Chapter 117: Rice Paddies
After the sudden interruption, the dinner party quickly came to an end and our group was escorted back to our house.
When night fell, I continued our practice of rotating night watch. Although a good majority of our group felt that Kagetaka Port was safe, frankly speaking, we were still in unknown territory and I still did not know whether we could trust the people here or not. Fearing for the worst, we rotated in shifts for lookout duty.
Fortunately, nothing happened and in no time, it was already the next day.
The first part of the day passed by uneventfully. All morning, we stayed inside the house. We ate a few of the goods that the police woman had given us yesterday. The taste of canned meat was unexpectedly good, especially when paired with steamed rice and canned peaches. During this time period, nobody came to visit us.
It was only around midday, when the sun was hovering high above the sky, that the plain faced man from yesterday dropped by the house.
Although I knew his name thanks to [Identify], I had long since forgotten it, so it was actually quite helpful that he introduced himself. His name was Sergei, and he was probably a foreigner from Russia or maybe Serbia. At the very least, he had the blonde hair and blue eyes that were quite common in that region, so I was pretty confident in my assumption.
To my preference, he wasn’t as talkative as the policewoman from yesterday. Whether it was because he had trouble with the language or because it was his personality, he spoke only a few words of introduction, before he walked out of the door.
“Follow me.” He stated simply in a choppy, emotionless voice.
We hesitated for a moment, before we were left with no choice but to follow him. Trailing behind his silent back, he led us around the broken port town.
We passed by quiet houses with untouched exteriors and overgrown lawns, before we arrived at the business district of Kagetaka Port. Although I call it a business district, in truth it was really just a wide street that led directly to the harbor. Back when this place was still operational, this street was occupied with hostels, shops, offices, and other important places. Now, the once prosperous area had been reduced to nothing but a remnant of its past self. Beyond the chain link fence that separated us from the outside, we could see the full extent of the damages caused by the apocalypse.
After passing the fence that surrounded the neighborhood, we walked on sidewalks adorned with bent stop signs and crooked utility poles. The three-story buildings that surrounded the street on both sides were littered with broken windows and vandalized doorways. Going by the footprints that covered the ground, something told me that monsters weren’t the ones that broke into those buildings.
I wasn’t the type of hypocrite that would condemn the people here for robbing and looting the nearby stores. In fact, we had done the same thing not too long ago, just that… seeing those faded footprints amidst this desolate street, I couldn’t help but feel a tad bit bitter inside.
Instead of heading directly towards the harbor, the plain faced man led us towards another street. Walking through this husk of a town, we encountered all sorts of sights, from ransacked buildings and burnt cars, to atrophied corpses and overgrown weeds that had taken root deep inside the cracks on the sidewalk.
If there was one positive thing amidst all the destruction, it was the fact that we hardly ran into any monsters. What few monsters we did run into, were weak, laughably so. So far, we encountered two species; a monster that resembled a hairless dog, and a bipedal lizard with no arms. The lizard in question resembled the raptors from yesterday, except these things were far shorter, and incredibly weaker in comparison.
Regardless, both of these creatures were weak monsters whose level ranged from five to seven. It was hard to believe that these things were what brought Kagetaka Port close to destruction. According to Tojo’s story from yesterday, there were probably more types of monsters near the beginning of the apocalypse. Only, their group had culled of the rest, and now, only wandering nomads remained.
Walking through these streets felt like I was exploring the newbie area of a video game. Except, I felt that it would probably waste more effort searching for the monsters here, than it would actually fighting them.
After wandering around the port town for over thirty minutes, the scenery slowly began to change. The number of buildings we passed by slowly decreased while more and more open fields appeared. Eventually, the plain faced man led us to a field of rice paddies located about two miles away from the neighborhood.
Although I say that, it was a former rice paddy that only vaguely resembled one. While the field was wet with a mixture of mud and murky water, there was no vegetation growing on the land. Where there should have been stalks of rice sprouting out from amidst the field, was nothing but thigh high water. I knew next to nothing about rice cultivation, but even I could tell that the water elevation here was several times higher than it normally should have been.
An area of about one acre was sealed off from the rest of the field with wooden stakes that stuck out from the ground like broken grave markers. These stakes created a wooden fence that encircled a portion of the rice paddy on three sides and effectively isolated it from the rest of the field.
On the field itself, there was a wooden bridge that led to the center cordoned space. On the center was a wooden platform that floated above the water. In addition, all over the place, spread evenly across the paddy, were wooden platforms, each of which were about a meter in width and length.
