Thursday, February 23, 2023 @

Chapter 62, Part 1

 At the deepest part of the cave, a whirlwind of destruction was blowing.
 At the same time, the roar of the deformed creature, which barely maintained his human form, and the flames of crimson fire emitted from his mouth were forcibly extinguished by the storm created by a single swing of the fan. Amid the storm, the monster's sharp-clawed blow was caught by the fan the girl was holding.
 ...However, the fan is slightly scratched.
 "Hehehe, you are very good at this. Now it's my turn."
 A moment later, a gasping breath escapes her lips, causing the deformity to instinctively recoil in fear. At the same time, the deformity releases his breath, which transforms into a scorching flame that engulfs the entire cave, mysteriously illuminating the dimly lit space. On the other side, amidst this fire, she shifts her gaze to search for him, only to find him clinging to the ceiling on all fours, menacing her. The light from the flames casts him in an eerie glow, rendering him a writhing shadow of a strange shape.
 "Well, well, it's a problem. I'm at a stalemate."
 Kitsuri-shiroki, using some of the fox's tails as legs and the remaining tails as chairs and armrests, folds her legs in midair and rests her cheekbones on them... no, Kizuki Aoi's soul, who is using her body, sighs.
 For a while, after she had sent him off, Aoi had been waiting for the rescue from the upper level of the cave while repeatedly cutting and throwing the small fish coming toward her, and the reason why she came to this place was that the young man of the hidden group came with a desperate look on his face. Aoi caught him as he was going to the upper level to call for help and questioned him. Based on the information she made him spit out, Aoi instantly assumed the possible situations with her clear mind and changed her plan drastically at once. Instead of waiting for him to come back, she decided to pick him up. And it turned out to be a good decision.
 "Well, I'm sorry I'm late. If it had been a little earlier, I could have managed on my own."
 Aoi glances at the situation in the cave while she catches the barrage of his claws with her fan as he leaps at her using the ceiling as a springboard. And she guessed as accurately as possible what had happened in this cave before she came.
 (At least, before there was a hole in his stomach, I can do something... But it's too late to say...)
 Although she wants to curse her own poor judgment, Aoi is not so stupid and self-righteous as to regret the past forever. She should take the responsibility and the punishment for her blunder only after he is saved, only after he asks for it. To punish herself by herself is nothing but self-absorption. After all, she is not such a stupid woman.
 ...And besides, she didn't have enough time to think about such a thing.
 "...!? This is not bad!"
 For the first time in several moments of a fierce clash, the deformity opened his mouth with a forceful snap right in front of Aoi's eyes and nose. At the same time, he leaped backward and immediately after that, he was caught in a literal sea of fire. Unlike the crimson fire that she had seen earlier, it was a pale white fire...
 "!? This is...!!!"
 Aoi, sensing the danger, immediately deployed twenty thin boundaries in front of her eyes, piling them up in an instant. The tsunami of fire that was about to engulf her stopped when the tenth boundary melted like a piece of candy, and the fire sparks were all caught by the eighteenth boundary as well.
 "This fire is 'annihilation'...no, it's more trouble than that..."
 Aoi's sixth sense told her that the pale blue flames flickering in the cave were not mere high-heat fires like the ones she had seen before. She knew she couldn't afford to take them lightly, not even the sparks that flew off. As she looked around the cave, her gaze fell upon the mountain of spider corpses piled up in the corner. It was then that she realized: the pale blue fire had created that mound of ash.
 "!? You're so greedy! I wish you were always that carnivorous...!!!"
 The figure leaps at Aoi on all fours like a beast while spouting pale flames. He forcefully pierces through all the boundaries that have been deployed, and comes right at her.
 "Oh my, oh my, you're so wild!"
 Aoi catches him and the fire sparks with the whirlwind of her fan and blows him away. Aoi's expression was smiling, but it could not cover up the cold sweat that was pouring out of her face.
