Monday, January 2, 2023 @

Chapter 40, Part 1

 The time was already the 5th hour past the dog... Or in short, it was already evening. Even though Fuso's capital is a city that never sleeps and has the largest population in this country, it was a time when there was no electricity. Therefore, not all of the area of the capital is filled with people.
 And the area, which was crowded, is so-called "downtown cities (towns)", main streets, or "inner quarters" and "brothels." These areas are lined with bonfires and lanterns, and many people are going in and out, or in residential cities (towns), many people are still not sleeping, although it is almost time for them to do so.
 However, a warehouse... in other words, a warehouse city (town) is a place where people have no reason to enter even during the daytime unless they have something to do, and at night, it is literally doubtful if it is popular at all. Normally, Kebiishi (police and judicial chief), guards, or bouncers of merchant houses would patrol the area, but they disappear when they are bribed with money under their sleeves and there is a boundary to ward off people.
 Therefore, the warehouse city, which is somewhat deserted with not a single soul to be found, gives an inexpressible uneasiness to those who see it, partly because it is midnight and there is only moonlight as a source of light.
 And then, there was a figure standing in the warehouse city...
 "Tsk, I screwed up, didn't I? I can't smell...!!!"
 Iruka clicks his tongue as he cautiously watches his surroundings. The underlings are frustrated by the fact that things are not going as smoothly as they would like.
 Unlike the combat-oriented Ryuuto and the highly versatile Kamui, Iruka's abilities were not really suited for combat, contrary to his aggressive nature. In fact, Iruka's power should be called a detection type. However... Iruka was not able to make full use of his power.
 His night vision is clear, but his eyes are still moistened by the tearful effect of the white smoke. His sense of smell is even worse, the pungent odor has made him a complete idiot. Hearing is fine, but... probably because the servant and the girl are holding their breath, no sounds can be heard.
 "So the only guide is this bloodstain..."
 Iruka takes a glance at the reddish-black traces of blood on the ground.
 "...is it just up ahead?"
 Iruka squints her eyes and looks ahead to where the bloodstains continue. The red spots on the ground continue to the shadow of the warehouse.
 Iruka silently raises his sword and heads toward it. Without a sound of footsteps, he reaches the corner of the warehouse with stealthy steps as if he were a ghost. Then, with the utmost caution, he quickly steps into the shadow.
 ...however, all that was there was a piece of cloth, soaked in blood and strewn on the ground.
 "A trap...? I know what you're doing, you piece of sh*t!"
 Iruka roared in the next instant and turned his head up as if he had prepared for it. Then, he quickly cuts down the shadow that jumped down from the roof of the warehouse...
 "Huh...!? Is this also fabric!!?"
 However, Iruka soon realizes that it is not the man he has cut down, but the blood-soaked neckwear. Then he sees a figure appear from behind the neckwear.
 Iruka quickly blocks the lumber that is being swung down like a stick with his right arm, which is equipped with a Kote (a gauntlet). At the same time, shock and pain come...
 "D*mn it...!!"
 A moment later, Iruka poured 'youkai power' into his left hand and wielded it.
 "What!? First of all...!"
 The attacker narrowly avoided the flash of invisible claws that came with a sound that cut through the sky by spinning himself around. At the same time, however, the wooden blocks he had been preparing are cut off like piles of wood and scattered to pieces. Still the assailant... Kizuki's servant clumsily rolls on the ground to keep his distance.
 "I expected a trap because of the obvious traces. The double-tracking freaked me out a little, though. If I hadn't known you could think a little, I might have been in trouble, you know?"
 Iruka declares scornfully, while the servant is panting and gasping for breath. The cloth that must have been wrapped around him to stop the bleeding was stained bright red and was leaving red marks on the ground.
 "You, I doubt you think that was...youkai power, right?"
 The servant asked with a grim look on his face, clutching his wound. The gravity of his expression was not only due to his wound.
 "Oh, you recognized it at first sight? Or was your real job not to babysit the kids but to exterminate youkai? Then I guess I'll let you know."
 Iruka looks relaxed and boastful in response to the question. On the other hand, the servant frowns, perhaps uncomfortable with this attitude.
