Monday, February 27, 2023 @

Chapter 64, Part 3

 Tsuchigumo, who had fallen to the ground and rolled over, finally realizes what had happened. The threads that were stretched at a height invisible to the human eye were actually the spider silk that Tsuchigumo had spun herself, caught under her feet as if in a trap. The spider silk was both sharp enough to sever her own legs and sturdy enough to support her weight, catching and holding onto her legs as she stumbled.
 And then... through the blind spot created by the crushed eyeball, it struck.
 With its claws raised, the divine hawk leaped at the spider. Its beak pierces a gap in the spider's shell, and one of her legs is torn off.
 'Gaaaah! You dead bastards......!!!?'
 Due to her body structure, Tsuchigumo is unable to retaliate as she falls down under the weight of the divine hawk's attack. She is unable to shoot her poisonous needles or spider silk at the sky above her head. Moreover, the claws of the divine hawk push her head into the ground, further humiliating her. It made Tsuchigumo's frustration and anger reach their peak, causing her to lash out furiously.
 Souten, too, is in shambles and angrily cries out, refusing to move away from Tsuchigumo's head. It's determined to obey its master's order this time and seizes Tsuchigumo. Despite the wounds all over its body and the new ones inflicted by the spider's attacks, Souten refuses to let go and continues to seize Tsuchigumo, determined to subdue the creature.
 'You, you rude b*starddddd! Ggh!!!?'
 But then, the spider, which writhes in agony while cursing the divine hawk who has been subdued by the monkey, stops her movement for a moment. Her eyeballs, which still remain uncrushed, glow strangely and she stares at a person. Staring at me.
 "Well, then, let's call it a night, shall we? I'm working overtime too...!!!"
 And I, who had been watching the situation so far from my hiding place, took up my dagger (tantō) and ran at the spider. But... the next moment.
 The divine hawk is thrown at me...
* * *
 A man in black holding a dagger (tantō)... when Tsuchigumo saw him, the feeling that instantly sprouted inside of her was rage. It was anger. It was a desire to kill.
 Despite once being the most powerful divine deity in the northern region, Tsuchigumo had been driven out of her lands and spiritual veins by the Fusō-kuni court, which had invaded the central region. She had fought against them many times, only to be defeated and forced to flee each time.
 Each time she fled, Tsuchigumo lost her power, her authority as a god, and her divinity, but still she was a god, even though she had become a youkai by the time the Great War had ended.
 Under Tsuchigumo's blessing, all of her thousands of followers were empowered, and her divine authority was strong enough to cover an entire city in a single breath. Her stronghold was a world unto itself, shaped by her power. Her providence was absolute in her web, and the Imperial Court had lost many armies and exorcists to her cunning. It is no exaggeration to say that she was feared as one of the four disasters among the many calamities youkai.
 But now, despite being awakened by the dance of the child, Tsuchigumo's power is less than 10% of what it was during her peak years. Even then, despite being considered a more dangerous calamity youkai than many exorcists, she was not feared as a wrathful god. The reason she was not recognized as Tsuchigumo the deity is that she had been reduced to nothing more than a mere monster.
 And Tsuchigumo understands the cause. She understands it to the point of disgust. It happened half a century ago, so long ago that it can be said to be only a few moments ago for a God. She met the man who caused it.
 To prevent the location of her den from being discovered, and in order to plunder the power of the spiritual veins, Tsuchigumo has been digging underground with her household members, traveling through the spiritual veins of various places in the northern region, and sometimes devouring other youkai and people as well. One day, they entered the sacred mountain in which the monster who was once the master of the highest spiritual vein of the northern region and had been chased out of it, lived in hiding. It was the best place in the spiritual vein of the northern region that was not under the control of humans. Thinking to restore some of her former strength by plundering the power of the land... Tsuchigumo drained much of the power.
 However, little did Tsuchigumo know that from there there was a clever trap. Two humans were wandering on the sacred mountain, a young girl and a man dressed in black who was her servant, posing as easy prey for the spider. Tsuchigumo had encountered many similar individuals before and had feasted on them time and time again. And so, the spider attacked them, thinking it would be an easy hunt.
