Friday, December 9, 2022 @

Chapter 28, Part 1

 The Inner Capital of Fuso-kuni... which is surrounded by the spacious and luxurious residences of court nobles, feudal lords, wealthy merchants, and exorcists, at the same time serves as a fortress to protect the Inner Capital in case of emergencies.
 A young man was walking around one of the samurai residences near the western part of the Inner Palace. He looked around the residence, and finally, as if he had given up, he stopped in front of a room and said through a sliding door.
 "Murasaki, are you here? Answer me."
 In a flat, emotionless tone, the young man calls out to the person who might be on the other side of the sliding door. But...
 "...I'm going to open it. Is that alright with you?"
 After a hundred counts and not even a single response, the young man finally offers to open the door. After counting to ten, and again receiving no answer, the young man opens the sliding door without any choice.
 Unexpectedly, there is no sign of boundary or technique, and the young man succeeds in entering the room easily. Normally, an exorcist's daughter would have set up some kind of trap to prevent a man, even a family member, from entering her room unannounced, but... it seems that the owner of the room does not have the personality to think about such a thing.
 Now, the young man turns his head to check the room. The tatami-floored room was completely different from one side to the other, separated by a wall hanging in the center.
 Looking from the wall hanging to the east, there were swords decorated with layers of armor with various sorcery spells, a Go and Shogi table, and a bookshelf filled with books of strategy and various folklore and knowledge about Youkai. Typical of the room of exorcists who mainly use weapons as their main armament.
 However, when the young man turned his eyes to the other side of the room, he found a completely different world from the one on the east side.
 In the center of the room, there was a bamboo blind (御簾), and behind it was a beautiful folding screen. The walls were decorated with vivid Jūni-hitoe (a style of formal court dress first worn in the Heian period by noble women and ladies-in-waiting at the Japanese Imperial Court(十二単)), a large mirror stand, and on the karabitsu (six-legged Chinese-style chest/唐櫃), there is a gilded lacquered and expensive clothes, then on its second floor, there is an igiri (incense burner), a kagu chest, and a kikuchi (bowl) on which the furnishings are kept. All of them were covered with dust.
 In silence, the young man looks around the room, takes a glance at the room, and makes an assumption based on the information he has gathered so far. There are no maids or servants assigned. A horse is missing, and above all, the youkai sword that was given to her is nowhere to be found. The only possibility was that she had gone out, which made the situation very peculiar.
 The problem was that it was a horse, not an ox cart or a carriage. This means that she was not visiting some residence. And it was obviously different from usual, especially when she didn't say a word to her family.
 "...get a map and a pendulum."
 "Yes, sir."
 One of the men standing by the young man's side responds to his order with a bow. Immediately, a map showing the entire capital and a pendulum is placed in the young man's hand.
 He performed this in a wide garden area. There was any number of catalysts that could have come from her. If it had been his father or his eldest son, or if she had been two or three years older, he would have respected her free will as much as possible and would not have pried into her affairs to monitor her every step of the way. However, she is still 13 years old, and he is the fourth son who is relatively overprotective among his siblings, and above all, she had just recently caused a problem in someone else's house, which is a different story. Therefore, the young man used the searching technique, and in a sense, he was "right" in his decision.
 Now, the hanging pendulum points to her whereabouts through the "edge" connected to the catalyst. But...
 The hanging pendulum pointed to a strange place. The young man's handsome face frowns slightly at the answer, and his eyes narrow in suspicion and disbelief. After a moment of contemplation, he finally made a decision.
 "Gather the servants and the household servants who can move. Wear work clothes. It may be an unfounded fear... but it's better to be sure."
 The young man turns on his heel and walks to his room.
 "I'm leaving too, get ready to go. Cancel everything for today. Maid, you may soak yourself in hot water. Prepare yourselves before you leave."
 The young man orders the others around him. At first glance, his expression seems to be unchanged, but those who look at him can see that he is in a state of agitation. And then...
 In the garden, a shikigami was observing the situation of the residence...
* * *
 When the effect of the neurotoxin wore off and I finally regained consciousness, the first thing I saw was eyes. Eyes that were literally staring at me right in front of my eyes, so vivid, but somehow giving off a terrifying atmosphere...
 I can commend myself for not screaming. It was that terrifying. It is no surprise, because I lost consciousness without knowing what happened, and the next thing I know, I wake up to see jade green eyes staring at me closely as if they were staring into an abyss. Moreover, the eyes had a clear glint of madness in them.
