Metro Labyrinth Chapter 9: Three Years Later

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 Two and a half years after the Wraith trauma.


 It’s been three years since I woke up.


 According to Tamiko’s calendar, it is now May. It is my fourth spring here on the 50th underground floor of Outsuka Metro, although it does not feel like the season is here at all.



“Abeshuu, Oldman Uni is coming, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“Yeah, I know.” (Shuu)



 As I and Tamiko brush our teeth in the oasis (their toothbrushes are toothpicks made from a bundle of shrub branches), the unicorn approaches soundlessly from the back corridor.


 It is one with the slightly broken tip of its horn, a.k.a. “Oldman Uni” who has become a familiar face to the two of us. As usual, there is no sound of footsteps. It is an effect of the unicorns’ Fungal Skills.



“Good morning, Oldman Uni.” (Shuu)



 Oldman Uni approached the water’s edge and gulped down a drink of water. The distance between Oldman Uni and us was about three meters. It has taken a year for him (a male with a magnificent thing) to get this close.


 However, he has not yet warmed up to us. If we approach him any closer, he swings his horns at us and threatens us, and he does not eat any of the grass or mushrooms that we give him.



 This Oldman Uni is the one we encounter the most often. In fact, I have a feeling that he comes here when we are around. And yet, he never lets us get close to him, so he’s a real tsundere horse.



“I read in a fantasy novel that unicorns only let pure maidens touch them.” (Shuu)


“I’m a maiden, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“Sure, sure a pure maiden.” (Shuu)


“Is Abeshuu a virgin, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“Your mother shouldn’t have waste time teaching you useless words.” (Shuu)


“What do you mean, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“Fine, okay, we’ll finish this sooner… What’s with that look?” (Shuu)



 The unicorns are mild-mannered and averse to conflicts, but they are one of the strongest fighters on this floor. So, their presence here inevitably makes it harder for other Metro Beasts to approach us. So, the bathing time can also be relaxing. Of course, we have to be at least vigilant enough.



 And then, at the very edge of my senses, a large presence appeared. It is a Ghost Wolf by the looks of it. Tamiko’s ears perk up as if she has noticed it from the sound, but she doesn’t stop brushing the white fur on her belly.



“I’ve come to think of it as nothing more than a ghost wolf. It doesn’t mean I’m letting my guard down, but…” (Shuu)


“Sure, squeak.” (Tamiko)



 I am now level 54 and I have mastered 13 Fungal Abilities. The Ghost Wolves and Goblins, who were powerful once enemies when I first awakened, are no longer a match for me if we go head to head.



“Cut them, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“If they don’t come from the other side, let’s leave them alone. Let’s go back, get ready, and go hunting again today.” (Shuu)


“Okay, squeak!” (Tamiko)





 From the hideout, we take the main path to the right, which branches off at the end of the street. After about an hour of going through the Goblin territory, we come to a vast grassland area that stretches about 1.2 kilometers from one end to the other. This is one of the main hunting grounds after I crossed the level 50 mark.



 It is a paradise for insects and small animals, with green and purple flowers, giant horsetails, royal ferns, and mysterious foxtail-like plants. No matter when I come here, the air is always foggy and humid.


 Thick concrete pillars stand in rows like large trees, and on top of them, ogres are building nests of dead grass. They are the masters of this place, competing for survival all year round with Orthrus and Demon Centipedes.



 The Ogre-a bipedal gorilla with black body hair-is one of the most deadly Metro Beast on the 50th floor of the Outsuka Metro. It is superior to Orthrus and Wraiths in terms of toughness, and its intelligence is also surprisingly high, as expected from a gorilla-like creature.



 Immediately after entering the Ogre Grasslands, I spread spores from my whole body.


 My tenth Fungal Skills, [Sensory Spores].



 The principle behind it is unknown, but I am able to send invisible microscopic particles (I assumed to be spores) from my body and detect the three-dimensional shapes and actions of targets to which they adhere. When I first learned it, I was only able to have a range of about 30 meters, but now I can reach a radius of up to 50 meters. By swinging my arm in a direction, I can also increase the range in that direction.



 The sensed information is very intuitive. It is difficult to explain, but it is another sense, completely different from sight, hearing, and so on. The things behind me and the rocks are directly perceived by my brain like the world captured everything. I can sense them even if I close my eyes or cover my ears. That’s all I can say.



 I have absolutely no idea why information about attached spores is fed back to my brain. To put it bluntly, it is an overpowered skill.



 I learned this eight months ago, but it took me more than two weeks to master the ability. Since then, I have been able to respond to approaching enemies who are not even close to Tamiko’s auditory range, which has increased the stability of our hunts. Among the thirteen Fungal Abilities that I have mastered so far, this is one of the most useful, along with the [Regenerative Mycelium].


