Suddenly, the heavy air fades away.
I quickly look in front of me.
The creature that had just been sitting there, is no longer there.
It is literally gone.
This isn't some kind of a cover-up.
She's really gone.


 ”…Every time this happens, it seems to shorten my life span.
Can't you do something about it?”

 'I don't agree with that statement.
Weren't you the one who brought that nuisance here first?'


 The one who answered my sighs and complaints was the hummingbird that had been perched on top of my head for some time.
Hummingbird Shikigami.
Matsushige's shikigami.


 ”But, you two seemed quite friendly…”

 'Is that an insult? I'm offended, okay? I'm just like you.'


 The girl who is looking at me from the other side of the hummingbird replies with dissatisfaction.
She seems to be suffering a lot from the blue demon.
But still…


 ”…Anyway, your tone of voice, you seem to be very tired.
Why don't you switch with the old man?”

 'Do you think I don't think about that? Grandfather doesn't have much time either.'


 Matsushige's granddaughter said in a slightly irritated tone to my suggestion.
She's not menstruating…
is she?


 (But well, I don't know the exact timing…)


 Assuming that she is the same person, she would have died at least a year later in the original story.
There is not much I can say about her, whose existence and death are only mentioned in the novel version, without her name or visuals.
In addition, since I don't know when, where, and why she died, there is no way to pay attention to her.


 'What's the matter? You suddenly became silent.
Are you up to something?'

 ”I don't know what you're planning…
but I don't have the power to make it happen.”


 I cower my shoulders and cover up as the hummingbird stares at me with a suspicious look.
I must not forget that I am an object for her and her grandfather to dispose of if possible, although we are connected to each other by various mutual agreements.
However, the other party does not seem to be convinced by my words and still gives me a doubtful look.
By the way, this hummingbird has a lot of facial expressions.
Has it been improved with the new one?


 'Is that a sarcastic remark?'

 ”I can't rely on a power I can't control.”


 This is the truth.
As for the incident at the Capital and the commotion with the Tsuchigumo, my memory is only fragmentary, and what I was thinking at that time is also vague.
I can't rely on the power that I can't handle, and the power that comes at too great a cost.


 '…That's a good argument.
I'm relieved that you're reasonably intelligent.
Short-sighted people use a power that comes to them without checking it carefully.'


 And with a thud, the hummingbird stretches its wings and flies away.


 'It can't be helped.
I'll keep an eye on the blue demon to some extent.
But what I can do with this simple shikigami is limited, so don't get your hopes up.'

 ”Thank you.”


 Botan did not reply to my gratitude.
She immediately hides so that I cannot recognize her figure, her presence, or even her sound.
I knew it has been improved from the last time.


 ”…Well then, I'm going to finish my work and have a meal.”


 I mutter to myself and return to my duties with the cheers of the banquet as my background music.
It's hard being a middleman, isn't it?






 It was the next morning when I received the damage report.
I woke up at the break of dawn and was getting ready for work when I was summoned by my subordinate who was on night duty to meet me.


 ”Bite like a wolf, huh?”


 I read over the report I had received from the provincial governor of Haruga Province on behalf of Uemon and his men in front of the oxcart.


 The report detailed the damage that had been inflicted across the areas covered by the eastern and southern units.
The victims were mainly travelers, peddlers, and hunters who were acting alone.
Many of them were found with their heads and upper bodies chewed off.
From their appearance, it seems that the assailants are the same entity.
They are almost certainly not the work of human hands.


 ”Targeting a single person in a secluded place, with no witnesses.
That's a pretty smart move.”


 The fact that this guy eats people without letting them know what kind of youkai this guy does not mean that this guy is a small youkai, like an animal.
It can't be a medium youkai either.
But a great youkai, huh…? Well, it's certainly not a big wooden figure.


 With his physique as expected from the bite wounds, there should have been at least a witness from a distance.
If there were no such witnesses, this guy must have concealed his presence by some means.
It's not a pattern of death on sight.
Then there would be more suspicious bodies and missing persons.


