It was a tranquil rural scene.
As evening fell on the Intellectual Village, harvested paddies covered the ground and the mountains surrounding the village were visible far in the distance. The woods remaining here and there may have been to hold small shrines or just to make it look that way.
At six o’clock, that rural scene had been transformed into a battlefield of countless horrors thanks to the armies of Hyakki Yakou and the Aoandon’s group. The battle had split into three large sections.
One was in one of the small wooded areas where Hyakki Yakou Leader Hafuri used the remote assistance of the Top 5 to directly clash with the Aoandon.
Another was on the golden earth left after the paddies had been harvested where the Top 5 were spread out with the members of the Aoandon’s group collapsing at their feet.
The last was at the intersection of two farm roads between the paddy fields where Saiki Kazu had easily summoned Archdemon Tselika who had stolen the body of Australian Witch Marguerite Steinhols.
Jinnai Shinobu was with the Succubus, the Lantern Obake, and the Umbrella Obake when he saw the Saiki Kazu and Tselika scene play out.
Long, wavy blonde hair was tied back with a sky-blue ribbon and blindingly white skin caught his attention. Something that looked like rough gray concrete or reptilian scales covered sexy curves and yet seemed to intentionally leave the cleavage and navel exposed.
Two horns swept backwards from the forehead, bat-like wings extended from the back, and a thick tail swayed from just above the butt.
The woman had transformed into a stereotypical demon and she roared into the heavens.
That was all that happened, but it was enough for Jinnai Shinobu’s entire world to be dyed crimson.
The Succubus was right next to him, but her voice sounded hopelessly distant. Just as the world burned and the color red seemed to swallow up the entire village, Shinobu was hit by a sharp headache like a thin wire connecting his temples was being pulled taut.
Only afterwards did he realize it was not the world that had been dyed. Tselika was not interfering with the laws of physics.
(Is it my eyes that are messed up!? Is the evening sunlight overpowering everything else I can see like a video camera with the brightness set wrong!?)
The images people saw were not actually produced by the eyes. The information received by the eyeballs was processed in the brain to create the three-dimensional images.
In that case, what was the source of the red Tselika was creating?
Using Marguerite’s borrowed…no, stolen body, Tselika turned her head to look at Shinobu.
She had noticed him, observed him, locked onto him.
The previous headache vanished.
Then that demonic ruler filed her serpentine eyes with seduction, slowly licked her enchanting lips with the tip of her tongue, and spoke to this fresh human soul with a sweet aroma hanging around her.
“Oh, oh! If it isn’t Jinnai Shinobu. You have my thanks for helping me obtain freedom by offering me this vessel of flesh.”
Surprisingly, she spoke with the indifferent voice of a young girl.
When a short burst of gunfire interfered, the Illness Magic User glared in that direction. The Illness Magic he produced had the power and accuracy to corrode the bullets into dust even as they tore through the air. Even if those bullets contained a bizarre paranormal power.
As such, he was less interested in the actual gunfire than he was in who had caused it.
More gunfire followed. And this time, it slipped through the gaps in his mist of Illness Magic. Unlike before, he was force to hold out an arm to cover his vitals. After several dull impacts, a significant amount of blood flowed from his arm. He disintegrated the bullets inside his arm before their paranormal power could bare its fangs.
The man’s expression did not change in the slightest.
He simply stared at and spoke to the attacker.
“What do you think you’re doing, Venom Clairvoyant?”
She was another of Hyakki Yakou’s Top 5.
The clear sound of bells followed.
His opponent was within twenty meters. She was a shrine maiden with long black hair and a red cloth covering her eyes. Poking out from her sleeves were old German handguns with wooden grips and fixed magazines. A decorative thread and bell were attached to the bottom of the grips and those bells would give a light jingle each time she danced with the firearms in hand.
Her violence took the form of a Kagura dance. The threads dangling from the gun grips and her almost divinely thin coat closed with a decorative clasp of St. John's wort drew circular paths as they decorated the stage known as the battlefield.
This woman was the only person with enough skill to accurately perceive the ever-flowing Illness Magic and fire through the gaps like threading a needle.
She was essentially shooting the Illness Magic User in the back as he worked to eliminate the Aoandon’s group, but what meaning did that action hold?
He focused on his armband. He had thought he would ever again be allowed to bear that symbol of Hyakki Yakou and he could not allow any action that would disgrace that family emblem.
Meanwhile, the Venom Clairvoyant asked the same question of him with some tension woven into her calm aura.
“I believe you are the one that needs to explain what you are doing.”
Even with her eyes covered, the young shrine maiden accurately pointed a handgun at the Illness Magic User’s right hand.
When he looked to that hand, he realized what she meant.
A skull was decaying in his hand, but based on the body, clothing, and equipment attached to it via a neck, this had been one of Hyakki Yakou’s combat members, not part of the Aoandon’s group.
He had not been shown any kind of illusion, but at some point his aim had shifted.
He was left speechless, so the Venom Clairvoyant slowly re-aimed her two handguns.
“I have called out to you several times already, but you apparently do not intend to listen. And all of those you returned to the soil were those who had chased after you because they looked up to you.”
“I can no longer trust you. Are you actually part of the Aoandon’s group? Or are you being subconsciously controlled? Either way, you must be defeated.”
“In that case,” cut in the Illness Magic User. “What do you have to say about the people scattered at your feet?”
She froze in place as if she had only just noticed.
Splattered blood and fallen corpses covered the ground around her, but not even one of them belonged to the Aoandon’s group. They were all fellow Hyakki Yakou members.
“It would seem I wasn’t the only one being deceived,” said the Illness Magic User in a bitter voice.
If the same thing was occurring across the entire battlefield, it would truly be a scene of pandemonium. No matter how powerful Hyakki Yakou was – no, because of how powerful Hyakki Yakou was – no one would be able to stop this tragedy.
Something had severed the bonds between people.
Something had erased the distinction between enemy and ally.
And with that in mind, one primary issue came to mind.
“I can’t trust you anymore.”
“I can no longer trust you.”
Because they normally trusted the other’s strength enough to fight alongside them, these monsters knew just how dangerous they would be as enemies.
“Oh, now it’s really getting started.”
The Aoandon seemed to be enjoying herself all alone in the woods.
Annoyance filled Hyakki Yakou Leader Hafuri’s voice as the false image of her as an adult stood by her side.
“Did you use something to drive people mad and break the bonds connecting them?”
These enemies were white and black. The Aoandon wore the white kimono of a bride and Hafuri wore the deep black kimono of mourning.
“Tselika is known as an archdemon that didn’t quite get a spot as one of the seven deadly sins, but that isn’t because she was lacking in power.”
The Aoandon placed her index finger on her lips as if she were revealing a special secret. She showed no concern for Hafuri or the mourning clothes dyed with a family emblem.
“For one thing, there was no real reason to have exactly seven deadly sins. Some important person decided it should be seven, so the number and contents were reorganized. Any concept with the threat of harming the god they place their faith in was a candidate for being a deadly sin.”
“Yes! That’s right, that’s right! Tselika is far too powerful and controls far too many negative concepts to fit into that seven-sin framework!! Suspicion, hatred, crazed love, lies, and really anything else you might want. She controls everything that corrupts otherwise upstanding people! She has free control over all of those things that cause one to betray god!!”
No matter how powerful and solid an organization Hyakki Yakou was, its loyalty was still directed toward a person. Tselika had the power to make people reject god, so the bonds of that group were no guarantee.
