DARK MODE 

Friday, November 18, 2022 @

Chapter 14, Part 2

 "Listen, everyone. Wash your hands after cutting the watermelon."
 
 Azuma called out to the children who were playing chase in the garden after cutting the watermelon that had been cooled in the well water stored in a bottle.
 
 "Yes...!"
 
 The children responded to her call with a hearty and joyful smiles. It was eight o'clock. In other words, it was late afternoon. The children are about to get hungry.
 
 And although it is a new city with mostly wooden buildings and no concrete jungle, it is still hot in summer. While playing, children sweat and want to drink water. It is natural to be excited if there is a watermelon filled with water and cooled down.
 
 Small, watery, and less sweet watermelons were of poor quality and were priced at about half of the market price.
 
 "Hey, you should say 'itadakimasu' before you eat it. And be sure to spit out the seeds."
 
 Azuma smiles at the children as they cheerfully bite into the watermelon and warns them. Suddenly, she sees a girl with fox ears and a fox tail who is looking at the children who are swarming around the watermelon from a little distance.
 
 "What's the matter, Shiro? Aren't you going to eat it?"
 
 Azuma asks gently to the girl who does not touch the watermelon. On the other hand, the girl who was called... Shiro looks at Azuma's face and says, "Uhhh..." She turns her head and moves her body fidgetily, then opens her mouth timidly.
 
 "Umm... you know, since everyone else is eating, I thought it would be hard for me to get it...."
 
 Azuma could tell by the girl's expression and her words. She was really reserved.
 
 This half-Youkai girl, whom she had picked up and healed from her tattered state only a few days ago, had become a new resident of this orphanage since she had little memory and no place to go back to. She was a weak, reserved, and unassertive girl, perhaps because of her lack of memory. Always observing her surroundings, she gave way to the other children and never spoke of her own needs.
 
 In a sense, she was a "good girl" who did not need to be cared for, but at the same time, she was also a tragic child. Azuma knew from previous experiences that the girl was afraid of being kicked out of the orphanage.
 
 "You must be tired from sweating, too. Eat properly. You'll collapse if you overexert yourself."
 "Sister, why don't you eat with us?"
 
 Akane, the little sister of all the orphans, comes to the fox girl with her mouth smeared with watermelon juice. Then she smiles and holds out the watermelon with both hands.
 
 "...Then, I'll eat it with you."
 
 The fox girl smiles calmly and accepts the watermelon from the lizard girl, though she is a bit fickle for a moment. Then, with a sound of "chomp, chomp, chomp", the fox girl takes a bite of the watermelon. Then she starts chatting with Akane and the other children while eating the watermelon.
 
 Azuma takes a glance at the scene peacefully. And then... she looked anxiously at the outside through the gap in the sliding door, trying not to be seen by the children.
 
 "...Maybe I should increase the strength of the boundary..."
 
 The topic that comes to her mind is a story she heard the other day. A group of trading companies was attacked by a group of youkai on a city road leading to the capital.
 
 This is an extremely serious incident. After all, it is not often that a large group of a trading company is attacked in the capital and its vicinity. At least when she was the head of the onmyou dormitory, there were probably only one or two similar incidents.
 
 "I heard that they managed to repel the attackers with little or no loss of life... However, I guess that makes the city's residents feel too relieved."
 
 They were repelled, that's all. There must have been several Youkai who escaped. Nevertheless, many of the residents of the new city were already relaxed, as if the problem had been solved. Besides, the increase in the number of missing persons that had been going on for a while... probably eaten by Youkai... has ceased, and the residents have begun to stop the self-protection measures they had taken, such as refraining from going out, locking up, and always carrying a good luck charm with them. Her work at the temple had been suspended for the past few days for the safety of the students but was scheduled to resume tomorrow.
 
 She knew very well that the youkai were cunning, cowardly, and sneaky. Normally she would like to stay with the children for a while longer, but...
 
 "Mother eat watermelon, too!"
 
 One of the children, whom she loved as if they were her own, called out to her, and she came to her senses. Looking ahead, she saw a young boy holding out a watermelon and smiling carefreely.
 
 "...Oh, yes. It looks delicious, I will have it."
 
