Tuesday, March 28, 2023 @

Chapter 71, Part 1

 In a room of an estate, a man was writing calligraphy. He polished the ink, and in the space filled with the fragrance of mellow and clean ink, the fat man was writing with a pouty face.
 Since he lost his wife, many people secretly despised the man who was just trying to make money like a lowly merchant, but such things did not matter to the man himself.
 He understood that he was nobody expected to be. Comparing himself with the rest of the crowd was meaningless. Neither is he offended now that he is less powerful in exorcism than his brothers. He has already come to terms with it. In fact, he has a role that only he can play. So, there is no need for him to complain about what he cannot do.
 Of course, the person who taught him that while patting him roughly on the back is no longer in this world...
 "...Well, it's a little late for that, isn't it?"
 Remembering the past, the man sniffs and laughs scornfully. When he first saw her fragile and skinny self, he was quite surprised. In the same way, when she first saw him, she was dumbfounded.
 She was a head taller than him, with tanned skin peculiar to southern lands, her limbs were toned with muscles, and her abdominal muscles were ripped. What was amazing was that such muscles were not strengthened by spiritual power but were her own. Her own muscular strength alone would have killed him with just a punch if she were herself at that time. Moreover, when she strengthened her muscles by pouring spiritual power into her limbs for exorcism work... it made him gape.
 She was armed with a huge hammer, but she probably killed more evil spirits of mountains and rivers with her bare hands. If anything, her evil demon-like fighting style frightened many of the youkai and they ran away. Of course, they couldn't escape.
 "By the way, who are you? Peeking at me is not something nice, is it?
 For a while, he has been focused on the past, and then, as if after all this time, he turns his sharp gaze to the gap in the sliding door. He squints his eyes at the thing that has been peering at him for a while now and warns it. Now, who in the world would want anything to do with him...?
 "Eeek!? Did he just find out!? Wh-What should I do!? ■■!?"
 "Well, I told you he'd find out soon enough, right...?"
 The voice echoing from the other side of the sliding door caught the man off guard. It was the voice of an innocent child. A familiar, child's voice...
 For a while, a conversation was going on on the other side of the sliding door, and then the door opened and a little girl came out. A child with red eyes and glossy black hair, which flowed like wet crow feathers. Her face peeked out with a nervous expression, a lovely but mischievous daughter who resembled her mother.
 She was Kizuki Uemon's niece. She was also the daughter of his unfortunate brother to whom he owed a debt of gratitude.
 "Well, well, Princess, this is very unusual. What brings you here?"
 The man asks the girl politely. The other people had been calling her an earthy peasant girl, an illiterate monkey, an egomaniacal princess with a temper tantrum, and so on, but he had no malice toward her out of his gratitude and sympathy for his brother and pity for the girl. In fact, he could even understand her a little. Of course, one can understand the attitude of a child who has no mother, no father, and is separated from her family and friends.
 "There's no need for you in this room, right?"
 As he said so, The girl pointed at him with her small finger. He can't help but make a quizzical face. Well, what's this all about?
 "■■ had said it. You're not busy, you've got time to play, don't you?"
 "P-princess...!? Didn't I say I wanted to remain anonymous!?"
 The girl sniffs and declares in a high-handed manner, while the young boy stands by her side, looking pale. If anything, when he turns his eyes on the boy, his face goes tense.
 "...If you're looking for someone to play with, don't you have other people to play with?"
 He tilts his head and shakes his head. Then the little girl puffs out her cheeks in a sulky manner.
 "They don't play with me seriously. They're so random, and they're so quick to warn me about this and that, it's no fun. Besides, I get tired of playing with ■■ all the time."
 "Would I play with you seriously?"
 "You can do it! That's what ■■ said!!"
 "Please don't mention my name, Princess!"
 The boy screams at his niece who declares with bright eyes. It was a strange scene. A rare thing that his difficult, hot-tempered niece was so friendly to him.
 (Come to think of it, has she become more understanding nowadays...?)
 He had heard that she had started to like the miscellaneous person who had been bought recently, and that she had started to throw tantrums less these days and to study, albeit reluctantly... perhaps the boy beside her is the one. Well, this niece of his is quite a handful to handle...
 "Well, then, let me be your companion, if I may be so bold. So, what shall we play with?"
 "Ah, in that case, I'll prepare the board now. The other day, ■■ came up with a new game. It's easier than Go, so even you can play!"
