Metro Labyrinth Chapter 20: Pork Hotpot and Mushroom Coffee

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“Ah, Ms. Ikari? About that Master Threadweaver, what does that mean?” (Shuu)



 Ito maki maki, ito maki maki. [T/N: It’s a popular children’s song in Japan. It originated from the west but I am not familiar with it. The song’s English title is “Wind, Wind the String”.]


 The nursery rhyme that popped into my head quickly disappeared. I couldn’t remember the rest of it.


 Her eyes avoided mine for a moment, hesitated, and then she made a small shake of her head.



“…I don’t know where to begin…It’s a very long story. Can we continue after we… reach the surface?” (Noa)


“Eh? After reaching the surface?” (Shuu)



 It’s nice that she believed me, and I appreciate that she seems to know a lot about the situation, but is it really that big of a deal?



“I’m sure there’s no need to hurry and ask you anything right now… but I’ve got a lot of questions I want to ask you, too… and it’s a long conversation to have here, that’s for sure…” (Shuu)


“I’m sorry. The dismantling isn’t finished yet, and we have to prep the stuff we’re going to bring back. Shall we have pork hotpot for dinner tonight.” (Noa)


“Pork hot pot!? Really!?” (Shuu)



 Everything I wanted to talk about and ask about blew up in my face.



“What is pork hot pot, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“It’s a hot pot made with wild boar. It’s the King of all wild game.” (Shuu)


“Is it good, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“Well… I’ve never eaten one.” (Shuu)



 Noa smiles.



“I have a pot, some wild plants, and seasonings. I actually came here to hunt for Catoblepas for that very reason. I’ve never forgotten the taste of the Catoblepas I had in Nerima, and I heard they were here. I didn’t know there would be such a strong, matured Catoblepas, and I almost got eaten by one.” (Noa)



 After that, I resumed helping with the dismantling. My tension is also 100% higher.


 Stripping it from the bones as instructed, I fillet the meat and wash with it river water. When I handed Tamiko a piece of leg meat, she chewed it and said, “Hmm, it’s juicier than wolf meat, squeak.” She is a squirrel who has become a carnivore.



 Noa sprinkles salt on the ribs and wraps some kind of herb around the meat. She takes a linen bag from the shoulder bag under her cloak and puts the meat and the mysterious mushrooms, which she says “will be a drying agent,” in it.



“There is a room on the thirteenth floor that is like a hideout where animals cannot enter. It’s a bit far, but if we can make it that far, I think we can sleep in peace tonight.” (Noa)


“Okay, let’s go. I love secret bases.” (Shuu)





 Following Noa’s lead, I walk with the supplies under my arm. About ten kilograms of prepared meat. It’s not that heavy for the current me.


 Tamiko’s hearing and my [Sensory Spores] keep us on alert. If a Metro Beast comes near, we threaten and chase them away. We also see normal Catoblepas, and they don’t charge recklessly at us like the one we just slew.



“It’s amazing… the Metro Beast on this floor runs away like puppies…” (Noa)


“Well, that Catoblepas just now, but that one might be a real puppy compared to the ones on the fiftieth floor.” (Shuu)


“Hmm, well, that’s not my style, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“Hmm? Yeah.” (Shuu)



 The fact that a girl of a lower level than herself has joined the party, the spirited squirrel (10 years old) is a little bit spurred to a more enthusiastic mood.


 Noa seems to have memorized the way to the upper floors and we reached the stairs without getting lost even once. The nineteenth, eighteenth, and seventeenth floors are, thanks to Noa, passed through in a breeze.



“By the way, how long does it take to get to the surface from the thirteenth floor?” (Shuu)


“If we venture out early in the morning, we can get out around noon.” (Noa)



 Tamiko and I looked at each other and nodded.


 It’s finally time. We will finally be on the surface tomorrow.



 The three of us finally reached the thirteenth floor when the color of the Firefly Moss changed from white to blue.


 We have been walking almost nonstop up to this point (except for Tamiko), and we are all exhausted to a certain extent. After another ten minutes of walking, Noa slips into a crack in the wall. It seems to be the hiding place.



 Beyond the crack is an almost pitch-dark room with few Firefly Moss. The room is about ten meters square, as measured by the sensing spores. Sitting on the rugged rock floor, my weary legs slowly relax.



 Noa pulls out a lamp from her bag. Inside is a candle, or so I thought, but it turns out to be a thick-stemmed plant similar to a horsetail, which she lights with a match. A gentle, flickering light illuminates the room.


 She takes off her cloak, and underneath I see that she is wearing tight-fitting, dark clothing. A long-sleeved, open-front shirt and pants. It resembles a jersey.