 To Tsuchigumo, humans were insignificant prey that she could easily capture and feed on. However, the two humans who appeared on the sacred mountain seemed to have anticipated her attack and had set up a trap. Tsuchigumo couldn't help feeling that she was forced to run into a monster with divinity by these clever humans.
 As a matter of course, the two monsters of the same divine rank met and fought with each other. As a result of this battle, which ended in a draw, Tsuchigumo lost most of her divine power. Then, the human's final blow, the dagger (tantō), struck the spider. Fortunately, the blade was stopped by the outer shell and did not reach her brain... However, perhaps that blow was not just a stopgap and a serious attempt to kill her, the powerful curse residing in the dagger left a permanent scar on her skull that no amount of shedding her skin could heal. A permanent scar...
 ...The word 逆鱗 (Gekirin/provoke someone's anger or wrath) originally refers to reverse scale or "scales turned the wrong way". According to legend, even the most merciful and gentle dragon will fly into a rage and kill the person who touches them. At the same time, the scales are said to be the dragon's weak point, and a single stab to the scales will kill the dragon.
 Regardless of the truth or falsehood, the crack on the head of the spider was similar to the reverse scale for dragons. The color and the small size of the crack make it difficult to notice, but the wound was indeed the reverse scale of the Tsuchigumo. If the crack were to be pierced once more with a well-known weapon, Tsuchigumo's brain would surely be destroyed.
 The abominable memory, the memory of humiliation, the disgrace of being set up against a person whom she thought was powerless... Tsuchigumo, who was trapped in the same way by a human of the same age with the same appearance, immediately identified that human with the human in front of her. And then... it happened.
 Is it like a foolish power? Or was it that this man had been rightly exposed to the scales? With a power that surprised even herself, Tsuchigumo had broken free from the divine hawk's restraints. Then she lifted up the foolish divine hawk and threw it at the servant in question.
 "You're kidding, aren't you!?"
 The spider giggles for a moment at the exclamation that echoes with astonishment. With a resounding roar, the divine hawk plunges to the ground. Flying dust. Now, what happened to the human? The silence continues, is it crushed?
 'That can't be possible...!!!'
 Immediately after that, Tsuchigumo turned around almost reflexively, as if on instinct. It wasn't because she sensed a presence or had any particular reason to do so. It was simply obvious to her that if the powerless man wasn't coming from the front, he would likely attack from her blind spot!!
 The servant, dodging the spider's threads by contorting his body, remains near the spider despite being off-balance. With the dagger (tantō) in hand, he approaches the spider with a clear intention in mind. It is needless to say what his aim is.
 'The same move will not work so many times...!!'
 The spider's leg swung as if it were going to brush the ground. The human leaps to avoid it. There is no other way to avoid it but to leap. And that is the spider's goal. Once he leaps into the air, there is no way to avoid the next one. At least this human can't do such a thing as kick the air.
 'Haha, die!!'
 Spider legs swing from above, but some won't allow it.
 Kochou and Hayama, who had been hiding as well, jumped out to help. However, Tsuchigumo turns her head and spits out spider silk to stop them. The threads, as thin and wide as a membrane, but sticky, were intended to buy a little time rather than to restrain the opponent. At any rate, the spider could not help but kill the human being.
 'You're a pain in the ass too...!!'
 The hummingbird shikigami flew out to protect the servant from the spider, but it was quickly extinguished by the spider's swinging legs. Despite this, it was still able to serve its purpose as a protective measure.
 After all, with a boom, a small fireball and an explosion occurred. This was due to the self-destruct capability that Matsushige Botan had built into her shikigami. The explosives, which had been compressed and ignited by her technique, were originally designed to assist in the suicide of a person under surveillance if necessary. However, in this case, it ended up saving the life of the person under surveillance.
 Now, the explosion killed the speed of the spider legs and slightly altered their trajectory. The servant is blown away, but avoids fatal injury, though the bone of his arm is shattered. Of course, that was all. As he was blown away while jumping, Tsuchigumo approached him with a kind of paranoid attitude.
