Monday, March 6, 2023 @

Volume 5 Epilogue, Part 2

 Among spiders, there is a kind of spider whose parents are eaten by the children they give birth to. This spider was no different. The life of the spider, or rather, the parasitic baby spider, grows up on the flesh and blood of me, the parent. Though it is a baby spider now, it will need more and more flesh and blood as it grows up...
 "But if you keep it without feeding it, it will starve to death. And that includes you who are inseparable."
 "It's a sh*tty curse..."
 It's a truly awful curse. A curse worthy of the sacrifice of one's own life. After all, I'll die even if I feed this baby spider, and I'll die even if I don't feed it.
 'Ki...? Kiki!'
 As if responding to my blurting, the baby spider stops sucking blood and tilts its head again. I grab the baby spider by the butt and lift it up. The baby spider swings in the air with its buttocks sticking out, and when it sees my face, it stretches its legs like an excited little child. At first glance, it looks as if it is trying to play with its father. But no, this guy was nibbling on me just now, wasn't she?
 "Does this little spider remember anything from before, or is it just looking at me innocently?"
 "From what I've read in the old documents, it seems that the new deities have inherited fragmentary memories of their predecessors, but basically their personalities are different from each other. Well, that doesn't mean you can be too careless."
 It's no wonder since I will be devoured in the end. It must be some kind of instinct that makes spiders try to fight with each other. Among bugs, spiders have a deep parent-child affection, and they raise their young while most bugs lay eggs and then leave them for good. Or perhaps this curse is a result of this habit. Whatever the case may be, the curse is really bad.
 "The only positive thing about it is that it can take the place of pills."
 "So, I'm excellent food."
 I have Mother Youkai's blood running in my veins. Mother Youkai is both a monster and a deity. For this baby spider, Mother Youkai's factor is the best food for its growth. It is not so easy to get the blood meat that contains divine energy, regardless of its quality.
 "Feeding on your blood is the same as feeding on that creature's factor. Pills only suppress the factor, but this one eats it and reduces it. In that sense, it's more effective than pills in some ways."
 "In return, it also accelerates the growth of this thing."
 If I think about it, it's more of a nuisance than anything else... But then, why does Gorilla-sama seem to be in such a good mood...? Is it because she can save on the cost of the pills?
 "In any case, you can keep it for the time being. Besides, you can't leave this to someone else, can you?"
 She throws the baby spider into the insect cage and locks it up again. After locking it up, I order Shirowakamaru to put it on a nearby shelf. At about the same time, a shikigami flies in through a gap in the sliding door. The shikigami shaped like a doll is swept away by the wind, and it comes to the gorilla-sama's ear, where she suddenly stiffens. It seemed to be passing on a message.
 "...I see, I understand."
 Gorilla-sama then let out a sigh of annoyance and looked at me.
 "I was told to get here as soon as possible, instead of making unnecessary detours."
 "Making unnecessary detours? ...is this what you mean?"
 I see, there's no way she'd visit just for the sake of visiting me. I guess her main purpose is to meet with the adviser, and she came here to give me the insect cage. If so, it seems that she stayed long enough to play with me.
 "Well then, take good care of yourself. You can only rest for now."
 Does that mean I'm going to work her hard after I'm cured? But, well, I'm not going to eat for free forever either. ...Oh, I forgot to mention that.
 "Please wait, Princess."
 I call out to the gorilla-sama, who turns on her heel and turns to leave. I call her back, and I tell her, even after all this time.
 "I am extremely grateful for your help in the cave. I apologize for being late, but your support at that time was very helpful."
 I force my aching body to move, straighten my posture, and bow my head. Deeply, I bow my head.
 "...Oh, it's a little thing. Don't worry about it. It's not like I've done anything to deserve your gratitude."
 Kizuki Aoi glanced back at me slightly, a wry smile on her face.
 "However, it was really helpful for me. Once again, I express my gratitude."
 This was my real intention. For her, it may have really been just a game. She might have some restrictions in the battle while possessing Shiro. And thinking of her full strength, it was not a serious fight at all. She must have felt like a pilot flying a drone in an absolutely safe zone since she herself was almost out of danger because she was possessing Shiro.
 Still, I would like to express my gratitude. Even if it is only formal, sincerity and intention cannot be conveyed without words. I should repay the favor.
 Well, she's indeed a bad Lord, but in this world where people don't care if their servants die, she has no duty or obligation to help me...
 "...Hehe, it's all right. I'm generous, but I'll accept your gratitude."
 Gorilla-sama accepts my gratitude. She accepts it with a hawkish, arrogant, haughty acceptance.
 "Well, keep up the good work. Work hard so that I don't have to take care of you. That's the best way to repay me."
 With this simple remark, the cherry princess leaves, dragging her single kimono to the porch.
 I just bowed my head until I couldn't hear her anymore...
 "Sorry to keep you waiting, Grandmother. I thought old people have a long time to wait, but I didn't expect you to rush me, huh?"
 Kizuki Aoi slides back the sliding door and boasts. She is talking with a sarcastic tone to her grandmother who is waiting for her in the room on the other side. It was much more malicious than the sarcasm she had said to the servant earlier.
 "Oh, are you so irritated with me for interrupting your meeting with him? If you are so irritated, being a good person must be hard for you."
 Kochou, who was leaning on her armrest and holding a smoking pipe in one hand, closed her eyes as if she were asleep, looked at Aoi, and smiled scornfully like that. Aoi also smiled lowly in reply. Because it is the rainy season, the cold laughter still echoes in the dimly lit room even in the daytime. The air is filled with the feeling that it makes one's shoulders stiffen just at the first sight. However, this is nothing more than a playful banter between the two of them.
 "That's unfortunate. I'm aware that I'm irritated, but I'm not so selfish as to ignore his will and force myself on him."
