Reina refused to back down as she obstinately followed Akira, but she found it strange that Akira was moving slowly even for someone who was exploring an extremely dangerous underground city.
“Shiori, why is he moving so slowly?”
“Every person has a different speed, principle and judgement during a ruin exploration. I believe that he’s the kind of person who prefers to make a full check even if it slows him down.”
“But even so, he’s still way too slow, isn’t he? There are 3 people monitoring the area here, you know?”
Reina actually understood the importance of scanning the area. The underground city hallway was filled with wreckages and rubbles, places where monsters might hide. Not to mention, Yarata Scorpions could camouflage itself and blend with the wreckages. Thus, she could understand why Akira would want to proceed very carefully.
But even with that in mind, if Akira’s skill was the same as what she heard, there should be no problem even if he moved faster. Or at least, with 3 people here keeping watch, Akira was moving way too slow and she found it vexing.
Shiori hesitated to answer that question. After all, she knew that the real reason was something which might annoy Reina. But again, keeping that as secret would be against her duty, thus she tried to explain the reason to Reina in her own way.
“It’s not 3 people, but 1 person.”
“Eh? There are 3 of us here, right?”
“He doesn’t expect nor rely for our support, and that’s also the case for scanning the area too. He always rescans the places that we’ve scanned. Not to mention, he always proceeds carefully while taking positions where he will be able to deal with the enemies using his own firepower in case we are ambushed by a swarm of Yarata Scorpions. In short, he’s exploring the area as if he’s still alone.”
Shiori’s guess was correct. Akira was doing that as his training and he did it with the assumption that Shiori and Reina would leave him as a decoy in case they were overrun by monsters.
Reina’s face twitched in anger, she thought that Akira was looking down at her. It was as if she was just a total amateur Hunter and a dead weight to him. She was about to yell but was somehow able to hold herself back. After all, if she yelled, that would not only be her admitting that she had forced herself onto Akira, she would also be attracting the monsters. It would just be her admitting she was nothing other than dead weight.
Reina was trying to hold herself back. Although she whispered in a calm voice, it was obvious that she was angry and was even trembling slightly out of said anger.
“…Are we really that bad, to the point that he doesn’t even trust us?”
Shiori answered back with a soft voice in order to calm Reina down.
“He just doesn’t know our ability yet. For someone who does not judge another Hunter’s ability by his or her Rank, his actions are understandable. Just think of it as he’s trying to remove the risk coming from trusting his life to someone that he doesn’t know well. It’s very difficult to judge someone’s abilities. Even someone as strong as Katsuya-sama is still looked down upon as a young Hunter. Thus, it’s doubly true for us.”
“That might be true, but still…”
The Hunter Rank is supposed to show the ability of a Hunter. But it is rated using accomplishments, thus it cannot be used as proof of one’s ability when it came to fighting against monsters. There were Hunters who got high rank because of their combat skills despite being terrible when it came to collecting relics or exploring ruins. And of course, it was also true for the opposite case. In the end, those two types of Hunters would have the same Hunter Rank as if they produced the same result.
After Shiori’s explanation, Reina calmed down for a bit and thought that if what she heard back in the station about Akira was true, that would mean he might be a Hunter who focused on hunting monsters. He might also have seen other Hunters with higher rank despite being weaker than him. If that was the case, then it was only to be expected for him to treat her and Shiori like he did.
Reina was able to calm down after she thought about it, but it was not like it could completely erase her displeasure.
“Milady, as I thought, we should return back. Even if were to accompany him, I don’t think it would bring any benefit for us.”
“…No, I refuse!”
Reina felt that if she turned back here, it would only mean that she came all the way there just to bother Akira before turning back and returning without producing any results. She simply could not stand the thought of that so she refused Shiori’s suggestion. But more than that, Reina was hoping to find something that could make her proud of her own skill, something like a trigger, a chance, anything.
Shiori reassessed the situation. Even if Reina persistently wanted to stay here, it did not seem like Akira would count her as his ally. If they got ambushed by a swarm of Yarata Scorpions, in the worst-case scenario, Akira might even see her as his enemy. He might even shoot her and use her as a diversion in order to save himself.
