DARK MODE 

Thursday, December 8, 2022 @

Chapter 27, Part 2

 
* * *
 
 In closed underground tunnels, the most important thing to pay attention to is the sound. While the senses of sight and smell are less effective, the sense of hearing is more effective because it is more resonant in a sealed room, making one's presence obvious.
 
 Therefore, no matter what was in front of me, right next to me, I could not scream, yell, or shout. Yes, no matter how many horrifying monsters were just out of sight.
 
 (Although, this is still a little bit worrisome...)
 
 I mutter to myself as I hide behind the crossroads of the sewers. Across the crossroads are a worm no bigger than a car, a centipede as long as a train, and a cockroach as big as a cow, though it's too dark to see them clearly... Hah~, in my previous life, even a man, let alone a woman, would have gone crazy over this.
 
 Even in this world where insects are relatively more common than in the previous world, it would be rather tough to encounter this group of creatures in a huge size. In a sense, this darkness was a blessing in disguise. Ako Murasaki can hide her breath while shivering by my side because she can clearly see them without seeing them.
 
 If it had been broad daylight, she would have screamed for sure. She is a rather sheltered girl and has little tolerance for insects.
 
 '...that's quite far. At this distance, they can't hear a sound.'
 
 I hear the voice of an old man who has made it so that only I can hear him by directing the echo of sound to my ear. I nod at the voice with my eyes and touch the trembling girl's shoulder.
 
 "Murasaki-sama, we've gone far away. Let's keep going. We'll run into them again if we stay here."
 "I-I understand...."
 
 I urged her on, and she nodded in a trembling voice. And then... she grabs the sleeve of my clothes.
 
 "...we mustn't get separated... you understand?"
 
 I am silenced by her words. Feeling reluctant and guilty.
 
 "I-Is it... no?"
 
 My silence must have made her feel uneasy. Her persuasive, yet flirtatious voice was almost pathetic.
 
 "......"
 
 For a moment, I felt an unexplainable nostalgia in her voice. At the same time, I could sense how scared she was. If the place had been brighter, I could have seen her expression and it would have looked even more miserable. However, it was hard to go on with her holding my sleeve, and I couldn't neglect her mental health. So...
 
 "Ah..."
 
 A small, startled voice escapes from her, but I take her hand in mine without paying attention to it. And then I respond reverently.
 
 "Please forgive me for my rudeness. It's hard to run with sleeves, and it's easy to get lost."
 "...yes."
 
 My apology was met with a short silence... and then a few words of approval. To be honest, I was relieved. I knew that she was a proud, difficult, but essentially good girl, but in this world's sense of values, it is not a good idea for a lowly servant to grab the hand of the princess of a prestigious family of exorcists, even a girl from another house.
 
 "Thank goodness for that. Let's go."
 
 After saying thank you, I started to go through the underground tunnels again, using concealment techniques.
 
 The concealment technique is more of a skill than a spiritual one, and as it is written, it is a skill of hiding and moving. To be more precise, it is mainly a method of running and breathing without making a sound, a way of looking and behaving in a way that muffles or distracts people's attention, or a way to avoid being impressed by people's presence, behavior, appearance, smell, a reflection of light, etc. The contents that require spiritual power are not included in this article. Some of the techniques require spiritual energy, but at worst, even without spiritual energy, simple techniques can be used for minimum concealment. If you don't get the idea, just think of it as a very high-level version of the misdirection in some basketball game.
 
 (I'm glad it requires little spiritual power. If I used more spiritual power, I'd run out of gas sooner than Murasaki would.)
 
 No, even the best exorcists may run out of spiritual power in the blink of an eye in front of the army of youkai-mother. Avoiding combat as much as possible is the best strategy in this situation. Of course, it is impossible to avoid all battles. In other words...
 
 "...!? Murasaki-sama, it's your turn!"
 "Huh...? Y-yes!"
 
