Metro Labyrinth Chapter 140: Puppy, Nerima Squirrel

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~3rd Person Perspective~



 It’s been a year since Giran visited this place.


 He used to come here every year after the “Ikebukuro Memorial Service,” but this year he couldn’t find the time due to the recent mess.



 Deep in the forest northwest of Ikebukuro, the area is located near the boundary with Nakano and Nerima on the map. It is like a bubble, but to others, it is just an ordinary scene in the Aokigahara.



 Giran brushed the dust off the stones placed near the center of the area and carefully peeled off the moss that had grown there.



 Then, his sharp ears caught the sound of approaching footsteps. There was no way he could forget, no way he could mistake it. He had just smelled it about a month ago.



“Well, it’s nice to have cool air in the forest… but here, the direct sunlight is bright.” (Visitor)



 Giran’s sharp eyes were looking straight at the man who appeared from behind the trees.



“Stone melting weather, this is what the summer city is all about. Can you believe that 100 years ago, the average temperature was five degrees higher than this? Just imagining it makes you want to let your tongue hang out right, you wolf boy? Go ahead ahahaha!” (Visitor)



 The man, who had taken off his suit and slung it over his shoulders, had the same look on his face as he had at the closing ceremony. The left half of his face was scarred–a face that was so nostalgic for Giran that his chest tightened.



 The leader of the “Cross-Border Brigade,” who calls himself “Tsuruhashi Minato,” quickly tosses a newspaper at his feet.



“Newspaper ads… How very old-fashioned of you. Puppy.” (Visitor => Tsuruhashi)



 It was the newspaper of Bukuro Newspaper, the only private newspaper in Ikebukuro, which was founded after the revolt. It is sold every Wednesday and Saturday, not only in the territory, but also in neighboring cities.



 “I want to meet you alone. On the day we first met, in the place we first met. Puppy.”



 For the past few weeks, they’ve been running ads with the same words. Giran assumed that if he was lurking in this neighborhood, it was not unlikely that he would see it.



“Well, what do you want? I let you live the other day, but did you come to carelessly waste your life?” (Tsuruhashi)


“Your… I wanted to make sure of your true identity.” (Giran)


“I made a loud and clear statement on the big stage at Sugamo, didn’t I? I am Minato Tsuruhashi.” (Tsuruhashi)


“Don’t you dare use that name, you monster!” (Giran)


“That’s right. It just looks like you should ‘Shut up kid!'” (Tsuruhashi)



 The commander waved his palms as if to soothe Giran.



“The fact that I came here is proof of that, isn’t it? I miss the days when you were just a fluffy puppy.” (Tsuruhashi)



 It was more than thirty years ago. It was here that Giran first met Minato Tsuruhashi.



 Giran was only eight years old, had tragically lost his parents on a nearby road, and was chased to this spot by a goblin pack. Just as he was about to be stripped of his fur and turned into a rug, Minato saved his life. Puppy was the nickname he gave Giran at the time, though he didn’t learn it was a term for a young dog until later.



“I unintentionally saved you without using [False Face]. Then you said you had seen my portrait, even though you were just a kid, I ended up taking you on as an apprentice to keep you quiet. That was the beginning of this sordid relationship.” (Tsuruhashi)



 Giran clenched his fangs. What this man said was a perfect match with Giran’s memory.



“How’s that? How about I tell you all about your black history in your puppy days so that you can hear it too? You see, I’m Tsuruhashi—” (Tsuruhashi)


“Master Minato–” (Giran)



 Giran interrupted the commander’s words.



“The king sleeps here. I killed him with my own hands, burned his bones, and buried him here. This is his tombstone.” (Giran)



 He held up his hand to the stone at his feet.



“You cannot be Master Minato. Do not speak of him with his face and voice. You are a fake, a monster.” (Giran)



 The chirping of a small bird fills the brief silence.



 Giran was not caught off guard. Rather, during the conversation, he kept his nerves sharp and alert for any movement of the other party.






“–!” (Giran)



 In the blink of an eye, the commander disappeared from before Giran’s eyes.


 Cold sweat ran down his fur. When he turned around, he was crouching in front of the grave marker.



“… I see, here…” (Tsuruhashi)



 He touched the gravestone with his fingertips and squinted. It was as if he was reminiscing about something he had lost a long time ago.



 The commander stood up carelessly with Gilan, who reflexively jumped back and put some distance.



“…A demon is said to be able to read the memories and personalities of the parasitized host. However, there’s no way you could have been able to parasitize Master Minato’s body. I… carefully burned the corpse, even crushing the skull to pieces. It was an order from the Tokyo Governor…” (Giran)



 Giran clenched his fists and nails dug into his paws.



“His Excellency told me a lot about you the other day. He told me that you can also gain the memories and personalities of your targets by preying on their sporangium. So that’s the answer.” (Giran)



 This man ate Kang Yoshitsune’s sporocysts and demonstrated his unique skills at the closing ceremony. This is the first time even His Excellency has seen ability stolen, but in any case, it is more than enough proof to convince them that this man is a demon.



“On the day of the coup d’etat… in a corner of the fire-dusted city center, I found that man. He was naked for some reason, and his face was dazed as if he had just woken up from a dream as if he had no idea why he was there. The man was terribly weak and confused. …And he confessed his sins and…” (Giran)



 –Please end it now.


 That person said that at the end.



 Thinking that it would be good for this person, Giran wrapped the [Knight Sword] in flames.



