Monday, February 6, 2023 @

Chapter 53, Part 3

Revision : bee shikigami => hummingbird shikigami

 The boy asks pleadingly. Then he takes a small knife (kogatana). Easily, the small knife (kogatana) falls into the boy's hand.
 "Okay. Let's continue...!"
 The boy thrusts the small knife (kogatana) into the cocoon. Unlike the fingernail, the blade sinks into the cocoon-like a knife into tofu. And if he swept the blade to the side, the cocoon would be cut off easily.
 With a faint light leaking from the cut, Shirowakamaru pushed the cocoon away and opened it.
 "!? This is...!!?"
 The scene outside the cocoon was horrifying. Countless cocoons, a cave, perhaps? One wall was covered with spider threads stretching in all directions. It was a scene that gave him goosebumps.
 '...! Please hide in the cocoon.'
 "Huh...!? What...!?"
 Shirowakamaru is momentarily bewildered by the voice echoing in his ear, and then he hurriedly buries himself in the cocoon at the sound of its presence. Then, he saw it through the cracks of the cocoon.
 A big spider appears in the cocooned room. Snap, snap, snap! The large spider snapped its chelicerae. Its red eyes shine brightly in the dark cave.
 The spider looks at the cocoons as if it were listening. Shirowakamaru hastily hides the cut end of the cocoon he has cut open. ...The spider passes over the cocoons in which the boys are hiding. And when it finds one, the spider bites into the cocoon.
 "Huh... Aah!? S-stop... please... stop it!?"
 The spider slits the cocoon open with its chelicerae and sucks up the contents of the cocoon. A strange man's voice comes out intermittently. However, the spider does not seem to pay attention to the voice and takes the contents of the cocoon in its mouth somewhere.
 'A provisional food storage, perhaps?'
 Shirowakamaru shuddered, but the girl's voice in his ear seemed unaffected. The cocoons were like vacuum packs. The paralyzing poison, which also serves as an antiseptic, leaves the prey in a state of suspended animation, and it is wrapped in the cocoon as preserved food.
 (Even so, it takes more than a few years to build a nest this large... so these countless cocoons may not necessarily contain human beings.)
 Botan, who was observing the surroundings through the shikigami, thinks. How much flesh and blood is needed to feed that many spiders? And as far as Botan knows, she has not heard that this area has been especially damaged by youkai compared to other counties and provinces. And those kappas...
 '...I see... Livestock...'
 'I'm talking about here. More importantly, you should get the servant over there...!?'
 Botam sensed the presence just as she was saying that.
 'Tsk...!? Even in the den, we must be on our guard!!'
 "What are you... Huh!?"
 Suddenly, small spiders fell from overhead to encircle Shirowakamaru and the others in their cocoons. Small... but that is only in comparison with the spiders they have seen so far. They were one size larger than a baby and looked like fly-catcher spiders. They approached them slowly, threatening Shirowakamaru and the others.
 'Damn, it's the same as in the forest. They've gone dormant and hidden themselves from our sight...! You, take a small knife (kogatana) and get out of here!'
 Botan orders the boy with a cluck of her tongue. Fortunately, the opponent was a small youkai at best, a small fish of low rank among them. Even Shirowakamaru alone could escape if he only had a small knife (kogatana) with several curses on it. Yes, if only the boy could...
 "Wh-What about this guy...!?"
 Shirowakamaru shouts at his guardian who is still stuck in the cocoon.
 'Throw him away. Do you want to be caught and eaten!!?'
 "Throw it away... I can't do that!?"
 'So you want to end up here too?'
 The boy chokes up at the shikigami's nonchalant, bloodless words. He could not refute her even though he was choked up. Shirowakamaru understood how helpless and useless he was. He understood, but...
 'Snap, snap, snap...!!!'
 The boy is frightened by the distinctive sound of spiders snapping their chelicerae at once. Terrified, he hugged the man who fell down beside him. He understood that the paralyzing venom had rendered him immobile. There was no choice but to run away alone. But he didn't want to leave his side. He was more afraid of losing the only person he could trust than of dying.
 'What a stupid thing to do...!?'
 Bitan, on the other hand, was irritated. Looking at the amount of these cocoons, it was obvious how long the paralyzing poison would be effective. Since there was no antidote, it should be assumed that the servant could not move by himself, and there was no way Shirowakamaru could escape from this den while carrying and protecting him. Therefore, the only choice the boy had was to escape alone, to run away and ask for help. How can he not understand such a thing...!?
 Botan is not wrong. But she can say that because she has a lot of experience with youkai, not because she was involved in the situation. Therefore, in a sense, her harsh evaluation may have been unfair.
 The boy had made his choice. And Botan's shikigami had neither the means nor the ability to do anything about it. So she can only watch. Also, the boy can only watch as they are trapped by the countless spiders...
 Yes, without the help.
 Suddenly something is hurled at them. Its round shape explodes the next moment and white smoke fills the air around them.
 'Gigi... Gi!?'