 ”Can't we just put this off?”


 If the governor is the one who gave the information, that's the point.
It cannot be put off or ignored.
But they don't care even if a village disappears, but this level of damage…
ah, I see.
Because the damage reports are moving little by little in the direction of the hometown capital.
Well, they don't want any trouble in their own neighborhood.
Or maybe the local merchants have been pushing him around.


 ”The Southern strike force…
no good.
They're farther away.”


 I cluck my tongue as I go up to the ox cart and check the map spread out on the tatami mat floor in one corner of the wide space that has been transformed into a different realm.


 On top of the map, several pendulums made of polished high-purity jade in the shape of needles were hung from the ceiling, and they were moving in a way that clearly defied the common sense of physics.
Some pendulums moved sizzlingly along the city streets on the map, and some pendulums stretched out at a sharp angle and stopped pointing at the center of the capital city.


 Having said this, you can probably guess what the object in front of me is and what it is used for.
It is a device that displays the positional coordinates of each strike team, based on the curse of finding things.
However, the catalyst is much more expensive than the original curse, and the formula is also very advanced.
The location information of the owners of the catalyst, of course, as well as their situation and even their life or death, could be grasped by using this cursed tool.


 Unfortunately, the southern strike team led by Hina seemed to be staying deep in the area of their responsibility.
Since the beginning of this campaign, she has been going to places where no one would dare to set foot and has been repeatedly exterminating youkai and their dens, leaving not even a single hole behind.
It was literally root-cutting.
That's quite a harsh thing to do.


 ”Is that how dedicated she is to her work?”


 It may seem extreme but youkai are indeed dangerous and horrifying beings, monsters that should not be missed even by a single one.
Nothing good will come from letting them go in the name of humanity.
Killing them all is the most right choice, and it may be the natural thing to do, considering Hina's character of thinking of her people.
The problem is…


 ”No, no way…”


 I look down at the map and mutter half-convinced.
I'd like to think it's a coincidence, but…


 ”There's that village within range.
I think Hina in that scene were searching for youkai, weren't they?”


 I recall my vague memory of my previous life.
Hina visited the hometown village of the main character, Tamaki Hotaruya, and was she originally searching the surrounding area to defeat youkai, as she had been asked to do.
On her way there, she notices something unusual in the Hotaruya village and goes there.
There, she witnesses the main character, the sole survivor of the village, slaying the monster…


 (I guess the original story is about to start…
I wonder if Gorilla-sama's intervention in personnel affairs has changed the area she is in charge of, or something…)


 Of course, it is quite inevitable that Uemon will be in charge of the eastern area where there are many influential people even if Gorilla-sama does not intervene.
Although I really don't think it's true, but…


 ”Besides, it doesn't necessarily mean that this is the same guy Hina was searching for…”

 ”What about Hina?”



 As if in answer to my soliloquy, the voice suddenly echoes from behind me, and I turn around in a panic, kneeling down and bowing my head at the same time.
In front of me stands a huge, greasy body, looking down at me with a displeased expression.
Kizuki Uemon, the head of the hidden group.
He sniffed sharply and approached me.


 ”What do you want in my oxcart? You're not stealing anything, are you?”


 Then he glances at the map I had just checked and turns to me again.
At that moment, I hold out the scroll in my hand.


 ”This is a request from the messenger of the governor.
Please take a look.”

 ”A request? …Hmph.”


 Uemon reads the scroll with a dubious expression on his face as if he were flushing it down his throat, and then frowns more unpleasantly.


 ”At a time like this, to suggest taking a detour…
they can say what they like…”

 ”As far as distance goes, we are in the closest position.”

 ”I guess that's why they offered this to us.
Honestly, even we had a plan set up beforehand…”


 Uemon grumbles a bit, but he knows it's pointless, so he stops grumbling after not more than a hundred words.


 ”I understand.
There's no other way…
I'll have to inform the families who'll be accompanying us later.
You get yourself ready.
We'll be out of here by midday.”

 ”Yes, sir!”


