Akira was standing at the front gate of a tall building. The name of that building was written on a huge metal nameplate near it.
“So this building is Seranthal building, huh”
“Theres a map of the floors too. The Lion Steel Corp branch is on the 57th floor. This one.”
“Lets go then. It would be great if we can find a lot of old-world relics there, Im in a deep red right now.”
Akira had not found anything that could bring him money that day yet. If he could not find anything to cover for his ammo expense, he would have risked his life for nothing and end up with a loss.
Akira tried to calm his worry by telling himself that since he had to take out all of those powerful autonomous weapons just to get there, there must be expensive relics inside that building.
Alpha suddenly made a suggestion to him.
“You should be able to get some money if you submit the record for that general monster-hunting request. So, do you want to do that”
“No. If I do that, I would need to submit a full battle record too, right If I give that battle record to the Hunter Office, it would be troublesome if they start sending difficult requests to me.”
It might be just him overthinking it, but he remembered that he might have tried too hard when he helped out the Hunters in the Kuzusuhara underground ruin which ended up getting him sent into the Yarata Scorpion nest in the underground city.
No one could tell what kind of difficult request would get sent to him if the Hunter Office judged his skill based on that fight against the autonomous weapons. He had no wish to jump over a high building and run on its wall while shooting at the enemies again for the second time. Or at least, he had no wish to do that again unless it was really necessary.
Alpha smiled teasingly.
“Is that so Honestly speaking, if you give it to that Kibayashi guy, Im sure hell get a good laugh out of it and you can get an extra bonus on top of your reward.”
Akira reacted almost immediately, it was not like he was working as a Hunter just to amuse Kibayashi.
“Lets just go in and head to the 57th floor for now. There might be some mechanical monsters inside but Im sure theyre not as powerful as the ones that we fought outside.”
Akira changed gear and headed inside the building.
Reina and her 2 maids were hunting for monsters in the Mihazono ruin. Due to Shioris suggestion, they focused more on hunting monsters rather than hunting relics in order to familiarize themselves with the danger level of Mihazono ruin.
As long as they stayed near the Hunter Office branch, they would be able to almost immediately send an emergency request in case anything bad happened. Due to Shioris suggestion, they were being careful while doing their best hunting for monsters instead of relics.
But to be more precise, Reina was the only one who was trying really hard there. Shiori was only there to accompany Reina, so she was there to match Reinas movements. So in short, she was holding back. She actually could just quickly dispose of all of the monsters and explore the area but avoided doing so. Shioris goal was to help Reina overcome her self-contempt, and realize that she was not a useless burden.
As for Kanae, she did not even contribute to the fight. She just stood there next to Reina, looking bored.
Reina fixed her aim to ball-like mechanical monsters with legs and arms. Although it was just a maintenance drone that was cleaning up the city area from rubbles and wreckage, it would still attack Hunters when it spotted them. Thus, their kind were still considered as mechanical monsters. There were occasions where they even used the rifles that the Hunters dropped, they were pretty bothersome mechanical monsters.
Reina pulled the trigger. She used piercing bullets to destroy the monsters limbs first before aiming for its torsos and proceeded to finish it off. It was a rather safe way to fight. Shiori then evaluated her performance.
Reina smiled, there was a shred of bitterness in her smile.
“That was a good shot.”
“…Yeah, thank you.”
Reina knew well that it was not just empty lip service from Shiori. But since she was in self-deprecating mode, when someone as strong as Shiori complimented her, it sounded as if she was so weak to the point that doing something like that was enough to make Shiori compliment her.
In reality, if Reinas skill was indeed that low, there was no way Shiori would bring her to Mihazono ruin in the first place. After all, Mihazono ruin was a rather dangerous ruin filled with mechanical monsters. Reina was actually stronger than most of the other Hunters of the same Hunter Rank, she was basically stronger than common Hunters.
But not only was she surrounded by powerful people like Shiori and Kanae, who received proper training, the scene when Akira, who was more or less of the same age as her, fought evenly against Shiori was still on her mind. Because of that, Reina could not help but be disappointed in her own skills.
Looking at Reina, Shiori felt a pang of pain. She realized that her compliment was counter-effective, so she stopped herself there.
Reina then moved the leftover wreckage of the monsters that she defeated to a cart with help from Shiori. Kanae did not even offer her help. Reina looked a bit annoyed as she said to Kanae.
“You really wont give me any help, huh”
Even when Reina was glaring at her, Kanae did not seem to care much as she smiled and replied.
