The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume7 Chapter 8
Chapter 8: Jinnai Shinobu@Transformation, The Price of a Certain Life
I sat on the ground in the small woods remaining in the rural landscape.
Finally, everything was truly over.
Noukotsu Village had been fully protected from the direct clash between Hyakki Yakou and the Aoandon’s group. We had made it to the end without any damage to my family, Madoka, Nagisa, or the Youkai.
The Aburatori who had supposedly strayed from the proper path long ago had been pulled up to the level of a Kaeshigami, Marguerite Steinhols had been freed from Archdemon Tselika, and the Aoandon was now powerless, so it may have been a nearly perfect result.
That left one major question on my mind.
“What’s going to happen to the Aoandon now?” I asked from the ground.
Hafuri slowly exhaled in her mourning clothes.
“It would be easy enough to execute her here, but the enemy needs a psychological pillar if we are to get them to surrender quickly. It is also worth analyzing the details of how this deadly Youkai was neutralized without killing her.”
“It would be best to let her live.”
Only after hearing that did I breathe a sigh of relief.
Of course, it probably wasn’t that simple. There might be some motivated by revenge who would want to hold a public execution of the Aoandon. But she was the leader of an organization as huge as Hyakki Yakou and she was the owner of that family crest dyed on her chest. Having her word meant a lot.
I had empathized too much with the Aoandon to send her off to be executed now.
At that moment, I heard footsteps crunching the dried leaves covering the ground in the woods.
I looked over, assuming it was the Illness Magic User, another Hyakki Yakou member, or Hishigami Mai, but then I gasped.
But my shock had to be nothing compared to Hafuri’s.
“Hi, Hafuri. It’s been a while, but do you remember your dad? I’m so glad we can finally see each other like this.”
I saw a black dress suit and a slender face.
The young man had different colored eyes, an old monocle over one, and waist-length black hair tied back.
He held a small canine Youkai in his arm like a pet lover.
Something seemed horribly off, so I bit my thumb and accessed the memories via the rusty iron flavor.
…Majina!? But wasn’t he dead? Isn’t that why Hafuri’s leading Hyakki Yakou at the age of ten!?
That man who looked exactly the same as in the past turned to me.
“Someone in the past informed me of the assassination plot, so I was able to avoid it. …Yes, visitor, I escaped when it probably would have succeeded otherwise.”
When I heard the word “visitor”, I stopped asking if this was real or if that was really Majina. He had called me that when I had traveled into the past.
“Really…?” muttered Hafuri while standing in a wide-eyed daze. “It’s really you…father?”
Majina smiled and patted the (female) Sunekosuri in his arm.
“While I escaped the assassination plot, I would have altered history had I acted out afterwards. That risked erasing the existence of the visitor who saved us via time travel, so we had to fake our deaths until the Aoandon incident had been resolved. Sorry about all the trouble this has caused you, Hafuri.”
She was frozen in place like she had been left behind.
I probably couldn’t even imagine the thoughts filling her heart.
Of course I couldn’t. The father she had thought for so long was dead had suddenly shown up and said he was alive after all. She had been denied what everyone else took for granted and had resigned herself to walking a different path from her peers, but all of that had just been turned on its head. For better or for worse, her thoughts would naturally grind to a halt and her legs would naturally give way beneath her.
Majina casually continued while smiling toward Hafuri who was unable to tearfully embrace him like a scene from a cheap drama.
“Hafuri, you don’t need to lead Hyakki Yakou anymore. I will be taking that position back from you.”
What did…he just say?
I thought I had misheard, but I couldn’t possibly have and he continued from there.
“For one thing, it was out of the ordinary for you to be leading the organization at the age of ten. You were only chosen because my wife and I were assassinated and the organization believes in blood. So now that I’m still alive, Hyakki Yakou should return to normal. Even when looking at this from a perspective of blood, I am the father and you are the daughter. Right?”
