Tuesday, November 8, 2022 @

Chapter 7, Part 1

 In a corner of a spacious residence, two small shadows huddled together were whispering to each other holding a scroll with letters and drawings on it.
 'Hey, hey, '■■'...! Let's think about the plan again!'
 'Shhh! Please speak in a low voice! It'll be troublesome if someone hears us.'
 Says the girl who has recently been scolded by the grown-ups for her unrestrained behavior. Same old behavior again, the boy thought. However, it is his job to play along with her. And since it is not good for them to be heard, he holds his index finger over the girl's mouth and asks her to lower her voice.
 'Hehh~, I get it. The plan is just a secret between us, right?'
 'Do you really understand...? Then, these are the plans you've been thinking about until the last time. But what do you plan to do this time?'
 'Umm... What kind of house are we going to live in after we've done the drawings? A-And what kind of family do we make?'
 The boy understands that the wild and absurd plan of a little girl with a dreamy mind can never come true, and he also understands that it is something that must not happen in the future. But... considering her situation, he thought it would be good for her to have the freedom to imagine. In a way, the boy was bonded to the unfortunate girl, even if it was dangerous from his own standpoint. Of course, the latter's question is naturally ignored.
 'Okay, I understand. But it is a bit difficult to live in a village. Because it is small and closed, so someone will suspect you immediately. Then we have to live in a city where there are many people, or in the mountains where it's quieter.'
 The boy makes a realistic proposal to the girl. He knows that the girl is dreamy and simple but not stupid or dumb. Therefore, if he made a serious proposal as much as possible, she would think that he was being serious about his stupid story.
 'Let's create a ricefield together!! After all, you see, I like momo (もも?), so I'll make lots of momoen (ももえん?)!'
 'Is it good for you there? But, isn't it easier to live in a city?'
 'Eh, no way. I don't like too many people.'
 The girl looks deeply dissatisfied. Thinking of her situation, it's no wonder she's afraid of so many people she doesn't know. For her, she doesn't need a lot of people. Just a few, important people she can rely on. At least for her these days.
 Maybe it was only after she awakened to her power and was thanked for saving so many people that she developed a sense of responsibility to help all people. That's when she could affirm herself.
 'Okay, okay, let's do as you say, Princess. Then... two people can eat from the mountain in the beginning... But how many people should be in a family? I mean, Princess, even if the mountain food is abundant, it can't fill more than two people's stomachs. So, to have more members is... do you know what I mean? Aren't you fooling me? Good grief, I don't know what you're thinking... Okay, Hina, don't be so angry....'
 The boy apologizes to the girl who is sulking with her mouth puffed up. But the girl gets even angrier because she feels like she is being treated like a child. But she soon forgets about it and takes advantage of the only person she can rely on again.
 'I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, Hina.'
 'Hmph, I can't help it. I forgive you. So please pat me more, okay?'
 The boy takes care of the problem at hand by using a special move that he does not like to do in front of others: patting the child's head. In the game, the girl has never had anyone do this to her ever since her father did it to her when she lived in the village a long time ago. She is a stout-hearted but actually sweet-natured girl, and supposedly she used to ask the main character to pat her head when her likability level reached a certain level in the game. Well, now she is just a child and has nothing to carry on her back, so it is rather easy for the boy to pat her head and she also asks him to do so.
 The boy gives a small, gentle smile to the girl's happy smile. It is the smile of a child, anyway. It will fade away when she grows up, and the boy won't be able to win the charm of the main character.
 But still, it would not be wrong for the boy to keep the smile of this moment to himself. As a fan of the game, the boy thought so from the bottom of his heart. Consciously ignoring the fact that this is a kind of romantic feeling...
 Anyway, except for the fact that the boy's side was a bit mature, it was a smiling scene between children as far as the eye could see. A play of poor affection between children who do not know the difference between affection and love. And at least both of them were pure-hearted.
 However, a single shikigami of a bat was watching the scene of these two children...
* * *
 Many people may imagine an oxcart as a vehicle used by court nobles in the Heian period (794-1185).
 In history, oxcarts were used from the Heian period to the middle of the Muromachi period (1336-1573) as a kind of vehicle for nobles, partly due to ancient customs in China, and of course, they also appear in "Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru), and the Kizuki family, a long-established family of exorcist, who claim themselves to have a long-established lineage from mythical times (a lie, of course), also use them daily.
 However, it is nothing like a real ox cart.
 First of all, the oxen are different. The two oxen pulling the ox cart have blue skin and horns growing out of their heads. They are said to be originally descended from the ancestors of a sacred animal called a fire-breathing cow, but their blood has been diluted through continued generation changes, and now they are only intelligent enough to understand human language to a certain extent, in addition to the aforementioned.
 The oxcart itself is luxurious and gorgeous, but to my eyes, its highly complicated techniques are even more remarkable. Just at a glance, more than a dozen of techniques are carefully and precisely designed to protect the people inside from all kinds of situations and to prevent people from interfering in any way with each other.
 The most striking fact is that the inside of the cart has been turned into a "stray house (迷い家/Mayoiga)" by using the technique of "Youkai-ization" of artificial vessels, which the exorcists have developed through years of experimentation.
 The origin of this stray house is a mysterious house in the mountains that bestows wealth to those who visit it, as told in Tohno Monogatari (The Story of the Tohno region), but in this world, it is slightly different.
