Chapter 274: The End of the Grace Period
It had been one full week since Akira had a bounty on his head. He still had not received his front-line equipment yet. Furthermore, at the moment, no one was trying to try to hunt him. He was talking with Alpha while waiting to meet Hikaru. At one point, Akira seemed rather confused as he shook his head.
“What can I say? I feel a bit disappointed. With 50 billion Aurum on my head, I thought someone would already try to attack me. Is it because I’m hiding pretty well? But they did find Shirou though.”
Discovering that it was currently peaceful when it wouldn’t be strange if all hell broke loose, was not good luck. Rather, it was borderline ominous. Such thought had been grafted deep into Akira’s mind. Even so, Alpha was smiling as per usual at him and replied.
“Well, he’s a special agent from Sakashita Heavy Industry, so they might have some kind of special means to track him. The reason why they can’t find you is probably because it’s impossible to do that to normal Hunters.”
“It would be great if that really is the case though.”
Akira did try to ask Shirou once. How did he find him? However, Shirou simply stated that it was through secret means that no normal person could access. Telling Akira would mean owing him a huge favour. Therefore, in the end, Akira refused. Since Shirou was being hunted by Sakashita Heavy Industry and was travelling together with Akira, Akira believed that Shirou would tell him about it if he were to get discovered. In addition, there might be no effective way to deal with it.
Akira’s lack of interest in the matter made Shirou glad.
Meanwhile, Alpha was telepathically conversing with Akira.
“He could have just told you and made you deeply indebted to him. I wonder if he is just being stubborn and not telling you. Or maybe, he has another plan in mind.”
“Hmmm… It is possible that he suspects such favours, no matter how many, even when piled together, would be judged by me as insufficient. So, he might just be waiting for an opportunity, one huge favour with which I can no longer refuse his request. That’s why he is avoiding having me owe him smaller favours. Until he can get that one big opportunity.”
“That does sound like a good strategy. But I don’t think that’s a good gambit against someone like you.”
While in the middle of their conversation, Akira noticed a vehicle heading in their direction from the wasteland. Akira quickly stopped conversing and picked up his rifle.
Hikaru’s group was heading to the meeting place on a vehicle with Kugamayama city’s mark on it.
It was a vehicle with a collapsible top. At the moment, it was completely open. Even so, thanks to a thin forcefield layer, they were protected from the wind and sand. Since it was completely transparent, Hikaru, Elena, and Sara had good visibility of the surroundings.
After what she experienced during the inter-city transport escort mission, Hikaru preferred to stay within the inner wall. That incident took place somewhere as secured as the inner wall. Just thinking of it made her not want to step out of the inner wall. Therefore, since Inabe gave her a high-level authority pass, she hoped she could at least bring the city defence squad to escort her.
However, considering that bringing unnecessary people could cause Akira to not trust her, she decided to not do so. In exchange, she gave Elena and Sara, her escorts, expensive equipment, which was too much even as advanced payment. They were powerful equipment not suitable to be used around Kugamayama city and only sold to Hunters above certain Hunter Ranks. Since she was in the middle of a special mission regarding the safety of the city, she managed to somehow get them for Sara and Elena. She also roped in Kiryou and Toson, to get the best equipment that she could get for Elena and Sara.
Thanks to that, Elena and Sara received powerful equipment, which had an old-world-like design. It would not be strange for others to mistake them for Hunters from further east. Since Elena and Sara were Hunters, normally, they would be delighted to find themselves having such equipment. However, since they were going to meet a bounty target, they did not have the leeway to be delighted. Instead, they were distressed, and it was obvious from their expression.
While they were driving through the wasteland, the vehicle lightly wobbled. Elena thought that it was unnatural, but the sensor did not show anything in particular. Thus, she presumed they must have rode over pieces of rubble. She then glanced at Hikaru to confirm if she was fine, before making sure that they were heading in the right direction.
“Hikaru-san. The meeting place is just ahead. Just to confirm, I need to leave the general communication frequency open, right?”
