Chapter 246: Carols request
Back in her house, Carol looked extremely distressed.
Due to her connection with Viola on top of her own information sources, Carol was more knowledgeable than most of the information brokers in Kugamayama city. She had the means to obtain secret information. But even so, she was not able to obtain the information that there was an old-world connector from Saka**a Heavy Industry who was out on the loose.
With the search actively ongoing, it was only a matter of time before the truth reached the publics ears. Between the purchasing of equipment and hiring people for the search party, there was no doubt that funds would be flowing in preparation and during the search.
Thus, as money flowed, information flowed as well. It was possible to connect the dots. Request that seemed to be unrelated in the beginning could be seen to make sense. Search requests to look for someone else, a change in the patrol route, the number of the patrol requests posted in the Hunter office. Such requests could be chained together to draw a conclusion. A large corporation was looking for an old-world connector.
Carol was looking through that data with a pale look on her face as she pulled the hair out of her head.
“…This is bad.”
As her thoughts wandered to the worst-case scenario, the image of what would happen to her crushed her spirit. In order to avoid that future, she planned to do whatever she could; even if her future self might laugh at her, mocking that she was being too paranoid.
Akiras order for his new equipment was completed in no time. They were high-performance equipment that needed special permission to be carried to Kugamayama city until not too long ago. Normally, it would take some time for them to arrive since they had to be transported from the other cities. But due to the high-ranking Hunters gathering in Kugamayama lately, his equipment was carried together with the equipment for those Hunters, thus, they immediately arrived at Shizukas shop.
Akira was trying his new equipment in the warehouse of Shizukas shop. Although his rifles and the augmented suit were of the same type from before, he bought better modifications.
Thanks to that, his augmented suit was even more powerful than before, and his information gathering device could scan larger areas with greater accuracy.
Moreover, he also installed a drug injection system. By loading drugs such as medicine or accelerator into his augmented suit, he would be able to use them in the middle of a fight, granting him better adaptability. To match it, Akira also ended up purchasing medicine from Shizukas shop.
He also decided to buy the optional defensive coat which accompanied his augmented suit. Not only was it equipped with powerful forcefield armour, but Akira also opted to get the camouflaging layer which was originally restricted only to high-ranking Hunters.
Akira turned on the camouflage and looked at himself in the mirror. He raised his eyebrows as he saw his head floating in the air and laughed.
Shizuka who saw that lightly smiled and warned him.
“Although Im sure you already know this already, that is for hiding from the monsters, so dont use it for anything bad, okay”
Akira replied firmly, but Shizuka then smiled mischievously and said.
“Everyone says so too only to end up doing bad things, you know After all, its the perfect equipment for peeking.”
Akira did not expect such a response and thought that it was unlike her to say that to him. Thus, he pouted.
“I wont do something like that.”
Shizuka smiled wryly at him, Alpha who had her usual smile on her face interjected.
“If you want to peek at someone, you can just look at me after all, right”
“Yeah, youre right.”
Just like how Akira did not expect Shizukas words, Alpha also did not expect that reply from him.
“Oh, you didnt even deny that, huh”
“Well, its all thanks to a certain someone that Im already completely used to it already.”
Akira said so and did not pursue it any further. But Alpha lightly giggled and replied to him.
“As I thought, its not good enough if you cant touch me, huh But dont worry, with the realistic feedback effect installed in your current augmented suit, I can make you feel as if youre touching a real body, you know So, youll have no problems touching me.”
Many of the expensive augmented suits were equipped with a realistic feedback effect such that the augmented suits could transfer sensations to their users so that they could effectively use difficult weapons through their thick gloves.
Akiras augmented suit at the moment was a rather pricey one. With the help of Alphas advanced computation ability, she could create a feedback effect that perfectly replicated the sensation of a real object. In short, although it was still nothing more but an imitation, Akira could technically touch Alpha now.
Alpha smiled bewitchingly and pushed her chest to Akira. Akiras face turned stern as if to make sure that he would not react to it. Alpha was greatly satisfied by that reaction and giggled.
Shizuka also noticed that slight change. But since she did not know that Alpha was also there, she thought that it was her fault and apologized to Akira.
“Ah, Im sorry, did I tease you too much”
Akira flusteredly shook his head.
“Ah, no, not at all…”
Shizuka stepped next to Akira, who was still trying to find the right word to say and gently hugged him. Her left hand circled around Akiras back and pulled it to her chest while her right hand gently stroked his hair.
