The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume6 Chapter 3
Chapter 3: [email protected] Mai & Illness Magic User
Part 1 (3rd person)
Perhaps due to the influence of TV, that land itself seemed to have a brand image. Among the many high-rise buildings there, a man used the entire top floor of a fifty-story building as his second home.
His name was Banjou Akira.
He was turning forty-five this year and he was often introduced on TV as a philanthropist. He would donate money on the level of lottery winnings to individuals or groups afflicted with various social problems or that worked to resolve those problems. It could be midsized or small corporations developing caregiving robots, a production company making ads to reduce the number of littered cigarettes, or a housewife giving out food to the homeless.
Every inch of the soundproofed walls of his home theater room was covered in newspaper and magazine clippings and printouts from online articles. They were all praising Banjou. As he smiled gently in the media’s eye, he was actually incredibly concerned about how others viewed him.
One wall reflected a bright white light. A projector displayed the personal information of murderers and kidnappers who had troubled the world in the past few years. Specifically, they were those who had used a Youkai and thus could not be judged by the law or were reduced to a lower crime that could be judged. Deadly muggings were treated as theft and abductions were treated as deceptive obstruction of business.
A few of the photographs had big red Xs over them.
A cause of death was written next to those ones: a traffic accident during transport, beaten to death in their cell, or an attack from a hornet or poisonous spider.
In the end, he had funded those kinds of actions just as much as his official donations.
Banjou Akira only ever thought about social problems.
And both officially and in secret, he would spare no expense to help anyone who was working to resolve those problems. Even if he ended up taking someone’s life, he felt not a twinge of guilt.
But his fat body tilted sideways in his leather chair. He fell right to the floor. Banjou Akira would never move again and a woman stared down at his unmoving form.
Her name was Hishigami Mai. The beautiful woman wore a tank top and hot pants and she used a large satellite cellphone to call the ten year old girl named Hafuri who led Hyakki Yakou.
The small canine Youkai at her feet, the Sunekosuri, was trembling in fear. His teeth had been chattering and he had not been able to speak a word.
“I just dealt with t Shinshou Hitsubatsu’s sponsor. His bank account will be frozen when news of his death gets out, so even if he’s set up automatic transfers, they won’t be getting any more money. I just hope this stops their work.”
“How did you do it?”
“High-quality brandy and sleeping pills. People really need to read the warnings before they use those things. Everyday life is full of dangers.”
“But that’s his second home, isn’t it? Since it’s a celebrity’s secret home, his family isn’t going to find him. Couldn’t it take over a month before he’s found?”
“That’s why I’m calling emergency services on the home phone once I finish speaking with you. I’ll have the corpse hold the receiver and never say a word on the phone. I can mess with the humidifier’s settings to throw off the estimated time of death, so it doesn’t matter that the order was backwards. His body will be found faster than a coin locker baby.”
With that comment, Mai glanced over at the home theater’s screen.
The man must have enjoyed the limelight because he had filled the screen with the photographs that acted as twisted trophies of his targets. One photo in the center was especially large.
The photo was of a ten year old genius girl named Ranzono Sachi.
She was a criminal who had constructed an Oomukade Package on her own. The Youkai-related crime and her young age had made her difficult to charge in court, so she had been a double punch for the justice-obsessed owner of the room.
And currently, she was the top target of an organization named Shinshou Hitsubatsu.
“We will monitor Shinshou Hitsubatsu’s actions,” said Hafuri.
“Sure, sure. But if this doesn’t stop them, the situation might get a little tricky. If it comes to that, maybe I’ll see if I can get his help.”
“I doubt he would help us now.”
“Don’t be so sure. I bet you could convince him right away if you gave him a teary-eyed puppy dog look.”
Mai sounded like she did not really care.
“That Illness Magic User is super easy to understand. I’m sure he’s still running full speed down the path of the fleeing soldier with that gloomy look on his face!”
Part 2 (Illness Magic User)
“Miss, miss! Give me an udon! A kitsune udon!! I’m starving!”
“Oh, my. Should the Inugami Gyoubu tanuki really be ordering kitsune udon? Won’t Osakabe-Hime laugh at you?”
“G-gulp!! N-no! I’m a human, I swear. Look, no tail or anything!”
“Well, you can order whatever you want as long as the money isn’t actually leaves. Here’s your kitsune udon!”
The supplied soy sauce had lost some of its flavor, so I used a type of Illness Magic to ferment it while listening to those energetic voices.
It seemed like everywhere served udon in Shikoku. That wasn’t isolated to Kagawa. If you walked into any restaurant, you were bound to find udon. I wasn’t that picky about cooking or food, but I felt like I had been eating nothing but chilled zaru udon recently.
Some said the texture or the water used was the real heart of udon, but I hadn’t chosen this restaurant for anything like that. Its simple flavor had no noticeable positives, but any unpleasant points had been thoroughly removed. That fit my tastes pretty well.
My Illness Magic did not rely on Youkai. It was born from the stress I created myself. Those “unpleasant points” could do far more damage to one’s internal organs than people thought.
Take this newspaper article for example:
“The water has been cut off throughout Hakata, Fukuoka. Did a mistake in the water purification plant contaminate the water supply?”
Or this TV news report:
“The fire that began yesterday at an Aomori oil reserve site is showing no signs of being extinguished. The government has sent in a hyper rescue squad to assist the local firefighters.”
Or this gossip:
“Hey, miss, had you heard the Shikoku Bridge has been blocked off since morning? Truck accidents sure are scary. And there’s no way to prevent it when the driver has a sudden stroke. Tremble, tremble.”
It didn’t matter whether it had any connection to me or not. I knew it made me a difficult person, but whenever I heard things like that, it filled me with displeasure and shortened my lifespan.
Basically, I was covered in beads of sweat that looked too small for my two meter frame. Even now, I could see a meaningless scowl on my face in the polished table.
So as I did whatever it took to protect my lifespan, people started treating me like a hero. When I started getting a little carried away, the organization named Hyakki Yakou took me in.
Of course, my connection to Hyakki Yakou had already ended.
I had lost anything to guide my life and yet here I was. I had no idea where to go.
“Hi, Illness Magic-chan!! I haven’t seen you since Kyoto, but how’ve you been?”
My thoughts were cut off by a scantily-clad woman plopping down in the seat across from me. To be honest, I felt like this alone took years off my life, but she didn’t seem to care. She looked around the restaurant instead of checking the menu and she stared at the large man who had apparently copied the restaurant worker’s outfit when transforming.
“Oh, a tanuki’s eating kitsune udon. Miss, give me a kitsune udon too!!”
“N-no, I’m a human!! My tail’s hidden and everything!!”
The restaurant worker ignored the rioting tanuki general and carried a bowl over to our table. She then gave the frivolous woman named Hishigami Mai a curious look.
“Sigh, I never would have guessed this guy knew someone so beautiful. Who is he to you?”
“Eh heh☆ What do you think?”
Hishigami Mai smiled and gave a disturbing wink.
The restaurant worker put her hands on her hips.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter as long as he has some kind of friend. This gloomy-looking outsider kept showing up at the same time to eat this plain zaru udon, so rumors are going around he’s here to commit suicide and is trying to build up his resolve.”
She laughed as she left, but the small canine Sunekosuri was spotted as she did. “Miss, I’m afraid of dogs!” “I am not a dog! I am a Sunekosuri, you tanuki!!” “Help!!” The woman had to go calm down the two arguing Youkai.
Now that we were alone, I asked a quiet question.
“Why are you here?”
“If you feel like fighting, wait until after I’ve eaten. Waiting until after you’ve heard what I have to say would be even better.”
Hishigami used her chopsticks to dig into the kitsune udon. I casually observed that she seemed to be the type that saved the fried tofu until the end and she finally looked up again.
“I have a job for you.”
“Yes. But make no mistake here. This job isn’t from me. Hyakki Yakou’s young lady is asking. Interested now?”
“Well, I’ll drag you into this even if you aren’t.”
She grabbed the bowl in both hands and splendidly gulped down the broth.
“Ever heard of an organization called Shinshou Hitsubatsu? They’re a bunch of assassins that claim they only kill people because they don’t like how Youkai-related crimes aren’t getting judged properly. A few high-level Hyakki Yakou members were taken out by them, so they’re being hunted down for revenge.”
“Then why not get started? Even without me, you still have four of the Top Five. What about the Venom or the Heirloom?”
“Unfortunately, we can’t do it that way. To be blunt, their fighting force is too unique. A straightforward attack isn’t going to cut in. It’s to the point that we want the opinion of someone with a similar job.”
…Don’t tell me.
At my silent urging, Hishigami smiled and continued with a slice of green onion (it had to be intentionally) still stuck to her cheek.
“That’s right. The enemy this time is a Byouki user… They’re an expert in disease and curses, just like you.”
A Byouki was a variation of the kodoku created by having poisonous insects kill each other in a jar. That cat Youkai had its origins on the continent and it would possess its target on the command of the user. From there, it would spread the disease and transform the infected into killers.
We were both glaring at each other, but our expressions were polar opposites. The Hishigami woman had a delighted smile on her face. Or was that just how she looked when ready to fight?
“Now, what will you do? Of course, if it comes to a direct fight between Hyakki Yakou and Shinshou Hitsubatsu, Hyakki Yakou can win by force. But the losses would be pretty high. It would be like a group of scissors trying to defeat a rock in a rock-paper-scissors battle. And if Hyakki Yakou’s power is worn down, other hostile organizations might jump at the chance. …And most importantly, the young lady would look pretty sad if more people died.”
