Monday, February 6, 2023 @

Chapter 53, Part 1

 The battle in the camp was already in the form of a melee or a mud fight.
 "Ggh!! My bow doesn't work...!!"
 Ayaka bites her tongue. If she put her enormous spiritual power into the bow, which was made of sacred wood, and drew it with a custom-made arrow with multiple curses on it, not only the great youkai but even the calamity youkai would not be able to escape unharmed. In other words, the opponent was not a good match for her.
 But the calamity youkai, the embodiment of a certain plague... the tiger wolf raccoon (Toragoni) was a greater threat to the raiding party, which had been heavily equipped against kappa, than its original rating.
 More precisely, this youkai manipulated water. The power to manipulate water within an area centered on oneself. By making the water in the opponent's body rot, spit out, dehydrate, and kill... it was the very symptom of the plague from which this youkai was derived, along with the sight of the servants of the various houses around it slumped in grief.
 And what is more troubling is that the power of this youkai seems to extend to the inorganic matter as well. It rusts iron and withers trees. The team was only focusing on physical weapons against kappa, and since spiritual techniques were ineffective against kappa anyway, tools of this kind were also in short supply. And then...
 "Hey, Ayaka! Something going on at your side!!"
 The kappa attacked from the side, and before she knew it, several kappas were closing in on her. Ugly green creatures with fangs and claws clawed at the girl, but the next moment their heads fly up into the sky.
 "And behind you!!"
 "Huh!? Aah!?"
 The young exorcist, who had managed to decapitate all the kappa with a single swing while running at full speed, threw a small knife (kogatana) at Ayaka's head. The small knife (kogatana), which passed just a little beyond Ayaka's head, pierced the head of the ground spider, which was hiding in the ground and trying to surprise the exorcists. Thus, the giant spider plunged into the ground past Ayaka.
 "Calamity youkai alone is a nuisance, but hey, look what is this...!!!"
 Even after the brain in its head is crushed, the spider, whose nerve cells spread to various parts of its body, shivers, and trembles. Kizuki Touya stabbed the spider in the belly with his sword and tore its body apart, completely disabling the youkai.
 "This is an ugly thing. I didn't expect such a melee against such a group of people."
 "No, but this one is still better. Compared to the battle over there...!"
 Ayaka replies to her old friend's words, breathing a little heavily as she shoots and kills any youkai she sees. As she answers, the other exorcist turns his gaze in that direction.
 There, a storm of destruction is raging.
 A roaring roar and a hissing sound echoed throughout the area. But, before the two shadows collide, the earth is rent asunder, and the impact blasts youkai and servants around them, or even kills them.
 It appeared suddenly. The exorcists, who had been fighting countless spiders and kappa, were confronted by it, and it revealed its huge frame from the ground.
 One of the exorcists who was just above the spider was swallowed whole, and the two exorcists who rushed to fight back had their upper bodies obliterated by a swing of its arm.
 This creature is a gigantic spider monster that still retains the vestiges of its divinity... a jet-black giant spider that is probably the leader of the countless spider youkai that are attacking the camp... However, this did not cause the worst for the exorcists. Because...
 The Giant Spider monster was thrown back by the blow of a fist. An ordinary great youkai would have had its head smashed in. However, as soon as it did, the giant spider split its huge chelicerae into four, as if it could swallow several people in one go. What was shot out was venom. It was spewed at such high pressure that it was powerful enough to break rocks by itself. In fact, it cuts off the arms of its opponent.
 But... the opponent only grows a new arm as if nothing had happened. An arm made of mud. The ugly mud doll is silent, but its gesture seems to be a sneer.
 "It's no use. As long as it's on the ground, it doesn't matter how much you destroy it. I can replenish the supply as much as I want."
 The old exorcists of the Miyataka family, who standing comfortably at the back of the spider, declared. He boasts disdainfully and condescendingly of the spider.
 The old exorcists of Miyataka are using a mud doll to fight the giant spider monster. A gigantic mud doll, its whole body melting as it rages... If a servant had seen it, he would have said, "Let's burn the world in seven days of the fire," or some other unintelligible comment.
 "Ningyō-shin (人形神)......I've heard rumors about him, but he really uses something like that. That's crazy."
 Touya mutters in a tone of disbelief. In fact, to use such a thing would be considered insane by those who know its properties.
 Ningyō-shin... also called Hinagami (Doll God), is a kind of shikigami, which is possessed by a literal god. Although only temporarily.
