The wreckages that Elena thought to be just crumbled walls were actually Yarata Scorpions. Since it was a hallway that they had passed through once, she only made a quick scan of the area. If she had done that close enough, she would have noticed that they were monsters.
As Akira and the others saw through their camouflage, the scorpions jumped into action and charged toward Akira. There were so many scorpions in that place that they fully blocked the passage through the hallway.
Sara, Elena and Shikarabe quickly picked up their rifles and started shooting at those scorpions. Although all of them were caught by surprise, there was almost no lag time before they started shooting. With the overwhelming firepower from Sara and Shikarabe, they were able to push back the scorpions without any trouble.
Countless bullets rained down on those scorpions. The biggest danger of a swarm came from its sheer number, but that number folded like it was nothing in front of the powerful bullets that rained upon them. It only took a few minutes for Elena’s team to completely annihilate the scorpions that filled the hallway. Without their camouflage, these scorpions were no match against their opponent’s firepower.
The whole team confirmed that it was over as they let out a long sigh. But Akira, who had not lowered his guard even after the battle was over, spoke in a serious tone.
“Elena-san, let’s head to defensive point 19 as soon as possible, or at least we should get close enough to contact them. In the worst-case scenario, we might have already been surrounded right now. I want to break off from their encirclement before they close in. We’ll depend on you to lead us while adjusting our pace.”
Elena quickly ordered the rest of the team.
“Alright then. Sara and Shikarabe take the lead. Akira, you watch our flank. Assume any wreckages that weren’t there before as Yarata Scorpions. Let’s go.”
Sara smiled at Akira as she moved to the front.
“Akira, I’ll leave the flank to you.”
Shikarabe annoyedly moved forward too.
“Well, I guess this is at least better than wandering in the underground, huh.”
They then quickly started moving again.
On their way back, they met so many scorpions that made them wonder just where exactly those were coming from.
Elena picked a route that allowed them to reach the defensive point in the shortest time and with the least risk of getting ambushed. Thanks to that, they were able to rapidly close the distance to the defensive point 19.
Sara used her overwhelming firepower to devastate the scorpion swarm. The rifle that she was using had a size that reflected its superior firepower, the only reason Sara was able to handle and endure the kickback from that massive heavy gun was because of her nanomachines augmented body. The scorpions were not even able to get close to her before they turned into minced meat.
As for Shikarabe, he accurately shot at the weak points of those scorpions. He used the minimum amount of ammo to produce the greatest result. The countless dead scorpion’s corpses that looked unscathed at a glance testified his amazing accuracy.
Sara scattered the big group of scorpions with her firepower while Shikarabe nitpicked the scorpions that were left alive after that. As he was running behind the team, Akira was amazed when he saw the scene of Sara and Shikarabe taking out all the scorpions ahead of them without even missing a beat.
“Amazing… unlike me yesterday, they are actually charging right into the Yarata Scorpions swarm. But even so, they keep pushing forward without slowing down at all against such a number of scorpions.”
As Akira looked amazed at how Sara and Shikarabe were fighting in the front, Alpha said to him something that was obvious.
“It’s because they have better skills and equipment than you. So it’s nothing to be surprised about. You’ll be able to do that too, eventually.”
“With my own power?”
“Of course with your own power, you’ll have to do something like that in places where you can’t get any support from me, you know?”
Akira reconfirmed again as if he was doubting it.
“…Are you really sure that I too would be able to do that eventually?”
Alpha smiled confidently and said.
“Yep. Who do you think is training you? But well, of course, I won’t say that you would be able to do that next month or something like that.”
“I see… Alright then, I’ll be relying on your guidance.”
As Akira smiled and replied back, it seemed that his doubt was cleared completely.
If Alpha was to be honest, she actually did not think that Akira would be able to do that, but she decided to say otherwise.
Akira fully thought that Alpha’s reasoning weighted heavier than his own. He fully believed everything that she said. Although it did not sound that serious, but to Akira, Alpha’s words were almost absolute.
There were many people who ended up being unable to do anything because they thought that it was impossible for them, and it would be very hard to change such an opinion once it had settled in. Often times, they only considered their present conditions and abilities to arrive at such a conclusion. Since they could not even imagine themselves doing it, this further reinforced their belief that it was impossible to do and they would never attempt to do it.
But here, Akira’s subconscious was rewritten from impossible to possible. It changed the upper limit that he had set for himself, then one day, that possibility would turn into reality since Alpha had the means to do that.
Alpha smiled and said to Akira.
“Alright then, let’s focus on the monsters behind you and immediately take them out for now.”
Akira was still running as he looked behind him, his face quickly turned grim.