“Besides, you’re just wandering around without anything to do, right? Did you come to Shikoku for a pilgrimage? Or for a cucumber sealing? Either way, an individual’s power isn’t enough to manage a curse on the level of a grudge that can destroy Kyoto. I think you should let go of your sour grapes, bow down to Hyakki Yakou, and borrow some of their incense.”
Hishigami sounded entirely carefree.
“Also, if a curse of your level was forced onto them, every shrine and temple in the country would be in trouble. I won’t get mad, so tell me the truth. You were the one that nearly destroyed the Togenuki-Jizou at Sugamo, weren’t you? When the young lady went out to inspect it, she bowed down to the chief priest. He was shocked, let me tell you.”
“Honestly, shaming your master like that would normally be worthy of seppuku, you know? So pay back your debt, umbrella-making ronin! Heh heh heh. You’re not some virgin girl, so you can pay it back with your body!!”
“Almost there, huh? Then I’ll just leave some completely unrelated documents right here!”
Hishigami placed a few A4-sized pieces of copy paper on the table. They seemed to be the results of an investigation into someone, but I didn’t recognize the child in the photograph.
“What is this?”
“Shinshou Hitsubatsu’s primary target at the moment. She’s Ranzono Sachi-chan, ten years old. …And she’s a criminal involving a Package. Left alone, the Byouki’s disease will attack her first. A group of adults – and professionals at that – will torment her to death.”
“So what? She has nothing to do with me.”
“Don’t even try, samurai. I can tell from here you’re itching to do something. You have approximately three days, but that’s the most you’ll get. If you ignore this, a professional will kill a ten year old girl. Although it’s true she has nothing to do with you.”
She grinned and continued speaking, knowing perfectly well what would reach me the best.
Yes, she had said she would drag me into this.
“I did some research into Ranzono Sachi. She’s a pitiful genius girl who put together a Package on her own and fought back against the entire world to protect the homes of an Oomukade and Tsuchigumo. Oh, but for better or for worse, she apparently hasn’t killed anyone yet. She was stopped before she could.”
“And the whole deal with the Oomukade and Tsuchigumo’s home smells fishy to me. Sachi-chan was raised in Tokyo, but a Yamanba Package driving old people to a lonely death was active at the time. It’s possible someone messed with that Package to give themselves some secondary income. They just had to turn the hatred toward Youkai.”
“In other words, this Ranzono Sachi would never have strayed from the proper path if not for someone from our industry?”
“Most likely. She was dragged into our industry and now she’ll be killed by it. …Those are the circumstances Sachi-chan found herself in. So what’ll you do, Mr. Samurai? Wouldn’t it be fun to save the village girl who was manipulated by a misguided revenge story and will now be executed for the crime?”
This was my business. She did have something to do with me. We had dragged her into this.
I silently clenched my teeth while looking at the papers on the table.
“Incidentally, Sachi-chan is being taken from the Intellectual Village named Noukotsu Village and through the neighboring Bozen City on the way to be prosecuted. She’ll probably be attacked on the way. If we knew the exact route being used, it would be easy to kill or protect her, but the world never makes it that easy.”
In other words, she was hoping Bozen City would become a battlefield between my Illness Magic and the Byouki as I hunted down the main fighting force of Shinshou Hitsubatsu.
A slight sticky sound could be heard.
As soon as a black stain appeared on the papers, they disintegrated and vanished from this world.
“As soon as I confirm this request really is from Hyakki Yakou, I will begin. But if you are lying, I will dispose of you. Got that?”
“Sure. I’ll act as your backup. I’m looking forward to working with you, Illness Magic-chan. Let’s do our best to save Hyakki Yakou and Sachi-chan☆”
Part 3 (Illness Magic User)
The rural Bozen City had developed from a mountain truck depot that supported Noukotsu Village’s mail-order network. It had a population of about one hundred thousand. I arrived by train, shoved some balled-up banknotes in the white feather donation box in front of the station, and received a call on my modified cellphone.
“Welcome to Bozen City, Illness Magic-chan.”
…Is she watching me from somewhere?
I glanced around, but didn’t see anyone like her in the crowd.
“I want to share the bare minimum of information needed to provide backup, so could you at least tell me where you’re going to attack?”
“For Illness Magic, a Byouki, or any other disease-related paranormal power, the targeting is what matters most.
As I slipped a memo containing an extremely simple chemical formula into the hand of a young supporter who had apparently hit a road block in developing an ALS treatment, I walked through the crowd and continued the conversation.
“If they can acquire the location of Ranzono Sachi, they just have to let their disease spread endlessly from a remote location. That means the Byouki user or one of their pawns must be building a personal search system. They’ll be rushing around gathering material for that, so I can capture them if I cut them off. If it’s the user themselves, I’m done. If it’s a subordinate, I just have to get them to talk.”
“In other words, you have to see your target to attack?”
“Hm? But Illness Magic, wasn’t it said you could fill half of Europe with disease if you wanted to? That seems well beyond what you can see with the naked eye.”
“I had satellite support when I worked for Hyakki Yakou. I had about four hundred of those thirty-centimeter civilian satellites they make in shopping districts anywhere.”
“Ugeh!? You make that sound simple, but that’s even more than America’s GPS network! If I could’ve used that, I would have noticed what was going on at Goldmine Island a hell of a lot faster!!”
“That’s nothing compared to what I could do if I worked with the Venom Clairvoyant of the Top Five. But without any of that support, my abilities are limited.”
I had gotten off topic.
“Anyway, I will pursue Shinshou Hitsubatsu’s extremities and use them to find the head. That’s standard operating procedure.”
“Sure thing. …But I have on piece of advice for you. Be careful how you handle any prisoners you take. Get careless and they’ll melt away.”
“I mean that literally. The Byouki person has put something inside their subordinates. I’ve tried threats, negotiation, bribes, and brainwashing, but their body always melts away as soon as they choose betrayal. That’s the real problem that’s kept me from getting any information.”
There were countless types of mold and germs that would grow in the human body. The Trichophyton fungus that causes athlete’s foot is a good example. If they were given an extreme boost with paranormal power, they could become a biological weapon that dissolved the human body to the bone.
“Does that mean you have a list of people you want to interrogate, but can’t do anything with it? Then hand it over. I’ll seal the disease and get them to talk.”
“That’s why I called. I’ll start by giving you the biggest name on the list, as far as I know. They probably have some important information, so I was afraid of making them melt.”
“Who is it?”
“A well-known person. Ever heard of the Arson Thief?”
Part 4 (3rd person)
The young woman may or may not have reached twenty yet. She had straight blonde hair long enough to reach her waist, thin-lensed glasses that gave her an intellectual appearance, a tight-skirted dress colored rouge red, and stockings with a black garter belt. The outfit resembled a suit, yet she looked nothing like a productive member of society. Even a flashy announcer would hesitate before standing in front of the camera in that.
She was the Arson Thief.
She was sitting in a window-side seat on the second floor of an Italian restaurant while speaking with someone on her cellphone.
“Yes, yes. It’s all going according to plan. Ah ha ha. It’s already on the news? Don’t worry. All the evidence will end up as ashes or charcoal. The police and firefighters won’t be able to tell what was stolen there.”
Simply put, she provided supplies for the organization named Shinshou Hitsubatsu.
She would gather anything needed for a job. And she would do so safely. She was very careful to make sure she never handed over something that could be traced and land her comrades in trouble.
“If you want to lose pursuit, going over the top is actually better. A half-assed attempt at hiding the evidence will only leave more for them to find. Even if this ends up like one of the great fires of Edo, they can’t track us down if they can’t find anything.”
She was that kind of thief.
She would break in, kill, steal, start a fire, and escape. She specialized in one of the greatest criminal occupations that had been especially hated and despised for three hundred years.
“Once we have what I’m here for, we can search for Ranzono Sachi’s location. Even if she’s a minor, we can’t allow an acquittal when a Youkai was involved. Afterwards, you take care of the rest with your disease, Byouki. Just like always.”
The Arson Thief showed no sign of noticing the contradiction of committing a crime to punish a crime or using a Youkai to defeat a target who had protected Youkai.
In the end, that was the sort of organization Shinshou Hitsubatsu was.
After hanging up, she put her cellphone in her handbag. In its place, she pulled out a device larger than an SLR camera and placed it on the table. It was an electric circular saw that looked horribly out of place with her suit that was colored the red of a sports car. The saw’s exterior was pink, so it was oddly humorous.
“Hm? Oh, some of the teeth have come off. Is it about time for some new ones?”
She traced her glove-covered fingertips across the edge and slowly stood from her seat. After looking around the empty restaurant, her eyes stopped on one corner in particular.
There, a pitiful family of three lay on the floor with their arms, legs, and mouth tied or covered with duct tape.
Again and again, the second year middle school girl named Sakashita Sou blankly asked herself how this could have happened.
Her father was a chef. He had moved to Italy to train and had returned to Japan after finally earning that title. She had often been lonely when her whole family could not come to her sports festivals and parents’ days at school, but she had still rooted for her father’s dream. When he had celebrated like a child after finding a way to raise the money he needed to start his own restaurant, she had smiled and known she had made the right decision. Today, she and her mother had come before opening day to inspect the restaurant and be served as the very first guests.
So how had this happened?
