Akira listened closely to Carol’s story.
“Alpha. She mentioned something about turning into an old-world connector only in Mihazono ruin, is that even possible?”
“It is. After all, there are many types of people who can connect to the old-world domain.”
There were individual differences in how far each person could connect to the old-world domain. There were those who could only imperfectly connect to the old-world domain. However, once they stepped into a certain ruin, the augmented reality system stimulated their connection and turned them into complete old-world connectors. Of course, the other cases also exist.
In Carol’s case, her augmented reality filter might have been completely opened the moment she was able to make a complete connection to the old-world domain. However, the information processed must have fatigued her brain and in turn, caused her ability to connect to mostly be turned off.
She could still connect to the old-world domain in Mihazono ruin. This might be because of the damage to her brain. It prevented her from making any general-type connection to the old-world domain, limiting it to Mihazono ruin. There was another possible scenario. During the time when she was still able to connect to the old-world domain, she might have registered her identity somewhere in Mihazono ruin’s system. This might have allowed her to be able to catch weak data signals when in the ruin. Nonetheless, these were nothing more than guesses. The true reason might lie somewhere else.
Alpha explained to Akira a lot of new information regarding the types of people who could connect to the old-world domain.
“In the end, unlike you, Carol cannot connect to the old-world domain through the general-type connection. She could not see me even when she was in Kuzusuhara ruin. So, it is not exactly a lie when she said she is no longer an old-world connector. Well, of course, that part varies from a person’s point of view.”
From another point of view, everyone in the eastern district was an old-world connector. Alpha also conveyed such information to Akira.
“I see. Then that means she is telling the truth, huh? That is a rather rare and interesting experience she had to go through.”
Akira’s reaction to Carol’s story ended there. In other words, even after hearing Carol’s story, Akira’s impression only extended as far as ‘it was an interesting story’. Nothing more.
Alpha made a mental note of how he reacted.
“So then, Akira, what’s your plan?”
“Plan? About what exactly?”
“You now know of Carol’s situation now, right? So, what do you plan to do with the bodyguard request?”
“Plan for what?”
Akira already knew that he was not good at reading between the lines. However, in this case, he truly did not understand the question. That was when he noticed Carol’s expression.
Carol was furrowing her brows. She looked anxious and desperate. Like someone who just confessed her sins, waiting for Akira’s response. The feeling of relief from finally letting it out and the anxiety from finally confessing her secret were mixed inside of her as she stared at him.
That was when Akira finally understood. Sakashita Heavy Industry now knew that Carol was an old-world connector. Akira finally understood why Alpha asked him that question. Once he realized Carol was waiting for his response, he hummed for a bit before opening his mouth.
“Uhhh, about my bodyguard job… As you know, I’m also pursuing another goal and I’m in this particular situation right now, so I’m sorry but…”
Carol had guessed what Akira’s next word would be. She looked crestfallen. However, that changed in the next moment when Akira continued.
“…Once I get my new equipment, let me withdraw from this job for a bit. I will finish what I need to do first before returning. Whether I will continue the job or not will depend on the situation at that time. And also…”
In front of the wide-eyed Carol, Akira started talking about other things, in the order in which they came to his mind.
“…Since that guy is from Sakashita Heavy Industry, that would mean if we’re going to run away, we will have to get out of the Aurum Economic Zone, right? I’m sorry but I can’t accompany you in that case. As I said before. Including the equipment that I’m waiting for right now, I don’t want to get too far away from Kugamayama city. If it’s after I get my new equipment and finish my business here… Well, I can at least escort you out. Hmm… But then again, that would depend on the situation when the time comes. Other than that…”
Akira hummed again. As he was making sure that he did not miss anything that he needed to make clear regarding his bodyguard job. But nothing else came to mind.
“Carol, is there anything else you want to make certain of?”
Akira said so with a rather serious expression. He thought that even if there was something complicated, they should make it clear beforehand. Regarding what the job entails. If it was something that neither he nor Carol had thought of, then there should be no problems.
Carol burst into laughter and smiled joyously at him.
“Nothing in particular. We can discuss it afterwards if something comes up later.”