“As the shops owner, I dont want to make you feel uncomfortable. So, Im really sorry. Cheer up, okay”
“As I said, its really not that…”
Akira did not fight back and just let it happen. Although the situation was not what Shizuka believed it to be, he could not tell her about Alpha. Furthermore, he was in no position to take his time to think of another excuse.
Alpha, who saw how things played out, smiled teasingly.
“As I thought. Being able to touch is an important thing. But with that being said, its not like I can do that to your face at the moment. Thats pretty sad.”
“Shut up already!”
Akira blushed but still at least managed to say that.
Of course, Shizuka did not know about that exchange between Akira and Alpha. However, her intuition was telling her that Akira was not angry at her. Thus, she smiled in relief.
After Akira finished checking his new equipment in the warehouse, he returned back to the counter with Shizuka. He then handed his Hunter ID to Shizuka and processed the payment.
Shizuka used the terminal in her shop to read the data from Akiras Hunter ID. She then calculated the total price and processed the payment before returning the ID back to Akira. After that, she smiled happily but with a tint of bitterness as she said to Akira.
“That really pulled the shops revenue up. Although it might be weird to hear this from me, its actually not healthy for a business to rely so heavily on one person.”
Akira lightly laughed and replied.
“Well, the only thing that I can say is Im sorry and Ill be in your care again for the next purchase.”
“Dont worry about it. I will look forward to your next visit to Cartridge Freak.”
Shizuka replied with a rather formal tone. Though, her smile was more for an important friend instead of for an important customer.
They then spent some time just chatting as Shizuka suddenly threw a question.
“By the way, Akira, what is your next plan Your job for that transport request basically just finished, right But you were quite hurried to get your new equipment. Do you already have something to do”
“Not at all, Im thinking of taking it easy for a while.”
He did not know how long he should wait, but one thing was for sure, his equipment from the frontline would arrive if he just waited long enough. His plan until then was to spend his days training with Alpha.
“I see, thats a good idea. But its you were talking about here, I bet youll just go off on another mission soon. You should make sure to get a good rest once in a while, you know And the time when youre hospitalized is not counted as a rest time, okay”
Akira smiled wryly knowing that he was not being trusted here.
“Dont worry. Im really planning to take it easy for the time being. Even if Im going out on another Hunter mission, Im planning only taking light and short jobs just to make sure that my skill wont get rusty.”
“Well, I guess with your current equipment youll have no worries fighting against monsters around this area. It should be fine as long as you dont go further to the east or to the inner part of the ruins, right”
Akira replied firmly.
“Exactly, and of course, I wont go to such dangerous places. Ill be sure to turn down any requests that warrant me to go there.”
“That confidence often turns into something that might kill you, so be careful when youre out there.”
Hearing such a firm reply from Akira, Shizuka smiled, satisfied.
Once he was done, Akira returned to his home. He parked his bike inside his garage and started unloading the carriage that he was dragging with his bike.
Originally, this foldable carriage was something that was to be dragged with a vehicle. Furthermore, all the supplies and equipment that he bought were nowhere light. But his bike could muster even more horsepower than a normal vehicle. Thus, had no problem dragging that carriage.
Akira was truly satisfied with his new bike.
“Though Im planning to buy a vehicle soon, I guess I will be fine for a while with this bike, huh If its possible, I want to get my next vehicle also from somewhere around Zegelt city, just like this bike.”
For some reason, Akira kept losing his vehicles one by one. Some were crushed to the point that they did not look like a vehicle any longer. But his newest bike survived just fine even after going through those intense battles. He did not even have to send it out for repairs, his only expense was the energy tank recharge.
Akira looked at his new bike and grinned, hoping that this time, he would be able to have a long-term relationship with his new bike.
Alpha suddenly said with her usual smile.
“I think you dont even need such a vehicle though. After all, once your new equipment from the front line arrives, Ill have you complete the rest of my request, you know At that time, itd be easier if you brought a bike instead of a large vehicle. So, if its possible, I want you to get an even better bike.”
Alpha just said such an important detail so casually which caused Akiras brain to take some time to process it before he finally showed surprise.
“Your request is to explore a ruin, right”
“I see… So, were finally going to do it, huh”
Akiras face turned serious.
“Did I make you wait too long”
“Not at all, youre actually faster than I calculated.”
After hearing that answer, Akira smiled happily.
The request that he accepted from Alpha was to go to an extremely dangerous ruin. He had been preparing himself for that mission ever since he met Alpha. He had gone through many predicaments, one difficult battle after another as if there was no end to it, but finally, he was able to see the finish line.
