Friday, November 18, 2022 @

Chapter 14, Part 1

 The youkai fox thinks with impatience. How did this happen?
 Everything was going so well. But then, she was almost killed by that human-skinned monster, and half in agony, she performed the split body youkai-jutsu.
 It was a technique that could only be performed by highly intelligent, skillful, and most of all, powerful youkai, including the top-ranked youkai foxes. A mere miscellaneous youkai would not have the skill to tear out their own souls, and if they divided their power, they would lose their very existence because of the weakening of their individuality. So, the act of dividing one's own existence was possible only for the Calamity Youkai with its great power.
 And having divided into dozens of incarnations, they blend in with others and try to regain their power by devouring others in the darkness of the night. Some of the incarnations seem to have been killed, but they are just small fry of inferior strength, and the overall damage is minimal. Now, the incarnations have re-merged with each other and gradually regained their power. Luckily, this is a capital city, and some civilians have spiritual power, albeit weak. In fact, for them now, it is perfect. After all, it would be too risky to fight against those who have enough spiritual power to fight badly.
 Alternatively, the defective exorcists who lacked experience and training in combat were the perfect prey for them. But not a few of them are former peasants or servants. Still, they are proud of their weak power, and at the same time, they know the hardships of servants who are used by the exorcists, so they handle their techniques secretly, illegally, and self-taught. So, because they have a desire for experimental subjects and materials for techniques and curses, the fox incarnations use their own incarnations of young youkai and small youkai as decoys to attract them, and when they are caught in a trap, several medium youkai incarnations attack them, and there is no way for the defectives to deal with them. In fact, more than a dozen people could be eaten in this way.
 ...At that time, it was lucky that while eating some of the curses-master, the youkai fox got some information about the trading company from one of them who was begging for his life. The goods were good for them, the people carrying them were helpless, and the guards, though troublesome, could be killed off if they were outnumbered. Compared to the people waiting in the capital, they were a pretty target. At this opportune moment, she gloated. Naturally, she took advantage of the curse master in the way she liked best.
 That way, the youkai fox could have regained a lot of strength by devouring the whole convoy. She could already have... but...
 "D*mn you, monkeys...!!"
 From the forest near the capital, where one can see all the lights of the night, the big fox with its four tails outstretched grunts and mutters words that are half-curses from so much resentment. A dozen or so youkai foxes of various sizes gather around it. All of them are smaller than the grunting fox, and all of them have only one or two tails at most.
 The fox monster crouched down as if in agony. She is naturally prone to pain, but this time, she has a surprise. She never expected this...
 "Gghhh... My wound doesn't heal. And... that woman, how dare she look me with that eye...!!!"
 The wound that the small fish with the Noh mask had inflicted with the dagger, though shallow, is still not healed and continues to bleed, little by little. It must have been a specialized item for youkai, which had been carefully and painstakingly infused with spiritual power and cursed with multiple curses. It is abominable.
 And what was more annoying than that was the blow that shattered the right half of its skull. The stone itself had no spiritual power in it, though it may have strengthened by muscular strength. Still, it was literally just a stone... But it had completely crushed its right eye. The blood had finally stopped bleeding, but that was no comfort. Even at this moment, the youkai fox had a headache and nausea so bad it felt as if its head would shatter.
 "D*mn you... d*mn you... D*mn you... for humiliating me like this... I will not forgive you, I will not forgive you...!!! When the time comes, I'll do the same to you in your right eye, or rather both eyes...!!!!"
 The Youkai fox spits out her bitterness in a horrified tone, but at the same time, she understands that it is nothing more than a sore loser. Unlike the other monsters, who were all ruled by anger, the youkai fox was smart enough to calmly grasp the difference in power between herself and the enemy she had witnessed. That is why she chose to accumulate her strength by attacking people slowly in the new city and the surrounding city streets, instead of going through the city walls and attacking the inner city immediately after the split.
 ...Though many foxes are indeed known to have a clingy personality that never forgets the past.
 "I had read that the cowards of the court would not touch us for their own selfishness even if we rampaged a bit outside the walls... but... tsk, it's no use now. I had hoped to do it after I had regained a little more strength, but if I'm going to be worn out like this, I might as well harvest it while I still can...!"
 With that, the big fox stood up the next moment... and bit one of its compatriots in front of it on the head. The small fox attempts to rampage, but the big fox sinks its fangs in and swallows it in a few gulps. It was less than ten seconds before it was completely devoured.
 For a moment, its compatriots were stunned. Meanwhile, the big fox that had eaten its friend's food gradually recovers from the wound on the right side of its sunken face, as if it were evaporating. At the same time, a tail begins to grow, and the number of tails is about to increase to five.
