After checking around the area and making sure that there is no further reaction, I first dispose of most of the pieces of meat and stains of youkai carcasses, and then sit on a rock and resume eating a rice ball wrapped in a bamboo leaf.
By the way, because of the rocking on the horse, riding is tiring, and if someone is not accustomed to it, it can cause pain in the buttocks.
Therefore, considering the stamina of my young companion, I took a long rest…


 ”Ah, ah…”


 Perhaps because he was attacked by youkai, the boy answered my words calmly and sat down on the rock surface as well.
Then he resumes eating his rice ball, which he had also almost eaten.
By the way, this one was made by the sister, and it contains pickled daikon.
It is charmingly misshapen because of her blindness.


 'I'm sure that even the boy could have killed a flea like that.
He's very cowardly.'

 ”Well, he used to live in a temple.”


 I follow up on Shikigami's words, who is spewing her venomous tongue in my ear.
If he lived in a temple, he would hardly have a chance to meet youkai.
So, it was natural for him to freak out at the sight of a flea the size of my fist.
However, why should I have grabbed the youkai without hesitation? Are my senses actually numb?


 ”….another minute or so and we'll come to an inn.
We're going to stay there today.”


 If it is a city road where many youkai roam around in the countryside, there are many inns every few kilometers, stations, and customs posts because many people are coming and going in and out of this area.
So, there is no need to worry about a place to stay.
However, I did not want to stay at a station or a customs post just to be safe.


 ”….got it.”


 The boy replies while silently eating his rice ball and a slight silence prevails.
However, it was the boy who broke it.





 I finish eating my rice ball and take out my bamboo water bottle when the boy calls out to me in a reserved tone.
I looked at the boy who was looking at me awkwardly.


 ”…No, it's nothing.”



 I didn't press the boy any further as he resumes eating his rice ball.
I knew what the boy was going to say, and I was in a position to apologize for it, and I was a little bit disappointed thinking about what was going to happen next.
To put it bluntly, I felt sorry for him, but I didn't have much time to deal with him.


 It was not long after that we finished eating.
We resumed our steps, and just as I had predicted, about an hour later, we arrived at a little inn-city.


 The four city roads connecting the central region to the four directions and the villages along the roads are under the direct jurisdiction of the Imperial Court.
The four cities' roads are lined with stations for changing horses and taking rest stops, customs posts for monitoring the flow of people and goods, and an inn every few suuri (a few kilometers).
They were designed to support the logistics and economy of Fusō-kuni, to monitor the movements of local exorcists and provincial feudal lords, to allow the court army to advance quickly in case of emergency, and to buy time to stop the invading rebels and youkai in the worst case scenario.
The most important purpose of this place is to accommodate capital lords and exorcists, and to make them spend their money…


 Now, toward evening, the gates of the city, surrounded by fences and mud walls, were ready to be closed.
And after we were processed, the gates were closed.


 ”That was a close call.
It's not fancy to stay in the city when we're going to get paid for it.”

 ”But what are we going to do? It's the last minute and all the inns are full.”


 Unlike a city with a population of nearly 10,000 people near the capital, this lodging city (town) where we are staying tonight has a capacity of not much more than a hundred inhabitants.
Many of the inns were already occupied by travelers, peddlers, and court officials.


 Especially, seeing twenty wagons of the Tachibana Trading Company, which carried furs and lumber, and their 40 guards was, from an objective point of view, unfortunate.
The city was in turmoil just by dealing with this large group of people.
However, it was not until a little later that I learned that the inn city (town) behind this one and the one ahead of it were also full of merchants' companies.
Then, since last year, the activities of the Tachibana Trading Company in the northern part of the city had been more active than ever before, which had also made the logistics more congested.


This is the central part of the city.
There's always a place to hole up, right?”


 I turned my attention to the inns on the outskirts of the city.
Compared to the inns in the center of the city, these small, modest inns seemed to have no guests yet, so I took a room in one of them.


 Though it is a time of peace…
it is in comparison with the past.
With the threat of youkai, inns located on the outskirts of the city are less popular because they are more dangerous in case of emergency.
However, in a way, the unpopular inns are more convenient for me.
After all…


 ”Since I don't know what a crazy person such as yourself might do, the less chance there is for me to get involved, the better.”