“Sorry about this, but my paranormal powers lose their luster without some periodic maintenance to my tools. So I like to have some parts in reserve just in case. And this gives me an impromptu hideout, so that’s two birds with one stone.”
The woman in a red dress lifted her brutal circular saw. The pink weapon almost seemed comical. Even with their arms and legs bound, Sakashita Sou’s parents lay on top of her to protect her. For a moment, she thought she was going to be chopped to pieces by the power tool like a scene from a gruesome horror movie, but she was wrong. A closer look revealed the truth.
Specifically, a closer look at the circular saw’s teeth.
The round metal edge was covered in actual human teeth.
“W-wah!? Mghah!! Mghoh!!!???”
Five or ten teeth were not going to cut it. There were at least ten times that many. How many people had been sacrificed to create and maintain a tool like that? And that maintenance was held periodically and constantly. Sakashita Sou felt like her view of the world was being fried.
The beautiful woman placed a metal set of pliers on the table and smiled.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep you alive until I’ve pulled them all out. It’s like blood donations. The materials have an expiration date. I’ll just take one at a time and, once I’ve taken them all, I won’t need you anymore.”
“Oh, don’t worry about this place. No matter how much evidence is splattered around, I can just burn it all away at the end. You can’t take the police’s forensic investigations lightly, but if you get all the important bits and manage the furnace properly, the heat will wipe everything clean.”
They would be used like a flowerbed to grow teeth, their teeth would be pulled one at a time as parts for this woman’s tool, and once their teeth were gone, they would be chopped into little pieces and disposed of.
And the restaurant her father had dreamed of since he was a child and that had received his family’s support would be burned down to complete this woman’s system.
Sakashita Sou understood all that, but she could no longer feel anger.
The overwhelming sense of unfairness and fear drowned out all else. Even if she was ashamed at herself for yielding, she could not stop the very core of her body from trembling in the face of this madwoman.
(Why is this happening!?)
Her repetition of that unanswerable question was proof that she had stopped thinking. She and her family’s situation was simply that hopeless. They had no way of breaking free and no help was coming. But she could not bear to accept that simple fact, so her thoughts entered a meaningless infinite loop.
But then, she heard a loud noise.
The door to the stairs was forced open and a young man flew in like a bullet.
The Arson Thief narrowed her eyes slightly.
The man was one of the guards she had placed around the restaurant. He bounced along the floor a few times like a ball, plowed through the chairs and tables in the way, slid past the woman in the red dress, and finally stopped after crashing into the window.
Had he been punched or kicked?
Next, a large, gloomy man stepped in and glared at the Arson Thief.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“At the very least, I’m not the same as you.”
That was all he said.
As soon as the man grabbed a charm between two fingers, something like a pitch black mist erupted from his entire body. It swirled around, but before it could take concrete form and attack, the Arson Thief used her thumb to flick the switch for her human tooth circular saw.
A tremendous roar burst out. She slammed the blade against a nearby table and orange sparks cascaded out.
A moment later, the sparks absorbed something and flames swelled explosively outwards. No, this was not a mere fire. It may have been a deluge of red-hot melted metal. The mysterious hellfire devoured the oxygen in the air as it surged toward the large man and swallowed him whole.
“Are you a disease-type like the Byouki?”
The Arson Thief mocked the newly-made human torch. She then attached a heart-shaped carabiner to the grip of her pink circular saw and attached a synthetic fiber leash to that. She swung it around. The ferocious morning star whooshed around as it tore into the floor, walls, ceiling, and furniture. Each time it hit something, sparks would burst out, producing further scorching hellfire from a variety of angles. The orange flood rushed in from every direction.
“But diseases are traditionally weak to boiling and fire. Before the advent of bacteriology, mankind learned from their experiences and wove that into their legends. It’s too bad, whoever you are.”
“Since you use human teeth, do you use a Kitsunebi?”
A calm voice cut her off.
It was far from the voice of a man being burned alive in a furnace.
“A fox is said to strike human bones together to create a bewitching flame. …If so, that is an overly-decorated and inefficient system. I can probably recreate this with a phosphorescent chemical substance.”
A tremendous roar burst out.
The black tornado tore through and dispersed the orange flames from within.
“There are countless heat-resistant bacteria. Like the ones that grow in a volcano’s caldera and consume sulfur. I can easily survive this by using my Illness Magic to create an umbrella based on them.”
The Arson Thief realized her thoughts had ground to a halt.
She came dangerously close to touching her own circular saw as she swung around the electric morning star to reject it all. She would create a massive enough conflagration to burn away any and all inconveniences.
“It may be reinforced by the paranormal, but it’s still a flame.”
The carpet of flames filling the restaurant completely vanished as if it had all been a joke.
The large man’s expression had not changed one iota.
“By creating aerobic bacteria – that is, bacteria that consume oxygen – I can easily erase those flames. Water is useless with the flames from chemical incendiary rounds, but sand works just fine. All flames grow fragile if you rob them of their oxygen.”
The Arson Thief could not move a single step. She had stopped swinging around the saw. The power tool clunked to the ground, moved about madly like a poorly trained dog, and only scattered sparks as insignificant as pissing on a telephone pole.
“How about we talk this out?”
That was all the large man said as he started casually across the floor.
He carried the entire scene’s atmosphere with him.
“What did the Byouki user ask for and where are you taking it? If you won’t talk, I’ll imitate Alzheimer’s or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and ask your brain directly.”
While trembling, the beauty in a red dress laughed tensely with nowhere left to run. And as she did, a certain thought filled her head: I’ve won.
She could control all types of flames and use their various traits: burning, consuming oxygen, gathering people’s attention, jumping from object to object, bursting out like a trap when a door was opened, etc.
And that included the hypnotizing flames that led people to hallucinate.
There were several kinds of hypnotism, but one way to induce a hypnotic state was to have the target stare at a flickering flame. Some theories said that was why the Hyakumonogatari used candles or lanterns. The Arson Thief would secretly weave those flames into the battle to slowly invade the brain of her opponent.
(It doesn’t matter if my flames don’t work on you.)
The unfocused eyes and unthinkably relaxed facial muscles were both signs that her target was not in a normal state of mind.
She pulled on the leash to retrieve the raging circular saw and grabbed it in both hands.
(You can believe you’ve won and stand there meaninglessly while your organs splatter to the floor!!)
A moment later, a strange noise exploded in her hands. The fiercely rotating blade had come apart on its own. The blade, the motor, the cover, and every last screw fell separately to the floor. The rapid rotation continued, so the blade nearly severed her foot on its way down.
This time, the Arson Thief’s thoughts truly did come to a stop.
“There are molds that corrode metal. This one gathered some attention when it damaged a passenger plane.”
The man responded with a composed expression, but that was not the real problem here.
(Why!? How!? He should be under my hypnotic control!!)
The enemy walked straight toward her with long strides. He could clearly see her properly. The beautiful woman could only shake her head at the overwhelming unfairness of it all, but she finally caught on a moment later.
(He isn’t thinking for himself.)
A chill ran down her spine.
(Did he detect the oddity and infect his own brain and spinal column with his Illness Magic? Did he send a virus into his own body to escape my hypnotism and continue fighting semi-automatically!?)
She had the right answer, but that did not reveal a way out of her predicament.
Before the Arson Thief could do anything, the large man grabbed her collar, lifted her with one arm, and slammed her back into the floor.
The sound produced by their height difference was much greater than that of a judo throw.
Part 5 (Illness Magic User)
I had defeated my target. I still needed to release the tied-up civilians, but I prioritized the Arson Thief. Whenever a member of Shinshou Hitsubatsu spilled the beans, they would be infected and killed by an acute form of athlete’s foot.
I grabbed the unconscious woman and dragged her to the kitchen.
I opened the industrial refrigerator, checked through the contents, and poked at the side of the woman’s head with the tip of my military boots.
“Eh? Ah…Cough, cough, cough!?”
When she woke in confusion, she choked for a bit and widened her eyes.
I crouched down and held a common food item in front of her face.
“If you tell me about the Byouki user, I’ll remove the ‘collar’ wrapped around your throat.”
“Y-you’re kidding, right?”
“This is called a cucumber sealing. It’s a Shikoku ritual to pray for health and safety. As the name suggests, you seal your illness inside a cucumber and bury it in the earth. It’s up to you whether you want to try it or not, but if you refuse, your options are dying from athlete’s foot across your body or being forced into a life of slavery. What’ll it be?”
“This is your one and only chance. Don’t you want to live in freedom?”
I could hear her clench her teeth even at my distance.
She may have called them her comrades or her organization, but it looked like she had known the truth.
“If you can really do it, prove it ahead of time. Prove you can satisfy me with that cucumber.”
“A simple task, but don’t forget that all it does is ‘seal’ the illness. Until it’s buried, I can still return the acute athlete’s foot to you at any time.”
The ritual itself was not difficult. After reciting a ceremonial curse, the illness hidden in her body was transferred to the vegetable.
Once it was over, she looked down at her chest suspiciously.
“Did that really do it?”
Instead of answering, I tossed the infected cucumber toward the kitchen window. The impact broke it in two and the transparent glass was instantly covered in white hypha-like threads. It was like a bomb made of slime mold.
Afraid of the sound and vibration, a centipede on the wall near the window crawled into a gap in the sink.
The woman was dumbfounded, but I got down to business.
“R-right, of course. I don’t have any obligations to them anymore. …I was acquiring the data needed to build a personal search system for the target, Ranzono Sachi.”
