Tuesday, February 21, 2023 @

Chapter 60, Part 2

 "Why...? Wh-why... would you do such a thing...? To someone who can't even sense spiritual power?"
 Not only can't she feel any spiritual power, but as far as she's concerned, she has no experience in fighting, and she's only holding a plain kitchen knife in her hand... Moreover, she's a child, just a little girl, even if those damned brothers and sisters are controlling her...!?
 "...Little sister, you see..."
 She stopped thinking for a moment, not understanding what he had just said. Little sister? Whose sister? What is he talking about?
 "Part of me was caught off guard. Part of me was upset. But still, it's not fair. What is this, some kind of drug or something? It's like they're controlling them like puppets with spirit strings while they're in a coma. Well, it's better that they're not conscious, isn't it?"
 He had almost completely figured out how the assassins were being manipulated. The girl marvels at his cleverness, then begs him for help as she remembers.
 "H-hey... let's get out of here. If you don't heal that injury soon... the blood will lure youkai too!"
 Yes, they're not all out of the forest yet. The assassin is still just a human child controlled by strings. On the other hand, the spider monster is killing each other with another monster, but not with all the small youkai and the medium youkai. They are probably looking for their own prey while their superiors are fighting each other. So, they must get out of this place as soon as possible.
 "Yes, you're right. The monsters are here. Haha, what a quick arrival..."
 He whispered scornfully as he peeked out from behind a tree at the assassins. Looking at him, there were countless red eyes coming up from behind the little assassin. Not at them. But to the assassin.
 Obviously, the monsters were drooling over the assassin. And the assassin looks blatantly defenseless against them...
 "Ha! What a surprise. So she's a hostage...."
 He bitterly guesses what the monster is after. But his lord did not understand what he meant. A helpless little girl, who is a puppet and an assassin, is his Achilles' heel (weakness) more than anything else, however.
 "...Big brother?"
 Without thinking, she mutters to herself as she senses the disquiet in his eyes as he gazes at the assassin. She muttered it as if flirtatiously, as if clinging to him. The way he called her, which had been forbidden except when they were alone because of her position and the way people looked at her, was rarely said anymore since she had grown up and her feelings for him had gone one step beyond that of just being a big brother.
 ...So why did she dare to use it now? To tell the truth, she didn't know the reason either. She just felt she had to say it. It was a woman's intuition. A woman's intuition made her say it.
 But it was a mistake in a way. The look of anguish in his eyes the next moment must have been a pain. She had unknowingly deprived him of one of his choices as he weighed his relatives against his precious lord.
 Surely, he would have cut her off if she had not said anything. If she had whispered her love to him and begged him, he would have accompanied her to the other side right then and there. But what she said was the right thing for a sister to say to her brother for help... and so he made the hard choice, a choice far worse for her than the loss of her own life.
 A moment later, he leaned toward her silently but casually. She accepted it, bewildered... and the next moment she felt a dull pain in her chest and fell to her knees.
 "Huh...? Ah..."
 It was a kind of martial art. It was a technique of applying instantaneous pressure to an opponent's organs and knocking them out. Not to kill, but to catch the opponent without hurting opponent.
 With a cough, the girl collapses. Her vision wavers as a result of the difficulty in breathing and the inability to take in oxygen, and her consciousness begins to fade. Sounds reverberate and become incomprehensible. In the midst of it all, in the midst of it all, she hears. She listened. She heard the almost monologue. A voice of repentance.
 "...I'm sorry. Please hate me."
 He whispered as if he was biting his regret. It was a trembling, determined, fearful voice. It was also the first time she had heard his fragile voice. This shocked her even more.
 And then he let her lean back against the base of the tree, gently and comfortingly, as her consciousness faded away, and turned away. He turns away from her and walks toward the assassin and the youkai behind her.
 He does not look back, as if he is abandoning his regrets, and he drops his weapon like a human sacrifice...
 "No... wait... stop..."
 She still muttered slowly as her consciousness faded into the distance and the darkness. Not out of spite, not out of hatred. She was simply reaching out her hand because she couldn't stay away.
 Yes, she understood. She knew what he had chosen.
 It must have been hard for him to make that choice, even for a man who is blunt, and foul-mouthed, but really kind and caring. But her previous words pushed him back. Yes, she pushed him. So he chose. He made that choice to save the lives of both his lord and his only relative. Apologizing for the fate that would await him.
 But for her, that is what was sad. It was all her fault in the first place. So she wanted him not to apologize. That's why she didn't want to sound so sad and regretful. She didn't want him to say goodbye like this.
 If he had just said one word, she would have done anything. She was willing to accept any suffering, any cruel fate for him. After all, she adored him that much. She loved him. And it was enough that he was alive. And yet... and yet, this is too much. It's too much! Such an ending where no one will be happy...!?
 In her fading consciousness, the girl desperately reaches out her hand. She reached out her hand as if to cling to it. But the man who usually turns around and holds her hand like he has no choice, never turns this way. Never again.
 "No... don't leave me... don't leave me........."
 His back is turning away to face the monsters swarming toward the assassin, disappearing, his vision fading, darkening... the last image she saw of the man she loved...
 As soon as she awoke, she was hit by severe pain in her legs. She winced and moaned as she felt waves of searing pain in both legs. Then, a moment later, she realized it.
 "Huh!? Wh-what is this...!!?"
 The worm-like red tentacles crawled all over her body, covered with mucus and extending countless times, seized her body, restrained her, and played with her. They were entangled in the joints of her body.
 Some of them seem to have penetrated her clothes, crawling on her white skin as if they were licking all over her body, and the touch made her shiver with goosebumps. Amid her confused thoughts, she recalls a memory from just before she lost consciousness.
