Akira just followed Elena and Sara as they took him into a cafeteria near the Hunter Office branch.
They parked their vehicles outside the parking lot. Although it was outside the parking lot, some guards would patrol and guard the area when asked, like how they guarded the parking lot. And just as the case with the parking lot, the patrol was also charged based on duration.
Elena and Sara sat facing Akira, all of them ordered some light meals before taking their seats.
Both Elena and Sara were smiling, but there was something strange behind their smiles. Sara seemed to be bothered by Akiras new friend while Elena was looking at him as if she was inquiring about something that she did not know.
Elena then spoke.
“So, what is your relationship with Carol… It doesnt have any deeper meaning than that, okay Its just that well be working with her after this, so I want to know more about her, thats all.”
For some reason, Elena was making excuses for her question. She herself did not know for sure why she did that.
Akira then answered Elenas question.
“Well, even if you ask me, theres nothing special, were just fellow Hunters. And about her, uhh, I just met her not too long ago. So, honestly, I dont really know much about her. But it seems that Carol and Shikarabe know each other, so it might be better to ask that question to Shikarabe.”
Elena did not get any valuable information about Carol and it did not seem that Akira was trying to hide anything. Sara then asked a question.
“In that case, is it okay if we ask you some questions You can just tell us if you dont want to answer. But if you do answer, please dont lie since it might cause trouble later. Is that okay”
“Thank you. So, first, since when did you know Carol”
“I just met her yesterday.”
Elena frowned and asked.
Elena and Sara seemed rather troubled. Sara seemed hesitant as she said
“…Akira. If thats true, then it means that youre bringing someone you dont really know, someone you just met yesterday, to work on this request, you know…”
“Ahh… That… Does sound… Thats indeed the case, huh.”
Akira sounded disheartened as he replied back with broken words. Elena and Sara looked even more troubled than before.
Although it was already obvious, working together with other Hunters in a team meant that they had to really trust each other. After all, there were cases where they had to leave their back or might even trust their lives on the hand of their teammates. That was the exact reason why the arbitrator agencies with a good reputation would prosper.
Akira once told Elena and Sara that he once got attacked by other Hunters in the same team, that was why Elena and Sara thought he well understood the importance of that problem. Even this situation was also caused by the fact that he could not contact Elena and Sara earlier, it was still a rather unexpected situation for them.
Akira sounded apologetic as he said to Elena.
“…Im really sorry. As I thought, is it better if we dont move in the same team this time”
Hearing how Akira suddenly sounded so apologetic, Elena fl.u.s.teredly replied.
“Uhh, you dont have to go that far. Were also happy to get more helping hands and if shes really a troublesome Hunter, Shikarabe would have stopped us too. Ahhh, and also, as you said, youll take responsibility if Carol tries to do anything funny, right”
Akira replied back with a serious face.
“Of course, Im the one who brought her here after all.”
Sara suddenly asked Akira a question.
“When you say youll take responsibility, how far are you actually planning to go”
Akira thought for a bit before answering back.
“Well, lets see. If its a problem that can be solved with money, Ill pay. If its an amount that I can pay right away, Ill immediately pay. If its not, either I pay it in form of a request or Ill ask to wait until I get enough money.”
After listening to Akiras answer, Elena and Sara thought for a bit. Although he straightforwardly replied with a serious face, it somehow felt lacking. Akira did not say any exact amount of money that he was willing to pay, even if he said that he would pay no matter how much he would be asked, it was not like he would pay just any amount. There were many people who would take back what they said when an exact amount of money was specified, moreover, there were many problems in this world that could not be solved with money.
Sara then continued.
“Is that all”
“If Carol causes anything that puts Elena-san or Sara-san in danger, Ill take the responsibility and kill her myself.”
Akira replied casually, there was no trace of resolve or determination in his words. But that was the exact reason why Elena and Sara knew that he was being serious.
Akira was the type of person who could just casually kill others. He did not fear or hate or feel excited about that act, he did not need faith or determination or resolve to execute the act, he did not hesitate, he did not let himself get carried away by it, he did not let it affect him at all, he was simply absolutely impartial on the act of murder. In the eyes of people from the inner wall, his openness toward murder was extremely unethical and abnormal.
