The Zashiki Warashi of Intellectual Village:Volume8 Chapter 4
Chapter 4: Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi by ???
Part 1 (3rd person)
Time will now shift back by about half a day.
The stage returns to the old Japanese-style house partway up Mt. Boseki in Bozen City.
The Zashiki Warashi in a red yukata appeared before Jinnai Shinobu and Nagisa. As an aggregation of the children who had lost their lives in infanticides during famines and the like, she had shown her new face as a zombie.
I heard a bestial growling.
I slowly, slowly turned around and saw the Zashiki Warashi in her red yukata.
She crushed the branch cutter in her fist, tossed it aside, and stared at me.
Her hair was still a glossy black and her skin looked pure enough to repel water.
The problem was her eyes.
They had the same muddy look as the zombies scattered through the city.
Those eyes clearly viewed me as her prey.
That was the limit.
As soon as an instinctual tremor raced up my spine, the last bit of rationality burned away within me.
I screamed and broke through the sliding screen to escape. I scrambled so quickly I nearly tripped, but I desperately maintained my balance and ran through the very, very large tatami-covered hall.
I heard a bursting sound directly behind me.
When I looked back, there were tears in the corners of my eyes.
She really was a wild animal. That red animal had lost all dignity as she ran after me on all fours. I felt as hopeless as someone who had run across a bear on a mountain trail. The Zashiki Warashi caught up in no time and stood up on her legs for free use of her arms.
Rather than consciously dodging, my legs gave out and I fell to the tatami mats.
Nevertheless, it was effective. Something tore through the air even more intensely than a metal bat. The rectangular wooden column by the wall really did break as easily as chopsticks.
Her eyes rolled in her head to view me.
A single blow and it would all be over. I knew that, but I couldn’t stand up!!
“Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!?”
I crawled backwards while still looking the Zashiki Warashi’s way. I broke through another sliding screen to enter the wood-floored hallway. I felt something metallic behind me blocking my way. The Zashiki Warashi took two or three steps toward me and swung her fist at me like an artillery shell.
I did not have time to carefully analyze every little thing.
I simply rolled to the side to avoid the approaching blow and live even a second longer.
As soon as she missed, something collided with her. No, it captured her. It was the bear trap that had been among the hunting tools lined up in the hallway. It was basically a giant metal cage with a guillotine-style door that closed when the animal was lured inside by the bait.
The heavy cage bounced around with intense clanking sounds. As soon as the movement lessened, I finally ran toward the bear trap. It was a box with 150 cm sides. I grabbed the top and grabbed the guillotine-style door. After shaking its rails a little, I used all my strength to force it down.
Whether she had caught on or not, the Zashiki Warashi finally faced the door and shook it with both hands, but it did not look like she could break the trap.
Thankfully it had been designed for bears rather than deer or boars. As a zombie, she could break a solid column with a running start, but she may not have been able to wield all her strength inside the cramped space of the trap.
I finally let out a heavy sigh and sat on the hallway floor.
You Good-for-Nothing Youkai. Aren’t you supposed to be the Ver. 39 Zashiki Warashi that protects your family’s good fortune? You really are useless. Why are you turning into the worst zombie of them all!?
When I viewed her again, it really did seem that her hair and skin had not changed like with the normal(?) zombies. Did that have to do with Youkai being immune to physical attacks?
After a short delay, Kitty Nurse Nagisa walked in with her pink knit dress, white cardigan, pinned-on hat, and tail accessory. As usual, she had a thin smile on her lips and held the thick cattle cleaver named Namagusa.
“Are you hurt?”
Despite my answer, the situation was about as bad as it could get.
“Everyone from the cellphone shop is dead. That means we don’t have any adults with us and the dump truck isn’t any use anymore. Not to mention the Zashiki Warashi’s like this. What are we supposed to do now?”
Nagisa tossed something to me.
It was a perfume bottle. Namely, the one Nozaki Haru had used for the rotting smell that kept the zombies from attacking.
“I know it might be hard to use someone you know, but shouldn’t we test it out now that we have a zombie safely captured? It would be scary to see if the zombie bites or not when we’re actually in danger. Eh heh heh. We get to work together again…”
Even if we couldn’t use the dump truck, there was nothing to be afraid of if the zombies wouldn’t target us. We could freely move around on foot then. Using that troublesome Zashiki Warashi to test Nozaki Haru’s perfume wasn’t a bad idea.
“So do we use it just like normal perfume? Let’s rub some in on the blood vessels of our wrists and neck.”
“Wait, ew!? It really does smell like rotting garbage! We’re supposed to cover ourselves in this!?”
“Well, yes. It’s supposed to make us unappetizing to the zombies.”
The swarm of zombies was gone and we had captured the Zashiki Warashi alive.
With no immediate threat, we may have grown a little lax. Out of self-interest, we were happier that we had survived than we were worried about the deaths of people we knew. As we celebrated, we rubbed in the harsh smell that stung at our eyes.
“Ugh… Did Nozaki really smell like this?”
“She was surrounded by the zombies already, so who knows how she smelled.”
After our preparations were complete, we turned toward the Zashiki Warashi inside the metal cage.
I just hoped she had grown a little more docile.
“It looks to me like she’s still rattling the cage like crazy. I’m pretty sure she’s trying to bite us.”
“Huh!? What’s going on!?”
Nozaki Haru had used this to move freely through the zombies like a clownfish among sea anemone. Nagisa and I had sprayed the perfume on ourselves, but it wasn’t working. The red yukata Youkai still had a lock on us.
“Was it more than just the perfume?”
“You mean like it has to be mixed with something else?”
If so, there was nothing we could do. We hadn’t noticed anything else in her cloth pouch. It was possible we’d find some other bottle or sheet if we checked through her gruesome remains, but that wouldn’t tell us what we were supposed to mix together or at what ratio. It was unlikely to simply be 1:1. It was the same as picking up an ATM card when you didn’t know the PIN.
“So all we did was cover ourselves in this rotting stench?”
I threw the perfume bottle away in irritation.
We finally had no ideas left. The bear trap had small wheels and handles attached to safely transport the live bear, but walking through the mountain with that heavy cage would be too dangerous. It wasn’t as bad as the flat urban area, but we already knew there were zombies wandering around here as well.
Things would have been a lot easier using the dump truck out front, but I didn’t even have a driver’s license for a motorcycle, not to mention a car. Trying to drive would be reckless enough under normal circumstances, but this was a large truck on a narrow, winding mountain road while it was snowing. The odds were pretty good that would end up with us falling right off a cliff.
“Let’s take a short break. I want to eat while we have the chance. This is a normal house, so the contents of the fridge should be fine. Don’t worry. I know how to win over my husband’s stomach. Tee hee…”
“Eat? After seeing all that?”
Nagisa nonchalantly made her way to the kitchen. All alone, I faced the Zashiki Warashi through the cage. The Good-for-Nothing Youkai seemed to have learned she could not damage the bear trap no matter how much she pushed or pulled, so she started gnawing at its bars.
“Stop it, you idiot. Honestly, how could this happen?”
“Don’t you gau me. I’ll put a collar on you and keep you as a pet.”
Meanwhile, Nagisa returned. She held a few cans of food, bottles of water, sweet breads, and packaged ham and kamaboko. By this point, I no longer cared that I was in someone else’s home.
Reds and blacks covered the next room over and my clothes were covered in the stench of rotting garbage. My unease about the future weighed down on me. I was barely hungry, but I still nibbled at the edge of a ham slice. The single slice seemed to last forever. I eventually couldn’t stand it anymore and threw the remaining half of the slice to the Zashiki Warashi in the cage.
She sniffed curiously at the ham, tried to bite at it while on all fours, had trouble, and finally used her fingers to bring it to her mouth. However, she seemed to be playing with it more than eating it. She sucked at the ham, bit at it, and spat it out once she was bored.
“Looks like it isn’t just meat they want.”
“Is what they’re doing even ‘eating’? It may be similar to how a baby puts everything that interests them in their mouth. It’s just that the zombies pull at and bite at everything so strongly. Oh, dear. I’m talking with Shinobu-chan about babies…”
Nagisa sat in the hallway with her legs to the side and elegantly ate some stolen sweet bread. She seemed to be perfectly hungry and acting entirely normal for her.
After washing it down with some water from one of the bottles, she said more.
It was a casual suggestion.
However, I had forgotten something important. We had just walked through a hellish world filled with zombies and this was Nagisa I was talking to.
“How should we dispose of that Zashiki Warashi?”
I had been wrong.
I had been mistaken. A chilly draft instantly blew away the gentle warmth surrounding me. Dry reality erased the warm illusion. This was no time to be relaxing. I didn’t have time to be taking a break. There were still a ton of problems to deal with and Nagisa was as much a threat as the zombies!!
“Wait, wait! Nagisa…what are you talking about?”
She sounded perfectly casual.
She faced the cage with a thin smile and an unreadable emotion in her eyes.
“We haven’t heard anything about the zombies recovering. Why would it be any different for a Youkai?”
“So what are you going to do? Spend the rest of your life raising that Youkai in that cage? If you ever grew a little careless and got bitten, you could start a brand new zombie outbreak. It’s true the Youkai herself suggests there’s more to the spread than just biting, but it’s still dangerous. …Besides, we don’t even know what the zombies eat. It looks like she won’t eat ham and we don’t know if humans are their food or just something else they put in their mouths out of curiosity like a baby. …Hee hee. A baby. But what are you going to do after taking her back? Wait for her to wither away?”
Nagisa was as carefree as someone reading down a list in their notes, but those same words were wearing down my very soul.
“And the bear trap itself will deteriorate. You would eventually have to transfer her to a new cage, but you might have to face a full-power zombie when you do. Can you really force her into a new cage on your own?”
I get what you’re saying.
I do. I really do.
But that’s not it, Nagisa. This isn’t about whether I understand or not! I mean…dispose of her? Take her home? Why are we even talking about this!?
She’s been with me since I was born…no, maybe even before I was born.
She’s always been with me.
I felt something scratching at my chest. It was some bandages.
That’s right. That Good-for-Nothing actually treated my wound this morning. Is it so wrong to think that will never end!?
“No!! B-besides, not even you can kill a Youkai, right? No physical attack will work on them. So even with that huge cattle cleaver…”
She admitted that almost too readily.
And then she said it.
“We also don’t even know if it’s possible to actually kill a zombie. We’ve been chopping them up until they stop moving, but we can’t prove they’re really dead. And this one is based on a Youkai, so I definitely don’t want to let her out of there. …I’m not taking this lightly. But if we can’t kill her, we just have to find a method that doesn’t require killing her.”
“What are you-…?”
“I said how to ‘dispose of’ her, didn’t I? We could bury the entire cage in the dirt or pour cement over the top. If we were on the coast, we might have been able to borrow a boat and chuck her into the ocean. Even if we can’t kill her, there are plenty of ways of keeping her from moving. While she’s in the cage, she can’t move her arms and legs and she can’t bite anyone, so there’s nothing she can do. Isn’t that right, Shinobu-chan? And however they settle all this, I’m guessing they’ll make some reclaimed land somewhere for it. They’ll probably officially call it a cemetery or memorial park or something.”