“It was the fact that you stole that man’s sporangium that caused him to act so abnormal at that time… If you think about it that way, it makes sense. That person.” (Giran)



 The corner of Giran’s mouth unconsciously turned up and a low growl escaped from the depths of his exposed fangs. The clenched fist opens–ready to use a Fungal Skill at any time.



“…what, after all, shouldn’t you be full of killing intent?” (Giran)



 The commander’s expression didn’t change. Giran can’t feel any hostility or killing intent. It’s like he’s looking down at a puppy clinging to his leg.



“…Now, what’s Giran’s score? Drum roll…Bam! It’s zero point, try again next time!” (Tsuruhashi)



 The commander began to cackle despite Giran’s stunned reaction. In a high-pitched, grating voice.



“I’m sure I’ve got a lot of things fundamentally wrong. I’m the demon who ate Minato’s sporangia? No, no, I’m sorry, but not a single one of them fits.” (Tsuruhashi)


“Don’t be silly! At this point—” (Giran)


“Well, my true nature isn’t that important in the story surrounding this country. To be honest, it’s not even a big deal. What matters is not the essence, but what you do.” (Tsuruhashi)



 The soles of the commander’s shoes creaked forward. Giran lowered himself to intercept.



“I came here today to recruit. If you want to know the truth about Tsuruhashi Minato, come back to me, my puppy. One piece of jerky a day.” (Tsuruhashi)


“…What is your purpose? What are you up to, forming an army, declaring war on the government, and what are you up to?” (Giran)



 The commander hung his jacket over the grave marker and looked up.



“–Do you the word Carboniferous?” (Tsuruhashi)





~Shuu’s Perspective~



 The others and I arrive at the encampment before sunset.



 The Shihnachou is a metro under the control of Ikebukuro. Unlike Kanamecho, Shinanacho is completely open to the public. However, it is not a very popular metro, and the scale of the encampment is only a small cluster of stores along the street.



“I’ll look for our lodging, so let’s meet up later.” (Yoshitsune)



 After leaving the ostriches at the stables, the group was free to go on their own. Yoshitsune is looking for today’s lodging, Utsuki is chasing after him, and Kure and Ms. Aomoto are gone before they know it. The three remaining members of the group begin to leisurely stroll around the inn.



 As dusk approaches and the lanterns begin to line the eaves of the houses, the atmosphere becomes lively in its own way. I feel the urge to pick out some souvenirs and eat some food. Or rather, I ask Tamiko, “Dango! Dango! Pigya!” Tamiko pulls my ear.



“…Noa, are you okay?” (Shuu)


“…Yes, I am okay.” (Noa)



 Reading Mr. Giran’s letter, Noa seems to be somewhat shocked. Her mouth that is chewing the dango is lax.



 In the letter, Mr. Giran wrote that he and Noa’s great-grandfather were old acquaintances after all, about the Ikebukuro coup and her great-grandfather, and Mr. Giran’s own thoughts about the true identity of Tsuruhashi Minato (tentative). He then said, “Leave the rest to me, I’ll take care of it.”



 If Mr. Giran’s guess was correct, the man was not a great-grandfather after all. He was just a demon who was pretending to be him.



 —Which would have been better for Noa?



“Abeshuu! Abeshuu!” (Tamiko)



 Tamiko tugged at my ear again with her hand, which was sticky with the bean paste from the dango.



“What is it?” (Shuu)


“That! Look at that, squeak!” (Tamiko)



 I look in the direction Tamiko is pointing.



 There is a small shadow in the space between the stalls.


 It looks like a stuffed animal that has been misplaced and is constantly turning its head.



 It has a bushy tail, round eyes, and short arms and legs.


 –It was a squirrel.


 A squirrel, 360 degrees, no matter how you look at it, it’s definitely a squirrel.



“No way…” (Shuu)



 Did we finally meet them?



“…Carbuncle tribe…” (Shuu)



 For the first time, someone other than Tamiko.



 Tamiko shoves her hand into my hair and pulls out an acorn.



“Don’t use people’s heads as acorn vaults.” (Shuu)



 Ignoring the protests and stepping closer,



“Um… This…” (Tamiko)



 Hesitantly she offered the acorn.



 He (or she) turns their head restlessly—Snatches it, turns their tail back, and runs away. They let out a high-pitched voice, “Pipipi!”



 We three were left and were stunned with our mouths open.



“–The one just now is from Nerima, squeak?” (Tamiko)



 Ms. Aomoto appeared.



“They are not from a magic beast tribe, they are just ordinary beasts.” (Aomoto)


“I see.” (Tamiko)



 A race that didn’t turn into a magic beast even though it’s the same squirrel? It certainly didn’t have a head jewel like Tamiko’s.



“Nerima squirrels… are endemic in the northwestern part of New Tokyo, and their body hair is brownish gray without the stripes like Tamiko’s. Their favorite food is acorns and nuts, plus small insects such as grasshoppers and crickets. They are friendly and will climb on your shoulder when you feed them, and they often appear in human settlements like this. They are often kept as pets.” (Aomoto)


“It’s scary because they come out too smoothly.” (Shuu)



 I thought we had finally met her kind, but I didn’t know what to do. No wonder Tamiko becomes a dejected squirrel.



“…they stole acorns and left them to dry, squeak…” (Tamiko)


“Over there?” (Shuu)


“Tomorrow we will arrive in Nakano, where there will be a lot of people waiting for us. We’ll have acorns to give and laugh and talk about as much as we want.” (Aomoto)


“Please don’t create diplomatic issues.” (Shuu)



 Tomorrow, finally.


 The others and I will step into Nakano.



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