Akira did find her change in attitude to be strange. Though, thinking that his own common sense was distorted, he ignored it.
“I guess I was way too scared, huh?”
“Is that so? But since that guy appeared, wasn’t it a good thing that you’re being extra careful? Ah, but then again, he did say that he came to negotiate. He also didn’t seem to be planning to take you by force. So, I guess it was unnecessary to get a bodyguard, huh?”
“Well, that is difficult to say. He might have changed his plan to peacefully negotiate since I have a great bodyguard with me. Either way, I will be counting on you as my bodyguard if something comes up.”
“Sure. Of course.”
Carol softly chucked and smiled amusedly. Akira tilted his head in confusion at her reaction.
Now that Sakashita Heavy Industry knew that she was an old-world connector, Carol thought that Akira would leave her. After all, such a huge company might now be hunting for her. However, Akira did not terminate his job. He did not even consider it as an option. Rather, it did not even pass his mind. Naturally, Alpha hoped that he would leave while Carol wished for him to stay.
“Alpha, did I miss anything?”
Alpha, as one of Akira’s requestors, could not afford to recommend him to leave his request mid-way. Although she did try to encourage him to think of a reason to withdraw from Carol’s request, in the end, it was futile.
“Nope, not at all. Since you have agreed on the ending line for this job, let’s give it our best until the very end.”
Akira agreed with every word though he tried to probe the hidden meaning behind those words as he replied.
“I know. Once I get my new equipment, I will prioritize your request.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it.”
In order to not worsen Akira’s mood, Alpha smiled happily as she spoke.
Day turned to night. Akira was shallow sleeping next to Carol, just like usual.
Carol was in deep sleep. She entrusted the full weight of her naked body to her soft, fluffy bed. Snug under a semi-transparent blanket. Her chest heaved up and down with every breath as she slept. Carol’s appearance did not change. However, she was more enchanting than before. This difference was caused by how relaxed she now was, compared to how desperate she was before. It was obvious that she had no intentions to seduce Akira at the moment. Strange enough, it made her natural side more prominent, making her sexier than before.
Akira, who was sitting next to Carol as he slept, showed no reaction to her body. Suddenly, he stood up. With his rifle in hand, he planned to head out. As he put on his defensive coat, Carol, who noticed, woke up.
“Akira, what’s wrong?”
“It might be just my imagination, but I feel a strange presence nearby, so I will be going out to check it for a bit”
“I will go too.”
“No. It’s easier to camouflage myself when I’m alone. It might also be nothing. You can just continue to sleep.”
Akira said and left the camping vehicle.
Carol inadvertently turned toward the back of the camping vehicle, where Akira’s bike was resting.
[If the bike got taken, Akira might be trying to sneak away, leaving me behind, under the guise of patrolling the camping vehicle….] She reflected on herself, and the fact that she did not trust Akira, made her give a bitter smile.
Although Akira was completely relaxed when he was still inside the camping vehicle, he immediately turned serious the moment he stepped out.
Akira walked toward the direction Alpha pointed to, without activating his camouflaging coat. He then stopped next to a mountain of rubble and sighed.
“What is it?”
Someone appeared from behind the rubble, it was Shirou. Although he was armed, he had already turned off his camouflage.
“I’ve been waiting for you, and here I was wondering what to do if you didn’t notice me even when I’m this close.”
“I have no problems ignoring you. But if you’re just going to aimlessly sneak around the camping vehicle, I thought it would be bad if I don’t at least try to get rid of you.”
“Geez, don’t say that. We’re fellow old-world connectors, you know?”
As expected. This time, Akira did not show any reaction even when Shirou bluntly stated it.
“Though you did say you want to talk, are you here to try and scare me? Although I have no plans to pick a fight with Sakashita Heavy Industry, don’t expect me to let you keep this up forever.”
Akira even thought that it was rare for him to pick a peaceful solution. Nonetheless, he was not lying, and it could be seen from his squinted eyes. He honestly had no desire to pick a fight with Sakashita Heavy Industry. Especially when he was about to get his new equipment soon. Naturally, he still had his line. Else, he would not have tried to kill Chloe and got himself a bounty.
However, Shirou just ignored the pressure and exaggeratedly shook his head.
