At the coastal waters of the northwest of the Pacific Ocean, within an archipelago nation called Japan, in a certain prefecture, at a place with an elegant townscape that looked just like that of old Japan, was a traditional mansion that has been maintained to this day.
On that mansion was a nameplate whereupon the name ‘Ootsu’ was magnificently and beautifully written, and its residents were none other than the land baron of this vast territory.
They were currently gathered in the reception hall of the mansion’s main building.
Thoughthe sun was still out, the fusuma (Japanese sliding doors) were closed, and only the lanterns were lit, but even with what little lightning they had, these people were all denizens of the dark, and they could recognize each other’s face clearly.
Those faces fell into either one of two categories.
Irritated or depressed.
The overwhelming majority fell into the first kind, while only a few fell into the latter.
But they had one thing in common, and that was that every one of them was confused.
It was not only because of the existence that foiled their plans.
“Everyone’s all over the submarines, not a thing about Kutoria is showing up on the news.”
“I checked the net as well. Not even rumors about the incident are going around.”
“I checked with an acquaintance of mine from Kutoria. Apparently, they’re not aware of anything strange happening other than a abrupt escape drill.”
“I pretended to be a guardian and contacted the school, but they’re just acting as though everything is normal. It’s almost creepy.”
When the members gathered gave their reports, the expression on the people gathered grew even stiffer.
It was strange. There was no doubt that they had hitched a ride with the volunteer army and intervened.
As sponsors to the volunteer army themselves, they were privy to the plans and scope of the otherworld rebels; hence, such tranquility could only be described as eerie. It was as though everything they’d experienced was but a lie.
“Just what is this!? Even if they are manipulating the information to keep things under wraps, this is…”
“It’s almost as if the whole world is playing a prank on us.”
It was true that they were wiped out by the techniques of that mask before they could even do anything, but the organization they were supporting had without a doubt attacked.
The idea that ‘nothing happened’ was just too strong, and they all found themselves confused.
“That thing… Can’t be described in such a trite manner. We might have just come into contact with an existence that we should never have,” an old man said.
“Family Head, no, Yoshikazu-sama.”
A level above the seat of honor of the large hall was an old man seated. He was their leader, Ootsu Yoshikazu.
Though he had already put on many years, he ‘normally’ appeared much younger than his actual age, what with his tall stature and his sharp eyes, but just today, he indeed looked as old as he was.
His shoulders dropped feebly, and the usual spirit about him was missing.
“That is not something we can afford to antagonize; therefore, we must put down our spears. Perhaps, it might yet show mercy to us…”
“What cowardly nonsense! Do you still intend to call yourself the leader that carries the Ootsu family!?”
A young man from the ‘irritated’ group was angered by such weak remarks, but the middle-age man from the ‘melancholic’ group rebuked him.
“Restrain your mouth. You people didn’t face that thing. You don’t understand how terrifying it is.”
But even as the middle-aged man shook his head feebly, more hot-blooded men yelled.
“You too? Where did all that courage from yesterday go!?”
“We’ve gotten this far for the restoration of the Ootsu family, and the rest of the Exorcist Clans! How could we stop now!?”
The depressed group just looked at their behavior with pity or perhaps envy.
The reason why the expression of the people differed was because there was a big difference between those who fought the mask directly and those who were suddenly burned up without comprehending anything.
Some instinctively feared the unknown and that disparate presence.
Some were looking at their arms to see if they still had them.
Some trembled just remembering what happened.
Some seemed like they were about to scream every time a black shadow so much as flickered.
Some couldn’t deny that they’ve been complacent because they were satisfied with their lineage.
All the feelings, ambition, and zeal that they had had been broken.
“As the leader of the Ootsu family, I will not change my decision. If we continue on this course, the only fate that awaits us is annihilation. That is an existence that would kick away even stones if they were to impede its way. That is what my exorcist’s intuition is telling me, and if you have even the slightest makings of an exorcist, you would understand.”
Exorcists like them with spiritual abilities never doubted their intuition. After all, it was because of their ability to sense things normal people could not that they could senses spiritual warnings, changes, and even danger without they themselves knowing.
That’s why the old man advised them to cease all activities to avoid inciting the mask any further.
He was also speaking to the people unhappy with that decision when he said that.
Because of that there were few people who could accept what he was saying even though he was the leader of the family.
“What are you saying, Gramps!? After coming this far, you want us to stop!? Have you finally gone senile!?”
But his grandson, Yoshihisa Ootsu, wasn’t done yet, and he stood up once more and ran to him, the sliding door almost breaking in the process.
Yoshihisa had his shiki defeated the last, so he found out about the situation too late.
“Enough, Yoshihisa! You may be the successor, but you’ve said too much!”
Angry yells opposing his entrance erupted, but he didn’t stop.