“Do hunters wear similar kinds of clothes?” (Shuu)


“Well, that’s right… They call it an orthodox jersey.” (Noa)


“So it is really called a jersey.” (Shuu)


“This most common type of jersey, it is cheap, but it’s rather durable, has excellent resistance to cutting, stains, wear and tear. Most hunters use them.” (Noa)


“So… I see.” (Shuu)



 Her shape is clearly visible. The first time I saw it again, it was, how should I say it, quite big. The first live girl in five years, dazzling like the sun.


 I try my best not to stare too closely at her, but my loyal optic nerve system moves of its own accord for its own pleasure. If it is a gift from my eyes, I can’t be indifferent to it.



“Then I’ll prepare the pot. Could Mr. Abe and Ms. Tamiko fetch some water? There is a water hole a little to the right after we leave here.” (Noa)


“OK. Leave it to me.” (Shuu)



 I did as I was told, and in a few minutes, I came to an open space with a small spring. Mycelial plants were growing densely and purple butterflies were fluttering about. It was similar to the oasis on the 50th floor.



“It looks like we’re back there, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“Yeah.” (Shuu)


“Do you think Oldman Uni is well, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“I hope they’re fine.” (Shuu)



 I sip the water from the spring. The water seemed to be clean and free of impurities. The water has no smell and no strange taste. I filled two canteens, one for Noa and one for me, and washed my face and hands while I was at it.



 A rabbit with horns watches them curiously from a little distance. It is a small beast that was not on the 50th floor (though it is at least the size of a large dog). Under normal circumstances, I would have been eager to make it to tonight’s dinner, but there is a feast waiting for us. I can afford to let it go.



“Abeshuu.” (Tamiko)


“Hmm?” (Shuu)


“Is that Ikarinoa a good human, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“I think she’s a good kid.” (Shuu)



 At least, she doesn’t seem to have any harmful or hostile intentions. I’m sure there are some things she has hidden or are hard to say.



“Then, I’m going to believe Abeshuu, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“Thank you for your kind words, you little squirrel.” (Shuu)



 Back at the lair, Noa is using a stone as a cutting board to chop ingredients. Meat, twisted wildflowers, greenish root vegetables I had never seen before, and mushrooms as big as a man’s fist. It looks like it will be a pot with unique ingredients dancing in the air.


 The stones are arranged in a circle. Place some black stones in the center of the circle. When a match is lit, the stones ignite and burn. It seems to be like charcoal for barbecues.



“Then, I’ll cook the Pork Hot pot.” (Noa)


“Yeah!” (Shuu)


“Squeak!” (Tamiko)



 The pot is about the size of two people, with a shallow bottom like a frying pan (the handle seems to be detachable, so it is convenient for carrying). The fat from the wild boar meat is scraped off and the ingredients are sauteed in the fat. At that point, the room is filled with an irresistible smell.


 Water is added and seasonings are added. Salt, chopped herbs, and, judging from the smell, miso. After the soup simmers, Noa takes a spoonful of the broth and tastes it. She nods serenely.


 Vegetables, mushrooms, and thinly sliced wild boar meat are added. Mine and Tamiko’s drool limit have been reached.



 A few minutes later, which is equal to eternity. Noa puts the ingredients into wooden bowls. She uses a ladle to put in the soup and chopsticks to put in the meat and wild plants. The bowl and chopsticks are placed in front of me, and a small condiment dish and toothpicks are placed in front of Tamiko.



 The two of us look at Noa’s face. With eyes similar to a dog looking at its master in front of food.



“Now, please enjoy the meal.” (Noa)



 Her smile released the two animals. We clasp our hands together in high spirits and say together, “Thank you for the meal (squeak)!”



 First, I took a sip of the soup. The rich flavor of miso caresses my tongue. The sweetness of the fat and the punch of the garlic will blow my brain.


 The more you bite into the wild boar meat, the more tender it becomes. It has a slightly wild taste, but it is almost the same as pork. The fat melts in your mouth. The mushrooms are juicy and full of umami, and the wild plants have a bitterness that matches the flavor of the soup. There are also ginkgo nut-like nuts in the soup, which have a delightful crunchy texture.



“Yum… oh, yeah… that’s all I can say…” (Shuu)


“Hafu, hafu! Delish, squeaking delish!” (Tamiko)



 Tamiko is dexterously pulling and nibling the ingredients with the tip of her toothpick. Soup wetted her cheeks.