 "Why should you be surprised? We are all one in origin, and I am the one who is the closest to the main body. If that's the case, then why not absorb all of you as quickly as possible to heal my wounds and regain my strength?"
 The big fox opens its mouth as if it were natural. At the same time, its tail, which has grown to five tails, wags. The heads of three of its compatriots fly off. The remaining ones squeal "Kiii!", and fall flat on their faces, ears, and tails drooping and trembling.
 The sound of crunching and munching of flesh and bone pervades the forest. The youkai fox devours the flesh and blood of three of its compatriots and adds another tail.
 "...Well, I guess I've prepared my stomach..."
 The compatriots, who are lucky not to be absorbed by the Youkai fox, raise their heads at the sound of its beautiful yet cruel voice, which sounds like the tinkling of a bell. There was a tall girl with silver hair, dressed in kimono. She scooped up a red stain on her mouth with a white finger and licked it off.
 "So, shall we go get them now? Our friends, our cores, our earliest memories. ... even though it's deeply disgusting and distasteful..."
 The female fox smiles, her mouth hanging open in a way that makes one wonder if her mouth is open.
 "Even if we're the lowest of the low."
 The female fox boasted cruelly, ruthlessly, brutally, and most of all contemptuously about the weakest incarnation of their roots...
* * *
 A half-youkai is a being that has literally inherited both human and youkai characteristics. As a result of the research conducted so far, it is considered that three major paths lead to the birth of such a being.
 The most obvious one is the birth between a human and a youkai male or female. This can be the case where a man is a human and a woman is a Youkai, or vice versa, where a man is a youkai and a woman is a human. However, the most common case is that a human woman is raped by a youkai and gives birth.
 Youkai of clearly female sex is rare, and the few female youkai naturally look down on humans with contempt. With a few exceptions such as gynogenetic spiders, female youkai that want to have relations with human males are rare. Or, there may be cases in which a human forcibly captures a youkai and rapes her, but these cases are not many considering the strength of the youkai. On the other hand, human women are easier to catch, and especially women with spiritual power are the best prey for youkai to gain power, so the incidence of this case is much higher than that of human men.
 ... Although there are a very small number of cases of consensual relationships between humans and Youkai, they are too few to be the exception.
 The second path is a situation in which a fetus born between two humans becomes half-youkai in the mother's womb.
 This is said to be caused by being exposed to youkai energy, for example, staying in an area where youkai energy is strong during pregnancy, or being injured by youkai attacks, and youkai energy is sucked into the human body, or in the worst case, being raped by a youkai during pregnancy and youkai energy is poured into the fetus.
 Youkai energy is the source of youkai's power. It is said that the earlier the pregnancy is, the more susceptible the fetus is to be affected, and the more the mother and fetus are exposed to youkai energy directly from the inside, the more it will affect them. In the worst case, a half-youkai baby was born through the mother's abdomen at the time of delivery, and the Imperial Court actively considered half-youkai babies as abortion targets, and strictly ordered doctors to treat them without charge in such cases.
 The third path is partially similar to the second path. That is when a baby is half-youkai due to acquired reasons after birth.
 There are several cases of this, but the most common cases are those in which a person has eaten youkai's flesh and blood, has received youkai's fluids or youkai energy through a wound inflicted by youkai, or has accumulated youkai power through a curse, etc., and his/her body is transformed. However, not so many people become youkai through this path.
 Well, youkai flesh and blood are not easy to obtain, and humans do not easily turn into youkai just once or twice. Similarly, a minor injury is not enough to transform a person into a youkai, and a major injury will almost always result in death from blood loss before the person can become a youkai. Of course, there has been some youkai in the past who used their own special powers, or who dared to give a human they met intending to turn him or her into a youkai, and then let them go with injuries deep enough not to kill them, but such cases are still rare.
 Regardless of the route of their birth, the Imperial Court basically does not recognize the existence of half-youkai, with a few exceptions.
 Accordingly, to reduce the power of the exorcists, the exorcists are forced to the front line against the Youkai in the countryside, and are bound by various systems such as the "Sankin-kōtai (policy of the Tokugawa shogunate during most of the Edo period of Japanese history. The purpose was to strengthen central control over the daimyōs)". In addition, the imperial court formed a military force under its direct control to assassinate people with gunpowder weapons and drugs, consisting of the riflemen (ishibiyashū (石火矢衆)) and the polearmy (棒火矢衆), which were composed of only human beings. They also served as a counter-power in case the spiritual or supernatural powers rebelled against the court.
 There was no way to tolerate Youkai, and even half-Youkai who possessed even half the power of Youkai. Nowadays, the memories of wars such as the Great Wars have faded away, so it is not so common that a Youkai would be killed on the spot if he/she was seen, but a hundred or two hundred years ago, half-Youkai were hunted voluntarily and actively by the people. In some areas, public executions of half-Youkai were even a form of entertainment.
