Thursday, February 2, 2023 @

Chapter 51, Part 3

 The young boy's voice is inarticulate. It was because he had been able to predict what was going to happen from the atmosphere of the place. Yes, that peculiar sticky air he feels when that horrifying time comes...
 "Hahaha, it seems you don't want to talk because you're afraid of my face..."
 "Kekeke, let's do something friendly to make you less scary."
 "That outfit, isn't it childish? Those Kizuki are very fond of their clothes. They give their servants very expensive toys. Seriously, I envy their extravagance!"
 The men are smiling. Unlike the men at the temple, these men were bare, like beasts themselves, and Shirowakamaru was terrified of them.
 Why? For what reason? The boy is puzzled with fear. The Kizuki family is a prestigious one, which even the boy, who had been away from the world for a long time, could somehow understand. He also understood what it meant to touch a member of that family. But why were these men...?
 "Are you kidding... Eek!?"
 The boy's attempt to leap at his attacker is blocked by a sword pointed at his neck. The blade of the sword glows mysteriously in the dimly lit forest.
 "What a nagging little brat ain't you? Think about your place. You want to live a long time, don't ya?"
 The well-dressed leader of the group with a beard and an eye patch spits out.
 "Really cheeky little brats, isn't he? He grew up under a protected environment."
 "No, no, no, he's been spoiled since he was bought, hasn't he? Even Yun-shoku took good care of him."
 "Hahaha. So he's in good shape?"
 The stray/defective exorcists laugh at him as they like. On the other hand, Shirowakamaru stared at the men with teary eyes in shame and humiliation. But at the same time, he was confused for a moment. Wait, who was he angry with...?
 However, he did not have time to think about it, though. After all, the next moment, the leader man reached out his hand and grabbed Shirowakamaru by the neck of his clothes.
 "Huh!? No, stop..."
 "Shut up!"
 Shirowakamaru desperately tries to stop his clothes from being ripped off, but the next moment he is slapped hard on the cheek and screams in distress.
 He had been used roughly at temples and shrines, but he had never been hit by a fist. The custodian with the hannya mask on his face is another example. The boy's fear and shock were therefore even greater. With frightened eyes, the boy looked up at the thugs.
 "Don't resist, you brat!"
 "You've got such white skin. Your arms are slender too. You look like a real woman."
 "Idiot. He's a child. But he's been trained as a woman by a stinking monk who even drugged him."
 "Hahaha! He can eat a lot of food just by giving up his ass! That's a luxury. Huh?"
 The stray exorcists laugh in mockery at Shirowakamaru's figure and attitude, which could be mistaken for a girl. Those who have escaped from the rule of the exorcists, those who have been exterminating youkai in self-defense while working as mercenaries or bandits, those who have escaped from the peasants who are not allowed to eat... those who have struggled to live even for a day, trampling others, always living on mud and water... for them, just dealing with this young "monk" alone is worth it. After all, for them, Shirowakamaru, who had been guaranteed food, clothing, and shelter only by playing with the monks, looked happy, soft, and spoiled, like a frog in a well.
 However, it is not a simple comparison, because the boy's life has been full of suffering and despair, and he has been exploited... But anyway, what is important for them is not the truth. They don't even care about it. They don't care about it. For them, it's just a pretext to toy with a boy.
 No matter what kind of life Shirowakamaru leads, he is nothing but prey to them. They are the eater, and the boy is the prey.
 "No... Don't... Aahh... No...!!"
 Probably not bathed or bathed for days, they reek of male body odor but their thick arms reach out to touch the boy's pale skin. The boy screams with tears in his eyes as his clothes are taken off one after another in a messy manner.
 But at the same time, the boy understands from his life experience that it means nothing. No help, no prayers. There is no mercy, the powerless are taken away by the powerful, and even then the boy is forced to flirt in memory of his shame and humiliation. ...So, as he is made to understand this, he has no choice but to accept his fate in despair...
 "What are you doing...!!"
 That's why.... at this moment when he saw a man with a spear in his hand and a hannya mask in his eyes, he thought... He wanted to cling to someone. To be saved by someone.
 To depend on someone...
* * *
 On second thought, it was a matter that should have been taken into consideration.
 Shirowakamaru is still a child, and since he was raised in a temple for most of his life, his circumstances are pure and cultured compared to his mundane life.
 Yes, the circumstances may be too hard, too terrible compared to his past life.... but still, it is a world full of so much suffering that it can be described as blessed just to have food, clothing, and shelter in this world.
