Friday, December 2, 2022 @

Chapter 24, Part 2

  (As I recall, in the original story, youkai takes advantage of the ugly feelings of the people around there.)
 As in the case of the great war, youkai are cowardly, sneaky, and cunning. They prefer to sneak into the cracks of human hearts and trap them, even though they are superior to humans in terms of their bare strength.
 And in the timeline of the original story, which is much more peaceful than the period of the Great War, they are very powerful and even succeed in destroying Fuso-kuni depending on the route, even though the remnants of the youkai of the Great War are much weaker in terms of strength than before.
 ...or rather, everything was planned in advance by Kuuban who realized the possibility of defeat in the middle of the Great War. No, it's really crazy to think that Kuuban even planned to be sealed up and then gave instructions and took countermeasures.
 "Is that the place where the missing person went missing further back?"
 "...yeah. The road is pretty rough up ahead. If you get separated, there's no guarantee you'll make it to the surface. You've got to stay close to us."
 "I understand."
 I squint from beneath my mask to get the meaning behind the words of the lead group. It means that we must protect everyone at all costs because if we go down, there is a probability that we will not be able to return to the surface. That's a good plan, isn't it? Though, I wouldn't have taken on such a dangerous role otherwise...
 Still, how far have we come? The darkness of the underground waterway grew darker and darker, so dark that I could not see more than ten steps even with a paper lantern. The sound of running water with a high viscosity, and the occasional sound of crawling rats or insects, echoed faintly in the darkness.
 There was a strong, indescribable smell that grew stronger by the second... and probably due to a large amount of wastewater from the public bathhouse, the humidity in the air gradually increased and the place grew heavier and heavier. Soon we don't say much, and eventually, no one speaks.
 Now, in silence, we continue on our way. Suddenly, the lead person stops. At about the same time, I and Murasaki also stopped. We were all aware of their presence, even if we couldn't see them in the darkness.
 Squeak! Squeak! A rat's squeak echoes through the darkness. I hold up my short spear, the tip of which is a scythe, that I prepared for the battle in the narrow underground tunnels. The others are probably drawing their weapons as well.
 As the sound of the signs grows louder and louder, finally, the light from the lanterns reveals its hideous form.
 'Squeak... Squeak....!'
 Without thinking, even I frowned at the sight. It was a big trench rat. Its red eyes were covered with sludge, but its jaws were split in four. Its two tongues flailed like an earthworm, and its body was covered with several wriggling eyeballs. It was clearly not a normal creature.
 The next moment, the young youkai's trench rat was cut in half and thrown into the sewage before its kamaitachi (a type of Japanese weasel) attacked. The wriggling creature, seconds later, sinks into the sewage...
 I turn my head to look behind me. There was a girl with a sword in her hand, her body tense with tension. She seems to have used her spare short sword instead of her youkai sword, depending on the narrow passage, and to have fired a slash on the spur of the moment.
 The exorcist's girl, perhaps noticing my gaze, smiles fearlessly while her face tightens for a moment.
 "I-it was my first time to actually kill youkai, but... it's easier than I thought, huh?"
 Murasaki says with forced bravado. I respond to her in silence. It's not because I'm upset. It's just that I have a bad memory of that line.
 ...hey, don't raise the death flag.
 She had a death route in almost all of the game, in all of the events, and that line was uttered in one of the several death routes in the underground waterway quests. By the way, this underground waterway quest was her first battle on that route, too. (And it was her first and last time to kill youkai.)
 "...! Hey, guide! Youkai have been killed! Move on!!"
 In contrast to my thinking, Murasaki frowned and made a dissatisfied expression on her face. She might have thought that my silent attitude made her look foolish. Then, she gave an order to the guides in a strong tone.
 On the other hand, the men who had just underestimated her suddenly become weak and follow the order. It is probably because they have realized how powerful she is through the slash she just delivered. They suddenly start to move forward, making a defensive stand.
 "And, you, what are you doing!? Move forward! Do you want to be left behind? Or are you just a little too scared to move forward against youkai...!?"
 Ako Murasaki said this to me in a mocking manner, but in a way that seemed to be taking on a forced and aggressive attitude.
 "...No, princess. I am sorry. Let me proceed."
 I bowed reverently and stepped forward. At the same time, I said to her.
 "Your earlier slash was truly impressive. I must admit that I was impressed that you could aim at such a big youkai with such a short sword and deliver a clear-cut attack. You are a master of the sword, Murasaki-sama."
 Thinking of the situation that would probably occur in the underground tunnels ahead, I spoke these words of praise, calculated from her character, as a prelude to that event. Suddenly, Murasaki's eyes widen lightly as if she had been hit by a peashooter. She looks away a little upset and accepts the compliment with "Ah, ah...". It was a gentle and honest reaction that is typical of her.
 And her reaction was as expected.
 I stare at the brick wall of the aqueduct as I continue on my way. The scrape marks on the surface, made by the slash that had killed the trench rat earlier, showed how powerful the slash was. And...
 (And the excessive power of the slash, too...)
 At this rate, her spiritual power is going to run out of gas sooner than expected. ...But, I'll keep that harsh assessment only in my heart. There is no need to create unnecessary friction with her on this mission. No, there is no room for that. For her own sake, avoid unnecessary conflict.
 I know. The cause of this case. And the danger. Because what's going on in these underground tunnels is the worst of all possible bad endings.
