Gazing at the man kneeling before him, Tenmao felt triumph blast through his veins, rich and intoxicating as the blood that sent his captive reeling. Surely this day was a sign from the gods as proof that he was on the right path! It was to this end that he had prepared the drug, refined for many years from the blood of his lord and predecessor. He had hoped it might enable those of Nobunaga’s retainers who lived to see the light as he had, standing in the blood-plashed ruins of the garden at Honnou-ji. At night, Tenmao dreamed of sweeping across Japan as his lord had, their faithful generals at his side. In his waking hours, he schemed to capture even one of them: Sutenosuke, as he called himself now, or Maeda Toshiie, or even, when he felt particularly confident in his destiny, Hideyoshi himself.
He had not even known to dream of awakening the man before him, believing that greatest of all treasures long slipped from his grasp. Ranmaru was supposed to be dead, honorably suicided to follow his lord into their next life as befitted his wakashu and primary page. His presence here, now could only be the highest possible affirmation of Tenmao’s destiny. Once Ranmaru awakened fully to the truths the drug was revealing to him, they would ride out and all Japan would see the true heir to their lord’s greatness. As the Kamikaze drove back the Mongol armies from the gods’ chosen land, so together would they crash over the pretender Hideyoshi. Tenmao’s blood burned at the thought.
Ranmaru swayed drunkenly, and tried to rise, still clutching the cup wrought from their lord’s skullcap and that ran with his blood. His other hand was tangled in the rosary he wore, wrought of their lord’s bones. He could not balance to find his feet, too disoriented by the revelations coursing through him to move with more coordination than a newborn wolf-cub, blind and scrambling in the dark.
Tenmao felt a brief creeping apprehension, lest clinging to all these mementos draw Ranmaru away from the enlightenment of truth and closer to the foolish despair that might have him seeking to join their lord in death. To save Ranmaru, he would act as the bodhisattva guiding him away from the cycle of reincarnation.
“Do you understand now, Ranmaru, that I am the true heir to our lord’s destiny? Do you accept me as your rightful master?”
Ranmaru reeled again. Tenmao could discern no hint of his intended response from the movement.
“If I offer you the chance to prove your devotion in such manner as cannot be misunderstood, will you take it?”
The only answer Tenmao received was more reeling, which he believed to be proof enough that other methods would be necessary to receive an answer. He walked up the dais to retrieve his muchi.
“What liberties will you allow me now, as your lord? Will you treat me as Nobunaga in all things and take me as your nenja?”
Tenmao saw a shudder run through Ranmaru at that question, and crossed back to stand close behind him.
“Didn’t you know, Ranmaru? We all understood your devotion to our lord, and your love for him. It was plain to anyone with ears that your cries held rapture as well as agony.”
So saying, he let the tip of his muchi gently caress the back of Ranmaru’s neck, just where it was bared by his kyokatabira and the dishevelled tail of hair that had fallen forward around his face. Ranmaru shivered, visibly arching into the crop’s gentle caress. Tenmao smiled and moved around to Ranmaru’s front, taking his chin in one hand and tilting it until his wakashu was forced to look up at his face.
“So desperate, Ranmaru? Hasn’t anyone been seeing to you at that brothel you came begging mercy for? Have they really been neglecting you so badly, when you have done so much to protect them?”
“I would not want anyone but my lord.”
Ranmaru’s first words since he had consumed their lord’s blood, and they were of such undying loyalty. If Tenmao were correct, if Ranmaru truly was beginning to understand that he was Nobunaga come again, then he would have gained himself a general without peer.
“Come, Ranmaru, prepare so I may tend to you as your lord should.”
Ranmaru’s hands scrabbled at the shoulders of his robe with clumsy eagerness, shoving it down until he was bared to the waist. Tenmao could see the sutras on the lining where it folded over his obi to drape on his lap and the surrounding floor.
“So eager! Do not disappoint me, my Ranmaru.”
Tenmao released Ranmaru’s chin and moved to stand behind him. Raising the muchi, he paused for a moment to admire the scene: the lacquered muchi gleaming in the light, and Ranmaru on his knees, head bowed once more, starkly elegant in his burial white; his alabaster skin so pale that his raven hair offered the only contrast.
When he finally let his arm fall, the muchi moved with a hiss of displaced air, though it was hardly a forceful blow. Tenmao had no desire to see this swiftly ended. The impact, on Ranmaru’s left shoulder just below the joint, came with a loud slap and a small quiver of the surrounding flesh. Ranmaru remained entirely stoic, so that the only lingering evidence of the blow was the thin pink welt that rose stark against his skin.
