What is the difference between the exorcists, whose status is officially recognized by the imperial court, and the stray/defected? There are many factors, but the biggest difference is whether or not they can endure the many tasks imposed by the imperial court.


 The periodic visits to the capital (joraku) and the duty of guardianship are typical examples.
Although it may seem easy enough to dispatch a certain number of men to the capitals for each family, in reality, the Imperial Court does not give any rewards unless some merit is achieved.
In effect, the exorcists were required to have enough money to feed dozens of people, including miscellaneous laborers, for six months without pay in the capital where prices were high.
Naturally, the money required was quite large.


 Another typical duty was the guardianship of the country.
The local government of the imperial court consisted of the smallest unit, the “village”, which was divided into several “townships” ruled by local feudal lords, the next unit was the “county (郡),” which was ruled by a county governor appointed by an official of the Imperial Court.
Then it was “Kuni (country),” and “Tsuchi (territory of country)” under the supervision of a minister directly appointed by the emperor.


 An exorcist family or clan assumes responsibility for all matters about youkai in at least one “county” that includes the territory in which they are established.
This responsibility is enlarged according to the prestige and size of the family.
For example, the Ako and Ryujenji families, the most prestigious families in the western region, are required to exterminate youkai in not only one county but the entire region of the province, manage spiritual veins, perform rituals, expose stray/defected exorcists and sorcerers, and even supervise other exorcists' families in the surrounding area.


 Naturally, to fulfill these duties, the exorcists in the family are required to have a sufficient mass of exorcists, to raise huge amounts of money, and even to have leadership skills.
This is an impossible task for first- and second-generation exorcists, many of whom are uneducated and from lowly families.


 The Kizuki family, to whom Fusō-kuni had been appointed by the Imperial Court to protect four of the six counties of northern Hakuginbō, was a large family of 38 exorcists and 11 household members.
This is one of the three largest families of exorcists in the northern region.
The number of exorcists, including those in the upper and lower classes and those in the hidden group, is also considerable, and they have considerable financial resources, as they are the real rulers of several villages, including Kizuki Valley Village, and collect annual tribute.
The Kizuki family is truly a prestigious exorcism family in the northern part of the country.


 And even such a Kizuki family is not allowed to take any precautions on this matter, much less to take it easy, thought Kizuki Kochou, an elder and a counselor of the Kizuki family as she sat reclining on her seat on the upper floor.
After thinking about it, she took a puff of smoke from her smoking pipe and let out a sweet exhale.


 She is dressed like a high-class oiran (courtesan) in a bright kimono that reveals the shoulders of her white skin, a luxurious hairpin, and a rouge on her mouth.
…Her youthfulness and good looks combined with her appearance give her a mellow fragrance that makes it hard to believe her actual age.
Now, her eyes, which had been drifting for a while, shifted to the front.


 Almost all of the family exorcists and some of the household members were present at the main hall of Kizuki's family residence.
The expressions on the faces of most of them were hard.
This was because this was such a troublesome matter.


 ”So, how are their movements, Uemon-dono?”


 One of the attendees asked fearfully.
The look of distaste on his face was obvious.
It is to be expected.
The beings mentioned in this story were so despised by the human world that they were considered anathema.


 ”Two members of the Hidden Group were sent to investigate.

 ”…what was the result?”


 One of the exorcists belonging to Kizuki's family asks.
Uemon looked grim and answered.


 ”Only one returned within three days.
That person was disposed of following the requirements.”


 The attendees were shocked at these somewhat obligatory, nonchalant words.
It was out of a kind of astonishment.


 ”I'd heard about this, but I never thought it was really…”

 ”It's true what people in the southern region said.”

 ”It is truly frightening…”


 The front-line exorcists of Kizuki, who could kill a hundred youkai at once and several great youkai at once, are whispering to each other, their faces tense, and it is not because they have been cowed by the winds of cowardice.
There is a good reason.
That's how much the kappa, youkai, were feared by the exorcists.
And hated.




