A/N: 12/22 – Kaya Matsuko’s job title is changed from “sniper” to “knight” (since “white arrow” is not a fungus for “snipers”).
Noa, with a confused look, staggered along behind Kure, who was in high spirits. After watching their backs as they headed for Ikebukuro, Tamiko and I returned home to get ready for the day.
“It’s been a long time since you and I have been alone in the metro.” (Shuu)
“I’m going to give you a good squeeze, squeak! I’m going beat you so hard you’ll be new squeak!” (Tamiko)
“Suddenly, your sergeant switch has been flipped.” (Shuu)
“Shut up, Shuu! The answer is “Yes” or “Squeak”! …Oh! …Don’t you dare rub my belly!” (Tamiko)
Still, it was quite a painstaking task to convince the two of them.
If it’s Kure, he was also quick-witted and surprisingly thoughtful, and with Noa, I could ignore his perversions, there was no one better qualified than him to act as a chaperone.
However, Kure wanted to go along with us on our quest. He says, “It sounds more interesting, and I think I can be of help.” “I don’t want to leave now that we have met again.” As expected, the first negotiation broke down, and we had to renegotiate on the condition of giving and receiving a reward.
“At least one pair of Shuu’s underpants. I will settle with that.” (Kure)
“I’ll give you the one I bought yesterday.” (Shuu)
“Since when did you become a clerk in the underwear department?” (Noa)
“…I’ll put on a new one I used once after I get out of the bath. I can’t make any more concessions.” (Shuu)
“The amount inside is not enough. It’s what you use on a daily basis that has the soul.” (Kure)
After the shittiest negotiation in my one hundred and thirty years of life, I agreed to give up one of my favorite underwear. According to Kure, “I can eat three bowls of rice every day just by this! It’s an endless side dish!” I hope it gets moldy during the rainy season.
Noa, the person who was in the middle of such an exchange, was understandably distrustful, wondering why she had to bring such a thing back home with her. After some persuasion, I finally succeeded in splitting the team into two groups, saying, “There’s been a lot of commotion lately,” “That thing would be a good protection against attacks,” and “If you want, you can leave it as an offering to Ikebukuro. By the way, it seems that Ikebukuro is still alive and well in a different form (which is a little worrisome).
Noa and Kure are, for whatever reason, “surprisingly on the same page,” I thought. They are both intellectually curious people, and they have often discussed the Metro and Metro Beasts in Ouji. The process should only take a couple of days at the most, and they’ll get it right.
“Okay, let’s go. We have to get to Rikugi Village by evening.” (Shuu)
I put my drill sergeant, who was twitching on her back, on my shoulder, and off we went. I left from the east gate of Sugamo and headed for Rikugi village.
We disembarked from the carriage on the western road leading to Komagome City and headed south to the forest road. While nibbling on the new “fluffy melon bread with walnuts” that we bought at our landlord’s bakery (all the walnuts were eaten by Tamiko), we walked at a brisk pace for a little over an hour. Before evening, we arrived at a village surrounded by a moat with muddy water and fences.
We call out to a villager guarding the entrance (a face we didn’t see last time) and show him our hunters’ guild identification card. Tamiko says, “Mine too! Let me show mine, squeak!” I was urged by Tamiko to have her show her recognition card as well. The villagers politely welcome us and show us where we think the village chief might be.
“It’s been a month.” (Shuu)
From the direction and location of Sugamo, it is easy to imagine that the village is built on Rikugien, a garden in Bunkyo-ku. In reality, however, there is no trace of the elegant garden associated with the Tokugawa shoguns, but rather has a tranquil rural landscape of fields, livestock, and thatch-roofed houses.
The population is said to be about 200, which is rather large for a village of Free Folk. The village is not only self-sufficient in agriculture and livestock farming but also engages in trade with Sugamo and Komagome, with whom it has an agreement. Their specialties are medicines made from mycelial plants produced in Rikugi Metro, and non-food working animals such as ostriches and horses.
Along the way, I watched the villagers hard at work. Some are laboriously plowing the soil with a hoe in their hands. Others tackle the removal of weeds that are growing stronger during the rainy season. Some are watching the crops with strict eyes for mold and damage and are picking the side shoots. Some brush the feathers of ostriches and those mend the fences of the pastureland. Everyone is sweating because of the sweltering weather.
