As soon as I plunged my dagger into the monster's face, my consciousness was fully awakened.
Whether it was the youkai-effect jutsu or my confused memory, I regained my senses despite feeling dizzy and nauseous, and I strengthened my arm holding the dagger.




 I twisted the dagger's handle in my hand and yanked it out.
But as I pull it out, blood splatters onto my face from the impact.


Sh*t, did I just get some in my eye…?)


 The corner of my eyes is tearing up in a different way from the mental attack I've just had.
Maybe because I pulled it out a little too violently…
However, I don't regret it.
It was all necessary.


 Nevertheless, despite having a gorilla-sama's dagger, which was far superior to my own spear, it was clear that it would not be enough to kill this bug-like creature.
But, the reason why I stabbed the dagger as deeply as possible was not to kill the monster, but to buy time.
Yes, to buy time to escape…


 ”Sh*t…!! Hurry…
cut it off!!”


 I use my free right hand to cut through the mass of flesh that is restraining my body while holding back the vomiting in my stomach.
And once my left hand is free, I use my spear, which is nearby, to forcibly break the binding.


my eyes…
My dear boy, why are you…?”


 The dagger thrust deeply and gougingly into the chest near her throat and then into the left eyeball, had neutralized the creature in front of me, albeit only for a short time.
In the present state, 'youkai mother' is holding the left side of her face, bending over, and moaning.


 Meanwhile, all the surrounding youkai were confused.
After all, youkai are just youkai, and most of them are small youkai created from creatures living in low-grade underground tunnels…
They are unintelligent and unable to move in an organized manner without the control and orders of the 'youkai mother'.


 (That level of wound will revive soon anyway…!! We have to get out of here before that happens…!)


 Somehow I managed to break free from the restraints of the mass of flesh, and I ran, ignoring the “youkai mother” who was approaching me and the confused and rampaging youkai in the hive.
My destination is not the exit of this naturally ugly hall…
but rather, the place where I find Ako Murasaki, who is also restrained and unable to move.


 ”Murasaki-sama! I'll release your restraints now, please help me…!!”


 With this yell, I thrust my dagger into the lump of flesh that held her dominant hand and cut it open.
By the way, this is not done out of the goodness of my heart.
Instead, I am not so optimistic as to think that I can escape from this place without her, who is the best combatant in this place, and even if I could escape from the underground tunnels by myself, it would not be a good idea, considering the trouble I would have to go through later.
In such a situation, the weakest person at the scene is always the sacrificial lamb.
So, her survival was a prerequisite for my survival.
The only problem is that…


 ”Murasaki-sama!? What are you doing!!? Pull yourself together!!”

Ah…? Y-Yes!?”


 I ask the stunned girl as I yell at her, desperately trying to release her restraints.
I guess she's patient enough not to stick her tongue out at me.
…No, even though I know it's a bit harsh for a little girl in her early teens.
However, I can't take a lenient attitude because my life is at stake.


 On the other hand, Murasaki, who came to her senses at my loud voice, hurriedly pulls out the sword on her waist and stabs and slashes at the lump of flesh that restrains her.
Once she joins in the work, she uses the sword in her hand to cut apart the flesh in a deceptively brilliant and efficient way.
Who says she's the least talented swordsman in the family?


 ”Come on! Let's go…!!”




 After somehow breaking free from the restraints, Murasaki stands up as if leaning forward at the sound of my voice…
but the next moment she screams.
At the same time, I felt pressure on my shoulder.




 I turned around quickly with my spear and dagger at the ready, and there was 'youkai-mother' holding my shoulder with her other arm while holding one of her red bleeding eyes with her hand.
The huge amount of “youkai energy” that oozed from her body made me gasp in horror, though I didn't realize it until now.
No, was she suppressing her youkai energy until just now?


dear boy? Y-you shouldn't do that, okay…? If you go away, I will take you with me…”


 Even after being stabbed in the chest and having her face slashed open, this monster still tries to speak words filled with love and pity.
But her word technique is prevented.
This was done by a shikigami that suddenly appeared through a gap in my clothes.


