Not too long after they resumed the exploration, Togamis party arrived in a place that had a completely different feel compared to the other areas. That place was untouched by the plants, the border between the floor and the wall of that room was pure white to the point that it was hard to spot.
Togami signalled the whole party to stop.
“Reina, did you get any readings”
“It says… Unauthorized personnel are not allowed to go through here I dont see any more augmented reality sign boards past this place. It might be adjusted so that normal people cant see them.”
“Can you check using the staff setting”
“I can try, but it might be pointless. Even if I can, it might take too much time.”
“…If theres a warehouse only for staff, it should be somewhere ahead. I think were closer to our target now, lets go.”
They went into that hallway carefully. Walking through it threw off their sense of time, but for them, it was a common thing inside a ruin.
If this place was kept clean because of the cleaning drones, then it would not be strange for them to encounter security drones too. Those kinds of drones were harder to defeat than common monsters. Getting hypnotized by that ambience of the old-world tended to be fatal even for Hunters with augmented suits.
As they moved carefully deeper into the hallway, they spotted another Hunter standing guard near the entrance of a room. That Hunter also noticed Togamis party and immediately shouted at them.
“Stop there! If you get any closer, well see that as an act of hostility!! Where are you from If youre from the Yuzumo Industry, show your ID!!”
Togami showed that he had no wish to fight as he answered.
“Were Hunters from Drankam!! Were here looking for relics and got here by pure chance!!”
The Hunter lowered his guard for a bit and contacted his other Hunter friends. Not too long after that, another Hunter came out from the room to confirm what was going on. That Hunter was the leader of the team, Kurosawa.
Kurosawa saw Togami and raised his eyebrows.
“He said that they are Hunters from Drankam. What should we do Should we send them back”
“No need to do that. Theres no need to pick a fight with Drankam. Ill talk with them myself to warn them not to do anything suspicious… After all, I bet half of it is a lie when he said that they got here by chance.”
“So basically they too, huh. Ill leave them to you then.”
Kurosawa already knew about Togami from Shikarabe when they went to drink together. He remembered that conversation well since it was rare for Shikarabe, who hated young Hunters, to highly praise Togami.
He thought that it was weird to meet him here. But nonetheless, he invited Togami and his party in.
Kurosawa listened to what Togami had to say not too far from the entrance of that room.
“Im Kurosawa, the leader of the Hunters here.”
“Im Togami, the leader of this team.”
“I see, well now, lets have a talk between team leaders. I let you guys in since it would be bad to cause a scene in the hallway, but once were done here, it would be great if you can keep away from this place. Its for the sake to avoid any unnecessary fights, you see.”
Togami slightly curled his lips.
“Were here looking for relics. I can understand that you dont want us to come to this room, but I dont see any reason why we need to keep out from this place.”
“Oh, but theres a reason for that.”
Togamis expression that only showed reluctance and slight irritation immediately showed hostility. As the leader of the team, it was not like Togami could just accept that demand. His gaze toward Kurosawa turned sharp.
But even so, Kurosawa stayed calm.
“Youre here looking for the old-world automaton, right Although I dont know if the source of your information is the same as ours, if it was, then youre out of luck. We have secured the warehouse first, its just up ahead.”
Togamis face turned completely flabbergasted. Reina was the same too.
“A-are you being serious here”
“Yeah, the small room ahead houses cases of 4 old-world automata. Although we only checked them by looking through the case, it seems that theyre in pretty good shape too. I thought that rumour was not that credible, but it turned out that we hit the jackpot.”
“F-four of them…”
Reina once again hung her head down, and this time, it was deeper than last. Kurosawa smiled bitterly, he understood how that felt.
“Were in the middle of securing this place while waiting for the specialist dispatched by Yuzumo Industry. Having other Hunters roaming around this place might lure in some monsters, not to mention that those are definitely priceless relics. So it might invite a misunderstanding if you stick around. We might begin to think that you guys are waiting for a chance to snatch them away from us. Its just that dangerous having other Hunters around. Thats why I want you to keep away from this place after this, I hope that you can understand.”
Kurosawa had a light smile when he was talking up until now, but then his gaze suddenly turned sharp.
“…But if you insist on staying around after this, well see that as an act of hostility. So we will handle that situation accordingly.”
