Friday, November 11, 2022 @

Chapter 11, Part 2

 "Oh? Are you in trouble? I can help you with that if you like."
 I leap and distance myself as soon as I hear those sticky words echoing in my ear. Well, it's not that I didn't expect stalking...!
 "Hey, hey, don't look at me like that, okay? It hurts my feelings."
 "Why would a demon (oni) be hurt by something like that...!?"
 I say in an unfriendly tone to the monster dressed as a begging monk who smiles at me in a playful tone. The demon in question cowered her shoulders and muttered small words.
 "It seems that you are having trouble disposing of the corpse. So, as a woman who has been there before you in life, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a helping hand or two, don't you?"
 The demon crouched down in front of the corpse of the monster fox that had fallen to the ground. She then reaches out her white hand to the destroyed head and plays with the crumpled brain... plucks a piece and puts it on her outstretched tongue as she looks at it. The gesture is grotesque but at the same time charming.
 "Hmm, well, it doesn't taste bad. How about I buy one of these carcasses?"
 The demon's mouth twists in amusement at my suspicious expression. She puts her tongue back in her mouth and swallows the tasted piece of meat with a gulp, then continues her story.
 "Hey, it's not that bad, right? It's a win-win situation that will make everyone happy."
 The demon, whose clothes are devoid of any color, looks oddly sensational as she winks and sticks out her tongue in a small gesture.
 "Since you seem to be obsessed with these guys, I'll gather up the foxes myself. All you have to do is to take care of them and give them to me. How's that sound? Not a bad deal, is it?"
 Well, on the face of it, the conditions are not bad. But...
 "There's nothing more untrustworthy than a demon proposal."
 It is a fool to take her offer, who is a big liar. So, It is not worth discussing.
 "...It hurts my feelings to hear your immediate response. Don't you think it's a bad habit of yours to always disrespect people's good intentions?"
 "Good intentions? I mean, you're not even a person."
 "Oh? Hahaha, you're right. But did I just win a point from you?"
 Despite her amused laughter, every time the demon "nibbles", onomatopoeic noises of bobbing, smacking, and gurgling are heard, which makes me want to frown.
 "Phew, thank you for the food. Anyway, it's a monster fox, isn't it? It tastes pretty good for a small youkai."
 The demon that has devoured most of the food, including entrails and bones, claps its hands together in satisfaction, red blood clinging to the corners of her mouth. It was a surreal sight, partly because of the grotesqueness of the leftover food at her feet. I mean, after all, she is eating.
 "Hehehe, there's no need to be so upset. I won't bother you next time. But if you need help with the meat, you can call me anytime. It's just you and me."
 "I don't think we have any friendship."
 "You say something terrible that so easily again. You see, I'm a girl, too, and it makes me sad when you treat me that way..."
 Even though she said so, the demon fades away with a face that doesn't look sad at all. Well, these demons can turn into youkai energy winds, hide in shadows, and even turn into mist can easily disappear. It is truly an ideal ability for stalking. In the original game, she must have been stalking the main character literally every hour of the day, even when he was in the bathroom or taking a bath. It's a creepy ability.
 "Still, I don't have a lot of options."
 There are not so many people who leave their own clans, or who are awakened to the power of spirituality and curses from the common people and live in hiding in the capital as a rogue exorcist or a native sorcerer, but it does not mean that there are no such people. However, according to the description of the original story, I don't want to get close to them because of the danger... but I guess I have to try to contact them for the sake of connection?
 "Tsk, that's why I didn't want to come to the capital this time of the year...!"
 I said with venom as I leaped up and ran through the rooftops of the new city again. The shikigami I had deployed in the sky had captured another fox's body. It will take time, but I have no choice but to move. Although it's not my duty to weaken them, I'm not so thick-skinned that I'd let innocent civilians get eaten alive...
 '...Hehehe, that's good, that's good. Those qualities are very human and heroic, just the way I like it.'
 In the dark, dark night of the city, the monster who was 'expectedly' kicked out of her proposal smiles broadly and whispers to her 'favorite' human being. Although, if he had accepted her proposal, her ardor would have cooled down at that moment. A person who readily accepts the favor of a monster is not the "hero" she is looking for.
 'Still, it looks like you're in a lot of trouble, but I wish you the best of luck. As a weak and childish person, I hope you will spit blood, suffer, be afraid, bleed, and still grit your teeth and move forward.'
 "...and I'll give you a little support like I did the last time," the demon mutters happily like a mischievous child at the end.
 Her eyes observing the human in the dark night are like a maiden in love, like a loving mother, like a female captive of pleasure and delight, and most of all, like a beast in front of a feast...
* * *
 "Truly a vulgar demon."
 "Oh? What did you say, Princess?"
 The official, the lord who was in charge of welcoming the princess, tilts his head and asks, not having caught what she muttered. Then, wearing a raven-hatted, straight-robed courtier, Kizuki Aoi covers her mouth with a fan, laughing like the tinkling of a bell. It was a gentle and lovely smile that made people feel affectionate toward him.
 ...But it is only on the outside.
 "No, it's the cuisine of the capital. I was surprised at how delicious it was."
 The content is typical of a child of 13 years old, but her manner is soft and elegant, and above all, her voice is somehow charming and sexy. The hostess is momentarily taken aback by the peculiar atmosphere, but she immediately expresses her gratitude with a cheerful smile.
