Akira was driving his APC aimlessly through the wasteland. Although he accepted a monster-hunting request, it was not like he was expecting to earn money from it. If someone asked him what he was doing, he would answer that he was just taking a casual drive through the wasteland to get himself used to his new vehicle and equipment.
Although Akira returned back to hunting for relics, he was actually not sure which ruin to go to. There were too many things that happened in Kuzusuhara ruin lately, so he had no plans to go there anytime soon.
He did consider continuing to look for the other Lion Steel Corporation facilities from the information that he had extracted from the corporations terminal last time, but there was a chance for him to find an old-world communication device like the rumoured Hunter. In the worst-case scenario, some corporations might send people to investigate the place which might be traced back to Akira, thus he decided not to do that.
It would be a waste of time doing nothing but pondering on this back at home, so Akira decided to go out to the wasteland. After all, he might get some idea out there. But unfortunately, he still had no good idea even now. It showed just how haphazard Akira was.
Akira was driving while thinking where to go next. Alpha watched him from his side while sitting on the drivers assistant seat and smiled at him.
“What should I do now“
“Akira, that would be the 15th time.”
“Are you seriously counting”
“Not really, its just stored in my temporary record. Its just like how you remember what you did 10 seconds ago, its not like you remember it because it has any special meaning to you, right”
“Is that so”
Akira did not seem to be fully convinced by that answer, but his focus immediately shifted to the monster signal that suddenly appeared on his radar. He stopped his APC and stepped off from the driver seat. He focused his information-gathering device to scan the direction of that monster.
The monster was a 6 legged beast, but instead of fur, its body was covered by reptile-like scales. An amalgamation of mechanical parts that looked like a machine gun was perching on top of its back.
“Thats a huge monster. Is it the leftover after that day It seems that nothing is special about it except its size.”
“Its long-range weapon has already been destroyed. There are also leftovers from gunpowder on its body. Judging from the already dried liquid flowing out from its wounds, it might have run from a nearby battle.”
“Wait, does that mean that Ill be snatching someone elses prey if I kill it Well, it doesnt really matter, huh.”
Larger sized monsters were assigned with a special reward, so there were many Hunters who were focused on hunting these big monsters. Akira remembered about that and hesitated, but he then decided to just kill it anyway. Even if there were Hunters who were chasing that monster after injuring it that far, it was not enough of a reason to just leave it alone when it was coming towards him. After all, being a Hunter was a dangerous job and no one could guarantee their survival.
Akira aimed his SSB rifle in his right hand at the monster. He then looked away and pulled the trigger, the first bullet ripped through the air and landed straight at the monsters head. The same thing also happened for the rest of the bullets that he shot.
Thanks to all the training and all the battles that he had gone through, as long as he properly aimed his rifle and there was nothing disrupting him, Akira could accurately shoot his target. So his training moved on to the next stage.
The view from the rifles scope was displayed into a small window in his sight, Akira was to accurately aim at his target without directly looking at it. He had to accurately shoot his target using the signal from his information-gathering device. Up until now, he did that with the help of Alpha, but this time he was training to do that on his own.
The result until now was not that bad. So in short, Akira was able to do that on some occasions, this gave him a glimpse of hope that he would be able to accomplish things that he had originally thought to be impossible.
Alpha did once say to him that she would eventually have him do the things, which he could only do with her help, on his own.
If Alpha said so, it meant that it was possible for him to do it. But at the same time, Akira also thought that he was still very far away from that point. And then, although it was thanks to his new equipment, he was able to reach that point. Akira could feel that he had truly become stronger.
The monster finally slumped down after a barrage of bullets. Although the bullets were nothing but normal bullets with no extra firepower, which could not deal fatal injury to the monster, it was compensated by Akiras accurate shooting. Akira himself smiled with satisfaction from the result which was rather rare for him.
“Didnt expect that I would be able to do that using normal bullets. Well, I did that at a rather close range and emptied one huge magazine though.“
“Youre paying for your ammo again now, so its better to use normal bullets when you can. Its not like your high-rank Hunter discount can get you free bullets after all.”