The sight inflamed Tenmao. He had marked Ranmaru. Ranmaru had allowed it, facilitated it, borne it as he might have done for Nobunaga himself. He let another blow fall, and then another, faster and harder until they came like raindrops and Ranmaru’s back was covered in welted lines, some beginning to shade the patchy starburst red of broken capillaries, and to bloom already with the darker hue of bruising at their ends. Ranmaru was panting in pain now, sucking in great gusts of air, though he held himself as still as ever. Tenmao could remember no pleasure to compare with this.
He threw another strike, viciously hard, which crossed both Ranmaru’s shoulders. Ranmaru arched at the impact with a hiss of agony, even as his toes curled restlessly. As he drew the muchi away, Tenmao saw the first deep, red drops of blood beading on Ranmaru’s skin, and paused.
Ranmaru made an inarticulate sound at the respite; one of protest, Tenmao thought. But he would not be swayed from his purpose even by such sweet begging for more pain, delicious though that would be to provide. He crouched beside Ranmaru’s kneeling form and raised his left hand to caress Ranmaru’s face. His right hand, he placed on Ranmaru’s back, near his nape, just where the highest of the blows had fallen. He pressed his hand in and stroked firmly downward, over the wounds and through the still-wet blood, smearing it a little ways across the pink welts, like the cross-hatching on a woven basket.
Ranmaru gasped aloud at this new pain, and turned awed, tear-shined eyes up to Tenmao’s face. So this, and not anything that had come before, was how total victory felt. Tenmao brought his bloodied right hand around to lick some of the red from it. The truest flavor of Ranmaru burst over his tongue and he smiled in glorious triumph. Ranmaru’s lips parted as he watched and he tilted his head farther, offering them. Tenmao did not reject him, never would so long as Ranmaru kept faith, and moved to kiss him, let Ranmaru taste his own blood on his lord’s lips. Ranmaru groaned deep in his throat but remained properly pliant, allowing Tenmao to do as he wished. He was perfection itself, the ideal wakashu, born to match the gods’ chosen ruler of all Japan.
Drawing back, Tenmao offered his right hand, still smudged in spots with the brown-red of drying blood, to Ranmaru’s lips. He licked it clean with attentive thoroughness and Tenmao felt again that irrepressible triumph that sang in him of the glories they would achieve together and the invincible shield of their destiny, which could not be thwarted a second time.
He guided Ranmaru to his feet and untied his obi, letting the kyokatabira crumple carelessly to the floor, followed by his underclothes. Ranmaru stood finally bare in the echoing hall, his arousal exposed and undeniable between his legs. Tenmao delighted to see such evidence of Ranmaru’s pleasure.
“Did you think we had finished, my Ranmaru?” he asked. “I am no more easily satiated than you.”
He walked to one of the cross beams that supported the ceiling. Ranmaru followed without question, and obediently let Tenmao take his wrists and bind them with his own obi. But he balked slightly when Tenmao threw his sageo over the beam.
“You need not restrain me, Tenmao-sama,” he said. “I will stand for anything you give me.”
Tenmao felt that boundless surge of affection and optimism that Ranmaru’s acceptance seemed to provoke endlessly.
“Oh, my Ranmaru, I know. But eventually, no matter how hard you try, your body will fail me in that, and if I bind you now, you are protected from it. I want only to aid you in pleasuring me.”
At his words, Ranmaru ceased resisting and stood on tiptoe, raising his bound hands over his head as high as he could reach. Tenmao decided to leave him enough slack to stand flat-footed as he threaded the sageo under the obi and between Ranmaru’s wrists. His purpose here was not that sort of pain.
Then Tenmao stepped back and studied his target. Much more of Ranmaru was on full display now, the elegance of his body visible to anyone with eyes. It was plain that the beautiful red and purple of the muchi welts covered only the small expanse of his upper back. Tenmao burned to remedy that and see him covered entirely in painful colors, painted across him like brushstrokes on a scroll.
The muchi whistled through the air anew. Tenmao chose to waste no time with warming Ranmaru up, but began with fierce blows that left faint pale lines on Ranmaru’s skin for a moment before they flushed red. Ranmaru turned steadily pink all down his lower back, over his rear to his thighs. He began rocking with the force of the blows, and sometimes when he managed to hold still, he cried aloud instead, for he could no longer stoically contain the pain within himself.
