Chapter 10, Elena and Sara
Akira was engaged in his shooting training in the wasteland near the Kuzusuhara city ruin.
He was holding his gun close while trying to keep the correct pose. Looking through the aiming device, he was trying to align the Trajectory Prediction Line, in short the TP Line, with a small boulder. But the blue TP Line, that appeared because of Alpha’s support, was swaying lightly due to Akira’s breathing.
Akira took a deep breath, held it in, and gathered his focus. When the blue TP Line stopped swaying, he pulled the trigger.
The bullet that launched from the gun’s muzzle tore through the space in one straight line before hitting the boulder. It blasted the boulder into pieces and threw them into the air.
“Oh! You’re doing well, aren’t you?”
After hitting his target 3 times consecutively, Akira felt that his shooting skill had leveled up and laughed happily. He understood that he was still completely relying on Alpha’s support and it would be impossible to hit his target all by himself. But it was also obvious that his skill had gotten better compared to when he was only a total amateur.
Alpha smiled back happily.
“It seems that you’ve fully graduated from being an amateur Hunter. You’re doing well and your improvement is pretty amazing.”
If someone gets praised after working so hard for so long, obviously that person would feel happy, and even someone as cynical as Akira was no exception. As Akira smiled at Alpha, she smiled back with a deeper meaning.
“Just like this, let’s work hard for the next training too. Since you are able to hit the target now, let’s move on to the next one. We’re going to change the target, but you only need to do what you’ve been doing up until now. Try to shoot it while thinking that you’re going to be killed if you miss.”
Alpha then pointed at Akira’s next target. He showed a little bit of annoyance as he moved his line of sight to it. But his face immediately turned pale as his sight fell on his next target. It was a weapon dog that almost killed him the other day.
The weapon dog was 2 meters long. It was a monstrously big weapon dog with a Gatling gun growing on its back. Its appearance was very intimidating that it would be impossible for it to sneak around. But even so, Akira did not notice its presence until now.
Akira was stunned for a bit, but he immediately regained his composure and was about to run away when Alpha smiled and said.
“Don’t panic, it’s just an image.”
Akira inadvertently looked at Alpha. As he saw her smile saying there was no danger, he was able to calm down. While being suspicious, he still aimed his gun at the weapon dog. His heart was palpitating at breakneck pace. The weapon dog looked real no matter how he sliced it. But since it was standing perfectly still and did not show any reaction, he aimed the TP Line at it. He finally understood that it was not real and let out a sigh of relief.
“Don’t surprise me like that.”
Although Akira was looking at Alpha with an angry face, Alpha just kept smiling shamelessly at him.
“You’ll fight a lot of those monsters from now on. So you need to get used to them and know how to react when one of those monsters appears suddenly. If you get stunned just like now, you’ll be killed.”
Alpha gave Akira the signal to continue the training, as such, he got his gun ready without any hesitation.
“Its weakness is the area between its eyes. Kill it in one shot.”
Akira looked at his target through the aiming device. His target was framed in red box with an indicator placed on its weak point. Akira was trying to align the blue TP Line with that weak point, but his hand was trembling, thus making the TP Line shake inconsistently.
“…Calm down, it’s just an image. It’s just another target like that small boulder…”
Even if he understood that, scary things were still scary to him. It was a monster that almost killed him, apart from the fact that it was not moving at all, the image looked surreal. Moreover, since he had to take aim, he had to keep looking at it. It was really hard for him to keep his cool.
Akira took deep breaths a few times and tried to calm himself bit by bit. He put more power in his still quivering arms to suppress the swaying of the TP Line. As he tried to keep his calm, he halted his breathing, gathered his focus, and pulled the trigger.
Akira did all he could, but the bullet didn’t hit the weapon dog’s weak point. It did not even hit the weapon dog at all. Instead, it landed on the ground not too far from the weapon dog.
Right after that, the weapon dog made its move. It shifted its huge body very quickly as if it was reacting to his shot and pointed its Gatling gun towards him. Akira who was looking at it from the aiming device on his gun was frozen in place. The Gatling gun then started to rotate and made a huge muzzle flash.
“I’m dead” that was what Akira thought as he stood there frozen.
But to his surprise, the bullets did not come raining at him and he was far from dead. He was not even hurt. He was very confused until he remembered that it was only an image.
If it was not training, he would have been dead just now. Akira finally understood why Alpha showed him that scene. He let out a sigh as he supported his limp body from collapsing.