What the hell!?
What the hell are you talking about!? Reclaimed land? Calling it a cemetery? That won’t solve anything. This isn’t about not dirtying our hands because we’re not directly killing her! The zombie won’t die that way. Whether in concrete or the bottom of the ocean, the Zashiki Warashi will be buried alive there! Will it be for centuries? Millennia? How long would she have to continue suffocating!?
“She’s the Zashiki Warashi!! We can’t just decide what happens to her like that!!”
Nagisa remained calm.
I didn’t feel like a single crack had opened in her heart. It felt like my fingers were sinking into a damp sponge.
“But Shinobu-chan, can you really say that when you’re the one putting her in a cage? Youkai may not have any rights, but is raising her as you see fit really the right thing to do? Can you really look me in the eye and proudly tell me that?”
“Would you keep doing that for decades? For centuries? Would you ask your children and grandchildren to look after her? Hee hee. Shinobu-chan’s children… But would that really make that Youkai happy?”
I was certain Nagisa was right about this.
I couldn’t rebut anything she was saying.
But that still wasn’t it.
We can’t just decide to keep her because it’s right or decide to bury her because keeping her wouldn’t be right! This Good-for-Nothing Youkai is too important to decide like that!!
Nagisa spoke gently and softly as if trying to get a small child to listen to her.
“I understand how you feel, Shinobu-chan.”
“How could…how could you possibly know how I feel!?”
“Do you remember the St. Bernard I used to have?”
My shoulders gave a start.
Just like the Zashiki Warashi and me, that had been Nagisa’s partner since before she was born. And when that dog had grown old and lived a life of suffering, who was it that had taken its life?
“No one wants to say goodbye. We don’t want to think about the end. But sometimes you have to. …Not being able to control your own life is painful. When people are telling you they’re suffering and that all life comes to an end, it’s irresponsible to refuse to listen. Shinobu-chan, do you think that Youkai is happy right now? Do you really believe that?”
“She doesn’t know who she is, she’s trapped in a cage, and she’s baring her fangs against the person she most wanted to save, even if she always complained. …Are you going to keep that going for decades? And if you make a mistake in caring for her and get bitten, you’ll become a zombie too. If she has enough of a mind left to understand that, how much despair do you think she would feel? Hurting the people you care for the most hurts more than anything else. I know that alllll too well. Do you think she might prefer saying goodbye here and suffocating for an eternity to that?”
Please stop it!!
“Shinobu-chan. …Like I said. I understand how you feel.”
She reached for the thick glittering blade of the cattle cleaver named Namagusa.
“Just because it’s the most logical answer doesn’t mean the human heart can bear it. So Shinobu-chan… If you insist that you can’t do it, then let’s think up some other way that doesn’t require dirtying our own hands. Maybe create a slope that will send the cage down after some amount of time passes. And digging a hole isn’t difficult. It’s possible we could find some other solution years or decades later and we could dig her back up.”
“Just stop it!!!”
I cut her off at the top of my lungs.
My mind had gone entirely blank.
The next thing I knew, I had grabbed something from the hallway wall. It had a wooden handle like a mop, but with a beak-like piece of dark steel on the end. It was known as a hooked rod and it was an old tool meant to clear underbrush from a path or destroy the surrounding homes to prevent the spread of a fire.
And when I pointed that weapon at Nagisa, she narrowed her eyes in a horribly, horribly cold look.
“No, um, Nagi-…”
My attempts to explain myself did not reach the girl in front of my eyes.
Something gave a roar and the air split apart in a horizontal slash.
It was the cattle cleaver which was as long as a Japanese sword.
I raised the hooked rod, but not because I had tried to. It was more like ducking down when a ball flew toward your face. The impact reached me a moment later. I really did think my thumb had been taken out. More than just the muscle, I felt the dull pain of the bone shifting out of place.
Still, I did not drop the hooked rod.
My bones had not actually broken.
I finally moved back, dragging my aching arm with me. She had lured me into using my dominant hand to prevent me from using it anymore. She was preparing to kill me. I moved away from her. Oddly, I ended up with my back against the bear cage holding the Zashiki Warashi.
“Do you understand, Shinobu-kun?”
Nagisa opened her eyes strangely wide and let Namagusa sway loosely in her grasp.
Her movements were far removed from kendo or proper sword fighting, but they were endlessly terrifying. She looked like a hopeless wall that would only get me chopped in two no matter which direction I attacked from.
“Do you really understand what it means to make an enemy of me here?”
Don’t let it get to you.
Don’t lose heart before the fight even begins. If you can’t beat her with 100% of your strength, don’t even think about trying to defeat her when your fear has weakened you to 50% or 60%!!
You can’t give in on this one.
Whether she’s a zombie or whatever else, I can’t give up on that Zashiki Warashi!! Just because she’s a Youkai and we might not be able to kill her is no reason to bury her in the dirt and leave like she’s some old rotting garbage. I can’t allow that. Youkai don’t die and zombies are immortal, so we might be able to dig her up years or decades later? That isn’t the point!! I can’t bury her in the first place!!!!!!
That may have been the most logical choice.
It may have been a kind suggestion that took my feelings into consideration and hid the end result from me.
“We don’t know yet.”
“This zombie outbreak isn’t being caused by a strange curse or a mysterious pathogen. It might have to do with the Youkai known as a Kasha! If this is a Package someone set up, everyone might be freed from their zombification if we eliminate the Package!!”
I desperately tried to push back with my voice, but Nagisa took a casual step forward.
Her huge cattle cleaver swung diagonally toward me.
My hand stung as it held the handle.
I couldn’t think about defeating her. It was practically a miracle I was blocking her attacks at all.
“Allow me teach you some manners… This is the same as the hierarchy of dominance among animals. While family is of course important, you need to be strict with them when necessary or a lot of children will begin to see themselves at the top of a strange pyramid-shaped hierarchy.”
No, it was possible she was intentionally toying with me. I wasn’t blocking her attacks. I started to get the feeling she was targeting my hooked rod to punish me.
The pain in my hand was also part of her setup. When I flinched back, she took action. Her tail fluttered behind her and the cattle cleaver shot up. She raised it high. She was exposing her body to danger in order to pull off a shooting star of an attack with the most weight behind it. By the time I realized that, she had already swung the cattle cleaver and almost double the impact reached me. She made more and more of the same attack. I felt like my fingers were going to break before the hooked rod. No matter what I did, I was gradually pushed back.
The bear trap was already right behind me.
The zombie in a red yukata shook the bars. If I moved back any further, she would grab my back. She would bite me and it would all be over. Nagisa was telling me to give up before that happened. A wordless pressure was telling me to realize that was a dangerous enemy rather than a woman I had to protect.
I’ll say it as many times as I have to: but!! She may be stupid, good-for-nothing, and useless. She may be the kind of person who ends up turning into the worst zombie of them all when she tries to save me. But!!
She still came here to save me.
If she hadn’t tried to go against her character here, this wouldn’t have happened.
I can’t punish her for trying to help. I don’t want to! How can I just abandon her here!?
The decapitated people might be a lost cause.
The people who have been devoured and had their organs dragged out might just die even if they turn back into humans.
But this Zashiki Warashi has no obvious injuries. Her eyes may be muddy, but her hair and skin are perfectly lively. If there’s a way to turn the zombies back to normal, she might be able to return to her normal life as a Good-for-Nothing Youkai. Right!?
I’ve had enough.
I’ve had enough of simply giving up on all the lives around me!!
“P-pant! Pant, pant…!!”
After thinking through all that, my thoughts started wandering.
Oh, so that’s it.
I looked at Nagisa’s face again.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, she may have had a reason for advocating such drastic measures.
“If we found a way to turn the zombies back to normal…”
“What is it, Shinobu-chan? Do you want me to call you a good boy now?”
What would that mean for everything Nagisa had done?
Once I realized that, all sound seemed to vanish.
The nearby deaths were filled with the same stinging warmth one felt when holding ice barehanded for extended periods of time.
I had not out-and-out praised Nagisa’s actions, but in our extreme situation, I had considered them acceptable. She had even saved me several times.
But that was based on the assumption that the zombies could never return to being human, so killing them was the only option.
What if there was some other way?
What if Nagisa had been killing human lives, not zombies?
What would that mean for Nagisa? It was unlikely the courts would be able to handle an unprecedented zombie outbreak. And as a minor, the law and privacy concerns might treat her favorably.
But this wasn’t about what other people thought. Could Nagisa herself forgive her actions?
So she would prefer that the zombies did not return to normal.
That was why she could not stand to see me protecting the Zashiki Warashi. This was different from killing. She held no grudge or hatred toward the Zashiki Warashi. She simply wanted to put her mind at ease by going through the motions of “disposing of” that zombie. She wanted me to show everything was fine and that I accepted her point of view.
“I can’t believe this…”
My expression twisted and Nagisa slowly tilted her head.
She gave me a crazed look with the giant cattle cleaver glittering in her hand.
She looked like that St. Bernard waiting for further instructions.
Nagisa had acted on her own to defeat the zombies, but did I have any right to criticize her when I had just sat there and let her rescue me? Couldn’t you even say my inability to do anything had forced the role of killer onto her?
So this was a choice between extremes.
Would I choose the zombie Zashiki Warashi or the zombie-killing Nagisa?
This was my first and final choice where choosing one would mean decisively forsaking the other.
Why wasn’t there a convenient way to choose everyone? Why wasn’t there a way to not hurt or abandon anyone, like I was creating a cheap harem?
I raised the battered hooked rod in both hands and faced Nagisa once more. Her cattle cleaver could lop off the heads of those zombies that were as strong as bears. Depending on how I answered or how she felt, I could be chopped to pieces right here.
I tightly clenched my teeth.
I squeezed my eyes shut.
And I chose.
“Sorry, Nagisa. I just can’t abandon this Good-for-Nothing Youkai!!”
I said it.
They were decisive words of parting.
But I couldn’t.
It was simply not something I could do.
Call it naïve or unrealistic, but I couldn’t see myself burying her alive, leaving her to suffocate for eternity, and just forgetting about it all. I wouldn’t make it back alive. If I chose that path, I wouldn’t even need to hang myself or throw myself from a cliff. I knew for a fact I would simply stop breathing and die on the spot.
Nagisa approached ever so slowly. She looked absolutely confident in her victory, like she only had to think about how to make me give up. The tip of her sword-like cattle cleaver scraped against the wood of the hallway floor. Once it hopped up, it could chop off any part of my body she wanted. I knew that, but I could not move back any further. The cage was there. I would be in range of the zombie Zashiki Warashi’s hands reaching from between the bars. Moving forward or back would lead to my death.
In that instant, during that scorching blank period, I still rejected the one and only path that would allow me to smile and return alive.
Then an oddly cheerful voice reached my ears.
With that brutal cattle cleaver in hand, Nagisa took a step – just one step – back. She moved away from me as I stood protectively in front of the cage.
It was a clear sign of parting.
But even then, my childhood friend and ex-girlfriend looked at my dirty face like it was something radiant.
