After cleaning up the rest of the monsters, Sonoda and the other Hunters were taking a rest while getting their injuries looked after.
“So, howre your injuries”
“No problem. Although that guy is a cunning greedy bastard, his skills are top-notch… Anyway, sorry for getting you into trouble back then.”
Sonoda gave a serious apology, but his teammates replied with a small laugh.
“Thats what it means to work as a team, no So dont worry about it. Furthermore, he treated our injuries for free. Though, to be honest, Im still bothered by the fact that he looked rather happy when he told us so. But its way better than getting told to pay because we failed the request.”
Sonoda and his team lightly laughed off their fairly serious situation as they continued chatting.
“…But still, although its a good thing that we got saved by it, I didnt expect the clinic to come for us. I really dont know what that guy is thinking.”
“So, where is that Yatsubayashi guy now”
“No idea, I bet hes out there looking for the other injured Hunters or something.”
“And leave the clinic just for that… Well, I guess it doesnt really matter, huh.”
Sonoda and his team laughed, celebrating their survival.
While on the other site, Yatsubayashi was checking the units that the Hunters had just defeated with a wide grin. He was dissecting a young boy robot using his suspicious-looking machines. He took a unit that still had its body relatively intact and opened its head with some kind of tool, he then pulled out something from its head and smiled.
“Transmitter device. But this isnt mine, its some kind of imitation, huh”
Yatsubayashi could not hold back his smile.
“…Then these are… All of these are primitive terminals, huh. It should only be able to do low-level autonomous action. In that case, are these some kind of makeshift remote control I see. But still, he shouldnt be able to reach this level only by eating monsters with this kind of function. Tiol-kun, it seems that youve gotten yourself some old-world knowledge, huh. Honestly, Im so envious of you. Well, I guess I didnt come all the way here for nothing.”
Yatsubayashi actually did not come there to pick up Sonoda and his team. He was only chasing a signal that might have come from Tiol. The reason why he did not wait until the situation calmed down was simply because he could not hold himself back. Also, depending on how bad the situation was, the City Management might order them to retreat.
That was also the reason why Yatsubayashi sent Sonoda to that place. He faked the SOS signal in order to dispatch Sonoda to investigate the area.
Yatsubayashi looked at the head scattered around him and laughed.
“In case youre listening, Im more than happy to welcome you if you show yourself, you know”
Of course, the heads did not give any reply at all.
Inside a white space, Alpha was standing face to face with Tsubaki. Alpha had a displeased face as she was sending a stern gaze at Tsubaki.
“Im waiting for your excuse.”
Tsubaki replied back flatly with an unfriendly face.
“I have none.”
Alphas face turned sterner and her gaze colder.
“So basically, youre picking a fight with me, correct”
Tsubaki suddenly started oozing an ominous aura.
“I dont think Im being that hostile to you. If you want me to apologize, I shall apologize. If its needed, Im even willing to swap places.”
Alpha and Tsubaki just stared at each other in silence. Due to their accelerated time perception, their moment of silence was actually longer than it seemed. Alpha opened her mouth first.
“…Im here to hear your excuse regarding the subject under me and the subject under you trying to kill each other.”
“First of all, in order to keep the safety of the region under my supervision, what I did was just a rewrite of the system configuration of a unit that had unstable software based on one of the security drones defending my area. So to be more precise, that unit is not under my supervision. It just picked the subject under you as its target by chance when it tried to follow its software to protect the region that its responsible for. Well, I did not specifically tell it to not attack the subject under you, but again, I have no obligation to do that in the first place.”
“Is that so”
Alpha seemed to have accepted that excuse and her stern face slightly relaxed. Tsubaki also toned down her intimidating aura. Now that the mood had returned to the point that they were able to negotiate calmly, this time, it was Tsubakis turn to complain.
“Ill at least give you this warning. Even if its someone under your supervision, I will have to take him out if he steps into my territory without the proper permission. So keep that in mind.”
“Sure, Ill be careful.”
Alpha only said so with an emotionless face before vanishing.
Hearing that, Tsubakis face distorted with displeasure.
“…Good grief, what a pain in the neck!”
Then Tsubaki also vanished from that white empty space. Now that there was no one inside that space, the space itself vanished shortly after.
Since Akira had almost used up all of his ammo, he asked Sara and Elena to accompany him back to the forward base. He set his bike to run on autopilot to follow the vehicle as he hopped into Elena and Saras vehicle.