 The next moment, a bat the size of a big dog appears from the side passage, and before it can recognize our presence, it is killed by a slash that wipes out its head. We run away from the place with our footsteps muffled as the creature's headless body twitches on the brick floor. Since youkai's blood splattered around, albeit in small quantities, we could not feel safe even in the underground tunnel where the smell was strong. We needed to keep as much distance as possible.
 
 Frankly speaking, it was a close call. A bat type should have been able to detect our presence immediately even in this darkness by using sound waves. If we were to encounter it at the very beginning of our encounter, we had no choice but to finish it off with a single blow before it called out to its friends as it had done earlier. As I thought, Murasaki's presence is indispensable to escape from this place.
 
 After that, Murasaki killed youkai whom we encountered about ten times with a single blow, and we hid twice as many times by relying on the old man's search for us.
 
 "I was worried at first, but... things are going better than I expected, aren't they?"
 
 Murasaki boasted as if she had regained a little confidence and composure after several battles and the smooth progress of the escape. There was a clear sense of pride in her words.
 
 Of course, her words are not a lie in a sense. In fact, the monsters we have encountered so far are all small youkai, or even low-ranking ones in the medium youkai. To her, they were no threat at all. But...
 
 (Hey, don't make a flag)
 
 Such a careless line is a typical death flag, so please don't say it. I mean, in a game, you'll be killed or beaten up if you're careless, okay?
 
 "Don't let your guard down. There is still a long way to go. And the deeper we go, the more chances we have to encounter youkai. Be careful."
 "Uh... yes..."
 
 When I speak to her as if to admonish her, she replies weakly in an awkward, slightly offended tone. Perhaps, if the situation had been brighter, I would have seen her downcast expression as she answered with her eyes glazed over. She seems to have realized that she was on the verge of getting carried away.
 
 "......"
 "......"
 
 Then both of us continued to walk in silence without exchanging a word. Only our hands are held tightly so that we don't get separated, and I continue to receive the navigations of the old man in my ear through the shikigami. And then... we found it ahead.
 
 "That light..."
 
 It was Murasaki who first noticed the light from the end of the passage. It was the light of a lantern. And the person holding it was a shadow in the shape of a man.
 
 "Is it the guide who escaped? Or maybe it was the people who joined the search before. Either way, let me take a look and you wait there!"
 
 Murasaki heads toward the shadow with a cheerful expression on her face, as if she is relieved to find someone. Perhaps, she was acting unintentionally because of the light she had finally found and the fact that it was someone other than herself. It was an inevitable behavior if someone wanders around in such a dark and gloomy space for a long time. However...
 
 "!? Don't go there! We have to get away from there right now!"
 "Huh...!? Ah...."
 
 I yell for it to stop right now. And Murasaki looks at me, her shoulders shaking at the sound of my raspy voice. Then she looks at the front again to make sure. Finally, she sees the figure clearly and shuffles her feet, her face scrunched up.
 
 It was no longer a human being. The skin of his body was peeled off and red blood soaked into the skin, and even white bones were visible in some parts. The man was walking toward her with his rotten eyes wide open and staring at her, covered with worms that were wriggling like parasites.
 
 "Eeek...!!?"
 "Shh! Quiet!!"
 
 She almost screams, but I cover her mouth with my hand and pull her with me into a side passage. The lanterns almost fooled me, but I was certain that the youkai was almost blind. So the noise is what we should pay attention to.
 
 "Ah... ah... wh... where... where are ughh... where are ughh...!!?"
 
 The man vomits with a sound that can no longer be considered a human voice. Along with the reddish-brown vomit and diarrhea, he vomited out a large number of small worms. The mucus-covered surface of the writhing, shivering miasma glistened weirdly in the light of the lanterns.
 
 "Where... arwe... ughh... it's colwd... it hurtwss... it's colwd"
 
 After spitting out as much as he could, the man wandered down the aisle, mumbling, and mumbling. His body fluids dripped from every hole in his body, and he wobbled away, not caring that the parasitic worm was popping out of his skin and moving around, or perhaps he had even lost the ability to think...
 
