Wednesday, February 8, 2023 @

Chapter 54, Part 2

 The reply I got was one of the worst I've ever heard. I was stunned. The girl from the Matsushige family, who was probably watching us through the shikigami, gasped as well. Only Shirowakamaru, who had no knowledge of this kind of thing, tilted his head in puzzlement.
 ("Spirit exhaustion detonation"...... is the trump card of the human side, and the most forbidden technique that was used in the time of great war, or was it?)
 According to the setting, this technique was originally established in the Mainland dynasties. The power that brings the blessings of life flows from the stars, and the spiritual veins that are the paths through which it passes. By deliberately closing the vein, the spirit energy that fills the vein is released to a critical point, and is then converted and consumed into pure destructive power... This technique severely damages the vein and causes widespread destruction beyond that of an individual, let alone mass spiritualism through rituals... In the manga and foreign spin-off games, this is represented by the mushroom cloud of the explosion that occurs simultaneously with the detonation of the spirit.
 The cost of its destructive power is great, as is evident in the expression of the mushroom cloud. Intentionally filled with spiritual energy, it becomes corrosive, muddy, and malignant in nature. The filling and releasing of the spiritual energy require a sacrifice to do so, and as a final blow, the contaminated spiritual energy that comes with the widespread destruction deteriorates the land over a long period, from tens to hundreds of years. It is not only for humans and other animals and plants but also for youkai. There are protective suits, but honestly speaking, they are no better or worse than nothing. In fact, the Imperial Court even sends exorcists and soldiers to such contaminated areas as a matter of course. Maybe they are atomic soldiers?
 However, it is said that the nature of the atomic soldiers is more advantageous to the Imperial Court, which is inferior in both quality and quantity. In most cases, they were willing to blow themselves up rather than surrender the spiritual vein that was about to collapse. It is also said that by intentionally creating contaminated areas, they were able to limit the invasion routes of Kuuban and other youkai's forces and concentrate their forces, in effect, the Imperial Court did not choose any means in the war for the survival of the species.
 '......It would be a great story if it were true. But it is strange. The spirit exhaustion detonation is not the kind of thing youkai can do, though.'
 In a skeptical tone, it was the bee shikigami who had been keeping silent all this time whispering in my ear. Yes, the word "spirit exhaustion detonation" is indeed shocking, but there is something I don't understand.
 That technique requires exorcists who can handle spiritual power to make detailed preparations, and it also requires a person who can handle spiritual power to activate it. Youkai cannot do it alone. When I asked him about this point, Hayama nodded.
 "You are very knowledgeable about it, so I don't have to go through the trouble of explaining it to you. It is true that youkai cannot do this alone. But preparations were certainly made. And... as far as activation is concerned, no problem. The detonator seems to have been procured locally."
 "Local...? What you mean!!"
 Hayama's words made me doubt for a moment, but the answer came to me immediately.
 The bodies of the exorcists who were in charge of this county have not been found. Some of them may have been eaten by kappa, but it is impossible to say for sure that they are dead as long as there are no corpses.
 'I see... it can be done that way. Threats... there's no need for that. Brainwashing or witchcraft, or ultimately, as long as the body is alive, there is a way to control only the body by destroying the brain or parasitizing the body.'
 Botan whispers convincingly. But, it's true... still, how can she come up with such a grotesque assumption in a moment?
 (The problem is the preparation. "Spirit Exhaustion Detonation" is a forbidden technique. I don't think small local exorcists know it...)
 However, the ground spider (Tsuchigumo) is long-lived. She can find out how to do it. Or perhaps some in the Youkai know how to do it. After all, there is even a traitor who used to be an exorcist. Maybe she's relying on their legends.
 "Wait, no way that kid is..."
 And I finally understood the origin of the kid hiding behind Hayama.
 "Yes. I found this den and rescued her while investigating. It seems she was being held as a backup."
 The girl, who is related to the Kizuki family of the Hasuka (Renge) family, was apparently being held as a backup detonator. Several others had been captured, but they had already been seriously injured or were too heavily guarded to be approached.
 At the request of her older sister, who had forcefully kept her alive even though she was already as good as dead, Hayama tried to escape with her younger sister, Kikyo, after putting her at ease.
 "Unfortunately, we were not able to escape after all due to the severe pursuit... So now we are hiding in this hideout. I tried to find a way out, but it was too late... I didn't know if the raiding party has arrived or not."
 Hayama wanted to somehow inform the raiding party of this fact or interfere with the detonation, but before he could do so, the situation had moved on.
 "From what I've heard about your situation, there has probably already been an attack on the camp. However, it is a trap. They probably intend to lure the raiding party into their lair by making their presence known."
 "And then, boom. That's not cool."
