DARK MODE 

Friday, December 30, 2022 @

Chapter 39, Part 1

 Fusō-kuni, which was filled with an abundance of immense spiritual power and regarded the central land, as well as the surrounding lands and other islands as its territory, except for the central region, was ruled by a few points and lines and had several "foreign enemies" both within and outside its territory, both human and youkai.
 
 No, perhaps the problem may be more serious inside than outside of the territory. At least from the perspective of trading and countermeasures against the youkai, Fusō-kuni has long maintained friendly relations, sometimes even providing military and financial support, with the city-states on the mainland coast that became independent after the fall of the dynasties and the exiled empire of southern colonies that was established after the empire split. So, the immediate enemy of this nation is within its own ranks.
 
 Within Fusō-kuni, several areas where calamity youkai have established territories are basically off-limits and sealed off by patrolling soldiers. In particular, there is the cunning and arrogant Tengu in the mountain villages in the steep mountains not far from the central land, and the Innsmouth-like Kappa who have their roots somewhere in the southern archipelago and often attack fishing villages and port cities on the coasts and rivers. Both of these creatures have unusually high intelligence and advanced societies for youkai and are therefore representative of foreign enemies that Fusō-kuni aims to eliminate and exterminate in the future.
 
 But even though youkai are the virtual enemies of Fusō-kuni, that does not mean that the same humans are not hostile to each other.
 
 Fusō-kuni, which was established to overthrow the world of youkai and to establish a world of humans by humans for humans, originated as a union of human settlements and villages scattered in fear and hiding, mainly in the western and southern regions of the country. After the central part was seized from the monsters, the Fusō-kuni expanded its sphere of influence by settling in all directions from this base.
 
 In the process, they have made contact with other human groups and have merged with them, but not all of this has been accomplished peacefully. Many of these groups, for various reasons, opposed and antagonized the Fusō-kuni. The Kumaso and Hayato, who were powerful in the southern part of the region, and the mountain peoples who lived scattered in the mountains and hunted in various places, are typical examples of such groups.
 
 The Imperial Court called the tribal groups living in the northern and eastern parts of the country "Ezo (Also known as Ainu in Japan)" and tried to absorb them sometimes by force of arms, and sometimes by persuasion.
 
 In reality, however, they did not have a single ethnic or national identity, and the complex relationships among the tribes make it difficult to lump them all together as Ezo.
 
 In fact, the culture and internal conditions of each group differ to a greater or lesser degree, ranging from those like the Saeki clan who aggressively attacked other Ezo tribes under the control and support of the Imperial Court to those who slaughtered the tribes whenever the Court established settlements on the borders of their areas of influence. To recognize them as a single cultural group would be an incomprehension on the part of the court.
 
 In the original game, the remnants of the "Youkai War," the "Rescued Youkai Group," who were hostile to the main characters and aimed at the collapse of the Imperial Court, took full advantage of these conflicts on the human side. They took advantage of the tribes that had been oppressed by the Imperial Court and the tribes that had been destroyed by the Imperial Court and used them as slaves and thus, a bad ending happened.
 
 It can be said that the bad ending of the collapse of the court is too ironic and irredeemable because the last stab from behind to destroy the corrupt but barely opposing youkai court was made by the same human being... Well, it's a depressing game, after all.
 
 All in all, it's a nuisance, but it's just "the last stab". The power of Fusō-kuni is so great that it cannot be the decisive factor to destroy Fusō-kuni without the help and support of youkai and others. If I intervene only to the point, I can prevent the worst from happening.
 
 So, to be honest, I had my hopes up...
 
 "I didn't expect it to come at this time!?"
 
 I swore while avoiding the swinging sword. Otherwise, I wouldn't survive.
 
 "Tsk, he dodges too quickly even when he's weak!"
 "Take it easy. We'll catch up with him little by little..."
 
 A hundred and one minutes had already passed between the attackers and the evaders...
 