“Do you really think something like that is enough to defeat us? Do you really think we’re going to hand over the Japanese DNA Standard and sit idly by while you overwrite the definition of all the Japanese?”
“Ha ha. Young lady, what do you think you can even do?”
A dark smile appeared on the Aoandon’s face.
“All of your power is supplied remotely by your Top 5, isn’t it? That might give you a spare adult body, accurate precognition, superhuman combat skills, and a rapidly cultivated sword, but Hyakki Yakou has broken apart. Your Top 5 are no exception, so you have lost that special power.”
A moment later, the doll standing next to the young Hafuri crumbled with the sound of squashed mud. The Japanese sword fell with a solid sound and it had lost its dreadful shine. Like waking from a dream, the girl returned to being a mere girl.
“What do you want so badly?” Hafuri merely narrowed her eyes a little. “You destroyed infrastructure across Japan, you illegally accessed the server hidden at Nagatacho Station, and you’re trying to steal the Japanese DNA Standard. …Your methods are over-the-top, but I can’t tell what your overall objective is. What change do you want to make to the Japanese using that?”
“Ah ha ha. And if I told you I didn’t want to do anything?”
“Don’t give me that look. What I want is simple.”
The Aoandon giggled with a bluish-white phosphorescence burning at the tip of her single horn.
“I want to give a single command: Erase the Japanese.”
A terribly cold wind blew between the two of them.
It sounded like a joke, but when the Japanese DNA Standard was combined with the paranormal powers of the Aoandon and her group, the possibility was all too real. Just as injuring a straw doll would injure a human body, that would affect every single person in the category of “Japanese”.
“I was not asking ‘how’; I was asking ‘why’.”
“I am the being that exists beyond the collection of one hundred fears, so you could say I am a collection of the people’s desires. What I want is what everyone wants.”
“Everyone wants…to erase the Japanese…?”
“Well, yeah. Who needs Japan?” The Aoandon made it sound simple. “I don’t know if you’re supposed to call it ‘Nihon’ or ‘Nippon’, but let’s be honest, who needs it? And I’m not talking about this from the point of view of America or China. I’m saying even your fellow Japanese don’t want Japan anymore☆”
“I mean, it’s rotten to the core, isn’t it? It only looks nice and bright on the surface, but peel back that top layer and you’re in for a surprise. Do you really think people want to keep protecting this rotten tree to the end? Do you really think they all feel that way? Japan’s GDP recovered and it’s second in the world now? But all that wealth goes to the Intellectual Villages and the people in the cities keep seeing their standard of living drop. You’ve set up United Hive to gather all the best patents from the small town workshops so you can negotiate on equal footing with international corporations? But that means you can’t do business on your own and will dry up without the cooperation of that giant corporation. You reversed the low birthrate? But now the population is up to 150 million! You’ve had to set up systems for people to abandon others like those Ubasute Apartments. All you have is more people who do nothing but suck your taxes dry. Think about it rationally, and they’re just a financial burden. In fact, your national debt keeps rising as time passes, but you keep making up new words to throw them into random categories that only make it look like you solved the problem. Japanese pride? Japanese technology? Services only the Japanese can provide? You’re all just sitting in front of the TV getting turned on thinking about it! But what can you actually do while you’re sprawled out in your living rooms? Not a damn thing, right? That’s why you can’t get into an Intellectual Village and are stuck in your apartments that are more like honeycombs than rabbit hutches! Even if you tried at an apprenticeship for some luxury brand, they’d kick you out for being completely useless! Besides, there are tons of craftsmen and artisans outside of Japan. Their skills are world class too; you just haven’t been told about them! And this gap between the idea and reality – between your pride and your skill – goes beyond an individual level. The Nihon on TV and the Nippon in reality keep moving further and further apart. Isn’t that scary? You keep stretching that rubber band, but you will eventually pass the point of no return and it’ll snap. That ‘proud Japan’ will be stripped from you and you’ll be nothing but a group of incompetents who held vicarious pride in what others did. Not many people can still sit around unconcerned as they see that rubber band stretching so tight. They’re all afraid. They really are. They have enough sense leftover to be afraid. So can you at least understand why they might subconsciously want a nice clean reset of it all☆”
Each and every piece of that explanation may have been something one could find in the cities. This may have only been a collection of all those opinions.
But the actual actions and conclusion she reached simply did not follow.
“Is that what you…what your group wants? The humans working with you are Japanese too. If you complete your plan, they’ll be ‘erased’ too. They know that and they still-…?”
“Of course not,” nonchalantly replied the Aoandon. “They all have their own desires. They might want to be with their friends, they might want to exterminate ‘good’ for being too weak and create a powerful ‘justice’ to replace it, they might just want money, or they might want a group to belong to. They have a variety of reasons.”
“But.” The Aoandon drowned out Hafuri’s words to continue. “All of those various desires have their basis in dissatisfaction, right? That simplifies matters. The fastest method to fulfill those desires and remove that dissatisfaction is to erase all of the people who hold them. With that one simple move, all of the dissatisfaction in their hearts will be gone. Simple, right?”
She was insane.
She was completely insane.
Humans and Youkai may have looked similar, but they were entirely different lifeforms. That would create a different basis of thought, but this was different yet again. Hafuri had met people who used paranormal powers that could easily slay those Youkai, but even she had been unable to peer a single millimeter inside the Aoandon’s chest.
The monster laughed.
“Are you about ready now?”
“Do you think using your archdemon to sever Hyakki Yakou’s bonds is enough to defeat us?”
“Heh heh. There’s no need to act tough, young lady. Tsuerika Nyorai’s rank would be the same as Rahu or Mara, so she’s a legit demon lord. If Tamamo or Daji would be enough to give you trouble, you don’t stand a chance against this enemy.”
“That is not what I was talking about.”
“What is that in your right hand?”
The Aoandon looked down at her hand.
It was stabbed into the center of someone’s chest.
The person was the young woman behind the Ubasute Apartments that the Aoandon had picked up because she seemed interesting. Her name was Yamame and she had a large scar on her mouth, but she was dead now that her heart had been utterly crushed.
The Aoandon had done that, but when had she done so?
“It may be true that this Tselika you summoned is powerful. Her power might easily exceed that of Shuten Douji or the Kurama Tengu.”
The blue female oni remained motionless as Hafuri gave her cool-headed explanation.
“But can you really control her? If not, we will not be the only ones to fall in the face of this disaster.”
I was caught off guard.
I had forgotten how to describe it.
A hellish scene of mutual destruction filled the harvested rice paddies around me. This was true bloodshed and all distinctions between enemy and ally had been lost.
One side seemed to be Hyakki Yakou.
The other side was less recognizable, but I could see the Aoandon a ways away.
“You damn lantern! You’re ripping off my one-eyed look!!”
“How dare you!? And Hiro-sama only needs one Obake by his side!!”
The Lantern and Umbrella began a scuffle that sounded like two paper fans being beaten together. Seeing that change come over those two friendly Youkai was what clued me in to what was happening here.
Tselika had roared, my vision had been dyed red, and something had directly set to work in my brain and heart.
Was she the cause of this madness?
With a man in a dark suit by her side, the bewitching archdemon narrowed her serpentine eyes and used the witch’s slender fingertip to slowly beckon me over.
“I said you have my thanks, did I not? Do not worry, Shinobu. Come closer. I truly feel like rewarding you.”
