Thursday, November 3, 2022 @

Chapter 4, Part 1

 It was just after noon... or eight-and-a-half o'clock in this world or time period.
 I was in a forest shrouded in a deep white fog. A forest covered with a deep fog, so deep that it is doubtful if a human can even see an inch of it...

 (Even though it was a forest, there was not a single sound of animals or insects. And to top it off, there was this thick youkai atmosphere... Aha, bingo)
 I, or more precisely, the group consisting of five servants with me in the lead and one exorcist, was slowly making our way through the forest in such a dangerous atmosphere (the servants were on foot and the exorcist was on horseback, by the way).
 We had come to a mountainous area on the border of the territory, about five or six mountains away from the main house of the Kizuki family. Of course, we were not here for a picnic, but for work. Recently, it has been reported that hunters and lumberjacks who went hunting in the forest have gone missing one after another, and we received a petition from a nearby village to investigate and exterminate them.
 But when we sent two members of the Hidden Group, they did not come back without sending even a single Shikigami. If this is the case, we cannot deny the possibility that the opponent is at least of the 'Great Youkai' class, or, worse, of 'Calamity Youkai', although we do not like to think so. Therefore, we were sent in as a combination of the main retinue and a squad of servants as support and decoys. And, here we are...
 "The magnet is crazy as expected. The markers... too."
 First, I look at the compass in my hand and found that the needle is spinning in circles. Next, I find a piece of cloth tied to a tree trunk on the foggy road. I guess the two members are going around the same path.
 For the note, when dealing with monsters, trust in the five senses is not so important. Sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch... although we have to concentrate on all of them with all our strength, at the same time, we have to be alert to the possibility that we might be fooled by monsters before we know it.
 Therefore, we, servants, rely on tools... but it was not uncommon to have these tools be distorted like this directional magnet. I mean, it's still a cute little thing. At this rate, it is unlikely that the other party is 'Calamity Youkai'. If they are, they may alter the laws of physics within their control. But how can we counter such a conceptual attack?
 "...have we already fallen into the Youkai's trap?"
 As I was checking for markers, a cute and polite voice echoed from behind me. I look at the owner of the voice through the mask.
 She is a silver-haired girl with an anxious, nervous look on her face... Dressed in a kimono that is easy to move around in (in other words, with the armpits exposed), like an exorcist (shrine maiden). She is holding a bow and arrow in her hand. By the way, the bow is made of a sacred tree and its string is made of a dragon's beard. Though they say it is for ease of movement, isn't the costume a bit erotic? I can see a little of her side boob. This is not good for moral education...
 ...Anyway, the girl who came running up to me on horseback, named Kizuki Ayaka, was 17 years old at the start of the game, but is now 14 years old and is a healthy and quiet girl.
 Her character is timid and self-conscious, but regardless of her status, she is a kind and big sisterly person, and in fact, she is adored as a big sister not only by her family members but also by the children of the family. In the game, she is one year older than the main character of the original story, so she is treated as a good-natured big sister, but in reality, she is a small and awkward character who has won popularity among her fans as a healing character. However... she is also a victim of the infamous "Harabote Chestbuster".
 Well, the producers are so distorted in their taste that after taking her friends' hostage and making her unable to resist, they gang-rape her, and then she reappears in a harabote state and gives birth in front of the main character, suffering and crying, with her stomach distorted, isn't that too much? Who benefits from that?
 What's even more pitiful is that it's a part of a plot to humiliate the main character, and the backstory is that she happened to be chosen as a sacrifice for the plot. Furthermore, in the different books, she has become a popular partner in interracial love stories along with gorillas until the end of her life.
 "Hmm? Is something wrong, Tomobe-san?"
 "...No, I was just thinking about something."
 As I was thinking back on the (in many ways) terrible misery of her character, the girl tilted her head curiously, as if she could sense it. Seriously, I don't like a brat with good intuition...
 ...No, all of the exorcists are monsters, not only in their five senses but also in their sixth sense.
