Monday, January 9, 2023 @

Chapter 44, Part 1

 I was in a dark, cold deep slumber. I was asleep, awake, conscious, unconscious, ambiguous, unclear, random, senseless, drifting in and out of consciousness without even knowing the flow of time, and it seemed like an eternity had already passed...
 Along with the indescribable floating sensation, I perceived a sensation that my foggy consciousness was becoming clearer and clearer. Then, slowly but surely, I awakened from the depths of unconsciousness, as if I were floating... and...
 "HappyーBirthdayーtoーyou! HappyーBirthdayーtoーyou! HappyーBirthday, my little boy!"
 The first thing I recognized in that space was a green-haired monster sitting in front of me, clapping her hands and singing Happy Birthday with a smiling face. Or rather, it was a suspicious figure who called me "little boy" without my permission.
 ...But I didn't understand what she was talking about by any chance.
 Anyway, I let out a small sigh to calm down for now. I go back to my last memory. I recall my knowledge of the original story. Then I analyze the situation and make a decision.
 "HappyーBirthdayーtoーyou... Uggkyaa!?"
 ...I decide the best thing do is to blind the monster in front of me.
 "It's terrible. I'm going to cry if you silently blind your mother while celebrating your birthday, you know... Mother is really going to cry!"
 Sob, sob~ laments the youkai mother. But I don't remember coming out from under your legs, do I?
 "I see, is this what you call a spiritual world, as seen in...?"
 I look around the white space and guess. I had seen such a space in a game before. I remember the main character wandering in such a place when he was unconscious.
 "So you're saying that I'm unconscious in the real world?"
 "Ding-dong! That's a good answer. I'll pat your head as a reward."
 "No, thanks. I mean, don't come this way."
 I reply calmly, pushing away the approaching monster. Even in the spirit world, there is no reason for me to carelessly approach a monster.
 "So, why am I here...?"
 I ask with a glance at youkai mother. Her appearance was quite different from what I had seen before.
 Her human-like face is the same. Her lush green hair is the same. Her rich, plump, curvaceous, attractive body is the same as her background as a former earth mother, but... the lower half of her body is human, not a mass of hideous flesh, and she is dressed in decent clothes, unlike the one, I saw before.
 ...wait, the clothes she was wearing were the linen that my real mother used to wear.
 "Tsk...! That's disgusting. Anything can happen in the spirit world..!!"
 I clicked my tongue with sincere hatred. If I look closely, the face of the monster reminds me forcibly of my mother in this world. They don't look alike, but they give off the same vibe. It's as if it's invading my memories, painting them over...
 "Hehehe, I wonder if this is what it's like inside the house?"
 With her warm, but crawling words, I finally noticed the change in the scenery around me. The room was no longer an empty space with only white walls. There were winter clothes and sandals hanging from the crude straw ceiling and wooden walls. In the center of the room, there was a hearth with a crackling sound, a linen floor covering, and a bedroom with old-fashioned bedclothes behind a sliding door. It is a poor, cold village house... but it is too nostalgic a scene...
 "Hey, did you just read my mind..? No, no, this is..."
 I stare at the monster in front of me with a look of disgust on my face, but soon I realize what this phenomenon is and my face contorts into despair. It was a fact that I didn't want to admit.
 "Haha, well, if it's a monster like you, it's no wonder that even a few drops of your blood possess a certain personality...!"
 My smile was drawn back. Even though I understood it in my head, it was still unreasonable, and the fact that it made me sick to the point of nausea didn't change either. It is true that even a few drops of her blood have enough power to make me feel youkai-ized. So, no wonder that the blood itself has a personality and is a parasite in my brain.
 It's not something as cute as being seen by a shikigami or having my memories forcibly ripped open. That means this monster can watch my memories from the inside as if they were her own, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round. That's great, you b*stard...!!
 "Hehehe, of course, that's right. A mother should always keep an eye on her little boy and respond to his call for 'help', right? In fact, I did, didn't I?"
