”There are still some youkai inside.
This one (bear) is injured, but it's still a great youkai.
It will be useful when it comes to dealing with the master of this room.
You can use it up if necessary.”


 ”Isn't that a bit cruel?”

 Despite the tearful presence of the bear right next to her, Botan seemed to regard her summoned shikigami as mere pawns.
I wonder if the world of spirits and shikigami is just as cutthroat as the world of servants?

 ”It's annoying.
Your wounds will throb, won't they? Now, please go quickly.
You understand, right, grandfather?”

 Botan addressed her grandfather's shikigami, who landed on my head, almost as if she was emphasizing her words.
The hummingbird remained silent and only chirped once.

 In the distance, the cries of youkai echoed.
We had no time or choice to spare.

 ”Let's go, Miss Tamaki.”

 '(`∇´) A picnic?'

 I urged Tamaki to go ahead.
Yeah, the spider really doesn't understand anything.

 ”Botan-san…”

 ”…Hurry and go.
Time…
is limited.”

 Botan warned Tamaki, who hesitated to leave the spot.
She looked at me, and I understood her intention.
I grabbed Tamaki's shoulder, encouraging her.

 ”Miss Tamaki, please go quickly…”

 ”…Okay.
And, Botan-san!”

 Tamaki reluctantly nodded at my request and turned to Botan to say something.

 ”Botan-san, um…
I'm sorry for complaining earlier.
I shouted at you even though you're badly injured…”

 ”…Is that all you want to say? Then please go quickly.”

 ”Uh…”


 Botan dismissed Tamaki's apology without showing any emotions.
Tamaki seemed taken aback by the response.
However, I, who had some involvement with Botan, understood.
At least, her current words showed no malice towards Tamaki.

 ”Botan-san, I'll be waiting, okay? Make sure to catch up, okay?”

 ”You don't need to tell me that.
I have no intention of dying in a place like this.”

 ”Yeah…
I'll wait.”

 ”…Let's go.”

 '(≧∀≦)ノ See you later!'

 With that, Tamaki seemed to gather her resolve.
With a heavy heart, we left her behind and ran down the dark corridor with the injured bear at the front.
At this point, we had no time to worry about her.

 What awaited us at the end of our dark journey was beyond anyone's knowledge…

 ”I'll be waiting, you say? You really are naive, aren't you?” “Yeah, she's sweet like honey-dipped sugar.
An optimistic little girl.
Not that I dislike it.”

 Botan glanced at the dark void where her companions disappeared and muttered to herself.
She frowned at the cheerful voice coming from behind.
When she turned around, she saw a blue demon (oni) sitting cross-legged.

 ”Surprisingly high praise, huh?”

 ”Oh? Aren't you surprised?”

 ”After wandering around for so long, I pretty much know you by now.
I can guess your tastes.”

 Botan didn't find it necessary to respond to the demon's malicious remarks.
At this point, there was no need to state the obvious.

 ”But isn't it cold-hearted of him? Leaving the one who has been helping him behind? I'm honestly a bit disappointed.
I thought he was my hero, after all.”

 The demon remained in her seated position, propping her head up with her hand, and sneered playfully.
She sneered while looking at the path where they left Botan in the darkness.

 ”…Are you expecting me to argue with you?”


 ”I guess? You should know my personality by now.”

 ”Tch.
Your words are off the mark.”

 When Botan pointed out the demon's obvious fake performance, she responded with a joking retort.
After a sigh, Botan mentioned the reason they left her behind.

 ”He's not abandoning me, you know.
If he really was, he would strip me of everything and take it all with him.
…And at least he won't hand this over.”

 The curse tool in Botan's palm was something that the servant shouldn't hand over under any circumstances.
Youkai had keen senses beyond just vision, and it was undoubtedly a valuable curse tool.
There was no replacement for it.

 ”That man must believe in me, I suppose.
Believing that somehow I'll catch up.
Or maybe he expects me to finish things while I'm hiding…
The former is out of the question, and the latter is just him being naive, I guess.”

 For a servant to worry about an exorcist, let alone launching an assault on 'Mayoiga,' was beyond their role.
Even after all this time, Botan still didn't seem to understand.

 ”Seriously, he's an exasperating one…”

 Botan glanced at the talisman as if peering into it and murmured softly.
She didn't realize that her lips had slightly loosened.

 ”…So, what about you? What will you do?”

 ”Me, you mean…?”

 The demon's words, observing Botan's expression, seemed to catch her off guard.
Botan's attention shifted from the talisman to the demon's appearance.

 ”Yeah, what about you? Those wounds and…
the erosion from those bugs inside your belly.
Using spiritual power, just moving your mouth must be quite painful, right? I can understand that you must be at your limit.”