Of course, Elena and Sara would also kill people when needed. As a matter of fact, they did murder people a few times in the past. But in the end, it was because those people tried to attack them, it was for the sake of self-defense.
Elena made a serious face as she said to Akira.
“Alright, but is it okay if we ask you for one thing If she does put us in danger, can you just leave how to deal with it to us If its possible, I want to avoid any kind of in-fighting. We have a reputation to uphold too after all.”
“I understand, please feel free to ask for me if Im needed.”
Akira replied without showing any hesitation.
Sara was staring at Akira, she seemed a bit troubled as she thought.
[Its true that its rather weird for Akira to bring with him someone that he just met yesterday, but more than that, Im more interested about that reason… I dont want to believe it, but dont tell me he…]
Sara then asked Akira a question to confirm her guess.
“So then, what exactly happened yesterday Can you please tell us everything including when you met Carol”
Akira then told Elena and Sara all the information that he thought they would want to know. He told them that he went to Mihazono ruin yesterday, he then entered the Seranthal building and met Carol inside that building. All of a sudden they were swarmed by monsters and somehow was able to escape the building. He then lost his relics for protecting Carol. But she compensated for his lost relics and treated him for lunch. Of course, Akira did not say anything about Carols side job.
“The information that Carol had really helped us escape the Seranthal building. Moreover, with someone who knows well about this ruin, I thought that we would be able to safely complete todays request. Thats why I hired Carol.”
“That must have been hard. To be more precise, is it okay if I ask you how you escaped Seranthal building”
When Sara asked that question, Akira hesitated to answer back.
“Uhh… Do I really need to answer that question no matter what”
“I wont force you. If you dont want to answer, you can just say it.”
“Uhhh, thats not exactly the problem. Although I came to know about it because of an emergency, its information that I paid money to get, so…”
Elena sounded convinced as she said.
“Ahhh, I see, so basically we just need to pay you money, right”
Akira fl.u.s.teredly shook his head and said.
“Ah no, I dont really mind telling Elena-san and Sara-san for free, but… I was just thinking if its okay for me as a Hunter to give such information for free to another Hunter. What should I do about such information normally Since I already paid for it, I wonder if its okay if I spread it around without permission. What do you think, Elena-san”
Elena was taken aback when Akira asked her that question. It was because she did not expect him to be that careful about dealing with such information. After all, in the past, he did share information about an unexplored ruin to her and Sara casually. Sara was also surprised by that unexpected change.
Elena thought that it was a good thing if Akira had changed because he had that talk with her. She then happily told him about her own opinion.
“It depends, if you agreed beforehand not to spread it when you bought it, then, you shouldnt spread it. But if you dont have such an agreement, I think its okay for you to tell other people. With that being said, you still need to have some kind of implicit agreement with the person from whom you got that information. After all, theres a chance that person will sell the next piece of information at a higher price since the last one spread widely among the Hunters. For that one, well, you can only learn that from experience.”
“…This is really difficult.”
“If you dont know what to decide, its safer if you keep it a secret. Theres no need to leak it out just because we asked you. Which in that case, is it okay if we ask you how much it cost and whether it was worth paying that money”
“It was 5,000,000 Aurum and I think it was worth that money. Although, I can only say that since I was able to escape the building thanks to that information.”
Sara pondered, “hmm…”
“5,000,000 Aurum, huh. If you say it is really worth that much, I have no plans to refute it but… Just because you were able to escape danger because of that, I dont think thats enough of a reason to blow it out of the proportion that much. Are you sure it was really worth it”
“Yes. Although, in the end, I didnt pay even a single Aurum for that information since I accepted her request to escort her back. Either way, I was in a situation where it was bad if Carol got killed, so the timing was good too.”
Elena smiled confidently.
“Youre pretty good.”
Sara also smiled, she seemed a bit surprised. Akira blushed as he got fl.u.s.tered.
After Elena and Sara asked a lot of questions about Carol to Akira, they decided that there should be no problem adding Carol to the team. Although she did ask Akira to escort her to escape the Seranthal building, it was not like she did not fight at all. Moreover, it seemed that she did change her equipment into something more suitable for fighting this time. And in the first place, if Shikarabe thought that she would only slow them down, he would have rejected that suggestion.
