Tuesday, January 31, 2023 @

Chapter 50, Part 2

 "Well, there's no point in thinking about it. ...Okay, let's go as we planned. Don't be hasty. Let the hired men do the risky part. For us, surround them and kill them."
 We servants are already short of men and few of us are good enough yet. So, I'll make sure that my men are given strict orders to engage in sweeping operations while maintaining a safety margin. Although the presence of the stray exorcist bothers me, it is convenient for us at this time. We will use them to the best of our ability.
 "Can you retrieve the specimens?"
 "We will do our best. But please forgive me if we can't promise you that."
 Next, I answered the questions of a few researchers dispatched by the Imperial Court's scientific research team, who were dressed in black death uniforms, in a matter-of-fact manner. Their purpose was to evaluate the performance of the chemical gas and to collect kappa specimens.
 But then, I look away, ignoring the slightly disgruntled Researcher. And just as the men in the vanguard start to advance, I call out the name of the boy who needs the most attention here.
 "Hmm!? Wh-what is it...!?"
 The boy, who had been in a state of shock after the butterfly dance and the massacre earlier, comes to his senses at the sound of my voice and puts on an anxious look on his face. Hey, hey, don't look so grumpy... I thought so when I check his appearance again with a wry smile.
 He was dressed in the same white outfit as the fox girl, but altered for ease of movement. On his back, he carries baggage enough to be carried, and at his waist, he wears a side grip, but as far as I know, he has not learned any martial arts, so it is nothing more than mere intimidation. In fact, when push comes to shove, I tell him to abandon both of these items and run away.
 "We are going forward from now on. We have allies around us, but we don't know where the kappa lurks. Stay alert. If you feel anything strange, let me know."
 I would have preferred to have him stay in a safe tent... but we are short on manpower and I wanted him to carry the baggage, and I wanted him to be exposed to the air of exterminating youkai here for the future, so I brought Shirowakamaru with me so that we could take precautions in case of any problems.
 "I-I get it... report anything, right?"
 His tone of voice was tired of this kind of thing since I'd heard him say it so many times, but I noticed that his voice was trembling slightly with nervousness and fear. Of course, growing up in a temple, he may have been through a lot, but at least he had never seen anything that could kill or injure him. And I'm sure he never saw youkai dying from poison gas...
 "......You need to be careful, but you don't need to be afraid any more than you have to be. You're in my care. I won't hurt you."
 "I'm not scared...!! Don't judge me!!"
 "Judge you, huh..."
 "Y-you got a problem with that?"
 Shirowakamaru is sulking at my reaction.
 (Compared to the impression I had when I was playing the game, he is surprisingly emotional...)
 I wonder if it is because the timeline has not yet advanced to the original story, or if some changes have occurred at this point, or if I am simply mistaken, but at this point, it was difficult to answer the question.
 "Anyway... let's go, shall we?"
 I said, and I walked into the forest where the remaining survivors of the kappa were hiding, maintaining a mutually supportive formation and distance from my men around me...
 Suddenly, I felt the presence and stopped to look around. Was this... someone's eyes on me?
 I looked around but stopped there. It's because my eyes met a figure there, on the hill where the camp was built. Or, perhaps, it was precise because I thought so.
 I felt that my gaze met the golden eyes of Kizuki's advisor-sama, a shikigami (a god of ceremony) who was still dancing in a glamorous manner. It seemed impossible, but surely she was staring at me. Even while dancing, the way she looked at me, and the emotions contained in her gaze, were very complex...
 "Hm? Oh, I'm sorry. I've been thinking a bit."
 I was so deep in thought for a moment that I was a moment late for one of my men to report, but calmly, I gave the order as I had previously planned.
 I looked again at the top of the hill before stepping out again. I could no longer feel her eyes on me...
* * *
 Corpses, corpses, a continuous stream of corpses. Piles and piles of dead bodies... The sweeping operation was gloomy from the very beginning.
 "Ugh... it smells awful!"
 The distinctive smell of chlorine, which still lingers, tickles my nostrils and seems to induce physiological nausea, and the boy beside me looks sickened. I thrust my spear one after another into the lumps of flesh that fall to the ground with the boy standing by my side. I do this to see if any of them have pretended to be dead.
