Thursday, March 2, 2023 @

Chapter 65, Part 4

 "That's right. Their very existence is against the will of the Emperor and the court."
 The middle-aged exorcists of Hagura family grimly bit his tongue, while the remaining two younger ones strongly objected to his words. And in many families of exorcists, the latter opinion was in the majority.
 The court forbade the very existence of stray/defective exorcists, curse-tools makers, and many kinds like that. They were a bunch of criminal offenders who did their own thing in the country... or rather, they were half criminals, and their activities made the very existence of exorcists look bad. Therefore, few exorcists opposed the fact that Old Miyataka used them as pawns, rather, he even praised them, though not widely spread. ...At least that is the ostensible reason why they despised the Moguri (stray/defective exorcist) and agreed with Miyataka's actions.
 "Imperial court, huh? Anyway, let's not be so talkative in a place like this, shall we? Isn't that a reasonable expectation?"
 At the middle-aged exorcist's word, all three of the remaining members look away from him. Yes, for the sake of the court, for the sake of the emperor, their strong hostility toward Moguri (stray/defective exorcist) was more mundane and therefore more urgent, even if it was not zero at all.
 Undeniably, a considerable number of moguri - rogue exorcists who operated without the sanction of the Imperial Court or the Onmyou Dormitory - were corrupt and engaged in illicit activities. However, it was also true that they played a vital role in exterminating youkai monsters in remote areas inaccessible to the Imperial Court and authorized exorcists. They also produced charms and other items that were scarce in supply. Their existence was justified by the demand for their services, and as such, it was difficult for them to be perceived as a significant threat to society. Moreover, not a small number of the public used them, and that is why their existence was not reported.
 That is why they are more detestable to regular exorcists than youkai, in a sense. For many exorcists, these illegal businessmen are like rats that take their jobs and plunder their rights and interests. Especially those exorcists who are from small families or households, they are the object of hatred.
 "Heh... well, it's a little too late for that, isn't it?"
 A man laughs at his own points of view. He knew that exorcists are not there to protect the people. All exorcists are basically greedy, arrogant, and ruthless. Anyone would be if they were more powerful individually than mere mortals.
 The three remaining members of the group look uncomfortable as they confront the unspoken truth. The two younger ones, in particular, were frowning. Noticing this, the oldest exorcist in the group, the Hagura family exorcist, tries to open his mouth to loosen the atmosphere... then he notices something is wrong and his expression hardens.
 "......!? Wait, be quiet."
 "Hmm? What... what is it...!?"
 The young man frowns in wonder as the middle-aged Hagura family exorcists suddenly raise his spear in alarm, but soon he, too, notices something unusual. The same is true for the young girl exorcist who is now standing next to him.
 The servants and the hidden group members who had been guarding the area until a few minutes ago had disappeared. Not a single one. Not a single scream could be heard.
 "Did you say we didn't know what was going on? Someone's here...!!?"
 In the darkness of the cave, which was only lit by a bonfire and never brightly lit... the exorcist of the Hagura family saw a shadow approaching from the depths of the cave. It is illuminated by the bonfire, which gives a clear view of the figure. A green body, large yellow eyes...!
 "...!? A kappa! Everybody... what are you doing!? Get your weapons up! Can't you see it?"
 Seeing more than a dozen kappa, the middle-aged Hagura exorcist, who was hurriedly readying his weapon to intercept them, shouts at his comrades who do not seem to be readying their weapons. And there was the young man who had just made everyone uncomfortable with his open and frank comments. He did not have a good impression of him, but he was a valuable asset and he could not leave him to die.
 On the other hand, the young man in question took a glance at him as if in response to their voices, and smiled coldly. He laughed. He scoffed. Then he opens his mouth. He answers in a light tone as if he were answering about the menu for this evening's dinner.
 "Oh, don't worry about me. They won't attack me. After all, I'm the one who brought them here."
 "What? What the... Ggh!?"
