Friday, November 25, 2022 @

Volume 2 Epilogue, Part 1

 It was the 7th day of the 8th month of the 10th year of the Seiryou era, or the 1440th year of the Imperial Era. An exorcist was invited to a ceremony at the Grand Inner Palace, the central part of the imperial court, which stretched over 400 meters from east to west and over 500 meters from north to south.
 To be more precise, the exorcist was given an official rank as well as a prize by the Imperial Court. The rank was the sixth, and the prize consisted of twenty loaves of silver, six silk cloths, and several goldsmith's wares and furnishings. The reason for the reward was ostensible that the exorcist had vanquished the monster fox that had attacked the capital and its people, and had presented its corpse to the imperial court.
 To be precise, this was also the reason, but more than that, it was a kind of hush money. That is to say, it was to keep Tachibana Trading Company quiet about the cargo that the Imperial Court had requested.
 'Now, what exactly was the cargo, Uemon-dono?'
 Kizuki Uemon, sitting on a cushion in a dimly lit room with the lights off and only moonlight shining in, is asked by a woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui) perched on a candlestick in the corner of a house rented from the Oumi family. No, it was not the woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui) itself. A tag with the word "Shiki" written in blood was affixed to its face. In other words, it was a shikigami in the exact form of a woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui).
 Several candlesticks were placed in front of Kizuki Uemon. On each of them stood a shikigami in the shape of a bird: an egret, a woodpecker, a kite, a magpie, and so on. Uemon could clearly feel the gazes of those who were looking at him through the eyes of the shikigami.
 It was a meeting between Uemon, who had come to the capital, and the elders of the Kizuki family, who had remained in their hometown. Exorcists tend to use this kind of shikigami for real-time conversations with distant people. The final topic of discussion was the merits of one of the candidates for the next head of the family who had come to the capital.
 "According to what I have heard through my contacts, the contents of the cargo are youkai captured alive... I am sure that is not a lie, but perhaps that is not the only reason for this reward. That alone would be a bit excessive as a reward."
 Kizuki Uemon replies confidently, his cheeks and chin quivering. Those were not words without foundation.
 On the surface, it is probably true that the living youkai for experimentation and research that the Onmyou dormitory was planning to secretly bring into the inner palace were carried by the Tachibana Trading Company. And it is also true that the contents were not very good.
 The capital is protected by four layers of boundaries. To be more precise, there are six kinds of 12-layered boundaries on the city walls that protect the whole capital except for the outer city, eight kinds of 24-layered boundaries that protect the area called Chukyo (中京) where especially wealthy merchants, noble families, and daimyo residences stand, and 10 kinds of 33-layered boundaries that protect the inner palace (Daiuchiura), the political center of the capital, and 12 kinds of 36-layered boundaries that protect the great inner palace (Uchiura), the last emperor's residence. ...Naturally, it is impossible to construct such a network of boundaries, which is almost ironclad in terms of sorcery, by human power, no matter how many exorcists are gathered together. Therefore, the enormous consumption of spiritual power is covered by the natural spiritual energy from the spiritual veins overflowing from right under the capital.
 The spiritual veins emit an unlimited amount of spiritual energy, and depending on how it is used, it can even interfere with the reason of the world. In fact, the Imperial Court has been utilizing unlimited spiritual energy to give fertility to the lands around the capital year after year and to exorcise disasters, epidemics, and other calamities before they occur. On the other hand, for youkai, it is a special place where they can raise the status of their existence and become more powerful at a rate dozens of times faster than usual just by staying there, and that is why the stray youkai have been targeting the spiritual veins of the capital for thousands of years.
 The culture of the court nobles detested filth, and it was originally forbidden to bring live youkai into the capital, especially into the inner palace. However, Tachibana Trading Company was trying to bring youkai into the capital, even though they were considerably weakened and sealed up, according to the secret order received from an executive of the Imperial Court.
 If this had been widely known to the public, it would have caused a scandal of some sort, and those who ordered it would have been exiled to the islands, and the Tachibana Trading Company would have been pursued and would have been blamed for the incident. According to the above, it is understandable then... but still, it cannot be denied that the treatment is too excessive.
 'It is indeed doubtful. The Imperial Court of these days would not make such a big deal of it...'