Tenmao kept striking, harder and harder, until he was swinging his muchi with full strength. Ranmaru’s skin, reddened and painfully swollen, began to split from the force. At first it was only the occasional few drops, which beaded near the tip of a welt to trickle slowly down Ranmaru’s sides. Then, a few strikes began to split for a greater length, so that runnels of blood like branches of coral made their way down his entire back, to meet at the curve of his ass. Ranmaru was screaming full-voiced by now, and thrashing as he fought the pain singing through him, but still upright on his own feet. As Ranmaru twisted and struggled, Tenmao could see the fierce jut of his still-engorged member, certain proof of a hunger to match his own.
Ranmaru’s arousal drove him forward, provoked him to nigh-insatiable heights of desire. Tenmao would, must, see the moment when Ranmaru shattered from the pain. He was still strong, still striving to be the perfect stoic warrior Nobunaga must have wanted (and here Tenmao might even prove the greater lord, for he wanted the Ranmaru who sobbed out his agonized arousal and who begged for everything but relief far more than he had ever lusted after the perfect, unobtrusive presence at his lord’s side.) There could be no respite offered until he saw Ranmaru to the end of his formidable strength.
There were gashes blooming everywhere now. Ranmaru was awash in blood from his shoulders to his thighs, with only the scantest patches of untouched white skin showing between the great streams of gore. The charnel smell of it was thick around them, as it would be when they stood together on the battlefield. It made Tenmao’s mouth water. And still Ranmaru fought and howled at the pain and begged Tenmao to show mercy and continue. Tenmao would never disappoint him, although he could see Ranmaru’s arousal beginning to flag at last, and even his own boundless capacity for cruel desire was beginning to blunt at the edges, making way for more concrete hungers of the flesh.
Tenmao continued on, as the floor beneath Ranmaru became a pool of wet, slippery blood. Ranmaru was no longer standing now, but hanging from his bound arms. He gave a weak thrash at each fresh blow, and howled long, tortured cries that no longer came interspersed with pleas for more.
He put all the force he could muster into a final two blows, delivered so hard that he twisted his torso to strengthen them beyond what his arm alone could provide. Each ran across Ranmaru’s back diagonally from a shoulder, so that they crossed over his spine. Both split what little intact skin remained along their path, and on the second Tenmao felt his muchi threaten to snap. At the first, Ranmaru gave a piercing scream that reminded Tenmao of nothing so much as the death cry of an animal. At the second, his head slumped forward and he did not attempt to raise it again.
Dropping his much-abused muchi, Tenmao moved to check that Ranmaru was merely too exhausted for movement and not actually unconscious. He took Ranmaru’s weight himself, braced chest to chest with a stabilizing arm across his back, the pressure of which drew a faint whimper that seemed to be all the noise Ranmaru could muster. His sleeve soaked in Ranmaru’s blood. It would stain, and he would have it preserved and hung in his rooms as a memento. Using his other hand, he reached up to unbind the sageo that held his arms overhead. Released, they fell limply, so that Ranmaru’s still-bound wrists caught against the back of Tenmao’s neck like an embrace.
Lifting Ranmaru’s limp form took some small effort, but for what would follow, Tenmao preferred a soft futon, for both their sakes. Besides, he longed to see Ranmaru spread across the purple of his futon, all loose white limbs, cascading black hair, and raw red wounds, his sprawl mimicking the phoenix in flight embroidered beneath him. His chambers were only a short hall away, and he carried Ranmaru that distance easily, placing him lying bonelessly on his front while he sent a servant to retrieve the cup of drugged blood.
A few swallows from the cup were enough to restore Ranmaru from his near catatonia. He still moved weakly, but with purpose, and his limbs possessed sufficient strength to hold him once more. His arousal, too, began to recover visibly as the worst extremes of pain receded. Tenmao was glad to see it. He had never ceased to hunger, and while he would have sated his desires regardless, rewarding Ranmaru’s devotion with pleasure after all the pain could not go amiss.