 And when I saw two bowls filled with the contents of the bowls falling right outside of the tent, I knew who it was. He was a hostile, threatening, and fastidious brat like an abandoned cat, but there was a reason for it, and he was not an evil person at heart. He is at least considerate enough to come to visit me.
 Therefore, it was not difficult to imagine what would happen to such a brat if he heard the conversation in the tent, considering the original story. And then...
 "I was right to move even if I had to..."
 I came to my senses and told the white fox, who was fainting in agony over what we had just done, orders to mobilize my underlings, and I moved first. Then, I got a report from a merchant woman who was in the army about a group of men kidnapping a boy in the camp.
 I knew that in the game, that kid was a character who was often kidnapped and killed when he was out of sight. Well, it's not surprising since he was "improved" with various medicines in the temple to have a body like a woman. Like the main character... But still, why do the creators of this game want to gang-rape a short boy so many times?
 Well, anyway...
 "What kind of a stupid idea is this, you people? That's a guest in my custody. If you don't want to be punished, hand him over now."
 Through a mask, I give the order with an air of swagger and high-handedness. There is no good in taking advantage of these people. Instead, I had to make my position known by my attitude. But...
 "I don't think they'll back down after all this..."
 I muttered to myself as I looked at the men holding spears and swords. It's not that I didn't see it coming. These men are short-sighted and proud for nothing. Besides, we're in the middle of killing kappa. They probably think that if they cut me down and run away, no one will come after them immediately. Even if it were the Kizuki family, it is less likely to offend them by killing a servant Yun-shoku than by slaying a member of the family.
 "...Are ye out of yer mind? Are ye drunk?"
 "You're drunk too, ain't ya, Boss Yun-shoku?"
 "Hahaha, do ya think ya can beat this crowd?"
 "Kizuki's servant has a very big attitude. Do ya like his body so much, huh?"
 These words were probably filled with provocations and threats. They were either trying to psychologically pressure me into making a move, or they were waiting for me to get angry and launch a swift attack...
 "This is foolish. If there was a shortage of women, wouldn't there be prostitutes in the army? You are not going to attack Kizuki's people... and get fired, are you?"
 Yes, it is a foolish act that might get them beheaded together if they are not careful. I don't think these guys, even if they are thugs, are incapable of risk management. ...Or do they still hold a grudge about this morning's incident against us that long?
 "Really? Is it that weird?"
 The leader opened his mouth as if he had noticed my suspicion. Such eyes are staring at me as if he is trying to gauge my value.
 "Well, it's just a hunch based on years of experience. I just have a bad feeling that a family like the Miyataka's is so prosperous. We're going to get out of here."
 (A bad feeling? No, it's more than that...)
 I look doubtful under my mask at the leader's words, but I immediately use this time to lead the shikigami that I have deployed in advance to the designated position. While I was doing this, the leader continued the conversation.
 "So I thought we'd make the brat a treat along the way... Well, never mind. I didn't touch the kappa's belongings. Shall I take your belongings instead? Yun-shoku's equipment would be worth a lot of money, wouldn't it?"
 With these words, the men draw their weapons. They looked like bandits attacking travelers.
 'The two lightly-armed men in the rear retreat back. They seem to be planning to go around the forest and attack the rear. I think that the long speech was a diversion to distract your attention.'
 (I see, they are still thinking even though they are uneducated.)
 They may be corrupt, but they are still specialists in the rough-and-tumble. They seem to have built up their own know-how in this area through actual battle. If so...!
 "Now we're even..!!"
 "Huh!? Oh, no! It's on the tree!"
 The leader noticed it first.
 I had deployed my shikigami in advance and led them behind them while I was holding them back... At the sound of the leader's shout, his men leaped from the treetops, cutting down with the paralyzing poison-soaked fangs of the rats-soaked swords and spears. But that was the way it was supposed to go.
 The shikigami that had been cut to pieces blew out a large plume of white smoke just before they turned back into pieces of paper. The shikigami themselves had been equipped with the function of smoke balls.
 "Ggh...? Watch out! It's coming!!"
 Amid the smoke surrounding them, however, the shouts of the leader caused the men to quickly form up. The fact that they could barely make out each other's figures and were spaced at a perfect distance from each other without being hit by their own weapons while supporting each other indicated that their coordination was not bad at all and that they were reasonably experienced in combat.
 "He's coming...!!"
 One of the men immediately cuts off a shadow that appears from behind the smoke screen. Knowing that there was no way his allies could get around him so quickly, he swung his sword without hesitation.
 "It's not!?"
 The shadow he sliced through was nothing more than a shikigami. At the same time, several more figures appear from behind the white smoke.
 "Tsk, you're so clever...!"
