Tuesday, January 31, 2023 @

Chapter 50, Part 1

 In a hazy memory, a gray memory, a girl was dancing. She danced in the Keiko-jou (training hall) of the mansion, fan in hand, wearing a white outfit and an eboshi hat, perhaps an imitation of a shirabayashi (a traditional Japanese dance form), and moving her feet, singing and dancing as if she were chirping.
 That's right, she is a dancer. In the past, it had a strong meaning as a ritual to seal, purify, or subdue the gods, youkai, or evil spirits. In particular, the dance performed here is one of the seven most influential of the 108 schools recognized by the Imperial Court.
 The origin of her dance was a ritual developed by the priestesses of temples and shrines in northern regions to appease and seal off local deities...
 The way she dances softly, gracefully, and fluently, but somewhat poorly, suggests that she is not a natural talent in the arts, but that she must have practiced hard over and over again.
 Yes. She practiced secretly but desperately. Not for anyone, but just for one person to watch her dance...
 Now she stops her formal dance with a final bow and walks over to him who was watching her dance while leaning against a pillar in a corner of the rehearsal hall.
 "Hey, hey. How was that?"
 "Hmm? Ah... that dance. Was it taught by the dancer who came last time?"
 "Yes! Secretly. How was it? Was it good enough for you?"
 Enrei-ji Temple, which has a long history in the Northern region, is a temple and shrine belonging to the Renge-sect (憐華宗). The sect's characteristic features of solemnity and splendor also led to the protection of the arts, and thus the temple became the patron of many famous artists, and there are many followers and related people.
 In particular, the Renge style of Fusō-kuni dance, which bears the name of its own sect, was especially well protected and promoted due to its practicality in terms of ceremonial significance. In the process of expanding its territory in the northern lands, which were relatively late to be incorporated into the Fusō-kuni, many old deities were disgraced or sealed in the furnace of the spiritual veins, and there is a high demand for people who can engage in ceremonial dance to manage and reinforce the seals.
 Now, a renowned dancer, who visited the mansion the other day to practice dance for her sister who was married recently, was also a child of such a temple and a master of the Renge style. Probably, her father had asked the priest to introduce her to a dancer for her sister's training as a part of the donation he had made to the temple. And apparently, the girl secretly asked such a guest for practice and received instruction from her in secret. The result was surprisingly good.
 "Don't get carried away, you brat. ......I'm sorry, but I don't know anything about that. I can't answer if it's good or bad."
 "I know you can't. I'm just asking if you thought the dance was cute?"
 The servant laughs and the girl replies with a slightly sullen expression, partly because she has been treated like a child. The conversation was too casual to be that of a master and servant. It was more like a brother-sister relationship, or a friend of a different age.
 Even in a small family, not only the exorcists but also other famous local families, the relationship between the superior and the subordinate is always close. However, even with that, the distance between the two is so close that it could be called bizarre...
 "...Mmm, ahh... Well, it was certainly a cute dance. I was surprised that a mischievous girl like you could dance so gracefully."
 The young man, who had been forced to take care of the girl before him for years as his personal servant and chore, understood what she expected him to say. So he smiles and praises his lord in a casual tone of voice. His tone of voice could have been considered rude, but...
 "Really? Heh-heh, I'm glad!"
 However, the girl's young beauty was delighted at the expected praise. Her smile was pure and innocent, as befits her age, carefree, and open. It was a compliment in itself, but more than anything she was happy that the other young man was happy.
 ....And as far as she could remember, only he and her late mother had ever treated her with such affection.
 "But it is time to end this now. It's late, you've worked up a sweat. Go take a bath."
 This is what the young man came to this training hall to tell her. As a member of the Kizuki clan, the girl was required to attend a memorial service tomorrow. Therefore, she had to go to bed early and finish her bath and dinner earlier than usual.
 For this reason, the young man was searching around for the girl. But when he saw her practicing her dance at the training hall... he was momentarily taken aback. Yet, when he looked at her carefully, he was fascinated for a while because she was much more splendid than he had expected.
 However, it is time for her to fulfill her role. Especially since she seemed to be sweating a lot during the dance, she must have taken a bath before someone from Kizuki's family saw her. To move so much that one sweat is not necessarily admirable for a girl, let alone a boy, in a family as distinguished as Kizuki's.