“Do you really think you have time for that?”
The woman smiled thinly from the floor and pointed at the ceiling.
“I already handed the USB memory to a Shinshou Hitsubatsu courier. If you don’t hurry up, they’ll get away.”
That was when a deafening roar cut by overhead.
Was it a helicopter? But I hadn’t seen one when checking around the building before my attack.
Regardless, it was true I had no time.
I used my Illness Magic to exterminate the acute athlete’s foot on the kitchen window, opened the window, and stuck my head out. I still couldn’t see anything, but the source of the noise was quite nearby and the wind was rising oddly on the road out front. It was apparently about to ascend, so I still had a chance. As usual, I only had to use my Illness Magic, so I pulled out a charm.
After dealing with what needed to be done, I looked back and saw the woman asking me a question with a servile smile on her face.
“I won’t stop you. I’m free to go, right?”
“By the way, how many people have you killed as the Arson Thief?”
“I don’t know. One or two hundred maybe?”
That wasn’t much. I was hardly one to accuse her of anything, but I had to settle this. I pulled out a new charm.
“Then you can start by sleeping for about two hundred months.”
“Wha-!? That’s not what you-…”
I silenced her with my Illness Magic and left the kitchen. I approached the family of three bound with duct tape and freed only their mouths.
“Wh-what is… Who are you?”
“Unfortunately, I can’t answer that.”
I cut across the room and borrowed a brand new tablecloth. I infected it with Illness Magic and small mushrooms began growing from it.
“These are a type of spiritual mushroom. You can sell them for more than caterpillar fungus. If you head out to Mount Tomi or Yokohama and sell them at a random Chinese medicine shop, you’ll get enough to renew your restaurant with money to spare. Sorry you got caught in the middle of all this.”
They looked dumbfounded, but I left them and called the police on the restaurant phone.
“Yes, this is the police. Please calm down and explain your situation. Are you reporting a crime or an accide-…”
“A robber broke into a new restaurant in Eastern Block 3 of Bozen City. Send the police out immediately.”
With that said, I threw the receiver on the floor without hanging up. Whether they believed me or not, they would trace the source of the call and send someone. The family could tell them what happened then. Paranormal powers or not, even an amateur could tell who was the perpetrator and who was the victim.
In my business, personally providing the police with eyewitness testimony was not the best idea. That Hishigami woman might have silenced the family, but I had no reason to kill them.
With that in mind, I left the restaurant.
I already had a new target. I had to pursue that invisible helicopter.
Part 6 (3rd person)
A Tengu’s mysterious disappearances were the weapon used by Seidou Tagane, the Shinshou Hitsubatsu courier. The young man wore a flashy suit and sunglasses and had his hair bleached pure white, but more importantly, he could hide himself so long as he was flying. He could of course hide himself, but the effect also included anything he was controlling, be it a helicopter, an air cushion ship, a passenger plane, or an asteroid. The Tengu was a flying Youkai that made people disappear. He used that trait to carry his payload along the shortest route through the open sky. Nothing could be safer or more reliable.
He let a pilot working for him take care of the helicopter while he crossed his legs in the back seat and shouted into his cellphone to be heard over the loud rotors. “Yeah! I’ll be there right on time. Also, it seems there’s someone after us! Try contacting that Kitsunebi woman. If you can’t reach her or she’s acting weird, use the athlete’s foot!! See ya!”
He hung up and saw the pilot shaking his head. He asked what was going on and realized the pilot was trying to check on the reinforced glass in front
“Um, is this dust or something? It’s clouding my vision…”
Seidou Tagane leaned forward to check for himself. There really was a fine powder covering the entire surface of the glass and it did look like sand, but it was not.
(What is this? Mold?)
A moment later, he heard the sound of sparks and his curse stealth using a Tengu’s mysterious disappearances was peeled away. The title of “invisible helicopter” no longer applied and the craft was entirely visible in the blue sky.
“Wh-what!? What just happened!?”
Part 7 (Illness Magic User)
Muscular reinforcement, increased flexibility of the blood vessels and cartilage, protection of the internal organs, readjustment of the energy consumption rate, activation of the mitochondria, and a change of blood distribution to prevent a blackout.
After taking all the necessary measures with my Illness Magic, I tossed aside several used charms, and ran from the sidewalk to the road.
My body immediately started running at 100 kph. And from there, my speed increased with quadratic growth. I quickly reached the 400 kph line. That was the same speed as a drag racer or a helicopter.
I had already captured my target.
I had scattered several types of mold from the restaurant’s second floor window when the helicopter had been preparing to take off. It seemed to be a type of curse stealth using a Tengu’s mysterious disappearances, but that simplified matters. Legend had it Tengu did not abduct people who had eaten mackerel because they hated the smell of mackerels.
Since the curse stealth relied on a Tengu, I could remove it by chemically synthesizing the smell.
I had stripped them bare.
They could ignore the roads and terrain to take the shortest path to their destination. I was unfortunately bound by those things, but I could not allow them to escape. I had to secure a route to the Byouki user no matter what.
I overtook the cars on the road, I jumped over the people on the crosswalks, and I would occasionally run along a building’s wall to take a sharp turn without losing much speed. I heard screams and confused voices around me, but each time, I used my Illness Magic to erase a few seconds of their short-term memory. I spared the small children because it would have been dangerous for them, but the adults would assume the child had been daydreaming.
Then the helicopter crossed a river.
At more than fifty meters wide, it was too far to jump and there was no bridge nearby.
“Compose an Illness Magic based on blastocladia.”
I pulled out a charm, muttered to myself, and leaped toward the river. No matter how much momentum I had built up, I was going to fall into the river partway. But as soon as my feet touched the surface, something like a pure-white lotus leaf spread out. I created my own footing based on a germ that attached to fruit that fell in the water.
I jumped across the surface like a stone skipping on the water and arrived on the opposite bank.
However, this would never end if I continued running along the surface.
To finish this, I needed a long thoroughfare or highway.
Part 8 (3rd person)
Finally, Seidou Tagane realized what was going on.
He saw a form running along the surface at unbelievable speed. Whatever it was, it was following the courier helicopter now that the curse stealth was broken. The helicopter was moving at over 350 kph and could ignore the terrain and roads, but this opponent showed no sign of caring.
The pilot gave a shrill shout.
“Let’s shake them!! We don’t need to stay on this course!!”
“You dumbass, we’ve lost our stealth! Everyone can see us now!”
“And isn’t that why we’re being chased!? I don’t know who that is, but they’re some kind of monster!!”
“Yeah, and the airport control tower radar can see us too! Adding in a false flight plan via the internet’s the most I can manage. Start flying all over the place and they’ll scramble some domestic stealth fighters to come after us!!”
The sky was not as free as it seemed.
It was more crowded than the roads on the surface. Countless beacon signals divided up the flight paths and anything that left those would be deemed dangerous and ordered to land. If it did not respond, they were free to shoot it down.
That meant Seidou Tagane and the pilot could no longer escape.
They knew someone was after them, but they could not swing the control column around like in a movie.
“Dammit, what in the world-…”
Seidou Tagane trailed off.
He had briefly looked away from the ground to argue with the pilot. It had only been for a few seconds, but he had lost sight of the pursuer racing along the surface.
“Find them! Dammit, where’d they go!? Find them!!”
The courier man shouted nervously, but then he spotted something odd.
Some kind of white structure covered the entire straight thoroughfare. It was over a kilometer long and looked like the first rise of a roller coaster or the electromagnetic acceleration catapult from a mass driver in an SF novel. Suddenly, he tensed up.
A moment later, the large man running at 400 kph flew through the air and collided with the side of the helicopter.
He had already exceeded a passenger plane’s takeoff speed. By shifting his vector upwards using sturdy rails made from hyphae, he managed to leap five or six hundred meters into the air.
The reinforced glass and steel door meant nothing.
Something must have corroded them because they were torn away like clay.
The man climbed inside.
Driven by fear, the pilot pulled out his handgun, but that was an obvious mistake.
He had confirmed he was hostile and had nothing to negotiate with. More importantly, they both worked in the underworld. The large man grabbed this “enemy” with a single hand and threw the pilot out of the helicopter.
Seidou Tagane was soaked with sweat and had the look of a man who had boarded an elevator late at night only for a man with a blade to walk in at an intermediary floor.
“Wh-who are you? Who are you!?”
“Tell me what you know about the Byouki user who is after Ranzono Sachi.”
“Do you really think I’ll tell you? I’ll be killed!”
“Then I will kill you now.”
The man pulled out a charm.
With a sticky sound, the helicopter’s silhouette crumbled. As he felt like he had stepped in humus, Seidou Tagane found himself already released into empty air.
He did not know what had happened.
The aircraft carrying him had corroded and vanished in only a few seconds.
The sensation of falling squeezed at his stomach and he flailed his limbs in vain. Meanwhile, the large man’s expression remained unchanged as he turned around, grabbed Seidou Tagane’s collar, and spoke from close by.
“The Byouki user.”
“I don’t know, dammit! I don’t know!!”
“You will hit the ground in another ten seconds. Is that your final answer?”
“I’m sorryyyyy!! I’ll tell you anythinnnggg!!”
The large man gave an irritated sigh at Seidou Tagane’s tear- and snot-covered face. He pulled out a charm and something like a pure-white umbrella opened from his back. He did not seem to be wearing a parachute and the material was odd. It was a strange parachute made from a slime mold or something.
