward to nip at his skin with sharp white teeth. Toshiro arched his back, raising her lithe body upwards; even as he pulled her hips down to meet him.
In the throes of his ecstasy, I saw him pale as she took her pleasure from him and, as he reached his climax, his back bowed and his head thrown back, I saw her skin flush pink. It was as if, along with his semen, she took the very energy of his being into her core.
The kitsune are so very clever; they give back to their prey exactly what he most desires. So pleasurable is mating with a kitsune that the victim doesnâ€™t even notice that his essence is slowly being drained away. It is not that the kitsune is evil; they simply are what they are and, in their way, victims themselves. Kitsune love to be loved and crave every sort of sensation.
And how, you might ask, did I know so instantly that Mitsue was kitsune? Because I am Oni â€“ a demon in my own right. Bored with the squabbles and endless struggles for power amongst my own kind, I thought to take on human form and gain power for myself within the mortal realm.
Settling myself under a nearby plum tree, I watched the couple finish copulating. Then, I decided to announce myself by whistling. Mitsue, having draped herself across Toshiro at the height of her enjoyment, rolled off him and looked around, her eyes darting and alert. Toshiro got to his feet and pulled his kimono about his nakedness.
â€œWho is there?â€ he demanded angrily.
â€œIt is I, Umari Ryuchi,â€ I replied getting to my feet and dusting off my red robe. â€œI have come from Kyoto with a request for your attendance, Toshiro-san.â€
Mitsue stood also, but did not bother to cover her lovely body. Instead she allowed her kimono to gape, framing her exquisiteness. All kitsune in human form are beautiful, but Mitsue was by far the most enticing I had ever seen. It was in that moment that I decided that, one day, I would have her for myself.
It was an immense surprise to all of us that when Toshiro turned up to the board meeting, he brought a blushing Mitsue with him. Although it was widely acknowledged that she had a seat on the board, no one of any position within the Zaibatsu had anticipated that she would actually use it. There were furious whispers before the meeting began that this was an outrage and an indignity to the conglomerate. Some of the men of high position intimated that Mitsue had insisted on coming. Others believed that Toshiro was so completely taken by his new bride that, unwilling to be parted from her for even a day, he had ignored propriety.
As the board settled around the long ebony table, Toshiro took his place at the head of the table and Mitsue sat on his right. Discussion ensued and many suggestions were made regarding how best to approach the Yatsuda bid for supplying steel to the navy. There were deals to be made, influence to be purchased and favours to be finessed. Finally, when asked for his decision, Toshiro bent his head towards Mitsue and she whispered into his ear for quite some time. The rest of the board watched in stunned amazement as Toshiro closed his eyes and nodded as Mitsue poured a hissing stream into his ear. Toshiro then stood up and looked down the long table at the somber men.
â€œLet someone else have the steel contract. We shall build factories and use our steel for making automobiles,â€ he announced.
Jaws dropped, people spluttered and tried to argue that Yatsuda knew nothing of automobiles. But Toshiro would not shift from his declaration.
A young member of the Zaibatsu elite at the time, it was not my place to say anything. But had I had the courage, I would have added my support for the idea. The military industrial complex was old and corrupt and its power had been eroded by the limitations put upon it by our defeat in war. Manufacturing would be Japanâ€™s future and the Zaibatsus that recognized this would flourish.
I looked at that small, shrewd face down the shining length of the table and I recognized my equal. Mitsue â€“ little Mitsue â€“ had aspirations and intellect of her own, it seemed. It only made me want her more.
Despite the protest of the old guard, the Yatsuda Zaibatsu followed the direction Toshiro had set and indeed the conglomerate flourished. Toshiro, however, did not. Five years of a progressive wasting sickness took its own determined path through his body until there was very little left.
It was a wisp of a man who stood at the head of the boardroom table; barely forty years old now, Toshiro looked seventy. And Mitsue stood beside him, still the milk-skinned ingÃ©nue.
â€œI am not well, friends, as you can see,â€ Toshiroâ€™s frail voice proclaimed. â€œNo longer can I bear the responsibilities of heading the Yatsuda family. Therefore, I ask you to respect my wishes.â€
The boardroom was silence incarnate. By now a senior member in my own right, I knew what was coming. Beneath the downcast, demure gaze, could see the hungry look in Mitsueâ€™s eyes.