Clear drops fell like traces of light.
She spoke to me as I took the Youkai’s side to the very end.
“That’s the Shinobu-chan I fell in love with.”
I couldn’t use the dump truck and I had parted ways with Nagisa and her giant cattle cleaver.
All I had was the useless Good-for-Nothing Youkai and the bear trap that had wheels yet was as heavy as a giant rock. Its weight prevented me from carrying anything else with me, so I had left the hooked rod back in the house. And unlike Nagisa, I would only get killed if I tried to take on a zombie.
Zombies could be hiding anywhere outside, but hiding in the house forever wouldn’t help.
Despite the danger, I took the Zashiki Warashi out in her cage.
As before, our destination was the mountain peak. More accurately, the dog square up there. Finding a paraglider was our first goal. I had no idea if I could carry the Zashiki Warashi in her cage with one of those, but I had to get her out of this awful city. I wasn’t thinking about anything beyond that. The Succubus and Aoandon back home might be able to figure out the details of the zombie outbreak and I could also run crying to Hyakki Yakou.
The best option would be to search out the source of the outbreak in the city and escape with the Zashiki Warashi once she recovered, but the city was a large place and I didn’t know if the core of the Kasha Package was even in the city. Escaping would be better than searching randomly. My life wasn’t the only one at risk here, so I couldn’t assume I could do everything on my own.
“Ha ha. This is awful. Simply awful.”
I couldn’t help but speak aloud.
I may have taken a longer rest than I had thought because things were growing dark by the time I left the house. The snow had started covering the road. It was not entirely white yet, but it covered the surface like a transparent sherbet and my shoes threatened to slip if I let my guard down. Nagisa’s warmth was gone from the silent mountain road. She had left quickly in order take action in her own way.
Meanwhile, the Zashiki Warashi seemed entirely carefree in her cage. She was still shaking the bars of the bear trap, but it looked more like she was having fun making noise than really trying to escape.
“Shut up. I don’t know when a zombie could show up, so don’t make so much noise.”
She wasn’t listening.
I felt like I was pushing a giant baby carriage.
Since she was rattling the cage, I tried distracting her with something else. When I put a handkerchief inside the cage, she grabbed it, tugged at it, smelled it, and finally bit the corner of the square cloth. She looked like a frustrated upper class girl.
But just like with the ham, she would put anything in her mouth. I couldn’t have her swallowing them, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a few things on hand. I started uselessly regretting not searching for some things to use before leaving the house.
For the time being, I pulled out my cellphone and typed “Things she can put in her mouth” in the notes app.
The Zashiki Warashi had been entirely focused on the handkerchief, but her eyes quickly turned to the phone. I slowly waved it back and forth and found her gaze was perfectly locked onto it.
“Wh-what? I’m not giving you this.”
“I said no! Oh, honestly. You have an even more expensive smartphone in your cleavage, you know!? Not that I want you chewing on that!!”
“Gau gau gau!!”
“Oh, shut up!”
Speaking to her wasn’t doing any good and her yukata looked like it was going to slip off if she struggled any more. I didn’t want to be wheeling around a naked Youkai, so I tried to figure out another way to bring the smartphone to her attention.
Um, I can’t use normal phone calls or emails, but there’s a way to send data directly between phones, right? Um, Ranzono Sachi was using it during the Oomukade business. It’s the same way a phone connects wirelessly to a printer. And I was using it to speak with Kamimaki-san and the others in the dump truck. Right…
I tested it out by sending a blank email to the smartphone (that technically belonged to me) held in the Zashiki Warashi’s cleavage.
It must have been on silent because all I heard was the whirring of a small motor.
Her shoulders jumped in the red yukata, but…
What? Are zombies really this stupid? Why isn’t she noticing the smartphone!?
Blank email, blank email, blank email!!
“Nyau! Gyah!? Nyau nyau!!”
She jumped each time, but she showed no sign of noticing the phone.
Hmm, that didn’t work. But wait. I think it had different settings for emails and phone calls.
I switched to making a call so it would ring.
I couldn’t remember what movie’s theme song it was, but a dull melody played from the headphones attached to the smartphone.
“Gyah! Gau gau!! Gau!!”
“Wait, why are you getting all excited!?”
When I saw her violently shaking the bars, I sent another empty email. I heard the vibration and saw her shoulders jump and her long black hair swing around as she looked around.
Hm? Is it just me or is this cellphone warming up?
I was gradually starting to enjoy it, but I couldn’t let myself laugh at this.
Maybe this was how Akehara-san felt as she tried to turn her unreachable beloved into a zombie to own him.
You can’t, Shinobu! You can’t take a video! Don’t point the phone toward the cage! Yes, it’s funny. Really funny. But this is something you can’t let yourself save!! Even if she comes back to her senses, she’ll climb into her futon and never want to come out again!!
As I was wasting time on that, I heard something.
It sounded like some snow had fallen from a tree branch behind me.
I looked back into the darkness and then I froze in place.
A swarm of zombies was approaching.
Twenty to thirty people with white hair and red and purple skin were climbing the mountain road toward us.
They were still a fair distance away, so they may not have actually noticed us yet.
But it was only a matter of time.
I grabbed the bear trap’s handles to increase our pace forward, but the zombies were clearly lighter and stronger. They were going to catch up. I began gasping for breath as I rushed myself. My eyes met those of the caged Zashiki Warashi. I couldn’t throw her into that group, but what was I actually supposed to do? Not even Nagisa with her sword of a cattle cleaver could handle that many, so how was I supposed to deal with them? On the other hand, hiding with that giant cage was simply unrealistic. After all, that stupid Youkai was still rattling the cage!
What was I supposed to do?
What was I supposed to do?
What was I supposed to do?
I shouted and began to move. I lowered the stopper on the side of the cage’s wheels and jumped over the mountain road’s guardrail with the cage still on the road. I hid on what was more a cliff than a slope.
Footsteps soon filled the road.
The zombies were approaching the bear trap I had left behind.
I hadn’t been able to do anything!
I felt along the slope and grabbed a stone about the size of a baby’s head. If any of the zombies tried to destroy the cage, it didn’t matter anymore. I swore in my heart I would do whatever it took to smash their head in.
I waited for that moment.
The biting winter wind struck me and an unpleasant sweat coated my face.
The time never came.
The group with muddy eyes avoided the cage in the center of the road and continued up the slope. They vanished into the darkness without so much as glancing at the defenseless Zashiki Warashi.
…Oh, I get it.
Zombies didn’t eat each other. They only targeted living humans. The caged Zashiki Warashi was one of them, so they would ignore her.
Could I maybe use this?
The next problem I came across was not far from the peak.
The sun had completely set and true darkness had set in. The snow was even heavier than before and the road was entirely covered in white.
Meanwhile, a certain facility was glowing brightly, like someone had forgotten to switch off the lights.
It was a mountain gas station.
“Shut up. Just be quiet.”
Zombies with dry white hair were hanging around the gas station. I didn’t know if they were the same ones that had passed us before, but there were a lot of them. It looked like enough for a soccer team. If I tried to break through them, I’d definitely be killed.
But a tractor was parked a little up the mountain road from the gas station. If its handbrake was lowered and it slid down the slope, it would take out quite a few of the zombies. If used right, it could knock them all off the cliff.
Of course, this was like finding the keys were locked in the car. I wanted to deal with that red and purple group, but I couldn’t reach the tractor when it was past the zombies.
Not normally anyway.
“Okay, okay. I’ve linked with the smartphone’s camera.”
I nodded as I saw the footage from the Zashiki Warashi’s cleavage displayed on my cellphone.
I then looked the Good-for-Nothing Youkai in the eye and made a suggestion.
“Listen, Zashiki Warashi. The zombies won’t attack you, so climb the slope, reach the tractor, and lower the handbrake. And after that come back in the cage. Okay?”
“Gau gau!! Grrr!!”
“Yeah, I know you aren’t going to listen to me. That’s why I’ll be sending you empty emails and calling you.”
By switching between the vibrating and the dull melody from the headphones, I could get some entertaining reactions out of the sexy Youkai in the red yukata. It was the same as Nozaki Haru controlling the zombies with the cigarette butts and rotting smell. I had the gas and the brakes and I had a camera. I didn’t have a real steering wheel, but I couldn’t be picky now.
“Go, Zashiki Warashi! Pacific Zashi-… Pacific Good-for-… Dammit, I can’t come up with one that sounds good! Well, whatever. Zashiki Robo, attack!!”
I climbed up onto the cage, opened the guillotine-style door, and controlled the zombie Zashiki Warashi with the cellphone and smartphone. At first, my heart was nearly crushed from the fear of her ignoring my orders and attacking me, but for some reason she quickly grew obedient when I sent a bunch of empty emails to set the vibration going (between those giant tits of hers). In fact, she seemed a little afraid.
Once she changed direction, I triggered the ringtone and the excited Zashiki Warashi charged toward the zombies.
I probably shouldn’t be thinking this, but this is pretty fun!!
I really shouldn’t be doing this, should I!?
I watched from afar at first, but the mountain was dark at night. The light from the gas station could only do so much, so I started looking at the smartphone camera’s footage on my cellphone screen. Meanwhile, I used the gas and brakes to adjust her movements. She passed the zombies and arrived at the tractor up the slope.
Now for the handbrake.
Reach your hand in from the side and…no, no. That’s the shift lever. And that’s the steering wheel. Don’t get distracted by the strap attached to the key in the ignition!? Go for the handbrake!!
After grabbing about everything but what I wanted, her slender hand finally managed to move the handbrake.
The giant wheels began to move and the tractor started down the slope.
The white-haired zombies didn’t seem able to think, so they didn’t even try to evade. It was almost amusing how they were all hit like bowling pins. The tractor carried all those zombies with it as it rolled past the gas station, hit the guardrail, and tumbled down the cliff.
“Perfect!! That was a perfect 100, you Indoor Youkai!!”
When I called loudly to her from atop the cage, the Zashiki Warashi looked over at me as if she had just remembered there was living flesh here. She charged back with terrifying speed.
I climbed down from the cage and circled to the opposite side from the guillotine-style door.
She ran in a straight line like a cat crashing into a TV screen and threw herself right into the bear trap.
I winced at the painful-sounding crash, climbed back on top of the cage, and manually forced down the door. That settled it.
“Hey… I know it’s wrong to say this to a zombie…but are you an idiot?”
I was a little disturbed by how I was gradually getting used to this.
I spotted some more shadows moving in the darkness, but these were not staggering around like the zombies. Were they survivors? Some people who had been waiting around may have been showing up now that the zombies were gone.
And then I realized something important.
The Zashiki Warashi was a zombie. That meant other zombies would not attack her, but what about the human beings who feared the zombies?
The situation had entirely flipped around. If they saw her, it was all over. Her hair was black and her skin was youthful, but she was still obviously a zombie.
“Dammit. If it’s not one thing, it’s another!!”
I pushed the bear trap with both hands to hurry toward the gas station. The glass was shattered and snow had gotten in, but most of the merchandise remained. I pulled out a blue tarp and threw it over the cage.
