Wednesday, January 4, 2023 @

Chapter 42, Part 1

  Tachibana Kayo was a young girl from a complicated background.
 She was born from a father who was the chairman of Tachibana Trading Company, one of the top ten wealthiest merchants in Fusō-kuni, and a mother who was popular for her good looks and personality among the second generation of Nanban immigrants and was the signboard girl of the trading company.
 However, Tachibana Kayo is not a person to be taken lightly because she has strengthened connections with foreign countries by bringing in many members of mainland and Nanban descent into the Trading Company, and above all, she is loved by Tachibana Hibiki, a leading figure who rebuilt the Trading Company in his own lifetime.
 Therefore, the majority of the people in the society have been cautious about her existence, respecting her and avoiding her. Or perhaps as if she were a tumor. On the other hand, of course, there were a few who bravely, even recklessly, approached her because of her position and innate magic inherited from her mother.
 Tachibana Kayo was also a clever girl.
 It is true that she was spoiled, selfish, and self-centered. But at the same time, she had the wisdom to observe her surroundings to the extent that she could understand how people around her viewed her. Those who approach her and those who keep their distance from her are doing so based on their own position, and she understood very well that this is something that cannot be changed. ...As a matter of fact, she couldn't even handle the people who were trying to make eye contact with her.
 Nevertheless, Tachibana Kayo was still a girl in love.
 She was a clever girl who knew her place, but a girl is still a girl, and no matter how far she goes, she will always be a sheltered girl, a sweet girl at her age.
 Above all, although people around her pried, speculated, and observed her with a penetrating gaze, her family environment was always good, and her parents' relationship was also good, and there was not a trace of darkness or calculation in it, which formed her character for better or for worse. Many people thought that her parent's marriage had some hidden motive because of the imbalance between their status and position, but... it was just a sweet love marriage in reality.
 Therefore, because she had always witnessed her parents' intimate relationship and listened to their interactions leading up to their marriage, Tachibana Kayo's view of love was also greatly influenced by their relationship. For better or worse, she had more illusions about love than she should have, and like many young daughters of noblemen, she lacked the feeling of half-enlightened, resigned, or unquestioning acceptance of a political marriage as a matter of course, but she was smart enough to know that it would be infinitely more difficult for her.
 That's why, at that time, when she and her parents were attacked by the monster, and she herself was about to be devoured by it, when a young man suddenly appeared, she was dazzled by his presence... At least that's how it seemed to Kayo at that time... And the truth is Kayo liked the young man in her own way despite her childishness, and she also imposed her ideals on him according to her own taste just because there was no one else suitable.
 ...Once again, she is clever, even for a child. She knew deep down that she could not have a love marriage anyway, and she also understood that it was the young man's job to help her when he appeared in front of her. However, Kayo still wanted to consume the young man as a substitute for her own ideals.
 Therefore, once she realized this, it was a trivial matter. After all, Tachibana Kayo just wanted to fall in love, and she chose a servant of Kizuki's family as his partner... That is the truth of Tachibana Kayo's favoritism and attachment to a mere servant.
 Yes, it is true that she did not have some feelings for him based on the "Tsuribashi effect (Suspension Bridge Effect (the process whereby people make a mistake in assuming what is causing them to feel aroused))." And it was only to satisfy her own ideals and desires, and her love was only for the sake of love, not because she was seriously in love with the person she was in love with. That was the way it was.
 ...at least until the early morning of the day.
* * *
 It took Tachibana Kayo a few seconds to comprehend what was happening before her eyes.
 For Tachibana Kayo, this day had been one of the most intense days of her life. She woke up early in the morning, even though she knew it was just for fun, dressed herself, put on her makeup, and then went on a secret date around noon... Even if it was practically just an escort, Kayo didn't care.
 In any case, she would have met the son of a good family somewhere and married him before she knew it. But, she wanted to experience the feeling of love at least once. And to be honest, it could have been anyone. Anybody...
 And now, she has to admit that at least the first half of the date was more fun than she thought it would be, although she didn't have such high expectations.
 She was glad to see that the young man was perfectly able to do to the point what she was interested in, wanted to try, and idealized with, even if he could not read her mind. This "date" was much freer and much more enjoyable than her previous outings with her friends... and she was certainly satisfied with it. At least until that moment.
 Kayo's desire to go to the bookstore later in the date was a bit of a fluke, a bit of a prank, a bit of a playful idea. While it is true that she wanted a particular book of interest without her parents or the nagging old maid knowing about it, the very act of going to the bookstore was a kind of self-projection.
 The reason is because she had read a romance novel that was set in a bookstore, Kayo wanted to recreate the scene, half for her own pleasure and half as a reward for this young man who had entertained her. Even though Kayo was well aware of the fact that her face was considered valuable in the public eye.
