Thursday, February 9, 2023 @

Chapter 55, Part 2

Revision : bee shikigami => hummingbird shikigami

 With a cluck of his tongue, the old exorcist thinks of Kizuki's captured adviser. He had known her for a long time and knew her reasonably well. Always cold and ruthless, calculating and cunning, the vixen had neither the character nor the ability to fight on the front lines. But then...
 "...This is a real mess, isn't it? Sweeping in the den is what makes its formula so useful."
 In that sense, the giant spider succeeded in kidnapping the best person in the place. The old exorcist bites his teeth bitterly at this unfortunate situation.
 In front of his eyes, the crowd of monsters is being steadily exterminated by the exorcists who are leading the way...
* * *
 "Disarm the detonator as soon as youkai starts moving to intercept the raiding force that has entered the cave, and at the same time, join the raiding party regardless of its success or failure, huh?"
 'It's by no means a funny strategy. The plan to disarm the detonator first of all will fail in most cases. Even if the majority of youkai are lured into the raiding party, the chance of success is hopeless with only one person in hiding.'
 The hummingbird shikigami whispered in my ear to supplement what I muttered as I stared at the rock surface on the ceiling as if I was enduring pain.
 The hidden group member's act was as reckless as it could be. If he had succeeded, it would have been a profitable one. Or perhaps his action itself was meant as a diversion for our escape and to separate ourselves from the bomb.
 'Rather, I am worried about whether he is really trustworthy or not. From what I see, only about 30% of his whole body is taken in? I don't know when the kappa will invade his brain. No, it may have already invaded his brain. So, I wonder how much of what he said should be believed.'
 The hummingbird shikigami, however, is paranoid and suspicious of the words of the young man who is probably prepared to take a desperate, or rather desperate, action.
 "You are harsh, aren't you?"
 'You are just always too lenient. How could you live until today with such naive thoughts?'
 At my words, the hummingbird shikigami narrows her eyes and says spitefully. Her gaze was so cold that I could see it even through the shikigami. And unfortunately, in this world, her way of thinking is common sense, the sane way of thinking. The slightest carelessness, the easiest optimism, produces horrible results in this world.
 'By the way, you are doing something strange again, seriously? Are you sure you can handle this?'
 "Yes, not completely, but it should be much better."
 I looked at him as he was lying on my side.
 "...okay, are you sure about this?"
 "Yes, it's good."
 I replied in the affirmative to the boy who was checking with a doubtful expression.
 Wrapped around my lower body, around my legs and hips was a piece of cloth. The cloth was wrapped around my waist and legs in a tight, constricting manner.
 It is a kind of so-called "taping". It is tightened to hold the muscles in place and support the body. It was a measure to move my body, which was still numb from the paralyzing poison, although I had regained consciousness. Well, it's a temporary fix.
 "...Are you going to accept his proposal?"
 "Do you have any questions? If so, let's hear them."
 Shirowakamaru glanced at the back of the hole in the side of the room. There was a combination of a young man who sat down and wiped blood and grease on his small knife (kogatana) and checked his equipment, and a girl who did not want to leave his side.
 "...you don't trust him?"
 "No, it's not that, it's just that there's something weird..."
 Shirowakamaru's words made me tilt my head.
 "I don't understand it... but his tone on you is better than on me, I guess?"
 "Well, in a manner of speaking. Don't tell me you are unhappy with the difference in his attitude?"
 I had already heard from Shirowakamaru and Botan that Hayama's tone of voice had been very overbearing when he rescued us. He also said that his conversation with me after that was very polite. But that's just a difference in position and situation...
 "That's okay. I mean... his mood, or do you know him or something? After all. somehow... his manner is not right for a first meeting, isn't it?"
 Shirowakamaru looked like he didn't know how to explain, but he seemed to be trying hard to think of words to explain. I looked at such a childish reaction and thought about it.
 (I can't say he is delusional. He's sensitive to the attitudes of those around him...)