 Immediately afterward, the sound of something shining reflected in the white smoke is heard, along with the brief cries of despair from the spiders.
 "Huh!? Wh-What...!?"
 Shirowakamaru was confused, not knowing what had happened. In the next instant, a gloved hand came out of the white smoke and grabbed his slender arm.
 The boy is pulled by the hand and sees it in front of his eyes. The person's face is covered with a black cloth, and the two eyes that can be seen through the gap between the cloth and the face stare at Shirowakamaru with a deadly glare.
 It was a cold look, as if it were observing and listening.
 "...Good, it seems you are not infected."
 The man says, ignoring the boy's nervousness as he opens his mouth with a crack. No, from the sound of his voice, he seemed to be a young man. Dressed in a cloak and avoiding exposure, the young man leaves Shirowakamaru behind and rushes to the cocoon.
 "Is this mask... the Yun-shoku of Kizuki after all?"
 "What are you doing?"
 "Be quiet. Even if the smoke blinds them, our voices will tell them where we are."
 The young man mutters a small rebuke as he grabs the hannya mask and slowly glances at the face inside.
 "...he's most likely not infected."
 After a moment of silence, the young man murmurs in relief. Then he grabs the boy's arm again, carrying Yun-shoku on his back, who is still paralyzed by the poison.
 "Let's get out of here while the smoke is still working. ...or do you want to be eaten by the spiders with him? We have no problem abandoning you in the worst-case scenario, okay?"
 The boy flinches at the threatening question. The look in his eyes could only come from someone who had crossed many mortal lines. The boy gasps in horror. This man would really leave him here if he had to.
 '...You don't have a choice. Let's go.'
 A young girl's voice whispers in his ear. Whoever that voice was, or who she was, Shirowakamaru had no choice but to accept the proposal, at least at this moment.
* * *
 Escape was easier than expected. The young man told him that many of the spiders that had been regrouping in the burrows had left some time ago, along with the domestic animals that had been tamed. The shikigami and the boy were familiar with this story.
 But then, how long had they been running through the den? The young man stopped there.
 "Okay, here it is."
 "This is... not out there yet!?"
 The boy exclaims, thinking that he can get out of this den. The young man glared at him again with his eyes peering through the gap in the fabric. He meant, "Don't yell."
 "If it were possible, I would have done it already. There are a lot of them at the entrance and exit. That's why we're hiding here."
 With these words, the young man twists his hand into one of the spider threads that cover the entire wall.
 "Spider threads are not necessarily all sticky. Otherwise, the spider itself would get entangled."
 The warp and weft of spider silk... although not exclusively there are various kinds of spider silk, and not all of them are only for catching prey. And the young man's lair made use of them.
 When he rolled up the lid made of a mass of non-adhesive threads, there was a small hole in the side. But at the far end of the hiding place, about the size of five or six tatami mats... something trembled.
 "Kikyo, it's okay. It's me. I'm here to help you. ... I saw a colleague and rescued them. Don't worry, there's no danger."
 The young man's voice sounded gentle, a far cry from the one he had used to address the boy. Then the person who had been hiding behind the cave came slowly. It was a girl. A young girl dressed in a well-tailored kimono looked at Shirowakamaru and the others warily.
 "Go inside quickly. We can't let the monsters in!"
 "Ah, yeah..."
 The boy, who had been wondering whether he should enter the cave or not, rushed forward at the sound of a voice urging him from behind. A young man with a servant on his back enters slowly, and finally, the Hummingbird Shikigami sneaks into the hole unnoticed.
 "...Okay, that's about it."
 The young man, who had blocked the entrance and exit by covering the spider silk without any discomfort, turned around and let out a small sigh of relief. Then, he lights a hand-held lantern that he had placed in the cave. The hole in the side of the cave becomes faintly bright.
 The young man leans his body against the wall with a small growl as if he is clenching his teeth. The girl called Kikyo rushes to him but is stopped by his right hand. He clutches his other arm tightly and crouches down.
 "It's okay. It's all right... it'll be under control soon."
 The young man is in agony when Shirowakamaru tries to approach him with the same concern, but he spits it out indifferently. He exhales deeply, like a beast, and sits down and sits on his haunches, as if he has finally calmed down. Then he stared silently at Kizuki's servant who was lying down once, and then he glared at Shirowakamaru again with a strong look in his eyes.
 "...Well, let's start with self-introductions, shall we? I belong to the Kizuki family of the Hidden group... and my name is Hayama. I'm sorry to start this off so quickly, but let me ask you a question. Why is a Yun-shoku of the Kizuki clan in a place like this?"
 The young man, a descendant of the Kizuki family's branch, the Hayama clan, and a fallen member of the clan, asked Shirowakamaru as if interrogating him...

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