We followed the plain faced man and walked across the bridge, before were arrived at the center platform. Unlike the rest of the platforms, the center platform was a lot bigger, being about five meters both in length and width.
“What is this place?” Cher’s voice sounded out in wonderment amidst our confusion and bewilderment. Her eyes were narrowed into two slits as she inspected the surrounding area with caution and suspicion.
The plain faced man, after all the silence, finally spoke.
“You know how Tojo said that we had found something good while we were building our base, right?” He asked rhetorically with a noticeable accent. “Well, this is one of those places.”
He walked towards a wooden compartment that was attached to the floor near the corner of the platform we stood on. He opened the box and fished out a pair of black plastic boots and a matching set of black overalls. Without pause, he began putting them on. From the same box, he took out a wooden stick. The stick was about two meters in height and had a metal spear point that had jagged edges running down the side. It vaguely resembled a harpoon.
After collecting his things, he motioned for the rest of the group to follow with a wave of his free hand.
“I’ll explain later after you guys finish putting your gear on.” He paused for a moment, as if to mull over his words, before he said, “I don’t usually like accompanying people whenever I do this, but today is an exception. I’ll show you guys how to do it because Tojo told me to, but pay attention. I don’t like repeating myself.”
Afterwards, he stepped back and crossed his arms. He stared at us with an unflinching expression and waited for the rest of us to finish equipping the fishing gear that was inside the wooden compartment.
His unchanging gaze was almost compelling in a way. What hesitation we did have quickly vanished as the first person reached into the box and followed his instructions. Soon, everyone had quickly put on a pair of plastic boots and a set of overalls. I was no exception to this. On one hand, I didn’t want to attract any attention, while on the other, I was curious about the whole thing.
Without issuing a single complaint, I grabbed a spear from within the compartment and stood near the back of the group.
After the plain faced man saw that we had finished preparing, he mechanically nodded his head.
“Good. Now watch what I do.”
He turned around and faced the rice paddy. His eyes narrowed into slits as his head repeatedly swiveled from one side to another. After a short while, he suddenly ran forward and leaped towards a nearby floating platform.
He landed heavily with a loud thud. The platform slightly sank into the water before it bobbed harmlessly back to its original position. Due to the hectic rocking of the platform, I could see a mud-covered rope rise up from amidst the water. That rope was probably what kept the platforms in place. Without it, the platforms would have probably floated away or something.
Ignorant of my wandering thoughts, the plain faced man looked down towards the mud streaked water around him. After a few seconds, I saw the man’s eyebrows twitch upward as if he had spotted something.
Without hesitation, he suddenly thrusted the spear out into the water. The water started to bubble and splash, before the man pulled his spear back out. Attached to the jagged tip of the spear was a mud colored worm.
It was about the size of a raccoon and its body was thick and pudgy. It resembled a maggot- a grotesque, brown streaked maggot, that emitted puss and water out of its hole shaped mouth.
The creature let out a faint screech of agony that vaguely resembled the cries of a human child. It was an eerie sound, but after what I had been through for the last few months, I was hardly fazed.
Even from a distance, with the help of [Identify], I discovered that the creature was called a [Mud Water Weevil (Larvae)]. Surprisingly, its level was nine, higher than all the other monsters we had run into on our way here.
Unfazed by the continuing chorus of agony, the plain faced man hoisted it up, before he placed the Larvae onto the wooden platform. With the bottom of his foot pressing down against the creature’s pudgy body, he yanked the harpoon out. A sickening wet sound echoed through the air for a split second before he stabbed the creature with the spear once more.
He continued to stab the creature. His eyes were emotionless, and his actions were robotic. He moved his body as if he was doing something as simple and mundane as planting seeds.
After five seconds of continued stabbing, the creature eventually died. A mixture of brown and transparent colored fluid oozed out from the many open wounds that dotted its carcass. It resembled slime, and seeing it spread across the wooden platform, I quietly noted that the liquid did indeed have the viscosity of slime.
Once he had dealt with the creature, the plain faced man used the edge of his foot to push the dead body back into the rice paddy below. The murky, mud colored water concealed the rapidly sinking carcass as it continued to move further down, before fully disappearing beyond eye sight.
The plain faced man looked up, wiped at a bead of sweat that trickled down his forehead, and explained, “After killing one, you don’t need to worry about the body. Just make sure to push I back into the water. These things eat anything, even the bodies of their own, so the carcass will naturally disappear.