Akira was enamored by the scene of his bike running just fine without anyone riding it. Sara, who saw Akira like that, smiled and said to him.
“Although its a common feature for advanced bikes made to explore the wasteland, when you look at it, it looks like a ghost is riding it, doesnt it”
“Ghost, huh. Youre right.”
“Talking about ghosts, Akira, have you heard about them Theres an urban legend in Kuzusuhara ruin about a beguiling ghost.”
“Yeah, more or less. Although I dont know the details, its about a ghost that uses old-world relics as bait to lure Hunters and kill them, right”
Since Akira had some guesses about that rumour, he could not help but make a conflicted face. He then continued.
“…Well, putting the ghost aside, its nothing rare for Hunters to get killed when they try to go to the deeper part of the ruin for relics.”
Elena, who was driving the vehicle, jumped into their conversation.
“It seems that in the past that urban legend had a completely different content.”
“Is that so What did the rumour say in the past”
“Honestly speaking, I dont know for sure since there are a lot of different versions of it. Some say that its nothing but a rumour spread by Kugamayama City Management in order to scare Hunters from going to Kuzusuhara ruin. At that time, there were still a lot of good relics around the outskirts of Kuzusuhara ruin. So it might be a rumour spread to keep Hunters away from the ruin except for those Hunters employed under the City Management.”
Akira was listening closely to Elenas story when Alpha suddenly swooped down from the sky and sat next to him.
“Welcome back. That took some time, I thought you said that you would be gone only for a bit.”
Alpha smiled mischievously.
“Oh my, you were missing me that much Im happy to hear that.”
“…Its just that your interpretation fora bit is different than mine.”
Akira only said so and dropped the subject there. Alpha just smiled like usual.
There was a certain room inside the forward base designed to prevent any type of information leakage, it was mainly used by those of high standings. Inside that room, Inabe, the head of the forward base, was sitting face to face with Sheryl and Viola.
Although Inabe was being careful with Viola, he was not taking her seriously. He was also looking down on Sheryl.
“So then, what is it Its pretty impressive for you to manage to get a connection to contact me, but if it isnt worth my time, Ill leave right away.”
Viola took out a certain old-world relic and placed it in front of Inabe. Inabe looked at that relic and smiled mockingly.
“And this is the result from the appraisal. Its from the Kurogane Corporation. Since I was using a backdoor, it has no Kurogane insignia on it. But whats written here is the actual result from them.”
Inabe took the document handed over by Viola and skimmed it.
“Its the old-world terminal from an unknown source that everyone was talking about not too long ago, huh. Are you trying to bribe me with this What a joke!”
Inabe looked pretty calm while still eyeing the relic. Looking at that, Viola said with a wide smile.
“It seems that your investigation is not going well.”
Inabes expression immediately turned serious.
“…What do you mean by that”
“Youre free to interpret it any way you want.”
“…Where did you hear that from”
“I might be just making blind guesses, you know.”
The more Inabes face turned sterner, the wider Violas smile got.
Building a secured route into the inner part of the ruin starting from the forward base was a serious endeavour and the City Management placed significant effort into doing that. So of course, there were many people interested in it which caused infighting between different factions.
The one who was responsible for the planning was Yanagisawa. Since the construction and the maintenance of the forward base was doing fine, as well as the relic collection around the secured route, Yanagisawa was cementing his standing among the interested parties. Of course, it was not a good period for the people who were against Yanagisawa.
If there was anything that they could use to reproach Yanagisawa, it would be the fact that he was so focused on extending the secured route instead of collecting the relics around the secured route. The factions who were against Yanagisawa did not let that slide as they kept using that as an excuse to criticize him.
When someone got assigned to watch over a territory with expensive relics, of course, that person would gain a considerable amount of influence too. It was possible to disrupt Yanagisawas position using such a method. That was why Inabe spent a lot of his resources investigating the area under his supervision.
But unfortunately, he did not get a good result from that investigation. The weapon dog and humanoid monster swarm that he discovered practically forced him to stop the investigation, and he was unable to find any expensive relics.
When the area under his supervision proved to be pretty dangerous and without any worthwhile relics, the City Management had no reason to keep investing in it. At this rate, the City Management would completely stop its investment and Inabe would lose all the money that he had already invested in that territory as well as his influence among the competing factions. In reality, he was getting nervous.
