Wednesday, February 15, 2023 @

Chapter 57, Part 2

 The newly hatched kappa, however, dies from a spear thrown by Asagiri down its throat before it can attack the exorcists in front of it. But that is only the beginning.
 "Ugh.... Khh!?"
 The people moan one after another, and kappas appear as if they're trying to break through from the inside. No, that's not all.
 "Sh*t! From inside the cocoons, too?!"
 One after another, the cocoons around them begin to tremble, and kappas come tearing out of them. Inside the cocoons, human skins and clothes are strewn about as if they had been ripped off.
 "D*mn! Intercept! Kill them all!"
 "Cover them! Quickly...!"
 The servants acted swiftly. They cut down the newborn monsters one by one while their movements were still slow. Those who had been standing by without chasing Ayaka also attacked in support with bows and arrows.
 "Lady Ayaka...!"
 "Ah, ugh... I-I know!"
 Ayaka responds to the voice urging her to attack, her face contorted as she readies her bow. She shoots the kappa that is born one after another with her normal arrows. But...
 With a shuddering roar, something appeared. It is hard to describe it as a tiger, a raccoon dog, or a wolf... an ugly beast with a swollen belly...
 Yes, it was one of the three calamity youkai, the last survivors that had attacked the camp. It emerged from the rocks as if it had been waiting for them, and let out a breath of venom.
 "Oh no, we have to retreat! Aaaaaaah!!?"
 They try to escape in a panic, but it's too late. The two servants, bathed in the poisonous breath, writhe in agony, spewing bodily fluids from every pore of their bodies, and like a tree, dry up and die.
 "It can't be..."
 Ayaka, who was devastated by the fact that she had endangered so many people by her own actions, despaired. The situation had taken such a sudden turn for the worse.
 If it were only the kappa present here, she could still manage. However, against calamity youkai, a servant would not be of any use. Moreover, the calamity youkai in front of her was somewhat incompatible with Ayaka. If Ayaka were alone, she might be able to survive...
 And in this same frenzy and chaos, Shiro had grasped the situation. If things continued as they were, there would be many casualties among the servants. Yes, so much so that it would be difficult to find the man. No, even with that, he would be shocked at the loss of so many of his men.
 Amid the frenzy around her, the half-Youkai girl grabs the talisman necklace around her neck. Besides a simple protection against evil, it had another function.
 The girl had been told in advance by her lord about the existence of this trump card. She was also given the opportunity to decide whether or not to use it. The function is certainly effective and powerful, but it is never pleasant for the user.
 "...maybe she was expecting this situation."
 Shiro muttered a little dismissively, even in the midst of the crisis. Surely the lord must have half-expected such a crisis. The man is always in danger, and those who accompany him can never be at peace.
 ...Though it is not her right to say so, as she had already understood this and had obeyed the order to accompany him.
 "Well then, I'll be counting on you. Princess."
 Shiro hopes that the man will be all right. Then she clutches the necklace.
 The next moment, after releasing the function of the necklace, Shiro lost consciousness. The being who has taken over her body transforms her body and smiles a bewitching smile. It was a gruesome and cruel smile.
 The surrounding kappa rushes to attack, but it is meaningless.
 It was only for a moment. In an instant, she had torn through all the surrounding creatures with her "seven tails," leaving not even a piece of flesh behind. It was not only those who tried to crowd around her, but also the servants who had been attacked as well.
 "Huh? They're gone...!?"
 The servants who had just been fighting the kappa were shaken up, not knowing what had happened, when the monsters in front of them vanished a moment later, leaving neither shadow nor form behind. They look around in panic, perhaps thinking that they are hiding somewhere. At the same time, there is no one who can find the figure of the white fox hidden by the confusion and the illusion that has developed.
 But, that's not important. She doesn't owe them an explanation, and she doesn't have time to give them one. Because she has someone more important than that, someone, she loves far more than all the rest.
 And that person is now...
 "......So, it's down here, huh?"
