Akira and Katsuya’s group were standing on guard inside the hall while Mimata’s group left to search around the area and return back for a few times.
Reina tried to call the HQ in order to stop Mimata’s group, but the HQ did not take her seriously, thinking that it was not a crucial thing. The defensive point number 14 was not an important position, that was why the HQ did not even bother giving them specific orders.
It did not take long for Katsuya’s group to realize that Mimata’s group did not leave the hall only to take a break.
Reina was getting more irritated each passing second. They had to watch the hall and shut their mouth while the other group was not taking their job seriously and going around the area looking for relics.
“Katsuya. Why don’t we go around looking for relics too?”
Katsuya answered back swiftly and without any hesitation, but it only worsened Reina’s mood. Since it was an order from Katsuya, who was the leader of the group, so as a member of his group, she had the duty to obey him. She understood that well, but her piled-up irritation gnawed at her.
“But why? Why should we stand guard while they don’t?”
“I know how you feel, but hold yourself back. We’ve decided from the start that we’ll always move in a group to ensure our safety, remember? Moreover, if 5 out of 8 people in this place, 7 if you count them too, leave their station, I’m sure the HQ will not be happy about it. They’ll send their complaint to Drankam and we’ll be penalized because of that. That’s why we have to stay here.”
Reina stayed shut, she could not deny Katsuya’s logic. But even so, it was not like it could clear her displeasure, she obviously was still annoyed. Katsuya who noticed that looked at Reina’s eyes, his stare was filled with seriousness and with a hint of affection.
“But more than that, I don’t want you to do the same thing as those scum.”
As Katsuya kept staring at Reina, she looked a bit intimidated but then she relaxed, her expression turned from being irritated to slightly embarrassed.
At first, Reina did not acknowledge Katsuya’s ability. But after hearing that Katsuya and his friends took out a greedy crocodile with their own power, Reina offered to join their team herself to confirm their ability. Around the time she joined Katsuya’s team, she still did not recognize their ability, but it did not take long before she recognized their real ability. And since then, she somehow got interested in Katsuya.
Even for this request too, it was originally taken by Katsuya, Yumina and Airi. But Reina went out of her way to bring Shiori with her and joined Katsuya’s team, and Katsuya gladly welcomed them.
Shiori then gently scolded Reina.
“Milady. Please don’t bother Katsuya-sama too much. I don’t agree with that idea too. Please keep in mind that I’m here to make sure of Katsuya-sama’s and Milady’s safety.”
Reina was weak against Shiori. Shiori was Reina’s servant. She served Reina for quite a long time and Reina trusted her. As a requirement, when Reina left her house to work as a Hunter, Shiori was to act as Reina’s bodyguard. So she decided to give up and stop being persistent.
Shiori then continued.
“And as I’ve said to you before, please refrain from making unnecessary contact with other people. There are many other things that you have to be careful of other than the monsters. Since I’m the only person here assigned as your bodyguard, I know it’s rather pathetic but I cannot guarantee your safety. So please refrain from making contact with other Hunters outside Drankam. Your fiery nature is prone to cause unnecessary fighting, as such…”
Reina felt that it was going to be a long lecture, so she interjected trying to stop Shiori.
“I know, I know. But like, aren’t you being too overprotective?”
“Milady, I believe I don’t need to remind you but we are in the wasteland. It’s an extremely dangerous place compared to the area inside the city walls. The moment you think that I’m overprotective shows that you are still too naive, please understand this, Milady.”
The people of the eastern district had different opinions about where the wasteland started, but most of the people thought that the area outside the city wall was already the wasteland. The barren plain, the desert, the ocean, the skies, the ruins, all of them were described as the wasteland and they were all dangerous places. For some of the people who spent their lives inside the city wall, everything outside the city wall, including the lower district, was all considered as a part of the wasteland.
Despite all the differences in opinions, one thing in common was that the wasteland was the opposite extreme of the inner wall where people could live their lives peacefully. The wasteland was a very dangerous place where a person’s worth was judged by his or her ability to kill both monsters and other people.
Reina understood that she was in the dangerous wasteland, but her resolve was still too naive.
