Friday, February 3, 2023 @

Chapter 52, Part 1

 It was a sudden event. The countless hordes of kappa that appeared out of the forest, however, were unlikely to exist in the first place since they were almost all dead in this area, and at the same time, it should have been difficult for them to get through the surveillance network of the Shikigami scouting in the vicinity.
 Therefore, it was a surprise for both of us, and we had no choice but to stop thinking when we saw the figure. Of course, there was no time for us to do such a leisurely thing...
 One of the stray exorcists was so shocked that he was surrounded by dozens of kappa and screamed, which brought us all back to our senses.
 "Why are these guys here?!"
 Then, one of the men ran away in fright, and another quickly readied his spear in a panic, in front of the hordes of kappa that sprinted out of the forest... literally dashing at full speed, swinging their arms and legs so wildly that they seemed to be some kind of fools. However, both choices were wrong.
 The kappa caught up with the slender, stray exorcist who had run away at an animal-like sprint and jumped on him from behind with great force. The man screams and flails his body as he is held from behind with both arms and legs, but the next moment he is bitten on the neck.
 The man screams as blood spurts out of his body. As if in response, several kappas leap onto the man and bite him, tearing off his armor as they do so.
 "Hey, stop it!!? D*mn you! What the... Stop... D*mn it!!?"
 The man whose entire body was enveloped by the green body let out an indescribable shriek as soon as he was out of sight. There is nothing more to say about this man.
 "Tsk!? D*mn it! Come here you monster!!"
 A big obese man shouts half in desperation, holding a big spear. Several kappas, who saw it, open their mouths and leap at him while spraying drool.
 He swung his spear at one of them, cutting off its head, then slashed the one behind it diagonally from its side to the opposite shoulder, and pointed his spear at the one that came charging at him from right next to him. These kappas are pierced by the spear through the belly with the force of their own sprint. But...
 'Ki... Kiki!!'
 The kappa keeps moving forward even though the spear pierces its belly. Without minding that the tip of the spear is pierced into its belly, and that the shaft of the spear is engulfed by the spear, causing it to shed greenish bodily fluids, the kappa simply keeps going, waving its hands, claws raised, and tries to attack the man. This unusual persistence frightens the big man.
 "Ugh... Tsk, you b*stard!!"
 The man pushes the kappa away in fear, then swings his spear and slices the kappa in half from the torso to the side.
 "Hahaha!! How is it!!? Suck it up—"
 The man who was about to shout a battle cry of victory is instantly lunged to the ground by the kappa, which has been sliced open from its side to its shoulders and is now overflowing with its guts, jumping on him from the side.
 "Wha!? No way... aghh... hey stop it!? Stop ittt!!?"
 Immediately, the surrounding kappa swarmed in the same way, and the sound of chewing was heard. I saw what looked like a piece of meat splattering amongst the blood spatter.
 A moment later, Shirowakamaru in my arms screamed. Immediately I looked at the boy's feet. A green arm was holding the boy's ankle over his clothes. I look over. There was the kappa who had just separated his upper and lower body with a cry. It was dragging its guts and a lot of blood was dripping from its cross-section, but it was looking up at me as if it didn't care. ...With a cruel and lecherous smile on its face.
 "Die quietly!"
 I grabbed the boy's ankle and crushed the kappa's head with my spear. But at the same time, I turn to face him. Hundreds and thousands of kappa were already fifty paces away.
 "Will they catch up even if escape at this rate...!?"
 Needless to say, I don't need to tell you what happened to the men who turned their backs and tried to escape. So, if I tried to escape like that, however, I would be swallowed up by the overwhelming numbers of the enemy.
 (It's bad! What should I do? How to escape? What should be done...?)
 "What the...!?"
 I immediately understand the meaning of the words whispered in my ear, and I shrink back, shivering, and turn to the boy who is clutching me in his arms.
 "Shirowakamaru, hug my back!"
 "Huh!? Why..."
 "Just do it!"
 "Eek...!? O-okay...!"
 The boy is frightened by my shouted commands, but he puts his hands around my neck and hugs me from behind. As I hug him, he looks at the approaching kappa.
 "What are you going to do!? They're right in front of us...!!"
 "I know! ...just wrap your legs too. There's no help coming! Come on, let's go!"
 I shouted to rouse myself and then poured spiritual power into my limbs. It was to strengthen my muscles. Then I leap and start to climb one of the big trees at once.
 "...!? Okay!!?"
 The nail that I had stuck into the trunk broke, and blood flowed, but it didn't matter now. Knowing what was coming. After all, once we were up in the tree, there was nothing they could do to us. And by the time we reached the middle of the big tree, I saw the ground below was green with dozens of kappa. With a "Kikiki!" they clawed at the trunk of the tree, squealing.
 "Eek... They are coming!! They're... climbing... and not coming...?"
 The kappa runs to the base of the tree, but they do not climb up the tree anymore. Shirowakamaru looks down in bewilderment at the kappas, who are making strange noises as if they were sucking their fingers in frustration.
 "Haa~, haa~... that's because they can't climb up with their webbed hand. And now, I'd like to think we survived somehow...."