“And on that note, I was listening to what you just said, but…sorry, I disagree with your plan to let the Aoandon live for research purposes. She has taken far too much. If she is too lightly punished, further hatred will bud elsewhere. If the victims are to forgive the perpetrator, that perpetrator must be thoroughly punished. Otherwise, this country will be filled with the flames of vengeful terrorism. This is the decision of Hyakki Yakou’s leader. Hafuri, as my daughter, you will obey me here.”
“What the hell are you talking about!?”
I couldn’t hold back.
It didn’t see myself as speaking on Hafuri’s behalf because she was frozen in shock. I simply obeyed the heat in the core of my mind and found myself shouting.
“You show up out of nowhere, break apart the organization of Hyakki Yakou, and try to take everything from your own daughter? …And you call yourself human!? Without the time travel Hafuri and her organization prepared, history never would have changed in the first place!!”
“You’re thinking about this all wrong.” Majina sighed a little. “All of this originally belonged to me and it was all forced onto my daughter because of an unforeseen tragedy. To be blunt, this is too great a weight for a ten year old girl. As her father, shouldn’t I be lifting that burden from her shoulders?”
“And you seem to be saying she will have nothing left if Hyakki Yakou is taken from her. That doesn’t seem right to me. It sounds to me like she had to throw out everything childish and work herself to the bone in order to hold the organization together. Isn’t it about time she was freed from that?”
His argument made sense.
If we were talking about the royal family of some distance nation, I might have agreed.
But I knew a bit of the situation here.
How much effort had it taken for that small child to stand at the top of that organization? That group would not just silence a crying baby; they could easily suffocate it. I had been both placed at their mercy and saved by them. I knew it had to be her efforts that had kept Hyakki Yakou from crossing that final line into absolute chaos.
Yet this man was acting like none of that had existed in the first place.
He was rewriting history itself as if he were taking an eraser to the historical records!
“This is…this is so sudden. Do you really think the Illness Magic User and whoever else will accept this?”
“Hah hah hah. What would an outsider know, visitor? Hyakki Yakou believes in blood. They were obeying the daughter because Hafuri was their only option, but the entire pyramid structure will change now that the father with even stronger blood has shown up. …Think of it like this: They were willing to obey a ten year old child as long as her blood was deemed legitimate. That is how powerful the bond of blood is here.”
Was that true?
Was this man telling the truth here?
Would they throw out the fact that they had all fought alongside each other and the fact that she had taken on the responsibility of commanding them? Would Hyakki Yakou shift from Hafuri to Majina?
That can’t be!!
Hafuri finally opened her mouth.
She stood all alone, seemingly left behind by the flow of time, but she stared directly at the man and spoke.
“If you do return as the leader of Hyakki Yakou, will you execute the Aoandon?”
“Yes. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have no reason to keep her alive, but when weighing the pros and cons, killing her would be the best plan.”
“Then.” Hafuri’s voice was trembling and her small hands squeezed at her mourning clothes. “I cannot accept your presence here. You will throw Hyakki Yakou into chaos and you will cast aside the key to a new, bloodless method of stopping deadly Youkai without killing them. You will do nothing but harm here. I cannot accept someone like that inside Hyakki Yakou.”
Those were not words one should speak to their father.
They were the words meant for an enemy.
I had done this.
I had wanted to avoid the tragedy of a child losing her parents, but I had only made the situation worse!
“Hyakki Yakou does not need two leaders. This could easily lead to a largescale conflict including civilians outside our small field, much like the coup d’etat in that Fuuka Village hotel. I will eliminate you before that happens.”
How could this have happened?
This should have been the reunion between a father and daughter who would never have seen each other again. This should have been a frozen girl once more acquiring the kindness and warmth that everyone else took for granted. So why?
I heard laughter.
Even after what Hafuri had said, Majina did not seem worried.
“I forgot to mention it, but I have another advantage over you in terms of blood. And this one is on an entirely different level from the superiority of parent over child.”
“This is what I mean, Hafuri. It may have been better if you had never learned this.”
He snapped his fingers and someone stepped out from behind the tree next to him.
