Side Story 1: Hatch’s Harem
<Author’s note: This story takes place shortly after the events of part 3.>
■■ Shima Barracks ■■
The armored figure of General Shatao was imposing, even if the man inside the armor could barely keep himself awake. Hatch was stiff and sore, sweaty and exhausted from yet another day of bureaucracy. Signing edicts and decrees remained difficult, even when you couldn’t read them.
Hatch slammed Shatao’s stamp across the last paper on his stack. “With this…it is done,” he said, imitating the general’s voice. “Each regiment is to…clean and maintain their assigned…outhouses.”
Kohaku took the paper and gestured to the few captains still in attendance. Most were out on patrols or securing the Empress’s retinue southward. “As our lord Shatao-sama wills it, it shall be done.”
The captains murmured and bowed, taking their leave as quickly and respectfully as possible. They and the rest of the army had undergone significant changes in discipline. Rooting out the bad apples of the bunch was an ongoing and laborious process.
After they left, Hatch whispered to his personal aide, “I didn’t put on this helmet…to keep our bathrooms from stinkin’.”
“I know, my lord. We are still hunting for ex-captain Goro. Tanimura is secured, and all patrols around the region have been informed.”
“Have there been any reports of…a samurai traveling alone?”
Hatch’s question hit Kohaku like a punch to the gut. Or more accurately, several kicks to ribs. Kohaku and Manji hardly left on the best of terms, but the soreness the samurai felt was more than just physical.
“No, my lord.”
Hatch placed a gauntlet against his helmet as if the metal cage had become too heavy for his neck to bear. He let out a sigh. “We should’ve been there…for the funeral. Still can’t believe he’s dead.”
He was talking about Ige, whose name the Tanimura Champions had trouble speaking aloud. The boy had died during the battle against Goro and the other samurai. His funeral had taken place back in Tanimura, the village that had accepted the Tonogasha refugee as one of their own.
“A warm bath has been prepared in your quarters, my lord. Please relax for the night.”
Hatch heaved himself off his throne and lumbered over to his chambers. His quarters consisted of multiple rooms, including a bedroom, a parlor, bath chambers and even a personal library. The luxury was domestic, not foreign like at the Baron’s, yet it was a new world to Hatch all the same.
His futon had silk sheets and silk pillows and was soft enough to hold clear indentations of Shatao’s favorite sleeping position. What confused Hatch were all the additional indentations around it. He was also perplexed by why one man would have needed a bed large enough to sleep a dozen.
The first thing Hatch did was remove his cumbersome armor. Wearing it all day long was the greatest pain he had ever forced himself through—and it reminded him of that time he had bought a suit of obsidian armor for his drinking buddy.
“Now I know why you…didn’t want to wear it,” Hatch grinned, “aside from it smellin’ like…soy sauce, of course.”
He laughed and let out a cough. After speaking with pauses…all day long…it was hard for Hatch to speak normally. But he always made sure to—only in private, of course—even if it was against Kohaku’s wishes. The street fighter from Jijinto didn’t want to forget what he sounded like.
His helmet was the last to go. Hatch took in a breath as if he had been drowning all day; the cool air was tastier than any saké. Speaking of which, there was a bottle and a set of cups laid out beside his bathtub.
Both the bottle and the bathtub were made from quality porcelain; both were larger than they needed to be, and both were steaming with a pleasant warmth. Hatch hopped in the water as quickly as he dared without getting burned.
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh,” he let out a moan. “No more sittin’ under waterfalls for me. Hachirobei, welcome to heaven.”
The sores, bumps, and bruises across his body absorbed the warmth like a sponge as he submerged himself down to his chin. It may have cost Hatch the remainder of his energy, but being sapped of his strength was a fair exchange for the only warm touch the false general would ever know.
“Downright depressing, if you think of it that way.”
While the man was content to lie there in bliss, Hatch’s hand had a mind of its own. It darted towards the bottle of saké and even managed to pour out a cup without spilling too much. It then picked up the cup and placed it right beside Hatch’s mouth.
“No, I gotta take some responsibility here,” Hatch gulped. He couldn’t blame his hand or his mouth—his alcoholic habit was no one’s fault but his own. He had promised Kuni-chan that he’d quit drinking, even though it had greatly upset his best buddy.