“In fact, after you kill one, you can use its dead body as bait. If you wait for a while, more of these things will naturally gather.” As if to demonstrate, he motioned towards the water where he had previously dumped the body. Just like he had said, the water started churning and bubbling. Beneath the murky water, I could vaguely make out the cylindrical shapes of squirming Larvae.
“…When they gather like this, it makes everything a whole lot easier.” The plain faced man said.
The President, who looked slightly confused, frowned, before asking, “What is this whole thing about?”
“Simple. This is a hunting ground.” He responded. “Killing the monsters here will contribute experience and make you level up. There is nothing complicated about it. Not to mention that the monsters here are weak and easy to kill. Even if you happen to run across a level 10 or 12 here, someone at level 1 can still kill it without much difficulty. It might take a while, but it is doable.”
As if he remembered something, the plain faced man frowned. “The down side to this though is that as you keep increasing in level, it will take a lot more effort and a lot more worms to increase to the next level. After all, the levels of these things range from level four to level fifteen, with lower leveled monsters being more common. For people like me, hunting here becomes a bit of a hassle, and increasing in level becomes a very boring chore.” As if to make a point, he sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
An artificial hunting ground…
This was probably the main reason why a lot of the people I saw at the gathering last night had an average level of ten to fifteen. It wasn’t because those three hundred or so people had put their life on the line and hunted monsters in the traditional sense, but rather because they were farming in a place like this.
They had turned what should have been a life or death struggle into something with the same convenience as picking low hanging fruit from a ripened tree. Looking at the whole process, although I could see that it was a very convenient system, for some reason, it left a bad after taste in my mouth.
The President, and a few of the others from the group, judging by the mixed expression on their faces, had probably reached the same conclusion.
“But, if you keep hunting them like this all the time, won’t they eventually all die off?” The President asked with a scrunched brow.
In response, the plain faced man waves his harpoon in the air as if to say don’t worry about it. “These things reproduce really fast, and I think their born at levels above one.” He explained. “Even with us, they hunt each other in order to survive and grow stronger. Look, we’ve been doing this for a long time now, and they still haven’t run out yet. In fact, sometimes I think that the spawn point here is still open.”
While what he said was a valid argument, I do wonder how much truth his statement held. I couldn’t help but imagine Hina or Cielle using a large area of effect attack with their magic. With such destructive power, I’m sure even these self-replicating monsters won’t be able to reproduce after such an attack.
At that time, would this guy still have the confidence and assurance to repeat his earlier statement?
Even though I was curious, in the end, it was just a wandering thought. In truth, this place was over an acre in area. I don’t think neither Hina or Cielle were capable of an attack that could spread that far.
Unaware of my off the track, train of thoughts, the plain faced man continued to speak. “Like Tojo said yesterday, around here, levels hold no meaning. Even with a high level, you are not exempt from the rules of Kagetaka. This place is just to provide reassurance to yourself, for those who seek to build up confidence.
“Well, it is up to you whether or not you want to make use of it. Just if you do, don’t get too consumed in it.”
As he spoke, he jumped back over to the original platform. The wood beneath our feet slight sank, before bobbing back up to its original position. He placed the spear back into the box, and began removing his boots and overalls. At the same time, he continued to speak.
“Oh, and another thing. If you do decide and hunt, let me just tell you, the platforms here are for convenience. Stepping into the paddy itself, while it becomes a pain to clean up afterwards and is relatively difficult to walk on, it isn’t really all that dangerous. Like I said before, the worms aren’t really all that dangerous.”
Although he said that, again, I held a different opinion. I don’t know whether the others could see the same thing I could with my [Identify], but I knew that the worms beneath our feet were only larvae. That meant that they could still grow, evolve, and get stronger. If it was given a chance to mature… well, let’s not imagine it. It’s a good thing that the people of Kagetaka Port found this place, and are actively culling the area, preventing the Larvae from growing.
Otherwise, there would have been another threat for me to worry about.
The plain faced man dusted himself off and nodded towards the group. Judging by his expression, it seemed that he had already finished all the things he had been assigned to do, and was now preparing to leave.
Just as he turned and proceeded to walk out of the rice field, his steps abruptly halted, as his eyes narrowed. He was glaring at something in the distance, and following his stare, I could see another figure walking towards us.
Looking at the approaching figure, with a somewhat strange expression on my face, I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “It’s him again…”
The man from yesterday, the guy with the unruly hair and unshaven face. Taka, Taka… Takama? Takami? Takatsu?
In either case, the guy with the second highest level in Kagetaka Port was approaching us with his hands behind his head, and his eyes staring directly at the plain faced man.