 It is an artificially manufactured god, made from the shallow desires of thousands of people... a fake, an improvised cheap imitation, but it is still a god. Therefore, its power, its authority can be compared to that of a real god, but... such a thing cannot be created casually. And the cost of such a thing is too terrible.
 "The maker's soul is bound to it, and after death, he suffers for eternity, right? How can that old man be so carefree? It wouldn't be surprising if he were to pass away at any time."
 "I've heard rumors about Miyataka's secret arts. I heard there's a technique to falsify contracts with non-humans. It is said that another member of the family is sacrificed when a contract is made with a price."
 Another member of the family... it's not hard to imagine that it is usually the daughter of a peasant, a peasant girl, or a lowly concubine who has given birth to a child at random. Sacrificing children to "manufacture" and without love... is not unusual in exorcists' families, however. Even Kizuki used to do something similar, and one of the results is a "stray house".
 'Tsk! You can't kill me with such a filthy imitationnnnnn!!!'
 Screams the spider angrily as it collides with the mud doll. The spider, who has killed three exorcists in quick succession, is now confronted with the Ningyō-shin (Doll God), and its rapid advance is stopped in cold blood. It was too humiliating for the spider to face an artificial god made by the desire of human beings.
 Still, with its eight huge and long arms, the spider fights against the mud doll. No, it attacked with its many arms. But the Ningyō-shin (Doll God) immediately responds by sprouting six new arms from its back.
 "Well, it's a very hard fight. Hey doll, don't be lazy. Why don't you pull out one of your arms?"
 The mud doll replies with a high-pitched roar to the old man's calm, contemptuous command. For this fake god, a command is the very meaning of its existence and the source of its power.
 A god that is born of prayer, anger, hatred, or fear... from the heart of a person. More precisely, it is a being whose will is derived from the laws of the universe, which are influenced by the human mind.
 Therefore, from the beginning, the spirit of this deity has contained and mixed both human nature and natural nature. One example of this is the deep, yet merciless, senseless, and self-righteous love of the fallen earth mother for all life.
 And for the doll-god shaped by people's desires, it is their needs, their demands, that is the meaning of their existence and the basis of their existence. That is why, obeying the order of his lord, the mud doll next moment newly produced two powerful arms from its back. Then it ripped off the left front leg of the spider.
 The spider screams in sudden pain. A loud scream. Green fluid splatters from the section where it was forcibly torn apart. On the other side, the Ningyō-shin (Doll God) tilts its head to catch a glimpse of the shredded leg, which twitches and twitches and tosses it away as if it were dust.
 Then the mud doll laughed. With a sickening, wicked smile, it laughed, as if in mockery. Then, it broke into an ugly face.
 The Giant Spider was startled. At the same time, something was thrown between the doll and the spider. It was the wind. The calamity youkai 'demon wind', which blows the wind of disease formed by youkai ki, or in short, its remnants...
 "It's a little tricky to be insubstantial form, isn't it?"
 "It was. We didn't have many curse tools. And it was inefficient to neutralize it by force with spiritual power."
 The spider looked and saw a group of about ten exorcists who must have been exhausted. Spiritual power neutralizes and counteracts youkai power... Against the magical wind that seemed to be a mass of youkai energy, the exorcists seemed to have exhausted this calamity youkai to the point of annihilation by sheer force of numbers.
 The wind, which had no mouth and only a vague outline, stared silently at the spider. It felt like it. And then... it faded away as if melting away.
 'You... You ape-like creature...!!!!'
 The cry, however, was actually more meant to rouse itself than to intimidate. And the spider decides to retreat temporarily according to the plan, although it has not yet struck an effective blow. It was unavoidable. Originally, the spider had intended to lay waste to them for a little while now, and then to back away at ease. But the humans were much stronger and viler than the spider had expected.
 (But! At least one more bait...!!!)
 The spider wanted at least one hostage before pulling out. There was a possibility that they would not follow up and even leave the hostage behind. Therefore, the spider wanted prey to drag them into its den at least, instead of showing its threat.
 So, the spider makes strange noises in a threatening manner, while its eyes frantically search its surroundings. Hurrying and praying to find the right hostage, and then...
 And when the spider sees it, it lifts its mouth involuntarily.
 Kizuki Kochou was not necessarily outstanding as a member of the Kizuki family, though her spiritual power was enormous.