 She utters this with a smile on her face, and the next moment, underneath her feet, is blown away by a waving foxtail...
* * *
 "Possession", that is, the act of one soul or spirit possessing another and taking over its consciousness, is a much more difficult act than it can be described in words.
 The act of directly taking over the spirit, whether by hypnosis or physical manipulation, means pushing one's soul and intellect into another being. And how dangerous it is... If it fails, at worst, the soul will be transformed and will not be able to return to its original body, but will go into exile. Of course, the body will become a shell of a cripple.
 Kizuki Aoi understood this very well. She knew what had happened to her father, a man with a special gift in his field, even though he was a special case... He had failed and what had happened to him... was honestly something to be laughed at, and ridiculed, but it was also a concern that she could not overlook.
 She had no intention of repeating the same mistake as that foolish and narrow-minded man. Therefore, she made all possible preparations.
 ....Though it was a horrifying act of insanity.
 After all, she did "split herself" or "split her spirit", which is also a crazy enough act from a human point of view. Cutting one's soul into pieces, the pain would be unbearable for an ordinary person, let alone a youkai, and would greatly reduce one's life expectancy. In fact, she shaved off about ten years of her life just to chop off a part of her soul.
 But it didn't matter. Such a life, the fruit of the mating of the Kizuki bloodline, was insignificant to her. She had been guaranteed to live several times longer than a normal person in this world where life is said to be fifty years due to her immense spiritual power, and she had been guaranteed to be young for almost all of that time.
 So much so that she thought it was rather inconvenient. After all, the being she loves is only human, and his body has been abused for so many years. Even though there are now strange things lurking within him, and altering him, that's not a problem. Nor does it matter if he remains a human being for the rest of his days, or if he strays from it. It was just she did not want to imagine that he would die first.
 More than anything, she worried about whether the souls that had been separated would be able to keep their reason.
 The souls of humans and youkai have different mental structures. The way she had done it this time was of a kind that would greatly undermine the self-identity of the soul that had been divided. The souls that are divided literally share the memories of the time just before they were divided, but they are distinctly different from the main body, and when they have fulfilled their duties, they are doomed to disintegrate and vanish, having exhausted their power.
 Now, consider this. Can a soul that retains exactly the same memories as its body, but is irreversibly divided, remains sane and fulfills its role even when it understands its own inevitable annihilation...?
 ...The answer to that question is far from clear.
 "Oh my, oh my, she's got a surprisingly big appetite for such a cute face. Well, maybe half a minute at the most?"
 Kizuki Aoi's soul, who had kicked and dug her way through the cave, took a quick glance at the white fox woman's body and, with her genius forensic sense, came up with an almost accurate answer at first sight.
 By borrowing the girl who had once lost more than 90% of her power and turned into a mere half-youkai as a vessel, and by releasing the spiritual power that she had spent half a year pouring into the necklace, the body of the girl called Shiro was temporarily transformed into that of a cruel and arrogant monster fox who had once been extremely cruel.
 To be more precise, her body was about 70% of the monster fox's prime. Though with seven tails, her body was neither a calamity youkai nor a great youkai, it was a delicate position to be honest. And even in such a half-hearted form, Kizuki Aoi's spirit could survive for only half a minute.
 (Although it is possible to make it longer, but...)
 Part of her spiritual power is used to twist and contain the consciousness of the former monster, but even including that, there is no way to prolong her consciousness even more. However, she did not dare to choose that option. She knew it was not a good move for the man she cared for. It was not what Aoi wanted, to be hated by the one she loved for something less necessary.
 "Well, I guess it's too late for that now, isn't it?"
 After uttering a small cold laugh, Aoi turned around to meet the eyes behind her. Sensing the confusion, agitation, and slight hostility of her beloved.
 "You... no, no way you are... Why are you here...? no, why would you do such a thing in the first place...?"
 With the child tucked protectively behind his back, he spun the words in a stunned, bewildered, and displeased, contemptuous manner. This was an expected reaction for Kizuki Aoi's soul, which was still calm and gentle within her expectations. She was relieved to hear that. But... she couldn't let it go to her head.