 Spreading my hands, I began sensing. Countless invisible spores shoot out, and information about the area flows into my brain. I confirm the presence of an Ogre on a pillar at the far right. There seems to be no one else around.



“Okay, let us hunt.” (Shuu)


“Abeshuu, you can’t be too careful, squeak.” (Tamiko)



 Lowering Tamiko from my shoulder, I moved in as close as I could without making a sound. When he was about ten meters away, a huge shadow rose up from the top of a pillar. Then, with a quick jump, the shadow leaps down and lands heavily with a thud.


 It was even bigger than the Wraith, a hulking figure that looked to be about two and a half meters tall. It had a massive pectoral, arms as thick as logs, thick black body hair, gleaming eyes and sharp fangs, and a horn on his forehead that is shorter and thicker than a unicorn’s. It looks like it has a lot of hair, but it does not.



“…It’s a handsome guy… For some reason…” (Shuu)



 Its face looks sculpted. The face then changes at once to a monstrous expression when it enters into battle.



“Uho! Uho!” (Ogre)



 The gorilla or Ogre slaps its chest with a bam-bam. It is threatening me and Tamiko.



“It’s okay, squeak. It’s a level that Abeshuu can handle, squeak.” (Tamiko)



 I summoned my [Hypha Shield] in my left hand and a [Hypha Hammer] in my right.


 My sixth Fungal Skill is the [Hypha Hammer].


 The nearly one-meter-long handle is hard and bone-like, similar to the [Hypha Sword], but the hammerhead is heavy and solid as if it were condensed. Also, it is more effective than the [Hypha Sword] against Ogres, whose body hair makes it difficult for blades to penetrate.



“Ha!” (Shuu)



 If it was going to run away, it was going to target another one, but this one seemed to be determined to fight.


 I shouted.


 I had fought many times before, but this was not an opponent I could afford to let down my guard.



“No hard feelings.” (Shuu)



 I leaped at it with my shield in front and hammer on my shoulder.




 According to Tamiko’s third Fungal Skill [Risk Counter], it has “the ability to roughly gauge an opponent’s strength,” the Ogre is roughly around level 50 or so (just as Tamiko’s mother had estimated). Therefore, at this point in time, My level is slightly above the average level of Ogres.


 However, the level is only an indicator of the strength of the mycelium that takes root in the creature’s body. The actual ability is evaluated differently depending on the species of the Metro Beast. The other side has power and toughness that defies differences in level.



“Uwaaa!” (Ogre)



 The ogre swings its arm. The speed and force of the swing make the air vibrate, and the accompanying wind pressure alone pushes my body down.


 I am not planning on blocking it, but focusing on evading it. In a contest of raw strength, I am still no match for it.



“Ha!” (Shuu)



 I took advantage of the opportunity and delivered a blow, a hammer to the side of its head. My palms feel a numbing sensation, and the impact is absorbed by my compact, flexible muscles.


 The hammer almost makes up for the difference in reach. I dodged my opponent’s attacks and counter with small, steady strikes. The fight would be quicker if I could hit its knees, but its long arms and forward-leaning posture make it difficult to aim for its lower body. It was the next best thing: a body blow.



 Ogre did not care about the body blow and repeated its large swing one-shot KO attacks, but after the seventh blow, it stopped moving for a moment. The area, where I had repeatedly struck at the same spot, seemed to have finally cracked my opponent’s iron wall.



“Guu!” (Ogre)



 The Ogre receives my eighth blow and backs away, its body bent into a crouching position. Once I had taken some distance and I try to recover some of my stamina, I was able to get a good look at my opponent.


 Even with my ability [Regenerative Mycelium], the opponent was a super-strong gorilla, and even a single blow could turn the tables on me. My back was soaked with sweat as I continued to fight my way through.



“Abeshuu! The other guys may come, squeak! Beat it soon, squeak!” (Tamiko)


“Yeah, I’ll take care of it.” (Shuu)



 Basically, ogres don’t come together, and they don’t feel a sense of camaraderie among themselves, even if they are family members or of the same species. Even so, the smell of violence and blood may attract other ogres. We have to end this as soon as possible.


 Then the Ogre’s fingertips moved, and mycelium forms a sphere at the Ogre’s fingertips.



“That guy, it’s making a mycelial ball, squeak!” (Tamiko)



 It took the purple, toxic-looking ball of mycelium and puts it in its mouth. It chewed it before swallowing.



“Wooouuuu!” (Ogre)



 It growled and its chest is heaving. Its eyes are bloodshot and drool is dripping on the ground.



“Isn’t it a dangerous one?” (Shuu)


“It’s doping, squeak! Watchout, squeak!” (Tamiko)



 It’s like a buffing ability in video games. It seems to be mentally sharp as well. The pressure coming from it seems to be increasing.