“Milady, like I said so many times before. My duty is to ensure your safety, not helping out whenhunting monsters or carrying monsters. To be honest, Ane-san is also not obligated to do that, you know”
“…Well, thats true, but still…”
“My duty is to get Milady away from danger in case anything bad happens. So, I hope you wont count me to always help you in all fights. And I also wont help to carry the dead mechanical monsters. I have my hands full with guarding you so I dont have any leeway to do something like that.”
Reina understood Kanaes argument although she was not fully convinced by it. She directed a bit of that anger onto herself, for not being able to do her Hunter work without bodyguards. She made a conflicted face as she looked at Kanae. Kanae just lightly smiled while looking back at her.
Shiori suppressed her desire to defend Reina, instead, she expressed her opinion about Kanae.
“Milady, Kanae is someone skilled enough to be sent as Miladys bodyguard. Think of her as a shield or a lifeline in a dangerous situation. And just because that shield or lifeline is a very reassuring one, that does not mean that we can put Milady in needless danger. When she looks like she has nothing to do like that, it also means that were in a rather safe situation where she can just relax.”
“Thats so cruel. Ill properly do my duty for which Im paid for, you know”
Shiori looked at Kanae with a serious face.
“Of course, if youre not, I would dice you to small pieces after all.”
Shiori grabbed the sword that she was carrying, it seemed that she was being serious there.
But even so, Kanae was still smiling like usual. It was because she knew Shiori would not actually pull out her sword there, and even if she did, that in itself would be interesting too. Moreover, the possibility of the latter one was pretty high.
Shiori sighed exasperatedly, her expression returned back to normal as she turned to Reina.
“Milady. The cart is almost full. Lets head back to the Hunter Office first.”
Reina saw a cloud of smoke rising from afar. It originated from a tall building in the deeper part of Mihazono ruin.
Shiori also noticed smoke from watching Reinas reaction. She quickly pulled out her information terminal and checked the area that she guessed around where she saw that smoke. If it was some kind of dangerous anomaly, she would need to evacuate Reina from there as soon as possible. After all, anything could happen in an old-world ruin.
Shiori finished confirming the information and explained it to Reina.
“Its from an area near the Seranthal building. I bet there are some Hunters trying to seize that building. It should be alright as long as we steer clear from that area.”
“It seems that theyre having a pretty big fight there. Is the inner part of this ruin really that dangerous”
“No, it seems that the monsters near the Seranthal building are much stronger compared to the other monsters in the ruin. They might be a part of the security system dedicated to protecting that building. Since the monsters guarding that building will always get replenished after some time, there are not that many Hunters who can challenge that area. There are also rumours saying that we can find a lot of expensive relics inside that building.”
After hearing Shioris explanation, Kanae just smiled amusedly as she tried to provoke Reina.
“That sounds interesting, If the Hunters win, there wont be any monsters left around that area, and even if they lose, they would have inflicted a lot of damage on those monsters too. So no matter which one it is, it should be easy to go to that building right now. Milady, how about we take a look there later”
Shiori glared at Kanae.
“Kanae, just shut up. Milady, even if there are no monsters left around that building, I cant recommend going there.”
Shiori stopped Reina while making a serious face. Reina felt that there was another reason other than her lack of skill as to why Shiori said that. So she curiously asked Shiori a question.
“Well, if you say that, I dont mind not going there. But why If there are a lot of expensive relics there and there are no monsters around it, it should at least be worth a check, right”
“Milady, have you ever heard about the old-world ghost
“Its about that story of ghosts that roam the old-world ruin, right They say that they only roam around famous ruins. There are a lot of different patterns about its story though. Some say that theyre ghosts of the Hunters who died in the ruin and they would attack other Hunters. Or that they control monsters in the ruins to kill other Hunters. Or that they would guide Hunters who get lost inside a ruin to an exit. I heard that theres one in the Kuzusuhara ruin too, the beguiling ghost, was it again If Im not mistaken, it would lure Hunters into a dangerous area by baiting them with information of a secret place filled with relics just to get those Hunters killed, right…”
Shiori then added to that.
“Thats correct. Sometimes it causes a big ruckus that prevents the Hunters from exploring the ruins, there are even times when the Hunter Office dispatched a formal investigation. Most of the investigation results were made public, some of them said that its just the Hunters trying to kill each other over relics, or its caused by the still-active facilities inside a building. Basically, its not a big mystery once the cause has been made clear.”
“Well, that kind of story is not rare. So, whats with it”
“Theres a similar ghost story in this Mihazono ruin, and that story centres around that Seranthal building. Putting the cause aside, its true that there are a lot of Hunters who died around that place and no explanation has been found even right now. As such, it still stays as a ghost story. We cant afford to let Milady go to such a dangerous place.”