It might be true that Carol knew a lot of things about Mihazono ruin, or at least, it was true that she had information that helped Akira to survive and return back alive from the ruin. Thus, Akira thought that it would be helpful to have her around if they wanted to explore Mihazono ruin.
Sara felt relieved that her fear was proven to be wrong, she then apologetically said to Akira.
“Let me apologize to you first, Im really sorry. To be honest, I thought that Carol seduced you and is tricking you right now. I just thought that… Well, Im sorry to put it this way, I just thought that Carol is cajoling and manipulating you for her own benefit, you see.”
Elena also apologized to Akira.
“…Sorry, I actually thought so too. You did tell us that you basically work alone, remember Thats why I was so surprised when you suddenly brought with you another Hunter, it just somehow bothered me.”
At first, Akira did not understand what exactly Elena and Sara were talking about. He just sat there with a confused face. But after a few seconds, he realized what it was all about. It was true that it would not be strange for Elena and Sara to think like that after seeing Carols attire. He then smiled bitterly and said.
“Uhmm, Im sorry to make you worry. But its alright. I think Im the type who doesnt get baited by something like that.”
Sara smiled mischievously.
“Is that so Then I might as well test you.”
Sara stood up from her seat and moved next to Akira. She then leaned her face close to his while smiling and staring at him.
Akira obviously started getting fl.u.s.tered.
Sara kept staring at Akiras face while moving her face closer and closer. The closer she got, the more fl.u.s.tered Akira became.
Akira then turned to Elena, asking for help. But Elena just smiled bitterly at him and said.
“Looking at you now, I dont think youre okay at all though Maybe you want to get used to it while you still have the chance”
Sara then pulled back her face. Akira sighed, he was still blushing as he said.
“…Give me a break!”
Sara smiled teasingly at Akira.
“If you want to get used to it, I can help you, you know”
“Oh my, you dont like it”
“…Please just stop.”
Akira replied back in a strong tone to hide his embarrassment. Looking at that him, Elena and Sara just smiled.
Alpha was also smiling, although, deep inside, she was a little bit disappointed since it seemed that bringing Carol along did not disrupt Akiras relationship with Elena and Sara.
Akira, Elena, and Sara went back to their meeting point. Not too long after that, Shikarabes APC arrived right on time. Shikarabe and Carol then stepped out from the APC. Shikarabe seemed a little irritated while Carol looked somehow in a good mood.
According to Elenas experience as a Hunter, she thought that Shikarabe was the type of person who preferred to come early and wait for other people to arrive, but since this time he came just right on time, Elena found that weird and asked them a question.
“Youre cutting it pretty close this time, was there any problem”
Carol smiled and answered Elenas question.
“Nope, we did replenish the supply and had a good rest before coming here.”
Shikarabe did not say anything. The other Hunters there directed their gazes on Shikarabe. He noticed that tried to calm himself down before opening his mouth.
“…Theres no problem with the resupply. If I have to say anything, well, the cost of the armour plating and the ammo was more expensive than I expected.”
“If the negotiation took most of your time and you didnt get much rest, I dont mind waiting for some more time for you to get adequate rest.”
When Elena said that, Carol immediately replied in place of Shikarabe.
“Its fine, we did have a good rest after all, right Or was that not enough”
Carol glanced at Shikarabe. Shikarabe averted his gaze from her as he said.
“…Its alright. So then, how about you guys Did something happen”
“Nothing. By the way, Ive picked our next request.”
“In that case, lets get working. With the sun already up, its much safer than during the night. With that being said, there should be more people competing for the rescue requests now though.”
“Youre right, everyone, lets go.”
They then returned back to their respective vehicles. Carol returned back to Akiras vehicle and sat on the driver assistances seat. She then looked at Akira in a good mood. Since it was not like she was glaring at him, Akira just ignored her and started his vehicle.
They were heading to the building in the Mihazono ruin where the Hunters who sent the rescue request barricaded themselves inside. Elena and Sara were in the front, Shikarabes APC in the middle, and finally Akira and Carol in the rear. They intentionally took a wide road as they drove through the ruin. After all, there was a good chance that if they picked a narrow road, it might be blocked by the wreckages of the dead mechanical monsters.