“There are so many already?!”
There was a swarm of Yarata Scorpion chasing after Elena’s team behind Akira. When they were breaking through the encirclement, more and more scorpions joined in from the other hallways as they slowly built up their number.
Akira stopped and readied his CWH anti-material rifle, he then quickly pulled the trigger as his rifle spat out CWH special ammo at the ever-increasing scorpions. The bullets tore through the scorpion swarm in a straight line. But that crack in the swarm formation was quickly filled by the scorpions behind it.
After Akira shot a few bullets into that swarm, he would quickly turn and run as fast as he could to catch up with Elena and the other Hunters before turning back at the swarm again. He was basically stuck in that loop.
“I feel like I’ve done the same thing yesterday too!!”
“In that case, you can just do what you did yesterday. Although, unlike yesterday, you have an escape route this time. But on the other hand, this hallway is a little wider than yesterday’s tunnel.”
“So which one is it!? Is it harder than yesterday!? Or is it easier!?”
“Which one do you think it is?”
“If you ask me, it’s actually not that much different from yesterday, so it’ll be alright.”
“That’s good news!!”
Akira got a little bit desperate and smiled while still shooting at the scorpions.
Shikarabe who was busy in the front got a bit curious about what was going on in the back and took a glance. As he saw how Akira was acting, he thought.
[This boy is smiling, it seems that he’s enjoying this. In that case, I guess there’s no need to worry about the flank, huh. It’s pretty impressive for a boy his age.]
In reality, Akira was not smiling because he was enjoying it. But looking at his movement that was enhanced with Alpha’s support and the number of dead scorpion corpses that he was producing, it made Shikarabe misunderstand that Akira was smiling because he was enjoying the fight.
[But still, if Akira is really this skilled, it’s weird that it doesn’t cause any rumour… Ah, there’s indeed a rumour about a skilled young Hunter circulating, but I guess it gets mixed with Katsuya since their age is not much different, huh. It’s hard to believe that there’s such a coincidence where two skilled young Hunters exist at the same time. So I guess it’s nothing strange that most of the people would think the boy from that rumour is Katsuya rather than him.]
After coming to that conclusion, Shikarabe completely stopped thinking about it. After all, he too was still in the midst of a battle.
It had been 30 minutes since they started running. The number of scorpions coming at them had greatly decreased. Then eventually, there were no longer any scorpions trying to attack them. They were finally able to break off from the scorpions’ encirclement.
They were already close enough to defensive point 19 to contact them, so Elena pulled out her terminal and tried to contact defensive point 19.
“This is exploration team 9. Defensive point 19, can you hear me?”
“This is defensive point 19, are you guys on your way back?”
“That’s correct. And also, we just fought against a huge amount of Yarata Scorpions. They might be a swarm coming from a big nest somewhere around this area and we might be bringing that swarm with us, so be ready if we do. I’ll fill you in on the details later after we return back. That’s all.”
After Elena ended her call, she sighed in relief. Seeing that, Akira lowered his guard and returned back to his usual mood.
Elena smiled and spoke to her team.
“It’s alright now. Let’s take it easy and walk back to the defensive point.”
The rest of her team agreed as they walked back to defensive point 19.
When they reached defensive point 19, they were ordered to stand-by. Elena was reporting the details of the exploration to a city staff while waiting to finish transferring the data that she gathered from the exploration. Elena, Sara and Shikarabe had fulfilled the least needed working hours for their shift, as such, they planned to disband the team once Elena finished transferring the data. But until then, they were to be on stand-by; ready for action.
Shikarabe approached Akira and asked him the reason why he suddenly decided to do what he did back then. Elena and Sara were also curious, so they joined in and listened to Akira’s explanation.
Akira then explained to them about the time he was attacked by a swarm of Yarata Scorpions on the surface.
He said that he got encircled before he realized it and the things that he thought to be just wreckages turned out to be Yarata Scorpions. That was the reason why he was suspicious if the wreckages that were blocking their route were actually Yarata Scorpions that were camouflaging themselves. And he thought that if those wreckages were indeed Yarata Scorpions, then there was a good chance that they were already surrounded back there.
Although Akira omitted everything about Alpha, Shikarabe was somehow convinced by his explanation. He then asked Akira one more question to clear up his suspicion.
“…Well, although it sounded as if you came up with that excuse after going through it, the logic is all there. It’s true that your decision back then was the correct one. But still, what would you do if your guess was wrong? Or is it that you were 100% sure you were correct because of something?”
Akira did have something that guaranteed he was correct, and that something was Alpha. But of course, he could not say that to Shikarabe. So instead, Akira answered back in a fashion as if he was trying to gloss over that question.