 The most notable of her talents was the precision of her technique. The use of shikigami is a typical example. It is no ordinary skill to precisely manipulate tens of thousands of shikigami, even though they are of a simplified form. However, the performance of death by the shikigami that she showed this morning drained her spiritual power to a considerable extent.
 If she were in her prime, she might look young on the outside, but on the inside, she is just an old woman who is worn out in every way. It was not easy to recover from the exhaustion of physical, mental, and spiritual strength. Moreover, the camp in the mountains and the company of the other influential members of the raiding party made her tired to a certain extent.
 Then comes the attack just after dusk.
 She was upset and confused, but it was only for a moment, and if a surprise attack by a monster was a real possibility, her preparation had paid off, and her plan to use the stray/defective exorcist as decoys to burn them to death with Rikyushu (Research group) was almost as effective as she expected. And she also showed that calamity youkai quickly defeated one of them.
 With the spiritual power that remained, she would use her shikigami to attack the enemy's army. The odds were not against them. Besides, although her own physical and spiritual strength would be low, this battle was between armies, and she did not need to worry about the members of her family. The exorcists of Kizuki, including her son, would not fall behind such a mere anybody. And those who are behind are just that.
 However, Kochou's main concern was the servant, and that was all she needed to do, to buy time until the force was ready. Then she would be able to pull the servants off to the rear, saying that he was in the way of the battle. Yes, that was the plan.
 "But I miscalculated a bit..."
 Kochou mutters with the shikigami around her. The giant spider, which was even vaguely clothed with a divine spirit, was beyond the scope of Kizuki Kochou's expectations. A fallen god, or a youkai who is becoming a god, or... whatever the case may be, it was not an ordinary thing that three regular exorcists were killed so quickly, even if they were members of a small family.
 Moreover, it was a complete miscalculation on her part to have the old exorcist of Miyataka, who was one of the best in the raiding party, detained to deal with the situation. Surely, they would push back in the end. However, the war was more complicated than she had expected, and this made her anxious. It meant that the young servant she cared about would continue to be in danger.
 "Well, what should I do... Huh?"
 The adviser deploys dozens of shikigami, enough to fight against a small youkai, and while simultaneously using them, she ponders how to turn the situation around and catches them out of the corner of her eye.
 It was a group of her family servants. They formed a line against the swarming kappa and spiders, holding shields and spears to block their approach. While the other servants of other families could only work together sporadically and in groups at best and were killed in isolation due to their lack of flexibility, they were fighting in groups, retreating as necessary, prioritizing the avoidance of loss over the destruction of the youkai. The way they were fighting was a little unique, partly because they were better equipped than other families.
 "Are they the servants of the house? I guess it depends on how you use them, even if they are of poor quality."
 Kochou muttered quietly as she watched her family's servants put up a good fight. Their individual fighting skills are probably much less than they were ten years ago. The life expectancy of the servants is shorter than before, but looking at them, some of them are quite young. Some of the men in training were probably mobilized for the recent attack to make up the numbers. The average quality of each individual is probably lower than that of the other families.
 However, the quality of their equipment, as well as their training in group warfare operations, seems to have been very careful. They thoroughly trained in mutual support and taking turns. They kept their distance from those whom they could not handle, and even those whom they could surely kill, they beat them up in groups to conserve their strength. Thanks to their efforts, there seemed to be no damage yet. Apparently, that boy can train and lead his subordinates well as a boss.
 "Really, he's so careless..."
 Kizuki Kochou narrowed her eyes, covered her mouth with her fan, and muttered quietly, which was more like a look of an annoyance than pleasure. Yes, it was a careless thing to do. It was an unintentional act.
 She thinks it was typical of him. He is a responsible boy who is always good at taking care of others, and he probably couldn't cut corners. But that may be a virtue for an individual, but it is a dangerous thing to do in his position.
 Those who are not members of the group are potential insurgents, and they are just pawns for the exorcists as long as they have the right number of members. They are not expected to be flexible in their thinking, nor are they expected to have the ability to fight in a group. The most important thing is to be obedient. To instruct them in this way... maybe for some positional reasons, but in some cases, it may be considered dangerous.
 (That's why I didn't want to do it, but... I guess those granddaughters didn't think that far ahead.)
 She didn't stop the servants, but she let out a sigh now at the thoughtless behavior of those two granddaughters. Sure, there have been many times that that servant put me in a dangerous situation, but there are other ways that I could have done it. ...... Of course, I'm willing to clean up their mess.
 "...Huh? Why is that...?"
 And then she realized. The person who should have been in the group in question, the young man, was not there.

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