The vehicle was broadcasting a message. It was stating that it was containing a staff member of Kugayama city to everyone in the area. Of course, the other Hunters hunting for Akira would also receive it, which might lead them to Akira.
“Yes. Though, I’m still unsure… Elena-san, do you think it’s safer if we turn it off?”
“I’m sorry. Although I’m the one who threw that question, I’m also not sure.”
If they went to meet Akira without broadcasting that message, Hunters hunting for him might attack them in the middle of their negotiation. They could simply state that they did not know Hikaru was from Kugamayama City Management. The broadcast was to ward off such an excuse.
Should they ensure Akira’s safety by concealing themselves and do the negotiations or should they keep broadcasting and protect him by using the influence of the city even if his location was made known? After Hikaru considered her two options, from the point of view of a City Management staff member, she decided on the latter.
As the negotiator of the team, Elena also thought about it. However, she concluded that her experience would not be of any use in this situation.
“Sara, what do you think?”
“Me? Not sure. If possible, I would rather have Akira choose what to do.”
“I would prefer if you can just keep driving straight like this.”
“Is that so? Well, in that case… Hm?”
Elena and Sara frowned, Akira’s voice then continued.
“Elena-san, please just keep on driving like this. There’s no need to stop the vehicle. Just keep on driving as if we’re heading to our agreed upon meeting place.”
Elena smiled bitterly.
“…Sure. So, just when did you get on the vehicle?”
“Just a moment ago.”
Akira disengaged his camouflaging coat and showed himself. Hikaru, oblivious that he was sitting next to her, was thunderstruck that she could not hold back her voice.
“Eh? Whoah!? What!?”
“Hikaru, keep your voice down. I’m trying to meet with you in secret, so stop making a commotion.”
After Akira gave his warning, Hikaru quickly shut her mouth. However, her whole face still could not contain the surprise she felt.
Sara smiled wryly.
“Elena, you didn’t get him in the sensor?”
“Nope, I didn’t. Akira, how did you get in?”
Elena was also smiling wryly. But in contrast, Akira smiled amusedly and explained.
“I was waiting along the route to the meeting place with my camouflage coat on. Once you got close enough, I jumped in, while trying to make the least impact possible. After that, I sneaked into the back seat.”
“I’m pretty sure we have the forcefield armour up though.”
“If you sneak in slow enough, a weak forcefield armour meant for protection against the elements wouldn’t give any trouble. If they’re enhanced to detect trespassers, I would have been discovered though. But it doesn’t seem that this vehicle has that type equipped. I’m sorry for surprising you. I need to be extra careful as well, so I hope you can understand.”
Akira said so with nonchalance. Elena’s smile deepened, but it was a teasing one.
“I don’t mind at all, but I can’t say for my employer.”
Akira then turned to Hikaru. His casual attitude showed that he was reacting positively toward this meeting. It also indicated that he was not there to fight. Or at least, that was what Hikaru told herself to help her calm down. She then heaved a huge sigh, which was used to release all her pent-up complaints.
“I’m glad to see that you’re doing pretty well even with that 50 billion bounty Aurum on you.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
Hikaru said sarcastically. However, Akira simply shrugged it off and replied with a nonchalant smile. When Elena and Sara saw their exchange, they found it to be amusing.
The mood inside the vehicle had quickly relaxed. However, they could not afford to enjoy such a mood forever, Akira pulled himself together and went straight to the main subject.
“So then, Hikaru, I heard that you want to solve this problem peacefully…”
Hikaru also turned serious. She reminded herself that failure was not an option. Thus, her serious attitude became severe.
“That’s right. First of all, can you tell me your side of the story? I want to understand what is going on, after all. In the end, we are a third party in this matter. So, it would be great if you can tell me from your point of view, what is going on. To be honest, it would be troublesome if you hide anything. So, please.”
Akira then honestly told his point of view of the current incident just like he had said before. But the more he spoke, the paler Hikaru became. She had an awkward smile on her face as she cursed.
[Just… Just how in the world are we going to solve this matter peacefully!?]