“If I was wrong, then it would clear up one of my worries, that’s all.”
“But there’s no mistaking it that it would lower your evaluation, you know?”
“Yeah, I bet it will. I’m sorry to say this, but in that case, give your complaint to the HQ and tell them not to put me in the exploration team again.”
Akira said that as if it was nothing. But Shikarabe was surprised when he heard it.
Akira did not care about his evaluation, or at least, that was how it seemed to Shikarabe.
There were many Hunters who could not stand other Hunters looking down at their ability. There were also cases where something like that would affect the amount of reward that they would receive. Being looked down could be a fatal thing.
The young Hunters received favourable treatment in Drankam. Because of that, they often over-judged their abilities and most of those young Hunters could not stand when looked down upon by others.
The other young Hunters took examples from the young Hunters in Drankam and behaved like them. And so, Hunters who reacted like Akira were very rare and it caught Shikarabe by surprise.
Shikarabe’s suspicion was not fully cleared yet. He understood that Akira did that while fully knowing that he might be mistaken. But even so, from his point of view, Akira seemed to act as if he had known for sure.
Shikarabe asked Akira another question.
“…Is that all the reasons? Did you just really want to confirm your worry even though you knew that you might be mistaken? It seems like you’re still hiding something from me, you know.”
“Even if you say so, I can only say that I followed my intuition…”
There was no way Akira could tell Shikarabe that he knew everything from Alpha. So he could only come up with that random excuse. But surprisingly enough, that was able to clear up all of Shikarabe’s suspicions.
“…Intuition, huh? I guess there’s nothing more to say if that’s the case.”
There were many top-tier Hunters who had sharp intuition. Some of them could feel the position of the monsters that were too far to be visible, some them could feel other’s gaze from positions that were impossible to spot, some of them could feel when monsters were trying to ambush them in an area that looked completely safe. Some of them could just simply feel the monsters around them. Their ability to read and understand others’ moves was closer to a prediction rather than just a guess.
When others asked them the reason behind their decisions or how they knew all of that, they could only say that it was because of their intuition. There were many cases where Hunters with good intuition decided to follow their intuition which allowed them to miraculously survive a very dire situation. Thanks to that, a lot of first-rate Hunters had very good intuition.
Shikarabe was also one of those Hunters who often followed their intuition. So when Akira said that he was only following his intuition, Shikarabe could not question Akira’s answer at all.
Akira might be hiding something from him and had a different reason why he did that. But whatever it was, his decision was the correct one. So Shikarabe thought that there was no need to chase that subject any further.
After he decided to just drop that subject, Shikarabe changed the mood by coming up with a new topic.
“Well, that aside, when you’re working in a team, the result is not everything, it’s also important how you produce that result. But again, I guess I’m not in a position to say that, huh. Elena, I’m sorry but is it okay if I go ahead and leave first? I need to go back to the HQ and write a report for Drankam.”
“Sure. Thanks for the hard work.”
“Sorry about this, I’ll be leaving first.”
After saying that, Shikarabe turned and left the group.
Shikarabe packed his things and was about to leave the defensive point when Shiori suddenly approached him.
“Shikarabe-sama, would it be okay if I ask you some questions right now?”
He looked around and saw Katsuya’s team not too far from there, watching him.
He thought that Shiori might have told Katsuya not to come here. He looked slightly annoyed as he answered back.
“Make it quick. I need to write a report back in HQ. I’m pretty busy, you know.”
“Certainly. Shikarabe-sama, how is your evaluation for Akira-sama?”
“What are you planning to do with my evaluation? I don’t think, even for a millisecond, that it would have been better to bring Katsuya’s team rather than bringing Akira, you know? I’m sorry, but no matter how incompetent Akira is, I would still pick him over Katsuya’s team.”
“…I didn’t think about that at all. I only want to know Akira-sama’s real ability.”
“Why do you want to know that? I think it’s none of your business, isn’t it?”
“It’s just to be safe. I’m ashamed to say this, but I was so close to getting into a fight with Akira-sama yesterday. Thankfully, I was barely able to avoid it, but it was indeed a dangerous situation. In order to not make the same blunder again, I want to know about his ability. Since it seemed that I mistakenly judged his ability, I decided to ask you, Shikarabe-sama.”
Shikarabe was surprised. He knew well how skilled Shiori was. But even so, something bad happened between her and Akira yesterday that made her even call it a blunder on her part. It was hard to believe that Shiori, who was working as Reina’s bodyguard would misjudge someone’s ability.
Shikarabe thought for a moment before answering back.