 After staying at the inn, wiping myself off, eating dinner, and putting Shirowakamaru to bed first, I blurted out with a bitter and alarmed expression on the veranda of the inn where I could see a small garden.


 ”That's terrible.
I gave you a chance to get to know each other, you know?”


 Before I knew it, there she was.
The woman in the shape of an ascetic monk, who had pierced the anchor she was carrying in the garden and was lying down to drink sake from a gourd while admiring the garden in an airy way, declared.


 The creature with the blue, inhuman beauty declared…







 ”Oh, well~.
This off-season moon viewing is quite nice, isn't it? The moon is beautiful and it's a good time for drinking, don't you think?”


 The demon (oni), who had a plate of pickles in her hand as a snack, picked them with her thin, white fish-like fingers and crunched them down.
Then she gulped down a gourd of sake, wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her monk's robe, and puha! exhales like an old man.
With this behavior, she completely ruins her literally inhuman good looks.


 ”Oh, do you want to know this? I borrowed this from the big inn in the center.
Would you like some? It goes well with sake, you know?”


 The demon notices my gaze and offers me a gourd and a plate with a smirk on her face.
She seems to have mistaken my gaze for greed or something.
Or maybe my attitude…


 ”No, I don't want it.”


 Naturally, I ignore the offer because I don't want to kiss a demon indirectly, not even with something I don't know what's in it.
Instead, I have something more important to confirm.


 ”…that little fish from before was sent by you, wasn't it?”


 I ask the monster half-assedly, placing the stick with the spear in it on my lap, trying not to show my nausea from the youkai energy and the alcohol in the air around me.
Watching my nonchalant behavior, her demon's eyes narrowed and her mouth hung open in amusement.
She seems to be in a good mood that I'm keeping my guard up.
Yeah, I don't get it.


 ”Good answer.
You're very good to recognize it at that moment.
Is this what you call a heart-to-heart relationship?”

 ”Stop it.
I'm not kidding.”


 Seriously, I don't think I can have a heart-to-heart talk with her.


 ”Oh, come on, that's terrible.
You and I are friends, aren't we? And to be so blunt with a girl like that…
it's hurtful, you know?”

 ”No, what kind of a relationship are you talking about?”

 ”Aren't we going to kill each other (plan)?”

 ”Is that the kind of relationship where you can communicate with each other…?”

 'As usual, I can't understand the thoughts of this demon at all.'


 The shikigami perched on my shoulder boasted.
She mutters with disgust.
I agree with her completely.


 ”You two are so cold.
Can't you two be a little more merciful? Even demons cry when they're lonely, you know?”

 'And while crying, you're going to attack those villages too?'


 Shikigami declares calmly and indifferently.
At any rate, it is difficult to predict this demon's behavior because she thinks with a logic that humans cannot understand.
The only one who could do such a thing would be the despicable Minister of the Right at that time, who set up and exterminated the four disasters ones, including this one.


 ”By the way…
were you trying to make things right? What's the problem? What are you thinking? Did you find something in that boy that would make him the hero you claim he is?”


 I ask the demon slurping the gourd.
I don't know what this demon, who is not only a liar but also one of the craziest among her kind, is thinking, but it's just a confirmation.


 ”Hmm? Hahaha.
Tomobe, you are good at jokes, aren't you?”


 However, in response to my question, the lying demon scooped up her long hair and returned with a scornful smile while playing with it.


 ”He can't be a hero like that.
So, I hope you don't despise me too much.
Even I'm a good judge of character, you know? Look at him seriously.
Do you think that secondhand, dirty, rag and scrap has the qualities of a hero to stand up to me?”


 The demon laughed.
It was a sneer.
Like a condescending, scornful, mocking creature, the demon scorned the boy in my care.
As if the boy were nothing, she taunted him.



 ”…Hehe, that's good.
The way you're looking at me makes me tingle.”


 The demon's mouth hangs open in amusement as if she's enjoying the breeze in response to the hostility and murderous intent I unintentionally directed at her.
This attitude of hers made me nervous even more than before.


 ”That's why you demon should be…!!!”


 I spit out with disgust.
This is why I hate this demon…!!


 She was the same in the original game and other media.
Except for those whom she likes, she naturally looks down on them, humiliates them, scorns them, and gives them a dirty look.
No, even those whom she likes, she will turn her back on if she doesn't like them even a little bit.
She is self-centered, egotistical, and selfish.
That's why she can say such harsh and heartless words.