The large man slowly and carefully landed on the bank of a river and threw Seidou Tagane into a thicket.
Then he made a unilateral demand.
“Tell me everything you know.”
Part 9 (Illness Magic User)
Driving out evil was a common desire, so there were countless rituals for it from all over the world. Like the previous cucumber sealing, items on hand were often enough to perform one of them. This time, I used the river and paper. The specific method was similar to a spirit boat procession. The spirit boat procession was meant to send off the dead, but with a few modifications, I could make a boat with some paper, placed the evil or illness onboard, and send it away.
It may have looked simple, but it was a lot like surgery. It required accurate knowledge and exacting precision down to the millimeter or smaller.
Once I was done, I glared at the man who was breathing heavily in the riverside thicket. A centipede moved out of the way in the grass so I wouldn’t crush it underfoot.
“The Byouki user wanted a search system. Ranzono Sachi is our target, but they didn’t know her exact route. They wanted a system to know her location to make sure she ends up dead no matter what route she takes. The Byouki may seem like cheating, but it isn’t all powerful and it has to follow a certain sequence.”
“A radio interception system. But by adding in a special program, they can pick up the electromagnetic waves sent out by the vehicle’s robot brakes. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads about a car detecting obstacles and stopping on its own even if you let go of the steering wheel.”
The courier man wiped sweat from his brow while sitting on the ground.
“They claim you can’t identify an individual vehicle based on the radar waves, but that isn’t actually true. After all, cars drive along in rows and they’re also exposed to the radar waves of the traffic in the opposite lane. If they reacted to another car’s radar waves and slammed on the brakes, it could easily cause unexpected accidents, so the robot brakes actually have some secret data embedded in them. There’s a registration number just like the license plate number.”
“You mean the Byouki user wants to pick up the robot brake signal of the prisoner transport vehicle carrying Ranzono Sachi?”
“No matter what route she takes, the Byouki can kill her. Recently, there was some ridiculous news about a civilian app that could capture the signal of government planes and reveal their flight paths, remember? This is pretty much the same. Robot brakes are pretty common these days, so you can figure out where the armored cars carrying money for banks and the black luxury cars carrying VIPs are.”
“The Kitsunebi woman said she gave you a USB memory stick.”
“Sorry.” The courier raised both hands while still sitting down. “As soon as I saw you, I threw it out into the sky. It’s sending out a beacon signal, so the Byouki’s probably picking it up right about now.”
That meant I didn’t have a moment to spare.
Would I pursue and attack the Byouki user or would I search out and protect the prisoner transport vehicle carrying Ranzono Sachi? I had to make up my mind, but I had no hint to ensure success for either option.
But then the courier made a suggestion.
“If you’re willing to listen, I’d like to help you out. So could you maybe spare me?”
“Out with it.”
“I’m a courier, but I’m good at making some money on the side. I made a copy of the USB memory without telling the Byouki. I can’t tell you where they are, but you can use that data to pick up the robot brake signal to find Ranzono Sachi. You want to lie in wait for the Byouki, don’t you? So what’ll you do?”
“Fine. But only if you swear to immediately retire from this industry and never again use your power or skills to cause trouble for civilians.”
“Of course, of course. If I’d known there were people like you out there, I never would have gotten into this business in the first place. I think I’ll head back to the countryside and start farming or something. So I don’t have any use for this data anyways.”
“I see. Then let me give you some more incentive.”
I pulled out a charm.
A sticky sound burst from within the courier’s head.
“Wh-…bah!? What did…you do!?”
“I attached some Illness Magic to your hippocampus which is deeply related to your memories. If you break your promise, you will harm your own brain. You might be able to fool others, but you can never fool yourself. Bear that in mind.”
“Dammit. You’ve gotta be kidding me! Goddamit!”
After taking the storage medium from the wailing man, I left the area and made a call on my modified cellphone.
“Hello,” said the Hishigami woman.
“Do your duty.”
“Couldn’t you at least ask me to help you? You’re going to break my heart if you keep being such a high level tsundere.”
I ignored her nonsense and mentally went over my plans.
Ranzono Sachi came first. If I could protect her by defeating the Byouki sent after her, the Byouki user would give up on a long-range attack. And if they tried to force their way in for a direct attack, intercepting them and disposing of them would probably be fastest.
Part 10 (Illness Magic User)
“Okay, found that robot brake signal. Looks like they’re abusing the cellphone tower antennae. They’ve added a command to pick up some extra signals around town and send them to a secret server. That lets me search for any car in Bozen City, not just Sachi-chan’s prisoner transport vehicle. Wow! Why is the mayor’s first secretary’s car stopped on the side of the road right now? Is he enjoying some adulterous car sex? He probably doesn’t have anything better to do while the big boss is meeting with the city council.”
“Get to the point.”
“Including decoys, there are three prisoner transport vehicles. The real one is traveling along the mountain pass.”
“The search system only tells you the type of vehicle and their location, not what’s inside.”
“I’m using a different method to pick up camera footage from near the police station. The morons let the target onboard in full view of those cameras. That’s why you need to build your parking lot underground.”
Now that I had that information, I had no more need for her. I hung up and started for the destination. There was no law forbidding a human from travelling at 400 kph on foot, so I pushed myself pretty hard.
I found a small road losing out to the dense trees and a guardrail that had turned green more to corrosion than just rust. This was one of the poorly maintained national roads I would sometimes hear about. It would have been difficult for two light vehicles to pass each other here.
And along one hairpin curve, the guardrail was badly broken.
I peered down and saw a prisoner transport vehicle on the rocky area several meters below.
Had the Byouki arrived ahead of me?
I jumped down to the rocky area and approached the vehicle that had not just fallen on its side but was stuck between two large rocks. First, I used my Illness Magic to corrode the reinforced windshield that had turned pure white from all the cracks. After dragging the driver out, I circled to the back and destroyed the steel door as well. Including the driver, there were three police officers inside. Their uniforms were all soaked red with blood.
But that was all. There was no sign of Ranzono Sachi who should have been restrained inside.
They were just barely breathing. I wanted to ask about Ranzono Sachi, but I couldn’t treat them roughly with their injuries. As I removed all germs from the wounds and used their neckties to stop the blood, a thought came to me.
What kind of injuries were these?
I had initially thought the fall from the road had done it, but I was wrong. Their necks and chests had been torn into in one centimeter wide bands. A blunt injury would not cause that. They had been ripped and torn almost to the throat.
A groaning young police officer tried to tell me something while looking me in the eye.
I brought my face close to hear his fading voice.
“Watch…out. Behind you!!”
I immediately turned around, but it was too late.
Ranzono Sachi charged toward me like a carnivorous beast and leaped toward my windpipe.
Fresh blood sprayed out.
I had immediately sacrificed my right arm. I heard an unusual tearing sound while I used a charm and Illness Magic to shut down the pain. I swung my arm and her small form flew like a ball, but she skillfully flipped around in midair, regained her balance, and carefully landed on the unstable mountain rocks.
I heard a growl that shook the blood gathered deep in her throat.
She had to have originally been a simple young girl.
She looked quite different from the picture in the documents I had seen, but even children wore makeup these days. If I peeled it all away, I would probably find the face I had seen.
Even that had been blotted out by an animalistic expression.
The girl lowered her hips and let her arms dangle down like a predator crawling on all fours.
Had Ranzono Sachi done this?
It did make sense. The police officers’ injuries had looked like they were torn with human fingernails.
Then had the vehicle crashed because she had gone on a rampage inside? I could see she had broken her handcuffs, despite her slender frame. The bizarre silver bracelets shined dully on her wrists.
That was when the answer hit me.
A Byouki was a cat Youkai from the continent that was created in a Kodoku ritual, a powerful curse made by placing countless poisonous insects in a single jar and having them kill each other. Its primary power was to apply a variety of diseases to whoever it possessed.
Or it drove them insane and made them kill indiscriminately.
The term “Toori-Ma” was used to describe normal criminals in modern times, but it originally referred to a paranormal phenomenon. A Toori-Ma was believed to possess people and cause them to commit unthinkable crimes.
Also, the Byouki user belonged to Shinshou Hitsubatsu, an organization that dealt with criminals who ended up not being convicted of their original crime because of the Youkai involvement.
“So that’s it.”
They would possess the criminal and have them commit another crime. They would send the criminal back to court until they finally received the death penalty. They were causing more crimes to punish criminals and they were using the very Youkai that made punishment so difficult, but it was obvious that they viewed themselves as an exception. They would probably claim they were making a noble sacrifice while letting civilians die at the hands of their Toori-Ma.
So what was I to do?
Ranzono Sachi was not the sort of Toori-Ma talked about in tabloids. Her power and desire to destroy had been amplified by a paranormal being known as a Byouki. The fact that her appearance and physical strength did not match was obvious enough from the cruel gashes in the police officers and the handcuffs broken with her bare hands.
I could of course settle this by sending out my Illness Magic.
However, I had no guarantee that her young body could withstand any further burden. I was not aware of any clinical studies to determine what happened to the human body when both a Byouki and Illness Magic were placed inside it.
That meant I could try holding back.
But that only worked if I was alone. I glanced at the barely-breathing police officers lying on the ground. Could I really hold back while also covering for all of them?
They were on the verge of death, but they were not dead yet.
Ranzono Sachi could still escape this without becoming a murderer. …Even if this would be the end of her short life.
“What will you do?”
She only growled back at me.