 To my anger, youkai mother responds with a fluent and cheerful reply that is clearly out of tune. What is more annoying is that I let my guard down and almost feel reassured by her words.
 The monster, though it did not have a similar face, had an atmosphere that reminded me of my mother in this life. It was overflowing with a maternal love that directly strikes my instincts, and it was filled with a venom that makes me want to be indulged even if I know it by reason.
 And the only reason why I was not swallowed up by it was because I knew that she was such a being and I was disgusted by her words and her way of being. Without prior knowledge, the violence of attraction would have dominated me... But that's all right. More importantly, the way she just said...
 "Help? What do you mean...!!?"
 "Well, I guess this memory doesn't impress you too much... Hehehe, then, how about this?"
 Before I could express my doubts, the world around me had changed. Suddenly the world changes.
 "Kizuki's residence...!!"
 The room was a magnificent Japanese-style room, different from the crude room I had just been in. The interior was familiar. This is...
 "Kizuki Hina's room, huh?"
 Or, more precisely, from her mischievous, boorish, and mischievous childhood, I should say. There are holes in the shoji paper and scribbles on the wall. In fact, I remember that she used to get into trouble a lot when she didn't know manners, probably because of her frustration and loneliness. So, the next time youkai mother is going to change isis...
 "Hahaha, that old hag!"
 Her face has not changed. The only thing that remains the same is their clothes. The outfit, the mood, and the memory she's reading from my memory suggest that there is only one person she's pretending to be.
 When I was a caretaker of sis (anego-sama), her grandmother, Kizuki Kochou, an old hag, used to visit Hina as a guardian, and she used to talk to me as well. I remember that she tried to act like a good adult, at least on the outside, by telling me that I could think of her as my real mother or grandmother, even though I was just over ten years old as well.
 ...No, I didn't want to indulge in her at all when I remembered how much she did in the game. In fact, I kept as much distance as possible from her. And I'm sure she probably thought I was a brat with no charm. Well, it's better that way, though, considering what happens to the main character in the bad ending.
 "I'm sorry to say, but that's counterproductive. It'll make me warier of you."
 "I see. Well, I thought you would be pleased, but... human sensibilities are difficult to understand."
 I pointed out, and youkai mother tilted her head with her finger raised at her mouth. Her tone was not an act, but she seemed to be really troubled. Even though she could uncover my memories, she could not interpret them correctly, which is why I should call her an outsider.
 "Well... Let's see... Hehe, how about this?"
 Youkai mother looks a little lost and then says this as if she has made up her mind. At the same time, the surrounding scenery is distorted again, decomposed, and recomposed. It seems that she intends to show me another memory cut out from my head and reproduced.
 "D*mn, you do what you want with my memories. You're treating me like a toy! What the hell are you going to do... now...?"
 After saying that, the next moment I stopped speechless at the recreation of the space. Then I open my eyes and exclaim. Why, of all places...!!?
 "Ah, as I thought. But I have seen all your memories, you know. Among them, this scene was especially deeply etched in your memory... Hehehe, what do you think?"
 ...innocently, youkai mother probably did not have any other intention in what she said as if she was looking for my reaction. Regardless of the outcome, she is the kind of person who would never even think of harboring any kind of malice toward those whom she recognizes as her own children, no matter what.
 However... no, that's precisely why her words seemed so evil to me.
 "Ah... uh... ah......"
 I couldn't help but open my mouth like a fish on land at the sight of that. My face turned pale, and I was at a loss for words. This place... yes, this place...
 "Heh-heh, I guess this place is better for you, then? Maybe I should change too."
 She declared this when she saw my obviously different reaction, and the next moment, youkai mother's appearance, her atmosphere, and the subject associated with that face had changed as she approached me. The fact that she had chosen her as the object of my attention made me distort my face, exposing my emotions.
 "What!? You, of all people...! That's my, my...!"