“Do tell me beforehand next time…”
When Akira gave a protesting look to Alpha while being meek, Alpha pointed her finger toward the ground. There was a corpse riddled with bullets lying there. And when Akira noticed the face on that corpse, he went pale. It was an image of his dead body.
“If you can’t aim properly at its weak point and kill it in one shot, at the very least, your shot should weaken it to a state where it can’t move anymore. Otherwise, it will counterattack and you’ll end up like this. You’ll be dead if you miss, didn’t I tell you to take aim while keeping that in your mind? Take your training seriously so you won’t end up like this in a real fight.”
Akira’s face twitched as he saw Alpha, who was laughing as usual, and the image of his corpse.
Alpha reset the monster image and the training continued with it as a target. The target was one of those monsters that Akira could defeat given his equipment. But Akira could not land any hit and kept seeing himself getting killed in so many different ways thus leaving many images of his corpses scattered around his surroundings. As Akira looked at those corpses, he desperately continued his training so that he would not end up like them in real life.
Thanks to the corpses that kept piling up, Akira started to get the hang of it. He kept his calm, aimed carefully, and pulled the trigger while reassuring himself that this one would definitely hit the target. And suddenly, the target monster vanished. Akira was rather surprised as he put his gun down. All the corpse images also vanished from his surrounding.
“Alpha, are we going to end the training for today?”
“That’s not the reason Akira, someone is coming here.”
Akira looked puzzled as he pulled out his binoculars. Thanks to the binocular that was enhanced with Alpha’s support, he was able to find the aforementioned people immediately. There were 2 Hunters riding a vehicle designed for traversing the wasteland.
Akira’s face turned grim the moment he saw them. He remembered the time when he was attacked by a pair of Hunters the other day, so he could not help but be on his guard. Although these two Hunters were girls, there was no reason for him to lower his guard.
“Don’t tell me that they’re here to attack me just like last time.”
“I think they’re there for a different reason. They might just simply on their way to the Kuzusuhara City ruins. But just in case, let’s go to the ruins too. Since they’re riding a car, if they really want to attack you, you won’t be able to run away from them in this place.”
It was not a rare thing for Hunters to meet other Hunters in the wasteland and it was equally not a rare thing for the other Hunters to not have goodwill. As such, both sides would put up their guard and created a tense atmosphere between them, but then this tense atmosphere frequently sparked a fight just because of trivial things.
Akira was already hyper-aware of them. So half of the trigger for a fight had been set. Thinking about how the other hunters would react to him, Alpha decided to tell him to withdraw from the place.
“I understand, let’s go.”
Akira immediately pulled up his rucksack and ran to Kuzusuhara City ruins.
Both of the female Hunters were riding a vehicle specially made for exploring the ruins. They were also heading towards the Kuzusuhara ruins.
Their equipment was inadequate for exploring the inner part of the ruin, but they were clearly too well equipped for exploring the outskirts of the ruin. Putting aside the special group of Hunters who could kill monsters with their bare hands, most of the Hunters were equipped with the equipment proportional to their skill. After all, it was an indicator that they have the skill to acquire and operate those equipments. So in short, the Hunters who work by exploring the Kuzusuhara ruins, they were not fully amateurs but at the same time, not fully professionals either.
Elena who was driving the car spoke to Sara who was sitting beside her.
“Sara, we’ll arrive soon, get yourself ready.”
Sara who was looking at the ruin through her binoculars made a puzzled look.
“Elena, are you sure this is the place?”
“We already discussed about this yesterday, didn’t we? This is the only ruin that a small kid can reach by foot from Kugamayama city.”
“Isn’t it also possible for him to go to other ruins by using the regular service?”
“Other than this Kuzusuhara City ruins, the other ruins that the regular service can bring you to are dangerous ruins. The rumor says that there was a small amateur boy who came to the Exchange Centre with a very expensive relic. If that boy was also frequenting other ruins, then such a rumor won’t spread, you know. It’s not strange for a small boy from the slums to go as far as to the outskirts of Kuzusuhara City ruins and find an expensive relic by pure chance. So it must be this place.”
There was a rumor spreading among the Hunters in the Kugamayama city about a ruin near the city where even a small boy could reach and a lot of expensive relics were left untouched.
Obviously, you have a better chance to come back alive from ruins that are not dangerous. As such, Hunters who could not go to dangerous ruins thought that it was a better choice to spend their time sweeping the ruins rather than fighting dangerous monsters. That was why places that might have relics left untouched would get fully explored in no time. There were no more places with low danger level left unexplored near the city. At least, most of the Hunters thought so.