â€œWe have not been blessed by children and there is no one else to take over the great responsibility of ensuring the continued prosperity of the Yatsuda clan. I want you to honour my beloved wife, Mitsue, the way you honoured me. She shall take my place at the head of this table. I ask you all to give her your support and your confidence.â€
It was outrageous and unheard of: a woman heading up a Zaibatsu. No one spoke and no one would speak. But the knives would be out shortly and, for a moment, I actually felt sorry for Mitsue. I shouldnâ€™t have bothered.
Two months to the day after that board meeting, Toshiro died. And following hard on his funeral, Mitsue summoned the members of the Zaibatsu to an evening meeting of the board.
She arrived after the rest of us had settled and took her place conspicuously at the head of the table. As usual, she wore the traditional muted kimono of a mourning wife, but she did not bother to sit or hear the murmured condolences of the members. She stood and stared down the length of the table.
â€œI know there are those among you who feel my presence is unhelpful to the Zaibatsu. You may either change your minds now, or leave, or stay and do battle. Regardless of your decision, I will prevail.â€
The gentleness and fluting quality of the voice that delivered the statement was almost comical. But the challenge was clear. Mitsue suspected she knew who her enemies were and she was throwing down the gauntlet.
Old Aihara, who had been on the Yatsuda board from time immemorial, got to his feet and spoke. â€œMitsue-san. Please do not think we do not honour Toshiro-sanâ€™s wishes. But you are still very young and a woman. Perhaps you might think to choose a number of close advisors from the members you see before you in order that your leadership might be informed and beneficial to the Yatsuda clan.â€
It was beautifully wrapped insult. Aihara was suggesting that Mitsue voluntarily accept the position of pretender, while the real power was wielded by elder and wiser members. I waited for vitriol in her response, but there was none.
â€œAihara-sama,â€ she said in a tiny voice using the honorific â€™samaâ€™ to show her respect. â€œHow wise and good you are to suggest this. And indeed, I would greatly value the advice of each of you. In fact, it is my decision to take on a close advisor to direct me in all things. Umari-san,â€ she said, looking straight at me down the expanse of gleaming wood. â€œFollow me.â€
With that, she turned and left the room. All the men stood for a moment, confused and unsure of what exactly had transpired. Aihara huffed and reached for his walking stick. Slowly, one by one, the faces around the table turned towards me â€“ some in surprise and others in anger. I shrugged, bowed and followed her out of the room.
When I reached the foyer, it was empty but for a young, nervous looking attendant. He bowed deeply and said, â€œI am Hirogato, Umari-sama. My mistress wishes to speak with you in private immediately. If you would follow me, please.â€
I trailed behind the obsequious little non-entity down the long, lushly carpeted corridor and through the cherry wood double doors of the directorâ€™s rooms. The Yatsuda building in Kobe was a twenty-eight storied black glass affair. All the most important offices were on the very top floor, including a luxuriously appointed living area for the director. In the short space of time since Toshiroâ€™s death, Mitsue must have redecorated. The room that Hirogato led me into was a strange mix of the ultra modern and traditional Japanese design. The walls were smooth black slate and the city beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass was filtered through fine metal mesh. The floors, however, were laid with traditional black edged tatami matting and the low tables supported elaborate displays of seasonal flowers and foliage arranged in accordance with the strict Shinto rules of ikebana. Mitsue sat kneeling in front of a low lacquer table. She did not look up.
â€œI invite you to sit and enjoy tea with me, Umari-san,â€ she said, minutely adjusting various implements on the table.
This was the formal language used to invite someone to Tea Ceremony. I was taken aback. Few people practiced it with any elegance anymore and, moreover, night was an unusual time to be indulging in this ancient ritual. Being over 300 years old myself, I was uncertain about how much I should show of my proficiency. It is not only the host, but the guest too who must follow a very strict protocol during the Tea Ceremony. If I performed it well, I might give myself away.
I knelt down opposite her and she bowed formally before continuing with her preparations.
â€œI am honored, Mitsue-sama, that you have chosen to offer me this opportunity to enjoy tea with you, â€ I said, attempting to feign nervousness as I bowed back to her.
