After a short argument with Reina and Shiori about his evaluation of Reina, Akira quickly turned back to continue exploring the underground city. He thought that Shiori and Reina would leave him alone after that fight, but unlike what he expected, they both decided to stay there rather than returning back to the defensive point 14.
Reina was extremely dejected, but she did not allow her feelings to affect her current work. As a matter of fact, she was performing better than before their argument, it might be because she was no longer bothered by any unnecessary thinking. Shiori who noticed that felt hurt.
Akira could feel the mood behind him and felt rather uncomfortable.
“I know that it might be too late for this, but like, is it better if I say something to them since cheering them up might be included as my duty in the request that I accepted?”
To be honest, this mood was the result of Akira trying to take his job, which was to give Reina his support, too seriously that it caused a fight instead. So looking at the outcome, Akira wondered if he had actually done a bad job back then.
Alpha smiled bitterly.
“If you think that you should’ve prioritized avoiding a fight from the beginning, then your actions were wrong. Or at least, you should have told them your opinion using gentler words. So in short, that fight was basically because of your lack of skill.”
“Well, that’s true…”
“But putting that aside, I think it was more important that you’re taking your request very seriously. To be honest, I was happy to be able to confirm that you’re someone who takes requests very seriously since I’m also someone who made a request to you. And also by doing that, they’ll be more careful when they want to get involved with you next time. So looking from this point of view, what you did back there was not entirely bad. So, there’s no need for you to be this much bothered.”
People in the Slum city were forced to beg with all they had if they did not want to die. Although it was not like he had to go that far, Akira lived a difficult life for years. The reason why he became a Hunter was to gain power so he could escape from living in such an environment.
And then Akira became a Hunter, gained a small amount of power and finally was able to struggle against the environment he was in.
That was exactly why he refused to do the same thing that he always did if he was faced with the same situation as before. He was actually scared if he did the same thing as before, it would mean he returned back to his previous self. He was so afraid of that happening, that he would rather risk his life than beg for it.
Akira himself did not realize it, that was why he was troubled with the way he was acting. And in order to take advantage of it, Alpha smiled gently to Akira and encouraged him.
There was a dead corpse of Yarata scorpion scattered in the underground hallway. It had bullet holes in its torso and some of its legs were blasted to pieces. Bloods flowed from its wounds and left traces that formed a straight line.
Akira checked that corpse and its location in the underground city map.
“Looking at the direction of the traces left by this corpse, it seems that this is one of the Yarata scorpions that attacked defensive point number 15, huh. Assuming that it was dead on its way back to its nest, I might be able to find more dead scorpions which died the same way around here. If I tracked their traces, I might be able to find their nest, but… Alpha, do you notice any other Yarata Scorpions around the area?”
“I can’t find any alive or dead Yarata scorpions around the area.”
“I see… It’s not like I can finish the exploration just because I found one dead Yarata Scorpion. I guess I have no other choice but to keep looking for more, huh?”
“Of course I can even help you find traces that normally would be very hard to notice, but they might think it is unnatural if you discover traces that are extremely hard to find. If they ask you how you found them, you’ll need to come up with some logical excuses, you know. So, what do you want? Want me to look for any traces?”
Akira thought for a bit before answering back.
“…Let’s see… Please do that. With all the things that have happened, I want to finish the search as soon as possible. If they ask me how I found the traces, I’ll just tell them that it was just pure luck.”
“Although I told you to come up with an excuse, that’s a lame excuse.”
“It’ll be fine. Not to mention that the HQ told me to do this because they evaluated my skill when I had your support. If they ask me to explain all of my previous achievements, I can’t say anything more other than just being lucky. So it’s too late to complain about that now.”
Akira already made up his mind, Alpha who was watching how he behaved smiled at him.
“Alright, I found it.”
“That was fast!!!”
“Well, that’s just how good I am.”