 I open my eyes and stare at the monster in anger, sadness, and hatred.
 It was as if I had been raped, defiled, and humiliated. It was too unpleasant. Too humiliating. Too insulting. This... this creature... of all people, taking the form of that person in my memory...!
 "Oh, dear, I can't believe you've gotten that excited. Hehehe, I'm so happy. You must be so happy too."
 The moment I was about to shout something about the fact that my benefactor's precious memory had been tarnished... my arm exploded.
 No, to be precise, the flesh of my arm swelled rapidly. There was a creaking sound from the muscle fibers, and my clothes were torn from the inside, exposing a horrifying skin color that was clearly not that of a human being. She... or rather, youkai mother, who borrowed that person's appearance, smiles at me with a misguided smile.
 "Gghh!? Gggiihh!!? Aaaaaggh!!? Wh-what the... what the hell is this!!?"
 I scream as I fall to the floor. My arm was already in an incomprehensible state. Hair like an animal had started to grow on my arm, and then my fingernails had grown, and now I had more fingers, and then insect-like limbs appeared from the side, and even eyeballs and mouths appeared. And the abnormality spread to all parts of my body...
 "Ah!? Kkhhh!!? Agggh!? What the hell did you... what the hell did you do to me?!!"
 I scream. I shout angrily at the monster. I shout at her angrily with my emotions. However, youkai-mother smiles at me, seemingly oblivious to my hostility. Then she replies.
 "Hehehe, I haven't done anything to you, you know. This is your spiritual world, after all. I'm just intruding. If you want, you can change this world to your heart's content."
 "Huh...!? Khhh... T-then what's this all about... Aghhh!?"
 I fell to the floor, sprawling on the floor, thinking about the meaning of youkai mother's words. I thought about it, but I didn't understand. And then, the infection spread further, and I writhed in agony.
 "You don't have to think so hard, okay? Just be honest."
 "Just be... honest?"
 "Yes. That's right. It's simple. This world is inside your mind, which means that right now you are the truth, without any pretense, without any lie."
 The words echoed strangely, seeping into my brain. And it relentlessly reveals the truth that I have been trying to hide in my deepest psyche, pretending not to understand.
 "That is who you are, stripped of all your uselessness. The current you is the real you, revealing your instincts, your desires... and your emotions, okay?"
 ...The youkai mother declares a cruel fact with a smile.
 "...!!? Wh-what...!? Don't... Don't be stupid...!! Such a monster...!!"
 I stand up in pain as I deny it. Is this incomprehensible, disgusting, horrifying figure my true nature? That's impossible. It's like I'm the monster...!
 "It's true. But the reason you can expose yourself so clearly is because you have become a youkai, you know? However, humans, youkai, and other living creatures are no different, aren't they? They are the same beings that feed on life, crave for life, and have greed. Only human beings are the only species among all living things that hide their instincts and mend their deceptions. If everyone removes his or her mask, what is the difference between them and the beasts of the field or the youkai?"
 The fallen mother goddess of the earth proclaims it as if to affirm it, as if to love it, as if to rejoice in it. She says it as if to reassure me. While I am fuming and suffering from my own change, it doesn't seem to matter to the monster, who boasts that man, beast, and youkai, perhaps even insects, are all on the same side. No, wait! What did this guy just say....?
 "Agh... I-I became a youkai... huh?"
 The expression on her face was obviously strange. It is true that her blood has turned me into youkai. However, it should have been suppressed by the medicine, and her expression was not right for such complete expression. It was as if she was saying...
 At that moment, I remember. I remember what I did just before I lost consciousness. What I had become.
 "Uh... uh... uh...?"
 I remember. The feeling of my body being turned into a soggy mess. The sensation that even my mind is being transformed, as if it were being painted over. I remember the feeling of my body breaking through its human shell and turning into a horrifying monster with its desires laid bare. And with its claws and fangs, I... I...!!!
 "A... Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh...!!!??"