Before long, some wild-looking men who must have studied survival magazines arrived at the gas station.
“Hey! You saved our asses there. I don’t know how you did it, but it was you, right?”
“Who are you?”
“The workers at the nearby geothermal power station that provides smart power. We were caught up in all this while those of us in an outdoors group were camping. Luckily, that put us outside of civilization when the zombie outbreak started and we had our families with us.”
The man smiled.
“We’re all hiding on the campground with our families and waiting for rescue. It’s the off-season, so there’s almost no one there and barely any zombies have shown up. The problem is the lack of fire and food. Do you want to join us?”
“No, I have something I need to do.”
“Is that so?”
The middle-aged man glanced at the blue tarp.
“Um, what is that?”
The metal bars shook in response.
“My family. She’s actually a pretty docile St. Bernard, but this zombie stuff has her all riled up. It was getting dangerous if I didn’t keep her in the cage.”
Some static reached my years.
The man seemed to have an emergency radio hanging from his neck.
“I thought getting some information might help calm our nerves, but it didn’t help. It’s complete chaos all over the place.”
“All over the place?”
I felt something heavy weighing on my stomach. What was this ominous feeling?
“Apparently the zombie outbreak is affecting ten or more cities around the country, but the news keeps saying everything’s fine and there isn’t any problem.”
“It…isn’t just here!?”
“It was a lot tenser at first. They were saying something about reporting the truth until the instant the police stormed the studio, but as time passed, the announcements grew almost overly reassuring. It’s just creeping me out. I wish this thing could record.”
The survival man sounded annoyed.
“And the overseas broadcasts that occasionally get in on a crossed line or something are telling an entirely different story. They’re talking about holding travelers back at the borders and sealing off the sea and air routes. They’re such polar opposites that I’m not sure which to believe. If only the internet would come back up.”
How far did this commotion spread?
In fact, did it ever end?
I had been picturing this like a cup so full that its surface tension was barely holding on. I had thought just one drop more would send it spilling out. Then the madness and violence filling this city would spill over to the rest of the archipelago.
But who ever said the surface tension was still holding on?
Wasn’t it possible it had broken long ago?
“Did I scare you? Either way, we just have to do what we can. If you ever change your mind, feel free to join us. Follow the river and you’ll reach the campground.”
“Hey! This might not help much, but the zombies seem to track their prey by smell. If you find a way to cover your tracks like you’re trying to escape a dog or a bear, you might have better odds of surviving.”
“Thanks. If we make it out of here alive, let’s go get a drink somewh-…no, you look like you’re in high school. Well, we can still get something to eat.”
We shook hands and parted ways.
I turned my back on the survivors as they searched through the gas station and I resumed my journey to the peak.
…I didn’t tell them about the paragliders.
I may have had an excuse. If I told them, they would have insisted on coming along. And the longer they were with me, the greater the risk of them noticing the Zashiki Warashi. Not to mention that an outsider like me would be eliminated first if it came to a fight over a limited number of paragliders. And the most obvious way of eliminating me would be to kill me.
So what I did was logical and efficient.
I faked a kind smile and turned my back while hiding the most important fact concerning their survival.
But if they were attacked and became zombies themselves, how could I possibly take responsibility?
The Zashiki Warashi and I finally arrived at the dog square at the peak.
The entire area was decorated with pure white snow.
I observed the area from a distance to make sure there were no zombies and then I shined my cellphone’s backlight around.
There was a large fenced-off area for taking dogs for a walk and a few stables and a food processing building were packed in close together. The others may have been residential buildings. There were a lot of wooden stakes sticking up from the snow, but they may have been to tie the dogs to.
“Where are the paragliders?”
The units with engines may have been kept inside on days like this. With panic in my hearts, I pushed the bear trap toward the buildings.
This can’t be.
There were no lights on in any of the buildings and no one responded when I pounded on the doors. I peered in a few of them, but I didn’t see any people or pedigree dogs. It almost looked like the place had been abandoned for a while.
I also saw no sign of any paragliders.
Did they not rent them out? Had hobbyists simply brought their own here because the dog square wasn’t in use?
If so, what was I supposed to do? If I couldn’t use my plan to escape Bozen City by air, I would have to break through at the base of the mountain. Even if I could use the zombie Zashiki Warashi, breaking through that zombie-infested city simply wasn’t possible!
So was I supposed to just wait for help to arrive?
Would I wait for a rescue team to arrive by helicopter like those people I had met at the gas station were doing?
After thinking about it, I shook my head.
I had the zombie Zashiki Warashi with me. Whether it was the police, the firefighters, or the JSDF, no human rescue team would let me bring the Zashiki Warashi with me. Or if they did, it would be as a research sample. If she was taken from me, it was meaningless!!
I couldn’t escape on my own and I couldn’t wait for rescue.
Was this really game over? I couldn’t come up with any other ideas.
I wandered outside the building where I put the Zashiki Warashi’s cage.
With nowhere to go, I leaned back against the outer wall and slid down to sit on the snow.
I looked up at the thick clouds covering the night sky and voiced my despair.
We had crushed quite a few zombies with the dump truck. All the cellphone shop workers had been wiped out. The Zashiki Warashi had turned into a zombie when she showed up to help and differences over how to handle her had led to a split with my childhood friend and ex-girlfriend Nagisa. I had knocked a bunch of zombies off the cliff with a tractor, deceived some innocent survivors, and finally arrived at the peak.
And yet this was what I found.
What do you mean there aren’t any paragliders!?
It was true I had no actual data and was basing my decisions on mere speculation. I was assuming there were paragliders at the peak, assuming I could escape the city on one, assuming there weren’t any zombies outside the city, and most of all, assuming the zombie Zashiki Warashi could be turned back to normal. No, maybe those were more hopes than they were speculation.
But I had done everything I could to make it this far.
I had lost so much.
So couldn’t I be rewarded just a little? Could I really end up with nothing and have to start back from square one!?
My mind was spinning.
The simplest choice rose in the back of my mind.
I could give up on the Zashiki Warashi and think about escaping Bozen City on my own. That would at the very least leave me with the option of waiting for rescue.
Why did I have to remember it now?
That sexy Zashiki Warashi generally acted like a big sister, but she would start crying with surprising ease. It happened when the internet was down, when I got mad and confiscated her video games, or…that time long ago when she broke my toy robot. We got into a big argument then and she ended up crying.
Thinking back, that was when we had stopped taking baths together and sleeping in the same futon.
Why had that happened?
In that argument, I had seen a side of her that went beyond being my “Nee-chan”. I had seen her as an unreachable and unshakable figure, so it had been a shock that a kid’s words were enough for her to bawl like that. It had been enough to destroy my image of her.
That said, I wasn’t disappointed or disillusioned.
“Oh, I get it now.”
I finally remembered and I spoke the fact I had just realized.
“You’re just a girl, aren’t you?”
She wasn’t some formless “Nee-chan”. She was an individual who could form any kind of relationship. She could be a friend, a best friend, or even a lover. She was the girl closest to me.
It was said Zashiki Warashi were a collection of the young children killed during famines and the like.
Her sexy figure might seem out of place for that, but there may have been a reason for it.
Maybe she was a collection of those kids’ desire to grow up and be seen as an older sister.
Maybe that was why she had tried to play the part of the ideal “Nee-chan” in front of me.
But that had only been an act that would fall apart due to the smallest things.
What if deep down, she was just a normal girl?
After realizing that and understanding that, I had no longer been able to bathe with her or sleep in the same futon as her.
My escapist thoughts were trying to keep me from viewing the reality around me.
But I felt like those thoughts had led me to an answer.
I slapped both my cheeks and listened to the pleasant sound as I focused on what I had to do.
I definitely couldn’t abandon her now. A Zashiki Warashi wasn’t a special being that could rule over everything when thrown out into the world on her own. She was nothing more than a girl who would cry and not know what to do when things got tough. If I knew that, how could I leave her in a city full of zombies?
I would save her no matter what it took.
If I couldn’t say that, how could I call myself a man?
I couldn’t expect to find a paraglider in the long-since-abandoned dog square.
I would need to rethink our escape plan from the ground up, but I couldn’t just mope around forever. I had come this far, so I at least had to search around the dog square to see if there was anything at all I could use.
“The food processing building.”
I had no idea what was going to happen, so it was possible I would need a weapon like Nagisa had. I searched through the building with that in mind, but I only found a work bench with an attached electric tool. There was nothing small enough to carry around with me. I opened all the doors, hoping to at least find a knife or some scissors, but I found something else entirely behind one of them.
When I opened some thick metal double doors, I found a long, long stairway leading underground with a shimenawa decorating the top of the entrance.
I also saw the Hyakki Yakou emblem I had seen during the battle with the Aoandon.
The pure gold family crest had a shimenawa hanging from the very center.
“What the hell is this?”
Asking the zombie Zashiki Warashi wasn’t going to help.
This was clearly suspicious, but I had a nagging feeling it wasn’t going to lead to an escape route. Finding a cave at the mountain’s peak made me think of the term Mikuchi-sama, but I had given up on doing anything on my own. If I was taken out here, what would happen to the caged Zashiki Warashi? Escaping together was my top priority. Once we reached some safe place, I could ask some big names like the Succubus or the Aoandon. I could even ask Hyakki Yakou for help. If we then found we had to go back to Bozen City to return the zombies to normal, we could do so with all the equipment we might need. I had no reason to risk my own life and the Zashiki Warashi’s fate on a one-shot gamble here.
With that in mind, I prepared to close the metal doors, but then I heard something rolling toward me.
“Hm? Hey, wait!!”
The foundation must have sunk at some point because the floor was slanted just a bit. That meant the wheeled bear trap was rolling straight toward me!
For a second, I considered trying to catch it, but I quickly realized that wasn’t possible. That thing was meant to carry two or three hundred kilo bears. It had to be pretty solid and heavy. If it picked up speed it wouldn’t just hit me. It would send me flying!
So I quickly fled to the side.
As the Zashiki Warashi held onto the bars inside the cage, I thought I saw her giving me a look of pure spite.
A moment later, the cage fell down the stairs beyond the door.
The crashing sounds continued for a while afterwards.
Once the sound completely stopped, I peered into that darkness.
These were the blatantly fishy stairs leading underground below the shimenawa. I hadn’t wanted to go down there, so I sounded really annoyed.
“But I guess I have to go down there to collect that idiot…”
The stairway was a lot longer than I had thought.
Once I finally reached the bottom, I found the bear trap on its side and the Zashiki Warashi glaring at me with a hint of fear in her eyes.
It was the look of a wild animal that could no longer trust humans after burning itself on a campfire.
“Gau gau!! Grrr!!!”
“Sorry. I’m sorry, Zashiki Warashi. But there’s no way I could have stopped that.”
I apologized and somehow managed to right the toppled cage. Then I looked back the way we had come. Could I really climb those stairs with that cage?
I was worried, but since we were down here, I decided to keep going. It was possible there was another exit.
