Wednesday, December 7, 2022 @

Chapter 26, Part 1

 Reality is not always sweet and filled with hardship and pain. An ideal is an ideal because it cannot be realized, a dream is a dream because it cannot be fulfilled, and the greatest happiness in life is when the effort brings results.
 This is true even today. And in a world where traditions prevail, status barriers exist, death is close at hand, and unreasonableness is rampant, life is even more difficult and painful. No wonder the concepts of reincarnation, the Latter Day of the Law, and eschatology emerged in the real ancient and middle ages.
 But still, people live. Even if it is hard, even if it is painful, even if it is suffering, and even if there is no salvation, people endure hard labor in order to live. Just to earn today's food.
 ...yes, even if it is in the depressing world of erotic games.
 "It hurts..."
 Amid the snowfall, the boy involuntarily lets go of the hoe and looks at his own hand. He exhales a warm breath into his hands, which are so swollen, chilled, and chapped beyond a child's ability.
 He was at the end of his rope, physically and emotionally. The boy, who had been working frantically from morning to plow the winter fields, even other people's fields, for a low salary, under the order of the local lord, finally gave in at the last moment as the sun was about to set.
 Even if his spirit is more mature than that of a normal child through reincarnation, his body has a hard time keeping up. This is the result of working hard while crying and slacking off because of his poor understanding of the situation at home and in the world, and his body was so exhausted that he even felt muscle pains all over his body.
 My arm... hurts. My hand hurts. My fingers hurt. My feet hurt. My whole body hurts and I feel cold and tired.
 For a child who ate a little porridge in the morning, the labor that lasted from morning till night was too much even for this world... but that did not make the people around him any kinder. The only thing to do is to endure unreasonable suffering.
 Therefore, the boy endures the pain in his hands, and the screams of his body, and crouches without shedding even a tear. The sight was truly painful, miserable, and pathetic.
 "I have to... keep working..."
 After holding his hand in his bosom for a while to warm it, the boy finally extends his badly chapped hand to the hoe he dropped on the ground. Yes, no matter how much pain he is in, there is no help for him.
 The land is a sh*tty, cold, and barren land because it is not connected to the spiritual veins, and because the fields are so small that only a small amount of fruit can be obtained even if the work is done many times more laboriously than it should be. Even so, the annual tribute was strictly collected, and therefore, no matter what, if the soil in the fields was not cultivated by the deadline, the local lord sent by the imperial court would not allow it. So... so...
 "It's dark. You finish first."
 Picking up a fallen hoe, the man said to the boy bluntly.
 "Dad (Oyaji)...?"
 The boy looks at the man standing in front of him and mutters weakly. There was a farmer with a poor expression on his face, wearing an old straw winter coat on his body that had been trained by hard labor.
 "But it has to be done by tomorrow..."
 "I'll take care of it. When it gets dark, the youkai will come down to this area. Hurry up."
 The boy's eyes widen in shock at these words. He must have been cultivating land several times larger than his own. And so quickly?
 "Don't make me say it again. Go home now. Your mom should be cooking. You can eat first."
 The man in front of him, the father of this life, is about to plow the earth when he suddenly remembers to take off his winter coat of straw and put it over the boy's shoulders.
 "You're cold, aren't you? Put that on too and go home."
 "Aren't you cold?"
 "Don't worry about your parents, you little brat."
 His father, who usually only wore a pouty face, gave him an unusually wry smile. Then he roughly put his hand on his head and scratched it. His hand was hard and rough like a poor farmer in the countryside, and it reminded him of the hardships of his life. However, they were big, warm, gentle, and reassuring hands. At least they were to the boy.
 "...I'm sorry. You're the eldest son, so you're going to have to do a lot of work."
 And the smallest words that came out of his mouth were an apology. Father, mother, and four children including the boy... it was not easy for a poor farmer's family to support such a family.
 Nevertheless, these were the times. In a world where people did not know when they would be killed by disease, accident, or devoured by youkai, children, in particular, are precious laborers and caretakers in their old age, and their lives are on the line when they give birth.
 Therefore, it was common sense for farmers everywhere to have as many children as possible. There is even a family in the same village that had seven children and all of them died of illness at an early age. The boy's father, who had only four children, was a very common number among farmers, and the fact that all of them are still alive is a blessing, and the result of the diligent work of the boy's parents to make sure that there was enough to eat.