 I obey Uemon's order reverently and stand up to leave the place.
I turned around and started to leave the ox cart.
There were many things to do, such as explaining the change of destination to my men and the footmen and, of course, buying some extra supplies.
Time is money.
Especially in front of this man.
Therefore, I had to act immediately.


 ”…Hey, wait!”


 Uemon commands from behind me and I stop and turn around.
At the same time, my eyes meet Uemon's.
The obese figure stares at me grimly and it made me tense.


 ”…May I ask what's going on?”


 I try to keep my composure and let my emotions drain away.
Then I ask.


 ”…Princess Hina, didn't you say something about her a while ago? What did you say?”


 I gulp, trying not to be noticed.
He's going to butt in here, huh? But I'm sure I was mumbling quite quietly…!


 ”I was checking the location of Princess Hina's strike force.
The area of the request overlapped with ours, so I was wondering which one was closer…”


 I answer as nonchalantly as I can.
I answer with a low intonation as if I were a machine.
As was the case with the other day's case, I can't show any room for error in front of him.
Even though Gorilla-sama is behind me, I couldn't feel secure.





 Uemon did not reply, but crossed his arms and stared at me.
I also tried to be silent and unresponsive.
Calm down, don't react so badly…!


 It was not long before I started to feel the pain.
Uemon sniffs again, and the silence is broken.


 ”Hmph! Don't get smart with me just because you're Yun-shoku.
Mind your place.
All you have to do is what we tell you to do, and don't think about anything else.”

 ”…Yes, sir.”


 Uemon rebukes and warns me, sounding truly offended.
I pause for a beat before answering.
Half of my pause is intended to show that I'm not thinking straight, but the other half is intended to be a little surprised.
I was a bit stunned because I thought he would push it a bit more.


Get the hell out of here.
You're wasting the time.”


 In response to my reply, Uemon ordered me to leave.
I bowed again to him as he headed for the top of the room, the tatami floor thudding against the floor, and I quickly, but unhurriedly withdrew from the room.


 ”…Don't do anything unnecessary.”



 As I was about to leave through the curtain of the ox cart, I tilted my head at those words muttered from behind me.
It was so obvious that I could not catch it.
I stopped moving and turned around.


 ”What are you doing? Hurry up!”


 Seeing me, Uemon rebuked me again.
I bowed quickly and walked away to go about my business.


 So I had forgotten the words that had been whispered to me not too long before…


* * *

 In the 13th year of the reign of Emperor Seiri, in the middle of the month of Kannazuki (October or November), the season had passed from autumn to winter, the season of abundant harvests.
The farmers finished harvesting the rice, threshing the grain, and paying the annual tribute.
Then they go up to the mountains to store up the autumn harvest and gather straw to begin their domestic work.
At least, that is the custom in most farming villages.
If the land is barren, as in the cold village where I grew up, the time for doing the housework would be even earlier.
Or it is possible to go to a nearby large village or city to work.


 However, this is just a general statement.
In Haruga Province, Jōkei County, the situation was a little different.


 ”Are people still harvesting rice?”

 ”It's warmer around here.
Look at those rice ears, they've grown so big.
I bet there are two or three times as much unhulled rice as usual.”


 Such a conversation is exchanged among the Eastern Strike force of the Kizuki family as they proceed along the city road maintained by the imperial court.


 The rice paddies, which can be seen from the city road, are still covered with golden ears of rice.
It was a bountiful harvest, which was obvious at a glance.
The villagers were harvesting the ears of rice with hoes, but it would take at least a few more days to harvest all of them, considering that only half of the rice paddies were still harvested.
They took one look at us curiously as we walked along the city street and immediately returned to their farming.


 ”I think the harvest is already finished in the Kizuki valley…
But I've heard rumors that the land around here is really rich…”

 ”…it seems so.”


 Mikage, who is marching beside me, calls out to me.
I also responded, but underneath my face, I might have had a slightly complicated expression on my face.


