'Ichirou! Kyouka's...Kyouka's dying!'
Ryuuga's voice was more distraught than I had ever heard as she told me of Kyouka's condition.
It's clear why she's so stressed. It's obvious that she would be in a panic upon her only sister being in a critical state.
However, there's one thing about what she said that's on my mind.
'Hundun told me to bring you here right away! You're the only one who can save Kyouka!'
It seems that Hundun told Ryuuga to call me instead of calling 119. (TLN: 119 is the emergency service number in Japan, one of them at least)
I couldn't ask her for further details during the phone call, but she said that Hundun has a clue regarding Kyouka's worsening state. Is that why he was so gloomy recently?
At any rate, if there's something I can do about it──then I need to go.
So, I entrusted Elmira to house-sit and rushed towards the Hinomori residence in less than ten minutes.
Being led by Ryuuga after I met with her at the entrance, we quickly headed straight to Kyouka's room.
Once there, I saw Kyouka lying on her side inside a futon, with Hundun watching over her from the side.
"...So you've come, Sonny."
Hundun spoke to me, but didn't keep his eyes off of his host.
Following suit, I looked over at Kyouka.
She was groaning and sweating, clearly exhausted. Her trademark twintails were now undone, making her look like a completely different person.
(This is really bad...she needs treatment soon, or else things will get serious...)
As I grew more worried, Ryuuga spoke beside me while seeming like she was about to burst into tears.
"Hundun! Tell me what's going on already! Why is Kyouka like this?! Why is Ichirou the one who can save her?!"
"The cause of Kyouka's fragility is──me."
The muscular man finally turned towards us and spoke.
Both Ryuuga and I were stunned, and we stared blankly at the "Evil Spirit".
"I lost most of my strength when I lost to you people. I've barely managed to avoid being sent into hibernation, but it'll take me hundreds of years before I regain my power...or at least, that was how it was supposed to be."
I see where this is going. Unlike Taotie, Hundun has no fighting power anymore. At best, he can only fight for a short period, like during the final battle of part two.
"My power is recovering at a faster rate than I expected. It seems that I'm feeding off of Kyouka's life force."
"I'm absorbing it from her. Regardless of my intentions, Kyouka's life is draining."
Could this be the source of Kyouka's poor health?
...Going by what Hundun said, the host of an "Evil Spirit" is more than just a mere "vessel".
It seems that the host also provides them with a small amount of their life energy. Therefore, the most important quality of a vessel is the strength of their life force.
"Normally, the host wouldn't weaken to this degree. It's just energy consumption for standby, so to speak. However, since I've exhausted so much power...all of Kyouka's life force is being taken away. I can't do anything about this situation myself."
"It's unfortunate that I didn't fall asleep back then. If I had fallen asleep, I would only consume a miniscule amount of energy over hundreds of years, but...when I'm awake and powerless like this, the host takes on a heavy burden..."
──What the hell. In other words, the situation's beyond Hundun's expectations.
It's been about three months after Hundun was defeated in the final battle of part one. So he must have been stealing Kyouka's life force that whole time.
As a daughter of the Hinomori household, Kyouka has much more life force than the ordinary person. Due to that, she was fine for a little while, but perhaps her life force is beginning to dry up.
"Then what do we do...what do we do to save Kyouka?!"
When Ryuuga asked him that while turning pale, Hundun slowly stood up.
He then stared not at Ryuuga, but at me.
"That's obvious. I have to change hosts. That's the only option."
That would certainly work. Though unfortunately, it would be hard carrying out that idea.
There's one big problem with it. If Hundun were to change hosts, then who would the new host be?
In the end, the new host's life force would also drain away, leaving them to become like Kyouka right now. In that case, we're only switching who the victim is.
(That isn't something Kyouka would accept. Ryuga too. Sacrificing someone else if it meant saving her sister would pose a big dilemma for her...)
In the first place, there are very few humans who can become the vessel of an "Evil Spirit". A normal person would die the instant they're possessed...Taotie told me that before.
It's not as if a person fit for being a vessel would just conveniently show up in this──
(Could it be?)
At that moment, I understood. I knew why Hundun called me here. It means that I'm the only one who can save Kyouka.
I see. That's why Kyouka didn't want me here. She knew the cause of her poor health. Perhaps Hundun noticed that and has been thinking over it since.
"I'm begging you, Sonny. Even if it's just temporary, please──be my host."
Sure enough, Hundun bowed his head and said the words that confirmed my unease.
Seeming to understand as well, Ryuuga's expression changed and she forced her way between us.