 "Okay. ...Uh, do you want to join me anyway?"
 "You better pull it out, you brat."
 The girl who half-jokingly seduced him to act like a grown-up was met with a spanking from her servant. It was a very gentle and gentle spanking that didn't even leave a mark... although the recipient was so surprised by the suddenness that she fell on her butt.
 "Uuu... it hurts! You're being disrespectful to a lady!"
 "Who's a lady, you little brat? You should've said that when you were older. I'm not interested in the chopping board."
 "Like that little maid, you were hitting on the other day?"
 "Hey, you! You've been following me again with that shikigami...?"
 The girl knew him from the shikigami attached to him. Every so often the maid of the house chatted amiably with the servant who followed her. She remembered that although she did not appear to be of high stature she wore something quite splendid for someone of her stature. Though she didn't say what it was.
 "It's okay. I'm a little girl anyway! Why don't you just wander around and play with girls wherever you go!"
 The girl's cheeks puffed out and she glared at the young man reproachfully. If anything, she was a little teary-eyed. The young man knew that if he made a mistake in this situation, the girl would sulk for a long time. And there were two main ways to respond. Either he would take the initiative and agitate the situation, or he would naturally divert the topic of conversation. But this time is different. Because he is being followed by her.
 "Hey, hey, don't cry. If your family saw me like this, I'd be beheaded."
 "Would they do that to me?"
 "They'd at least treat you like a member of the family. They'll punish me for the sake of face."
 The young man answers with a cowering shoulder. But the girl says, "...them," with hatred in her voice, not realizing, at least at this moment, that she was looking at him with a slight sadness in her eyes.
 "Huff, so you will be serrated instead of beheaded, I suppose. I'm sure they won't let you die easily by beheading you for the sake of face."
 "Haha, that's not funny...!"
 Beheading a criminal is usually done with a sword of poor sharpness, and unless it's an expert, he can't be beheaded with a single blow, so he'll suffer unexpectedly. It's horrible to imagine.
 And the girl understood that her blood family would not compromise for the sake of the family name and face. So she knew very well and well in her childhood that the punishment would be made to look as cruel as possible. Unlike the young man in front of her whom she adored, the girl had no sweet illusion of family. Or, more precisely, her real family.
 "Wait, wait, don't twist your navel... I'm sorry, princess. Come on, give me your hand. I'll show you the way to the baths."
 The diversion failed. It's no laughing matter to be sawed off after being accused of a crime. So, the young man changes his strategy to a twist and offers his hand to his lord in sincere apology. With a bow of the head. Seeing such a pathetic servant, the girl asks.
 "To the inside?"
 "Up to the front door, of course."
 "Mm... Okay."
 The girl tried to tell him in the confusion, but he refused her and didn't seem to be puzzled. It was a quick answer. The girl, feeling a little uneasy about the young man's attitude, finally grabs his hand. She did not really hate him, and in fact, she did not really think of informing him of her disrespect.
 "Okay, then. Will you lead the way?"
 The girl laughs as she holds his hand and pulls him strongly into her arms. The young man cowered at her. Even from below the mask, she could see his dismay. The girl was even more brokenhearted when she saw the young man's attitude.
 For the girl, these were her happiest days. A time when she had no worries, no barriers, and could just be honest and pure with herself. The luxury of not knowing that there is nothing to fix, nothing to worry about being betrayed, just having someone important by her side, but not knowing that it is more precious than anything else. And a girl as young and sweet in thought as sugar candy, believing that these days will last forever...
 "...another very old dream, huh?"
 Inside the tent, the woman who had been lying on the tatami mats, breathing heavily, slowly opened her eyelids and muttered quietly. The words were spun in a small voice, as if she was sighing, regretting her last words, or mourning...
 "Advisor-dono, please get ready..."
 "...Yes, yes. Is it almost dawn? Then it's time to go to work. Can I have a cup of tea or something to cheer me up?"
 A voice came from behind the tent. It was a messenger. The elderly exorcist responded slowly and then asked for a cup of tea. The messenger complies and leaves.
 "...Regret because you will regret it later. I wonder if those girls don't know that yet."