 "Okay. This is a souvenir of the underworld. Take a good look, this is... the secret technique of the people of the north."
 With a flourish, Iruka rolled up the sleeve of his left arm.
 The servants gasped. The servant looked at Iruka's left arm, which from the elbow to the end had a giant wolf's arm sewn to it...
* * *
 While the servant and the underlings were facing each other, the battle on the other side continued amidst dust and roars.
 "Oh my, oh my, is this all there is to it?"
 One of them did not even brace herself as she swung her fan, creating a whirlwind of destruction in the area around her.
 "D*mn... is this the Imperial Court's exorcists...!!"
 The man now throws a needle or a needle with a deadly poison coated on the tip of its blade while desperately avoiding the storm of destruction. So many projectiles fly straight at their targets that it is hard to tell where they are hidden... but not all of them reach the girl in front of him.
 "Hehehe, come on, dance for me!"
 "Oh gosh, that's a ridiculous amount of spiritual power...!"
 Spiritual power is, simply put, the power to twist and deceive phenomena. And even if one tries to convert spiritual power in a technique, it has a fuel consumption. Basically, converting spiritual power to generate fire or water consumes far more spiritual power than altering one's inner self, as in the case of strengthening the body. And moreover, if she was going to shoot wind blows of that scale so many times in a row... It was natural for those who knew the situation to feel like swearing at Aoi's appearance that she was wasting enormous spiritual power without even breaking a sweat and seemed to have enough time on her hands.
 Now, the fierce battle takes a pause. While Ryuuto was gasping for air, Aoi only kept smiling with pleasure. The way she smiles seems to him like a child who observes with interest an insect suffering from a cut on its leg.
 ...In other words, it is a smile that gives discomfort and fear to those who see it.
 (Ggh... I didn't mean to underestimate her, but I didn't expect this much. At this rate, I'm going to wear out first... It can't be helped, I'll have to use that...)
 Ryuuto finally regained his breath, but he relaxed his posture. It seems too reckless to those who have just witnessed the battle. But...
 "Oh? Are you going to give up now? Let me play a little longer. Don't you have any guts?"
 The princess's words were somewhat derisive. In response, the Northern barbarian gives a scowl to match her.
 "Of course not. The real work begins now. But... if you want to have that much fun, I hope you'll let a little of what's about to happen slide."
 "After all, this change will take time..." he said, breaking the seal that had been branded on his own body.
 "Ugh!? Ughhhhhhh......!!!?"
 With the release of the seal, Ryuuto once writhed in agony and fell down. But it was only for a moment. The Northern Barbarian or this Ezo tribe man's body is rebuilding itself.
 "Ggghh...!? Roarrrrrrr!!!"
 The roar that rang out was fiercer and more ferocious than that of the beast. The muscles of his body were bulging, and the sound of muscle fibers being torn to shreds, or the horrifying sound of his skeletal frame being transformed, was heard. And then Ryuuto transforms his body into something other than a human being.
 "Wow, this is quite much..."
 Aoi, who was observing the horrifying change, covered her mouth with a fan and frowned with disgust at her beautiful face. It was against both the trick played on the man in front of her and the change caused by the trick.
 The change, or the time it took for the transformation to take place, ended after fifty counts or so. What remained was a being with an appearance that could hardly be called human.
 Its appearance reminded Aoi of a Salamander (山椒魚). The curved outline of his big, gaping mouth, the pair of eyeballs that were so far apart that they seemed to be staring at different sides of each other, and it was standing upright... But the most significant change of all was the presence of an evil force flowing from the man's body.
 "Youkai monster transformation... should I call it that? But how could a mere barbarian invent something so advanced that it was forbidden in the imperial court?"
 For exorcists and other spiritualists, their birth is absolute. That depends on the characteristics of their spiritual power.
 According to the knowledge of the servant whom Aoi adores so much, spiritual power is the fuel of a vehicle. The driving force of the power to change the phenomena is the life force generated in the body... Then the engine and the body correspond to the mechanism and the technique to convert the exorcists' spiritual power into force. This corresponds to a strong physical body.