 That's why Kayo's heart was surprisingly cold when she saw the man pushing a girl whom she didn't know from anywhere on the floor, and who seemed to be more intimate with him than she was. She even felt a sense of confusion inside.
 ...but shortly after that, a terrible and unusual experience begins... she is sure she will never forget it.
 And this was the second time that Kayo had been explicitly threatened by someone and the first time by a human being.
 Once the torture of the man began, Kayo was completely terrified. The sight was too much for her, who had never been involved in anything violent in her life. The anger and coiled feeling she had felt toward the young man just a few minutes before disappeared in a flash, and all that remained was a kind of guilt. But despite the man's half-crazed state, Kayo is not stupid. She knew that it was impossible for something like this to happen to him alone.
 And now, for the first time, Kayo hears the sound of a man being beaten, of a man drowning in acid, of a man's muscles being ripped to shreds. When Kayo saw the countless fresh scars under the young man's clothes, she was made to understand that she and the young man were really living in completely different worlds.
 As Kayo was frightened in the corner of the room, she suddenly heard a piece of advice from a shikigami who claimed to belong to the young man who had landed on her head... Kayo did not know much about this field, but this was the first time she heard the voice of a self-aware shikigami. Although Kayo felt fear, she was not ready to reject it. Rather, she wanted to be able to help the young man who was suffering in front of her.
 When she woke up again, Kayo found herself being held in the arms of the young man. She was embarrassed by the feeling of his strong muscles and the smell of his sweat, which excited her senses.
 And as he fought against the terrifying man who had taken on a youkai form, Kayo prayed for help. She realized that she was powerless to do anything except pray, and this made her even more despairing.
 So, when she was able to be of help to him in the end, Kayo felt relieved. She was no longer a useless, slow walker. ...Even though she knew that the man only fulfilled his duty that he was supposed to do in terms of his status and duties. If anything, it was the young man who should be blamed for not fulfilling his duty when the situation turned out like this.
 After everything was over, she realized how dangerous she had been, and she was ashamed to admit that her legs were shaking and she was on the verge of tears. And at the same time, Kayo realized how frustrated, sad, and bitter she was that her day had been ruined... So although she was strong, she still asked him for another chance, almost overwhelmed with anxiety at the end, and he answered her request. When he answered her request, Kayo was so happy that she could not help but feel heavenly.
 Even as a child, Kayo was convinced that this was love. Otherwise, just a word from him, a smile, the smell of his sweat, or a physical touch would not have made her feel this way. It is just like a description in a romance novel.
 Yes, Kayo was indeed in love. She was aware of love. She knew of love. A love that was probably difficult because of their different status, but a love that she didn't want to give up. So, so...
 But Kayo is stunned. At first, he is just a substitute for her, then she likes him a little, then she feels guilty, and when finally she is sure she has feelings for him, the red and black blood flows out of his side...
 A second shot rings out, and the head of the man Kayo has come to rely on pops off. Kayo feels something warm splattering off against her head and hitting her cheek. But... her attention was focused solely on the scene before her.
 "Ah... Aah... Ah........."
 Kayo stared at the unbelievable sight, her mouth moving as if she was moaning, her white face bloodshot until it looked almost blue. No, this is ridiculous. Why did it become like this? In a story, this would be the end of the story, a happy ending. But this, this..!!?
 "No, no, no... NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!?"
 Kayo screamed like a madman as she understood everything. No, even though her rational mind understood, her heart refused to admit it. She was refusing.
 "No, stop... it's dangerous!?"
 Kayo was running to him, ignoring Botan's words of warning, which were thrown at her through the shikigami as soon as she saw them. Kayo's face turned even paler and her eyes widened at the sight of the tragedy that became even clearer as she approached him.
 The wound on his abdomen was pouring fresh blood onto the ground like a broken faucet, and the soil could not soak it up enough to form a red pond.
 The wound on the head was more serious. The bullet struck him squarely on the head. The projectile, which landed at a slight angle to the right from the top of the head, not only tore the epidermis but also blew out the skull. Some of the shattered white fragments were still twisted into the peach-colored contents, while others were still wrapped around the substance and scattered on the ground.
 However, he still breathed...yes, although it was a faint breath. He is dead as far as she can tell. Not quite but almost as dead.
 Still, the scene was too bloody, too gruesome, too shocking, especially because it was a man whom she had grown to have a faint, but a definite liking for...
 "Tomobe-san!? Tomobe-san!! Tomobe-san...!!?"
 Half-crazed, Kayo's only task was to collect the bone and flesh that had scattered to the ground. With her white fingertips, which were literally spoiled and had never held anything heavier than chopsticks, Kayo picked up the man's soggy flesh and blood with a desperate look on her face, not even realizing that her hands had turned bright red.
 "No way! It can't be real! Tell me this is some kind of joke!? Why?! No, no, no, this can't be real!!?"