 And our options were limited. It would be difficult to get out of the den because of the tight security, and whether we would be able to report back in time after the raiding party marched into the den is one thing... and whether we would be believed even if we were in time is another.
 "...we'll just have to do it ourselves, huh?"
 "Miss Kikyo needs to be protected as well."
 "Yeah, that's right. ...I guess it's hard to count her as an asset at her age."
 I glance at the girl and make a decision. She's probably not even ten years old. Gorilla-sama didn't fight her first real battle until she was over ten. And while Gorilla-sama was still from a prominent family and had talent, the Hasuka (Renge) family does not have a long history. They are far inferior to Kizuki in terms of the qualities of exorcists. In the first place, the Hasuka (Renge) family's techniques are not compatible with kappa, let alone spiders.
 "I will go to stop the detonation. So, Yun-shoku, please protect her and join the raiding party."
 "Are you crazy? You can't do this alone."
 "It will be difficult to stop the detonation. But I should be able to buy some time. Both Yun-shoku and her will be a loss to Kizuki if you die here. If Miss Kikyo enters, the raiding party will have some confidence."
 Hayama replies. The look in his eyes through the fabric was that of a man prepared to die.
 Kikyo, the girl who anxiously utters the name of the young man in the hidden group, has probably dived to her death many times in the past few days together. Her voice was filled with trust.
 "Kikyo, it's okay. This Yun-shoku is more skilled than I am. You will be saved."
 The friendly tone of his voice is to put them at ease, perhaps? He says this to Kikyo in a more casual tone than he used to use with me.
 "...I'm glad to see you're so loyal... but I think you're in a hurry to die. There are other ways to do this."
 "No, there isn't. There's nothing left for me to do."
 "? What do you mean... Huh!?"
 My question was immediately answered. He had untied the cloth covering his face.
 What was visible under the cloth was green skin. Slippery green skin with scales. A distinctly impersonal figure that spread to one-third of his face.
 "Is that...!?"
 "Fortunately, my spiritual power is transforming into youkai power. I alone can fool them a little. Haha, well, it's my last act of service."
 Showing the fact that he is transforming himself into a monster, the young man of the hidden group smiled bitterly. It was a sad laugh filled with resignation...
* * *
 While the consultation was going on in the hiding place of the monster's cave, the Kumo arrived at the den.
 'D*mn it! D*mn it! D*mn you monkeys!'
 The Tsuchigumo, returning to its burrow from the underground tunnels it had its relatives dig, dropped the cocoon it was holding in its jaws to the ground and grunted a curse. Its curse voice was filled with deep hatred. The curse itself was a kind of spiritual art, gathering what might be called an evil spirit in the place. Or, to be more precise, they transformed the spiritual energy overflowing from the spiritual veins into evil energy with their own negative power and attracted it.
 Of course, this is not something that any youkai can do. Although it was a ridiculous thing to do because the spider was a Tsuchigumo, a special class of monster that used to reside even on the throne of God... the spider was not proud of it. After all, the spider's self-esteem was already in tatters.
 'A Ningyō-shin (doll god)...!? That imitation, is it meant for me!? D*mn it! D*mn it!'
 Even if it was an accident, it was nothing but the most disgusting thing for the former deity Tsuchigumo to hit the man-made god, Ningyo-kami. It was an insult. It was contempt.
 And most of all, the fact that it could be beaten by such a man-made god was an unforgivable humiliation and a reality that the spider could not accept.
 'Ah, it's disgusting!! Infuriating!! D*mn you... d*mn you!!'
 The spider trembled, spewing out its hatred and anger toward the humans. Then it splits its huge chelicerae into four and sucks up all the evil energy, youkai energy, that is gathering in the place. And then...
 'Ah... Aaaaaaaaah!!!'
 The Kumo screams. It shrieks in rage and agony, its body creaking. And its back is "rent".
 It rips open its strong, but badly damaged exoskeleton from the battle with many exorcists, and out of it emerges a brand new body. A body that is soft because it is not yet dry, sticky on the surface, but certainly without scars. And if the spider shook its body as if it was struggling, the cracks would widen even more.
 Spiders, like crabs and shrimps, are arthropods, having no bones, and their whole body is covered by a shell. Therefore, spiders molt when they grow up. And for the giant spiders of the same rank as the Tsuchigumo, this benefit meant more than mere growth.
 That is rebirth.
 'Aa... aa...!!? Aa... aaah...'
 The spider molted and showed its legs, its "eight" spider legs stretched out.
 The legs that had been torn off by the doll god had regenerated. Brand new, yet thinner and shorter than the remaining seven legs, the spider giggles with its horrifying appearance that even a human could understand as it gazes at the regenerated legs.