“Akira’s skill, huh. Well, I would not say that he’s as good as me or the other two, but he at least did not slow us down at all. This might be a little bit of exaggeration, but even if I don’t have any problems with Katsuya, I might still pick Akira over them.”
“Does that mean that Akira is better than Katsuya?”
When Shiori asked that, Shikarabe hesitated for a bit. His expression then turned serious.
“…My intuition is saying that Katsuya is stronger. I also recognize Katsuya’s ability. But if I bring Katsuya, then he would be bringing extra deadweight with him too, you see. Because of that, I think it’s better to bring Akira alone.”
The reason why Shikarabe hesitated was because he knew his intuition was wrong, but even so, he decided to trust his intuition. If he doubted his intuition that had saved him numerous times in the past now, it would affect his judgement in the future. So he did not say anything to deny it in order to reconfirm his own intuition.
“…I’ve answered your question. Is it okay if I go now?”
“Thank you very much.”
Shiori bowed deeply at Shikarabe. He passed beside her, but he suddenly stopped.
Shikarabe did not turn back as he said.
“I guess you’re having it rough too, huh?”
Shiori raised her head, she also did not turn back as she smiled and replied.
“It’s my duty after all.”
“Duty, huh? I don’t know how much you get, but I don’t think it is worth all the problem looking over other children too.”
“Please don’t worry, my main duty is to protect milady and it’s only a trivial thing that comes along with my duty.”
After that, Shikarabe started walking again toward the hallway.
Shiori realized what Shikarabe was trying to say to her and sighed. She noticed that Reina and the others were approaching her, so she quickly returned back to her usual self.
Reina hesitated when she asked Shiori.
“…Uhmm, what were you talking about?”
“I was asking Shikarabe-sama about Akira-sama who they brought with them in place of Milady’s group. It seemed that he did not slow the team down at all and the exploration went well without any trouble.”
“I see… Well, they were exploring in a team of 3 before, so I guess that’s to be expected.”
That judgement was a very naive one. Saying that Akira did not slow them down at all meant that his skill was better than most of the other Hunters in that place. Shiori understood that fact very well, but she refrained herself from explaining it to Reina.
Katsuya looked displeased as he mumbled.
Shiori heard Katsuya’s mumble, but she tried to be careful not to change her expression.
Akira was still talking with Elena and Sara. The data transfer was still not finished yet since there was a huge amount of data from their battle with the Yarata Scorpions swarm.
Sara, who was asking Akira’s opinion about the exploration that they just went through looked a bit surprised and said.
“Is it really that bad? I think you did very well, or at least from our point of view, it seems that you still had some leeway back there. There’s no need to try to be humble. Don’t worry, we won’t think that you’re being cheeky or something.”
Akira looked flustered and shook his head.
“I’m not being humble at all, I was barely able to catch up with the whole team. As I thought, it’s still too soon for me to join the exploration team.”
“Is that so? Elena, what do you think?”
Elena thought for a moment before answering.
“Let’s see. Shikarabe did not complain at all, so I think Akira did pretty well back there. Putting aside what you think about your own performance, since today’s exploration went well without any problems, I think that you’ll be assigned to the exploration team again from now on.”
“I-is that so?”
Elena looked at Akira’s expression. To her, he sounded as if he was only being humble and there was also a trace of happiness since his skill was recognized.
Elena smiled mischievously and said.
“In that case, as the leader of the exploration team 9, I can mention in the report that you weren’t of much use, you know? You might be assigned to the defense team next time if I do that.”
If Akira was only being humble there, he would start making a troubled face, Elena was looking forward to seeing it. She believed that too much humbleness could sometimes cause a loss.
But Akira replied with something that completely went against her expectation.
Akira made a serious face.
“Please do that for me!!”
Elena and Sara were stunned. Elena then asked Akira.
“…Uhmmm, if you really prefer the defense team that much, why did you join the exploration team? Since you can even get assigned to the exploration team, you should be able to work in other teams too, you know?”
“The staff on the first floor only gave me 2 options, whether to join the exploration team or the extermination team. When I told him I wanted to join the defense team, I got scolded instead. It seems that it was because of their evaluation of my performance yesterday, although to be honest, I was only able to do that because the requester paid for my ammo expense. If I had to pay for the ammo myself, I would have gone bankrupt by now.”
“Ahhh, now that you mention it, the requester pays for your ammo expense according to your contract, huh. Normally, using CWH special ammo on Yarata Scorpion would only make you end up losing more money after all.”
Akira nervously asked Elena again.
“So then, can I ask you to do that for the report?”
Elena and Sara looked at each other, Sara asked Akira for a confirmation.
