A road has been paved from the village to Rikugi Metro, just wide enough for carts to pass. Although the path is merely a flattened and graveled path, it is a great help to not have to wander through the forest.
The forest is already welcoming the night. The air is cooler and the humidity is less unpleasant.
Even though it is dimly lit, thanks to my [Sensory Spores], I don’t trip. As I walked, I listened. The sounds of insects and birds, like whispers in the forest, and the trickling sound of water. The sound of Tamiko chewing acorns, like an industrial machine, ruined the atmosphere.
“Tamiko, you feel that right?” (Shuu)
“Yes, squeak.” (Tamiko)
Since [Beast Repellent Spores] is in effect, no beast will approach me carelessly, and none has yet enter the range of [Sensory Spores], but I can feel the suppressed breathing of a beast with my skin. From beyond the dull darkness of dusk, the beast timidly watch for those who enter their territory. Is it Baphomet or some other beast?
“Do we go, squeak?” (Tamiko)
“Let’s leave it alone for now. I hope it doesn’t attack us.” (Shuu)
After walking for about 20 minutes without getting tangled up with anyone or getting lost, we finally see our destination. I had been told how long it would take, but now that I was actually walking, it felt like it was just a stone’s throw away.
“We’re here.” (Shuu)
entrance to the building has an exterior wall that resembles ivy-covered concrete. From there, a staircase leads down to the basement. Beside it, there is a signboard that seems to have been made by the villagers. “Rikugi Metro, West Exit.”
A crow cawed as it flew overhead. Is it my imagination or does it sound ominous?
My heart beats a little faster. I feel warier. It seems that there are no powerful Metro Beasts, but still, a Metro is a Metro. There’s the matter of the strike force, and you never know what might happen when you enter. From here on out, it’s a realm outside the norm, ruled by a mysterious entity that is neither human nor beast, but something much more.
“…All right, are you ready?” (Shuu)
“I have to pee, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“Go on.” (Shuu)
Tamiko came back from picking flowers in the grass, and I put her on my shoulder and lightly slapped my cheeks.
“What we’re entering is the real thing. Let’s get fired up, but don’t let your guard down, Tamiko.” (Shuu)
“Ah (shiver)!” (Tamiko)
“What is it?” (Shuu)
“It’s nothing. Just a joke, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“It’s not just that. You promised to squeeze it all out before I put you on my shoulder. Don’t just move quietly to my left shoulder.” (Shuu)
Anyway, just like that, the two of us set foot into the dark cave.
Our adventure in Rikugi Metro begins.
After descending a long flight of stairs, a high-ceilinged space opens up. Thanks to the moss, it is brighter than the outside, but the bare rock walls and spiky stalagmites make it look somewhat like a terrifying natural cave.
We were wary of a surprise attack by Baphomet as soon as we descended, but there was no sign of the beast. This is probably due to the fact that there is usually a lot of traffic near the entrance and exit on this side.
The Rikugi Metro is a new metro that appeared more than ten years ago. It may have just been hidden underground before that, but at least this entrance was discovered about that long ago.
The metro is still changing rather frequently, and while the deepest level was initially considered to be the tenth underground floor, it is now said to be expanding to the fourteenth floor.
(We’re talking about metro beasts springing up at the same time as the expansion.) (Shuu)
(I should not forget, the Xolotl tribe also said that they had been in the Metro there since the floor was made.) (Shuu)
It is as if a seed that has been sleeping deep in the ground is somehow awakened. Truly, Metros are full of mysteries.
Officially, the map of the Rikugi Metro only shows a rough route up to about the third floor. Villagers only wander around the first or second floor, which they know as a garden, and even for hunters, it is not a place they would go to carelessly.
According to the report of the survey team, the center of Baphomet’s colony is on the fifth floor. To be precise, it is the territory of the boss who is the core of the herd that has reproduced abnormally this time.
For some reason, a certain type of beast reproduces abnormally within a certain area, becoming a huge herd led by a boss or a number of special individuals, and affecting other beasts and the ecosystem inside and outside the metro. This is the definition of a “colony” as defined by the Hunters Guild.
As the population grows, more food is needed, and the surplus will be released to the ground. Or they devour other beasts, and the colony grows to an unmanageable size. If left unchecked, the damage will only spread.
In order to quell the problem, it is necessary to kill the boss or something similar and reduce the herd population to a certain extent. The bosses are naturally more powerful than the rest of the herd, and they are expected to be surrounded by their minions, so even a small fry beast like a Baphomet would require a several dozen-man force to take it down.
(I have a bad feeling about this.) (Shuu)
(I feel like something unexpected is about to happen.) (Shuu)
(Maybe it’s because my experience at Ouji was so intense…) (Shuu)
With renewed vigor, I begin our descent deeper into the metro.
They say, “Rikugi Metro is a water metro.”
Soon the two of them come upon such a feature.
A large river flowed in front of us. The muddy stream, more than 20 meters wide and splashing with water, is quite strong. During the rainy season, the water volume increases here and there throughout the metro area, and even villagers who are used to going to the river sometimes have accidents.
“Tamiko is a bad swimmer, so we have to make sure you don’t fall in these kinds of places.” (Shuu)
Tamiko’s specialty is the dog paddle or squirrel paddle. She uses her tail, which I thought to be in the way, to propel herself, but she is not good at holding her breath, so she ends up sputtering water.
“Heh, I got better from going on a bath with Noa, squeak. I’ve gotten better, now I’m swimming like a Sahuagin, squeak.” (Tamiko)
A squirrel wading in the bathtub. Noa coaching. Two plump floaters, covered by steam, rise to the top. I shake my head, almost imagining this enviable scene. I squeaked.