 On the other hand, a young silver-haired girl, who was attending the meeting in the corner of the table, was fidgeting and looked impatient at the mention of it.
The young man sitting on the floor beside her looks displeased and gives a small cluck of his tongue.


 Calamity youkai 'kappa'…
this eponymous youkai are not that much of a threat in terms of their individual combat abilities.
Although there are various levels of youkai, most of them are small youkai at the highest level and medium youkai at the average level.


 One of the most frightening features of kappa is that they are ineffective against spiritual power.
Or more precisely, to the blades of wind and sea of flames created by spiritual power.
Physical blows and direct slashes with swords are effective, but that is all.
Most of the means of attacking multiple targets from a distance by spiritual power are nullified.


 Moreover, their fertility is also tremendous.
They can rape men and women, conceive them, and even turn the raped into their own kind.


 Some of them are even latent individuals.
These are kappa, but they are human in appearance, and some of them do not even realize that they are kappa, which makes them even worse.
There was a case in which a human being was turned into a kappa one after another mainly by contact through bodily fluids, and an entire city in the southern part of Japan turned out to be a kappa's nest.


 …From its characteristics, in a sense, the youkai called kappa may resemble a kind of disease.
In addition, Onmyou dormitory suggests that youkai called kappa should be considered as a group of youkai, not as individual youkai, because they have a kind of telepathic ability and can be observed to have social habits and intelligence like ants.
In any case, there is no doubt that they are quite special among youkai.


 In the case of the outbreak of youkai in the city of Nandu, the Imperial Court mobilized a large army, literally surrounded the city, and slaughtered both humans and kappa over seven days and seven nights to the last man under the “Shisatsu Sanmetsu Yokō” (Four Kills and Three Oblirates) policy of the general at that time, to end the situation.
Although nowadays there is a method to identify kappa after countless human experiments, at that time there was no such method, and people could not distinguish kappa from those who deceived them.
Moreover, many of the people who were to be cleaned up were also infected and disposed of by their allies.
Because of this, the general who ordered the massacre ordered his men to follow his example in the event of a similar situation, and then committed seppuku to his own death the moment he became convinced that he himself had become infected during the operation.


 Taking these two points alone, it is easy to imagine how troublesome the kappa, or youkai, is.
Even though the exorcists were by far the elite few, the kappa completely killed the exorcists' advantage, and their overwhelming mass could have swallowed up even the exorcists who had fought many battles in the past if they fought poorly.


 And youkai that are so troublesome have been discovered here in the northern region.


 ”…Now, Ashina and Nomoto counties have already been sealed off.
Not only the Imperial Court, but also neighboring feudal lords have mobilized their forces.”


 When it comes to information, Uemon is quick to listen, partly because of his role.
He probably had the most accurate grasp of the current situation.


 ”And where are the exorcists who guarded the two counties?”

 ”Yes! How is Hasuka!? And Asakuma?”


 Following Kizuki Shisui's words, a member of the family raised his voice.
If he recalls correctly, this person was a relative of the Hasuka family…?


 Uemon shook his head in response to the frantic expression on the family member's face.
At the same time, a groan escaped from the surroundings…


 ”It seems Hasuka family got a surprise attack.
There are not many of them to begin with, and they are too bad a match for them.”


 Uemon replies, based on the information he has obtained from the hidden group and the shikigami.
Compared to Kizuki, the Hasuka family, which used to protect Ashina county, has fewer people and lower quality of spiritual power.
Their technique of transforming their spiritual power into flame dragons and swallowing hundreds of youkai was brilliant…
but unfortunately, it would have been of little use in front of the kappa.
Uemon remembers how eerie it was, even though the shikigami, to see a house that had been inhabited only a short time before, and yet was completely silent.


