Wednesday, March 8, 2023 @

Volume 5 Epilogue, Part 5

 "Cough... cough, cough...!?"
 In a dimly lit corner of the library, Botan coughs violently on a desk lit by a candlestick. She crouches down in agony.
 Onikuma youkai comes close to her in panic. It approaches with a washbowl filled with water.
 "Blerg(h)... cough...!!!?"
 Botan immediately vomits on the washbowl. Her body convulses as she expels a large amount of vomit mixed with blood. For how long had it been? She didn't know, but at last, after she had vomited as much as she could, she leaned back in her chair, gasping for breath. Her forehead is covered with cold sweat, and her complexion is pale.
 "...That's enough. Put that down."
 Botan, covering her mouth with her hand and looking displeased, orders Onikuma to take the washbowl and move away.
 Then, after making sure Onikuma was completely gone, Botan took something out from the desk drawer. Half of the glass bottle was a painkiller and an anti-insect medicine at the same time. A special medicine made just for her...
 In the folklore, there is a legend called the "三尸 (Sanshi)". It is said that there are three insects that reside in the human body and control one's life span in a person's body at birth and that they try to escape from the human body to gain freedom and bring harm to the host's body. Of course, this is a myth, and there are no such insects actually living in a human body...
 'So, I made a test for you. I wanted you to be the test subject. This potion is for you, use it with care.'
 Peony recalls the memory of her childhood, stupidity, and carelessness, and impulsively tries to smash the glass bottle... but suppresses her rage and pulls out the contents of the bottle and puts it in her mouth.
 A bitter taste spreads through her mouth to the point that her tongue goes numb. In agony, Botan endures the worst taste, which makes her feel as if she is being tortured, and crushes it into pieces. The taste is so horrible that she begins to cry. But she had no choice but to take it this way, even if it was painful, because it was less effective if she took it with water, and it was also hard to digest. She has endured it over and over again, but even so, she has never gotten used to it. No, in a sense, it would be the end for her if she got used to such a taste.
 "It's irritating..."
 "Oh, what is it?"
 Botan turns around with moist eyes and a serious look in her eyes when she receives an unsolicited, nonchalant response to her monologue. She let out a tired sigh when she saw Aoko leaning against a pile of books.
 "...It's irritating... having a monster living in my house like it's their own."
 The demon laughed at Matsushige's granddaughter who glared at her in a truly unpleasant and scornful way, but the demon laughed at her in a rather pleasant way. At least, her reaction was a much more positive reaction than the overtly friendly or flirtatious one. With one of the piles of books in her hand, a spellbook (grimoire/curse-book) made of foreign human skin, the demon took a glance at it, then shook it and said in her defense.
 "Kakaka, you don't have to be so unfriendly, okay? Besides, I'm a houseguest, right? And I'm working for rent, too. Moreover, do you have any idea how many dangerous forbidden books I've dealt with?"
 "I don't remember approving them, and in fact, I'm in trouble if you do that."
 Botan replied to the smirking demon indifferently. Her tone was always cold.
 This antique bookstore, where Matsushige's granddaughter and grandfather live, is filled with countless forbidden books. Some of them are so-called youkai books or spellbooks with bad curses, and if not handled properly... well, many of them are dangerous even if they are handled properly.
 No doubt, the two Matsushige family members are well aware of this. In fact, even the curse is their subject of research. But when this demon, as if to push her selfish, destroyed the curses on the books and even destroyed the books themselves, Botan would have ordered Genbu (Onikuma) to beat her to death had it not been for the fact that she was so proud of her actions.
 "So... what are you thinking about?"
 "Thinking what?"
 "Don't play dumb with me. You were in a cave the other day, weren't you?"
 "Oh, did you find out?"
 Aoko the Demon scratches her cheek at Botan's remark. However, she seemed to be neither upset nor offended by her attitude. Even her posture seemed not to be upset or offended. This makes Botan angry.
 "You are always so noisy. I can easily find you in this large library if you're out of sight for a few days."
 Even if it weren't so, Botan's shikigami has little fighting power but no poor search-and-rescue capability. So, the hummingbird shikigami has retrieved the residue of the blue demon's youkai energy that is floating in the air.
 "What on earth were you planning?"
 "I think you already know the answer to that, don't you?"
 "What... do you mean?"
 Botan, who had a doubtful expression on her face at Aoko's reply with a wry smile, however, immediately got the answer and was horrified.
 The result of this commotion... itself was her purpose, in other words, the new white spider was her goal.
 "Kekeke, I'd like to disturb that crazy mother goddess too, you know. Since he's been so good at living up to my expectations, I'm going to have to do my part here too. Well, it's a little reward for him."
 "I see..."
 Botan answered shortly, but inwardly she was shocked. Everything that had happened up to this point had been within her expectations.
 (No, in a sense, it is natural.)
 Demons (oni) are one of the most superior beings among youkai, and at the same time, they have been the most prioritized target among youkai to be defeated. As a result of their activities over the years, most of the well-known demons have been killed and their heads have been exposed to the public. If it were not for their strength as well as their wisdom, they would not have survived to this day. And according to the legend, the blue demon who devoured the capital was a coward and a vicious one at that.
 "Well, well, he really lives up to my expectations, doesn't he? Even after all those mutations, he still manages to get back to normal. Hehehe, I'm getting excited."
 The smell of alcohol slowly wafted out from the demon with a vulgar smile. Botan holds her nose with the sleeve of her garment. If she kept smelling it, she would vomit again.
