Friday, December 16, 2022 @

Volume 3 Epilogue, Part 3

 "Totally, after all this time she's still rampaging about. That monster."
 In the outer city of Fuso-Kuni, an old exorcist hiding out in an old bookstore that has been closed for years stands in a corner and sighs when he sees the inside of his ruined property.
 The interior of the old bookstore, which is unbelievably spacious from the outside due to the semi-prohibited spatial expansion boundary, is in a state of disarray. The bookshelves were all toppled over, and a lot of books stored in them were smashed up. Moreover, not a small number of them had been torn, ripped, cut into pieces, and burned to the ground. There were also pieces of flesh and blood of the youkai who had been crushed into pieces, sticking to the walls and furniture. To top it all off, in the center of the ruined room sits a huge bear monster, lying on its back, covered in blood...
 "It's a good thing I put up soundproofing boundaries. The noise must have been quite loud with such a rampage..."
 "Don't talk to me like it's someone else's problem, Grandfather (Oji-sama). I beg you to help me clean up the mess."
 She sighed and complained angrily to the old man Ou who was sitting on a pile of books nearby. The old man looked at a girl in her teens who was sitting on an imported easy chair, using simple puppets shikigami to tidy up the ruined room. In her lap, a Nekomata (two-tailed cat) stretched out her arms, seemingly ignorant of the situation around it.
 For the note, the girl's name was Botan, and a third daughter of the 29th head of the Matsushige family, Harutaka, and one of the old man's granddaughters, and now an apprentice of his who has left the family to accompany her grandfather on his hideout. Her age was 15, and she was an unusually fair-skinned girl with reddish hair that reached her shoulders, and her face was not bad-looking but somewhat weak, with a hint of death in it.
 "Even if you say so. But, let's wake this one up first. Come now, awaken from your slumber, you idle one made of wood!"
 The old man pulls out a long stick from the sleeve of his clothes, which obviously should not be there, and begins to walk quickly, and when he reaches the big bear, the demon bear he is using as a shikigami, which is still lying on the ground in the center of the room, strikes it mercilessly several times on the head.
 Genbu, the demon bear, rises from the air as if controlled by an invisible string. If one looks closely, the left arm of the bear monster has been ripped off from the shoulder. The wound had been inflicted when it had tried to stop the blue demon from running out of the store.
 "Really, it's a tough time for you. That blue demon, she suddenly started screaming and tried to run into the capital..."
 Botan sighs as she lets the shikigami carry the arm of the flying demon bear. But to begin with, it's funny that the blue demon was staying here. Not to mention the fact that she was so frenzied and violent... All because of that suspicious young man of unknown background, who had become her grandfather's apprentice.
 Botan vividly remembered the moment when the notorious red-haired blue demon who had been following the mysterious servant of the Kizuki family with a simple Shikigami at all hours of the day suddenly went crazy as if she had seen something at the moment the Shikigami was destroyed.
 From then on, all hell broke loose. Botan tried to stop the blue demon who was obviously emitting youkai energy and trying to leave the store and run into the capital with the help of her grandfather's traditional shikigami (sacred beast and youkai transformed into shikigami) and the countless traps he had set inside the room... but even though they were foul, it was those blue demons they were dealing with. And because of her excessive power, it was a risk to stop her, and in fact, she could not be stopped completely.
 In the end, the majority of the shikigami that acted as decoys were neutralized physically. And although they somehow caught the blue demon by his grandfather's binding boundary, which took several months of preparation, it only bought time for a moment. After all, the boundary was broken off with tremendous force as soon as it was deployed.
 Well, the old man did not seem to think that he could stop this blue demon with such a small amount of preparation. Fortunately, in the little time he had, he managed to quiet the demon with his eloquence and barely prevented her from plunging into the capital, or more precisely, into the underground tunnels below the capital. Instead, she flew away.
 "I don't mind. If the monsters kill each other. Rather, I'd be happy if they fell together if possible."
 As the old man Ou said so, the shikigami pressed the demon bear's shredded arm against the wound, and Ou struck the glued surface several times with his stick. At the same time, dozens of charms fly out of his pockets and stick to the wound as if to wrap it. At this, the demon bear grunts at the pain in its revived arm.
 "...So, what are you going to do about it, Grandfather? I don't think you can let such a mysterious thing go unchecked, do you?"
 Botan rubbed the throat of the nekomata on her knees as if she was bored, and assigned another task to the shikigami who had brought the demon bear's arms to her grandfather. Yes, that's the task at hand.
