Chapter 116: An Extravagant Dinner
When the sun started to set, the policewoman from before, Shimazawa, came back to pick us up.
She had invited the group over towards the ‘Main House’ for dinner. The Main House was just the name she used to describe their main base of operations, where all the big wigs and people in charge of Kagetaka port were located.
Although I used the word invited, I was more than certain her invitation wasn’t something we could refuse.
We obediently followed her. As I stepped outside the house, I noticed that the orange hue of the fading sun light casted a shadow over the small neighborhood. Within the narrow streets, the houses and buildings, the street lamps and the sign posts, nothing seemed damaged. A quaint, almost surreal image of a neighborhood during the last days of summer. It felt as if this place was untouched, like a remnant of the past era of civility and safety.
After a few minutes of silent walking, the sound of laughter and talking soon drifted towards my ears. Amidst those human sounds, I could hear the sound of occasional music, a noise I had long forgotten. An upbeat pop song that sounded familiar intermixed with a heavy rock song and a classical instrumental by a famous composer. It was a chaotic clash of varying genres, but yet, such a sound brought a tinge of nostalgia to my heart.
Fighting against the encroaching darkness, lights were set up around the nearby pathway. The street lamps weren’t working for obvious reasons, but simple torches, fashioned out of long wooden sticks with charcoal or gasoline coated cloth on one end, were used as a replacement. These torches resembled Hawaiian tiki torches and helped set a more festive atmosphere.
Shimazawa brought us to a cul de sac located in the middle of the neighborhood. There, on the large stretch of asphalt and concrete that lay in-between all the houses, people had gathered. I don’t think all three hundred of the Port’s residents were here, but there was a good majority of them. At least a hundred people, maybe more, had gathered together.
There was a small bon fire in the middle of the cul de sac. The smell of food drifted throughout the air, and enticed the budding hunger in my stomach. If I looked closely, I could see the people passing around food from a giant pot near the bon fire. Meanwhile other people danced, and helped keep the fire going.
Looking past the festive scenery that these people were currently acting out, I could see a large house near the center of the cul de sac. The house was almost twice as big as all the other houses around it, and the architecture that decorated its outsides was an obvious notch above the rest. With a garden that still looked maintained even after all that had happened, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a mini mansion.
That house was our current destination. As Shimazawa had explained earlier, that was where Tojo and a few other people lived. That was their base of operations.
Shimazawa instructed us to follow her as she quickly moved in the direction of the house. As we passed through the cul de sac, she waved at the people around her. Those people, in turn, waved back. At the same time, they gave our group a few probing and curious glances.
The intensity of their stares wasn’t hostile by any means, rather, it was one filled with curiosity, and… camaraderie ? I don’t know exactly how else to describe it, but being on the receiving end of those stares gave me an odd feeling deep inside.
I noticed that these people were eating quite a lot. Canned goods littered the ground, while rice and freshly cooked bread was as numerous as the grains of rice stuck to the corners of their lips. There was no fresh vegetables or meat amongst the meals offered, but I could see that they had quite the variety.
Ranging from steamed rice, cooked bread, canned meat, canned tuna, canned peaches, canned peas, they had a lot of canned goods. In addition, I also saw the occasional cup ramen being passed around. While these things weren’t exactly surprising, seeing somebody pop open a can of soda was enough to make my mouth salivate.
I carefully scrutinized each person that we passed by. Surprisingly, I discovered that the average level of the people here ranged at around fifteen. Except for a few exceptions, which comprised of a few aged elderly people, and a small toddler that ran around the street with his pants down, there was nobody else present whose level was below two.
We were lead inside the house, and after walking past a giant hallway that was decorated with 19th century art, we eventually found ourselves in a spacious dining room. The luminescent chandeliers that hung from above were shining brightly, making me wonder whether or not this house was powered by an old generator.
There was a wooden table in the center of the room where an assortment of foods was gathered. Seated at the edge of the table, was a familiar looking face. With aged wrinkles that ran down both of his cheeks, the guild master look alike, Tojo, stood up and greeted us.
The plain faced man from earlier today was also there, along with a few other people. Their levels were low in comparison to the others, so they were probably important people from the Port who managed things like logistics and other non-combat related stuff.