 "I don't mind. I'm a big brother, I have to work hard for my younger brothers and sisters. And it's my mom and dad who are struggling the most, right?"
 Understanding this, the boy affirms his current situation and worries about his parents.
 "...I'm glad you grew up to be a good boy, ■■."
 Without showing his face, the farmer says the boy's "name" in a low and low voice, but certainly with kindness and affection in his tone. The touch of the farmer's hand on the boy's head as he spoke was warm and comforting.
 It was indeed a hard and painful life, but still... at this moment, the boy was happy for sure.
 ...later that night, the youkai came down to the village and ravaged the fields, eating several villagers to death and injuring several times as many.
 It is another story that the boy's father was among the villagers crippled by having one of his legs eaten off, which further made the boy's family life more difficult...
* * *
 'There is no sign of youkai around here as far as I can see. You should feel relieved for the time being.'
 The words whispered in my ear made me relax and breathe deeply.
 How long had I run? With no sunlight and no watch in my hand, it is hard to judge how much time has passed. Even I, who was supposed to be reasonably well-trained, was soaked in sweat and short of breath to the point of death, so I am sure that some time must have passed...
 "Murasaki-sama, please calm down. There is no youkai around now."
 I tried to calm down Ako Murasaki who was breathing hard like an asthma patient in the darkness without even a light. It was too dark to make out her face, but her breathing sound was enough to make me think that she would die of hyperventilation if she continued to breathe like this.
 "Haah... Haah... I-I know. I know it. Hahh... but... cough... cough!"
 Ako is coughing like she's choking. This is a sewer. The air can't be good. It was only natural for her to breathe hard and cough from the sickening sensation.
 "Are you thirsty? I have a water bottle ready for you. Please drink."
 Saying this, I offered her a water bottle made of bamboo from my pocket. I had prepared water, food, and other tools in case these guides escaped or were eaten.
 "No, I do feel thirsty, but to be honest, the smell doesn't make me feel good..."
 In the darkness, I could vaguely see that Murasaki was holding her mouth. Her expression was probably not so good. But that's why...
 "I understand your feelings, but you should drink a little. It is more efficient to drink water often than to hold it back. In case you are wondering, I have mixed a little bit of mint in the water, so it should make you feel less queasy."
 The longer we stay in an underground water system with sewage, the worse it will be. That was the reason why I mixed the juice of the mint into the water. Fortunately, the smell is strong. Even youkai can't detect the surroundings with their sense of smell.
 (So, it is better to pay attention to the sound. The other thing to keep in mind is that I should also pay attention to the youkai's visual sense other than the optical one...)
 Living creatures living in the dark not only have well-developed senses of touch and hearing, but also have non-optical means of vision such as infrared rays and heat, and youkai are no exception to this rule. Moreover, there are not many measures that can be taken against such visual means of sight-seeing, let alone sense of hearing and sense of touch.
 (Then, there is no other way but for us to find them first and either stop them or avoid them...)
 As I think about this, I feel someone's touch on the bamboo tube in my hand. It seems that she has decided to follow my advice. The sound of drinking water is heard.
 "I will give you the bamboo tube. Please take it as it is."
 "But then, what about your own..."
 "Don't worry, I have a spare."
 The possibility of getting lost in this underground waterway was quite possible based on the information from the original game. In fact, if the player had to cut through the worm's miasma, he or she would have lost his or her guide in many cases in the game.
 And considering that they would actually get lost in the vast underground, even if they would not starve to death in the game... they cannot wander around the underground tunnels for days. And for the current situation, considering my abilities, at the very least, I need Ako Murasaki's survival and cooperation in order to survive. Needless to say. It was only natural for me to prepare water and food for her in advance. As the saying goes, "If you're prepared, you're never worried."
 "...you are very well prepared, huh? I thought it would be over soon, and as far as I was concerned, I hadn't prepared much."
 Murasaki mutters in a slightly irritated tone. I think of the way she looked before she entered this underground waterway. She was indeed very lightly dressed. I suppose it's not necessarily carelessness, considering the caliber of the monsters that might be nesting in these underground tunnels and her ability, but... for a family as overprotective as they were in the game, her appearance was really quite careless, wasn't it?
 "I've had similar experiences in the past. I just wanted to be sure."
 I answered while I was thinking in my mind.
 (Though I'm sure I wasn't set up like the case of the gorilla...)
