Tuesday, April 18, 2023 @

Chapter 80, Part 4

 Of course, the key point itself was protected by a curse that purified the unclean, but after nearly a thousand years of neglect, it no longer had the strength it once did. More importantly, the monster itself had eliminated any sense of pain in its production process, so this was not a problem. It kept touching, holding and melting its limbs... or tentacles... without caring how much they burned. The proof of this was that the grotesque creature had weakened to the point of collapsing in front of Yuka.
 This was also to be expected; it was designed to self-destruct after a certain amount of time. Yuka passed by the convulsing and dying monster without any particular emotion.
 “Well then,” she said after a pause, turning around at the front of the passage. With her childish appearance, this calamity youkai seems to be in a very good mood.
 No, in fact, she was very cheerful.
 "Okay, everyone, shall we go? Let's raise the signal of war. Let's avenge our losses. Let's remind them. Let them know their place. Let them fear the dark night again. And... this time, let's fulfil our long-cherished dream."
 In an instant, countless pairs of eyes emerged and writhed in the darkness. Hundreds or thousands of lurking monsters were already excited. They were rejoicing, thinking of the horrors to come, or rather the hells to be wrought.
 However, the monsters themselves were not yet driven by their impulse, and none of them roar or howl as they close in on their prey, for the sake of deceiving their own existence. It was the result of careful discipline and control, not the crude assembly of a mob, but rather an even more organized and trained “army.” At the sight of this achievement, the weasel cracked a cruel smile.
 "Hehehe. You’re all such good children. Now march on."
 At last the order is given, and the youkai herd marches on. Silently, breathlessly, like an army of humans planning a night attack...
* * *
 'Servants, you're finally here. They've just started entering the secret passage. They've been advancing stealthily and should be here in half a minute,' reported the hummingbird shikigami.
 "I see. Thank you for the reconnaissance. Please continue with the plan as previously arranged," I replied.
 As the unemotional report was relayed by the hummingbird by my side, I expressed my gratitude. However, I do not make eye contact with it as I knew it was impolite. Especially, I had to concentrate on the task at hand.
 Unfortunately, no matter where I went, I was still just a servant. I'm proud to say that had some experience in handling difficult situations and my equipment was better than most. However, even with that, the difference in natural talent and ability couldn't be easily overcome in this world.
 Ultimately, exorcism is a job where everything is determined by spiritual power and supernatural abilities. No matter how much experience I have, my personal skills and bravery are only good enough to stop a medium youkai, and against a great youkai it depends on luck, not to mention calamity youkai. I mean, I had never successfully killed a great youkai in a legitimate way. And considering the number of monsters against this time...
 "Could be over a thousand?" I wondered.
 'At least fifty medium-level youkai and over five great youkai have been confirmed. I've also confirmed the presence of what appears to be a calamity youkai,' Botan's shikigami replied confidently.
 "That's quite a lot of youkai," I remarked with admiration.
 Most of them are ordinary young youkai and small youkai, but still the numbers are significant. And to have even the medium youkai, the great youkai, the calamity youkai, all in one place... This is getting troublesome.
 "I wish I could have just destroyed the underground secret passage itself," I sighed in frustration.
 It's a pity that the passage is so sturdy, probably built for the purpose of VIP evacuation. Even Iruka, who is better than me in terms of arm strength, could barely scratch the surface. ...Well, even if it is halfway blocked up, it is likely to be dug back up.
 (It's not my original purpose, but... it was a good thing I ordered the stuff from Sarujirou (head of curse-tool maker), just in case.)
 I chuckle inwardly as I set the trap. It was originally meant for potential intervention during the original event, but since the board arrived earlier than expected, there was no time to prepare. But it's always good to be prepared, as they say.
 "Well, that's the situation. ...Iruka, what about you? Are you ready?" I asked the figure leaning against the base of a nearby tree. It was a half-human, half-beast, half-youkai creature covered in animal fur all over her body, looking at me with blue eyes.
 "Yeah, I've rested enough. Alright, no more problems," replied Iruka with a grin. However, despite the smile, sweat covered her forehead and her voice was clearly trembling. She was breathing heavily, as if she had just finished an intense exercise.
 It seems it was the aftereffects of having transformed herself into a youkai as far as possible. Although she came back to human form by force, her mind was contaminated and her body was exhausted from the strain. Thanks to this, she had to rest like this for nearly a whole hour after reaching the village.
 So her statement was nothing more than a bluff. Still, I can't stop Iruka from staggering to her feet. There was no time or room for that. Both Iruka and I were prepared for the fate that was about to befall us. ...Of course, that didn't mean I could become indifferent.
 "......Haha! Hey, hey, what's with that attitude? You're so sulky... Even from a distance, I can tell you have a face like you just ate a sour persimmon, huh?" Iruka, using the trunk of a tree to support herself, managed to stand up and chuckled at my gaze. She then smiles a wry, wicked smile.
 "Don't look at me like that. After all, this is my duty, okay It wouldn't mean anything if it wasn't me doing it. ...Don't worry, we've come this far. I'll see it through to the end," she continued to say something that sounded like a desperate plea, and she staggered off.
 "...No, when the play's over, head west. It's probably the least guarded direction," I said.
 I'll contact Iruka later about what happens next. I can't leave this place, but Iruka is different.
 I owe him a thanks. But unlike me, Iruka doesn't have a reason to stay here until the end. I don't know if she'll get away with it. But she's my sister's benefactor. So I'll at least give her some advice. After that, it's up to her luck
 "...You're suggesting I run away with my tail between my legs? Ha! What's the point in that, considering the condition of my body?" sneered Iruka, looking down at her body that had been invaded by youkai.
 "But it's better than dying. Sometimes you can live in this world by being a little sneaky," I laughed derisively.
 I'm a good example. I thought about introducing Azuma in Capital, but decided against it. She might be willing to shelter her for a while, but the distance is too far and it's too dangerous for her to go to capital.
 "...who do you think you are?" Iruka scoffed at my suggestion and fell silent. She stumbled away, and I watched her retreating back without saying anything more. Besides, there was no time for more chatter. So, I resumed my work in silence.
 'Are you running out of time?' I felt a presence on my shoulder and heard a whisper in my ear.