 As soon as she said that, the girl ran out to the porch and probably went to her room. Her footsteps were clattering. It was a very immodest thing to do. He thinks his wives would have warned her on the way.
 "...I can see she likes you very much. Little boy?"
 "What!? Uh, yes..."
 In the room where the noisy girl has disappeared, he looks quizzically at the boy who has been left behind and asks him a question. The boy had a somewhat embarrassed and indescribable expression on his face. It was like a brat who had been seen preparing for a prank.
 "I'm surprised. You've gone so far for my niece in such a short time. How cunning of you."
 He was glad that his niece had someone she could trust, but he had to give the young boy a warning. Since ancient times, it has been a common practice for people of low birth to befriend those in power for personal reasons. He had to get rid of the bad bug for his niece's sake. Even if they hate him for it.
 "...Well, that's all right. You seem to have some wisdom in you. Shall I have you do your job for me soon?"
 For his niece's sake, he needed someone to watch over her and report back to him so that she would not make any mistakes. So far it had been difficult because there was no one whom his niece could trust... but this young boy seemed to be smart enough to do the job.
 "Heave-ho... Okay... Almost there."
 As he was doing this, he heard his niece's voice coming from the other side of the bar. At the same time, he was surprised. After all, his niece came to him carrying a big Go board and a Go box filled with Go stones in her arms.
 "Okay, a little more... a little more... Whoa!?"
 "Huh...!! What are you doing!?"
 A board with legs made of paulownia wood is heavy for a child. Especially for a girl. His niece was about to stagger as she carried it in her arms, but the person who reacted before him was the young miscellaneous boy. He hurried to support her as she was about to fall down.
 "He-heh, thanks."
 "Please don't thank me and please don't strain yourself..."
 Compared to the frustrated young miscellaneous boy, his niece looks relaxed.
 "Hmm? What's wrong, Uncle?"
 And he, who must have been watching them for a long time, gets a curious look from his niece.
 "Hmm? Uh, no... it's nothing. You want to play that?"
 He asks, and his niece starts to get ready, looking clearly pleased with herself. She was more lively than he had ever seen her in his life.
 "Next time, please have someone help you...?"
 While preparing for a game of "Tsume-go," his niece and her caretaker are discussing it. His niece replies with a sigh as if sighing to the caretaker. The scene looked more like a close friend or a brother and sister than a master and a servant. A noisy, annoying, and lively scene...
 And then he, Kizuki Uemon, thought to himself. If his wife was alive, he wondered what would happen to this quiet room where he was usually alone.
 ...That was more than ten years ago.
* * *
 The East Strike Force, led by Uemon Kizuki, went through three counties in two weeks. The number of youkai they exterminated along the way was 18 medium youkai and a total of 206 small and young youkai. In contrast, the losses were limited to two servants and one footman who was slightly wounded, and another footman who was eaten.
 In terms of the overall results and losses, the battle was neither good nor bad. Kizuki Shisui's northern strike force cut off the roots of several youkai herds numbering in the hundreds, and Hina's southern strike force burned three great youkai to death. On the other hand, the West strike force seems to have encountered few youkai.
 Even so, the security along the way has improved dramatically. It is not usual for a group to go into the mountains of a region to exterminate youkai unless they are requested to do so. They also seal up or purify or destroy stagnant lands and facilities that are likely to become a source of youkai. It is also a part of their job to give proper guidance to local officials and peasants who have little understanding of youkai and believe in false superstitions about youkai, their corpses, and their victims.
 Well, Uemon and the others were not interested in teaching them, let alone exterminating them, so it was up to us servants to do the actual work.
 "Well, that's how it is. Most people call them "Mountain Gods (Yama no Kami)" and "God of Misfortune". But they are just youkai, so please don't sacrifice anyone to them. Instead, immediately inform the nearest city or town and request the dispatch of troops or exorcists."
 At the assembly hall of Nomoyo Village, the largest village in Aguri county, I teach the representatives from the surrounding small villages how to respond to the appearance of a monster of some kind.
 In a village in the countryside where there is little interaction with the outside world, old legends, and traditions from before the rise of the imperial court remain strong. In such a small group, there are areas where they regularly offer offerings and sacrifices to the deity or higher youkai. Therefore, when a powerful youkai appears, there are many cases in which they try to appease them by offering sacrifices, just as they did in ancient times.