But even on that wide road, there were wreckages of huge mechanical monsters that almost blocked the whole road. There was a huge tank-like object with multiple legs lying on the side of the road with countless holes on its torsos; around it, there were pieces of humanoid weapons that must have fought that huge tank assorted with huge empty ammo cartridges scattered around.
Akira frowned when he saw that.
“Say, Alpha, correct me if Im wrong, but these huge monsters dont really roam the city district of Mihazono ruin normally, right”
Alpha who was sitting on Akiras vehicles door with her leg extended outside the vehicle turned her face to Akira.
“Well, thats indeed the case, at least until yesterday. If this is a normal thing in Mihazono ruin, I wouldnt have suggested you to come here.”
“Thought so… What exactly happened for it to change all of a sudden”
“Im sure its because the security drones increased their alert level for some reason. Judging by the fact that theyre dispatching the A24-type drones inside the city district, Im sure its not just for simply driving out common robbers.”
“Common robbers… Ahh, the Hunters, huh. Well, if its about them, there is always a lot of Hunters coming to this ruin every day after all.”
It was as Akira said, a lot of Hunters came to the Mihazono ruin every day, at least, enough for the Hunter Office to decide to build a branch in that ruin. Honestly speaking, he thought that must not be the reason, but Alpha suddenly said something that refuted his guess.
“Theres a limit for everything. There might be a limit set on the drones, which proactively try to reduce the number of Hunters inside the city ruin. That limit must have surpassed yesterday, so there are a ton more.”
“I see. But if thats really the case, I really hope it would have gotten triggered when Im not in this ruin though.”
Alpha just smiled at Akira who was complaining.
“I think its nothing strange considering your bad luck. Honestly speaking, Ive already given up resisting your back luck. So I suggest that you give up too, okay”
Akira smiled bitterly at Alpha. He could see Seranthal building in the direction that he was looking, it was a huge building that stuck out from the rest even from afar.
Carol noticed Akira was smiling bitterly in the direction where the Seranthal building was. She then smiled lightly and said to him.
“It was really rough yesterday, wasnt it I wonder if that was some kind of omen that the ruin would turn like this”
“That might be true. Carol, you know a lot about this Mihazono ruin, right Do you have any guess”
“Unfortunately, I have no guess at all.”
“So we really have no idea of whats going on, huh Well, thats not surprising at all though.”
“There must be some Hunters who came here to investigate the reason behind the current situation. Those Hunters who usually sell maps often explore the inner part of the ruin too. If they can find out the reason behind the current situation and sell that information to the Hunter Office, I bet it can fetch them at least 10,000,000,000 Aurum.”
Akira was flabbergasted when he heard that amount of money.
“I-Is it really worth that much”
Akira himself knew that it would be a pretty expensive piece of information, but he did not expect it to be such a huge amount.
Carol, who noticed Akiras expression, just smiled teasingly at him and said.
“Oh my, its a piece of information related to the safety of the Mihazono ruin, you know At the moment, theres still no news saying that the monsters from inside the Mihazono ruin are going out into the wasteland, but theres no guarantee that itll stay that way. When a lot of monsters flood out from the ruin, it might greatly affect the monster distribution in the wasteland. Because of that, some routes that are originally considered as safe might turn dangerous, and if that kills the trading flow of the city, itll also give a huge hit to the companies that depend on those trading routes. So with that information, the Hunter Office can take an initiative to prevent such situations from happening. After all, just think about it, even if you pay 100 Hunters 100,000,000 Aurum each to take out all the monsters that are flooding out from the ruin, do you think they can really accomplish that”
“Nope, I dont think they can.”
“Yep, so thats basically the gist of it. Moreover, leaving that aside, if that amount of money is enough to keep the ruin thats already under the control of the Hunter Office to the point that they built a branch office in that ruin, then I bet they would have no complaint paying that amount of money. Depending on the quality of the information and how the negotiation goes, it might even cost even more than that.”
Akira sounded amazed as he said.
