Once again, Akira came back to the Kuzusuhara City ruins. He faithfully followed Alpha’s every instruction as he moved deeper into the ruins. This time, they tried to not take the same route as yesterday. Even though he got shot not too long ago, he had to do a lot of physical work like climbing the ruins just like last time. But strangely enough, he did not find any difficulties at all.
Alpha gave Akira a smile as she was satisfied with how Akira was behaving and moving around.
“Look at you, it seems that your body is already fine.”
“Yeah, I don’t really understand why, but I’m really in a good condition today. Although I only rested for a day, I’m somehow feeling better than before I was shot. To be honest, this is rather scary.”
Strangely enough, Akira’s condition was abnormally superb. There was not even a single trace of tiredness on his face and his mind was sharper than usual. He could feel the power that was flowing inside his body right till his fingertips.
Akira came to realize his own physical condition and found it unnatural, even a bit creepy. Alpha spoke to him as if there was nothing weird about this.
“That maybe the effect of the medicine that you took yesterday.”
“Medicine? I’m indeed surprised that my wound healed that fast, but does it have anything to do with me feeling better than before I got shot?”
“I told you to take quite a lot of medicine just to be safe. It seems that it didn’t just heal your bullet wound, but it even healed your other wounds too.”
“But I shouldn’t have any other wounds, except the bullet wound though…”
In contrast to Akira who was getting more and more confused, Alpha’s smiling face did not change at all.
“Since we were free yesterday, I had asked you a lot of things about your daily life, remember? This is just a hypothesis made based on that information. I think the hard life that you’ve been through till now, has put your body under huge stress. So, your body was under a condition where it had non-lethal wounds.”
“Well, I agree that my life in the back alley is indeed a harsh one, but aren’t you exaggerating? After all, I could move around just fine, you know…”
“The living condition that you think as normal, is actually very bad. For example, if you keep living under such malnutritioned condition for a long time, then it will greatly deteriorate your body. After all, it’s as if you’re accumulating countless non-lethal micro wounds on the cellular level. The extra medicines that I told you to take yesterday as a caution, has healed those micro wounds that were accumulated in your body. I bet that’s why you’re feeling strangely healthier than before.”
“…So in short, does that mean that I was actually dying till now?”
As Akira showed a mix of conflicted and surprised expression to Alpha, she just returned Akira’s look with a smile.
“Well, that is true. Aren’t you glad that you’re saved now?”
Akira’s face frowned a bit, he realized just how harsh his life had been in back alley. But concluding all the hardships that he went through with just “I’m glad” did not sit well with him.
Even though they kept moving deeper into the ruins, they did not run into any monster. Alpha’s instructions were normal and Akira did not even feel like he was traversing a place filled with monsters. Following Alpha’s orders made him feel safe and helped him to be more relaxed. As such, although he was walking in the middle of a dangerous ruin, he was able to put his mind on something else other than being wary of his surroundings.
He was rather disturbed by the amount of leeway that he had, so he started a conversation, although they were in the middle of ruin exploration.
“Alpha, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, just ask away.”
“Why are you using that appearance?”
Alpha was using a pure white dress with a lot of frills with both sleeves and its lower body filled with a lot of shiny ornaments.
“Oh my, doesn’t it look good on me? Or do you want me to change to something else? Is this dress is not to your taste?”
Then Alpha playfully spun around while giving a beautiful teasing smile. Her dress fluttered around and her long glossy hair made a full circle. Then in place of her bare back, a boldly exposed chest appeared in front of Akira.
Akira was asking about Alpha’s dress that did not fit the current condition no matter how you see it. But he was fazed by what Alpha did now and forgot about the question that he asked. Instead, he just normally answered Alpha.
“…Well, I do think it looks good on you. But still, if you want to talk about my taste, I actually like the dress that you were wearing when we first met.”
First of all, it was a unique dress from the old world that you can’t get to see every day, not to mention that their meeting left a strong impression on Akira. Thus, he came to like that dress. Alpha just giggled merrily as she knew well about that.
“The dress that I wore when we met for the first time, huh… So, in short, the birthday suit!!”
Right at the next moment, Alpha’s dress vanished. Then once again Akira got to see the beautiful body that was hidden under the glittering dress just a few moments ago. Akira was flustered and said.