 This is forbidden and foolish from the court's point of view, if not by chance. In Fusō-kuni, a nation of men by men for men, both deities and youkai are beings to be humiliated, destroyed, and used, not to be believed in and feared. Even if they were not, the thoughts of these non-human beings are far away from those of human beings. Sacrifice is nothing but a slow process of fattening them up and prolonging their destruction.
 "As you can see, youkai's vitality is very high. So, please do not be hasty and destroy its body by crushing its skull like this. Just cutting off the head is not enough."
 In front of the frightened representatives of the village, I strike down the youkai I had captured and weakened beforehand. I hold it in place, and when the youkai still lash out even after I literally cut off its head, I have my men hold it down and hit it vigorously on the head with a hammer without panicking. In the process, youkai's head shoots out its tongue like a chameleon in anger, but I casually catch it and cut it off with a dagger (tantō), as hidden weapons like this are commonplace. The representatives scream but I don't care. In areas where people do not usually see youkai, it is not uncommon for them to be caught off guard when killing them, and unexpected casualties result. It shows how filthy these creatures are.
 "Now, let's talk about the disposal of youkai corpses..."
 The conversation proceeds, and I instruct them on how to dispose of the youkai they have just killed. I quickly remove only the parts that can be converted into money, process the corpse so that it can be easily burned, and throw it into the bonfire. If youkai can be used for money, some people will be motivated. If the corpses are processed roughly, not to mention the plague, the beasts that feed on the corpses' flesh could turn into youkai monsters, or even worse, be eaten by the same youkai. I will teach the people how to dispose of the corpses correctly, based on the knowledge that the Imperial Court and the Omnyou dormitory have gained from their long experience.
 ...Although most of them leave as soon as I start my dismantling show.
 "I made a mistake. Perhaps I was using too much of my common sense."
 The gathered ones were representatives and executives from various villages. In other words, they are the ruling class, albeit a remote one.
 Because of their aversion to filth... well, if they are not good enough, they are condemned by the mere sight, touch, or mention of it... I mean, the ruling class of Fusō-kuni will not slaughter an animal themselves and even refuse to even mention the name youkai if they are not good enough. So, they leave such things to the lowly ones... This was the idea that came through in the demonstration and the instruction.
 (Well, I couldn't even butcher a chicken in the beginning... I've unwittingly been infected by it, too.)
 I sigh. I was too afraid to blood and skin livestock and game in my early days, due to the influence of my previous life. And these people, while they still have spiritual power and some knowledge, albeit a little, these people are literally mere mortals bound by the customs of the countryside. In a sense, it was inevitable that they would be shocked at what I had done in front of them.
 "No, Yun-shoku. There's no need to be so downhearted. They have the same attitude no matter what you do."
 After the guidance was over, the representatives from various villages, who were essentially the ruling class of the remote mountainous area, gathered eagerly and headed towards the house of the largest village head. Among my men, Tsunoha muttered a disdainful remark towards them as they were about to attend the banquet that would utilize the ingredients and alcohol brought by Uemon. As I recall, he too was from a remote mountain village.
 "You hate them so openly, don't you?"
 "I don't know about Yun-shoku's home village, but my village was the worst. It was quite closed off, and they used to keep servants to serve as sacrificers and to relieve their sorrows."
 From that point on, Tsunoha suddenly becomes silent. However, I could guess what he was going to say from his short but realistic words and his attitude when he had just been purchased by the Kizuki family.
 "Even this job is hard, right? We don't even know if we'll be alive today, let alone tomorrow."
 "But if we work hard, there is a chance to survive, isn't there? Besides, at least I'm willing to die for my friends. It's better than being eaten up by a bunch of assh*les."
 His last words were full of hatred. This is not good.
 "I see. ...Assistant, thank you. It's late. Go eat and sleep with the others. We're marching again tomorrow."
 I order him to leave and take a rest because it is not good to leave him here. It is easy to be short-tempered when tired, and doing anything unintentionally under the eyes of others is not a good idea. If he does, he will be stopped by those around him.
 "Are you sure? The work is still..."
 "No more manual labor. Just paperwork. Can you write and do arithmetic?"
 Although the minimum required reading, writing, and arithmetic had been added to the training of the servants due to the shortage of labor, it was not clear that this newcomer in front of me had mastered them to the extent that he could do office work. In fact, Tsunoha reacted in a way that was so obviously unpleasant that it was obvious even through his face.