Shiori understood that if Reina would not change her mind, then she must try to change Akira’s mind. At the very least, she needed to make sure that he would help them if they were in a pinch. As Shiori decided on that option, she started thinking about how to approach Akira.
Akira suddenly stopped and made a long “Hmmmm”. He had ventured quite far while keeping watch for any traces from the Yarata Scorpions that just attacked the defensive point number 15, but even so, he could not find any noticeable traces.
At this rate, he would reach the defensive point number 15 without finding anything. He wondered if he missed anything on his way here, so he asked Alpha to confirm it.
“Alpha, I know that I’m in the middle of training to look for signs and traces. That’s why I’m trying my best to be careful not to miss anything, but in case if there’s something that I miss, be sure to tell me, okay? We’re here for a job, after all.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll properly inform you. After all, it would be really bad for me too if you get ambushed by a swarm of Yarata Scorpions because of that.”
As Alpha smiled at Akira, he returned back with a bitter smile.
“Well, thank you for that, but that would mean that there were really no traces that I missed, huh… If I don’t find anything worth noting, I feel like the HQ would complain again about me taking too long.”
Akira frowned a bit. Alpha who saw that understood that he did not say that to whine about the HQ, but he was actually complaining about his own lack of ability. She then smiled gently at him.
“When that happens, just let them say everything they want to say. If they wanted to make a proper search of the area, they should have dispatched an exploration team instead. So it’s only to be expected for someone from the defense team to take longer when exploring the area. There’s nothing for you to worry about, so let’s not rush ourselves and continue exploring the area carefully.”
In a sense, Alpha was also Akira’s employer. She was really happy that he took his job very seriously, but it would be bad if he got killed by that virtue even before he could finish her request. Thus she really wished that he would not take this job too seriously, for her sake.
“…Well, that’s true. Alright then, I understand.”
After saying that, Akira renewed his resolve and was about to continue the exploration. But Shiori suddenly called him.
“Akira-sama, I have something I want to talk about, could you please listen for a moment?”
Akira was thinking of ignoring her, but her next words made him inadvertently turn around.
“I want to make a request for Akira-sama to act as Milady’s bodyguard. I want to negotiate about the details and the rewards for the request.”
It was really out of the blue and Akira could not immediately process what Shiori just said. It took some time before he came back to his senses. He was totally dumbfounded and looked confused as he instinctively said.
Shiori knew that at least Akira was not ignoring her, so she immediately proceeded to explain what she just said to clear up his confusion.
“Please let me explain the details of the request. The period of the request is until we’re finished with this Yarata Scorpions extermination request, during this time, I want you to stay in the range where you can protect Milady. The reward will be 5,000,000 Aurum that will be paid once you’ve finished the request. This reward will not be reduced if the HQ assigns you with a job that would make it impossible for you to stay around Milady, but if you ask for such a job by your own volition or lead Milady into danger, we’ll have to negotiate the amount of the reward deduction…”
Reina was also shocked and frozen, just like Akira when she heard that sudden suggestion from Shiori. But when she was back to her senses, she immediately protested.
“W-wait for sec!! What the heck are you saying out of the blue?!!”
“I’m requesting for Milady’s bodyguard. If Milady has no wish of returning back to defensive point 14, I have to look for another way to guarantee Milady’s safety. But if Milady decides to return back, then I shall take back my request.”
“B-but, even if you want to employ an outsider, there’s no way Drankam would let us pay him 5,000,000 Aurum!?”
“Please don’t worry, I’ll pay him with my own money. It might be a huge sum, but Milady’s safety takes the utmost importance.”
Reina understood from Shiori’s serious expression that she was really planning to pay that using her own money.
Reina also understood well that it would be futile even if she told Shiori to rethink about it. After all, it would be the same as telling Shiori to rethink about her own safety, which obviously, she would not take any chances on.
Of course, even for Reina, she felt bad making Shiori go that far for her own selfishness. She knew that everything would be resolved if she decided to go back, but she really wanted to stay there until she could leave a notable achievement, and not to mention, she had a stubborn personality. Because of that, Reina was confused and did not know what to do.
An unwavering heart and a wavering heart, Reina and Shiori looked at each other with gazes full of meaning, their respective wills contradicted with the available options.
