Saturday, January 21, 2023 @

Chapter 45, Part 1

 In the 12th year of the reign of Emperor Seirei, on the sixth day of the month of Uzuki[1], which was the first day of summer according to nijūshi sekki[2].
 In a corner of the northern part of Fusō-kuni, where there were many graveyards, a figure was seen.
 He looked like a monk because of his appearance, standing in a mound filled with dead travelers, beggars, and vagrants who died without relatives. The man walking with an umbrella and an indistinct face tinkled a bell and prayed silently.
 As time went on, the darkness of the night gradually deepened. Thick clouds hid the moonlight, casting shadows on the uninhabited mound. And then they appeared.
 Where in the world did they come from? They appeared from beyond the graves, from the shadows, from the gaps in the messy vegetation. Some of them looked like insects, some like birds, some like animals, some like plants, some like human beings, some like non-living things, and even some like a mixture of several beings. And all of them had a distinctly horrifying atmosphere and a poisonous miasma.
 These were youkai... evil beings outside the realm of human reason, who was out to take revenge on others.
 They surrounded the monk who silently rang the bell in the darkness and closed the distance between them. After having eaten the hunters, lumberjacks of the nearby forests, the grave robbers, and the children from the city who wandered into this place to test their courage, the youkai now attack this one more poor human being today. And today, it was a feast. After all, he is a monk, and a spiritual one at that. Surely, after killing this human, the youkai will begin an even more gruesome cannibalistic feast for his flesh.
 In this way, they will eat each other and concentrate their youkai energy, and youkai will rise to higher and higher levels, transforming themselves into one higher being. This is their instinct, their true nature. It is the meaning of their existence.
 Now, in the dark night, words of taunts ring out over and over again. They sounded mean and wicked as if they were the most despicable, mean, and evil voices ever heard. It is the cry of youkai's rottenness.
 Still unaware of what is going on, the monk just keeps ringing the bell. And then youkai leap out from behind him...
 "You guys usually come from behind, huh?"
 The next moment, I, who was dressed as a monk, swung my spear, which I had hidden in my bosom to dispel them.
 Several small youkai, about the size of a bulldog, was cut down by the tip of my spear. I then quickly lunged forward, holding my spear at the throat of a human-faced deer that was charging toward me. With a swift and powerful thrust, I impaled the deer's throat, bringing it down to the ground with the force of my own weight.
 With a startled expression on its face, the deer burst out a tentacle from its jaw, which was opened so wide that its jaws were ripped open but I evaded the blow by bending my neck. In the end, the deer's face was cut in half from the bottom and it died.
 "I didn't think this level of disguise would fool them. It seems that youkai here are a bunch of idiots more than I thought."
 I throw away my umbrella. At the same time, the other youkai braced themselves as if in alarm. They seem to have realized that I am not a monk, and that I am not just going to be eaten. The moonlight shines on me and youkai as the clouds pass by and the moonlight shines on us again. If youkai had poor night vision, they would have finally recognized me.
 I was a servant disguised as a monk, with a spear in my hand and a mask on my face that served both as a countermeasure against eye technique and as a cheek protector... a Hannya mask in the shape of a demon (oni), which means the leader of the servants.
 "Well, it would be impolite not to greet you, so let me introduce myself, shall I? I'm Tomobe, a servant of Kizuki's family and a leader of servants. I know we've only known each other for a short time, but... it's nice to meet you."
 I said to the youkai surrounding me, somewhat sarcastically, as if to provoke them.
 "Well, well, these must be the youkai who has been living in the mound recently, huh? There must be 30...40...50 or so. Well, as expected."
 I take a glance at the deformed monsters surrounding me with caution and am relieved to see that the number of them is within my initial expectation, while putting away the bell charm that has the effect of attracting youkai in the game as well. Fortunately, I had neither too many nor too few of them.
 Then I slowly raise my hand in a natural gesture.
 "Well, I'm sorry to be so quick, but... let's get rid of them."
 As soon as I put my hand down, it happened. Suddenly, a projectile was thrown at me, a smoke ball that produced smoke that violently irritated my eyes and nose. The sudden event also caused the youkai to suddenly feel intense pain, causing them to go berserk and become confused. Then, from all directions, arrowheads were shot at them with arrowheads coated with poison.
 "Whoa!? That's dangerous!?"
 I got scared and fell to the ground when I saw a poisoned bow and arrow pass by relatively close to me. Fortunately, I had a stuffed nose and glass around my eyes, so the pain was minimal.
 The smoke cleared at about the same time that two groups of ten of my men, who had been hiding in the vegetation on all sides to mask their scent, shot out their arrowheads. Next, the remaining two groups of ten servants with swords and spears in their hands leaped on the still-confused crowd of youkai.
 Two or three of them took on each of the confused youkai, quickly, surely, and without danger.
 "Don't deal with the tough ones! Cut down their numbers first! Archers, give support!"
 With that order, I shot a poisoned arrow into one of the youkai's body and stabbed it in the gut from behind as it continued to thrash against the servants. I retreat before the screaming youkai can counterattack. There was no need to finish it off with a single blow. Surround the enemy with several men, and attack and retreat when an opening appears. With this, we could safely wait for the enemy to be exhausted.