“Of course not. I just want to offer you a job. After all, it doesn’t seem like you will hesitate to pick a fight against Sakashita Heavy Industry if you have a good enough reason.”
Akira tilted his head and squinted his eyes., In contrast, Shirou’s smile widened.
“I will pay you the same amount as your current bounty. 50 billion Aurum.”
Even Akira did not expect such an offer
“Are you being serious?”
“I am. It takes them 50 billion Aurum to get someone to kill you. So, it’s only a given that I pay that much if I want to ask you to do a job for me, no? Though, as you would have expected, I can’t pay the full sum upfront. But we can talk about the details for that part later…”
“That’s not what I mean. Well, that part does bother me a bit. But no normal person would offer a job to a bounty target, you know?”
“It’s not like it was Sakashita that placed that bounty on you. So, I don’t really mind.”
Even so, Shirou’s reasoning sounded way too naive for Akira as he knitted his brows.
“If you won’t say anything, I’ll assume that you’re okay with it. So, I’ll tell you the details…”
The job would last for 1 month. In that one month, Shirou wanted Akira to do some stuff, which included fighting. However, Shirou did not tell Akira in detail what he needed from him. Such detail depended on how the situation unfolded or changed. Thus, Shirou could not make that part of the job clear. Basically, he needed someone with enough firepower to explore an undiscovered ruin. 50 billion Aurum would include the expenses. Furthermore, since it was a request for a Hunter, it was to be expected that there would be fighting. As Shirou explained, it sounded more absurd, which made Akira even more confused.
“And also, although I know that you can fight with fewer worries if I pay for the expenses beforehand. But I still have my limits. I can’t pay you 20 or 30 billion Aurum as a deposit, just for taking the job. So, I will give 5 billion Aurum first and see where it goes from there…”
As Shirou explained, Akira eventually returned back to his usual self.
“Wait a second. I haven’t said anything about accepting that job.”
“But you don’t have any reason to refuse, right?”
“Oh? What is it?”
“You’re running away from Sakashita Heavy Industry, right? If I accept, wouldn’t that mean going up against Sakashita Heavy Industry?”
Akira asked as if it was already obvious to him. Although he did not have any proof to support his claim, considering the huge incident back in Mihazono ruin, where he met Shirou, he had a hunch that Shirou must be running from Sakashita Heavy Industry. He asked to check Shirou’s reaction and instantiate his hunch.
Shirou’s face turned stern. Under normal circumstances, he would have noticed what Akira was trying to do. At least, he would have thrown a counter-question to Akira. However, what had happened with Sugadome made him desperate. This caused him to react toward Akira’s statement.
“…I’m offering you this job as an individual. I thought you knew this and wouldn’t say anything about that topic. But since you asked, I will have no other choice but to answer that question.”
“What exactly are you trying to say?”
“Just like how I have Sakashita Heavy Industry behind me, I know that you have a patron behind you!”
Akira was taken aback and immediately raised his guard. He quickly picked up his rifle and aimed it at Shirou.
Shirou was not able to react. But even after having the muzzle touch his forehead, he did not falter. Although his eyes were cold, he was still smiling flippantly at Akira.
“I hit the bullseye… Didn’t I?”
Akira immediately realized that he overreacted when Shirou asked him that question and squinted his eyes.
“Alpha, what should I do with him? Should I just kill him?“
Alpha stood in front of Akira. She made her usual smile and spoke to him, trying to calm him.
“Akira, calm down. There’s no proof that he knows about me.”
“I-Is that so?”
“I will decide whether to let him live or to kill him here. You should just calm down for now. Be careful not to say anything unnecessary, okay?”
Akira took a deep breath to help himself calm down. He breathed in deeply and let out a long ‘fuuh’ to help him maintain his calm. He then continued his telepathic conversation with Alpha, while restarting his conversation with Shirou.
“…Let’s say that you are correct. In that case, my next move would be to make sure that you won’t be able to tell anyone. In other words, to kill you here. If you have any reason why I shouldn’t do that, this is your chance to tell me. I’m sure you have some since you decided to say that to me, right? Or is it that you believe I won’t kill you if your guess is correct?”
Akira tried his best to make a grin.
