DARK MODE 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023 @

Chapter 41, Part 2

 Kayo's hair ornament and my bracelet that I bought from that peddler are mainly for protecting the owner from youkai and curses, and of course, against human swords and bows and arrows, as long as they are not so-called "youkai swords" or something similarly infamous.
 
 Therefore, having my bracelet was of little use to me, so I gave it to Tachibana Kayo, along with her hair ornament, which had been retrieved back before my torture by Matsushige Botan, and which was also not taken away. Moreover, being resistant to curses means that she is also effective against the curse of finding things. This was the best way to increase the chances of her hiding and escaping in case I was killed.
 
 It was only after seeing Iruka's arm that I changed my plan. Although it was troublesome, it was also a good match. The fact that he was covered with youkai energy like youkai meant that he was also the target of the protection of the technique.
 
 In terms of equipment, there was no way that I, who was overwhelmingly inferior to them in terms of numbers, could push them out of the way with a straightforward attack. So, I changed the strategy and decided to use Kayo as a decoy to escape with Botan, who guided us while I was stalling for time. Of course, it was decided in advance that the operation would be carried out after ensuring maximum safety... for example, after disabling the opponent's weapon... and only when Botan judged that I could not make a decisive blow on my own.
 
 However, although the operation itself went well...
 
 "Wasn't that a little too dangerous earlier...?"
 
 I put my weight on the sheath of the sword as a walking stick, and with shortness of breath and wheezing, I finally complained to the bee shikigami that stayed on top of my head when the buzzing in my ears started to stop. Certainly, I had left the timing to her... but it would have been better to wait a little longer.
 
 'That's my ego. After all, as far as I can see, there were quite a few dangerous situations, weren't there? In the first place, I don't see any sign of the remaining pursuers nearby, but time is an enemy to you, isn't it? You understand that you can't play around with time forever, don't you?'
 "Well... That's true..."
 
 What's that attitude after I saved your life? Botan accuses me in a tone as if to say so. Regardless of what I myself think, I can't argue with the fact that it looked pretty bad from the other side. A third party would have been able to perceive the situation more fairly than I did. In other words, that's how dangerous I looked...
 
 'And... that girl was a loudmouth too. Every time you were cut, she screamed and asked if it was time yet. It was quite a hassle to hold her back until the right moment.'
 "That brat?"
 
 I glanced at Kayo, who was still peering at me from the doorway of the warehouse. She had a look of deep concern on her face. I guess, from the point of view of a sheltered girl who has never seen blood or violence before, it might have looked as if I was about to get killed. No, in fact, if I make a wrong move, I will die.
 
 "Ggh... It... hurts... D*mn ......"
 "Oh, you're still alive!"
 
 The grunt interrupts my thoughts and I look back. I see the lackey, comatose and drooping with blood pouring from his head. I hit him on the head with a full swing of my arm power enhanced by spiritual power, but he's still conscious, that's pretty bad. Well, anyway...
 
 "Just go back to sleep."
 "Aggghhh...!?"
 
 I give him a blow on the top of his head, and I'm going to cut the man's consciousness out of his head. Then, Iruka, who had passed out with his eyes flashing white, collapsed on his back.
 
 "Ha~a... Ha~a... That's not good..."
 
 I give a derisive laugh to cover up the pain in my body and start to walk unsteadily. Ahead of me is the sword the lackey snatched from him with a rough rope. I pick it up and head for Iruka again.
 
 "Tomobe-san......?"
 
 Kayo, who had come out of the warehouse before I knew it and was standing right next to me, suddenly called me by my name, the name given to me by Kizuki's family. Her voice sounded somewhat anxious as if she understood what was about to happen.
 
 "......"
 
 I answered in silence. Partly because I did not have the strength to answer, but also because I naturally did not feel like talking when I thought about what I was going to do.
 
 (Well, and. It's easy to do...)
 