Togami and Reina were hanging their heads low, but with that light intimidation from Kurosawa, they immediately frowned and flinched back. Shiori and Kanae slightly shifted their stances to protect Reina. As for Akira, he did not show any reaction to that at all.
Kurosawa returned back to his usual light smile.
“Well, to be honest, I have no plans to get into trouble with Drankam if it can be helped. And I know that Drankam is aiming to be a well-reputed Hunter gang from the City Managements point of view, right Its better for both of us to stay away from unnecessary fighting. So, what do you think To be honest, I want to solve this peacefully if possible…”
Now that Kurosawa said that he had no wish to fight them and he even brought up Drankam too, Togami had no other choice but to comply.
“…Alright, but I want to talk this out with my team first as to what to do next. So it would be helpful if you allow us to stay here for a bit longer.”
“Very well. But 10 minutes. Thats all the time you have. It would be troublesome if you use this place as a resting place after all. Meanwhile, feel free to come to me if you have anything you want to ask. Ill answer your questions if its something that I can answer.”
Kurosawa then left Togamis party alone.
Togami heaved a huge sigh as if to expel everything inside his heart. Although he said that he wanted to stay in that room for a bit longer to talk with his party about what to do next, to be honest, he just wanted to get some time to gather his motivation again. Others understood that, so they were just standing there in silence.
When they had spent 5 minutes of their precious 10 minutes, Reina shook her head as if to shake off the disappointment on her face. She then pulled herself together and gathered her resolve.
“…Well, I was already prepared for something like this to happen, lets just move on. Togami, whats the plan now”
Togami was a bit surprised to see that Reina recovered sooner than he had expected but he was being careful not to show that on his face.
“Hmmm, lets forget about the automaton and look for common relics instead. Or we can pin our hope on finding other old-world automata in here by searching other buildings too. Or, if it isnt worth looking for common relics here, we can just head back home. Basically, these are the options available to us. So, we either continue the exploration or stop here. To be honest, Im not sure myself. So, what do you guys think”
Togami thought that it would be dangerous to continue the exploration when everyone was in such a bad mood, that was why he asked for others opinions there.
Shiori took the initiative and answered first.
“Very well, I put one vote to return back. Its important to be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, but you should know when to give up as well. We should not explore when our minds are focused on something else, and that is also true we get too greedy. In order to get readjust our equipment, I believe that it would be better to return back.”
Kanae realized that Shiori was trying to turn the discussion into a vote, she then smiled and said.
“In that case, I put one vote on continuing the exploration. Its just that, I havent gotten my fill of fights yet, so I dont really mind either way whether you want to look for old-world automata or normal relics.”
Shiori sent an intense glare at Kanae, but Kanae looked back, as though sayingwell, you did turn it to a discussion that has to be voted on.
“Either way is fine for me. If theres a stalemate, I put a vote on the same one as Togami, hes the leader at the moment after all and I did promise him that Ill follow him for now.”
“…I agree with Akira too. Youre the leader today, so its up to you.”
Akira thought that he was an outsider in this case, that was why he let Togami decide. But for Reina, she was taking advantage of Togami since she could not decide.
Togami hummed, with Akira and Reina leaving it to him, he could not share the responsibility in case he made a wrong decision there. As the leader of the team, he had to make a decision before he ran out of time, and he did not have much time left.
Some of the Hunters in that room looked a bit surprised at Togamis party.
“…A maid There are maids here. Those guys are Hunters from Drankam, right So that rumour about the gang paying maids for the Hunters is true, huh”
“I bet those maids are only using an augmented suit that looks like a maid uniform. It must be based on an augmented suit that they found in some ruin. After all, old-world clothes are really durable for some reason.”
“Hmmm, but they do have an aura of being real maids though Although… only one of them does.”
“Even if theyre real maids, do you really think that they will come to ruin with maid uniforms Of course not. Well, its not like I know a real maid though, so I cant really say that for sure.”
“Now that you mention it, thats kinda true.”
“I heard that there are companies offering combat-trained maids as bodyguards for the people in the inner walls, you know. So they might have something to do with that type of corporation. They might even have originally come from there. Either they only get their equipment from those kinds of corporations, or they are originally from there and retired to be Hunters, either way, I dont think they are real maids.”