 ”Asakuma's family seems to have put up a bit of a fight now.
Their residence showed signs of having been besieged, there was blood all over the place, and the place was in a state of great disrepair.
However, in the back room, there were traces of a fire.
Probably survivors were found there…”


 The Asakuma family, which guarded Nomoto county, was also small in size, but their ancestors were warriors, so they were relatively good at close combat.
The traces that remained suggested that the survivors had committed suicide in the final stage of the siege and had set themselves on fire so that they would not become kappa themselves, and so that their flesh would not be exploited.


 For a moment the meeting was silent at Uemon's words, but then a voice like the tinkling of a bell broke the silence that could have lasted for who knows how long.


 ”So? What's the plan?”


 Kizuki's second princess, leaning on her elbow on the side of her breath and dressed in a foreign-style costume she had probably recently acquired, asked in a languid, trivial manner.
Her composed manner, though arrogant, seemed more reassuring than repulsive in this situation.


 (Really, this girl is always so skillful in such a situation…).


 However, Kochou looked at her granddaughter who has a similar face to hers with coldness inside.
In a sense, she burst out at the best moment when most, if not all, of the people were disheartened.
Proudly, arrogantly.
And it was clear that she was doing it to win the respect of those around her.


 Although the peach-colored granddaughter in front of her may not value the family's reputation much herself, there is no doubt that this is a stepping stone for her to achieve her goals in the future.
It is a cunning thing indeed.
It's like her granddaughter is the image of her own husband, the man who had raped her body halfway forcibly.
Looking back, the man is so forceful and arrogant.


 ”I'll tell you if no one else is going to speak up, okay? We can't just leave them like this, can we? Then we'll just do what we've always done, round them up and exterminate them, that's all there is to it.
Don't you agree?”


 No one can refute Aoi's words.
Of course, the Imperial Court already knew what had happened.
Kizuki and other exorcists in the northern region must hunt the kappa at any cost.


 However, the total number of kappa that has swallowed up the two counties is at least several thousand, possibly more than ten thousand.
In contrast, the number of exorcists, even if they are gathered from the neighborhood, will not exceed a hundred.
Moreover, most of the spiritual techniques for mass warfare are blocked…


 ”At this point, we're going to need more than just a few.”

 ”All the families in the neighborhood, all the servants, and the hidden group will be mobilized…”

 ”Maybe we'll hire a few stray exorcists and mercenaries to help us out?”

 ”Can we trust them?”

 ”They can serve as bait at best and they'll come if we offer to take them on as hired hands.
But we must keep the kappa a secret until the very last minute.”

 ”Then, let's see how many of those gathered will survive.”

 ”Hahaha, don't say that.”


 At last, the consensus has taken a step forward.
Aoi watches with her cheekbones as the elders of the family express their opinions on how to gather strength.


 On the other hand, Kochou could easily imagine what was going through her granddaughter's mind.
To her, this family and its members seemed incompetent, and on the contrary, they were nothing but an obstacle to her goal.
Her cold eyes seem to be thinking about how to make the best use of the old people in front of her.
And this is no exception even for those who are trying to make themselves the next head of the family.



 ”…so, who is going to fulfill this task?”


 As the discussion deepened around the elders, a tall girl who was sitting just opposite the second princess asked this question, which in a sense could be called a deleterious one.
She had raven wet-feather hair as shiny as a butterfly, and unlike her little sister, she was dressed in a tight men's kimono, sitting upright with her back straight…
The place fell silent again at the words of Kizuki Hina, the first princess of the Kizuki.


 It is natural.
The other party is her.
Normally, the exorcists of Kizuki, who have been slaughtering all kinds of youkai, would have been tempted to take a second look at the task at hand.
However, the problem of the two factions of the family, which are now splitting into two, makes it difficult to say that they will step down outright.
It is a risky assignment that could destroy the faction if it fails, but the rewards for success are immeasurable.


 (Well, in other words, no one is willing to do anything except for profit.
…It's very obvious, isn't it?)


 Kochou was silent again in response to Hina's question, and she commented mockingly in the back of her mind as she watched the heavy atmosphere in the seats.