That was all she said, but my body ignored my will and began walking forward like I was being pulled by countless fishing hooks stabbed into my brain. With each step closer, the red in my vision grew deeper.
There was no pain. In fact, my senses were vanishing, which was much more frightening.
“Good, good. There is nothing to be afraid of. Now I have you. Hm, you try to act tough, but you have the soul of baby. Lovely, lovely.”
The next thing I knew, Tselika had her hands on my cheeks. Instead of pressing her palms against me, she smoothly brought her fingertips in close like just those fingers were being sucked into the sides of my face. At the same time, I could tell my knees were growing weak and about to give out.
But not from fear.
“Hmm, there is no need to be so stiff. Here, I will show you a sign of my affection.”
In the middle of that pandemonium of mutual destruction, Tselika almost jokingly wrapped her hands around my neck and gently embraced me. She was borrowing Marguerite’s body, so this stuck my face between her ample breasts.
More than the warmth and softness, it was the sweet aroma that soaked deep into my brain.
Something burst deep inside my nose.
At first, I thought I had a runny nose or something, but I was wrong.
I wiped at my nose and found a red liquid on the back of my hand.
I thought getting a bloody nose from porn only happened on TV.
If it’s actually happening, doesn’t that mean some kind of circuit in my head broke!? Is my body being invaded by something that bad!? Just from this sweet aroma that smells like an extreme concentration of sugar, condensed milk, and honey!?
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. It’s been so long I forgot how to control myself. Please forgive me. Hm, I thought thanking you with my body would be the demonic thing to do, but it would seem that would be a little too toxic for you. Now, what should I do instead?”
The man in a dark suit cut in with a gloomy voice.
He was most likely on the Aoandon’s side.
“You can play around after fulfilling your contract. For one thing, that is an enemy of the Aoandon. If you do not intend to finish him off, then I would like to provide him his last rites myself.”
“Hm.” Tselika hardly seemed to care as she continued to hold my paralyzed body close. “Your name is Saiki Kazu, correct?”
“I was summoned via a contract with you, so I am perfectly willing to help you defeat this Hyakki Yakou group just as you desire. Keep that in mind first and foremost.”
Her words flowed on.
“But that contract requested that I defeat your enemy. It said nothing about protecting you.”
She seemed to overturn everything.
“So I see no reason to worry about your lives.”
Before Saiki Kazu could react, Tselika breathed a sweet breath from between her seductive lips.
That was all she did.
“To be honest, you are an eyesore. Perhaps I should reheat that cooled mind of yours.”
A great sound rang out.
It was the sound of Saiki Kazu using every last ounce of strength in his left hand to restrain his right hand which attempted to point two fingers at his temple like a gun.
“My deadly sins cause people to betray even god, so having them betray themselves could not be simpler. For one thing, the violence and fear you wield are nothing but tools to produce but one of the emotions that lead people to betray god. You are essentially showing off your brand-new chess set without even understanding the rules, so do you really think you could outdo a master chess player such as myself?”
“Oh? Are you sure you should focus on me? You are but one piece of entertainment here.”
As if to supply an additional blow against the shouting man in a dark suit, a flamethrower-like attack blasted in from a completely different direction. All cooperation was gone, a complete free-for-all had broken out, and it had descended into a chaotic hell, but all of that chaos seemed to obey Tselika’s will. Just like iron sand following a line of magnetism. Pursued by this new attacker, Saiki Kazu was forced to leave us and run off into the battlefield.
This was on an entirely different level.
I had run across plenty of monsters in the past, but a greater quantity or quality of the paranormal had been enough to wash them away. Just like Hyakki Yakou would do. However, Tselika was fundamentally different. Even if she was faced one million or one billion people, she could drive them all mad and lead them to destruction. Superior numbers meant nothing to this archdemon.
She had to be defeated in an individual battle.
But was there any individual who could even hope to defeat this kind of monster?
“Good, good. Shinobu, your soul is giving off a wavelength of desire. I can sense your desire to outdo me and – if possible – harm me.”
My throat instantly went dry, but Tselika simply laughed.
The demon pressed her forehead against mine like a mother checking on her child’s temperature.
“I said ‘good’, did I not? This too is entertaining. Human desire is a truly pleasant thing and it has pulled me from a sea of boredom. Good, Shinobu. You will serve me well.”
That was wrong.
That was completely wrong, but I was on the way to boarding those rails.
Even the faintest breath from this close was enough to nearly smash my thoughts to pieces.
I felt like I had been thrown into an ocean of aphrodisiac, so I desperately tried to escape that feminine smell and warmth to free myself from that depravity.
“What happened…to Marguerite…to the Australian witch…?”
“Oh, oh! Leave it to my loyal servant to know where the true fun lies!! That woman you offered up to me has not gone to waste. Her vessel of flesh has helped free me as you can plainly see, but her soul has provided truly delectable and enjoyable entertainment.”
As she spoke, Tselika pulled her forehead back from mine.
From the overwhelming distance of only a few centimeters, she snapped her fingers with the look of someone revealing the present they had hidden behind their back.
Immediately, pitch black scenery appeared to the side. And I don’t mean that figuratively. I could only imagine space itself had been torn open.
From inside, I heard a disturbing sound that resembled a quiet whistling or a chilly wind blowing through a gap in some rocks.
Or so I thought at first.
But before long, I realized it was a voice, not a mere sound.
As soon as I realized that, my understanding was turned on its head and blown away like the worst kind of trick art.
“Help me, help me, help me, help me, help me!! Please, I beg you! Give me back my body! How can you keep me as a bare soul!? It’s cold, dark, cramped, and scary… Where even am I? What is that crawling around here!? My soul is rotting… It’s rotting, rotting, rotting, rotting!! It really is directly rotting!! Sob, sob. Don’t you know this is even crueler than grabbing my organs with filthy, germ-ridden hands!? Please forgive me. Please just forgive me already!! When will it end? When will you finally kill me? How many days, months, or years has it been? …It’s been five hundred years hasn’t it? No, it’s probably been five thousand years, hasn’t it!? Sob, sob. It’s painful, pitiful, and pathetic. I can’t stand to see myself begging and trying to please you in the off chance you’ll forgive me if I’m a good girl. And that’s what I’m supposed to hate that more than anything!! It’s disgusting and my color is changing… Hey, the color of my soul is seeping out, but what does that actually mean!? It hurts… Help me, mommy!! Sob, sob. Is someone there? Are you watching me? Why won’t you kill me? Don’t you have a conscience? Are my questions so meaningless they amuse you? I can’t stand anymore of this!! Yes, I worshiped the devil! Yes, I went to Japan for selfish reasons! Yes, I transformed the Furutsubaki! Yes, I stole the Succubus! And yes, I tried to kill an innocent high school boy! But!! Do I really deserve this!? Just kill me! Give me the death penalty or whatever else! Just stop stealing the color of my soul… I don’t have anything else left, so please don’t take any more of that away from me!! My soul really, really will crumble away!!”
She was not speaking Japanese, but it was not Australian English either.
The voice simply permeated my mind.
…What the hell is this?
It was true we had been lost in the moment when that Australian witch had attacked.
Even if it had been part of the plan, the Succubus had stabbed me, so I hadn’t had room to focus on anything else.
So we had set a trap and desperately grasped at victory.
It had all been so we could smile and return to our normal lives.
The Zashiki Warashi and the Succubus hadn’t rescued me to bring about this kind of cruelty!