 A moment later, the shikigami in the shape of a small bird materializes with a puff of smoke.
The graceful egret-like figure (kochou?) let out a menacing cry and charged at 'youkai-mother' as if in a rage.


 ”What…? Aaahh!?”


 Shikigami's movements were precise and optimal.
The egret, which had ambushed the 'youkai mother', pecked, gouged, and crushed her other eye with its sharp beak in the next instant.


 Even though the shikigami is not able to hurt her so much, her eyeball is not made as strong as steel.
Therefore, it was the best choice.
Even if temporary, the difficulty of escaping from a “youkai mother” who had lost sight of both eyes was far easier than when she was in perfect condition.


 ”Who's using that Shikigami…!?”


 ”I don't know!! Anyway, hurry up…!!”


 Let's put aside for the moment who's using that Shikigami.
It doesn't matter.
If this person is trying to buy us time, we'll be grateful to use it.
Now, I shook off the youkai mother's arm and grabbed Murasaki's wrist, and started to run.


 ”H-hey, wait!? Please…!! Don't leave me…!!”


 I was about to leave the room when I heard a scream from behind me.
I turned around to see one of the survivors of the guide, restrained and writhing on his feet, looking at me and desperately asking for help.


 ”We don't have time!! Leave that thing behind…!!”


 Murasaki shouts at me as I stop to walk away.


 The fact of the matter is, there was no time to waste.
After all, despite Shikigami had skillfully avoided the attack of “youkai mother” by repeatedly breaking away from the attack and by positioning itself in front of the countless eggs, it was clear that it would not last much longer.
Unless it was a sacred beast of high rank, a simple formula using only a piece of paper as a catalyst couldn't harass 'youkai-mother'.
Its beak and claws were not powerful enough to reap the life of the fallen god.


 At the same time, youkai who have lost their control are running amok in a frenzy around them, some of them even starting to cannibalize each other.
At the same time, I don't know when they will turn their attention to us.


 More than anything else, the great underground tunnel space was shaking from the rampaging youkai.
It was scary to see what would happen if youkai ran amok in the underground tunnel, which was probably made by the Western Empire's immigrant engineers who had collapsed hundreds of years before…
In all honesty, I did not know when the ceiling would collapse.


 Not to mention the fact that it was only a guide to ask for help.
He was not a nobleman, not a person related to exorcists, just a commoner.
According to the common sense of this world with its strong status system, a man who desperately seeks help is just “a person who can be left to die”.


 Therefore, from Ako Murasaki's point of view, such a lowly being is not worth being saved at the risk of her own life in this emergency situation.
That's why she told me to leave him there.




 I turned away from the guide and tried to walk away.
I couldn't just dismiss Murasaki's words as arrogance and self-preservation.
Everyone values his or her own life, and in some cases, it is inevitable to sacrifice others for it.
Especially in a world where life is too precious.


 Therefore, I cannot deny Ako Murasaki's words.
So I, too, will put my own life first and leave this place…


 ”…sigh, surely, it's not going to happen, huh…?”


 I let out a sigh, and unwillingly turn around and run to the guide, who is calling for help.


 ”What…!? What are you thinking…!!?”

 ”We need a guide, don't we!? Murasaki-sama, get to a safe place first!! We can meet up with you later!”


 Murasaki looked puzzled as I turned around, but I shouted to her to get away from the place, and I kept going through the big hall where bricks were beginning to fall from the ceiling while protecting my head.


 Of course, just like when I saved Murasaki, this act was not done out of a blue-sky sense of justice or goodness.
It was for more rational and self-righteous reasons.
After all…


 (There is no longer a shikigami to guide us…!)


 Except for the egret-type, which I don't even know who is using it, there is probably not a single shikigami lurking around me now.
If there were at least one of the old man's shikigami, he would be talking in my ear right now, giving me advice.
In other words, I can no longer count on his navigation again.