 This boy, who is distrustful of people due to his treatment in the temple, is also very observant. He is especially sensitive to others' lust and malice, which is also expressed in the story in the game.
 (This reaction may not be hostility, though...)
 Glancing at Hayama, I look at his backside. He is a good guy with a sensible personality, at least according to the original game... But no, there is no point in questioning him here, is there?
 "I don't know him... no. At least not directly. It's possible he knows me one way or the other, though. However, I'll keep that in mind. ...But more importantly, do you understand the plan?"
 "Uh, uh... uh..."
 The boy nodded his head in puzzlement at my question. It is the escape plan from the den of these monsters.
 Although we don't know how many youkai there are in the den, and although there is a diversion of the hidden group and the raiding party, I'm not so naive as to think that we can escape from the den without encountering a single youkai. Therefore, some measures were required.
 "Fortunately, we have all the tools we need..."
 I mutter as I check the contents of the leather toolbag I have strapped to my waist.
 A Magatama (a type of jewel)... is an ancient ornament, a ritual object, and a talisman, literally carved out of a sphere in the shape of a twisted sphere. It is often made of jade, agate, crystal, or amber.
 Perhaps the most famous one in my past life is the "Yasakani no Magatama". One of the three sacred treasures comprising the Imperial Regalia of Japan. Although they are not exactly the same, in this world, too, the Imperial Court possesses similar sacred artifacts, especially the matagama, which, due to its origin, functions as a kind of amulet that the emperor carries on a daily basis... as described in the setting book.
 Now, according to the mythology of my past life, the "Yasakani no Magatama" was used to pull out the sun goddess from her seclusion in Iwato, where the world was enveloped in darkness, and what I have now is a dead copy of it and at the same time a kind of its antithesis (the direct opposite).
 The "Yamiyo Mekaushi no Magatama" is also a tool to protect the bearer, but its effect is opposite to that of the original. If the original protects the bearer with a blessing that shines like the sun, this one does the opposite: it protects the bearer by concealing him or her from view.
 This jewel, which hides the bearer by forcibly twisting them into a "blind spot" around them, cannot protect them except visually, as noticed by the previous stray/defected exorcist. This is even more so for youkai, who have keen senses. Many youkai can search for them by other means even if they cannot see them visually. In fact, they were used by the dark side of the Imperial Court for use against people rather than against youkai. In the original game and the novel version, this item appeared only briefly as a piece of equipment for assassins targeting the protagonists.
 So, the effect of this item is not so effective for youkai, who have superior senses... But still, it can be used if they cannot see us visually.
 And one more thing, the rough rope which was used to bind my hands and feet in the ruckus at the capital, and was secretly recovered by Botan in the confusion, is also useful in this case. This "spirit binding rope," which is used in various institutions of the Imperial Court, can be used here in a way that is ironic, considering its original purpose.
 Youkai respond to spiritual power. Even if the air near the spiritual vein is mixed with spiritual energy, it is not easy to deceive the presence of a spiritually powerful person. In particular, I and other surviving girls of the Hasuka (Renge) family still have a certain degree of skill in controlling the spiritual power overflowing from our bodies and in the art of concealment, but Shirowakamaru is different. A child of a temple or shrine does not have such skills at all, and his spiritual power is of high quality.
 Therefore, I asked Shirowakamaru to use a rough rope to bind a part of his body to seal the spiritual power that is released from his body into his body. Of course, this would make it impossible to use any kind of spiritual technique, but since Shirowakamaru does not have such techniques nowadays, it cannot be a disadvantage.
 This is good for visually removing the presence of psychic power. Finally, there is a very classic way to disguise the smell. If there is a human smell, just drown it out by covering it with another smell. In other words, the smell of youkai is used to cover it up.
 "The blood of kappa is not so good. I'm going to kill a spider and smear its bodily fluids on my clothes."