Tenmao was by now too eager to restrain himself much longer. This was the final consummation of a much-cherished fantasy, one he had believed impossible until this very day. He had been aroused since the very moment Ranmaru first bared his back and proved that he had been awakened to Tenmao’s true destiny. And even if he had suspected hesitation desired, Ranmaru had raised his hips and arched his back, making his wishes more than clear. The blatant invitation left Tenmao nearly too overcome for even the most cursory of niceties, but experience had taught him that his own pleasure depended on them as much as his partner’s did, so he found the small jar of oil that he commanded be placed near his futon whenever it was set out. Perfunctorily coating two of his fingers and his member, he thrust the former into Ranmaru’s exposed hole to loosen it, prompting a small flinch of discomfort from him.
Though it had been many long years since Ranmaru had last performed this service for a nenja, he clearly remembered the trick of it. He was fighting the discomfort of Tenmao’s unceremonious intrusion, striving to accommodate and ease himself, and already the tight pressure against Tenmao’s fingers was lessening until their movement was very nearly easy. Tenmao’s fingers when he withdrew them, as he was able to do far sooner than he had hoped, were streaked with blood not from the new tearing he had half expected to cause, but from the still-damp remains of the streams that had run down the cleft of Ranmaru’s buttocks. He ran that hand over his member for no practical reason, or even the pleasure it brought, but only so that he might admire the flecks of vermillion his fingers left on it.
Unwilling to wait another moment, Tenmao moved forward and thrust himself into Ranmaru with a single, brutal motion that caused him to keen in pain, at a pitch that rose abruptly as Tenmao finished seating himself, with his thighs and pelvis all pressed flush to the fresh wounds decorating him. Ranmaru’s sounds of pain were accompanied by minute tremors that Tenmao suspected would have been full agonised thrashing were he not fighting so hard to remain still so that he might accommodate his nenja’s pleasure. Sparing no unwanted mercy for him, Tenmao began to thrust, trusting that Ranmaru would master his body swiftly. He gazed down at their conjoined forms, relishing the sight of the splotches of blood that began to appear on his skin at each contact with Ranmaru’s wounds and spread slowly with every thrust until blood covered more and more of his flesh.
Ranmaru had regained control of himself, and Tenmao reached down to stroke his arousal, which responded to the slightest touch with a delicate beading of fluid that spoke clearly of Ranmaru’s desperation. Tenmao had no more inclination to gentleness now than he had had with the muchi, and he stroked Ranmaru with a firm grip and merciless swiftness, demanding release from him rather than coaxing it. Tenmao could feel Ranmaru’s member jolt at each fresh thrust, just as he seated himself most fully within, and gloried in the knowledge that he still found the pain arousing after he had felt it in such quantity already.
Reveling in his power, Tenmao slowed his thrusts, making certain to push hard against the gashes in Ranmaru’s skin, whose bleeding had by now slowed to a sluggish crawl. Ranmaru went rigid, and frantically attempted to rut against Tenmao’s hand, which he would not permit. Ranmaru would spend only when he allowed, at the pace of his choosing, although his own pleasure was building to such a degree that he did not intend to deny either of them much longer. He increased the pace of his hand’s strokes, but continued the same slow, measuredly painful thrusts. Ranmaru was snapping his hips in tiny, abortive, involuntary thrusts now, and clawing with his hands at the futon as he fought for his release. In a fit of cruel inspiration, Tenmao placed his free hand between Ranmaru’s shoulder blades, just at the crossing point of the two vicious final strikes, and used it to brace himself. Ranmaru had consistently shown such intoxicating receptiveness to pressure on his wounds.
The response was more than he could have hoped. Ranmaru spent nearly instantly, seemingly driven over the point of no return by the sudden intensification of the agony in his back, and the brace-point kept him from thrashing too excessively as he did. It took him long moments to be done, and Tenmao’s hand became thoroughly drenched with Ranmaru’s come, in such quantity that it provided the final proof of his years of faithful celibacy. After he calmed, Ranmaru was pliant beneath him, save for the most occasional twitch as Tenmao touched some area of more than ordinary sensitivity. The complete lack of resistance was gloriously heady, and he found himself soon increasing the pace and force of his thrusts, until he crested over into the lengthy, intense pleasure of his own release.
Ranmaru lay quiescent beneath him as he withdrew himself, utterly exhausted, but Tenmao felt energized. The pleasure had burst in him like a heavenly call to battle, the proof that the gods charged him, and Ranmaru with him, with the final unification of Japan. Soon, they would ride out together at the head of his army, which would decisively obliterate all opposition. He could see their future laid out before them in an unbroken string of easy victories, each more clear than the last, until they stood again in Kyoto itself, with himself as unchallenged ruler of all Japan and Ranmaru beside him as his most faithful general.