 ”Then, a substitute guide is indispensable…!!”


 Now that I am in front of the guide, I pull out my dagger.


 ”Ah!! You're going to help me!? I owe you! I really owe you—huh!? Wait!?”


 I thrust my dagger as hard as I can into the lump of flesh that restrains the guide's body.
The dagger pierces through to the hilt, perhaps because it is covered with many sorcery techniques.
But then, the guide screamed at the force of the thrust.


 ”Mister! It's too scary to be stabbed so boldly, you know!? Please be more gentle and careful…”

 ”There's no time for that! I'll be careful, but give up a little scratch! You're not a child…!!”


 I shouted, and I started to dismantle the flesh with a dagger as if I were roasting a whole pig or dismantling a tuna.
I am careful not to kill him, but the edge of the dagger seems to hit him a little too hard, and he lets out a little scream every time I stab or cut him off.


 ”It's tough! Then, how about this!!?”


 As I continue to cut the meat, the fat and mucus make it difficult for the blade to cut.
Finally, I had no choice but to grab the guide by the neck and forcibly pull him out.


Thank God! I'm sorry! I really appreciate it! Thank you…
thank you…!”

 ”Don't thank me!! Let's get the hell out of here!! Oh, sh*t!!?”


 The monster rat suddenly leaps from the side, but I smash its skull with the side edge of my spear.
But that was only a prelude.
The next moment, several youkai appeared in front of me and tried to attack me.
I brace myself in a panic.
But before I could get into position, they jumped on me…


 ”Get out of here! You little fish!!”


 With those words, a figure passes like a gust of wind.
And with a single sideways slash, the monsters were cut to pieces and killed instantly.
The one in front of us, Ako Murasaki, turns around with a strong-willed look in her eyes after eliminating the threat.
I was blindsided by her wild spiritual power.


 ”…wh-what are you doing so idly!? Let's get out of here…!!”

 ”Eh? Ah…
I-I understand!”


 After a moment of silence, Murasaki's words were uttered with a somewhat embarrassed expression on her face, and I came to my senses in a hurry and ran out like a leapfrog with the guide.


 ”Guide! I don't care where! Is there an exit near here that leads to the surface?”

 ”Y-Yes! The nearest exit is through that passageway…!!”


 We follow the guide's lead and run through the youkai, who are eating each other.
The guide and Murasaki run into a small passageway at the corner of the hall.
And I follow behind her.


 ”This is the last of them…
I've got no choice!”


 As I make my way down the passageway for the last time, I pour a small amount of spiritual power into the last stick of dynamite I have hidden in my pocket, and then dump it at the entrance of the passageway as if it were a souvenir.
There was only one dynamite left, but I couldn't afford to be stingy with it.
I should use it when I can.




 A moment after I left the big hall, I felt her eyes on me, and I turned around.
There she was, that damned monster.
At her feet lies a shikigami, torn to shreds and in the process of disembodiment.
Her left eye I had pierced seemed to have regenerated almost completely, and her blood-red eyes were staring at me.


 No anger, no hatred, just a look of affection, pity, and sadness…
and the other person seemed to have noticed my gaze and smiled gently…
yes, gently, and sadly.
Then she moved her mouth and said something.


 ”Hehehe, I'm afraid this is all I can do.
I'm sorry to say goodbye, but let's give up this time.
But in the end…”


 My quick lip-reading failed to pick up any more words.
Because the next moment, the ceiling of the hall collapsed due to the explosion of dynamite, and the many youkai, who were confused, went wild.


 ”D*mn…!? D*mn you!!”


 I turn around, shaking off the irresistible temptation, pushing aside my frustration, ignoring my many doubts, and running frantically after Murasaki ahead of me.
There was not an inch of time to spare for anything other than escape.
It was all I could do to get out of the immediate danger.


 Even though I felt, in my heart, unspeakable guilt, regret, and anxiety… 

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