Elena’s team proceeded deeper into the underground city with Akira leading the front.
With Akira leading the team, they moved more or less at the same speed as when Shikarabe was in the lead. Moving with that speed was completely above Akira’s ability, so he relied fully on Alpha to watch for any monsters.
Although Akira had limited visibility through the darkness thanks to his enhanced vision, it was not like he used that to spot monsters. It was Alpha who was using the information from that enhanced vision to detect monsters.
From the other person’s point of view, it looked like Akira was moving forward without even checking his surroundings. The only reason why the other Hunters did not say anything about that was because Elena was also scanning the area and Akira was able to answer correctly when Shikarabe questioned him.
And even if Akira missed something, the other Hunters thought that it would not cause a fatal situation, that was why the other Hunters let him take the lead.
Alpha suddenly said to Akira.
“Akira, there are 3 scorpions up ahead. Take them out before they notice you.”
Akira’s vision was enhanced by Alpha. Thanks to that, he was able to see clearly the scorpions up ahead amidst the total darkness. It also allowed him to spot rubbles and wreckages that would block his aim.
His distance from the scorpions was considered a bit far. Akira had no confidence to be able to accurately shoot from such a distance, but he believed that it was not a problem with Alpha’s support. Not to mention that since Alpha told him to shoot at those scorpions from such distance, he thought that it must be the best option to do it from here.
Akira readied his AAH rifle and aimed at those scorpions. He lined the TPL added into his vision by Alpha to the head of one of those scorpions and calmly pulled the trigger.
Thanks to Alpha’s support, the piercing bullet which flew out from its muzzle hit the scorpion right where Akira was aiming and blasted the scorpion’s head to pieces.
The other scorpions jumped into action as their friend was killed in an instant. They started looking around for enemies, but Akira quickly released the next volley of highly piercing bullets at them. Those bullets pierced through the scorpions’ shells and slowed their movement.
When those scorpions’ movements had dulled significantly, Akira released the finishing shot at them. Those scorpions then fell down and twitched before they completely stopped moving.
Akira lowered his rifle and sighed.
“It did take them out, so this is the power of the high piercing ammo, huh? It’s on a different level compared to the normal bullet.”
Akira remembered the time when he had to fight a swarm of Yarata Scorpions using only normal ammo. At first, he was rather sceptical if he could fight Yarata Scorpions without CWH anti-material rifle. But after seeing the power of the piercing ammo, he understood that it should not be a problem.
Alpha smiled at him and said.
“It seems that the piercing ammo works well against the scorpions. Let’s keep using it for the time being.”
Seeing how Akira was acting, Alpha thought that his worry must have been cleared up. It was a good thing since unnecessary nervousness would only cause needless tiredness.
Sara relied mostly on Elena when it came to detecting monsters. After all, compared to the information-gathering device that she was using, Elena’s information-gathering device was way better. In case if Elena noticed something, she would send that data to Sara, and then Sara would be able to accurately spot any monsters around her.
But Sara did not get any information about the scorpions that Akira just took out, so she turned to Elena and asked her.
“Elena, can you send me the data about those scorpions?”
Elena then sent the data about the area ahead of them to Sara. The new data that Sara received was displayed on her visor.
“Thank you… Yep, I see it. 3 Yarata Scorpions… They’re already dead… He’s pretty good.”
Sara looked at the dead scorpions and mumbled out her amazement.
Shikarabe used his own information-gathering device to confirm the scorpions that Akira just took out.
“Is there any need to shoot them from such distance? If it was me, I would move closer first…”
Elena answered Shikarabe’s question.
“We’re in a one-way hallway. There are wreckages and rubbles blocking our way. Those monsters are also basically in our way. You can either move closer to them using those wreckages to hide and take them out when you have the chance, or you can also bait them to closer before finally killing them. It’s up to you whichever you want to choose.”
“Well, it’s true that everyone has a different sense of distance. It’s not like he missed his shots anyway, so I guess it’s not a problem.”
Shikarabe thought that it was not like Akira’s action caused a fight that could have been avoided, and it was true that they might have to fight those monsters later so it was a good idea to take them out when they had the chance.
