Friday, November 18, 2022 @

Chapter 15, Part 1

 The flow of the story in the prequel "Sad Tale of a Fox Child" to "Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)" is as follows.
 The youkai fox, who had been torn to pieces by the exorcists who guarded the capital, somehow survived by splitting her own soul into dozens of pieces. While the incarnations were devoting themselves to cannibalism in and around the capital, there was one special incarnation that was separated from the others. That is herself as a 'half-youkai', the source of her existence.
 She was Kitsuri Shiroki. She wasn't just a simple half-Youkai. To be more precise, she was an extremely rare half-youkai who had reached the status of a calamity youkai.
 This is something that Azuma Hibari would not have expected. Well, in the beginning, there are not many half-youkai, and half-youkai are persecuted by humans and easily eaten by youkai. Besides, very few half-youkai have ever become full youkai, let alone calamity youkai, nor have there been any reports of what would happen to such a being if it were to split its body. More than anything else, Azuma Hibari, as a half-youkai of a monster raccoon, can see through the lies and acts of her opponents, which is why half-youkai was able to escape from her grasp.
 Well, as a matter of fact, the white fox girl, Shiro, has not lied in any way, nor has she harbored any evil thoughts. She is essentially just an innocent half-youkai child, stripped of her viciousness as a calamity youkai, without the memory of her own past atrocities.
 At the same time, however, she is undoubtedly the offspring of the nine-tailed fox, Kitsuri Shiroki. Therefore, the other incarnations knew where she was. Although the rest of the incarnations had initially planned to leave this pathetic incarnation behind...
 As a half-youkai, this root incarnation holds the memories and consciousness of a girl, but the other incarnations, which are youkai, are distant from her. For them, who have literally overcome difficulties to the point of vomiting blood and have become vicious youkai, the vulnerable, cowardly, whiny, and weak self that they used to be when they were simply exploited and oppressed is just a shameful part that they would like to get rid of. Normally, they would have had no problem taking this opportunity to detach themselves from this very existence and leave her to die in the wild somewhere. In fact, in the novel, she was recently split and her consciousness and memory are still vague, and as a result of her careless wandering around the new city at night, she is found by hoodlums and executed by them. Originally, she should have died there.
 However, in the current situation, when the half-Youkai girl, who was subjected to the same unjustified malice as in her childhood when she first killed a person, was about to die, she was saved by Azuma Hibari and became a new resident of the orphanage... that was the beginning of a new tragedy.
 Anyway, think about it. Which is more useful as food for the youkai who are trying to regain their power, a human or a half-youkai? Especially when there is the head of the orphanage, who at one time was the head of the Onmyo Dormitory for various reasons. Such a person would be more interesting for the incarnation that was once thrown away.
 And then, the bad luck piled up. Azuma Hibari had been peace-struck, but that's not all. Well, to be precise, it is also true that she was not thinking well since she was targeted based on her observation of those misfortunes and circumstances, but from the perspective of a third party who knows the whole story, the tragedy was indeed the result of a series of bad luck.
 The conditioning of the boundary specified by Azuma Hibari was long pointed out in the comment threads and discussion sites as a mistake made by too much peace of mind, and it was criticized, but it became less so after the settings were further disclosed in the subsequent fan books and other external works. It turned out that her behavior in 'Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)' and its related works were not based on a carefree mindset, at least not as much as some people in the community had suggested.
 In the world of 'Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)', youkai really exists, and even charms, curses on straw dolls, and words of incantations really have blessings. Even children understand that in such a world, the act of bringing someone home is a more important event than it is in the real world. Especially if it is a child of a half-youkai who might be a target of persecution, human trafficking, or experimentation. As Azuma herself is well trained in discipline, it is impossible for her to invite anyone into the orphanage just because they are a child, simply by saying whatever they want to say.
 However, at the same time, the conditions that Azuma added to the boundary were reasonable in a sense. The presence or absence of youkai energy and its capacity made it risky to block the entrance and exit. As mentioned above, it is not only youkai that could harm the orphanage. Rather, it is human beings who are dangerous in normal times, and in fact, there have been attacks in the past. But it does not mean that she does not need to be vigilant as long as they are human.
 On the contrary, if the boundary is distinguished by youkai energy, the children will not be able to return if they leave the orphanage by any chance, or if other half-youkai children ask for help, they will not be able to enter the orphanage. In fact, some of the half-youkai in Azuma's custody escaped from the place of human trafficking or were attacked by a bandit. Imagine what would happen if such a child tried to escape to the orphanage while Azuma Hibari was away and he/she was not allowed to enter...
