Metro Labyrinth Chapter 5.2: After Six Months

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 Every day since the day I woke up, without fail, I have carved a character on the calendar on the wall of my hideout room.


 Today is the sixth-thirtieth character. In other words, six months have passed since I woke up.



 A human being can do anything if he or she is willing to fight to the bitter end.


 This is what I have come to realize once again. What I have been doing is far beyond the scope of what human beings normally do.



 In the beginning, his legs trembled every time he stood in front of the wolves, and he was barely surviving, just edging enough for a victory, all the while being gnawed and scratched here and there and suffering serious injuries. Now…


 Now he is standing in front of a Ghost Wolf. He has outgrown the leaf skirt he wore since day one, and now wears clothing made from the skins of their packmates.



“Graaaa!” (Ghost Wolf)



 The enemy Ghost Wolf howls. It is not the tone someone strong throws at their opponent, but rather a voice that warns, “Don’t come this way.” And to prove this, it crouched down and took a stance glaring up at me from below.



“—I have to do it. No hard feelings.” (Shuu)



 Shuu sticks out his left hand. The circular [Hypha Shield], the cornerstone of the defense, appeared from his palm.


 On the tip of his fingers in his right hand is a red Hypha Ball. Holding the shield in front of him, he swings his right hand and with a flick of his wrist sends the Burning Ball flying.



 Ghost Wolf steps to the side. Boom! It explodes on the ground. Not intimidated by the flames that rise momentarily, the Ghost Wolf plunges straight into the ground.



“Ha!” (Shuu)



 The jaws of the creature, which are about to bite Shuu’s head off, are deflected by a strike of his shield. The estimated 200 kilograms of its entire body weight is thrown at him, but he only moves back slightly.


 As soon as the opponent lands on the ground, Shuu produces burning balls again at the tips of his three fingers. Flick and throw, three small blasts. Dodging every one of them, Ghost Wolf turns to the side and closes the distance.



 Shuu produces a mycelial sword. He swings it down in an exaggerated diagonal shoulder slash.


 The Ghost Wolf catches with its teeth a sword slash, which is strong enough to cut off its head with a single swing.



“Woah!” (Shuu)



 Seriously, Shuu falters for a moment. This is the first time he’s seen a wolf block like this.


 The mycelial shield in his left hand is already detached from his palm (Shuu can now do it at will without needing to rip it off). Instead, he tries to summon a second Hypha Sword.



“Abeshuu!” Tamiko shouts. “Behind–!”



 My back is tense.


 When I turn around, the second Ghost Wolf is right in front of me, its mouth wide open.



“Here–!” (Shuu)



 Almost reflexively, I release a mycelial ball from the index finger of my left hand. The red cocoon is sucked into the mouth of the second one, and boom! Flames rage.



 The first one, having released its fangs, reaches out with its claws. Shuu avoids it and pushes his sword from below. The white tip breaks through the thick skin, shatters the ribs, and passes from the belly to the back. Blood splatters on his face.


 Slowly, with a thud, it falls to the ground. Then stops moving.



“Oh, I panicked…” (Shuu)



 I kept it to myself that I was about to pee myself.



(There’s now an ambush?) (Shuu)



 So far, I’ve only targeted literal loners, and even when I’ve seen them with mates or raising kids, they’ve never attacked me from the other side. It was completely unexpected to have one half lurking around.


 Besides, it could take a blow and block with its mouth, even when it was still at a low level. Maybe it was an elite like the individual who overwhelmed the Red Goblin that day.



“This guy, during Abeshuu’s fight, squeak, it was silencing its own footsteps and presence, squeak.” (Tamiko)



 Tamiko, sensing that the situation was under control, came running up to me.



“I see… I guess the other side was planning countermeasures.” (Shuu)



 The second one, which ate the burning ball, is still writhing, although its face is mangled, and its eyeballs are about to pop out. “I’m sorry,” Shuu murmurs and swings his sword down on its neck.





 It is said that the 50th underground floor of this Outsuka Metro is incredibly large.


 So far, the range of our activities has expanded more than several times over the initial period, but according to Tamiko, it is still “just a corner of the 50th floor”. I am prepared to be surprised even if the whole area is about 10 km from one end to the other.


 Still, the fact that our lives are centered around the safe house and this oasis has not changed even after half a year.



“I’ve gotten used to living here, somehow.” (Shuu)



 The two of us are chomping down on the sporangium at the watering hole in the oasis. I wonder if it is a good thing that I am getting used to this unpleasant taste. It still doesn’t taste good at all.


 Tamiko’s ears are still up, trying not to miss any approaching Metro Beast. She is truly a squirrel, with her cheek pouches puffing and her head twisting and turning.



“Nom, nom… Abeshuu is getting stronger, squeak. I’ll do my best today too, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“I’m already on a higher level than you, though.” (Shuu)



 After getting the [Hypha Shield] Fungal Skills, the stability of our battle has drastically improved. We continued to target and hunt Ghost Wolves and Blue Goblins for six months.



 I’ve reached level 17. While Tamiko is at 14.


 Regardless of the improvement in his physical ability, his body shape has only become a little leaner and slightly muscular. Clearly, muscle mass and strength are not correlated. Is it not the muscle itself that is growing, but rather the mycelium that is parasitizing my body? And, although I don’t feel it yet, it seems that the power and performance of mycelium also increase with each level up of the mycelium.



“I’m not sure if I’m really improving my level, though…” (Shuu)



 Although I am able to hunt one prey almost every day these days, the pace has obviously slowed down since around level 13, and it has been more than half a month since my last level-up.


 Just as it was not possible to kill a number of rats, wolves may have become less potent as a source of experience beyond this point.



“Well… it is a luxury to be able to worry about it. Compared to the days when I hunted wolves to the death every time I…” (Shuu)



 One option is to pick up the pace. However, I feel that doing so might drastically reduce the number of wolves on this floor.


 One of the facts that remind me that this is not a game, but the reality is that monsters, or metro beasts, “don’t just spring up out of nowhere” (I don’t know how they originated in the first place). They have reproductive organs, and they reproduce with their own sex. I remember learning in high school biology that fungi also reproduce sexually.



 Once, by chance, I saw a newly-born ghost wolf. The three sticky cubs were calling out to their mother with such a puppy-like sound that I struggled to resist the urge to take one home and name it Chappy or something.


 According to Tamiko’s mental calendar, which she inherited from her mother, it is now October or November (I am not sure how much we can rely on this). Perhaps because we are deep underground, the temperature here does not change much in summer or fall, and the beasts seem to be reproducing vigorously regardless of the season. It seems that their number is not so small that a single person can exterminate the whole species.


 Nevertheless, if the number of beasts was to decrease due to too intensive hunting, it might have some impact on the ecosystem on this floor.


 I am not worried about that from an ecological standpoint, but rather how it will affect the other powerful metro beasts. I am afraid that the monsters, such as Ogres and Orthrus, which are estimated to be over level 50, will start to roam around here.


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