 After all, Aoi cannot go easy on him now. However, she was only a soul, and her spiritual power was limited, and if she exerted herself too much, she might put an unnecessary burden on the body whom she possessed.
 No, Aoi herself does not mind if the body of this half-youkai fox is damaged a little, but she would mind, especially considering the curse she was bound with, and it would be unwise to do anything to damage the body.
 "Then, it's not so easy..."
 Aoi blocked the deformity's thrust with the wind protection and swung her fan continuously without a pause. The blade of the wind produced by the flash of the fan cuts off his body, and the rotten and bloated flesh of his body. The blood splashes out of his body and he screams. Aoi frowns a little at the sight of him, but she has to bear it... This more painful act, which is like a slice of his body, is also for the sake of saving him.
 Now, that mass of flesh that is overflowing, growing, and multiplying all over his body is like some kind of cancer cell. This overflow is the factor of the abominable fallen Goddess. It contains youkai energy and if it’s left unattended, it will engulf and consume the spiritual and divine energy within him, and he will completely devolve into a monster. In fact, new tumors swelled and enlarged from the edges where the flab had been cut off, forcing him to close his wounds. This proves that there is so much youkai-energy swirling around inside him and that he is becoming more and more distant from human beings.
 Naturally, Aoi could not allow that to happen. Therefore, she has to correct the balance of the three elements' energy within him by thinning out the mass of youkai energy that is spilling out. And then subdue the youkai and the divine energy that is running amok within him.
 "Yes, he must be subdued," she thought to herself. "The berserk energies must be subdued, quieted, and calmed, but how?" To achieve this, a ritual must be performed, but it is a tricky thing to perform. The meaning of "ritual" is completely different from the meaning of "medicine" to suppress the transformation by force. She knows that she cannot let her guard down on the ritual, but the problem is...
 (Me alone cannot subdue him and calm him down now, I guess...)
 She had learned how to perform the ritual, but it was impossible for her, a mere soul of Kizuki Aoi, to perform the ritual while holding back the deformity in the front of her. However, the hidden group young man who brought the news to her, as well as her grandmother, was useless as a stopper since her spiritual power was depleted and her leg was broken too. So, she was the only one who could block his movement. There's no choice but to give the lead role to the child. But...
 "I hope it's not too much work."
 The words she said, glancing sideways at the person in question, were not directed at the hidden young man, but at the boy.
 "Wh-What is that...? What is going on...?"
 The boy was stunned, bewildered, and flinching at the battle before him.
 It's natural. It was a storm of destruction. The attack and defense, which took place at such a tremendous speed, naturally left no sound behind, and it was almost as if only afterimages could be seen. The surrounding ground and rock walls were suddenly gouged, shattered, exploded, and scattered. To tell the truth, he was surprised that the place where he was now was safe.
 And what puzzled Shirowakamaru even more was the entity that was causing it.
 The white fox woman who is free and arrogant is mysterious, but the black figure that is standing opposite her is even more mysterious. Or, more precisely, he does not know why he is like that.
 It is almost unrecognizable. However, it is...
 "It can't be, can it? Could that be...?"
 "Yes, that's him."
 Shirowakamaru turns around to hear the words echoing behind him as if to affirm his words. There was a sad and distressed-looking woman who looked oddly mature. She is sitting on the ground, her kimono is slightly disheveled, and she is hard to look at. The boy has been told who she is, and he somehow manages to recall her name and title.
 "Uh, uhh... Madam Adviser?"
 "Oh, why don't you look sure? If you were dealing with another family member, you'd be disciplined by now, you know. Did they teach you well?"
 Really, "that boy" should be more strict with this rule, but he's always so lenient... Kochou mutters helplessly. Her tone was as if she was trying to be affectionate and loving, even though she was trying to be. But her tone of voice confuses the boy even more, and he feels a little uncomfortable. Then, he immediately remembered the current situation and became upset.
