If you forgot what happened in the last part, click here. Or click here to start from the beginning.The sounds of the night began as Yuki’s body cooled. He ached to sit down or stretch his legs.
A low-pitched noise sounded at the edge of the forest. Yuki held his breath and wished he could see. The fox circled him.
“Do they think I am so stupid that I cannot differentiate between male and female?” the Fox growled.
“No, Master.” Yuki’s heart threatened to jump from his chest.
The Fox breathed loudly in Yuki’s ear, ruffling his hair and warming the cloth wrapped around his face. “You lie.”
Yuki said nothing but willed his breathing to remain even. When would he die?
“You smell like my son,” the Fox commented.
“Yes, Master.” Yukie supposed that was true enough, given the time Koh had spent with him.
The great beast resumed his pacing. “He told I’d kill you, then.”
“Yes, Master,” Yuki replied. He remembered his promise, and added softly, “He told me to tell you that if you harm my sister he would kill you.”
The Fox barked in disdain. “You think a child’s threat will stop me from crushing your body in my jaws?”
Yuki bowed his head and clasped his trembling hands. “I only do as commanded, and beg that you spare my family, Master.”
“Perhaps I take your life and theirs to remind the village of my true power,” the Fox threatened, his voice as gravelly as boulders tumbling down a mountain. “Perhaps I remind them that the Trickster will not be fooled by women’s clothes and a slender figure.” The creature snapped his jaws in a crack of lightning.
Yuki dropped to his knees. “Please, Master.” He bowed until the brim of his hat bent against the ground. “My youngest sister is but an infant. She has done no wrong.”
“The one to whom my son sings at night?” The beast seemed neither surprised nor perturbed by this connection.
“Yes, Master,” he answered quickly, his voice shaking. “The great Iron Rice Sky Fox is known for his cunning and his power, but not for his cruelty. He is reasonable and true to his word. He has never explicitly refused a male offering. I beg of you, Master, please—”
“Have you nothing between your legs?” the Fox snarled. “Here I am sent a boy with a woman's ass who stinks of fear. You’ll to shit yourself at any moment.”
“My humblest apologies,” Yuki replied, afraid that the Fox would kill him out of pure irritation. “The elder sister is betrothed and the younger is not yet one year old; the task fell to my family and they hoped I would be acceptable.”
“You prefer males, craven child?”
Yuki was unsure whether the Fox’s tone was amused, disgusted, or merely curious. “I do not know, Master.”
The Fox snorted from behind him. “You’ve never even thought about it, boy? Never handled yourself at the thought of sinking into the soft, warm, wetness between a woman’s legs?”
Yuki blushed behind his face covering. He hadn’t, not with his family and One Eye as the nearest examples of femininity.
“Or perhaps you thought of this,” the Fox nudged Yuki’s backside with his large nose and Yuki yelped, “and the skewering a man could give you.”
“Did you dream of being rutted by a god, you insolent pup?” the beast asked snidely, pawing Yuki over like a rock. Yuki gasped as the Fox’s claws nearly pierced his skin, heedlessly ripping the clothes of which Yumi had been so jealous. Instinct curled him up to protect his stomach and head, but he forced himself to relax. If the spirit would kill him, it would kill him. He had no power against the commander of the harvest.
A wet snuffle reached Yuki’s ears as the Fox inspected him, sniffing at his limp body. Yuki tried not to think of the way dogs nosed at their scraps before devouring them. Never before had he understood the animal urge to piss oneself in fear, but Yuki found himself praying that the control that let him lie lifelessly on the damp meadow would hold his bladder in check.
“I suppose I was never explicit about gender,” the Fox mused, using his large snout to nudge the boy’s side. “Hadn’t thought I was dealing with idiots.”
Yuki was silent, but was unable to prevent the stiffness in his limbs when the great beast nosed his legs apart. Would he be raped here and now?
The Fox made a noise that almost sounded like laughter. “You’re certainly a virgin, boy. But what would I do with you?”
Taking a deep breath, Yuki replied, “My life is yours, Master, if you would but show mercy to my people.” Whatever it meant, Yuki reasoned. As long as Mayu survived, as long as his stupid, irresponsible family was safe, as long as the town remained and the harvest plentiful, his sacrifice was an acceptable end. Yuki well realized that he was replaceable.
The Fox snapped his teeth together near Yuki’s ear, and young man yelped and covered his head with his arms. “You don’t fool me, man-child,” the creature growled. “You weep like a widow behind that rag and you quiver like a rabbit. You’re a castaway and a scapegoat. You might plead for lives in exchange for your own, but you fear death.”
“I was not sent a warrior or a tradesman or a farmer. I was sent the village refuse,” snarled the beast. “Why would I spare your foolish kinsmen of their retribution?”
“I had a choice, Great Fox,” Yuki lied with a pounding heart. “I accepted this task for the sake of my foolish kinsmen, that their foolishness might not prevent other families from starvation. They trust your wisdom and power, Master.”
“Hah!” the Fox barked. “I’m neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Neither have I godlike patience.”
I don’t like this, Yuki's thoughts seemed to come from a great distance. If he would be eaten, let him be eaten. He had always thought of the Fox as a quick-tempered, decisive being. Yuki had been prepared for death. The possibility of life, even one as degrading and terrible as a barren receptacle for the Fox’s seed, was being dangled before him like moldy bread in front of a starving man. Hadn’t One Eye been of service to the Fox for three years before her return?
“Great Fox,” Yuki began carefully, “My people have no need of me, though I have served them as best I can. You must need a faithful servant to tend to your needs.”
“Must I?” the Fox snorted.
Yuki sat up slowly, hoping desperately that he wasn’t offending the beast. “Once, my village pleased you with an offering, a woman who served you and serves you even now. I can—“ A blow to the side of his head sent him crashing to the ground, thumping his skull against the wet earth and knocking his face covering loose. It sagged over his left eye, allowing him a glimpse of gleaming teeth bared in a heart-stopping snarl. A great paw crushed the air from his chest.
“You dare mention that traitorous bitch!” roared the Fox. “I ought to rip your head from your shoulders, you stupid creature!”
Yuki fought to breathe. “My apolo—“
“Silence,” the Fox growled, “ignorant stinking worm!”
His vision darkening at the edges, Yuki pushed against the paw on his ribcage with desperation. “Master,” he gasped. The face covering was smothering. “Please!”
Slavering jaws engulfed the remaining light in Yuki’s vision before his eyes rolled back in his head. Darkness folded over him like a winter blanket, and he knew no more.