As Togami and his party proceeded deeper into the building, they encountered a monster along a long hallway.
The monster was obviously a carnivorous monster, it had a thin fur that did nothing to hide its huge muscular body. Its muscles were bulging as if they were some kind of disease instead of a natural feature. It sent a gaze toward Akira and the others as if it was looking at its prey. It then started running with its huge body toward them, its huge legs propelled its body forward while throwing dirt all over the place.
Akira and Togami aimed their rifles toward the monster in front of them, but suddenly, Kanae slipped between them and charged right at that monster.
“It doesnt seem to have any ranged weapon, so leave it to me. As I said before, I dont mind helping you out during this ruin exploration.”
Kanae smiled full of confidence and glanced toward Akira and Togami, Togami lightly nodded to give his approval. Kanae confirmed that and went straight towards the monster with a big smile.
Although the dirt prevented them from having any good footing, Kanae equipment allowed her to firmly propel her body against the ground toward the direction that she wanted. So, she darted forth and quickly closed the distance to the monster. The force exerted on the floor would normally crack it open, but thanks to the forcefield technology that expanded a forcefield right at the moment of contact, all of the force were propagated toward momentum without wasting any energy.
Kanae and the monster went at each other with more or less the same speed, the distance between them zeroed in a blink. The monster opened its large mouth to take a bite at her. But Kanae was able to beat that monster by a step, she took a striking stance that focused more on power than speed as she released a powerful high-speed right punch at the monsters head.
Kanae stopped the monsters momentum with that one strike. Although that punch stopped the monsters head, its inertia caused the monsters body to continue forward, bending the monsters body into an unnatural shape. But even that could not push her back. As a matter of fact, the monsters feet left the ground as its forward momentum had nowhere to escape.
Kanae quickly pushed her fist, which was planted into the monsters head, down and slammed it on the ground. Blasting dirt all over the place.
Now that the monster had finally stopped moving, Kanae raised her right leg high and smiled at the monster before sending it down in a swift execution. The enhanced strength from her CQC specialized augmented suit delivered a powerful stomp that easily crushed the monsters head.
Now that it had lost its head, blood pooled under the monsters body, dyeing the ground dark red. Kanae then turned around and walked back to Togami and Akira.
“Akira, Togami, how was that”
Togami was wide-eyed in amazement.
“…As expected of Kanae-san, that was amazing!”
It was obvious that single demonstration had reminded Togami of Kanaes real power.
Back then in the Seranthal building, Togami did watch Kanae in action, but the situation did not allow him to get a good look at her. Even after he started working with Reina, Kanae stayed around most of the time as Reinas bodyguard, so she did not participate during a fight and Togami had no chance to get another look at Kanaes power.
When Reina and Togami were fighting monsters in the middle of the wasteland, Kanae usually just stood by the side. Togami now understood that although she was there as Reinas bodyguard, she was allowed the choice of not bringing a rifle with her simply because she was this strong with her CQC skill.
Kanae was satisfied by Togamis reply, she then turned to Akira, waiting for his impression. Akira thought for a bit before opening his mouth.
“Hmmm, as I thought, wouldnt it be easier to just kill it with bullets”
Kanae who was smiling satisfied earlier, immediately pouted.
“…Geez, Akira, dont you like, you know, have something else better to say in this situation.”
Akira tilted his head as if he could not understand what she was talking about, so Kanae sighed and gave up expecting praise from him.
“Ah, right, its fine. Now that I remember it, youre that kind of Hunter…”
“I dont understand what you mean by that, but one thing for sure, its true that I have no plans to challenge monsters in close-quarter combat. I prefer my rifles.”
“Yeah yeah, I know.”
Seeing that exchange between Kanae and Akira, reminded Togami of back then during the bounty monster-hunting request when he tried to show off his skill to Akira by killing a monster. And just like this time, Akira showed no interest in that at all. It reminded Togami that Akira was that kind of guy as he smiled wryly.