 I scream. I roar. I go crazy. It was too horrible, too hopeless.
 "Ah, no way...! It's a lie...!!? Khh... D-damn it... Ghhh!!?"
 "...well, it's rare to see you in such a bare state. Poor boy, that's how much you usually hide yourself."
 As soon as I regained my memory, the change accelerated rapidly. Almost half of my body was already a lump of flesh, a mixture of various things that I could not understand. Meanwhile, seeing me in agony and pain as I was confronted with a cruel fact that I didn't want to face, youkai mother put her hand on my cheek and muttered painfully, pathetically, and somewhat out of sync with me.
 "Really, you poor child. You've been like that all your life, even in your previous lives, haven't you? Hiding yourself, pretending, being deprived, only to be given away... unable to rely on, unable to be cajoled, unable to cry?"
 She touches my cheek. Her eyes also look into mine. She looks into my eyes as if she can see through my soul, as if she's raping my brain... The sensation is as sweet as a drug, taking away my thoughts and rationality in a situation that is too painful for me to even think about anything.
 "Aggghh... You... You b*stard...! Wh-what are you... talking nonsense...!!?"
 "Hehehe, you're right. At least you have no regrets about your previous life, right? Well, it's much easier to live than this absurd and unreasonable life, isn't it? If only to live, that is."
 So says the creature meaningfully... D*mn it! Don't, don't look at me with that face, don't look at me with those eyes... don't look at me! Don't pity me...!! Don't make me want to cry, don't make me want to be pampered...!!!
 "Ugh... Kkhh...!!?"
 Unspeakable impulses, and sadness almost overflow. It was an irresistible temptation, just as it had been when I had faced this monster's body before. Moreover, my body is about to turn into a monster, and I am losing control of my emotions.
 ......Yes, I am becoming a monster.
 In the face of this reality, the next thing I know, I'm clutching at the neck of the being in front of me. Pushing her down, I mounted her and crushed her thin, white neck with both of my transformed arms. A creaking sound echoed as the bones of her neck crumbled.
 "Oh, dear, you're such a nuisance. But I can't help it. I'm a part of you, and this is the world of your mind. However, it's not good for you to get so excited."
 Even though she's strangled, the person in front of me is... Nooo! It was a monster in that person's skin. Still, she pats my head with a loving smile. As if my actions mean nothing at all, as if to insinuate.
 "Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!! Don't talk to me like that! Don't pretend to be that person!! Don't disgrace that person, you monster!!! Stop fooling me! Don't play with me....!!"
 I yell at youkai mother's words. I tighten her neck even more while yelling. And with my fingers, I crush her throat with my fingernails and I dig into her flesh. Still, the woman in front of me shows no sign of suffering. Rather, there is an abyss in her eyes that reflects back at me.
 ....an image of a horrifying monster, consumed by hatred and desire.
 I screamed. Like an animal, howling like youkai. I wail. Screaming. And then I just... I just... I went to...!
 The next time I woke up with a scream, I was on the futon. My whole body was drenched in sweat, I was breathing heavily, and I awoke with an indescribable chill.
 In my confused thoughts, I look around. It was an unfamiliar room. I hear the sound of my heart beating wildly. I couldn't decide if I was dreaming or real, not even for a moment.
 A moment later, I suddenly shifted my vision at the presence. There was a white girl with a surprised expression and a feeling of relief.
 ...it was a creature with ears and a tail that were clearly not human.
 "Tomobe-san...? Oh, I'm so glad! You finally woke up..."
 "Huh... What...!?"
 Immediately, I jump up and push down the girl in front of me. I grab her by the throat. I open my eyes, breathe heavily, and pour my spiritual power into my hand so that I can snap her neck at any moment.
 "Tomobe-san...? Wh-what ......?"
 I watch the presence in front of me with the utmost vigilance. It was only natural that I would consider her dangerous. After all, I could only sense a hint of youkai power from the being in front of me and the only being with youkai power is youkai.