But that was completely refuted. After all, a small boy with poor equipment brought expensive relics to the Exchange Centre.
They did see this boy, and not only once. He was even regularly bringing back relics to the Exchange Centre and had a fight in the slums for the money that he acquired. The rumor was even more exaggerated by saying that Hunters who tailed that boy found an unexplored place and acquired a huge amount of money. Such a rumor was already spreading in the city, as such, a lot of Hunters started sweeping the area with low danger level once again.
Elena and Sara were among those Hunters who heard about that rumor and decided to sweep the ruins again. For them, the outskirts of the Kuzusuhara City ruins was not worth their time anymore. But if the rumor turned out to be true, then they thought that they might hit the jackpot themselves. And even if the rumour was not true, it was not like it was going to dangerous for them. That was what Elena thought as she decided to search around the ruins again, and Sara agreed with her.
But unlike Elena, Sara was not as optimistic.
“Didn’t you thoroughly search that place before? And the result from that search was not really great either. To be honest, I’m not expecting much from that place.”
“Well, there’s no harm in doing this, right? Let’s just search that place again, something might have changed since the last time we came here.”
After Elena said that in an upbeat tone, her gaze moved to Sara’s chest and her expression changed to worry.
“…And also, about your nanomachine, it might be a good idea to replenish it soon. I know that you’ve been cutting your portion since we did not get much money lately, but are you really okay?”
Sara looked at her own chest which lacked contours like when it was in its glorious days. Elena and Sara both very well knew what it meant. That was exactly why Sara smiled as to not make Elena worry.
“It’s okay, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Sara was one of those people who actively enhanced their body using consumption type nanomachine and her chest was where she was saving her nanomachines stock.
Working as a Hunter and fighting monsters are 2 sides of the same coin. Their enemies were either descendants of the biological weapons made by the old world or the machines that functioned as defensive mechanisms. It was not easy to fight those enemies using human body. In order to fight those monsters, some hunters looked for a way to enhance their physical strength; augmented clothes, prosthetics, turning into a cyborg and so on.
The people from the eastern district studied the technology from the old world to fight against those monsters of the old world and came up with a lot of different ways to enhance one’s physical ability. One of those ways was to use nanomachines. It had a lot of different effects like using force field to strengthen the muscle, enhancing cells, or even genetic modification. And when it came to highly advanced nanomachines, they could even replace one’s cells with cells made by nanomachines and turn their body similar to a cyborg. They might look exactly the same like normal people, but these people would be able to flip a car or become impervious to bullets without using augmented clothes.
Actually Sara almost died because of a certain circumstance and received treatment using the nanomachines. The treatment itself was a success, she was able to escape death and even acquired an enhanced body. But because of that, she could not survive without the nanomachines.
Her body was actively consuming the nanomachines on her daily life and the consumption increased as she was working as a Hunter. But replenishing nanomachines needed quite a lot of money.
She could actually take treatment to get rid of the dependence with nanomachines, but she would need a huge amount of money and she would be left with a weak body. It would also require even more money to treat her weakened body. In short, they were problems that could only be solved with money. And because she did not have an abundance of wealth, she could only maintain the status quo.
One of the reasons why Elena put her bet on the rumor was because Sara needed money to maintain her life. Not to mention that Sara who was their main fire power will be less burdened if they explored an area with weak monsters. The nanomachines that Sara consumed when she fought were replenished by distributing the nanomachines stock in her chest, and now her chest had already shrunk. Since Elena knew how it looked when Sara had full stock of nanomachines, she could not help but worry looking at Sara’s current condition.
Elena looked intensely at Sara and said.
“…You know your own body the best, so I won’t say too much about it. But if you keep going on like this, I’ll sell my own equipment and force feed you nanomachines, you know.”
Sara looked back at Elena with an equally intense gaze.
“Please don’t do that. If you do that, we will have less equipment and it will be harder to earn money. How long do you think we took to earn all of these equipments?”
“It is nothing compared to your life. When the push comes to shove, I’ll do that and let’s raise up again together. If today’s expedition goes well, we will spend our money first to replenish your nanomachines, okay?”
She would not accept any objections. That was what her eyes were saying. They had been friends since before they started working as Hunters. Their conversation had led to a situation where one of them should back off or they would not reach any compromise, so Sara just accepted it and made a light smile.