Akira looked at Alpha, his gaze was filled with emotions. Alpha smiled and looked back at Akira. After a short silence, Alpha smiled wryly and spoke up.
“Well, the main problem now is when the equipment will arrive though.”
Akira smiled bitterly too.
“Youre right, I wonder when theyll arrive.”
“If its taking too long, it might be better to take them yourself instead of waiting for them to be transported here.”
“You have a point … Well, its a good idea, but…”
The giant bug nest swarm the size of an island. Flying monsters that blocked the sun like a giant umbrella. Going near the front line just to get his new equipment meant to cross through the areas where such monsters roamed. And this time, he would be going alone without the support of the inter-city transport. Akira could not help but frown when he imagined that.
“Well, that would depend on the situation, but for now, lets just wait.”
Alpha smiled as she warned Akira.
“But we need to make sure that your skill wont get rusty, so Ill have you train while we wait.”
Akira firmly replied.
Akira knew he could get through the training with his resolve, but that was not the case for monsters. Thus, he was planning to do everything that he could since that was also a part of his responsibility.
That was when a sudden call reached Akiras terminal. It was from Carol.
Akira rode his bike through the wasteland. Although he was heading to the Mihazono ruin, he was not going to the ruin, but to meet Carol near the ruin.
The content of the call back in the garage was basically a request from Carol to him. He thought that Carol was inviting him to work together and declined. He stated that he was planning to take it easy for the time being. However, she replied:Its perfect. In that case, you should meet with me to discuss the details.
Carol said that it would be great if Akira could come to see her, but if it was difficult, she did not mind going to meet him instead. After hearing that, he was uncertain but eventually decided to go himself. To be honest, he was also interested in knowing what kind of request she had. He also thought that it was not right to just lock himself in his house to train while waiting for his equipment to arrive. Especially when there was a request that Carol said was perfect to take it easy for the time being.
The ground of the wasteland was far from being easy to traverse through, but even so, Akira was pacing his bike at high speed. He was forcing his way through the hard terrain using his advanced bike that was even capable of flight. The wheels sometimes did not even touch the ground as he rode on it. A nearby Hunter who saw that by pure chance could not hide their surprise.
Last time, Akira took detours in order to avoid areas that were hard to traverse through to the Mihazono ruin. However, since he did not have to do that and just went in an almost straight line, it did not take much time for him to reach Mihazono ruin.
As he was looking at the blazing scene passing past him, Akira smiled amusedly and said.
“Ill arrive in no time! Im really glad I bought this bike!”
Seeing Akira excited, Alpha smiled bitterly and warned him.
“The faster you go, the harder it is to control the bike and the worse it will be if you crash, so make sure to be extra careful.”
Although Alpha had the bike fully under control, Akira was the one in control at the moment. Thanks to the bikes advanced balancer, Akira was able to ride the bike at high speed even with his relatively mediocre driving skill.
With his rifle that was way above the standard of Kugamayama city, Akira ploughed through monsters in front of him as he continued driving. Even a Greedy Crocodile that he encountered did not pose any challenge to him.
That Greedy Crocodile had a rather large body and there were multiple guns growing out from its back. Its whole body was protected by strong scales. If it continued to grow and roamed around the usual route, it would not be strange for it to be designated as a bounty monster. However, Akiras LEO multi-rifles easily drilled bullets through its strong scales and destroyed its inner organs without discriminating between the flesh and the mechanical parts, killing it immediately.
Akira was so surprised by the firepower of his new rifle, he then calmed himself down and thought calmly first before asking Alpha.
“Alpha, that one was a relatively strong one, right”
“That depends on your standards. But if it was the past you, you would have had a hard time fighting that. Based on that fact, it was a relatively strong one.”
Akira thought for a bit before continuing.
“My equipment is already pretty powerful, and is it still impossible for me to challenge the ruin that you want me to go to”
“Thats a difficult question. But theres no doubt that itll be safer to wait until the equipment from the front line arrives.”
“…It is that dangerous, huh”
Akira frowned, but Alpha smiled at him and added.
”As I said in the past. You would have to challenge that ruin without my support. Thats why its better to get the best equipment you can get first before going there. Honestly, you can get better equipment by waiting, so I cant really recommend you to challenge that ruin now. No need to be so eager. If you naively believe that you can just withdraw if it gets dangerous, that will only get you killed.”
But Alphas smile slightly changed to one of provoking a challenge as she continued.