As Akira looked surprised and instinctively turned to Alpha, she replied by smiling mischievously and pointed her finger towards a different direction than where the defensive point 15 was located. And at the same time, she enhanced Akira’s vision so that he could see faint traces that he would normally have missed. He could even see an indicator on the floor showing the route that he should take.
Akira started walking following the indicator in his vision. Reina and Shiori found it strange that he suddenly changed route although they were heading towards the defensive point number 15 up until now. But since Reina still had not recovered from her dejection and with Shiori’s hesitation in asking him, they just followed Akira without knowing the reason why he suddenly changed direction.
Although the hallway looked exactly the same even after Akira changed direction, he could see small traces had started popping out in his enhanced vision as he followed the route that Alpha indicated. Small scratches on the floors. Marks of wreckages and rubbles shoved aside to make way. Tiny blood marks scattered around the place. Putting everything together, it was obvious that a huge number of Yarata scorpions passed through this place.
As Akira could see those small traces thanks to Alpha support, he started to unconsciously move following those traces. Shiori, who noticed it, started to feel that it was strange how Akira was moving. He was moving as if he knew exactly where he was heading, or at least, he was moving as if he was following a guide. When Shiori felt that, she just had to ask him about that sudden change of his movements, Akira who was leading the team suddenly stopped. He was standing in front of a big hole in the middle of the hallway.
The hole was big enough for multiple people to pass through at the same time. The inner part of the hole looked completely dark since there was no illumination installed inside it. And the biggest problem of all was that hole was not present in the underground city map.
When Akira shone his torchlight into the hole, he could see a man-made floor about 20 metres below. It was obvious that it connected the underground city to a different area. But the map also had no information about the area that hole was connected to.
Akira quickly picked up his terminal and contacted the HQ.
“This is number 27. HQ, you there?”
“This is HQ. What’s wrong?”
“I found a hole that is not on the map. It seems that it’s connected to the other underground area. It might be the place where the Yarata scorpions that attacked defensive point 15 came from.”
“Wait for a sec… Can you turn the rental terminal towards that hole?”
Akira then turned the rental terminal’s camera towards the hole just like he was told to, the terminal then sent the image and the other data to the HQ.
“…We’ve confirmed it, that hole leads to an uncharted area. I bet there are Yarata Scorpions down there.”
“So like, there is more than one Yarata Scorpion nest down here?”
“Yes. There are countless Yarata scorpions’ breeding grounds located in the underground city. At the moment, we already took out 17 nests. I’m sure there are still other nests out there. I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that the whole underground city itself is their nest.”
Akira remembered the building he was in when he was ambushed by a swarm of Yarata Scorpion, he frowned as it looked similar, just that this was inside the underground city.
“…I see. With this, my job to search the area is finished. I’ll be heading back to the defensive point 14.”
“No. We have to build another defensive point there. Stand by over there and wait for reinforcements to arrive. Stop any monsters that try to come out from that hole.”
“Wait for a sec. Only with the three of us? Isn’t that a bit impossible…?”
“Whoah there, you decided to go out alone so it means that you have enough confidence in your own ability, right? Not to mention that among the 2 people that came with you, one of them is a skilled Hunter among the other Hunters in the defensive point 14. I think you have enough firepower there. Securing the safety of the area is also the defence team’s job. So just do it.”
“…This is number 27, roger that.”
Of course, Akira could not tell the HQ that he was so close to killing the other 2 Hunters who were with him, so he just obediently accepted that order from HQ.
They started installing temporal illumination around the hallway, although it was not that bright, it was still better than the total darkness that wrapped the underground city. The big hole on the hallway peered into the darkness. The dim light that illuminated the area around its entrance seemed as if it was showing the people who looked at it about the danger it housed. Compared to when you were in an explored area, the possibility of meeting monsters in an uncharted area was far higher.
In the middle of the current scene, Akira was seen sitting in front of the big hole staring into the darkness. Normally, one would only be able to see total darkness inside that tunnel, but due to Alpha’s support, he could see shapes and distances within his monochromatic vision.
