Thursday, April 20, 2023 @

Chapter 81, Part 2

 My next action was also a sort of conditioned reflex. I hurled the hilt of the broken sword at the attacker's face and jumped off the tree, landing on the ground with my spare spear ready. I hadn't put much thought into it until then.
 ...So, no wonder, the thrown sword was easily deflected, and now, the attacker landed on the ground just like I did, from the treetop.
 (They're coming...?!)
 In the darkness, I caught a glimpse of the attacker's face. It was a child's height, with a neutral face wearing casual chestnut-colored clothes that could be found anywhere.
 But on top of that head were weasel-like beast ears, a tail, and, above all, silver blades grew from their hands. Blades like sickles from the base of the fingers, eight in total across both arms. The creature grinned at me with a sneer.
 ...At the same time, their reddish eyes glared at me with a pomegranate-like poisonous glow.
 (That figure, and that features, is that a kamaitachi? Or maybe a honey badger, a wolverine! ...No, it's still a member of the mustelid family, right?)
 As I ponder this while trying to distract myself from the killing intent emanating from my attacker, suddenly a gust of wind blows, and the nearby trees are cut down as if sliced by a blade. A large tree is sliced through and falls dramatically to the ground.
 "Oh, did I miss? Is it the effect of some cursed tool?" the youkai taunts.
 "No way!?" I exclaim as I watch my prayer beads, which were wrapped around my wrist, break and scatter on the ground. The talisman given to me by the daughter of the Tachibana family has been rendered useless after deflecting just one attack.
 "Well then, one more time!" the youkai jeers and swings their arm to strike again.
 But almost simultaneously, I jump into the air and summon my shikigami, two simplified crows that charge forward.
 "Heh, you're going to avoid it? But that's no fun at all!" the youkai exclaims.
 The Shikigami that charged at the youkai were immediately cut to pieces, and at the same time, they emitted light. It is natural, since I had given it the function of a flash bomb.
 "Small fry, don't you dare!" yelled the youkai.
 Blinded by the bright light, Kamaitachi wildly swung both arms, cutting through the air with gusts of wind that tore, sliced, and cleared everything in their path. But I wasn't there. There was no way I could fight the calamity youkai head-on...
 "How can I fight a calamity youkai...!!!" I thought to myself.
 And so, I disappear with a Matagama and hid behind a nearby object, observing the calamity youkai. After a bit of struggling, Kamaitachi finally adapted to the surroundings and looked around.
 "Did he run away or hide? This is troublesome. I'm not really good at finding people," Kamaitachi grumbled, as if talking about someone else. The stench of stinky balls, the smell of claymore-like gunpowder, and the flesh and blood of the dead youkai monster were all around us. Still, I recoiled and took a deep breath to take a break.
 "Even though they are beasts youkai, they can't distinguish human smells from other beasts, can they?" I said.
 "Do you think so?" the youkai asked.
 "!!?" With those words, I turn my head to the side, my eyes wide open. Calamity youkai, who had been in close proximity to me before I knew it, was looking at me with a sneer, though I was supposed to be invisible.
 And there were two scythes in front of me, and all eight of their blades were aimed at me.
 "...!!?" I panicked and caught the oncoming blades with the handle of my short spear. The sickle bites deeply into the hilt and somehow stops just in front of my nose. Unfortunately, my main weapon, the spear, lost in a previous battle with a wild boar. But it was fortunate that I could barely block the calamity youkai's attack with his backup short spear, which was cheap and disposable.
 "D*mn!" I shouted, then launched a counterattack with all my might. I then push out the handle of the spear, and and delivered a knee kick from below.
 "Oops, that's close," the weasel said, skillfully jumping off their feet using my knee as a foothold and turning in mid-air like an Olympic gymnast. Their movements were more like those of a leopard than a weasel. If it were in the Olympics, this guy would probably win a gold medal in gymnastics.
 "Hmm? It's strange. I can feel your presence and touch, but I can't see you. Are you using some kind of curse or tool? But you know you can't fool me with visual disguises, right? Why don't you show yourself? It's rude not to show your face, isn't it?" The calamity youkai proposed, warned, or threatened me as usual, looking directly at me even though I was invisible. Did this guy engage in that sword-locking clash earlier even though they couldn't see me? Did this guy pinpoint my location with only a faint presence? That's terrible. ...So, what should I do?
 "...Botan-dono, please hide in the shadows," I whispered, calling out my reliable assistant's name. In response, the hummingbird turned to me with an obvious expression of puzzlement.
 'Are you out of your mind?' she asked.
 "I can't keep hiding anyway, and it would be even worse to be ignored," I said. I had to keep this guy company until the time was right. I can't have this guy heading for the village without me. Especially the calamity youkai in front of me.