 "...Have you not left yet?" I whispered in response.
 My response to the presence on my shoulder and the whisper in my ear was not appropriate. To respond to a question with a question is a sign of bad character, especially since I was ignoring the other person's topic.
 'You've probably guessed by now. In this case, I knew what was going on before it happened. And that's why I remained silent,' Botan said.
 I see, the reason why Botan didn't contact me in the village was because of that demon's mischief. At first I thought it was just because she couldn't enter the boundaries. But now that she's mentions it, it makes sense.
 "My guess was also off," I muttered to myself.

 '....Well, I'll at least listen to one of your grudges?'
 The words naturally flowed out of my mouth. After a moment's silence, the Shikigami beside me turns to me and makes a suggestion.
 I chuckled wryly in response, "That would be unreasonable. It's too late to do anything about it now, so I won't let it bother me."
 To the Matsushige Botan, I was originally a natural target for extermination. I'm in a position where I'm being monitored and even cooperating with her. Especially when that irrational, short-sighted blue demon interferes, it's cruel to blame her. So, it's natural for her to value her own life.
 'You're very determined, aren't you?' Botan said.
 "I can't survive in this world if I don't make up my mind, you know," I replied.
 This is a world where neither mercy nor compassion can be expected. There was no time to cry over every unreasonable thing.
 '...You said so to that Ezo, but what are you going to do when this matter is settled? Will you flee?' Botan asked.
 "Well, I'm not sure what to do. I'm still cursed, and I'm not even sure I'll survive. Everything looks dark and uncertain," I said, with a self-deprecating smile. Even I think it's irresponsible. There will be dangerous events ahead, but I couldn't compromise when it comes to my sister's safety. That would be counterproductive.
 '...If worse comes to worst, I might be in danger too. Please be prepared to take appropriate action in that case,' Botan warned.
 In other words, a warning to keep me quiet. Well, this is what I expected. Originally I approached her, so I can't say she's being unreasonable. If anything, it's more humane than being tortured and slowly executed. Being a servant was really a thankless job. Maybe it was time for a career change.
 "Understood... Just try not to hurt me too much, if possible," I said.
 'Just shut up,' Botan replied.
 The hummingbird flew away, seeming exasperated. She cower. She's disgusted of me. It seems she didn't like my self-sacrifice or the aesthetics of destruction.
 "Hahaha," I laughed.
 I couldn't express my feelings in words, so I laughed in self-mockery. A kind of escape from reality...
 "...They're here," I said
 The self-mockery stopped when I heard the sound. The sound is still too far away for ordinary people to hear, but I detect its slight tremor, the sound of footsteps. The sound of an army, the march of an odd-looking column...
 "I need to hurry,"
 I said, feeling as anxious as I did about the impending battle and destruction. I may be concentrating, but the fact that my senses are becoming inhuman forces me to be as agitated.

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