Monday, January 30, 2023 @

Chapter 49, Part 1

 People and youkai are essentially different.
 In particular, the mental structure of youkai is so different from that of human beings. For them, who live with bare instincts and desires, human beings are mere food. Just as people do not care for pigs who are only food for them, youkai do not show mercy to people. If they do, it is only because their minds are distorted in an unusual way. Like the fallen mother Goddess of the earth, who loves people and insects as if they were of equal value.
 In that sense, perhaps the hellish and horrifying underground den is normal by youkai's standard of value.
 "I'm not going to admit it, though..."
 The boy spits out as he catches a glimpse of the numerous cocoons of "preserved food" in the morgue from the shadow of the rocks.
 "So this is the source of the infection. They've done a good job..."
 At first, it could have been just an accident, but... this is youkai, after all. They were not what I expected, but they had set up a horrifying scheme, a trap.
 "I hope we make it there in one piece..."
 His partner, who had come here with him to investigate, was the first to leave. Reporting to the head family about the vicious trap hidden in the recent disturbance will be just as difficult as remaining in the area. There will be an onslaught of pursuers. All the boy can do is pray for his partner's safety.
 "Well. The question is what to do from here..."
 And the boy squints as if peering from the shadows of the den. In a way, the position of having no choice but to do only what is assigned to him is comforting. In this sense, he envied the position of his partner, who had left first.
 On the other hand, the boy had to make a choice. A critical choice, in which there was no room for failure, which even human lives were at stake.
 "A choice, huh? ...Haha, it's a fateful thing, isn't it? Of all the choices I have to make."
 The boy laughs scornfully. He knows very well how unsuitable, shameless, and cynical the choice he is forced to make is.
 "I didn't expect to witness this after my partner went... This is not a trap, is it?"
 The boy had witnessed the people he was supposed to check the safety of being taken away. Now that he has witnessed it, he cannot ignore it. Both as a duty and as a human being. Especially if one of them is a child...
 "I can't say the odds are good... but I don't know when the reinforcements will arrive, and I can't say I'll be safe until then."
 Then the boy puts on a sullen expression and mutters.
 "...Anyway, I don't want to have regrets."
 Because he would regret it later if he didn't do so... The young boy from the hidden group understood very well what. He knew it so well that it disgusted him.
 But time cannot be undone, and water never returns. It is impossible to turn away from the consequences, no matter how cruel they may be. The answer to his choice will confront him just as it is. No matter how much he regrets it.
 That's why... the boy didn't want to make a choice he regrets. Because regretful choices cut long and deep into the heart of the person who makes them. In other words, it will torment him.
 Therefore, the boy chooses. He chooses the choice that he will not regret, no matter how it ends.
 It was the only choice that could be made by the boy.
* * *
 On the 10th day of Satsuki (between April and May) in the 12th year of the reign of Emperor Seiri, Fusō-kuni experienced an unprecedented mobilization of the exorcists' houses by the imperial court.
 31 families were mobilized, and the number of exorcists alone numbered 86. To this were added several times the number of servants, hidden groups, and others.
 In addition, temporarily employed local cursers and exorcists were also present to assist them. The number is approximately 70. Furthermore, nearly 100 people will accompany them, including temporarily hired civilian laborers, miscellaneous workers, merchants, and so on.
 In total, nearly 700 people were employed... This large group of people looked as if they were going on a dragon hunt or an expedition to Onigashima, but this time, however, it must be said that they were still a bit thin in numbers.
 After all, Kappa was prevalent in the two counties of the northern region, and the total population as far as the imperial court knew in the family register was about 16,000 or so, all of which were probably targets of the sweep. And that too...
 "Just us, huh..."
 I mutter to myself as I pass through the checkpoint at the border crossing from Meijo County to Nomoto County. At the checkpoint, which was fenced in layers, soldiers of the government army in armor with crossbows, flintlock rifles, or long spears were nervously staring in the direction of the county. Even a few cannons loaded with grapeshot can be seen.
 These soldiers' equipment was obviously well-equipped with projectiles. Almost all of their spiritual power was nullified, and their arms were strong enough to bend iron, so that any unintentional contact would increase the possibility of infection. Their equipment was full of the will to kill the expected enemy from as far away as possible without allowing them to approach.
 Unfortunately, they are not currently scheduled to be deployed in this sweep operation...