She proceeded with the ritual, wiping each implement carefully with a white napkin. â€œDonâ€™t be too honoured, Umari. Those old bastards are going to try to kill me. At the moment, I am not the safest of companions.â€
Now she checked to see that the water was boiling in the black, cast-iron kettle and began to spoon the bitter green powder into the bowl. Each movement she made contained such control, such grace. She held the sleeve of her kimono formally as she ladled boiling water into the bowl with the tea. She rested, her hands in her lap and looked at me.
â€œI want you to act as my protector, my samurai. Are you willing to do that?â€
I began to answer, but she cut me off quickly as she picked up the bamboo whisk and began to agitate the water and tea mixture into a pale green froth.
â€œDo not agree hastily, Umari-san. My death would mean yours also if you agreed to this.â€
The tea was ready; she slid the bowl over to me. Consciously, I ignored the white napkin and the ritual of wiping the rim. I could feel the power that was being handed over to me, as if the bowl of tea were the keys to the empire and I did not want to expose myself for what I was.
I bowed and lifted the bowl to my lips, drank and set it down again on the lacquer, aware that she was observing my every movement, and my every mistake. The intensity of her observation pricked at my skin. I could feel the desire of this kitsune emanate from her like heat from an oven. I bowed stiffly and slid the bowl back to her, worried that perhaps she could feel mine.
â€œNevertheless I agree, Mitsue-sama. It would be my very great honour to act as your protector.â€
Mitsue smiled as she lifted the bowl and began to wipe it, preparing it for the next batch of tea. Her tiny incisors gleamed in the muted light of the room for only a moment, before she went back to her ritual movements.
â€œI am lonely, Umari-san, since my husbandâ€™s death,â€ she said in a little, airy voice. â€œI have no wish to be ruled by a man, but I cannot live without companionship either.â€ Her delicate hands busied themselves again with the whisking process.
This invitation was also formal but the implication no less clear for that. I moved forward and carefully took the bowl and whisk from her hands and set them to one side.
â€œDo you remember where I first met you, Mitsue?â€ I asked, pulling the ivory hairpins from her glossy black hair and releasing a tumble of midnight silk onto her shoulders.
â€œIn the plum orchard. In the spring.â€
Her slender frame trembled slightly as I moved around behind her and drew aside the collar of her kimonos to expose a snowy shoulder. My finger traced a line from underneath her earlobe, down her neck and onto the perfect skin of her chest. I slide my hand beneath the silk and cupped a small, pert breast. The nipple was as hard as a cherry stone. She sighed as I lowered my mouth onto her shoulder to taste her skin and, as I pinched and tugged at the breast in my hand, she leant back against me and reached up to pull my head tighter to her neck.
I could feel her powers questing out to me from every pore in her skin, hungry and seeking sensation. Despite the layers of kimono, I could smell the moist heat between her legs rising up to assault my senses as I caressed and kissed her. Demon that I am, and with all my strength, the call came urgent and relentless and it took all my powers to keep my mortal aspect.
Quickly I untied and loosened the obi that bound her and she helped unwind it and tossed it aside. I looked over her shoulder, down at the pale skin exposed as the layers of kimono fell open. The small triangle of silky black hair begged for my attention and I reached around, slipping my fingers into the darkness to seek out pink wet folds it hid.
Mitsue was overflowing, the tears of her desire oozing out onto her soft white thighs. My fingers swam through the sea of it and grazed over the hard, brazen bud between her nether lips.
â€œOh, Umari-san,â€ she gasped and turned to fumble at my suit. â€œI do hate western clothing so!â€
I stopped my attentions and helped her in her frantic attempt to undress me, tossing aside my jacket, clawing at the buttons on my vest. When finally I stood in front of her naked, her gaze appraised me, sliding down my skin like a thousand tiny burning needles to settle on my manhood.
â€œYou are most admirably formed, Umari-san,â€ she teased, reaching out to surround my erection with the long, delicate fingers of one hand. The other spidered up my chest to my neck. Mitsue pulled herself against me. The contact was exquisite and at the same time painful. Her kitsune soul reached beyond her skin to grasp at my senses, anchoring spiny hooks into my consciousness. I could feel each tiny hook embedding itself. A true mortal would never have felt this; their senses are far to dull to perceive the invasion. It was essential that I not give any hint of the pain her intrusion caused me or else she would guess immediately that I was something other than what she assumed I was.
