Wednesday, January 4, 2023 @

Chapter 42, Part 2

 "I understand. ...well, missy. You've always been so sexy inviting men to come. So, maybe it's time you took the next step up the ladder of adulthood. We'll lead the way politely, okay?"
 Not all of those who remained with Kurayoshi accepted the order with joy, but at least half of them smiled or sneered at Kayo's fate. There was not only desire but also clear hatred and malice in their hearts.
 For the note, many of them were on their way to success in the city, or were sent to the backcountry or fired from their jobs because of the anger of the chairman Hibiki, even though they were born in the Tachibana family, albeit a branch of the Tachibana family. Despite their abilities, they embezzled public funds from their stores, abused their authority, tried to take advantage of their daughters, or were the result of the aftermath of the cleansing of their parents and siblings during the reform of the trading company. In addition, there were many people who had grudges against Hibiki and Kayo because of the Nanban bloodline, who were outsiders, and because of the fact that Kayo was a daughter who was sitting on the top of the head of the family. From Kurayoshi's point of view, these people were good pawns for capitalizing to take over the trading company, and he had been secretly but carefully gathering them to expand his faction in the trading company. Hibiki was a clever man, and he had the foresight, but he was too forceful.
 Anyway, for them, Kurayoshi's order was a perfect opportunity to avenge their long-standing grudge, partly because of Kayo's own good looks, and it was a godsend.
 Kayo let out a small scream at the moment when she was confronted by the blatantly obscene stares of several men. Even though she had been given ulterior motives by many men in the past, Kayo had at least tried to put on a good face, considering her position. But now, it was the first time for her to be so close to being so openly exposed. In this sense, Kayo, though clever, was still a sheltered, naive girl.
 And the frightened and trembling figure of Kayo, rather than instilling pity and guilt in the viewer, was the kind of thing that makes the men develop a sense of fascination, and even her gesture of fighting her fear had an inexpressible magical charm.
 "Don't run away, you little brat. Listen to what the adults say, okay?"
 Kayo rushes to stand up, but is immediately pushed down and falls on her buttocks. It was the first time for Kayo to be looked down upon by someone with high pressure. She gets goosebumps as she realizes what is about to happen. Tears spilled down her cheeks, and the difference between her usual attitude and this made some of the men's aggravation more painful.
 "No, noooo... Stop it! No! Please... don't...!"
 Kayo pleads like a fawn surrounded by gaping predators... but it's pointless. One of the men puts his hand on her bright green hakama, forcing her to strip it off. Kayo, sensing what he intends to do, resists desperately, her eyes trembling, but it is clear that her resistance will not last long, given her age and gender difference.
 The bee shikigami perched on the roof of the warehouse observed the scene in silence.
 (The magatama necklace.... is equipment of the hidden group belonging to Danjo-dai (Imperial Prosecuting and Investigating Office) judging from the engraved pattern. But how could such an old and rare item have been acquired by a small group of merchants?)
 The "Magatama", which was probably made around the time of the establishment of the Imperial Court, and which allows its owner to slip into the "blind spot" of others at will, is not so much of a threat to youkai who have a sense of smell, hearing, and other powerful sixth senses, but it is quite effective against ordinary people who rely heavily on their sense of sight. If the owner does not have youkai power or spiritual power, its concealment is such that even unskilled exorcists would have a hard time detecting it.
 (The way the barbarians tortured him just now, they must have collaborators behind the scenes.)
 Despite the seriousness of the situation, Botan guesses so calmly or indifferently. For her, the most important thing here was to gather as much information as possible in this place, taking advantage of the fact that her presence was still undetected. The fact that they were connected to the barbarians and merchants in Danjo-dai (Imperial Prosecuting and Investigating Office), of all places, was something that could never be revealed in light of what was happening in front of her eyes right now.
 Well, anyway...
 (It is my fault that I let my guard down...)
 Botan stares emotionlessly at the devastation in front of her eyes... Kayo is being stripped of her clothes little by little while sobbing, and then she looks at the carcass lying on the ground once and clicks her tongue.
 ...First of all, it is unavoidable that the detection accuracy is lower through the shikigami than when searching for enemies directly on the spot. Moreover, the bee shikigami's ability other than hiding is not high due to its size, and if the opponent is hiding behind such a valuable item, there was nothing she could do. And in the first place, the techniques used by Botan's and Matsushige's families are basically designed for fighting against youkai, and the countermeasures for fighting against others are secondary to the techniques. Therefore, it is inevitable that she is blamed for her failure.
 (It would not be so much of a problem if I left things as they are, but...)