 I wonder how long it has been, when his footsteps are getting farther away and the light of the lantern is getting dimmer, I finally take my hand away from Murasaki's mouth.
 
 "W-w-w-w-what is... that...!?"
 "Judging from his appearance, he must be a mercenary with spiritual power who entered this underground tunnel before us. He seems to have been infected by youkai."
 
 If he had been parasitized by that many worms, it would not be surprising if he were dead by now...but he was still wandering around in the underground tunnels because of his physical strength and spiritual power... I guess.
 
 (...I'm sorry to say that he won't survive anyway. It would be a mercy to stop him, but we can't take the risk, eh? Best to leave it alone.)
 
 Even if he is rotten, even if he is almost dead, it is too much for Ako Murasaki to kill a person who is just barely alive, or who still has a human form and personality. On the other hand, it would have been dangerous for me to kill the one whose appearance was like that of a possessed. Maybe, the moment I approached it with my short spear, all the parasites might come running out at once toward me.
 
 At the same time, perhaps the sight was so shocking that it brought back her fear, and I noticed the girl shaking in my arms.
 
 "I-I-if we had been swallowed by that swarm of worms... would we have looked like that...?"
 
 Murasaki asks in a slightly slurred tone as if confirming to me.
 
 "Well, who knows...? I don't know that much either. But there was a good chance."
 
 At least, for me. As for you, you can rest assured that your clothes will be melted by the white fluid and you will be forced to play with tentacles and the youkai will lay eggs on you. But, wait, it's not even a little bit safe too.
 
 "I don't want it... that kind of thing...!? No, nooo! I don't want to be like that! No, no!!"
 "Don't worry. We're safe. And the exit of this underground tunnel is not far away. Please continue as before and Murasaki-sama will be saved. So please don't worry."
 
 It was as if I was quieting a baby. I calm the wobbly, childishly shaking, age-appropriate, or perhaps slightly degenerate-looking girl down so that she doesn't go crazy and cry.
 
 'Good grief, she's a very troublesome little girl. Her spiritual power and swordsmanship are not bad, but her spirit is too weak. She can't be distracted by a youkai of that caliber... unless the monster is a kind that can contaminate her mind the moment she sees it.'
 
 The old man's voice echoes from the Shikigami who is drifting around, hiding behind my ear. But well, it was too harsh an evaluation for a girl of only 13 years old who had seen something that would make even a big man scream without being prepared for it. Still, this old man and the gorilla princess had already "exterminated" many youkai of that level in their childhood, and it was nothing special.
 
 (She is not suitable for exorcists, huh? ...I guess he's right)
 
 Exorcists are the ones who would sacrifice a village, not to mention their servants, if necessary. If she is frightened by them, she cannot fight against great youkai or calamity youkai. A small fish with only a horrifying visual is a bonus stage for ordinary exorcists.
 
 In this respect, Ako Murasaki was too much of a normal girl. She was too normal in her senses, which is why her family opposed her living as an exorcist.
 
 'Don't waste too much time. Calm her down and let's move on.'
 "Master, don't be absurd. Human emotions are not that simple."
 
 I give a small reply to the old man's slightly irritating words.
 
 It is not easy to calm down a person who is on the verge of insanity unless using words or illusions to forcibly manipulate their thoughts. The first-class exorcists who seem to inherit the will of the Lord may not understand it, but basically, the mind of a mere mortal is weak and fragile. And Murasaki's mind was as close to that of a mere mortal as possible.
 
 Therefore, I try to wait for her to calm down, knowing the risk of staying in the same place. Besides, I didn't think it would help to drag the frightened girl along. I didn't want her to suddenly go crazy in the middle of the trip.
 
 ...though it turned out to be a bad idea.
 