With Shiori around to protect her and being in the same group as Katsuya and his friends who were level-headed and had relatively good judgement, made Reina feel safer while also made her less competent in recognizing the real dangers of the wasteland.
Shiori understood that very well, but it was not like she could leave Reina open to danger either. That was why she did not have any other choice but to teach Reina through long lectures.
Although Reina had enough of Shiori’s long lecture, she did not try to resist at all. Reina was actually happy that they were thinking of her safety, but at the same time, she worried that this request would end without anything worth noting at this rate; that was why she was a bit anxious.
Reina was always accompanied by Shiori when she was out for her Hunter’s job. Not only did she have to face the other Hunters who looked down on young Hunters, but she also had to bring someone to watch over her no matter where she went. Because of that, her evaluation in Drankam was pretty low. Although her Hunter Rank went up smoothly, more than anyone else, she was the person who doubted her own ability the most.
Katsuya and his friends were able to prove their strength after killing a greedy crocodile, the other Hunters in Drankam also stopped looking down at them just because they were only small children. Although Yarata Scorpions were not as strong as greedy crocodiles, Reina thought that if she joined Katsuya’s group and contributed in wiping out Yarata Scorpion’s nest, other Hunters would stop looking down at her.
Since Katsuya’s group was able to kill a greedy crocodile, they were sent from Drankam to join this operation. The HQ originally accepted their team and was planning to send them to the extermination team. But after knowing that they were a group of children, the HQ decided to assign them to the defense team instead. Reina found it vexing, she was annoyed that people were still looking down at them.
Being in a defense team did not mean that there was zero possibility for them to encounter monsters, that was why the HQ sent Hunters to do that job. Reina tried to suppress her irritation thinking that her chance would eventually come. But unfortunately, the defensive point number 14 was a very safe position.
[…We’ve been here for quite a long time now. The reason why those people would leave this place is because they don’t think anything will happen even if they are not here. I bet that’s also the reason why the HQ won’t tell them to stay here either… Will this request really end up without anything interesting happening?]
Reina started hoping that something would happen soon. She completely forgot that safety was the first priority in the wasteland as she was getting impatient.
Suddenly, a voice came out from the communication relay device installed in that place.
“This is the HQ, defensive point number 14, answer me.”
Everyone there quickly gathered around the communication device, Mimata who was the closest one answered back.
“This is defensive point number 14.”
“Do you notice anything out of ordinary over there?”
“Nothing, everything is normal like usual.”
“…You’re… Number 147, right? It seems that you’ve been leaving and returning to your station a few times, are you sure that nothing is out of ordinary?”
“We were just going to the toilet. After all, it’s dangerous to go alone and it’s normal that we don’t go to urinate at the same time, you know. So don’t be that uptight.”
Everyone there thought that Mimata and his friends had been unnecessarily leaving their station, so he assumed that was why the HQ complained. After making that excuse, Mimata thought that it was the time for them to stop leaving their station, but the next answer from HQ refuted their assumptions.
“I don’t care about that, did you encounter any Yarata Scorpion when you left the hall? Or at least, did you notice any Yarata scorpions in the area?”
“No, nothing. Is there anything wrong?”
“Defensive point number 15 was overrun by a swarm of Yarata Scorpion. They were able to repel the swarm back with no injury, but the real problem is the direction where the swarm came from. It seems that they came from somewhere inside the area that we had secured. The exploration team might have missed blockading some tunnels or the swarm might have opened a new tunnel. They might have dug through the crumbling wall or tunnelled a small opening into a hole big enough for them to pass through.”
“Are you saying that we have to be careful since we might also get attacked?”
“No. We want you to explore the area one more time. Bring some people with you to explore the area and check if there’s any change in the area compared to the map made from the previous exploration. If you find any new tunnels, immediately inform the exploration and the extermination team.”
There might be a lot of untouched expensive relics waiting to be found in an undiscovered area connected to that new tunnel.
Mimata and his friends looked at each other, smiled, and then answered back assertively.
“Roger that. We’ll immediately send some people to explore the area.”
