Tuesday, February 14, 2023 @

Chapter 56, Part 1

 A sudden and violent thunderous boom echoed through the cave, and it was obvious what it meant.
 The humans began to attack... and in response, the spider youkai monster that had been scattered throughout the vast cave began to move in unison. At the command of their lord, transmitted through the vibrations of their threads, they gather one after another toward one of the tunnels into which the humans are invading.
 The spider, which is the size of a human, was also moving through the den to intercept the humans, like countless of its brethren. The next moment, however, the spider stops at the presence.
 The spider, sensing the faint presence of spiritual power with its sixth sense as a youkai, tilted its head first. It was because it was unnatural.
 Spiritual energy... it is not strange to feel it. This cave is located at the edge of the spiritual vein of this land, so there is a thin spiritual atmosphere in the air. Therefore, it is not unnatural in itself. However, is this spiritual power somehow different from that of this land?
 The spider slowly moves toward the source of the presence with its eight legs. The presence came from behind a membrane of spider silk threads attached to the rock surface. The spider deftly uses its paws to peel away the membrane. But then...
 "Sorry, that's enough. You'll scare the brats away."
 The next moment, a voice echoes from the side, and the spider tries to turn around as quickly as possible. But it was too late. The spider was grabbed from above and its face was crushed, unable to resist. It could not struggle or even wriggle.
 If it had been an ordinary small knife (kogatana), it would have been neutralized so easily. However, the Dagger (tantō) with a cherry blossom pattern engraved on its handle was a little... well, quite unusual.
 That pattern was a curse which seeped out of the dagger's suspiciously gleaming blade and invaded the spider's entire body. A curse that had been carefully concocted, layered, and mixed with the resentment of the many monsters who had reaped the lives of others... It bound not only the body of the target, but also the soul.
 "All right, you guys. Let's drag this guy to the hiding place!"
 The spider, still conscious though its body was convulsing, looked on. It was a human thrusting a dagger into itself. A man in all black with a Hannya mask. It rolled up the membrane of spider threads and commanded the smaller humans who were hiding on the other side of the membrane.
 "Intruders? I have to tell my friends, I have to tell my master..." But the spider's attempts are crushed. Its paralyzed and restrained body could not communicate the situation to its brethren through the vibrations of its threads, nor could it produce a pheromone-laden secretion.
 The spider is dragged in like an object. The two small human figures hiding in the cave seemed to be intimidated by the sight. On the other hand, the man with a Hannya mask pulls out a dagger (tantō) that is still stuck in the spider's head.
 The spider twitched again with a violent shock as he pulled it out. The dagger (tantō) is pulled out with its string hanging down. But that was not the end of it.
 "Well, it's easier to drain the blood out of a spider like this when it's still fresh. ...Let's get to work quickly."
 The man muttered as if he was working without any hesitation. And the spider, who did not have the wisdom to understand human language but understood the general meaning from the atmosphere, however... there was no other possible way now that its whole body was paralyzed.
 Therefore, the spider would only have to spend its few remaining hours of life experiencing an indescribable hell at the hands of the human being in front of it...
 After Hayama leaves the hiding place according to the plan, I capture one of the passing spider youkai monsters and process it. The purpose was to collect its bodily fluids as an improvised odor-eliminator to drown out human smells. For that purpose...
 "What...? Why of all places did it have to be this color? Isn't it weird? Aren't spiders supposed to be green or something?"
 I was grunting as I was cutting the spider youkai monster's belly. To tell the truth, this was unexpected.
 I had prepared myself for green or blue bodily fluids. But when the time came, the color of the bodily fluid dripping from the monster's intestines betrayed the expectations of everyone present. After all...
 "White, cloudy, and also unpleasantly sticky. ...Wait a minute, isn't this too explicit?"
 I take one look at the viscous bodily fluids clinging to Dagger (tantō). That's crazy, right? Those guys I cut down in the woods didn't look like this, did they? And what's this smell, anyway? What's this horrible smell? Isn't this the kind of event the creator of the game had planned for!?
 '....It's probably a different kind of smell. I remember reading about it in the literature. It is said that the ground spider (Tsuchigumo) can produce a household according to its role, like the queen ants. I think this is a household that mainly produces threads. As you can see, there is a fiber-like substance in the bodily fluid. So I think that this body fluid is the source of the thread.'