“Alright, I understand. Seriously though, we really can’t live without money.”
Elena smiled back at Sara.
“Isn’t it too late for that? Hunters are just like that, aren’t they?”
“Well, that’s true too.”
With a lot of things in their mind, Elena and Sara headed to the Kuzusuhara City ruins while smiling.
Akira was still moving around the outskirts of the Kuzusuhara City ruins. He did think of searching for relics since he had come to the ruins, but there were a lot of other Hunters in the ruins. As such, he had to keep moving to avoid bumping into them.
Thanks to the Alpha’s advanced enemy detection ability, Akira was able to avoid bumping with any monsters or Hunters. But there was no way for him to either search for relics or continue his shooting training, so Akira was a bit disappointed.
“Akira, we need to move again.”
“Again? Why this place is filled with people? And also, is it really that common for a ruin to be this crowded?”
“It depends on the ruins, but this ruin should be already abandoned though. When I met you, there was not even a single Hunter other than you. Even after that, the only other Hunters that I saw around this place were those two that you killed the other day.”
Akira’s expression turned grim.
“…Then, doesn’t that mean that they’re tailing me? Are they looking for me?”
Akira was rather worried, he could not help but think that these Hunters were looking for him for the exact same reason that those Hunters were tailing him the other day. But this time, they brought a lot of other Hunters with them.
Alpha then smiled and tried to calm Akira.
“Don’t worry, even if that is the case, you’ll be fine since you have me.”
“Well, I’m counting on you for that part, but…”
“Moreover, I think those Hunters are not specifically aiming for you. I have some inkling on the purpose they are here for. That’s why I’m saying, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Then Alpha proceeded to explain Akira about the rumor that Elena and other hunters had heard, the source of that rumor, and the things that the other Hunters were looking for after hearing that rumor. After listening to Alpha’s explanation, Akira understood that he was the main reason for everything that was happening, and so his face went pale.
“So that’s what’s happening, huh. This is getting troublesome.”
“Well, since it was just a rumor. I’m sure only half of the people who heard it actually believe it. It’ll immediately die down once they know they can’t find any relics. That’s why I think there’s no need for you to worry about it. Let’s go.”
Akira was feeling rather complicated about these people who flooded the ruin because of what he did, but he did not have the leeway to think about that, so he just shoved that feeling aside. He continued to traverse the ruin by following Alpha.
As for Elena and Sara, they still did not get any results yet. Although Sara expected that, she still felt disappointed as she let out a sigh.
“Although I did not expect much, I never thought that it would be this fruitless.”
Elena made a bitter laugh and tried to cheer up Sara.
“If it was that easy, then someone would have discovered it first, you know. Let’s just keep looking patiently.”
“Even if you say so, I don’t feel like we’ll find anything if we keep looking blindly like this. Elena, do you have any leads or something?”
“I’m actually looking for that kid’s footprints. If it’s true that a kid found an unexplored area just like the rumor said, then there might be some small footprints that would lead us there.”
“As expected of you, you always have a unique viewpoint.”
The jobs in Elena’s team were clearly distributed. Elena’s job was to gather information, while Sara’s job was fighting. And they were well equipped for their respective jobs.
The main equipment for Elena was the information collection device. It was a high tech device for reconnaissance consisting motion detectors, sonar map, and advanced scope. She used it for wide range information collection such as mapping the ruin or scanning and locating enemy hideouts. She also had a gun with her, but compared to Sara’s equipment, her gun was just a light gun.
Sara’s main equipment was a powerful gun. Normally, one would need to use augmented clothes to handle the weight and the kick back from the gun, but she was able to swing it around like nothing thanks to her strengthened body. As for her armor, she was equipped with a sturdy armor to handle the situation when she needed to become Elena’s shield.
Elena would find the enemy, then Sara would take care of it. Sometimes Sara would also go alone without Elena, that was how their team explored a ruin.
Elena who was responsible for gathering information did all she could to answer Sara’s expectations. It was because of Elena’s superb skills that she was able to find footprints in the ruin that was filled with dust flying around. But the result wasn’t as expected. So Elena could only reply back to Sara with a bitter laugh.
“Well, I still could not find any small footprints, but I did find so many adults’s footprints though.”
“It’s still way better than looking blindly. So where do we look next?”
“Let’s look for places where small kid might go. Ah, right, let me tell you this when I still have the chance, Sara. The colourless mist is getting thicker, so be careful.”