 ”Oh, I'm scared.
But it's tempting.
Not many people can look at a demon like that.”


 Seriously! This demon seems to be even comfortable with the intention to kill.
In fact, from this demon's point of view, my intention to kill is just like a small animal threatening a human.
She may feel pity for me and there is no chance that she will fear me.
And if her life is seriously in danger, she will run away as fast as she can, holding her protruding intestines, as she once did.
With tears in her eyes.


 ”…Seriously, I can't talk to you at all.”


 I moved slowly along the porch to get away from the demon.
Because I wanted to be as far away from this demon as possible, and the smell of her stifling liquor was too much for me.
Seeing me like this, the demon laughed at me like an old man, which made me wonder what was there to laugh at.


 As always, she is a madman.
Frankly speaking, I don't want to talk to her anymore, and I don't want to step on any landmines by conversing with her.
Instead, I'd like to ignore her.


 (I wonder how the main character can keep up with such a guy.


 Then I suddenly have a doubt.
It's no secret that this vain, uptight, and selfish demon has a lot of likes and dislikes, but I wonder how she perceives my current state…


 Thanks to the medicine, I am still human in appearance, but I was aware that my body was unpredictable to the extent that…
I was subjected to an unpredictable examination by Matsushige's granddaughter.


 Since then, my five senses have become very keen.
Like an animal, my sense of smell, hearing, and sight had become more vivid and delicate.
My physical body had become more robust, and my physical ability seemed to have slightly improved even without using spiritual power.
Wounds were healed more easily, and the wounds healed faster.


 Of course, none of these things are so obviously out of the human realm…
but it is still enough to realize that my body is changing, and this will probably become more apparent as the days go by.
For how many more years, I don't know if I will be able to keep up with the deception of my surroundings.
Moreover, a serious injury could endanger the balance.


 More importantly, ever since I became a monster, there are times when I'm not sure if I'm really human.
And the demon in front of me is a very distorted person.
Therefore, I have been wondering what the demon in front of me is thinking inside.


 I don't want to die…
but at least, if I'm going to go on a rampage, I hope I don't get any innocent people involved.


 ”Well, well, you don't have to look at me with such distrust, do you? I'm still—”

 ”—Anyone there?”


 The next moment, just as the demon was about to say something.
Suddenly, a voice echoed from the other side of the screen.
The voice sounded more like a girl's voice than a boy's.


 ”…?! Ah!?”


 For a moment I panicked about what to do, and then I thought about how to protect the safety of the boy in my care.


 However, my fears might have been groundless.
The demon sprawled on the porch laughs and waves at me, then quickly vanishes in the wind.
The bee perched on my shoulder was also gone before I knew it.
Hey, don't run away, you guys! No, I'd be in a lot of trouble if they were here.


 ”…what are you doing, hmm?”


 In the meantime, Shirowakamaru quickly slide the sliding door and appeared.
The beautiful boy in nightclothes lit up by the moonlight was sensual, even though he was probably unaware of what he was doing.


 Ah, this is the kind of thing that makes players run for men.


 ”Ugh…!? I smell alcohol!?”


 The next moment, the boy distorts his face and holds his nose with his arm.
Perhaps he was hit by the smell of alcohol that made him want to vomit.
Although I've gotten used to it by now, the breath and body odor of a demon who seems to be drinking all the time is enough to make an unaccustomed person fall into a coma instantly.


 ”Oh, yeah…
I've been drinking a little.
I'm sorry.
Did I wake you?”


 I insist, holding up the plate of snacks the demon left behind to cover my mistake.
This boy is not on my side, at least not now.
Telling him about the existence of Aoko and Matsushige's girl's shikigami will only complicate things.
Therefore, I will deceive him.


 ”…it smells terrible.
Don't drink too much, okay? I'll be in trouble if you get drunk tomorrow.”


 While holding his nose, the boy says with a look of disgust on his face.
I respond with a wry smile.
Shirowakamaru, who seemed not to like my attitude, narrowed his eyes at me and said, “I'm going to bed,” and slammed the sliding door shut tightly.


 ”…Haha, he hates me.


 I knew the boy didn't like alcohol.
He even warned of it as a landmine point in the game.
Seriously, I dug my own grave.