“Just to make sure we’re on the same page, you don’t think that I won’t kill you just because you’re from Sakashita Heavy Industry, right? After all, as you said, I will fight Sakashita Heavy Industry too if I have to. That is, if I have a good reason for it.”
Shirou could feel cold sweat running down his back, but he somehow managed to maintain his flippant smile.
“So, what is it? If you won’t say anything, I will just kill you here and now, you know?”
“If you kill me, not only Sakashita but Tatsumori, Tsukisada…”
The moment Shirou said so, Alpha suddenly erased all her clothes. Akira, who inadvertently saw that, could not help but get bothered. Unfortunately, he could not hide his emotions and surprise was shown on his face.
“…And even Senba too. Not only that, you will be picking fights against all the five biggest corporations, which means the whole Corporate Government.”
“Alpha, why did you do that?”
“Don’t mind me.”
“That’s just impossible when you do that out of the blue, you know?”
“Just focus on Shirou.”
Akira could not help but question why Alpha was doing this. She was distracting him. Nonetheless, he switched his focus back to Shirou while making a stern expression.
“That’s a bluff. Like hell the whole Corporate Government would move just because I killed you.”
“Well, I wonder about that. Though, it might not be an exaggeration to say that the Corporate Government will react to my death. I’m sure Tsukisada will find it to be very displeasing.”
Shirou stared at Akira with a confident smile. At the same time, Alpha approached Akira’s face, as if she was going to kiss him. Akira inadvertently pulled his head back and frowned.
“Alpha!? What’s wrong with you!?”
“I’ll tell you later, just don’t mind me.”
“Don’t ask me the impossible.”
Although he was not sure what was going on, since it was an order from Alpha, he tried his best to not react to him. However, because of that, his expression became even sterner.
Seeing his reaction, Shirou thought that his guess was right. Thus, he asked as if he knew his hypothesis was right from the start.
“You are an agent from Tsukisada Construction. I bet you’ve been sent here disguised as a Hunter to investigate Kuzusuhra ruin, right?”
Akira did not say anything back. Thus, Shirou interpreted it as confirmation.
“Picking a fight with the Lion Steel company is nothing but a folly if you’re just a regular Hunter. But if it’s some kind of strategy by Tsukisada, it all makes sense. I heard that the Lion Steel’s representative is planning to visit this place. So, your actions might be some form of sabotage or warning to Lion Steel. Well, in the end, it’s just my guess. It’s not like I had investigated it or anything.”
Shirou picked his words carefully, to emphasise the matter with Lion Steel. He stated that he had guessed that Akira was Tsukisada Construction’s agent. However, it was a lie, something he made up. He was trying to trick Akira. He wanted Akira to assume he had investigated him beforehand.
Akira still did not speak. His expression remained stern. He was worried he might say something he should not. Which might result in Shirou realizing it to be a misunderstanding. However, Shirou simply presumed that Akira was too shocked for words since his guess was correct.
“I have investigated your past too. You caused a lot of commotion, which made people suspect you of faking your Hunter Rank, right? It might be fine if it’s only once or twice, but you overdid it. You even tried to fake your track record by selling it. If you want to hide your true strength, I can’t say that was a good move, you know?”
Akira frowned and clicked his tongue. Although he only did that because Alpha told him to do so, remembering his past bad luck still made him feel unpleasant.
Seeing that, Shirou’s smile deepened.
“Oh. Don’t tell me that becoming a bounty target was also a mistake? Or is it some kind of strategy?”
“…I have no reason to continue this pointless chatter. So, why would someone from Sakashita Heavy Industry seek help from someone from Tsukisada Construction? If you just need help, you can go ask someone else. If you need a lot of manpower, you can just ask Sakashita. So why come to me?”
Shirou was not sure how he should answer. However, he believed that lying would only come back to bite him later. Thus, he decided to tell the truth.
“Right now, I’m working for my own personal goal. In order to do that, I might need to go against Sakashita. I’m also in need of help to reach that goal. That’s why I’ve come to you.”
