Monday, November 28, 2022 @

Chapter 20, Part 1

 Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but if you had to fight a monster with a weapon, what kind of weapon would you pick up? A sword? Bow? A spear? Or an axe, a whip, or a gun? In any case, when choosing a weapon, it is better not to decide based on image or coolness alone. If you choose such a weapon lightly, you will die with regret in most cases.
 Naturally, the reason why I, who have fallen into the position of servant fighting against the monsters, is not because of my taste. It was for more practical and rational reasons.
 As a matter of fact, the spear was an extremely effective weapon. The risk of close combat is smaller than with swords because of the greater distance, and it requires less muscle strength to handle and has fewer gaps than blunt weapons. Furthermore, it is much easier to master than the bow and arrow. Guns? Unfortunately, in this world where flintlock rifles are the mainstream, they are inferior in rapid-fire capability, and above all, such expensive equipment is rarely given to servants. In addition, the spear is a weapon that can thrust, slice, hit, deflect, and throw, and is cheap, disposable, and above all, easy to handle... Therefore, in the previous world, the spear is a general-purpose weapon that had the highest equipment ratio in the military before the rise of firearms.
 With these advantages, it is only natural that I have chosen the spear as my main weapon when I became a servant. For my sub-weapon, I carry a stone thrower, which can be used with any stone out there, is easy to carry, easy to handle, and above all, can deceive the enemy into believing my position with the sound of the stone thrower, and other items such as a dagger, a smoke screen ball, and a luminous ball become my normal equipment. This is the best combination of equipment within my reach that I can think of to survive in this world. At least that's what I think.
 ...but no matter how smart I am, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I try, there are some things I can't control. The girl I'm facing right now is probably one of them.
 "What's the matter!? Even though you are a servant and my cousin is paying attention to you, your power is only that much...!!?"
 The girl shouts while swaying her reddish-purple hair. She is holding a long sword that glints in the sunlight as she shouts.
 Yes, a long sword. It is too tall for a girl in her early teens to hold, and she holds it lightly. Even a novice could tell at a glance that the color, shine, and power of the sword were those of an artifact. I knew from my knowledge of the original story that it was one of the genuine youkai swords, "Ako Touma Juppongatana (Ten Sword Exorcism of Ako(赤穂討魔十本刀))," and that it had an absurdly dangerous name, "Nekiri Kubi Sogimaru (Neck Cutter(根切り首削ぎ丸))," as her ancestors had used it just as it was named against the monsters.
 "...this is unreasonable. There's no way I can compete."
 I, dressed in black like a servant and with a mask hiding my face and expression, held up my spear and muttered quietly. Of course, this is not about the power relationship between swords and spears.
 In a proper fight, swords are no match for spears. The distance between them is too great. A weapon that can attack from a distance has an advantage, which is the basic principle in fighting.
 However, such an advantage is only between ordinary people. It would be a different story if the spear wielders are only human and the sword wielders are exorcists who make their living by slaughtering monsters. Against such people who can dodge or cut off a bullet from a flintlock rifle at best, what would she expect me to do?
 "How did this happen...?"
 Having given up on the idea of winning at the last moment, I was thinking about how I could lose in a way that would satisfy the other side, holding up my tattered and near-death long spear (this is the third generation) of a servant leader, and thinking back to the reasons why I had fallen into such a situation... 
* * *
 The Oumi family residence, a distant relative of Kizuki's, is not a "stray house" unlike those of many northern region exorcists, but it still has an area a hundred times larger than that of a commoner's house. Naturally, there were also residences for the housekeepers and maidservants who took care of the owner's family.
 At the far end of the residence, a few small huts, which seem to have been built in a hurry, are the residences for the servants brought from Kizuki's house.
 To be honest, the accommodations are sh*tty. Luckily, this world has a spiritual vein, and the spiritual power overflowing from it benefits people in every way. It's even more so in the capital, where the climate is stable, water is plentiful, and even natural hot water gushes out, so people don't have to worry too much about the heat or cold even if they are in a crude shack, and they can even take a simple bath in a tub of hot water. However, it is cramped inside, insects come in, and once again, it is very cramped.
