Tuesday, May 9, 2023 @

Volume 6 Epilogue, Part 2

  Yoshinori's words of reassurance brought a smile to Tamaki's face, and she felt her worries begin to melt away.
 "I knew that one day you would marry and leave home. " Yoshinori's voice grew more serious, and Tamaki could sense a hint of sadness in his tone. "But I never expected it to happen so soon..."
 Especially, this was not a kind of congratulation for marriage. Even if it is a kind of a deal, sending his daughter to a world of life and death exchanges with monster and evil... But, with the power of spiritual power, it was a fate that could not be avoided. She had to have enough strength to defend herself while she was young.
 Therefore, it was a difficult decision. But, at least...
 "Have you heard the news that Iruka and Suzune will be accompanying you?" her father asked, his voice tinged with concern.
 "I understand about Iruka, but Suzune too? Father, don't tell me...?" Tamaki's voice trailed off, her tone uneasy.
 Tamaki is taken aback by his father's words. She knows that being monitored is inevitable for Iruka, and she cannot stay in the village anyway. However, Suzune...!!?
 "Calm down. It's not a punishment for her. On the contrary, she asked me for this favor," her father explained, his tone gentle yet firm.
 "A-asked...?" Tamaki stuttered, her voice filled with surprise.
 "You have a good friend. Don't worry, as your caretaker, I will continue to pay her salary. Of course, I won't change the amount." He sounded reassuring, as if trying to ease Tamaki's worries.
 Hearing his father's words, Tamaki nodded again and again... yes, again and again, as she understood their meaning, tears welling up in her eyes. It was tears of joy and gratitude. She knows somewhat about her friend's circumstances, like how she sends money home to her parents. And yet, she would risk danger to accompany Tamaki... Remembering her friend's calm face as she left, Tamaki feels both grateful to her friend and embarrassed by her own weakness.
 "Father... thank you very much. How can I ever thank you enough..." Tamaki's voice was filled with emotion, her gratitude overflowing.
 "Don't be so formal. You're my daughter, after all. It's only natural for a father to do everything for his daughter. You, too, must be going through a difficult training. Although I don't know the details, you should come back here and rest once in a while." Her father's voice was warm and understanding.
 "...!!? Wha!?" Tamaki was astonished when she understood the meaning of her father's comment. It was too unexpected for her. She had prepared herself for the possibility of never coming back. But, this means...!? Her voice was filled with disbelief and wonder.
 "Don't be so surprised. I told you, you're my daughter," Yoshinori said matter-of-factly. "The other day's debacle has made me realize that this village needs a few more guards. You know that, right? If you still don't hate this house and this village..."
 "Father!!" Tamaki's voice was shrill with shock and disbelief.
 Yoshinori's words were interrupted by a sobbing Tamaki who hugged him in mid-sentence, her voice choked with emotion. "I... I love you too, Father... No, I love everyone!" she cried out, her voice quivering with unshed tears. "That's why... I'll come back... for sure...!!"
 Tamaki desperately tried to put her overflowing emotions into words. She tries to convey as much as possible. Nevertheless, while crying, Tamaki expressed her feelings, and while listening, Yoshinori gently stroked his daughter's head and back to comfort her. He caresses and comforts her. Just like when he used to soothe her when she cried from a scary dream she had as a little girl...
 She sobs repeatedly, and it took for Tamaki to finally stop crying after being consoled by Yoshinori multiple times. Tamaki apologized for wetting her father's kimono with her tears and was happily forgiven before leaving the room, feeling ashamed.
 After leaving the room, Tamaki walked through the corridor and stepped out onto the veranda where she was greeted by her friend, a maid who had been waiting for her on the wooden board. The maid bowed to Tamaki upon seeing her, and there was a figure standing in the garden adjacent to the veranda. Her half-youkai friend was standing on the gravel with a bandaged body, looking painful but still had a smug smile on her face. Tamaki returned their smiles, but then Hotoya's young lady noticed a third presence in the area.
 "The messenger of Onitsuki wishes to speak with you about the date of the departure," Suzune whispered in Tamaki's ear as she stood up. The beautiful woman, who seemed to have been admiring the garden while waiting, stood by the moat. When she notices Tamaki's presence, she smiles a bewitching and unfathomable smile with a crimson mouth, and piercing her with her moonlight eyes.
 Tamaki is momentarily taken aback by her gaze, which seemed to resemble that of a bird of prey targeting its prey. At the same time, she noticed a small shadow next to her. A young girl, who was short and wearing a Suikan, glared at Tamaki. She was a disciple of Onitsuki's messenger and had taken over the role of a shrine maiden on Tamaki's behalf after she left. Iruka, who saw her a hostile look, stood in between Tamaki and the girl to block her view.
 "It's okay Iruka, I'm fine."
 Tamaki says to her friend who is trying to protect her. She had heard that the Onitsuki family had lost a member of their household (retainer) in a recent incident. She also heard that it was the mentor of this young girl who went to her house as a messenger to pay respect to him and to retrieve his corpse.
 Therefore, was the deceased a relative of the young girl's? If that was the case, then her gaze was understandable. Tamaki realized that she was partly responsible for this incident and she couldn't help but feel self-deprecating. Shame on herself for being too occupied with herself to even consider such a thing until just a few minutes ago.
