I nodded and took another look at Gonzo's appearance.
He seemed to have been lost for quite some time.
The archaic-style crossbow he held was probably a leaked government-issued item.
It was said that the reign of Emperor Gyokuro, who was renowned as a wise ruler, was also a time of battling corruption and deceit.

 ”According to past investigation records, there have been similar cases.
Although seeing it firsthand surprised me…”

 Although they had reached this room, it seemed they couldn't proceed any further.

 ”More people are coming in, huh…? Hey, you guys.
Are these people genuine?”

 Gonzo observed my appearance, then looked at the young boys behind me who were observing the situation from behind.
He directed his question to the servant leader from the Sakuama family.

 ”I recognize Yun-shoku (允職) and the newcomers there.
They respond to questions accurately without any oddities.
It's unlikely that youkais are just disguising themselves,” the servant leader responded.

 ”Is that so? These monsters can take on all sorts of disguises, right? Can you guarantee that these guys are truly human, even on the inside?”

 ”…By the way you're talking, have you encountered someone who has taken on human form?”

 I sought confirmation from Gonzo, but the servant leader of the Sakuama family was the one who answer.

 ”These people…
I think the bandit and the laborers have seen it before…”


 Gonzo, whom I looked at once again, fell into silence.
He seemed reluctant to speak, unwilling to share information.
Perhaps he held suspicions about me.

 ”Yeah, we've seen them.”

 ”It was a woman.
When our companion approached her seeking help, she devoured him whole…!!”

 Instead of the bandit, it was the laborers who spoke desperately, their faces trembling.
They explained in trembling voices.
It seemed these two had originally been a group of three laborers.
They had been foolishly deceived by a disguised servant and had become a meal.
While one of them was being devoured, the other two managed to escape.

 From then on, the survivors and I engaged in a dialogue, exchanging information and sharing our findings.

 ”I see…
So you understand that this place is a kind of safe zone.
The reason you all attacked us was probably because you mistook us for youkai, is that correct?”

 ”Given the circumstances so far…”

 The servant leader from the Sakuama family spoke as a representative, apologizing for my confirmation.

 ”No, we understand too.
We've been through several rooms ourselves.
It's only natural to have mistrust and caution.”

 If anything, if they hadn't been vigilant to some extent, they would have died long ago.
That's fine.
The problem is…

 ”Depending on the person, it seems some have stayed behind here for a while.”

 ”Yeah, based on our experience, it seems youkai don't infiltrate this place.
There have been a few suggestions for escape, but…”

 The next room could lead anywhere, contain various traps, and they had no idea how long they would wander before finding an exit.
While it was possible to use this place as a base, waiting for their comrades and reinforcements to gather, it would only result in becoming paralyzed with fear and unable to leave the room—a literal path to destruction.

 ”However, we can't stay here indefinitely.
Isn't that right?”

 At my remark, at least the servant leader from the Sakuama family and the Hidden Group from the Naio family nodded.
This mission to exterminate the creatures would undoubtedly be carried out to the end.
It wouldn't be surprising if it were implemented in the next moment.
Lingering here idly only meant inviting ruin.

 ”We understand.
We do understand.

 The servant leader from the Sakuama family hesitated with the rest of the words.
They must have had some terrible experiences during this short period.
The same applied to the others.
They hesitated to move forward.
But that was precisely what the 'Mayoiga' wanted.


 ”Follow me.”


 My words made everyone in the room turn their gaze towards me.
Curiosity, suspicion, interest, resistance—various and mixed emotions were directed at me.
For a moment, I felt overwhelmed, but I suppressed it.
I knew that no one alone among them could lead or unite everyone with this opinion.

 That's why I declared.

 ”Everyone, follow me.
Let's quickly bid farewell to this damn mansion, shall we?”

 With all my might, I made a show of force to seize control of the situation…

* * *

 ”Mmm, delicious.”

 In a Japanese-style room somewhere within the vast and infinite labyrinth, a figure hummed.
Sitting on a cushion laid out on the tatami floor, they savored the steamed rice dumplings presented before them, along with the steaming green tea.

 ”I think…
you know, among all the tea snacks in the world, dumplings just go best with hot green tea, don't you agree? Especially when they're generously filled with sweet bean paste!”

 They exclaimed as they took a bite of the dumpling and sipped the green tea.
It was an utterly inconsequential reflection for the listener, a declaration of personal preference.

 'I couldn't care less about your trivial chatter…
But more importantly, is there truly no problem? Can they not kill me?'

 The master of the room, the ruler of the space, questioned the guest.
Their words were laced with suspicion, and they cautiously spoke.
They questioned the doubts.

 ”At the very least, it should buy you some time.
Actually, you could have been blown to bits by now if things had gone wrong! So, you should consider yourself fortunate, shouldn't you?”

 'But isn't that useless?!'

 They shouted at the guest, who was both a visitor and an emissary.

 'Right now, just a little longer! I am delving deeper and deeper into the main spiritual vein! So…
why? Why did they come to me now?! Why?!'

 Internally, the master of the room mocked themselves.
In a way, their guest participation felt orchestrated, but there was no need to express it aloud.
Knowing wouldn't bring any benefit; it would only complicate things further.

 Ignorance is bliss, and it's the fault of those who allow themselves to be deceived.
Fortunately, these types of vegetal beings live in isolation, making them easy to deceive in that sense.

 ”Reflecting on the past is not productive, is it? Let's focus on the future, on our contract, our promise.”

 'I know! I'll hold them off.
But you provide assistance!'

 ”Just remember to deliver the requested prey to me beforehand, won't you?”

 '…Of course.
But will they really come? Will there be help?'

 ”That's why I'm making the arrangements, aren't I? And I'm here as a guarantee.
I don't think a calamity youkai is something to be taken lightly, do you?”

 As the guest pointed out while chuckling, the 'Mayoiga' fell silent.
It seemed they had partially accepted the opinion but still hadn't fully trusted them.

 (Well, it doesn't really matter.
…But openly showing such attitude is unacceptable, isn't it?)

 Unfortunately, with this attitude, they were unsuitable to join their group.
…Although, even if they displayed wisdom, the conclusion wouldn't change.

 ”Well, well.
Let's patiently wait for help without being too uptight, shall we? …By the way, how about another serving of dumplings?”

 Leaning on their hand and playing with the finished skewer, the emissary from the salvation youkai shamelessly made the request to the ruler of this space.

 The weasel with a sickle, Yuka, made the declaration in a rather frivolous manner…

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