They then continued deeper into the ruin, they stopped when they arrived in a complex. Reina looked around and tried to get a hint on which direction to go from there.
Shiori, who was next to Reina, noticed a monster nearby.
“Milady, be careful.”
Shiori only said so before she approached a nearby hallway with her hand ready on her blade. The thumping sound of a monster was getting louder and louder from that hallway. The next moment, the same type of monster that Kanae had just defeated jumped out from the hallway.
But Shiori cut that monster down with a single stroke of her blade. When it jumped out from the hallway and momentarily stopped to change direction toward Akira and the others, she quickly drew her blade. Her blade cut through the firm muscles as if it was butter.
Shiori then silently sheathed her blade, while the monster behind her was cut horizontally into two and sprouted blood everywhere before its upper half and lower half fell down to the ground.
Seeing that masterful strike, Akira could not help but mumble.
“Hmm, yep, beautifully done.”
Shiori gracefully thanked for that compliment, but beside her, Kanae was pouting.
“…Akira, why would you do that when its Ane-san Arent you a little too biased toward Ane-san”
“Eh But that was amazing, no”
“Thats not the problem here. You told me that you would prefer your rifles before, didnt you So why the sudden change of heart”
“When were in a rather closed space and have no choice but to fight the monsters in close range, using a rifle might be a bad choice. Not to mention, some monsters can survive even at close-range shooting, so if youre confident you can kill it with your skill and blade, theres no need to be fixated on using a rifle.”
“…No, this is so unfair!! I wont accept this!!”
“Hell if I care, thats my opinion, so I dont care if you accept it or not.”
Reina glanced at Shiori who had returned beside her, she felt happy and proud that Akira complimented her. She could not help but think about what she could do to get Akiras compliment too, but unfortunately, nothing came to mind.
Reina had learned CQC from both Kanae and Shiori, so she was actually pretty skilled. But she had no chance to show that off here. If she had the chance to fight a monster close by, that would be when that monster had defeated both Kanae and Shiori, and it would only happen under a precarious situation. Before that happened, Shiori and Kanae would have told her to retreat. And even if she said that she wanted to do it, she understood Shiori and Kanae would definitely not let her.
Unfortunately, Reina could not shake that off from her mind, Shiori who noticed that could not help but frown.
Not too long after that, they encountered another monster. Akira and Togami took shooting positions, but Shiori suddenly intervened.
“Milady, may I ask you to handle it”
“Yes, I will also help out if things get bad, although Akira-sama is coming with us, this is actually still an exploration mission for Milady and Togami-sama. Its true that Miladys main duty in this exploration is searching for the correct route, but if that causes Milady to think that facing the monsters is someone elses duty, it might cause a fatal blunder in the future. In order to keep that in mind, if Milady may.”
“I dont mind, but…”
Reina glanced at Akira and Togami, who looked at each other and opened a way so as not to obstruct her aim. Reina thought that it was weird for Shiori to say that, but she then took aim with her rifle.
Reinas rifle was small enough to be used indoors and it had a good sniping capability. It could also be used for continuous shooting of powerful bullets and had a strong recoil. Its aim worked together with her information-gathering device to quickly focus on its target and to do fine-readjustment to increase accuracy when Reina pulled down the trigger. It even analyzed the distance between the rifle and the target and correctly identified when the user intentionally shifted the aim in order to readjust its support accordingly.
Reina looked at the monsters face that was filled with killing intent through the scope, but she was already used to it that it did not even affect her focus. She then calmly pulled the trigger.
The bullet went straight towards the monsters forehead, passed through its body, and came out on the other end of its body. That single shot completely stopped the monster as it fell down limp on the ground, there were 3 monsters and Reina killed all of them with one shot each, the last monster did not even have the leeway to react to its dead comrades.
After Reina did another check on the monsters, she finally sighed in relief and lowered her rifle.
