Thursday, November 10, 2022 @

Chapter 10, Part 1

Thanks Shikka for the support...
 The 'Great Human Youkai War'... it was an upheaval as nightmarish as the collapse of the continental dynasties, at least for the countries in the East.
 No wonder it could be called like that because a great Youkai or Calamity Youkai with some power could lead a flock of hundreds or even thousands of them. But is that the only reason?
 Well, hundreds of thousands are very much. No, if it was just that much, it would not be so surprising. Then, what if the other reason to be called like that is because they have a command hierarchy just like a human army, and they are controlled and could attack humans with a clear strategy?
 This question is answered by a youkai called "Kuuban". It has high intelligence and a deep understanding of human society and its ecology.
 This "Kuuban" used its power to hide in the sky and commanded other Youkai to ravage the farming villages and attack the city streets to disrupt food production and distribution, causing food shortages and resulting in starvation and deaths in great numbers.
 On the other hand, those with spiritual power and skill are cut off by cutting off their limbs, and their ability to think is taken away by some kind of illusion to be used as resources for the infamous "human farm," while those without power or skill are left as refugees, and Youkai transformed them into dolls or they are planted with a parasitic Youkai. They then sent the refugees to well-protected cities where supplies were tight.
 They also burned down mines and industrial areas, no matter how small, and interfered with the production of armor and weapons for human soldiers by eating and killing miners and craftsmen.
 Then, after the youkai had overwhelmed the humans, the "Kuuban" would say: '... Now, humans, give me everything you have. I promise you a wonderful world in which all life will begin and end happily, without the suffering of hunger, the pain of labor, or the fear of death, for your children and grandchildren'. These words were, in a sense, true. In exchange for... all human dignity.
 But what's not helped is that even such a proposal for "emptying the world" was quite "moderate" in the face of this ferocious Youkai.
 ...This "Kuuban" who tried to terrorize and despair humans both materially and psychologically with his brutal, cold, and rational strategy, and on the other hand, tried to force them to "surrender" with his devilish sweet talk... Its strategy destroyed some small countries or actually forced them to surrender, but on the other hand, it made Fuso-kuni, which was now the largest power in the East after the death of the continental dynasty, to strengthen its will to fight against the war. Because of this, many Youkai sneered at the choice. But soon they were gone.
 The monsters underestimated human malice and hostility. Fuso-kuni, like the Youkai, countered the Youkai attack with ruthless strategy and by developing new weapons and techniques by cutting open the heads of captured Youkai while they were still alive and studying them, or by using criminals, refugees and orphans who volunteered or had no family to be used for forbidden sacrifices, decoy bombs, and human experimentation.
 In the end, the humans won the tragedy by a paper-thin margin with enormous sacrifices due to their malice and hostility that exceeded those of the Youkai.
 And since then, Fuso-kuni's and the human side's (on thin ice) victory in the Great War reversed the balance of power between humans and Youkai in the East. The "Kuuban" itself was a powerful monster, and many old and infamous "Calamity Youkai" and "Great Youkai" who had belonged to it were defeated.
 Of course, it is still a national issue for Fuso to deal with the surviving monsters, and they are not easy to be dealt with... but at the same time, it was also a fact that the Monsters who had suffered great damage could not easily attack humans anymore. Even now, it is not unusual for them to attack people on city roads, or devour lumberjacks and hunters who go into the forests or devour an entire mountain village in the countryside. Although the human influence area appears as an area on the map, in reality, it is nothing but dots and lines, except for a few areas. Even so, only the most vigorous Youkai or the most reckless fools would have the guts to attack a town or a city of a certain size.
 Anyway, for many people... especially in urban areas, it has been five hundred years since the Youkai ceased to appear, or were repelled before they could enter... This has made the Youkai less terrifying, especially in the capital. Still, the Imperial Court continued to regard the Youkai as enemies. As a result, in the capital and other urban areas, hostility toward the Youkai was directed toward other entities.
 They were the heretics who emerged from the war and the struggle for survival between humans and Youkai, and who was rejected by both worlds... they were called half-Youkai.
 In an age without electricity, even with candles, lanterns, and bonfires, people basically woke up with the light of day and went to sleep when the sun went down.
