Monday, January 30, 2023 @

Chapter 49, Part 2

 I was half surprised and half convinced when I took a glance at the people who were packed inside the tent, which was one of the biggest in the camp.
 The first person who jumped in was a fat man. Sitting on a custom-made chair, fanning himself and sipping fruit juice water wasn't a pig... but Kizuki Uemon, the head of the Hidden Group.
 The next person to whom I turn my eyes is a woman who is leaning on the tatami mats laid out on the upper floor.
 For a moment, I almost mistook her for a prostitute, a top-class oiran (courtesan), but in a sense, it was inevitable.
 A beautiful black-haired woman with a smoking pipe in her hand is dressed in a luxurious and gorgeous sleeveless kimono, with the collar pulled down so that one can see her white kimono, her shoulders, and even her bosom. The weeping black eyes, the languid and bewitching pupils, and the somewhat mysterious scent of sweet incense wafting from the incense burner placed right next to her further reinforced my imagination.
 Yes, she is the elder of the Kizuki family and the advisor of the Kizuki family in this raid... Kizuki Kochou.
 The last person to whom I turned my eyes was a person who was a few steps below the former two in the degree of shock. A silver-haired girl with a childish face, but with an air of maturity about her. Her appearance was a combination of a Japanese archery uniform and a hunting robe, and she specialized in handling a bow and arrow.
 A young exorcist from a branch of the Kizuki family, Kizuki Ayaka gave me a small, reserved bow.
 "...Yun-shoku Tomobe, I have come as ordered."
 I bowed reverently after declaring this.
 "I'm sorry to call you here at work, okay? I know things must be tough with the shortage of staff."
 "...No, I'm just doing the best I can with the assignment I've been given."
 After removing the smoking pipe from her mouth and exhaling a puff of smoke, Gonomijoban made a somewhat stilted effort, but I obligingly returned the gesture, knowing that it was no more than a social call.
 That's all it was, just a polite response to a formal greeting... but, unfortunately, it was a mistake on this occasion.
 "You don't have to be so uptight, okay? All we want to know is whether the number of people we have brought with us this time can fulfill the mission as planned, isn't that right?"
 Cheerful, but somewhat oppressive words... here I realize that I'm being asked for my honest opinion.
 "...To be honest, it is true that we need to push a little more with the current number of people."
 The number of servants that have been selected for this assignment is 49. Excluding young men who are still in training and who are not yet fully capable of fighting, this is equivalent to mobilizing more than 60% of the regular and active members. A total mobilization. And even with such a large number of men, the number required for this mission was still a little tight.
 "Yes, that's true. Neither do my men have time. And the start of the operation is imminent. We don't have the manpower for such a thing now. Just give up."
 Ayaka's face hardened in response to my honest opinion. At the same time, Uemon gave Ayaka a sullen look, as if he was trying to be understanding.
 "Uemon, let's talk about that later. It's not something you should be talking about in front of the servant. ....And I understand the current situation of the servants. I'm sorry to call you here like this. You may leave now."
 "...May I leave now?"
 I asked to make sure, knowing in my gut that the time between the call and the order to leave was very short and that the agenda, even without explanation, was not a light one.
 "Yes, of course. Isn't that right, Ayaka?"
 "...Yes. Lady Kochou."
 Kochou called the girl from the branch family as if she were a nail. On the other hand, Kizuki Ayaka turns over for a moment when her name is called with a yelp, but she answers while forcing herself to remain calm.
 ....She suppressed a considerable amount of conflict in her reply.
 "......Then, excuse me."
 I was tormented by the desire to know what was going on, but I suppressed it and declared so calmly, and left the tent. After all, Yun-shoku is Yun-shoku, and I had no authority to stay here or to participate in the conversation...
* * *
 "He's gone..."
 "As usual, he's a very unsociable fellow."
 When Kochou muttered this after confirming that Yun-shoku had left the tent, Uemon, her son, grumbled something unpleasantly. Although slightly displeased with his manner, Kochou did not show it, nor did she point it out or denounce it. She understood that he did not mean anything.
 To Kochou, Uemon was not someone she detested, at least not among her children. Aside from the first son, who was abandoned immediately after his birth due to his lack of talent, the second son, who was the heir to the former Kizuki, and the third son, who followed in his footsteps and caused all the trouble up to today, but this youngest son, if anything, Kochou even loved him. At least this youngest son, for better or worse, did not resemble Kizuki's bad habits...