Reina started to get scared and curious at the same time, she then asked Shiori.
“Okay, lets not go there then. So, about that ghost story though, what kind of story is it”
Shiori then started explaining about that ghost story to Reina with a serious face. Reina, who listened to that story, looked slightly scared.
Akira, who was standing on the first floor, looked surprised when he took a quick look around the first floor of the Seranthal building. There was a receptionist counter and the interior of that building looked clean. It was obvious that it was properly maintained, there was not even a speck of dust on its floor as it perfectly reflected the light that was shining on it. He also spotted some undamaged chairs, which might be put there for guests.
When Akira looked at that receptionist counter, he thought that it must have been owned by a giant corporation. He had the same impression when he entered that big building sticking to the inner wall of the Kugamayama city, but at the same time, he felt that it was strange for him to feel like that in such a place. Akira scanned the big atrium while having such a conflicted feeling.
“This place is pretty clean.”
Akira was a bit overwhelmed by that contrast between the interior of that building and the area outside. Alpha then warned him to keep his wit.
“It seems that this building is still functioning well, so I bet the maintenance robots regularly clean this place. There might be some security robots too, so be careful.”
Suddenly Akira spotted a girl, he quickly reacted by pointing his rifle at that girl. Although he did not instantly shoot, he had his finger ready on the trigger.
Akiras expression looked stern. He spotted that girl standing in a place that he had already checked beforehand. His information-gathering device also did not detect her at all, there should be no one over there.
Even when Akira pointed his rifle at that girl, she only smiled at him. She was wearing an old-world dress that might have been used to welcome guests as a receptionist, one thing for sure, it was not for battle.
But it was normal for old-world dresses to have completely different qualities compared to their outlooks. It was really dangerous to judge based only on their appearances. Thus although that girl was unarmed, Akira did not lower his guard at all.
Alpha then explained to Akira.
“Akira, thats just a hologram. Its not real.”
Akira looked a bit surprised as he asked Alpha.
“Its not real So like, shes the same as you Wait, is it closer to that hologram from the Higaraka residence ruin, huh”
“My image is created by information projected into your vision, so Im closer to augmented reality and not the same as that hologram. That hologram is projecting its image on a fixed space. So a normal human should be able to see her just fine. But even if people can see her, shes not real. Even if the information-gathering device detected her, its nothing but optical data.”
Akira rechecked the signal from his information-gathering device. There was a contrast between the optical sensor and the heat and vibration sensor. Thus, the display on his information-gathering device was telling him to be careful interpreting that data.
“I see. So its basically produced by old-world technology, right”
“Yep, thats correct.”
If it was not real, then there was no meaning pointing his rifle at it, and of course, it was not like it could hurt him. Thus Akira lowered his rifle.
That girl then walked toward Akira, she then greeted him and said.
“Dear customer. The building is closed at the moment, so we cant allow anyone without the proper authorization to enter. So please leave the building.”
Akira could hear her words clearly. He was surprised by that and asked Alpha.
“Alpha, I can hear her though, shes definitely not real, right”
“She only sounds like shes talking to you up close, the sound itself is not originated from her. It came from somewhere else and generated through a complex calculation to make it sound as if shes close to you.”
Akira could see a big difference between the optical sensor and the sound sensor data in his information-gathering device. Although it looked like that girl was talking to him, it seemed that was not exactly the case there.
Since that girl spoke to Akira, he thought that it might be possible to talk with her. So he tried to say something to her.
“Uhhh, Im actually heading to the 57th floor, you see…”
“Please allow me to repeat myself. The building is closed at the moment. Only the first floor is opened for the other customers who already made an appointment beforehand. Normally, the whole building is closed including all the floors, so please leave the building.”
It seemed that he could indeed talk to her and it also seemed that she really wanted Akira to leave.
“How do I make an appointment”
“During the time when the building is closed, each floor has its designated contact person who accepts appointment applications. We on the first floor dont accept a direct application. So please leave the building.”
Akira tried to ask a lot of things to that hologram even after that, but all ended the same. To put it simply, there was nothing he could do there and that he should leave the building. He could not get any meaningful information out of it.
Alpha then told him to stop that meaningless negotiation.
“Akira, lets just ignore her and continue. Shes only acting as a receptionist of this building. Theres nothing you can accomplish by asking her. Or is it that you want to leave the building”
“Youre right, lets go.”