 Kayo cries out as she gathers his body parts. She didn't know what she was doing anymore. But she wanted to do something for him, knowing that if she didn't, he would die, knowing that if she didn't, he would never come back, so...
 "No! Pleaseeee...!! Tomobe-san...!? You'll be fine...! I'll collect them! I'll do my best to collect them all! So... so... Ghhh!?"
 Kayo's sobbing voice as she tries to collect his body part is interrupted by a leg kick to the abdomen coming from the side. Kayo, who was originally so slender and light that she was blown away a little, rolls on the ground and coughs, looking at him with tears in her eyes...
 "Hmm, I'm a little off the mark and I had no idea why he was still breathing. But how about at this distance?"
 A moment later, Kayo sees a figure stomping on him and trying to put the finishing blow into his pomegranate-like head.
 As if to drown out Kayo's pleas and cries, a vicious sound of a gunshot ruthlessly rang out.
 "Ah... aah............"
 Kayo stares in disbelief at the splattered flesh and blood. A moment later, there was clear hatred and hostility in her eyes. With tears in her eyes, Kayo, who was lying on the ground, raised her face to glare at the attacker with a swallowing intent that was hard to believe she was a girl...
 "Huh... What......?"
 Kayo muttered with a trembling mouth. Her eyes were bewildered and astonished as if she was looking at something she could not believe.
 "Uncle Kurayoshi (Oji-sama)...? What in the world is this..."
 It took Kayo a few seconds to catch sight of his uncle Kurayoshi, who worked for his father and had seen him many times and to realize that it was his uncle who had shot the man, and before she could say anything, another kick to the stomach hit her.
 "Agh...!? Cough...!!??"
 "Stop yelling, you little b*tch!"
 Tachibana Kurayoshi spat out calmly to Kayo, who was coughing with her stomach clenched in a fist. This was not the way he would have behaved toward one of his relatives. He looked down at Kayo with eyes the color of a mixture of contempt, disgust, and unspeakable emotions.
 "Well, now, you b*stards. Did they let you two go? I guess barbarians are still barbarians, those useless b*stards...!"
 Kurayoshi cursed coldly at the fact that these uncivilized barbarians had not been able to capture a little girl and a servant. The servant aside, Kayo, whom they had planned to take hostage as a bargaining chip, was nowhere to be found before...
 "Cough... Cough... Why... are you... It can't be...?"
 "Hmm, why...? Unaware little girls are a real pain in the ass, aren't they?"
 Kurayoshi tapped Kayo's head lightly with his stick and boasted to Kayo, who asked him with tearful eyes. There was a clear sense of mockery in his words.
 "I have been observing you for a while now, okay? Seriously, I must say, you are a tricky one. Your father and daughter are both vicious greedy and wh*re."
 Kurayoshi spits out to Kayo, playing with the Magatama around his neck as if remembering.
 Kurayoshi's mind is filled with deeply unpleasant memories. More than twenty years ago, he was charmed by a mere signboard girl, but he couldn't make her his wife because he knew his position at that time too well. However, despite his unconsciousness, the girl's magic charm moved his heart...
 "Hmph, I think in Nanban people call such a thing a witch, don't they? It's a perfect match."
 Kurayoshi had heard that when working in an outlying port city in Nanban in his youth, they called women with spiritual power and youkai strength, who use dubious witchcraft and dazzle men with their exotic beauty, and whose nature is rotten to the core, as a witch. He had also heard that this horrifying group had been active internally and had contributed to the collapse of the now-defunct empire in the West. In the former imperial domain, which was once dominated by a rivalry between youkai and others, there reigned several ruthless witches who literally used people as livestock.
 "Cough... Cough... What... are you talking about...?"
 Kayo, on the other hand, has a hard time understanding the hostility and abuse from her relatives, even though he is not so close to her. To top it all off, she is treated as a witch. Kayo herself had only heard of witches as villains in imported picture stories, but he could not understand why she was being treated like that at least. At best, her mother had taught her a little about Nanban-style incense and medicine.
 ...And in fact, it was only half a bluff. This old man, who used to suppress his feelings and cover them up because of his status and position, may not have been so attached to the sign girl if she had behaved herself and didn't get married to such a man.
 Regardless of the various considerations, it is clear that he was closer to the main family in the order of succession, but he could not be unconcerned, externally or inwardly, about the fact that a young man who had just turned 20 years old and had no achievements was placed at the top of the trading company. He was also not happy that he had brought so many outsiders into the trading company even though he had finally achieved results. Besides, the young man had changed most of the work he had been familiar with, even if Kurayoshi had enough ability to handle it.
 Especially the fact that the young man, who did not like the situation at all, took a daughter of a different status as his wife, completely ignoring the pressure and opposition of the people around him. And that woman of all people! And not as a concubine, but as a legitimate wife!