 Blowing her smoking pipe again, Kochou takes a glance at her son who is drinking fruit juice water as if to cover up the heat. Of course, that doesn't mean she can forgive him for anything... but she understands, without sympathy, the reason why this youngest son is so distant from her, and so she is willing to give him a special look. Because of the care she had for him, the anger she felt when she felt betrayed would be great.
 ....Though it is true that the actual root of the evil, in that case, is the third son who is distorted by love, and his granddaughter who is a fool at heart.
 (Well, let's deal with that later. The problem at hand is...)
 She then turned her head and saw a girl from a branch of the Kizuki family looking down with a sad expression on her face. Kizuki Ayaka, a direct descendant of the Kizuki family in charge of Kinugasa village (衣笠郷).... volunteered to join the strike team.
 "Ayaka, I understand your feelings. But even the Hidden Group, though not as bad as the servants, never know when or where they will be exposed. They must have always been prepared for that. The world we live in is different from theirs. We have to let it go."
 Uemon replies in a tone that could be taken as a kind of admonishment, a consolation, or an excuse. Nevertheless, Uemon is the immediate superior of the person Ayaka is concerned about, and it would not have been impossible to remove this person from this dangerous assignment if she had wanted to...
 "To say that I must let them go... such a thing..."
 Ayaka's voice trembled with a tone of deep sadness. Although she makes her feel sympathy for her, even Kochou has no choice but to reject the proposal of the girl from the branch family.
 But Kochou knows. A human being never holds something so big in his own hand. They are creatures that always keep losing a lot of things in their lives. That's why she has to make a cool-headed choice to take and discard, and if she tries to protect all, if she tries to save all, she will end up losing everything and even herself.
 Yes, just like the man she remembers from long ago, and just like the boy who looks like him and even acts like him... this is why Kochou can't take Ayaka's side.
 Because for her right now, he, that boy, is her first priority. She has to put him first. She has to protect him.
 ....This time, she can't lose what she loves.
 "...You must be tired. Now go to sleep. I don't want you to miss work tomorrow."
 Kochou ordered Ayaka to end the conversation. She did not think it would be fruitful to talk any further. And a girl of a branch family cannot resist. No matter how much she wanted to appeal, no matter how much she wished, the impossible was impossible, and the silver-haired girl was not so stupid as not to understand that.
 "...Yes. I will leave the room."
 After standing up and bowing reverently to Kochou and Uemon, Ayaka leaves the room. Her appearance as she exited the tent was helpless, and like a shriveled flower, she lacked her natural vivaciousness and cheerfulness.
 "....She looks so depressed. Uemon, you didn't see this coming, did you? That concubine from Haneyama, if things were going to end like this, you might as well have removed the appointment, wouldn't you?"
 When she was alone with her son, she asked him a question.
 The concubine of the Haneyama, who had been taken down by her cousin from the Kinugasa branch of the family... Although there are barriers now because of the difference in talent, birth, and position, she remembers that they had been very close when they were little. Kochou had seen them playing spinning tops and Hagoita (羽子板) in the garden of the residence at the family's New Year's gatherings.
 In a sense, it was also a protection for the remaining concubine child to be taken in as a member of the hidden family after the Haneyama branch of the family was destroyed by the incident at the mansion, which had something to do with the fact that the child had fallen into a servant's hands. Unlike the direct descendants, the concubines' mothers were concubines, which meant that they inherited less spiritual power and talent, so they only had to suffer that much. And then...
 "Mother... but I protected the kid, okay? I advised against this assignment. It was the kid's decision, and I cannot be held responsible for it."
 Uemon contradicts his mother's words. Yes, this mission was so dangerous that he had asked the young boy from his hidden group to decline before he gave the mission. But it was the boy who declined the offer and went to the mission. From Uemon's point of view, his mother's words seemed to be an unjust accusation.
 "Well. I wonder if I misjudged him. I don't think he is such a greedy boy..."
 And the mother was not so stubborn as to deny her son's words out of hand. She put a smoking pipe in her mouth and inhaled the smoke. As she exhales a white breath, her head grows dull with age, and she mumbles and thinks about the boy. Now, what in the world drove that concubine?
 "If there are no sightings from the scouting Shikigami, either hidden well, or joining them.."
 Kochou is not without feelings for the missing hidden group's boy. She has some resentment, some coiled feelings. But she also had sympathy for him.
 (He was not a very good boy in the way he behaved himself...)
