”…Looks like you have a tough time of it,” Iruka said sympathetically, her voice tinged with concern.
“I mean, don't give me a sigh as soon as we leave.”


 I rolled my eyes.
“I know it.
Anyway, did you try to persuade her?”


 She nodded.
“I did, but she's just stubborn,” she said with a shrug.


 I sighed heavily again and looked away.


 As we talked, I felt someone approaching from behind and turned around.


 ”—Servant, I don't suppose you're chatting on the march, are you?” a gruff voice interrupted.


 ”…No, we were talking about our future plans.”


 I answered the almost interrogative question from the hidden group member mounted on a chestnut horse in a casual manner.
Nevertheless, the person's eyes, which I could see through the gap in the fabric, still seemed to be wondering about me.


 Officially, the member of the 4th seat of the hidden group, Muja, is assigned as an assistant due to their previous experience in monitoring Namahage.
However, it was clear that their true purpose was to monitor me and Iruka.


 The reason? Even in the original scenario, this person was assigned to monitor the protagonist.
In the novel version, it is even described that this person is actively assigned to that kind of monitoring.
This Muja is a black and white man, both in terms of the situation and the setting.


 (I think in the original story, this character was killed without a second thought, right?)


 While monitoring the protagonist, this person was carelessly killed by Namahage.
Unfortunately, the surprise attack was an instant death trap, and in this world, such descriptions will not give a true understanding of strength and only show low, despicable tactics.


 As a side note, there are many characters in this work, both allies and enemies, who leave different impressions in supplementary materials and settings, such as the elite group of the Onmyo Dormitory that was massacred by the Minister of the Left, or Fat-Uemon.
It is not funny that the people whom I thought to be small fry in terms of description are usually the top rankers in terms of ability.


 This time, this youkai is another example.
Namahage in the original story is a calamity youkai, but in the side story, it is shown to be capable of dealing with a medium youkai alone, or assassinating a group of stray exorcists by using low cunning methods and surrounding them with bandits.
Even I did not know when I would be taken by surprise.


 (Besides, isn't it a little too hard to worry about my own neck while I'm babysitting?)


 I was glad this youkai wasn't lunatic…
even though I couldn't continue or restart the game.
That being said, I can't help but laugh at the thought of being convinced for a moment.


 ”I hope so…
but since this is an important service to the Onitsuki ordered by the Imperial Court from generation to generation, I hope you will be diligent in your duties, even if it is in the role of an assistant.”


 As I thought the setting, the hidden member responded to my previous remark in that way.
In other words, Muja meant “Don't act on your own again.” Well, I dislike the figurative expressions and polite language in Japanese…
or should I say, in Fusō-kuni language.


 ”…I will keep that in mind.”


 I responded mechanically and nonchalantly.
The hidden group member looked at me for a moment, then at Iruka who was walking beside me, and said “Excuse me” before changing the direction of their horse by pulling on the reins to supervise the formation.
I stared blankly at them.


 (Oh, man, this is so hard to do…)


 It was a hassle having to move while keeping an eye on the guard.
No, it's not so bad if it's just one person.
The problem is there are many people whom I need to babysit and clean up after when the time comes.


 ”Seriously, that girl too is really stubborn…”


 I look back at the ox-cart and mutter.
In a way, I guess this is what you'd expect from a mischievous and hot-headed little sister.
I don't know whether to rejoice or lament the fact that she is essentially the same as she used to be.
But anyway, with the added complications of the whims and machinations of Gorilla-sama and the young-looking old hag, it's enough to make me want to sigh.


 (…Well, when push comes to shove, I'll just have to be prepared for anything.)


 The scenario is disastrous.
However, it is not impossible to avoid it by taking countermeasures…
and to begin with, the key of this case is not the direct life or death, but the event to darken the protagonist…
or the players.
So in that regard, there is a good chance for her survival.
It's not as bad as some of the other events I've faced.


 At any rate, I can't change what has already been decided.
All I can do is do my best…
I steel myself and look ahead with determination.
But then a rumbling sound echoed.



 ”Hmm? Sorry to interrupt your resolve moment but…
I'm getting a little hungry.
Do you have anything to eat?”

 ”I don't care!”


 At any rate, I was cursing at the wolf woman for ruining the tension and the decisive moment with her stomach rumbling…


* * *


 Well, it was not a good start, but the team was following the planned route even in the heavy snow.


 We encountered a few young youkai and small youkai on the way, but we, the servants, killed them.
When the exorcists traveled for their mission, they needed to conserve their spiritual power for their main mission.
So, it is the job of the servants to exterminate the small fry along the way, which the exorcists do not need to go out.


 Well, in the original scenario, the protagonist was supposed to have combat training with the small fries as there were few accompanying guards…
but never mind that now.
I suggested it once, but Death Flag-chan who was nearby opposed it.
She said, “Don't break the order and the rules.” Tamaki, who is an amateur exorcist, and I, a servant, cannot argue if she says so.
…Still, am I thinking too much that she seems to have been in a temper these days?


 Despite these troubles, as I mentioned earlier, there were no major problems with the travel itself, and the team entered Hieda County, where Namahage was expected to pass through, on the 10th day of the tenth month of the twelfth lunar month, the same day as originally planned.


 ”…But this city is run-down.”


 Iruka clicked her tongue and gave her evaluation, which was directed at the capital of Hieda that we had just stepped into, and it was a poignant remark while also being true.


 With a population of about 2,000, the city, which stands on a low-level spiritual vein, was obviously not as lively as the villages along the way.
Firstly, there were few people, horses or cows passing through the main street of the city.
And the selection of goods in the stores along the street was also poor.
Well, maybe it was just because my eyes were too spoiled after seeing the bustling Onitsuki Valley, Shiro'oku and the city market in the capital….