 "He was a weird guy to begin with, but now he's taken the blood of that monster, and the heart of a top-class exorcist... Frankly speaking, wouldn't it be better to dispose of the dangerous factor quickly?"
 Speaking of 'youkai mother', she is one of the five most troublesome monsters existing in Fuso-Kuni without being sealed or defeated. After all, she used to be a fallen god from beyond the sea. And if youkai-ization is done not by "re-birthing" but by blood...
 Moreover, although a secret medicine to stop the mutation seems to fool others, it is impossible to cure the root of the disease. The longer it takes, the more the body becomes accustomed to the "youkai-ization", and it is impossible to know what will happen when the balance is lost and the body suddenly transforms. So, isn't it safer to burn down the entire underbrush before it becomes a venomous snake?
 "Indeed. Leaving the bush as it is will indeed postpone the problem. But we can't be sure that burning the snakes won't cause the fire to spread here. I don't think we should do it now."
 But the old man denies his granddaughter's opinion. It was neither naivety nor kindness, but a cold-blooded judgment based on a weighing of the dangers. It would not be difficult to kill the young man, but he does not know what Kizuki's sisters, their grandmother, and the blue demon would do afterward. It would be too risky. At least for now.
 "Because it's worth it. At least until we get rid of the demon, we can't afford anything to go wrong. But then, I don't know how to make the secret medicine to cure youkai-ization. I'm at a loss. I'll have to do some research."
 The old man Ou strokes his white beard and says in a deeply troubled voice.
 To be precise, there should be at least a description of the method of production of the forbidden techniques kept in the capital. However, when he was working at the Onmyo Dormitory, he mainly studied the techniques to seal up and destroy youkai demons, and he had little interest in the techniques of healing. Especially when it comes to curing people who are becoming more and more youkai.
 Of course, even prolonging life requires materials that would normally be ridiculously difficult to obtain, such as the heart organs of top-class exorcists. And even more than that, the materials needed for the cure were even more difficult to obtain, and it was obvious that it would not be worth the cost. If the cure was to be made with such materials, it would be much cheaper to just kill the patient. However, Ou didn't seem to have a choice but to do nothing, even if his hope was slim.
 "...I'm surprised. I never thought that my grandfather would spend his time on such a thing. Is it really that much trouble to deal with a single servant?"
 The granddaughter was truly surprised that her grandfather, who was a calculating, rational, utilitarian, and above all, a cold-blooded thinker, was willing to go to such lengths for the sake of a single unknown servant. For a moment, she even suspected that her grandfather had been brainwashed or killed and someone was wearing his skin.
 "Hmm, is that surprising?"
 "Too soft for you, Grandfather."
 The granddaughter replies to her grandfather's words with a slight frown, as if it were a matter of course. Botan thought that her grandfather who had been expelled from the imperial court seemed to be too soft in his words because of his horrifying practice of using living people and half-youkai as experimental materials for his cruel experiments to investigate the forbidden techniques of his art. So, she raised her guard a little in disbelief.
 "...Well, I may be soft, after what I have said myself. And you are correct in raising your guard."
 The old man is rather impressed with his granddaughter who takes a fighting stance and thinks about what he said. It is indeed softer. He is too soft on people with such an unnatural way of being.
 The old man does not believe in the theory of moral goodness. After all, human beings are fundamentally evil. He was convinced that people are willing to abandon others and suffer for the sake of their own life and profit. Of course, this does not mean that he despises or is disappointed in human existence. Unlike wild beasts and evil monsters, he believes that human is the only one who can discipline themselves by binding and constraining themselves.
 That is why the young man is abnormal. Born a poor farmer without learning, tossed about in this absurd world of nothing but hardship, anguish, and pain... a simple, ignorant man could only give up on everything, or become mean, crude, and shallow, but that young man...
 "It's unnatural, to be sure. But..."
 Ou noticed that his granddaughter looked doubtful and puzzled by his small, melancholy sigh. Then he chuckled. Yes, it's soft. Too soft. He knows that. Of course, he knows that. But still...
 "Hey, hey, I'm home late. Oh? It's still a mess, huh? Oh, dear, it's trouble..."
 The old man Ou and Botan simultaneously cast unfriendly glances at the presence who entered the store with the sound of a bell. Both Ou and his granddaughter knew only one person, or rather, just one person, who had entered the store with a sign saying that the store was closed, ignoring the exorcism spell.
