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When he wakes up, Shuu finds himself on a bed.
It’s a hospital room. That hospital room where he was admitted after a serious injury.
A middle-aged female nurse comes in and feeds him a white dumpling, saying, “It’s time for your meal!” She would shovel the white dumplings into his mouth without hesitation.
“…A dream?” (Shuu)
I feel like I was having a terrible dream. I try to remember while munching on a fairly hefty bowl of dumplings, but there is a haze over my ability to remember and think.
“…What a relief, it was all just a dream.” (Shuu)
I am relieved to be back in reality for now. I swallow all the stuff in my mouth, but I am still hungry. Hospital food is not enough for me; I want something fattier and richer in flavor.
This time a man, my doctor, comes in and asks, “How are you feeling?” and strokes my face with a paintbrush. It tickles, but I am convinced that this is a necessary part of the treatment. I need to get well soon and get back to work.
“When will I be able to return to the surface?” (Shuu)
“When you reach level 50, squeak.” (Doctor)
When I wake up, I am in a small room surrounded by rock walls.
The surface of my nose is being stroked with a soft tuft of fur. A chipmunk is holding her tail and wagging it from side to side. It’s Tamiko.
“Good morning, squeak. It’s already morning, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“…I wake up and back to another nightmare, huh.” (Shuu)
At any rate, I reach out and rub her fluffy white belly. “Oh… don’t touch… no…!” Tamiko writhes under my fingers.
This is the 50th underground floor of the Outsuka Metro. If Tamiko is to be believed, this is the deepest level of the labyrinth that stretches beneath Tokyo.
Normally, there is no day or night in the underground world, but the glowing moss that grows on the walls and ceilings, which Tamiko says is called [Firefly Moss], indicates the day and night by the color of its light. When the light is whitish, it is daytime, and when it is bluish, it is nighttime.
I must have slept so much that I grew mold, but yesterday night I fell asleep early, and despite the fact that I was naked on the hard floor, I fell asleep soundly. It was like morning, with a dim white light illuminating the room.
“…Ah… I’m hungry…” (Shuu)
I just had a mouthful of that damn sporangium yesterday. I heard a sad sound from my stomach as if it was urging me to give it something.
“…I’m thirsty… I need a drink of water…” (Shuu)
It’s a very urgent need, too. I mean, Or rather, it may be more difficult to secure drinking water in this cave than hunting beasts.
“Then, shall we go to the oasis, squeak?” (Tamiko)
“A place where you can drink water in peace, squeak.” (Tamiko)
Tamiko has a good ear, apparently. She seems to have a skill that, in essence, strengthens her hearing, “It’s my Fungal Skills, squeak” she said, It is hard to see with the naked eye, but she has a tiny flap made of small threads on the edge of her ear so in short, her skill seems to strengthen her hearing.
“There are no Metro Beasts nearby, squeak. This is our chance, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“All right, let’s go.” (Shuu)
He removes the rubble that serves as a blockade, passing through the hole, and steps out of their hiding place.
A short distance away from the doorway is the remains of a wolf that has been reduced to nothing.
After yesterday’s incident, I tried to retrieve the carcass, even though I was prepared for the room to be covered in the stench of decay, but Tamiko stopped me, saying, “There are other beasts here.” It seemed that the smell of blood had attracted other beasts, and what was now lying-in front of us were their leftovers.
“Actually, It already looks like a seedbed.” (Shuu)
There is a long and slender plant that looks like a long and thin Tsukushi (a kind of Japanese radish) or Zenni (a kind of royal fern), and I have never seen anything like it before. Only one night after sprouting, or perhaps photosynthesis is not necessary?
“That’s a Mycelial Plant, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“Mycelial Plant?” (Shuu)
Is it a fungus or a plant? Looks like the latter, but I’m not quite sure.
“There are a lot of them growing in the oasis, squeak.”
We’ll discuss that later, but we need to get going.
I’m too wary to go out unarmed (aside from being in the buff), so I try to arm myself. As I reminded myself yesterday, “Come out, come out,” a thread started to form from the palm of my hand, forming the shape of a sword.
It is a sword made of white mycelium. I am relieved to be able to reproduce it, but at the same time, I cannot help but be surprised.
(Fungal Skill, huh?) (Shuu)
(Blue-black mold heals wounds and I can create swords.) (Shuu)
(For now, these two… are the only ones I can use at the moment… right?) (Shuu)
“Um, let’s go.” (Shuu)
The road, which resembles an abandoned subway line, continues to the left and right. From Tamiko’s stories and Shuu’s memories before waking up here, people would guess that this place is like a labyrinth created by the supernatural flooding and sprawling of the Tokyo Metro. With Tamiko on his shoulder, Shuu heads to the right along the rail.