 'I'm done playing tag, you monkey!'
 Tsuchigumo looks down at the servant who looks like the abominable man as if smugly proud of her victory. The inorganic face of the spider, which is supposed to be emotionless, however, is grinning in a kind of disgustingly obvious way.
 'You're giving me a hard time. Don't think you can die for nothing. I'll make an example of you to the others who are hiding and kill you!'
 The spider's cruel and lecherous smile as she spits out these words... It is truly a desperate moment. ...if seen only from this scene.
 The servant, whose face is distorted by the pain, however, is surely smiling, which makes Tsuchigumo look doubtful. Maybe she sensed something disturbing with what might be called her sixth sense. But everything is too late.
 "Yeah. The game of tag is over. So next time... let's play with fire, shall we?"
 'Huh!? This is...!?'
 Tsuchigumo's anger towards the servant and the illusion may have clouded her senses, but she eventually becomes aware of something. She turns her head towards a jade pillar that emits powerful spiritual energy, which she had accumulated over a long period by tapping into the spiritual veins. Next to the pillar stands a figure.
 "Oh my, I've been spotted..."
 The white fox smiles scornfully, and in the next instant, she releases her illusion. And what is revealed is a complicated and mysterious technique floating in the air. It was a large-scale technique that utilized the stored spiritual power itself. Normally, it would have required dozens of experts to perform, but she created it by using her own talents and accumulated spiritual energy. And in such a short time. Needless to say, her goal is to create a new type of technique.
 'No way...!?'
 "Burn to death, monster...!"
 The spider was taken aback and quickly spat out. And then, in the next moment, something occurred. A brilliant light enveloped the entire cave, consuming everything in its path...
* * *
 The destructive force, which was powered by the spiritual veins, the land's power, and the power of the earth itself, swept over Tsuchigumo, completely erasing the space behind her. It disintegrated the massive bedrock, and some of it even transformed into glass due to the extreme heat.
 Fortunately, Aoi had calculated and controlled the torrent of power meticulously, and precisely, thanks to her skill. Otherwise, the muddy stream of spiritual power that had been discharged without restraint would have collapsed this underground space, and even if it had not, the heat generated would have burned the oxygen in the space and made the people there lack oxygen, or would have burned their lungs.
 "I should add, in my case, this monster becomes my shield."
 I declare as I fall to the ground, looking at the being in front of me. The fact that she has become my most reliable shield made me protected from the rays of light that I couldn't have avoided in time. If she hadn't been able to withstand it, I would have died, but before that, the spider would have been defeated. And while she was blocking the beam of light, there was no way she could harm me.
 'What!? Ggh...!!?'
 But despite being hit by the destructive light, Tsuchigumo somehow managed to survive and was still standing in front of the speaker's eyes.
 What a fearsome life force she has! She was able to survive by the power of a kind of boundary that she had created by releasing her divine energy, which was not much. Although her outer shell was considerably burnt, the flesh underneath was still intact. She was safe, but... that was all. The divine power that had been restored was almost exhausted.
 'Gg... Ggh!? That's ridiculous. Such a stupid thing...!!?'
 The spider, almost completely roasted, mutters deliriously. Her whole body reeks of burning flesh, and she is emitting steam as she mumbles. It was as if she still could not admit her situation.
 "Haha, you look good...."
 I mutter to myself as I hold down my bony arm. Then all the eyeballs, crushed and burned to half their original size, glared at me at once.
 'You b*stard, why...! No, you are abominable... I guess that's what you mean...!'
 The momentary astonishment and doubt immediately turn into resentment. It seems that she was quite humiliated that she was used as a shield. But that's all. The spider, which could not even move properly because of the burnt skin on her surface, could do nothing but spit out a bitter complaint. There was nothing else she could do. The only she could do was to grumble in agony and then to suffer intense pain all over her body.
 'D*mn... D*mn you! Ggggh...!!!'
 Unable to even curl her body due to her burnt shell, Tsuchigumo can only endure the pain. No, she is not even allowed to endure. The spider, which suffers for a while with a monstrous, yet somehow girlish voice, then looks at me and orders me with deep reluctance.
