Tuesday, November 1, 2022 @

Chapter 2

 'Firefly of the Dark Night' was a famous game sold in my previous life...in other words, in Japan in the 21st century. It was popular for its splendid voice actors, abundant still pictures, long story, and many branching routes.
 The worldview of the game could be described as a Japanese-style dark fantasy. Fuso-kuni, the setting of this work, looks like the Edo period in Japan, but it is an infinitely massive world where supernatural powers such as sorcery and Onmyojutsu exist, and abnormal beings called "Youkai" have been dominating the world since ancient times. Then, the imperial court has given the role to a family of exorcists, who hold extraordinary powers and are in charge of exterminating or subduing them in various parts of the country.
 The main character of the game originally lived in a peaceful village as a child of the village headman. He has kind parents and close brothers and sisters, but one day his destiny is drastically changed.
 The village was attacked by the 'Youkai'... specifically, the most dangerous and least numerous of all the 'Youkai', the 'Calamity Youkai', and the villagers and his families were all killed. But just as he is about to be killed, he awakens a powerful supernatural power and succeeds in striking back at the 'Calamity Youkai'.
 However, the power of the unusual ability, which is easily inherited and becomes more powerful through interbreeding, is not something that a farmer's child can have, so it is unlikely that he can kill a top-class 'Calamity Youkai'. But then, the main character is discovered and taken in by the Kizuki family, a famous family of exorcists that controls the area including the village, and he aims to become an exorcist to avenge his family and protect people... and there he learns about his unusual ability, the secret of his birth, and the darkness of the Kizuki family and other exorcists. That's the general story.
 Well, a friend of mine recommended me to play this game, and I was impressed by the high quality of the game and regretted the depressing story. It is true that the illustrations were created by a famous illustrator, so not only are the character drawings good, but the backgrounds and battle descriptions are also very elaborate. That alone is enough to make the otaku community very happy. I can't tell how many times my 'son' has been taken care of by the service scenes in the adult version...
 But, but... As I get further into the game, that initial satisfaction is easily erased. Why? Because of the numerous erotic and grotesque events, the abundance of bad endings, and the high rate of landmines among the heroines that accompany such events.
 Seriously, it's not cool! Basically, 'Youkai' is too much for ordinary people to handle, and as for the named ones, as can be seen from the setting alone, there are too many of them who have abilities that only the heroes and heroines can beat them at first sight, or who beat them physically after they have not only raised their level, but also leveled up to the maximum. What the heck!
 This is why there are bad endings, and even if there aren't bad endings, erotic scenes of named characters appear in the events without any hesitation. For example, when Youkai attacks, a female character's head is smashed one moment while she was chatting the next, or she is swallowed whole while still alive. No, it is better than that. Because many of the characters have different powers, there are too many scenes in which they are raped by Monster. It was a mental blow for me to see Ayaka, whose gentle personality had been a comfort in the early stages of the game, being attacked by Harabote chest-buster in an event in the middle of the game!
 And it's not only the enemies that are dangerous. The allies are also dangerous. They are in a very complicated situation with love, hate, and power struggles. Assassinations and plots are common occurrences.
 For this reason, if the main character makes a bad move, the heroines can get depressed rather easily, depending on their likability and character correlation. This is not surprising, since they are routinely confronted with unreasonable Monster and their own personal intrigues. Some of them have their fiancées or best friends killed by Monster or are distrustful of people because they have been set up by them. In such a place, why would the main character carelessly make an unintentional move after the likability level reaches a certain level? These girls are not good. There is no telling what they might do.
 (Well, the worst of all is that I'm in such a bad world and I'm in such a bad position with no power...)
 In broad daylight, dressed in a black costume with a Noh mask hiding my face, I kneel with my head deep down in an unusually dimly-lit Japanese-style room, which is also spacious but has no windows, no sliding shoji screens, and no lights. Around me, men and women in colorful but obviously expensive-looking Japanese clothes were sitting in rows on either side of me. In front of me is an upper seat, but the host is not there.
 "It's pathetic that 20 of our servants could hit a great Youkai and only one of them survived, and that he hardly got a wound."
 A hoarse, arrogant voice echoed from one corner of the line. It clearly contained a sense of mockery toward my dead comrades and me as a survivor, but I answered in silence. I knew there was no point in getting riled up here. I had no intention of getting angry, though, considering the concentration of spiritual power in this room.
 I had reported last night's failure to defeat 'Youkai' in front of the elders of the Kizuki family. Their reactions were more or less scornful. After all, that's what a servant is like. And I couldn't deny it, even though I felt humiliated.
 According to the official guidebook, the "Kizuki family", a clan of exorcists who have jurisdiction over a wide area around here, is a famous and old family that has existed for 800 years in the northern part of Fuso-kuni. The family has nearly a hundred members, including those at the end who do not work as exorcists, and not only do they exterminate monsters and preside over local ceremonies and festivals, but they are also landowners with vast lands and are connected by blood and rights to other exorcist families, shrines and temples, merchants, the nobles of the capital, and lords who govern the surrounding areas, making their financial power and personal connections very strong.