“That’s not what I meant!! I meant the dress after that!! Don’t ever erase your dress like that!! Turn it back on now!! Why do you always show me your naked body like that??!!”
Alpha returned her dress and giggled a bit.
“To think that you’re not interested in this body, which was the result of a highly complex calculation inorder to make men’s imagination run wild. Akira, you’re really a small kid, are you in that age where you prefer to eat food than a girl?”
Akira became obstinate and said in a strong tone.
“Yeah I am, there’s no doubt that I’m just a small kid. If I don’t make enough money to buy food, then I’ll die. So yeah, I prefer food than a girl …So then, what is with that dress?!!”
There was a proper reason as to why Alpha was naked when she first met him. As such, he thought that there might also be a proper reason as to why Alpha was using an improper dress in the middle of the ruin. But it was not like he was desperate to know the answer. So if Alpha wouldn’t go along with him, then he’ll just drop the subject.
But then Alpha suddenly stopped teasing Akira. Although she was still smiling, she started to talk in a more serious manner.
“Do you still remember what I told you at that time? Didn’t I say that I needed a dress that would increase the chance of people noticing me and could elicit a reaction from them? Even now, I’m actively sending signals to your brain so that you can perceive me. But there’s something that interests me in that signal transferring process, you see.”
“Is there any problem there?”
“Actually, the management system of the Kuzusuhara City is still active and I’m hijacking that system to broadcast my image within a wide area. That’s why my image can also be seen through the equipment used by the management system of Kuzusuhara City. That’s also the reason as to why the mechanical monsters could see me the other day. So because of that, people with similar equipment will also be able to see me.”
Akira’s face stiffened as he understood what Alpha was trying to say.
“…So, in short, there’s someone who can see you right now, is it? Or that someone with such equipment is around here, right?”
Alpha’s smile vanished as Akira said that.
“Yeah. Don’t look back no matter what. That person is tailing you. He’s keeping his distance from you and he’s observing you, even right now at this very moment.”
Akira’s face turned grim. Alpha’s explanation was simple enough to make him understand the dire situation that he was in.
A bit further away from Akira, there were 2 hunters watching Akira’s every movement. A man by the name Kahimo was watching Akira with his binoculars. While another man by the name Hayya was watching Akira through his artificial eyes that were stuck on his half cyborg head. With such long range sight, both of them were tailing Akira from a distance. They were very confident that an amateur like Akira wouldn’t be able to notice them. By looking at the equipment that they were using and how they seemed so familiar in using them, it was clear that both of them were not new Hunters who would only scourge the outskirts of the Kuzusuhara City ruin.
Kahimo had a rather puzzled look on his face as he was looking at Akira through his binoculars.
“That boy, he’s going quite deep into the ruin. Venturing deep with that amount of equipment is the same as suicide. What in the world is that boy thinking?”
Hayya just shrugged Kahimo’s question with a laugh.
“He’s not even thinking, he’s just a stupid boy. Isn’t that exactly why he isn’t limited by common sense and found those relics? The outskirt area of this place has nothing valuable left, that is the common sense of normal Hunters. I say that it’s faster if we just attack him and make him cough out information about the place where he found those relics.”
Kahimo answered back with an annoyed tone.
“Oii!! Weren’t you the one who stopped me from doing that?!! You stopped me by saying that it would be bad if we kill him by accident before he can tell us anything.”
Hayya just laughed at that rather tense exchange and tried to cool down the situation.
“Don’t say that. I never thought a small boy like him would be able to go that deep into the ruin, you see. Even you too thought that boy found those relics inside a building somewhere in the outskirts, right?”
“Well, that’s true. No one in their right mind would ever think that a boy from the slums would be able to go this deep all by himself, you know. This place itself is quite dangerous, and if we go deeper than this, it would be dangerous even for us.”
“You can say that again, so don’t be angry.”
It was not like both of them were following Akira because they were interested in making friends with him. Instead it was because they heard that a boy with measly equipment from the slum came to the Exchange Centre with an expensive relic. They were interested to find the place from where Akira found his relics.
It was common knowledge among the hunters that the outskirts of Kuzusuhara City ruin had nothing valuable left. But it was also not like the outskirts were completely devoid of anything valuable. There was still a good chance that you could find a lot of relics buried deep under the ruins.