“Shut up!! How much effort and time do you think I’ve given just for the sake of this day!? And now you’re telling me we’re going to give up after just one failure? As if I could accept that!”
“Yoshihisa, I understand where you’re coming from, but we cannot fight that thing. And besides, you were defeated by it too.”
That’s why he should understand why they shouldn’t fight that thing, but Yoshihisa was too angry to pick up on the implication.
“So what!? I’ll acknowledge that he’s not just anyone, but he made one mistake – he made a fool out of me! And I swear that anyone who makes a fool out of Yoshihisa Ootsu – will pay! That’s how it’s always been until now! And that’s how it shall be this time too! No one can stop me, not even you, Gramps!”
Everyone here knew just what kind of person Yoshihisa was, so some were greatly perplexed, but most actually fanned the flames even more.
“That’s right, Yoshihisa-sama! Let’s fight together!”
“We don’t need the scared old geezers anymore!”
They had insulted the leader of the Ootsu family too with those words, but no one could be bothered to rebuke them anymore, and those unhappy with the situation just shook their heads in resignation.
“That’s right! And not just that stupid masked bastard, but that foreign brat too! We’ll make them wish they were dead! Come on!”
Dozens of the men gathered in the large hall stood up with a loud cry.
The old leader of the family was greatly perplexed by the scene, but he knew that his voice couldn’t reach them anymore, and could only make a loathsome expression.
『────What a predictable man.』
A mysterious, unfamiliar voice resounded.
Some were seized by fear, while others merely heard the sound of that voice, as Yoshihisa was blown away from the lower seats into the upper seats, into a wall, to slide back down to the tatami mat.
The intruder had appeared so suddenly that no one, not even the leader of the house, noticed when it appeared.
“Y-You— I mean, Your Eminence!”
But even when he did spot the intruder, he did not bother to help his successor.
Nay, it was not that he did not help his successor, rather he had been so seized with fear, that he was trembling.
For the one that had sent his successor flying was a black mist in the shape of a man, and on the position where one might find the face was a white mask.
It was none other than the existence responsible for foiling their plans.
“Eek, w-why!? How did you get here!?” Said an exorcist.
『 Are you really that dumb? When you’re controlling the shikis from a distance, or possessing them temporarily, you can’t cut the connection to your main bodies, so all I need to do is to chase those connections. 』
The mask said casually, but there was nothing casual about it at all.
Just how much effort and spells does one have to expend to realize such a thing?
And yet, in just some dozen minutes, this thing had actually made its way here all the way from Kutoria.
Normally, this was where they laughed, but this thing was just too persuasive.
Persuasive in the sense that it was much healthier for them psychologically to believe its claims than believe that there were more than one of its kind living in different places.
“I-It’s you! You’re the one who foiled our plans!” A hot-blooded man said.
“Mysterious monster, I’ll exorcise you now!” Said another hot-blooded man.
When they saw the behavior of their leaders, they realized that this was the enemy responsible for their plan’s failure, and immediately formed hand seals.
They called forth their spiritual power, wove spells, but the moment they were about to release them—
『 The rabble need to shut their mouths. 』
A calm heavy voice resounded, and a black wave was released.
With its explosive strength, the men were sent flying into the sliding doors.
Even those outside might have been hit as well, as they didn’t move.
Regardless, the intruder did not pay them any heed, and just made its way toward the upper seats.
“P-Please forgive our discourtesy until now—”
『 —Sorry, elder.
Believing that it would be unwise to offend this existence, the old master of the family prostrated himself and sought to apologize, but the mask interjected, its gaze nailed into the groaning man behind those seated in the upper seats.
No mercy could be expected from those dangerous eyes, and since the mask claimed to have no time, then that could only mean that it wasn’t about to listen to their excuses.
“I-I know that our actions are unforgivable! But please spare his life! He may be inexperienced, but he is my grandson by blood! Please, Your Eminence, please!!”
That’s why Yoshikazu jumped out of his seat and without hesitation performed a dogeza before the mask.
“These old bones am the master of this family! Let me take all the responsibility, Your Eminence! Please, have mercy!”
When the old leader of the Ootsu went so far as to desperately plead for his grandson’s life while offering a dogeza, the hot-blooded men finally calmed down.
If the old master was this desperate, then that could only mean that this was a foe that required such treatment.
Besides, their trembling bodies themselves were telling them that this was not an existence that they could afford to offend.
This was not something they could afford to involve themselves with.
For if its anger were to turn to them, all they would be able to do is to wait for the storm to pass. That was the kind of existence this was, their intuition told them.
『 Very well. I will not feign ignorance to your words, but… It will not do to have only you be punished. How many people do you think your great massacre sought to harm? All of you must take responsibility. 』
“I-It is exactly as Your Eminence says.”
『 Hence, to pay a price other than life, is to pay a price that is just as heavy. Of course, you’ve resolved yourself for that, yes? 』