 He is a good person. However, it was also true that the quality was bad because of that. Especially that case was a kind of unfortunate accident, but from Kochou's point of view, it is not easy to separate the two. The same is probably true for the granddaughter above.
 "....Mother, you don't have to spend too much time on trivial matters. Tomorrow we will begin to defeat the kappa. Mother's art will be one of the mainstays of this attack, so I suggest mother get some rest to prepare for it."
 Uemon declared to Kochou, who was wondering about the whereabouts of the missing kid, half out of a desire to end the conversation, and half out of pure concern for his immediate family.
 Yes, the fate of a single member of the hidden group is now a trivial matter. Tomorrow they would have a big job to do. And one of the key players is the youth-looking old exorcist before him. Considering the amount of strength she would have to use, she should not have wasted her energy on such a trivial matter.
 "Oh my, it's terrible to treat people like old people. You can't treat a woman like an old person, can you?"
 "Hehehe. I know. I understand that I need to take care of myself soon. And you're right. I'm sure I'll use up a lot of energy tomorrow, so I'd better go to bed early."
 With a thunk, she drops the residue from her smoking pipe into the ashtray.
 "You may call me a child, but I still don't like the smell of tobacco."
 "Hehehe, it's one of the few pleasures of old age. You'll have to put up with it."
 Uemon looks mortified, but Kochou stands up and declares calmly. Then she leaves the tent, dragging her gorgeous kimono. In an age when the harmful effects of smoking were not well known, few people, especially men, were willing to smoke, even if it was only a manner of life. In this sense, Uemon, who had consistently refused even the smell of smoke since his childhood, was in a sense a rare existence.
 "...Good grief, to come to this appointment out of lethargy. Moreover, to show up at a meeting like this, I wonder what she is thinking as usual."
 Uemon takes a glance at the advocate's back as he leaves the room, and, knowing the person he is talking to very well, he makes a small remark as if he wonders about the action of the advocate. Then, noticing the smell of smoke that tickled his nostrils, he frowned a little...
* * *
 "Well, well, well... it looks like another group of visitors, huh?"
 Under the darkening sky, a shadowy figure watches the exorcists' camp from the mountains. No, it could not be a person. The evil and unholy power that clung to its body... youkai energy, proved that the figure stood outside of human reason.
 From behind the figure, they appeared. There is no doubt that those who are standing behind the figure, clearly deviating from the human figure, are also monsters to be abhorred.
 One of the youkai standing beside the figure is a tiger-wolf raccoon, an ugly youkai that literally looks like a mixture of a tiger, a wolf, and a raccoon, a monster that has spread a plague and taken away many lives.
 But the one now was not a real culprit. This disease-spreading monster is simply mute and emotionless.
 There is also a huge one-legged owl with the tail of a wolf and its dark eyes narrowed. In the past, it had plagued tens of thousands of people on the continent.
 All have used their horrific powers to torment and take the lives of many, but before the calamity youkai... that reigns over them, they are all but mere youths.
 "I've been following that guy's plan for a while now, but it's over, and I'm running out of patience. ...From what I've heard, the plans have been failing a lot lately, and although I've been obeying, I'm not a slave. It's time I was set free. Huh?"
 In a cynical, mocking tone, the figure, the monster in the guise of the first human being, boasted. Happily, it whispered.
 ...It has existed since long before the time of the Imperial Court, and its authority over the people is a disease. Once worshipped by the faithless people of Fuso, but after the people submitted to the expanding land of Fuso, its faith was lost and it became a monster that only causes misfortune and calamity. It is the infamous "Kumo (Spider)" who, in the time of the Great War, tried to avenge the court by submitting to Kuuban, but was never able to do so.
 However, the spider endured. It has endured and endured for the sake of vengeance. Until today. People think that spiders wait patiently until their prey is trapped, but spiders are temperamental, ferocious, and rabid by nature.
 Therefore, the spider starts to move. Even though it understands that this is foolish behavior. Even though it knows that the only thing that will come out of it is destruction. The spider moves. To make the last flower of revenge bloom against the humans. That's why it has turned this whole area into a den of kappa. Thanks to them, the humans' preparations were heavily weighted toward kappa countermeasures.
 "Well, let's get going. We've invited them in. Make sure you prepare your hospitality carefully and perfectly. It would be disrespectful to our guests if we're lacking."
 Despite the words of the monster, the monster looks at their enemy with a cold, ruthless, and infinitely malicious and hostile gaze, then turns around and returns to the forest with their minions.
 To make a grand gesture to the humans who were trying to defeat them...

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