Not to mention Nishi. The yakuza was popular with the soldiers and would’ve made for a great drill sergeant. She excelled in giving orders…but taking them was another matter. She was wild and unprofessional, especially around Hatch. The way his drinking buddy was able to get her to fight on a team had been remarkable.
“You really did keep us all together, you know,” Hatch said aloud, raising his cup before downing it in a single gulp. Guilt hit him yet again; this wasn’t the first time he had betrayed his promise to Kuniko.
He drank the day Ige was buried—it was the only solace he had, alone in his quarters. Kohaku was a good friend and an even better adviser…but just looking at the samurai reminded him too much of work.
The alcohol burned in its own pleasant way all the way down Hatch’s throat. He had never been a connoisseur of saké, but even he knew he was indulging in the expensive stuff. For it to retain this much crispness and flavor even when heated spoke volumes of its quality. It was a far cry from the watered-down spew he used to get drunk on back in Jijinto.
“I still owe you for that drink back at The Canary, you know,” Hatch said aloud. “Wonder if ole Eguchi is still in business.”
Thinking of the old days made one cup become two, then three and maybe four. No more than half a dozen, Hatch was certain, as if that cutoff point let him retain any honor. He sniffled as he gulped down his last cup. “Kuni-chan…I’m sorry. About this’an everythin’ else. I should be with you.”
It was then that Hatch noticed a heated towel had been placed by his saké. Fancy izakaya handed these out to their customers so that they could warm their hands on a cold day. Hatch decided to use it on his face instead.
“Ahhhh, that’s it,” he moaned once more. The cut his buddy had given him across the face still stung at the touch, though a heated towel certainly couldn’t hurt. Manji had attacked him for defending the village boy from the opposing team; after Ige died, something within Hatch’s buddy had died as well.
“Blaming yourself for everything…the kid’s right. You really are a baka.”
At this point in the bath, Hatch had finished thinking. With the towel draped over his head, he was fully consumed in the blissful, soft and graceful embrace of the hot bath. The warmth was like a woman, so much so that Hatch could almost hear giggles. He fell into a dream—just as three slender, feminine figures slid into his tub.
“Shh…lord Shatao-sama is sleeping,” one whispered to the others. “Let’s give him a nice dream.”
The water’s embrace had become more intimate, with soft, gentle pressure now against Hatch’s arms and legs. He had no idea that three of Shatao’s courtesans now rubbed and pressed against him, stroking his arms.
Hatch’s dream had taken him back to a street fight in the shadier parts of Jijinto. He was up against a group of thugs and was exhausted—or at least, his arms felt incredibly heavy. “Ah…uh,” he grunted in his sleep.
“Look girls, our lord is already moaning in delight!”
The one who had spoken was the oldest, though none of them were old, and one was just barely of age for this line of work. The eldest was also the tallest, with slender, shapely legs that now wrapped around one of Hatch’s. Her name was Haibīsukasu, though everyone called her Haibī-chan.
That wasn’t her actual name but the one her lord had given her. General Shatao had been a firm believer in the language of flowers, finding meanings in plants and speaking with unspoken words. He had named his courtesans after them: Haibīsukasu, the hibiscus, meant ‘gentle.’
“Quit hoggin’ him, Haibī-chan! You promised I’d be his first tonight,” grumbled the shortest of the flowers. While she wasn’t young—being just past her mid-twenties—she played up her cuteness whenever she could. That both her body and personality were perky went without saying. This was Yuri, called Yuri-chan. She was named after the spider lily, which meant ‘sweet.’
“Keep quiet. Don’t wake him up before I give his dream a happy ending.” The middle of the two licked her lips and planted her bountiful body against Hatch’s, letting her butt fall dangerously low against his stomach. She was the bustiest and heaviest of the bunch.
Her name was Saboten, called Sabo-chan; she was named after the cactus, of all things. It was an odd name that she thought fit her quite well, considering her fondness for pricks. In the language of flowers, her name—appropriately enough—meant ‘lust.’
“That’s not fair, you hussy,” Yuri-chan snapped. “You’ll crush ‘em under all that…that fat! I thought you said you were going on a diet.”