Akira just ignored that hologram and decided to go deeper into the building. As he peeked into the other hallways and was about to leave that place, that girl suddenly warned him.
“Warning! The facility is guarded by security allowed to kill in case of illegal intruders. So please leave this place.”
Akira stopped. He then turned to that girl and said with a stern face.
“If thats the case, you shouldve said that before those monsters outside the building attacked me, you know”
That girl did not say anything back, she just vanished.
Akira twitched, he understood that he was at fault there. He was the one who forced his way into that building. But this was a part of his job as a Hunter. Its all already in the past, he just shook it off and continued exploring the building.
Akira was humming in front of an elevator. Although he found one, he could not use it. Nothing happened even after he pressed the buttons on the panel nearby.
Although Akira hardly ever saw any elevators around the place where he lived, he understood how it worked. To be more precise, he experienced using one when Shiori invited him for a meal in the high-class restaurant. That restaurant was located in a high building where he got an amazing view from inside of that restaurant.
Akira pouted for a bit as he said to Alpha.
“Is it broken Or is it that it wont let me use it Which one do you think it is”
“Maybe the latter one. Even if you can use it, I dont think its a good idea to use it. After all, it might just shut you inside to die after you enter, you know And it seems that its not an easy thing to pry the door open even with your augmented suit.”
“Yeah, I wouldnt want that to happen. It cant be helped then, I guess theres no other choice but to go with stairs.”
Akira gave up and headed to the stairs, he already knew where it was after glancing at the map of the first floor.
Akira hoped that he could just go climb the building through the stairs. But it did not work out well for him. After a few floors up, he found himself blocked by a reinforced door. He might be able to force it open using his augmented suit or tear down the door using CWH special ammo. But forcing his way up like that would cause him to spend more time and energy. So he just gave up that idea and searched the floor for another staircase that he could use.
He did find another staircase on that floor, but just like last time, after a few floors up, he was greeted by another reinforced door. Every time that happened, Akira would look for another staircase to climb the building.
Each floor had a different look. Some of the floors were left ransacked as if Hunters had taken any and every relics out from that floor, while some of the floors looked brand new as if it was just opened recently. Akiras eyes sparkled when he saw the many relics in the well-maintained floors. Every shop on those floors was filled with old-world relics.
“Lucky!! It was really worth all the hassle coming to this building! Alright then!! Lets take them home!!”
Akira happily started working, he pulled out another rucksack from the one he had on his back. He then happily stuffed all the relics on the shops displays into that rucksack.
From the others point of view, he looked like a robber robbing a shop. And from the old-world point of view, there was no mistaking that Akira was an armed robber. So it was only to be expected that the security drones would come and try to kill him.
Akira just smiled bitterly as he said.
“Well, its true that Im just digging out and gathering relics to take them out from this ruin. But this does feel like Im robbing a shop.”
“Well, you did force yourself in by destroying those autonomous weapons guarding this building, so youre actually already robbing here. But lets just swear not to rob any shops that are still in business and just think of this as putting all of these products that no one would ever come to buy into good use.”
“That in itself is an amazing excuse though. But I guess there are a lot of Hunters who gather old-world relics with that excuse, so I can understand why they stationed those autonomous weapons to guard the relics.”
Akira, who was smiling bitterly when he said that, suddenly turned quiet. His smile had vanished from his face and his hands that were putting relics into his rucksack suddenly stopped. He then asked Alpha.
“Alpha, theres something I want to ask. Its about the mechanical monsters that weve defeated outside. Though I was able to defeat them thanks to your support, theyre actually strong monsters, right Or at least, thats what I thought about them. After that first barrage, I even thought of pulling back, theyre at least that strong from my point of view.”
“Yep, theyre powerful autonomous monsters. You have no winning chance against them without my support. After all, although you did win, it was a rather fierce fight. You do understand that too, right”
“Yeah, I got that very well. So like, why did you judge that I should be able to defeat those strong monsters Well, its true that it did put me in more burden and I used more ammo than usual, but you predicted that, and we won as you predicted too. Or at least thats the vibe that I got back there. So against such strong monsters, how did you judge and under what basis did you decide it was possible to win against them”
“Oh my, thats quite a question there. Do you have anything you want to complain about my support You can just say it and Ill readjust.”
“No, thats not what I meant. Theres nothing that I want to complain about. Its just that… What can I say… You were smiling like usual during that fight, it feels like you know even if I did that 100 times, Ill still win 100 times. So like, I just want to know on what basis, or at least the reason, why you can be so sure.”
Akira seemed a bit hesitant when he said that, but he looked serious.