 "Tomobe... san.......?"
 I check my opponent's appearance little by little, as if wary of illusion and sorcery. It's a child. It was a girl. A frail-looking girl. But that doesn't mean I should let my guard down. So, I must be careful. And don't trust a monster’s looks. Pretty looks are a deception. It's a common tactic of monsters to put on human skin to catch someone off guard. And now, I put my hand around her neck slowly.
 "Ah? To... mo... be...san...?"
 Don't talk to her, don't listen to her. And don't look at her. There's nothing more unreliable than a monster's sweet words. If I let my guard down even a little, her words and her gaze could trigger the youkai-jutsu. If I'm not careful, just looking directly at her could kill me. After all, I once saw a servant die from the mere sight of a sword, blood spurting out of every hole in his body. So don't be afraid. Just squeeze her neck slowly.
 "Ah... Ggh... No... To... mo... be... san..."
 Don't feel sorry for her when she cries. Be on your guard. She’s a monster that takes advantage of people's weaknesses. So be cool-headed no matter what. Stay indifferent. Be cold-blooded. That's why I've survived until today. So just tighten it up. Like killing a chicken. Calmly, slowly.
 "No... it... hurts... ah......"
 Shut up, shut up. Don't cry. Don't cry, you monster. I'm different. I'm not like you. I'm not some freak in human skin. I'm human. So I'll kill you. I kill monsters. So... So.... no... wait, wait, wait. Hold on. No, aren't I forgetting something important? Yeah, just calm down and remember. I'm sure... I'm sure...
 I quickly let go of my hand. At the same time, the girl lying on the futon coughs bitterly, as if she were choking.
 ...and I stare at the fox girl in a stupefied state.
 Hey, what was I doing? Did I strangle her? On her neck? On this little girl's neck? Silently? Cold-bloodedly? Like strangling a chicken without a care in the world? Did I... did I do it.........!!?
 Suddenly I have a strong feeling of vomiting. I feel like I'm going to throw up, but I hold my mouth and try to hold it in.
 "Cough... Cough... Tomobe-san!? W-wait a minute! I-I'll get a bucket now...!!"
 The girl who was coughing with teary eyes noticed my unusual behavior and hurriedly prepares a bucket. When I saw the bucket in front of me, I threw the contents of my stomach into the bucket.
 "Blarg... blarg(h)...!!"
 I spit it out again and again in my foggy consciousness. The taste of stomach acid fills my mouth, and a pungent odor stings my nose. Still, I spit out, never wanting to leave the bucket. Again and again, and again, my stomach empties, and yet I continue to vomit...
 "Ha~a... Ha~a... Ha~a..."
 "Tomobe-san... A-are you... okay....!?"
 "I... want to say... that I'm okay... but it shouldn't... kill me. More importantly... are you... okay...?"
 Shiro asks me fearfully, and I ask her, panting and out of breath. I can't say that I went easy on her. No, it seems that I was clearly trying to kill her at the end. Even though half youkai are stronger than normal people, it is not surprising that a young child would die if their throat is squeezed as hard as possible.
 "I-I'm all right! It still hurts a little, but no bones are broken, so it's nothing serious."
 Coughing a little and with teary eyes, Shiro says she is fine. But then I notice a mark on her neck and frown, choking for breath. The bloodshot spot on her white, thin neck was clearly visible, a scratch from a fingernail, a little blood... Although, it was far from being nothing serious. I immediately felt a sense of self-loathing and guilt.
 "Ha~a... Ha~a... Sorry, I'm sorry... no, an apology won't do... but I'm sorry for the time being... Gghh, did I have a bad dream? D*mn it, I can't remember! I think I'm getting confused too. I might be going a little crazy... And where are we?"
 I ask the half-youkai girl with my face to the tub in shaky, unclear thought... pleading with her. By the way, I feel nauseous again, so I throw up my stomach juices.
 "Ah... Uuu... this is one of the rooms the princess is renting from the Oumi family."