When he saw the relic that Viola brought with her, Inabe thought that if that relic could be found in his territory, it would definitely kick up the value of his territory. At least, it would be enough to solve his current trouble, buy him some time, as well as bring in some money for him to get more resources. Thus luring in more potential investors.
Inabes gaze naturally wandered to that old-world relic.
[…To be honest, Im sure I can make it sound as if this relic comes from the area under my care. But Ive heard all kinds of rumours about this woman. Moreover, even if I can do that, I only have one relic here. Its far from enough in order to increase the value of my territory…]
While Inabe was still contemplating what to do, Viola put her hand on top of that relic and slid it close to herself. Inabes expression turned slightly sterner. Viola then pulled out the same type of relics and lined them on the table.
[…W-well now, if there are this many, it should be enough, but… Its this woman were talking about here… There are already so many people who met their demise after getting involved with her…B-but, they do say that she never lies…]
Inabe made a conflicted face which was a mix of his hope, expectation, doubt, and desire. His expectation that this might be the way to his bright future started to bud.
Viola watched Inabes reaction with a smile. She then said to Sheryl in a blatant act.
“Boss, it seems that Inabe-san is not interested. Im sorry, its my fault.”
“I see, alright then.”
Sheryl stood up calmly and lightly bowed to Inabe.
“Inabe-sama, thank you very much for your time today.”
Inabe thought that Sheryl was not faking it and she was really about to leave, so he could not help but stop her by pure reflex. It gave him the final push.
“…Sit down, what do you want in exchange”
Viola waited for Sheryl to sit back before she answered that question with a smile.
“We are running a relic shop, thats why we want you to help us get old-world relics.”
“You said that as if its an easy thing to do, or is that you already know there are many people interested in collecting relics”
“Its not like we want you to get us all the expensive relics out there. We just want you to share some of the relics you collected with us. You can at least do that much, right We will also pay for them, of course, we wont be stingy with the rate.”
Inabe started to question his decision. But since he actually had already made his mind, although he might hesitate, what he was doing there was nothing more than trying to find more excuses to accept their demand.
“Alright, Ill do it.”
“We have a deal then.”
Viola sent a glance to Sheryl, who understood what Viola meant with that glance as she slid the relics on top of the table to Inabes side.
Inabes gaze shifted to Sheryl. There was already no mockery reflected from his eyes. Sheryl was wearing the dress that was refitted in Kashuas shop. Celene had the chance to work on that dress without worrying about the budget at all, thanks to that, her rare talent transformed that dress into something that emphasized Sheryls natural beauty while also giving her an aura of dignity. This time, Viola had some say during the refitting of that dress.
“By the way, what is your relationship with Viola”
“My business partner and Im her boss. Thats all.”
Inabe looked at Sheryl and Viola. One of them was a suspicious woman that he knew well, while the other one was a suspicious girl that was new to him. He placed a mental note to be careful with both of them.
Sheryl, Viola and Inabe stayed there for some time to talk about the details after that. That was until one of Inabes men came and gave a report.
“Excuse me, Im here with the report regarding the humanoid units.”
“In short, they are not of humanoid robot type. To be more precise, theyre closer to biological monsters like the greedy crocodile.”
“We cant expect to earn much money from them.”
Inabe sighed. If they were one of those old-world humanoid drones and the facility that manufactured those drones was somewhere nearby, it might become a good source to lure investors to invest in that territory. Although Inabe did not expect much when he ordered for the investigation, it was still disappointing that it did not give a good result.
“Theyre still in the middle of the investigation even now. The research division is asking for more samples if possible.”
“Give them as many samples as they want.”
Viola suddenly interjected.
“Is it one of those humanoid monsters from that warning”
“Yes. We still dont know for sure if its a humanoid robot that someone made, or if its a Hunter preying on other Hunters, or if its something from the Nationalist, or maybe its just your normal humanoid monsters. Thats why they only limit it to a simple warning so as not to spread needless fear. Well, with this, we know for sure that theyre actually monsters. We put all the samples for the investigation in the warehouse. If youre interested, we can go and take a look now”
“Good idea, lets go.”
Inabe raised his eyebrows.
“What are you planning to do with them Theyre not robots, so theyre just like weird looking corpses. Or is it one of your hobbies”
Viola smiled mischievously.