 Kochou thinks. She feels pity for her granddaughters who have become too much like her in a bad way, and she thinks of them with disgust. Even though she doesn't hate them, she can't help but be reminded of her old self, and that alone makes her feel alienated and hateful. And this makes her even more aware of the fact that she has become a dirty adult, and that's why she misses, loves, and wants to protect that young man, who is in every sense the exact replica of him.
 "...Hehe, it's still funny, isn't it? Of all the memories of those days."
 Kochou feels a certain irony in remembering the scene when she was being watched by that person, of all people, at this moment. At the same time, she feels a certain resistance to showing her dancing to the boy who is going to participate in the raid.
 "I didn't want to show it to him if I could have, you know..."
 Yes, she didn't want to show it if she could not. To that boy who was like a replica of him.
 After all, this dance was not something that she had tried so hard to dress up to charm the one she loved. Rather, it's a dance that will be horribly, hideously, horribly dreadful...
* * *
 Kappa is a relatively intelligent being among the youkai and a monster who can even communicate with his fellow beings at a distance by telekinesis.
 It is also because of their wisdom that they chose that time of the morning for their attack. All creatures, not only human beings, need sleep, and human beings are creatures that sleep at night. Therefore, they understood that people would be on high alert at night in case of an attack. Moreover, they would be most on their guard just before daylight.
 So, having good night vision, the kappa kept their distance from the shikigami and Naruko (sound trap) and surrounded the camp by taking advantage of the shadows of the night and hiding in the woods and clumps of trees. They numbered about 10,000, some of them planning to approach the area through the river. They even prepared a group that would deploy in a conspicuous place to divert the enemy's attention.
 Now, little by little, the kappa advance through the forest without making a sound. From a distance, the kappa can see the position of the reverse bushes and fences... but the kappa's arm strength is so strong that it can even bend an iron bar. It will take time, but it is not impossible to break through a position of that size.
 As for the humans who are standing guard, they are obviously sleepy from the way they behave. This is to be expected. The kappas planned to swallow them all at once before humans were alert.
 Then, the kappas prepared for the assault at once. Taking the first step of the assault.
 But, the next moment, they catch sight of a butterfly fluttering in front of them. And it is a dance that brings "death" to these monsters...
* * *
 "This is.... again."
 As it was happening, all I could do was mutter to myself. The scene before my eyes was that shocking.
 It was the dance of a butterfly. Such a bewitching, eerie, yet brilliant dance of butterflies... but it was a "death" sentence that literally brought into this soil.
 The "Kokushi-cho ((告死蝶)"... used by Kizuki Kochou in the game "Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru)" and its derivative media, is a technique called a map attack (AoE), and it was a vicious "technique".
 Yes, it is a "technique". Even though it was nothing more than a shikigami. Not in the traditional way, but in a simplified way using fuda (paper). Anyone with a shikigami can use it if they want to. Even I can operate two or three at a time if I don't worry about the details.
 But the scale. Yes, the problem is the scale.
 Jumping 14,000 times to reach 437 (一四万と跳んで四三七)... something like that... and that is the total number of the jet-black butterflies that Kizuki Kochou is operating in front of me right now.
 Even if the number of butterflies is somewhat approximate, even if the opponent is a simplified form without thought or ego, and even if the spiritual power required for each butterfly is negligible, operating this many shikigami simultaneously is a feat to be marveled at and marveled at.
 The true horror, however, would be the "death" brought by these shikigami. It is a death that is too vivid and ruthless.
 That "death" that befell the kappa, whose spirits were ineffective, was poison. Kind of chemical weapons...
 Chlorine gas was effective in crippling their respiratory organs and severely damaging their epidermis. Kappa is amphibious, and their bodies are made of mucous membranes. Thus, the effect was enormous. Too great.
 For the raw materials of chlorine gas, they prepared in advance, and carefully transported them in a large number of wagons, which were set in place by the Rikyushu-shu (Researcher group) in protective clothing, along with numerous shikigami. At the same time, the Shikigami who were activated were covered with the poison generated by the chemical reaction caused by the compounding process.