The underground space was quite large. At the center was a pit twenty meters across and too deep to see the bottom. Quite a few small shacks and bamboo passageways had been built in three dimensions around the pit. The wooden walls were branded with Hyakki Yakou’s emblem. There were plenty of bare lightbulbs, candles, and lanterns, so the space was filled with a dim orange light. The stuffy scent of dirt was mixed with the scent of machine oil. There was a simple reason why.
“A power shovel and a bulldozer? There’s even a tunnel boring machine with attached arms.”
There was a lot of the yellow heavy machinery used for public works projects.
I could tell a lot of effort had gone into making this space, but what was it for?
I pushed the bear trap down the gradually descending pathway that spiraled like a giant spring.
After continuing for a bit, the scenery changed entirely. The buildings and passageways had burned away. There also must have been a cave-in because the bedrock had collapsed in places.
What had happened?
No matter how big this place was, that would still mean a fire in a subterranean space. The smoke and lack of oxygen scared me more than the flames and heat.
“Hm? What is it, Zashiki Warashi?”
She was acting odd inside the cage.
She was sitting motionless in a corner with her hands on the top of her black-haired head.
Was she afraid of something? I doubted it was just the fire, so what had caused it? I looked over to the fire-blackened pillars, but I couldn’t tell what the small building had been used for originally.
Curious, I brushed my fingers across the burned materials and thought. Suddenly, what looked like a stuffed animal head poked out from behind the corner.
No, it was a small canine Youkai.
“Hm? You’re that Sunekosuri, aren’t you?”
“I never expected to see you here, Jinnai Shinobu! Oh! But this is hardly the time. Hide! You really need to hide!”
“The zombies will be here soon! Um, oh, that Zashiki Warashi also needs to-…wahh!! She’s a zombie too!?”
The canine Youkai suddenly appeared and nearly pissed himself, so I scooped him up in one hand. It didn’t matter if the zombies found the Zashiki Warashi, so I left the cage there. However, the zombies tracked their prey by smell, so…
“Hey, I’d like to base some stuff on a dog’s sense of smell!”
“Who are you calling a dog!? I am a proper Youkai called a Sunekosu-…ghh!?”
At any rate, I ran into the remains of the burned-down shack with the Sunekosuri. I lay down on the ground and held my breath.
The smell of charcoal was pretty distinctive, so I could only hope it would hide us from the zombies!
I heard some wet sounds.
They were several pairs of footsteps.
I had no real weapon and I didn’t have Nagisa’s skill to knock them off balance and then sever an arm, leg, or head with a full swing. If we were found, it was all over. We’d be powerlessly overwhelmed and eaten.
I held my breath.
My heart pounded in my head.
I could not sense any warmth in the footsteps I heard. I didn’t sense the atmospheric change felt when you’re on an elevator alone and someone else steps on.
I couldn’t move my head much, but I could see the zombies walking by beyond the burned-down wall.
I knew it was hardly the time, but I muttered under my breath.
And it wasn’t just the detective in cardigan and slacks.
I also saw Hishigami Enbi in a torn-up Santa Claus themed swimsuit and Hishigami Mai who seemingly couldn’t use her legs since she was dragging herself forward with her arms. I also saw someone in a white kimono with long white hair spreading out from a head that dangled loosely from her neck. I was pretty sure that was the Hishigami Shikimi woman I had seen at some point.
All of them had dry white hair, muddy eyes, and red and purple skin.
What had happened here?
Why were they here in this creepy cave and why had they turned into zombies!? They all had to have been closer to the center of this than me, so how could this have happened!?
I didn’t understand anything anymore.
I didn’t want to believe the scene before my eyes.
The Sunekosuri was saying something, but I wasn’t listening.
I got up without thinking. I slowly moved my head toward them. If I could go to them, dispel this strange mirage, and prove this scene was a lie…
As I started to stand up, the small Youkai bit the back of my hand.
“Jinnai Shinobu! Stop this! Are you trying to sacrifice yourself!?”
I can’t let this be real…
“Refusing to face reality will save no one. If you are defeated, what will happen to the Zashiki Warashi you brought with you!?”
Those words finally focused my mind on reality.
Fortunately, the zombies had yet to notice me, so I got back down as if I had suddenly remembered the situation.
No matter how cruel the world got and no matter how overwhelming the scenes before my eyes, I had been willing to part ways with Nagisa over this.
I couldn’t end this by giving up and leaving the Zashiki Warashi all alone!
I clenched my teeth.
I could only wait for them to pass.
The shaking of the cage seemed to squeeze at my heart.
You Good-for-Nothing!! Do you have something against me!? You haven’t forgiven me for dropping you down those stairs, have you!? You’re pretty conceited for a zombie!!
My uncle and Hishigami Enbi coldly turned their heads.
Their feet came to a stop.
While lying on the ground, I slowly reached for some of the shockingly light wood used for the shack. It was really only charcoal now, so I was worried it would break in two the instant I hit something with it.
But after listening to the sound of the cage shaking a few more times, the zombies seemed to lose interest. Their wet footsteps slowly moved away without setting foot in the burned-down shack.
I stayed among the black charcoal for a while, letting time pass.
I could feel my heart beating so oddly fast I was sure this was taking years off my life.
“Looks that way.”
I hesitantly spoke and then got up from the charcoal. I poked my head out and looked around, but my uncle and the others were nowhere to be seen.
“What happened here?”
“I-I don’t know everything either, but I think we should share what information we have.”
The Sunekosuri led me to one of the wooden shacks that had been built around seemingly at random. This one bore Hyakki Yakou’s emblem as well. Once I pushed the bear trap inside, I saw a familiar face: the Deadly Dragon Princess.
That was Hishigami Mai’s Shikigami.
She was lying on her back and didn’t seem to have become a zombie, but she didn’t look okay either. Sweat covered her unemotional face and she looked quite pale. It was like she was forcing down some pain.
How had this happened?
The Sunekosuri and I exchanged our stories leading up to this moment.
Despite being such a small Youkai, the Sunekosuri was an official member of Hyakki Yakou, so there were parts a high schooler like me had trouble comprehending. Still, I worked at processing it in my head until I had a decent understanding.
“You’re kidding, right? So Majina and that Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi are involved in this?”
That was my initial reaction.
“They are at the deepest part of this cave. It seems Majina-sama developed the Ver. 40 here and has now moved onto causing this zombie outbreak. It seems to be in order to stop something, but we don’t know what that something is. It’s even possible naming himself the true leader of Hyakki Yakou to usurp the country’s strongest organization is also part of his fight against whatever it is.”
“It doesn’t matter what it is. Creating an allied army to stop an UFO attack is meaningless if that allied army becomes a dictator that brings suffering to everyone. That just gives us two enemies threatening to destroy mankind.”
If Majina’s group had intentionally caused this zombie outbreak, stopping them was the only option.
And that meant something else was important.
“The Kasha and Mikuchi-sama. That’s probably the bottleneck here.”
I had already discussed the Kasha with Nagisa in that house, but we hadn’t known anything about Mikuchi-sama. I was fortunate to get some new information here.
To prevent the spread of disease, the people without relatives who died during a famine were thrown into a large hole in the mountain. That had eventually been broadly interpreted into throwing in the injured, criminals, and the losers of conflicts between political factions. Anyone labeled a criminal was sacrificed. Instead of throwing out the corpses to prevent the spread of disease, they had to continue throwing corpses in to keep disease from coming out.
By adding in the Kasha’s trait to move the corpses of criminals when it approached, it did sound like you could build up the basis for this zombie outbreak. But that made it sound like dying or being fatally injured in Bozen City was the trigger to become a zombie, not being bitten by a zombie.
“This isn’t limited to just Bozen City, is it?”
“No. Several cities in five regions are experiencing a similar zombie outbreak. The police, firefighters, and JSDF are trying to seal them off, but if the number of zombies grows high enough, it will reach the saturation point and they will spread across Japan.”
“And you said with each generation, the zombies retain more of their rational mind. Eventually, they won’t even be aware they’re zombies.”
That “generation” became a little unclear for the people who became a zombie after dying from something other than a zombie.
“Majina-sama’s goal is to strengthen the entire Japanese population. He seems to want to increase their physical strength as much as possible while leaving them their rational minds.”
How could I believe something like that?
There had to be more to it. Maybe he was using the Kasha Package to manage the zombies’ minds and he had a breaker that let him turn someone back into a corpse if he didn’t like them.
And even if you kept your mind, a zombie was still a zombie. No one would want to end up like that. That’s the entire reason he had to attack all of Japan at once like this. He had known from the beginning that no one would agree to it if he simply suggested the idea.
“A-anyway, it all started here in Bozen City. The other cities are probably connected by some kind of network. If we destroy the Package’s core here, it should resolve all of the zombie outbreaks.”
This was what I most wanted to ask about.
“What does it meant to resolve it? Does it mean no more zombies will be made? Does it mean the zombies turn back into people? Or does it mean they’ll turn back into corpses? ‘Resolving’ this could mean a lot of different things.”
The Sunekosuri silently shook his head.
Well, it wasn’t like the great Hyakki Yakou knew everything. It was possible not even Majina himself knew since he wouldn’t have planned for it being stopped.
However, ignoring this would be a bad idea.
Majina’s group had been spotted here in Mikuchi-sama. Given the scale of the facility, this had to be the center of it all. We needed to figure out the Kasha Package prepared here. The best plan from there would be to apply that knowledge in some way to save the Zashiki Warashi and the other zombies.
“But a Kasha, huh?”
That seemed like more of a minor Youkai than the Yuki Onna or Zashiki Warashi.
“That Youkai is said to be a cat Youkai enveloped in flames or an Oni chariot that carries criminals’ souls down to the depths of hell. The legends change age to age, though.”
“Majina is skilled enough to remake the Sunekosuri named Ohatsu into pure darkness that he can use for offense or defense. If he can freely use the Kasha, he might be able to switch between the different Kasha legends like shifting gears in a car.”
The Sunekosuri twitched a bit at my mention of “Ohatsu”.
They were the same kind of Youkai, so there may have been a connection there.
“The hell’s chariot that takes criminals’ souls away is the version from an older age while the cat Youkai that steals and moves corpses is the version from a newer age. Given the zombie outbreak, this might be focused more on the newer version of the Kasha.”
“Um, in that case… Doesn’t it appear at the funeral or graveyard, create a powerful wind to blow open the coffin lid, and steal the criminal’s corpse?”
“The part about stealing the corpse must have been fulfilled by linking it to the Mikuchi-sama legend. That’s probably our best bet at attacking this.”
“Majina needs to be able to control the zombie outbreak. It’s just like having a way to keep yourself from being infected by your own malware or from having your own counterfeit money in your wallet. In that case, there’s one thing we don’t know: how is Majina controlling the Kasha?”
“Come to think of it, we have a few ideas about how the zombies were spread, but there’s a lot we don’t know about how they’re controlled. Majina-sama is powerful, so maybe he just plans to defeat any zombies that come his way.”
“Even though his supposed objective is to strengthen the Japanese population? What good is killing the soldiers he himself strengthened? There’s more to this. But is there some kind of symbol that restrains a Kasha? Y’know, like how a Nurikabe vanishes when you sweep the ground with a broom, how a Yuki Onna melts in a hot bath, or how the house transformed by a tanuki Youkai reveals its true form when cigarette ashes fall on it.”
