Thursday, November 10, 2022 @

Chapter 10, Part 2

 After finishing her work and seeing the children off, Azuma then reported to the head priest that she was leaving and left the temple. It was after noon when the sky began to turn red with the setting sun and the ground was getting darker...
 "...Oh, did I promise to buy you dumplings or something?"
 As she is on her way home, looking at the sky absentmindedly, she remembers the promise. And there was not much rice left. This means she has to go shopping, and she turns her attention to the solution to the task at hand. More precisely, she used the task at hand as an excuse to escape from reality.
 Now, after having rice with cereals poured into a bag with a measuring cup at a rice shop, she steps onto the main street where many stores are lined.
 The main street of the new city is much more chaotic than the walled old city, but it is no less crowded and lively. In a sense, it was more lively than the old city where only middle-class and upper-middle-class people lived.
 Izakaya (bar/tavern), udon noodle shops, loach soup shops, tempura stalls, chazuke stalls, grilled fish stalls, dengaku stalls, fruit stalls, ice stalls, etc. were loudly advertising to passers-by. The appetizing smells of various foods wafted in the air everywhere. If it is a countryman who has just come from the city to work, they might think that there is a fair or something like that. In fact, the city is usually this crowded.
 Among them, Azuma visits a dumpling shop sandwiched between an izakaya and a chazuke (rice with green tea) stall. A middle-aged man with a bald head, holding a fan to endure the heat, uses a net to grill the dumplings until they are cooked just right, then dips them in sugar and soy sauce to add flavor.
 "How are the sales going, owner?"
 "Oh, is that you, teacher? I'd like to say they're selling well, but..."
 When Azuma calls out to him, the owner greets her reverently with a positive smile on his face. His son also studied at the school about once every three days.
 "Is something wrong?"
 "No. I just heard that the Youkai invaded the capital yesterday and they have been repulsed. But there are some of their survivors hiding in the city... word will probably spread tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, so I'm afraid we won't be able to attract many customers."
 The owner sighs. Like many people living in the new city, the owner of this dumpling shop is not a very wealthy person. If the number of customers decreases, he will be forced to make a living. It is not that they live on a daily income, but for the residents of the new city, it would be a big problem if their income decreased or disappeared for days at a time.
 "Well, it's a big problem. Then, let me help the owner out. Give me some dumplings. Uhh... 20 dumplings, 10 each with sugar and soy sauce and sweet red bean paste."
 "Okay, teacher. I'll get them right away!"
 With a friendly smile on his face, the owner wraps the dumplings in bamboo leaves.
 "Hmm? I think you counted wrong. There are two too many."
 "Aren't there ten hungry kids at your place? Two for you. It's an extra."
 "Don't mind it. Though it may offend you. I don't like those brats very much... but you've been a big help to us here in the city."
 Even though people did know that she was the head of the Onmyo Dormitory, many of them didn’t know a woman named Azuma, who came to this city a few years ago, was a government official who was familiar with so-called "curses". Besides, no one has any ill will toward her because she teaches at a temple school where teachers are in short supply, teaches simple charms and medicines to the neighbors, and even takes in those abominable half-Youkai monsters.
 Of course, the fact that she lives with a half-Youkai is cause for concern and anxiety...
 "I see. I'll take it then."
 She pays for 20 dumplings and expresses her gratitude with a smile. There is no doubt that there was a clear sense of gratitude. At the same time, she was indeed filled with mixed emotions.
 (I wonder if they would treat me the same way if they knew I was one of their kind...?)
 Even though she knew the idea was a bit twisted, she still couldn't help but wonder about it.
 The sky is getting darker, and Azuma Hibari hurries back to the orphanage, which is also her home. Once home, she has to do her chores. It is not easy to run an orphanage by herself. Of course, it is not as hard as it was when she was fighting for her life.
 "...Was that a scream?"
 Suddenly, her hidden animal ears caught the voice. It was something that a normal person would never be able to hear, but she was half a non-human being, and at the same time she possessed the super-senses of an exorcist. So, she could distinguish even a faint, fading voice in the darkness.
 'It hurts... I'm scared... save me...'
 As soon as she recognized that muffled voice, she was running. She leaps and runs at a tremendous speed while keeping herself hidden in a place where few people are watching.
 As soon as she reached the back of the house, a grim look appeared on her face. There were two figures. One was a man, dressed in a cloak and carrying a spear. And lying at his feet was...
 "What are you doing!?"
 The figure turned around quickly as if it had noticed. The face of the figure wearing a cloak for blocking recognition cannot be seen, and even if it could be seen, she would not even be able to remember the face she saw due to the blocking technique.
 However... she had a forensic sense enough to read a person's thoughts from his or her gestures. And she realized it at the same time. She also noticed that the other person was startled to the point of being dumbfounded. It was as if the shadow knew who she was. And most of all, it was as if she had made some kind of irreversible mistake...
 "Huh!? ...!!?"
 The figure with the spear leaps from the spot using its spiritual power and lands on the roof of a nearby house. Without a footstep, the shadow runs from the roof to the roof as if it were weightless, fleeing from the scene at full speed.
 "Wait... D*mn it!?"
 Azuma tries to chase after the shadow, but she realizes that she has more important things to do. Immediately she rushes over to the child, who is lying on the ground in tattered clothes and bruises all over her body as far as the eye can see as if she had been thrown out on the ground.
 "This is..."
 And then, for a moment, she gasps at what she sees. The girl there has silver hair. Her hair was white and shining, and her eyes were pierced. At a glance, she looked like a slender child, soft and fragile, as if she would break at any moment. She must have been no older than ten. It was painful to see such a child covered with scars as if she had been abused. Her breathing was a little rough and labored, and her small chest was beating up and down with every breath she took.
 However, that is not what she should really pay attention to. Yes, the real thing to pay attention to was the head. Big fox ears with hair the same color as her hair, and a single thin fox tail growing out of her buttocks...
 No doubt she was protecting a half-Youkai child with the blood of a monster fox in her veins...
 "...Seriously. I failed to intervene at the right moment."
 In the dark of night, in a place where no one could hear him, a reincarnated mob fighter voiced his despair that things had gotten so complicated.

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