I narrowed my eyes and decided to question her as much as I could.
“How do you want this to end?”
I did not get a second chance.
The beast approached with a tremendous noise. She held her bloody claws and fangs at the ready, so her hostility was clear. My top priority was dealing with the Byouki user, crushing Shinshou Hitsubatsu, and removing this thorn in Hyakki Yakou’s side. Ranzono Sachi herself was only a detour.
Part of me did wonder if that was the right way to think about this.
And that hesitation would allow Ranzono Sachi’s crimes to continue and sully her soul even further.
So I made up my mind, pulled out a charm, and prepared to release the Illness Magic.
But before I could, the mountain split open as an Oomukade charged out and acted as a shield against Ranzono Sachi’s violence.
With a metallic sound, her claws were deflected backwards. I kept my Illness Magic on standby, narrowed my eyes, and asked a question.
“A centipede, huh? You were in that restaurant and on the bank with the courier, weren’t you? Your size was a fair bit different, though.”
“Will you leave Sachi to me?”
“I checked around the area inside the earth. The actual user will be here soon. Defeating them is what you-…”
“No,” I cut in. “I wasn’t asking why I should leave. I want to know why you would put yourself in danger here.”
The Oomukade seemed to briefly hesitate but finally gave a clear answer.
“Sachi ended up like this because she committed a crime to protect me. She stepped out of line because I tried to protect her.”
“She is my friend, so I simply cannot allow this to be how it ends! And I made a promise with the others who stopped her crimes. I promised I would return Sachi to that place. I was hopeful that she would have a future with those people who accepted her!!”
“Then do as you wish,” I spat out.
I turned my back on Ranzono Sachi.
She was not my real enemy. I had someone else to deal with.
“I’ll deal with the insignificant Byouki. You can have the starring role this time.”
I jumped and leaped from the rocky area to the hairpin curve above and utilized my sense of smell. They were nearby and approaching. I glanced around, stopped my eyes on one point, and ran in that direction.
I left the poorly-maintained road and entered the dark, dark forest.
The users of Illness Magic and a Byouki faced each other in the corrosion and decomposition of nature.
I heard a giggling sound.
She looked thirteen or fourteen. She was not as slender as Ranzono Sachi who had been turned into a Toori-Ma, but she was still only a small girl. Her black hair was shoulder length and she had white skin with a healthy flush to it. However, she looked somehow sickly with an eyepatch over one eye and several bandages wrapped around her in places. She wore a short yellow China dress that had enough fabric removed to see her navel. On top of that, she wore a cat ear decoration and a blue jacket. She controlled a Youkai from the continent, so she was the barrier containing the paranormal creature. In other words, she was the jar used to create the Kodoku venom. The blue represented darkness and the yellow the warning color of a venomous insect. …No, she may not have been thinking too much about the symbolism. I couldn’t explain the long sock on just one leg or the comical bandages plastered all over the other leg.
She sounded just like a little girl.
It was a pure and unconcerned comment like a child watching a superhero on TV.
“You really are cool. Ha ha. I’m not even being ironic, mister. Our industry is full of powers that break the rules, so it’s super cool that you can live there like some kind of samurai! I could never pull it off.”
“I’m hopeless. Completely hopeless. Everything about me is hopeless. I’m trying to do a good job and I have the best possible plan in my head, but it never works out. It all crumbles away in the end. So, y’see…”
She placed her slender index finger on her soft pink lips and laughed.
“Ha ha. So I can’t hold back here☆ I won’t be safe unless I kill you.”
A great roar burst out.
Dark shadows swept out in every direction from the Byouki user’s feet. They instantly swallowed up the entire surface of the ground, transforming the entire forest into her territory. The trees began to rustle like the mountain itself was talking about me behind my back.
“I hate when things get all bogged down, so I’ll explain everything from the get-go, mister.”
As the entire world throbbed and pulsed eerily, the Byouki user kept her sparkling eyes on me and opened her mouth.
“My Byouki is pretty smartly made. Simply put, even if I don’t manually set it up, it’ll find its own targets. It will search for whoever I consider my enemy and automatically produce the quantity and quality of Byouki needed to defeat them.”
With a sound like slurping mud, shadows, shadows, shadows, and more shadows rose up all around me. Masses of illness that looked just like the girl filled the world in no time at all. There were so many that numbers like one hundred or two hundred were useless.
“So it doesn’t matter how hard you work, mister. The cleverer you get, the more Byouki there will be and they’ll wear you down with their numbers. The Byouki will multiply endlessly until they’ve torn you to pieces with their long claws. Do you understand the rules now?”
I of course had no intention of sitting idly by and letting her kill me.
I scattered charms around. Inside the storm of paper of my own creation, I raised the index and middle fingers of my injured right hand and thrust them forward like I was holding a sword.
The Illness Magic gathered together like a storm and became a pitch black sword.
“Cursed Sword – Michizane.”
“Oh, c’mon. Didn’t I tell you getting serious would only create more Byouki?”
“Self-destruct. …Transform as a lesson to all disease.”
The Byouki user gave a puzzled frown when she saw the sword burst from within.
I continued regardless.
“Holy Sword – Tenjin. Cast aside your form as a tool of Sugawara’s vengeful spirit and release your divinity.”
Pure-white light surged out.
In the instant of its manifestation, it erased even the concept of sound.
A glowing sword erupted from my fingertips with double the previous force. This was a portion of the noble power that had begun as a vengeful spirit with a grudge against Kyoto and had eventually been worshipped into godhood. Just like a serum could be made from a toxin, I could transform my great knowledge of negative power into this positive power. This was the archenemy of illnesses like us.
This was not how it was meant to be used, so I could feel it tearing at me from within.
But I ignored that, aimed the tip of the blade, and stared straight at my enemy’s face.
“Ha… Ha ha☆”
“Here I go. Prepare yourself.”
“Wow! Wow, wow! How can you do things like that!? Illness users are supposed to be creepy, dirty people who live surrounded by scorn and disgust, so how can you transform that into such a refreshing lifestyle!? You’re amazing! You’re so mature!!”
The Byouki user rejoiced as if she were truly, truly impressed by something.
“But,” she added. “Didn’t I tell you? I’ll still wear you down with numbers.”
With an army of thousands…no, tens of thousands at her beck and call, the girl transformed from soldier to commander.
She claimed to be supplied with exactly the fighting force she needed. If that was true, there was no way for me to win. No matter how much strength I mustered, I was destined to fall to my knees here.
But that would only mean my defeat.
It would not mean Hyakki Yakou’s defeat. My defeat was sure to reveal the enemy’s system and provide a starting point toward defeating it. And if the Oomukade could bring Ranzono Sachi back to her senses, the girl would have a chance to disappear. As long as she did not rely on a vehicle, the search system using the robot brake system was useless.
So even if I lose, I’ll still win.
“Ready to surrender?”
“I have no reason to. Not a single one.”
“Ha ha. Mister, you really are cool, so tell me your name. You’re making my womb throb, so I want to call your name at least once.”
That was an obvious request, but I almost laughed.
“I no longer have a flag to raise or a home to return to.”
I prepared my glowing sword of light as I answered.
“You can call me a nameless soldier.”
That was all I said.
And immediately afterwards, Illness Magic and Byouki clashed head-on.
Part 11 (3rd person)
The unchanged Oomukade confronted the utterly changed Ranzono Sachi in the mountain rocks.
Words would no longer reach the girl. The slightest mistake would allow her to tear into the barely-breathing police officers and place the definitive crime of murder on her shoulders. But if he carelessly struck her slender form, he could easily kill her.
Legend had it the Oomukade’s shell was hard enough to deflect an attack from any weapon.
However, he could not rely on that either.
Each time the girl growled, drool flowed from her mouth like a starving animal.
The Byouki, a type of Toori-Ma, would possess people and reveal their violent side.
Ranzono Sachi had received the most suffering not from the changes to her outer appearance forced on her by Kasane_12 or by the personality-altering seminar meant to transform her into a genius girl. The greatest wound had been realizing no one knew who she really was.
And the Oomukade himself had rejected her criminal plan and tried to stop her.
The Oomukade believed he had been right in doing so, but she had to have wondered why he did not understand.
The destructive desires forcibly dragged out of her had turned toward the Oomukade.
The girl’s speed completely outdid the Youkai’s.
Ranzono Sachi moved entirely outside his field of vision and approached from his blind spot. She charged at his long body and bit down into his repulsive body.
That was his one weakness.
According to legend, an Oomukade had been killed by an arrowhead with saliva on it, but the most primitive saliva-covered weapon was of course the human teeth.
No matter how large a centipede grew, it could not escape its position as a victim on the food chain.
The Oomukade heard a tremendous tearing sound as his outer shell was torn apart. A sticky sound followed and the non-red fluid characteristic of bugs poured out.
From the beginning, it had been impossible for him to attack Ranzono Sachi.
It was not an issue of strength. On a more fundamental level, it was simply impossible for him.
So he had been prepared for her to devour him like this.
“Have you forgotten, Sachi?”
Even as he was consumed, he relaxed his entire body and spoke.
“The centipede became a Youkai for more than its many legs and disturbing appearance. It was believed to have a powerful enough venom to act as the catalyst for a curse. It was that collection of fear that created a Youkai like me.”
In other words…
“If you wish to eat me…cough…then eat as much as you want. But remember one thing: that venom will reach your body first of all, Sachi!!”