 And by the way, Ayaka just called me by my first name, which is also quite rare among all the exorcists. I mean, most of the members of the Kizuki family probably don't remember the faces and names of each and every one of their servants. After all, we basically hide our faces... Well, she is good in that aspect as well. She treats even the servants, who are normally expendable, as equals. So, it's not hard to imagine that she was selected to work with the main character in the beginning because of her character.
 Once again, the girl tilts her head as if she senses that I'm looking at her again. Yeah, she's cute.
 (...So, it would be pitiful to let her die...)
 In a sense, she is a heroine in the early stage of the story, and there are no flags, but there is no route to make her a heroine, mercilessly. Moreover, she has a childhood friend who is in love with her in the hidden group, so it is hopeless for the hero and her to be coupled.
 ...Or rather, the childhood friend is also usually in a terrible situation due to the convenience of the story. And the way they add sweet and sour side stories in the extras and spin-off novels, and cut down the SAN (?) value of the fans... the creators of this game have rotten characters.
 Anyway, back to the current situation, I am not that pessimistic. A smart 'Youkai' would be more cunning. They may be able to utilize their abilities as much as they should.
 But if they really want to lead us astray, they don't need to rotate the compass in a circular motion. Just move the needle slowly so that we don't notice. The markers on the tree trunks should work, too. If they want, they don't have to create fog in the first place, they can use illusion to show a false world. After all, we can't tell where reality begins and where illusion begins. If they don't or can't do that, at least we know it's not the worst-case scenario.
 "But we must be on our guard. This fog makes it hard to see and notice their approach. Especially Ayaka-sama's fighting style is long-range, I don't think we can be optimistic about this situation."
 It was her bad habit to get carried away and make mistakes immediately. Her optimistic, and open personality might be attractive in a sense, but at least in this job, she must not be careless, which is a mistake.
 Ayaka looks embarrassed from my point of view. This is her attitude even though I am completely her subordinate. She's downcast, which is adorable. Of course, I would never say it out loud because of my position as a servant.
 Anyway, we should make camp. Walking any further is a waste of energy. It is a standard practice to make a camp where we can rest and rest, protect it with barriers, and be on alert with shikigami.
 "Hei, Kashiwagi, pitch the tent. Asagiri stays by Ayaka-sama's side, Heigun, you stay with me in the perimeter—"
 When I said so and turned around, I understood. There was no time to be so careless already.
 After all, Heigun, who had been the next best fighter in the group we had formed this time, was nowhere to be found.
 "Everyone, surround Ayaka-sama and stand guard...!!"
 It took less than two seconds for the team to respond to my order. The next moment, we were positioned around Kizuki Ayaka, with our eyes in all directions.
 I, in particular, who had been forcibly taught how to make a simple shikigami (familiar) by the gorilla princess the other day, cut up a few pieces of paper in the shape of animals and inscribed them with my blood. And with a puff of white smoke, the shikigami took on the form of flesh and began to move.
 "U-Um, isn't that too much blood for that shikigami?"
 "I understand that. This is not for scouts."
 The squirrel... or, more precisely, the Shikigami in the shape of a squirrel with its head covered by a tag was sharing my vision through the clairvoyance technique I had installed on top of the tag.
 "...Ayaka-sama, please make the preparations, if I may be so bold..."
 She seemed to finally understand my aim when I said that, and she held up the bow and arrow in her hand and pulled the string.
 I was guiding the Shikigami with sweat under my mask while paying attention to the road ahead. Damn, it takes a lot of concentration to guide multiple Shikigami, even with multiple views... If I were to compare it with my previous life, it would be like playing multiple FPS games at the same time.
 (There they are...!!!)
 Or, more precisely, I let them find my shikigami. In the next moment, one of the views shared with one of my Shikigami turns completely dark. They bit it, huh...!!
 But I pointed silently, and almost at the same time, a divine flash is shot in that direction. The arrowhead, which was imbued with my spiritual power, cuts through the fog and reacts to my blood-soaked shikigami's tag, and pierces through the head of the boar, literally shattering its skull. Also, its bones and brain plasma burst like shrapnel and splattered all around it.