It was a tall, sexy woman in a pure white yukata and with a head mounted display around her neck. She resembled that Good-for-Nothing Youkai, but it wasn’t her. Her hair was cut to shoulder length in something like a bob cut and the left half of her face was covered by a thin veil.
Hm? She looks like that Good-for-Nothing Youkai?
“Mother…?” muttered Hafuri.
A moment later, Majina introduced the woman.
“Yes. I call her Mei, but it may be simpler if I give you her proper name. Isn’t that right, Hyakki Yakou Special-Made Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi.”
Special-Made Ver. 40.
That Sexy Youkai had been the Prototype Ver. 39, so was this a later model? Had something been completed, leading them to remove the prototype qualifier?
“Well, I had a lot of time on my hands hiding in the shadows of history for nearly ten years. And since the Ver. 39 wasn’t wasted in that incident, a sample remained in the world. I remotely retrieved data and continued my research, so creating a more stable model was not difficult.”
“That’s not the point. Ver. 40? Zashiki Warashi??? But didn’t Hafuri just call her ‘mother’!? Does that mean…!?”
“Yes, she is my wife and Hafuri’s mother. …That girl is half-human and half-Youkai. Although I think the only ones who knew were the doctor who delivered her and Illness Magic-kun.”
It took me quite a while to understand what he said so readily.
It took me a lot longer to grasp what that simple fact meant to the situation at hand.
“I said Hyakki Yakou believes in blood, didn’t I?”
Majina laughed and I heard cloth tearing. I could see a white undershirt. Hafuri’s mourning clothes had torn somewhat during the repeated battles and the family crest on her chest had ominously fallen away.
“Until now, they had no choice but to bow down to a half-Youkai that can hardly be called pure-blooded. The blood of their proper leader ran through her veins, after all. But what do you think they will do now that their pure human leader has returned? The purity of the blood is everything. Whatever their personal feelings might be, their loyalty as an organization will turn to me. What else could they possibly do?”
Part 2 (3rd person)
Outside the woods, Hishigami Mai held her suppressor-equipped handgun in a harvested paddy field with no ears of rice remaining.
(He changed history and rescued Hyakki Yakou’s previous leader? What was that idiot thinking!?)
Had he not even tried to imagine what would happen if he stuck two heads on a single tiger? And if a beast as great as Hyakki Yakou went on a rampage, just how much would the country be torn apart before it settled down?
Even if it made sense on an emotional front, it was logically something he never should have done.
But this was so dangerous that one found themselves reaching for it despite knowing how dangerous it was.
It was the ultimate form of the kind noise.
(In that case, the only way to get through this with as little chaos as possible is to re-kill Majina. If the tiger has only the one head, its extraordinarily large body will not go on an indiscriminate rampage.)
Hishigami Mai took a small, slow breath and raised her small handgun. A handgun’s range was normally 150 meters at the most. That dropped even further with a suppressor attached, but Mai aimed her weapon perfectly from over 200 meters away. She aimed a little higher than a direct-line shot while picturing a ball thrown high to gain more distance.
She aimed for the head.
She intended to kill him in a single shot.
If Hafuri and the others disposed of the body here, no one would learn of Majina’s survival. That was the scenario in Mai’s head.
“What a pain. The Hishigami Women have really fallen a long way.”
She suddenly heard an experienced-sounding voice from directly behind her, so she released the Deadly Dragon Princess before even turning around.
A great sound burst out and she used the slight time this bought her to jump as far away as she could. By then, the Youkai she had artificially designed was dangling from a hand on its neck and that hand had crushed even the bone.
The hand belonged to a woman with long, pale hair worn up like a giant flower. The woman wore a kimono that should have been poorly suited toward high-speed combat, she was barefoot, and she wore a thick shimenawa around her waist instead of a sash.
“Fix it later. The Shikigami did nothing wrong. Honestly, being unable to choose your master was a real tragedy for this poor thing.”
“You should have realized I too might have ignored the flow of time once you found out he was alive.”
Mai fired again and again, but Shikimi used the Deadly Dragon Princess as a shield to block all of the bullets. Mai had not expected that to work, so she used the moment her opponent was focused on the “shield” to charge in like a bullet herself.