The Hunter who was listening to his friend talking rather fervently about that subject found it to be unexpected.
“…You know quite a lot for someone who said that he doesnt know about this kind of stuff.”
“Well, its fine, isnt it By the way, talking about Drankam, I heard the young Hunters from that gang did pretty well in the Kuzusuhara ruin recently..”
He flinched a bit and was obviously trying to change his subject.
Most of them were only talking about Kanae and Shiori just to kill time. But that was not the case for one person, a Hunter by the name of Rodin, who was staring pretty intently at Shiori.
Shiori, who was standing next to Reina, left a deep impression on Rodin. Her young, strong but beautiful appearance. She stood straight, which demonstrated her loyalty, her calm demeanour radiated her devotion and faithfulness, it fully emphasized her relation with Reina as a master and a servant. That scene strongly pulled Rodins interest.
As he was no longer able to hold back his feelings, he went to Kurosawa to find a way to satisfy his desire.
But Kurosawa quickly shot down his plea.
“Come on, itll be fine.”
“No, it wont be fine. As I told you before, we wont try to look around the ruins anymore in order to focus our manpower to secure this place. If we send people out there, we will have fewer people posted here. Theres no guarantee that they would leave this place obediently after this. In the first place, even if we get to find more automata, we dont have enough men to secure those automata too.”
“We can split the team in half and…”
“Thats an idiotic idea, so, no. If we chase for two rabbits, we will lose them both. With those guys here, it means that theres a good chance other Hunters have heard about this place too. And they already know that we did find four automata here, so their view of that rumour would have already changed into it being worthwhile information. With this, other Hunters might change their method to get the automata from searching to robbing. Hence, we need all the people we have to stop those fools and we cant afford to split the team.”
“…But like, werent you the one who told them that we did find the old-world automata here”
“Were doing all we can to secure this place, so it doesnt take much to infer that we did find the automata here.”
Rodin did try to wiggle his way but all of his ideas were rejected by Kurosawa.
“Cut this out already, its a no. Thats final.”
In order to cut that discussion there, Kurosawa said so with a stronger tone. Rodin reeled back and stopped arguing any further.
Kurosawa then offered some words of consolation to him.
“We already got ourselves 4 automate, isnt that good enough already Just give it up. Getting too greedy will only get yourself killed, you know. Its important to know when to stop. In the first place, we still need to make sure to get the specialist to check them, bring them back safely, and finally exchange them for money before we can call this expedition a success. We cant afford to relax until we get that money. So just focus on completing this first, okay”
“…But I wont get one for myself if I do that.”
Rodin mumbled with a low voice that Kurosawa did not catch, but it was obvious that he still had not completely given up on his idea. Kurosawa understood that very well as he sighed.
Although Kurosawa was commanding the team, he actually was not a full-fledged member of their team, he was just paid to lead the team.
Kurosawa was often chosen to lead a team of Hunters since he was able to perform well during an exploration of a difficult ruin and he tended to prioritize safety when he was forced into a difficult battle. Although some Hunters ridiculed him as being a coward, he was the perfect person to rely on if the goal was to increase the teams survivability, or when it was important to prioritize safety over profit, or when there was a need to explore a ruin with limited information.
And since he was often paid to lead other teams, he often had to deal with Hunters who would not listen to him. Kurosawa thought that was the case with Rodin too, so he dealt with him accordingly.
“Well, Im just a temporary commander paid to lead the team. If you say that you wont listen to me, you can go ahead and do anything you want. But, if anything bad happens, I wont take any responsibility. That is even if you get yourself or someone else killed because of your action, so I wont accept any pay cuts if that happens. Tell others too if anyone has the same opinion as you.”
Kurosawa immediately shifted his focus somewhere else after he said that. Rodin, who was left behind, made a grim face. Kurosawa then thought.
[…Even those who paid me a ton to lead them would sometimes decide not to listen to me… Relics always tempt people, I need to be careful myself.]
Kurosawa lightly chuckled and shook that thought from his mind as he started thinking about what to do, assuming that Rodin would not survive.
Togamis party decided to leave the ruin. But it would not be in a straight path, instead, they would visit some buildings to search for relics on their way out of the ruin. As the leader of the team, Togami decided to take their time leaving the ruin while salvaging some relics on their way out.
