Spellbound * (5/6) By Sakata Ri Houjun

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Genrou woke, alone. For a moment, he thought it had all been another one of his dreams. The beautiful cerulean-haired man, the ruined temple, the globe that held the power of a god. A hallucination brought on by fatigue.

But he recognized the room and got out of bed as the sun streamed in.

Was it you, or another, he made love to in the night? Genrou's eyes went dark as the voice whispered slyly in his head. He called another's name. Believes you to fill the place of his dead lover and has lured you here.

The room was suddenly airless. He reached blindly for the door, found only swirling air.

He has you trapped here. He will use you to gain what he wants. Who will you be when this is finished?

Genrou yanked open the door and stumbled out, trembling all over. Something cold and smelling of death had crowded into that room.

Damn imagination running away with me, he thought. Whose wouldn't, under these circumstances? He went to find Houjun.

He was writing. His hands were graceful, his movement precise as he wrote one character after another on the paper. Genrou's suddenly found himself wanting his camera. And him.

Houjun looked up and smiled. "Did you finally decide to join the living, no da?"

"Is it late?"

He laughed as he stood and kissed him lightly. "Half past-ten, demo you always were a late sleeper, na no da."

Looking serious, then, Genrou asked, "Did I choose to come here, Houjun, or did you?"

He has lured you here. He will use you to gain what he wants.

"Did I choose for you to be here, no da? I-is that what you think? After all I've told you?"

"Just answer the damn question."

Houjun's heart wept in despair. Genrou was looking at him with none of the love he needed. "No, Genrou, I did not force you to come here. If that had been in my power, would I have waited so long for you? I asked you to come, but the choice was yours.

"You broke my heart when you shut me out. That choice was yours also, for the knowledge was in your heart. I was born loving you. There's been no other in my heart. Everything I am, or was, or will be, is yours. I cannot change my heart."

Turning, Houjun bolted from the room, tears stinging his eyes. Genrou went after him but found no trace of the older man outside. Houjun told him that he loved him. But leaving before he had a chance to examine his own heart? Houjun expected too much. Wanted too much.

Then he turned and stared at the temple. And knew. "All right, damn it," he muttered as he strode toward the ruins. "No magic, no legends. We're going to talk this thing through."

He stepped toward the arch and was stopped by a transparent shield that blocked him.

"What kind of fucking game is this?" Eyes narrowed, he drove his shoulder against it; it yielded nothing. He circled the temple, testing each opening.

"Houjun!" He pounded the air with his fists until they ached. "Let me the fuck in!"

From that high parapet, Houjun faced the distant mountains. He heard Genrou call for him. But his decision was made.

He couldn't tell the younger man that his life was lost if by the hour of midnight he had not vowed his love. He had done all he could and Tasuki was never coming back to him. At least Genrou would be protected, his lover spared, and the shinzaho would be sealed away.

Mikuni didn't know how strong his will was. Didn't know that that he carried a powder of poison with him. If his love did not triumph, he would end his life again. Houjun had only hours now to gather his ki. He began the chant.

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Genrou backed away. "Go on and sulk then," he shouted as he stalked back to the dwelling.

He shoved open the bedroom door, reached for his camera. Under it was a leather garment.

"That wasn't here before," he muttered. Gingerly he picked up the wide strip of soft leather, dyed gold and crafted with an intricate design. He thought at first it was a strange belt, but something told him otherwise.

He buckled the garment across his chest, crossing diagonal from one shoulder. It fit perfectly. As he started to remove it, he thought he heard a voice whispering.

A gift. Only a gift.

"I look like a damn baka, but the hell with it," he muttered and, snatching up his camera, he went outside.

Wandering the hills, he ran through roll after roll of film. Spending the morning thus had settled his mood. It was time to go back and find Houjun.

Suddenly a flash of white caught his eye. Houjun's cat stood at the edge of the forest - his slanted eyes beckoning him to follow. Genrou took a step forward, and then swore lightly when the cat whirled away with impossible speed into the woods.

Genrou dived after it, following the sounds as it crashed through the brush. Surprisingly, he was able to keep up with the cat's blistering pace. Then there was silence.

The sun burned like a furnace though the sheltering leaves. Desperate for relief, he knelt by a brook.

He reached down to cup some water in his hand, and pulled back a cup of coffee.

"Do you good to get away for a few days."

"Nani?" He stared down at the mug in his hands, and then looked up into his mother's face.

"Here now, he needs some water, not caffeine," said his father. And water ran out of the kitchen faucet into a glass.

Genrou sipped the water, shuddered. "I had the most bizarre fucking dream."

"Daijobu," his mother said. "Everyone has dreams. You need rest."

"I'm not crazy, Ma. There was this man. Houjun."

His father chuckled. "You need sleep. Don't give him another thought. He's only trying to trap you."

Suddenly Genrou felt calm. "You're not real," he said. "I reject you."

Then he was running down a narrow road, breathless and heart hammering.

"Tasuki," said a voice that was ancient and wise. And familiar.

Genrou stopped and turned in the darkness only to leap back in absolute fear at the sight of the owner of that voice.

"Sunakake Baba!"

The wizened old woman shook her head sadly. "You still haven't changed, bandit boy."

Gasping for breath, Genrou asked, "Dare da?"

"The question should be who you are. You still haven't accepted the truth. Knowing this and loving you, Chichiri has sent you away from danger and faces the demon alone."

"Sent me where? How?"

"Open your eyes, Tasuki," the woman said, "and take what is offered to you. Chichiri waits. Without you, he dies this night."

"Dies?" Terror gripped his belly. "Am I too late?"

She only shook her head and faded back into air.

He awoke stretched out on the bank. The moon was rising in a dark sky. "Iya." He stumbled to his feet and felt a strange weight on his back. "I can't be too late."

Now the trees lashed, whipped by a wind that came from nowhere. Overhead, lightning dimmed the glow of the full moon.

"Chichiri. Wait for me. Aishiteru."

The white cat from before appeared, it's patient eyes focused. Tasuki rushed toward it as it leaped into the shadows, then fell into a clearing where moonlight beamed on an ebony horse.

Taking the reins, Tasuki vaulted onto the saddle and trumpeted a battle cry. As he rode, he reached back and withdrew his tessen; ready to protect the one he loved with his life.

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And now for the shocking conclusion. Okay, not quite that shocking.