Wednesday, February 15, 2023 @

Chapter 57, Part 3

 With a smile on her face, the second princess's soul tosses an inro (a medicine case) and a shikigami to the servant. The servant who received the gifts from his lord puts them away and looks into her cherry-blue eyes for a while, then turns to the boy and girl on the side and says to them.
 "Listen, that person there will protect you. Don't ever leave her, okay? And... especially Lady Kikyo, please tell me about that story."
 The young exorcists nodded at the servant's words while being frightened by the calamity youkai's body radiating her power right beside them... and muttered quietly.
 "About Hayama... Please..."
 "...Please leave it to me."
 The girl's words are squeezed out of her, and the servant murmurs reassuringly. Then he looked at Shirowakamaru.
 "You're a boy, don't cry, okay? I'll be right back."
 "Ah... ahh..."
 The servant smiled at his somewhat unsure reply and tried to pat him on the head as if to comfort him, but the boy noticed that he had stopped.
 "Well, princess. Please do me a favor."
 Shirowakamaru tried to say something, but no words came out. The servant had bowed to his lord's soul before running to the back of the cave. In vain, the boy's disgustingly thin, white hand reached out into the air, but...
 "There is nothing you can do. You should stay here and be protected."
 As if to block the figure of the servant who is disappearing into the darkness, a pure white fox tail reaches in front of the boy and pulls his body toward Aoi. The boy stared at Aoi, but at the same time, he could not argue with her.
 The boy could only choke on his words and look down as if in despair at his own helplessness.
 "......It looks like there are some more naughty monkeys here."
 The violent tremors, which had forcibly smashed through three layers of the thick bedrock of the natural cave ground, had reached the fallen spider god who was sitting at the innermost part of the den. The specifics are unclear, as the shockwave from the rock blasting obliterated all the family members in the vicinity in an instant before they even knew what had happened... but in any case, the spider gloats at the presence of such powerful exorcists in the form of a young girl.
 The spider, with a small, slender body imitating a human and wearing only a piece of cloth woven with silky, shiny spider silk, crosses her legs on the rock surface and rests her cheek against a crutch. Her appearance gave a sense of composure, despite the fact that the enemy was surely advancing toward the deepest part of the cave. No, in fact, the spider did not care about the victory or defeat in the battle above.
 It did not matter if there were powerful exorcists. The more the merrier. The more, the more valuable the spider's traps would be.
 "Hehehe. Isn't this a pleasant thing, huh? The art you exorcists have created to kill us will kill you all."
 And to the being beside her, the spider hissed derisively.
 It was a pillar of light. One of the pillars of rock that supported the cave, shone brightly. If one looked closer, one could see that each pillar was a whole block of jade.
 The rock pillar, which had snatched a part of the energy flowing from the spiritual vein and accumulated it, was now completely transformed.
 In this world, gems are valuable not only as ornaments but also as catalysts for the creation of curses.
 This is because some of the jewelry in this world is born from the spiritual energy overflowing from the spiritual veins. In fact, in a land rich in spiritual veins, there are also many veins of gems.
 This rock pillar, as thick as a large tree, has also turned into a huge mass of jade due to the spiritual energy it has received over the years, and since the start of this project, it has been sending spiritual energy into it more openly, so much so that if it were to be released carelessly, the spiritual energy that has been stored up and is becoming cloudy would overflow at once and cause a huge explosion.
 And there it was, right next to such a beautiful shiny bomb.
 "Ah... ah......"
 A doll tied to a pillar...or rather, a shell of once-exorcist moans. It is, however, more a reflexive movement than a spontaneous one.
 The former head of the Hasuka (Renge) family, half of his body carbonized and half of his head gouged out. He is hanging there, forced to survive by various kinds of curse-like surgeries. His eyes are cloudy as if he were staring into the void, and drool is dripping from his mouth. His ability to think had been physically removed, leaving only the parts necessary to maintain his biological reactions. Numerous tubes sprouted from his head, leading to pillars containing concentrated psychic energy.