 "Murasaki-sama, it's all right. With your ability, you have nothing to fear from those youkai as long as you deal with them calmly and coolly."
 "B-but...!"
 "I understand your feelings. I understand that you are anxious because you have little experience in killing youkai. I will sincerely help you with what you lack. So please help me with your help. If you cooperate with me, a place like this can be... Huh!!?"
 
 I hid Murasaki behind me and took a vigilant posture, sensing that the shikigami in the shape of a rat, which I had released to warn the surrounding area, had been killed.
 
 "Eh...? Wh-what happened!? Wh-what is it...!!?"
 "Quiet...! Stand back!!"
 
 Murasaki is anxious at my sudden action and starts to speak. I rebuke her strongly to shut her up. Then I listen carefully.
 
 (What? What happened...? D*mn!! My shikigami can't even tell what it saw...!)
 
 It happened so fast. I couldn't even recognize what had happened, even though I was sharing the night vision with the Shikigami of the trench rat who has relatively good night vision. I thought I heard a sound, and then my vision turned black, and within a few tenths of a second, the Shikigami had been killed.
 
 Though Murasaki could not see it because of my mask and the darkness, I was also shaken by the sudden change and felt fear. Only I knew what was lurking in these underground tunnels, and if I knew what was lurking in these underground tunnels, it would make sense.
 
 'Wait a minute. I'll search the area...— No way...'
 
 The old man's words spun out in a whisper. But only a few seconds later, I realized what it was.
 
 'Voo'aaaaaaa!!!!' 'Oo'geeaaahhhh!!!!' 'Assshaaaaaah!!!' 'Aaaaoooo!!!' 'Oooogggghh!!!!' 'Oaaaaaggh!!!'
 
 It was a scream that could not be described as a scream or a yell, more than tens, hundreds, or even thousands of screams. It was the roar of a beast. The echoes reverberated throughout the passage as countless overlapping voices suddenly rang out from the depths of the underground tunnels.
 
 And then... from the far end of the passageway, far beyond my sight, I saw a shadow flooding out of the passageway at a tremendous speed.
 
 Eyes shining in the countless darkness, it was clearly staring at me, and it was coming toward me as a muddy stream, filling the passageway.
 
 "...haha, seriously?"
 
 Seeing this almost spiritually shattering scene, I muttered a word and immediately prepared my spear...
 
 "Baby Flood"... it's the term used by fans of... to describe the sheer volume of 'youkai mother's' adorable babies. In the game, it refers to the continuous battles in the underground tunnel quests, where the players are not allowed to run away, let alone get ahead. In the movies, novels, and manga, it is literally expressed as a muddy stream of youkai covering the screen, panels, or pages, or as a roar. If you can't imagine it, just imagine the last battle for the defense of a city in the 3rd movie of a certain virtual reality world ruled by machines.
 
 In any case, this muddy stream of youkai is treated by fans as a sure-kill event that can only be given up almost completely. It is because it is so unreasonable, and the amount of damage is so great that there is no end in sight.
 
 However, this is not a game. Then, there is no reason why there is not a little bit of hope for the underground tunnels. In other words...
 
 "Murasaki-sama!!"
 "Eeek!? Y-yes!"
 
 Murasaki reacted to my scream and fired a slash with her face contorted in the next instant. With a sound that cuts through the air, a shockwave hits the muddy stream of youkai, turning the dozens of youkai in the lead into pieces of meat. But...
 
 "N-no, it's no good!! It won't stop...!!"
 "Just keep shooting!"
 
 I pull something out of my pocket. I didn't want to use it but...!
 
 "I can't help it!"
 
 Then I took out the next tool from my pocket, which I prepared for this quest.
 
 The nitroglycerin made by mixing nitric acid and hydrochloric acid with the fat extracted from youkai meat, and the dynamite made by soaking cotton in it and mixing it with gravel in a bamboo tube, were not my original idea, but the result of the research of the old man based on an imported book published by the Western Empire, which is mentioned in the game. It was regarded as a defective chemical that was unusable because of its tendency to explode, but I took it on and made it into an improvised weapon. To be honest, it is a secret of mine that during the time I was carrying it in my pocket, I was terrified that it might actually go off.
 