The two Hishigami Women tossed aside the empty handgun and the irregularly twitching Shikigami and then crossed paths.
That was all.
Hishigami Mai’s body seemed to entirely ignore its previous vector by vertically rotating twice through the air. It looked something like a metal pipe had been held out from the side of an F1 racecar to perform a full-speed lariat on her.
She landed on her back and could no longer breathe on her own.
“Just give up. I founded the Hishigami line, so how could I possibly be inferior to the latest generation?”
Shikimi sounded exasperated and she kept her back to Mai after crossing paths with her. Without making an additional attack on her fallen prey, that monster among monsters kept her back defenselessly turned.
“Besides, your Hishigami specialty isn’t even Youkai.”
“The human combat expert would be Enbi I suppose. Of course, she seems to be focusing on the deductive reasoning side to seal away that power to the point of being unaware of it. If she were to awaken as a Hishigami Woman, she could likely kill the likes of you in an instant. She might have trouble against a Youkai, but it’s hard to imagine how she would lose a fight against a human. That is her specialty, after all.”
She was not mocking Mai.
She was simply stating the truth.
“So if the younger sister specializes in fighting humans, does the elder sister specialize in fighting Youkai? You probably wanted to think that, but unfortunately, that simply isn’t true. After all, when it comes to a direct fight against Youkai…or battles in general, I’m second to none. That spot is already filled.”
Then what was Hishigami Mai?
What was her specialty that had allowed her to survive as a freelancer in this small field and stand on the same level as a powerful organization like Hyakki Yakou?
“Your Hishigami specialty was in ‘playing the part’.”
Hishigami Shikimi made the decisive statement.
“Simply put, you only specialize in bluffs and dirty tricks. You’re a powerless woman who does nothing more than flirt your way through life. Did you really think you could look down on anyone?”
A deafening sound rang out.
It was the sound of Mai forcibly standing up while ignoring the medical damage and paying no heed to anatomical structure.
But Shikimi did not turn around even then.
She continued speaking as if to say facing an illusionary opponent in the mist would just be silly.
“Have you realized why you so thoroughly killed your enemies and intentionally spread so much fear? It wasn’t because that was the most efficient method or because kindness is not a part of that small field.”
Mai ignored that and charged toward the back of Shikimi’s kimono. Her body was like steel and her fingers like blades. She transformed her entire body into a weapon and cast aside all thought not focused on piercing this woman’s heart in a single blow.
With her back still turned, Shikimi reached into her kimono’s pocket and pulled out a giant three-pronged vajra.
She released the giant flower of her white hair.
It looked like she was undoing the ribbon on a present. She let the kimono fall from her shoulders, revealing the undershirt below, and an oppressive smell of incense filled the air.
The flower had fallen away, leaving behind the Shikimi fruit.
Its seeds were far more poisonous than the leaves or bark.
“You simply could not afford to let your enemies live because you were so weak. You were afraid of having them take revenge and you were afraid of having them band together against you, so you killed them. Even if they were far below you, you could not sleep at night unless you crushed them underfoot. How very pathetic.”
With a clear metallic sound, the golden three-pronged vajra in Shikimi’s hand began to glow.
“If you were truly strong, you could have been merciful to your enemies and let them live. Just like this.”
After an unimaginably loud sound, the entire area exploded like a scene from the end of the world.
Part 3 (3rd person)
“Yes. I only stopped by to say hello for today, so I think I’ll be leaving now.”
Majina spoke casually, as if neglecting Jinnai Shinobu and the other confused people.
“Out of respect for the visitor, we won’t get Noukotsu Village involved in all this. Besides, Hyakki Yakou will return to me regardless.”
He almost made it sound like Hafuri was the usurper and not him. He sounded like Hyakki Yakou was already in his hands and he only needed to decide what to do next.
With Majina as the leader, the Aoandon would be killed.
With Hafuri as the leader, the Aoandon would be spared.
For Jinnai Shinobu, it was a very simple decision that came down to that difference.