 The opponent is now helpless. The sword in my hand, though belonging to a lackey, is of a certain quality, and it would be easy enough to slit a man's throat. And now that he is unarmed, he can easily... Well, easily...!
 
 I silently narrow my eyes and look at the sword and at Iruka, who has fallen at my feet. I look twice, thrice. And then...
 
 "...haha, what the hell."
 
 I give a little sneer. I mocked myself. And then I let go of the hand holding the sword...
 
 "Ah... i-is that... is that okay...?"
 
 Kayo asks with a mixture of concern and doubt in her voice as she sees that I have stopped. It seemed she was simply puzzled by the change of my decision, rather than condemning or complaining about my decision... or maybe I just like to think so.
 
 "....I don't have to kill him. It is enough to tie up his limbs and mouth."
 
 With this remark, I pick up the bloody rope with which I had tied myself up and begin to bind the comatose man's hands and feet with it.
 
 "W-well... but..."
 "He can't be killed and be done with it, right? He needs to be interrogated later or something so that he can tell us what's going on here."
 
 Yes, the reality is that killing the bad guys is not the end of the story. On the contrary, even though he is a lackey of the Ezo (barbarian) tribe, I can't just execute him without question. At least, it is not a situation where I have no choice but to kill him. If I do it wrong, people might think I'm trying to keep him quiet. There's no need for unnecessary suspicion. Besides...
 
 "Besides... I'm a servant. I only kill youkai for work. Human beings are not my area of expertise."
 
 I'm not saying I don't have a grudge because of the pain I've been through, but... that's another thing. I may hate them, but I don't want to kill them. Or rather, I don't dare to do so.
 
 In my previous life, like many people, I only had the opportunity to kill insects at best. I do not deny meat eating because I have no such beliefs as a vegetarian. But many people feel aversion to killing even fish that are alive and resisting. Even in this life, I felt sick when I strangled and dismembered a chicken for the first time, and I could not forget the feeling that remained when I killed a youkai. And if the other party is a person who can't even resist even if it’s in such a world... I don't want to be a murderer if possible. Besides, killing a person in front of kids is too bad for their education.
 
 'That's a very naive idea, don't you think? If his brain is still intact, it's not impossible to extract the memory, right?'
 
 Shikigami points out a little reproachfully in my ear. But naive, Huh? I understand. Still...
 
 '...well, I'm not in a position to force you to do anything. Instead, tie him up quickly. I can't sense the spiritual power or youkai power of the other two, but it's possible they're hiding. Besides, that dog may wake up at any moment.'
 
 Matsushige's granddaughter declares helplessly as if to an inadequate student. I am grateful for the compromise. And to the one girl who can't hear this conversation, I say my apologies.
 
 "I understand your anger at the danger you are in. But it would be unwise to kill him. Please forgive me."
 "N-no, it's nothing like that... Ah... Aaahh...?"
 
 Kayo looked embarrassed as I told her this while tying up the lackey, and then she... slumped down like a puppet with broken strings.
 
 "Whoa, that was close...!?"
 
 If she gets even a scratch on her body, I will be afraid of what will happen next. As I got closer to her, I could smell the sweet scent of citrus fruits. Kayo, on the other hand, looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face and a tight smile on her face.
 
 "U-umm... Haha... My legs are shaking... When I feel relieved, my strength suddenly..."
 
 Kayo's voice is trembling and her expression is close to a tearful smile. Perhaps she has lost her nervousness due to relief. Well, what a sheltered girl has experienced in a day is too much. On the contrary, I should say that I am surprised that she has endured so much.
 
 "Botan-sama..."
 'I am searching the surrounding area. At least I can tell if I feel spiritual power or youkai power in the vicinity. And please calm her down quickly. It would be easiest if you could take the girl's consciousness away...'
 