 Of these three elements, which in this world should be expressed as "mind, technique, and body," the mind and body are especially important... Fuel and body depend on the influence of bloodline. Not only the literal technique but also the strength of the internal organs that perform the combustion of spiritual power is quite important in the conversion mechanism of technique and spiritual power.
 Therefore, in the description of the previous life of the servant, the body of the exorcists was described as that of a vehicle. No matter how much fuel is available, it is meaningless if the efficiency of the engine is poor, and no matter how much fuel and how powerful the engine is, if the body is weak, it will break up as soon as the vehicle starts running. Meanwhile, if the fuel is low, even if the body and engine are good, the vehicle can travel only a short distance... The exorcists can be described in the same way.
 In short, if they lack spiritual power, they cannot fight, and even if they have spiritual power, if their conversion is inefficient, they waste energy, and above all, even if they meet these two requirements (spiritual power & conversion), they cannot endure if their bodies are fragile.
 Of course, if it is only spiritual power, it can be strengthened to some extent by using drugs in exchange for a long life. Also, the conversion efficiency of spiritual power can be improved to some extent by training techniques. However, it is not a simple matter to strengthen the body, and one of the ways to solve this problem during the period of the Great War and to make people strong effectively in a short period of time was to experiment and produce human youkai monster transformation.
 Although the Imperial Court today is not devoid of such beings, including the former head of the Onmyou Dormitory, Hibari Azuma, who was a half-youkai... most of the exorcists, who have incorporated the youkai power are survivors of the former Great War, and their number can now only be counted on two hands. And their study and practice are now forbidden.
 Therefore, the Imperial Court has denied, at least officially, the production of any new youkai monster transformations, leaving only a few exceptions. Those exceptions were not so much that they could become youkai-ized freely, but rather that they were only semi-youkai-ized by taking in youkai power or youkai bodily fluids through various kinds of accidents. And perhaps being in front of Aoi is...
 "From the looks of it... is it replacing a part of your body with a youkai's? That's absurd. It would only be successful one out of five times."
 If a barbarian performs the surgery with poor technique, he'll bleed to death or die of infection. Even if they don't, there's a chance that the human body will reject youkai's part. So, this would be a horrifying practice that the current Imperial Court would not approve of, even if it were performed on a prisoner sentenced to death or a low-ranking official.
 "Forget your nonsense. Come and see it."
 "Then let me do so."
 Aoi swung her fan at Ryuuto's provocation without hesitation and without a shred of mercy. The blade of the wind, sharp enough to cut through even an iron helmet, flew straight at Ryuuto, but he did not evade it.
 Instead, a direct hit... normally, it would have left only the carcass of the barbarian man, cut in half, in the next instant. But... after the dust stopped, there it was, an upright salamander without a scratch.
 "...can't cut?"
 Aoi's expression was doubtful that the wind blow that she poured her ridiculous spiritual power into the fan, which itself is a curse tool, did not have any effect on the lackey who had not performed any technique. With a doubtful expression on her face, Aoi struck a few more slashing wind blows.
 The strong wind impact was so strong that a tremendous amount of dust and smoke was created in the surrounding area... however, they only brushed past the man who had turned into a monster one after another. At this attack, Ryuuto mockingly cleared his throat.
 "Kukuku, I'm sorry, but it's no use. I'm afraid such things don't work on me anymore."
 "...it doesn't seem like you're dodging at high speed, either."
 Narrowing her eyes slightly and covering her mouth with a fan, Aoi analyzes.
 "But it's not as if you barbarian can use conceptual abilities. As far as I can see, you're just letting them slide... or something like that?"
 "....Oh, you get it already? Good answer. As expected of the second princess of Kizuki."
 With just a few observations, the second princess of Kizuki was able to almost perfectly guess how the enemy in front of her neutralized the attack.
 "This body is quite useful. The mucus secreted by my entire body acts as a lubricant and buffer, significantly reducing the sharpness of the blade."
