|Author: Carrot Sauce||Original Source: SFACG||Word Count: 3103 characters|
|Translator: Aoi||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1632 words|
Fuyutsuki neared a dark, shining rocky beach, its surface slick from the wash of seawater. The ship’s wooden hatch creaked open below the cabin, and two blue demons placed a wooden plank onto the shore.
“Ms. Ayaka, Ms. Kagami, Ms. Shimizu. My journey with you ends here. Take care!” Riku called out, bowing respectfully.
“Thank you, Mr. Riku,” Lily answered, returning his bow.
With tentative steps, the trio made their way onto the slightly oscillating plank, setting foot on the vast land of Iyo. They were joined by over twenty other passengers, including several formidable-looking monsters.
Among those disembarking here were individuals and creatures fully capable of self-defense, unafraid to travel with monsters. Inuyasu and his bodyguards were one such group. Despite his mixed feelings towards Lily and her companions, he remained cautious, keeping a safe distance from the group and refraining from causing any trouble.
“I still need to find more experts, so we must part ways here,” Reika said, her voice tinged with sadness. She pointed westward along the coast, explaining, “You’ll reach Princess Asuka’s territory, Ehime, by crossing those mountains and traveling about 250-300 kilometers. Himeji is a city in Ehime where the princess resides. Be cautious and on guard; there are many demons and monsters along the way, sisters.”
“Mm. We understand, Ms. Reika. Please take care yourself,” Lily replied.
“Alright,” Reika nodded before leaping onto a nearby tree and transforming into a shadow, disappearing into the dark forest.
The other guests dispersed, each headed toward their own destinations. Rumors had spread about Lily and her companions over the past few days. While some harbored ill intentions, none dared to act and left in frustration.
“We’ve finally arrived at Iyo,” Lily said, lifting her face to embrace the sea breeze. This journey marked her first time leaving Akitsu since arriving in the Heian world, imbuing the trip with significance.
“Lily, Reika didn’t provide us with a map, only the general direction to Himeji. We must search for it ourselves. The other passengers have gone, so let’s move on,” Ayaka proposed.
“Okay,” Lily agreed.
Shimizu’s eyes were drawn to small crabs scuttling across the rocky beach. “Hehe. These crabs are so cute.”
“Cute?” Ayaka questioned, unable to see the appeal in the awkward black crustaceans.
“Look,” Lily pointed, revealing a giant hermit crab lurking beneath some rocks in the shallows, its shell over two meters tall.
“It’s a sea monster. Heh.” Shimizu was visibly intrigued.
“This hermit crab is at the late-stage Permanence level. It’s not weak. Ordinary people or ships could easily be ambushed here,” Ayaka warned.
“Really? It seems gentle to me,” Shimizu responded softly.
“Gentle? Any monster might seem gentle when confronted by an expert like us. Even the blue demons on Fuyutsuki opened the hatch and laid the plank for us!” Ayaka retorted with a touch of sarcasm.
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“We’re heading west, right? Let’s go, sisters,” Lily said, her eyes fixed on the distant mountains along the fog-shrouded coastline.
The trio made their way along the beach and ventured into the forest, where the mist hung heavy and ancient trees towered all around. The air was laden with the earthy scent of decomposing leaves and moss, remnants of an age spanning millions of years. Unlike the forests of Akitsu, imbued with spirituality and intent, this place thrummed with an untamed vitality, the result of wild, primal growth.
Being newcomers, Lily and her companions took care to avoid undue attention. They restricted their exploration, keeping their auras subdued as they penetrated deeper into the mountains, ensuring none of the other passengers were in the vicinity.
Soon, they came across a clearing with a fallen tree covered in thick moss. Lily summoned the celestial blue ox carriage with a casual wave of her hand. This treasure, which required no expenditure of magatama and could absorb energy from the world, offered a compartment to shield them from the elements and was superior to her bird familiar.
“Since Himeji is only 250-300 kilometers away, we’ll travel by this carriage rather than flying. This will prevent us from attracting unnecessary attention, and the carriage’s speed will get us there in a day,” Lily decided.
“Okay,” Shimizu and Ayaka concurred, both nodding.
Boarding the self-propelled carriage, they settled into their seats, occasionally peeling back the curtains to glimpse the untamed landscape. At other times, they simply conversed or rested, curtains drawn.
Had it not been for their urgent mission, the adventure could have been quite enjoyable. Lily found herself dreaming of a future where, free of fear and having achieved her desires, she could wander and explore with her sisters. Such a life would surely be filled with joy and freedom…
“Senior… Maybe one day when you wake, we can lead a peaceful life away from the world’s turmoil,” she whispered, her heart heavy with longing and the dense forest’s melancholy.