 'Huff... Huff... Hahaha!! How is it, apes? That ugly clay figurine is no match for me now!! It can't hurt me!! Who... Who do you think you are!? I who have been on this northern, I am...!! Hahahahaha!!!!'
 The spider screams like a madman. It screams triumphantly. However, there was an inescapable sense of emptiness.
 In fact, it was a vain deed. The spider indeed seems to have been reborn, but it is not perfect.
 It is only in appearance that the spider seems to have recovered, its muscle fibers are still in shreds, and above all, the spider is further distanced from its deity by the evil energy that it consumes. The fall from an eternal and infinite existence to a finite existence... it was a transformation that had been gradually progressing in its body since it was expelled from its original spiritual vein, and it had been worsening at an accelerated rate since it was repeatedly poisoned by the spiritual vein in the great war.
 'Haha! Hahahaha! Hahaha... haa~... haa~... haa~...'
 The high laughter that echoes throughout the cave, however, gradually diminishes as if exhausted. In the next moment, the spider closes its legs as if to embrace itself, closes its eyes, and crouches down, as if exhausted. As it crouched, it shrank. The shadow of the Giant Spider is getting smaller and smaller...
 "Ugh... Ggh... Khh, it's totally disgusting!!"
 As the transformation subsided, what echoed through the cave was not the sound of a horrifying monster forcing its voice, but the sound of a very natural human voice. In fact, it was a person who was crouching there where the giant spider used to be. The figure of a little girl...
 A small, thin body with long black hair, golden eyes, and weeping blacks, she was a breathtakingly beautiful young girl, but at the same time, she was obviously inhumanly bewitching and exuded a strange, inaccessible atmosphere.
 "...Welcome, huh?"
 The girl who had been hanging down helplessly noticed the atmosphere and whispered to herself in a languid voice.
 A rustling sound, and the girl crouched down, and the spider youkai and the others gathered around her. They stand around the girl and cover her back respectfully with a robe of silk they have spun from their own threads. It was silky and shiny, and at the same time, it was an enchanted tool imbued with a residue of the divine energy left by the former gods' households...
 "Well, you guys... Thank you very much. Shall we go...?"
 The girl-shaped monster stands up on her slender legs and feet as she expresses her gratitude. Then she glances at her own limbs and mutters.
 "I can't deny that I'm a little short..."
 It was a reminder of Aoko's words.
 Once she had attacked people disguised as a hulking monk-soldier or a princess of the capital, but her current form was merely a way to conserve the youkai energy that seeped out of her body. Therefore, she looked like a small human child. Some time ago, she changed her appearance to resemble a girl who happened to be vaguely in her memory...
 "Don't eat it, right? Then, everyone, hangs the live bait in the innermost room or something. But I don't think they can get to that place."
 The spider warned the families gathered in the cocoons she had dropped. The flesh and blood of the female exorcists must be a wonderful taste, and she can see why other spiders are drooling, but they are no match for her here.
 'Snap, snap, snap....'
 Some of the baby spiders cluck their chelicerae in dissatisfaction, but when their master in the form of a girl glares at them, they shrink back as if they are afraid and reluctantly follow her words. The spider confirms this and begins to walk with the rest of her family members.
 Indeed, the spider cannot help but be aware of the decline of her own power just from that fact alone. Unfortunately, as the spider's power weakens and it moves away from the deity, the quality of the family she can create will only decline. Its threads are becoming low quality, its body is getting smaller, and its head is getting dumber. More and more of them were not able to follow her orders or understand her.
 It was a lamentable thing. They are truly lower creatures. Foolish beings without reason, without wisdom, moving only by instinct... She cannot blame the eyes of the exorcists for this. Yes, just as if they were exterminating a pest, that contemptuous look in their eyes when they kill them.
 "Abominable. ...but a contemptuous look, huh?"
 And then, as if after all this time, she remembered a fragment of her memory, a memory as long as time itself.
 Yes, those eyes she saw when she encountered the person to whom she referred to this puny body. The look of the human who accompanied that brat. Not only fear but contempt, awe, murder...
 "...Huff, now it's just a matter of time."
 It's all in the past anyway. Although she was caught off guard, she was able to outwit and out-eat that person at the time, but considering the sense of time of a person with a fixed and short life span, the person is probably not alive anymore.
 ...There will be no chance to face each other in the future.
 "......That's a silly sentiment. Influenced by that blue demon? That's absurd."
 The spider scoffed, remembering the suicidal demon with the incomprehensible obsession. With a wry smile, the spider resumes her journey, taking her family with her. There were many things to do in order to welcome the humans who would soon be attacking the den.
 The mocking, empty, exhausted laugh reverberated throughout the cave...

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