 The setting of "Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)" is modeled on the Hokuriku region, but the "stray house" in this world is, of course, Youkai. Moreover, it is a great Youkai or a troublesome Calamity Youkai class.
 For a simple image, think of a certain Ghibli's Moving Castle. The main body is not a demon... but a mass of conscious Youkai power, and the structure is an attachment, a kind of land boss who controls not only the building but also the surrounding land, or even the whole land itself.
 It leads people to its building through rumors and illusions, and the target remains in a trance-like state while their bodies are decomposed and absorbed by its spiritual power, like an insectivorous plant. If the illusion or hypnosis does not work, the house itself will turn its fangs against the target. It seems that the inside of the "Stray House" is a kind of a different world due to a kind of boundary, and the space is obviously larger than the real area, and the flow of time is also abnormal. Even the laws of physics can be altered to a limited extent, and there are countless traps so that a person who wanders into the labyrinth will be lost forever and go insane.
 ...No, a top-notch demon exorcist would not have entered the building to play such a game but would finish it off with a map attack. One of the Seven Exorcists who devised this tactic, Priest Kannin says that there is no need to fight on the same stage as the youkai. But I wonder how about luring a demon (oni) or a Ōnyūdō (大入道), who is unbeatable at close range, into a duel on the plain, after which they climb a mountain and shoot proton beams from their eyes to kill us with an inevitable trap attack?
 ...Ah, it's a bit off-topic. Anyway, there are many youkai, especially the "stray houses" of the current example reside in the northern region. So, many exorcists understood their characteristics and their usefulness very well. Then, after much research and study, some of the families succeeded in developing the technology to artificially "manufacture" the stray houses.
 Therefore, the interior space of the oxcart that uses this technology is more than ten times larger than the actual size of the oxcart and is connected to several independent spaces. If a monster or bandit attempted to attack anyone inside, they would be forced to enter the interior, and what would appear would be a herd of Youkai that the Kizuki family had subdued (brainwashed) and locked up in another independent space. Of course, if the oxcart itself is burned, those insides will be trapped, but it is quite difficult to destroy the oxcart, which has been turned into a "stray house" by a single blow and is equipped with ten or twenty layers of protective spells.
 Incidentally, the same is true of the Kizuki family's residence, and there is even a brown-haired, pony-tailed, shy Zashiki Warashi created by artificial and inhumane experimentation. Although this youkai is not an 'attackable' character but a minor one, its childlike character is a comfort among many crazy ones. It can be said that she is a refreshing remedy.
 ...Well, I apologize for the lengthy description. Well, that's why even if people share an ox cart, the inside of it is quite spacious. Besides, if I am not good at it, I can wait in another space that I switch to. Or perhaps it is more normal that way. Considering the relationship between the daughter of an exorcist's family and a mere servant, it is much more natural.
 So, the current situation would not have been possible in the first place.
 "What's wrong? I've given you a place to sleep. So, don't be modest. You should lie down. I mean, I know how you feel. Your wounds will open up in that position, won't they?"
 "However, under the circumstances, this kind of disrespect..."
 I reply to the calm words of the girl my age who is boarding with me while bending down on my knees and bowing my head. I had no mask, so the intense pain in my legs and shoulders was still quite painful even with the anesthesia provided by the medicine man, but I couldn't show it in my expression. My face is as expressionless as possible, but sweat appears on my forehead.
 (D*mn, I'm in real trouble...!!!)
 I thought so, bowing my head to cover up the pain, but my eyes only observed the surroundings.
 The inside of the oxcart, which was supposed to be a space of six tatami mats at most, had become a spacious room of more than 30 tatami mats (49 square meters/533 square ft) due to the alteration of the reality of the "stray house". Moreover, the floor is covered with tatami mats, and there is a shoe place at the entrance and exit of the oxcart.
 In front of me, Kizuki Hina was sitting on a zabuton (Japanese cushion). In her hand was a lacquered writing table with a gold leaf design, on which was an expensive-looking inkstone box, and in her hand was a letter. It seemed that she was engaged in her work. There was no tremor in this oxcart, and rather, it was definitely a good environment for working, free from heat and cold.
 On the wall behind me was a hanging scroll, from which, if I shifted my gaze to the right, I could see a magnificent folding screen painting, and if I turned my gaze to the left, I could see a dyed silk table with a side table. Another view of the surroundings showed shelves, a stand for Japanese swords, and other glittering furnishings. It was supposed to be a trip by ox cart, yet another luxurious...
 "Although it's not my thing. I wouldn't have minded staying in the wild. But it is not good for a direct descendant of the honorable Kizuki to sleep in the open air. As I recall, when you accompanied Ayaka on this trip, you should be stayed in the wild, right?"
 The girl asks with a serious expression on her face and a slightly troubled, hard smile. It showed that she was not used to smiling.
 "Yes, that is correct."
 I reply matter-of-factly, trying not to show my emotions. Of course, if there was an inn town or village along the way, we stayed there, but if there was no such place, we stayed in the open as a matter of course. And compared to the servants, Kizuki Ayaka is still the last member of her clan and is not as powerful as the whole clan. So, she is not in a position to use the oxcart, which has become a "stray house". Thus, like the rest of the servants, she is forced to stay in the wild.

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