 If he adds to this the unique body technique that he has developed to absorb the opponent's power, swords, spears, and other blades against him literally become almost bladeless lumps of iron. At least with Ako Murasaki's swordsmanship, not even a scratch can be inflicted on him unless she uses a great technique that would exhaust her strength and expose her openings. And of course, such a move would be fatal to Ryuuto.
 However, even if it can't be slashed, a block of iron can be used simply as a blunt weapon... Still, even that would be powerless against Ryuuto now that he has transformed into a youkai monster, and unless one strikes him with something of great mass at high speed, he/she would be powerless.
 "And one more useful thing about this body is this..."
 With these words, Ryuuto swung his arm. Aoi senses with her sixth sense the danger of the multiple shadows scattering at the same time and leaps to avoid them.
 A moment later, the black liquid which splashed on the place where Aoi had just been standing, melts the earth and stones into a liquid state, emitting white smoke. A sulfur-like smell is emanating around the area.
 "Acid... No, poison?"
 "I can now produce more than a dozen kinds of strong poison in my body as needed. Not many exorcists of renown are immune to poison, are they? So dance miserably at your leisure...!"
 With these savage words, Ryuuto opens his distinctive mouth as if to tear it open. What was spewed from his dark mouth was a mixture of bitterness. Ryuuto is soaked in various kinds of poisons and spits out liquid poisons like a bullet. Moreover, its power was so sharp that its trajectory could not be changed by a gust of wind. Therefore, Aoi also moved to avoid it.
 Aoi dances as Ryuuto shouts. She evades the attack with graceful movements as if she were dancing. It was a one-sided attack since her wind blade was no longer useful.
 "I got you!"
 The next moment, Ryuuto's mouth sprouted multiple tongues. Three slug-like tongues, each as thick as an adult man's arm, wrapped themselves around Aoi's fan with a certain will, while bending like a whip. Then he pulled Aoi's fan under him.
 It was a wise decision to discard the fan immediately. Because if Aoi had kept hold of the fan, she would have lost her mobility as soon as she was pulled in, and would have been hit by the poisonous blow. However...
 "Hahaha, I've got your weapon. Now you're unarmed, right?"
 Ryuuto says as he examines the quality of the gorgeous fan with it twisted around his tongue. He knew from the information given to him in advance that the only weapon this girl had was this fan. Of course, he should be careful, since the information could misjudge her strength, but even so, it is significant that he has taken away her main weapon!
 (I can do it. Yes, I can do it...!! Kukuku, this job hasn't been going as smoothly as I'd like... but it looks like my luck is finally turning...!!)
 The giant salamander licks his tongue and twists his mouth. Drool drips from the opening of his mouth.
 (...!? What a mess. She was about to be swallowed.)
 He was aware that his own personality was being transformed by the change of the youkai monster. His thought process is turning toward youkai. Ryuuto tries to stay calm, but all he can think of is his desire to devour the girl who looks like a lump of spiritual power in front of him. Well, that young girl's flesh looks really tender. I wonder what it tastes like...
 (Tsk, calm down... even this figure is not all-powerful...)
 Though his body is made to be almost completely helpless against swords and other blades, it is not so resistant to fire and other psychic techniques and curses. And there is no way that the girl in front of him has only a fan in her hand. Be on your guard. If I don't end this battle quickly and return to being a human being, my mind will be contaminated, and I will probably never be able to fight again, the lackey thought to himself...
 (I don't care, I'll settle it first)
 In this way, he is once again on his guard and ready to fight. Aoi, on the other hand, looks at her right hand which has been holding the fan before. She grips her too-white palm and spreads it out, and then she repeats the action of gripping and spreading it out. And then...
 "......Well, I guess this is how it is."
 A moment later... Aoi was right in front of Ryuuto's eyes with a violent blast.
 It was almost mistaken for an instantaneous movement, but it was probably a leap with a kick up from the ground. Still, Ryuuto was surprised to see the girl who had closed the distance at the speed equivalent to the speed of sound, but he had not just walked through the line of death by any means. He intuitively arrives at the best solution in a short time.
 "Too sweet!!"
 The next moment, Ryuuto's body seeps out the paralyzing poison produced in his body from his dripping sweat. She's stupid, fighting directly...!