 In fact, it is not uncommon for kappa to pretend to be dead since they are very clever. In the spin-off game 'Firefly of the Dark Night (Yamiyo no Hotaru) Gaiden: Human Youkai Survival War', a unique horror action game set in the era of the Great War produced by an overseas game company, it often happened that a kappa, which was thought to be a corpse, attacked the player from behind and killed him immediately.
 "Even so, it's a terrible situation."
 The poisonous gas must have attacked their respiratory organs. All of them had the face of a literal kappa, neither fish nor frog, but with expressions of obvious anguish on their faces. Their whole bodies were burned, and they even reeked of rottenness.
 Some of them were small, and there were even corpses of what seemed to be infants, some of which had parts of faces, limbs, or subtle human parts that were still in the process of transformation. It is not clear whether the children became kappa or whether those who became kappa reproduced and made their own kappa. I hoped it was the latter.
 Although I have no sympathy for youkai, and I understand that it is efficient and effective... but I can imagine that some blue demons would rather be killed in a spectacular manner than be killed so mercilessly and without any compassion. Though I don't support it.
 "Well, the effect of Rokuban (the sixth/六番) is not so great..."
 "It was very effective in indoor experiments. But the effectiveness seems to go down when exposed to the open air."
 "That's true. The ones lying around here seem to be in good condition. We'll sort them out and collect the specimens."
 Whether they knew my feelings or not, the researchers of the Research Division of were discussing while gathering specimens from the piles of corpses. With a small knife (kogatana), they cut up interesting kappa carcasses and twisted them into vials. It was truly an experiment.
 "How can somebody... be so hard working in a place like this?"
 Then it occurs to me. I noticed that the shikigami riding on my shoulder in hiding, who probably has similar sensibilities to the researchers, has been silent for a while now. I wonder what she is thinking now.
 ...But there was no time to think about such a trivial thing. More precisely, I stopped thinking about it in the next instant when I heard the following report.
 "Yun-shoku, we've found the enemy!"
 "All right, check them and weaken them! Don't push too hard...!"
 I shouted as soon as the front squad shouted and I gave them instructions.
 "Search the area, keep your eyes on the perimeter! We're doomed if we get hit by an ambush!"
 With these words, I advance forward and catch a glimpse of the figure just beyond the puddle.
 In a sense, I couldn't help but frown. It was because the other party was so horrifying to me.
 It was more like a fisherman. Its head had no plate. But according to the story, some individuals had plates on their heads and some did not.
 Its whole body was the color of young grass, and it was covered with something like mucus. It had large yellow eyes and a fish-like gill was visible at its throat. I also saw a hand with a water-scraper on it and what looked like a small tail. It looked more like a tadpole than a fish.
 Although that alone would have been creepy, I was used to it. I have seen so many horrible-looking youkai in my life. This is no big deal.
 The problem is... that the individual was halfway there. It's too late for that.
 'Aghh... Ki... Ki... Kikiki!!'
 The kappa wobbles and wanders forward, but the skin color of some parts of its body is that of a human. Its skin was burnt by poisonous gas. Above all, its face still had human ears and a nose stuck to it, and one side of its eye was definitely human. If I took a closer look, I could recognize the face and expression of a kappa when it was human, and yet it was too late to tell that it was clearly a kappa... It was surrounded by servants and was being checked with a spear.
 "Haa~... haa~... hey, don't run so fast! Huh!?"
 The boy who catches up from behind, out of breath, lets out a small scream when he realizes the presence in front of him.
 At the same time, the half-dead kappa sees the boy's figure, and his presence clearly changes. The weak spiritual power of the servants did not seem to be able to move the kappa, but it seemed to be a different story when it was a child with a strong spiritual power like Shirowakamaru's. So, the next moment, the kappa began to run toward the boy, paying no attention to the spears around it.
 "Shoot the bow...!!"
 I said, and immediately some servants behind me fired their bows. But the kappa does not stop running even when arrows pierce its belly and shoulders. The kappa literally runs through the crowd as if it were running into them.
 "Tsk, next arrow.... we can't make it in time!?"
 I see my men rushing to ready their next bows, but I immediately realize that they won't make it in time.
 It was a sudden situation, and there was no way I could make a quick decision with a boy who had never been in a violent situation before. The boy stands there cowering, unable to move, and panics. The kappa opens its fangs and leaps at Shirowakamaru...
 "No hard feelings, but die quickly...!"