 Silent. Such a condition applies to the procession of the Kizuki family exorcists and their followers that crosses the barricade. Following them were countless wagons, containing the trump cards for this mission given to them by the imperial court. They were being carried with particular care.
 Then, the soldiers glanced at the Kizuki family line. The emotions in their eyes seemed to be pity, fear, or even contempt.
 "...They're not going to join us, huh?"
 A boy walking right beside me with a load on his back muttered. He is Shirowakamaru, who is accompanying me on this mission as an observer as well as a messenger. He stares at the soldiers at the checkpoint with an indefinite tone of voice.
 "Well, it's our duty to exterminate youkai, to begin with."
 My words were half right and half wrong. The Imperial Court's army and soldiers mobilized from various parts of the country were deployed to blockade the two counties that were supposedly overrun by the kappa, but they refused to participate in the sweep as the extermination of the youkai was basically the work of the exorcists.
 It cannot be called negligence of duty. After all, kappa, or youkai, can infect humans and turn them into their own kind if they fight each other. So, if they die in a fight, they would not want to be killed by their allies, let alone by becoming monsters. They want to let the experts do such things. Or it may have something to do with the organizational conflict between the Ministry of Military Affairs (兵部省) and the Omnyou dormitory (陰陽寮).
 "Still, this is a troublesome situation..."
 I muttered to myself as I marched silently. The situation had fallen into a state I could not have imagined.
 Of course, most of the jobs I've been asked to do so far, as well as most of them, have been for things that would not be mentioned in the official reference books or the external biographies of the game. It may be because these are the time series before the main game, and they are not so big as to be officially described in the official books.
 That is fine. After all, it was just exterminating small youkai and medium youkai.
 ...But now, as far as I remember, there is not even a single setting or description that hints at such a serious and important request as this one, which is unexpected. At this point, I could not determine whether the mission was completed without any problems in the main story or whether this was an event out of the main story's timeline.
 (However, I couldn't just go along with the original story from the beginning.)
 If I went along with the original story, I would have been stuck at the point where 90% of the events had a bad ending. Moreover, no matter what golden power the main character of the original game has, there are routes where he is actually killed, imprisoned, or made into a daruma, so I can't rely on it.
 Then, there is no choice but not to intervene in the events, large or small, for covering the situation, which is too late to intervene after the start of the original story. In short, if I intervene even before the start of the original work, the situation will be beyond my capacity, and even then, it will not be enough. In fact, the gorilla-sama's gang-rape event was a forced participation.
 "In any case, there's nothing to do but to finish the problem at hand, huh..."
 I grumble to myself, biting my back teeth. I think about it a lot, but I'm just a lowly Yun-shoku. And with dozens of exorcists participating in this mission, there's no chance that I'll be given anything to do. Therefore, all I can do is just to handle the work in front of me.
 At least, I was not wrong to think so at this point. Yes, at this point...
* * *
 Half a day into Nomoto county, the city roads in the county were eerie. The villages we passed were completely deserted. It was as if suddenly, only the inhabitants had disappeared...
 "Don't touch the village wells or the leftover food. After the researchers' group investigate the situation, disinfect the wells and then oil and burn the wells. Make sure that each team is instructed to do so. Anyone who fails to do so will be beheaded without question."
 The exorcists who marched into the Nomoto county encamped in a corner of the basin. Tents were pitched and fences erected. Amidst the hustle and bustle of such work, I gather the squad leaders and warn them of the danger. The "Four Kills and Three Destructions" which were strictly ordered at the time of the outbreak of kappa in the port city of Nantou are applied this time as well.
 This is to prevent those who participate in the mission from turning into kappa and to completely and surely exterminate those who are infected with kappa. Therefore, I had to warn them carefully.
 After I dismissed the squad leaders, I looked up at the sky over my face. Dozens of bird-like shikigami were used to warn people around the area, and there were also many shikigami taking the form of insects and beasts deployed in the surrounding flora and forests, and, moreover, there were probably many instantaneous traps for warnings, such as Naruko (a pair of wooden clappers used in traditional Japanese music and festivals). Against the kappa, for whom boundary, curses, and charms would be of little use and might even attract them with their spiritual power, it was imperative to establish an early warning posture.
 Next, I smelled a burning odor in my nostrils. I turned my gaze from looking up to the sky to the source of the smell.
 The smell was coming from beyond the physical barriers of the fences and reverse bushes that were being built with the materials transported with the raiding party...