“Well, its more like I enjoy seeing others get flustered when they believe that I will turn down their offer.”
Inabe sighed exasperatedly and scoffed.
“Haaah, youre as bad as the rumour says, huh.”
“Dont say anything unnecessary if you dont want people to use it against you. Its something that you should keep in mind as a negotiator. Right, boss”
“Dont ask me.”
Sheryl said so in a rather unfriendly way. But Viola only replied with her usual smile. Seeing that exchange, Inabe really had no idea what was the relationship between them.
“Well, if you want to see them, you can just go ahead and take a look. Ill take you there.”
Sheryl followed Viola and went with Inabe to the forward bases warehouse. Although she had no interest in the monsters corpses, it was not like she could do anything if she was left behind alone. Moreover, it was better for her to go with them to make sure that she would not leak anything unnecessary.
The warehouse also housed a lot of the collected old-world relics. It was filled with gigantic shelves, the relics were placed on those shelves in a random manner.
Sheryl was a bit overwhelmed by what she saw there, Viola then leaned in and whispered to her.
“Although theyre cheap relics, normal people wont be able to get permission to enter this place, you know Arent you glad”
“Wasnt this your original aim”
“Well, I wonder.”
Sheryl was a little irritated since it seemed that Viola was toying with her. But since it was true that it was not something that she could see everyday, she shifted her focus to the relics around her.
In one corner of the warehouse, there were pieces from the humanoid monsters that Akira and the other Hunters had defeated. They were kept in some kind of vacuum container. They were in relatively good conditions, their faces were visible through the transparent bag looked mostly unharmed. While for the ones that were in a bad shape, they were piled into a small container.
Inabe, who had guided Sheryl and Viola there, glanced at it and sighed.
“If they were old-world humanoid robots, it would have been a treasure trove.”
Viola also glanced at it with a slight interest.
“Youre keeping them in a relatively safe container.”
“Yeah, Im sending them to a research corporation that I have some connections with, so I need to make them at least presentable. Although that short investigation revealed that theyre nothing but scrap, I might get a different result if I get a specialist to look at them. Someone actually brought in old-world humanoid robots from the ruin you see, and they fetched quite a lot of money even though they were already mostly destroyed. So Im hoping if these things can fetch the same price too, you see.”
While Viola and Inabe were having that conversation, Sheryl was listening to them while looking at the container bag. That was when she noticed something, her eyes were fixated on the face under the container bag and thought that it looked familiar to her.
Sheryl checked the faces in the other bags too and found out that all of them looked similar, which was strange. Although she suspected that he had something to do with them, she could not think of anything.
Inabe noticed Sheryls weird reaction and lightly joked.
“If youre interested, do you want to take one of them home Of course, youll have to pay for it though.”
After that, Inabe realized that he had allowed some outsiders to stay for a rather long time inside that warehouse. So he suggested that they leave the warehouse.
As they left, one of the humanoid monsters that still had some of its energy left looked at Sheryl. Since it immediately ran out of energy right after that, no one noticed it at all.
Tiol was drifting inside his dream space without any awareness.
Yastubayashi had healed Tiol by injecting nanomachine extracted from one of the ruin drones. It was an experiment to check if it would trick the old-world monsters IFF. If it worked, Hunters would be able to explore the ruin without the fear of getting attacked by monsters.
But it ended in failure. As a matter of fact, the nanomachine even invaded Tiols brain and affected his consciousness. But in the end, it was nothing more than an unstable system. It then picked random transmissions from around him and solely followed the vague command coming out from that bugged system when he ran away from Yatsubayashis clinic.
After that, he worked as a security drone as he hid in one of the dilapidated mansions and took out monsters that the system deemed to be illegal. He was moving as if he was being controlled by a bugged program.
The nanomachines that Yatsubayashi injected continued to evolve even now. It took in the nanomachines of the mechanical monster and the peculiar features of the biological monsters that Tiol ate, thus modifying his body to the point where strange-looking parts were growing out from his body and he was able to completely reconstruct his own body.
But it did not end there, he then met Tsubaki and received some help from her too. Tsubaki basically reconstructed the system inside his brain and claimed that he was one of the old-worlds security drones.
Although his mind and body were completely altered, surprisingly enough, he was doing pretty well. He was actually happy now that he had gained power that he could not even start to imagine back when he was living in the slum. He was also enjoying himself fighting other monsters and Hunters using simple remotely controlled robots that he created. Although he had even forgotten his own name at this point, he did not really care.