 The monster boar, which was probably a "medium Youkai" class boar, collapsed limp. Immediately, the corpse is swarmed by the surrounding dogs, insects, and other "small Youkai". But then... it is torn to pieces by arrows of light raining down like a fine hail.
 "Ayaka-sama, three monkeys are coming from the front..!!"
 At the same time as I report this, three shadows appear out of the fog. If I had not had prior information about them, I might have unintentionally approached them and might have caused casualties. In reality, however, the three arrows hit it in the stomach, and at the same time, its body, protected by its hard fur, subcutaneous fat, and Youkai energy, was torn in half at the top and the bottom.
 "...Everyone, here comes the small fry. Protect Ayaka-sama!"
 I order my colleagues in a calm voice after glancing at the storm of arrows that the girl behind me unleashes with a tremendous impact. Their replies come back immediately in a somewhat mechanical tone. At the same time, small Youkai sporadically appears out of the fog... however, they are all being cut down with our weapons.
 Historically, there are various ways of classifying Youkai, but it seems that, at least in terms of settings, the most popular way of distinguishing "ranks" of "Youkai" at the beginning of the original story is usually expressed in five levels. Namely, "Young Youkai", "Small Youkai", "Medium Youkai", "Great Youkai and "Calamity Youkai".
 The lowest rank, "Young Youkai" is not even half "Youkai" in reality. They are halfway to becoming "Youkai". From there, they grow into "small Youkai", "medium Youkai", and "great Youkai" over time, and in the meantime, other species of "Youkai" are also developing. They evolve by devouring other Youkai and humans, especially those with high spiritual power and "supernatural" abilities, or by living in what should be called the dragon's veins of the land. Finally, after devouring hundreds of thousands of hours and thousands of thousands of lives of humans and their kind, they condense and concentrate their power to become "Calamity Youkai," also known as a "disaster with a will".
 Of course, in reality, only a very small percentage of the monsters can grow into "Great Youkai" or "Calamity Youkai". After all, the monsters are not stupid. They understand that the biggest threat to the monsters is themselves and that the only ones who would suffer from being devoured by them are those who have strong interest connections with the world. They go hunting for Youkai if there is even the slightest possibility of such a thing, and they kill all the monsters they find as much as possible before they grow up. Therefore, 90% of "Youkai" are "young Youkai" or "small Youkai", and at that level, even servants could compete with them one-on-one.
 Yes, if it was only a small Youkai.
 "Ah... Gaha!!?"
 But then, a sound of something crushing sounded. When we turned around, the grotesque sound came from a servant named Heigun.
 A youkai of a big bear about 3 meters long was grabbing his head. More precisely, it was grabbing, crushing, and lifting him up. As his body was shaken dizzily, red blood, pieces of flesh, and bones were spilling from the gaps of the big bear's clenched fists. At the sight of the horrifying creature staring at us with red eyes and roaring, Ayaka's horse squealed in terror.
 "You... How dare you...!!"
 Also, with a voice filled with anger, the object of our escort, the main character in this extermination, drew her bow almost reflexively. At close range, and with more spiritual power than necessary in her anger, she delivered a blow that literally blew away the left half of the big bear's body.
 Half of the bear's face was obliterated, and it fell to the ground, twitching, and jerking. Its internal organs fall out from the cross-section of its obliterated body, and a large amount of blood stains the ground.
 But it was a bad move, in a sense. Numbers are numbers. A blow with more spiritual power than necessary would be of no use here. On the contrary, it caused the decline of the exorcists' ability to continue the battle, and more than anything, it made the situation worse.
 "Tsk, the formation has collapsed, huh...!?"
 Even a servant with excellent fighting skills was suddenly lost, and now another one is lost, and moreover, Ayaka's powerful blow consumed a considerable amount of spiritual power. Besides, a bow and arrow is a disadvantageous piece of equipment in melee combat.
 The next moment, I cut down a dog-sized bee that jumped at me with a spear whose blade had been reinforced with spiritual power, and then knocked down a bat creature that appeared from its shadow with a heel strike with my foot reinforced with spiritual power, crushing its neck bone.

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