 When I became the leader of the group, I was suspicious of many conspiracies, but I was grateful to Kizuki Shisui at this time. If I had been a mere servant, I would have had to sleep in a one-and-a-half tatami mat space. It would have been quite a burden for me to be placed in such an environment, as I was in a zombie-like state with bandages and blood all over my body from the battle with the monster fox the other day. Now that I'm the leader of the group, I can monopolize the hut by myself even though it's still small as ever, which is a big help.
 However, there are some problems with that...
 "...morning. Hmm...?"
 I wake up in a thin straw quilt to the sound of chickens cooing from somewhere. Feathers? Cotton? How can a servant use such expensive bedding?
 The ninth month of the lunar calendar (長月)... or rather in the middle of October if it was in my previous life, when my wounds have finally healed and my bones have been reconnected, I writhe in the chilly, near-winter air, longing to leave the comfort of the straw comforter behind me. But, what is the feeling of this fluffy fur and its warmth at this time of the year...?
 My brain wakes up instantly as I realize the strange feeling in the quilt, and I jump up, leap to the wall of the hut, pull out the dagger I had hidden in my pocket for self-defense, and get ready for a fight.
 Someone or something is under the quilt... it is no laughing matter in this world. There are many kinds of youkai who would come out of the quilt and make people say goodbye just like in some horror movies. If anything feels a little strange, be careful, that's the secret to live long in this world. It is not unusual to die even if careful. It's still a sh*tty world.
 "Hah... hah... hah... Who is it?"
 I muttered to myself, my face tense with tension, my whole body sweating from early in the morning. Then something begins to wriggle out from under the straw quilt. I stare at the presence in front of me, running all kinds of simulations in my brain to prepare myself for what might happen next. And then...
 "Hahh... hahh... yawn..., uh... you finally woke up...?"
 A small white figure in a white robe raised from the straw quilt. The tone of the voice was a little short-tongued and childish. And most impressive of all, two pairs of white fox ears and a white tail that looks like a cushion as well... Taking all of them together, I was stunned to get the answer to the identity of the other person.
 "Shi... no, wait. Who are you?"
 I almost said her name for a moment in my agitation, and then I corrected myself. Yes, I mustn't identify a person just by their first glimpse. It was not uncommon for some monsters to deceive people by illusion, blocking recognition, or changing their appearance. No, that's one thing, but above all, I can't let my guard down at all, considering my knowledge of the original story, even if the person is the real one.
 "Eh...? U-Um... do you remember me?
 "Just tell me your name!!"
 I commanded hoarsely, and a figure jumped, shoulders shaking, head clenched and trembling. The fox ears and the fox tail are limp. I feel a pang of guilt at the sight, but I don't let my guard down.
 "Eh, uhh... I-I'm Shiro!! I-I serve the princess..."
 "Why are you here!? Why are you under my quilt!?"
 "Eeek! Eh, uh, umm... Princess sent me to call you, Tomobe-san... but..."
 "What? Then, what have you been doing?"
 I ask her, accusing the girl of being a little embarrassed. The girl covers her mouth with her sleeve in a little embarrassment and answers while looking at me with an upward glance.
 "Y-You seemed to be tired, and you didn't get up when I called to you... so, I went inside the hut... and I shook your body..."
 "And, umm... you were saying you were cold, and you pulled me under the quilt... and you used my tail as a pillow, and I couldn't move. So I fell asleep as well...Tomobe-san?"
 The girl who talks shyly and fidgety notices that my forehead wrinkles up and she talks to me anxiously. I, on the other hand, was holding my eyebrows with a headache as the memory came back to me now after listening to her story.
 Oh, yeah... It's my fault...
 I was working out a lot yesterday to regain my senses which have been dulled after a long rest... but I guess I pushed myself a little too hard. I was so tired that I fell asleep. Surely I didn't wake up when someone woke me up, but rather did such a thing in my sleep... If it had been a monster who was trying to trick me, I'd have died.
 (No, I haven't been sleeping all month, still...)
 There are things I can do even if I can't move my body because of the battle with the monster fox. I have been studying from books and practicing spiritual techniques. If anything, I had received simple guidance from that youkai-killer who came to me via the shikigami, and from the gorilla princess who showed her face to me in a whimsical way. At least, I did not spend my time playing around aimlessly. Still, I guess that means I was especially tired yesterday...