 An Ogre jumps at me. “Boom!” The ground where it landed became a crater. I jumped back just in time and slammed the hammer down its head. The tip of its horn is broken off, but the ogre did not even flinch and swung its arm towards me.



“Kuh!” (Shuu)



 The air pressure rattled my footing. Then a hairy arm is coming down. A direct hit.



 My ninth Fungal Skill, [Enhanced Leaping Ability].



 Kick the ground hard I jump diagonally backward. I landed on the ground sliding, kicking away the grass. The distance between the two of us widens, and the Ogre pauses. Its bloodshot eyes are still there, but it is breathing heavily. It seems to be drained of energy.



 It might be safer to fight a battle of attrition.


 But Tamiko is right, if we take our time, other beasts may come.



“…I shouldn’t be stingy.” (Shuu)



 My mycelium shield in my left hand is thrown forward, and a gray mycelium ball appeared at my fingertips.


 My twelfth Fungal Skill is a smokescreen ball.



 I threw it with a snap. In front of the ogre, under its feet.


 Poof! Gray smoke rises. The smoke hangs in the air, obscuring the Ogre’s sight.


 But I can still sense it. Not because of its confused cries, but because of the ability of my [Sensory Spores].



 I gripped the hammer with both hands and bend my knees.


 I feel the power of my mycelium clinging to the muscles of my thighs and calves. [Enhanced Leaping Ability].


 I leaped in a straight line towards the ogre. I plunged straight into the gray cloud.



 A moment before the Ogre notices my approach, the Hypha Hammer reaches the Ogre’s face.


 A blow with the momentum of my dash and full weight of my body. As expected, the ogre’s upper body is thrown back.



 I did not make a peep. The blinding would be meaningless.


 Still, I roared a war cry in my chest.


 With a yell (inside), I slammed the hammer down.


 While dodging the arm that is being swung around randomly, I kept hitting. So, I bear down.



 I scattered blows to its whole body. Hitting its torso and legs with small blows, and hitting its head with all my strength.


 Eventually, the cloud of smoke dissolves into the air, and the figure of the Ogre with blood all over its face appears. It is still standing on two legs, but its consciousness is still there just dazed and shaking unsteadily on its feet.



“…I’m sorry. I’ll make this quick.” (Shuu)



 I summoned out my [Hypha Sword]. I pulled the butt of the hilt against my body and thrust with all my might. The ogre stops moving and the sword is plunged into its throat, and the fight is finally decided.





 The flesh of ogres, to be honest, not very good. It is tough, chewy, and smells rancid. Neither grilling nor boiling works, it is inedible.



 I quickly remove its sporangium and climb to the top of the pillar that used to be the ogre’s nest. I feel sorry for it, but I know that another one will soon make a nest here, too.



 I stand back to back with Tamiko, watching my surroundings and chewing on the sporangium. It’s a bit bigger than the Ghost Wolf’s, but both Tamiko and I eat a piece of it. Of course, they don’t taste good.



“Tamiko, you’ve grown up.”



 In the past three years, she has grown at least five centimeters in height. She can now eat one or two of the larger sporangia without leaving any leftovers. In terms of volume, a sporangium should be at least double the size of her stomach, so I can’t help but wonder about that.



“What is it, squeak?” (Tamiko)


“Tamiko is eight years old, right? I don’t know how long your life span is.” (Shuu)



 The lifespan of a normal squirrel is about seven years, but Tamiko’s mother lived to be at least thirty-five years old. She might have lived as long as a human being.



“How big was your mother?” (Shuu)


“I think we are about the same size now, squeak. I’m still not at her level, squeak.” (Tamiko)



 Tamiko is currently at level 28.


 The reason why her growth speed is slower than that of mine is probably because of the difference between our races or the amount of sporangium we can take in due to our physique. Maybe, it’s both, most likely.



 Incidentally, she has four Fungal Skills.


 [Enhanced Hearing], our key to easily searching enemies.


 [Hypha Shell] which is like a tortoise’s shell armor.


 [Risk Counter] which roughly estimates the level of the opponent she sees.


 And her longed-for offensive ability. It is a super hardening ability of her front teeth, which can even rival my Hypha Swords sharpness. When activated, her front teeth are covered with silver, so it seems that they are coated with metallic mycelium?



“Tamiko.” (Shuu)


“Squeak?” (Tamiko)


“Ghost Wolf, Blue Goblin, Red Goblin, Land Sahuagin, Death Tentacles, Queen Hermit Crab, Demon Centipede… gradually making the targets stronger and stronger, we can now hunt even the tier top-class Ogre and Orthrus.” (Shuu)


“Yes, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“Tamiko and I are getting stronger and stronger, and we’re more than capable of going toe to toe in a fight.” (Shuu)


“Yes, squeak.” (Tamiko)


“That’s why. I think it’s time for me to challenge the boss again.” (Shuu)


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