After Shimazawa motioned us forward, we sat down and began eating the food that they had presented before us. As we ate, Tojo asked us a few questions regarding our past. Things like where we came from, and what we did before the apocalypse, usual questions someone would usually ask when confronting a stranger.
While the rest of us remained silent and continued eating, the President answered each of his questions with a certain sense of calmness. Without losing his cool, he answered all the questions presented before him with his signature taciturn smile. His experience as a student council president really shined at times like this. It was to the extent where I already forgot what the President’s real name was. That was just how bright his currently halo was shining, and completely not because I did not know his name in the first place.
In response to Tojo’s questions, the President asked his own. A few of these questions were ones that I had specifically instructed him to ask in order for me to gain some insight on the things that I did not know about regarding Kagetaka port.
As an introduction, the President asked a seemingly ordinary question. He asked about the original circumstances of the port, and about how everything had ended up as it was now. And although Shimazawa had touched up on this briefly, he also asked about the food supply. Logistics style questions such as where all the food came from, and how long their current supply would last, were things I was curious about.
Lastly, he asked what I felt was the most important question of them all. He asked about the monsters and about how severe their encounters with the monsters were. Things such as the risk of a monster invasion, or about how strong the general level of the creatures here were, was a vital piece of information that I did not feel comfortable not knowing.
As if he had been prepared for these questions, Tojo answered every single one rather calmly.
“On the first day of the apocalypse, like everyone else, we were assaulted by monsters.” He explained as he took a sip of expensive tea that he had brewed midway through the dinner. “When the clouds of black smoke had wafted across the sky line above the main city, Kagetaka port was facing a similar tragedy. On that day, a lot of people had died.”
As his pupils shifted in recollection, I could see the visible grimness form on his face. To a lot of the people here, memories of the past were a painful thing to remember. Tojo’s brow creased as wrinkles formed on his forehead.
After taking another sip of his tea, he sighed and continued, “The nearby police station was hit the hardest. On that day, it had become a spawn point. Monsters, one after another, continued to spew out of it as if that place had become the very entrance to hell itself. Miss Shimazawa here can attest to this fact.”
He motioned with a nod of his head towards the policewoman. In response, Shimazawa gravely nodded her head as her expression turned gloomy.
“I was working behind the desk when it happened.” She explained. “When the sky darkened, there was massive chaos. Almost a hundred monsters materialized at the same time. I think I might be exaggeration this point a little, but to me, that’s what it felt like. Within that small, cramped police station, the distinction between what was human and what was monster quickly became blurred.
“I barely managed to escape from the police station, but it was at the cost of almost all of my co-workers.”
After she finished explaining, she lapsed into silence and quietly picked at the food on her table. Although she looked depressed, it wasn’t to the extent where she had lost her appetite. After a few minutes, she was shoving spoonful after spoonful into her mouth with the same gusto from earlier.
“Other important places were hit as well.” Tojo picked up where Shimazawa had ended and continued explaining. “The Port town was in chaos. Luckily for us though, only low leveled monsters had spawned. In the long run, that had been our saving grace, but looking back on it, to regular humans, a level five monster was no different from one at level forty.
“The majority of the monsters that had killed people were those same level five monsters. A few monsters in the upper tens also spawned, but thankfully, they weren’t as numerous as the weaker monsters.” Although his lips had cracked into a faint smile, the deep brown of his pupils weren’t smiling. “Thinking back on it, I think the main reason why so many people had died in the first place was because the important places which usually should have preserved the peace and safety of the area were under the heaviest fire. I’m sure if the police station hadn’t turned into a spawn point, then there would have been a whole lot more than just three hundred people living here today.
“But regardless of what I want, what’s done is done. There is no changing the past. After the first three days of chaos, when the spawn points around the area finally stopped spawning more monsters, I, along with a large group of people, gathered together and reclaimed the port town.”
He sighed with a hint of fondness and nostalgia. He closed his eyes for a moment, almost as if to savor the memory, before he continued. “The start really was the most chaotic. It was the time period when we lost the most people. Out of the original group that had started the reclamation project, only the three of us are alive here today.” He motioned to the plain faced man and Shimazawa.