 The pure and innocent expression on his face soothes her, and she accepts the watermelon with a soft smile on her face. Taking a bite, a slight sweetness spreads in her mouth with a pleasant crunching sound, and the watery water soothes her throat.
 
 After smiling at the children and reassuring them, Azuma looks at Shiro without anyone noticing.
 
 (Youkai fox, huh...)
 
 Youkai foxes of half-Youkai... Rumor has it that the monsters who attacked the trading company were also Youkai foxes. When she thinks of this period of time, it is too easy to make a judgment based on that alone.
 
 She never really thought that Shiro was an evil Youkai. If she was a Youkai, she would naturally be clothed in Youkai power. On the contrary, she has no spiritual power at all.
 
 The girl was clothed with Youkai power and spiritual power equally, as is usual with half-Youkai. This means that she is not a Youkai.
 
 Her eyes are not blind, either. She can guess whether her opponent is lying or hiding their power for a short or long time. And this half-youkai fox girl had nothing to be wary of in this respect. Everything she says is true, her character is not an act, and her power is as powerless as it can be in its current state, regardless of its potential. She herself is a half-raccoon, and she can say this with confidence. There is no doubt about it.
 
 Then there was no reason to kick her out of here. If she was kicked out, she would be the first to be eaten because of her Youkai fox blood. Or she might be kidnapped by the crime gangsters of the city or experimented on by some defective exorcists. No, she might be beaten up and killed by the townspeople who have been complaining about Youkai for a while now.
 
 (Besides, I have to watch out for him too...)
 
 The man with the spear who was by the fox girl's side when she was picked up. The one who wore a cloak of disguise that even she, a raccoon dog, could not immediately recognize.
 
 He was no ordinary person when he wore the cloak that blocked his recognition. And he was not a simpleton, judging from the fact that he withdrew from the scene as soon as she released her deadly energy and entered a fighting stance. At least, he seemed to be a person who has had a certain amount of combat training and experience.
 
 (Shiro... Though her injuries were severe...)
 
 Even if the half-Youkai is not easy to die, Shiro's injuries are not natural for being attacked by a person of that level of ability. It is too crude. If he wanted to kill her, he would not have done it that way. On the other hand, if he wanted to catch her, he would not have done it in such a way that she would have many fresh wounds.
 
 "......"
 
 Azuma does not doubt the unfortunate girl. But at the same time, it was certain that there were many unnatural things. Perhaps that is why Azuma is tormented by a vague sense of anxiety. But no matter how much she tried, she could not find the answer with the information she had at hand, but that did not mean she could abandon her work at the temple school.
 
 "Let's make a condition..."
 
 Being expelled from the Onmyo Dormitory, it was difficult for her to legally obtain expensive and valuable tools, and she did not have a lot of money. The boundaries and shikigami that she can construct with the tools at her disposal are limited, even for her. In addition, as a half-Youkai of a monster raccoon, she is not suited for direct combat. In this case, the best way to strengthen security with limited resources would be to impose conditions on her. By setting conditions and restrictions on the activation of wards, etc., she could concentrate the spiritual power needed to deal with a limited number of targets.
 
 "Well, the conditions are only for those whom... we can invite, I guess?"
 
 She would tell the children not to follow strangers and not to let them in the house. Then, after that, she continued to think of measures to protect the children while she was away from home.
 
 Of course, a monster fox would use the art of transformation, and Youkai is a liar to begin with. However, she is expecting that much. The boundary of the orphanage was set up in such a way that she would know immediately if her opponent lied, and moreover, she had a technique to inhibit illusion. There is no room to be left out.
 
 In the first place, half-youkai children are discriminated against, and at the same time, they are the ones who make money. Not only the Youkai haters but also the criminals who are trying to traffick the children, even the defective exorcists are eager to have them. In fact, they were even attacked for it. But then, children are well aware of this. So, they would not carelessly invite anyone. That is why she added this condition.
 
 She was serious and sincere as if she was really protecting her own children.
 
 But... in a sense, she too may have been peace-struck in the midst of a long period of peace.
 
 Yes, she should have remembered that Youkai is a cowardly, vile, and degrading existence. If she had remembered that, she would have never allowed herself to be so careless and to take such a loophole...
 
 ...The stage for tragedy was thus set.

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