Elena also agreed with Shikarabe’s opinion. But there was one thing that bothered her, how was Akira able to spot those scorpions.
The information-gathering device Akira was using was originally the device that she sold to him. So she knew well the ability of that information-gathering device.
If Elena asked herself whether she could do the same thing with that information-gathering device, she could answer the question immediately with a resounding no.
“It should be very difficult to detect those scorpions from this distance using the device that I sold him. That information-gathering device is not so powerful. It might be possible to do that on the surface, but in this dark underground city where information-gathering devices’ effectiveness is greatly reduced, it should be near impossible to do that. So how in the world…”
Elena actually had a guess as to how Akira detected those scorpions.
“There’s a good chance that Akira can connect to the old-world domain. That might be the reason why he can do this. It does pique my interest, but if that’s true, then I can’t just carelessly ask him.”
Elena had promised Akira not to ask him any unnecessary questions. Although she was interested in him since he had better detection ability compared to her who was the team’s main in surveillance, it was not enough of a reason to break her promise with the person who saved her life.
On top of it, if she really asked him if he could connect to the old-world domain, it might cause a fight in which they were forced to kill each other.
If he could really connect to the old-world domain, Akira might have slowly but surely noticed the fact that she and Sara were suspicious of him. Thus, if she asked him in order to confirm her guess, it might cause their relationship to immediately turn sour.
Sara was not that knowledgeable about information-gathering devices compared to Elena, while Shikarabe believed that Akira must be using an expensive information-gathering device. So Elena thought that there should be no problem if she did not say anything as she put a lid on her curiosity.
They continued their exploration with Akira still positioned in the front.
They encountered monsters a few times, but Akira could handle them just fine. He was at least able to avoid being a dead weight to the other Hunters. Because of the layout of the underground city and the number of rubbles scattered in its hallways, they were forced to fight monsters in a close range for a few times, but again, Akira was able to handle those fights without any problem.
They delved deeper through the darkness of the underground city. Traces of advanced civilizations could be found around them together with the inactive advanced technologies that were waiting to be reactivated. These silently revealed the glory that once prevailed in the past as these were now warped in total darkness. Akira and the others used their lights to scan the area and caught a glimpse of those remnants from the old-world civilization’s glorious era, they could see countless old-world relics that were left there.
Akira then found something that resembled a shop’s ruin. When he checked the insides of it for monsters, he was stunned as he found a huge amount of relics.
“Oh!! What a find!! There are these many relics lying here!!”
Akira could not help but imagine just how much money he could get if he brought back all these relics. Seeing that, Sara smiled bitterly and warned Akira.
“I can understand your feelings of wanting to bring them back, but remember that our contract says all the relics that we find during this request are fully owned by Kugamayama city. I do understand your feelings, I really do, but you can’t carry them with you, okay?”
There was a trace of disappointment in Sara’s face which was saying that it would have been really great if they found those relics while not in the middle of this request. She was enduring the evil whispers urging her to take those relics. She somehow ignored those whispers in order to stop both Akira and herself from doing something stupid.
“Don’t even think of carrying just a small amount of those relics or mixing them with your ammo thinking that they won’t notice them. It’s a bad idea, so just don’t, okay?”
When Sara said that to Akira, she was actually reminding herself.
Elena joined in.
“That’s right, Akira. It’s not like they would do a full body search on you, but still, if you take some of them, it almost always has some kind of effect on your behaviour. So it’s more or less guaranteed that they will notice it. And when they do, they’ll confiscate those relics from you and make you pay a huge amount of fine that it’ll completely screw your life for good. So don’t do that no matter what, alright?”
Elena sounded like she was giving warning to a small boy.
Akira also did not wish to be a bad boy, so he answered back obediently.
Judging from how Akira replied back with no trace of displeasure or discontent, Elena and Sara believed that there was no need to worry about him.
Shikarabe also joined in their conversation.
