Wednesday, February 15, 2023 @

Chapter 57, Part 1

 Time will go back a while.
 "All shields up!! The kappas are coming!!"
 "Kahekitama (a type of hand-thrown grenade used in ancient Japan) ready to throw... Throw! Throw it!"
 Following the shouts, they put thin steel and wooden plates on top of each other, and then they hold up fireproof coated shields all at once. Then, countless Kahekitama, thrown from above using a projectile, disappeared into the avalanche of attacking kappas that filled the narrow passage... and exploded in the next instant, turning them into countless lumps of flesh.
 In the upper part of the cave where the monsters lurked, the battle between the servants and youkai was unfolding in a passage that was by no means wide. The youkai took advantage of the poor visibility and terrain in the narrow cave to attack the intruders with their mass, subterfuge, and traps, while the raiding party dealt with them mainly with the servants because they cannot afford to lose valuable exorcists to traps and ambushers. In short, the servants will be left to take care of the small fry.
 Naturally, the servants dispatched by each family had to suffer many casualties in the face of the army of spiders and kappa that were thrown in one after another... but among them, only the servants dispatched by one family had advanced deeper into the den with only minor damage.
 The 48 servants dispatched by the Kizuki family's subordinates and deployed into the den have so far suffered only one seriously injured and three slightly wounded, but no one has died, and yet they have marched deeper into the den than any of the other families' servants.
 One of the reasons for this may have been the ability of the people themselves. The equipment obtained and deployed through the Tachibana Trading Company was undoubtedly the most high-class and high-performance among the servants participating in this raid, and they were also highly coordinated to make the best use of their strengths.
 In particular, their skill in disarming traps and uncovering ambush soldiers, and sometimes using them to divide and destroy each enemy individually was considerably more refined than that of the other families' servants. Regardless of their individual skills as servants, they were definitely superior as a group of servants.
 Another reason, and a bigger factor than the above-mentioned, was the presence of outsiders who participated in this group of servants.
 "There's something wriggling behind them, throw the flash ball (閃光玉)!"
 Following the instructions of the leader of the front group, the throwing team in the rear throws a flash ball (閃光玉). With their arms strengthened by spiritual power, the flash balls are thrown into the darkness more than fifty steps ahead, and in the next instant, they emit light, exposing the monsters in hiding to the light.
 "Three youkai in the middle are confirmed! They are coming this way...!!"
 "Prepare the bows and spears! Front guard, get ready to form a perimeter!"
 "Assault team! Get ready!!"
 With that call, dozens of arrows and spears are fired. The black giant spiders ahead of them, whose bodies looked like elephants, were attacked mainly on their faces, and they stopped in their tracks, where they were hurled by Kahekitamas. Numerous stones and pieces of iron scattered from inside the spider by the explosion pierced its body, and it collapsed from exhaustion, though it did not die instantly.
 "The second one's coming!!"
 "Deploy the boundary!!"
 The second one, using the first one as a stepping stone, appears from behind and closes the distance with the servants, at which point the two groups of ten servants jointly deploy boundaries. Each of them compensates their weak boundaries with various curse-tools due to their weak spiritual power, and by layering them on top of each other, they manage to form boundaries that are equivalent to those put up by third-rate exorcists. A spider hits the boundary, burns itself, and stops. Then a squad with swords and axes in their hand's charges in.
 They cut off the spider's legs with a single blow as if to break away from it, and immediately return to the inside of the boundary to avoid counterattacks. The spider, which has lost three front legs in total, collapses and spits out threads angrily. It was a thread cutter, not a water cutter, that spat out the hard threads with the force of a bullet.
 "Tsk...!? Aaaah...!?"
 The thread shot pierced through the boundary and blew away the servant who was holding his shield in a straight line, shattering his shield. The servant is not dead, but his bones are broken as he is slammed against the cave wall.
 "Hit its face!!"
 "Spear it! Thrust the spear on it!!"
 But at the same time, several spears were thrown at the spider, piercing its brain and chelicerae and putting a stop to the spider. But even that may have been part of the monster's plan.
 "D*mn, here comes the last one!"