Alpha did not say anything for a while, she then smiled and asked him.
“You really want to know, dont you”
It was her usual smile, but for some reason, Akira felt there was something else behind that smile.
“Yeah, I want to know.”
“Itll take a very long time to explain it orally, you know…”
“In that case, make it short and you dont need to tell me everything, just tell me enough to at least convince me.”
Alpha confirmed Akiras expression and answer. She then said.
“Very well, if I have to shorten my answer, its because they are mechanical monsters. If they were biological monsters, I would have definitely stopped you.”
“Is it really that different, mechanical and biological monsters”
“Yep, or at least, thats the case for my support. Moreover, those autonomous weapons were simple machines, they were made in accordance with their blueprints and they moved precisely as their original program. There were no abnormalities in their bodies or behaviours, unlike those biological monsters which continuously mutate their bodies and change their judgement logic. Thanks to that, its easy to predict their moves. Because theres no randomness in their patterns, I can easily make an accurate prediction just from a few observations. And without randomness and arbitrary action that tends to happen with the biological monsters, the calculation becomes very easy. Thats why, even if it seemed very dangerous in your point of view, it was a very safe situation and that fight was totally winnable from my point of view.”
Alpha then continued her explanation. Due to his limited knowledge, Akira actually had some problems understanding her explanation. But he at least more or less understood her reasoning.
As long as Alpha knew the original blueprint and the behaviour program of those monsters, she could get a highly accurate result by running simulations based on those information, and she would be able to accurately follow that simulation by controlling Akiras augmented suit. By splitting up the whole battle into smaller ones of highly accurate 2-player zero-sum game simulation, Alpha could map out the best decision to take during that fight.
Although it seemed that Akira fought that battle desperately, from Alphas point of view, it was more like following an already finished script.
It would be extremely difficult to do the same against biological monsters. Due to the randomness of the biological monsters behaviours, Alpha could only make inaccurate predictions.
Akira tried to understand something outside that explanation as he asked Alpha.
“Uhhh, so basically, since you know the enemys weak point and behaviour well enough, its an easy thing to defeat them, huh”
“More or less, yes.”
Akira seemed to be thinking about something else, so Alpha paused there before she asked him again.
“Was that explanation not enough Do you want me to explain in more detail”
Akira shook his head.
“No, thats good enough. At least now I understand that you didnt judge I could win that fight out of some vague reasons.”
“Oh my, how rude. Theres no way I would guarantee your safety out of some vague reasons, you know.”
“My bad. I got to understand a lot of things since I started taking your lesson. Just think of it as the result of my growth, you have my thanks.”
“Is that so Well, Im glad to hear that. If you question my instruction, it would be troublesome during a dangerous situation, you see.”
“Yeah, I know. I just got a little bit curious there. Well, compared to this mountain of old-world relics, it doesnt really matter though. Although it was dangerous, it was worth the risk.”
“Thats true, lets carry back as much as we can.”
Akira returned to his job stuffing old-world relics into his rucksack.
Akiras question was not fully answered yet. To be more precise, although his last question was answered, it only led to more questions that were still unanswered. He understood the basis of Alphas judgement, but he still had no idea why she used those as the basis of her judgement.
The old-world factories that were considered as old-world relics were still producing autonomous weapons even right now. Normally, the blueprints used to produce those monsters and the program installed inside their control units should be a secret. There should not be that many people who had access to them even during the time when those factories were built, and of course, there should be even fewer people who knew those secrets now.
But for some reason, Alpha knew about them. Akira thought that he should be able to know the reason if he just asked her, but he decided to hold himself back from asking that question. It was because he felt that Alpha would not want him to ask that question.
Alpha did ask him for confirmation back then. That was because she actually did not want Akira to ask that.
Alpha was actually under a leash. There were things that she could not do without Akiras permission, so it was only to be expected that she had other limitations too. That might also be the reason why she could not say no when Akira asked her that question, she might only be able to give a vague answer to point out that he would regret knowing the answer to his question.
That was why Akira did not pursue any further. He felt like if he asked that question, Alpha might turn hostile against him, thats why he decided to just shelf that question.
All the questions that welled up thanks to his curiosity were starting to leak out. Nonetheless, Akira continued to suppress them. After all, compared to the usefulness of Alphas support, those questions were worth nothing to him. Or at least, that was the case for now.
The real reason as to why Alpha told Akira to fight those autonomous monsters was simply to give Akira a good feel of how great her support was, it was to strengthen that impression on him. Though, Akira did not realize that at all.