“Are you sure you want us to do that? You can definitely earn more money if you join the exploration team or the extermination team than the defense team, you know? Well, it’s true that you would spend more ammo, but it will leave a good record in your battle history and give your rank a boost.”
“Yes, I don’t mind. I can only enjoy my reward if I’m alive. It’s still too soon for me to join the exploration team or the extermination team.”
From how Akira was acting, Elena and Sara understood that he was being serious.
Judging from his performance that day, most of the people would think that he was being a coward by saying those words. Sara thought that it was rather strange for him to do that, but to be honest, she was not bothered if Akira really wanted so. Elena thought that it might have something to do with him being someone who could connect to the old-world domain, so she decided to stop questioning him.
Elena smiled at Akira to change the mood and said.
“Okay then. But since it’s not like I can lie in the report, I’ll say something like you felt it was too soon for you to get assigned to the exploration team or like you were still lacking the skills to join the exploration team. It would sound as if you really don’t want to get assigned to the exploration or extermination team though, are you really okay with that?”
“Yes, I don’t mind at all.”
As Akira answered back promptly and without any hesitation, the girls smiled bitterly. Sara then said.
“Normally, people would ask the opposite, to say things that would make them sound better. You’re a peculiar boy, Akira.”
Akira looked puzzled and asked Sara.
“Is that so? It seems that there are a lot of Hunters out there who would jump to their own death, huh… Well, since I’m also a Hunter, I guess I’m not the one to say that.”
Akira smiled bitterly at the other two, they too gave out a similar smile.
After that, they headed to the surface. Akira lightly bowed at Elena and Sara before they went to the surface. The girls waved at him as they left the defensive point.
Akira’s next job was to join the defense team. He was positioned not too far from the defensive point, he was staring at the darkness of the underground city while looking out for any monsters.
To be precise, it was Alpha who was looking out for monsters, Akira was only standing there in silence. But for the other people, it looked like Akira was seriously watching his surroundings. If anything happened, Alpha would immediately warn him. As such, he was actually doing his job properly.
Akira and Alpha were talking to each other while waiting for his shift to end. They were talking about Sara, Elena and Shikarabe.
“But still, Sara-san, Elena-san and Shikarabe-san are really strong. So that is the real ability of first-rate Hunters, huh?”
Akira remembered the time when those 3 Hunters plowed through the Yarata Scorpions encirclement. It felt like he just caught a glance of first-rate Hunters in action.
But Alpha refuted that.
“Unfortunately, their skill and equipment are still far away from being first-rate Hunters. But they are at least strong enough to stick out among other Hunters in Kugamayama city.”
Akira was shocked. He did not expect that such a level of strength was not even close to being a first-rate Hunter.
“Even though they are that strong!?”
“Most of the first-rate Hunters live in the far east of the eastern district, they are working in the frontline. The level of their skill and equipment, and the monsters that they are fighting, all of them are at a level that you can’t imagine. In the frontline, they’ll only treat you as a greenhorn unless you have your own tank, you know. You can’t call yourself a first-rate Hunter if you are not active in the frontline.”
“There are so many things that I don’t know about this world, huh… Wait, doesn’t that mean that Katsuragi and Darris frequent such dangerous places?”
Akira worked together with Katsuragi before, he did not imagine that Katsuragi was that strong.
“Even though it is called the frontline, it’s actually a large area. There are places in the frontline which are not that dangerous. I bet he used to stay in the safest place guarded by a lot of bodyguards. But even if he does so, it’s still a dangerous gamble whether he can return back alive from there or not. You should ask him yourself if it was worth the gamble or not. Just because he returned back alive does not mean that he got the money worth all that risk.”
Just coming back alive did not mean that they won their gamble, they could only declare so if they earned big enough money which was worth taking that risk.
Akira then mumbled.
“I guess that’s also the case for the Hunters, too huh?”
“Yep, that’s correct. So let’s work to become a Hunter who can earn a lot of money, okay? Or more like, I’ll be sure to make you do that.”
Alpha smiled confidently. In order to do that, Akira would have to go through an enormous amount of strict and vigorous training. Although it was a kind of blessing to be able to undergo such training, it did not change the fact that it would be very harsh.
Akira laughed lightly and replied.
“I already resolved myself for that, after all, resolve is my responsibility. So the rest depends on your support, right?”
“There’s nothing to worry about my part.”
“And I’m glad to hear that.”
Akira and Alpha smiled at each other for different reasons.
Akira did not understand what Alpha was thinking, if she was actually tricking him, there was nothing he could do about it. But even so, he decided to trust her.
As for Alpha, she did not tell Akira about what she was thinking, and he would not notice it as long as she did not leak anything out.
Akira finished his shift without any trouble after that.