“There’s a phrase, A River Drowning a Kappa. It doesn’t mean the same thing, but it’s so muddy that a squirrel wouldn’t even leave a hairball behind.” (Shuu)
Even someone like me is not good at it, because I only learned it in physical education at school. Although my physical fitness and my cardiopulmonary system have improved, I really don’t want to fall into this muddy stream.
“For the time being, the second floor is downstream of the river. Let’s go.” (Shuu)
We started walking along the stream. The path veers off to the side and downhill along the way, but we are careful not to lose our sense of direction.
Water flows along the rock walls, pools here and there. It is indeed a Water Metro. I have brought a water bottle with a filter for filtration, so I will not suffer from thirst even if I have to go on a somewhat strenuous hike.
Water is plentiful, but so is greenery. Mycelial plants grow everywhere, like an oasis in Outsuka Metro. Most of the plants and shrubs were flowers and bushes, and just by wading through them, I was soaking wet from the dew.
“Oh, here it is, the medicinal herb that is used to make wound healing medicine.” (Shuu)
A spiky, slightly yellowish wildflower resembling mugwort. It is said to be called “Siberian yarrow”.
It is one of the ingredients of a special wound healing concoction called “potion”. It is not as potent as [Healing], but its medicinal effect is more immediate, and it is especially useful for hunters (Noa has two bottles of it in her pack). Incidentally, it is said to cost about 10,000 yen per bottle.
Other plants kept in the village hut include purple hexagonal leaves and white grass with a whirling stem like a spring. In Rikugi Village, these wild plants are picked, dried, smoked, ground, and other simple processes, and then sold wholesale to medicine manufacturers. It is a valuable source of income.
“So, why isn’t this grown in the village, squeak?” (Tamiko)
“Oh, that’s a good question.” (Shuu)
“Because you can’t grow them on the ground, I guess. I don’t know how it works, but some of the mycelial plants in the metro can’t be grown in the soil or light of the surface.”
I read that in a book I checked out from the library.
“For example, Nerima coffee mushrooms can be grown in the ground, and I hear that plant breeding is progressing. However, they say Siberian Yarrow doesn’t grow on the ground. That’s why the people of Rikugi go out of their way to come here to pick them I guess it’s the kind of industry you can only get in a village like this where there is a metro nearby.” (Shuu)
“Abeshuu, you’re looking smart, squeak.” (Tamiko)
“I’m studying too. Since I am older, I don’t just want to keep asking Noa all the time.” (Shuu)
“I’m doing my own research, too, squeak. I’m also quite learned, for example, the flower seeds over there are the yummy kind, squeak.” (Tamiko)
She jumps out and picks up something that looks like a sunflower seed.
“The risk and burden of coming here to pick up the sunflower seeds are much greater now that the number of Baphomets has increased. The village is going to have to put in more manpower than usual, and that’s going to put a strain on the other jobs. Kaya seemed busier than before.” (Shuu)
Continuing to hire hunters to provide security (although they say they are subsidized by Sugamo) would still be a financial burden. The lives of a hundred villagers would be at stake, whether it was a subjugation or surveying request.
“Let’s hurry ahead. I hope we can reach the fifth floor by the end of the day.” (Shuu)
Soon we moved along the river, and after walking further, we came to a waterfall that cascaded down a dozen meters or so. A whitish plume of water is drifting around the waterfall basin.
It is said that metros with a lot of water flow usually have many ups and downs on the floors. From this point onward, villagers rarely enter the battlefield of metro beasts and hunters.
As someone who normally trains with [Leaping], I could jump down, but the footholds below are too narrow, so I decide to climb down by grabbing the rock wall. I have done rock climbing once or twice with my friends when I was in university, but now I am confident that I can climb slopes steeper than a vertical line with just the strength of my arms.
(I wonder if Baphomets goes through places like this…) (Shuu)
Goats, despite their appearance, are good at climbing trees and cliffs, and above all, they are monkeys from the neck down. It is a fusion of two masters of three-dimensional movement, and when they fought in the village, they were quite acrobatic in their movements.
It didn’t take us long to descend to the side of the waterfall. My superior officer gives me a “Thank-squeak” (Thank you very much) and an acorn. *Chew* *Chew* *Chew*.
After that, if I go straight ahead, there should be stairs to the second underground floor—but, suddenly.
“…don’t you want to take a peek behind these waterfalls?” (Shuu)
Growing up in a generation accustomed to RPGs, I can’t help but suspect the existence of treasures and hidden rooms.
Well, I know there is most likely nothing there. The first underground floor of the metro is close to a popular, or unpopular, neighborhood. I’m sure every nook and cranny has been investigated
Still, however… It would be worthwhile to take a peek at the place. If nothing was there, I could just say, “I knew it.”
So, I went down there. I followed the narrow foothold, and with my back against the rock wall, I slid into the back side of the wall of water that was pouring down without a pause. And–
“Oh! Are you serious?!” (Shuu)
There is a gaping hole in the wall. It was as if to say, “How nice of you to have found it.”
I had not heard about it beforehand, but someone might have already found it. Even so, I could not help but be excited.
I speed up my crab-walking and twist myself into it. There is a small space in the back. It is truly a hidden room, a secret base—and the first resident.
My eyes dart and turned to dots. It’s the same for them.
The three beasts were lying down and relaxing. They looked back at us and stiffened.
They were about 150 centimeters tall. Dark brown body hair, hairy and slender limbs. A devil-like pointed tail. On top of its scrawny chest is a goat’s head with crescent-shaped horns on its forehead.
They are Baphomets.
“Ah… Well…” (Shuu)
The Baphomets jumped to their feet and stood alert. “Meh! Meh!”, they shout angrily trying to intimidate me.
“Charge! Dinner is waiting for my return!” (Shuu)
I also panicked and summoned [Katana]. Immediately the battle started.