“Youre absolutely right. Although I dont have to pay that much money thanks to the discount, I need to pay for my bullets again now. I really need to get used to this again.”
Akira brought along with him a lot of reserve ammo thanks to the huge storage area in his APC. He did not shy away from filling his storage with the expensive extended magazine. He was going to use those magazines when he had to go into the inner part of the ruin where he could not bring his APC along with him. For the sake of his training as well, instead of using a bullet that could kill his opponent in one shot, Akira was using normal bullets with relatively low firepower.
As Akira was about to head back, he suddenly stopped. His information-gathering device detected a vehicle heading in his direction.
That vehicle was actually chasing the huge monster that it fought not too long ago in order to deliver the final killing blow. Reina was sitting on the drivers assistant seat next to Togami, who was driving the vehicle.
“Hurry up!! Otherwise, other Hunters might snatch that monster!!”
“It wasnt easy destroying its weapon!! It cant be helped, you know!”
“As I thought, we should have shot its legs first.”
“No! Destroying its weapon comes first! It is thanks to that we can drive straight at it safely like this!!”
“Sure, but its meaningless if it gets away from us!!”
“But youre the one who said to prioritize safety first!!”
“And you said that it wont get away and we would be able to kill it!!”
Reina and Togami were bickering, but it was not intense, it was more like a friendly exchange kind of bickering.
Kanae, who was sitting in the back seat, smiled teasingly at their exchange and said.
“You guys are as close as usual.”
Reina and Togami immediately paused for a bit, then looked at each other and stopped bickering. The last time that happened, they ended up giving the exact same reaction which proved that they were indeed close to each other.
“…Putting that aside, we need to hurry up.”
“I know, were almost there.”
Kanae smiled amusedly and thought that although they gave a different response this time, it still showed that they were close to each other.
In contrast to that, Shiori, who was also sitting in the back seat, looked rather displeased. From her point of view, Togami was a bit too rude toward Reina and it seemed that Reina was influenced by those words and replied in a rather unladylike manner.
“Milady, Togami-sama. I understand that both of you are in high tension from the battle and its important to maintain your calm, but its just as important to watch your words to make sure not to disrupt your focus toward the fight. As such, I dont recommend raising your voice unnecessarily. In the worst-case scenario, it might affect the escort after all.”
“Ah, right, sorry.”
“Ah, yes, sorry.”
Reina and Togami awkwardly apologized. Then after an audible sigh from Shiori from behind, their faces turned slightly serious as they focused back on the job at hand.
They then checked the sensor in the vehicle for the monster that they were chasing. But from the information displayed in the sensor, they were able to immediately infer that another Hunter had already taken out that monster and they hung their head low.
“Aaah, we were too late. Sorry, I didnt make it in time.”
“It cant be helped. If we had prioritized more on killing that monster instead of our own safety, the result might have been worse than this. So lets just take this positively.”
Although they were bickering that much just now, they were able to immediately accept that disappointing result without blaming each other. It showed that they really had grown as Hunters.
“…So, what do you want to do It was originally our target and we did fight it first, so if we point that out, the other party might at least share the achievement.”
“Youre the leader for today, so I leave that to your decision. But if you want to talk with them, you do the negotiation too, okay”
“Alright alright… Hmmm, I guess Ill at least give it a try… Hm”
Since Togami focused his vision on the Hunter in front of him, his information-gathering device automatically analyzed the data and identified the other Hunter, and it was a Hunter whom he knew. It was Akira.
Akira accepted Togamis proposal without much negotiation at all, or more like, it was not even a negotiation. Reinas party was surprised thanks to that.
“Uhhh, is that really okay with you”
“Well, were thankful that you would do that, but…”
“Yeah, I dont mind at all so you can do anything you want with that monster.”
Akira was so cooperative this time that Reina and Togami did not know how to react to it. But when they were about to pursue the reason, Shiori noticed that Akira really did not care about that monster at all. So pursuing that subject would be a bad decision, thus she interjected before Reina and Togami could prolong the negotiation.