Shimazawa smiled faintly, while the plain faced man simply dipped his head in acknowledgement.
“Afterwards, everything was smooth sailing. We managed to set up base here in the neighborhood. We cleaned out the houses, purged all the monsters from the streets, and even managed to set up that fence outside.”
Hearing his recollection, I finally understood why the fence was so poorly assembled in the first place. It was because it was originally designed to keep out low leveled monsters. Certainly, if the only thing you have worry about are creatures whose fighting capabilities are about as strong as a level five goblin, then a metal fence was more than enough to keep them out.
“After we set up base, while we couldn’t reclaim all of Kagetaka port, we managed to discover a few good things that would go a long way in helping us survive.”
“Good things?” The President interjected with a question as he slightly tilted his head in confusion.
“Yes,” Tojo nodded. “Things like the granary filled with tons of grain, the police station with its collection of guns, the warehouses where they stocked away all the canned and nonperishable goods, and the rice paddies near the artificial lake…”
I wondered why he had specifically labeled the rice paddies as something beneficial to the port’s survival. If I recall correctly, the harvesting season for those rice paddies should have ended just before summer started. The current crops there should have been freshly planted, and wouldn’t have been ready for harvest three months ago. In fact, even now, if they had properly managed the fields, it would still take a month or two more until the rice paddies could produce actual results.
What had made it so important? Was I overthinking things?
As I mulled and worried over this, Tojo had already moved on to answer the President’s next question.
He elaborated on the information that Shimazawa had previously provided us with. “Shimazawa should have already told you a little bit about where the food here comes from. We’ve already looted and gathered all the food, medicine, and other important things from the nearby buildings, super markets, and houses. Aside from that, most of our food comes from the granary and the warehouses by the harbor.”
I knew a little bit about the granary that Tojo was talking about. It was a place owned by the city, and was a place that gathered all the island grown wheat and crops into one place. It was originally meant to be a temporary intermediary, before they distributed it across the city, or repackaged it for sale overseas or to the mainland. In this case, they harvested the crops during the end of June, just a few weeks before the start of the apocalypse. The granary should have been filled with dozens of tons of grain.
“With the granary around, the people here can eat a bit more freely than usual.” Tojo explained. “In fact, we have so much of it, that it will all probably go bad before the group can finish it all. When we do run out, we still have the canned and nonperishable goods from the warehouse to rely on.”
The warehouses he was talking about where the temporary storage units set up by the harbor. This island originally functioned as an intermediary for large corporations and overseas merchants. Products from all across south Asia and further overseas passed through this island on a daily basis. Along with the ones meant to go to other nearby countries, the warehouses also held supplies meant for the island itself. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say those warehouses hold billions of dollars’ worth of products.
“There are more canned goods than there is wheat in the granary, so, even if we consume it excessively, it can still last for a couple of years. Although before then, I already plan on starting up farming again, maybe within the back yards and gardens of the homes around here, or, if we can reclaim it, on the fields just south of us.
“I want this place to become self-reliant before we run out of food.” There was a hint of longing within his eyes, that I could barely make out. “As for your last question regarding monsters… truthfully speaking, around here, monsters are the least of our concerns.
“Like I said earlier, the monsters that spawned in Kagetaka Port were low leveled. They capped out at around fourteen or fifteen. The really strong ones live a few miles away from the port town, near where the forest begins, and closer to the highway. In all three months since this whole mess started, they’ve never once come close to here. For the time being, this place is safe.”
Tojo paused for a moment, and lowered his head in thought. After a second of silence, he continued, “Well, in case they do decide to eventually attack, we are working on a sort of precaution in order to secure the collective safety of the group. I’ll show you first-hand what exactly I mean tomorrow—”
A loud bang resonated from deep within the hallway. Tojo’s words abruptly cut off, as he glanced at the direction of the noise. His brow creased, as a slight frown formed on his face. Everyone else within the room turned towards the sudden noise. While the President, Hina, and the others from my group all frowned in confusion, the rest of the people seated revealed an array of annoyed expressions.
The sound of heavy footsteps treading across soft carpet echoed quietly through the air. After a few seconds, somebody walked out of the hallway.