“No, you guys stay there! Just shut up and guard the area! I bet you guys are planning to look for relics rather than exploring the area.”
“…Of course, we won’t.”
“You guys just stay there!!”
Mimata clicked his tongue and obviously looked annoyed. Looking at that, Reina snickered and said.
“Serves you right.”
Mimata turned to Katsuya’s group and looked at them, he then answered the HQ back in a fashion as if he was mocking Katsuya’s group.
“Humph. Who should we send then? Other than us, there are only children and a Hunter assigned to watch over those children, you know?”
Katsuya, Airi and Reina glared at Mimata, Yumina seemed annoyed by Mimata’s remark too. Shiori stood quietly beside Reina and Akira looked like he did not give two shits at all.
The HQ staff then answered back.
“Number 27 should go. You can pick anyone else but you can only take two other people, max. It’s fine if you want to go alone too.”
Mimata’s group and Katsuya’s group only knew the number of people in their own group. So they did not know who was the number 27 as they looked at each other, puzzled.
“This is number 27, roger that.”
Everyone turned their gaze at the source of that voice. It was number 27, it was Akira.
“Akira. They said that you can take 2 other people if you want, so, who do you want to take?”
“Nah, Alpha, I’ll go alone. I don’t want to cause any needless fighting, after all.”
“That’s true, but it’s dangerous to go alone, you see. Although you got permission to go alone, it’s meaningless in this situation, isn’t it?”
“You can say that again. If I get another request like this, I’ll need to rethink about my demands.”
Akira grabbed his rucksack and left the hall. The other Hunters there were shocked and stared at Akira’s back as he was leaving that place. Some of them were simply surprised, some of them were displeased, but Akira did not bat an eyelash as he kept walking away from that place, disappearing into the tunnels.
Mimata snapped back to his senses and immediately asked the HQ. He sounded puzzled.
“Why that boy? Is this some kind of mistake or something? You’re not mistaking number 27 for someone else, aren’t you?”
“There’s no mistake, it is number 27.”
After the HQ denied Mimata’s suspicion, this time Katsuya was the one asking a question.
“Any particular reason why you picked number 27? If you picked it at random, I want you to let us choose instead.”
If the HQ randomly chose the people to send, it might cause a problem afterwards. That was Katsuya’s thoughts, so as the team leader, he asked HQ to rethink its decision.
But HQ denied that too.
“It’s no problem, we picked number 27 because of his record. But you can go ahead and pick the other two.”
Katsuya was shocked. He remembered the time when he was looked down upon and got assigned to the defense team instead of the extermination team by someone from the HQ, that person might be the same person who he was talking with right now. But that man sounded as if he recognized Akira who was also a young Hunter like him, it was just like the time he first met Akira.
This time Shiori joined the conversation.
“What do you mean by his record? Katsuya-sama and his 2 other friends took out a greedy crocodile on their own. If it’s picked based on the record, shouldn’t you pick them instead?”
“Katsuya? Ohh, the leader of the Drankam team, huh. Fighting Yarata Scorpions is not like fighting Greedy Crocodiles. The situation that you are in is also different, so based on the record, number 27 is more suitable in this situation. Stop complaining about every single little thing, or is it Drankam’s way of working to question the decision of your superiors?”
Drankam used its powerful influence to send some young Hunters for this request. But because there were numerous cases where the Hunters that Drankam sent did not have the ability or skill to handle the request, this staff had a bad impression about Drankam.
And even after that, he was questioned 2 times in a row by Hunters affiliated with Drankam about the decision that the HQ made, that was why he sounded annoyed and snappy when he gave his answer.
The staff’s answer made the Hunters in that place wonder just how strong this Akira actually was. But Mimata was not fully convinced as he asked.
“What exactly is his record like?”
“He was able to evacuate and rescue a group of Hunters from a building filled with monsters and was able to fend off a swarm of Yarata Scorpions that attacked them while evacuating those Hunters. Moreover, including the Yarata Scorpions killed in that building when he saved those Hunters and the Yarata Scorpions from the swarm that chased them, number 27 took out at least 60 Yarata Scorpions. He did all of these alone. The underground city is similar to an abandoned building filled with monsters and he had once fought against a swarm of Yarata Scorpions in such a situation. I think these are good enough reasons to pick him. Compared to that, shooting and killing a big greedy crocodile from afar with some help from an external party is nowhere nearly as good as his record. Or is it?”