“Yummy, squeaking delicious! This is the first time I tasted something squeaking good!” (Tamiko)



 On the 50th floor, we had grilled wolf meat and goblin meat and boiled them with wild plants. It was a luxury for our souls, but in a situation where there was no cooking skill or seasonings, it was nothing more than a “warm meal that was a little better than usual.”


 For the past five years, we have been pursuing the idea that “Dangerous is delicious.” Then came this pork hot pot. It was the first “decent food” I had had in five years.



 How could it not be good? I can’t help but be impressed.



“What’s this… I can’t stop tasting with my whole body…” (Shuu)



 Noa is happy to see the two of us in tears. She also picks up meat directly from her pot with her chopsticks, chews her meat, and shivers in pleasure.



“It’s delicious! It’s even better because we got the meat ourselves. It’s the kind of moment that makes you glad you’re a hunter.” (Noa)


“That’s true.” (shuu)


“I have a lot of ingredients, so we’re going to make more and more. Next, let’s make it a little lighter to suit Ms. Tamiko.” (Noa)


“Squeak! Ikarinoa you’re the best, squeak!” (Tamiko)


“Don’t get too carried away (well me too).” (Shuu)



 The meat for today’s dinner must have weighed close to a kilo, but we found ourselves devouring the whole thing together. We can say “thanks for the meal” from the bottom of our hearts.


 The three of us head to the watering hole to wash the pots and dishes and refill the water. When we return to the hideout, Noa starts boiling water in a small slightly rusty, burnt pot.



“Do you like coffee?” (Noa)


“I really, really like it.” (Shuu)



 She pours hot water into cups and bowls and dissolves a dark powder. It looks like instant coffee.



“Mushroom coffee from Nerima.” (Noa)


“Mushroom coffee?” (Shuu)


“It is a powder made from roasted and crushed coffee fungus. You dissolve it and drink it as mushroom coffee.” (Noa)


“I see.” (Shuu)



 It looks and smells like coffee. Noa sipped it without hesitation, and I followed her lead.



“Oh… Yum…” (Shuu)



 It’s a little strong and bitter, but it’s definitely coffee. Too nostalgic and good.


 I gave Tamiko a sip, but she didn’t seem to like it much, saying, “It’s too bitter. Is it good for children, squeak?”


 *Gulp* *gulp*, a sip of the coffee, feeling the warmth of the coffee as it passes through my throat.



(I wonder what it is.) (Shuu)


(However, I’m so happy that I don’t mind if I die today.) (Shuu)



 It may not be an exaggeration to say that I have lived for this moment.



“Mr. Abe… you are telling me that you don’t know anything about …… this world, about the hunter, or about what happened to you, right?” (Noa)


“Yes.” (Shuu)


“Maybe I can help you. I know a little more about the world before …… than most people.” (Noa)


“Really?” (Shuu)



 Noa took a sip of her coffee.



“I’d like to go out on the ground with you tomorrow. I think it would be better for you to see it with your own eyes.” (Noa)


“Thank you, I’m grateful. Thank you for your help.” (Shuu)


“You’re welcome. You are my saviors.” (Noa)



 Noa’s smile is carefree and has a girlish, innocence expected from her age.



“By the way… how old is Ms. Ikari?” (Shuu)


“Oh, right. I’m 18 years old.” (Noa)


“I see (a senior high girl).” (Shuu)



 I wondered what I was doing when I was 18 years old. It was not until the second semester of school that I began studying for the entrance examinations in earnest. Until then, I went back and forth between school and home every day, playing games in my room, reading manga and browsing pornographic websites, and sometimes playing mahjong or browsing pornographic websites at my friends’ houses. I never got a girlfriend, and my days were filled with the gray pages of my youth.



 And now I wonder.



 Why is this girl, who is only 18 years old, working in such a dangerous, hard, and smelly job as a hunter? Or is that the norm in this world?



“How old is Mr. Abe?” (Noa)


“Um… If you don’t count the time I was asleep, I’ll probably be twenty-eight this year…” (Shuu)



 I feel like I just barely missed my goal of getting out of the metro by thirty. I’d say it’s a blessing in disguise that I had a life at all.


 Noa stares at my face and tilts her head looking a little confused.



“Really… Excuse me, but you look a little younger than that…” (Noa)


“Thank you for saying.” (Shuu)


“I’m a little bit younger than you, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“You wet the bed the other night.” (Shuu)



“Evil!” (Tamiko)




A/N: Next time, the final chapter of the Outsuka Metro Arc.

T/N: If you like the series rate, review and add on your reading list on Novel Updates. You can also donate through Paypal or Ko-fi, or subscribe on Ko-fi. Thank you!

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