 Hieda County, with relatively few spiritual veins, and neither size nor quality can be described as good, is second poorest in the area where the Onitsuki family was ordered to oversee, and its land is unnecessarily vast compared to the veins.


 This is due to the administrative management of the imperial court.
As Fusō-kuni expanded its territory and reorganized its land into provinces and counties, the court divided its power as equally as possible to prevent each province and county from revolting.
The rich lands were subdivided into smaller areas, and the poor land was inflated with high assessments.
It is said that the purpose was to make it easier to collect tax revenues and to prevent the cutting of middlemen.


 However, this had the opposite effect.
Poorer regions had a hard time maintaining and operating the large national roads.
They couldn't afford to hire enough officials or manage the vast amount of land.
This caused their ability to supervise to decrease significantly.
In contrast, wealthier provinces and counties had the opposite experience because they were smaller and easier to manage.


 In the past, some emperors like Gyokuro and Yōjō tried to address this issue, but their efforts were often met with resistance from conservative factions, backlash from established privileges, or unexpected interruptions due to their sudden death.
The reasons are self-evident.
In secondary creation (fan-fiction), it is said that if you are possessed or reincarnated as a member of the royal family in that world, you should hurry up and make a reliable bodyguard before you show your face with the NAISEI? cheat, because that's what they say most.


 (Well, I'm not in a position to talk down to the poor.)


 Compared to the fact that my hometown was much poorer, this state was still much better.
After all, it was the county capital.
And it was on the spiritual vein.
…Come to think of it, isn't the boundary of Tamaki and my hometown too sh*tty after all these years?


 ”Well then, let's move on.
We have to go greet the county governor.”


 Strictly speaking, it is not me who will be greeting him.


 But then, it doesn't take long for the team to reach the center of the county.
And not half a minute later, the protagonist and the other meet the county governor at the county office, who is taking care of the affairs of the county.


 ”Oh, is that the case? It's that time of year already….”


 In the meeting room and office, the county governor, who looked rather unenthusiastic, answered as if he had just remembered.


 ”Um, just wait for a moment…oh, here it is.”


 After briefly glancing at the three young exorcists who sat in front of him and looked bothered, the county governor rummaged through the shelf behind him.
After a while, he finds the scroll, pulls it out from the shelf, untied the string, and unfolds it on the desk.


 ”…Uh, monitoring Namahage, is that right? Oh, it must still be quite a long way to go.”


 He read the description on the scroll silently, but when he opened his mouth again, he blurted out something as if he was talking about something else.
Tamaki, who was present at the meeting, looked doubtful at this attitude.


 ”Please don't take it so lightly, Governor! This is an important mission ordered by the Imperial Court! You can't talk so lightly…”


 Perhaps because she was a bit nervous on her first mission and the governor's nonchalant manner, Tamaki was quite shocked.


 …But I had half-expected this exchange from the flow of the original story.


 ”Even though you say that, you know, I was also transferred here last summer,” replied the governor nonchalantly to Tamaki's criticism.


 A county governor in the Northern region, even in a poor county, is a perfect place for a senior official to be transferred.
So, the attitude of the county governor clearly showed neither enthusiasm nor responsibility for his current job.
It looked like he was just doing the job, collecting salary, and waiting for the next job transfer opportunity.




 Tamaki was dumbfounded by the Governor's response.
She couldn't understand how he could have so little regard for this sacred mission, which was a royal order and at the same time a human life was at stake.


 ”Eh, uhh…?”


 On the other hand, the daughter of the Ako family, who had been blowing her seniority during the trip to this assignment, was completely confused and panicked.
It seems that she could not read the situation when she finally arrived at the place.
She was just puzzled and flustered, not knowing what to do.




 As for Shirowakamaru, he didn't say anything as he stood next to the governor, Tamaki and the others.
He seemed bored and disheartened, and his facial expression showed either indifference or subtle disrespect.


 ”…Excuse me.
Is there any problem with the supplies that are supposed to be provided by the governor for this task?”


 Well, since there was no way out of this situation, I, who was standing behind the three of them as an escort and assistant, entered the conversation from the side.
At this point, I did not care about the governor's thought, as there were more immediate issues at stake.


 Our goal was to evacuate the villagers in the county.
This was a difficult task given the harsh winter conditions in the Northern region.
People cannot live on haze, and throwing them into the wintery world with only a thin garment is tantamount to killing them.
Therefore, it was essential to guarantee food, clothing, and shelter for the evacuated villagers.


wait a minute.
I believe the number of village to be evacuated is,” the governor said, his brow furrowed in concentration.
“I believe the number of villages to be evacuated is—”


 Before he gets anxious and checks the old records, I interrupt smoothly.
“—According to the Onitsuki family's past records, there will be around eight to ten villages, with a maximum of 2,000 people.”


 In any case, I couldn't rely on the county records.


 ”Depending on how fast Namahage moves,” I said thoughtfully, “we may have to evacuate 2,000 people for two meals a day for a maximum of three days, which means we will need 12,000 meals.
We also need firewood and tents to keep warm.”


 Obviously, this is a huge expense, and it is not something that can be done quickly.
Especially if it was this governor, who did not even know Namahage existed until just now.


 …And this is one of the bad endings in the original work.


 (And this event is a man-made disaster.)


 In my mind, the scenario of the original story, the protagonist who lost his hometown and his first mission, suddenly becomes desperate and twisted.
What is even worse is that the situation arises even if you choose the best option available in the scenario.

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