Tselika let out a sweet breath from so close it caused my spine to shudder.
“Can you hear it, Shinobu? Thanks to this, my nights have been far from boring. And it was all thanks to you providing me with the witch named Marguerite Steinhols, so make sure you enjoy it too.”
“Now, then. My choice of background music is over, so let’s get back to talking about your reward. Paying you back with my body would probably fry your brain, so would you accept being given the perfect front-row seat?”
A strange sweat seemed to pour from my brain itself and my tongue had gone numb, so I couldn’t speak properly.
Still, I somehow managed to voice the question in my mind. All the while, I felt a vague fear that being unable to ask this would mean I was no longer human.
“Indeed. …A front-row seat to what I call the Hyakki Yakou and Aoandon Group Mutual Destruction Show!! How about that? Gets your spine tingling, doesn’t it?”
I couldn’t believe it.
This went beyond Marguerite. To this demon, were human blood, fear, and death no different from the events of a movie or drama? Could she line up the corpses in the same way movies advertised themselves as having cost tens of billions of yen to produce?
“Good. I can feel it in your wavelength of desire. You were angry seeing your hometown overrun by such overwhelming and unreasonable violence, were you not? You wanted these crass outsiders to leave, did you not? But you had no way of making it happen. Not to worry, though. I will supply you with one. Think of this reward as just one drop in the bucket of infinite thanks I owe you.”
Looking only at the result, this may have been in line with what I had wanted.
I had indeed wanted to drive these strangers from Noukotsu Village.
But her method had a definitive difference from what I had wanted.
I had wanted peace. I had wanted my normal life back. I had wanted to be manipulated by the Zashiki Warashi, Yuki Onna and the others, to have stupid discussions with Madoka and Nagisa at school, and to have my normal home and school in their normal places. That would have been enough for me.
So why was that desire causing it all to sink into a swamp of madness and joy?
I didn’t need any of that icy entertainment found in seeing slaves and lions fight to death at the Colosseum or in seeing a criminal decapitated at the public square. Even if it was still a means of “ending this conflict”, this path and my own path would never, ever coincide. Tselika was so overwhelmingly insane that I was absolutely certain of that fact.
So I managed to squeeze out some meaningless words.
“…To hell…with that…”
In truth, what could I have even done there?
This monster was making fools of Hyakki Yakou as a whole. Packages were one thing, but what could a mere high school boy even do in a direct fight against any kind of Youkai, demon, or paranormal existence? Shooting them or stabbing them was useless. Imprisonment was meaningless when they had no lifespan and there was no way to execute them, so no laws could be made to punish them. What could a human do against Tselika?
Meanwhile, Tselika narrowed her serpentine eyes from close range while using Marguerite’s seductive body. The concrete-like gray scales that did not bother actually covering her skin wriggled so freely I started to suspect they were her true form.
And she spoke.
A moment later, a tremendous roar rang deep in my head. My senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch were all blown away. The overwhelming explosion of my senses made me think my brain had been kneaded like clay. This time, the entire world was so filled with crimson that I couldn’t even see Tselika’s face a few centimeters away.
There was no pain.
But something was so cloyingly sweet that it shot past all my limits and made me sense death. A cold sweat poured down my face as I seriously wondered when my rampaging heart was going to burst.
“Bfwah!? Fwah!! Gwah! Oeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
“I would recommend not angering me too much, Shinobu.”
I felt like a bundle of pathways had been severed in my head.
The world around me was buried, but Tselika’s voice alone remained oddly clear.
This was not an issue with my ears or eardrums. She might have been messing with my brain directly.
“The master is rewarding her loyal servant. Refusing that reward is no different from disgracing and shaming that master’s reputation. Well, it is true times have changed, so you would not have had a chance to learn such etiquette. With that in mind, I will be kind and forgive you just this once. Do you understand what that means, Shinobu?”
“Pant, pant…!! Kwah!?”
With Tselika’s exasperated comment, the world finally returned.
I could not breathe properly and my mouth opened and closed with only groans escaping, but Tselika thoroughly wiped off my face with her fingers and palms.
“Oh, how pitiful. I know you must be brimming with joy, but you don’t have to let it pour from your eyes and ears as well as your nose and mouth. Hee hee. Stay still and I will clean you up.”
It sounded like a joke, but Tselika’s hands were already stained red. It was my own blood and it was flowing from my mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. I could still smell the sweet aroma that was reminiscent of a melted mixture of sugar, condensed milk, and honey, but how much of that lethal concoction had I been exposed to?
I could not win.
The source of it all stood right in front of me and I could easily reach out and touch her. If I did not stop the intense fighting surrounding me, the bloodshed and tragedy would spread without end. This had likely left the carefully-laid plans of the Aoandon’s group, so it would continue on to the final station without any hope of being stopped.
I knew all that, yet I had not the slightest clue where to even begin.
What could I possibly do against a monster like this!?
A slender young man stood in the rural scenery wearing a black butler’s uniform and glasses. He held a riding crop as he faced a girl in a greenish-brown twelve-layered kimono. She covered her mouth with a fan, but that was not enough to hide the embers escaping her mouth and blowing in the wind.
They were the Supernatural Trainer and the Passionate Predator.
They bore the same family emblem on their tiepin and spread fan.
They were both one of Hyakki Yakou’s Top 5, but they were currently split into individuals who were devouring each other.
It began with the kimono-wearing Passionate Predator.
Each time her body swayed to the left and right, the black hair behind her would wriggle like a living creature. It almost looked like a large serpent thinking about how to torment its prey.
“Ahh, ahh!! I can feel the throbbing… Ahh, once this happens, ahh, ahh, I can’t hold back, ahh!!”
“Tch. The perverted professional stalker is already writhing from her phantom pregnancy.”
“Ahh, say whatever you like!! You know perfectly well, ahh, ahh, this is how I become a precision guided weapon that can hunt down any target with 100% accuracy!!”
The girl took in an exceptionally large breath, but she was not preparing to yell.
Fire burst from her mouth like a flamethrower.
In the blink of an eye, a straight line was burned through the harvested paddy field. The scattered wave of heat transformed the dirt into glass. That flame of passion slithered like a snake, branched out, and flew toward the butler like a cluster of missiles.
But that target vanished in an instant.
He had moved over ten meters in a single bound. The Passionate Predator continued breathing fire regardless, so the Supernatural Trainer made leap after leap to reach safety before the flames enveloped him.
The kimono girl cried out at the light movements.
“Ahh, ahh! Is that the Hassou-Tobi!?”
“Ushiwakamaru learned the technique from the Tengu, so did you really think I would be unable to reproduce it with my mastery of training techniques?”
“Ahh, but, ahh!!”
She breathed out the flames with more than twice the previous intensity. Failing to capture him and being ignored only caused her passion to grow.
“The more what I want escapes and the more I fail to reach them, the more violent my flames grow!! Just as intense passion transformed a woman’s body into a giant serpent and she burned down a divinely protected temple to get at the priest who had cast her aside!!”
In other words, if he did not flee, the flames would surround him, but the more he fled, the more the flames would grow. They would grow without end until they finally caught up and burned him to death.
(Now, what should I do?)
The Illness Magic and Heirloom had lost their senses too. While taking extreme evasive actions to escape the girl’s flames which had grown into a small scale volcanic eruption, the Supernatural Trainer thought sarcastically to himself.
(If only there was a Youkai that taught how to handle women. Why do they only ever teach serious academics and martial arts!?)