 ”…Hah~, I don't like this.”


 I left the pickles beside me and said whatever I wanted, clicking my tongue at the demon who had caused me so much trouble.


 …What should I do with this plate?









 From behind the sliding shoji, a voice filled with disappointment, disgust, and loneliness quietly disappeared into the darkness of the night, and no one heard it except for the one who had whispered it.


* * *


 Shiro'oku city, the economic center of the northern region, is a kind of fortress-capital city, to which the shogun (local mayor?) and dochō-kan[3] are sent by the imperial court.


 It may be better to imagine it as Kamakura or Odawara Castle in my previous life.
Originally, it was the home of a famous youkai, and the Imperial Court took by force one or two of the best-sacred places in the northern region, and built the largest city in the northern region on it.
The surrounding valley is further covered with a boundary to prevent the intrusion of evil into the area.


 Now, Shiro'oku is the most prosperous city in the northern part of the country, where the court army is stationed and where the exorcists are dispatched from the Onmyou dormitory and many people from the surrounding feudal lords and exorcists stay for military service.
It was also an important center of the Imperial Court, built to withstand an attack by an army of more than 10,000 youkai for many years.


 Its gate was five meters high, with a gate measuring one meter by three meters and two meters by five meters, and several carriages could enter and exit side by side.
There, several soldiers with iron armored crossbows were given protection blessings to kill the invading youkai from afar, and if this could not stop them, a few exorcists stationed at the back of the gate were sent in.


 ”Wait! Where are you from? Let me see your documents.”


 Now, we were stopped by a fence built in front of the gate.
As a few soldiers with spears approach, I show them an inro (a sealed case) decorated with gold and raden[4], which I had received from Kizuki's residence in exchange for a letter of introduction.
The soldiers' attitude changes when they see us with Kizuki's family crest engraved on it, and the gate is immediately opened.


 ”Well, well, well…
you are from the Kizuki family, the most prestigious family in the northern lands, I see? What in the world brings you to the city?”


 The head of the gate rushed to the scene and bowed reverently as he bowed.
….To Shirowakamaru on his horse.
Oh, yeah.
Well, his clothes are of good quality and he has a good face.



 ”The second princess of Kizuki has sent us as a messenger to deliver a gift to the Tachibana Trading Company.
I humbly request that you allow me to pass.”


 I offered, subduing Shirowakamaru, who was puzzled.
At the same time, I commanded him to remain silent with a look from within his face.
Shirowakamaru gulps a mouthful of spit and then shuts his mouth.
He opens his mouth only after we pass through the barrier.


 ”I-Is it OK? Like that…”

 ”I don't want to get in trouble for pointing out your mistake.”


 I could have pointed out the mistake, but that would have embarrassed him.
The fact that the guard was taking a bad attitude toward a childish boy who did not belong to Kizuki and was not a representative of the emissary was a good way to embarrass the other party.


 ”….Is that how it's done?”


 ”In the temple, the hierarchy is very strict.”


 Shirowakamaru looks away and mutters.
What is probably in his mind is the life he had when he lived in the temple.


 In my previous world, there are about fifteen ranks in the Buddhist priesthood.
Although there are some differences among sects, they seem to have been applied in this world too.
If there is a difference from reality, is it more severe? Well, to be precise, in this world, Fusō-kuni is not Buddhism but a fictitious religion based on it.


 And even children have a hierarchy, and it is said that there were abuses in real life as well.
Naturally, Shirowakamaru should be the son of a noble family, etc., and not a child.
If so, life at the temple must not have been pleasant.


 …the worst part, however, is that even in such a temple life, it is still better that there is no danger of youkai or starvation.
Haha, this world sucks.


 ”…I see.”


 I only answered shortly.
Shirowakamaru didn't seem to have any intention to expand the conversation, so he gave a small nod and kept quiet after that.


 We continued on in silence until we crossed the checkpoint and arrived at Shiro'oku city.


 It was about an hour later that we entered the main branch of Tachibana Trading Company's Northern Region branch…

[3] Government official who was in charge of construction and maintenance of public works projects, such as roads, bridges, and canals.

[4] Japanese craftwork that involves decorating objects with small, spiral-shaped shells called “螺” (ら), which are also known as “鈿” (でん) in Japanese

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