 "Oh, my, do you have something to complain about? What I do is my business. What right do you have to control me?"
 She answered him haughtily. Even from under his mask, she can see his face is distorted.
 Yes, she knew he would react that way. After all, of all people, she had done the same thing to that man, and to a half-youkai "child" at that. It is no wonder that he hated her and looked at her as an enemy.
 (But... that's more convenient in this case.)
 That's good. He will not understand the details of this forbidden art, and that's fine with her. He also doesn't need to know that there are only a few of hers left. Nor does he need to know how many predestined lives she has sacrificed in order to do this. No need for him to be bothered by such "trivialities."
 Because Aoi knew that day that there are things even he can't save. Neither Aoi nor her soul wanted to be a burden to him.
 "By the way, what a terrible outfit you're wearing again. It's so sticky, is it... bodily fluids?"
 She then looks at him and the boy who falls on his buttocks behind him stunned, as if to cover up the whole thing. This body has five keen senses. Its sense of smell is keenly attuned to the peculiar odor of the bodily fluids that cling to its body.
 "...I am sorry to meet you in such an appearance. After all..."
 "You don't have to tell me, I know what to expect. It would be easy enough if you were alone, but not if there were others to slow you down... Hey, don't run away."
 With a deft flick of one of her outstretched foxtails, Aoi catches the one who was hiding behind the charms. She tosses the flabbergasted and frantically flailing girl to the two in front of her.
 "I'm sure one or two more will be coming soon from up there... so don't worry about these kids, okay?"
 A servant who had caught the girl shouted accusingly at her as if she was handling something, but Aoi looked upward and said what she wanted to do. Immediately, the servant's expression becomes doubtful from beneath the mask. On the other side, the youkai fox's mouth hangs up in a bewitching manner at the reaction.
 "I have a pretty good idea of what's going on. Things seem to be getting interesting, but... I don't suppose you'll be convinced if I order you to go up there anyway?"
 Aoi says, and supports herself with her tails as a chair and she folds her legs and rests her cheekbones on her arm. It is nothing but her talent to show that she can use the fox's body as if it were her own limbs in such a short period of time, even though it is not her own body, and even though it is a sensory organ that no human being has.
 "This is good entertainment. I'll leave this to you. Oh, by the way, I've been going through her memories and it seems that our family's advisor has been captured. You should go help her too."
 Aoi's soul, who borrowed the body of a white fox, taps her head and her mouth twists into a smile of amusement. It was a lecherous, seductive, and bewitching smile.
 "Princess, that's..."
 "It would be more convenient for me if you accomplish that. So go ahead."
 Aoi's soul commands her beloved. Gracefully, elegantly, and proudly.
 But inwardly, she was conflicted. She does not want to put her beloved in danger. She wants to protect him. For Aoi, the young man in front of her was the one whom she wanted to protect at the cost of everything she had.
 At the same time, she understood what kind of person he was. If he were such a small person who only thought about his own protection, Aoi would not be here now. Even his life is doubtful for her. But now, despite all the excuses he made that day and all the hateful things he said, in the end, he protected a girl who was nothing but a burden and selfishness. He sacrificed many things for that... and Aoi didn't expect him to run away so hastily in this situation.
 (Besides, it would be more convenient for me to have him play an active role.)
 Make him a hero. And to have him become a match for her and to be together with her... that was Aoi's supreme goal, and this situation was a perfect opportunity for her.
 "As you know, I don't ask you to kill the spider. You're going to retrieve the advisor and the hidden group member... At least you can do that, right?"
 And that was more than enough for Aoi. She didn't know what the Advisor was thinking, but there was nothing wrong with gaining a favor. The young man of the hidden group is also worth using. He is also a member of the Kizuki bloodline, and is friends with the daughter of the bowman's branch of the family. He is a good pawn for Kizuki to use. And from Aoi who knew him well, the odds seemed to be in her favor.
 "Hehe, I expect a good report from you, okay?"

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