 "Oh dear, you're awake? Thank goodness. I was wondering what to do since you didn't wake up for a long time. Still, aren't all humans fragile? I was afraid the boys had gone too hard on you, you know?"
 Noticing that I am awake, the woman turns her head away and smiles at me. She looks kind, and at first glance, I instinctively feel maternal towards her, with her charming and receptive beauty.
 Her long hair hanging down and the upper half of her body without a stitch of clothing on was at first glance sensational and immoral, but at the same time, it also made me feel divine. However, such an impression changes drastically when I saw the lower half of her body.
 It was a huge lump of meat. A mass of bloated flesh like a meat bun... from it sprouted limbs in the shape of various creatures as if they had been made of horsesh*t. The horrifyingly ugly figure seemed even more grotesque in contrast with her white, thin upper body.
 (What is this place...?)
 I was overwhelmed by the monster sitting in front of me, and with confused thoughts, I still looked around and tried desperately to grasp the situation by using all my senses, not only my eyesight.
 The dimly lit room was humid, and above all, it smelled foul. The strong, fishy smell, like a mixture of fresh dust and rotten water, could not be caused only by the sewage disposed of in the underground water system.
 No, what was even more unusual was the appearance of the underground waterworks itself. Something slimy was stuck all over the walls. And countless numbers of eggs were laid on the walls. Not only on the floor, but also on the walls and ceilings, there were hundreds or even thousands of eggs, from heart-beating creatures to eggs with shells like birds and reptiles, or like those of insects, or like frog eggs in a pool of dirty water. Just looking at them gave me goosebumps.
 "This place... no way..."
 "Hehehe, this is a child-rearing room, you know? This is a room for raising children. This is where I give birth to my beautiful boys and raise them with great care."
 In response to her almost soliloquy, the female-form creature answered in a low, gentle tone. I had already guessed this before I heard her words, but... the woman was not human. No, I've seen her before. Perhaps she was...
 "Nooooo!? H-help!!? Somebody!! Help meee!!"
 I look at the scream. In a corner of the wall, there was a man screaming in a place where some disgusting flesh was stuck. That's...
 (That son of a b*tch, he's alive!)
 He was our guide who had abandoned us and fled when we were attacked by a swarm of worms. The skinny one, the meanest looking of the three, was half buried in the flesh, bound and gagged. Oh, suck it.
 (And that's...)
 I move my eyes to discover it. A little far away from the screaming guide, there is Ako Murasaki, who is also bound in the same way. She too seemed to be in good health, but she was unconscious and slumped over.
 "D*mn... me too...!?"
 And now I realize that I am also bound by a viscous substance like flesh. Somehow I can move my right hand... but the rest of my body doesn't seem to work right now.
 (No, the problem will be after I get out of this restraint...!)
 Yes, it is. Even if I could get out of this restraint, what should I do? It is infinitely difficult to kill 'youkai mother' in front of me, not to mention how many of her brats there are. Right now, looking around me, there are at most a few dozen little youkai-like ants tending to their eggs... but if the monster in front of me mutters a single word, an overwhelming number of them will come pouring in from nowhere in an avalanche.
 (D*mn it. I'm not going to get stuck here!? That said. What should I do...!?)
 I turn my head desperately and I think of the existence of the old man's shikigami. Yes, I'm sure that the old man would not leave it alone when he notices the existence of the monster in front of me. Maybe he has already gathered some information. First of all, let's contact him through Shikigami...
 "Oh? Is that what you are looking for?"
 As if noticing that I was looking for something, 'youkai mother' pointed at it, not in a sarcastic or harassing way, but as if she was really inquiring. I looked down at my feet, and there were some papers torn... into pieces.
 "I thought there was something hiding in there, and when I caught it, it went berserk, you know? I tried to hold it down and it just ripped right through. ...So, I'm sorry about that. Was it something important to you?"
 I almost laughed at the monster who asked me this question with such concern. Haha... Damn, this sucks. I guess the other shikigami that Aoko and the others were using for stalking has also been dealt with. I don't know about the others, but it doesn't matter at this point. I can't afford to be concerned about it.
 (After all, this is... very bad, isn't it?)
 I'm stuck... maybe not totally stuck, but definitely stuck. At this point, I realized the fact. The inevitable fate of death stands in my way, and I feel dizzy. Oh, sh*t! Wait, calm down... Don't give up, don't give in. Calm down, that's right, just calm down, there's always a way...!