Sabo-chan sneered while rubbing against her master. “I can’t help it if I get hungry when I’m lonely. Besides, we can’t all be as thin and flat as you are, Yuri-chan.”
“Stop it, you two. Isn’t there something different about our lord?” Haibī-chan had served the general for years and knew every muscle and curve and inch of her master. She had been the first to comfort the general after the tragic loss of his dear son, Isamu.
She knew the man had changed afterwards in ways that scared her, but this time it seemed like her lord had changed once more. Changed into a younger body free of whatever curse had scarred and hardened Shatao’s skin. This man was warm to the touch, just as Shatao had once been before losing his son.
The other two courtesans had observations as well, though theirs were far more crude.
“Hey, touch his butt. It’s so firm~” Yuri-chan giggled.
“G-girls…he’s, um, a lot bigger than he used to be.” Sabo-chan’s voice came out a pitch higher as she let out a gasp. She gripped her hand around Hatch’s most sensitive spot and squeezed.
Hatch’s imaginary fight over in dreamland wasn’t going his way. He was getting punched, elbowed, and kicked all across his body—and in places that made him feel very strange. After one particularly low blow, the street fighter woke up in shock.
“Wha-ahah?!?!” Hatch flailed against his assailants, shaking off the two who had pinned each of his arms. Warm water splashed all over the place, and Hatch—still with his head covered in a towel—couldn’t see what was happening.
It was a testament to something that Sabo-chan managed to remain firmly planted against Hatch’s chest, even with her master shaking about wildly. Or maybe it was because he was shaking wildly that she didn’t dare stop. She loved getting rough when it came to foreplay, but not even she was prepared for Hatch’s special technique.
“Ken Raijingu-Ryū…palm strike!” Hatch slammed an open palm right between Sabo-chan’s breasts, forcing her up and off him and slamming her to the backside of the tub. Only after he was freed from her grip did Hatch dare take a peek at his enemy.
All of her was bouncing, bare, and exposed for Hatch to see. Sabo-chan stumbled back to her feet, licked her lips, and growled. “I love it when you get rough, my lord.”
Blood flowed down from Hatch’s nose. By the time it passed his mustache and went into his mouth, he realized that these weren’t the thugs in his dreams. They were real and—in some ways—far more dangerous.
With remarkable speed, the diligent samurai arrived on the scene. Kohaku opened the sliding door and nearly had a heart attack at the sight. “L-leave Shatao-sama alone! I’ve already told you ladies that he seeks solitude!”
Each of the three professional courtesans pouted in their own distinct ways. None of them liked Kohaku, who was a stickler for the rules and represented all of the dullest qualities a samurai could have.
“This is all your fault, Yuri-chan!” Sabo-chan yelled as Kohaku pulled her out of the bath. “If you would’ve kept quiet, I…damn it, I was so close!”
“Sabo got to play with him and I didn’t! I’m not leaving until I get a turn!” Yuri-chan may have been the smallest, but removing her from Shatao’s quarters was perhaps the most difficult task Kohaku had ever performed—outside of battle, anyway.
“Unhand me, you brute! Shatao-sama, save meeeee!” she yelled as the samurai carried her away.
With her removed, only Hatch and Haibī-chan remained. The woman looked at her master longingly, not with the lust that had possessed the other two.
“My lord…please do not punish them. The idea to serve you as you took your bath was mine alone. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of you closing yourself off to the world once more!”
Hatch stood there with the towel across his face, dumbfounded. “What the heck is goin’ on?”
After Haibī-chan was escorted out, Kohaku returned to inspect Hatch’s chambers thoroughly in case one of them had managed to slip back inside. Once sure that the coast was clear, the samurai removed the towel from the false general’s face.
“That was, um…a close one,” Kohaku gulped. Those girls had almost discovered that General Shatao was a fraud. If word spread, all of Shima would fall into chaos.
“More than close.” Hatch wiped his nose (which was still bleeding freely). Though he was drunk and lightheaded, there wasn’t a chance he’d ever be able to forget this encounter. “Let’s not tell anyone about this. Ever.”
“Very wise, my lord.”