Mimata mumbled out his amazement showing what the other Hunters were thinking after hearing that explanation.
“…Y-You gotta be kidding me, right?”
“It’s the information from the Hunter Office. At least you understand that it’s not some kind of joke. I don’t care if you believe it or not, just stand guard in that place, that’s all.”
The call from HQ ended soon after. Mimata, Katsuya and the other Hunters were dumbfounded as they looked at each other.
Although the shock had subsided from Reina’s head, she still could not get Akira off from her mind.
But she was better compared to Katsuya who felt some level of rivalry towards Akira. And after hearing about Akira’s record, he felt that his assumption about Akira was actually correct.
Katsuya was seeking for Akira’s strength, and Akira was the one who fuelled his competitive spirit. So Reina thought that if she followed Akira, she might be able to gain something. Something that would make her proud of her own strength, a trigger, an opportunity, a chance, anything.
As Reina thought of that, she ignored the fact that safety was the number one priority in the wasteland and there was a high chance that she might bring danger to herself.
“…We can still send 2 other people, right?”
Shiori quickly understood the meaning behind Reina’s question.
“We’ll go after him, so get ready.”
Reina made her decision. Whether it was a decision that she carelessly made or it was a decision she made fully knowing its repercussion, she had to take full responsibility for her decision. But she was only a naive girl who did not fully understand this point.
Not only did the underground tunnels form a labyrinth, but the walls of the tunnels could also crumble anytime, which made it easier for anyone exploring it to get lost. Akira used the terminal lent to him to browse the map made by the exploration team and combined it together with the communication relay device to check his location. But of course, this kind of map was not available for the exploration team. After all, this map was made by them through their hard work. This map was really useful for the HQ to predict the routes used by the monsters and to decide the placement of the defensive points.
But if the scorpions were able to dig holes through the walls and open up new tunnels, the areas that were already secured were once again turned into dangerous areas. Although it was only a guess at the moment, it was enough to make exploring these areas extremely dangerous. And Akira was about to step into this life-threatening zone.
Even if he had to explore the area, it was not like Akira could just wander around without any objective. After he walked not too far from the defensive point 14, he stopped and asked Alpha what to do next.
“What should we do? Should we go to the defensive point 15 for now?”
“Any reason why you would do that?”
“If there are any scorpions withdrawing back from defensive point 15, they might be injured and leave some blood marks or other traces on their way back to where they came from… And also, in case if I meet another swarm and get overwhelmed, I would be able to run to defensive point 15 which would be closer than defensive point 14, right? They said that the Hunters there were able to fend off the swarm without any injuries, so it should be safer than defensive point 14.”
“That’s excellent judgement. Especially that last reason, it’s a very good reason.”
Although Alpha was smiling happily at him, Akira felt a slight of annoyance.
“Alpha, do you also think that defensive point 14 is dangerous?”
“The Hunters there are too relaxed and have completely split into 2 groups. I doubt they can fight well if they get ambushed, and of course, it’s more assuring to go to the people who had fought against that swarm before.”
Although, as the person who split off from the other 2 groups and basically made the third faction, it was not like he was in a position to say anything about it. Akira understood that, but he just could not help but grumble. Although he would not go as far as to tell them to get along with each other, Akira hoped that they would at least try not to get in each other’s way or even cause harm to one another like shooting the other group from behind their back. He basically did not want to worry about anyone “accidentally” shooting someone else.
“We should go soon. As training, try to explore the area without my support.”
“Training even in this situation, huh?”
“It’s exactly because we’re in this situation. Of course, I’ll keep scanning the surroundings as a training for myself too.”
Akira was surprised, he thought that Alpha was an ultimate existence who did not need any more training. She just smiled and said something that he could not ignore.
“That’s right. I’m training myself to see how far I can give you my support only using your current equipment and to find the most effective way to do so. To be honest, even right now, my detection ability has been significantly lowered.”