 Whether it was a melee or a duel, a battle of competing or separated forces. The time it takes to settle a battle with swords and other blades depend on the situation, but it was strange that a servant who had just been tortured and whose body was still tightly constricted by a rough rope that impeded the flow of spiritual power could persist so long against a duo of opponents. In fact, I was the most surprised.
 
 (Is it the power of stupidity on the fire...!?)
 
 I was out of breath and boasted inwardly. Even if I wasn't, the adrenaline rush was dulling my sense of pain and making it less painful not to feel the torturing pain. Well, it hurts, but still...
 
 (Or, perhaps...)
 
 "Osiki, this is not enough, right? Let's just kill him now, to keep his mouth shut...!?"
 
 Iruka, the younger of the two assailants, shouts like he is yelling. With these words and the strange way, they've been torturing me so far... It seems they've been after me from the very beginning, haven't they? And on someone's order.
 
 (It smells fishy...)
 
 Even with all the information I have, my suspicions are only deepening. I wondered for a moment if I should provoke the man called Iruka to divulge more information, but unfortunately, it was useless to think about such a thing. Because he made the first move.
 
 "Iruka, don't talk too much. You might give him unnecessary information from what you've done so far. He's a smart one for a servant."
 
 Compared to Iruka, who had rough speak and light-hearted, the middle-aged man called "Ryuuto" was unsympathetic and sharp-eyed as he warned his friend while checking us. With this judgment and tone of voice, he is definitely the leader of the group, including the one who left the meeting in the middle.
 
 "Close the gap little by little. Don't waste time slashing at him. Make sure he can't get away."
 "D*mn it, okay, okay!"
 
 With that command, step by careful step, the two of them push me toward the wall. I have no choice but to retreat. It would have been not too risky to break through the encirclement if I had armor and protection, but with no clothes on, no spiritual power, and almost no weapons, it was too risky. Well, not exactly empty-handed, but if I didn't time it right, they would strike out and I'd be dead this time.
 
 "Good grief, you've got to be kidding me, two guys all over me. I'm sorry, but I don't have a taste for homosexuality. If that's your thing, go to the shady shack. Or is that why you came down from the mountain and kept it a secret from your friends?"
 "You b*stard, you've got to be kidding me...!"
 
 Iruka's body trembles at this cheap provocation, which seems to cost less than half of my regular price. His eyes were burning like flames with anger. As in the game, people outside of the Imperial Court had a tendency to be especially obsessed with honor. And from the way he had reacted so far, even though he was acting during the torture, he still seemed to be short-tempered. That makes them worth provoking.
 
 "Iruka!"
 "Oh, right... Excuse me, but we're the same way when it comes to holding back, aren't we? I mean, there's no one left to protect her now, is there?"
 
 At these words, as if remembering, their gazes turn behind them for a moment. There was a blonde girl who was slowly leaving through the door...
 
 "Call Kamui! The brat is escaping...."
 "There's a chance...!!"
 
 The next thing I know, I'm rushing toward Iruka, the owner of that cry.
 
 "Tsk!?"
 
 Immediately Iruka swung his sword away from me. And at about the same time, I detonated the smoke ball that Shikigami had given me...
 
* * *
 
 Naturally and fundamentally, the reason why I was standing by Tachibana Kayo's side was to protect her and to keep her safe.
 
 The other guards who had been following her behind our backs were probably unable to fulfill their duties, but that doesn't mean I should be relieved of my role. Rather, it made my responsibility heavier, and my position could have been in jeopardy. The dead cannot be punished, but the living can be made an example of as much as they want.
 
 Therefore, evacuating Tachibana Kayo, who was there, was my first priority for the sake of my position, but it was also to create an opportunity for me to escape from the situation. If I had continued to face them with my bare hands, there would have been no future for me, and I would have been destitute. So I wanted to create an opening, even if only for a moment, so that I could break through their encirclement.
 