 ”…”

 The demon's words, or rather, her interrogation, received no response from Botan.
In this situation, silence practically confirmed the truth.

 ”It must be painful, isn't it? It's understandable that you might want to die.
After all, there are people who commit seppuku over severe toothaches, you know? …So, what will you do? With that medicine in your pocket?”

 ”…”

 Without answering the demon's words, Botan took out the small vial she had hidden in her pocket.
It was a transparent glass vial filled with a dark red, viscous liquid…


 ”…Isn't it boring for someone like me to easily become a monster?”

 ”That's the kind of hero I expect.
Not that I expect anything from you.”

 Botan quickly understood what the demon was trying to convey without saying it out loud.

 ”Hey, you're interrupting the story, you know?”

 ”…!?”

 Immediately, something grazed by Botan's face.
At the same time, she heard the sound of something being crushed, and her cheek and outfit were spattered with fresh red blood.
She glanced briefly behind her.
It was probably a youkai, a monstrous creature with a human face, which had thrown some pebbles or rocks at her.
The creature's head had been blown apart, and it lay twitching on the ground.

 Botan instinctively turned her attention to her surroundings.
She felt the presence of hideous youkai slowly but surely creeping closer in the darkness…

 ”You can either become bait or use this to continue.
It's a branching point in the story.
The readers would like you to think carefully and make a judgment.”

 ”People like you are so meddlesome…”

 ”Hahaha, either way, your life is already a dead end, isn't it?”

 Botan complained with annoyance and incredulity, and the demon responded with a joke.
She thought that's what the demon meant when it said that.

 ”…Well then.
I guess that's it.”

 As if saying what needed to be said, the demon stood up.
Then she turned and left.

 ”I guess it's time for me to see the main hero's story.
Well, if we have another chance to meet, I hope we get along!”

 With a smirk, the demon held her hat brim and disappeared in an instant.
Botan couldn't tell if she turned into mist, vanished into the darkness, moved at high speed, or simply hid.
The only thing she could say for sure was that the demon no longer cared about what happened to her.

 ”All of them are so self-centered…”

 Muttering softly with a mix of frustration, disbelief, and sighs, Botan looked down at the small vial.
The medicine prepared by her grandfather was a mixture of about twenty different ingredients, including demon (akuma) blood and rare materials, carefully and meticulously concocted.


 ”…”

 If she drank this, there was a fairly high chance she would escape the fate of imminent death.
However…

 ”It's just too unsightly.”

 Yes, even with a good chance of survival, it was not a guarantee.
If her body couldn't endure it, she would meet a miserable end.
Even if her body could withstand it and she survived, the price would be high.
Even in the best-case scenario, the sight would be ugly, foolish, and might be nothing more than delaying the inevitable.

 For exorcists, it would be a death that goes against their values in a sense.
For Botan, who held exorcist-like values, it was the same.
That's why she had received this medicine and kept it in her pocket without drinking it for months.

 …Or maybe, it was just another way of postponing a decision.

 ”I really am a fool, after all.”

 Botan mocked herself as she looked at the vial.
Laughing at herself.
Why was she hesitating here? If she had just slammed the vial to the ground right away, the ingredients were just ingredients.
If she had done that once, there would have been no opportunity to concoct it again.
There was no need for her to waver and make a fool of herself at this critical moment.

 It was the same with the matagama.
She didn't say it out loud, but Botan, who was so short-sighted, had also carried the magatama with her during this journey in the Northern region.
And without realizing it, she lost it during the chaos in 'Mayoiga.' Yet, she still accepted the magatama from that servant, boasting without refusing it…
She was truly indecisive and a half-hearted person.
She despised her own foolishness from the bottom of her heart.

 ”…Here they come.”

 Eerie voices leaked from the darkness.
When she glanced into the distance, she saw hideous creatures gathering, taking advantage of the oni's disappearance.

 A mass of flesh crawling on all fours, numerous floating faces, beasts with eyeless faces grinding their teeth with a screeching sound, and a swarm of human-faced rats…
Indescribably grotesque beings slowly, but surely, approached Botan.
Laughing scornfully, they drew closer bit by bit.

 ”…You guys are really disgusting.
I definitely don't want to be one of them.”

 Botan grabbed the vial, swung it back, and stopped.
She froze.
Her hand and fist trembled, shaking.

 ”Ah, I really am a coward without courage or decisiveness.
I…”

 In the darkness, amidst the creatures' cries, a trembling voice mixed with sobbing sounded.
It was close to self-derision.

 After a moment, the sound of glass shattering echoed through the passage…

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