 "It seems you've made a great show of yourself again, huh?"
 Ou asks coldly to the demon dressed as an ascetic monk, whose whole body is stained red with the blood of the non-human creatures. Two troublesome monsters should have fallen together... At this rate, he doubts if any of them are still alive. It's a disappointment. But then, he's not going to say it...
 "No, no, I didn't mean to let her get away. I mean, I'd be sickened by the idea of that old hag powdering him. Besides, if he'd taken her down, I wouldn't stand a chance, now, would I? I'm the one who's going to crown him as a hero, not that crazy old hag."
 The demon spits out a self-centered remark without hesitation. She is talking on the assumption that she herself will be killed by the young man, but in the first place, killing demons is something that no one in his right mind would want to do, no matter how much money he is offered. Demons are selfish, cruel, horrifying, and cowardly to that extent.
 "Anyway. Don't worry about that lunatic, I'll take care of her. Oh, and I want to take a bath. Can you heat up the tub for me? I'm still a girl and I don't want to keep smelling like this."
 "Ugh, it smells... that's why you demons are..."
 The demon stomps around the room and talks selfishly. The blood and guts of the demon's body smell fresh, while the strong perspiration reminds people of the demon's characteristics. That was a smell of brewing alcohol. Because of this, Botan can't help but cover her mouth and make a displeased expression. Especially when the demons were excited or in heat, their sweat was known to inebriate people with just one sniff. Just like the Nekomata, it can't stand the smell and jumps off Botan's lap and runs away somewhere in the still messed up room.
 "Hmm, hmm... this is.... certainly a good idea to make your body clean. Now, Genbu, get the bathtub ready. Then, can we talk about the monster now?"
 There were many things to complain about, but the fact of the matter was that the smell of the blue demon was too strong. So, while covering his nostrils with the sleeves of his clothes, the old man ordered the revived demon bear to boil water with his stick and then proceeded to talk about the 'youkai mother'.
 At the same time, Genbu, who had just been half-killed by the demon in front of it just the other day, looked "What, seriously?" But when his master Ou, Botan, and Aoko glared at it at the same time, it drooped its face and went to the bathtub in the next room.
 "...You really are a bunch of curious people. So, how will the Onmyou dormitories behave? According to the information from the scattered shikigami, it seems that the authorities intend to keep the matter under wraps."
 While a reasonable number of regular exorcists have been mobilized to disinfect the underground water supply, those who have been entrusted with the management of the water supply... especially the court nobles and the Imperial Court, have been known to be in contact with each other of some sort. That being said, can anything be expected from the current status quo and the current passive-aggressive attitude of the Imperial Court...?
 "Because of all things, it's 'youkai mother'. The Imperial Court may have had its doubts, but they would not trust such a thing appears."
 As a matter of fact, she's too big a deal. And the witnesses are all unreliable. Given the past, the case will either be put on hold. Or the people will be forced to take the blame. And if that happens... it will be very difficult.
 "...Ako's daughter will not be touched. She is too big a person and too dangerous for both her and those around her to touch. The survivor of the guide, the man, does not attract attention either. After all, a person without any spiritual power is a meaningless target for interrogation. He also has no credibility in terms of his position. In that case, it would be troublesome."
 So, either this demon in front of him will act again, or the crazy women of Kizuki will be watching. At any rate, the most the old man has to keep in mind is that someone is going to tell them...
 (...at the end, it would be easier to keep quiet, huh...)
 Botan also sighs as she comes to this conclusion. He is really a mysterious young man. She wonders what he was aiming at when he approached her grandfather.
 "Either way, we need to be prepared..."
 The red-haired girl mutters to herself. Of course, the old man should be prepared to run away, but in case of emergency, he should be prepared to 'dispose' of the young man, whether she uses him or not. Or she may have to do it on her own.
 Botan lets out a small cough. The smell in her mouth is the taste of iron. She swallows it, then clamps her mouth tightly and frowns.
 Yes, she didn't want to waste her time here because of that young man. She had a purpose. To get revenge on the monster who had done this to her. That's why she ran to her grandfather who was banished not only from the court but from her family. She knew that she would never be able to complete her revenge without it. She did not have much time left.
 "Really, annoying guy..."
 She blurted out in a weak, fading tone of voice as the blue demons began to tell her saga in a chattering voice that was not being heard, and her grandfather, who was less than half as interested in the story as she was in it, gave a few random comments...
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