As he continued acting as the ruins security drone, one of his robots encountered Akira. Of course, he, himself no longer remembered Akira at all. But when he saw the footage sent from one of his robots, a certain order, or desire to be more precise, surfaced from deep within his mind.
His thought of winning a wonderful reward after he was able to kill Akira was already rooted deep inside his mind, but the directives from his security system software pushed that desire aside. Tiol fought hard against that directive and eventually was able to order all of his robots to attack Akira.
In the end, he was not able to take out Akira, but his consciousness that was able to resurface stayed in that state.
And then, through one of his robots that had already lost all of its fighting power, he saw and heard Sheryl mumble his name.
Even after he got his body and mind completely altered, when he saw Sheryl and heard her call his name, Tiol was once again captivated by her. Right at that moment, the strong emotion stemming from deep within him caused the system to reconstruct a part of his consciousness.
Tiol finally opened his eyes and found himself inside a room of a dilapidated building. Although he had an emotionless face, he said with full of resolve.
“I am Tiol!”
One of the terminals was alerted of Tiol. But as he glared at it, he was able to hijack its chain of command and make it obey him.
Tiol understood that he was still one with the system. Although he had regained his consciousness, he was still under strict restriction from the system. Forget returning back to Kugamayama city, at the moment, he could not even leave the territory that he was assigned to. Of course, he could not go and meet Sheryl in this state.
“What should I do… Ah, right! I can use her!”
Tiol jumped out through the buildings window with his superhuman strength. He then landed from the height that would kill a normal human with a loud bang and ran toward his goal.
It was one of the rooms inside a weathered building. That room was badly damaged and no longer completely covered in white. After he entered that room, Tiol screamed as hard as he could.
“Come out!! I know that you can show yourself! And I know that youre listening!! I even know from where youre observing all this time!!”
Tiol screamed while looking around the room, but he heard nothing else other than the echoes of his own voice.
“Show yourself!! If not, Ill tell the Hunters about your existence!! And Im not bluffing here!!”
Tsubakis image suddenly appeared inside that room. She looked displeased and had a cold look.
Tiol spotted her and ran at her while shouting.
“There you are!! Get the restriction that you installed in my head off! Otherwise…!”
With that one word, his whole body came into a sudden halt, ignoring his wish. Tsubaki then walked towards Tiol, who could not move at all, with mild contempt plastered on her face.
“You really have no manners, how unpleasant. And you have lost your logical mind too. I know that youre excited after gaining so much power, but do you think that Ill accept your demand just because youre shouting it”
Tsubaki stopped and stood next to Tiol, she then extended her hand toward his head.
“Our deal is that I will fix your bugged system and youll guard the area that I assigned to you. If you dont like it, I dont mind reverting your system back. You can just go ahead and unconsciously rampage until the day you die like a feral beast or a bugged machine for all I care.”
Tiol felt like his mind was being messed with while he fought back as hard as he could. He squeezed all of his might to try and push off Tsubakis hand with his immobilized body. When he did that, although it was only slightly, his body actually moved and swiped her hand off his head.
Tsubaki raised her eyebrows.
“I see that you can fight the system to some point, huh… You may move now.”
Tiol could feel something that was restricting his body was lifted off. He immediately jumped away from Tsubaki. His face was reflecting desperation, fear and terror. He was breathing roughly while glaring at her.
Tsubaki seemed to be contemplating something for a few seconds before she said with a cold smile.
“Ive changed my mind, I have an offer to you.”
“Yes. Since it seems that youre not willing to continue guarding the area that I assigned to you, Ill have you do something else for me. If you can do it, I will lift as much restriction as I can from your system using my permission. I will also forgive your rudeness just now. So, what do you say”
“…W-what do you want me to do”
Tiol asked the details of Tsubakis demand and could not help but be surprised.
“…Youre telling me to do that”
“I wont force you. But if you refuse, I will have to take back what I gave you.”
If Tiol refused, he would return back to being a feral beast rampaging pointlessly in the wasteland. Basically, he had no other choice in this situation.
“A-alright, Ill do it.”
“We have a deal then, Ill be counting on you.”
Tsubaki smiled faintly before vanishing. Right after that, Tiols face twitched.
“…Goddammit! I just need to do it right!”
Tiols scream echoed through the room.-