 "......I remember seeing this a few times a long time ago, but it's ugly as hell. How dare humans come up with the idea of creating something like this, huh?"
 "It would be best if it was voluntary, but there have been many cases where people have flinched at the last minute. This is what happens when the survival of a species is at stake."
 A figure who had been in the room answered the spider girl's words. The spider's eyes narrowed uncomfortably at the relaxed demeanor of the leader of the Youkai and supporter of the spider's plot.
 "You have a different persuasiveness when you say it. As expected of a former exorcist, you do bloody things."
 The spider spits at the shadow, who is supposed to be her collaborator. In fact, the spider does not trust this shadow at all, let alone trust him.
 Five hundred years ago... at the final stage of the great war, Kuuban, who was supposed to be a great youkai monster followed by a hundred calamity youkai, was sealed off by the vile and cowardly, and extremely ruthless methods of the humans who used "miko" as a human pillar.
 Then, having lost control of the sky, and at the same time losing their leader, the Imperial Court pursued, mopped up, and slaughtered the remaining youkai. Yes, it was revenge, and they were all slaughtered. Many of the well-known youkai, however, were left exposed to the harsh vengeance of the humans.
 One of the few exceptions was this guy. Ostensibly playing the part of numerous exorcists, he has cunningly continued to inform for Kuuban from within, but in reality, he is a monster who has lived since the time of the founding of Fusō-kuni. It was a former human being.
 It was only because of his position as an exorcist that he was discovered by the Imperial Court's investigation immediately after the Great War, and he was forced to abandon his position as an exorcist, but that was all.
 Perhaps because he was a former human being, he successfully blended into the human world and eventually became a senior official of the Imperial Court again, although he had some help from within the Court. Recently, he is said to have been forced to abandon one of his positions due to the preoccupation of his successor, but he soon found a new body and is now serving the court again with ease. Currently, he is an assistant in the taxation department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. ...In any case, he is not trustworthy from the spider's point of view, partly because of his origins.
 "Hehehe, there is no need for you to be so cautious. I gave you the kappa specimen half a century ago, didn't I? I also constructed the detonation technique, and you should be thanking me for my contribution."
 "Kappa is for making soldiers for the coming time, okay? That's unlike the way you blow things around. How is it that you, who are so concerned with planning everything, would cooperate with me rather than suppress my arbitrary decision?"
 Though uncomfortable and unconvincing, the spider knew that Kuuban was not stupid. And the same goes for the fact that the shadowy entity in front of him is one of Kuuban's trusted advisors.
 Therefore, the monster in front of her should have been working according to the plan that Kuuban, whom she trusted and respected for the past 500 years or so, had instructed her in advance. It is suspicious that he would come here now... especially when he is a young man who is cautious and puts his own safety first, even if he is a relative of Kuuban.
 "Oh, oh, it's sad that you don't trust me that much."
 "Stop joking. I don't think you're the kind of guy who'd be sad. So, what do you want?"
 The spider's piercing, piercing eyes fill the room with a thick, murderous atmosphere. A normal person would have fainted, but the shadow only cowered his shoulders.
 "No, no, I have recently found an interesting object of observation. Not to mention that earth mother goddess, the moody and insatiable blue demon who has been worrying about the subject for years, I can't ignore it either."
 In response to the shadow's reply, the spider's face turned into a blatant frown. It was a disappointment.
 "What, you too? I don't mean to advertise, but how dare you show your face for something that has nothing to do with what I'm planning?"
 "That way of talking, is the blue demon here too?"
 "I don't know where she is. That wanderer seems to have a hobby of following people and is good at hiding her presence."
 When Kuuban asked for her participation in the tournament, the demon was very evasive about the request and disappeared from sight. Several calamity youkai were ordered to search for her, but they were unable to locate her until the very end of the war...