“I don’t know exactly how much the relics from this area is worth, but I believe the city thinks that they are worth enough to even make them spend a lot of money to build a forward outpost here, clear up the rubbles to make a road, and pay a lot of Hunters to exterminate the monsters. They collect those relics to pay for our rewards after all. So if you have any complaints, you should direct that to yourself for accepting this request for the amount of reward they are giving out. Well, if you don’t want to do that, you also have the chance of coming here alone. I don’t know whether it is worth the expense or not, but if someone can do that, then that person must be a first-rate Hunter.”
Akira did not need too much deliberation to come to the conclusion that it would be impossible for him to come all the way here by himself.
“That would be impossible for me, that just means that these relics are not something that I can get yet.”
Alpha smiled provocatively.
“You would be able to do that one day. But don’t worry, I’ll be giving you my full support, so it’s not something that’s too far in the future.”
“Is that so? In that case, let’s survive the request that I’m taking right now so I can still meet that future. I’ll be relying on your support so I can survive until that day comes.”
“Just leave it to me!”
As Akira was listening to Alpha’s reassuring answer, he cast aside all his worries about the hardships that were lying in front of him until that day came and focused on surviving today. After all, that day would not come if he died in the first place.
Shikarabe looked at those dusty relics which reminded him of something.
“…Ahh, I see. That might be true, I guess that’s also an option, huh.”
Shikarabe was talking alone as if he just came up with something, but he immediately noticed that the others were looking at him. Since it would be bad if they mistook him for thinking of a way to bring those relics, Shikarabe was a bit flustered as he explained.
“…Ah, it’s not what you think. It just reminded me of that news about a boy who exchanged an expensive relic in the Exchange Centre not too long ago. Because of that, there was a rumour about an unexplored area in Kuzusuhara outskirts and a lot of Hunters went out to search for that area, remember? Hm?”
The other 3 Hunters made a weird face when Shikarabe said that, after all, it reminded them of bad memories.
Sara and Elena went to the ruin after hearing that rumour, got attacked by some thugs, and almost got killed. As for Akira, he was followed in the last half of his search and almost got killed too. These were the reasons why all 3 of them made difficult faces.
Shikarabe looked at their faces and found it weird.
But Elena prompted him to continue.
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing. So then, what do you want to say about that rumour?”
“Ah, right, about that boy, you see. I bet he found a way underground, this place is still in the outskirts of the Kuzusuhara ruin, right? So I just thought that he must have found an entrance somewhere and got his relics from the underground city. There were still not that many Yarata scorpions at that time, so there were almost no scorpions on the surface, that would explain why that boy was able to come back alive. That sounds like a good explanation, don’t you think?”
Akira who knew exactly what had happened, feigned ignorance. He had no wish of saying anything since it might reveal his secret.
Elena thought for a while before replying.
“Well, that sounds reasonable enough… You’re not thinking of looking for another entrance to carry those relics, aren’t you? Just so you know, I’m not going to help you.”
Elena firmly told Shikarabe that she would not help. She was collecting layout and topological information of the area and making a rough map using that information, so she might be able to find another entrance if she used that rough map.
“I know. I have no plan to pick a fight with the city either. I’m just saying that out since I thought that it might be a good explanation for that rumour. Calm down, I’m not planning to cause any trouble.”
Elena then told Shikarabe why she was in a bad mood.
“It is good that you are not planning anything dangerous. Now that you brought that rumour up, it reminded us of the past. We also followed that rumour and something bad happened because of that.”
Shikarabe finally understood why Elena was in a bad mood.
“Ah, I see, sorry about that. You too Akira?”
“Yeah, something similar.”
In reality, Akira actually was the source of that rumour. He was attacked by some Hunters when he was just starting out without any real equipment, he then got attacked once more by former Hunters looking to rob him of his relics when he returned back. That rumour only brought trouble for him.
Shikarabe knew how powerful Sara and Elena were, even if they went to the outskirts of Kuzusuhara ruin where the rumour was referring to, it should not cause them any trouble. That was why he was rather curious why Elena and Sara were in such a bad mood.
“But still, I never thought it would bother you that much. What exactly happened? Did you miss a good request just to chase that rumour?”
Sara went silent for a few seconds before answering.