Elsewhere, the other group was also devouring itself.
The ten year old girl named Ranzono Sachi and the Oomukade were not up against their enemies in Hyakki Yakou. It was the Byouki User, another member of the Aoandon’s group. She was a girl wearing a yellow mini-China dress, a blue cat-ears coat, and bandages on her face and leg. The character-adorned bandages and the knee sock on just one leg seemed more creepy than cute.
“Ah ha! Ah ha ha!! Heyyy, you came here to show off all your friends, didn’t you? You wanted to make fun of me for being all alone, didn’t you? Hee hee. That’s fine. That just means I have to make this a night to remember. How about I have all your limbs rot off so you have to crawl around like a worm!?”
“It would seem there is no convincing her. Sachi, stay back! Her Byouki is nowhere near as lethal as my venom!!”
The Oomukade was nervous, but he thought he was looking in the same direction as Ranzono Sachi.
But he was wrong.
He was completely wrong.
Her eyes moved in a disturbingly jerky way as they silently viewed the Oomukade. Coloration, optical illusions, and makeup had been used to transform the girl’s face beyond recognition, but the violence below the surface could not be hidden.
She looked like a beast watching its prey.
The white rose corsage on the side of her head swayed as unreliably as a withered flower.
“Sachi? Sachi!! Damn, has it gotten to her too!?”
Even as he shouted that, his thoughts led him to a different answer.
(No, can I even say it isn’t affecting me? Being this cautious about Sachi might be part of the illusion making me view her as an enemy.)
What was true and what was false? Who was an ally and who was an enemy? He had to question even that in this world of oozing and messy chaos.
And in that world, a small girl spoke.
The ground exploded.
Dirt burst into the air and several creatures climbed up to the surface: a spider measuring several meters across, a serpent easily over ten meters long, and a giant frog with horns growing from its head. None of them would be found in an encyclopedia of animals. They were true Youkai, just like the Oomukade.
“A Tsuchigumo, Uwabami, and Gama? Did Sachi summon them!?”
Children and Youkai had always been compatible. There were a lot of Youkai that could only be seen by children or that only targeted children because they would the other to them. To the Oomukade, that trait seemed stronger in Ranzono Sachi than normal.
But this was the first time he had seen her use it so intentionally.
She had nearly become a summoner. Even if she had no power herself, she would be a serious threat if she could continue summoning nearby Youkai without end. It would be too much for a single Oomukade to handle.
He had completely lost sight of the situation.
And just as he realized that, an even greater impact reached him.
A deluge of black Illness Magic surged in between Ranzono Sachi and the Byouki User.
A large gloomy man wearing the special black combat outfit of a SWAT member stood alongside the Oomukade.
“You seem to have remained saner than the rest here. To be honest, it makes me wonder why you would have joined the Aoandon.”
“I have no excuse. That blue oni stole Sachi’s heart, but I…”
He trailed off and fell silent.
He had two reasons. First, the deluge of Illness Magic had been torn apart from within and the Byouki User stood beyond it with a dark smile on her lips.
Second, the seemingly composed Illness Magic User asked a certain question.
“Which way am I facing right now?”
“I am not confident I can remain on anyone’s side for long. Even if I infect my own brain with Illness Magic to keep myself fighting semi-automatically.”
With the clear sound of bells, a young blindfolded shrine maiden arrived from a different direction. The man faced those two formidable foes, the Byouki User and the Venom Clairvoyant, and he made a blunt statement.
“I do not know when I will betray someone, so if you want to survive, do not trust me. Think of it as using me.”
The battle had spread beyond the surface.
Six strategic stealth bombers and an airborne warning and control aircraft that should not have existed in Japan flew in the sky above Noukotsu Village. A formation of defense fighters flew with them to protect them.
A commotion had broken out among them, as if someone had poked the hornet’s nest.
Supposedly allied military aircraft and even the humans inside the same aircraft began fighting one another. The ugly conflict was gradually accelerating.
Finally, the catastrophe crossed a certain line.
One of the bombers seemed to lose its balance and then flew in a straight line toward the surface. No, it had lost control and was falling. The pilots were fighting each other and had completely forgotten something as basic as righting their own aircraft, so it had essentially become a giant bomb in and of itself.
Tselika was entirely carefree, but I was anything but.
A V-shaped flying wing crashed into the paddy fields with a deafening noise. It slid along, tearing into the ground for several hundred meters, and it finally exploded. Tselika stood tall all the while, but I was blasted into the air. By the time I realized landing was going to hurt, my back collided with the ground and I had trouble breathing.
My consciousness wavered, but that was not just due to the damage.
An airplane had crashed inside the village. The perfectly maintained Intellectual Village scenery had been destroyed. Jet fuel and other harmful substances had been scattered across the dirt.
What would happen to the village?
What would happen to the Intellectual Village brand name!?
“Master, are you okay?”
The Succubus whispered from nearby.
She lifted me up and wrapped her arms around my neck to embrace me. The red scenery of amplified twilight that Tselika had created – or perhaps that a malfunction in my brain had created – was receding somewhat. The oppressive feminine aroma and the gentle warmth that threatened to drag me into eternal darkness had both been swapped out for a different sensation.
“Heh hah hah hah hah!! Good, good, Henrietta. Did you remove his pain by overwriting his desire with a different desire? That’s much better than trying to use some scriptures filled with sickening ideals. What you did is more like watering down tequila with beer. It’s so wonderfully degenerate.”
Henrietta? Oh, is that the Succubus’s real name?
I could see the Succubus biting her lip nearby. I had no idea what exactly it meant for a demon to have her name revealed, especially if it was carelessly revealed by a third party.
“But I’m jealous. Of course, that’s another type of desire, so it too is pleasant. If I was as weak as you, I could have reveled in the freedom to-…hm?”
Tselika frowned and her serpentine eyes looked to her feet.
A small canine Youkai was rubbing up against her long, slender leg. The Youkai looked intoxicated and about ready to pass out, but it seemed to be a Sunekosuri.
Wait. A Sunekosuri?
If he’s here…!
“(Yes, it means I’m here too.)”
A voice whispered to me from behind.
I just about turned around, but both the Succubus and Mai pinched my butt. Mai then used her index finger to write on my back.
“Don’t turn around. She’ll notice.”
“What’s the matter?”
Tselika looked puzzled, but she did not seem to have noticed Mai’s presence.
At first I thought she was hidden by my body, but that couldn’t possibly be.
Mai did not hesitate to stand up and walk right past me.
“It’s…nothing. I just have a killer headache.”
“I see. It’s interesting that seduction can be too powerful.”
Nothing was hiding Mai, so it seemed Tselika simply couldn’t see her. It went beyond merely hiding one’s presence. What did one have to do to reach this level? Mai may have been afraid of my eyes giving away the location of what Tselika could not see for herself.
Having so thoroughly erased her presence, Mai boldly but silently walked right up next to Tselika. She circled around the archdemon as if admiring a sculpture.
If she could do that, she could launch whatever surprise attack she liked.
That woman was a true monster. I finally started seeing some hope, but then the Succubus wrote on my back with her fingertip.
“We have no trump card.”
You’re kidding, right?
She could freely approach within a centimeter of the enemy. She could freely attack her from any angle. She could stab through her eyeball, split her head open, or pierce her heart. She had whatever opportunity she wanted.
But was even Mai helpless in this situation?
Could that monster not harm Tselika?