 "What are you talking about?" Just as the middle-aged Hagura's exorcist is about to open his mouth, he stiffens at the sudden dull pain that hits him in the abdomen. He turns his head to look. Something white is protruding from his abdomen. He looks stunned, unsure of what to expect as it pierces him from behind and grows out of his abdomen, and then, one more time, he spurts out blood and foam from the pain as something pierces his abdomen.
 "What? What the..."
 The words did not follow as the exorcist turned around to see that his friend had been killed in the ambush. His head was missing, roughly half of it from the back of his head. With a look of horror on his face, the middle-aged exorcist collapses. He probably did not understand his death until the last moment.
 As it happened, the third female exorcist watched. Her fourth companion, who had been telling the story of how the Moguri had been turned to waste, was gouged in the head from behind by the other young man exorcist, who was supposed to have been his companion and was thrown to the ground. Confused, she drew her twin swords... but a moment later, she lost both her hands.
 The female exorcist screams as blood spurts out from the cross sections of her hands. The one wearing the "skin" of her companion, the youth exorcist, swings his claws before her slash, severing her arms as cleanly as if he had used a great sword.
 "Noooo... my arm... my arm!!?"
 The female exorcist falls to her knees screaming from the pain. She cries out and then notices a strange voice behind her.
 "K-Kappa...!? No, noo... stop... stopppp! Don't come here! No, noooo..."
 The next moment, she was dragged into the darkness by the monsters lurking there. Dozens of green monsters covered her as she cried out and tried desperately to resist. Her screams became muffled, and eventually, it became impossible to understand what she was saying.
 The only "young man" left in the room was watching this fearless scene with an indifferent eye. He looked really bored and bored.
 'Oh, are you picking me up? Sorry for the trouble.'
 The young exorcist turns around at the sound of this voice. The owner of the voice sees the exorcist of Hagura, the most skilled one at that place, killed in a surprise attack.
 This voice was embedded in the corpse of a millennial mole, or rather it was a medium. It had been placed in the mole's intestines as an egg, and pierced the black creature's belly, gouging the parasite's youkai as well. But its purpose in being placed inside the mole was not as a trap, but to ensure the safety of its creator.
 "Well, well, well, what a bad medium! How can you be in such a disgusting body and not go mad?"
 The appearance of the youkai, which the creature had prepared as a spare medium by incorporating his own genes into the body, is in a word ugly. It has a jawless mouth like that of an eel with eight eyes, its fangs are absurdly long, and five tentacles like a sea star sprout from around it. The tasteless and odorless mucus that envelops its body can glide the blades of swords swung at it and reduce friction, allowing it to run at full speed without making a sound or even vibrating against its body.
 But, above all, its survivability is probably ensured by the limited recognition-blocking ability of the engravings on its body. Using the same theory as that of the "Yamiyo Mekaushi no Magatama" used by the Imperial Court's dark side, it penetrates the human "blind spot" and, combined with the effects of mucus, completely deceives people's senses. This is one of the reasons why the spear-wielding exorcists, who were supposed to be reasonably skilled, were able to be killed without being noticed. The fact that it can speak human language despite its clearly non-human vocal cords is also a result of the creator's improvements, and researchers in this field would know that it is a modified youkai made with a very high level of expertise.
 ...But, even if it were a substitute for death, it would be a bad idea for Kamui for the body because of its horrifying appearance, let alone its performance. Although he is aware that his own body is also quite deviated from the human body, it is different. It's too disgusting, to say the least.
 'Well, well, you've been modified a lot, too... In fact, you much more deviate from human beings than this body is in terms of the contents, aren't you? You can't just go without eating just because it looks a little bad on the outside.'
 "Even back home, I was taught to hate food."
 "And I didn't like Nameko (type of mushroom)," Kamui boasts. After that, he tears off the human skin covering his head and throws it away. Several kappas jumped on the skin on his face and devoured it. Like pigeons swarming for food.
 When he was a human, his name was Sugami Yoritsugu... and under the orders of his current master, Kamui joined the raiding party. More precisely, when an army of spider youkai monsters and kappa attacked the camp, he borrowed the "skin" of the exorcist whom he killed in the melee. It was an infiltration for many purposes, and having completed it, Kamui now joins up with his master, the monster. He also retrieves the valuable forces he had saved.