 Aoi did not say "unlike certain woman". It was because such a thing was already common sense for Aoi.
 "...Speaking of which, why did you not tell him about it? Your soul, probably shortened about ten years, didn't it? If you tell him that, I'm sure he'll be mad at you, won't he?"
 Kochou changes the subject, beckoning Aoi to sit in front of her. She then blurts out. Her tone seems to be testing or tempting.
 "......Oh, I'm sorry, I'm not that proud. After all, I don't have such a disgraceful character. Why would I want anything in return for what I do for a good person?"
 Aoi answers with a smile. Her words seemed to be from the bottom of her heart. Then, Kochou squints her eyes at her granddaughter's words.
 "...Don't imitate Hina. You and that girl are different."
 Hina is the exception among the exceptions, as her pseudo-immortality allows her to rip out her own heart. So, no matter how many times Aoi can do it, even if it is her granddaughter, who is a bundle of Kizuki's talent and a kind of perfection, she shouldn't split her own soul, much more use it up.
 "Imitate? Would you please stop it? It makes me sick to think that she and I are doing the same thing."
 Aoi boasted with sincere disdain. After all, isn't it true? That woman is doing what she's doing at no cost to herself. She sacrifices nothing. Even if she's cutting out her heart alive, if she can replace it as many times as she likes, there's no weight to it. To boast of such self-sacrifice is absurd. True self-sacrifice is to exchange the irreplaceable for the irreplaceable.
 Like he did that day...
 "Well, I guess I didn't exactly sacrifice myself in that sense."
 Aoi is not intoxicated by the act of self-sacrifice, or so she thinks. She knew very well that it was her other self as an alter ego that was sacrificed, and not herself who was present here and now.
 "It seems that I, as an alter ego, have done a good job. I (alter ego) identified her as me. I'm glad she's not bothering with this nonsense."
 That's what Aoi really thinks. Normally, because if their other self knew about it, they'd feel bad. A split soul is a being that is both identical to and distinct from its source. But a split soul has an ego of its own. Its disappearance is as good as death for it. And yet... from what Shiro and Kochou said, it seems that the other self did not fear this, nor did it beg for help. Instead, she did her part until the very last moment.
 "I heard that Grandmother looked so miserable after all those big words of hers, didn't she?"
 "I won't make excuses for that. Indeed, I pushed harder than I should have. ...It's my failure, just laugh at me..."
 About Aoi's words, Kochou did not think of retorting. She was so disgusted with the way her two granddaughters were behaving that she decided to take care of him instead. There was no excuse to say that it was unexpected. If she could make excuses like that, she wouldn't have any regrets.
 "I would have laughed if it weren't for him. Well, I can't speak for others when it comes to failure, and it's not like I didn't gain anything at all. So, I have nothing to say this time. Just getting him back is good enough for me."
 That's what she really meant. From Aoi's point of view, it was enough to have him in her hands again. No need to be greedy. This expedition, though unexpected, had certainly given her something to gain. Therefore, Aoi does not blame Kochou.
 No, no. Not only that. Aoi had understood already. This grandmother, this woman probably had a—
 "—Excuse me."
 A voice echoed from the darkness, and Aoi and Kochou looked at the source at the same time. There, a young man, a young hidden group member, appeared at Kochou's side... though precisely both of them had noticed the presence approaching. The figure kneels down and bows respectfully, and Kochou opens her mouth.
 "Hayama. Have you finished your investigation?"
 "Yes, for more information, please see here."
 Hayama holds out a scroll from his handbag with his head bowed. Kochou takes it after a moment of silence.
 "I'm sorry for your trouble. ...Then, I wonder if you don't have to come to visit him? I'm sure he'll be glad to see you."
 "No, I know it's impolite for me, but I don't want to cause trouble for him by being too friendly. Besides, I'm ashamed to say that I don't have a face-to-face with him..."
 When Kochou proposes the idea with words of gratitude, the young man of the hidden group refuses it with a self-deprecating smile. Considering his position, it would bring unnecessary suspicion if he himself, who was deeply involved in the case, approached him too close. Even if he does not, what is there to say by approaching him now? What should he say?
 To be honest. For Hayama, it's fear. Just thinking about when he will turn against him is the scariest thing in the world. And he's more afraid of being looked at kindly, and of being forgiven. What a strange thing to say.
 "...That child wouldn't care even if he had memories. But, you have a difficult personality, too, huh?"
 Kochou lets out a small sigh. This is why Kochou can't be hostile to this boy. It's true that this young man sold him out, albeit by an unfortunate coincidence. However, she can't hate him so much if he also feels for him like this. Especially since most exorcists are self-righteous in general. The problem is...
 (I don't think my granddaughter (Hina) will forgive him. Maybe tearing him to pieces, would be better?)
 Her granddaughter must really hate this young man. She may look dignified and calm on the surface, but in reality, she is like boiling lava. I am sure she has not given up yet. She is just waiting for the opportunity. When the time comes, she will kill all those who were involved in that incident as a preliminary to abandoning Kizuki. And of course, this boy will be among them...
 "I have spoken to Uemon. You are my pawn from this day forward. You will be under my protection at the same time. Do you understand what that means?"
 "Yes. I will never divulge what happened."
 Hayama instantly understood the meaning of Kochou's words. He swears that he will never tell anyone about that incident... about the secret that happened to that servant.
 "Very well. I can't give you a specific time, but I will return the name Kizuki to you in the future. Be aware of that."
 "Oh, is that all right? This hidden guy, he sold him out, didn't he?"
 Aoi interrupted Kochou's words as if she was mocking her. Her expression was changing, and her gaze was cold to the point of chilling. A slight but sure killing spirit... However, Hayama does not argue, instead silently accepting the slander.

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