 "It's probably still here somewhere in this den... but how rude of her to walk around with her dirty feet without telling me, the master of the land. Hey... Don't you think so, monkey?"
 The young man who had been eavesdropping on the conversation between the spider and the figure from the shadow of a rock noticed that his gaze locked with the spider's from a distance of more than a hundred paces. The next moment he was running, his body strengthened by spiritual power.
 With Dagger (tantō) drawn, he aimed not at the spider in human form... but at the explosive that had been borrowed from the human body beside him. It was a momentary dazzle to deploy several bird-shaped shikigami to rush into the spider. Under the cover, he charge at the ex-exorcist, who was bounded, in one fell swoop, but...
 "You are underestimating me, aren't you?"
 The next moment, the spider was standing beside the young man, uttering taunts. The monster smirks right beside him when he looks at her.
 "Be gone..."
 "Ggh... Gah!!?"
 The boy caught the kick from the girl's body, and the metal gauntlet on his arm was shattered, breaking the bone. At the same time, the boy was throwing Dagger (tantō) with a precise trajectory. Dagger (tantō) went straight for the former head exorcist...
 "Don't be stupid!"
 One of the grotesque spider-legs sprouting from the girl's back interrupts the path of the Dagger (tantō). The small knife (kogatana) that collides with the spider-leg is bounced off with a screeching sound, and wanders through the air.
 Hayama bites his tongue in bitterness as his own desperate attack is knocked out of action, but the next moment he is struck from the side by another spider-leg, sending him flying and slamming him into the rock face in the cave. A cracking sound echoes through the cave, as if the flesh is being ripped open.
 "Ugh... Ggh....!?"
 "Wow, you're surprisingly strong for a member of Hidden Group that you didn't die just now. Oh, this is..."
 The spider approaches Hayama, who is already covered with blood and breathing insects, and notices something wrong with his body peeking through the gap in his clothes. Then it smiles with delight.
 "Kukuku, this is a funny thing. You have turned into a kappa, haven't you? You are in such a state that if you were found, you would be immediately destroyed... how pathetic you are."
 The spider laughed at Hayama's deed. It was truly ridiculous. To do such a reckless thing when he is powerless, helpless, and has no future even if he succeeds...
 "I don't want to have any more regrets."
 Hayama muttered to the spider who was mocking his foolishness with all his heart. He stared at the spider with a look that showed no despair at this point.
 "It's a stupid thing to do, I know... but it's much better than regretting it...!!!"
 Hayama boasts while coughing up blood. In fact, it was not a strong statement, but a true one. He didn't want to regret it anymore. He did not want to betray the people he cared about as he did that day. That's why he took up this reckless fight.
 Even though he knew he would die in vain in pain...
 "....What an unpleasant eye."
 The spider takes one look at Hayama and gives him a contemptuous stare. Then she turns on her heel as if she is no longer interested in him.
 "Oh, you don't kill or eat him? Even though he's not as good as exorcists, he's better than kappa, isn't he?"
 "I'm not happy about it. But I won't let him get away with it. Leave him there and let him die in agony."
 The spider replies to the shadow's question as if to throw up. It looks pretty badly wounded. Half a minute or so at most? Either way, it will be a slow, agonizing death for a while now. Needless to say, it is much more terrible to sink into the darkness, suffering, and be unable to do anything, than to die without awareness or pain in an instant.
 The young man tried to resist, but was prevented from doing so by the strings the girl spit out from her slender palm. Now, after, the young man from the hidden group, trapped by viscous threads on the rock face... the spider turns on her heel, having lost interest in the fish that is just waiting to die. In fact, Hayama is nothing more than a trinket to her. She wants only the top exorcists for companionship...
 "...Oh, so that's one of Kizuki's hidden groups. This is another one of those fateful events."
 And in the midst of all this, only the shadows are watching their captors from afar with interest.
 That's it. It is like an audience preparing for watching a play...

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