 ”I know what you're talking about, but dear sister, do you really want to go?”

 ”What about you? I'm skilled in swordsmanship, but you, who uses a fan, are not a good match for them, are you?”


 …It was Aoi again who broke the silence.
When she declared this to her big sister as if she was trying to provoke her, Hina calmly responded to her, but with a sting in her words.


 ”Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.
To be told like that by someone who has no special skill but playing with fire…
and don't worry if it's swordsmanship.
If it's just swinging a stick, I'm sure I can refine it if you let me watch it a couple of times.”



 The obvious abuse from the little sister made Hina's eyes widen and she was unintentionally sending out a deadly fury.
Aoi, however, who was directly receiving it with a cool expression, gave a cold smile in return.


 ”My little sister…
you are joking too much! Do you know what you're doing here!!”

 ”Oh, I'm not joking at all.
I'm always serious.
I'm much more serious than some people…
who make an emotional and irreversible mistake.”

 ”Don't be stupid…!”


 If there had been a sword by her side, Hina would have pulled it out without hesitation.
However, it can't be said that she is fortunate that she doesn't have a sword.
After all, she had been covered with a terrible fire all over her body for the first time.
In a sense, it would have been better if she had pulled out her sword, considering the characteristics of the flames created by her spiritual power.


 ”Hina-dono!? Please stop! That flame…
that flame is too much!?”

 ”Aoi-dono, that's no way to talk to your sister…!”


 The people around them, or the adults belonging to both factions, were frightened and tried to admonish them.
However, it was out of self-defense.
If the two girls were to collide with them with all their might, everyone would almost certainly be swept away like insects, and their lives would almost certainly be collateral damage.


 ”Huff~, Shisui.”

 ”Yes, ma'am.”


 Kochou, who had been watching the situation, sighed…
called out the person's name with a sigh of utter disgust.
Kizuki Shisui answered at the same time, his eyes reflecting the two sisters who were on the verge of a confrontation.



 ”Oh my, oh my…”


 At the same time, the sisters are bound as if their bodies were bound by invisible ropes.
Although this was only to buy time…
it was still enough to throw cold water on the two sisters.


 ”Princesses, please calm down.
A quarrel in a place like this will only degrade both of you.”


 One of them was hostile and the other one was cold, but Shisui admonished them without hesitation.


 For a while, the air is heavy with a sense of hatred…
The people around the sisters are nervous and watch their every move uneasily.
And then…


 ”…You're right.
The servants' head is right.
It's not proper to make a fuss here.
Thank you for your admonition.”

 ”Huh!? …I know.
I'm very reluctant to do so, but I'll settle the matter here in deference to your face.”


 Aoi pulls back first in a cheerful manner, and Hina bites her teeth and withdraws reluctantly as if in response to her words.
Both of them are relieved and look at Shisui, who has settled the situation, with an apologetic look.
They must think that Shisui is an excellent candidate for the former head of the family.


 (…What a funny thing.)


 And the advisor gave a small laugh at the sight of him.
She laughed indifferently and with a clear mockery.
Aside from Shisui himself, Kochou thought the rest of them looked like a bunch of fools.
It was not because of Shisui that the sisters were attracted to him.
It was only because he was the head of the servants' group.


 Kochou knew that even if they did not like Shisui's behavior, it was not an option for either of them to hurt him or even kill him.
Shisui was indeed a skilled fighter, and he would be quite difficult to kill.
But more than that, she knew very well that killing him would only cause indirect pain to the young man whom the sisters were both in love with.


 Unfortunately, no one in Kizuki's family could be called the best than Shisui, who had the rank of a servant's head at the moment…
That was the only and the biggest reason why they did not make a fuss at this moment.