“Something will soon begin,” announced Majina with his back turned. “It will likely cause a larger wave than anything you have experienced thus far. You could say two timelines have coexisted by fooling history, but now the two are going to clash. And the one at the center of it all may not be Hafuri…it may just be you, visitor.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Have you forgotten? I have the Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi. To be blunt, that alone allows us to call checkmate on the world. The only countermeasure the world has would be the Ver. 39, and you are the human closest to her. Even if Hyakki Yakou tried to seize the Ver. 39 by force, I doubt Hafuri’s group has the skill needed to activate it properly.”
“So the two players who hold destiny in their hands are you and me. The very fact that we have been set opposed to each other over the Aoandon issue looks like fate setting the stage for us, if you ask me. But knowing that changes nothing. We have no choice but to clash now.”
“Are you really the Majina that visited this village ten years ago? He was talking about ridding Hyakki Yakou of its frightening image and giving up the organization’s excess military might. But now you’re saying that trouble has placed us as enemies. You’re clearly contradicting yourself.”
“Who knows. Maybe I’ve changed,” said Majina. He still sounded entirely carefree. “It may have only been an instant for a visitor crossing between timelines, but it took ten years for us to reach this point. That’s all there is to it.”
He started to leave again, but then a small form ran past Jinnai Shinobu. It was a Sunekosuri, a Youkai that resembled a stuffed animal or a small dog.
When the Youkai shouted that name while scampering forward, the other Sunekosuri in Majina’s hand slowly turned her head.
“Where have you been all this time!? …No, does this mean you’re trying to harm Hafuri-sama!?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“You understand nothing. For one thing, you didn’t even know I had been serving Hyakki Yakou for a long, long, long time. That would be why you had no clue where I had gone when I vanished at the same time that assassination plot was carried out. You are not standing on the same stage as me. You were satisfied after merely trying, but you do not actually understand anything. Pursuing me is meaningless, so give up.”
“D-do you have any idea how worried you’ve made Gisuke…the child you went through so much pain to give birth to!? You…you really think I’m satisfied with this? You think it’s meaningless? To hell with that!! What about you!? Do you think you understand everything just because you stand on the underside of the world!? You don’t know the first thing about the sunny side of the world!!”
“Oh? You have guts to say that as the worthless husband who could only sleep so soundly without being hunted down by humans because of the work I was doing for Hyakki Yakou.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to the world and I’m not in any position to influence that, but I do know a thing or two about family troubles. Our only son Gisuke and I are part of the Hyakki Yakou ruled by Hafuri-sama. If you’re going to harm that, then I will have no choice but to oppose you!!”
“You don’t even understand yourself if you’re going to bring up our child here. You’re the same as a foolish housewife shouting ‘Please! I have a child!’ while using that very child as a shield.”
“Fine. Come if you must. If you have the guts, that is. But you never overcame the idea that a Sunekosuri is an adorable and harmless Youkai, so I doubt you can do anything to stop me.”
The Sunekosuri prepared to argue further, but a new figure stood in front of him.
It was a Zashiki Warashi in a white yukata.
It was the Hyakki Yakou Special-Made Ver. 40.
Her veil swayed and the eyes visible on the beautiful face within were different colors. When the Sunekosuri noticed the coloration was the opposite of Majina’s, he finally came to a realization.
(No… Did they both exchange one of their eyes!?)
The sexy Youkai with a bob cut smoothly and silently held out her palm and a strange tremor ran through the Sunekosuri’s entire body.
He felt like a bottle of concentrated sulfuric acid had been tilted to the verge of spilling over his head. Was this the fear of being erased in an alteration to history?
“Enough, Mei.” That was all Majina said. “Let’s not do anything today. Noukotsu Village is an important place for us. It would be a shame to defile it with a sudden battle.”
This time, he finally vanished into the small woods with Ohatsu the (female) Sunekosuri and the Zashiki Warashi in a white yukata.
Long ago, Jinnai Shinobu saved a certain life.
The price of that decision had grown into the ultimate enemy.
Good acts did not always lead to good results.
The next nightmare had surely already begun.
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