 With the sacrifice of two of its brethren, the last one was already closing in on the servants. It shatters the weakened boundary with two strikes, then attacks with two forelegs, using them as spears.
 "D*mn you, monster!"
 Several servants are injured by the tip of its forelegs. The clothes worn by the servants are reinforced with curses, and especially the vital points are protected from the inside with thin steel plates, and even their bodies are reinforced with spiritual power... but if they still bleed as if they were slashed by a sword just by grazing them, it was not difficult to imagine what would happen if they were eaten alive.
 Now, the formation and coordination of the group were beginning to crumble under the onslaught of the Mediun Youkai... and the servants began to grow impatient when they spotted the countless spiders from further back... but in the next instant, they were all obliterated by an arrow of light.
 "Lady Ayaka!?"
 The servants all looked behind them. A girl from one of Kizuki's branch families, holding a bow carved out of a sacred tree, gave a wry smile to cover her face.
 "I-I'm sorry. But I thought that was a bit dangerous..."
 Ayaka Kizuki apologized to the servants, looking uncomfortable.
 "N-No... We thank you for your help. However, if you help us too much, your spiritual power will be insufficient..."
 One of the leaders of the squad of servants bowed his head reverently and answered. His tone was brusque.
 "That's fine. ...Haha, I know I'm being selfish myself."
 Ayaka also responds to the apology in a bad mood. It was a mistake for her to be here with them, who were supposed to be the ones to clear the way for her to come. However, Ayaka had forced herself to accompany them without telling the other members of the family.
 It was all for the sake of finding people. She had been searching for people ever since the beginning of this expedition. After all, she believed. That the person was alive. At the same time, she had taken the initiative in going to the front lines to prevent a situation in which the people, whom she search, might be killed by her allies while they were still alive, as is the usual practice in the extermination of youkai. This was also the case in the attack on this den, as Ayaka had contacted a little girl who was also going to accompany the servants, and with her connections, Ayaka had dressed in the costume of the servants and followed them. Her assistance to them was a gratuity.
 "No... but then, let's proceed. Everyone, advance! And Shiro-dono, are you sure this is the way?"
 The servant, who was uncomfortable with the polite attitude of the superior, but there was no time to spare, cut the conversation short and asked his companion, the only outsider in the group, to move forward.
 "Y-yes! Umm... the needle is certainly pointing this way!"
 After carefully checking twice or thrice the point of the needle and thread hanging in her hand behind her, the white fox half-youkai shakes her head and replies so.
 Shiro... This white half-youkai girl took the initiative to step into the den because she was worried about the outcome of the expedition.
 Originally, she had been forced to join the raid as a servant's attendant in place of her lord, who was unable to participate in the expedition herself. And she knew and agreed to this, even though she was not a Yun-shoku.
 The girl did not dislike the servant who was her benefactor and acquaintance, and she fully understood from her past experience how unstable his position was and how reckless he could be at times.
 To Shiro, the servant was dependable, kind, and reassuring by her side. However, if she took her eyes off of him for a moment, he might die... This is why she naturally and naively wanted to support him, even though she was not strong enough to do so.
 And this anxiety was once right on target. Although she was afraid, she admitted that she took the most appropriate measures in order to save him from suffering in the tent.
 The incident that followed was probably a reaction to her emotional reaction, an act she would prefer to forget. But Shiro wanted to believe that he was neither insolent nor a pervert. She convinced herself that the taste of blood and sweat on her tongue when she took a sweet bite was delicious, probably due to the spiritual energy contained in it.
 Anyway, Shiro was worried about her benefactor in her own way, and she was frustrated that her benefactor was missing.
 The search curse was taught to her by her lord. The curse was said to be a kind of curse that could find the location of the person being searched for by using an object that was related to the person being searched for as a catalyst, and if the curse technique was simple enough, it would be able to find the direction of the person being searched for, and if a master using it, it would even be able to find the exact distance and coordinates of the person.
 In this case, the catalyst was a pill. Just before his disappearance, he had dissolved one of the two pills in water and drank it up, and since she had been told that the pills themselves were quite valuable, it was unlikely that there were similar pills nearby. Now, the tip of the hanging needle and thread points to the back of the cave.