“Well, if you have no plan to return back alive, it makes it way easier though. You might even be able to do that now in that case. So, do you still want to go”
Before Akira could say anything, Alpha then added.
“Dont worry, I have no plan to let you die for my sake. Thats why lets just wait until your new equipment arrives.”
“I see, yeah. Lets do that.”
Akira thought that it was okay if Alpha was okay with it too, that was why he did not think any further after that regarding this matter.
In the meeting place, there was a huge camping-car parked. It was covered with armour plating that was normally used for powered suits and had multiple machine guns perched on its roof.
Akira was a bit surprised by the size of that vehicle. Carol came out of the vehicle and invited Akira in. Akira proceeded into the living room, the ceiling of that room was high and was very well decorated, even better than common inns.
Akira sat waiting on a large sofa as Carol returned with a drink and sat in front of him.
“Since you came all the way here, I assume that youre interested in this request, right”
“Well, at least enough to make me come here to listen to the details. Ill decide whether to take it or not only after you tell me the details. So then, what is this job that can earn me money while taking it easy If it did not come from you, I would have declined believing that its nothing but a fraud, you know”
Akira said so and intentionally looked at Carol with a gaze full of suspicion. But Carol instead found it amusing and smiled.
“And you still decided to come here yourself. Im really happy to hear that.”
“…As I said, I do want to know the details. Though I will leave now if it has something to do with Viola.”
Carol smiled bitterly.
“Even if she looks like that, she doesnt lie, you know Although I do admit that she did not use that fact for anything good. If you can ascertain the content of what she is saying, you can earn quite a lot of profit from her, you know”
“I see, in that case, shes a dangerous person to me.”
Akira replied instantly and firmly, seeing that, Carol only smiled wryly.
“Dont worry, this time, it has nothing to do with Viola. To be more precise, it has nothing to do with anyone else, its purely a request from me.”
“Thats good to hear. So then, what is it”
As Akira pushed the subject back to be about the request, Carol then replied with a serious face.
“Akira, I want to hire you as my bodyguard.”
Akira frowned and tilted his head. Carol then continued with a solemn expression.
The length of the request was undetermined, normally it would warrant Akira to be around Carol all the time. But with that being said, there was no need to be guarding her all the time, he just needed to be there when Carol needed help. Although he would be acting as a bodyguard, it was not like he would do all the fighting, Carol would help as much as she could as well. Or more like, Akira did not have to do anything if Carol could handle it just fine.
The reward was to be negotiated later. If Akira had no particular demands, it would be calculated per day plus bonuses based on how many and how difficult the battles that Akira had to face during the job.
Akira was also free to take another Hunter job in the middle of that. Carol would even help too. Akira was also allowed to just rest at home if he wanted to. Either way, Akira just had to be around Carol, that was the requirement that Carol imposed.
Akira was a bit uncertain after hearing Carols explanation. Judging from what she said, it was indeed a job where he could make money by taking it easy. However, that was exactly why it was very suspicious. Thus, Akira asked a question regarding the payment.
“Just how much do you plan to pay me for each day”
“Lets see. How about, you can sleep with me every day Or so I want to say but, Im sure you will say no if I offer that. I bet most men would be really happy with that offer though… Well, just to confirm, will that be okay with you”
“No, make it money instead.”
“Thought so. Hmmm….”
Carol was seriously at loss. She calculated the funds that she had, predicted how long Akira would have to guard her, and estimated the least amount of wage that Akira would be willing to accept. After that, she carefully made her offer.
“1 million Aurum per day”
“1 million Aurum, huh…“
This time, it was Akira who was at loss. For him, it was a good offer. But he could not tell if it was good enough considering the job that he would have to do. Akira might believe this to be a decent request if someone had told him that this amount was appropriate for someone like him. However, as long as his suspicion of what this request entailed was not cleared up, he could not shake off the suspicion that Carol was trying to trick him. After all, she was offering him a huge amount of money from his point of view without considering whether it matched the difficulty of the request.
However, Carol interpreted Akiras reaction in the opposite direction and said to him.
“Well, its true that it might be on the cheaper side for you, but I dont have much money to spare, you see. Moreover, although you need to be around me all the time, its not like you have that many restraints. So, like, can you make a compromise here”
Akira was being extra careful so as to not show his shock as he spoke to Alpha in secret.
“Alpha, what do you think”
“At the very least, shes honestly hoping that you would make a compromise here.”