 Nevertheless, the presence of adults in the orphanage would have been meaningless in front of the intrusion of the monster fox. No matter how many adults were there, they would surely be allowed to enter the orphanage if they used such an outrageous method. In fact, the more mature, serious, and ethical one is, the more likely he or she is to fall for it. Just like Azuma Hibari.
 "And then she accidentally invites the creature in, and the children get overwhelmed, be danced and eaten..."
 The whole thing was so disgusting that I honestly don't even want to talk about it. It's so unreal, and it's not pleasant to think that even as a novel sentence, the content of this story makes me feel hatred, especially when I consider that it is a situation that could actually happen in the future.
 And what is more problematic is that it is unexpectedly difficult to intervene in this case. The event against the Tachibana Trading Company could be a reason to move Gorilla-sama under the pretext of selling the favor to them.
 But what about the orphanage? Unfortunately, it would be difficult to persuade Gorilla-sama and others here. After all, there is no reason to help the half-youkai who was retired from the head of the Onmyou dormitory for scandalous reasons, even if it is in conjunction with the other half-youkai. No, it may not be impossible to go that far, depending on negotiations. However, neither the Kizuki family nor the princesses had any obligation to help the half-youkai's child in the orphanage, and of course, it would be impossible to cooperate with Azuma Hibari.
 "She won't trust me if I show my face alone, will she?"
 Even though she is a half-youkai, a raccoon who can tell whether a lie is true or not, she will only arouse suspicion if I show up with a cloak to hide my true identity. Even if I showed my true identity, I could not know what she would think of the Kizuki family, and she would not easily trust the words of a servant, considering the possibility that her head might have been messed around with. In fact, from the impression I had when I first met her, there is a small chance that she might search and destroy me. So, I can't contact her easily.
 And, more than anything else, I wanted to finish off the youkai fox once and for all. My face and the gorilla-sama's face are already known to some extent. I don't know how this will affect me at the start of the original story. And since I do not know how the fox will deviate from the behavior of the original story, I would like to win the first event, the dance-eating festival at the orphanage, where the fox will probably behave as in the original story. D*mn, if only gorilla-sama had not played around and won the game at once, I wouldn't have to go through all this trouble...!
 "Well, that limits my options... Hahaha, in a way this is the worst choice I've ever made, isn't it?"
 I cower my shoulders and smile, as my cloak blocks my recognition. Right now, I'm in a particularly unsafe part of the capital's new city, a place of gambling dens, tax-evading salt and liquor vendors, unauthorized food stalls, and sorcerers' tools, with no pavement, a smell of stale air and muddy ground where dead animals and human bodies sometimes lie. There are also nighthawks and unsavory riffraff standing on the muddy ground... Such is the town where I followed an old man as he walked through the streets...
 When the old man went back to the old bookstore, which was set up in a back alley in a bad part of town, and I entered the store, I saw a huge bear in front of me. To be precise, it was a wild bear that had grown into a youkai over a long period of time, an 'Onikuma'. It had glowing red eyes and was at least two meters tall. It must be at least as tall as a great youkai. When I approach its face to take a peek at it, its warm nose and breath hit my face. But the Onikuma can't seem to recognize my face because of my cloak...
 "Hohoho, a visitor, is it? You're carrying something rather noisy for a visitor, aren't you?"
 I look at the amused voice. In a corner of the old bookstore, which is much larger than the store itself, a wrinkled old man with a long white beard sitting on an easy chair looks at me with a wicked smile on his face. On his lap is a black cat, which is obviously not just a pet cat because it has two tails.
 "...It is my first time meeting you. It is a great honor for me to meet the famous sage of the Onmyou Dormitory, Matsushige family, Michibishi O."
 I suppress my inner fear and agitation and cross my arms in greeting. Yes, don't worry. I've expected this... Ugh, my stomach hurts. Did my ribs get broken in the fight with the fox the other day? Even medicine can only mask the pain for so long.
 "I hope you're not an assassin from the Imperial Court. You seem to know more than these amateur hoodlums but... you're too weak to kill me. Even the fools of the Imperial Court would not send an assassin of your caliber."
 The old man grins at me and says his own thoughts. He said it as if he were telling me. So that means...
 "...Hmm, you're wary of the wordplay, huh? Well, you have made the right decision. If you had answered now, you would have naturally been led to talk about yourself."