“Akira-sama. We will take your kind offer. Milady, Togami-sama, lets not bother Akira-sama any further and process the kill registration.”
“Eh Ah, alright, Akira, thank you.”
Reina and Togami split the administration job to register the kill and started processing the report. It was a special target with a special reward, so it needed a special report. Although it was not as troublesome as the report for bounty monster, it was still more work than the usual report.
They used their Hunter ID and Hunter code to register the contributor in the report. They then sent the information from their radar and information-gathering device as well as the information of the defeated monster by scanning it. If there was a need to divide the reward, they would also send that together with the report. After they sent the report to the Hunter Office, a staff member would check the data before sending a confirmation, and that would be the end of the reporting process.
Akira left that process to Togami and Reina. If the report emphasized more on Reinas partys contribution, both the achievement and the reward would mostly go to them. Akira left the process to them not because he trusted them, it was more because it was too much work for him.
Kanae stood next to Akira and smiled at him.
“Well well, wasnt that so kind of you, Akira”
“…Its just that I have no plans to get into an endless argument with any of you.”
Considering the endless bickering that it might cause if they lost the chance of getting the special reward, and how they were in the middle of the lawless wasteland with Kanae and Shiori, both of whom couldnt be taken lightly. Although they did not exchange words, their glances and awkwardly shared understanding of the situation were enough to convey their respective opinions.
“By the way, Akira, what is your Hunter Rank right now”
“I have no obligation to answer that question.”
“Geez, its not like youll lose anything anyway, in exchange, Ill tell you my rank, right now I am-”
“Not interested. I dont care if you want to tell yours, I wont tell mine.”
“Thats so mean. Well, I know your Hunter code, so I can just look at it on the Hunter Office site.”
Kanae pulled out her information terminal and opened the Hunter Office site and entered Akiras Hunter code. She then seemed rather surprised as she browsed Akiras information with an amused yet sly smile and sent meaningful glances at him from time to time.
“Ohhh, hmm, I see I see. Youre that kind of Hunter, huh. Hmmm.”
Akira did not show any reaction at all since he felt he would lose if he did and just ignored Kanaes mumbling.
Once Togami and Reina were done with the report and returned back, Kanae smiled and said to everyone.
“Akira, it doesnt seem like youre busy, so how about coming together with us Togami, youre okay with that, right”
Togami looked troubled by that sudden suggestion.
“Putting aside whether its a yes or no, Im the leader today, you know So dont make offers on your own without my permission like that.”
“Well, theres no need to be that wary. If Akira is going to join us, Ill give you permission to hunt that automaton and I dont mind helping out too.”
Togami suddenly seemed to take that suggestion positively. But this time, it was Shiori who looked troubled instead.
“Wait for a sec there, Kanae, what do you mean by that“
“Its fine, isnt it It must be some kind of fate that we meet here. I also agree that we cant give Togami and Milady permission to fight that monster if were not allowed to help them. But if Akira is with them, I think its fine to give them that permission, you know”
“Why do you think so”
“To be honest, Im getting tired of having to keep interjecting when Togami and Milady are having their time flirting with each other.”
“Why did you bring up Togami there!”
Reina suddenly intervened, as her party understood what they were talking about and continued talking, Akira, who did not understand what they were talking about, sighed and said in a stern tone.
“Can you explain it to me in a way that I can understand If you cant, Im leaving now.”
Everyone suddenly paused, Kanae then lightly pushed Togamis back.
“Now then, Togami!! Its time for negotiation!! Explain it to Akira in a way that would interest him and get an ok from him! If you cant do that here, I wont give you that permission!”
Togami still looked troubled as he was pushed in front of Akira, who then looked into his eyes. Togami tensed up and squeezed his brain to piece together what to say there.
Due to certain circumstances, Togami and Reina had been working together these past few days. They swapped leader positions every day as they explored ruins, fought monsters, and gathered experience together as Hunters.
When Reina was the leader, Shiori would join the team under her. But when Togami was the leader, she would join Kanae as a mere observer. Today, Togami was the leader, so todays main fighting power was only Togami and Reina.