Considering that Lion Steel was a huge company, even if Akira was innocent, she wished that they could find some way to compromise. Although Akira might not find it to be pleasant, she still planned on convincing him. That picking a fight with Lion Steel was simply too reckless. She would push him to negotiate for peace as the best choice.
But after listening to his story though, that thought was just an impossibility; a mere dream. Akira showed no desire to compromise. He was resolute about killing Chloe. The only reason why he did not do so right away and instead hid was simply because he was waiting for the front-line equipment from Kibayashi. There was no doubt he would do anything to eliminate her after he got those equipment. If she tried to stop him, he might see her as an enemy and there was a high chance Akira would eliminate her as well.
Elena and Sara, who were also listening in to his side of the story, smiled bitterly. However, at the same time, they thought that it was so like him to act in such a manner. They easily concluded that it was futile to try to convince him otherwise. After all, Akira once raided the headquarters of a large slum gang just to kill a single pickpocket. Although his opponent was on a different scale, his strength was already on a whole other level. He was basically doing the same thing as before. So, this came as no surprise to Elena and Sara.
Hikaru frowned, she was extremely perplexed. Even after wringing out everything she could from her brain, she could not think of any words to convince him.
In the first place, Akira was not someone who would simply withdraw because he was facing a large company. If he was someone who would do that, or if he was someone who understood the idea of self-preservation, back in the inter-city transport-escort mission when Hikaru was mistaken as an old-world connector, he would have abandoned her. As she recalled that incident, she smiled bitterly. She thought to herself.
[Well, I was saved only because he is like this.]
Akira silently waited for Hikaru’s reply. However, after some time passed, with no reply, he started to think that it was as he had expected. There was no way they could solve this matter peacefully. Thus, he believed that it was about time he left.
But that was when Hikaru suddenly showed a reaction.
“Akira, wait for a bit.”
Hikaru then pulled out her information terminal and called Inabe. After she gave a quick rundown of the situation, she then turned the information terminal toward Akira. Inabe’s voice could be heard from the information terminal.
“Long time no see, Akira.”
Hikaru’s conclusion of what she had to do was to call her superior. She knew that trying to solve this situation herself was futile. She would be just wasting time. Therefore, she thought of consulting someone else that might find a way out of this predicament.
“Normally, I would go to meet you myself, but I’m a bit busy over here, you see. So, I sent Hikaru in my stead. I hope you can understand. Well, putting that aside, I’ve heard the gist of what is going on from Hikaru. I have a suggestion on how to solve this incident peacefully.”
“Oh, what is it?”
Inabe’s words gave hope to Hikaru. But his next words completely caught her off guard.
“What are the chances of you accepting a job to kill Chloe?”
It was an outrageous suggestion that completely left Hikaru at a loss for words. But since it was the second time for Akira, he was not that surprised.
“Why would you ask me to do something like that?”
“It’s simply because I think we can reach a more peaceful resolution by doing so. I will be honest here, this time, I can’t be your ally. In all honesty, you’ve really done something stupid.”
As Hikaru was still flusteredly reacting to what Inabe just said, he simply ignored her and continued.
“Being your ally means there will be a full-blown war between the Kugamayama City Management and the Lion Steel company. I’m not talking about an economic war, but a real war with ammunition. So, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.”
“Well, I already expected as much.”
Akira lightly nodded. It was obvious that he did not find it to be surprising at all. However, Hikaru was flabbergasted for some reason.
“And so, we need to take the next best option. I can’t be your friend, but I won’t be your enemy. But if I just leave this situation alone, it’s only a matter of time before you go for Chloe’s throat with front-line weapons. So, we need to interfere.”
Elena, Sara and Hikaru were listening anxiously to their conversation. A high-ranking city officer was offering an assassination job. This was not a matter that could simply be brushed aside.
For Elena and Sara, although they were employed by the City Management through Hikaru, in the end, they were outsiders. They were uncertain if it was fine for them to listen to this conversation. However, it was way too late to back out now. So, they continued listening in.
But as the conversation continued, the weight of it only became heavier and heavier.
“That is exactly where the problem lies. As I thought about how to solve this peacefully, the answer is simple. It’s for either you to die, or for Chloe to die. Considering our relationship, I think having Chloe die is the better choice.”