 '...Okay, looks like our opponent is talkative. Just play along and try to deceive them.' the hummingbird advised before leaving my shoulder. At the same time, I stop the effect of the Matagama. The monster looks surprised for a moment, but then grins and starts to rudely observe me.
 "Oh? There you are. But the clothes you're wearing under that cloak... are you a servant, by any chance?" the Kamaitachi asked, swinging their arms around like a child.
 "......" I didn't answer, too breathless from the intense physical activity to spare the energy. But ignoring my silence, the youkai continued, "Well, this is a surprise! I had intended to take you completely by surprise. Were you able to read my intentions? It's strange, though, if you are the hand of the exorcists who left the other day, why are you here all alone?"
 The monster looks at me, looking through me, and declares their words quickly. They puts the back of their hand on their chin and tilt their heads slightly to the side. Their sleeves covered their palms, as their clothes didn't fit well.
 "Is it a decoy?... That's strange, considering your abilities. It doesn't seem worth it to use a servant who can resist me as a mere pawn. If they're planning to attack us systematically, the props you used to surprise us are too few in number. Your act to block the passage also unnatural. It's more reasonable to blow us up in numbers when we're all out, and then sweep up the rest. I mean, we're not chronically short of troops like we used to be. Anyway, that curse of slavery is still active on your shoulder, right? And it's currently in effect... Though that cloak seems to be helping to disguise it?" the youkai asked.
 The youkai analyzed and interpreted my every action and behavior, and found problems and questions. It was an intelligence not unlike youkai's. Despite being a bit flighty and talkative.
 "In other words, you needed to carry out this plan on purpose, right? If it were an organized operation, there would be no need for such a fight like this, right? But then, ...don't underestimate us," the youkai continued.
 Before I knew it, I found myself surrounded by all kinds of youkai. The monsters who entered one after another from the reopened underground passageway glared at me fiercely, eyeing me up and down. It was for nothing that I had listened to the mouth of the monster in front of me for so long. It was simply because I couldn't escape. I mean, the exit had been blocked without me realizing it.
 "...This is indeed a magnificent presentation of your research, I'm very impressed. You are quite clever for a youkai, aren't you?" I said.
 "I'm happy to be praised. A monkey like you speaks in such a superior way," Kamaitachi replied.
 In response to my slightly hostile words, the youkai's encirclement shrunk one step closer. However, they still didn't attack. They were controlled or trained, maybe.
 "It's interesting that a servant acted on their own, and moreover, you knew about our existence. But also strange. You know you can't do anything significant on your own, right? So, how about making a deal?" the youkai said.
 "A deal?" I repeated, pondering the word. At my reaction, the weasel-like creature flashed a smile that instinctively made me uncomfortable.
 "Yeah. It's not a bad deal. I just want you to explain everything in detail. But, it's not easy for me either. If you don't agree to the deal, you have to meet their demands and deal with their anger," said Kamaitachi, as the circle around me tightened. The youkai all drool from their mouths and continue to growl.
 "Hahaha... and what is my benefit if I agree to this deal?" I asked.
 "I'll squeeze you gently and carefully so you won't feel any pain," Kamaitachi replied, showing the sickle in their hand with a hateful, innocent smile.
 "Oh? You don't look happy. I don't think it's a bad deal. You wouldn't want to be slowly eaten alive, would you? I've heard among your people that the easiest way to die is with kindness," the youkai continued, tauntingly.
 "Aren't you know a lot?" I responded, with a hint of disdain. What is kindness, really?
 "I know a lot, huh?"
 Of course, in a negative way.
 "...Now, what do you say? Give me your answer," the youkai monster presses me for an answer. Their tone was light, but it was clearly a request and an order. And the youkai knew. I only had a few weapons on me already. Even my main weapon, a cheap spear, was now useless and I had thrown it away earlier to draw my dagger tantō.
 If this continues, I will surely be eaten alive. I will be skinned all over my body, my muscles will be shredded, and still I will be devoured little by little without being fatally wounded. It was horrifying, even just imagining it. In that respect, the reward of a quick death was certainly tempting. That's why...
 "Okay. ...But I wouldn't talk too much for a beast. It's an insult to language, you know?" I said as I took a beat and responded to their kind offer with respect and civility. The monster smiles at me with their clouded red eyes and I smile in response.
 "Devour his limbs!" the weasel commanded with a smile, and all the monsters around me pounced towards me in unison. But I clenched my teeth, steeled myself, and grinned confidently, certain of the success of my plan.
 At the same time as I do so, in an instant, a whirlpool of dirt and debris swallowed up all the attacking monsters.
 "What!?" exclaimed the calamity youkai in surprise, but I was already smiling with delight. I had been waiting for this moment and had timed it perfectly.

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