 It is not unusual for exorcists to kill others. Since youkai are unreasonable and absurd, those who exterminate them must also have a certain attitude, or else they will be killed. Therefore, it is permissible to abandon a village to be attacked in order to know the numbers and abilities of youkai, to throw them into a monster's den in order to lure them into a trap, and to use servants and hidden people as pawns. For the sake of the objective, for the sake of the order, and for the sake of Fusō-kuni as a whole, the sacrifices of the masses are acceptable.
 (...Then, what shall I do?)
 Leaving the already-dead servant out of the way, Botan wonders what to do about Kayo. To be honest, it does not matter so much to her. From what she heard, it seems that at least her life will not be taken. Then there is the option of leaving her as she is to conceal her existence. Or she could...
 (Should I at least do my duty...)
 Left with no other choice, Botan manipulated the shikigami to rescue the girl who was about to be humiliated right in front of her... but aborted the rescue attempt. Of course, it was not because she decided to abandon Kayo. It was because a situation had arisen that was too dangerous for her to act rashly.
 "Tsk, this situation... Servant, you're making a mess after you're dead...!!"
 Botan, who recognized the appearance of "it", spat out in a tone that sounded truly troublesome...
* * *
 The first one to notice this was one of Kurayoshi's subordinates who was taking a step back to watch the tyranny of his friends.
 The man who sits at the end of Tachibana's family was, however, a person who had been sent to a quiet position due to his parent's misconduct... for using public funds of the Trading Company for personal use. Although it is true that he has a grudge against the current chairman of the trading company because of his position... he understands that Kayo, his daughter, although she has a lovely face, he is not a pedophile, so he has stopped looking at his friends' treatment of Kayo.
 "No, noooo...! Stop...!!!?"
 "Tsk! Don't make too much noise, you little b*tch!!"
 *Slap! a forceful slap hit Kayo's cheek. The young man's face showed a slight expression of disgust. His disgust, however, was not for the violence itself.
 As he recall, the young man, who slapped her, had come from a family of servants. He was good at coaxing customers to come on board with his charms and was even a candidate for branch manager at one time, but at the same time, he had a rough time with money and was more of a troublemaker who had been fired from his job because of a violent incident he had caused after playing in a brothel with the store's money.
 (He was a violent man at all. That's why lowly people like him...)
 In the trading company, which became more competitive after Hibiki's reign, not only the mainlanders and Nanban, but also the poor, those who were not originally from merchant families, and even those who were not from merchant families but were not from good families, were often selected for the top management if they were capable. Of course, this is because the number of experienced old executives decreased as a result of the cleanup, as well as the fact that not all of those who were recruited in this way became successful.
 "Hey, hey, stop doing that, you're hurting her face!"
 "It's okay. These high-handed women need to be made to understand their place."
 "That's why you banned because you broke the Oiran (courtesan)'s nose. You bast*rd!"
 "....you wild monkey!"
 However, the look of contempt in the young man's eyes was hardly fair, and the words he muttered were simply his contempt and prejudice against those who came from bad families and rose to the top of the management. From the young man's point of view, it was unforgivable treason that people of bad family backgrounds, regardless of their excellence and character, had become executives of a historic trading company. So, the young man firmly decided that once he had put the traitors of the Hibiki family out of hiding, it would be his turn to get rid of them. And then...
 He heard something behind him. There was a wriggling sound. The young man turns around with a quizzical look on his face. And then he saw. He saw a strange shape.
 The young man, with a stunned expression on his face, could not move. It was too much for the son of a wealthy merchant family, who was not accustomed to confrontation or violence against "it". All he could do was stand there with his mouth open.
 "Hmm? What's wrong... Huh!?"
 Another man standing by the young man noticed something was wrong and turned around, and froze as well. And then other men turn around one after another...
 The "it" begins to stir, paying no heed to the gazes of the others. The men who notice its presence quickly make way for it. Ahead of it is a man who has just finished stripping off Kayo's hakama, and has picked up her costume to shoulder level.
 "H-hey! Look behind you! Get away from there!"
 One of the others shouted, coming to his senses. But... it was too late for that.
 "What? What are you talking about just when we're about to have some fun...?"
 The man who had been holding Kayo down turned around grimly, wondering at the sound of his companion's voice. The next thing he saw was a huge arm, and a moment later his vision was forever darkened with a violent shock and searing heat.
 Suddenly his face was torn open, and he screamed as he held his face. One of his ears and his nose are shaved off, and the eyeballs of both eyes are damaged, losing their light forever. The man sprays blood from his face and sprawls on the ground. Those who remain stare at the creature who has brought about this tragedy all at once.