Even when including the advanced features of her equipment, it was a good demonstration of her skill. Togami thought so as he glanced at Akira. Akira already shifted his focus on watching the surroundings as if he was not interested in that at all. That was when Shiori asked him.
“Akira-sama, how was that sniping”
“Eh Well, good.”
“…Is it alright for me to interpret that as you having nothing to criticize about that sniping”
Akira was confused as to why Shiori emphasized that point, but he still took some time first before giving his honest answer.
“Well, lets see, one shot each from that range, so theres no bullet wasted and she didnt give any chance for the monsters to even react, isnt that good enough If I want to be strict about it, maybe itll be about the price of that strong bullet and the cost-performance ratio of the equipment. But since we are here looking for an old-world automaton, Im pretty sure the money that we may get if we can find that automaton is enough to justify that expense. But if I have to assume the worst, then all of us here will have to fight the monsters in close combat just like Kanae.“
“Akira, why did you bring my name there”
“Its because I have no plans to follow your line of thinking.”
Akira and Kanae started bickering, Shiori just ignored them and turned to Reina.
“Milady, that was well done, Akira-sama also thinks so.”
“…Yes. Thank you.”
Although Reina felt happy that she got complimented and her skill recognized, at the same time, she also felt slightly embarrassed realizing that Shiori needed to ask in order to encourage Akira to compliment her.
They then continued searching the building, although they had enough information to point where the automaton might be, the only hint as to which way to go came from Reinas old-world signal analyzer device. Furthermore, the software could not fully decode the signal which only added to the difficulty of the exploration.
They encountered some monsters a few times, but the five of them could dispatch those monsters without any issue. Togami and Reina felt that those battles could not be considered easy as they thought of the difficulty to explore the ruin if it were only the two of them. There were more monsters and those monsters were stronger than usual. The inner construction of the building was like a maze and the same plants that enveloped the wall and the floor threw off their sense of direction even further. If they got lost inside that building, it would be difficult to return back alive.
For the record, the information-gathering device that they were using automatically created a map based on the scan result and actively tracked their position, but relying on that map would be far too dangerous. After all, there was even a specialist for that kind of thing. That was just how difficult it was to rely on an active map. Moreover, some buildings changed their contours regularly. They had to move forward taking account of this kind of thing while trusting the information that they had at hand.
Akira spotted some dead monsters, other Hunters must have killed them. Grasses already grew out of those dead bodies, enveloping them as if they were being used as their nutrition. Seeing that, he could not help but frown.
“…The grass here is pretty aggressive. They wont even wait until the bodies turn into dirt… I hope my vehicle outside is fine.”
Togami replied to that mumble.
“I heard that its fine if its only for one day. I also heard that if you leave it for more than a day, the plants would entangle the wheels. A high power vehicle might be able to tear through them. As long as the plants dont damage the inside, we can clear the plants outside with augmented suit, so it should be fine.”
“True, but we spotted some vehicles that were abandoned.”
“I bet those are from the Hunters who thought that it should be fine to leave their vehicles a bit longer outside, and when they realized it, its already too late for them and cleaning the plants was too much work for them. Well not be staying here for a day, so it should be alright.”
“…You have a point there.”
Akira felt a slight fear for the aggressive plants instead of carnivorous monsters. But Togami had a point there, so he decided to just push his worry aside for now.
Not too long afterwards, they arrived in a huge open space. In the middle of that room, there was a circular stage with a transparent glass column on top of it as if it was to showcase a product. Reina and Togami immediately ran towards it and looked closely at the young girl that seemed to be encased inside that glass column.
“Reina!! Is this it! Is this the old-world automaton! It looks completely unscathed too! Oooh! We did it!!”
“The location is slightly different compared to the original information, but it doesnt really matter as long as we get to find it!! According to the old-world signal receiver, its the newest model of the latest series from Mitsuha Jiruba Tech! And the price… Its 18 million Chrome!”