They actually received certain information from their connection about an old-world automaton roaming a certain area inside the ruin. But Shiori and Kanae prohibited them from going to that ruin since they lacked fighting power.
Although it would not pose any problem if the four of them went together, for the sake of training for Togami and Reina, it was a relatively dangerous place when they did not include Kanae and Shiori. Shiori warned Reina and Togami, but then Kanae said that she might change that under a certain condition.
The information about the automaton was rather credible, it at least had better credibility than a mere rumour. And right now, the same information had already circulated among the Hunters. Togami properly explained to Akira that they had also considered the possibility of that information being wrong. That was when Kanae intervened.
“Togami, isnt it better if you hide that part or at least try to feign ignorance”
“I have no plans to do that to a Hunter that Im making a deal with.”
“Ohh, youre more earnest than I thought.”
“Im normal, its just that your personality is too rotten.”
Akira seemed surprised there. He always thought that Kanae was the normal one. Because of that, Togami, who was earnestly trying to make an honest deal, looked rather upright from his point of view.
Both Togami and Reina had the same opinion about hunting the old-world automaton. After all, such a monster was highly valued, had Kanae and Shiori not stopped them, they would have gone hunting for that monster. But if Kanae changed her mind, Shiori, who was still against it would be in the minority.
Shiori then expressed her disagreement in a non-direct way.
“When Drankam allowed Togami-sama to join us, Shikarabe-sama told us to make you handle any trouble on your own. Thus, asking for Akira-samas help here would be against that order.”
“…I believe that getting other Hunters help with our own effort and handling the reward distribution on our own are well under the category of handling the situation with our own ability though. As training for us to be full-fledged Hunters, making decisions under our discretion is also a type of skill. If Im mistaken, then Shikarabes evaluation of me would go down, but that will be all there is to it.”
Togami then looked at Akira again, he faced Akira properly as a negotiation opponent.
“You might see us as one party, but Im asking you here as an individual. I want you to accompany us, and if there are any problems, Ill take full responsibility.”
“…Let me confirm this first, this is just an invitation to explore a ruin together, right Its not like you want to pay me to come with you and its not like I will be placed under your command in the team, right I have no idea how much fighting power you think I can provide, but I will only fight the way I want to. So I wont try to suit your expectation, just so you know, I wont take any complaint, okay”
“I dont mind. If were not strong enough, we can just retreat.”
“Then how are you going to share the reward”
“Basically everyone will get the same share, any further adjustment can be discussed later. After all, if we really get to find the automaton, its not like we can break it down and divide it equally among us. Since each of us would sell the parts through different routes, Im pretty sure that would cause some trouble later down the line. But if you have any complaint at that point, you can say that to me.”
Akira stopped asking and paused for a bit. Togami was waiting for Akiras answer with bated breath.
“…Alright, Ill come with you.”
“Oh, are you sure”
“Yeah. It might be interesting to check a ruin that might have old-world stuff like that old-world automaton even if we dont find anything in the end.”
Togami and Reina smiled happily, Kanae also seemed to be delighted by that outcome. But in contrast to that, Shiori frowned as if she was deep in thought.
Akira together with Reinas party went to the rumoured ruin. In order to clear up the rest of the deal, Togami was sitting in the drivers assistant seat in Akiras vehicle.
In the middle of their discussion, Akira asked about the credibility of their information, to which Togami told Akira to keep it a secret before starting to explain it to him. After listening to his explanation, Akira frowned. There was a good chance the source of that information came from the old-world communication device discovered in the Higaraka Residence Ruin not too long ago.
“Alpha, are we going to the same ruin from that information that we got from Lion Steels information terminal”
“Then its just a coincidence, huh”
“Maybe not exactly. My bet is that some corporation paid Chrome in exchange for that information. Although Lion Steel mainly dealt with dispatching holographic workers, it might have had some kind of service to dispatch humanoid robots for people who wanted to get workers with real bodies.”