“So theres something like that too, huh. I never thought that kind of work is also available for Hunters. Wait, does that mean that youre actually that kind of Hunter”
After all, there were not many Hunters who knew about the invisible transport drones in the landing pads of some buildings in the Mihazono ruin. So, if Carol was one of those Hunters who worked as a map dealer, then it was not surprising for her to know about those transport drones.
Carol then smiled smugly and answered Akiras question.
“My main Hunter job is hunting relics and selling them while I also work as an information dealer on the side.”
Akira looked at Carol with wide eyes, he seemed to be honestly amazed by her. A question suddenly popped up inside his brain.
“…Wait for a sec, you did tell me that some Hunters intentionally opened only a few doors in between floors in the Seranthal building so that the other Hunters who explore that building would easily get lost inside that building. And it was done in order to increase the price of the map of the Seranthal building, right”
“Oh, yep, I did tell you that… But no, I dont do something like that.”
Carol answered back with a bright smile, Akira could not read whether she was lying or not.
Elenas voice suddenly came out from Akiras information terminal.
“Akira, well enter an area where a lot of monsters are roaming around. Well basically try to pierce through the swarm, so make sure not to get left behind, okay Ill leave the monsters on the flank to you. If its too hard for you, well temporarily withdraw. So make sure to contact us beforehand, okay”
“Understood. Elena-san and Sara-san too, if things get dicey, please immediately withdraw.”
Elena then replied as if she was provoking Akira.
“Oh my, if we immediately head back because of something like that, we wont be able to get money from the request that we could originally complete, you know Are you okay with that”
If they got too reckless, they would get killed and that would be the end of them. But if they were too careful, they would not be able to get money and would eventually die out of starvation. Being Hunters meant that they should be able to decide whether they could get enough money to justify the danger that they would face. Elena thought that Akiras words just now sounded too pessimistic, that was why she tried to lightly poke at Akira.
“I dont mind. Elena-san and Sara-sans safety is much more important than money.”
Akira answered back in a straight-forward and casual manner. There were a few seconds of silence before Elena replied.
“…Dont worry, I have no plans to die here. So I dont think I would make a blunder about that. Thank you for worrying about us, good luck, Akira.”
Right at the end of her sentence, Elena sounded like she was in a good mood. After that, she cut the call.
“Alpha, can I leave the driving to you again”
“Sure, theres no need to be in such a hurry, Ill tell you if I detect any monsters.”
“Theres nothing to lose for getting myself ready sooner.”
It seemed that Akira got a bit excited, Alpha thought that it might be because of that reply from Elena just now. She then suddenly pointed her finger.
“Akira, use the A4WM grenade-launcher this time. I want to gather some data first while we still have the chance.”
Akira returned to the back seat and grabbed his A4WM grenade-launcher, it was a gun that he had not tried to shoot even once before. Although he was planning to get used to it by testing it in the wasteland, he did not expect that he would have to use it right on the next day after he bought it. At the moment, he was in a rather safe situation, so it was a good chance for him to get used to his new gun.
Carol looked around and asked Akira a question.
“Akira, did you find a monster somewhere”
“Nope, my information-gathering device didnt detect anything in particular. How about yours”
“Theres nothing in mine too. Geez, stop scaring me like that.”
Carol thought that Akira somehow found monsters that she could not detect. Although with the sun up right now, it was far easier to check the surroundings compared to when it was during the night, there were a lot of rubbles and wreckage around where monsters could hide.
“Even if you tell me so. Its not like Im trying to scare you or anything. You also heard that order from Elena-san just now, right Im just getting myself ready for the upcoming battle.”
“Well, its fine if thats the case. By the way, since I left it to you to take care of all of the monsters last time, can you leave the next ones to me Ill show you that Im different from yesterday.”
Carol was smiling smugly filled with confidence when she said that.
The front-most vehicle in that group was Elena and Saras, Elena was driving the vehicle. She was also the one operating the vehicles information-gathering device and its machine gun. As for Sara, who was sitting next to Elena, her job was to take care of the monsters that the machine gun could not take out.
There, Sara was looking in Elenas direction while smiling teasingly at her. Elenas face turned stern for a bit as she said.
Sara then amusedly said.
“Its nothing. Its just that it seemed Akira is worried about us.”