 Now, while they were distracted, a shikigami used by Matsushige Botan made contact with frightened Kayo and guided her to evacuate from the place. Then, at the moment when she was slowly exiting the interrogation room, I dared to make the men aware, make them upset, and distract them, which was the time I aimed. I took advantage of this slight opening to close in on her and forcefully broke through the encirclement by blocking their vision with a smoke ball... a high-quality one with a tearful effect and a pungent odor, prepared by the Kizuki family. But...
 
 "Ha~a... Ha~a... Gghh... Haha, nothing works so well, huh...!!?"
 
 With Kayo unconscious on my back, I run, wheezing and out of breath. Cold sweat is still pouring out from my forehead and my body, which is still tangled in the rough rope, and bright red blood is dripping down from my right arm...
 
 (D*mn! I was prepared for it, but it still hurts...!!)
 
 The smokeball was used after waiting until the encirclement had narrowed to a certain extent in order to alert the men's blow... Although I had expected to be cut and was prepared for it, it's still painful to have my right arm cut so deeply, though not so deeply that I can't move it.
 
 'There is blood on the floor. This will give away your escape route no matter how fast I run, right? You need to stop the bleeding somewhere.'
 "I know...! Gghh, Is this the.... warehouse!?"
 
 I nod at the somewhat mechanical and inarticulate Shikigami's instruction and look around to make a decision. The interrogation room was located in a warehouse. It was a warehouse that stored various commodities, such as rice bales and lumber. And when I left the warehouse, I found a row of warehouses in the same style...
 
 (Merchants' warehouses...? It looks like a warehouse district in Tokyo...)
 
 I guessed this by looking at the goods in the warehouses I saw on the way. If the warehouses are located in the north, where there are many residences of court nobles and feudal lords, they would have more luxurious goods for them, and if they are located in the west, where craftsmen gather, they would have a higher proportion of crafts and industrial goods. The possibility of a storehouse in the north cannot be denied... but I am sure that the items are from the east. If so, I think this is a warehouse established in Tōkyō. Is the lack of popularity a sign of exodus?
 
 (I thought of shouting and calling for help, but decided against it.)
 
 At this rate, even if I yell, my pursuers will catch up with me before help arrives.
 
 "Uh... Hmm... Where... am I...?"
 
 As I was analyzing the situation, a moan escaped from behind me. When I burst the smoke ball and ran away, the impact and the sound startled her and she fainted... She was too slow anyway, but... Tachibana Kayo, who was on my back, seems to have regained consciousness. Well, it wasn't such a big shock.
 
 "Excuse me a moment, miss...!"
 "Huh!? Aaahh... Mmph!!?"
 
 I quickly hid in the shadows of one of the large warehouses, just as I was about to do, and for physical reasons, I grabbed Kayo by both sides and forced her down. She was about to scream, but I covered her mouth and held my index finger up to her mouth to tell her to be quiet... From the outside, I look like a child abductor. It looks even more so because she's naked on top and tied up with a rope. In my previous life, I'd been out.
 
 "Mmm... Gggh... Hah?? Tomobe-san!? What on earth... are you doing at...?"
 
 She turns red with anger at my rudeness and tries to raise her voice as I slowly remove my hand from her mouth to avoid making a fuss. But Kayo's face instantly turns blue and her expression becomes tense as she notices the blood pouring out from the painful wound on my right arm and the fact that it is starting to form a red puddle on the ground.
 
 "Ah... Uuu... T-that's... uh... I think."
 "Please calm down. We're hiding now. We must be quiet, if we shout, they'll hear us."
 
 Kayo's face turns pale and her eyes water when she remembers what we're going through. I kneel down in front of her and put my hand on her small, slender shoulder to encourage her and warn her not to cry.
 
 She may be naughty and selfish, but she is not stupid. The girl nod her head as if she understood what I said, and she was trying hard to hold back her sobs. Such a good girl.
 
 "...Please forgive me. You were looking forward to it, but now it's turned out to be such a scary thing. I'll take your reprimand and punishment later, so please bear with me now."
 