 In the harsh northern lands, a particularly rich land is found here in Haruga Province, Jōkei County.
Although I have never visited there, I knew that from my knowledge of the original story.
I understood it, but…
as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I was shocked like a culture shock comparing it to the cold village where I was born.
Even though the annual tribute is seven parts of the harvest were given to the lord, and three parts were kept by the people, if the harvest is so good, there is no need to worry about starving in the winter if the vegetables are grown in the fields as well as in the mountains and rivers.


 (This makes the main character's village even richer, which is awe-inspiring.)


 This world is a land mess, no joke.
A good spiritual vein is certainly good prey for youkai, but it is not a problem if curses and boundaries are strictly put in place to avoid youkai.


 It is true that there is a big difference in status, and the environment is generally sh*tty from the viewpoint of my previous lives, with little entertainment and lack of education, but at least if one hits the land gacha, the possibility of starving to death or being eaten alive by youkai is infinitesimally small.
…No, it's not so funny that there is no danger to one's life only when you win SSR.


 (If anything, the village of such an SSR main character is also in trouble if it is unlucky…)


 In my mind's eye, I see the scene early in the game, where the village where the main character grew up is overrun by youkai.
In the manga version, the main character and the villagers' lives are described in a prequel-like manner before the grotesque scene, while the light novel version breaks the hearts of the fans by describing the main character's despairing psychological state in a series of scenes.
Although some of the pleasure-seekers felt ecstasy.


how should I interpret this?”


 And the reason for this recollection was precisely where we were headed.
I was very confused as to how I should perceive this situation.
I was at a loss as to how I should act.


 ”Yun-shoku, face the front.”

 ”Hmm? Oh, that…”


 I turned around to face the front at Mikage's words.
And I confirm it.
I saw the figure at the end of the city street, in front of the gate of the Imperial Court station.
I reined in my horse and led it to the side of the ox cart.


 ”Hidden group leader! There's a figure at the station ahead!”

 ”…Well, go and see.”

 ”Yes, sir”


 Fat-uemon glances out of the window…
I follow Uemon's order and ride ahead of the group.
The figure became clearer and clearer.
I recognized the figure.
Even though I had never seen this person before, I knew this person well.


 ”Excuse me for riding, but I am a member of the Kizuki family's strike force.
Are you the guide whom we have been informed of?”

 ”Yes, that's right.
This is quite an exaggerated formation.”


 The person who had met me at the station takes one look at the Kizuki family's strike team approaching from behind me and sighs.


 ”I've informed you of the number of men, and I'm sure you've agreed to it.”

 ”Well, we can't refuse the people who are coming here at the request of the local governor, can we? I'm sure you've got permission too…
Besides, It's going to be a busy time with the Harvest Festival and guests coming already.”


 The man looks like a pain in the ass.
I don't blame him for his attitude, which could be considered rude.
I knew from my knowledge of the original story that this man had the status to take such an attitude.



 ”Hmm? Yeah, a little.
Don't worry about it.
But you've got a better horse than that, don't you? How much would you sell her for?”

 ”I don't know…
it's not my property.
Why don't you ask the representative of the ox cart?”


 The man smiles at my bureaucratic reply, then whistles.
A horse with a saddle on it gallops out from the station stables.
The horse stops when it comes under the man and brings its head close to his.
The man quieted the horse and then mounted the saddle with a familiar gesture.


 ”The days are short in winter.
I want to be back before dinner.”



 And then the guide started to lead the horse forward on his own.
I try to stop him, but soon realize that it's no use and pull my horse to follow.
This moody, eccentric chivalrous ruffian is more difficult and stubborn than I thought.
A southern-born warrior would never bend his judgment and beliefs.


 But for this reason, Inoue Kehiko is hired by the head of Hotaruya village.
He is the younger brother of the head of the “Ikaku clan,” the largest clan in Southern lands that surrounds a group of powerful warriors, and he is the head of the bouncers that Hotaruya village has hired from the local priests…
and he is the mentor of the main character, Hotaruya Tamaki in his childhood.
But at the beginning of the story…
he dies protecting the main character in the first scene of the story.
Now, I could only follow his back as he urged me…

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