 The bee shikigami answered in my ear. Oh, thank you for your calm explanation. But then there's a hint of disgust in your tone, right? You're not fully convincing me.
 I turn my gaze from Dagger (tantō) to the boy and the girl. Shirowakamaru looks away. Well, I guess that's natural. Then the girl tilts her head, not really understanding what I'm saying. In a way, it was a blessing.
 "Uh, that's right. You know, first come, first served. But I'll take responsibility. I'll be the first one to do it. ...So watch me. And, for time being, make up your mind."
 With that, I look at the white bodily fluid. It was a little foamy, probably from stirring it a bit with the Dagger (tantō). By the way, it was also giving off a foul smell.
 "...! Ugh, d*mn it!"
 I spat out as if I had made up my mind to do so, and then I scooped up some white-colored bodily fluids with my Dagger (tantō) and smeared them on my outfit. What is this feeling!? How disgusting!!
 Shirowakamaru was obviously taken aback. Stop it, don't look at me like that. I don't like it either. I mean, you do it too, don't you?
 "D*mn it... Is this okay here? Here, you'd better get yourself ready."
 After covering my outfit with a thick white slime to a certain extent, I twist my hand into the intestines of the dead spider and scoop up some mucus, which I offer to Shirowakamaru. Shirowakamaru stared at it, and his face became tight. I know how you feel, but please hurry up. There has been a steady stream of bodily fluids on the ground since a few minutes ago.
 On the other hand, a girl named Kikyo, who was watching us, stuck her hand into the spider's belly. As the boy and I watched in bewilderment, the girl silently smeared her own clothes, which looked rather expensive, with the white-colored bodily fluids. I thought she was a sheltered young lady, but she had a lot of guts.
 "...Okay, she has decided to do it. You'll do it, won't you?"
 The fact that a girl, younger than himself, had done it, perhaps provoked him, and he was determined to do it, too. Shirowakamaru looked at me with a distorted face for a moment as he wiped off the white fluid on my hand, and then he spattered it on his own white clothes with great vigor.
 "Ugh... ugh..."
 Shirowakamaru shudders at the sickening sensation after he does it. If anything, he looks a little teary-eyed. Nevertheless, he smears his bodily fluids onto his clothes as if trying to endure the experience. Maybe it is because of his poor technique or the high viscosity, he is not able to apply it evenly, and the foamy white juice drips down from the over-coated places. I don't know, but it looks very sexy, though I don't show it to my face.
 "Oh, I don't have a choice. I’ll take care of it. ...Haha, this is terrible. I'll have to throw these clothes away after this one."
 Shirowakamaru would have been tortured if he had to do it any longer. So, in place of him, I pull on the white clothes and apply the spider's fluid evenly to them. As for me and the girl's clothes, I'll have to burn them later. After all, I don't know if I can wash it off with this stickiness, and the smell will soak into it. Besides, I don't think anyone will buy them even if I offer them secondhand. So, it would be better to burn them.
 "Don't complain, okay? It's unpleasant, and there's not a lot of blood. If you drop too much, there won't be enough."
 Shirowakamaru nodded silently but reluctantly at my words. When I thought about it, I realized that I was in the worst situation ever, applying a messy, smelly, white-colored mucus to a young boy with a woman's face.
 "Well then, that's about it. And this one too. Be patient, I'm not gonna tie you up too tight, okay?"
 "I-I know..."
 The boy looks uncomfortable, but with some tears in his voice, he endures as I wrap the rough rope around his arm, looking away. I'm not a fan of bondage plays either. I tie the rough rope loosely around Shirowakamaru's body so as not to leave any marks, but also to make it easy for him to move around and not to hurt him. Considering Shirowakamaru's past, I should admire him just for enduring this in silence...
 "Okay, it's done. ...You can have this one, too."
 And finally, around the boy's neck was a threaded, Matagama.
 "Whoever wears this and whoever is in contact with it will be visually invisible. Shirowakamaru, you keep it. Then, hold my hand and the princess's hand."
 The girl was born into a family of exorcism, so she should be able to use a simple curse. So I wanted to keep one hand free. That would inevitably lead me to give Shirowakamaru the matagama.
 "Don't drop it, okay? It's pretty valuable, you know?"
 "...Is that all right? Give it to me?"
 "It's the most efficient way. Okay, we're running out of time. Let's go..."
 After checking my belongings, I finally order the boy and girl to go.