 But now Tamaki looks back at the young girl. She looks back, powerfully. No matter what feelings are directed at her, she does not intend to run away from them. She would face her own faults and her own guilt, and if necessary, she would apologize and make amends.
 She no longer fear anything, nor was she troubled by anything. She will do what needs to be done. It's her duty, after all. She will atone for her sins and she would use her exorcism powers, which she possessed, to their fullest potential.
 And when all is settled, she will return to her village, to her family. Tamaki still had a place to go back to, a family waiting for her, and friends who would support her until then. It was surely a lucky and happy thing.
 "I spoke with my father. Please take care of me from now on, Onitsuki's madam advisor."
 And so, Hotoya Tamaki had firmly decided to face the difficult days that awaited her...
* * *
 Onitsuki Aoi fell silent upon seeing it. And shuddered in fear. Her face turned pale and she became tense.
 It was a reaction that made one doubt their own eyes if those who knew her usual arrogant and confident demeanor saw her expression, as if she had seen a ghost.
 No, in fact, for Onitsuki Aoi, the person in front of her was nothing but a ghost.
 "...Well, that's enough. Please step back."
 The person in question who noticed Aoi's presence ordered the doctors who were performing the examination to leave. And then, he sat up from his futon and looked at her.
 The person she finally met a few days ago after awakening was a thin, emaciated man dressed in white. He looked haggard.
 He must have had a handsome face at some point, as there were traces of it, but that was all. His current appearance was unbearable to look at. His cheeks were sunken in, dark circles under his eyes, his eye sockets were deep, and his eyeballs seemed to be about to pop out. He had a scruffy beard that grew unevenly, like a homeless person or someone who was seriously ill.
 In fact, the man was literally bedridden like a sick man. And not just for a day or two, it had been for years. He was barely conscious and couldn't even eat or go to the bathroom by himself. He was just a lump of flesh that seemed to barely have any life left in him. However, Aoi had never felt even a shred of sympathy for him.
 There was no reason to. It was the natural consequence of his own actions, and those he had committed against her and others. In fact, it was probably merciful that she didn't kill him, given what he had done. Though killing him would have just made the next power struggle more complicated and invited more curses.
 Onitsuki Yuusei, the 18th head of the Onitsuki family and Aoi's real father and the devil who had tried to drag her into hell, was standing in the bedroom of the main house of the residence - the same man whom Aoi had come to see, accompanied by a commoner guide, to confront her hated enemy.
 "Aoi... is that you? It seems you have grown quite a bit. It appears that I have been lying down for quite some time," the man said as he analyzed her from head to toe, without getting up from the futon.
 He appeared to be checking her over calmly and dispassionately, as if he had completely forgotten what he had done to her.
 "H-how dare you...! How can you even pretend to forget...!?" Aoi shivered with anger at his shameless attitude. She snaps the fan in her hand, and released a tremendous amount of spiritual power from within.
 It was a quiet storm, but it was as tumultuous as muddy waters. The air trembled in the face of the too-thick torrent of spiritual power. The walls and pillars of the house creaked. The concentration was so high that even a low-ranked youkai would vomit, and even a high-ranked youkai would get drunk before getting excited by the spiritual power. It was dense to the point of being too dense...and yet, Onitsuki Yuusei had hardly reacted to it.
 "Well done, that's my daughter after all. It's truly impressive that you've become so powerful. I'm really amazed," he praised calmly, as if he were bathing in a breeze, and it rubbed Aoi's nerves the wrong way. Her body trembled with anger and humiliation, and she raised her slender arms to strike the wind with her passion...
 "Oh my, Aoi. That won't do. Your father has just woken up, so save your playtime for later," "Hm!?"
 Aoi was surprised that she didn't notice the person's presence until her wrist was grabbed. And then, she shuddered at the sweet, kitten-like voice that whispered in her ear. Aoi knew that sound. She knew it very well. She had heard it since she was a child, to the point where it was almost unpleasant.
 "Tsk...!!!?" Aoi reflexively swung her other hand horizontally, but her sharp blow was easily blocked
 ...by a thin burdock root.
 "Wha–?!" Aoi's voice rose sharply, her eyebrows furrowed in bewilderment.
 "The speed and response are sufficient, but there's no art in the way you attack... is it about 40 points?" The opponent's voice was cool and collected, devoid of any emotion.
 Before seeing the appearance of the opponent, Aoi is convinced of who she is by that fact and that statement. Then she stares at the person with a distorted face.
 There was a glossy woman with long hair, which was of shirotorairo (white wisteria color). One of her eyes was hidden by her habitual hair, and she looked just like Aoi, even her face looked exactly the same as Aoi's, with her voluptuous body which could be recognized even over her kimono. If there was a difference, it was in the atmosphere, perhaps? Her calm look had a more impressive impression than that of the raging Aoi.

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