”It's a lie!? Ahhhhhh!!? No, no, no, no, no!!”

 Shishimai Asami screams, uttering strange sounds.
She holds her head, scratches it, goes mad, and cries out.

 Every memory that resurfaces and every fact presented confront Shishimai Asami's 'corpse' with cruel and heartless truths.

 Literally, everything was too late.
It was pointless.
She was not Shishimai Asami anymore.

 Phenomena where dead bodies revive under limited conditions or transform into youkai occur frequently.
The most well-known example in Fusō-kuni is the Gashadokuro, which transforms into a youkai.
On the continent, there are techniques to manipulate the dead called “jiang shi” (僵尸).
In Nanban, there are entities that practice necromancy, using the spirits of the dead, regardless of whether they are humans or youkai.
The current state of Shishimai Asami, who is now going mad, is also one of those.

 In essence, she could be called a 'philosophical corpse.' Her body no longer has a true soul.
The nerves are imitating the soul, reacting based on the memories and habits from when she was alive.
And precisely because she instinctively understands this, Shishimai Asami fears her own existence and despairs.

 No, that alone might have offered some salvation.
The decisive factor that shattered the balance of her mind was likely the sight of the true she losing her life in that moment…

  ”No!! Noooo!!? It can't be true!!? Nooo!!”

 She remembers and screams.
Why? Why of all people was he there? Isn't it absurd?

 The Igarashi family certainly had no reason to order her retrieval.
After she was taken over, a withdrawal order must have been issued.
Moreover, why was he wearing the mask? She has seen his face countless times.
His face at that moment was clearly different from the one he had just before getting caught in the labyrinth.
He had grown taller, and his combat skills were on a completely different level.
Because of that, she didn't realize the irreversible moment until it was too late.

 Yes, it's already too late.
There's no turning back.
It's too late.
She did it with her own hands, with her own arms!!!??


 Tamaki's voice filled with sorrow follows after a clanging sound of a dropped dagger (tantō).
It was a reckless act to drop her weapon in front of the enemy, but that didn't matter to Tamaki.
To her, she was never an enemy in the first place.

 ”Shishimai-san! Shishimai-san…!!”

 Tamaki embraces Shishimai Asami, who seems on the verge of crying and going mad.
Tenderly, strongly, she holds her tightly.
She couldn't bear it anymore.
Regardless of any reasons, Tamaki couldn't just stand by and watch the person who saved her fall into such a cruel reality.

 ”Shishimai-san!! Calm down!! You are here right now! Please, calm down…!!”

 Tamaki shouts and appeals to the hysterical Shishimai.
She too is overwhelmed by sadness.
She doesn't presume to understand all of her suffering, but even imagining part of it is painful to Tamaki.

 It was true kindness.
True affection.
In this gloomy world where one must be strong, cunning, and cold to survive, Tamaki's kindness shone brightly, as if blinding.
It was warmth.
It was beauty.

 And because such a rare way of existence, nobody cared to consider it.

 'Fool!! Get out of the way!!'

 A hummingbird warned.
It screamed.
For a moment, Tamaki was slow to notice the looming phantom, the scorching illusion, and the searing heat.

 But a raging fire already stood before them.


 ”!!? Get away…!!”

 Tamaki is at a loss as the unexpected presence appears before her.
On the other hand, Shishimai Asami screams the moment she recognizes the presence behind her.
She instinctively pushes Tamaki away and Tamaki falls to the floor.

 The fiery blast grazes the tip of her nose.
Then, crimson-black splatters dance in the air, and a figure passes by.
No, more accurately, 'half' of a figure scatters away.


 A moment later, Tamaki visually confirms the 'foot' that falls in front of her.
Opening and closing her mouth, she turns to look at the figure that passed by.
There, only 'half' of Shishimai Asami remains, lying in a gruesome state, her lower body torn apart.
The only consolation might be that the torn section had been scorched, so there was no bleeding.


 Tamaki murmurs, whispering, as if uttering delirious words.
At the same time, she recalls as if a small chunk was mixed in with the sparse red rain that falls on her.
It was metallic, sticky, and nauseatingly raw.

 ”Ah, ahhh…!!!!”

 Finally understanding everything, Tamaki turns to face the madness and rage, and her vision is adorned with a crimson glow.
Instinctively, Tamaki understood that the flames in front of her were entirely different from what she knew her acquaintance would emanate.
The flames before her were vulgar compared to his.


 Tamaki spits out a furious voice filled with hatred and hostility.
She clenches her teeth, glares fiercely at it, and her relentless hatred.