 But at least, it was Gorilla-sama who started this time, and most people don't know about the existence of that abominable youkai mother who sits at the end of the underground waterway. That leaves only one possibility...
 "Does your family know about this assignment?"
 I could see in the darkness that Murasaki's shoulders were shaking. I see...
 (Probably just like in the original story...)
 I was hoping for a little... just a little help from her family, but I guess I'll have to give up. I thought she was quite lightly armed even in the game, but perhaps it was not because she was underestimating them but because she could not make a big preparation. I wonder if her family will notice if she is fully armed...
 "...what are you going to do now?"
 Murasaki Ako asked me as if she was going to throw up. In her sharp tone, however, there was a clear sense of anxiety, and at the same time, a slight hint of hope. It was a bluntly worded question, but at the same time, it was a sharp question. Is this the right time to bring it up...?
 "...I don't know why, but it seems that this youkai are more dangerous and more numerous than previously assumed. It would be dangerous to continue on our way unprepared. At least, Murasaki-sama could handle it, but it is too heavy a burden for me. I think we should return to the surface and report back."
 "I understand. But... do you know the way?"
 She sounded relieved that I was on the topic, but then her question came back to me again with an anxious tone as if she was afraid of what I might say. The question itself is what I had originally expected, but...
 "No problem. Everything is as expected. Don't worry."
 I replied cheerfully. But it was a big lie.
 No, I had expected it to some extent. I had prepared a compass, I had secretly put markers at every turn and corner, and I had drawn a rough sketch of the area in my mind as I went along. However...
 (Though it is said that life is precious... I lost track when escaping...)
 Moreover, all three guides are missing. I had intended to help them as much as possible since they would have known the inner structure, but... reality is not so easy.
 'You have to give up on what has passed. The question is what will happen now. I have some idea of where you are with my search technique. It will take some time, but I'm sure you won't be stuck there.'
 I have learned search techniques from the gorilla, too, though only in a limited way. In other words, it is a divination technique to locate the direction and general location of the object or person being searched for, based on spiritual power and its lingering scent. Of course, like charms, its effect is real in this world.
 Then, what the old man is doing is probably one of the techniques, namely, Fumi (扶箕). He probably locates my place by using his own spiritual power in the shikigami on my shoulder as a medium and locates it on the map with a pendulum.
 'The problem is those youkai. It is obvious that the underground tunnels are filthy and youkai tend to gather there. That is why the spiritual veins are guided so that the spiritual power does not flow into the underground water supply. So, it is impossible for so many monsters to form a crowd, even if they are all small youkai.'
 The old exorcist expressed his doubts. The location of the underground tunnels, right above the great spiritual vein and the place where filth accumulates, is perfect for youkai. Therefore, the human side also devises a plan.
 The enormous power flowing from the spiritual veins was guided so that it would not flow into the underground water system. In addition, since the entrances and exits to the main waterways are surrounded with detection boundaries, any intrusion of powerful or numerous youkai can be detected immediately. Some of the spiritual power that has been lost may flow into the underground water, but it is impossible for such a large number of youkai to form a crowd.
 (That's right, if it weren't for youkai mother...!)
 I know. It's all because of that irrational super-reproducing monster.
 Youkai-mother has two major abilities, an outrageous level of regenerative power, and 're-birth'.
 The first one goes without saying. In fact, it is thanks to her regenerative ability that youkai mother was able to hide in the underground tunnels without being defeated after the great upheaval, and without being noticed by the Onmyou dormitory. Not even the cheat attacks of some exorcists could kill her. Then, by temporarily weakening herself to the level of a small youkai, she was able to slip through the detection boundary and enter the underground tunnels, and once deep underground, she was able to rapidly recover her power, though far below her peak, with the spiritual power of few earthly veins.
 Another ability, simply called 're-birth,' is the reason why she was able to create a horde of youkai in the underground tunnels.
 The 'youkai mother' can devour any living creature, including humans, and give birth to it as a youkai.
 Its power is nothing short of vicious. This ability to create an army of youkai in a short period of time was used not only in the Age of War, but also in the original game to produce a large number of youkai in an underground canal where there were only insects and rats, and where spiritual power was scarce. Moreover, the better the material, the more powerful youkai could be produced, so that she was considered a top priority target of the Imperial Court for elimination, along with the "Tapir (貘)," who was Kuuban's chief strategist during the Great War and also could produce a large army.

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