Elenas stern face was basically her trying to hide her embarrassment. She fully understood that Sara knew that too but if she did not do that, she knew that Sara would start teasing her. That was why she could not relax her expression.
In their team, Elena was the one who was responsible for negotiation. Because of that, she learned a lot of skills used for negotiating such as probing for ulterior motives, reading behind words, detecting lies, digging for real motives, or judging for cost and benefit of a deal.
Elena had the experience of negotiating with problematic and dangerous people like those who were so prideful that they had no ulterior motives at all, or those who would casually make a bad suggestion with a smile, or those people who tried to strike a deal while also planning to betray that deal right from the start. Thanks to that, Elena was able to more or less read the real intention behind peoples words.
And of course, Akiras words were not an exception. Elena unconsciously tried to probe what was behind those words and she came up with the conclusion that Akira was not lying at all, he was not trying to act cool nor trying to woo her. He was only simply stating his real feelings. Elena knew that very well as she tried to look even deeper for the reason why he said that.
If it was true that Akira felt Elena and Saras safety was more important than money, then he would not complain at all and just follow her if she told the team to withdraw right now, which at that point, Akira would not get even a single Aurum. Or more like, he would be already in red since he had to pay for Carols reward. If he would really do that, it meant that Akira did not take Elenas invitation to work on this request for the sake of money.
To top it off, Akira knew that Mihazono ruin was a dangerous ruin. As a matter of fact, he even went as far as hiring Carol as insurance, so there should be no mistaking it.
Which then, the real question would be why Akira would accept Elena and Saras invitation. At least, it was not for money. Although he still needed money, it was not his first priority. In order for Elena to pull out the answer, she did not immediately reply to Akira back there.
Akira was there to help out Elena and Sara. He knew that Mihazono ruin, or at least the Seranthal building, was a very dangerous place. As such, he was there to make sure that Elena and Sara would not need to go through what he had gotten through. He must have decided to accept their invitation thinking that if he was around, he would be able to at least be of some help to Elena and Sara.
If Elena and Sara were able to contact Akira, it might have been the end of it once she told him the details of their current situation. He might have decided to come exactly because he could not contact Elena and Sara back then.
Having a young Hunter who just started working not too long ago worrying about her, it could even be said that she was having a Hunter below her worrying about her. So there was no way Elena did not feel anything about it. Even she had her pride as a Hunter.
But even so, Elena was delighted that Akira came there to help her, she was so happy that it betrayed her pride as a Hunter. As a matter of fact, Akira had been saving her life and Saras life ever since their first meeting. If Akira had not saved her back then, she would have been r.a.p.ed and then killed. So, it might be too late for her to be saying anything about her pride as a Hunter.
The feeling that Akira and Elena had for each other was basically a form of love for close friends and as fellow Hunters, they felt indebted to each other for saving each others life. Or at least, for Elena, she did not look at Akira as a target for her romantic feeling. She thought that should also be the case for Akira too. After all, their age gap was simply too big.
But even so, when someone whom she considered as a close friend came to help her disregarding profit and loss and even risked his life to help her, it was only natural for her to feel happy. There was nothing strange about it.
Elena herself knew that she was in a very good mood, while on the other hand, she also understood very well that getting too happy would affect her ability to judge and make decisions. That was why she was making a stern face. Moreover, with the person who knew her inner feeling sitting next to her while smiling at her, Elena could not afford to relax her expression.
She then warned Sara with a serious face.
“If you know that hes worried about us, you should be extra careful too. Dont forget that you got saved by him back then in Yonozuka station ruin, okay Im sure youre not thinking of making him save you again, right”
Sara replied in a serious voice.
“I know. Ive vowed that I wont ever make the same mistake again.”
“Thats good then.”
Right at that moment, the sensor installed in their vehicle suddenly showed a reaction, it was showing that there were a lot of monsters ahead. Elena checked the display of the radar while saying to Sara.
“…It would take forever to kill all of them. Well try to force our way through. Sara, are you ready”
“Ready when you are.”
Elena accelerated her vehicle to open up a road for the other vehicles behind her. The machine gun on their vehicle and Saras gun started shooting almost at the same time as they were laying waste to the monsters ahead of them.