 It's the same as the Chibashiri no Jutsu in a certain Ghibli film. If I may be so extravagant, it would be better if I could cut out the intestines of the killed youkai and cover it with its skin. ...But kappa and spider skins? No, if it is a spider, is there a possibility that its molting shell is somewhere?
 "So, Shirowakamaru. Can you stand it?"
 I ask Shirowakamaru again, while explaining again the method of deception up to this point. I ask him if he is prepared.
 "Well, that's..."
 Shirowakamaru's face turns bitter at my confirmation. It was a natural reaction considering his situation, or rather, a natural reaction for a human being.
 Especially, anyone would feel disgusted at the idea of soiling their clothes with youkai's bodily fluids. Even human or animal blood is repulsive, but to smear the blood of a horrifying creature, even one with a terrible smell, all over one's clothes would give one goosebump. Especially for a boy who lives in a temple.
 "...I don't care about that. I don't want to die either. I don't have a choice, do I?"
 With a somber expression on his face, the boy answers as if he has made up his mind. It is the expression of a child trying desperately to be strong and endure.
 ...A look of a child who understands that no matter how unreasonable reality may seem, there is no escape.
 "...well, that's reassuring."
 I dare not mention when and where he learned his perseverance and determination. So I at least praised him.
 It is not true that a child who praises others grows up, but feelings cannot be conveyed unless they are expressed in words, and there is no one who is not happy to be praised. So I smile and praise the boy. I praise him for his patience. Then I reached out to pat him on the head and pulled back in a hurry.
 (Be careful, it was not a good idea to touch him with a man's body.)
 I was about to pat him on the head just like I did to sis (anego-sama) when I was a boy and Shiro. Unfortunately, that kind of incitement had the opposite effect on this guy. In fact, Shirowakamaru seemed to tense up for a moment when I raised my hand.
 "W-well... let's prepare our stomachs first, shall we? Here, dried sweet potato?"
 I show him a dried sweet potato as a meal. It had been about a whole day since the kappa attack. When I saw it in the tent, there were two bowls and the bowls were full.
 This means that he had not eaten his dinner. He was a growing child, and the amount of time that had passed made it clear that he was hungry.
 "...Are you trying to bait me with food?"
 "Shut up and eat your food, you little brat!"
 I pushed a few pieces of dried sweet potato at him. It's not much, but it's nutritious and it needs to be chewed well to digest it. Anyway, it should fill up a little. Oh, and drink plenty of water, too.
 "You know, I'm..."
 Shirowakamaru was about to complain, but he fell silent shyly when he heard the sound of his stomach growling.
 "It won't be funny if youkai notice it by the sound of the stomach. Just go ahead and eat."
 Reluctantly and grudgingly, Shirowakamaru started to bite the dried sweet potato he had received. When I confirmed it, I bit into a piece of dried sweet potato as well. As I chew, I look sideways at the two remaining housemates of this hideaway. ...and I ponder.
 (Then, what should I do...?)
 This is enough for Shirowakamaru. The problem was the remaining two.
 ...Worst case scenario is that his life or death is not essential for the story to progress. Frankly speaking, it would not be so much of a problem if he had died at the beginning of the original story. It is just that someone else will take the role of the person who is set up or used to meet a tragic end. The question was how to save him.
 (This is not a good time...)
 I search my pocket and check for the first time. Naturally, there was nothing there. Not even in my toolbag. Of course, it was. I had packed and left immediately after I heard the noise outside the tent. I also left my inro (seal case) in the tent.
 The youkai-izing suppression pill, and the inro (seal case)... that contained it, were the items I had been regretting the fact that it was not here and were essential tools in saving Hayama.
 The blood of the infamous youkai mother, a pill made by the gorilla princess to block even the erosion of her blood, made with materials that are probably quite valuable, would have been a sufficient cure against kappa-ization. The problem is that I don't have it at hand, and even if I did, how would I get him to ingest it?