 The old man admitted his plan with amusement. It is said to be a kind of "Kotodama (The mystical force inherent in language(言霊))" that puts power in words and puts people in a kind of hypnotic state by making the words resonate through sound to the ears and the brain. However. once people are aware of it, they can escape from the trick by becoming conscious, but it is difficult to judge whether it is being used at the moment of need. If the person tries to talk for a strangely long time and tries to explain or lead into a conversation, they need to be on the maximum alert. In my case, I bite around my mouth to make my consciousness clear with the pain. The pain is a good stimulus to arouse the brain, and because the smell of blood leaks out from the mouth, youkai are less likely to be attracted.
 ...though I don't want my mouth to get mouth ulcers later. I should put salt on the wound.
 "...I am a servant of a certain family. I beg you not to speak of my family's name or mine."
 "Of course. It's foolish to speak my name frankly when you know who I am."
 "Kukuku," says the old man with a muffled laugh.
 ...Michibishi O, Saio's former assistant and head of the research institute of the Onmyou dormitory, is a villain and an advisory character who appears in the original game and some of the other works in the series. His abilities go without saying. The fact that he has reigned as the number two for several decades in the Onmyo Dormitory, where the elite class of exorcists are gathering, makes him a first-rate player, even if I take into account the fact that he is essentially a researcher rather than a fighter. Although he is what is called an "out-lawyer," he is also, in a sense, the person filled with the most conviction and sense of duty in this world. That is why I tried to contact him this time.
 "So, what can I do for you? Kizuki's servant. Are you sure you're not wasting your time trying to contact me, a wanted man, without telling anyone?"
 I was speechless for a moment when he said that. Hey, he saw through me. Have I been bewitched by an illusion?
 In my momentary silence, the old man happily patted the head of the monster cat on his lap. Then he motioned to Onikuma with his finger. The monster bear moves back with a loud footstep.
 "Is it better that you don't raise your voice or carelessly deny it? But, well, I heard about the attack on the convoy of a trading company the other day. I was just letting you know so that I could do a little research with shikigami."
 "...I have a matter I'd like to discuss with you."
 I offer in a calm, emotionless tone so as not to let him know how upset I am.
 "Oh, you want me to do something for you? That's insane. Normally you should have asked the government as soon as you learned of my existence. And now you're asking me for a favor. You would be beheaded and imprisoned if you were found out. Don't you think you don't know that?"
 The old man asks me, who is being hunted by the court for his secret research into the forbidden technique and other rituals in violation of the emperor's laws. I know all that.
 (Calm down. Here's the deal. Don't use words that disappoint him...)
 Hiding my face in my cloak, I endure the feeling that the presence of death in the air is about to crush my spirit. Yes, if I disappoint the old man in front of me here, I'm done.
 On the surface, he seems to be just an evil, selfish mad scientist, but that's just a facade. I must not forget that the old man in front of me is actually an exorcist who believes in justice and loves the people in his own way.
 In the game, he is regarded as an enemy by the main character because of his terrible deeds, especially against half-youkai, a few good youkai, and even criminals, but he himself seems to love people very much... probably. Well, he defines the protection and prosperity of human beings as his supreme purpose, and he is willing to spare his own life for it.
 Conversely, for him, youkai are a matter of course, half-youkai, and he does not care what happens to criminals and others who drag down society. In fact, he even plans to kill them all in the future. And for this purpose, he has been researching the forbidden techniques and has been using many half-youkai and criminals as experimental materials for his research.
 Therefore, I will be hurt if I negotiate with him as a mere selfish outsider, looking only at his superficial deeds. Besides, no matter how much money or profit I offer, he will not do or allow anything that will threaten the lives or property of the people, much less disrupt society. If he misunderstands this, I will be angered and cursed to death. In a way, he is a landmine character. But still, in the game, he can be either an enemy or a friend, depending on the route players choose at the end of the game.
 And I was going to take advantage of that very setting.
 "Azuma Hibari, you know this name, don't you?"
 "...Hmm, that woman, huh? She's raising monsters in the outskirts of the city now, isn't she? I bet she doesn't think that the reason for her expulsion was the same city, even though we are far away from each other."
 The old man answers as if remembering, rubbing his white beard reminiscent of a hermit. His expression was clearly amused.
 "Yes. However, she is a former head of Onmyou dormitory and a person who fought through the great war. Even though she is a half-Youkai, her long years of service to the Imperial Court and to the people cannot be denied."
 I defend her in general terms.
 "So, what does this have to do with the request?"
 "She's in danger. It's a matter of life and death."
 The old man was silent as if he was thinking about what I said. Has a minute passed? Silence reigns in the room, and he finally opens his mouth.

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