 There was no choice but to cut them down. After all, they could not know which one was the real me, and even if they thought it was a fake, there might be a real one mixed with a double deception to make it look like a shikigami. Even if they understand that it is a diversion and a decoy, they cannot ignore it. And in such a case, the real target is usually...
 The leader in the rear turns around as if sensing what is going on, or perhaps he has a sixth sense as keen as a beast, and swipes behind him with his sword. At the same time, the sound of metal clashing and bouncing against metal was heard.
 "...!? You have good intuition!! But...!!"
 My spear strike from behind is blocked by the leader, who is fooled by the decoys in front of him and the smoke. However, even this was something I had already prepared for. I had no intention of spending effort on such a foolish thing since I was outnumbered. I was also almost certainly inferior in terms of experience in combat against humans, let alone against youkai, and above all, I had no authority to kill these guys.
 I forcefully pull the arm of the half-naked boy who was sitting at the foot of the first head into my arms and hold him close to me, parrying the sword blows with the hilt of my spear. At the same time, I disappear from their sight.
 "H... Hey, what's going on!? What do you mean, they just disappeared from right in front of me!!?"
 The cronies of the leader are wide-eyed in astonishment as they see the scene in the clearing field of vision. They look around frantically, but cannot see us.
 ...No, in fact, we were right in front of them.
 "Wha... Mmm!?"
 "Shh, be quiet for a minute."
 I was standing literally right in front of the crack tree and I covered Shirowakamaru's mouth and whispered in his ear as he was about to speak. Around my neck was a... jewel.
 It was a jade for hiding a blind spot against people, which belonged to a faction in Kurayoshi during the Tachibana family's riot in the capital some time ago. It is said that Matsushige's granddaughters recovered some of them right after the riot. The one I have now is one of them.
 Unfortunately, they are only effective to hide in the blind spot of sight, and cannot disguise voices and smells.
 (So the best we can do here is to hide our breath until they leave the place...)
 I wish these guys would leave quickly while holding Shirowakamaru, whose body is shaking slightly, probably because the guy is covering his mouth and holding him close to me. Considering this brat's background, how can he maintain this state?
 "That's it!!"
 The next moment, the leader swings his sword wildly at our hiding place. I move Shirowakamaru behind me in a panic... and my mouth twists into a smile at the pain of a light slash to my arm.
 "As I thought..!! The grass is strangely crushed, you clever servant!! Are you there!?"
 The leader says, glancing at the bloodstains on his sword. I should say that I haven't lived to this age. He seems to have noticed the trick, though vaguely.
 "I don't know if it's some kind of magic trick or what, but it's a clever one. But if we know the trick, it's all ours. They're around here somewhere. Surround them!"
 The leader commands with a lecherous grin. Immediately his men begin to slowly surround the area where we are supposed to be, swinging spears and swords haphazardly. As I thought, their movements are not bad. No, on the contrary, they're very familiar with the situation. And I'm talking about combat, too.
 'If things go badly, I may have more experience with humans than with youkai.'
 The Shikigami Bee is saying so in my ear. She talks so carefreely. Even though we are in a tight corner...
 'Now, I understand. The point is to stall until the servants whom the half-youkai called for come. If worse comes to worst, I will help at least a little. Besides... you still have a hand to play, don't you?'
 Her tone is calm but probing. This granddaughter can't be too careful. She reads my thoughts. Certainly, she is still preparing to harass me...!!!?
 'Hey... What are you...!!?'
 Ignoring the words in my ear, the next moment I deactivate the matagama and expose myself.
 "Whoa...!? You're here again!?"
 "Hey, hey, what's wrong? Are ya begging for your life, huh?"
 The men are stunned and upset by my sudden reappearance, and the leader questions them with a sword slung over his shoulder as if he is trying to make a point. He smiles a blatantly nasty smile... but it doesn't matter. It was too trivial a matter to be of any importance here.
 "...Run away!"
 "Oh? What are you talking about? Are you kidding me, huh?"
 In response to my warning, the leader tilts his head and says he doesn't know what I'm talking about from the bottom of his heart. His men also scoffed and sneered at my comment.
 "No! Look behind you! Quickly...!!!"
 But I scream. Desperately. I'm pressing, pleading. The boy in my arms stares at me in fear, his mouth trembling as he does the same. It's so obviously bizarre... they take a step back as if bewildered by the sight. And then...
 "What the hell are you...? What did you...!!?"
 At the next moment, the leader finally recognized the presence and turned around with expressions of astonishment.
 It was only a moment later that a swarm of countless kappa appeared from the forest and jumped on them...

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