 Botan immediately agrees when I ask her to keep an eye on the area. She is right, though, that taking away her consciousness would be the surest way to keep her from screaming and crying out, considering the situation. But I'm not so good at martial arts that I could knock Kayo out with a single blow without leaving a mark.
 
 "Please excuse me. If you can't walk, I can carry you on my back."
 
 After hearing Botan's reply, I ask Kayo.
 
 "Huh...!? N-no! It's okay! I'll be able to walk soon...!!"
 
 The girl's forced smile changes drastically, and she rejects me with all her might as if she is seriously flustered. I'm a little hurt.
 
 (No, wait, this is more normal...)
 
 If I think about it carefully, it would not be so strange if I had to have my wrists cut off just by touching this girl. I'm forgetting my common sense. I must restrain myself...
 
 "Well... this date was a mess, wasn't it?"
 
 As I was thinking about this, Kayo, who was wobbling like a newborn fawn but stood up by herself soundly, wiped her eyes and asked me something like that.
 
 "Yes. Regardless of whether it's a date or not, I'm sorry that I've put Miss Kayo in danger with my carelessness."
 "Umm, please don't talk like that..."
 
 In response to my apology, however, Kayo points out with some dissatisfaction. She glares at me with her eyes still moist, but her expression returns to normal, but like a merchant girl, she takes advantage of the gap in my words.
 
 "Well... You just said 'your carelessness', didn't you?"
 "...yes."
 
 ...I fell silent for a moment, but I couldn't deny or cover up what I had just said. Oh, I made a mistake. We were talking as if I'd just been tied up.
 
 As I was cursing my carelessness, Kayo finally put on a happy face, sniffling prettily. Her smile was somewhat triumphant.
 
 "You heard that I paid 1,000 ryo to borrow Tomobe-san, right?"
 "Wasn't that compensation for the underground water tunnels?"
 "I don't care what Tomobe-san thinks, but how Kizuki's family perceives it is another matter, isn't it?"
 "Is that so?"
 
 Well... it's easy to understand how Uemon would think. So, I see what she's saying.
 
 "You don't think that the honorable Kizuki family would just accept that much money and finish the job in a mess, do you?"
 
 "Therefore," she continued...
 
 "Therefore... it would be okay if I ask you again...?"
 
 Kayo asked with an anxious, frightened, nervous, but sturdy expression at the end.
 
 I stop my hand and make eye contact with Kayo. There was a moment of silence... and I was the one who broke first. Or should I say, I was the one who had to break? It's no use being paranoid here, right?
 
 Well, that's why...
 
 "Excuse me."
 
 The next moment, I lift Kayo's body. More precisely, I hold her in my arms, with her sitting on my arm.
 
 "A-aaah...!? I told you not to carry me on your back..."
 "I'm not carrying you on my back, aren't I? I'm just holding you up with my arms on the back."
 "Are you kidding me!?"
 
 I'm not carrying her on my back, so I hope it's safe...
 
 "Ugh..."
 
 Kayo looked somewhat dissatisfied, embarrassed, but helplessly put her hand on my shoulder to keep her center of gravity from falling off. ...but this girl is pretty light, is she eating well?
 
 "Ah..."
 
 Then Kayo let out a small voice as if she had noticed. Because of the position of our bodies, we were naturally at the same height. Our gazes crossed. She had a somewhat disappointed expression on her face, and I was the one who called out to her first.
 
 "Please forgive me. I was worried about your step, so please bear with me for a while until we leave this area. I will return the courtesy with hospitality when I visit you later."
 
 I apologized to Kayo. At the same time, it was also my acceptance of her offer.
 
 "Huh...? Ah... yes! I'm looking forward to it!!"
 
 Kayo looked blank for a moment, and then, when she understood the meaning of my words, she accepted my proposal, giggling childishly with tears in her eyes...
 
* * *
 
 ......Now, the situation is not so optimistic that we can continue the pranks and chats forever. As far as Botan was concerned, there was no sign of the other two, but we had to quickly leave the place and get protection from someone.
 