 Besides the fact that the material itself is not available, even Hayama should know what kind of condition he is in, so there is no way he would trust me if I gave him a cure for it. A medicine to stop youkai-ization is not something that Yun-shoku (Makoto) would be able to obtain, and even if I had obtained such a medicine, I am sure he would be looked at with suspicion as to why I have such a very rare medicine in my possession.
 "I can find its direction to some extent by the search technique..."
 I create a ready-made pendulum by threading a thread in my toolbag through a needle carved from the fang of a youkai, then prick the tip of my finger with the needle as a catalyst and smear its blood on the pendulum. The needle, which trembled as I hung it up, was pointing, however faintly and clearly, to one side. As if it were being pulled by an invisible thread.
 (It's moving a little. ...Shiro? Not good. She's in danger then.)
 The pills themselves may attract youkai because of their scarcity, but that is not a problem if they are in an Inro (seal case) that has been treated with a spell. The problem is Shiro herself. She will not come deep into the den, but a half-youkai is a feast for the monster. So she should not go near the den himself.
 (In any case, it's too time-consuming to get it, turn back, and make that young man drink it. I guess the time limit will come before that.)
 As usual, inconvenience...or is it a blessing in disguise to be alive in this world?
 Is it better to abandon him? It is certainly better to be alive than not to be alive... but to put it bluntly, I have to reject the idea that it is worth risking my life.
 Not to mention Gorilla-sama, who is a mass of talent that could be called a natural disaster, and even the White Fox project was to remove the landmine of Kitsuri-Shiroki while preserving Azuma Hibari, who is capable enough to be appointed as the head of the Onmyou dormitory, as well as Ako Murasaki, who is normally high-spec except for her laughably bad luck. There is also Tachibana Kayo, whose connections with the trading company are very attractive, even if she herself is not.
 On the other hand, Hayama is not that skilled himself, nor does he have any talent to lose by his death. One person who is closely related to Hayama is Kizuki Ayaka, whose death might have contributed to her survival, if only slightly. Depending on the route, it is not uncommon for these two to try to save each other and both end up in trouble.
 Overall, the existence of the young man Hayama is less worth risking to save than the other cases I have intervened in. And moreover, the previous cases more or less reflect the events of the original story, whereas this time there is not even a single clue. I don't know what's going to happen next. That's what confuses me the most.
 (A wise man stays away from danger, I guess. The only problem is that troublesome blue demon...)
 I'm not sure where the threshold is set by that demon to pass the test. In the original story, when the main character performs an event, the demon's reaction is one of the few examples of such a reaction, and it is.... quite harsh. The "hero" lovers doesn't care about the nameless ones. I mean, watching the main character break down in tears because he couldn't save the villagers he wanted to protect, made her underwear wet in a state of euphoria instead. Seriously, what kind of nerve does she have, I just don't get it.
 (It is possible that she would be more interested in Shirowakamaru or the Hatsuki (Renge) brat than in some unspecial "mob" like Hayama. No, can I afford to help him in the first place? After all, we'll all die together if we're not careful...)
 I put my hand over my mouth and hesitate. If I make the wrong choice, I will die in this world. Therefore, I have to make a decision after careful consideration.
 ...But it seemed that I could not afford to spend any more time on it.
 "......Crap, it's time!"
 A moment after I felt the enormous spiritual power in the distance, I had to admit the fact that time was running out due to the violent tremors that echoed through the entire cave. Damn, they could have done it slower.
 "They're here. ...Then, as planned."
 Hayama, who also acknowledged this, got his gear ready and stood up with unsteady steps. The girl beside him rushes to support him, but he stops her with his hand. He takes one look at me, bows, and heads for the doorway to the hiding place.
 Around noon of the 22nd day of the Satsuki month (between April and May) in the 12th year of the reign of Emperor Seiri, the exorcists dispatched by the Imperial Court began to raid the den of the monsters hidden in the mountains of Ashina county...

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