 The kite (elder) voiced his doubts in a hoarse voice. From the very beginning, the imperial court does not trust exorcists from the bottom of its heart. And the current regent is the head of the greedy Sakaki family. And when he gives such a rich reward for a single youkai, it makes one wonder what's going on behind the scenes.
 "Oh my, oh my, you are all so swollen. Our family Aoi has received an excessive honor, you know? Why don't you be more open-minded? Right, Uemon?'
 The graceful egret (Kizuki Kochou) takes a glance at the other shikigami, then at Uemon who is sitting in front of him, and twists his head in a soft, yet somewhat petting voice, as if asking for their agreement. Uemon, on the other hand, looks at Shikigami, or rather at the person who is probably looking at him from the other side of the room, with a sullen expression on his face.
 "Mother (hahaue), you know that things are not that simple. This is a matter that will affect the future prosperity of our Kizuki family."
 Uemon complains to his mother... Kizuki Kochou, about her optimistic attitude. Uemon could not help but wonder why his mother, who did not seem to be very attached to her children, was so strangely lenient toward her granddaughter's sisters, who seemed to be a troublesome lump, probably because they had been married for political reasons.
 'That's right, Kochou-sama. From our point of view, the Imperial Court is too far away. We may need to get involved a little, but we should not get too involved in their intrigues.'
 Kizuki Shisui's shikigami follows Uemon's words. The Kizuki was not always present in the capital. In fact, except for a visit to the capital once every three years, there were often times when no one was in the capital at all. It was indeed necessary for the Kizuki to establish a relationship with the court by paying tribute or giving gifts, but it was too risky for them to get too deeply involved in the court affairs without being able to know the latest developments in the court at all times. There was no way to know when the power structure of the court would change.
 'In the first place, why did Aoi get involved in this case? I can't imagine that she would get herself involved in such a matter...'
 The magpie (elder 2), perhaps middle-aged, mutters with a difficult expression on his face. It was not quite clear to him that the second daughter, who was a fickle, moody, and troublesome person, would want to get herself involved in such a troublesome matter.
 'Uemon-dono, what do you think? Did you notice anything unusual about the princess's movements?'
 The woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui) asked with a chirping cry. Uemon Kizuki was chosen to represent the Kizuki family in the capital because of his extensive personal connections and his talent. In particular, as the head of the Hidden Group, he was in charge of gathering information in the capital, and at the same time, he was also in charge of monitoring the attendants on their way to the capital.
 "No way. It was a long time ago. It's not so easy to get past her boundaries and concealment now. Even I couldn't do it."
 Uemon replies with a resentful expression, tapping his elbow uncomfortably.
 Kizuki Aoi, one of the most worrisome members of the Kizuki family, is a mad dog who knows not what she is capable of.
 Born without love to a bedridden and crippled head of the Kizuki family, Yuusuke, who is unable to fulfill his duties as head of the Kizuki family, and his wife, Sumire, who is the head of the Ako family, Aoi is a pink girl who is not interested in her parents but has inherited their great spiritual power and exorcism talent... That is Kizuki Aoi. Or, she might have been able to soften the situation to that extent.
 However... the fact that she was almost killed indirectly by her own father, and that it did not hurt her position at all instead of succeeding, and even aggravated the family feud, would have been fatal.
 Aoi, on the other hand, has not inherited the power of exorcism, but she has much more powerful spiritual power than her elder sister, and she is more talented than her elder sister, and more than anything else, she is favored by her father. In contrast, Aoi, although she did not inherit any special powers, was a daughter whose bloodline was unquestionable. The only problem was that the sisters were not on the best of terms, which was a nightmare for the elders of the Kizuki family. If they were not good enough, they might split the family in two and start killing each other, which would be the biggest cause of the decline of the family for the family of exorcism that grows stronger with each passing generation.
 'Oh goodness, before the head of the family's failure, he was just sitting on his talent and didn't even train properly... Thanks to it, the conversation has become troublesome...'
 The kite (elder) spat out with a cluck of his tongue. The person who is using this Shikigami is the one who is the firstborn among the elders.
 The attendees of this small meeting were all members of the elders of the Kizuki family, and they were all moderate people who thought that they should avoid internal conflicts, whether they supported the eldest or the second eldest, whichever they preferred. In fact, Kizuki Aoi accompanied the trip to the capital to cool down the conflict, even if only temporarily, by separating the sisters who might start killing each other at any moment...