 'Ugh...!! Ggh, that's enough, kill me... just kill me...!!'
 She cries out half-heartedly, demanding death. She demands intervention. But the spider's demands continue.
 'Despite in a place like this and I don't want to be exterminated like this! I won't accept the humiliation of being killed like dust-bunnies by those on the surface... I won't accept such humiliation, even if it means just dying...!'
 With wide-open eyes and a trembling voice, the spider declares with disgust and anger. Then she stares at me again.
 'It's the worst thing in the world to be killed by a weak monkey like you... but it's still a little better than being killed by them. So? Kill me. Kill mee...!'
 The spider's words had become a plea. She asks me to put a final stop to it in the best words she knows.
 I couldn't watch any longer at her shallow and miserable pleading. So, with a hint of discomfort, I take the dagger (tantō). Then I approach the spider, wary of a counterattack.
 '...Yes. Stab it with your dagger (tantō), human. It's not every day you get to experience a god-killer, right? A feat you can be proud of for generations to come?'
 "Yes, and I'll be cursed for generations to come. You think I'd risk it?"
 The reality is that there are many families in this world who have been cursed for generations as a result of their god-killing.
 Gods are arrogant, selfish, and vindictive. Curses by the evil gods are especially persistent and their motives are impure or irrational. Well, it is natural that many of the gods are originally personifications of disasters and plagues, just as in the ancient mythology of my past lives... but if they are fictions of my past lives, the gods in this world are real personalities and are unruly. That's right, the Imperial Court would seal up the land gods and force them to be squeezed as a perpetual machine for a good harvest. Sacrifices and offerings are only rewarded when they feel like it. Even if they don't, there are people like youkai-mother from somewhere who have a crazy thought process that I don't understand.
 Tsuchigumo growls low as if to express her displeasure at my anxiety. Then she replies.
 'D-don't make me the same as all the other gods. You have driven me to this point by your mere existence, I have nothing but admiration and resentment for you. I'm not that narrow-minded...!'
 The spider declares in self-mockery, inviting me to do it. And she boasts of the honor of killing herself. But then she shudders as if in pain. Her bodily fluids seeped out from her cracked shell. If it were a human, it would be sore from being roasted whole. The spider silently looked at me again as if pleading. I click my tongue at the spider's gaze, and I move closer to the spider.
 'Please... just give me a blow and make me comfortable. I'm tired.'
 "I don't care. Just die quickly."
 And then, nonchalantly, I raise my dagger (tantō) obligingly.
 ......At any rate, if such a troublesome monster survives by mistake, it will be a disaster. And some of the houses mobilized by the imperial court and the raiding parties might not kill the creature but capture her alive as a valuable experiment. Such is the world. If they strangely experiment on her, she could be resurrected or strengthened, and it would be too much for me to handle. Then it would be better for me to make sure I kill her.
 (I don't mind if the creature dies but there's no need to make her suffer unnecessarily.)
 Even if it's a pest that's been doing evil and wreaking havoc, there's no need for people to play with their lives. At least that's what I thought. So... I swung my dagger (tantō) down, and the edge of the dagger (tantō) was sucked into the crack in the spider's burnt head. A moment later, I heard it scream.
 "Hey, stop! It's a trap!"
 I involuntarily look at the voice, which is close to a scream, and I find it. I saw the little boy running toward me in shock. I saw his face trembling with fear and despair. It was as if he was looking at something terrible...!
 And the next moment I came to my senses, too. At the same time, I am astonished at my own behavior. I look back at the spider with astonishment.
 The spider was laughing. It was laughing with a burnt face. Then, she declared.
 'Kukuku, I don't curse you? Why do you trust the words of a monster? You monkey.'
 The spider sneered with delight. She was proud of her victory. And she was sure. I had somehow fallen into the trap of the word technique. It was probably a curse of words spun by mobilizing her remaining divine power, inducing my thoughts...!
 "It's bad...!!?"
 By the time I realized it, it was too late. Everything would be too late. Before I could stop my arm, the tip of the dagger (tantō) was thrust into the crack of the spider's skull. And then...

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