 (I am wondering what Iruka was talking about...)
 
 According to that nuance, the reason why the pursuit of the remaining two didn't come for a long time could be because they are dealing with the rescue who came to see our situation, I guess. But... it could be a trap, or it could be that the rescuer has returned the favor. Therefore, it's not a good idea to go back.
 
 "...that's why I should lock him up first."
 
 I wrapped the unconscious Iruka completely in a bamboo mat and dragged him to a suitable warehouse and threw him there. He was dropped to the floor, and I heard a small moan muffled by the gag.
 
 "After that, I shut the door and bolted it, and... well, I guess that's about it.""
 
 The rope has sealed up his spiritual power. Youkai power can be used, but at what seems to be a small price to pay, so it's not so easy to use. In the first place, I sealed him up so that he cannot use eye techniques or word techniques, and I tightened the ropes so that he cannot move his joints at all. It would be impossible for him to escape by himself. As for myself... it was thanks to Botan that I was able to get out of that restraint.
 
 "Is it over...?"
 
 Kayo, who had been watching the surroundings with the shikigami outside the warehouse, asked.
 
 "Yes, more importantly, the pursuers?"
 "No, I haven't seen them."
 '...I can't sense any spiritual power or youkai power around, as far as I can tell from my search. It seems that there are no pursuers after all. It's a little strange... but let's go while we can.'
 
 Botan's shikigami... the bee shikigami points in the direction with a movement of its beak.
 
 "Miss, is your leg all right?"
 "Y-yes. I can walk now...!"
 "Then, please proceed. I'll go ahead while keeping an eye on the rear."
 "I-I understand. It's okay... right?"
 
 After taking one look at my bloody body, Kayo asks worriedly.
 
 "Well, as I said before, the wound is not as bad as it looks. But... I'm going to be out of breath soon, so there's no need to run, but we can walk fast... come on."
 "Y-yes!!"
 
 Kayo starts to walk faster as I rush her. However, she is a child, so it was easy for me to catch up with her because her stride was not that big even if she hurried. In fact, I immediately followed her with the sword I borrowed from Iruka at my waist...
 
 "Hmm...?"
 
 Suddenly, I felt something like a gaze and I turned around. But I couldn't see much in the dark...
 
 "...Is something wrong?"
 
 Shikigami asked.
 
 "No... no one is after us, right?"
 "At least I don't sense any spiritual or youkai power around me, except for you. Is there a problem?"
 
 Botan's reply did not seem to be a lie. Was it my imagination, or...?
 
 "I'm fine... It seems I'm a little tired. Let's get out of here. I don't want to fight anymore."
 
 I reply to Botan's doubts and turn to the front. Then I take my first step to answer Kayo, who turns around with an anxious but stout expression to see if I am following her. And then...
 
 ...The next moment, a crisp sound echoed in the dark night world.
 
 "...Huh?"
 
 I felt a burning heat in my side. I looked at Kayo standing in front of me without thinking.
 
 There was the poor girl, her face frozen and stunned, her eyes wide with astonishment and despair, her legs trembling.
 
 "......"
 
 I touch my side, which feels hot. It is sticky and wet. I look down and see that the hole in my side is spilling bright red blood, which has already begun to trickle down my leg and form a puddle under my foot.
 
 "......"
 
 I turned my heel and slowly looked behind me in the direction of the sound.
 
 In the shadow of the warehouse, a figure appeared from the darkness, walking. An elderly merchant of good shape, grace, and intelligence was standing alone with a blank expression on his face. In his hand was a sawed-off Nanban pistol, with a flintlock barrel... and white smoke fluttered fantastically from one of its muzzles.
 
 "...haha, are you kidding me?"
 
 If it were a story, this would be the happy ending, right? Readers don't like it when stories are extended, do they?
 
 "......"
 
 The reply to my tight, despair-filled smile was a second gunshot fired silently...

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