“Shinobu, you seem to have recovered, so come closer. Marguerite’s screams were nice, but my swollen soul is aching for a man’s wavelength.”
When she seductively beckoned me over, I seriously think I nearly suffered a stroke or a subarachnoid hemorrhage. I gulped, slowly freed myself from the Succubus’s arms, and walked unsteadily toward Tselika.
“By the way.”
That was when she giggled and asked me a question.
“Shinobu, you are hiding something from me, are you not?”
Is it over already? Is the hope I saw vanishing, can we not hide Mai’s presence, and is it all falling apart!?
“I can tell from your soul’s wavelength that you have latched onto some kind of hope. But what exactly is it? What made you start thinking you have a chance of defeating me? Heh heh. Good, Shinobu. Just how much are you going to let me enjoy this? Keh heh heh.”
More than suspicion or hatred, she expressed the joy of a child trying to understand a magic trick or solve a riddle.
Mai had circled behind me and her finger raced across my back: “We don’t have time.”
Then she added a few more words.
I suppose if you look at it like that…
“Oh, your soul just leapt again. Just what is stimulating your desire?”
This isn’t good. She’ll find out at this rate.
I had to take action before that happened. What did I need? Something to write with, Tselika’s trust, and one other thing. It didn’t help that our knowledge of Eastern Youkai was not much help with Western demons. Not even the Succubus knew how to defeat Tselika who was clearly at a higher level.
But there was one plan that would weaken Archdemon Tselika.
I could not imagine how far her deadly sin had spread. It was even possible the Youkai hiding in the thatch roof house’s ice room were fighting. If so, what would happen to my unconscious family? If I didn’t try to take advantage of this one-shot opportunity, it was possible I would never get my small world back.
Mai had said we did not have time.
I agreed, so I would do whatever I could to deal with this quickly.
“Shinobu, how about you tell me now? What is this hope of defeating me that you have found?”
And so, I gave an intentionally provocative response.
“Try to think for yourself.”
“You do not get a second chance. I thought I already told you that.”
That awful sweetness assaulted me again and my brain felt like it was being kneaded like clay.
My vision…no, all five of my sense had gone red.
My inner ear didn’t seem to be working, so I had no sense of front, back, left, right, up, or down.
Supposedly, if someone was blindfolded, given ear plugs, placed on a soft bed, had their arms and legs covered in metal tubes, and otherwise had all stimulation dropped to a minimum, their sense of self would not last long. This red world was precisely that. Nothing even had to happen. Simply by being there, I felt like I would suffer Gestaltzerfall.
A voice came from an unknown direction. My senses had been thoroughly worn down, so it permeated my body like a drop of water found after wandering through the desert.
——Answer me truthfully and surrender to me, and I will reward you. I will provide you with whatever reward you wish. Now, how about it?
I didn’t want anything like that. But if I did not cling to those words, the stimulation would vanish and I would be unable to maintain my sanity. The words escaped my lips as a purely defensive reaction.
——Yes. If you only build up a resistance, I will let you do with my body as you wish. My superiority will of course be maintained, but I will still give you access to my body whenever you want. A thrilling proposal, is it not?
The very premise of the idea is insane. You’re worse than a drug. You aren’t something I can endure with enough effort or practice. I can’t do it on a fundamental biological level.
——Hm. Then how about I use my power to let you seduce other girls? Surely there are some members of the opposite sex who are out of reach to you no matter how close they might seem.
The scenery grew distorted.
The red coloration was swept away and I was at school for some reason.
I stood alone in the empty classroom and someone called out to me from behind.
“Sorry I’m so late when I was the one that called you here. But I’m glad you waited.”
My problem classmate pressed her index fingers together in front of her chest, blushed, and fidgeted.
“Um, uh, you probably had a pretty good guess what this was about when I sent that email calling you here, but this kind of thing is best said face to face, right? Ahh! I’m just too nervous!! But wait! I can’t give up before I’ve even begun! I haven’t even gotten serious yet!!”
By this point, I could tell what this scene was.
And if I surrendered to Tselika and borrowed her power, it could become reality.
“Madoka, what’s that?”
“Eh? What’s what?”
“That around your neck.”
“What? Don’t tell me there’s something there? And during one of the most important scenes of my life too. Ah ha ha. It would happen now, wouldn’t it?”
She hadn’t noticed the thick and villainous collar around her neck. A chain was attached to it and that chain stretched out so far into the distance that I could not tell who was holding the other end.
But Madoka could not see it and happiness filled her face.
Was this the true form of the glory I would gain with Tselika’s power?
Was a dream given to you by another (and thus could be taken away by that person at any time) really this cruel a thing?
“I can’t do this!! How can I accept anything in such a twisted way!?”
——Why can’t you? I’m giving you exactly what you want.
The stage changed. I moved from the classroom to the schoolyard. Nagisa stood before me and she too wore a thick collar with a never-ending chain attached to it.
Akechi was supposedly her current boyfriend, but he too had a collar and chain.
He had a beaming smile on his face, he grabbed Nagisa’s shoulders from behind, and he pushed her toward me.
“Nagisa was saying she likes you more. And I think she’s right. So we broke up. You can have her, so be happy together, okay?”
What is this?
“Eh heh heh. Yeah, it seems you’re #1 to me, Shinobu-chan. I’ve dated a lot of different people, but now that I think about it, I think I was always chasing after your shadow.”
Was this what I wanted?
Did I want a girl I had broken up with long ago to be returned to me like a forgotten textbook?
——Can you honestly say you have no regrets at all? Part of you wants to get back together with her, right? With my power, that is entirely possible. And her violent side can of course be contained.
The stage changed again.
I was now at my thatch roof home.
Pain shot through my head. I was rejecting this one before it even began.
The front door opened and my feet moved against my will. I stepped inside and walked down the long hallway that had several chains running down it.
I didn’t want to see this.
It was possible this desire did exist inside me. It was possible I had felt this in some deep part of my heart. But I had known her almost from the moment I was born. If “she” began flirting with me like a scene from silly porn video, something inside me would break. I could tell before it had even begun.
The door opened.
A large room appeared before my eyes.
A warm, gentle, and convenient hell awaited me. They all turned their heads my way: the Furutsubaki, the Yuki Onna, and the Zashiki Warashi. They all had collars around their necks. Their own thoughts had been completely erased and they looked like they had been injected with pure happiness. They all opened their mouths at once and-
Shouting was enough to make me feel dizzy.
I could tell just how much that simple exchange had taken from me.
——Oh? Do you feel guilty when it’s someone you know? Then how about a celebrity far removed from your own life? Yes, why not take all seventy-eight members of Tarot Girls 22 for yourself? Hah hah! Surely you’ve imagined something like that before.
The next thing I knew, the stage had changed and tears were spilling from my eyes.
My senses were gradually numbing over and my words of rejection were growing weaker.
My mouth was horribly dry.
The sense of disgust was gradually fading. The human ability to grow accustomed to anything was kicking in.
——And there is no need to limit yourself to girls. There are as many types of desire as there are people. Would you like to achieve success as a businessman? Would you like to win a gold medal in the Olympics? Would you like to make a discovery great enough to be a household name worldwide? How about being the world’s strongest? Or becoming a singer whose songs drive the world into a frenzy?
Having a dream come true without using my own strength was to reject that dream.
That would take away the joy of achieving it.
Countless people wanted to climb Mt. Everest and not all of them would reach the peak, but building an elevator to the top would only ruin those dreams.