There were numerous reports in the past where people found the entrance to certain places that should have been impossibly hard to find. As an example, recently there were reports saying something like a blocked access into a warehouse was somehow opened by chance from the monsters’ attack. But of course, it was not worth the risk to intentionally look for such a thing. Thus such encounters were really rare.
But when it did happen, a lot of Hunters would once again flood the abandoned ruin. If the first one who found the site could not bring all the relics in one go, then of course the leftover relics would be up for competition. So for that goal, there are people who keep their ears up for such a rumour to appear; Kahimo and Hayya were among those people.
There was a rumor going around saying that a small kid from the slums brought an expensive relic to the Exchange Centre and got himself involved in a shootout against other kids for the money that he received. Kahimo heard about this rumour, checked it and confirmed it. This also led them to believe that there existed a place which was accessible to a small kid from the slum and was filled with expensive relics. They believed that this place was located in the outskirts of Kuzusuhara City ruin. After all, there was no other place around the Kugamayama City other than that site where a small kid could explore safely.
They thought that if there were a lot of such relics lying around in the place found out by the kid, then that kid would definitely return to that place to explore again. So, they decided to standby near the ruins looking for a kid, who met the description in the rumour, in order to get details about the place from him. And so they finally found Akira.
Kahimo was actually planning to capture Akira and make him cough the location of the place. But Hayya stopped him by saying that it would be bad if it turned into a fight and they accidentally killed him. Thus they changed their plan to follow Akira, who would hopefully bring them to the relics’ location. But now they started to doubt their plan.
“Hayya, as I thought, we should just force him to cough up the location. After all, he’s just a small boy with poor equipment. We should just be careful not to kill him by accident. You also want to do this the fast way, don’t you?”
Hayya did not reply at all. So Kahimo became visibly annoyed.
“Hey, what’s wrong??”
Hayya finally opened his mouth and muttered.
“…The boy… He should be alone, right?”
“Yeah, he should be alone, it doesn’t seem like he has a friend hiding around here.”
Kahimo was puzzled, he picked up his beloved binocular and looked at Akira one more time.
The binocular he was using was a pretty powerful binocular, it can see well from a very long range. It also had the night vision function so he could see clearly during the night as if it was during the day. Moreover, it can detect invisible light or see through simple optical camouflage. Then to top it off, it has the function to highlight monsters and people.
Other than this high-tech binocular, there were a lot of other equipment that uses network access, thus allowing them to retrieve the augmented reality information broadcasted from the ruins. But that function wasn’t available for this binocular. After all, there was a time when the mechanical monsters used that function for their advantage instead. At that time, they could not see enemies that were visible with naked eyes and almost got killed. Because of that experience, they set the binocular only for local function.
“He’s all alone. I don’t see any monsters, it’s only him.”
Hayya’s face twisted a bit and replied back in a fashion as if it was something that was hard to say.
“Well, Uhh. Let me say this first, I’m not under the influence of any drug, I’m not drunk, and I’m not trying to tease you or something…”
“Okay okay, then what? You’re being weird, you know?”
“…I can see a girl beside that boy.”
Kahimo decided to recheck and looked back at Akira once again while making a puzzled face.
“Nope, nothing. It’s only him, him alone. I don’t see any girl, you know.”
“…I get it, you can’t see her, right? But I can see her clearly. A beautiful girl is guiding that boy.”
“If that is so, then tell me how she looks like, down to all the details.”
“…She’s wearing a white frilly dress that looks super expensive.”
“A frilly dress?? Have you gone nuts?? Where do you think we are? We are in the middle of the god-damn ruins, you know!!”
“It’s true!! I’m not lying!! And I’m not drunk either!! It’s definitely not an illusion!! I know better not to drink any alcohol or take any drugs before going to the ruins, you know!!”
Looking at how he reacted, Kahimo knew that Hayya was not lying. But it was also true that he could not see the girl. He made a puzzled look as he was confused by what was going on, but then he realized something.
“Hayya. both of your eyes’ parts are connected to the network, right?”
“Yeah, it’s equipped with high quality parts and of course I paid a huge sum of money for that. Although it has a network connection function that I’m so proud of, it can easily break in the middle of the ruin. It’s a high tech eye with a lot of functions, but its only downside is that it sometimes receives broadcasted transmission all on its own.”
