Thursday, March 2, 2023 @

Chapter 65, Part 3

 ...But she is stopped shortly after by Uemon's hand.
 "Wait! Don't touch him!"
 "Aaah!? Wh-why, Lord Uemon!? Hayama is..."
 "We can't be sure he's not infected by the kappa!"
 Ayaka complains as she is grabbed by the cuffs and stopped from going to Hayama, but Uemon still holds her back with a hard look on his face.
 In contrast, Ayaka regards Hayama with a bitter and sorrowful expression in her eyes. As for Hayama, he stands up and leaves the injured servant's side, mocking himself with a troubled look. Hayama can only agree with Uemon's words.
 In fact, he had indeed been infected by a kappa earlier, and more than half of his body had been mutated. Even if he were not, it would be impossible at this point to determine that he is not a monster in human skin.
 "Oh, so that means we're no good to you either, Uemon?"
 Kochou interrupted him. Her eyes drooped and narrowed even more, and her voice was sweet and sarcastic as she smiled at her own son. Uemon's forehead sweats involuntarily and he wipes the sweat from his pale head with a spare hand towel.
 "N-no. It's not like that..."
 "You can look it up all you want. But I won't allow you to dispose of him without checking him out, okay? The boy has done well in this fight. Be sure to reward and punish him strictly."
 "Also, I'll tell you the details later... but that servant there also has a lot of credit for this defeat. Ayaka, the lady-in-waiting there can't move by herself. Didn't you give her trouble? You should at least clean up your own mess."
 "Huh? Y-yes...!!"
 And while Uemon was dismayed, Kochou proceeded to speak one-sidedly. She orders Ayaka to bring the white fox girl safely to the surface, making sure that she is not immediately killed on "suspicion" of being infected by a kappa.
 "...Ha! Aren't you a lucky guy...? I thought you'd be a monster or eaten by now."
 Touya takes one look at the scene of Ayaka going to the white fox girl and holding her in her arms and then says to Hayama, who is leaning close to the servant. His tone was mocking.
 "Yes, I was very lucky. ...I was really, really lucky."
 Hayama replies with a wry smile at the mockery. He does not seem to be offended at all, but in the end, he mutters as if he is pondering something. As he mutters, he looks worriedly at the servants beside him, who are relieved that the situation seems to be under control.
 "...Tsk. Worry more about yourself than others. You're not a brat."
 Touya clicked his tongue as if to say that Hayama's reaction was disappointing. He clicks his tongue and awkwardly dismisses it. Kochou glances at them and is about to say something, but then, as if remembering, she calls out.
 "Hey, you shikigami, follow me. You should know the general situation, right? In this case, you are ordered to follow my instructions, aren't you?"
 Kochou looked at her granddaughter who had finally gotten up, though deeply injured, and asked it. Souten grunted a little and reluctantly came to her.
 "Hehe, I like an honest child like you. Don't worry, if you can follow my orders properly here, I'll tell her about your fault."
 But in the end, that's all there is to it. Souten moves closer to her side in response to the beckoning. Kochou straps a servant and a child boy to Shikigami's back. She seemed to intend to carry them to the surface in one fell swoop with this shikigami.
 Meanwhile, reinforcements from the surface arrive one after another from the open passage. However, many of them, who were expecting a fierce battle, were stunned and lost their tension in front of the countless corpses of youkai. Instead, their eyes were caught by a shining light in a corner of the cave. A glowing green pillar of jade....!
 "Hmm, Kizuki's Adviser. That is ......!"
 "Oh, that. Don't worry. Half of them belong to the Imperial Court. I wouldn't say the rest is all ours. I know it's considered frowned upon. How about the other half?"
 Kochou replies to the old man's exorcist's question. That is to say, she proposed that the Kizuki family should keep the other half, or one-fourth of the total, as a trophy from the rest of the property given to the Imperial Court.
 It was an extremely modest request. Perhaps the pillar had been refined over the years by plundering the spiritual power emitted from the spiritual veins.
 Since the Imperial Court strictly forbids the exploitation of this kind of spiritual vein, the only way to obtain minerals with the same rich spiritual power is to mine naturally produced ones or buy them at a high price. Considering its usefulness and rarity, it is not surprising the Kizuki family would want to monopolize it, and given the circumstances, they should have the right to request such a monopoly.
 "So, the Kizuki family has about 30%. ...The rest will go to the other families, and the specific ratio can be discussed later?"
 "Oink!? Wh-what is it?"
 At the words of the old man, Kochou called out to Uemon. Uemon, who had been shaken up by the previous exchange, answered nervously.
 He is a good son to the extent that he is happy for his mother's safety, and at the same time, he is in fear for his own mother. Since childhood, when he was intimidated, his usually arrogant attitude would change, and he would show pathetic and ugly behavior like a piglet just before it is strangled. In the end, a parent and a child are always a parent and a child, no matter how long they are together.
 "Don't be so tense. You're in charge of the negotiations with Miyataka and the others. Aren't you good at this kind of talk?"
 Uemon replied to the order with a squeal like a pig's cry. It was consent.
 "...I'm getting old. I'm going to take a rest on the surface. So, take care of the rest."
 With this declaration, Kochou and the others left for the surface riding on Souten. The old man Miyataka looked at them with a quizzical expression.
 'A... a...'
 "What's the matter, doll?"
 Suddenly, the doll god who carries himself begins to contort and emit agonized moans, indicating that it has been stirred by an external force. As it groans, its gaze is fixed on something. It was staring at Kizuki's group led by Madam Kochou, who was heading toward the surface, running in the opposite direction of the raiding party.
 The old exorcist of Miyataka narrows his eyes at its reaction.
 The veteran exorcist looked around the underground space again. Here and there, charred and burned kappa and spider monsters, a mole youkai with its head smashed off, and a caterpillar-like youkai growing out of its head, had their bodies twisted and shredded. The spider youkai is so burnt up that not even a trace of its divine power can be felt anymore.
 And.. the mysterious humanoid youkai that has been turned into a stain on the ground by the fierce battle.
 "It's a strange thing. For a modest woman like her. I wonder how she burned these kappas to death."