 What a bunch of incompetent and stupid granddaughters…
Kizuki's adviser has a scathing assessment of her two blood granddaughters from their earlier tussle.
The two sisters are like oil and water, when in fact they are nothing more than half-breeds…


 (Both of them have idealized him, pushing their own desires on him and trying to see only what they want to see.
Indeed, they are the most splendid children……)


 Kochou's evaluation of her granddaughters is too harsh, and even though she is prejudiced against the Kizuki family itself, at least she is not wrong.


 (….What a poor child.
He must be in pain.
He must be suffering.
It's so poor.)


 That's exactly what she's known since he came to the house when he was bought.
She has seen it all.
The hardships the boy endured at the behest of the grandchildren, the orders of the adults, and the stares of those around him.
It is a miracle that he was able to survive in that situation at that age.
And it was the granddaughter of the older one who broke the balance and brought the situation to what it is today.


 (And it's my younger granddaughter who is putting him through even more hardship.
Really, I can't say anything…)


 Kochou is appalled at the younger granddaughter who is so lenient at such a critical moment.
…She, her grandmother is deeply disappointed.


 …On the one hand, she loves him blindly but does not try to understand and torments him, on the other hand, she puts him in too dangerous a situation to be with her and fantasizes about an ideal future.


 ”…What a foolish thing.”


 It was a small, really small soliloquy.


 Ah, yes.
Stupid granddaughters indeed.
That boy neither wants nor desires such a thing, and he would be bewildered if it were offered to him.


 All he wants is peace.
Peace of mind.
A simple, ordinary life is the only thing he wants.
Yes, it's like those distant, nostalgic days for Kochou, who has lived too long to be a human being.
Like the smiling days spent with that person…




 Kochou shivers quietly as she retraces her memory of the past.
It is because she has realized how much she has aged along with her memories of the past.


 Even if she looks young and fresh on the outside, it is only a facade.
Her thoughts become sluggish, her soul begins to creak and stagnate, and her memories rust and fade.
Her memories of a naive and naive girlhood, which only a few years ago could be recalled in vivid colors, can now only be remembered in sad black and white.


 No, that is not what is truly frightening.
It is the fact that the image of that person whom she was spoiled by, depended on, and adored in her girlhood, the person whom she loved, is gradually fading away day by day, and she can no longer remember the face of that person.


 ”…Oh, no, I don't like it.
I broke it.”


 Kochou muttered to herself in a small, scornful, self-mocking way.
No one around her noticed, but the smoking pipe in her hand was broken.
She had been so terrified that she had been unable to even control her strength and had crushed it.


 And inwardly she thinks…
She makes excuses.
Defending herself.
She rattles off a long list of reasons in her brain for making this choice.
But an excuse is still an excuse.
The real reason is something else.
Yes, there is.


 (I'm worried about that boy…)


 A servant is still a servant, no matter what position he occupies like Yun-shoku.
Considering how the previous or former Yun-shoku died, how can he feel secure in his position? Moreover, he is the same as her.
He won't send his men to their deaths and stand back comfortably himself.
It's obvious that he'd go to the scene of the crime for any number of good reasons.
And she felt unsafe leaving him in the hands of the first princess who didn't understand him, and the second princess who was always so lax.


 So she declared.
She pretended as if she had no choice, and she feigned a composed attitude, and she said it with an air of composure.
…Hiding her ulterior motive.


 ”I can't help it.
Maybe, I should visit him for the first time in a long time?”


 Despite the sisters' intention, it takes another hour or so for the family to accept Hu Kochou's offer due to the intensifying factional strife and the risk of losing the candidates for the next head of the family…


* * *


 ”Ah, he's gone home, isn't he?”


 a girl with honey-colored hair boasts through the double windows of the trading house, which is prepared for the cold weather of the northern region.
She looks at the boy with a grim look on her face, who is riding on a horse and making some kind of light talk.


 She wanted him to stay overnight, but unfortunately, her request was denied.
Therefore, Kayo decided to look at his back with a sense of regret.
However, the world does not work that way.
After all…


you've done it.
Why are you doing this to me!!”