“That’s because you got those parts through illegal means. After all, I bet you got those parts from looting dead corpses in the ruins. I’m sure the reason why those people died was also because of a sudden malfunction in their vision.”
“Shut up. Remodeling it is cheaper. So it’s fine, isn’t it? It helps a lot when you explore the ruins. But since its control device blew off together with its previous owner’s head, it’s not easy to change from one function to another. On the other hand, making a new control device will take quite a lot of money, so I’m putting that for later. But why did you ask me that out of the blue?”
Kahimo’s expression turned serious.
“I think that girl might be some kind of guide like feature of the ruin broadcasted by the network. Since you can see her while I can’t, then it means that she’s not a hologram, but rather, an augmented reality. There might still be an actively functioning system in the ruin that is broadcasting her image, that’s why your eye parts are receiving that strange information. So in short, she’s a ghost from the old world.”
Hayya was rather surprised as he looked back at Alpha to confirm what he was seeing.
“…That girl looks very real, you know? That girl is even casting a shadow. There’s nothing out of ordinary about her except for her dress. Broadcasted images tend to have some differences compared to reality, like having no shadow, or having strange proportions, or having the ability to pass through walls. Basically they always have weird features. But that girl, except for her dress, she looks completely normal… Well, that dress itself is really weird though.”
If it was not for Kahimo’s serious expression, Hayya would have written that off as a joke. That is just how realistic Alpha’s body was. Still with his serious expression Kahimo said.
“If that girl really is a guide like feature of the ruins, then it means that her image is being broadcasted with the technology of the old world. I wonder what kind of advanced technology they’re using to be able to broadcast such a realistic image.”
“…I see. So that’s the ghost of the old world, huh. This is the first time I have seen it, it’s really something.”
Hayya kept looking at Alpha with curiosity. Since his partner not only believed in the girl that only he himself could see, his partner even came up with a reasonable explanation for that. Thus he couldn’t stop himself from getting more interested in her.
As if to go along with their conversation or as if he had just remembered something, Kahimo opened his mouth again.
“…Now that I remember it, there’s a ghost story in Kuzusuhara City ruin. If I’m not mistaken… The beguiling ghost.”
“I’ve heard about that too. It’s about a ghost that uses relic as bait and lures Hunters to go deeper into the ruins before killing them, right? I heard that there were many Hunters who followed her into the deeper part of the ruins and never came back. And then the ghost would lure Hunters that are still alive by using their dead comrades. Recently I heard that, rather than using human appearance, it even disguises itself as a cat or a dog.”
After Kahimo gave a slight nod agreeing to what Hayya had said, he continued livening up the story with his tone and expression.
“Getting killed in the ruins while looking for relics, that way of dying is really normal for us Hunters. The real question is why there’s such a ghost story when it says that no one returned alive?”
“…Now that you mention it, I wonder why?”
“The answer is because there are people who didn’t follow it. The ghost only lures those who can see it and doesn’t lure people who can’t see it. It’s not like everyone can see it, you know. So it must be a story shared by the people who can see it to people who can’t see it. And since each person told a different story, there’s no way to actually confirm it. That’s why it has become a ghost story.”
Hayya shivered a bit. He realized that following Akira meant that they were also following the ghost.
“Wait for a sec, then that means that we’ll be dead if we keep following that girl, right?”
To Hayya’s question, Kahimo just laughed.
“…You can also think of it this way. Why do you think that boy was able to find an expensive relic? That’s because that boy can see that girl just like you. Then if that girl is a part of the guide function of the old world that is somehow still functioning right now, then she is guiding people who can still see her. That boy must have asked that girl for a place where he can find relics, and so that girl must have guided that boy to such a place while avoiding any monster encounters. So what do you think? That’s a good hypothesis, isn’t it?”
“I see!!! …Wait a sec, if just following her is enough to get relics, then why was that ghost story even created?”
“Following her guide would only lower the chance of meeting the monsters, it’s still possible to encounter them. Moreover, the Hunters who knew about her guide function might have spread that rumour to keep her for themselves. By repeatedly coming here and following her guide, they would quickly deplete the relics in the outskirts, so they had to go to the more dangerous deeper part of the ruins. And while venturing deep in the ruins, one day they unfortunately encountered strong monsters and got themselves killed. That’s why only the ‘if you go with her, then you will get killed’ part was left in the rumor. Basically, it’s a ghost story that has been built over a long time.”