 "Ah...? ...Oh, I see. I understand. This isn't funny. This is the second time. And in such a short time..."
 Haa! it's only been a month and a half since I had a bad experience with an underground tunnel before, hasn't it? I'm dumbfounded myself... Hmm...?
 "......!? T-that's right...!!? Is she...? Is that little girl safe... Ghhh!?"
 I feel a momentary relief that she is in the safe zone, but I immediately remember my memory before I lost consciousness and inquire about her, Tachibana Kayo's safety. I try to stand up... but my muscles hurt all over and I fall down.
 "Tomobe-san...!!? P-please calm down!! I-I'm sure she's okay!! Don't worry, she's not hurt!!"
 I fall to the floor, but my muscles are so painful that I can't stand up and wriggle around like a caterpillar. As she answers, she tries hard to pull me back into the futon.
 "Gghh... I-is that so...? I see. That's... that's good. Ugh!?"
 "Tomobe-san's body is more serious than that! Please rest!"
 There was nothing I could say in reply to the girl's slightly angry, but sincerely concerned voice. I had no other choice but to silently obey her words. I look up at the ceiling in a daze, drooping down in pain as the covers are pulled back over me. Then I mutter.
 "Ha~a... Ha~a... Ha~a... you were hiding behind the warehouse, weren't you?"
 "Although I only have a hazy memory, and it's doubtful if I was even self-aware, that was quite a violent outburst, wasn't it? Seriously."
 I can't help but sneer and laugh mockingly at myself, filled with contempt and disdain. It's a bleak, sarcastic smile.
 "It's pretty fuzzy at the end... So, how did I get back to normal?"
 "U-umm... Princess gave you medicine..."
 "...I see. She always comes at the right time, doesn't she? I bet she's waiting for it."
 However, it is true that she is helping me, and I should be grateful to her for her kindness since I can't complain about being abandoned or killed...
 "Uh, uh..."
 "I... remember the feeling of not being myself anymore."
 I speak one-sidedly to Shiro, who has an indescribable expression on her face. It was a normally rude thing to say to a stranger, but I still wanted to say it. Even if it was my own selfishness, I wanted to let out my anxiety and fear.
 "I feel so hot inside of me. It felt like I was becoming something else."
 It was so hot that my blood boiled and my organs, bones, and brain seemed to melt. No, perhaps they were actually melting. It is said that the pupa of an insect melted itself to a sludge inside, and then reassembled and reborn as a completely different being. That is exactly what happened to me. The feeling of being melted into a sludgy mess inside one's own human shell, and then having it overflow from inside oneself and break through one's skin...
 "Ugh... Blarg(h).........!?"
 Nausea strikes again, and Shiro holds out a bucket. After I splash my gastric juice into it, I shiver with chills all over my body.
 "It's like every single cell becomes something other than myself... like even my thoughts are being remade...? I feel so lost, so scared, and so lonely...."
 As I recall the words, the feelings, and the thoughts that were in my mind at the time, tears naturally welled up in my eyes. Yes, I was scared. I was afraid. Of course, it's not every day that I experience something that melts my very being and makes me into something else.
 "...I'm really sorry about earlier. I become quite weird."
 It was an act to be despised. Not only the act itself, but also its meaning.
 "...Umm, were you that scared? Were you afraid of becoming a youkai, or were you afraid that you were really a human being?"
 Shiro asks me anxiously and worriedly about me. I took a moment to interpret the meaning of her words, and then my face turned pale as I came up with the answer.
 "Ah... I... no way, did I speak, did I speak out of my mind when I strangled you?"
 When Shiro nodded her head in response, I felt my blood run cold this time. It was too bad. Of course, I was speaking my mind when I strangled the girl.
 ...I was strangling her as if she were a youkai.
 "I... I didn't mean like that...! I mean...!!!"
 I was terrified and desperately thought of an explanation. The situation was too bad.

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