 ...It was an arm. A huge arm. It had five fingers with sharp claws like a sickle, and its huge, dull-colored arm was covered with an outer shell like fish scales. The five fingers were wriggling like insects. Looking at the end of the arm, there was the corpse of Kizuki's servant, who had been shot to death and was still lying on the ground...
 "Wh-what... is that...?"
 Kurayoshi looked at it with a stunned face. His thoughts stopped for a moment at the sheer unexpectedness of the situation.
 "Aaaaahh!? M-monster!!?"
 The first to react was one of the men under his command. The tanned, muscular man fires the pistol he has been keeping in his pocket. He fires a single shot from a double-barreled handgun. But the bullet hits the solid scales and bounces off.
 "What!? Tsk!?"
 He fires another shot, and when he finds that it has no effect, he pulls out the other two guns, which he had been storing in his pocket, and fires them again. Because it takes a long time to load the next round in a gun with black powder, especially a handgun, it is not uncommon for the shooter to prepare several preloaded rounds and discard them, instead of reloading them...
 "Wh-why isn't it working...!?"
 Despite firing one, two, or three shots in a row, the arm didn't even flinch. Rather, the fingers like sickles, which moved like insects' legs, dragged the corpse of a servant and approached the man. The movement somewhat resembles the galloping of a cockroach.
 The fourth shot was fired... and it was the last. Naturally, the bullet bounced back with no effect. And before he knew it, the arm was right under the man's nose.
 "Eeek... D-don't com—"
 Without even finishing his sentence, the man was struck down by the arm, or more precisely, by one of its fingers. The man is knocked to the ground with a deep wound in his chest. As the man moans and suffers, bleeding...
 "F*ck you...!!!"
 "D*mn you, you monster...!"
 At this point, Kurayoshi's remaining men begin to fight back at once. They all fire at once with their handguns. But...
 "D*mn! Sh*t! F*ck! Why isn't it working? Even a medium youkai would be scared sh*tless!!?"
 One of the men shouts as he fires his gun. As for some youkai who have no substance, or are in liquid, viscous, or conceptual form, gunpowder weapons such as firearms are effective against most youkai to some extent. Although the production and management of these weapons are strictly supervised, the Imperial Court's national army actively deploys them, especially in elite units.
 Of course, handguns are less powerful than flintlock rifles because of the limited amount of explosives, the limited size of bullets, and the slow velocity due to their short barrels. Even so, a small youkai can be killed with a few shots, and even a medium youkai cannot be unharmed with dozens of shots. It should be so, but...
 Another victim of the sickle-like claws appears. The man is cut painfully from his right shoulder to his left side, and he writhes in agony as his wounds bleed profusely.
 "No way!! No matter how many times I shoot, it doesn't work!"
 "Shooting him in the arm doesn't help! D*mn, how about this one...!?"
 One of the men pointed the muzzle of his handgun with a trembling hand at the corpse dragged by his blood-soaked arm. If he shot it into the arm, it would be repelled. If so, would there be any different reaction if he shot at the corpse...? The man tried to pull the trigger of the gun with a ray of hope... but the next moment, his wrist was severed.
 Red droplets spurt out from the beautifully severed wound, and the man who has lost his wrist screams like an animal from the intense pain.
 "Eeekk...!!? Wh-what happened, what the hell is that!?"
 The remaining men are frightened. The scene they stared at was so horrifying that it was beyond the scope of their comprehension.
 ...Because the corpse had risen. It had risen bizarrely as if it were a puppet hanging by a string from above. The contents of its crushed head were pouring out. The other arm, which had been normal until a moment ago, was deformed a moment later as well. It became a huge arm with five claws as sharp as a sickle just like the other one... and that's not the only change.
 The muscle fibers became enlarged and swelled. His legs became as strong and muscular as a boar's before long. Hooves were forming, and gray fur was growing to cover the skin.
 Crack, crack! The neck stretched out with a cracking sound like a bone being shattered. The wounds on the head were also closing up with bubbling and rising flesh.
 Now, the skull was deformed. The head is long and slender, resembling that of a horse or a dragon with an oddly long neck, and the breath, which has been released in the middle of the night, is white and wafting. Its teeth were no longer human and were so sharp that they might as well be called fangs.
 ...in short, his shape was already far different from that of a human being.
 At some point, the mane of night-colored hair grew long and it extended from his head along his spine. So long that it hid the eyes from view. However, a glowing crimson light peeks out of a small gap between the mane.
 ...they were empty eyes that were muddled with madness, wildness, instinct, and a little bit of light of reason.
 The moonlit sky was filled with the roar of a monster, ugly to the utmost, hideous to the utmost, and horrifying to the utmost...

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