Wednesday, April 5, 2023 @

Chapter 75, Part 4

 "Hmm, I don't like it when you belittle it like that. I'm always being toyed with, you know? I've never won a single match even though he's holding back."
 Tamaki declared childishly. No, it's funny that a young lady who is not an exorcist should be trained by a warrior, isn't it? It would be reassuring if this were a boy, but oh well... Ah, please stop practicing with swords.
 "Hey, hey, so Miss. What do you need from us? If you're just here to watch, the match is already over, you know? Also, you don't have time to stay here forever, do you?"
 Kehiko asks tediously. Suzune looks displeased, but Tamaki looks at him as if she had just remembered.
 "Oh, that's right. I have to go to the shrine after the break. It's my duty as a shrine maiden. So I thought of having some guards, but... would that be difficult for you, Kehiko?"
 The young lady of the Hotaruya family asks, taking one look at Kehiko, who is rubbing his injured wrist. Her expression was one of deep concern.
 "This kind of injury... is what I want to say... but the maid doesn't seem to be happy, does she?"
 "Do you think a guard with an injured dominant hand is useful?"
 Suzune coldly replies with a question. Kehiko looks at me with a deceptive smirk.
 "That's right. That's why you were assigned to them, right? I'll have a few of my subordinates accompany you instead."
 Kehiko asks me to represent him. I don't mind, since I'm the main character's guard, but the problem is...
 "I don't mind. I haven't seen the whole thing, but you can fight Kehiko so well. That's reassuring."
 "...Huff, there's no turning back now."
 Tamaki cheerfully and Suzune looks like she has no choice but to agree with her.
 "I hear that. Hey, Yasuke! Genta! Shichiro! Go with Kizuki's man to protect the young lady! Worst case scenario... you guys could be bait."
 "Huh, are you serious?"
 "No way, head. Because of you, we lost all our savings!"
 "That's right. We were going to roll the dice to get back what we lost, you know?"
 "Shut up and do your job!"
 The three guards who were appointed protested, but it was ultimately useless. They finally have to accept it grudgingly.
 "Well, that's how it is. Take care the young lady. If things get bad, use my men as bait."
 "No, that's not funny, you know?"
 I couldn't tell whether Kehiko was joking or serious. In the original story, Kehiko's men did their jobs to the very end, despite their whining and cursing. Unfortunately, everything was meaningless... After all, in this merciless world, hard work does not always lead to results.
 "...Then, let's go. Miss."
 "Uh, yeah. Shall we go? Well then, everyone, be careful not to get hurt, okay?"
 Suzune asks, and the main character tells the others before leaving the room. She seems to be going back to the house to rest. Followed by Suzune.
 "Shall I go to the treatment room, too? Then, you guys can play a game or something."
 "You don't bet again, head?"
 "I lost all my money in the last game."
 Kehiko also said so and left the dojo. Just before he left, he smiled at me and said, "Let's fight again next time, okay? I'll beat you next time." Well, those are the words of someone who would end up bankrupt, right?
 "I guess it can't be helped... Who'll play next time? There's still money at stake, isn't there?"
 "What about the members of the trading company? They've been staying in this countryside for a long time and are probably getting bored."
 Kehiko and I are done, but it seems that the deal is not over just because we're done. The guards were not yet on the warpath and seemed to have no intention of stopping the gambling match. Kayo's guards who had gathered joined in the game. There was no one to stop them.
 It is probably because they think it is better to take this opportunity to let them vent rather than force themselves to put up with it and let it smoke out. Besides, the villagers will boo if it's stopped here. Not only are there restrictions on access to the outside world, but even entry to the forests surrounding the village is restricted, and people are not allowed to go out during the night. In other villages, this would be a matter of course, but in this peaceful village, such a thing has already caused a lot of complaints.
 "Hm? Whoa?"
 As I was thinking about this, I suddenly heard my name called out and was slightly startled when I looked at the owner. Before I knew it, Kayo was standing right in front of me, looking up at me. The daughter of a merchant family peeks at me and smiles cheerfully like a mischievous child.
 "Don't be so surprised. It makes me feel lonely."
 "Oh, no... I'm sorry. What can I do for you?"
 She shifts her gaze to the seat where she used to be the game master. Her subordinates, or perhaps servants, were collecting bets and preparing for the next game.
 "Hehehe, I'll give you this one."
 As she turned her attention back to me, Kayo handed me a hand towel. It is a hand towel made of woven silk cloth with a Tachibana pattern. It is probably used to wipe away sweat.
 "Are you going to accompany them to the shrine? If you're going to stand by the shrine maiden, you need to look presentable."
 Kayo makes a perfectly valid point. While the game with Kehiko was short and not a matter of life and death, it was still intense. I now realize that I have sweat beads on my forehead and neck without realizing it. It is not a good idea to accompany the main character in this sweaty state.
 "Thank you very much. Then I'll accept your kind offer then..."
 I thank her and easily wipe off my sweat with a hand towel. Then I noticed something odd in the folded fabric of the hand towel.
 I notice the discomfort and unfold the hand towel with a suspicious look on my face. And then I find something. It's wrapped in a little piece of washi paper. I look at Kayo.
 "What is this?"
 "Please take a look."