 (I have some regrets... but for now, I'd better do my immediate duty first.)
 I'm worried about Hayama. But... things have priorities. I can't ignore him, but that doesn't mean I couldn't be selfish enough to put the two children in front of me in danger, and at the same time, I couldn't choose both sides.
 I knew very well that my hands were not long enough to save anyone...
* * *
 While the servants were starting their actions in the depths of the spider's den, the raiding squads on the ground were also starting their actions.
 Actually, conquering a youkai's den is not an easy task even for exorcists who have fought many times in the past.
 Depending on the object, especially the wise youkai often use caves and underground passageways to build their dens. This is in preparation for defeating the exorcists and other humans.
 This is because they do not know the whole picture and the size of the lair, and visibility is limited due to the lack of a light source... So, if someone enters a lair of youkai with a half-prepared force, he or she will be lost in the labyrinth-like interior and may be taken by surprise from a side passage, their way out will be cut off, and they will be devoured to death while they are isolated and alone. No, that is not so bad. If they are half-dead with their limbs torn off for preservative food, or if they are used as a breeding factory for creatures, they will continue to suffer in the darkness for a long time.
 Therefore, the human side does not show any mercy when they invade youkai's den. This is true even if there are live bait and breeding that also serve as hostages.
 First, if the den has multiple entrances and exits, they are to be destroyed. Then, after narrowing down the entrances and exits, they attack with a large-scale spiritual technique to get rid of the dead. Especially, they burn down the den with Katon (Fire element) or destroy it with Mizuton (Water element).
 Of course, a wise youkai does expect such things. After all, for them, the internal structure of the den prevents such attacks from reaching the innermost part of the den. So, the best the exorcists can do is to destroy the traps at the entrance and exit of the den and the ambush soldiers. After that, the servants and hidden groups are sent out on reconnaissance to determine the internal structure and the number and capability of the waiting youkai, and based on the information they bring back, the main exorcist's march in... that is the theory.
 The team of this time also followed the same basic principle. After collapsing all the suspicious caves and the like in various locations, the entrance to the largest den was secured.
 The hidden group that went ahead and secured the area around the den, sacrificed seven dead and 12 seriously wounded, which was not a small sacrifice, but it was tolerated as a necessary one.
 After securing the entrance to the den, the black-clad men of the Rikyoshu (Researcher group) began to advance. As they proceeded, setting up lanterns in various places, they held in their hands "the Imperial Hellfire."
 "Prepare to ignite!"
 "Yes, sir, we'll light it."
 As they advance, they activate their weapons. They pour a whirlpool of flame into the cavern, which is not large at all. After burning down the holes hidden by threads, which were probably set up for a surprise attack, they throw a few primitive hand grenades into the holes to blow them up. The kappa and spiders that had been lying in wait as ambush soldiers in the hidden passages throughout the den were literally swept away by the flames and iron filings.
 Or perhaps it was more like extermination work than cleaning. This extermination work is carried out in a calm, silent way...
 "Hey, are you sure? A toy like that won't do much for a small youkai, let alone a medium youkai or larger, will it?"
 "It's just a dewdrop. Our techniques won't work against a kappa any more than they would against a spider. They're hiding and waiting for us. It's all right if we can get rid of them."
 Uemon, sitting on a custom-made stool and fanning his face with a fan, replies.
 The man who had led the raiding party in a brawl with logs in his hands before coming here was sweating profusely, perhaps from exhaustion, and was wiping it off with a hand towel. After the Rikyoshu (Researcher Group) had cleared the area, and after the scouts and the hidden group had completed their reconnaissance of the interior, they would advance to the den as the first group of the strike team.
 "By the way, old man Uemon, you did a good job. I didn't know you could move like that."
 Touya asked the elder of his family in pure amazement. Although Kizuki Uemon, the elder of the Kizuki clan and the head of the hidden group, had been regarded as a financier and a political strategist, Touya had not expected that this man, who was far removed from the actual battle among his family members, could be so capable.
 "Hmph, no need for flattery. It's just brute force after all. I don't have any special skills. I understand that I have no tricks up my sleeve."
 Uemon sniffs and dismisses him. Uemon's physical strengthening will be effective enough against the masses of youkai, or against special youkai such as kappa, for whom spiritual techniques are ineffective.