What was it?
It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t seem to verbalize it.
The Deadly Dragon Princess spoke up from the floor.
“The Sword of Protection. By placing a blade next to the corpse, the later legends say the Kasha will run away without stealing it. In some regions, a Sword of Protection is placed in the coffin during the funeral or burial.”
I snapped my fingers.
Those words caused a symbol to link together the legends and scenes in my mind. I wasn’t a strange fortune-teller or onmyouji, so I couldn’t be certain about the occult. Still, I was pretty sure I was headed in the right direction.
“It was Mikuchi-sama.”
“That’s what’s trapping the Kasha. It’s a giant hole twenty meters across and who knows how deep. Hey, Sunekosuri, what do you think this symbolizes?”
“Um, the gates of hell? The Kasha is also called hell’s chariot.”
“I don’t think you’re wrong. The Youkai might be at the deepest part.”
“But at the same time, I’m betting it was intentionally also made a symbol of a coffin. We think of them as long rectangular boxes today, but that came from the West. During the Edo period, weren’t coffins round buckets?”
“And Mikuchi-sama isn’t just a big hole. It’s closely linked to death with all the people that were thrown into it over centuries. Corpses have been piling up at the bottom of the coffin. If the Kasha causes the corpses to move by approaching them, the first step would have to be diving into the coffin itself. Yes, what would work better to lure in a Kasha?”
The Deadly Dragon Princess moved her head a little on the ground.
She looked my way.
“Where is the Sword of Protection?”
“Normally, it’s placed next to the body ‘ahead of time’ to keep the Kasha from showing up,” I answered. “But what if it was placed on top of the giant coffin like a lid once the Kasha went inside? The Kasha would lose its only exit, so wouldn’t it be stuck at the bottom of the coffin?”
I was pretty sure I had seen the Sword of Protection already. When it came to swords and blades, there was only one option based on what I had seen after entering Mikuchi-sama.
But what next?
The Kasha was trapped in the center of the mountain, but how were they letting its power leak out? And this wasn’t complete chaos. They were “aiming” the Youkai’s power at thirteen cities in five regions so the zombies would spread evenly across Japan.
“Sunekosuri. You said the zombie outbreak is happening in thirteen cities at once, right? Do you know the exact names?”
“Y-yes. Based on the briefing I received ahead of time, it’s Bonuta City, Sange City, Mukaehi City…”
“Shourou City and Kumotsu City are on the list too, aren’t they?”
“H-how did you know that?”
“When escaping in the dump truck with Nagisa and the others, I saw a burning banner. It was talking about a winter festival held in other cities around the country. That speeds this up. The zombie outbreak is occurring in the thirteen cities working with Bozen City, but what kind of energy line is connecting Mikuchi-sama to them?”
I thought for a bit and came up with a theory, even if it was a little forced.
“What about geothermal power? There’s apparently a geothermal power station a bit away from Bozen City’s mountain road. I met some of the workers. They said something about smart power. That means they’re monitoring the power production and consumption over the internet and can send the power to the optimal locations at the optimal times. Most likely, all the cities are linked by power stations or substations like that.”
“Over the internet? But aren’t the phone lines and other means of communication cut off?”
“But the power is still on. That means the smart power would be too. Maybe they have their own dedicated line or maybe their information is prioritized during this kind of chaos. Y’know, like how the police and firefighters can use their cellphones even during a disaster.”
The Kasha was hiding inside the volcano, the heat energy was transformed into steam, the steam turned the turbines to create electricity, and that was carried to other cities based on the data from the internet.
I didn’t know how effective that really was. It might have just been an empty show of being economical to get more funding from the country and the government.
But that wouldn’t matter to Majina and the Ver. 40.
Anything was fine as long as they had a line between the Kasha’s power at the depths of the volcano and the rest of the country.
“That would be why the zombie outbreak spread by city. The people who died in the areas managed by the smart power were the ones turned into zombies by the Kasha and Mikuchi-sama.”
The exact numbers and equations might be different, but I thought I had the general framework right. If I didn’t, I was out of ideas. If we were to take this any further, we would need to be as smart as the person who had assembled it.
That was the truly skilled man who had ruled the old Hyakki Yakou.
This large-scale zombie outbreak Package was something only he could do.
“We can ignore the smart power for now. The Package’s Achilles’ heel has to be the Sword of Protection at the top or the Kasha sealed at the bottom. If we can free the Kasha, the zombie panic in Bozen city and the connected cities will end. Just like removing a toy’s batteries.”
Whichever one we went for, there was something I had to do.
“However we do it, we’re going to be crushing Majina’s grand plan here. I doubt he’ll just sit idly by.”
That old leader of Hyakki Yakou could analyze, break down, and reconstruct any Youkai to the point that he could turn a harmless Sunekosuri into the greatest of disasters.
And the Hyakki Yakou Special-Made Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi named Mei had been thoroughly remade by him to manipulate and create destiny.
Even if I could ignore Hishigami Shikimi since she had apparently become a zombie, there were two monsters left to face.
“Can you really take them both on at once?”
The Sunekosuri gulped and the Deadly Dragon Princess calmly voiced the result of her analysis.
“Not even Hishigami Mai’s strength was enough to ensure their defeat. The ideal was to defeat only the trickier Hishigami Shikimi and send in the Top 5 to force back Majina, the Ver. 40, and Ohatsu.”
“Yes. Even that ideal was wishful thinking on the current Hyakki Yakou’s part. In other words, if it did not work, they were out of ideas.”
The Top 5 were all monsters on the same level as the Illness Magic User. We were up against something that even all five of them might not have been able to defeat.
What could a simple high school boy do?
The only help I had was a harmless Sunekosuri, the more than half-dead Deadly Dragon Princess, and the zombie Zashiki Warashi that I could only control with the cellphone and smartphone. To be blunt, they weren’t going to be any help. I was the only one that could actually stand in harm’s way here.
And if anything was going to give me a fighting chance there…
“Majina won’t be worried about a simple high school boy, right?”
“So you think you can get him to lower his guard? You think Majina-sama will do that!? Don’t be ridiculous. He has made countless sacrifices to evenly spread this zombie outbreak to everyone in Japan without questioning the morality of it all. If it was necessary to fulfill his plan, he would use his full power to kill a baby. I doubt that would work on him!”
“The difference in strength here is massive. Hyakki Yakou literally refers to a hundred Oni marching through the night, but he truly has surpassed that name. Even if he did let his guard down, less than 1% of his power would still smash my body to pieces. Whether he’s taking it seriously or not probably doesn’t really matter with him.”
I knew that.
I knew all that.
After all, he was the leader of the old Hyakki Yakou. Until the assassination, he had ruled over Japan’s strongest occult organization. And because I changed history, he had faked his death instead of dying and he had the skill to hide his survival from the current Hyakki Yakou for a full decade. He was a great mountain of an enemy that made me not understand even the things that I thought I understood.
The giant pit had countless excavation tools and shacks with everything from shovels and pickaxes to a tunnel boring machine and explosives, but I doubted any one of them would put a single scratch on Majina as he smiled cheerfully in the depths.
No normal attempt would win this for me.
If I relied on childish tricks, he would pierce me through the stomach with a smile on his face.
There was nothing I could do. It was a dead end. No matter what car you chose, if you floored it toward a thick concrete wall, your car would be the one that was destroyed.
“But that’s fine.”
The Sunekosuri tilted his head and I looked them in the eye again.
“We need to defeat Majina if we’re going to do something about the Kasha Package. Can you give me a hand, Sunekosuri?”
“Y-yes. With Ohatsu down there and with everything else going on, I must bring an end to Majina-sama’s evil deeds.”
“Deadly Dragon Princess. I know this is asking a lot given your state, but can you help me out?”
“Yes. Hishigami Mai did not ask for my help in her final moment. I believe that was to preserve me for a future opportunity.”
“And Zashiki Warashi, I’ll need something from you too.”
She didn’t reply.
I only heard the shaking of the bars.
“Let’s get started. We only have one chance at this. This is a pretty reckless plan, but hear me out.”
Everything was ready.
This was going to be the final battle.
And not long before that clash, I had selfishly asked to be left alone with the Zashiki Warashi. The zombie outbreak was ongoing in Bozen City and the other cities, so each extra minute or second could mean the loss of another life. In that way, taking my time like this might seem profane, but this was something I had to do.
“Hey, Zashiki Warashi.”
While sitting on the ground with my back against the wall of a shack, I looked over to the bear trap. The zombie Zashiki Warashi may not have been able to recognize me because she had been grabbing at the metal bars and even gnawing on them. She would bite me to death the instant I gave her the chance.
There was no sign of who she had once been.
She was a partner who had been with me since before my birth. She had that long black hair and youthful skin. She had been close enough that I hadn’t had an issue with taking baths with her or sleeping in the same futon as her.
“Apparently, I love you.”
The words spilled out.
If Nagisa had heard me, she might have chopped me to pieces, but I couldn’t stop.
“You could have just told me, you know? You could have told me the whole ‘Nee-chan’ thing was an illusion and you’re really just a girl. You could have told me I could love you like normal. If you had, I’m sure I would have gone for it a lot sooner. I mean, you’re beautiful. Your looks are perfect, you’ve got giant tits, and your hips and butt are sexy too. Why wouldn’t I jump at the chance? Plus, you don’t age or decline. We’ve been together since before I was born, so we know everything about each other’s habits and preferences and we almost seem to know what the other one’s thinking. We’ve already seen every last good and bad thing about each other, so we know we won’t be disappointed or get bored with each other. What is there to complain about that? …Honestly. What have I been doing all this time? I feel like an idiot for actually heading out to find a girlfriend. Why didn’t I realize it until you’d turned into a zombie!?”
When surrounded by hell, I had found what it was I wanted to keep with me even if it meant abandoning all else.
Only after seeing that did I finally realize it.
I had realized I cared more about that Good-for-Nothing Youkai’s smile than I did my own life. This wasn’t based in pseudo-familial love. It came from a much more direct emotion.
I could not allow anyone else to harm her no matter what.
I wanted to place her above all else.
I wouldn’t let anyone else touch her.
She was mine.
Not everything that came to mind was exactly pure. In fact, more of it was impure than pure. A lot of it would make me want to die from embarrassment if I said it aloud. But I couldn’t lie to myself about what I thought. When you think about it, there’s only one reason a teenage boy would have such muddled feelings toward such an attractive girl.
This would be why none of my other attempts at love or romance had lasted very long.
This would be why Nagisa had snapped and chased after me with a machete in middle school.
“Hey.” I slowly got up from the ground. “It’s pretty cheap and unfair of me to make a promise with you when you’re like this.”
I faced the beast’s cage and took a step toward the bars.
“But if we do end this zombie outbreak caused by Majina’s group…”
I stood in front of it.
The trap was made to capture a bear, so the bars were spaced wide apart. The Zashiki Warashi could reach her hands out, so approaching was dangerous.
Even so, I took another step.
I moved into the danger zone.