 "...!? No way, I'm...!!? D*mn, my leg...!!?"
 She understands that she has been captured by youkai, and she also understands the cause of the pain in her leg. Perhaps her legs were broken so that she could not escape when she was captured.
 "Shikigami...!!? I can't even move my hands?"
 Even if she tried to use the shikigami to get out of this situation, her arms are caught by countless tentacles and she cannot move them, as if the other party had expected this in advance. So. there is nothing she can do.
 "Wh-what should I do...!?"
 If she stays like this, she will be either food for the monsters or a comfort, whatever it may be. Therefore, Kochou desperately thinks of a way to get out of this situation. And suddenly, she realizes it now. The disaster in front of her eyes.
 A moment later, she realizes what's happening and her face contorts in a panic. Her eyes widen, and she wants to look away from reality. But despite her desire to look away, her gaze is fixed on it.
 At the same time, a scream echoes through the cave. A literal scream. A scream of agony.
 What she sees in the corner of her eye is the image of her beloved and first love, who has been cruelly charred and burned to death over half of his body...
* * *
 I'd be lying if I said I wasn't caught off guard. I've fought against better opponents before. I can't even count the number of times I've been prepared to die, even after the fight, on my both hands.
 To tell the truth, it was not so difficult to escape from a great youkai, especially if it was a slow-footed dragon. At least, it would have been much better than against a white fox or a fallen earth mother goddess.
 If there was a problem, it would be that in this case, it was not just a matter of escaping, but there was a hostage. And if the hostage could be used as a detonator essential for the self-destruction of the den, it is out of the question to leave it alone. Moreover, if the detonation is triggered, there is no way I can escape from the blast.
 That is, it is a prerequisite for my survival to rescue a young-looking hag who is obviously being held hostage in this situation...
 "You're... cunning one, aren't you...!!"
 I spit out, interrupting my brain's escape from reality and holding my left arm, which is burning from the electric shocks. Then I look at the wound. After looking at it, my face distorts.
 The surface of my left arm, which had been directly hit by the electric shocks, was blackened by charring, and it was smoking like that of roasted meat. At the same time, the unpleasant smell of roasting human flesh lingered in my nose.
 Surely, this guy was a modified youkai cultivated by '鵺 (Nue)', and its behavior was despicable. It was cunning. It was vicious.
 It was also difficult to avoid the electric shocks, but not impossible. Normally, it is impossible to avoid them after they are released, but there are preliminary actions and signs, so if I take advantage of the moment and take evasive action, I can manage to avoid them unexpectedly. It was also fortunate that the opponent's vision was weak and its movement was stupid.
 However, that itself was a trap. The opponent's goal was to make me think that there was a chance to take advantage of it.
 Now, I dodged the thunderbolt, entered the blind spot, and leaped at once to the mole's face. The mole panicked, thinking that I had disappeared, but it was just an act.
 Suddenly its eyes widened, and I was at its neck as if to fill in the blind spot. It looked as if it had been surgically joined forcibly, but the next moment the mole saw me, and the hundreds of tentacles that sprouted from its face extended at once to strike me in a guided missile-like trajectory.
 I quickly waved my thin spider thread and cut off more than a dozen of them, but it was nothing compared to what I could do. Realizing that I was at a disadvantage, I tried to retreat temporarily, but it was too late. After all, as I tried to escape, several tentacles entangled my left arm, and I was hit by an electric current.
 After a few seconds of intense pain, the tentacles were cut off with spider thread. Seriously... Even though this is in just a few seconds...!
 "Tentacles that shed electric shocks are not... heat rods!"
 I laugh bitterly, and suddenly utter a stupid joke that comes to my mind, but of course, it is nothing more than a strong word.
 To tell the truth, I was already surprised that I was alive at this very moment. The electric shock had been so fierce. I mean, if one arm is charred, that's usually the end of a person. In short, dead. The voltage must have been much higher than that of the electric chair. And yet, at this very moment, I'm alive, even though I'm in a lot of pain. I'm alive, still alive.
 (Now, was it luck that I didn't die from electrocution, or was it that...)
 I feel a sickening tingle under my skin, which makes my eyes glaze over. Maybe I should be thankful that I am saved... but instead, I am made aware of the fact that I am becoming less and less human, and that is a very painful feeling.
 "Well, well, well, I'm surprised you didn't die from that. I had set the power to be strong enough to kill ordinary exorcists instantly, but... you've taken in the blood of the Earth Mother Goddess, haven't you? It seems to have a lot of vitality."
 The shadow that had been chanting curses dictating in front of the jade pillar, while mysterious black fluid was dripping from the cross sections of his missing arms, but not seeming to be bothered by it at all, now seemed to have realized my misery. His tone of voice was that of a researcher, sounding genuinely amused and interested.
 In fact, if I die like this, it would be my turn. He might dissect my corpse and play with it with glee. As the first head of the Onmyo Dormitory, he also contributed to the establishment of the Rikyushu (Researcher), a group of madmen of the Imperial Court. His thoughts and ideas seemed to be inherited by the Rikyushu rather than the Onmyou Dormitory.
 "D*mn. How dare you have fun with me...!"
 I spat at the former human monster in disgust. Fortunately, due to the need to reconstruct a precise formula, it seems that '鵺 (Nue)' is still unable to move. Nevertheless, the Hawk, who is a reassuring ally, seems to have no time to take care of this one as its mind is occupied with the great monster battle with the Tsuchigumo. If I don't pay attention to the battle on their side, I might die from stray debris from a shockwave or gravel.
 (No, this may be quite better than that...)
 If I had not been able to borrow Shikigami from Gorilla-sama, I would have been literally dead. ...It's funny that such a helpless situation is not the worst.

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