 But a young woman with long brown hair and ochre eyes... at least on the outside... wake up at four o'clock in the morning... a little past five in the morning. As she got up from her cotton futon, the cawing of crows and chickens echoing from outside gradually reached her ears as she awoke from her slumber. But as she was about to get up to get ready for the morning, she noticed something.
 "Hmm? ...Good grief, you're a bad sleeper, aren't you? There, let go of my clothes."
 With these words, she gently crawls under the covers and soothes the children who are clutching her clothes. They are probably no older than ten years old. The futon had been placed on the side, on the top, and on the bottom to make the most of the space in the not-so-large room... but it would have been too cramped with so many people gathered here. And now it's summer.
 "Do you mind if it sweats? You should all sleep on your own futons."
 With these words, she reproaches the sleepy little children with horns, wings, or even ears. She then puts them back to sleep in their places.
 "No... Mommy, stay here...let's go to bed, okay?"
 A particularly sleepy little child grabs her clothes and clings to her, looking sleepy and reluctant. At this sight, Azuma Hibari smiles lovingly at the child but says something in a troubled tone.
 "Okay, okay, you are a sweet girl. But I have to make dinner now, okay? After that, I'll sleep with you tonight but can you can sleep alone for now?"
 She pats the child's head, soothes the child, and somehow manages to convince the child to go to bed so that she can finally get ready for the morning. And the first thing she does is to refill the altar with water and say a prayer. The altar is a bit of a ward against evil and misfortune. It is especially good for exorcising children's illnesses. It also has the effect of purifying and repelling youkai energy.
 Next, she checked the garden, watered, and fed the animals, and after preparing herself, she used an illusion to make her "raccoon ears" and plump, round tail disappear and went to the well in the city to fetch water…
 "Did you hear? Yesterday, according to the story..."
 "Yes, I heard that soldiers are patrolling in the former city. I wish they'd come here too."
 "I'll be too scared to walk the streets at night for a while. Is there somewhere that sells good luck charms...?"
 "Me too. My store is always busy at night, you know? It's a problem..."
 The wives, literally, are having a lively well-well meeting in front of the well in the early morning, and when they suddenly notice the shadow, they quickly move away.
 Azuma Hibari, holding a big tub in her hand, bows to these women, and they too give her a deceptive smile. Even though she knew they were not sincerely friendly, she did not pursue the matter. She just silently poured water into the bucket and left the place carrying it on her back.
 "That person... I think she's from that orphanage over there..."
 "Yes, I think so."
 "I'm sure she's not a bad person, but at this time of year, you know?"
 "Yes, what was she thinking, taking in all those creepy kids?"
 "But it's scary to have them live in the back alley... it's better to have them all in one place...."
 She ignores their conversation and hurries home. She knew that anything she said would be meaningless and would only make things worse and make it harder for them to live there.
 ...Then, when she came home, she poured water from the bottles in the house, and finally started to prepare breakfast.
 "If I remember, rice... Sigh, I'll have to go to the rice store today..."
 Azuma sighs as she looks at the contents of the rice bin in the kitchen. The rice in the rice bin is grain rice. Raising more than ten children who are in the prime of life, the cost of food is not so reasonable, and it is not often that he can feed them white rice.
 "Haha, I used to eat it every day when I was at work..."
 Now she thinks back on how extravagant she was in those days. Thinking back, even when she was mobilized for the great uprising, her meals always consisted of a bowl of white rice and three vegetables. It was probably to prevent treason and exhaustion of valuable forces... Well, she couldn't be more thankful to the supply men of those days. And she feels ashamed of the fact that she is far better off today than she was back then, and yet she can't even feed her children white rice.
 However, she cannot mourn forever. She grinds the grains, puts them in the kettle, and then turns on the stove to steam them. At the same time, she makes miso soup with leeks and shredded fried bean curd and adds an egg that she harvested in the morning.
 Summer is the season for harvesting eggplants and cucumbers. The former is harvested a little while ago and made into pickles, while the latter, fresh and fatty, is harvested in the morning and cut into pieces so that even children can easily eat them before dipping them in miso and eating them.