“18 million Chrome! J-Just how much is that in Aurum!”
“Wait, at the moment, the exchange rate for Chrome is… No, wait, that is Chrome Aurum, so the real Chrom is…”
Reina and Togami were so flustered, they were ecstatic that they found the old-world automaton. Not too long after them, Akira, Shiori, and Kanae approached the glass case too.
“Shiori! Kanae! Akira! We found it!! We did it! Now, we just need to bring this back… Akira”
Akira did not seem that happy as he gazed sharply toward the glass case, Reina who noticed that finally calmed down.
“Uhh, whats wrong”
Akira did not answer her, he just took a step forward and looked closer into the glass case and then mumbled.
Reina and Togame went pale. Shiori took out a device used to check a hologram display and shone it toward the glass case.
“Milady, unfortunately, Akira-sama is correct, this is a 3D display. The object inside it is nothing but an image.”
Even when Shiori shone a light through the transparent glass, the automaton inside it did not cast a shadow on the floor. It was one particular characteristic of a hologram. After Reina and Togami confirmed it themselves, they drooped and looked completely disappointed.
“Akira, you did well noticing that.”
“I had an experience discovering a mountain of expensive relics inside a glass case just to find out that it was nothing but a hologram poster. Since then, I made sure to question what I see every time I see something similar.”
“You really learn from your mistakes, and with this, Milady was able to get a good experience too.”
Kanae lightly laughed and glanced at Reina and Togami, both of whom were practically swept down from the peak of their celebration. It seemed that it would still take some time until they recovered from it.
Since they had gone pretty deep and it was an open space easy to defend, Akira, Shiori, and Kanae decided to take a rest and allow Reina and Togami to regain their spirit too.
Reina and Togami were sitting on a bench with their heads on the table. That bench was a portable bench that Shiori prepared; when it was packed up, it could turn into a surprisingly small object. There were two instant rations on top of that table, Shiori also prepared that for them.
“… I shouldve expected that… Theres no way its that easy to find that old-world automaton… Reina, did you get any information mentioning that”
“…I dont know… And its not my fault.”
“…I know, its not your fault.”
Although Reina and Togami had regained enough spirit to exchange words, they still did not have enough power to lift their heads off the table.
While not too far from them, Akira was looking intently at the automaton image with full of interest. The automaton girl image had a very good build, demonstrating the advanced technology used to make that automaton. Its expression was tranquil and peaceful as if it was sleeping or praying. Its feet were not touching the ground as it was floating in the air. It was simply mesmerizing.
Beside Akira, Alpha pouted and complained.
“Akira, if you want a beautiful girl to look at, its better if you look at me, you know”
“Thats not it.”
“Then why are you looking at that doll so closely”
Shiori suddenly came next to Akira and lightly threw a question to him.
“Akira-sama, it seems that youve been looking at this image pretty closely, by chance, are you interested in this kind of thing”
“Well, its not like Im not interested at all, but to be more precise, Im interested in what kind of place old-world era was where selling this kind of thing was the norm.”
“It depends on the indicators that you use, but automata are commonly sold even in this era. If Akira-sama goes to one of the shops selling automata, you might be able to get a better image of what kind of place the old-world was.”
“Ohh, youre right, now that you mention, we also have automata in this era too… Though I dont think that they will let me even come close to that kind of shop.”
Akira said so and smiled bitterly in self-mockery. A part of him was clearly still stuck back in the slum city. He still believed that people would not allow him to get into such a high-class shop.
Shiori found it weird that Akira looked down on himself that much as she gently said to him.
“If Im not mistaken, you should be able to find such a shop in the Kugama building. I believe that the shops there would not turn Akira-sama away.”
“…Is that so By the way, how much does an automaton usually cost”
“To be honest, I am not really knowledgeable regarding this matter, but 1 billion Aurum should be enough to get you a pretty good housekeeping automaton.”