 "Huh...? Is that really him!? Really, why is he fighting... like this!!?"
 Shirowakamaru is puzzled by the identity of the deformity. Of course, the last time he saw him and the monster that is now raging in front of him are too different. And it is no wonder since he is clashing with the fox lady, whom he had recognized as an ally.
 "Why is he like this...?"
 "He's in a state now where his inner youkai element is out of control. At that rate, he's almost ego-less. Like a beast."
 Kochou answers Shirowakamaru's question simply. She could have answered more precisely and professionally, but the boy himself would not understand her words, especially with the shikigami that is now hiding in his head. To explain it to him would be a waste of time. More importantly, Kochou has something to be sure about.
 "The pills... are not enough at this point, are they?"
 If there were pills, her granddaughter would have given them to him by now. If she didn't, then that's what she's doing. Whom he used them on, she doesn't know. And it's better that it's not known. After all, she would have resented the person, and Kochou understood that she would not have wanted that. That's why the granddaughter asked for her help and brought this boy with her. Fortunately, the boy is a child of the Enrei-ji temple (From chapter 50). Then...
 "There's something I need you to do."
 "Something I need to do...?"
 Shirowakamaru glances at Kochou's granddaughter's battle with the deformity from the side and ruminates on Kochou's words in bewilderment.
 "Yes. If you don't, we'll all die here. All of us, you know."
 She wasn't lying. Her granddaughter's power will be gone before help arrives from the surface. Then when the soul is gone, there is only the half-youkai child of the fox will be left with no power. The current servant is a beast and will devour them in a heartbeat. And it is unlikely that the deformity will miss Kochou herself and the Shirowakamaru.
 "...I'm telling you, it's no use running away alone. Although he has reduced the number of spiders and kappa to a minimum, there will still be some spiders and kappa wandering around. You'll be caught before you can join the rescue team."
 Kochou threatens just in case. Shirowakamaru frowns in disapproval.
 "Even I can understand that much. ...What more do you want me to do?"
 Shirowakamaru seemed to be in a bad mood at Kochou's words and his tone became worse. Kochou then thought something. Not only did it show on her face immediately, but she also raised her voice... though, she is not a child to point that out. But she has more important things to do now.
 "...Then, I think we should call it a Spirit Soothing Dance."
 "Spirit Soothing Dance, huh?"
 The boy's expression was stunned for a moment when Kochou said that...
* * *
 A roar roared through the cave, followed by a flash of light. The silver fox's peach-colored eyes widen, and she ducks. It was an emergency evasion.
 Aoi succeeded in getting out of the line of fire just in time, and she saw. She saw the ray of light penetrate the rock wall ahead of her. And the ray of light went straight to melt the surrounding rocks. And the beam of light shifted its line of fire...
 "Oh no...!"
 Aoi noticed that her clothes were ignited from the cuffs by the approaching heat ray, and she jumped further with her tail and hurriedly moved away from the heat ray. At the same time, she exhaled cold air from her mouth to drown out the flames burning from her clothes. Fortunately, although her current body looks like a fleshy woman, she is in fact a mass of muscles so strong that she almost resembles a calamity youkai. The heat from the ignition of the outfit does not even cause burns. But...
 "But still, it's really troublesome, I guess..."
 Aoi mutters. Ahead of her eyes, she sees a deformed figure coughing up heat rays and trying to finish shooting them out. As he coughs and chokes, the heat ray gradually loses its light and turns from a bluish-white flame to a crimson-colored one, and finally to a mere black smoke as if it comes out of a stove.
 It seemed that he was still unable to control his body and his abilities. In fact, it might be better to say that he is being pushed around. And his movements are also instinctive and impulsive.
 "It's not that there's no room for me to take advantage of him, but...!"