 A literally enormous mass of flames protruding from a hibachi sneers at the sight of such a girl….

* * *

 'Mayoiga' is a plant-based youkai, that much is certain.
It germinates, deeply takes root in the ground, and possesses a carnivorous plant-like nature, absorbing nutrients from the land, spiritual energy seeping from the ley lines, and prey that mistakenly ventures inside.

 When it comes to plants, according to the theory of the Five Elements (Aioi), it would be strange for the core to be fire.
However, such logic does not necessarily apply before the monsters outside human reason.
Perhaps it is a unique characteristic acquired due to the favorable location, being directly above the spiritual vein, or due to the opportunities provided by reaching the level of a calamity youkai.

 While many of the same species continuously complexify their insides to breed more subordinates, 'Mayoiga' didn't suffer from a shortage of spiritual energy because it could root itself in the perfect location above the spiritual vein.
Rather, in the beginning, it was even carelessly letting excess spiritual energy flow outside.

 As a result, this attracted many youkais to become its subordinates, but it also faced numerous attacks from other youkai who broke through its countless traps and subordinates and almost devoured its core.
Therefore, in the process of forming a clear self-awareness, 'Mayoiga' paid particular attention to self-defense.

 One of the self-defense measures it developed was to envelop its existence with flames.
More accurately, it would compress the spiritual energy from the spiritual veins through its core, convert it into youkai energy, and then release it.
It would emit youkai energy imbued with the heat of flames, as if it were an extension of its own body.
As it grew and acquired wisdom, it became as controllable as its own limbs.
Since its main body was nothing more than a 'seed' without the five senses, it could even substitute them to some extent through the reflection of light and conduction of sound through the flames.

 That was precisely the nature of the blazing inferno burning before Hotoya Tamaki.
It was about five meters tall? A small brazier from which only the upper body protruded, skillfully contorting its fire-like heat.
It was threatening, intimidating.

 'Little girl.
You should drop that weapon.
Right now, I can make you feel excruciating pain without hesitation, you know?'

 For this 'Mayoiga,' they had no intention of killing the presence before them.
They judged that the fact that it had this presence within itself could be used as a hostage against the outside humans, and there was also the matter with the weasel's messenger that visited earlier.
They wanted to capture this girl as cleanly as possible without killing her.

 ”Don't mess with me…!! How dare you deceive Shishimai-san, deceive Shishimai-san like this!! And on top of that…!!”

 The contract of being caught by them, begging for life, and then seeing her lying at their feet.
Moreover, breaking that contract and continuing to deceive her, and then…
and then committing such a merciless act!! Tamaki couldn't understand the monstrous behavior of 'Mayoiga,' and she didn't want to understand.
She simply hated them.

 'Oh my, isn't that an unpleasant story for you? But wasn't she supposed to become nourishment without even being asked about it? I provided her with the opportunity to live.
Shouldn't she be grateful?'

 Moreover, they could have just absorbed the dead body as per the contract.
They used it recognizing its value and reused the corpse.
There was no reason for anyone to complain.
The body got blown away simply because they couldn't fulfill their duties and had to intervene.
And now, they are still unable to secure the girl…!!

 'Though alive or dead, she'll get burned either way.
You foolish monkey, exceeding my expectations!!'


 In response to the contempt and insults directed at Shishimai Asami, Tamaki becomes furious.
She shouts with a voice trembling with anger, picks up the dagger (tantō) she had dropped to the ground, and charges forward.
She didn't care about the scorching hot air, nor did she think about how to attack.
It was simply a reckless act driven by the impulse of anger, a rash action.


 The monster widely opened their jaw, composed of flames made of youkai energy.
At the same time, they released a blast of heat.
A blast of pure white steam was expelled.
The tsunami of steam was about to swallow Tamaki head-on.

 ”Wha…!? Guh!!?”

 It was almost like a reflex.
The strengthening of her body through spiritual power.
She twisted her body to avoid the heatwave.
The result was only half successful.
In an instant, the hand holding the dagger (tantō) was swallowed by the steam, but she immediately used her enhanced leg strength to escape.

 Still, her slender and delicate arm was left swollen and painfully red.


 Instinctively, she pressed the burned arm with her other hand, letting out an animalistic scream from the depths of her throat.
The burn was only a mild scorching of the skin, but for the girl who had been nothing but a sheltered young lady half a year ago, it was a pain she couldn't have imagined.

Uuuu!? Kuu!! Hoo, hoo…!!”

 Tamaki's face contorted with pain as tears streamed down her cheeks.
The pain in her arm was so intense that it felt like it was being seared.
It swelled up and burned hot.

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