 The food was spectacular. The dishes served in bright porcelain and lacquered containers were a whole sea bream grilled in salted water, a prawn boiled in salted water, a plump hamo (pike conger) tempura, and sashimi made of various kinds of sea fishes artistically arranged. Considering that the capital is located inland, one can imagine the hardships involved in bringing the fish out of the sea alive and serving them fresh.
 The teriyaki pheasant was fragrant, and the soup stock made from dried oysters was delicious. The takikomi-gohan (rice cooked with vegetables from the mountains and duck meat) was served with white rice, and the taro and shiitake mushrooms were simmered in a broth of soy sauce and kelp, which made them very tender. The cucumber, eggplant, and turnip pickles were well seasoned with vinegar.
 Sugar sweets and steamed buns were not the only sweet dishes prepared for the guests. There were also fresh watermelons and peaches cooled by well water. Moreover, there were also candied apricots, which were mellow. However, above all, ice cakes made of shaved blocks of ice and served in crystal bowls were a treat with juice and sugar sprinkled on top.
 If sake or imported wine is served with it, it would make a perfect presentation of a banquet of the upper class in Fuso. Moreover, all of the above-mentioned dishes are for one person, and the fact that these dishes were prepared for more than a dozen people shows the wealth of the people who prepared this banquet. The orchestra that entertained the guests at the banquet was also quite skillful. They might have been invited from the palace.
 Such an extravagant banquet, which the common people could not imagine, was prepared by the head of the Oumi family, Oumi Yoshikazu, who was a Daisuke of the Ministry of Justice and the head of Genba-ryo (The Agency for Buddhists and Foreigners).
 The Oumi family had originally been a family of exorcists just like the Kizuki family, but they had lost most of their powers and abilities over the generations, and now they had almost abandoned their exorcism duties and had changed their occupation to a court noblemen. However, they had been married to the Kizuki family several times and were chosen to stay here because of that relationship. Of course, the Kizuki family would be obliged to protect them from the Youkai and curses in exchange for providing a home for the Kizuki family for six months, even though they were guests of the Kizuki family...
 "Of course, we would not ask for your help unless we were in great need. The city is well-defended. Even if youkai of all stripes attack here, it will be difficult for them to enter the city. Even if they could, the building itself is protected by wards and curses. It would be safe."
 The courtesan, a member of the Oumi family, boasted of the city's strong defenses. And it is not a mere tiger.
 "That's very good. ...But when I came to the inner palace, there was a very heavy guard."
 Aoi inquired very naturally. The security of the inner palace, where the emperor resides and the government is carried out, was very strange even at a normal time. The fully armed Imperial Guard, a group of warriors on all four sides, and even the agents of the Onmyou dormitory were mobilized for the security, which was, to put it mildly, unusual. The tension was so high that it seemed as if an attack was about to happen at any moment.
 "Hahaha, it's no big deal. The story goes that some monster with no sense of humor tried to invade the city and was beaten back. We're just on the lookout for survivors of the attack, just in case they're stirring around outside."
 Lord Oumi, who sits at the top of the table with Kizuki Uemon, the representative of the Kizuki family in the capital, laughs as if it really is no big deal.
 That may be true in one respect. Yes, in one respect.
 The inner capital, consisting of the old walled city and the inner palace, is indeed mostly safe. But what about the surrounding area? The new city and the surrounding villages, which extend just outside the city walls, do not benefit from the capital's defense mechanism. Moreover, the Imperial Court seemed to be reinforcing the defenses of the Inner City, rather than protecting the fighters and warriors who were packed into the capital.
 (I wonder if they were willing to cut off the numerous and obscure people. Well, it is a very courtly way of thinking.)
 Though cold and ruthless, this is not the first time, and it is not only because of the complete discrimination based on status. For the Imperial Court, the protection of the inner court... the sacred veins beneath the inner court... was certainly a priority above all else, and there is a history of having to resort to cruel and vile measures to fight against the cowardly Youkai.
 ...However, the Imperial Court is still corrupt in the sense that it is openly trying to sacrifice the people in this day and age when the country has enough power and strength to fight, even if it was 500 years ago.
 (Though I don't mind if they do so.)
 Kizuki Aoi thinks. That in itself is not important. From her point of view, it does not matter how many lowly people are eaten by Youkai and others. After all, she was not willing to take any action to deal with the "loss" that wouldn't suffer her and her surroundings. Besides... it was in a way convenient for her that the Imperial Court did not act.
 (If he is not interfered with, that's not a problem.)
 If he is interfered with, it will hinder his growth and tarnish his reputation. In that case, it's better that he doesn't move.
 (Was it a monster fox? Let it be fodder for him.)
 How much he knows about the situation, or how he knows what's going on and why he's moving... it's hard to tell at this point through the shikigami attached to him. But it doesn't matter and it is more convenient. An ordinary man is not interesting to her. So, if he has something that surpasses himself, that is something to be welcomed. Knowing that he's something special.
 "Hehehe, that's good. If all goes well, I'll reward you."
 Amidst merry laughter and music, she slowly slurps down a crystal glass of imported wine. After finishing her drink, she scooped up the red drippings from her mouth with her white fingers and licked it off with her red tongue, smiling in a way that was distinctly different from the other participants.
 "So... don't forget to bring a souvenir, okay?"
 The smirk on her face was perpetually aggravating, ferocious, sensational, and... frightening to the point of being terrifying.

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