“It seems peaceful in the daytime, doesn’t it?” (Shuu)
“Smells good, squeak.” (Tamiko)
Something smells like simmered vegetables. It was probably the evening meal being prepared. The last time I had dinner here, all the dishes were delicious. The meat and vegetables were fresh, and the taste of home was comforting to a bachelor’s mind.
Today, after finishing the business in the village, I intend to head directly to the metro. It will be after all the work is done. It was going to be a tough job, and I would be more motivated if I thought of it as a small reward.
“Ah, Mr. Abe! Ms. Tamiko!” (Woman)
A woman in a straw hat came running up the farm road, pulling the ostrich by the reins.
“Hello, Ms. Kaya.” (Shuu)
She was twenty-two years old, I believe. Her chestnut-colored hair was pulled back and she had freckles around her nose. When she smiles, dimples appear. She is a simple, healthy beauty.
Although he has a small physique that is not much different from Noa, she is also a [Knight] who fights at the front of the village with a “white arrow” in her hand in case of emergency. And, to tell you the truth, she is the current village chief of Rikugi Village.
“It’s been a long time! It’s good ta see ya here again!” (Woman => Kaya)
The ostrich chimes in with a rough snort.
Kaya is lovely and pretty to look at. Her personality is also bubbly and vivacious, but one thing that bothers me and that I just can’t get past is that she has a very thick accent. She has an accent so thick that it is hard to tell what her original dialect is.
“Tamiko is as fluffy an’ soft as eva! I’m going ta have ya nibble on acorns again!” (Kaya)
Her accent is contagious, and her voice is getting louder along with it.
“Hey, Ms. Ikari, not wit ya?” (Kaya)
“Oh, she has a different business.” (Shuu)
“I see. I’m sorry ta hear that. I promised ‘er that I would give ‘er the recipe fer our pork and veg’table miso soup next time I saw ‘er.” (Kaya)
“A recipe? I’m here today at the request of the guild. I’m going to head to the metro to investigate the current state of the colony and search for the unit sent.” (Shuu)
“Ye of course… those people…” (Kaya)
Kaya put her hand on her chin and her expression clouded.
“We also wanna go ta the Metro, but I cana’ find ‘em in the shallows. We want ta believe they are safe, but we cana’ dive that deep by ourselves. If Mr. Abe is goin’, we can rest easy.” (Kaya)
“For now, I want to gather information with the hunters stationed in the area, so can you show us the way?” (Shuu)
“Leave it ta me! Then come ‘ere, boy!” (Kaya)
“Thank you” (Shuu)
“Kaya, you still have a strange way of talking, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“Hmm? Hmm.” (Kaya)
With an ostrich breathing down my neck, I followed Kaya to a row of houses.
As I can observe, New Tokyo’s ostrich is closer to an emu than an ostrich. The neck and head are covered with long thin feathers, the body and neck are gray and black, and the head has a single white pattern. Its wings have degenerated, and its legs are surprisingly thick. The eyes are large and sharp, and when viewed from the front, it looks like a dinosaur.
When I touched its belly, I felt a warm, fuzzy sensation on my palms. Wow!
Tamiko jumps on the back of the dinosaur, and it doesn’t show any signs of being reluctant to be touched. She climbs on top of his head and spreads her arms to feel the wind.
“Oh… I’m the king of the world, squeak!” (Tamiko)
“Is it a flag where you sink?” (Shuu)
A private house on the west side of the village. It is said that four Sugamo hunters are renting the place.
As someone who was born and raised in Gyoda, I felt a sense of nostalgia for this old house. At the end of the upper part of the house, there is a living room with a sunken hearth at its center. Four men are relaxing there, each in his own seat.
There was a familiar face among them. Noticing my concern, he rushes to his feet and sits down in an upright position.
“Oh, thank you for your hard work! Mr. Abe, or rather, Big Brother!” (Kurano)
What was his name?
Oh, I think his name was Kurano Atsushi.
He had taken the hunter’s interview test on the same day as me, in other words, we were contemporaries.