“Well, a lot of things happened, but in the end, we came back with more money, so I guess it’s a plus in the end. Not to mention that we got to meet someone nice and got valuable experience, it was a good trigger to reevaluate ourselves. Result-wise, it ended up well, so I think that’s good enough. But of course, I can only say that now after all is done. How about you, Elena?”
Elena smiled and replied.
“…You’re right. I guess it did end up well. I guess I’ll settle with that since it’ll only keep bothering me otherwise. So yep, I think I’m glad I went behind that rumour back then.”
“Yep, that’s right. Not to mention that our luck got better since then, or more like, we’re doing pretty well since then.”
“…Now that you mention it, that’s true. I guess we really started doing well since that happened.”
Elena and Sara remembered about that time. It was when they were having money problems and a lot of other things to worry about. Now that they thought about it, they realised that they started doing better since the moment Akira saved them.
At that time, their luck was at the all-time low. But then Akira saved them and they were able to get over their situation. After that, things always went smoothly for them.
Seeing how Elena and Sara quickly cheered up, Shikarabe found that a bit weird. But he then turned to Akira and asked him.
“…How about you, Akira?”
“Well. Despite all that happened, I guess it ended up well too.”
If Akira did not help Sara and Elena at that time, he might have gotten killed when he was attacked by a swarm of monsters as he was travelling together with Katsuragi. Putting the motive aside, what he did back then allowed him to survive the other day.
Elena and Sara cheered up while Akira returned back to his usual mood, but in contrast, Shikarabe’s mood worsened.
“Oh great, so in the end, I’m the only one who ended up with a big loss, huh. At that time, I was dispatched by Drankam to search for relics which also doubled as training for the young Hunters in the gang. I was dispatched together with those… Fools… They just wouldn’t listen to me and it was a huge pain in the ass to assist them… Shit, remembering it makes me angry again. Let’s just end this topic here and continue the exploration. I’ll vent this irritation on any monsters that I can find. Akira, let’s switch positions, I’ll take the front.”
Shikarabe took the front position again as they continued their exploration in the underground city. They got to meet some monsters just like Shikarabe hoped, as such, he was able to vent all his pent-up anger.
During their exploration, they often encountered Yarata Scorpions.
Akira shot the head of a Yarata Scorpion that was about 5 metres ahead of him and instantly killed it. He then continued showering the other scorpions with his piercing bullet, fatally wounding them and rendering them unable to fight.
The swarms that they encountered were annihilated without even a chance to retreat. They were able to easily take out a swarm of 30 scorpions without any problem. Although they were unscathed, their faces were grim.
Shikarabe looked at the corpses of scorpions that were scattered around, he kicked one of those corpses and said.
“Their numbers keep increasing. It doesn’t seem to be decreasing at all even after we killed this many. I wonder if there’s a big nest around here somewhere.”
Elena reevaluated their situation. If there was really a big nest around them, they should leave that nest to the extermination team. They had moved away quite far from the nearest relay station. Because of that, it would be impossible to contact the nearest relay station in case anything bad happened.
Elena decided to order the whole group to return back.
“Let’s return back for now. We already got quite a lot of information and we’re close on finishing one whole shift, this is a good place to finish the exploration.”
And so, the whole team headed to the nearest safe place which was the defensive point 19. Elena relied on the rough map that she made to navigate through the total darkness.
Akira thought that their exploration would finish without any trouble at this rate, but Elena suddenly stopped and tilted her head.
Elena’s words somehow felt like a bad omen. Akira who noticed that asked her.
“Is something wrong?”
“The route is blocked by rubbles, but these rubbles weren’t there when we passed through it.”
Elena rescanned the whole area using her information-gathering device before continuing. The scan radius was pretty wide that it allowed her to check the area around her for monsters.
When she looked at the rescan result, she noticed that there were wreckages and rubbles blocking the route back.
Shikarabe then came up with a guess.
“Other exploration teams might have encountered some monsters and used explosives in fragile points of the underground city. This ruin should not be so fragile originally, but with the scorpions digging holes all over the place, it’s no wonder some areas became fragile.”