“This vision is really useful. You did this when we were in the Higaraka Residence ruin too, right?”
“Yep. It’s better than total darkness, right?”
“Yeah, it is. With this vision, I wonder if I can recognize a Yarata Scorpion from afar if one of them decides to crawl out from this hole?”
“When that happens, I’ll let you know before you can see them, so don’t worry.”
“Then I’ll be relying on you.”
Akira chatted with Alpha and did some studying too while waiting for the arrival of people who would properly secure the area.
Reina and Shiori were watching Akira’s flank, they stood facing the opposite direction while watching the hallways. There was no guarantee that monsters would only come attacking from that hole. As Akira was monitoring the hole, Shiori and Reina were monitoring other places.
While keeping watch on her side, Shiori occasionally glanced at Akira. Now that she was calm, she tried to reassess the person who she was about to fight not too long ago.
Shiori had been sharpening her skill to judge other people’s real ability in order to protect Reina. On the basis of that skill which she developed through her devotion, she could only see Akira as nothing more than a common young Hunter, just like the other young Hunters who she had met. Or at least, Akira did not look like someone who could accomplish the achievements listed in his battle record.
But Shiori somehow was still doubting her own judgement and tried to observe Akira more closely. At least for now, she admitted that his resolve was not something to scoff at. But she did not expect that he would even go as far as to risk a fight where he might get killed just to stick to his principles. While on the other hand, she also had a feeling that it was not just a foolish action taken by an amateur who did not know the real power of his opponent.
So, was Akira really the skilled Hunter given his battle record? Was he just only acting in order to hide his real ability? Did he do what he did back there because he knew for sure that he would have won if they really tried to kill each other? So many questions were floating inside Shiori’s mind as she kept glancing back at him. But she immediately rejected those possibilities and cleared up her mind.
After going around in circles, she tried to wrap up a conclusion. It was still not clear whether he was a strong or a weak Hunter. Although so many things about him did not make sense at all, one thing for sure was that he was not someone who would step back when threatened. Something unexpected or even unwanted might happen if he fought beside Reina, thus she thought that she had to be cautious not to do anything careless.
[It was a big blunder that I unconsciously looked down on him and threatened him thinking that he would back down. I bet it would have gone really wrong if Milady didn’t stop me, I should have been more careful.]
Shiori reevaluated her loyalty and reflected on how she should act, while on the other hand, she also became more cautious toward Akira.
Reina was extremely dejected, but as the time passed by and with Shiori trying to cheer her up, she started to calm down. She was in a place that had a low risk of getting ambushed, there were 2 good Hunters with her, the area around her was very silent, and there were some illuminations installed in the area, it was a perfect place to calm herself down. The leeway created after she calmed down made her think back.
[…I couldn’t answer back there whether I properly thought about the consequences before picking a fight or did I pick a fight knowing that it might turn into a shootout…]
She just saw one of the possible consequences not too long ago when Shiori and Akira were so close on trying to kill each other. If Mimata’s group did not laugh it off when she picked a fight with them, something similar or maybe even worse would have happened.
[He wouldn’t want to employ someone who picks needless fights even if it’s for free, huh… Well, that’s to be expected though.]
Reina calmly looked back to what she did until now. This was not the first time she picked a fight against someone else. There must have been so many instances in the past where she crossed through dangerous bridges, she might have trod all the way here through landmines without realizing it.
Nothing went horribly wrong up until now, but it was not like everything went smoothly either. There were cases where she mistakenly crossed the limit when she got into an argument with someone else just to force her opinion on that person and stepped on each other’s feet, although no one wanted for that to happen.
Reina thought that Shiori must have done all the work to make sure that she did not mistakenly step on any landmines. But today, Shiori herself almost stepped on one. Although they were able to barely avoid it, Reina imagined what would have happened if Shiori had completely stepped on that landmine. Just thinking of that possibility made her dejected again.
Shiori noticed Reina expression and gently said to her.