 There, the flames of the red flame undulate. It burns the village houses that are no longer inhabited, emitting black smoke... Around the houses, the shadows of a group of people in black strolling around are so unusual in appearance that for a moment one is under the impression they are not human at all. But in fact, they are wearing protective suits like those worn by doctors of the Black Death, which are manufactured using methods learned from the Western Empire and improved upon by the Western Empire...
 These people are researchers, who were officially established by the Onmyou dormitory and independently by the exorcists. They are a group that is quite different from other groups and are quite unique.
 To be precise, these researchers are subordinate organizations of the Imperial Court rather than the higher institution, the Onmyou dormitory, and their work is the same as that of the exorcists... although it has a different origin. Many of their works, which are experiments, research, and investigations of supernatural principles, such as necromancy, sacred veins, youkai, and curses, cannot be publicly known. In fact, in the original game "Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)," depending on the route, there was an ending where the main character himself was turned into an experimental subject, rather than finding out their horrifying activities.
 In this case, Kizuki and several other members of a large group of exorcists, as well as some members of the Imperial Court, were dispatched to advise and "disinfect" the village as well as to collect specimens and conduct other investigations.
 "The specimens from this village are not good. There's blood and flesh, but no bodies."
 "Yeah. They've probably noticed the raiding party and are withdrawing. After all, they can share thoughts even when they're far away from each other. Now, they're probably trying to concentrate their forces to intercept us."
 "So we won't be able to get the test subjects for a few days, huh? I'd like to catch a few of them alive if possible...."
 Researcher group members wearing masks like bird's heads passed right in front of us, holding a box containing something in their hands and conversing with each other. Their tone was somewhat light, but the contents of their conversation were horrifying.
 I tensed up silently. For those people who can keep youkai alive, or even half-youkai, and even cut open their skulls and insert needles into them, I don't need to tell you how they would look at me if they knew what happened to me now.
 To them, a human being whose blood is mixed with that of a youkai mother is, as Gorilla-sama said, nothing but a specimen to be experimented on. So, I could not let them know the secret of my body or even the medicine that I had received and kept in my pocket. Because simply by looking at the pills, they could have noticed the ingredients, their efficacy, and the changes that were taking place in me.
 At the same time, I felt depressed. The monster's blood is steadily eating away at my body, even if I'm fooling myself with the potion. And one day, it will completely...
 "Tomobe-san, may I...?"
 "Hmm!? ...S-Shiro?"
 A voice suddenly called out from behind me, and I involuntarily turned around, shaking my body. And when I see a white fox girl in my vision, I realize after all this time that it is Shiro.
 "I-I'm sorry. I was wondering if you're busy...?"
 The half-youkai girl asks timidly whether she is worried or anxious about my reaction. No, in fact, I guess she is worried.
 It is not difficult to imagine that there was a tug of war-between the Hina faction and the Aoi faction over who would be the representative of the Kizuki family in this mission, which would be highly risky but also highly rewarding.
 In the end, neither side was able to get themselves or their own people as the representatives of the delegation, instead, they seem to have been eager to get someone who had a good influence on the other side to fill other posts. And Shiro is one of the victims.
 But Gorilla-sama is not so merciless as to send her own lady-in-waiting, half-youkai, to work as a chore maid for the raiding party. So, to top it all off, she told me to take care of her. I guess a power harassment boss is exactly what that gorilla-sama does.
 (Though there seems to be insurance in place...)
 I glance at her and check her. The amulet, which was hung around her neck, is a charm with many curses on it, and can withstand several attacks by a great youkai or so. Moreover, there seemed to be several shikigami hiding, though they were not visible.
 (Well, it is much better than those indifferent in the original story.)
 After all, it would be scary if Gorilla-sama didn't have such kindness despite her avoidance of the raping event. ...No, it's not kind at all when she sends a half-Youkai child to such a dangerous place in the first place.
 As I was thinking this, Shiro tilted her head and called my name again. Maybe she was worried that I was staring at her in silence.
 "No, I was just thinking. And you surprised me. Is there a problem?"
 "No, no, it's not that... it's just that... Tomobe-san has been summoned."
 The way she said it, there was no doubt that the call was from a superior. And the fact that Shiro had come directly meant that it was from Kizuki's relatives, not from the other house. And the person in Kizuki's family who would be accompanying us this time was...
 "...Got it. Please show me the way."
 Aware of the smell of trouble, I asked Shiro to show me the way...
* * *

Please bookmark this series and rate ☆☆☆☆☆ on here!
Donate me