What Shirou needed was someone powerful. Someone who was not afraid of fighting against Sakashita Heavy Industry. Naturally, those who satisfied his conditions were few. It had to be powerful Hunters that even Sakashita Heavy Industry could not just ignore. But they would be working near the frontline and would only accept Chrome as payment.
Unfortunately, Shirou had exhausted his Chrome reserve. Even if he had Chrome, he did not have the leeway to wait for frontline Hunters to come all the way here.
As such, Shirou had no other choice but to make a compromise. He had to look for someone strong, someone nearby and someone who would accept Aurum as a payment. It had to be someone who took their job seriously, someone who would face any danger if the reward was large enough. He was searching for someone who satisfied all these conditions.
Eventually, he found a Hunter by the name of Akira. Akira picked a fight with the Lion Steel company and even became a bounty target. He even got designated as a monster by Kugamayama city. There was no question. He was a Hunter with multiple screws loose. However, that made him likely to accept an illegal job that might turn the 5 largest corporations against him. When Shirou investigated Akira’s past, leaving aside his morality, he was unquestionably someone who took his job extremely seriously.
After weighing his options, Shirou finally decided to hire Akira.
It was obvious that Shirou was being careful with his words. After hearing his explanation, Akira turned to Alpha.
“Alpha, do you think he’s telling the truth?”
“Well, he’s being extra careful with his words. But it doesn’t seem like he’s lying. And I don’t see any reason why he would lie about choosing you. It’s likely that he really has no other choices.”
“So, it’s just because he’s making a compromise, huh? Well, it’s better than having malicious intentions behind that his request.”
Akira heaved a big sigh.
“Alright. I get why you want to hire me. So, why should I just not kill you here and now?”
“…My goal includes exploring a certain ruin. It is a special ruin that is very important to the eastern district. If you accept my offer and can complete the job, I will tell you about that ruin. It’s highly valuable information that you wouldn’t normally get from a single job. That is even if you’re an old-world connector. If you return back with that information, they will definitely think highly of you. I’m sure you’ll receive a good position inside Tsukisada Construction. Now that you know, I’m sure you can’t just ignore this, right? I’m sure you want this information, and if you kill me, you won’t be able to get it.”
Akira was uncertain of what to do next. Personally speaking, he could not care less about the information. However, in order to hide Alpha’s involvement with him, he had to act as if he was an agent from Tsukisada. Though. he had no clue how an agent from Tsukisada would react. What they would go through to obtain such information. Therefore, instead of answering, he asked a question to probe into the matter.
“Why are you so sure that I want a higher position?”
Shirou looked at Akira in pure bewilderment.
“…I don’t mind saying it out loud, but promise me not to get angry, okay?”
“…just shut up then.”
Akira thought that it must be a very sensitive subject for these agents. Therefore, he curtly told Shirou to just shut up. As he was getting worried if it was the correct reaction, he made a pose. Acting as if he was hesitating before he finally agreed.
“Very well, I accept that job, but I have conditions.”
“What is it?”
As Shirou started to tense up, waiting for Akira’s answer, he could not help but frown after hearing his reply.
Back in the camping vehicle, Carol did not go back to sleep and instead waited for Akira. She was hugging her legs on top of the bed, still without a piece of cloth on her body, as she waited for Akira to return.
“Welcome back, was it alright?”
“Yeah. Carol, there’s something we need to talk about. Can you put something on?”
Judging from Akira’s tone of voice, it did not seem like she was going to be in any danger and did not have to put on her augmented suit. Therefore, she judged it to be something minor, that he simply did not want to talk while she was naked. She thus reached for her indoor robe. Although it was not transparent, it was made for comfort, so her breasts were still in full view.
“So, what is it?”
“Sorry, but can you put on something more proper? Even an augmented suit would do.”
Carol’s augmented suit had an old-world design, in other words, it had a rather sexy design. Therefore, even if she put her augmented suit on, she would still not exactly look proper. Carol already knew that much and could tell Akira was basically asking her to at least cover herself. Thus, she left the living room to put on more proper wear before returning back.
“Will this be good enough?”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Wait here for a bit.”
Akira then left the room and opened the vehicle door.
Carol did not expect Shirou to be the one entering the vehicle.
“Excuse me for intruding.”
“…Akira, what’s going on here?”