"W, wait a minute, Hundun! Will Ichirou be okay if that happens?! Or rather, isn't Ichirou already possessed by Tie?!"
Right. I'm Taotie's vessel. I already have one "Evil Spirit" living in me.
Even if I have a high potential for being a host, I obviously don't know how I would do with two "Evil Spirits". Hundun's proposal is too impractical.
"Don't worry. I'm not proposing for him to do 'double duty'. I'm proposing an 'exchange'."
"Yes. In other words, Tie and I switch places. If that happens, Kyouka's life force won't be consumed at such a fast rate. She'll probably be healthy in a few days."
...I see. That might be a good idea.
Unlike Hundun, Taotie has lost little power. If all that's happening is the consumption of energy for standby power, it shouldn't be a problem for Kyouka.
Once Hundun fully recovers, or if Kyouka's life force returns to its peak, then it'll be okay to switch "Evil Spirits" again. This middle-aged man is quite smart, isn't he?
"First, I need Kyouka's permission to switch hosts. With her half-conscious state right now, that probably won't be hard. If I say something like 'Are you okay? Do you feel alright? Are you tired? Is it okay to switch hosts?'...I can get her to say 'yes'."
"We would be taking advantage of her half-conscious state, and she may not like it...but, if it means saving Kyouka, then I'm fine with it. I will do all I can to save this child!"
I didn't know that he was such a zealous middle-aged man. Though, I strongly sympathize with his spirit.
Of course, I want to help Kyouka as well. The only one who can do that here...is me.
"Now we need a response from you, Sonny. Are you on board with my plan?"
"Wait! Let's think about this for a bit longer! There might be some other way to──"
Though Ryuuga tried to interrupt us with her own objection, we ignored her.
"I understand. I permit Tie to switch hosts."
I quickly nodded my head. The exchange of "Evil Spirits" was approved.
...To be honest, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't hesitate. Even if just for a moment, I'll be possessing two "Evil Spirits". However, with Kyouka's condition, it's a race against time.
So what if there's some risk to take? The "protagonist's friend" is no substitute for the "protagonist's sister".
Don't look down on the spirit of the friend character Kobayashi Ichirou. I'm the guy who'll risk his life faster than Kaiji if it's for the sake of livening things up towards the climax, and for the sake of Ryuuga! (TLN: Kaiji is a hardcore gambler from the manga of the same name)
"Ichirou! Don't be stupid! Neither Kyouka nor I would want this!"
"It's fine, Ryuga. I'm the guy who 'converted' Tie when he was still at his full power."
"You'll lose a massive amount of your life force! You're risking your life!"
"Kyouka's been enduring this for three months. I can probably do it for that long as well. There's no time to think of other methods...Kyouka's life takes maximum priority right now."
Though I said that with a stern expression, I was actually delighted on the inside.
With this, I can genuinely become someone powerless, no need for lying. I'll no longer be able to battle. I'll turn into a weak character with little vitality.
Kyouka will be saved. I'll go back to being an ordinary citizen. It's a win-win situation, isn't it?
(Furthermore, Tie will be living in the Hinomori household and will get to see Ryuga each day. That makes it a win-win-win. I'm getting good vibes from this!)
Though I'm worried about Taotie being with them, I'm nevertheless willing to do this.
Let's make this Kobayashi Ichirou's high point in the story. I'll use this chance to move away from the spotlight and return to my original position. Back to the golden days of when all I talked about were "breasts" and "panties".
I made up my mind and did what I could to persuade Ryuuga.
"Ryuga. I told you this already back when classes were done for the day. My job is to take care of you. That's the kind of person I am."
"And another thing, we made a promise. A promise that we would roleplay as lovers."
"W, why are you bringing that up now...?"
"Our lovers roleplaying is when you show the true face of Hinomori Ryuuga! So, forget about your mission! Just worry about your sister!"
"Trust me! I've got a good vibe about this! It's a win-win-win!"
"W, what are you talking about?!"
While Ryuuga turned bright-red for some reason, I kneeled down beside Kyouka.
"Alright. Let's do this now, Hundun. First, get permission from Kyouka to switch. Then, get her to accept Tie...that should fine, right?"
"Much obliged, Sonny...I owe you one."
The unshaven man began to whisper something into Kyouka's ear.
Eventually, Kyouka faintly nodded while still struggling around. It seems that it worked.
"Kyouka...goodbye for now."
In the end, Hundun said that to the girl on the bed, and then his figure passed through her.
He then disappeared inside of me, as if I sucked him in.