Sara flustered as she asked Elena.
“Elena, is there any roundabout route that we can take?”
Their way back to defensive point 19 was already closed. She hoped that she did not have to wander around the underground city to look for another entrance. Elena gave a positive answer, but her answer did not make Sara feel any safer.
“Don’t worry, there are many other routes that we can take, but… We actually have changed the route thrice, you see.”
Elena’s words made the other 3 Hunters tense up. It had happened 3 times, so it was impossible to rule it out as a mere coincidence.
Shikarabe then calmly said.
“There might be battles happening on the upper floor of the underground city or maybe even on the surface, that might be the reason why some weak points of the hallways crumbled. I don’t want to get buried alive down here. It was the right decision to head back. After all, even if we decide to look for another route, we need to conserve our stamina and ammo.”
All of them understood that getting panicked there, even if it was an unconscious one, would be very dangerous given their situation. Elena tried to calm herself down as she said.
“You’re right, let’s go. The next route we’ll take will be a longer one, but let’s keep calm as we move forward.”
Elena, Sara and Shikarabe readied themselves to start moving again. As Akira was about to follow them, Alpha suddenly stopped him.
“Akira, tell Elena to stop and to take the shortest route instead.”
“I’m sure we’re already doing that even without you telling us.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Akira looked a bit confused, so Alpha explained everything to him. Although her explanation included a lot of assumptions, if those assumptions were correct, it would be really really bad unless they came up with a solution soon. His face immediately turned grim.
Akira sounded dreadful when he called Elena.
“Elena-san, can you stop for a bit?”
When Elena looked at Akira’s serious expression, she immediately tensed up. It was not because she put up her guard on Akira, but it was because of the situation that they were in.
“Akira, what’s wrong?”
“I want to check the rubbles blocking the route back to defensive point 19. They were not there when we came here. If it’s possible, I want to go there as soon as I can. Is that okay?”
Of course, Akira could not tell Elena that it was because Alpha told him to do so. He was actually worried if Elena would demand him the reason since he asked her without explaining anything at all.
Elena stared at Akira, she looked deep into his eyes trying to understand the meaning behind his words. She then made her decision.
“Very well, let’s go then. You’re in a hurry, right? I bet you’re in such a hurry that you don’t have the time to explain your reason.”
“This way then.”
Elena only said that before quickly starting to run. Akira and Sara immediately followed behind her. Shikarabe also followed suit albeit a bit late.
The team ran fast through the underground city with Elena leading them. Because of that, they did not have the leeway of checking their surroundings, they could be ambushed anytime. In the worst-case scenario, the situation might turn fatal. Although Elena knew so, she paced the team faster.
Shikarabe did not understand why Akira came up with that suggestion and he was surprised that Elena took Akira’s suggestion even without asking his reason. He then shouted from the back while watching the flank.
“Heyy!! Can you at least tell me the reason why we are doing this?!!”
It was completely understandable that Shikarabe would ask that question, but Elena immediately shot his question down.
“Do that later, you promised to obey the team leader’s order, right? If you don’t want to, you’re more than welcome to stay behind.”
“…I’ll be sure to ask you later, alright?!!”
After he said that, Shikarabe clicked his tongue and continued running.
Since they did not spend their time scanning their surroundings, they were able to reach their destination faster. Akira reached that place first since he already overtook Elena. He suddenly stopped not too far from the wreckages that were blocking their way. Elena and the other Hunters who saw him also stopped behind him.
Alpha looked worried as she said to Akira.
“Akira, take out your CWH anti-material rifle. You can thank the requester for paying your ammo expense again later today.”
Akira’s face turned grim.
“Is it that again?”
Akira changed his rifle from AAH assault rifle to CWH anti-material rifle, he then readied his gun and aimed at the wreckage in front of him.
Elena, who saw that, was surprised.
“Akira, what are you doing?”
“Those things are not wreckages!!”
Akira only said that before pulling the trigger of his rifle.
The CWH special ammo left the gun’s muzzle and pierced through the thing that blocked the hallway. That bullet pierced and tore through the scorpion’s shell and blasted it to small pieces.