Friday, May 5, 2023 @

Chapter 84, Part 1

 "I never wanted to give birth to you."
 These were the last words the ezo girl heard from her mother, who was about to die.
 The Fusō-kuni, which is outside of their ruling territory, is home to the Ezo, an indigenous people who live in the land of Mutsu in eastern region. However, they are not a homogeneous group. In fact, the Ezo themselves do not have a strong sense of being fellow peoples, despite being called so by the government. They often compete with each other for the control of spiritual energy veins, water sources, mines, farmland, food, and slaves.
 Just like at that time, when the Sakaki Black Wolf clan, who are Ezo of the Mutsu region, were defeated by the Akiba Blue Duck clan and the Saeki White Dog clan, who received military and iron support from the government. Because of this, the Sakaki clan fled to the borderlands and eventually built a hidden village in the mountains. Therefore, they had a strong grudge against the Fusō-kuni, who were pushing for the conquest of the northeast, and they often intervened during disturbances at the Imperial Court, even cooperating with the rebel forces of the time.
 "Well, it's not like it's a big deal now."
 For Iruka, who was born to a woman who was a slave from the Fusō-kuni and a man from her tribe, and was purchased by bandits, her mother's last words were not surprising at all. In fact, she could predict it from the treatment she received in her mother's village and from their attitudes towards her. It was really a story that was too late to be told.
 ...However, it did hurt her a little bit, even though it wasn't anything serious.
 At any rate, Iruka, who was not yet ten, was very optimistic for her age. And her natural strength of spirit did not allow her to give up. Nor did she care about her mother's grudge. As long as she doesn't turn out to be a monster, it's nothing to be concerned about.
 The present and the future were more important to her. She had no intention of accepting the same miserable, helpless, and humiliating fate as her mother. But the path a slave brat can take in this small village is limited.
 Through hard work and twists and turns, she found her way as a tribal spy. Because of the small population and the dangers of the dirty work involved, tribal agents were always in short supply.
 Fortunately, Ryuuto, Iruka's mentor, was a skilled warrior with ample combat experience and a broad understanding of the world. He was able to raise his disciples without being confined by their social status, even though he was very strict with them to the point of causing them to vomit blood. However, at least she was not treated unfairly, as Iruka recognizes. It can be seen that she was not the only one who affectionately called him Osiki.
 ...It was shortly after she had acquired sufficient counterintelligence skills that she was subjected to the semi-youkai-ization procedure.
 The youkai wolf that had attacked the village just before was finally defeated with the help of the entire village, and its flesh and bones were dissected to be used as precious materials for rituals and curse tools. The problem, however, was the power of the youkai.
 It could be called a wolf god instead of a dog god. The curse of the youkai wolf, a kind of a curse, did not disappear even after its body was destroyed, and it brought various disasters to the village. The village, however, was troubled, especially the elders, who were reluctant to simply exorcise it, since they regarded the wolf as sacred, as their clan was named after it. Above all, it is a great youkai-class curse. So, they wanted to utilize it effectively if possible.
 "Foolish. Not worth discussing."
 When Iruka was chosen, her teacher Ryuuto immediately said so at a public meeting. The mere practice of youkai-ization is dangerous, but to seal a raging curse within a disciple is nothing more than a human sacrifice... But the decision of the Elders cannot be overturned and Iruka herself accepted it. No, she had no right to refuse, and it was an opportunity to prove herself despite the danger. Part of her reason was also that she did not want to cause trouble for her indebted master.
 However, neither Iruka herself nor even her immediate superior, Ryuuto, knew that they intended to use her as a curse god to haunt the imperial court.
 Nevertheless, Iruka was sent to the capital with her mentor to protect the secret of the illicit trade with the court merchants, but on this first mission, she became a fugitive from both the court and her own clan.
 Ironically, because of this, she had few opportunities to use her power, which ultimately delayed her own downfall. ...However, the everlasting world is still a harsh and bitter place. A human is always a human, no matter how far he or she goes. Unlike beasts, man cannot live alone.
 While on the run, she stole from villages but refrained from killing not out of goodwill, but simply to avoid attracting attention. However, it is also possible that she instinctively sensed her own inner curse and instinctive urge to unleash her youkai.
 Lost, lost, lost. She endured the pouring rain under a tree and braved the cold with her tattered clothes. Her shoes were worn out, so she walked barefoot, and at night she slept on the trees, wary of beasts and youkai, and even that was not enough to get any sleep. If she was discovered to be half-youkai in any of the villages along the way, the farmers with hoes banded together will attack her and she will ran frantically with her food again. If she saw soldiers of the government army patrolling along the city streets, she would hide in the bushes and get covered in mud to get away from them.
 It was miserable, painful, and hard. She had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, no place to rest, and yet she didn't want to die. She didn't want such a pathetic end. Nor did she want to feel sorry for herself. That would only make it worse.
 Then, at one point, a powerful youkai chased her. She ran away again and again, but no matter how many times she ran, it kept pursuing her with its keen sense of smell. And in the midst of all that, she found it.