“…Milady, please don’t let it bother you too much. It’s important to be able to let it go and move on. Moreover, that was because I made a mistake of provoking Akira-sama. Let’s use the experience that we got today to be more careful next time.”
Reina thought that Shiori provoked Akira because she was angry on Reina’s place, she felt both grateful and apologetic for it.
“…Now that I think about it, I haven’t properly said my thanks to you lately. I’m sorry that I always put you in trouble and thank you very much for always helping me out. I’m sure I’ll be giving you more trouble in the future, so, is it okay if I keep relying on you?”
“…O-of course! Just leave it to me!”
Shiori was so moved and surprised when Reina said that, but she quickly pulled herself together with willpower and was somehow able to hold back her tears. She understood well that she was in the middle of a battlefield, and there was no way she would be able to perform well in a battle if she did not pull herself together.
“Thank you, Shiori. I’ll be in your care.”
Looking at Reina who got cheered up, Shiori tried her best to make a smile to let Reina feel at ease.
Akira was watching his surroundings with his information-gathering device. While doing so, he was also watching Reina and Shiori who were behind him. He knew that he had a big fight with them not too long ago, so he was watching them in case they suddenly shoot him from behind.
“…What are they doing?”
As Akira mumbled that question with a puzzled face, Alpha just smiled and answered.
“I think they’re deepening their friendship.”
“I wasn’t asking about that… Well, never mind…”
Akira quickly lost interest in what was transpiring behind him, thinking that it did not matter what they were doing so long as it would not cause him any trouble.
Alpha kept her smile as always while watching Akira closely. She was always observing, watching and trying to understand the main principles behind his actions.
Her ideal beautiful body generated by advance calculation was giving a calculated perfect smile, but her smile did not reflect the meaning behind it.
That big hole looked perfectly quiet from the outside, but Akira, who was keeping his eyes on it, suddenly looked grim. He quickly stood up and kicked the rucksack beside him, scattering the ammo that was inside it onto the ground. He then pointed his CWH anti-material rifle into that hole.
Reina and Shiori who noticed that quickly put their guards up and came closer to Akira. They then glanced towards the hole expecting to find some monsters, but they could not see any monsters.
Reina was puzzled as she checked her information-gathering device and did not find any signals that indicated monsters presence either. So she turned to Akira and asked him.
“…Did your device find something?”
“I’ll take care of this side, you girls take care of the other side.”
Akira already finished his preparation to shoot, he already had his finger ready on the trigger.
“Alpha, how many?”
“I picked 124 signals within my scanning range and I’m still counting. The swarm that attacked defensive point number 15 might be just scouts.”
“…Ughh, well, what can I say… I always get myself tangled in this kind of situation.”
Akira looked slightly exasperated, while Alpha just retained her smiled.
“Well, I guess this is to be expected for your level of luck. It’s just like the usual, so let’s calm down and just deal with it like always.”
Akira smiled bitterly.
“You’re right. Well then, I’ll be counting on your support to win against my bad luck today. Since I spent all of my lifetime worth of luck to meet you, I expect to get good support from that, okay?”
“Just leave it to me.”
Alpha stood beside Akira and smiled confidently.
Rather than watching her surroundings, Shiori paid more attention to Akira who was aiming into the hole as if he had a clear target. She readied her rifle, loaded it with a flare bullet that could be used to increase the accuracy of the information-gathering device, and pointed her rifle into the hole. She then shot a few flares with the same interval between each shot into the hole. The flare bullets shone brightly, it scattered off the darkness that filled the hole and revealed the earthen tunnel and the human-made floor under them. But there was no sign of enemy at all. Even after she rechecked her information-gathering device, she still could not find any enemy signals.
“…Akira-sama, you might have mistaken something.”
Akira ignored Shiori’s question. Shiori and Reina started getting more suspicious of him.