 But that is all. Some of the highest-level youkai cannot be defeated by physical combat, and some of them do not have a physical body to begin with. Uemon, who has only physical means of attack, is powerless against such an opponent, and even more so against a being like a demon (oni), whose body has extraordinary robustness.
 And if many of youkai have the power to kill someone at first sight, Uemon, who specializes only in strengthening his body, has many weak points. And yet, he still had to fight on the front line of defeating this den.
 "If Madam Kochou is captured. I have to be at the forefront to convince others. The prestige of Kizuki is at stake."
 The adviser/representative of the Kizuki delegation, who is as famous as Miyataka among the exorcists participating in the raiding party, has been taken prisoner. In order to retrieve her or only her body, Kizuki suggested that they join forces with their relatives and other families that had suffered casualties in the recent expedition to attack the den, and the raiding party eventually complied.
 Some of the families who were to join the raiding party said that they would have to make new preparations, but Kizuki pushed them aside. It was only natural that Uemon, who was second in command of Kizuki's dispatch team, should take the lead. Of course, Uemon himself was concerned about his mother's safety. Therefore, it was necessary for him to do his unfamiliar work in the field.
 "Anyway, I am not important. The problem is the rest of Kizuki. You must take it easy. ...But, by the way, I hear there's a problem with the servants."
 "Hmm? Well... it's not that big a deal. The Yun-shoku is missing and there's some confusion about the transfer. It seems there's a hierarchy in place, so the next in charge has been decided..."
 "Hmph, I guess so. He's smart in the strangest ways. I'm sure he's covered for that. He's very cunning."
 Uemon sniffs grimly, and Tohya gives him a doubtful look.
 "I don't know it very well, but are you acquainted with that Yun-shoku?"
 "Hmm? ...Well, it was a long time ago. It's none of our business now."
 Uemon's frown and the way he said something gave the impression that he didn't want to say anything more.
 (I'm afraid he would have hated me if I had pursued the matter any further...)
 Touya was aware that the topic of Yun-shoku had become a kind of taboo for Kizuki.
 Younger generations like Touya and Ayaka do not know much about it. He only knew that to the elders of Kizuki, that servant was an object of hostility and hatred. And yet the strange thing is that he is still alive to this day, kept as a servant of Kizuki Aoi, the princess of the family, and most of all...
 (...He and I have already become estranged from each other.)
 Touya remembers that a former friend of his, who now belongs to a hidden group, was concerned about the man. He did not give any details, but Touya still remembered the time when he left Touya and Ayaka.
 (I want you to help me if something happens, right? I think that's usually for me).
 He was still a good-natured guy, Touya thought about his missing old friend. Ayaka has been searching for him throughout the expedition, but he is still missing. But... that old friend is not a fool, even if he is not a very worldly man. Nor did he seem like the kind of guy who would go down so easily.
 "...I wouldn't have thought it possible, but maybe we've bumped into each other..."
 "Hmm? What did you say?"
 "No, I was just talking to myself."
 Touya looks around, trying to fool Uemon, who has a doubtful expression on his face. At the entrance of the den, the Rikyushu (Researcher group) had returned to the ground after completing the incineration work to some extent, and the servants of each family had started to enter one after another to investigate the inside of the den and eliminate the traps. Among them were the servants of Kizuki's family. As one of the three largest families of exorcism in the northern region, it was only natural that the number of their servants was large, although they were short on manpower compared to the area under their jurisdiction. But...
 "Hmm? What is that?"
 Among the black-clad group, Touya recognized some strange figures. One was obviously a child, with a fox-like tail sticking out of a gap in her clothes. And the other one is a girl who is carrying a bow that is obviously too good quality for a servant, and who is looking around with a restless look on her face.
 "Hey, hey, that idiot, if she's going to blend in, she'd better do it better..."
 The purpose is known. She has been searching for people ever since she volunteered to accompany them on this expedition. The reason she's blending in with the servants is probably to find her as quickly as possible. But there are other ways...
 "D*mn, this is a pain in the ass..."
 "? Where are you going? We haven't finished checking out the servants yet, have we?"
 Uemon asks Touya as he is about to leave. Exorcists are valuable, and wasting their spiritual power on a bunch of small fry is not honorable.
 "Look, I'm not going that deep. I'm just going to get used to it a little bit."
 With his sword on his shoulder, Touya steps into the dark cave...
* * *
 "Well, well... I said to myself, 'Let's go...,' but we ran into a problem right away..."

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