A man with a disheveled appearance. His black hair was short, but messy. Loose strands stuck out like broken twigs in a bird’s nest. He had a growing stubble that wrapped around the lower part of his face, while sharp, eagle like eyes decorated the top. His nose was crooked, slightly curving to the left, as if someone had broken it with a bat, and it had grown back wrong.
The man wore an ill-fitting white dress shirt that had long since been stained in all sorts of reds and browns. He was not overly muscular, but he gave off a feeling of aggression that most people did not possess.
After inspecting him with [Identify], I found out that his name was Takemoto Takuya and his level was thirty-three. Although his level was lower than Tojo’s, I felt that this new guy was more dangerous. He had a certain sense of hostility that that Guild Master look alike lacked. He was like a drawn sword, a clear and present danger to everyone around him.
The new guy stood by the entrance to the hallway, his eyes slowly glancing over the dining room. After seconds of silence, he finally spoke.
“Tojo, are these the people from the outside— from the main city?”
Tojo had a clearly displeased expression plastered on his face. It looked as if he had been chewing on a wad of shit. Taking a deep breath, he nodded and plainly said, “Yes, they are.”
The new guy laughed wantonly. “Then that makes them just like me.” He laughed, as a glint of interest shined underneath his dark irises. “Someone from the outside.”
Tojo grunted in recognition. He turned his head towards our group and hesitated for a second, before he explained, “This man here is Takuya. He is twenty-nine this year, and his current level should be at thirty-one. He is someone like you all. He came here from the city about a month and a half ago.”
“Hey old man, don’t go blabbing about others without permission. Just telling them I’m from the city is plenty already.”
“Enough,” Tojo interjected as he glared at the new guy with hostility. “I did not invite you here tonight. You shouldn’t be here.”
“That’s pretty harsh.” He spoke as he leaned back and shrugged his shoulders. “I just wanted to talk with the newbies. In the first place, if someone hadn’t had told me about it, I would have never known that other people had joined our little family. Don’t you think that’s a little cold?”
“Don’t bother doing what it is your doing.” Tojo ignored his words and coldly spoke. “Don’t drag these children around for your own selfish desires.”
At his words, Takuya laughed. “You call them children but that’s wrong. Anybody who’s survived the baptism through hell can’t be classified by terms such as men, women, elderly, or children. They are the same as you and me. They are survivors, plain and simple.”
The expression on Tojo’s face remained the same. Without further arguing, he spoke one simple word. “Leave.”
“Hey, hey, you know I didn’t come here just to turn back like that. Like I said, I wa—”
“I don’t care what you want.” Tojo firmly interjected. “I already said it, so don’t make me repeat what I said. Leave.”
The man’s expression morphed into a scowl, showing his obvious dissatisfaction to the situation. Out of anger, he took a step forward, but that was the extent of his retaliation. The new guy’s eyes glowed with hostility, but hidden underneath all that anger was a certain level of calculative craftiness.
I don’t know what extent this guy’s abilities reached, but in the end, he was just one person. Before him was Tojo and his party. Shimazawa had long since reached for the gun on her hip. Her hands were pale, but taut. The expression on her face was that of anticipation, as if to say, ‘just go ahead and give me a reason to shoot you.’
Right next to her, the plain faced man from earlier today had already stood up. He did not do anything else, but underneath his shirt, I could see the veins and muscles on his body wriggling, as if he was ready to pounce at any moment.
Tojo himself, simply sat there and stared down at the man. His indifferent expression spoke volumes on his current mood.
After a few seconds of silence, the hostile atmosphere in the room subsided as the man grimaced and took a step back. He took a long glance at all the people in the room. His eyes especially focused in on our group. He looked at each and everyone one of us, before his eyes finally landed on the President.
He stared for a long time, before he began walking back towards the hallway. “I want to have a conversation with you in the near future.” He spoke to the President just before he turned around to face the receding hall.
He started to walk back, before his footsteps abruptly stopped. With his back still facing us, he spoke a few last words, before walking further into the dimming light.
“The false sense of peace that wafts through the air around here… be careful not to breathe in too much of it.”