 Naturally, families of half-Youkai are ashamed to have such a dangerous person in their family, and if unlucky, they themselves may be the reason for discrimination. Many half-Youkai is believed to have been secretly murdered by their family members or relatives, and because of their unique existence, they are targeted for human trafficking by local sorcerers, and even "purchased" as experimental materials or pawns by a family of top-class defective sorcerers.
 Therefore, the fact that the half-youkai survived for 500 years and was appointed as the head of the Onmyou dormitory were both quite exceptional cases.
 A girl who was a refugee from a small country destroyed by the Youkai during the Great War was kidnapped by traffickers and purchased by the government because she had no relatives. She was used as a test subject for the forbidden techniques being researched by the Imperial Court at the time. The plan to mass-produce half-youkai soldiers, which took advantage of the fact that Youkai energy causes a person to become Youkai, seemed quite reasonable among the many experiments being conducted at the time.
 Among the survivors, those who were heavily Youkai-ized and whose human reason had been disintegrating were killed. The reason why she remained rational was that the ratio of Youkai-ized individuals was low, and the Youkai energy that was poured into her was a sample of a monster raccoon, which has a relatively low fighting instinct and high intelligence among Youkai. Therefore, she was allowed to survive as a pawn of the Imperial Court because she maintained her reason and intelligence after the great war.
 And as time went by... even though the existence of the exorcists was longer-lived than that of mere mortals, they were still mortal beings, and this half-youkai woman found herself the oldest person in the Onmyo Dormitory, and moreover, she had deep knowledge, and more than anything else, as a survivor of the Great War, she was a person to be looked up to within the Dormitory.
 Of course, it would have been unthinkable to appoint a half-Youkai as the head of the Onmyo Dormitory, but in the reign of Emperor Gyokuro a hundred years ago, no one would have objected if the emperor had directly appointed her to the post.
 Moreover, the Gyokuro Emperor was a man of great virtue among the emperors of the past, who made efforts to tighten the loose morals of the court, to curtail taxes, and to promote human resources based on their abilities. A direct order from such an emperor means that her talent and experience are recognized as suitable for the top position of the Onmyo Dormitory. To refuse is out of the question.
 Despite some criticism, she finally received the recommendation of the emperor and became the head of the Onmyo Dormitory for more than 80 years, and although there were some minor incidents, overall, it can be said that peace continued during her career as the head of the dormitory. This is partly because of her own ability, and partly because there was no cause for disorder in the world to cause disturbance in the first place.
 Incidentally, being a woman was hardly a problem. Since there is a characteristic that spiritual power increases as one's blood gets thicker over the generations, there were many cases where a woman was appointed as the head of the Onmyo dormitory because the amount of spiritual power and the strength of different powers were more important than the gender in the exorcist family.
 ...But she lost her position as the head of the Onmyo Dormitory just after the death of the previous Emperor Youjo (陽穣) and the accession of the still young Emperor Seirei (清麗). The reason was that the Danjo-dai, the internal inspector of the Imperial Court, discovered that the doctors of the Onmyo Dormitory Research Institute had been secretly researching and experimenting with the forbidden techniques.
 The main culprit is Saiō's (an unmarried female member of the Japanese Imperial Family) assistant, who holds the second highest position in the Onmyo Dormitory, and the head of the Research Institute of the Onmyo Dormitory, Michibishi O. The 28th head of the Matsushige family, Matsushige Michizuru O, and the dozen or so other exorcists who were involved in the investigation of the forbidden technique escaped, and it was of course their boss's responsibility. But the reason she, the boss, was not imprisoned was due to her past accomplishments and her long years of service to the Imperial Court.
 However, the situation was complicated by the following reasons: the court nobles who originally disliked half-youkai, some subordinates who were dissatisfied because they had not been appointed as the head of the Onmyou dormitory for a long time due to their long life, and the ministers who were at a loss to deal with her because they could not simply dismiss or ban her due to her ability and personal connections regardless of her origins, made her to be deprived of her official position and expelled from the Inner Capital and to be subjected to periodic audits.
 And having lost her position in the Imperial Court, half-youkai, to prove her innocence of the accusation, went into hiding and took up residence in an abandoned house in a corner of the new city, where she could be easily observed. ...with a few half-Youkai children who had been sealed up in the underground dungeons of the Research Institute as experimental subjects of the forbidden technique.
 And... she also picked up a half-youkai child who was a beggar in the new city... Now, she is a director of an orphanage and a teacher at a temple school... This is the life of a person named Azuma Hibari up to today...
* * *

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