 Therefore, in just over twenty minutes, most of the fifty or so youkai had been killed. Even the ones that remained were weakened considerably, and the outcome was already clear.
 We win... that is what all the servants fighting here must have thought. But...
 "Huh...!? What...!!?"
 The ground shook with a tremor like an earthquake. The servants are shaken. And then... the earth cracked.
 With a cry that could neither be described as a roar nor a howl, something emerges from the depths of the earth. Its huge, cracked, dirt-stained skull, followed by its huge bony arms, leaps out and lifts its entire body, then climbs up to reveal its entire body to the servants. On its face, deep darkness spread in its eye sockets, and a reddish-black light was seen from the deepest part of the eye sockets.
 One of the servants shouted. It was the name of a great youkai, a well-known figure in Fusō-kuni.
 It is said that corpses that have been abandoned or treated roughly and not given proper care become bones and gather together with grudges.
 Especially in places like youkai dens, it is not uncommon that the bodies cannot be retrieved, or even if it is required by law, the dead bodies without relatives are buried at random in the locality without the time or money to dispose of them. Likely, this unmarked mound was also managed in a very careless manner.
 (I had gathered some information on this mound in advance... but I have to emphasize the importance of this in my report).
 Not only the hidden group but also the servants had systematically and repeatedly conducted careful reconnaissance with shikigami and others to confirm the existence of the mound. Although one of the accompanying exorcists was dissatisfied with the fact that his prey would run away in alarm... it was a good thing that I asked one of them to help me now, even if I had to put up with his sarcasm. Thanks to it, I had time to train and gather tools for countermeasures.
 The Gashadokuro looks around with a wide-eyed gaze as it begins to crawl on all fours like a baby. Then it smiles when it sees the servants who are retreating back as if they are being pressured. It even laughed so wickedly that it was clearly recognizable even though it was a skeleton. But then, it swings its arm.
 The servants run away like spiders from the arm that is swung at them like a baby squashing an insect crawling on the ground. The first blow is a miss, and the second one is also in vain. But the third blow was different.
 One of the servants was unable to avoid the swinging arm and was blown away. He must have been hit in the arm. The servant spun around and was slammed into a tree. He seemed to be on the defensive and did not die instantly, but his left arm was bent in a crumpled position.
 "Quickly retrieve him and treat him!! Hurry up!"
 In accordance with the training for the assumed situation, the leader of his squad ordered his remaining subordinates to send the wounded back to the hospital. At the same time, some servants began to throw stones and debris with slingers to support the injured. However, stones and pebbles seem to be ineffective against the bone skulls, though they may be effective if they have flesh bodies, and they can only be expected to distract them.
 Therefore, the main mission of this time to kill youkai was somewhere else.
 "Okay, now! Cast the nets! Stop it from moving!!"
 At my command, countless nets were released by the hands of some servants who had moved to the blind spot.
 The nets, which were purified to seal youkai energy and woven tightly, were entangled with the bones of the skull, and if necessary, they restrained its movement while wounding it with the power of purification.
 "Release the iron chains!"
 Then several iron chains are released. When these chains are thrown and entangled in the arms of a bony youkai, several servants per chain pull them up, improving their muscular strength with their spiritual power and further restraining the youkai movement.
 "Please it will stop well...!!!!"
 I muttered half praying. Although the skull itself is a great youkai, this time we are dealing with a newly born one, not so big in size. If it were a fully matured individual, it would be as big as a mountain, so this Gashadokuro, which is only as big as a temple or shrine in the countryside, is still a cute little thing.
 Well, it's not cute, but...
 Against this strategy of blocking its movements, the Gashadokuro desperately attacked. Some of the men with iron chains are injured by being blown away or dragged by it. But... more nets and chains are deployed and protective charms are thrown to block the movement of the Gashadokuro completely.
 "All right, pull it down!!"
 "Shoot it in the eyeball!"
 With that voice, the skeleton monster is pulled down to the ground. There, the eyeball... or more precisely, the place where it was supposed to be, was shot by several arrows. The Gashadokuro shakes its head and screams as if it were alive.
 "All right, stake the chains to the ground!!"
 "Cut off the joints with an axe!!"
 "Cut off the neckbone! Now!"
 The dismemberment work is carried out while the Gashadokurol is held down. Bone is bone after all. We use an axe to smash the joints as we dismantle them. Although the skull is a rampaging creature, once we stop its movement with iron chains and nets, it is nothing but a fish on the chopping block.
 Now, we forcibly cut off the right arm from the shoulder and the left arm from the wrist with an axe. By severing the spine, we force the lower half of the body to part in tears. As it falls down, a few of us thrust our swords between the bones, and then twist a piece of wood to shred the connection between the body and the skull, using the principle of leverage, right down to the neck bone.
 "Well, there's no way it can resist this, is there?"
 The skull, which was fixed with a stake, stared at me standing in front of it with eyes without eyeballs, making a rattling sound, considering the possibility that the head might float and attack me in the worst-case scenario. Its gaze contained not only hostility, but also fear and trepidation.