Akira was unconsciously sucked into the mood while still being stunned, but Alpha suddenly spoke to him.
“Akira, if you leave them alone, you would not be able to rectify whether you are going to take that request or not, you know?”
Akira quickly snapped back and said in a panic.
“Wait for a sec. Leaving aside whether you’ll return back or not, I can’t take that request.”
“…I’m willing to negotiate if the reward is not enough.”
Shiori was thinking of increasing the reward, but Akira just shook his head.
“No, I’m not saying that the reward is not enough, the real problem is my ability. I have my hands full protecting myself, so I don’t think I can guarantee other’s safety. That’s why even if you increase the reward, I still can’t accept your request.”
Reina was surprised.
“But you have saved a group of Hunters from a swarm of Yarata Scorpions all by yourself, right? The HQ staff said that himself, you know. But even then, you’re still saying that you don’t have enough skill?”
“I barely survived that, you know. I even exhausted all of my ammo and was so close to getting killed back then. I’m definitely not going to do that again even if someone told me to.”
“Then why did you do that?”
“It was because the Hunters who I saved didn’t convey the right information to the HQ. At that time, it seems that they only told HQ they were ambushed by insect-like monsters. I only knew that they were stuck inside a Yarata Scorpion nest after arriving there. What happened after that was nothing more than me trying to deal with what I was facing.”
“If it was really that bad, then why did you take this request to eliminate the Yarata Scorpion nest?”
Akira started getting annoyed, it was not like he took this request because he wanted to.
“There’s no way I can just refuse a request from the Kugamayama city Long-term Strategic Division, you know!! Of course, I would have refused this request if I could!!”
“I-I see, I’m sorry to hear that.”
Reina was taken aback when Akira yelled at her, but she tried to hide it with a smile. She then pushed her courage to ask the last thing that was still bothering her.
“…S-so in short, you’re actually not that strong, am I right?”
After hearing the explanation from HQ, Shiori and Reina imagined Akira as a very skilled Hunter who charged right into a Yarata Scorpion’s nest alone, saved a group of Hunters, and protected them all the way back to the HQ without getting anyone injured. But Akira just denied that so straightforwardly that it crushed their image of him into dust. As they looked at him again, he just looked like a normal young Hunter to them now.
There was an awkward silence between them, all of them were dumbfounded.
Shiori looked a bit flustered as she was looking at Reina and made a new suggestion to Akira.
“In that case, please let me change the details of the request. I want to ask you to provide support to Milady. The duration of the request is until Milady returns back to the defensive point, the reward will be 100,000 Aurum. So, will you accept it?”
Reina could not understand what Shiori was trying to convey as she was making a puzzled face, but Shiori returned it with a gentle gaze as if she was trying to calm her down. It was like a gaze from an older sister who was worried because of her troublesome little sister.
“I’ll retract that request if Milady decides to return back, but Milady has no wish of doing so, right?”
Reina stubbornly followed Akira thinking that he was a very skilled Hunter. It would be pathetic if she immediately decided to go back the moment she knew that her assumption was not true. She would go back if she was told to, but she really did not want to say that herself.
Shiori understood Reina’s thoughts and decided to make a new suggestion to Akira instead. If Akira refused that request, Shiori was planning to use that as an excuse to return back. And if Akira took that request, she would pay him some money for roping him into this awkward situation and build a good relationship with him. Both outcomes were not bad so Shiori decided to make that request.
Shiori looked back at Akira and waited for his answer. Akira was at loss on what to do, but Alpha suddenly said to him.
“It would be troublesome if it caused another fight if you refuse it, so how about you accept their request instead? This request can also be used as an excuse so that we won’t be fighting against each other while we’re exploring the ruin together, and it was not like you have to proactively protect them. So let’s just accept the request and end this argument here. But of course, you can say no too, if you want.”
“…You’re right, I guess I’ll do that.”
Akira thought that it was not like Shiori and Reina were expecting something from his ability, he could just provide them with some help while still focusing on his exploration. He thought that if it was only that much, then it might be okay to take their request.
“Alright, I’ll take that request. My name is Akira.”
“I’m Shiori. Over here please.”