 As soon as it is thrown, the nitroglycerin inside the dynamite, heated by the spiritual energy, explodes more powerfully than black powder could ever do, just as it is supposed to. The sound of the explosion hitting my gut...
 
 'Booomm!!?'
 
 The impact causes the ceiling of the underground tunnel to partially collapse, crushing several youkai. I then throw an additional flash ball into the horde, blinding them and causing them to stop for a moment.
 
 "Murasaki-sama! Aim at their legs only!"
 "I-I understand...!?"
 
 At my request, Murasaki fires a slash. Unlike the previous slashes, the slashes did not cut the enemy into small pieces and kill them but cut off their limbs, and most of the youkai who were stopped and cut off was still alive. And while still alive, they were trampled by the youkai behind them. These monsters are crushing their brethren and trying to attack us.
 
 "Tsk! Not enough, huh!? One more hit...!!"
 
 I throw more dynamite at them. It is not aimed at youkai, but at the ceiling of the underground tunnels. The bamboo tubes, thrown with all my strength, hit the ceiling and the nitroglycerin inside reacts. The impact and debris from the explosion hit the monsters from above, who were trying to step on and over their comrades, hitting the vital parts of their skulls, necks, and spines, and then crushed bricks and dirt come crashing down on them. The youkai who tried to step on top of them were immediately cut open by the girl's sword, and their mobility was lost.
 
 "Is this it!? Murasaki-sama, let's get out of here...! That's enough!!"
 
 I shouted when I saw that the youkai had stopped moving for good. The underground tunnels are not that big. If youkai advance with a swarm, there is no room for a human.
 
 Therefore, it would not be impossible to stop the muddy stream of monsters, even temporarily, by stopping their rush, cutting off the leading ones, blasting them to death, and, if necessary, clogging the passageway by lightly collapsing the ceiling in preparation for suffering the collateral damage myself. Of course, it would only buy time. But under the current circumstances, even a minute or a second was as precious as gold.
 
 'Run straight! And when I give the signal, go right!! They're coming from the front too...!'
 "That's not funny...!!"
 
 I yank Murasaki's arm roughly and run. If I listen carefully, I can hear the cries of countless deformed creatures coming from the front. At the same time, the same horrifying sounds approach from behind me. Damn, they've already broken through...!!
 
 "I-It's coming from behind us...!!"
 "I know! Slash when I give the signal...!"
 'Now! To the right!!'
 
 In the darkness, where I could only see as far as my nose, I followed the signal and jumped to the right at once. Luckily, my timing was right. I didn't crash head-on into the wall and break my nose.
 
 "Now! Shoot as many slashes as you can!!"
 
 Murasaki answered my voice not with her mouth but with her actions. The next moment, the sound of the air being cut open was a total of ten degrees. The swarms of monsters that had almost collided with each other from behind and in front of us turned into pieces of meat by the dozens as they densely packed together, trampling each other and trying to sneak into the alleyway. Moreover, some of the larger ones seemed to be included in the group, and the corpses were in the way, making it difficult for the following groups of youkai to get past them.
 
 "Okay, it worked! Now we can go to...."
 'Don't look away! They are coming from the side road...!"
 
 I turned my head to face the front in response to those words shouted in my ear, but it was too late. A huge female spider appeared from a side passage of the underground tunnels. I braced myself to react, but the next moment a white thread filled my vision.
 
 "Servant...!?"
 
 Murasaki screamed in despair. I was about to shout to her to get out of here right away when I felt a stabbing sensation on my neck, and my whole body suddenly went numb, and I felt my consciousness fading away. It was probably a neurotoxin.
 
 "Ggh...!? D*mn it..."
 
 I fell down on the brick floor, and just before I lost consciousness, I saw a girl with tears of fear running toward me, surrounded by countless youkai, as if to cling to me...

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