 Behind her, the old maid, who had been sent to the store for shopping in a desperate attempt to get her way, looks at her with a tone of half anger and half dismay.
It seems that she has heard the story from the other maid, and she is sure she will be lectured for a long time to come.
But Kayo was prepared for that from the beginning.


 ”Hehehe, please forgive me, Tsuru.
It's true that I said I wanted to eat this, right?”


 She took a glance at the dumplings sold at a common sweet shop where middle-class people in the city eat.
The dumplings were still warm and steaming on the ceramic plate.
The only difference is that the owner of the sweet shop is from the central part of the country, so the dumplings are seasoned in a capital style.
At any rate, it is not something that an upper-class Kayo would go to buy in person in this country where the status system is strictly regulated.


 ”…By the way, the child accompanying him does not look familiar to me.
Was there such a person in Kizuki's house?”


 Kayo says her question as she looks at the back of the person who is leaving.
No one noticed because she was looking out the window, but Kayo's eyes narrowed.
She glares at the two of them, or more precisely at the young child on the horse, with a jealous look in her eyes.


 ”By the looks, that must be a child of the temple, isn't it? Children with spiritual power are often entrusted with such children.
It is also common for them to be sold off to exorcist houses.”


 Tsuru guesses without any particular curiosity.
Without the isolation of exorcists, being a spiritual person would be an inconvenience.
Especially in a rural village, it is not surprising that they are avoided because of their ability to attract youkai.


 And the case that parents, siblings, or village chiefs offered such troublesome children to temples and shrines in exchange for a small amount of money and children was, however, much more relaxed than it had been in the past.
In the olden days, they would have been thinned out or thrown away in the mountains the moment they were discovered to have spiritual power.
On the contrary, it was for a kind of social salvation and goodwill that temples started to take care of them as children.
…at least in the beginning.


 ”Heh~ I see.
A child…
yes, a child.”


 For a moment, it seemed to Tsuru that the indescribable tone of her lord voice, which seemed to be both listening and not listening at the same time, contained a sense of disgust.
But when the old maid felt something disturbing, there is an impressive and light sound of a gulp.


…ehhh, I accidentally bit my tongue….”


 Kayo turned around and opened her mouth with a deceptive smile.
Her expression is somewhat embarrassing, like a brat who has found out about her mischief.
Tsuru noticed this attitude.


I don't suppose you were licking candy throughout the whole meeting?”

 ”Hahaha ……”


 Again, a deceptive smile.
And then she popped a small white lump out of her mouth.
A small white lump is put back into the drawstring bag in her pocket.
This bag of candy, which seems to be the favorite of this girl since she left the capital, is always at hand.
….and Tsuru is taken aback by this.


 ”What a disgrace! Miss, I know you're trying hard to follow in your father's footsteps, but you'll ruin it if you behave in such a bad manner!”

but, my mouth is lonely.

 ”Don't heh-heh!”

 ”Geez! Don't be so angry…
you bought the dumplings so let's eat them together, okay?”


 Kayo's shoulders trembled at Tsuru's reprimand, but she suggested as if she was trying to put the angry old maid in a good mood.





 ….Naturally, Tsuru gives her a further sermon, as if she is disgusted by such an attitude.
The sermon was long and seemed to go on for a while.


 (But still…)


 Then, in the middle of the sermon, the old maid suddenly thought.
Come to think of it, wasn't this honey-colored girl not so good at the candy? But the candy that she took out from her mouth was indeed white…


 But such a question is trivial.
It does not matter what kind of candy it was.
The problem is her rash behavior and rudeness.


 Therefore, Tsuru lectures and disciplines her like a nagging stepmother.
She did not care if it was disgusting to the other girl and she herself would be hated by her.
After all, Tsuru sincerely hoped for Kayo's sake that she would become a respectable woman, a refined and cultured businesswoman with good manners, and a lady…

点击屏幕以使用高级工具 提示:您可以使用左右键盘键在章节之间浏览。

You'll Also Like