 At some point, countless green monsters had gathered in the underground space. The total number of kappa that gathered in response to Kamui and 鵺 (Nue)'s call was about one thousand. Considering the kappa's characteristic of being ineffective against spiritual power, this is quite a force to contend with... Unfortunately, from Kamui's point of view, it was disappointing.
 "These kappas were hidden as much as possible, according to the raiding party's plan of attack. But they were cut down more than we expected."
 Kamui blurted out as if he were talking about something else. He had underestimated the raiding party a little. From the very first move, they used poison gas, and when they attacked the encampment, they dumped their pawns on them to fish out their forces and burn them to the ground. They were relentless.
 'That's why I told you. Don't underestimate them. I warned you in advance that they would use cowardly, sneaky tactics, didn't I?'
 "But it's not all my fault, is it? You promised to give me the kappa you made in exchange for helping the spider commit suicide, didn't you? I don't like it if you change the plan."
 The kappa pandemic itself is just bait to attract the exorcists. The plan was to send some of them as soldiers to the spiders, but for 鵺 (Nue)'s group, after retrieving the kappa that had been remodeled, they were supposed to have the spiders, the exorcists, and all the evidence wiped out in a "spirit exhaust detonation", and then leave the place as it was. But now Kamui and 鵺 (Nue) have to stay here for such a long time, and here they are.
 It was a very troubling situation. It is not easy to increase the number of kappas, despite the fact that it is necessary to expand the strength to prepare for the coming "time". Unlike the earth mother goddess's children, the kappa is made of human beings. It takes a lot of time to raise human creatures. Moreover, it is very difficult to produce kappa on a large scale at the "ranches" set up by 鵺 (Nue) in remote mountainous areas where people do not gather.
 Therefore, they sometimes produce a localized "infection explosion" as in this case, and recover some of them for their future strength, but the recovery of kappa, which was their purpose is... not even half, but a quarter of what was expected. The last thing is "spirit exhaust detonation", which also served to destroy the evidence, was prevented. The plan was a complete failure. From Kamui's point of view, it is tempting to complain to 鵺, who did not give the order to leave immediately.
 'Well, I'm really sorry. Anyway, I don't think that Blue Demon would allow such a boring performance. If I wanted to fulfill my purpose while meeting her expectations, this is what I would do.'
 The parasite (Nue) apologizes. After having had many chances to come in contact with the Red-haired blue demon personality, he understood her well. Her character would not allow a script that would wipe out all of her favorites with a spirit exhaust detonation.
 Although she was saying that she would not help her favorite, she still insisted that it must according to her story. If she didn't like the scene, she would change it to her liking. So, surely, the moment he tries to detonate the bomb, she will intervene and retract her previous words toward the spider without hesitation, just as if she had no taste for it. It was easy for 鵺 to imagine himself being ground into the meat by the demon that entered like a storm the very next moment when he was about to detonate the spiritual vein.
 ...Though, to begin with, there is nothing more unreliable than a promise made to a demon (Oni).
 'Besides, that guy was certainly interesting. I'm surprised he came back from the temptation of the earth mother's holy temple not once but twice. And the boy is great, too. I'd love to get him personally...'
 His regretful remark was actually due to the fact that he had lost the servant and the boy. The army of kappa that attacked late from the spider youkai monsters was hastily summoned by 鵺. He had ordered the kappas to retrieve Shirowakamaru through telekinesis. By the way, if it is possible, he was also ordered to retrieve him too, though that order only resulted in a waste of force.
 'Well, well, it's a real shame, isn't it? Can't you find a way to get them?'
 "I don't care what you're planning, since I'm a hired hand. But if you're going to do this, please don't call me. That servant's got a scary woman by his side! I don't want to have my skull smashed again."