Akira was frozen in place. When he came back to his senses, he started to panic. He desperately tried to stay calm, but he just could not do that.
“W-what do you mean?”
“It will take a long time to explain everything, so I’ll only explain to you the reason. First of all, I can’t use the same detection power in the underground city as when I’m on the surface. There are certain materials and facilities in the ruins that reduce my detection ability, and this place is filled with those things.”
“…So, just by how much exactly is your detection ability affected?”
“That’s a secret. But at least, compared to you or the other Hunters, my detection ability is still very high. As a matter of fact, it’s relatively very very high. But since I can use your detection ability as a comparison, it means that its range and sensitivity have been reduced significantly.”
Akira thought that it would have been better if he did not know this secret. He started to feel fear that he had not felt in a while. The fact that he might find a monster waiting for him right at the next corner and the fact that he was exploring an unfamiliar ruin gave him goosebumps. But he then clenched his teeth and made his resolve.
“It’s alright. Resolve is my responsibility, let’s go.”
If that was enough to stop him, he would not be able to survive as a Hunter. Thus Akira made his resolve and swung his leg forward.
“Akira. I’m sorry to disturb you when you’re already resolved yourself, but we have some guests.”
Alpha pointed behind Akira. He looked puzzled, but judging from her reaction, it did not seem like it was an enemy. So he slowly turned around while lowering his gun. He was so puzzled because of a different reason as he saw who his guests were.
He saw Reina and Shiori walking towards him.
Reina and Shiori confirmed that it was Akira almost the same time when he turned back.
But to be more precise, Akira was slightly faster. Shiori noticed that and put up her guard against him.
There was no way Akira could see what was behind him. They were not close enough for him to hear their footsteps. He might be able to notice them using an information-gathering device, but she did not think Akira had such a good information-gathering device. Despite all of that, Akira turned back as if he knew well about their position. Shiori just could not think of that as a mere coincidence.
In the far east of the eastern district where the frontline was, there were some Hunters who could feel other’s gaze or presence and precisely pinpoint their position only from that which could not be explained with common sense or anything else. Shiori thought that Akira was one of those people, or at least he had a fraction of the talents of those people. Thus it would be extremely dangerous to antagonize him. Because of that, Shiori asked Reina to rethink her decision.
“…Milady, would you please rethink this?”
“No, it would be very suspicious if we ran away the moment he saw us. It would be bad if he misunderstands and thinks that we’re here to ambush him.”
“We have no reason to ambush him, so I’m sure he’ll understand if we explain.”
“Akira seems to be waiting for us, so let’s hurry up.”
Reina started running towards Akira, Shiori just gave up trying to convince her and followed behind her.
Akira thought that it might cause fewer problems if he just quickly moved away from Reina and Shiori. But inside that unknown ruin where Yarata scorpions might be hiding behind the wreckages that were scattered around the area and with Alpha’s lowered detection ability, Akira thought that it was too risky, so he just gave up on running away from Reina and Shiori.
And since he stopped where he was standing after seeing them, he had no other choice but to wait until they joined him. When Reina reached him, Akira curtly asked her.
Reina answered back in a serious tone.
“We’re here to explore the area too.”
“I see. I’ll be exploring around that area, so you can explore the other area.”
“We’re coming with you.”
Akira was actually trying to indirectly refuse her offer, but it seemed that Reina did not catch that, or maybe she did but ignored it. Unfortunately, he did not have enough social experience to discern it. So then he shifted his gaze to Shiori as if he was blaming her.
“…Milady, it seems that he has no wish to form a team with us. I believe it’s best if we withdraw ourselves here.”
Reina’s face immediately turned grim. She seemed like she was about to say something but she stopped herself as she sighed and calmed down, or at least she was trying to calm herself down. She thought that it would be a very bad idea to annoy Akira in this place. It was obvious that was the reason why she was trying to hold herself back.
As Reina was telling herself to calm down, she continued to try negotiating with Akira so that she could go together with him.
“…We’ll come with you, we’ll be useful to you… Well, at least Shiori will be useful to you.”