“So… Basically, that old-world communication device can be used by anyone, not only limited to people who can connect to the old-world domain like me, huh”
“With the right connection device, anyone can connect to the old-world domain. Not to mention that theres a good chance that the aforementioned corporation has someone who can connect to the old-world domain with them.”
“I see. Then its safe to assume that other people already know about the location of the old-world terminal, huh Although I was the one who found the Yonozuka station ruin, I wonder if its going to be okay. I hope they wont look for me.”
“Its not like they have evidence that you were the one who found that ruin, so theres a slim chance it would lead to you. Its also not that rare for Hunters to find undiscovered ruin, so it should be fine.”
“I hope youre right.”
Akiras expression was changing from one to another as he was talking with Alpha through telepathy and Togami noticed that.
“…Its nothing. I just thought that if that corporation was able to get such important information, wouldnt it be better for them to search that ruin themselves before that information leaked out.”
Akira was actually just spouting something random to hide his telepathic conversation with Alpha, but after hearing that, Togamie smiled wryly and explained.
“I actually thought so too and said the same to Shikarabe. He then laughed at me and said that its our job as Hunters to read what might lie behind it.”
Akira seemed to be a bit surprised by that. So Togami then continued and told Akira what Shikarabe said to him.
If that information was really enough to lead them to the old-world automaton, it would be strange that information even reached Togami. After all, even if that information leaked out, the corporation would have done something to prevent such important information from spreading.
In reality, the corporation might have secured the automata and a member of that corporation tried to earn some extra money from selling that information.
Or maybe the corporation found out that the automaton was located in a dangerous place, so after calculating the risk and return, instead of sending a unit to retrieve it, they chose to get someone to find it and buy it later. They might have intentionally shared the information with certain Hunters who were more likely to sell that automaton to them.
Or maybe instead of the automaton itself, the corporation was more interested in other things located in that ruin like the relics or maybe the old-world facilities that could be found there. And in order to retrieve those relics or old-world facilities, they had to clear up the monsters in that ruin, so they intentionally spread that information to use the automaton as bait and make Hunters do the heavy lifting and remove the monsters for them.
It might even be that the information about the automaton itself was a complete lie and it was fabricated only to bait Hunters to go to that ruin in order to reduce the overall difficulty of exploring that ruin. If that was the case, the informant is most likely aiming for something completely different in that ruin.
Shikarabe also told Togami many other guesses and speculations that he had. Togami then proceeded to convey all of that to Akira. Akira had the same expression as Togami just like when Shikarabe told him that.
“He then said that being a Hunter means to consider all of these possibilities, make a decision based on them, and find a way to earn a profit from it.”
Akira smiled bitterly. It was especially hurting for him since he had been wandering aimlessly these past few days. Although he understood what Shikarabe said was true, it still was not pleasant to hear.
Alpha who noticed that smiled amusedly at Akira.
“Akira, you should learn from him, you know”
“You can go ahead and curse my bad luck for that one. If I consider the possibility of getting attacked by a swarm of monsters every time I go out in the wasteland, I would always end up in red no matter what. That would mean that its better if I dont go out at all, you know”
“…Its so like you not being able to just laugh that off, isnt it”
Alphas smile turned bitter. Akira thought that his answer was actually effective to stop her from teasing him. Though he was just giving a random answer, he smiled, satisfied.
“Its nothing. I just thought that if you consider all of those possibilities, doesnt that mean its unlikely for that rumour to be true. And here I thought you didnt want to trick other Hunters that youre making a deal with.”
Akira casually said so with a light smile, so Togami also replied with a similar smile.
“What are you talking about I did tell you that theres a possibility its the wrong piece of information, right Im just telling you the rest of the information that I have, you know Well, as long as we dont have any problem with our fighting power, theres no loss in at least checking it. Thats what I thought… Or more like, thats what Shikarabe thought.”
“Does this have something to do with Shikarabe by any chance”
“Well, not directly, but, well, its complicated. Although Im working with Reina right now, its actually training for me as well as for Reina. It seems like Shiakarabe had a deal with Shiori or something… So, yeah, its complicated.”
Togami started talking about his conversation with Shikarabe while sounding rather depressed.-