As Hayya was convinced by Kahimo’s explanation, he let out a laugh.
“So that’s why, huh?! Then that means that it’s not a problem if we follow her, right?!! Not to mention that boy was able to return alive, we won’t get killed as long as we move carefully.”
“There’s no guarantee whether that assumption is true. But if it is true, then it will greatly increase our chances of finding relics. But well, the rumor says that it might get us killed, so it’s still a dangerous thing.”
Kahimo was trying to calm Hayya down. But Hayya was not able to suppress his excitement. He had found something that could easily find him a safe way to explore the ruins and find expensive relics. There is no Hunter who does not know just how valuable that is.
“It’s fine, isn’t it? You worry too much!! I won’t simply let this chance slip by!”
“Calm down, let’s keep watching him for a bit more.”
Kahimo looked at Hayya with a calm look and thought.
[…People must have killed their own teammates in order to monopolize it. And the one who survived would tell other people that his friends were killed by the ghost of the old world. Of course, the one who could see that ghost was the one who killed them. There’s a good chance that this guy will also do the same. But well, this guy is just too stupid. It will be fine if I can come up with a reason for him to go ahead of me…]
As he looked back at Akira, Kahimo was being too careful so that Hayya would not notice his plan.
Akira asked Alpha with a grim expression.
“Do you know what kind of people are following me?”
“2 guys. Judging by their equipment, they must be Hunters. They’re pretty well armed.”
“…Is there any chance for it to be just a coincidence? I mean, maybe it’s not like they are really tailing me, but more like they saw a small boy going into the ruins alone and decided to follow him out of curiosity. Or maybe it’s just that they are going in the same direction as me by pure coincidence…”
“No, that’s highly unlikely. I’ve been observing them for a while now hoping for such a possibility, but it seems that there’s no mistaking it that they’re tailing us. They kept their distance from us when we stopped to watch our surroundings earlier. So it’s obvious that they’re tailing us.”
As Akira kept his grim expression, he showed a glimmer of hope as he asked.
“…But why are they following me? Even if they attack me, I don’t have any money with me, you know. They should be able to clearly see that, right?”
That question was phrased as if Akira was hoping that Alpha’s assumption was wrong. She had already thought about his reaction when she revealed the truthout on Akira’s face.
“My guess is that they want to know how a kid like you were able to bring an excessive number of relics to the Exchange Centre. The real reason why they’re tailing you is because they hope that you will lead them to a place filled with relics. And while they are at it, they might as well just kill you and take the relics for themselves. I think that they had someone standing near the Exchange Centre in order to look for Hunters who seem to be easy targets, easy enough to kill while also bringing expensive relics to the Exchange Centre. Or they may as well buy that information from someone inside the Exchange Centre. They have a lot of reasons to see you as an enemy. Actually they have more reasons to be your enemy than your friend. So Akira, if you don’t treat them as your enemy, you might get yourself killed, you know?”
Akira finally gave up his naive thinking and took a deep breath. He felt even more uneasy after hearing Alpha’s explanation.
“…Dammit!! It’s the hunters this time, huh?!”
Two days ago, he had a shootout with little kids of the slum who had guns with them. But even so, he almost got himself killed and barely escaped alive. Now this time, he was going to fight with fully equipped Hunters. Akira got a headache from this sudden jump of difficulty level.
“Akira, just get into that building for now. Just do it as naturally as possible and try to be careful so that you won’t be spotted by them.”
Akira moved carefully just like he was ordered to. But he was still feeling rather annoyed as he was dragging his heavy feet into the building. Then after he arrived in a room that Alpha guided him to, he rested his back against the wall and sat down.
“There’s no monster in this building, so you can be at ease.”
Akira’s reply was gloomy. He was thinking about how he should fight the hunters who were tailing him, but he could not come up with any good ideas. He had thought up some scenarios, but all of them ended up with him getting killed.
Akira lifted up his face in reaction to that rather strong toned call. He suddenly saw Alpha’s face really close, right in front of him, he let out a small shriek as he jumped back in surprise and hit his head against the wall. That pain and surprise woke him up from all the bad scenarios that were running inside his head.