“If the people who turned into zombies return to normal and we can return home together…”
I placed my own palms over the hands grasping the bars. I wrapped my hands around them and gently squeezed.
It was like the preparation to push a girl back onto the bed.
I held her hands and brought my face in close.
If she bit me, I would die. I would become a zombie. I knew the risk, but I still spoke from close up.
“Then can I call you Yukari? If I have that dream to look forward to, I think I can fight even the greatest monster.”
Part 10 (3rd person)
Majina was the old leader of Hyakki Yakou. No, under their bloodline rules, he was most likely still their true master.
He was a young man with long hair and a monocle. The Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi he had traded an eyeball with stood alongside him and the Sunekosuri named Ohatsu was held in his arm. They all waited at the deepest part of Mikuchi-sama.
Lava bubbled up.
They were surrounded by intense heat and a strong smell of hydrogen sulfide. A normal person’s mind would have grown muddy after only twenty minutes in that scorching hell, but he did not have a single bead of sweat on him.
That was how inhuman he had become.
His eyes were aimed toward unseen above rather than the nearby lava.
He seemed to be waiting for someone to arrive from beyond the true darkness of that abyss.
“What are you going to do?”
“About what, Ohatsu-san?”
“The kid named Jinnai Shinobu is here. He has made it to the depths not even the current Hyakki Yakou’s greatest force could reach. You know what that means, don’t you?”
“Well, those who are meant to arrive will arrive when they are meant to. I have Mei with me, so I can only accept that destiny is a thing.”
“Also, this pleases me.”
“That the boy who walks with the Ver. 39 has taken a different path from you and the Ver. 40?”
Ohatsu’s question was followed by silence from Majina.
But it was not that he could not answer. He was taking time to think on her words.
“In the end, I couldn’t make Mei into the ideal Zashiki Warashi.”
He smiled thinly and glanced over at the Ver. 40 that did not react in the slightest.
“Whether you call it her traits, instincts, or characteristics as a Zashiki Warashi, I wanted to free her from all the rules that leave her at the mercy of her family’s fortune and misfortune. I simply wanted her to be with me, without being torn apart by the bonds of species. But after everything that happened, I ended up heading down the exact opposite path.”
Mei still did not react to his words.
The Zashiki Warashi in a white yukata was too perfect as a Zashiki Warashi. She had wished for that and Majina had provided the actual technique.
“The way that the Ver. 39 and Jinnai Shinobu could simply smile together shined too brightly for you to bear?”
“It goes beyond just the Zashiki Warashi. I even urged on Mishima-kun when he was still green and wanted to use the police to rescue the Youkai who are neither bound by nor protected by the law. I said all sorts of idealistic things, but in the end, I was forced to rely on the organization. To me, that boy’s desire to negotiate with the Youkai until they could all smile together in a circle is a path I tried but failed to achieve.”
He slowly closed his eyes as if picturing something in his mind.
Was it a vision of a young boy smiling with so many Youkai ten years before? Or was it the back of the older boy who was now working to protect a Zashiki Warashi without abandoning her, even in this extreme hell?
“Have you caught on yet, Jinnai Shinobu-kun? …I controlled Japan’s most powerful organization, I restored the lost Zashiki Warashi techniques, and I can bend the world’s destiny to my will, but I only traveled so far in my desire to be someone like you.”
Wanting to be something was not enough to be it.
It was because he could not achieve it that he dreamed of it every single night.
Majina had mastered the path of the “curse” his name meant, but now the Sunekosuri named Ohatsu spoke to him.
“It is true you weren’t able to acquire everything, but there were some who followed you as you continued forward even as that path wore you down.”
Majina smiled at those almost sulking words.
Then something happened.
The Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi had been as silent as a mere object, but she suddenly raised her head.
“I know, Mei.”
Majina also looked back.
He could see someone beyond the curtain of extremely hot steam filled with toxic hydrogen sulfide.
The person did not hide anywhere, did not hold any kind of cheap weapon, and did not take refuge behind a Youkai.
The boy stood there all on his own.
He had chosen a reckless option that Majina never could have due to his extensive knowledge of paranormal techniques.
“Welcome, Shinobu-kun. But this is the end.”
Majina spoke gently.
As he did, he placed two raised fingers on Ohatsu’s forehead.
The high school boy with hair dyed blonde opened his mouth to respond.
Before he could even begin, Majina’s attack burst straight through Jinnai Shinobu’s chest.
A Sunekosuri’s existence was based in the vague fear of something lurking at one’s feet while walking along a path late at night.
Majina had taken Ohatsu’s small canine form and returned her to that original darkness, transforming her into “something that gives off a sense of death”. He rearranged that into something like a tornado or a giant fang and used it to stab through Jinnai Shinobu’s body.
This was the same technique once used on the Ver. 39 Zashiki Warashi. The Youkai was stripped of their flesh, mind, personality, and dignity. They were reduced to a mere phenomenon to alter them more easily.
He despised such a technique more than anything, yet he entrusted his life to it as it was the most logical and efficient option.
That was Majina.
That was the true master of Hyakki Yakou.
It did not matter if his opponent was an amateur, a baby, or the embodiment of the ideal he had longed after for many long years. His overly clever mind would not hesitate to kill them if that was the logical and efficient thing to do. He would not let them speak and he did not need to warm up or test their strength. He would use his greatest power from the very, very beginning to exterminate his target.
It was not that this was the only thing he could do.
Nor was he looking down on his opponent and holding back.
He had simply made the optimal choice for killing Jinnai Shinobu out of the billions or trillions of deadly techniques available to him.
And that was why his target was killed instantly.
There was no room for argument. Hyakki Yakou did not allow for that sort of naiveté. That single attack tore a hole the size of a volleyball, taking Jinnai Shinobu’s heart and one of his lungs with it.
Jinnai Shinobu seemed to ignore his death as he ran forward like a bullet.
It was not that Majina had taken Jinnai Shinobu lightly. In fact, the man was truly unable to feel such an emotion. He would use his greatest strength to exterminate any opponent. He would logically and efficiently end their life with 100% certainty. That was why he bore the name Majina and that was why he had ruled at the top of Hyakki Yakou.
Nothing had gone wrong as far as ending the boy’s life was concerned.
The problem had to do with what happened after ending the boy’s life.
If some change had slowly occurred only once some time passed after the boy’s death, Majina would not have been caught off guard, but this was different.
“Majina!! Get ready!! He’s coming!!”
“Don’t tell me you had yourself bitten to turn yourself into a zombie!”
Now it was Jinnai Shinobu’s turn.
The zombie’s mouth assaulted Majina’s shoulder before the man could recover.
I knew I would be killed, so I had to think about what was the best way to be killed.
When it came to that, the answer was obvious.
To be blunt, it was probably the worst possible option. I started to understand the final moment between Nagisa and the St. Bernard.
But not how Nagisa felt as she sent the St. Bernard to his grave.
I understood how the St. Bernard felt being killed at the hands of the one it cared for most.
“It was one hell of a kiss, Majina!!”
An unpleasant sensation reached my jaw. The smell of rusted metal filled my mouth and I heard a fibrous tearing sound as I felt something soft being ripped from Majina’s shoulder. The intense urge to vomit rose from the depths of my gut. Instead of fighting it, I turned to the side and spat the substance in my mouth to the ground.
“But after being bit by a zombie…no, after receiving a fatal injury or dying, there had to be a few minutes of ‘turning into’ a zombie. During that time, my physical abilities would be improved yet I keep my own thoughts. Yes, it was the same with Nakisuna. When your hair is dyed, it’s hard to tell the hair is losing color. And during that time, even a mere high school boy can outdo you!! I just had to accept being killed!!”
“You let…the Zashiki Warashi bite you…?”
“If the alternative’s being killed by you, of course I’d choose being killed by her.”
That was the limit.
A black tornado burst out from Majina. It was nearly an explosion and my zombie strength no longer mattered. I was knocked backwards, blown through the air, and slammed into the hard bedrock with a large hole in my chest.
I slowly slid down, like a piece of raw meat thrown against the wall.
There was nothing more I could do.
I heard an unpleasant sound flowing from the hole in my chest. Even as a zombie, I had no strength left and my mind was growing hazy. I looked down and saw red and purple stains on my hands. My thoughts were breaking down.
However, I had managed to accomplish something.
Still collapsed by the wall, I looked over.
Majina had a large chunk of flesh missing from his right shoulder to his neck. His collarbone was broken, his neck’s artery was torn, and a frightening amount of fresh blood was spurting out.
“Stop the Kasha Package, Majina.”
I somehow managed to provide a final notification despite my inarticulate tongue.
“You tried to fill Japan with ‘rational zombies’, but you didn’t want to become one yourself, did you? And if you die at this early stage, you’ll be one of the ‘irrational zombies’. You won’t be able to continue with your plans, whatever those might be.”
He could not have had much time with that veritable fountain of blood coming from him.
At most, he would have lasted a few minutes.
His long hair was already growing pale.
But he laughed.
And as he laughed, the darkness took form. The black tornado wriggled like a living creature and took aim at me like a great cobra with head raised.
“Hey, Jinnai Shinobu-kun. Did you really think my goal was myself?”
“Did you never think I might have something I prioritize above myself, just as you wished to restore that Zashiki Warashi even at the cost of your own life? We do both have a Zashiki Warashi, after all.”
Before I could finish…no, before I could even begin, the pitch black serpent prepared to swallow me head-first.
But before it could, a mass of steel weighing more than ten tons dropped down directly above Majina.
The massive and all-purpose darkness changed directions. It easily deflected the great weight threatening to crush Majina.
The darkness instead crushed what turned out to be a yellow-painted bulldozer.
But Majina was more focused on the bulldozer itself than the fact it had attacked him.
“How could this happen…? So that’s it!”
“That’s right. We both have something we can’t compromise on. I will return that Zashiki Warashi to normal whatever it takes. I’ll do anything for that Good-for-Nothing Youkai I know so well, that’s been my Nee-chan for as long as I can remember, and that I’ve fallen in love with! If you had ended the Kasha Package, I wouldn’t have needed to go this far!!”
Was I really smiling?
“The Kasha was sealed at the bottom of the coffin by the Sword of Protection placed directly above. And what else could stand in for a blade with Mikuchi-sama!? It would have to be the excavation equipment used to expand the cave!!”
Of course I wouldn’t approach him all on my own without a good reason.
We had split up into two groups from the beginning.
One held Majina’s group in place to buy some time while the other moved the ten ton Sword of Protection to damage the Kasha Package.
If the Zashiki Warashi remained a zombie after a set amount of time, I had instructed the group above to attack this area down below since my negotiations had clearly failed.
This was basically a giant boiler and the Sword of Protection was the safety valve meant to manage the power of the steam. If we forcibly moved it, changed its position, and sent it down to the bottom of the abyss, wouldn’t they lose control of the internal pressure, causing an explosion?
“You mean…you sacrificed your own life to become an undignified zombie, and yet…even after that, you chose the path of an expendable tool!?”
“I had no other choice. It was the only part I could play. Even as a zombie, I can’t knock a bulldozer or power shovel down here.”