 I point out, out of breath. With webbed hands, they can't move their fingers in the right way to climb a tree. Now I shift the boy on my back to one of the branches thick enough to hold onto and look down. The kappa shook the tree in frustration, but it didn't seem to matter much against a reasonably large tree. Finally, I breathe a sigh of relief that I'm safe.
 "Ggh!? D*mn... d*mn it! Don't grab my leg with your filthy hand...!?"
 ...suddenly, a scream echoes nearby.
 "H-hey. That's..."
 Shirowakamaru, who noticed the source first, pointed at it. I turned my eyes in that direction. There he was, the leader of the gang. A bearded, one-eyed man who had climbed up the same big tree as us but was unable to do so, and was grabbed by the legs and pulled down, literally resisting desperately.
 The man suddenly looks up as if he has realized something. ...And our gazes crossed with the man.
 "E-eek...!? P-please, please, help me! Please!!"
 The man who had just cornered us with his men begged. With such desperation.
 "He’s the most selfish man I've ever met."
 "Are you abandoning him?"
 Shirowakamaru asks me what I said as I was staring at the scene in the tree. In response, I reply silently.
 I glance at the boy's face. The boy looks down at the man desperately begging for our help, and his gaze is filled with displeasure, contempt, hostility, and, indeed, a hint of pity. Perhaps he would not be upset if I chose to abandon him here. But...
 "Agh...!? Please...!! No! I don't want to die! I don't wanna die here! Help me! Help me...!!"
 The man pleads with tears in his eyes. With a desperate look on his face, he calls out for help. As he is dragged down, the man digs his claws into the trunk of the tree and clings to it. If his hands leave him, he will be surrounded by kappas one after another, and he will see hell.
 Shirowakamaru stares silently at the scene which in some ways makes him want to turn away. The cold, vacant stare, however, is not so much out of hostility toward the man as it is a look at the cruel providence of the world.
 ...At least, it was not the kind of look a child would give. And I was aware. I knew that if I didn't do something, this look would be fixed forever. So...
 "...Tsk, I can't just let him die, huh? It would be an educational thing to do."
 I thought about it for a while, but then I made up my mind.
 To be honest, I had no duty or obligation to help that guy... but I didn't want to sit by and do nothing while one more kappa joined the group, and more than that, I didn't want to expose the boy who was standing beside me holding my clothes to too cruel a scene, and if anything, I didn't want him to experience something that would distort his character.
 After all, among the many bad endings, Shirowakamaru is one of the keys to the victory of the youkai group. Basically, if the main character does not intervene, he will suffer a lot, and when the stress reaches a certain level, he will be disappointed by the same people and fall into the darkness. He willingly cooperates in the rituals of the youkai, and eventually becomes a sacrifice.
 It is a common practice that Miko (shrine maidens) and other dancers are dedicated to rituals and ceremonies. Conversely, the same is true for the forbidden and evil arts. Shirowakamaru was a perfect example in this sense. And if he is despairing of the world, what more is there to say? Therefore...
 "It would be better not to create too many wounds in the heart."
 "What? What are you... Oh, hey, what are you going to do...!?"
 Shirowakamaru suddenly stood up and started to move, which unnerved me. I asked him in confusion.
 "I know he's a guy who... deserves to die, but I thought it wouldn't feel right to just leave him there. What about you?"
 Shirowakamaru is upset that he has been asked to speak.
 "There's a risk. If you don't like it, I'll ignore it. So, what do you think? To be honest, I'm not the kind of person who would complain about abandoning him."
 The boy is silent for a moment. He looks at the man desperately asking for help with an indescribably complex expression on his face, his face contorted, and then he looks at him. Then, as if making a decision, the boy answered.
 "...How are you going to help him?"
 I knew immediately that he meant it as an affirmative. I had always thought he would make that choice. After all, even in the game, he's the kind of guy who held out hope until the very last minute before he fell into the darkness and couldn't let the world down.
 "Well, I've got a rope around my waist. Go ahead, tie it to a big branch around there."
 After smiling at the boy's honesty and gentleness, I hand Shirowakamaru the end of the multi-purpose rope hanging from my waist.
 'Servant, are you out of your mind?'
 "I know I'm an idiot. ...But please clean up my mess if something goes wrong."
 I muttered to the doubtful voice in my ear and swung the sling I had taken out of my pocket. I aim well and throw the pebbles I've been picking up at random at the kappa who is dragging the man's feet as he tries to drag him away.
 The pebble hits the kappa's eyeball, and the kappa falls down holding his face, one of his eyes blinded. Naturally, the hand that pulls the man falls off.
 "Hey, grab the rope if you don't want to die!"
 I shout as I grab the rope that Shirowakamaru throws at me, and the man desperately clutches at the rope. I hold on as the man's weight tries to pull me down. Meanwhile, Shirowakamaru ties the end of the rope around the branch and holds it in place.
 Slowly, the man climbs toward us through the rope.
 "Huff... Huff... "
 "Wait, take off the sword at your waist there. And the small knife (kogatana) in your pocket."
 I order, spear in hand and wary. I'm not a complete softy. At least give up his weapons.
 "A-Are you serious!? You want me to go empty-handed..."
 "Or I'll cut you loose."

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