When the pain and the surprise had subsided, Akira returned to his senses and calmed down. With his unfocused gaze, he looked at Alpha. Seeing that he has calmed down, Alpha gave off a strong but gentle smile.
“Get a hold of yourself. The situation is not as bad as you think it is. I will never let you get killed while I’m providing support.”
Akira was surprised after hearing that, but it made him more hopeful.
“Can we run away from them?”
But Alpha’s answer to that question was totally unexpected for Akira.
“We won’t run. We’ll fight back. We’ll get them instead.”
Akira’s hopeful expression was instantly crushed as he was surprised by that answer.
“Can we really do that?!! It’s 2 against 1, you know? Not to mention that they are Hunters with full equipment!! This is not the same as when we were fighting against those kids with guns.”
Alpha answered back with a confident tone.
“These two cases are not that different. You have me with you, you know? By having me alone, your total battle power is way above them. Moreover, you were able to defeat that huge weapon dog monster only with your handgun, remember? Everything will be fine as long as you follow my instructions. So don’t worry. It will be okay.”
She gave off a smile saying this. While it is true that she was trying to clear up Akira’s worries, it felt as if they had a lot of leeway here.
“I-Is that so?”
Looking at how Alpha was behaving just like usual, Akira was somehow convinced. But it was not like this was enough to fully erase the doubt that he had when facing overwhelming enemies. It could be seen that Akira half doubted her and half believed her.
“…But, there are a lot of differences between monster and human. If you’re that confident, then we should be able to run away from them, right? I really feel that it might be a good idea to run away instead…”
Alpha gave a strict look to Akira who was being meek.
“That’s a big no-no, they’ll be able to shoot you with their weapons while you won’t be able to shoot back at them and it’ll be worse if we go to open land. Moreover, until when you want to keep running away? Even if you run away from them today, then how about tomorrow? How about the day after tomorrow? And even if you are able to run back to the city, do you think that they’ll suddenly turn nice and stop attacking you? When that happens, are you planning to run away again? Can you really run away from them? Are you planning to keep running away until you get killed?”
Alpha locked her stare at Akira, Akira stared back at Alpha without turning his eyes away. They kept staring at each other for a few seconds without saying anything. Finally, Akira relaxed his expression as if he had just realized something, it was clear that he had made up his determination right there.
“…I’ll only get myself killed even if I run away from here, huh. Alright, I understand now, let’s fight them.”
Akira resolved himself and stood up. There was no trace of doubt that he had just a moment ago. Then Alpha smiled gently at him as if to give him more courage and said.
“Akira, resolve yourself. If you can’t get over something like this, you won’t be able to realize your dream, which is to be a great Hunter, you know?”
Akira smiled bitterly, but there was a trace of expectation and joy on his face.
“You’re right. Also we had agreed that will, motivation and resolve are all my responsibility.”
Last time when Akira was about to get himself killed for going against Alpha’s instruction, he did say that will, motivation and resolve were all his responsibility. He now realized that he had to show that those words were not lies. If he couldn’t do that, then someone without money nor skill like him would have nothing of worth to show to Alpha. Else, all his words about piling trust and achievement would also become meaningless. That thought alone strengthened Akira’s resolve.
Show his willpower, muster his ambition, strengthen his resolve. Akira kept saying these things again and again to make himself feel stronger. Alpha just smiled confidently and said.
“And things other than those three are my responsibility. It seems that the time has come to show you my wonderful support capabilities. So just leave this to me.”
“Yeah, I’ll be counting on you.”
Alpha seemed satisfied with Akira’s reaction as she gave off a smile. After all, they would not even have the leeway to smile until this situation was resolved.
“…That aside, I never thought that this kind of thing would happen so fast. It seems that you really used your lifetime worth of luck when you met me.”
“…I think so too.”
Akira returned Alpha’s smile and then Alpha said in a reassuring tone while still showing a fearless smile.
“Don’t worry. Since I’ve taken all your luck, I’ll have to take good care of you.”
“Well thanks, that would really help.”
Akira gave Alpha a light answer while laughing for a bit.
“Yep, I’m really helpful.”
Alpha answered back while laughing merrily. Alpha’s smile that was produced from high tech computation was enough to calm and encourage Akira. Thus allowing him to regain his fighting spirit. Everything went well according to Alpha’s plan.
Silavin: Hmm… wonder why Alpha does just join another team if that is the case.