The manmade ambiance quickly fades as the small tunnel leads to a pathway, which turns into a cavernous passage surrounded by craggy rock surfaces. The path branches off into narrow paths, and as Tamiko instructed, they turn to the right and left. After two or three minutes of walking, fearing that they might run into a beast, the path suddenly opens up to reveal a clear view.
“…Oh, my…” (Shuu)
The ceiling is high and the area is about the size of a school ground. It is as bright as real daylight, probably due to the amount of firefly moss.
Small insects are flying around. You can hear something like birds chirping. The ground is covered with soft humus, and short grass and trees grow as far as the eye can see. The air feels so fresh that it fills one’ s lungs.
“Certainly, it feels like an oasis within a desolate underworld. But…” (Shuu)
Clutching my sword, I look around nervously. If a wolf suddenly jumped out of the bushes, I’d be scared for sure. Or rather, I’d pee myself.
“It’s all right, squeak. There are no beasts nearby, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“Are you sure?” (Shuu)
“There are only rats, bats, and useless small fries, squeak.” (Tamiko) [T/N: So feisty.]
“Um? Okay.” (Shuu)
“There’s some water over there, squeak.” (Tamiko)
Water gushes from the ground and from the walls, creating ponds several meters wide in some places. Shuu scooped up some water with his hand and smelled it. There was no particular smell, nor were there any impurities in the water. At first glance, the water looks clean.
I take a sip of the water with trepidation. A cool sensation passes down my throat.
I may have never had such good water before. No, the taste itself is probably not so different from anything I have ever tasted, but it makes me realize that my body has been craving it. I downed two or three cups of it, though I thought I have to do it in moderation so as not to upset my stomach.
“…I’m me, without a doubt…” (Shuu)
I catch my breath and look at my reflection on the shimmering surface of the water.
It is unmistakably Abe Shuu. It is the same me as before I fell into a long sleep. This completely dispelled the theory that I had been reincarnated as another person.
I slap myself on the cheek. The featureless, pasty, smooth face that I have known for twenty-three years. A plain, flat face that could be called a representative of the plain face tribe. The women I know say he looks “sleepy,” “harmless,” “somewhat soothing,” and “hard to tell what he’s thinking. Is it wrong that I have a single eyelid?
I feel a little thinner than I remember myself. I’ve gained a few pounds in the year since I started to work, but I look even gaunter than I did when I ran out of money as a student. Is it natural since I have not eaten or drank for a century, or rather, should I be glad that I have not dried up and turned to dust?
Tamiko is washing her face and body with water. She seems to like to keep clean, just like a girl. She was also carefully polishing the jewelry on her head.
“Tamiko, what is that red jewel on your head?” (Shuu)
“It was on my mother’s head too, squeak. It’s just the way we are, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“It’s just the way you are?” (Shuu)
“Take your f*cking mitts off me, squeak! I’m sensitive, squeak! Stop, Sto—Pat me more…” (Tamiko)
“You’re so cute.” (Shuu)
Now that I am safely relieved of my thirst, the next step is hunger. I rummage around to see if there is anything edible.
I am not an expert on flowers and plants, but none of the plants in the oasis looked familiar to me. Some were twisted, some were bushy like marimo, some were oddly sized, and some had blue or black leaves. If I snap off one of the weeds, I find that it is sticky and filamentous inside the stem. I wondered if this was the origin of the name [Mycelial Plant]. [T/N: Marimo are moss balls that are actually algae colonies.]
Taking Tamiko’s advice, I picked some wildflowers that looked safe to eat. We also pick some mushrooms with strange shapes. Mushrooms are a low-calorie, sugar-free food, but they are better than nothing.
“Ah! Acorn Dandelion, squeak!” (Tamiko)
Tamiko runs up to the yellow flowers. The flower is named after the acorn dandelion, which has a seed resembling a tree nut in the center of its flower. This squirrel is nothing more than a squirrel as she plucks them off and gnaws on them.
Acorns are also a foodstuff. If you boil it and remove the scum, you can eat it, and if you grind it into a powder, it can be used as a substitute for grain. However, since I have neither the cooking utensils nor the knowledge to process acorns, I follow the squirrel’s example. In other words, I chomp into the whole thing.
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