 I do as she asks and unwrap the paper. There were several silver coins. They were Akagane (vermillion silver), high-quality Tamuro ni-shugin, a specific type of silver that is highly regarded for its high quality and silver content. The amount of silver in the coinage must be at least six coins. Though it couldn't even be compared to one koban that had a value of one ryo, in terms of copper coins, it is equivalent to 3,000 mon (pieces). It was definitely a lot of money for the common people. I look even more skeptical. Kayo smiled as if it was a successful prank.
 "Miss Kayo?"
 "Hehe, thank you for your hard work earlier. Thanks to that, I was able to earn some money. This is my thanks to you."
 "Oh, I see."
 Most of the people in the village were betting on Kehiko. And Kayo had bet five ryo on me alone. The odds were undoubtedly in her favor, and her guards had also bet on me, so overall, she made a substantial profit. I see. Profit sharing. Winning alone didn't leave a good impression.
 "Then, why not divide it among your subordinates?"
 "Of course, I'll give away all the rest. It's not that significant of a profit anyway, and if I can buy their loyalty with it, it's worth it."
 "...I see. That's quite shrewd."
 It's a bold move to throw away five ryo worth of seed money. However, to Kayo, it was probably just a small change.
 (But still, to "buy" it. She's quite brazen.)
 What Kayo meant by these words was that she does not trust her subordinates' loyalty. It is just a business-like, money relationship.
 ...Perhaps my involvement in this commotion is nothing more than a pretext to scatter money to her subordinates. Moreover, it would be even more advantageous for her if the money she has given away would be spent within this village. Even if the residents of this village are good-natured, they don't want to have strangers who just eat for free forever. She may be trying to cover up the bad feelings from the villager by providing entertainment and turning her subordinate into consumers. If that's the case, it's quite a strong move. ...In that case, it would be best not to hold back here."
 "I understand, Miss Kayo. I will gladly accept it."
 With another bow, I reverently accept my share. Should I spend all this extra income in this village?
 "Hehehe, thank you very much. Please feel free to spend it as you like."
 Kayo smiles with a good-humored smile. I figured she would say that. Being a wealthy merchant's daughter isn't easy.
 "Understood. ...By the way, if it's not enough, may I borrow some more?"
 "We have an interest-free loan... but if you dislike that option, we can also give it to you as a gift."
 I try to lighten the mood and relax my shoulders, considering her position. She was a merchant, after all. She immediately responds with a witty comeback
 "There's nothing scarier than receiving money from a merchant without anything in return."
 "Hehehe, but I am always ready to help you with your financial needs, you know? Tachibana Kayo Money Exchange Shop is open all year round, morning, noon, and night, any time of the day, every day of the year. Please feel free to use our services."
 Kayo declares with a giggle and a chuckle like a chirping bird. What a great service.
 "That's wonderful. However, I don't think I'll need to use it. ...Well then, please excuse me."
 "Yes. Please, good luck with your work."
 I ended the small talk moderately and returned the hand towel. Kayo accepts the towel, and I bow to her. I then turn around and leave. At the same time, I switch my thoughts, my face grim beneath the mask. The word that came to mind was a single word from earlier.
 "...Shrine, huh?"
 I know what it means. A shrine is something that enshrines something, and in this case, it is the local deity of this village. More precisely, the shrine of the land deity that was captured and sealed when the pioneers visited this land... a powerful land deity that deserved to reign in the spiritual veins of this land, and thus this village became the target of the "Youkai Salvation" people.
 (At least for now, I don't think it's a problem...)
 And that is because the being worshipped there is the original source of the main character's power in the original work, or rather, the 'fuel'. It has the power to be a vicious threat to youkai, or even to the gods themselves. The place where Tamaki awakens. The place where the sacrifice is eaten. Suddenly, I stopped and pondered deeply. I organized my thoughts.
 (The timing of awakening is the most important. If she awakens halfway at the halfway time, it will be very troublesome.)
 Recall the memories of my previous life. It was also a trauma for the main character, an original sin, a reason why he could be captured by crazy women, a reason why he craved power, and a possible excuse for his corruption. That is why the moment when his power awakens is so important. For this reason, I did not want to deviate from the flow of the original story.
 "It's worth it just to see what happens, I guess..."
 This is a rare opportunity. If I can follow her to the shrine as a guard, I should take a look. I mean, the main character has had a sex change. I should check to see if anything has been changed, just in case. In the worst-case scenario, I must watch for the possibility of an ability awakening at an unforeseen moment. But I hope not. If it awakens when everyone is still alive, the main character will be exiled and could fall into darkness in another sense.
 I think about that and convince myself. After I was convinced, I resumed walking.
 Behind me, the clamor of the people for the next betting match was resounding...
 "Hehehe, yes. Please come again. Anytime, anywhere, any amount, I would be delighted to prepare for you."
 Amidst the hustle and bustle of the betting game, not a single person could hear the small but satisfyingly sweet whisper of a girl with her face buried in a hand towel.
 ...And no one could point out the fact that her eyes, glimpsed through the gaps between her honey-colored hair and the hand towel, were as dark and muddy as mud.
 The girl kept rolling the "candy" in her mouth, intertwining her tongue with it several times.

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