Akira felt a bit troubled when Shiori said that number so casually.
“Uhh… So then, what kind of thing can an automaton do”
“Cooking or cleaning room, basically to do housekeeping.”
“Oof, thats pretty expensive just for that.”
“Automaton is a luxury item after all.”
It showed an obvious economic gap between those who were surprised by that price and those who were not.
“To be honest, just because its a luxury item, I dont think it justifies the price you put on it though. If its that expensive, isnt it cheaper if you pay someone to do that instead”
“Indeed. If its something that a human can do, its cheaper to do that. There are many things in this world where this is true, this includes being a Hunter.”
“…Well, now that you mention it, thats true.”
Akira smiled wryly. If sending automata to explore a ruin was cheap, the Corporate Government would have done that. So in short, the only reason why people had Hunter jobs was because sending automata was economically not feasible.
Sending Hunters with cheap lives into the ruin allowed the City Management to gain profit even when half of those Hunters did not return back alive. That was the truth of being a Hunter.
Shiori once again noticed that Akira was smiling in self-mockery, so she then continued.
“As Hunters get better, the occasion where they get injured or even lose their lives in the wasteland decreases. As such, it allows Hunters to increase their gains while suppressing their expenses in order to gain a profit. Many Hunters decide to continue working as Hunters because of that. I believe Akira-sama is already one of those Hunters.”
If alive, they would bring a big profit, if antagonized, they would cause a lot of damages. Although there were many different points of view to judge this matter, whether it was better or for the worse, people put an expensive tag on the lives of those kinds of Hunters. Even if everything in this world could be replaced in one form or another, if it was difficult to get a replacement, their existence would be forgiven.
Akiras origin as one of the worthless kids in the back alley of the slum city was slowly being replaced to that of an important Hunter.
Akira blushed and looked away.
Shiori replied with her usual smile.
After that, Shiori and Akira continued to talk about a lot of stuff. He could sometimes feel the high-class lifestyle from Shioris answer and he listened with full of interest about that matter.
“I did say that an automaton might cost about 1 billion Aurum, but that would be an automaton with a personality. An automaton without personality would be more like a robot with cheap AI and this kind of automaton is basically cheaper. But of course, this kind of automaton is less advanced than the former.”
“Uhh, but both automata with personality and without personality are using AI, right So whats so different between them”
“Although this would be a vague explanation since theres no clear distinction between them, basically, the non-personality AIs are more like robots. When we mention AI, there are those AIs made for chess or other board games, right Its like using the learning ability of that kind of AI for cooking, cleaning, or fighting. This kind of AI would not be able to hold a proper conversation with people. If you would like an AI which can do that, then its better to get the automaton with personality. When someone mentions automaton, most people refer to the automaton with personality, which is closer to a human instead of a robot, and this kind of automaton is quite advanced so it is fairly expensive.”
”Hmm, so its not that simple, huh… So, which one is it when we talk about old-world automata”
“Almost all discovered old-world automata are automata with personality. Not to mention, they are advanced AI since they were made with old-world technology… Although, because of that, they tend to cause trouble.”
When Akira was about to ask what Shiori meant when she said that, Reina, who had her head on the table, suddenly raised it. Akira and Shiori noticed that and stopped their talk. Reina then drunk the rest of the drink on the table in one go and shouted.
“Alright!! Thats it!! Togami!! Stop wallowing and get up! Lets continue the search!!”
Togami slowly pushed his body up.
“Just to let you know, I was only waiting for you to get up.“
“Then you could have told me that. Youre the leader this time, right“
“I feel like the more I tell you to get up, the longer you would sulk, thats why I didnt do that.”
“…Just get up already and lets go!”
Togami lightly smiled and held back from shouting a reply to Reina as he rose up from his seat. Akira and Shiori glanced at each other with a smile and walked towards Reina and Togami.-