Having one’s dream come true did not necessarily lead to happiness.
Tselika would grant it instantly. Being given the power to make any dream come true would make all dreams equally meaningless. Dreams were meant to be something to aspire to, but this would make them just as boring as anything else.
It was like having a walkthrough thrown at you in the middle of playing an RPG that takes 100 hours to complete.
Even if you ignored the book for a while, you would eventually get stuck somewhere. You would run into a problem. And once you opened that book, it was all over. Next time, it would take less to open that book. Then it would happen again and again and again and again. You would eventually consider it perfectly normal to be flipping through the pages and ultimately play the game with the book open in your lap. That game was meant to be thoroughly enjoyed for 100 hours, but you would simply be working through it while getting nothing out of it. There was no shine to a reward you knew was coming and did not have to work to obtain.
My interest faded.
As each temptation was shown to me, I could feel the gears of my heart coming to a stop.
These were sweet, delightful, and convenient dreams, but they still bared their ferocious fangs.
And those fangs pierced my heart.
——Do you want a comfortable family life? Do you want a thrilling life? Do you want to be someone who knows all the secrets and mysteries no one else does? Do you want to be someone everyone praises? Do you want to be a dictator who can get away with anything? I can make any or all of them come true as long as you announce your surrender to me.
I didn’t care anymore.
Resisting or not would change nothing.
No one could defeat Tselika.
If I didn’t oppose her, she would at least not harm my small world.
——Oh, I know. How about I create a world of true sufficiency? With my power, I can overwrite this puny human world with a new set of values to create a golden planet where everything is fulfilled.
By that point, I had even lost interest in that instant temptation.
Some small thread seemed to snap inside me.
I didn’t want to see any more of this, so…
“Hishigami Mai is hiding. She’s trying to defeat you.”
I spat out the words as if raising my hands in surrender.
My voice was so void of warmth that it made me sick to hear it.
The original rural scenery returned and I was collapsed on the ground. I could not move my arms and legs properly.
Thanks to my betrayal, Tselika’s arm was lifting Hishigami Mai by the throat.
“I do have uses for female bodies, but…hm. You have an artificial smell to you. I was thinking I could use you as a spare for when Marguerite’s body is destroyed, but that would not work.”
After a dull sound like a swinging bat, Hishigami Mai was thrown casually to the side. She continued flying away from us while bouncing several times like a flat stone skipping on a river.
Only after throwing her did Tselika click her tongue as if remembering something.
“Tch. It might have been fun to remove her soul and make her a ‘roommate’ for lonely Marguerite. But it would be too much effort to go get her now. My type of violence is automatically regulated to guarantee I strike fear in the target, but that does have its downsides on occasion.”
Even that Hishigami woman had been dealt with so easily.
Tselika had not seen her as a threat or been particularly interested in her.
It was hopeless after all. Tselika was not a specialist in sneak attacks. It wasn’t that this was the only thing she could do. Her plentiful deck contained temptation, corruption, supremacy, hostility, fear, and violence. If she chose the violence card on a whim, I would have been turned to mincemeat in an instant.
“More importantly, I am pleased with your admirable decision, Shinobu. I will reward you as promised. What would you like?”
I remained sitting on the ground as I spoke coldly.
“…I would like to hear Marguerite’s screams again.”
“Ha ha!! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Your tastes are rapidly improving, Shinobu! I can tell from your soul’s wavelength that this is no act. You truly want to see Marguerite again. After all those emulated desires, do you need something like that to actually feel something again?”
She laughed and snapped her fingers.
A portion of the scenery distorted, ripped apart, and revealed pitch-black darkness. Inside that seemingly endless expanse, I heard an unsettling “sound” that reminded me of a weak whistling or wind passing through a gap between stones.
It did not sound like something that could come from a human throat.
It sounded like a plea asking for help and a curse asking to be killed.
I unsteadily stood up and walked toward that dark hole to better hear that voice.
I reached the fissure and placed my hand on it as if to peer inside, but it was too dark to see anything.
“Heh heh. Are you interested in my captive? There is a unique way to torment a soul that lacks a physical vessel, but I will teach you all about that in due time.”
A voice of deep resentment echoed up from the depths of hell.
As I listened to it, I spoke under my breath.
“…ng. …w……ed…, …f… ……….ri…, …b………, ……s…… …h………, …..gh… …s… ……e……”
“What? Wait, was that-…!?”
As if some gears had ground to a halt, Tselika stopped moving. Even her serpentine eyes stopped.
“I’ll admit you’re the strongest one here and no one can hope to stand up to you. But at the same time, you needed to use Marguerite’s body to gain freedom. In that case, I only have to use the same method that Australian witch did. I can use the method to summon a demon in order to summon Marguerite’s soul and place it back inside your body. And like a game of musical chairs, you’ll be forced out of that body!!”
“But where would you gain that secret technique!?”
“Yeah, that isn’t something a mere high school boy would know. And even Hyakki Yakou doesn’t know that much about Western magic. The Succubus might be from the West, but if she could use magic herself, she wouldn’t have been chased into my attic by Hyakki Yakou.”
The Succubus supported my unsteady body as I smiled and continued my explanation.
“But there’s someone else here, isn’t there? There’s an Australian witch who carelessly summoned an archdemon who didn’t quite qualify as one of the seven deadly sins!!”
“You don’t mean…”
Tselika focused on that quiet whistling sound.
It did not sound like a voice, but it clearly spoke.
“…necessary components change depending on the date, time, and direction, so the exact calculations were performed outside. And instead of directing the incantation outwards, I focused on this inner world as a plea to my own soul. Making an on-the-fly shift from a tattva image to an astral projection is exceedingly difficult, so I made sure…”
“I dropped a single note inside,” I told the dumbfounded archdemon. “I told her I would pull her soul out of there if she helped me. This was her one and only chance, so I knew she would jump at the opportunity whether she was my on my side or not. To put it another way, the key to it all was to have you open the door to her cell once more. Since my soul’s wavelength or whatever gives away if I’m hiding something, it was a race against time until you found out!”
That was why Hishigami Mai had said we had no time.
And she had intentionally acted as a decoy to help me contact Marguerite as soon as possible.
She was the one that had suggested I give up at some point, sell her out, and use that to gain Tselika’s disgraceful trust.
That had gotten her to open the door and I had then dropped the note inside.
With the help of that specialist, I was standing before Tselika with that stopgap knowledge of the Western methods.
“For the aforementioned reasons, the veil of ignorance may become the key to the door of the unknown. I name the soul of Marguerite Steinhols as a new demon and command her to pass through the door in that vessel of flesh!”
“Return, Marguerite Steinhols!! Cast aside your old self and take hold of your new self. Like a snake shedding its skin, cast aside the name of Tselika Wien Alpha Chelydia Lumidrier and fill yourself with a bright new soul!!”
The gray scale-like things covering Tselika’s…no, Marguerite’s body all burst off. The obvious symbols of the horns, tail, and wings turned to pure white ashes and dissolved into the air. The serpentine eyes returned to human ones.
Marguerite fell to her knees and then collapsed completely to the ground.
“You eyeball woman!! …Oh, what was I doing?”
“You tongue man!! …Huh? Why am I biting the Umbrella?”
The fight between the Umbrella and Lantern had ended at some point.
I wondered what had happened to Hyakki Yakou.
However, I did not have time to see if Marguerite was breathing or to place a coat over her as she lay before me.
“Do you really think you’ve changed the rails of destiny with that?”