The confused Carol looked at Akira, and he frowned before briefly explaining.
“It seems like this guy wants to hire me for 50 billion Aurum. So, he’s basically going to discuss it here.”
Shirou looked at Carol and smiled.
“Yep, it’s exactly just as he said. Well, just take a seat for now.”
Shirou did not wait for an answer nor ask for permission. He simply went and sat on the sofa in the living room. He even signalled Carol to take a seat as well. Although Carol was still confused, since Akira was the one who invited Shirou in, she thought that he should be friendly and took a seat.
Akira sat next to Carol as he thought about what he should say next.
“Carol, can you at least listen to what he has to say for now and decide whether to take his offer or not after that? He basically made this offer with my current job as your bodyguard in mind. So, this is about accepting his offer along with my current job. He said he’s fine with me accepting his offer while still focusing on my current job.”
Akira placed multiple conditions for Shirou. Though, they mostly stemmed from just one main condition. That he would continue to work as Carol’s bodyguard. While the attached conditions were for Shiro to not say anything unnecessary to her. Also, he would only accept the job if Carol was fine with it. There were also additional conditions. However, Akira mentioned that if Shiro could not satisfy these conditions first, then he would refuse.
“Priority-wise, my bodyguard job comes first. If you are afraid that it will hinder my job to protect you, then you can just say so. After all, I accepted your request first. So, you can decide for me. If you can’t decide, I will take it.”
Carol was extremely confused by the sudden turn of events. However, she at least understood, to an extent, what was going on. She replayed Akira’s explanation inside her mind to analyse her current situation.
“Akira, what if I say no.”
“First, I will kick him out of the camping vehicle. Then, we’ll need to move away from this place. We can decide later whether to leave him alive or not.”
“It would be great if you can just leave me alive.”
“I’m not talking to you.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to kill someone from Sakashita Heavy Industry, you know?”
In contrast to the serious Akira, Shirou was still as playful as ever. Both then looked at Carol.
“Uhh, so, Akira, basically, if I say no, you will refuse that 50 Billion Aurum job offer, right? Are you sure you are okay with that?”
“You don’t need to worry about it.”
“W-well, even if you say so…”
If it was only for a small amount that did not reach the billions, although she would feel bad for Akira, she would definitely refuse. After all, she did not want to have anything to do with the source of the incident back in Mihazono ruin. But 50 billion Aurum was not a small amount. It could not be simply ignored.
That was when Shirou interjected.
“Just to let you know. I’m here to offer a job to Akira. But if he’s going to refuse because he is in the middle of another job, I don’t mind changing the offer to both you and Akira. So do at least keep that in mind.”
Carol’s eyes widened as she looked at Akira, who frowned and warned.
“I’m sure I already warned you to not say anything unnecessary.”
“No no no, that one was not unnecessary, right?”
“Then just keep your mouth shut except for the bare minimum.”
Even with Akira’s warning, Shirou just exasperatedly shook his head.
“Geez, alright. In that case, I guess I should just keep the details and get straight to the point, huh?”
Shirou, who was acting playful up until now, suddenly turned serious.
“If you accept his job, as your reward, I will tell you how Sakashita Heavy Industry and the other corporations treat old-world connectors.”
Carol’s jaws dropped. She had been using all kinds of means to investigate this exact thing. But in the end, she was unable to gather anything more than rumours.
“As an old-world connector from Sakashita Heavy Industry, I can tell you why they are looking for the other old-world connectors and all kinds of secrets regarding the other companies. If you want to use it to hide from them or to manipulate them, the information I’m going to share will be extremely valuable.”
In exchange for the payment for her side job, she did try numerous times to seek this information. However, she was unable to find anyone knowledgeable about this subject.
“Of course, normally, I would never tell anyone about it. After all, it’s considered a corporate secret. But I don’t have that leeway right now. So, I’m willing to make it an exception this time.”
With a nod, Carol would be able to obtain it. Highly valuable information that she would not be able to receive unless she was a part of the 5 biggest corporations. Standing in front of that very opportunity right now made her shiver.
“So, what do you think? I bet it intrigues you, right?”
Seeing Carol clearly react to his offer, Shirou thought that he had won.