Shiori handed out 10 sheets of 10,000 Aurum notes to Akira. With this, their negotiation had come into a conclusion.
Akira put that money into his pocket and turned to Reina.
“So then, what do you want to do?”
“What to do?”
“I’m asking what you are planning to do from now on. The request is to provide you with my support, I want to hear what you want to do so that I can give you proper support. You should decide what we are going to do.”
Reina had no idea what to say. After all, when she chased Akira, she only thought that she would try to be useful if anything happened, so it was not like she had any concrete ideas on what to do. Moreover, she usually only followed Katsuya’s order, so she was not used to thinking about strategy. Because of that, she could not come up with an answer when Akira suddenly asked her that question.
Shiori then answered that question in Reina’s place.
“At the moment, let’s continue exploring the area just like what Akira-sama was doing until now. Of course, that is if Milady is okay with that. There’s no need to unnecessarily make any changes when it’s not required, will that be okay?”
“Y-you’re right, let’s do that!!”
They continued exploring the area. Reina was watching the flank while glancing at Akira from time to time. The scan area was divided among 3 people this time, thus they moved faster than before. But even so, Reina thought that it was still relatively slow.
The biggest reason as to why they were moving that slow was because Akira who was in the front took too long scanning for monsters. There was no mistaking that it was Akira who was slowing them down. It was only to be expected since they were assigning a young inexperienced Hunter like Akira to lead in the front.
But Reina found that very strange, if Akira’s ability really only amounted for this much, then his battle record did not make any sense at all. And it was unthinkable for him to go exploring the ruin alone just because the HQ told him to.
Moreover, there was no way Kugamayama city’s Long-term Strategic Division would send a designated request to someone like him. Unlike Reina and the other young Hunters from Drankam, who got that request by using Drankam’s connections. Since he worked alone, he would not be able to hide his lack of skill as a young Hunter behind a team and so the Long-term Strategic Division must have sent an individually designated request to him. There was no mistaking it that Akira got that request because of the evaluation of his individual skill.
Looking at how Akira so straightforwardly introduced himself as someone who was actually not that skilled, it was enough to convince Reina that he was actually saying the truth. But after she calmed down and thought about it once more, it still felt weird to her. Even if she assumed that Akira’s ability was completely tilted towards his fighting skill to make the story fit, he looked nothing but a young inexperienced Hunter to her. It just did not make sense for her.
In the end, it was still a huge mystery as to how good Akira’s fighting ability was. Reina just could not help but to wonder.
Shiori noticed Reina’s behaviour, so she rebuked Reina since she was so deep in thought that she started losing focus.
“Milady, is there something that’s bothering you?”
“Ah, sorry, it’s nothing.”
Reina snapped back to reality, but it did not take long before she started losing focus again.
It could be said that Shiori understood better than Reina herself about what she was actually thinking. The reason why Reina wanted to know Akira’s ability was that she wanted to use it as a reference to evaluate her own ability. So strictly speaking, it was actually not that important for her to know Akira’s real ability. But Reina did not realize that as her thinking veered away from her real intention.
Shiori thought that Reina would keep getting distracted unless the real source of her distraction was resolved. And so Shiori asked Akira.
“Akira-sama. From your point of view, how will you evaluate Milady?”
Akira looked puzzled and asked back.
“Even if you ask me, I don’t really know her so I can’t really answer that question, and it’s not like I can judge her ability just by looking at her. Why do you ask?”
“If I do it, it would be biased. And evaluation from Drankam is mixed with her evaluation from working in a team. Since we’re together, I thought that this is a good chance to ask for someone else’s opinion. Please think of it as a kind of support for Milady and tell us your opinion.”
“Even if you tell me so…”
Akira looked confused. Since Shiori said that it was also a type of support for Reina, he had to answer it seriously. Unfortunately, he did not know what to say, so he turned to Alpha for help.
“Try to think about it yourself. It’s also an important skill for a Hunter to be able to judge others abilities only by looking at them. Just think of it as training. So Akira, squeeze your brain and answer that question yourself, okay?”