 "Hmm...? Wh-where is it...? Eeek!!?"
 That's when it happened. Ako Murasaki, who had been unconscious until a few minutes ago, also woke up and screamed at the same time she realized what was happening. She moved her head to the right and left, and when she found me, she looked relieved for a moment, but immediately her face turned blue as if in despair.
 "Wh-what happened...!? What is this...? N-nooo... Help meee!! Nooo...!!?"
 "Please calm down, Murasaki-sama. There's no point in making a fuss here. Please take a deep breath and keep your mind calm."
 I take a glance at the guide who is still screaming, wailing for help, but I remain calm and give Murasaki some advice. To tell the truth, I'm about to go crazy myself... but ironically, the fact that Murasaki and the guide are panicking helps me keep my composure.
 "Heh-heh, it seems that child is fine too. A child's loud voice is a sign of energy. Then, there is nothing to be afraid of it. You can be just as cheerful and loud as her."
 The monster smiles as she looks at me and opens her mouth. I force a smile and reply to the words of 'youkai mother' which are obviously made out of good intentions.
 "Is it because you can see that the prey is good and alive? Then, who are you? Well, you don't seem like a decent guy when you're redecorating the basement of the capital like this...?"
 I asked to buy time. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a way out of this hopeless situation. So, for the time being, the only and best thing I could do was to prolong the time until I would be eaten alive, even if it was just for a minute or a second.
 "Hehehe, you don't have to be in such a hurry to ask me a lot of questions, I'll answer them all, okay? Don't panic, don't panic."
 The question was asked in a slightly hostile tone, meant to provoke and probe, but as expected, the monster was not angry at all. On the contrary, she treated me as an energetic child for asking multiple questions.
 "...yes, as a mother, the most important thing is to see her child in good health. In that sense, the two over there are very energetic, and I am very happy to see them. You, on the other hand, are a little too quiet, but I am relieved to see that you are well enough to talk to me."
 The monster proclaims this with a hearty smile. That's very good, you lunatic!!
 "Then, was that your next question? Uh... oh, who am I? As you can see, I'm your mother, right?"
 Oh, I don't get it. I mean, I get it, but it's still a funny thought process.
 "Mother? I'm sorry, I didn't come out from between your legs, and you didn't adopt me. I know you're getting old and your legs and back are hurting and you want someone to take care of you in your old age, but I don't think you're a mother fraud...?"
 "I know that's true, but believe me, it's true. I love you and the two of them as mothers from the bottom of my heart. All living things are the ones I should love. And if you are worried about me, I don't have a problem with that. I'll give birth to you again even if it hurts my abdomen."
 "...well, thank you very much."
 She obliquely said this, as if she was trying to reassure me. It seemed that the monster in front of me didn't even recognize my abuse or provocation, literally interpreting my words only at face value. I can only laugh and spit it out, to which she smiles back at me and says, "You're welcome". After all, she is a former "Mother Goddess" (a goddess of the earth). She's got a lot of heart. I can't even begin to explain.
 "Now, the last question is why am I redecorating this underground waterway into a child's room? Well, you know. Kuu-chan always told me not to talk about it too much... but, because you're going to be a new "family" now. It's okay at least. Oh, it looks like that boy is about to hatch at the right time. Take a look at that"
 She grinned and pointed to a sack of meat. Inside it, something is stirring, and its heartbeat grows more and more intense. And then...
 Tearing through the disgusting sack of flesh like a membrane, a hideous monster emerges. Covered in mucus, it looked like a reptile or a bony human being. It had a backwardly bulging skull, large sunken eyeballs with sharp fangs, unusually long limbs with dinosaur-like claws sprouting from their tips, and a serpent-like tail that was undulated.
 (...well, well, well... what a cute little baby he is...)
 The horrifying creature, its whole body covered with a fishy smell, rushes toward me with ape-like agility when it spots me with its eyes that do not know what it is thinking. Of course, neither I nor the guides can say anything out of fear, but all we can do is just stare at the action in silence.
 The creature standing in front of me tilts its head and looks at me as if it were looking at a rare object. Its mouth is stringy with a strong odor like a rotten fish, which makes me nauseous. Its long, thick, reddish-black tongue slithers out and strokes my cheek, which gives me goosebumps. I get goosebumps. Seriously, I want to look away.
 And then, as if it had made up its mind, the creature, which had been peering at me for a while, opens its mouth so wide in front of me that I think its jaw has fallen off...

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