 Aoi somehow manages to stop the spewing black smoke, and the deformity, which has given up the use of his jumping attacks, comes charging at her on all fours, leaving the sound behind as a matter of course, but Aoi fights it off. Every time he stops, the roar of the shockwave crushes the air, and Aoi dodges him one after another as if she were dancing, literally gouging out the ground under her feet, forcing her to turn around and rush through.
 Her appearance reminded the western bullfighter. At a glance, Aoi's dance was pretty and graceful, however, she did not have enough room. She must have been on the edge. It was so difficult for her to avoid the thrust caused by the deformity. More precisely, it was difficult to avoid it without even a scratch.
 (...!? At this rate, I'm going to be out of luck. Even if I try to keep my distance, there's no chance for me to do so. What's the other side doing to prepare...?)
 With a sidelong glance at the two key players in this battle, it appears that things are progressing smoothly, at least in terms of their physical readiness. That is good news, as the rest is now up to her. The challenge, however, is figuring out how to make him stop...
 "Hmm... Ah, there is that way of thinking..."
 This means of action comes to Aoi's clear mind like a revelation in a situation where there is no way out, but she makes a yorishiro expression (the expression on the face of a statue or image of a God at a shrine or sacred place). However, it is also true that it is the most certain means in this situation. So...
 "......It'll be a problem later, but I don't have a choice..."
 These are small, determined words. Both Aoi and he have a limited amount of time, and they can't afford to lose it. And for him, Aoi would not spare her fortune, honor, life, or favor. That's why she made a decision. That's why she resolved.
 ...Therefore, she dared to catch the blow of his claw which she had just been receiving. Immediately after, he bit shallowly into her white, translucent arm. Red blood splatters all around her.
 At the same time, the deformity's eyes widen in shock. It was because he did not understand.
 He understood that the attack... which she had been parried and evaded many times before would be evaded in the same way by the flash of his claw which he was wielding at this very moment. So... why did she dare to get hurt in this situation?
 Even though it was not verbalized, the deformity thought like that infinitely and was astonished. The fox-woman in front of him, no, the being possessing the fox-woman, aims at him, and she braces herself. She stops her movement. She is alert. It would have been a meaningless action, however. After all... the next moment, the deformity's whole body was paralyzed and convulsing.
 It was an exclamation of surprise and pain. The body was wrapped in black scales and strong muscles that could withstand even the electric blows of a millennium mole was helpless before the intense pain that raced through his entire body. Of course, the pain was not caused by external factors, but by internal ones.
 The curse that Azuma Hibari, the former head of the Onmyou Dormitory, had placed on the servant was exquisite. It could be said that it was exquisite in its power.
 Without killing the victim and without inflicting any aftereffects, the intense pain produced by the direct stimulation of the nerves was unrelenting, partly to give the target of protection time to escape from the person who had harmed the victim. It was enough to make even a black, deformed person faint, even if only temporarily. Especially if the pain was unexpected.
 'Roar, roar... Roarrrrr!!?'
 The figure was in agony. And it was the best chance for Aoi. And she was not the one to miss it. Without a moment's delay, Aoi gave a command with her full strength.
 "Now. Do it!"
 At the same time, Aoi uttered those words, the deformity finally noticed a presence, but it was too late. He was too much absorbed in the battle with the fox in front of him to notice the presence of the divine hawk, Souten, who had revived before he knew it.
 The next moment, the deformity is blown away by an impact from behind. It was from Souten's thrust. The deformity, however, is unable to parry the impact because of the intense pain of the curse and is slammed to the ground, bouncing again and again.
 'Roar, roarrrrrrr!!?'
 "I'm sorry."
 As he screamed, Aoi muttered an apology, and a blade of wind was released. The blades of wind, as if they were going to cut him into small pieces, were released from the fan and tore through the flesh and blood of the deformed man. The deformity was not mortally wounded by the blade, which would have killed a poor great youkai instantly with a single blow. Instead, he wobbles around as much of his flesh is cut off, but even so, the deformity retains his original human form. In the dust, a misshapen figure covered with blood roars angrily.

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