 'It failed, didn't it? I had no idea that Aoi would make such an achievement. Aoi was not the type to perform her duties voluntarily, even if she was a young chick...'
 The magpie (elder 2) was puzzled. It is not surprising that the eldest daughter, with her strong work ethic and ambition, would be actively involved in the recent turmoil. But not the second daughter. Therefore, they let their guard down. They did not expect her to take the initiative. And if she were to receive a reward and an official position as a result, the balance of power between the sisters would be shaken.
 'It's really a troublesome situation, isn't it? Well, what should we do? By the way, did the princess pick up something in the recent commotion?'
 A horned owl (elder 3) twists his head and asks.
 "Hmm? Ah, you mean that story. Well, I've heard that she belongs to the orphanage that was attacked by a monster fox who is not very good at what she does. She seems to be a little girl from a half-Youkai. Seriously, it's a very curious thing to be.'
 Uemon says, seemingly unconcerned. Although what Kizuki Aoi had kept secret from him was true, it was quite rare for a half-youkai named Kitsuri Shiroki to have risen to calamity youkai and then cut herself off as a half-youkai, so he could not imagine her true origins. Or if she knew it, she would have plotted to adjust the power relationship between the sisters, so Aoi's judgment was right in that sense.
 'Oh, that's new to me. Is it a girl? I'm a little curious. Maybe I'll have her come to see me when she comes back here?'
 It was Egret (Kizuki Kochou) who responded with a sweet voice. The other shikigami and Uemon frowned a little at her tone, which seemed to lack any sense of tension.
 '...Well, I understand most of what you said. There is no point in lamenting what has happened. We should make the most of the situation. Uemon-dono, did you get the message from the Tachibana Trading Company?'
 "Yes, I'm aware of that. I have already met with their head several times. I can impress upon him to meet me instead of Aoi if there's any problem."
 Uemon replies with a snorting smile in a good mood. It is indeed Aoi who has directly helped the head of the company, but Aoi is still a child, not a representative of the Kizuki family. If it is a simple business matter, Uemon is the only one who can talk about it. Therefore, they should try to reduce the influence of Princess Aoi as much as possible.
 'I think we should give Hina a chance to make her own achievements. Let her deal with the Onigumo (Demon Spider) of Mount Horikoshi (洞越). It's about time for her to take on a monster of that caliber.'
 'If she succeeds, we'll have a balance, and if she fails and dies, that's good too, because it'll put an end to the family feud, won't it?'
 The kite (elder) said something derisive in response to the magpie (elder 2)'s words. The magpie (elder 2) squints his eyes and turns his quiet deadly intent toward the kite (elder), or rather the man on the other side of it.
 '...Shisui, will you take care of the chicks for me? I think she needs at least one person to watch over her.'
 Egret (Kizuki Kochou) asked the woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui) as if to break up the tense atmosphere. All eyes turned to the woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui). Then, the woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui) glances at Egret (Kizuki Kochou) with a sidelong glance, then closes its eyes and falls silent for a moment...
 'That's fine. I, Shisui, though I am young, will serve as Princess Hina's attendant.'
 The woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui) bowed his head reverently. No one was outright opposed to the words of Shisui, who was the most promising candidate for the next head of the family before the sisters' struggle for succession began, and who took a neutral position.
 '...Well then. Is this the end of the meeting tonight?'
 Kite (elder) asked while looking at the other attendees around him.
 "Well, I have no problem with that."
 'I'm fine with it.'
 'I think we have nothing more to discuss at this time.'
 'I see. I guess we're going to end the meeting soon.'
 The participants agreed to the kite (elder)'s offer. It was already confirmed that there was nothing much to talk about anymore.
 'All right. Then, everyone, thank you for your hard work this evening. Let us disperse. Well then.'
 When the consensus was reached, the kite (elder) announced the end of this evening's meeting. As if to say goodbye, it let out a cry, and at the same time, it disappeared, leaving only the blood letters... which ignited and instantly burned out, as if self-destructing the next moment.
 'Now, if you'll excuse me.'
 The magpie (elder 2) looked around, then turned into a blue-white fireball, which burned out, followed by the woodpecker (Kizuki Shisui). Finally, the egret (Kizuki Kochou) spoke up, as if remembering.

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