 And the greatest reason for the power and authority of the exorcists is what is called "spiritual power". Or should I say "magical power" in Western terms? It is the fuel for casting sorcery and Onmyou-jutsu, which cause supernatural phenomena, and when it is applied to the body, it activates the body and strengthens it to an inhuman realm. Above all, it is also a sacred energy that neutralizes the "Youkai energy" released by "Youkai", which is poisonous to ordinary people.
 And the fact that most of the people who can handle such spiritual power are limited to the exorcist's family is the basis of their firm control in this country.
 Incidentally, the exorcists themselves connect this to ancient myths and legends, and boast of their venerable lineage as the descendants of the gods... but of course, this is a fabricated lie.
 The basis of spiritual power is not important here, but according to the setting, spiritual power and other powers are inherited, and the exorcists understand from their experience that they become more powerful by mixing and matching bloodlines. The repeated intermarriage of the exorcists, and the incorporation or weeding out of the family those with spiritual powers and abilities that appear from time to time from the folklore, is the real reason why the exorcist clan has a near monopoly on the power to fight the 'Youkai' in this country.
 However... Monster is also unreasonable. And when it comes to the highest level 'Youkai'...'Calamity Youkai', the casualty rate is so high. In rare cases, some do not inherit spiritual power or other abilities from their families, and on the other hand, there are cases where family members are allocated to politics, management, and so on. After all, it may even be troublesome that a family idiot kidnaps a village girl and conceives her child, and the child inherits the power.
 The servant class is one of the ways to solve these problems. It is a "tool" that was invented by some exorcist family to solve the family's manpower shortage, to deal with illegitimate children, or to make effective use of spiritual powers and other abilities that have emerged from the ruled class, and quickly spread to all the exorcists in the country.
 We, the servants, were expendable tools that were trained with a minimum of spiritual power, supernatural power, and other secret skills by being educated (brainwashed) to pledge allegiance to the family from an early age, and being cursed to prevent rebellion and escape.
 (Expendable, huh...)
 Putting the game setting that I have recalled so far in the corner of my mind, I return my attention to the ridicule and abuse that continues in front of my eyes.
 Expendable... of course, even if we are rotten, we have spiritual power. If we wanted to, we could overwhelm the same number of soldiers with those weapons. I have no doubt about that.
 But... it was also a stark fact that even if we were to stand up to the exorcists who showed themselves to be as evenly matched as possible against the irrational Monster, it would be almost a slaughter. Such was the difference in power between us, the servant, and the exorcist in front of me. And the elders of the Kizuki family also understood that difference in power very well. That is why they ridicule this sacrifice. They mocked the battle for being too reckless and its natural consequences...
 "This is not the time for such mockery, is it? Don't the elders understand the seriousness of the situation?"
 A strong, determined voice drowned out the derision that filled the room. The eldest daughter of the main family, standing beside me as I kneeled down, continued to speak with a serious expression on her face, as befitted her ascetic and earnest nature.
 "I'm sure the elders understand that even the servants can't cover for the loss of four groups. This is the first time in ten years that we've lost four groups, and to think that it was only to the 'Great Youkai', the loss suffered by the family must be enormous. "
 The first princess of the main Kizuki family, nicknamed "Sis (anego-sama)" by the players... Kizuki Hina pointed out this fact in a calm, but sharp manner.
 Yes, even though we are expendable, servants can not be made easily. It is necessary to train those who have certain talents to the extent that they can compete with Monster to some extent. The cost of training them is not an issue, but it does take time.
 In particular, a great number of servants are consumed when dealing with the 'Calamity Youkai'... as experimental personnel to investigate the opponent's unusual abilities, as diversion and decoys during the actual battle, and as rear support... The consumption of such a valuable sacrificial member to increase the survival rate of a front-line retinue of a family against a mere 'Great Youkai' was not a time for laughing, depending on one's point of view.
 "Moreover, according to this survivor, the failure of this mission can be attributed to the lack of prior research by the hidden group. You can't mistake 'Great Youkai' for 'Middle Youkai'... Uemon-sama, if I may be so bold, what are your vassals doing?"
 Sis (anego-sama) glares at one of the elders with a reproachful gaze. The man, who looks like a fat pig with thin hair though it is too dark to see him clearly, is dismayed at the sudden accusation.
 "Hina, you dare to criticize me of all people? Uemon, the most loyal retainer of the family and your uncle?"
 "That is precisely why. Uemon-sama may be a man of his stature, but facts are facts. We can't let the matter lie here to prevent a repetition of such a situation."
 The fat figure speaks to her as if to appease her, but she cuts him off. She is one of the few personalities in this depressing game in which only a funny-looking woman appears. Her dignified figure, which does not tolerate injustice, inequality, or unreasonableness, gave players a sense of security. If players don't want to be locked up or backbitten, they should just make her the main heroine.
 ...Though she's a bit of a pain in the ass if she gets too much of a likability rating.