 The fire-style spiritual art can't burn them to death, and Kochou is a master of the simplified form of shikigami. How in the world did she get rid of them? There are many other questions.
 Of course, it is not surprising that a famous family of exorcists would have a secret or two that they keep from other families...
 "...It must be a trick"
 Of course, he said that. Although there was no way that youkai replaced her... the old Miyataka could not help but feel a tugging sensation in his back hair.
 Unfortunately, no one noticed when the ragged servant was being carried to the surface, the small white baby spider attached to his neck, and it has a faint divinity.
* * *
 Time has passed since the raid. The raiding party that had descended to the underground had finished clearing out most of the lurking youkai, and the wounded and some of the exorcists had begun to leave the area.
 The army of the Imperial Court and the warriors come in at different times, and they continue to exterminate and sterilize the youkai left behind by the exorcists, especially on the surface, along with the remaining Rikyushu (the Researcher) and others.
 Underground, too, the battle is not yet completely over.
 The intimidating spider youkai monster is destroyed under the blow of a spear. The spider youkai is instantly frozen in front of the spear wrapped in cold air, which was created by a combination of water style and fire style spiritual art, then cracked by the incoming vibration wave, and finally shattered like a piece of glass. The middle-aged exorcists from the Hagura family who had done this put away their spears and let out a sigh.
 "Seriously, just when I think I'm finally going home, I'm left here with the rest of the group. This is not going to be good, is it?"
 The exorcists who were left in the deepest part of the huge den created by the Giant Spider were truly fed up with the situation.
 The corpses of the millennium mole, not to mention Tsuchigumo, and above all, the jade pillars that still contained thick spiritual energy after releasing a huge amount of spiritual power to kill the giant Tsuchigumo were something that the exorcists and the Imperial Court could never leave unattended.
 Nevertheless, it was undeniable that the raiding party had been significantly fatigued by the string of battles that took place on the surface. Moreover, remnants of kappa and spider youkai monsters, although small in number, continued to loom within the den and on the surface, rendering a swift retrieval impractical. From the perspective of the Imperial Court, the top priority was to thoroughly eradicate and sterilize the kappa, in particular, leaving no trace of the kappa.
 As a result, while the main force of the attackers began to withdraw, exorcists of some exorcists' families, servants, and hidden groups, who were relatively low in consumption, were kept in the rear to support the army and warrior groups dispatched by the Imperial Court, especially to guard the underground. They were, however, a mere handful of fry who had lost their main power and chain of command. Aside from the servants and the hidden members, the exorcists, who were the main force, had no sense of tension and it was nothing more than a chore. To put it bluntly, it was nothing but boredom.
 Therefore, the four exorcists who were left at the lowest level of the cave drank from their water pipes and ate snacks while standing around while the servants under their command patrolled the area, chatting in a bored manner. It was a way of killing time.
 However, it cannot be said they were letting their guard down.
 Though they were idle, they had already disposed of the corpses of their brethren and a dozen or so of the remnants of the kappa and spider youkai monsters that had come for the spiritual power of the jade pillar. Everything was done in seconds.
 The number of personnel left behind was not only sufficient but even excessive, considering the number of defeated soldiers expected to be left behind. In particular, the men sent from the Hagura family were both cold-air wielders and spear masters. If he was serious, he could freeze this hall in a few seconds, and even temporarily suspend time for a limited period. His spearmanship could kill ten or twenty kappas at once. The rest of the party was also highly skilled in their own right. They were well prepared.
 "D*mn it, the best part is Kizuki and Miyataka's, after all. We're working for free now, huh?"
 One of the remaining members of the group, a young exorcist who is a member of the Hagura family, declares as he sits on the corpse of the millennial mole. The story had already spread among the exorcists, even though there were many families who had served in the army.
 It was already half-established that the majority of the remaining portion of the Imperial Court's share of the corpses and jades of the special youkai, used as materials for spells and research specimens, would belong to the two most prominent families of the northern region. The remaining families would receive at most some money and official titles on top of the two families' leftovers. It is tempting to complain.
 "It can't be helped, can it? The two families took care of most of the big ones. We're better off with the extra money."
 One of the female exorcists joins in the complaining. She is not a family member but comes from a small family of exorcists.
 "Ha! Well, for a small family like ours... at least we'll be compensated for our expenses, right?"
 The Hagure family, the first one who complained, exhales deeply as he chews on his dry food.
 The exorcists' families vary widely. There are those like Kizuki and Miyataka who are landowners and have established businesses and have a lot of assets and people. However, even though the most powerful families are wealthy and have much more income than the common people, there are also many families that have a lot of expenses.
 It was a kind of irony that as the power of the court and human beings increased, the exorcism work became less and less profitable. The court also dared to euphemistically shut down the exorcists, who were potential rebels. For a small family, one of the services to the court, guarding the capital is a painful expense.
 "Isn't that why the old man of the Miyataka family made them his pawns? That's a very clever and devious move."
 One of the remaining exorcists pointed this out. At the same time, the three remaining exorcists scrunched their faces slightly at the bluntness of the statement. It was clear they used the moguri (stray/defective exorcist) as bait when the kappa attacked the encampment on the surface.
 "That's one way to put it.."
 "Ha, after all, they're just a bunch of bandits, aren't they? I don't care if they die."

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