A voice reached me from directly behind.
I turned around to find a blue female oni with a knife-like horn growing from her forehead.
The Aoandon had just mercilessly thrust her hand out with the speed of a bullet.
Time seemed to stop for me.
Instead of a human like me, the Aoandon was targeting the Succubus’s chest as she floated alongside me. She seemed to be trying to kill the stronger opponent first.
Hishigami Mai was too far away, I still couldn’t rely on Hyakki Yakou, and the Umbrella and Lantern could not fight in the first place.
I was the only one that could move.
I knew I had no time to think, but I did take a brief moment to do so.
If either the Succubus or I could survive, which one had a better chance of victory afterwards?
Whose survival gave a better chance of rescuing Madoka, Nagisa, my family, the Zashiki Warashi, the Yuki Onna, and the others in the village? Now that Archdemon Tselika was gone, who would be able to stop this conflict?
With the answer in mind, I gathered my resolve and knocked the Succubus out of the way.
And of course, taking her place meant taking the Aoandon’s stabbing hand myself.
A dull sound burst out.
A burning sensation passed from the center of my chest to my back.
Thank you, Tselika. You were a truly awful person, but I do thank you for one thing. I had some of your intoxication left inside me and that numbed my fear. Without that, my legs would have frozen and I could only have watched the worst case scenario play out.
The Succubus watched it happen with her eyes opened wider than I had ever seen them.
Ha ha. I didn’t know you could look like that.
You look like a small girl who just had her teddy bear taken from her.
However, I had made the right decision.
If the Succubus had been killed with that first strike, I would have been helpless to do anything. After all, Youkai can’t be harmed by normal blades and bullets.
But demons and Youkai were different. At the very least, another paranormal being could stand on the same stage and fight.
I’ll restrain the Aoandon’s right arm. I’ll give her a handicap. So can you not ask anything more of me? And can you risk your life for my selfish desire here, Succubus?
Protect Madoka, Nagisa, dad, mom, the Yuki Onna, the Zashiki Warashi, and everyone else around me.
I didn’t know if my consciousness would last another ten, thirty, or sixty seconds, but it didn’t matter. I moved my mouth that could only taste iron now and I used all my remaining strength to force out a yell.
I’ve given my life to you.
When you ask something of a demon, you’re supposed to offer up your soul, right?
A brief moment before the Aoandon could pull her right hand from my chest, the Succubus flapped her bat-like wings and charged toward the Aoandon with all her might.
Just before my consciousness faded, a certain person’s face appeared in my mind for some reason.
And a few meaningless words came to the front of my mind.
I’m sorry, ******.
It looks like this is as far as I’m going to make it.
Not even I knew how it had ended.
After the Aoandon swung her arm horizontally and I slipped off of it, I rolled ungracefully along the paddy field, ended up on my back, and could not move properly. My eyelids finally numbed over and I couldn’t gather my thoughts. I could only vaguely wonder if it was truly over.
Someone stepped on the ground.
It was Hafuri who had one arm hanging limply at her side, the right half of her mourning clothes dyed red, and her family emblem torn.
“What happened…to the Aoandon…?”
Asking that question was all I could manage. I may have released more blood than words.
“Did the…Succubus…and Hyakki…Yakou…end…everything?”
But Hafuri did not answer.
She simply shook her head.
My throat was trembling and I no longer had the strength to speak as she looked down at me and spoke.
“We must rely on the power of the Hyakki Yakou Prototype Ver. 39 Zashiki Warashi. There is no other way to escape this destructive conclusion.”
What was that?
I did not know what she was talking about, but I did not like the sound of the Zashiki Warashi part. My chest had a hole through it, but it filled with concern when it sounded like that Indoor Youkai would be dragged into all this.
“Her power seems to have been broken ten years ago. It was used then to save you from a Youkai known as the Aburatori.”
Hafuri reached the core of the issue.
She spoke of something not even I knew about.
“So you must travel to the past. However, Hyakki Yakou’s time travel technology is no more than a prototype. …You are the most closely related to the truth of the Ver. 39. What truly happened back then? What was the true form of that incident before the Aburatori and Ver. 39 changed it? You must find that and help reach a resolution that does not use the Ver. 39’s power. If you do…”
Then this strange power of the Ver. 39 would not be used in the past.
Then we could use it here to escape this hopeless situation.
“The Ver. 39 is incredibly powerful. When its full power is utilized, it is said a destiny entirely separate from the current one can be created and embedded. If we use that, we can turn this around no matter how perfect a checkmate the Aoandon’s group achieves,” explained Hafuri. “But a change to the past will not necessarily be a change for the better. Saying this may be meaningless as I am only asking for your help because we have no other choice, but keep this one thing in mind. …This incident will most likely be unimaginably difficult to solve. This past incident was enough to decide rewriting destiny was the only solution. If you fail to find another solution, your current existence could be caught in the alteration to history and erased. …After all, a failure on your part would lead to your younger self being killed at the hands of the deadly Youkai known as the Aburatori.”
But I had no other choice.
If I did nothing, the Aoandon’s group would destroy this small world of mine.
“But please do this. Please help us protect the world.”
I did not need to be asked twice.
I would once more face the incident that had defined who I was today.
I had no idea if the concepts of time and space applied there.
My vision and every other sense were blotted out with the color black and I could not even confirm the presence of my own body, but I could still feel myself rapidly accelerating.
A few pieces of information reached me as if they had been forcibly shoved into my brain.
Hyakki Yakou’s time travel Package uses a Youkai known as a Kudan.
(The Kudan is a Youkai that can predict what will occur in the near future with 100% accuracy, but there are no records of what point in time is defined as the present. That was used to redefine the Kudan’s present to a set date and thus travel to any point in time.)
When traveling to the past, the traveler will not be perceived by the people in the past.
(It will feel something like an out-of-body experience. While time traveling, one can pass through doors and walls and is not subject to physiological needs such as eating and sleeping. However, such things can be enjoyed as a form of entertainment or just for fun.)
When traveling to the past, the traveler normally cannot touch any objects from the past.
(Much like in an out-of-body experience, physical interference is difficult.)
But they can interfere just once. In other words, they can touch something.
(As can be seen in this and the previous condition, it is an extremely exceptional action and carries a great risk.)
If, after interfering, a distortion to history as a whole is detected, the traveler will be returned to their original time.
(To put it another way, history can only be changed once and the traveler cannot return unless they change something. The smallest thing can cause history to change in unexpected ways, so the traveler must be incredibly careful.)
Only the traveler’s safety is protected during the time travel process.
(If the traveler takes an object or individual other than themselves with them, the amount of time traveled will affect that object or individual. For example, when traveling one hundred years in time, Extra Individual A will instantly experience the passage of one hundred years.)
Hyakki Yakou must have placed the information in my head in advance.
I didn’t know the detailed theory behind it all, so I focused my mind on the destination of my acceleration.
What had truly happened ten years ago with the Youkai known as the Aburatori? How was my young self involved?
And could I really solve it all without using the power that the Zashiki Warashi apparently had?
I couldn’t imagine how I would do that, but we were all doomed if I couldn’t do it.
We needed the Zashiki Warahi’s power to avoid that hopeless conclusion.
The Aoandon had begun the destruction of Japan and I had no idea who was in control of it anymore, but it would be completed regardless.
As soon as I focus my mind, the acceleration seemed to double.
My soul was dragged toward a certain time and a certain place.