“Roger that. If it gets worse, let’s just return back. It will be your call to decide when to return, Elena.”
Elena and Sara then moved deeper into the ruins while keeping their guard up.
Akira was moving carefully inside the ruins. In order to avoid bumping into other Hunters, he was hiding inside an abandoned building. He was watching the situation outside the building with a binocular.
Every time Akira found another Hunter through his binoculars, he would wonder if that Hunter would go back home soon. Alpha was watching his action and spoke to him.
“Akira, since this is a good chance, I’ll explain to you about the colourless mist.”
“Yep. It’s started to get thicker. Look at that direction.”
Alpha then got into the field of view of Akira’s binocular and pointed her finger.
“Look in that direction and this direction, can you find the difference?”
“…I don’t see any difference, they look the same.”
“Are you sure?”
Alpha was smiling at Akira as if she was urging Akira to look again. So Akira took another look but more carefully this time. But he could only see buildings lining in both directions, a common sight in the ruins. They were exactly the same to him. But since Alpha seemed like she was expecting an answer, Akira tried his best to look for their differences.
“…If I am to be strict, I think the one on the right is somehow more blurred.”
Alpha then smiled and gave a strong nod.
“That’s right. The colourless mist on the right is thicker.”
“…Is that it?”
“This is the most important part. It is fatal for an eastern Hunter to not know this, so listen well.”
To Akira who looked confused, Alpha smiled as if to encourage him and started her explanation.
The colourless mist was the name that the people of the eastern district gave for a certain phenomenon. Unlike usual mist that looked white from light scattering, this colourless mist’s range and thickness could only be observed from the blurring of the field of view.
All the area inside the colourless mist would blur. If it only hindered the view up to a certain extent, it might pose some problems but Hunters could easily cope with it by using high tech information gathering devices, but the effects of colourless mist did not stop there. There were a lot of unexplainable phenomena that come together with the colourless mist.
Radio wave, electromagnetic signals, even sound and smell too would be affected in the colourless mist. Both living organisms and machines would have problem in acquiring information about their surroundings. It was as if all kinds of powerful jamming devices were active at the same time. The performance of thermo-optical camouflage would greatly reduce to a point that it became almost useless. Then starting from optical lock, all kinds of locks would be rendered unusable. Wireless communication would be filled with noise and the mist could even affect wired communication some times.
Moreover, all guns would lose their power and range. The trajectory would deviate greatly which worsened the accuracy. And when the colourless mist was thick enough, even the path that the bullet took would be visible.
This phenomenon greatly affected the Hunter’s activities in the eastern district. An inexperienced Hunter like Akira, could not fully understand the dangers of this phenomenon even after listening to Alpha’s explanation.
“I, at least understand that it will be bad once the mist thickens.”
Alpha could clearly see just how badly Akira understood the situation, so she shook her head and explained seriously.
“You don’t seem to understand it completely, so I’ll only explain the part where it affects you then. First of all, the reason why monsters can’t easily attack people in the eastern district is because of this colourless mist. The monsters are also affected by the mist. Thanks to that, these monsters are having a hard time finding people thus allowing humans to live here. If the mist was not there, even the monsters on the other side of the ruins would be able to detect your presence. The detection function installed in their weapons made by the old world is simply that powerful.”
Leaving aside whether Akira really understood the significance of the monster’s detection ability, he at least understood just how important it is to avoid the enemy’s detection. He nodded as if he was amazed.
“I see now, it is indeed important.”
“And one more thing. Once it gets extremely thick, it would affect monsters, humans, and machines, thus lower their ability to detect enemy. In the worst case scenario, you might even be able to find enemy faster than me, you know. That’s why for now, if the mist gets thicker, then you’ll need to cancel the ruin expedition and go back to the city.”
Akira who was amazed listened closely to Alpha, he finally understood the danger of the mist.
“…Wait, doesn’t that mean that when the mist is thick enough, there’s still a high chance for me to encounter monster even with your support?”
“Yep, that’s right.”
“…If I meet a monster, what do you think the possibility of the current me to win?”
“In the case where the mist is thick enough, and my support is hindered to the point of uselessness, All your encounters would likely be a close range encounter. At that point, it will be pretty hopeless for you.”
“…Just now you said that the mist is getting thicker, right?”
Akira suddenly stopped talking and used his binoculars to watch for enemies around him. Of course, it was very rare for the mist to even get that thick. But Alpha who knew that just kept it a secret while smiling mischievously.