The short girl began convulsing. As if a switch had been thrown, she collapsed to the ground without putting up the slightest resistance. This was a neurotoxin. It swiftly sealed her movements without taking her life.
Afterwards, only her shadow stretched unnaturally out from her.
No, it was the Byouki that had possessed her in the form of a shadow.
“You are the version of Kodoku from the continent, aren’t you?”
The shadow did not move. It could no longer control the girl now that she was paralyzed and it could not move as a shadow alone. It needed to control something that cast a shadow in order to move.
“In other words, you are a Youkai created by sealing poisonous insects and dangerous beasts inside a jar and letting them kill each other. To put it another way, another poisonous insect or dangerous beast should be able to devour you.”
The Oomukade gathered all of his strength and snapped his jaws.
He would protect Ranzono Sachi. And to keep that vow, he had already offered up his own entrails.
“So let’s try this, why don’t we? Let’s see which one of us prevails and which one of us is consumed!!”
Part 12 (Illness Magic User)
I cut and sliced and chopped.
I cut and sliced and chopped and severed and bisected.
The only sound was the constant one of my blade beheading my enemies. I had already cut down more than five hundred Byouki, but the user remained unfazed. She giggled and spun around on the spot. Something like black smoke erupted in every direction from her feet and double the number of enemies I had defeated appeared.
I was being worn down, I was being surrounded, and they were gradually closing in on me.
“Ha ha. This is just like a zombie movie, mister.”
An unnaturally impressed voice stabbed into my ears.
“That’s what makes this so amazing. Normally, you run away when zombies swarm you. You put your negative emotions on full display, shove everyone else out of the way, slam the door in their face, and lock it. So how can you keep acting like a samurai!? It’s amazing!! You have my respect!!”
She had said her praise was not ironic.
She had said she could not live this lifestyle.
The life she had lived had to have been a hopeless one. No matter how powerful she was – no, because of how powerful she was – she could not obtain anything she wanted and had been constantly rejected by everything around her. She had been treated like an infected corpse being carried to the incinerator. I could see that misguided life in my mind’s eye.
I pitied her, but the situation did not let me sympathize with her.
Working with Shinshou Hitsubatsu to kill Youkai-related criminals would not bring her life back on track. She had not targeted Ranzono Sachi because she wanted to help anyone. The Byouki was created by letting poisonous insects and dangerous beasts kill each other in a jar, so she had no pressing reason to attack Ranzono Sachi’s community that had gathered an Oomukade and Tsuchigumo in one place.
She had decided some other people were less important than her and wanted to believe she could prove her superiority by attacking them. Shinshou Hitsubatsu’s claimed to have a lofty goal, but they were essentially securing a target for bullying in order to create a place for themselves. They were no different from the horrible people who knew they would be targeted next, so they offered up someone even weaker so they could join the delinquent group themselves.
But this may have been the perfect ending for me.
I had betrayed my master, wandered in search of a place to die, and continued living an aimless life, so it would have been absurd for me to wish for a proper death. If I was to be killed, it would be by a horrible person, for no good reason, and at a meaningless time and place. That was the appropriate end for a fallen warrior.
Or so I had thought.
A moment later, a giant mass of metal fell toward the Byouki user.
For the first time, she gave a look of surprise and swung her arms. A mass of blackness immediately wriggled upwards and tore apart the blunt object that would have crushed her.
Then she realized what it was.
“An aerial bomb!? But from where!?”
Both of us looked into the blue sky far overhead. A group of flying wing aircraft and some escort fighters flew leisurely above the clouds.
My cellphone rang. I answered it while swinging Holy Sword – Tenjin in one hand and heard the Hishigami woman laughing.
“Ah hah hah!! Surprised, Illness Magic-chan? Hyakki Yakou’s young lady said it would be a shame to lose you, so she flew out here without thinking about the danger!! So are you still going to pretend to be a fallen warrior, hm!?”
It pissed me off to hear her telling me about Hyakki Yakou.
Still, this was a too much of an honor. There was simply nothing I could say.
“That’s also why the bomb had the fuse removed. But don’t worry. I’m supporting them from the surface using laser guidance. We won’t accidently drop one on your head, so keep at it.”
The Byouki user hesitantly looked my way.
She had looked impressed before, but…
Now she looked twice as impressed.
“My Byouki scans for a target or hostile element and automatically supplies the appropriate fighting force, so all I have to do is stand here.”
“But your scan has a range,” said the Hishigami woman. “It can’t reach ten thousand meters up in the air. …So Illness Magic-chan, the Byouki equation has fallen apart. You’d better live up to the young lady’s expectations.”
I once more stood before the Byouki user with my glowing sword in hand.
The enemy laughed.
It was a broken laugh with a somehow lonely look in the eyes.
“Amazing! You’re simply amazing!! You’re a disease, an illness, and an epidemic just like me… You’re so much like me, but you have so many friends!! And yet I…I couldn’t make a single one!!”
I was no one special.
Just as Ranzono Sachi had the Oomukade, I had just happened to have Hyakki Yakou.
If this girl had had even one thing like that, she would not have ended up like this.
“Once I settle all of this, you stand back up on your own two feet. I’ll be that special something for you.”
I raced through that world whose perfect equation had fallen apart.
The white curve surged out and sliced through the black disease.
Part 13 (3rd person)
An unpleasant sticky sound continued.
A sticky purple liquid dripped from the Oomukade’s great maw to prove it had devoured the formless Byouki.
With that variety of Toori-Ma gone, Ranzono Sachi changed. She was still unconscious from the Oomukade’s venom and her brow was covered with a feverish sweat, but the harsh nightmarish look on her face had relaxed somewhat.
The Oomukade took a slow breath, but it was not over yet.
An ominous sound came from his body where the girl’s mouth had torn into him. The wound was not growing. Quite the opposite. He had been attacked by his greatest weakness – a blade covered in saliva aka a predator’s teeth – but the wound was already bubbling ominously and slowly shrinking. Left alone, it would soon close.
He had eaten the Byouki.
He had done so as a part of the heretical Kodoku ritual that set poisonous insects and dangerous beasts against each other in a jar and gathered their strength in the lone survivor.
It had been necessary to protect Ranzono Sachi, but the effects were already beginning to eat into his body.
Even so, the Youkai was satisfied.
If he was given this choice one hundred times, he believed he would give the same answer each and every time.
He heard someone rudely walk up through the underbrush.
Then someone’s face poked out from behind the broken guardrail.
“Hi, hi! I knew something interesting had to be going on here. I was right to delay our plan until the last second.”
“Who are you?”
“Hi there. I’m the Aoandon. It might surprise you, but I’m the final boss. Nice to meet you☆”
The female oni wore a white kimono, had long bluish hair, and a single knife-like horn on her forehead. The Oomukade had heard the legends of her appearing at the end of the Hyakumonogatari.
She casually snapped her fingers.
That was all it took for Ranzono Sachi to wake up from the Oomukade’s neurotoxin.
This did not please the Oomukade.
It felt like this other Youkai held a switch or remote control for the girl.
“Now, now. Don’t you worry. I’m the being found only after bringing together one hundred different fears. You need more than your fingers to count the number of paranormal powers I can use. Removing the poison from her body is a piece of cake.”
“What do you want with us?”
“I want to give you an invitation.”
The Aoandon grinned as she replied.
A bluish-white phosphorescent light burned at the tip of her horn all the while.
“I was thinking of destroying Japan a little, so if you like, would you join my team? It looks like you two have an interesting enough reason to do so.”
“I’m the ally of anyone who wants change, so I respect Sachi-chan’s decision to create an equally repulsive world for the Oomukade, Tsuchigumo, Nue, and any other Youkai called creepy or disgusting. I’m willing to chip away at my own body to help you fulfill that. So what’ll you do?”
“You can’t. You can’t, Sachi!! You must not listen to what she says! You came to your sense in Noukotsu Village, didn’t you!? Remember what the people there said!!”
But the Oomukade’s words did not reach her.
But that was not because Ranzono Sachi had become so fixated on one thing that she lost sight of all else.
“I…I can…help all my friends…”
“Sachi!! …No, wait. What is this!?”
The Oomukade glared at the Aoandon, but the female oni was still smiling with her horn emitting its phosphorescence.
“Eh? Oh, c’mon. All I did was open the door to Sachi-chan’s heart. I’m not writing anything extra in there.”
“That bewitching flame on your forehead… It doesn’t affect Youkai, but it does something to the human heart, doesn’t it!? You’re using that to deceive Sachi!!”
“It’s apparently a type of hypnotism. But you can let this much slide, can’t you? The Hyakumonogatari ritual I was made by involves lanterns or candles in a dark room. You wouldn’t believe how many fools have tried to write me off as brainwashing, suggestion, or mass hysteria. That’s a problem for me, so what’s wrong with making up for it by using those methods for myself?”
Even as we spoke, Ranzono Sachi began to move.
She moved unsteadily up from the rocky area and toward that Aoandon on the cliff.
Her feet were about to slip and she was on the verge of falling into the abyss below.
“I won’t allow you to spread the violence any further…”
“So? Didn’t I tell you I’m the being found only after bringing together one hundred different fears? You’re just one of my meals, so what can you hope to do?”
There may indeed have been nothing he could do.
She was on a higher level than him as a Youkai, so sitting idly by may have been the right decision.
If he resisted, he would be killed and he would not even provide a distraction that allowed the girl to escape.