 (Well, she wouldn't go that far for a third-rate mob like me, would she? But there's that gorilla too...)
 I had to survive myself, but thanks to that, I was in a bit of trouble even before the start of the original story. I hope some kind of corrective power will work, but... damn, why was I the one who accompanied her at that time...!
 While I was thinking about that, the argument between sis (anego-sama) and Fat-uemon (the name given by the players to Kizuki Uemon, the head of the hidden group) was quietly, slowly, but clearly getting heated.
 "Do you have a problem with my guidance!? How ungrateful you are! My brother is crying behind your back!"
 "What...!? I wish you'd stop trying to smoke me out with your talk like that...!"
 I keep listening to their argument with my head down. Well, I guess these two really get into a blame game, just like they did when the main character was framed in the game. Well, I guess the family itself doesn't like sis (anego-sama) from the setting of the game. Especially, his uncle who leads the Hidden Group is like an avenger in a sense.
 "You'd better leave it at that. You're both pathetic, aren't you?"
 Suddenly, a voice like the tinkling of a bell stopped them from fighting. Sis (anego-sama) looked uncomfortable, and the other elders looked at the owner of the voice, some frightened, some scornful, and some enraptured. I, too, looked at the person through my mask so that no one would notice me.
 The first thing that caught my eye was a luxurious silk kimono dyed in the color of bellflower. The pattern of flowers brightly decorated with gold threads was so precise that I could feel the labor of the craftsmen.
 There was a beautiful woman sitting just to the left of the upper seat, resting her elbow on her armrest and holding a lacquered smoking pipe in her hand. Although her clothing obscures the contours of her body, her voluptuous figure is clearly visible. Her long raven wet-feather hair was down, and a turtle tortoiseshell hairpin was sewn on her head. She is a beautiful and glamorous woman who looks to be in her early twenties with a somewhat decadent atmosphere...
 (If I didn't know any better, I'd think so...)
 When I remember this setting, I laugh inwardly so as not to be noticed. This woman looks too young, but actually, she's an old hag...!
 "It's a shameful thing for the honored members of the Kizuki to raise their voices like that. We may be warded off, but we don't know what kind of house is watching us from where! You should be more conscious of being a member of Kizuki. Don't you?"
 As if rebuking a child, the woman... Kizuki Kochou, the wife of the former head of the Kizuki family, speaks to the two of them. Or, more precisely, to her children and grandchildren.
 ...Still, can anyone believe it? She is not only a woman who gave birth to four brats but also an old woman who has grandchildren, you know?
 Well, it is not impossible to prolong one's life by revitalizing one's body with one's spiritual power, and the same goes for using one's supernatural powers or even quitting one's life with a magical approach, in this world. For this sullen old hag, it would not be difficult to make her look younger. But to seduce the main character who is fifty years younger than her with her charms is not something people of her age would do. Well, some heroines are three-digit older than their age, though...
 "Thank you for your report, servant. That's enough. Please leave."
 She orders me after she blows out her pipe. I wanted to leave as soon as she told me to. I was afraid of the way the fat man was looking at me, and I was also afraid of the huge eyeball that had been growing out of the corner of the room and peeping at me. More than anything else, this room is full of the elders of the family, and the spiritual power density is too high... I'm going to get sick.
 "Ah, me too..."
 "Hina, I still have questions about the work I gave you last night, so stay here."
 I bow deeply and try to leave the room without making a sound, but sis (anego-sama) tries to leave with me but is prevented by the stinging hag's words.
 "...I understand..."
 The serious sis (anego-sama) is slightly silent but immediately agrees to the request. For a moment, I feel the room grow cold, but I don't pay attention to it.
 Then I open the door and bow in silence and leave the room. Just before I slowly close the sliding door, I feel that my eyes meet those of the old hag, but I think it's just my imagination. There is nothing in me, a mob, to attract her attention.
 Then, as soon as I close the door, the smell of incense suddenly begins to waft through the air, making me nervous, and I take a beat and a deep breath to ease it. I take a beat and take a deep breath to ease my nerves. So this is a kind of reminder for me to be prepared.
 And then I turn around at once with my mind in my head. And I catch someone in my sight.
 "Ah, Tomobe. Welcome back. Did the job go well?"
 A short girl was standing in front of me with a big smile on her face. She was probably a little below her mid-teens? Dressed in a peach-colored kimono, her hands linked behind her back, and smiling carefree, she reminded me of an innocent child who is innocent and knows no dirt. Only the appearance...
 ...I know very well that there was no one in this place where she was standing now, as I checked when I opened the sliding door. Of course, there was no place to hide around her. As far as my senses can perceive.
 Anyway, thinking back to her paranoid, delusional, and temperamental behavior in the original story, I choose the safest word for the moment and say.
 "I am amazed at the progress in the art of concealment you are learning. Princess."
 Bending my knees, I tell the source of my stress reverently.
 Kizuki Aoi, the lovely crazy girl who is probably the best partner for the first-time player to end up in confinement, was right in front of me...

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