 For about two hours or so, when the meal is ready, she drags the children out from under the covers. The children, who were reluctant to leave her not long ago, now refuse to get out from under the covers, cursing her as if she were an agent of evil. But fed up with their good mood, she helps them get ready for the morning, and finally manages to get them all to sit down at the table just after five-time (8:00 a.m.).
 "Shall we eat then? Let's clasp our hands together."
 She smiles and signals that she will eat, and the children respond with the same declaration in a low tone of voice. After that, they eat their breakfasts as if they were in a dam. Azuma also took one look at them, smiled a small, loving smile, picked up a bowl of grain rice, and slowly brought it to her mouth as if she was savoring it.
 After the meal, while the older children helped with the cleanup and the younger children played in their rooms and in the garden, Azuma started to prepare for her departure to work at the temple. Unlike the old city with its many shrines and temples inside its gates, the new city is not inferior to the old one in terms of population, but it was originally a city created by refugees who settled there on their own after the Great War. Although the Imperial Court eventually recognized its existence, the city was created in a disorderly and haphazard manner, lacking various infrastructures, and its standard of living was inferior to that of the old city, with many day laborers and manual laborers, so it was not safe, not to say a dangerous area.
 For this reason, the number of temples and schools in the new city is limited, and intellectuals who can provide education are rare. Therefore, she was very useful as a former employee of the Onmyo Dormitory, and she also liked this job. The tuition received from the parents of individual students is not large, but the number of students is large.
 She knew that if she used her own savings to pay for the children's upbringing, she would be able to provide for them until they reached adulthood.
 "Are you leaving, Mother (Okaa-sama)?"
 The one who asked in a hushed tone was a little girl who had just been playing chase with her friends in the yard. But a mere little girl does not have a lizard's tail.
 "I'll be back in the evening as usual. Until then, will you stay at home with the others? If you get hungry you can all eat from the rice bin. Just don't eat too much, okay? I'll buy some dumplings on the way home today."
 She consoles the little girl who seems to be on the verge of tears and leaves her in the hands of the older children, reminding her to lock up the house and not to follow strangers. In case she's not home, she has a few shikigami in her body to protect them, so there shouldn't be any problems...
 Then, after covering her ears and tail with a spell, Azuma left her house, which also serves as an orphanage, with her children seeing her off. She then walked along the unpaved and chaotic streets of the new city to a temple located on the outskirts of the new city.
 On the way to the temple, she was caught by touts at a food stall, but she managed to avoid them and arrived at her workplace. There, she greets the elderly but virtuous priest, who is enthusiastic about charity and other activities, and then goes about her work.
 "Good morning everyone, how are you? Are there any children who haven't come yet?"
 The children who cheerfully answer her greeting are about the same age as the children in the orphanage. They are, however, ordinary children without horns, wings, or other organs that are not originally human.
 The first thing she taught them at school was reading and writing, followed by arithmetic. In fact, that is the extent of the knowledge required in this new city. Of course, she also gave lessons on culture, history, morality, etc. in her own way.
 The moral class was especially popular. It was mainly based on a cautionary tale, but the children enjoyed listening to a story that they had never heard before.
 After the lesson was over, the children were divided into those who asked for new stories and those who started playing with each other, and the commotion began. It was part of her job to watch them to make sure they did not get hurt until their parents came to pick them up.
 "Teacher, tell me the story again!"
 "No, Teacher plays with us!"
 "Teacher, teacher! Playhouse with us!"
 Being pulled to the extent that she is afraid her outgoing clothes will be torn off, Azuma looks at them with a wry smile, though she is exhausted. And then she thinks. Children are all the same, she thinks.
 "I'm a great hero! You're the monster, okay?"
 "Ah, again..."
 "I want to be an exorcist too!!"
 "Yes, yes! I don't want to be a monster!"
 "That's right! You're always playing that role!"
 The cheerful boys were making a lot of noise. They seemed to be having fun playing the role of Youkai exterminators, discussing their roles and competing with each other for them. Naturally, the most popular role was that of the exorcist, followed by the soldiers, villagers, and...
 Even though she knew it was inevitable, the pure children's conversation still pierced her heart more deeply than many of her own mortal injuries, and she felt a gut-wrenching pain...
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