Spellbound * (2/6) By Sakata Ri Houjun

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Genrou awoke to silence. There had to have been something in the sake, he thought. With a jolt, he sat straight up, terrified. And naked.

Surprise ran a swift race with embarrassment as he imagined Houjun undressing him and getting him into bed. How had the smaller man carted him here?

His clothes, clean and dry, were folded neatly on an old chest. At least he didn't expect him to run around in his skin. With some relief he reached quickly for his jeans.

He felt better once they were zipped, then realized that he felt more than better. He felt wonderful.

Alert, rested, energized. Whatever Houjun had given him had rocked him into the solid, most restful sleep he hadn't experienced in weeks. How long had he been sleeping?

He went to the window to look out. The view was stunning.

He could see the rugged ground where the ruined temple climbed; make out glints of stone where the sun struck. The ground tumbled away toward the road, and then gave way to miles of green fields. Houses were tucked into valleys. Trees twisted up, bent by years of resisting the relentless wind. And beyond all that was a distant range of mountains, their peaks hidden in the high clouds.

The sight swelled his artist's heart. The filtering sun had softness, majesty he'd never seen anywhere else. He had to capture it. He bolted out of the room, down the steps and into the gentle sun. He grabbed his Nikon off the front seat of his car and picked his position.

Houjun watched him from the temple ruins. Such energy. Soon he would have questions that he would have to answer.

He stepped to where a circle had been drawn across the broken stone floor and stood in its center. Power tingled in his fingertips, but it was weak. Raising his arms to the sky, he began his chant.

Genrou could see Houjun though the ruins. He was beautiful, unearthly. The language he spoke now familiar from his dreams. With unsteady hands, Genrou lowered his camera. Somehow he could see beyond the words and into Houjun's thoughts as clearly as if they were written on a page.

Protect. Defend. The battle is nearly upon us. Help me. Help him.

There was fear in his thoughts. And it made Genrou want to shield Houjun. As he approached, the older man's eyes fixed on his. He held up a hand quickly before he could touch him. "Don't cross the circle, no da."

As he walked out of the circle, the wind that had poured through his unbound hair gentled.

"Did you sleep okay, no da?" he asked as he combed fingers through the unruly strands and began tying it back.

Genrou's eyes narrowed. "What the fuck did you put in my sake?"

"Nothing." He smiled at his camera. "You've been working."

"Why did you strip me?"

"You're clothes were damp, na no da." Houjun saw his thoughts in his eyes and laughed. "Genrou, I'll not deny that I looked. But in truth, I prefer you being awake and participating, no da."

"I want some damn answers," he said.

"Are you ready, no da? I'll tell you a story, Kou Genrou. A story of great love and great betrayal, of power and lust. One of magic, gained and lost."

"I don't want a story. I want answers."

"It's the same, no da. Once, long ago, this temple was erected in honor of seven individuals, seven shichiseishi, who protected a miko and served a god of fire. At the end of a fierce war, only two of those seishi remained. Together, they protected a holy relic known as the shinzaho that had been placed in this very temple."

Houjun walked toward curving stone steps and began to climb. Genrou followed. He could see that some of the stones were blackened, as if form a great fire. Laying a hand on one, he swore he could still feel heat.

"One was a monk who was quiet and reserved and wielded great magic. The other was a bandit who had an immense love of life that could not be quelled. He was as wild as the fire he controlled. The bandit left frequently because he was still young, but always returned to the temple and his duty. "

Houjun walked across a wide parapet to a stone rail that stood overlooking the hill, presenting Genrou with an even better view that he had seen from the bedroom.

"Years passed and the bandit found himself caught in a battle during one of his adventures. He was gravely wounded."

Gently he traced a fingertip on Genrou's thigh. The redhead forced himself not to think about the hallucination he'd had while driving toward this place.

"He was weary when he finally arrived here. The monk tended his wound and in the end gave him his heart as well. The bandit offered back his own. They were all to each other from that moment. The monk was known as Chichiri, and the bandit's name was Tasuki. Their hearts were linked.

"They loved each other, and pledged one to the other," he continued. "But the bandit still ventured out. A demon named Mikuni attempted to lure Chichiri away from Tasuki. She lusted after the monk, his body, heart, soul, and his power as well, for Chichiri was strong. She ventured into his dreams, thought to seduce him, but he spurned her."

Houjun's fingers tightened on the stone. "Her anger was immense. She set to kill the man Chichiri loved. Mikuni planted seeds of doubt, hints of betrayal in Tasuki's sleeping mind. She gave him visions of Chichiri wrapped in another's arms. And with those images tormenting him, Tasuki rode back to the temple to accuse him.

"Chichiri was proud," Houjun said after a moment. "They argued bitterly, tempers ruling over their hearts. It was then that Mikuni attacked. She'd waited for the moment when the lovers hurled pain at each other. Mikuni struck Tasuki down so that his blood ran through the stones of this temple and into the ground."

Tears glinted in Houjun's eyes. "Chichiri's grief blinded him, but he cast a circle quickly, fighting to save his lover. He knew his wound was mortal, but refused to accept.

"The walls of this place rang with evil demon's power. In the circle, weak and dying, Tasuki reached for his weapon and called upon his fire to vanquish the demon and save Chichiri. In his heart he called for Chichiri, understanding now his betrayal and foolish pride. His name was on Tasuki's lips as he died."

Houjun sighed, closing his eyes briefly. "Chichiri was lost without him. Mikuni wanted to take him, willing or not. With the last of his strength, he picked up the bandit's body and stumbled out of the protection of the circle and into the flames. He made a vow before he died. He swore his abiding love for Tasuki. For a thousand years and more, he would wait.

"The god he served was impressed with the strength of his love and granted Chichiri that wish, one that would reunite him with Tasuki. That way, they could fight Mikuni as one. If their hearts were strong, they would defeat her. But such wishes have a price, and this price was to vow that if Tasuki did not stand with him, he would belong to Mikuni."

Genrou waited a moment, surprised that he found the story hypnotic. Studying Houjun, he said, "Romantic nonsense."

He shook his head. "Can you look at me, hear me, and remember nothing?"

"You want me to believe I'm the reincarnation of a bandit and you're the reincarnation of a monk?" He let out a short laugh. "We've waited a millennium and now we're going to do battle with the damn wicked witch of the West?"

Houjun stopped directly in front of him. "You can see for yourself that I'm not without power, no da."

"You're fucking crazy." He started to turn.

"Hold!" Houjun drew in a breath, and Genrou's feet were cemented to the spot. Though his hand was trembling with the effort, he smiled. "See?"

"What is this?"

"Proof, if you'll take it, no da." He reached out his hand. "I've called you in the night, Genrou, but you wouldn't hear me. Can you look at me and deny it, no da?"

"No, but I don't want any of this shit."

"I can't make you want anything. I can only make you see." He swayed suddenly, surprising them both.

Genrou swept him up into his arms and carried him down and away from the temple. Houjun wound his arms weakly around the redhead's neck. His mouth was close to his, already softly parted in invitation. Genrou felt his muscles quiver. If he was caught in a dream, it was more vivid than any he had had before.

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