 Kamui frowns at the memory of being killed once by that peach-colored monster with a pebble in the capital. If he had to fight that thing, the odds would still be better against calamity youkai. It was a shocking sight for Kamui to see that Ryuhei, who had been his senior in his hometown and had a lot of experience in battle, was being beaten unilaterally.
 'Oh, is it her? She is indeed an excellent one. I thought Kizuki at the time of the Great War was a middle-class house at best, but... I was surprised to see that they produced such high-quality work. Well, times change, don't they?'
 His words, however, did not seem to be as surprising as his sentence, and in fact, they seemed to be somewhat boring. In other words, his words made the listeners feel boredom as if he was giving an obvious answer as if it is natural that the sum of one and two equals three.
 No, in fact, Kizuki Aoi is probably a boring existence for 鵺. She is powerful. She is strong. She is a genius. But that is all she is to him. The cherry-blossomed maiden is not worthy of his admiration.
 "...Well, I'm going to lead them out now, what about you? Do you want to stay here a little longer?"
 Kamui asked to cut the conversation short because it seemed as if he was really going to be asked to go and kidnap that peach-colored creature. If not, there is no time for too much chitchat. The exorcists, the servants, and the hidden group in this lowest level are all being dealt with without a moment's fuss. But it was clear that a replacement would soon come down. It would be better to flee before the higher-ups came to burn this place to the ground, pouring oil on it mercilessly without even checking to see if their allies were still alive.
 'No, I should go back too. ...Oh, right, I have to collect this first. It's a valuable specimen.'
 So proclaiming, the ugly parasite's dependent began to devour the corpse at his feet... the one torn to pieces by the black deformity... But it was not a mere act of feeding. It was an examination. Yes, an examination of the "specimen" that the corpse had secured in his body when it pierced the belly of the black creature. ..The current medium of 鵺 (Nue)'s was endowed with the ability to analyze the flesh and blood of the being that he had ingested.
 "Ugh, that's disgusting. Okay, you guys, let's go. Now, stop eating and follow me."
 Kamui orders the kappas who have been devouring the exorcists in an unmotivated manner. Following his instructions, hundreds or thousands of green shapes that had been eating are led away. Those who were too engrossed in their meal to follow his instructions were kicked roughly on the buttocks and taken away.
 They planned to go to one of the bases that had been built by 鵺 (Nue), through the underground water vein in one of the corners of this wide cave like an ant's nest. It would be a good idea to escape before the raiding party and the Imperial Court was aware of their presence. If they are found, it is not good for them.
 'I'm impressed that you are so dedicated to your work. Impressive, impressive... Oh?'
 While observing the work of his employee and apprentice, 鵺, who has been collecting the flesh and blood of the deformed creature from youkai's corpse, suddenly falls silent. He understands what this means, and in the next moment, he smiles with amusement.
 'Oh, this is another... I see, does it mean that karma revolves around?'
 The monster mutters in a tone of sincere amusement. It's nostalgic, pure as if he had accidentally found a toy which adults used to play with a lot in their childhood, but with a nasty smile that makes the listener feel uneasy and uncomfortable. ......And Kamui knows very well that this is a smile when he is thinking about something trivial.
 'Well, well, now things are getting interesting. That white fox and Matsushige's daughter, the world is a very small place. When coincidences like this happen, I'm inclined to believe in the idea of fate. Even though I'm a grown-up, I'm getting carried away for my age.'
 'Kukukuku,' he laughed quietly. Then he declares.
 'Let's change the plan. Kamui, you can go back and rest. I have to go to the capital. ...It would be better to inform your friend of the details of this matter as soon as possible.'
 鵺 (Nue) tells him that much and crawls along the ground without a sound. As he crawls, this ugly monster quickly disappears into the darkness of the cave...
 "...After all, you're much less human than I am."
 Kamui takes one look at the back of his employer and mentor, the exorcist who has turned into a non-human, and subconsciously murmurs in a small voice.
 Then, he felt sorry for the servant who has been attracting the attention of this monster.
 Thinking of the fate of that man who will be toyed with by that monster in the not-so-distant future, with his dignity and everything else...

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