Alpha was giggling when she said that, she told Akira to do that himself so that he would be more careful before picking a fight against people that he did not know well. She hoped Akira would calmly evaluate other people’s strength before deciding to pick a fight or to avoid conflict in case if it was someone that he could not handle.
Back then when Akira killed someone from a gang in the slum city, or when he saved Elena and Sara in the ruin, he quickly registered those people as his enemies from the start and then asked for Alpha’s support to take care of the rest. As for her, in order to avoid any needless fighting, she hoped that he would ask for her support first before deciding on fighting. She wanted him to calmly evaluate his opponents’ strength first before deciding whether to fight them or not.
Though, this also proved that Alpha still did not understand the moral principles behind his actions.
Akira, who was at a loss since Alpha would not help him, asked Shiori instead.
“Hmmm. Even if you ask me, what are the indicators to judge someone’s ability? I’m sure it’s not like you can judge Hunters who focus on hunting monsters with the same standard used for judging Hunters who focus on hunting relics. And there are also many different methods that can be used to judge a Hunter too…”
“That’s indeed true. In that case, if you’re going to ask Milady to help you in doing a Hunter job, how much would you be willing to pay? If you need to know her battle record or any other information, I’ll answer as far as I’m allowed to.”
How much a Hunter would be willing to pay other Hunters to help him or her doing a Hunter job, that was the easiest form of evaluation. It was a clean-cut evaluation where Hunter Rank was nothing but one of the many things that affected it.
Reina was also interested in the evaluation of her real ability. But she did not want to make her evaluation worse by giving any unneeded remarks, thus she was planning to answer honestly while trying not to look too pretentious in case if Akira asked her something.
But Akira quickly concluded.
“Oh, I see, in that case, I won’t ask for her help.”
Reina was so surprised by that unexpected answer, she was more surprised rather than furious. That answer was basically saying that Akira would not want her help even if Reina would help him for free. That evaluation was very close to the worst possible evaluation.
Akira said it so casually that he did not sound like he was joking or teasing Reina. There was no particular intonation in his words. But that only made it much more shocking for Reina, she even felt a bit dizzy after hearing his answer.
Shiori could not hide her displeasure as she voiced it out.
“…Akira-sama, I think you went too far there… Ah, let me rephrase it, please give me an explanation so that I can accept your answer.”
Although Shiori said that with a calm tone, it clearly projected out her feelings. Reina immediately snapped back to her senses when she heard Shiori.
Akira did not even flinch when he heard that, he just answered back with a casual tone.
“It’s just that it would be a huge pain in the ass. Hypothetically speaking, if you were to get ambushed by a swarm of Yarata Scorpion, let’s say 50 of them, and you can easily defeat that swarm plus the rest of the Hunters in the defensive point 15, I would change my mind.”
Reina looked bewildered as she answered back.
“W-well, of course, I can’t say I’m that strong, but still…”
“That guy, number 147, was it again? When you picked a fight against him, how much did you think about its possible consequences? Did you think that you can easily handle any possible dangerous situation in that place so much that you would be okay if you guys started shooting at each other? Or like, did you have any proof that they would not start shooting at you no matter what?”
Akira silently waited for Reina’s answer. But Reina could not answer back. Although she decided that she would answer any question without putting up air, she already got stuck and could not answer back right from the first question.
Reina and her friends were only irritated by Mimata when they picked a fight with his group, she did not think any deeper than that. But she could not say that to Akira. So instead of answering his question, she tried to bury the shock from his bad evaluation of her by yelling back in anger.
“In that case then, what should we do instead?! Are you saying that we should have let them say everything they wanted to say and just stayed quiet when they were mocking us?!!”
“Not really. It’s up to you, you can just let them be, or you can also kill them if you can’t take being mocked like that. There are cases where it would be fatal if you look down on your opponents, and there are cases where it’s better if you point your gun at your opponents and threaten them. Basically, you can do whatever you want as long as you can accurately calculate the consequences and you’re sure that you can handle them. So, what kind of outcome did you imagine back then?”
Akira answered back casually before throwing another question, he then stared at Reina and waited for her answer.
But Reina could not answer back. After all, she did not think about the consequences at all and she could not say that to Akira.
Shiori, who was just listening to them in silence, interjected. She was already regretting her decision of asking that question to Akira.