 The exorcism boundary. It constructed with spiritual power overflowing from the spiritual vein. It was difficult even for Iruka, who was unprepared now, to get through it unscathed... but desperate times call for desperate measures. Knowing that she would not die because she was a half-youkai, she forced her way into the boundary. It felt like her whole body was scalded with hot water, but she managed to escape the youkai's pursuit.
 With her body in ruins, Iruka wandered through the boundary. Her body ached all over, and her hunger and cold had taken her to the limit. She felt like she was about to die.
 Then, she found a small hut. There was nothing more to say. Even if someone was inside, she didn't care.
 She broke into the hut and was relieved to find no one there. If there had been someone in there, she might have gotten her ass kicked. Now, she searched the inside and found dried fish and rice. The color and smell were a little suspicious, but it didn't matter anymore. She devoured it all without a second thought.
 Sure enough, she got a stomach ache and kept groaning inside the hut. Fortunately, she was able to survive the rain and dew, and was lucky that youkai did not attack. In any other place, she would have died for sure.
 For two whole days Iruka groaned, and then, in her dazed state of consciousness, she heard a voice.
 "Really?" she heard a voice say, the words drawing out in skepticism. "I heard some weird noises lately. They say it might be a ghost."
 "Miss, do you plan on investigating it?" the other person asked with curiosity. "Why don't you just ask someone to do it? It's not something you would personally go in on, is it, Miss?"
 It was a woman's voice. She's talking to someone. The voice was getting closer. But Iruka does not run or fight anymore. She was running out of energy. Her body was at its limit, her mind notwithstanding. She cannot move even a finger. In short, she can't do anything...
 Now, as the door of the hut creaks open slowly, she thought it was time to pay her tribute. It's a shame, but there's nothing she can do. At least she hope to go to an easy death, but how much more can she hope for?
 "What!? There's a person here!? Why!? Wait, is this... food poisoning!?"
 The intruder shouted in a silly voice as she picked up the leftover food lying at her feet...
 (Well, it was a terrible mess, wasn't it?...)
 Iruka chuckled bitterly at the memory of their haphazard encounter. At the same time, she was stunned by the girl's lack of caution in assisting the wounded half-youkai stranger who had collapsed without hesitation. It should have been a case where they would immediately call armed men for help...
 (Well, the rest of it was just as surprising.)
 Iruka couldn't believe that they hadn't turned in the unknown half-youkai to the court and even let her live there. It was a reckless and naive village, she thought. Although her status was that of a slave, it was a mere formality unlike the one in her hometown. It was easy. It was pleasant. It was fun...
 (Why am I even thinking about this now...?)
 Iruka wonders as she realizes that she is remembering such things. Her body was strangely heavy, and she couldn't describe the exhaustion she felt. But as she looked around absentmindedly, she found it. She found the girl who was leaning on her. The owner of the divine shrine maiden costume with blackish-blue hair. Her benefactor. Her friend... and she noticed that she was crying.
 (Huh? What? Wh-why are you crying...? And what is this blood?)
 Then Iruka remembers everything when she noticed the red stains on her supposedly pure white and expensive outfit.
 She jerks, and stretches out her arms. The young lady who is looking down in front of her trembles nervously. With a wry smile, Iruka wiped away the blood that had stuck to her cheek.
 "I... ru... ka...?" Tamaki said with a shocked tone.
 "Your expensive outfit has become quite dirty, hasn't it?" Iruka quipped, her words dripping with biting wit. "Should I make you a new one?"
 At Iruka's broken jokes, the girl in front of her just cries and laughs in relief.
* * *
 (It has somehow been resolved...?)
 After observing their interaction, I sit down on the spot and calm down. Concealing the intense pain in my body, I think over the situation.
 'It's not settled, is it? After all, you've only postponed the problem. They will come after you in the near future too. Can you escape with your body?' The hummingbird perched on my shoulder says calmly.
 She confronts me with reality and all I can do is to remain in a grim silence.
 I have exhausted my strength. Escape is almost impossible. Perhaps the same is true for Iruka. We will be captured and beheaded together... No, this is how it is for her. As for me, I might be a specimen. At any rate, it's not a pleasant future.
 (I've been delaying this and that for a while now... but it's a problem. Depending on the outcome, she might fall into darkness right away. I wonder if Yukine, and her family can counsel the protagonist...)
 This is really troublesome. To awaken to supernatural abilities, especially to that blackness, even in the original work, it was the worst Tamaki's condition that awakened to it, but I never thought she would awaken to it in such a situation...
 "Ah, yes, that's right! Tomobe-san, was it?" Tamaki suddenly speaks up, interrupting my thoughts..
 She had come over, leaving Iruka lying in the shade of a tree. After a few moments, she looks at me and bows her head.
 "Well, thank you for everything. Um... I just..." Tamaki's voice trails off, uncertainty evident in her tone.
 She's clearly struggling to find the right words to express her gratitude. But that was natural. There were too many things happening tonight, and she didn't know the reasons or meanings behind them.
 ...And now, the fate that awaited me and Iruka.
 "...I understand your feelings. Please thank that spider first." I try to ease the tension in the air with my words.
 "Huh? Ah, yes...!" Tamaki quickly kneels down to the white spider and thanks it profusely, her voice filled with relief.

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