 "You can thank me too, you know. From your point of view, Tsuchigumo is also your target for elimination, right?"
 "It would have been best if you and that servant had died together, too."
 Botan spat out indifferently at the demon with a smug look on her face. It was a sincere and honest remark. How much easier it would have been if all those troublesome people had died together.
 (And, yes, it was a blessing that we were able to neutralize the Tsuchigumo, but... if I told her of my gratitude, she would probably kill me.)
 Truly, the character and values of this demon are beyond troublesome. To be honest, it takes a lot of nerve to say even a single word. But if she was ignored, she would probably throw a tantrum, and Botan is fed up with that. Honestly speaking, she wonders how that servant can live with such a thing.
 (By the way... she probably didn't leave any information anyway, but...)
 And thinking of the spider, the demon, and the monster of a hundred faces who were there and who might have caused all this commotion, Botan quietly gushes out her anger. She puts her hand on her chest.
 "Have you met that monster?"
 "Hmm? Yeah, it's a real problem, isn't it? A beautiful woman like me came to visit him and he gave me a disgusted look. Isn't it rude? ...Oh, by the way...?
 Aoko's expression looks changed as if she just remembered the question from Botan. The attitude was literally as if she had really forgotten about it until just a few minutes ago.
 ...Then, Aoko opens her mouth wickedly.
 "'It's been a while, hasn't it? From the looks of you, do you still have some medicine left? I'm really glad to see you again.' Really, that guy has a really bad personality, doesn't he?"
 Botan's eyes widen and she tries to stand up at the demon's words, but immediately afterward she remembers her physical suffering and sits down in her chair. And then... she swallows her anger.
 "...I see, I see. Huff... that's quite a joke."
 Botan replied, trying to keep a lid on her anger and squeezing it out. Yes, there is no point in getting angry here. It is a useless, meaningless, and worthless act. It is the act of an animal to live according to its feelings. Don't get angry now. not yet...
 "Kukuku, you want to know where he is now?"
 "I wish you'd stop shaking people's heads. There's nothing good about youkai's seduction."
 Botan coldly replied to the demon who was boasting as if testing her. Even an infant understands the consequences of those who are seduced by youkai monsters. ...Of course, there are many temptations of bad quality that one cannot resist even if one is aware of it, but at least Botan had self-control, and the demon did not seem to be seriously tempting her either.
 "I see. Well, let me know if you change your mind, okay?"
 Cowering her shoulders as if she had been expecting this, the demon lay down on the book and began to snore...
 "I'm afraid I'm going to be eaten alive the moment I ask, though..."
 There's no telling what the whimsical and moody demon might do. And although she said, "Let me know if you change your mind," she never said he would give her the answer she was looking for.
 "Really, it's bad...."
 "This is what I'm talking about."
 The girl exorcist muttered, rubbing the throat of the monster cat that had climbed on the desk and mewed before she knew it. And Botan thinks. She wonders how much time she has left, and where he's hiding... when she'll get her revenge.
 "No matter where he hides, I'll definitely kill you. Teacher (Shishou)."
 With cold, seething fury, the girl spits a terrible curse at her former exorcism teacher...
* * *
 "Now, the next topic of discussion will be the kappa problem in the Northern region the other day."
 He announced reverently to the participants in the assembly. The name of the elderly man wearing a ceremonial dress and crown resembling an egret was Hyakuya-in Tsugumichi, the 47th head of the Hyakuya-in family, one of the most prominent families in Fusō-kuni since its foundation, and a person of the second highest rank, the Minister of the Left. He was a man with a mustache, a soft manner, and a good appearance, wearing a ceremonial dress (reifuku) and a crown resembling a white egret.
 The Fusō-kuni court held its sessions in the inner court, which was set up in the center of the capital, and in the Choudouin Taikyokuuden, the Hall of the Imperial Palace where the Emperor holds official ceremonies and meetings with state officials, which was located in the inner court. In the spacious council hall, all the participants, including the Minister of the Left, were the leading members of the Fusō-kuni court.
 The government system of the Imperial Court is a complex one, and in the course of its long history it has been repeatedly renamed, merged, and newly established, and its duties have been transformed and enlarged, but in the fifteen years since the reign of the Emperor Ko, there has been no major change in the government system.
 On the surface, this is because "it is a fearful thing to change the system of government established by the great previous emperor," but in reality, it is simply because the reform of the system of government is troublesome, especially since the system was greatly integrated during the reign of the previous emperor, and many nobles and officials are conservative and independent, unwilling to have their seats reduced any further. The reason for this was conservative and self-righteousness.
 Nevertheless, the Minister of the Left understood that the situation was still much better than before the reforms of the previous emperor. In fact, in the reign of the previous two emperors, there would have been twice as many attendees that he had to take a glance at. And the more attendees, the longer and more inefficient the public sessions would be...
 The Minister of the Left, who was the facilitator of the meeting, fell silent and looked around the upper room. There, he saw a huge curtain. A small shadow sits inside... This shadow is the decorative emperor who is only a 14-year-old boy. ...He has never been asked for his opinion and is probably waiting for the end of the cabinet meeting to be over in a boring manner today. To his left is a middle-aged man who is both Regent and Grand Minister of State. He is Shirofuji-no-miya Kakitake, a first-ranked regent. Beside him is a silent secretary recording the minutes of the proceedings.

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