He knew that, but he still held a hope deep in his heart. After his friend had made up for everything she had done, he wanted to see her face those boys from Noukotsu Village again. He wanted to see Ranzono Sachi as she was truly surrounded by human smiles.
A great roar rang out.
In that moment, the Oomukade became a dragon. The wind swirled around him and he rose upwards. He leaped over Ranzono Sachi and tried to devour the Aoandon on the cliff.
He did not actually harm her in the slightest.
He was blocked by an invisible wall and his jaws were stopped right in front of her face.
“Ah ha ha!! Yes, that’s it! That ‘but’! That ‘so’! That’s what’s so beautiful! See, you can do it if you try! I was certain you were going to devour your own belly to commit suicide and rob Sachi-chan of her motivation, so…”
A proud look filled her face, but she trailed off.
A purple liquid dripped down from the Oomukade’s mouth.
This was his new trait gained by devouring the Byouki and overwriting himself with the Kodoku ritual.
That single drop fell right on the Aoandon’s beautiful face.
An intense sizzling sound followed like someone was stir frying in a wok.
She held her face and finally took a few wobbling steps back. But then she revealed why.
She was laughing.
She was not overwhelmed with rage. She was overwhelmed with pure delight. She had caught a glimpse of a world outside of the pre-established harmony and that world was created by those who wished to help others via change, so she formed a sublime smile.
“Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Amazing! This truly is amazing! Rejoice! I was really only planning to bring Sachi-chan with me, but you’ve piqued my curiosity. I’m so, so interested in you now!! So I’ll take you too and let you join my team!!”
“I never asked for that!!”
“But Sachi-chan will join me.”
She turned around. By the time she tilted her head, the brilliant burn that had to be there had entirely vanished. More importantly, her words had torn into the Oomukade’s heart.
“And once she leaves, you’ll never be able to find us again. So what will you do? Personally, I think you should come with us if you really want to save Sachi-chan.”
He had no choice.
He snapped his jaws opened and closed, but he had to obey.
He thought back to Noukotsu Village and the boys who had stood up to save Ranzono Sachi. He expressed his deep, deep thanks to the one who had it in him to call Sachi pretty after seeing her true face.
And after that, he made up his mind.
Even if it meant straying from the proper path, he would bring Ranzono Sachi back to those boys.
“Understood. I will do as you wish.”
“Heh heh. I would expect nothing less from someone who wants change! I really do like that decisiveness.”
“But are you sure? I am prepared to do anything to save Sachi. I will almost certainly destroy your plan from within.”
“So you’ll be a fly in the ointment? Or maybe a centipede in the ointment!? Just kidding!!”
The Aoandon laughed like a young girl, but not because she did not see the Oomukade as a threat. He had in fact harmed her, but she was still accepting him. After all…
“Didn’t I tell you? I’m the ally of anyone who wants change.”
Part 14 (Illness Magic User)
I had defeated the Byouki user.
Holy Sword – Tenjin was not a deadly blade. It had been given the name of a god that loathed blood, so that was to be expected. It cut through distortions in the world’s laws, so it corrected the fluctuations in people’s hearts. And it did so as forcefully as possible. A normal mind would be left bedridden for two or three days.
The Hishigami woman appeared holding a large binoculars-like unit that was likely the laser guidance support device for the bombing. The small canine Sunekosuri was trembling and looking around at her feet.
“That should be obvious.”
“ ‘I’ll be that special something for you’? C’mon, are you saying Hyakki Yakou did all this just to help an umbrella-making ronin find a wife? I can’t believe this!!”
“Stop twisting my words.”
“Twisting your words? What could you possibly be talking about? Tee hee.”
“Quit acting like a child. It’s creepy for someone as old as you.”
“Shut up, you gloomy wifeless pedo. Don’t you realize it’s things like calling me ‘old’ that causes people to take what you say the wrong way?”
“Yeah, how about you go bow down to the young lady? She can’t exactly land here, so it’ll have to be at the nearest airport.”
But as we were speaking, something else suddenly arrived on the scene.
The murderous intent was so overwhelming that both the Hishigami woman and I nearly stopped breathing.
I sent Illness Magic throughout my body to consciously control the movements of my organs and blood, but even then, I had my hands full simply keeping myself from blacking out.
The Hishigami woman was…not going to be any help. She had supposedly modified the structure of her human body itself, but she also had her hands full remaining conscious. We were in no state to fight.
Needless to say, the Sunekosuri had passed out cold.
Meanwhile, “he” arrived.
He rudely trudged right into Hyakki Yakou’s field.
“What a pain. I thought I understood what she was like when I joined forces with her, but I didn’t expect her to play quite this fast and loose with her own plans. It leaves me with so much work to do.”
He was an expressionless young man in a dark suit.
I silently glared at him and he responded without even moving his lips, like he was a ventriloquist.
“My name is Saiki Kazu, former assassin, former fortuneteller, formerly suicidal, formerly unemployed, and now…what even am I? Not even I know.”
Even as he gave his offhand introduction, he was not looking at us.
He was looking at the Byouki user lying on the humus.
“What are you…planning to do?”
“Retrieve her. The Aoandon wants her. I don’t want the Aoandon in a bad mood, so I’m granting as many of her selfish whims as I can.”
“Stop that. I don’t want to do this either. Ranzono Sachi, the Oomukade, and the manager of the Ubasute Apartments…was she called Yamame Kyouka? Anyway, she chased after those prisoner transport vehicles to recruit them. And now it’s the Byouki user at the center of Shinshou Hitsubatsu. Mix such a motley group together and it’s almost laughable. Does she believe in world peace or something?”
When I connected the names I head together in my head, something felt intensely wrong.
“Bringing them together would never make a cohesive fighting force.”
“No. They’ll most likely end up killing each other. But that’s fine as long as the battle provides the winner with enough experience points. In the end, it will still give us a powerful addition to our team.”
I was reminded of the Kodoku ritual.
Countless poisonous insects and deadly beasts were stuffed in a jar where they would fight to the death to increase the power of a toxin or curse.
What if the strange aura I felt from this man named Saiki Kazu was the same?
What if their “team” was the exact opposite of a group that licked each other’s wounds?
“The Aoandon will make her move before long.”
That evil monster carried the limp Byouki user over his shoulder and spoke without moving his lips.
“Once the time comes, you will understand all too well.”
Finally, he seemed to notice a change in the formation of flying wings in the sky. The escort fighters had swiftly changed positions.
But it was too late. If he had noticed the change, he needed to leave us and escape at full speed.
Saiki Kazu looked up in the blue sky and formed a gun with his hand.
He said “bang” and pretended to fire.
That was all he did.
The flying wing carrying Hyakki Yakou’s highest leader was destroyed.
I was caught completely off guard.
I briefly forget all else due to the burning tension and impatience.
Meanwhile, countless fragments rained down on the rural city. The great height of ten thousand meters seemed to demonstrate that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
“This is our power. So you cannot stop anything we are doing. Not one thing.”
That voice seemed to be coming from hopelessly far away.
“So tremble in fear and wait for the world to change.”
After whispering those words, the shadow in a dark suit left with the girl over his shoulder.
He left nothing at all behind.
Part 15 (Illness Magic User)
I ran and ran and ran and ran.
All around the rural city, windows had shattered and obstacles fallen from the sky had caused traffic accidents. The city was wrapped in dark smoke and soot. I even spotted some houses with entirely collapsed roofs.
As I moved further and further in, the rubble grew larger and the flickering orange flames grew more common.
At one point, the wreckage of a flying wing stuck up from the ground like a gravestone and a group with the same scent as me was gathered around it. They surrounded something…no, someone.
Hyakki Yakou cared about bloodline more than all else. When met with troubles like this, they would naturally gather around and cling to “blood”.
So who would they obey first and foremost? Who had the noblest blood?
The name escaped my mouth.
The last time I had seen her, she had been ten years old. What would have happened had that small girl been caught in the explosion and thrown into the air at ten thousand meters up?
I forced my shaking consciousness to cooperate and ran to the center. The group turned toward me. The wave of people split to either side as if creating a path and revealing the truth.
And there in front of me, I found…
“There is no need to worry. I am here, Illness Magic.”
I found a dignified voice.
Hyakki Yakou was not dead. It may not have been much, but that “blood” had been preserved.
The Mamedanuki that acted as her body double stood next to her and Hafuri-sama’s small hand soothed a crying Sunekosuri child.
The other four of the Top Five had been aboard that flying wing. Plenty of Youkai had as well. One or all of them must have used their powers to protect Hafuri-sama. They were so very loyal when compared to someone like me who could only kill.
Hafuri-sama spoke to me.
I immediately bent my knees, placed my hands on the ground, and pressed my forehead into the dirt.
“You took part in a coup d’etat and remained on the run after it was quashed, so I would normally be forced to pass judgment on you. But given the situation, you know this is no time to get held up over those matters, don’t you?”
“I cannot allow this scene of flames and smoke I see. The Aoandon’s group intends to spread this scene throughout the entire nation, so we must stop them. We are the descendants of those who failed to become crabs at Dan-no-Ura. We are those who accepted our fall and began working behind the scenes rather than on the main stage of history. But we still live and have decided to create a world in which we can smile alongside those who live here with us.”
At that moment, Hyakki Yakou’s highest leader was kind enough to speak to an outlaw.
“We will defeat the Aoandon and her group and we will save this country. If they have stolen anything, we will retrieve it all, whether it is a person or an object. Join me in that effort.”
No other words could possibly have surpassed those.
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