But suddenly, darkness crept in again into the illuminated hole, making it impossible to see anything inside. The flare that was the furthest away suddenly dimmed and stopped shining. The flare bullets were made so that they would at least keep shining for about 15 minutes, so it was obviously too fast for the flare to die out naturally. Reina and Shiori also noticed the anomaly, but then, the flares inside the hole suddenly died one by one until the hole was filled with total darkness again.
Seeing what was happening, Reina and Shiori quickly got themselves ready for a fight. Sounds echoed from deep inside the hole as if a lot of big living things were coming closer towards them. The rumble grew louder and louder. Multiple big objects that blocked the light charged towards Akira. They did not even need to check their information-gathering device to know what it was.
Alpha kept her smiled as she counted down.
“They’re coming… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.”
At the same time, all the light from the rest of the flares suddenly died out.
Akira pulled the trigger of his CWH anti-material rifle. Muzzle-flash flashed from his rifle, the light from that flash temporarily illuminated and revealed what was inside the hole. Akira and others caught a glance of a swarm of Yarata scorpions gushing out from the hole.
The bullet flew out from Akira’s rifle and hit the scorpion that was leading the swarm, it blasted that scorpion to pieces thanks to the bullet’s overwhelming destructive power. It even pierced through that scorpion and turned other scorpions near it into minced meat. Akira was able to literally destroy a dozen scorpions with just one shot.
It was because Akira was using specially designated ammo for CWH anti-material rifle. Normally, people would not use such a bullet to hunt Yarata scorpions since it was too powerful and too expensive for that. But Akira did not hesitate to use this ammo. Of course, it was also because the requester paid for his ammo, but more than that, he was not in a situation where he could hesitate using that bullet.
“Whoah, amazing!! As expected of designated ammo! No wonder they’re so expensive!!”
“It’s also great that it has a long effective range. Let’s defeat as many scorpions as we can before they can get close.”
Akira’s body shifted backwards every time he pulled the trigger. The kickback from the designated ammo was actually relatively small considering its firepower, it was thanks to its complex design made using advanced technologies. But even so, it had enough kickback to blow one’s body all the way back to the wall. Akira was only able to maintain his shooting stance thanks to his augmented suit and Alpha’s support.
All the scorpions that were blasted to pieces by that shot looked like paper sheets scattered by the wind. Akira was amazed by that scene, but he did not think even for a bit that it was because of his skill as he kept shooting while making a grim face.
The Yarata scorpions just ignored the pieces of their dead brethren that showered down at them as they continued marching toward Akira. They trampled on the corpses of their dead friends, and the same thing also happened to the scorpions that were badly wounded and could not move. There was no sign that they were slowing down at all.
“…But still, it doesn’t seem like they’re withdrawing back at all, don’t they feel fear or something? They’re biological monsters, right?”
“Maybe they don’t.”
“But the scorpions that attacked the defensive point 15 withdrew, right?”
“That is… Maybe they returned back to report their enemies’ locations and firepower to the rest of the swarm. I don’t think they withdrew out of fear. They might have been just scouts after all.”
“… And so this is the main swarm?”
“Its possibility is not zero.”
“If it’s really the main swarm, there should be a limit on how bad my luck can be, you know!!”
“Stop the silly talk and get back to shooting, more of them are coming.”
Akira kept on shooting at the scorpions desperately. Thanks to his high ground and specially designated ammo, he was one-sidedly laying waste on the scorpions that were gushing out from the hole. When he ran out of ammo and reloaded a new magazine, the swarm would quickly close their distance, so he would immediately start shooting again in panic and push them back until he ran out of ammo again. This cycle continued as he held the swarm back all by himself.
Reina and Shiori readied their gun and were watching the other angles just like Akira told them to, they were ready in case they were ambushed by more monsters from the hallway. Of course, they would jump to help if Akira requested their help. But he did not request for any assistance. Although he looked a bit desperate, he was able to properly hold off the scorpions all by himself.
Reina and Shiori were taken aback by Akira who was desperately holding back the scorpions on his own. This scene was the very proof that his skills and his battle record were genuine.