 Just as it had been when it was alive and struggling to stay alive in fear of death.
 "Sorry, this is work. So, please forgive me."
 I then pull something out of my pocket, muttering to myself, "I'll at least recite the Buddhist sutras later"... It is a beautiful small knife (kogatana) that radiates a power not quite worthy of a servant's share. It has the curse of a worthy object, and it has already been proven by experience that it is effective enough even against a great youkai.
 "Well... here we go!"
 I stared at the youkai's energy flow for a few seconds, then, after a good look, I stabbed a small knife (kogatana) into the skeleton. Although I didn't put much force into it, the blade penetrated deeply as if I had stabbed tofu.
 'Gggh... Rattle......'
 After a slight grunt, the skull is shattered in half. And then...a moment later, the skull crumbled to pieces. Like sand, it dropped countless small bones to the ground, until all that remained was a pile of white bones.
 "......Huff. It's over."
 I let out a small sigh. At the same time, the servants around me relax slightly. The air relaxes slightly... but there is no time to dwell on this forever.
 "Mikage squad, retrieve the tools, and Chou squad, treat the wounded. Meanwhile, the Inaba and Yuzuha squads are to keep an eye on the surrounding area. As soon as the rest of you finish your duties, dispose of youkai's carcass."
 "Yes, sir!"
 We can't just go straight home after the battle. Cleanup is important. So, I assign each of my men a job to do and they start to move after the reply.
 "Oh!? Are you guys finally done?"
 And just as we were about to move on to the next job, something fell from the sky with those words.
 I cough a little, clutching my mouth as the dust flies around me. A few seconds later, what I saw in front of me was a mass of bloodied flesh... no, it was a huge frog-like youkai with its wings broken off its back and its limbs cut off. And standing on its back, on its belly, is the figure of an exorcist...
 "...Lord Touya, is this the target you requested?"
 "Oh? Can't you tell by looking at it?"
 Kizuki Touya, who is a descendant of Kizuki, replied to my confirmation as if he was trying to make a point. I remember seeing this red-haired young man with a handsome face but a rough temper and an overtly foul mouth in a minor role in the original game.
 At the beginning of the game, he is a minor character who runs into the main character and reverses the situation, and in the middle of the game, depending on the route, he is eaten to death by youkai because he moves without listening to the family's order, killed by gorilla-sama in a blackout, or spanked by an awakened fox at the end of the game? I remember that he was obviously the hated member and victim of Yandere. Since he was not named in the original work or in the official version, he was treated as a "red man with a bite" in the spin-off and so on.
 (That said, as expected of an exorcist...)
 I take one look at the big frog, which is literally on the verge of death, and let out a small grunt.
 This frog, which is as big as the skull of the previous skeleton youkai, however, is clearly not a great youkai, judging from the youkai-like atmosphere it exudes. It was definitely a calamity youkai. And from the appearance of both of them, it is easy to imagine that it was probably almost a one-sided fight.
 "Hah~... Hah~... Ah, Touya-san! Finally, I found you!! Seriously! Don't go ahead by yourself!!"
 A breathless voice came from behind me. I turned around to see a silver-haired girl with a cute face carrying a bow and arrow on her back.
 "...Lady Ayaka. Thank you for your hard work with Lord Touya. Is there anything left behind?"
 "Oh, if it's Tomobe-san? Of course! I made sure to round them up as soon as I guided them to the escape route!"
 Ayaka smiled and showed me her bow after she noticed my appearance. The arrows fired from the bow carved out of the sacred tree were so deadly that they could wreak havoc in a one-on-many combat situation.
 ...For the note, the number of youkai lurking deep in the mountains probably exceeded a hundred. The main ones we fought were those who had left their nests and were looking for food, except for the Gashadokuro.
 It would be a problem if youkai who had been outside the nest like scattering spiders would run away after the boss (the big frog) was killed. Therefore, it was necessary for the two main exorcists to hunt the big frog and his cronies, while we gathered the others outside and exterminated the rest.
 "That's good. And now, I'd like to ask which squad you two were assigned to?"
 First of all, I am glad that Ayaka's words saved me from having to do additional work. Then I mention it. In this mission, I had assigned a group of servants to cover the two of them who were going into the youkai's nest...
 "Huh, that's..."
 As soon as I mentioned the topic, Ayaka's face froze and her mouth became tight.
 "Lady Ayaka...?"
 "Don't worry, they haven't all been wiped out. Ayaka, don't you worry about all that."
 I understood the meaning of Ayaka's attitude when Touya said that. At the same time, I clucked my tongue inwardly. It was out of frustration, frustration, and a sense of helplessness.
 After that, about one and a half hours after Ayaka and the others returned, the servants who had accompanied the exorcists from the forest den.... returned to the original team with the wounded. The squad was originally made up of five members, but it was specially organized and reinforced into a seven-member squad, and the loss of the squad was two slightly wounded and one seriously wounded. And there was one death...
* * *

[1] (the fourth month of the traditional Japanese/between April 4th and May 5th)
[2] (the 24 solar terms that make up the traditional Japanese agricultural calendar)

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