 I immediately slammed the hilt of my spear into the kappa's face. The kappa recoiled in pain, and I thrust the spear through its jaw toward its brain.
 The kappa let out a small cry before the sure fatal blow, and fell down with a slap of its hand. Just to be sure, I gave it another thrust to the throat to stop it.
 "That was close..."
 I muttered as I pulled out my spear. Shirowakamaru is a guest in my custody. If he were eaten by a kappa or turned into one of them, I would be responsible. I was the one who brought him here... but I had not expected his reaction=.
 (And there is still a problem with his skill level...)
 Even though it takes more time to learn to use a bow than a sword or a spear... the boy still has a problem with his skill level. It's my fault for mobilizing some of those who are not fully trained yet because we don't have enough manpower.
 "Hey, hey, this is a problem, Yun-shoku. We're taking a valuable individual in the process of transformation... Sh*t. Oh well. I'll get a specimen of this one next."
 The researchers come up behind us through the crowd and begin to swarm around the specimen we've just killed, whispering to each other. I took one look at them and thought to myself.
 "Well done. ...And is that a group of stray/defective ones?"
 I shift my gaze from the researchers to the surroundings and see a group of stray/defected exorcists. To be precise, they seemed to be a mixture of those with spiritual powers and those without, and they were laughing at the weakened kappa and committing mass executions of them. In fact, they even pissed on the corpses.
 "Ugh... they look like bandits!"
 Shirowakamaru's face twisted into a blatant scowl in the face of this vile act. The temple and shrine where he had been taken in were also a little bit different, but it was probably not as vulgar as this. At any rate, they must have tried to mend the situation. However, the essence of the temple and shrine must have been repaired at least. Anyway...
 "Don't make eye contact. You'll end up in trouble."
 I warned Shirowakamaru as I came to his side. However, I am a little late. A man who was already wearing an eye patch, who seemed to be the leader of the group, looked at the boy with a lecherous smile on his face.
 "Hey, hey, since when did this become a temple school? This is not a place for little girls, is it?"
 The leader of the group comes in with a few subordinates, smiling and laughing. Immediately I move forward with the boy behind me. If anything, a few of his men were holding up weapons.
 "You were hired by this raiding party, weren't you? I apologize on behalf of my men."
 I apologize in a casual, obligatory manner. It doesn't matter if I show sincerity. It's just a push for a cause.
 "Blah, blah, blah... We're hired by the Miyataka family. And you're... Kizuki? It seems the young lady over there doesn't like the way we work."
 "I'm a man!"
 Shirowakamaru seemed to react almost reflexively to the mocking tone of the leader. And for a moment, the leaders rolled their eyes, but then they smiled vulgarly as if they knew what he meant.
 "Oh, oh, so that's how it is. Kizuki's family seems to treat you well, huh? We'd like to be invited to their house too."
 "You must appeal directly to the main family. We don't have that authority."
 "Ha! You sound like a government official."
 The leader dismisses the provocation obligingly and spits it out in a displeased tone. If anything, he actually spits phlegm on the ground.
 "What are you doing, you people!?"
 A voice suddenly echoes, and I look over to see a figure coming toward me, bow in hand... It was Kizuki Ayaka, who noticed the commotion and was coming toward me.
 "...are you the owners of these animals? You have a pretty face that looks like you don't know much about hard work. But..."
 The leader falls silent after saying that. He stares at me in silence.
 "Well then. I don't want to interrupt a good time to make some money. Just make a fool out of it."
 The leader of the group looks at me and the angry boy behind me, sniffs, and walks away.
 "...Don't stare at people so much. Don't cause too much trouble."
 I turn around and warn the boy.
 "No but. Think about your surroundings."
 I glare at him and Shirowakamaru falls silent. He was not happy. I understand how he feels... but I can't help but pay attention to him from my point of view. Did he hate me, or what?
 "Well, what do we do now?"
 Then, I thought about what excuses I would make to Kizuki's archer who had come to me.
* * *
 The total number of kappa killed in the cleanup operation that day, excluding those killed by poison gas, was about 800. On the other hand, the loss of the raid team consisted of five exorcists and sixteen servants dispatched from various families. It was fortunate that none of Kizuki's men were killed.
 However, I was soon to learn that this was only the beginning of this hellish expedition that would result in many casualties...

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