“What’s wrong, Lily? Why are you staring at me like that?” Ayaka inquired.
“Huh? I-It’s nothing.”
“I feel like she was looking at me,” Shimizu interjected.
“Really?” Ayaka’s eyes twinkled with mischief.
Lily’s gaze wandered back to the forest, a nagging premonition telling her that the mirror girl’s true mission was somehow linked to her senior’s slumber. As she contemplated, her eyes caught several pairs of glowing scarlet eyes in the forest.
“Sister Ayaka, Sister Shimizu. It appears something is tailing us,” Lily announced.
Shimizu peered out and remarked, “It looks like a pack of wolves. But these wolves are at least at the spirit jade or permanence level.”
“They’re just monster wolves. We can ignore them,” Ayaka dismissed, her eyes closed, arms folded.
But the wolves persisted, their numbers swelling as they continued to pursue the carriage.
“This won’t do,” Lily finally declared, aware they would eventually need to make a pit stop to relieve themselves and confront these creatures.
Wanting to keep her true strength hidden, Lily slightly drew her Yasutsuna, sending a vengeful ball of energy from the gleaming blade. As the carriage moved on, it left behind a luminous, towering demon hound to face the pursuing pack.
The monster wolves with their fierce, scarlet eyes halted and encircled the demon hound as it appeared before them. Despite the strength of the demon hound, they were numerous and inherently hostile to foreign beasts. Even though their instincts urged them to pursue the carriage and feast on the powerful women within – a means through which some monsters gained strength – they chose to assault the demon hound first.
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Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!
With lightning speed, the wolves charged, their barks and howls filling the air, soon replaced by the anguished cries of the wounded and dying. The demon hound, an embodiment of pure grudge, was impervious to their attacks so long as it maintained its energy. It stood tall and menacing in the wild, surrounded by the twisted bodies of slain wolves, its soft roar echoing triumphantly. The remaining wolves, witnessing this horrifying spectacle, fled in terror.
Lily’s strength had increased, and with it, her grudge had intensified. Yasutsuna, now a mid-grade spirit artifact of the highest quality, formed a demon hound of exceptional power. If fully unleashed, it could attain the might of a Throned Saint. Although not as effective in direct combat with formidable foes, this manifestation cost Lily nothing to summon. Fearless and relentless, it proved handy in dispatching minor monsters and small groups.
After overcoming the threat of the pursuing wolves, the carriage continued its journey, approaching a river where a village was constructed upon a roughly hewn stone dam. Lily pulled back the curtain, assessing their progress. “We’ve covered approximately 200 kilometers. Let’s head to the village and inquire about the route to Himeji City,” she suggested.
“Mm,” Ayaka and Shimizu concurred, nodding.
Navigating a muddy decline, the carriage creaked across an unstable and deteriorating wooden bridge, showing clear signs of decay. As they reached the other side of the river, a large oval stone marked with the word “Ehime” greeted them at the bridge’s end.
“It appears we’ve entered Ehime. Himeji City shouldn’t be much farther now,” Lily remarked.
The carriage advanced along the rutted path, strewn with mud and gravel, paralleling the river as it approached the village. The village itself seemed to be lost in time, decrepit and worn, with shattered stone lanterns lining the riverside, casting eerie blue flames. Even those lanterns still whole emanated either a spectral blue or pallid white glow, instilling Lily with a disquieting concern for whether the residents were human or something otherworldly.
Grimly, corpses and skeletal remains lay scattered mere steps from the roadside, painting a haunting image of the place. Entering the village, the carriage was met with the sight of starved villagers, their bodies meager and cloaked in ragged attire, some trembling in fear at their doorways while others gazed at the resplendent carriage, entranced.
A group of children, their bodies frail and faces marked with hunger, trailed the carriage with eyes filled with both curiosity and an unsettling intensity, as if they had never beheld something so pristine and magnificent. Yet, their limbs were emaciated, resembling twigs more than arms and legs.
Although Lily was not typically swayed by overt compassion, she couldn’t suppress a surge of sorrow at the tragic scene. In the midst of the chaos engulfing the Heian Dynasty, where people were already bearing tremendous hardship, the suffering here in Iyo was overwhelming, blurring the lines between human and demon.
“It’s no wonder Ms. Reika described the people of Iyo as living in hell,” Lily murmured, shaking her head in disbelief.
“What could have brought them to this state?” Ayaka’s voice broke the silence, filled with bewilderment and distress.
Shimizu, unable to endure the sight any longer, closed her eyes, unwilling to witness the grim reality before them.