 "It's so pathetic..."
 "I'm talking about myself. Don't worry about it."
 I say this to the white half-youkai who responds to my soliloquy as I put away my dagger.
 "More importantly, I'm taking it out on you. I'm sorry, I'll bring you something next time instead of an apology."
 Although it may be minimal, servants have food, clothing, and shelter, and are paid at least a little bit... a mere pittance, really. Well, when I become a group leader, the pay is a little higher than when I was a low-ranking employee.
 Anyway, I don't touch it except when I need to get tools to survive, so I have some savings, though not a lot of money. I can at least buy some toys or sweets as an apology for taking it out on her.
 "Huh!? No, i-it's all right!! You don't have to do that."
 "No, you don't have to be shy. I'm the one who took care of you."
 I look at the girl in front of me without being noticed. Yes, don't be shy. It's better for you not to be unnecessarily anxious.
 The girl named Shiro, who was recruited about a month ago as a chore in the service of Kizuki Aoi, the gorilla princess, is a monster who appeared in a previous game, and now she is a helpless half-Youkai. However, there was no reason to let my guard down.
 (The best thing would have been for her to live quietly in the orphanage.)
 But, I don't know when she will regain her power and awaken in a sulky way, just like in the original story. She may have lost most of her aspect as a youkai, and as a servant of the gorilla, she may not have to fight much... but considering the severity of this world, I am not optimistic. I mean, it would be a disaster if the main character intervenes in the events of the original story and the story ends badly.
 In fact, it's impossible to say that I won't be the target of her bitterness and resentment when she awakens. The worst-case scenario is that I could have been minced at the same time as she awakened. No, I could be killed instantly, which is better than the pudding case...?
 Even if not, I was ordered by the raccoon ex-head of the Omyou dormitory to take charge of her. Because that woman... I realized later that she put a curse on me with her words. It wasn't a terrible curse that would kill me, but... then again, I must cut off even half of the vile youkai's roots (sense of mission).
 Well, that's why I don't want to spoil the mood and impression of the fox girl in front of me too much. So, if I can reduce the risk of death even a little, it was a small price to pay.
 "Eh... but..."
 "What's wrong? Do you have a problem with it?
 "N-no... it's not that... it just..."
 "What's wrong? You're not making any sense. You're not being clear. You're a lackey. You're no lower than me. Don't be shy."
 I walk over to the girl who has been fidgeting under the quilt and speaking gibberish and sits down so that our gazes are at the same level. I knew that children feel fear when they are looked down on from above and questioned.
 (If it were true, this conversation would not be good.)
 The leader of a subordinate team is not that great, to be honest. They're just disposable, expendable team leaders who are also expendable. Even a servant of the princess of the main family might be in a better position than them. In this world of strong feudalism. The age difference is not to be underestimated, but status and position were valued more than that. Well, even my actual age is less than hers, right?
 "Eh... it's... it's not that I... I didn't mean... to be so rude to you, Tomobe-san... and... it's not that I didn't like it..."
 "Hmm? What?"
 Her voice gets quieter and quieter towards the end, and I can't understand what she's saying, so I ask back.
 "I'm sorry, can you say a little more?"
 "Ehhh...!? T-that's, um...!"
 "Oh, hey, two guys in bed. Why are you idle in your beds?"
 Her cold voice rang like a bell, and I can say with certainty that the air in the room dropped by five degrees.
 I, and probably the half-youkai girl too, look in the direction of the voice with a frightened expressions on our faces. A girl was standing in the doorway of a poor hut, dressed in a luxurious kimono that would never have fit in a doorway of a poor hut, with a lively smile on her face.
 ...it was a smile that made me feel chilly.
 "I came all this way because you were coming back too late, but you seem to be having a lot of fun, yes? I'm jealous that I'm the only one left out."
 The girl says with her mouth aggravatedly. The way she said it gave me an impression of a predator that is stalking its prey.
 "Oh, um... uhh..."
 Shiro hides under the quilt, completely shriveled up. The gorilla takes one look at the child and looks in my direction.
 "Hey Tomobe, is there anything you need to tell me?"
 "...I hope the wise and intelligent princess has a generous heart."
 I flatter her as best I can as if she were a judge about to pronounce a death sentence...
* * *

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