 (Didn't she hear what I just said? My body can make poison...!!?)
 Thinking about it, Ryuuto immediately comes to think of the possibility that Aoi's fist swinging at him is a decoy. Could she be using some kind of technique disguised as a blow? Immediately the underhanded man turned his attention to the countermeasure against the technique... but at the next moment, he received a too-heavy blow to the stomach.
 "Ah, ggh...!?"
 Ryufei screamed in agony from the intense pain caused by the visceral shaking... or rather, literally having his internal organs stirred up, and he blacked out for a moment, his eyes flashing white. Then, he was forced to wake up immediately afterward by the intense pain. Did she really hit him? No, if that's the case, shouldn't she have been hit by poison? After all, if she touches him directly...!!
 "Wh-what...!? Is it shockwave!!? Ggghh...!?"
 Ryuuto analyzes as he almost faints from the intense pain that continues to shake his internal organs. It is not a penetration of the human body. However... this intense pain is no doubt caused by the shockwave from the current blow. So it is true that there is no need to touch him directly. But the mucus and fat that covers this body should be resistant to blows.
 "Oh, it's filthy. I guess I'll just have to throw it away now."
 Aoi, oblivious to Ryuuto's doubt, took a glance at the fan on the ground and declared. The mucus-covered fan which had been dropped by Ryuuto's tongue from Aoi's blow a moment ago is certainly something that she would not like to touch if she could.
 Seeing Aoi in front of him, three tongues extended toward her as if they were ejected. Without any preliminary movement, they were aimed at her head, and a direct hit would have easily torn off her neck. But Aoi avoided the three strikes without any surprise or danger and cut them off with her hands.
 "Aghha...!!? Not yet!!"
 The shock didn't last a second, and Ryuuto immediately swung his hands to spray the poisonous sprays. Dozens, or even over a hundred, of these poisonous splashes, are impossible to avoid when they are so close. It also made the outsider in front of him useless.
 "Huh...? Aghhhh!?"
 But his eyes widened in shock at the sight before his eyes, and at the same time, both of his arms were cut off from the elbows. However, they were cut off without even a spurt of blood. The reason was that Aoi had put her spiritual power, which was converted into heat, on her hands.
 In short, as soon as her hands touch both of his arms, the mucus in the area is vaporized instantaneously, and the wound is burned off to minimize the bleeding. The reason for this was not any kind of mercy, but simply because Aoi did not want her outfit to be stained by the lowly blood that was spattered about.
 However, it did not matter. For Ryuuto, it doesn't matter. What was more important to him was the horrifying fact that had just occurred before his eyes.
 "Ugh... N-no way... it's a lie, it's impossible. You're covering your whole body with spiritual power... no, before that! What was that body technique...!?"
 The fact that poisonous spray in front of her had no effect because of the trick in front of him. He could not believe what had just happened before his eyes.
 Although covering the whole body with a thin film of spiritual power is too inefficient and ridiculous by itself, it is still an undeniable fact given the enormous amount of spiritual power this girl has, so it is still understandable.
 However, the poison he has just sprinkled on her is beyond the scope of protection. After all, it was a concentrated poison that literally consumed more than ten years of one's lifespan, and the thin film of spiritual power normally can only last for a second or so. And the truly horrifying fact is...
 "No way... you just let them all slide by? All of them? And the way you moved, it was like you were...!"
 Yes, the way she caught the splashes of venom was just like a body technique specialized for sliding them off, which he had created to take full advantage of his body's characteristics... No, the girl in front of him was far more sophisticated and efficient than the one he had created himself...!!
 "You bast*rd, could you possibly have created it in such a short period of time...!?"
 Ryuuto gets to the answer, shuddering and terrified, including the fist that had impacted his own internal organs, which was not supposed to work. And then Aoi, whose bangs blinded her eyes, but whose beauty was unmistakably beautiful, lifted her mouth brutally.
 "Oh my. Because... I've seen it many times already."
 The whimsical and merciless words of the beautiful girl were a devilish sentence for Ryuuto, and for all those who seek the way of the world...
* * *

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