But still, I could hardly keep myself from crying out and I writhed against her. In her ignorance she took it for passion and pressed herself more firmly, her hands skittering over the skin of my back and grasping my buttocks.
I pulled us both down onto the tatami mat and into a puddle of silks. She tried to kiss me, but I could not risk it. I was sure she would taste the otherness upon my lips. Instead I settled between her legs, slid my hands beneath her small buttocks, and lifted her hips, exposing the smooth insides of her thighs to my attention. She mewed as I kissed the tender skin there and there and there, slowly snaking my way up to the open, crimson flower that wept liquid pearl. She smelled like good earth, autumn leaves and the den of a fox in winter as it sleeps â€“ close and warm and sweet. As my tongue explored the petals of her cunt, her sounds became those of a blind helpless kit, seeking out its motherâ€™s teat for nursing. I plunged between the folds to trace the tip of my tongue around the erect pink nodule. Her hips began to dance, directing me to the places she desired to be caressed the most.
I knew the taste of her was poison but so tempting was it that I could not help myself; I lapped and swallowed as more and more of her sweet nectar poured forth. I felt it burn my lips and claw at the inside of my throat as it went down.
Frantic in her passion, Mitsue curled herself around and forced me to change my position. Finding my erection a shadow of what it had been before, she whimpered and took it into her mouth. The full ferocity of her passion hit me then; every part of her animal ghost began to invade my body, sending barbed tendrils through my nerves, flaying the covering that was human. I was sure she would begin to notice my disguise but, if she did, she gave no hint of it and the pleasure of her burning, hungry mouth around my cock demanded its response, despite the pain of her ghostly invasion. I went back to my own feeding, tending to her secret garden with my tongue. Her scent was everywhere and her legs pressed against the sides of my face as I indulged her.
Soon, I could feel the febrile tremors of her storm building. Her hips pitched and shivered and I pushed my fingers deep into her cave, flexing and exploring the dark velvet cavity inside.
â€œNo, no,â€ she cried, lifting her mouth off me. â€œNot like that, Umari. I must have you inside me.â€
So greedy was she for my essence, she spun her body around like a wild thing and straddled my hips. For a silent moment, I thought to deny her. She could not know what awaited her and pity itched at my heart. But it was the hunger, the monstrous need in her eyes that stopped me. She was a creature like me, and like me she would devour and devour until nothing was left.
â€œGive it to me, Umari,â€ she purred as she slid herself down onto my throbbing sword, sheathing it in her dark wet embrace.
â€œTake it, Mitsue,â€ I replied, pulling her hips down.
Her hunger clung to me, squeezed me as she began to ride and the kitsune began to bleed through the thin veneer of mortal skin. Her eyes closed and her parted lips revealed her tiny fangs; a pink pointed tongue swept across her carmine lips before she bent forward and the night curtain of her hair spread over my chest. All I had to do was keep her teeth at bay until I finished. I reached up to caress her breasts, taking each nipple between my fingers and pinching as she rocked herself on top of me. Her thrusts and whimpers became more urgent and she ground herself against me with every downward stroke. Any moment now she would open. Any moment now the kitsune would shed its human veil and reveal itself. Then she would be mine for the taking.
I grabbed her sides and rolled her over onto her back; she responded gloriously by wrapping her legs around my waist and urging me to drive into her hard.
â€œAhâ€¦ Umari. I am there, on the mountain!â€ she cried.
And there beneath me, quivering and convulsing, her spine arched and her head thrown back, was the fox demon. So lovely, so sleek, I plunged down into her again and held myself there, my own climax filling her with demon seed. Her eyes flashed open and she stared at me as fear changed her back into the moral sheath she had lived in for so very long.
â€œUmariâ€¦ whatâ€¦what are you?â€
â€œI am your successor, kitsune,â€ I whispered as I felt the tendrils of her power recoil and retract. â€œI am sorry. But you are in my way.â€
Her eyes dimmed and her legs, so firmly wrapped around me just a moment ago, slid limply to the tatami mat. And before she abandoned the mortal aspect she had worn for so long and fled back into the realm of the shadow forest, I showed her my true form: the horns, the third eye and the body of a centipede. Embracing her with myriad limbs, I witnessed her departure.