That was why I left that job to a Shikigami like the Deadly Dragon Princess and the RC-mode zombie Zashiki Warashi being guided by the Sunekosuri.
“I had them give me the honors of getting an attack in on the guy who hurt the girl I’ve fallen for! Why would I complain about that!?”
Meanwhile, more and more pieces of heavy equipment were thrown down. They were not accurately targeting Majina or the Ver. 40. In fact, it probably would have been easier for him to intercept them if they were.
But something else frightened him much more.
The black serpent that was Ohatsu split apart into seemingly infinite numbers and shot down the falling machinery, but he had to know that action was essentially meaningless. We were only tearing off the ultra high power boiler’s safety valves and throwing them away. Whether he shot them down or not, the damage to the Kasha Package was already done by the time they were torn off.
And to clinch it, a tunnel boring machine with heavy machinery arms slipped through the gaps in the nearly infinite black snakes and fell into the lava-covered depths of hell.
The wind blew in a different way from before.
“The Sword of Protection isn’t meant to close the coffin like a lid. It’s supposed to sit next to the dead to drive away the Kasha.”
The bottom of Mikuchi-sama was the crucible of death where countless dead had been thrown to ferment over centuries.
The modern Sword of Protection known as excavation machinery stabbed down right next to it.
“The area overhead is wide open and the Sword of Protection has been stabbed into the depths of the earth. There’s no way your Kasha will stay put now!!”
I saw a flash of light.
It appeared in the twenty meter wide hole at the bottom of Mikuchi-sama, but it was not an explosion of orange lava.
This went well beyond that.
The pure white light covered everything. Something forced down there had been freed. It was powerful, like a bowstring being released after being drawn beyond its limit.
I finally learned what the Kasha was.
It was said to be a cat Youkai enveloped in flames or the chariot that dragged criminals’ souls to hell.
But I was now certain its original form had not been on the side of evil. It had not even been a Youkai.
It was the judge of human souls.
It was in fact close to being a god that crushed people’s sins.
As soon as the great light pierced the heavens like a beam weapon, the destruction arrived. It felt something like an intense gust of wind. The Kasha used wind to blow open the lid of the coffin. The bedrock crumbled, the shacks along the side of Mikuchi-sama crumbled, and even the ground below my feet grew unsteady. Just as I felt a shaking, my footing crumbled away like a landslide and it all moved toward the boiling orange volcanic crater.
I grabbed Majina’s arm as he was nearly thrown in first.
Fresh red blood flowed back out of my mouth.
We were both dyed purple.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Releasing the Kasha destroyed the Package. The zombie outbreak is over, but there’s still more I want to ask you.”
“Even if the zombies become human once more, that hole in your chest will not be healed. You too will simply remember that you should be dead.”
“Then at least let me die satisfied.”
Majina smiled as he dangled down by one arm.
“What do you want to know?”
“Why did you do all this? Why did you develop the Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi, overthrow Hyakki Yakou, and try to strengthen Japan’s population with this zombie outbreak? The Sunekosuri said you were afraid of something. I can only assume you’re looking to something you can’t defeat without forcing everyone to work together. This was all meant to fight whatever it is, but what is it!?”
“It is not an enjoyable story.”
“Tell me. This is the end for us both anyway.”
“You have already seen this greatest evil that will lead to the end of the world.”
I didn’t know what he meant, so he continued.
“Listen, Shinobu-kun. There are many different kinds of Zashiki Warashi. Based on their origin, there are those that come from the children killed during famines and there are those that are Kappa or Badger Youkai that took on human form to live in people’s houses. The most important point when it comes to that is the color of their clothing.”
“Normally, a Zashiki Warashi will prefer to wear a white kimono. That is a standard Zashiki Warashi that brings prosperity to its family. But that is not the only legend concerning them. There are also more disconcerting stories about them predicting a fire or about the entire family dying of food poisoning just as they leave the house.”
A normal Zashiki Warashi would wear a white kimono.
The Zashiki Warashi I knew didn’t. It partially had to do with my grandma using her as a dress-up doll, but there was one color she always preferred!
“Yes, the red kimono. …The Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi is an ill omen. When it leaves the family or predicts that family’s destruction, it always wears red.”
“That Zashiki Warashi is not just any Zashiki Warashi. She is the Ver. 39. She once had her power thoroughly increased using insane ideas implemented with definite techniques, so she can go beyond manipulating the world’s destiny and actually create that destiny out of nothing. So what if she was ‘red’? How far would the Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi’s power reach? She would not bring about the downfall of a single family. There is a chance her influence would surpass the framework of Japan and bring about the downfall of all mankind.”
I felt dizzy, but not because my death was approaching.
“How am I supposed to believe that!?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“When she…when that Good-for-Nothing Youkai used her Ver. 39 in that past incident, it was only ten years ago. She’s been living in that house for over a century, so the world should’ve been destroyed far sooner!”
“That just shows how prosperous the Jinnai Brewery was. It was enough to force back the destructive power of the Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi. You can be proud of that, but it will not last forever. The end is inevitable.”
Majina smiled with his purple-dyed face.
“I have the Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi. Why do you think we didn’t use that power to put you in checkmate? Because we needed the full power of the Ver. 40 to oppose the ruinous destiny brought by the Ver. 39. If she had used up the Ver. 39 to stop the zombie outbreak, Mei’s Ver. 40 could have contained it. But I never expected her to become a zombie herself and lose her rational mind. This was not malice on Yukari’s part. We should view it as just how cruel the Ver. 39’s ruinous destiny is.”
I had assumed Majina’s group had started down this strange path because my changes to the past had allowed them to escape their assassination.
“In theory, we should have won, but it didn’t work. This power is great enough to overturn reason and drive back logic. While the Ver. 39 is unstable, that very instability allows it, for brief moments, to surpass the power of the fully stabilized Ver. 40. That is why we could not fully suppress the ruin she brings. That is why we lost.”
But that wasn’t all that happened.
I had resolved that past incident so the Ver. 39, that Good-for-Nothing Youkai, didn’t have to lose her power. That meant the power of the Ver. 39 remained. If her bodily structure had been destroyed and she could no longer use her power as a Zashiki Warashi, the world might have stabilized.
Majina had quickly realized that fact, so he had hidden for a decade, remade his beloved Mei into the Ver. 40, and done whatever it took to resist the ruin approaching the world.
It had all been to face that one threat.
It had all been to protect both humans and Youkai from the Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi.
“You won and we lost. That may be due to our failure to suppress the Ver. 39’s ruinous power, but the result is the same. So accept this. Accept that you have released the Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi. Accept the true ruin that will bring.”
“I’m going to die here and this is the truth I find at the very, very end!?”
“That is why I will play one last piece of mischief.”
A small light appeared near Majina’s chest.
Was it was some kind of paranormal power? Since it was intentional, perhaps it was best called a paranormal technique.
“Our original destiny was to die and this incident was the result of us fooling history for ten years. To put it another way, correcting history to its proper form will erase the tragedy we created. It isn’t actually that simple, but my technique can forcibly twist it in that direction. Of course, it will be a joint effort borrowing my wife’s power.”
“You returned yourself to human with your own power and your human wounds will be healed by the historical corrections brought by my disappearance. This way you can survive to see the world of the Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi.”
“Wait. But then what happens to all of you!?”
“Ohatsu-san and my wife Mei are both Youkai. They were always paranormal beings, so they have some resistance to interference from history and destiny. Shikimi-san is probably 50/50, but she was always something of a living legend and it’s worth seeing if she can escape her destiny to die. The most unnatural one here is me, a ‘mere human’ who has continued to live in defiance of destiny. So once the distortion of history has concentrated at that weakest point, I will intentionally correct that distortion. That will leave me as the only sacrifice. No one else will be affected.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about!!”
“I feel bad making a comparison here, but not even Mishima-kun from the NPA stands a chance. Nor does Hafuri. Neither of them can solve this. You are the only one. I am certain that only you can stop the Bloodstained Zashiki Warashi that holds the Ver. 39. Protect the world using that power that overcame even me, my shining hero.”
The black vortex took the shape of a small canine Youkai.
It was the Sunekosuri named Ohatsu.
“You knew this would happen from the beginning, didn’t you?” she asked.
“I am not that farsighted. I truly did not predict what Shinobu-kun was after and it was entirely my own error that we failed to suppress the Ver. 39. Then again, I won’t deny that I set things up so some hope would remain no matter who won.”
Even now, the Hyakki Yakou Special-Made Ver. 40 Zashiki Warashi said nothing.
Perhaps she had been altered to the point that she couldn’t.
She had a thin veil covering half her face and a head-mounted display around her neck. Most importantly of all, she wore the white kimono, a symbol of normality that she could not escape.
Majina glanced over at his partner who could not and was not allowed to change her expression.
“True to my name, I will cast a curse on you.”
“What are you-…?”
“Take care of my wife and daughter. I won’t ask that you return them to a proper path in life. I only ask that you do enough to keep them smiling in the narrow field over which Hyakki Yakou rules. I know I am being selfish, but I will soon be crushed between the gears of history in order to protect your dream of walking alongside the Ver. 39. I can at least wish that you will get along with any Youkai, can’t I?”
I felt something run down my spine.
I couldn’t explain what exactly it was, but something invisible seemed to seep out from Majina’s smile. It was entirely different from the zombie purple.
It may have been what they call the shadow of death.
I didn’t care how irrational my argument was. Anything was fine.
No matter what, I had to sweep aside that pallor spreading across Majina’s face!
“After everything you’ve done, you’re just going to disappear at your own convenience!? That’s just quitting while you’re ahead! Don’t you try to look cool by dying!! Live on and make up for what you’ve done!! I’m not going to allow this! I’m going to drag you to somewhere you can be judged! No matter what!!”
I finally understood this man named Majina, at least a little bit.
He had not swapped an eye with Mei for some disturbing benefit or ideology. A Zashiki Warashi would remain with or leave their family depending on that family’s prosperity or decline. He had wanted some kind of eternal bond and he had wanted to be a normal family, so like exchanging rings, they had exchanged a part of their bodies.
He was the same as me.
He was the end result of a man who had been willing to make an enemy of the world to grasp a life of happiness with the Zashiki Warashi he had fallen for.
He was a living corpse that had been left behind by history.
And even though I finally understood him…
“Oh, and one other thing. Please pass a message on to that girl. Tell her I’m sorry I never had a chance to celebrate her birthday. But assure her that Mei and I never forgot her face even once. Tell her she was our greatest treasure.”
“Such a beautiful light.”
At first, I had no idea what he was talking about.
“I see. So the Kasha was a chariot that carries the souls of criminals to hell.”
The bright light that had been released to the surface once more descended into the great pit. It bared its fangs in its proper role. That beam of light swallowed up everything, tore Majina’s hand from my own, and carried that man, who had committed great crimes out of love for his family, into the lava-filled depths of the earth.
Once the light vanished, I was a human rather than a zombie.
No trace remained of the hole in my chest and I was among the living rather than the dead.
My archenemy had been eliminated.
History had been corrected and the zombie outbreak was over, so it was the ultimate happy ending.
And yet I still felt like an invisible hole remained somewhere in my chest.
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