“In that case, I can just bring her but not you.”
“Shiori will only return back if I’m not with her.”
“If that’s true, then both of you can go back.”
“We’ll come with you.”
“No thanks, go back.”
After Akira yelled at them, he just turned around, ignored Reina and Shiori, and continued his exploration. He was carefully moving deeper into the ruin. After a few minutes, he turned around since it was bothering him, and as he expected, he found Reina and Shiori still tailing him. Moreover, they kept a pretty close distance to him as if they were exploring the area together with him.
Akira walked towards them, he then sighed exasperatedly and said.
“…Is that it? Are you not going to leave me unless I point my rifle at you and threaten you to leave me alone?”
Shiori answered back swiftly with a serious face.
“In that case, I’ll do all I can to fight back. Since it’ll cause an unnecessary loss for both of us, I hope you would reconsider.”
Shiori eyes were saying that she was serious. Akira could feel her strong will to protect Reina no matter what even if she had to sacrifice herself.
Akira was frankly amazed by her strong will, but he thought that this was not the right place to show that resolve, so he exasperatedly glared at Shiori.
“If you would even go that far, then you should do all you can to drag this girl back, right?”
“My position is under Milady, thus I have the duty to respect Milady’s will as long as it’s acceptable. The only time when I’m allowed to ignore Milady’s wish is when her life is in danger.”
Akira sighed again and was tearing his hairs out.
“Alpha, is there anything I can do about this?”
“It can’t be helped. Let’s just give up and don’t let them bother you too much.”
“Why in the world should I bring something that might bring me trouble in the near future?!!”
“Because it’ll only worsen the situation if you use force to make her go back.”
“…That’s true, but still…”
“You can at least use them as decoys or shields. I’m sure they’ll return back on their own if they get injured. So let’s just give up making them leave you alone. After all, it’s not like you can really point your gun at them and tell them to go back home, right?”
Akira gave up and continued exploring the area.
He just ignored Reina and Shiori who were tailing him and carefully continued exploring the area while heading to the defensive point number 15. He periodically checked his information-gathering device to confirm if there were any monsters around him. Even if his information-gathering device did not pick up anything, he still remembered what happened the other day when he was ambushed by a swarm of Yarata Scorpion. So he did not drop his guard down and kept moving carefully.
Of course, Alpha would tell him if he missed anything, but since the Yarata Scorpion might camouflage themselves among the rubbles and wreckages around him, he could not help but move carefully. Because of that, he was moving rather slowly.
“Alpha, now that I remember it, is there any problem with my information-gathering device’s current setting?”
“Yes, there is.”
“… Yep, thought so.”
“The optimal setting changes with your surroundings or the aiming device of your gun if you use it in tandem with the information-gathering device. There are some types of monsters that specialize in hiding themselves, so you need to adjust your information-gathering device to be able to detect those monsters. It’s also important to adjust its scanning range. If you make it smaller, monsters might be able to notice you before you notice them, but if you make it wider, its sensitivity will fall and you might get ambushed. So you need to consider all of these factors and carefully readjust your setting.”
“So in short, it’s not something that the current me can do, right? So Alpha, can you do that for me?”
“Certainly. Yep, it has been readjusted. But you’ll have to do it yourself eventually, okay?”
After Alpha’s readjustment, the sensitivity and effectiveness of Akira’s information-gathering device increased exponentially. Because of that, the information displayed in Akira’s visor suddenly changed.
Signals coming from Reina and Shiori who were behind him became clear and the blurry map that was showing his current position was updated. It even showed and indicated the differences between the current condition and the map made by the exploration team down to even the precise locations of the crumbled rubbles. It used echolocation and other means to widen the detection range to detect what was behind wreckages, rubbles and corners.
Akira was very surprised.
“Whoah, that was a huge change. I would only get the previous level’s of information had I not asked you to readjust it, huh?”
“You need to learn to question yourself whether it’s showing the correct information or not. Or that it needs adjustment or not.”
Akira hung his head low.
“…I’ll give my best.”
“Yep, you should.”
Alpha smiled at Akira just like always as she replied.