“I see… 1 million Aurum per day, huh Is it cheap”
“I cant really answer that question. Well, if you think its too high, you can just think of it as Carol judging your skill highly.”
Akira concluded that it was at least not some kind of fraud. Carol was not trying to entice him with such a high wage. Thus, he decided to abandon his suspicion which came from the high wage and moved on to his next worry.
“In the first place, why do you need a bodyguard”
Although it was a completely understandable and expected question, Carol suddenly froze.
“Its just to be safe. I cant really tell you all the details, but its just… There are a lot of things happening around lately. Its just to make sure that I wont get roped into any trouble. Its not like someone is actively looking for me. If I must add one more thing, it might actually just be me being too paranoid. There might actually be no need for me to get a bodyguard at all. But it still worries me, you see. So, its fine if you want to laugh at me, saying that Im too paranoid, I just want to feel safe right now.”
Akira once again checked with Alpha, and Alpha confirmed that what Carol said was not a lie. After that, he thought for a bit.
“A lot has been going on, huh…”
Akira could not help but think that employing him as a bodyguard in order to avoid misunderstanding and getting roped into trouble was actually counter-effective. However, Carol was someone who went along well with Viola. So, there was no way Carol did not know about that.
“Let me ask you this first. Why did you pick me”
“Of course, its because I know youre strong.”
“It might be weird to hear this from me, but I often cause trouble or get roped into one, you know”
Akira remembered the time when Kibayashi stated this while laughing so hard that he found it hard to breathe. At that time and even now, he couldnt deny it at all…
“Are you sure you want me to guard you when you dont want to get roped into trouble”
Akira was able to ask this question extremely casually. It was thanks to the hard life that he had gone through, which gave birth to his twisted personality. However, Carol did not seem bothered by that at all and giggled.
“Its not like they happened because of you, right So, I dont really mind. I know about your past well. Even so, I still decided to ask you. You dont need to worry about it. But if you know yourself well, and believe that is the case, it would be great if you can be extra careful while guarding me. Though, I wont force you.”
“Shes being very careful with her words, but shes not lying.”
“Basically, shes hiding something, huh”
“She did say that she cant tell you all the details, and by the way, she was being honest when she said that.”
“I see. I guess thats basically what it is, huh”
Seeing Akira being uncertain again, Alpha curiously asked him.
“To be honest, you can just refuse it if youre that suspicious, you know Or is that you actually want to accept it”
When Alpha pointed that out, Akira suddenly realized his own feeling and found it surprising. He realized the bias in his thoughts. He once again re-evaluated the important questions that he should ask regarding the request and asked those questions to Carol with a serious expression.
“Ill apologize first since Im sure this will offend you but answer this. Youre not trying to trick me into something with this request, right”
Carol did not look away and locked her gaze with Akiras somber gaze. She then replied with a serious tone.
“It depends on how you look at it. If you mean as in causing you trouble, then no. If you mean as in roping you to a fight against people that are way stronger than you expected, then the answer is still a no. Though I cant deny that you might find yourself in a situation where you think so. After all, its not like I can accurately predict who and what I am going to fight against. If you say that you wont accept it because I cant tell you those details, then theres nothing that I can do, Ill just give it up.”
As Akira asked for her real intention, Carol gave the best answer that she could give right now. Then, there was silence as they stared at each other. Akira was the one who broke that silence.
“Alright, I accept.”
Carols tense expression relaxed as she sighed in relief.
“Sorry, its not like I wanted to prolong the negotiation. Someone once told me to be extra careful so as not to get tricked. Thats why I was being very careful.”
“Its fine. Just like what that person said. The most expensive stuff is free stuff. Although its difficult to live if youre being too careful, you wont even be able to live if you dont have any suspicion at all. Though it might be weird for someone who often works with Viola to say this, but its indeed very hard to find a good balance.”
Seeing Carol smiling wryly, Akira replied with a bitter smile.
After that, Akira and Carol continued to discuss the finer details. That was when Alpha, who discovered something surprising, asked Akira.
“By the way, Akira, why didnt you ask me if she was lying on the very last exchange”
“Hm Well, I just thought that I should at least make the final decision myself. It just doesnt feel right to rely on you for everything. If I get tricked because of that, that just means Im really foolish enough to get tricked.”
“Is that so Well, its fine if thats the case.”
Alpha thought for a bit if it was better to tell Akira her thoughts but eventually decided not to. After all, if his decision was a mistake, that would push him to rely on her more.
Carol was being as honest as she could to Akira. For the parts where she could not, she did her best to carefully choose her words.-