 Thus, the rest is easy. Shikigami soaked in the poison fly around as if covering the county and the sky. Then, "death" in the form of a butterfly attacked the group of kappa that had been scouted and discovered by the shikigami for reconnaissance in advance.
 The kappa, perhaps caught off guard by the ineffectiveness of their own spiritual power, were almost unilaterally slaughtered. By the way, when the chlorine scales scattered by the butterflies drifted around them, the monsters foamed from their mouths and sprawled on the ground, their whole bodies flaming until they died in agony. For those that were ineffective, the shikigami would more directly poison the creature from the inside by entering its mouth by the dozens or hundreds.
 Thus, more than 90% of the 10,000 or so kappa in Nomoto county died in less than a moment.
 "Haha, showing no mercy even though it's called a fantasy after all these years..."
 I mutter a small cold laugh. Or is that a comment on the creators of this work, or on the karma of people living in this world?
 Although it is called a Japanese-style fantasy, poison gas, a modern forbidden weapon, was in fact used during the period of the Great War, and chlorine gas was still a cute little thing. Poisonous gas refined by spiritual art, which is a kind of curse, has even more disastrous effects, and the reason why it was not used was simply because it was incompatible with kappa.
 In the first place, the Imperial Court during the period of the Great War used even more inhumane means than poison gas, and they were still less precise than those developed and operated by the now-deceased Western Empire and the Mainland Dynasty. On the contrary, some of the poison gas used by the Imperial Court was manufactured by the collapsed empires of the two countries... or so the creators say in their backstory.
 "At any rate, it's decided now..."
 I muttered to myself as I took one look at Kizuki's Advisor-sama, who was working with a huge number of shikigami with a fan in her hand, dancing as if she were a dancer.
 " People! The kappas are all dead! Start clearing out the rest of the enemies! You'll get one silver for every one of them, and don't let them escape...!"
 An old exorcist from the Miyataka family, one of the most famous exorcist families in the northern region along with Kizuki and Hisaki, shouts. It was directed mainly at the defective/stray exorcists who had been hired to make up the numbers.
 "All right, let's go! Haha, this is a good opportunity. We've got to make a lot of money...!"
 With these words, the hired exorcists and their men start to exterminate the remaining kappa.
 "They're in good shape, aren't they? Yesterday they were grumbling all the time."
 Travel expenses and meals to the site were paid, the reward was double the market price, and there were additional rewards and offers of employment depending on the success... The stray exorcists who gathered under the exceptionally generous conditions were not a few of those who complained and tried to break the contract as soon as they arrived at the site and found that the enemy was a kappa... They were first blindsided by the tremendous work of the advisor of Kizuki and then seemed to be awakened to the will to work again by the changed situation and the prize money. So, isolated or scattered in small groups, the kappa were slaughtered one after another.
 Kappa has no means of flight, and their individual fighting abilities are not outstanding, so once their numbers and stealth are taken away, they are not so terrible, even if the danger of infection cannot be eliminated. As long as people can get them into a one-on-one fight, they can handle it as long as they have their physical abilities strengthened by spiritual power.
 "However... if this is the case, I don't think we should have hired the "exorcists" at all."
 There are many kinds of exorcists, but more than half of them are not exorcists at all. Of course. Those who become defective/stray are those who are born outside of a legitimate exorcist family, and most of them, like me, are sold to the exorcists' families, to temples and shrines, or to feudal lords and families.
 That is unless they were disowned or left their own exorcist family, most of the defected/stray exorcists were town people or farmers, or they were able to escape after they were sold to the above-mentioned people... whatever the case may be, they abandoned their hometown or the community they belonged to and still got involved in the rough business.
 It is therefore not surprising that the majority of them are uneducated and have bad behavior. Some of them are like bandits who reach out for the forbidden arts, sell poor-quality curse tools taking advantage of their poor spiritual power, or sell escort services under the guise of being a bouncer and attack their clients when they are refused or when the reward is too small. Because of this, those who have the same spiritual power are not only deprived of their jobs, even if only partially, but also suffer from reputational damage, which makes the impression of the legitimate exorcists on them not good at all.
 In addition, many of them are proud of being exorcists. In such a situation, when hiring such a large number of stray/defective exorcists, who are not absolutely necessary, with such generous treatment, it is natural to think about the background...

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