 Their only daughter was also a hateful and unwanted daughter to him. She was a perfect duplicate of her mother, and she had inherited her evil nature as well. Whether she was aware of it or not, every gesture, every change in her facial expression, everything about her was glamorous, devious, fascinating, and shook the spirit of those who saw her.
 "Tsk... truly natural. An outsider parasite."
 Ah, a witch... Kurayoshi took one look at the girl coughing and weeping at his feet and thought. This little girl’s mother must be a witch who has infiltrated Tachibana's house, parasitized it, and taken over. Such was the assumption of the old merchant, who was a brilliant man, but whose prejudices and old-fashioned customs were ingrained in his bones, about this girl who shook him.
 For the old merchant, who is unable to seek his own jealousy and remorse, shame and obsession, appearance and honor, love and hate, it was the easiest thing for him to do...
 "Director, if you are too rough with her, won't she die? She is a hostage, isn't she?"
 "Why don't you just leave the retrieval to us? The director doesn't have to go there..."
 Suddenly, a voice echoes from behind Kurayoshi. The old merchant turned his head in response to the voice, and found his immediate subordinates, including his secretary, there. At the same time, they are the accomplices of the old merchant's behind-the-scenes dealings with foreign nationals. All of them were wearing Magatama, as was the old merchant.
 "I can't trust you alone. In matters of this importance, I have to go out on my own feet."
 Kurayoshi spat grimly. He was a shrewd merchant, even though he was a corrupt one, and since he was involved in illegal transactions that would result in a maximum penalty if discovered, his boldness and suspicion were also of the highest class. In fact, he had personally visited many of the secret transactions and had witnessed their progress. Still, he did not trust others very much.
 Of course, this was not the only reason for his decision this time.
 "But more importantly, what should we do? I didn't think they could have escaped from those Ezo people. That was a close call."
 Kurayoshi lifts Kayo's chin with the tip of his stick.
 "Secretary, take a couple of men and go look for those b*stards. I don't know where these guys are wandering around, but I don't think Hibiki has searched this area yet. Prepare to get out of here."
 The warehouses around here are owned by the Tachibana Trading Company, Kurayoshi, and Hibiki would never think that his daughter was locked up in the warehouse of the trading company. He knew from his men in the head office that Kebiishi (police and judicial chief) of the Imperial Court had not yet been informed of this incident, as they wanted to settle the matter in private for the sake of the public's opinion. The Kizuki's house has been contacted, but the main people are attending a garden party attended by the emperor. It would be impolite to leave in the middle of the party. So, it would be better to collect all the evidence and move to another hiding place while he still can.
 ...but Kurayoshi could not have predicted that Kizuki's second daughter had been forced to leave the meeting with a ridiculous excuse, or that there was someone who was constantly stalking the mere servants and immediately captured the hideout, much less that his men were already incapacitated. There was no way for him to think so.
 However, for him, it might have been manageable so far. Therefore, in a real sense, Kurayoshi's failure was a choice he made from this point on, and it was a kind of self-inflicted fate of his own nature.
 "By the way. You guys, punish this cheeky brat a little bit."
 "Director... no, chairman, are you sure?"
 One of his subordinates confirms Kurayoshi's order. The men saw Kayo with sneering smiles on their faces several times. But Kurayoshi had been a competent merchant at one time, working at the head office of a trading company. Besides, with his coarse, selfish character and ambition for success, and because he had been sent to the branch office on the eastern land, which had drawn his wrath, he was just indifferent.
 "It's fine, she's a cocky little girl. We have to make her understand her own position. In any case, we're going to use her as a hostess when we get the trading company. After that, don't call me chairman yet."
 Kurayoshi's mouth twisted slightly and his decision remained unchanged.
 ...a virgin girl may have her own value, but he can't afford to make a mistake. So, he decided to give her a little "education" and let her know where she stands.
 Kayo's devilish good looks were indeed attractive and useful for this kind of entertainment. Moreover, since she is the only child and she is the only one who is indulged in the business, her husband or her child would be the future president of the society, which is probably one of the main reasons why Kurayoshi issued this vile order.
 To humiliate, insult, and rape her and put her in such a position was meant to prevent Kayo's lineage from returning to the top of the Trading Company forever. Regardless of her rare beauty or the fact that she was a direct daughter of Hibiki, a dirty girl who had been treated like a prostitute would not be enough to win over the faction's banner, and the nobles and feudal lords who would back her would be reluctant to support her. Even if she has a child, it will be disregarded as if it were anyone's child, from anywhere. The humiliation of Kayo was certainly more than just a trivial attempt to undermine Hibiki's lineage but was certainly necessary for anticipation of the aftermath of the takeover of the Trading Company.
 ...This order may have another meaning for Kurayoshi, however.

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