As they returned back to the plant-covered part of the ruin, they once again followed Reinas device to decide which way to go. After all, it would be difficult to find relics in a place where everything was covered by greenery, that was why they decided to rely on Reina.
They took their time checking places that might have some relics left while making sure not to veer off too far from the route to the exit. In the middle of that, Reina picked a room mostly based on her guess. They left the guard duty to Shiori and Kanae as they started looking for relics in that room.
Inside that room, Akira spotted a shelf covered in plants. He used the power of his augmented suit to tear the plants and opened the shelf. He found that it was filled with tube-like objects. He grabbed one and took a closer look, it seemed that the tube-like object had something solid inside its semi-transparent body. But Akira still could not identify what that tube object was.
“What is this Alpha, do you know what this is”
“Thats an old-world clothing article.”
“So its a dress This thing”
Akira raised his eyebrows and tilted his head, Reina noticed that.
“Akira, did you find something”
“Yeah, but Im not sure what this thing is, do you know what this is”
Reina caught the tube-like object and took a closer look at it. The moment she realized what that was, she flinched a bit and her face turned slightly red.
“I-I think its some kind of old-world clothing… J-Just maybe though. Something is inside in a pressurized state.”
“Is that so Thats pretty amazing, how could you tell”
“W-well, I can see that information from the old-world augmented reality view. Although you cant see it, I can see it.”
“Ohhhh, what kind of cloth is this”
Although Akira was asking casually simply out of curiosity, that made Reina flustered even more. She then replied as if she was avoiding that subject.
“…Maybe like… Some cloth with an old-world design”
“Well, its an old-world relic after all, so thats given, isnt it But well, its true that some designs of this era try to imitate it. Is this that thing that people call the old-world style design”
“In that case, they might fetch us some money. Ill bring them back to the city.”
Akira started stuffing his rucksack with the relics that he just found. Togami who noticed that approached him.
“Akira, did you find something”
“Some old-world clothing articles.”
Togami took one of the tube-like objects and frowned.
“…This thing here”
“Yeah, Reina said so based on the information from the augmented reality… Wait, but that doesnt mean all of these tubes are old-world clothes, huh”
Akira then extended the relic in his hand toward Reina, Togami followed suit.
Reina took the relics and checked the inside, her face then stiffened and slightly blushed as she said.
“…Some of them are not.”
“Is that so What are the other things mixed here”
“…Accessories, toy, or some kind of tool.”
Akira found Reinas expression rather strange. So he made his own guess.
“Judging from your expression, it doesnt seem to be that valuable, huh Well, in that case, can you check all of them and separate the cheap relics”
Reina seemed to hesitate and was at loss for a few seconds before she said firmly.
“No, lets bring all of them back. Its not like Im that confident in my skill to appraise relics anyway. We can just throw them away if we dont have enough space in case we find a more expensive-looking relic later. Yep, were Hunters after all, so we need to be able to at least make this kind of decision, right”
Togami nodded deeply.
“You have a point there. Alright then, lets take all of them together.”
“…Me too Ah, right, lets do that.”
Reina suddenly started helping Akira and Togami gather the relics as if she just had a change of mind. Of course, Akira did not just ignore that.
Unlike Akira and Togami, Reina was able to identify the content of the relics they were gathering there, and she did not expect to encounter some of them in such a place…
[Alright. Now, Im also a Hunter, right Im not in a position to be nitpicky about the relics that I find. If I start doing that, I wont be able to stay as a Hunter. Yes, thats right, thats the right attitude for a Hunter… I should be happy that we found some expensive-looking relics!!]
Reina said so to herself as she picked up the pace to finish gathering the relics there before Akira or Togami asked any more questions.
[…I chose this shop by pure coincidence, but I didnt expect it to be that kind of shop.]
The inside of the shop was already claimed by plants, the walls were already in a very bad shape from the withering, while the information from the augmented reality was also badly fragmented. It showed nothing of the state of the shop back when it was still open.
Even if Reina told Akira and Togami this, it would not clear their suspicion. She at least knew that much.
Reina gave her best to keep her calm as she continued stuffing the relics. Fortunately, no one noticed her acting rather awkwardly there.-