 I say sorry and comfort her. I know she wouldn't do something so selfish with her life in danger, but it's good to have an insurance policy like this. Now...
 
 "Now, it's not a very pleasant sight, so I suggest you don't look at it."
 
 With that, I tear the fabric around the ankle of my long hakama, which has not been stripped off and wipe off the blood that has overflowed from my right arm and soaked my whole arm.
 
 "Ugh... Kuh... Ugh.........!!!"
 
 Wiping away the blood, which is so overflowing that it appears reddish-black, the cloth is instantly stained with the same color. A dull, numbing pain runs through the wound, and I grunt softly and frown. Holding back a scream.
 
 "Eek... there's blood, a lot of blood..."
 
 It's okay. Matsushige's granddaughter, who is looking at me through the shikigami, seems unconcerned. But not Kayo, who is not used to seeing blood. She is, after all, a sheltered girl, and she was so frightened at the sight of the bloodstained cloth that she was about to cry from fear.
 
 "Ha~a... Ha~a... I told you not to look at it because it's not good... so stop looking at it. What good does it do to see someone hurt?"
 
 I jokingly suggest to Kayo, my forehead sweating profusely. I turned my back to her so that she couldn't see my injury. However, my smile seemed to be a little drawn before the pain, so it may have had the opposite effect.
 
 (I don't want to traumatize the brat too much, whether it's Shiro or gorilla-sama...)
 
 There is no need to willingly show grotesque things in a cruel world. If we can avoid seeing it, it is better not to see it. ...But well, what can a person who failed in the case of those two or in this case say...
 
 "Ouch... D*mn, this won't stop the bleeding. Let's tear it again..."
 
 With my body and voice shaking from the pain and muscle spasms, I suck up a lot of blood and dump the soaked cloth on the ground. I can't use it to stop the bleeding when it's that wet. I try to tear the fabric of my long hakama once more, but then I feel a slight touch on my left hand and I turn around.
 
 And what I see is citrus. Or to be more precise, it was Tachibana Kayo holding a citrus-colored neck wrap in her hand.
 
 "Oh, um... if you want to stop bleeding, why don't you use this...?"
 
 Kayo suggested, and anxiously held out the neck wrap in her hand. Her hand was trembling.
 
 "...is that okay?"
 "Oh, um... you don't have to worry about compensation or anything like that..."
 
 Kayo answered in a panicked manner, as if she thought my question was about compensation, but she lowered her voice. Then she turns her head to the side as if she is frightened.
 
 "Ah... Um... did I interfere...?"
 "No, thank you very much. It helps."
 
 I can't ignore the good intentions of a child who is anxious to help, and what can be helped can be. I accepted the neckwear with acknowledgment.
 
 "Phew...."
 
 Kayo's tense face relaxes slightly as if she is finally relieved when I accept the neckwear. She then turned her gaze to look at me closely.
 
 To be honest, I'm not too happy to be observed, but I don't need to complain here... I have better things to do. But still...
 
 (Nice fabric and tailoring. ...Probably more than what I paid for it...)
 
 I think about that as I glance at the neckwear in my hand.
 
 She is the daughter of one of the top ten wealthiest merchants in the capital, and even though she is on private visits, the clothes she wears are very appropriate for her. Therefore, I knew by the quality of the fabric that just touching it would be worth more than my purchase price, which would not be expensive for one person's life and life, not to say a bunch of money.
 
 "Phew..."
 "Tomobe... san?"
 "No, I was just laughing at the memory. I hope you don't mind."
 
 After quickly following up with Kayo, who looked anxious again at my self-deprecating sneer, I tore the neckwear into two pieces, wiped the blood with the smaller one, and tightened my arm to stop the bleeding with the larger one that remained.
 
 (What a waste...)
 
 In this world, human life is cheap. Therefore, the fact that what I'm doing now seems so blasphemous and stupid might be proof that I'm unknowingly becoming infected with the values of this world.
 
 "If so...."
 
 If so, it seemed very sad and hard to me...
 
* * *

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