 "You can't compete with typos and calculation errors. Just go. Don't stay up too late, okay? We're supposed to take turns, remember?"
 "Don't treat me like a child!?"
 The servant exclaimed in frustration as he retreated from the scene. Unfortunately, a young man in his mid-teens or thereabouts is a brat no matter how he tries to make himself look. In fact, I'm treated the same way by all the other senior members of the group. Well, give it up.
 "Okay, I've got some business to take care of..."
 I sigh after I send my men away, and then I remember what I have to do today. Supplies to be replenished, expense accounts to be kept, reports to be compiled... it's all a bit tedious.
 Just as I'm putting together the complicated order of tasks in my mind, I hear a cheer from behind me. I turn around. The voice was coming from the village headman's house. A cheerful laugh. The feast of the bigwigs, held for labor and socializing...
 "Well, it's quite leisurely, isn't it? Coming to a gathering for meat, alcohol, and camaraderie in this day and age. The government these days really lacks a sense of crisis, don't they?"
 "...And can someone who's stealing from it really say that?"
 I turn my head in alarm at the sound of a voice from behind me. The blue demon who had been sitting on the floor behind me was slurping down a bottle of sake, probably from the banquet table, and was staring at me with an evil smirk on her face as she bit into a chicken wing.
 "It's pretty good sake and meat. How about it? Would you like a drink?"
 "No, thanks. Why don't you drink it all?"
 "And when I'm drunk, this is what I get?"
 Aoko used a hand sword to show her head being chopped off. Well, drinking until drunk upon killing a demon is so old-fashioned that it's become a cliché in a sense. It is not strange that she has experienced it before. I just wish she had put a stop to it.
 "...but it's surprising how unnoticeable it is. D*mn it."
 I do not reply to the demon's words, but just spit them out. It's not surprising that she was able to sneak into the ladies' room in the original story as well.
 Aoko-sama, also known as a red-haired blue demon, is indeed a violent, greedy, troublesome, short-tempered, moody, and selfish monster, but she is not a fool and her ability is real. In fact, she has escaped, albeit narrowly, from the hands of the seven great exorcists who have been alive for a thousand years and have slaughtered many monsters, including ancient deities. Her wisdom and ability are not small.
 Although it is not explicitly stated in the work, players consider it to be a kind of illusion or perception alteration... This demon was good at sneaking into groups of people. Even now, she mingles among the human as a matter of course, yet even the members of the Kizuki family, not to mention the same human, do not feel any sense of unease with her. On the contrary, at night she goes to the feasts of the Kizuki, drinking sake, singing noisily, talking juicy stories, and getting along perfectly well with them. Although they are trembling with fear of when she will make a scene...
 (Even though she has obvious horns... I remember that when I first met her...)
 The scary thing about perception alteration and illusion is that people don't know when they are falling under the curse. Therefore, it is necessary to always be skeptical and suspicious of things around me, and to check with others to see if there are any discrepancies between what I see and what others see in front of me. Even so, there are many cases in which I fail to notice.
 The four disasters are one and the same. If I didn't know any better, I wouldn't have been able to recognize this guy as a demon (oni). It was the knowledge of the original story that helped me to recognize her. Or maybe it was because of that. The first time I met this monster, I noticed the change, and that was the beginning of the bad relationship.
 "...In any case, I hope you'll behave yourself. I can't stand it when you do whatever you want."
 Even Fat... Uemon, who is currently the best fighter in this situation, cannot win against this blue demon. They clash in several bad endings, but he is usually killed within a few seconds, ten seconds at the most.
 "I've known you for a long time, but haven't you been with me? You shouldn't be so cautious, should you?"
 The blue demon sits down on the ground with her big breast heaving unceremoniously and slurps down a bottle of sake. She looks so rude, but I knew she was listening to me.
 She also noticed that I was holding a yo-yo-like item and a dagger (tantō) from my hidden place. Of course, when she saw that I was aware of this, she grinned and showed her canine teeth.
 "...What is the use for me to being so friendly with a monster?"
 "You call such a gentle lady a monster?"
 "Don't say that."
 When I immediately respond with an abusive remark, the demon laughs in amusement. I don't know what's so funny. Nor I don't want to know. I'm answering each and every question with my life...
 "...!? She's gone, huh?"

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