 In the capital route of the original game 'Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)', this is the initial quest that can be joined at the very beginning, but in fact, it is a deadly quest that will surely bring you to game over if you accept it... the mission to investigate the underground waterway.
 At the same time... this mission is one of the few events in which the 'youkai mother', one of the most infamous monsters in the human youkai great war, directly appears, and it is one of the cruelest bad endings for Ako Murasaki. Because she would be turned into a "youkai" and slain by her family...
* * *
 The environment was dark and jet-black. It was so dark that even one step ahead was painted black, which meant that there was no 'light' at all in this space.
 However, this was not the same as emptiness. The space was filled with strangely warm air, and the sound of trickling water echoed through the room. If someone listens carefully, they can also hear the rustling or pounding of something crawling, stirring, or beating.
 ...yes, if it listens carefully.
 (D*mn it...!)
 The man who breathes noiselessly so as not to be noticed by the presence spits bitterness inwardly to shake off his despair of fear.
 The man looks around silently in alarm. But still, he sees nothing. The only thing he can hear is more eerie, creepy noises.
 Instinct tells him to turn on the light. But the man suppresses that desire. It's as if he's asking them to find him.
 Now he does not know where his companions are, or even if they are alive. Because before, as his group is attacked by shadows, the lights go out, and the screams of friends and monsters and the sound of something crumbling echo through the area, the man loses his bearings and desperately runs away from the place, clawing his way through a brick wall. And then, for he knew not how much time had passed, he was hiding and moving in this darkness, killing the sound.
 (D*mn, d*mn, d*mn it! I should never have taken this job!)
 If someone could have seen the man's face, they would have seen a miserable expression of despair for everything in the world. This man is an exorcist from the south with a strong samurai spirit and a strong sense of the value of the underdog over the underdog.
 Born into a poor peasant family, he abandoned his family when he realized that he had spiritual power and trained himself to flee from the landowner. He learned how to fight physically by engaging in killing matches with youkai in the mountains and forests, and worked as a bodyguard for landowners and merchants, who, unlike court nobles and feudal lords, found it difficult to hire legitimate exorcists. Eventually, he ended up as a mercenary for one of the most powerful merchants in the capital. Although some of the work was dangerous, the pay was not bad, and above all, living in the capital was very attractive. So he took this job again because it was a one-day trip home from the capital... but he never thought it would turn out like this.
 (D*mn... d*mn... d*mn! I can't die here...! I'll survive! I can't end up here in this sh*thole...!)
 Yes, he doesn't want to end up here. Because why did he abandon his miserable and poor position as a peasant... abandon his family... abandon his hometown...? Why did he refuse to eat grains and do hard labor as a peasant, or to be disposed of as a servant by the ungrateful families of exorcism? It is because he will surely make a name for himself with his prowess not to die in this hole.
 So this is not where he wants to end up. After all, there's more. There are still higher steps to climb. At last, he's strong enough and famous enough to be hired by the great merchants of the capital. And it's just the beginning. It's just the beginning of his journey. That's why....'Heh-heh, oh my. Where do you think you're going?'
 At the sound of this voice, the man's forehead sweats and he instantly takes up the weapon in his hand... his sword. But then he drops it in despair.
 There it is in the darkness. Her skin was so white that it seemed almost pale, even though her surroundings were pitch black. It was a beautiful woman with long, slightly sticky green hair. Her eyes were flaccid, and she had a gentle smile full of maturity and motherly love. Was she wearing nothing on her upper body? Only her damp, lush hair hid her big, seductive breasts. The lower half of her body, on the other hand, was completely obscured by the darkness.
 When the man saw her, he gave up everything. He sensed it. There was no escape from it. He saw her mighty power right in front of his eyes... and he understood the overwhelming difference in power. Yes, it's all over...
 'Oh dear, there are still humans here, aren't there?'
 The voice was gentle and whispery, yet strangely reverberant. This sweet, soft voice that penetrated his ears, paralyzed his brain. Slowly, the woman approached the man. Then she grabs him firmly by the head.
 'Don't be afraid, okay? It's all right, it's all right... now, you are my dear and precious family from today, my sweet child. Come on, come here....'
 The stray exorcist, who had already had his will to fight broken at first sight, was now struck with a powerful, almost violent force of words, and he was already unable to resist or think at all. The man could not resist or react to anything, even when his head was lovingly embraced and stroked against his rich and soft bosom.
 "Is... it okay...?"
 'Yes. That's okay. You're going to be part of my family, okay? Then you won't be afraid. Don't worry, we're all family now, so there's nothing to be afraid of. If something happens, mother will take care of it. So you don't have to worry about anything.'
 The man's mind is filled with memories of the past, of his mother who was strong, yet kind and took good care of him. When was the last time he saw his mother? Oh, Mother. I miss you... miss you...!
 'It's okay. We'll all be together. Soon you'll be able to see them. We're gonna be a family, and there's nothing to be afraid of, okay?'
 "We're all...?""
 'Yeah, that's right. Everybody, everybody, this time. So...'
 The gentle, enveloping beauty lifts her mouth. Then she whispers softly and sincerely.
 'So, I'll make you a baby again, too, OK?'
 Munch, munch, crunch, crunch, chew chew. Munch, munch, crunch, crunch, chew chew. Munch, munch, crunch, crunch, chew chew. Munch, munch, crunch, crunch, chew chew. Munch, munch, crunch, crunch, chew chew. Munch, munch, crunch, crunch, chew chew...
 Deep underground, where the sun never shines, such chewing sounds echoed quietly for a while...

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