“Akira-sama. If the situation worsened up until that point, I would do everything that I could to calm the situation. As such, I don’t think that you can use that assumption as an evaluation.”
“If you did that knowing that Shiori would handle the rest no matter what would happen, then that is okay too. But it means that I need to rectify my answer, I misunderstood and thought that you were asking an individual evaluation instead of an evaluation of your team of two.”
“But, why does it have anything to do with the other Hunters and that 50 Yarata Scorpions?”
“I was just wondering if you thought that even after having that fight and completely antagonizing the other group, would you be able to handle both the swarm and the other Hunters too in case if they start attacking you simultaneously.”
“…Aren’t you just being too paranoid?”
“That might be true.”
It was obvious that Shiori was getting angrier every time Akira answered back so casually, but he did not falter as he was locking gaze with her.
“That was indeed a little bit too paranoid, after all, it is highly unlikely for something like that to happen. Normally, there’s no need to go that far. In short, I just want to know how you handle different situations. From how you were behaving back in the defensive point number 14 and how you talked with me or that number 147, I just thought that I would not want to use my own money just to bring someone who tends to pick a fight needlessly. That’s all. It’s not like I’m going to say that my evaluation is correct. If you don’t like it, just ignore it as a trivial opinion from a stupid brat.”
Shiori and Reina did not retort. Although both of them stayed silent, they were silent because of different reasons. Reina was dejected. While on the other hand, Shiori, who obviously angry, had something darker and more sinister welling up inside her, replacing her anger.
“…Leaving the fact whether that explanation convinced me or not, I already listened to your explanation for that evaluation. But then, may I ask you one more thing?”
Shiori paused for a bit and sent a cold gaze to Akira.
“Do you not think that you would anger me with that answer?”
Akira should have known that Shiori was there in order to support Reina. If he told Reina to think about the consequences before doing anything, then he should have also thought of the same before he said that answer. Shiori signalled that to Akira and used it to threaten him.
Shiori was basically already threatening Akira there, but she then immediately dropped it.
Akira resolved himself before answering back.
“You told me to answer it as a form of support. Since I took your request, I thought that I should give my best to answer your question. So I thought that it would be better if I answer it honestly rather than lying, even if it might anger you.”
Basically, Shiori was asking Akira if he fully understood that it might cause a fight between them when he replied with his answers.
And Akira basically answered that with a yes.
Both of them were ready to jump into a fight. If any of them made the slightest move, it could be the trigger for a fight. They stood still while watching each other, looking for an opening, they were already assuming that it would definitely turn into a fight.
Both of them were not even thinking of pointing their gun at the other person and asking the other person to drop their gun, both of them were thinking of immediately pulling the trigger to at least render the other person unable to fight. They would decide later whether to kill the other person or not after judging from the situation after that, but it was highly unlikely for them to have that leeway and both of them understood that very well.
Was it because Akira accepted Shiori’s threat, or was it because Shiori took Akira’s provocation. But as long as none of them would take a step back, the situation there would not change.
The mood tensed up. It was only a matter of time before both of them started shooting at each other.
“Shiori… Stop there…”
Reina suddenly stopped Shiori.
“…It’s fine… Just stop there… Please.”
Reina said with a meek voice while still hanging her head low. After that, Shiori lowered her guard and Akira followed suit.
They just avoided a fight here, Akira eased himself and sighed. While Alpha who was floating beside him let out a bigger sigh while locking her gaze at Akira.
“Although you said all of that while ignoring a lot of things, in terms of causing trouble, I don’t think you’re losing out at all, you know.”
“I-It’s not like I was the one picking the fight, you know.”
Akira himself thought that it was a bad excuse as he slightly frowned. Alpha kept staring at him and smiled.
“It’s true that I suggested that you take her request, but I also told you to think well about it, right? But you know, there’s no need for you to try so hard to overturn my prediction calculated using my advanced calculation ability. It’s okay, I understand what you’re trying to prove.”
Akira tried to run away from that subject by apologizing and Alpha just smiled back at him.
If Alpha had told Akira to give a good evaluation although it was just an empty compliment, they would have been able to avoid this conflict without causing any trouble.