 "Well then, Shiro-chan, shall we go?"
 After the advance party has cleared the area of remaining enemies and secured safety, the servants begin to advance, and Ayaka and Shiro also accompany them.
 Just before entering the cave with the servants, Shiro was puzzled by Ayaka's request for help in accompanying them, but she had some idea of Ayaka's character after living in the Kizuki household for more than a year. She is at least much more trustworthy than the others. Her ability was useful, and therefore, Shiro cooperated with her to rescue her benefactor. And as a result, they had succeeded in advancing deeper into the cave more smoothly than the other servants.
 However, things never end smoothly from the beginning to the end. Especially when the opponent is a cunning youkai.
 "...!? Wait, be quiet!"
 As the group moves forward in the darkness with torches, Asagiri, the temporary commander of the servants, first notices the sound and orders all the members to stop. Everyone stops moving and sharpens their senses so as not to miss even the slightest change.
 A moment later, they noticed a scream. The servants then hurriedly throw flash balls.
 The explosion and luminescence illuminated the spacious room at the end of the corridor. The scene that unfolded there caused everyone to stagger involuntarily.
 "Is this a... cocoon?"
 As far as the eye could see, there were cocoons, cocoons, and cocoons...... and the room was filled with an expanse of more than a hundred cocoons, which was enough to shake them up, but the story didn't end there.
 "What!? What is that...!!!"
 Ayaka was the first to notice. At the back of the room, there was a giant spider. It had torn open one of the cocoons and hung the human trapped in it from the ceiling, tying his legs together with thread.
 "Aaaah!? H-help me! Somebody, help me...!!?"
 The human figure was screaming for help. He was so terrified by the presence of the creature in front of him that he was flailing around in an upside-down position, resembling an insect before wrapped up, and it was almost ridiculous.
 No, it was not just one person. Dozens of human figures were screaming and calling for help in the same way. Their appearances suggested that they must have been abducted from one of the villages around here. They screamed and called desperately for help. They did not say who they were, but just cried and cried.
 "We have to help them. ......"
 "Please wait! Such an obvious call for help may be a trap!"
 Asagiri stops Ayaka from rushing to help. Youkai is a cowardly and sneaky being. Using hostages to lure in other people was a common practice.
 "But... Aaah!!?"
 While they were doing this, one of the villagers was swallowed whole by a spider. Screams for help were drowned out by the sound of crunching flesh and crushing bones. It was a horrifying crushing sound that reverberated sickeningly through the cave.
 And that was the decisive blow. Ayaka quickly readied her bow, and an arrow beam reinforced with spiritual power was released with a sound that cut through the sky.
 The next moment, the head of the giant spider, which had begun to eat people in a good mood, was obliterated by the unmatched accuracy of Ayaka's bow shot. The spider's huge body collapses, scattering pieces of flesh from its head around it as if it had been hit by a cannonball. After that, Ayaka ran.
 "W-wait a minute... Tsk, half of you stay behind! And the rest of you! Come with me!"
 Asagiri clicked his tongue and ordered the men to start running toward the cocoon.
 It was impossible to stop Ayaka, who was running like the wind. Not only her but also the enemies. Several spiders jumped at her from the shadows of the cocoon as if to surprise her, but all of them were hit by bows or cut down by the sword at her waist. Ayaka, bouncing like a rabbit on the rock surface, then deployed about ten dolls of shikigami, simultaneously binding the spiders and cutting through the threads of the people who were hung from them.
 The threads, which were as hard as wire, were cut off without a second thought by Ayaka's sword for self-defense. The falling people are caught by the deployed shikigami.
 "Are you all right!? You are safe now!"
 Ayaka ran up to one of the villagers, crying and expressing his gratitude. It was out of complete goodwill. And... it was an act that could be called a flaw for exorcists.
 "Lady Ayaka, it's dangerous!"
 "Huh...!? What!!?"
 A warning from behind makes her turn around, but she immediately notices it. After all, the next moment, the villager in front of her suddenly starts to suffer, his eyes white and his head split open.
 The body split open like a pupa hatching, and out of it emerges a green-skinned monster with big yellow eyes.
 'Kikiki... Ki!!?'

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