“Well, thank you.”
“Nah, don’t mention it. But our next problem here is how to kill her. I can help you if it’s only for a tiny bit. Either you need to sneak inside the inner wall or bait her out of the city. Personally speaking, to suppress the damage, I would rather choose the latter. In the first place, it’s between you and Chloe. So, it would be great if you keep Kugamayama city out of this. I bet Kibayashi is encouraging you to make this problem as big as possible. But that only serves to amuse him, so don’t.”
“Well, I wouldn’t need to deal with the city defence squad outside the city and I don’t think I can sneak into the city anyway.”
“That’s great to hear.”
Akira and Inabe were talking casually. However, the contents were enough to send a shiver through Hikaru’s whole body. Her superior was asking Akira to assassinate someone from a large company. He was even offering to help as well. If this plan went through and this conversation got leaked to Lion Steel, a war would no doubt break out. A mere low-level city officer like her would be blown to bits if she got involved.
But she was no longer able to say that she was not involved in this. Hikaru was panicking, having to face a situation that was already more than what she could handle. However, that was not the end of it. Akira’s next words brought on even more surprise to her.
“Ahh, just to let you know though, I won’t accept that job.”
“Actually, someone offered me the same job before. But I will kill Chloe purely by my own will. Even if the job only acts as a cover, I don’t want anyone else’s will to taint it. And since I refused their offer, it would be stupid of me to accept this one. Ah, but it would be of great help if you can help me sneak into the inner wall or to lure Chloe out of the city. I just won’t accept the job. But I will still kill Chloe though.”
“I see. Although, offering it to you means that I’m willing to share the crime with you. Well, if you’re going to take full responsibility for killing her, it actually saves me a lot of trouble. So, I’m completely fine with that. But can you tell me the details of…”
The fact that Akira refused and openly stated that someone else already requested him to do the same exact job had Hikaru in utter shock. As if to hammer the nail into the coffin, there was a sudden change of event.
Akira suddenly received a telepathic message from Shirou.
“Akira!! Get away from there!! Right now! You’ll get surrounded!
Akira immediately scanned his surroundings. But he did not catch anything suspicious.
“There’s nothing inside my detection range… So, it should be from outside my detection range! Be careful, Akira!”
The very next moment, warheads suddenly rained down a little bit further from where they were. More warheads followed afterwards, creating explosions around the moving vehicle. Smokes and dust spread through the area, accompanied by echoes of fiery explosions.
The accuracy of the barrage was low. It was as if they were shot randomly. However, the quality of explosives was by no means small. As if to compensate for their lack of accuracy. Furthermore, they came from all directions.
Elena scanned the surroundings and accurately calculated the trajectories of the incoming warheads. Sara then shot them down one by one with terrifying accuracy based on the data from Elena.
In her right hand, Sara held a gun, which was fitted with a lens on its muzzle. The concentrated energy projected from that lens reacted with the colourless mist to draw a straight line. It pierced through the incoming warheads and made them explode. Meanwhile, the gun on her left hand spewed out bullets, destroying the rest of the warheads.
Akira also quickly started shooting as well. He worked flawlessly with Sara to make sure that the area around the vehicle was completely safe. As the warheads kept raining down, explosions echoed all around. Flames devoured the surrounding areas with a veil of dirt and smoke. This finally broke Hikaru.
“Geez! What is going on here!? Give me a break, already!!”
“Shirou? Where are they? Send me their positions!”
“There, done! Just get away from there for now! They’ll completely surround you if you stay there!”
Akira glanced at the image of the enemy locations that were sent by Shirou through telepathy and frowned. The enemies were forming an encirclement 3 kilometres in radius, with him in the middle.
[…Well, I’m a bounty target, after all, it’s no surprise they’d come at me in teams.]
Back when they were hunting the Tank Tarantula, Shikarabe did gather Hunters and formed a team before challenging it. Akira joined their team during that time. He smiled bitterly as he finally noticed the reason why no one came at him after some time. It was simply because they needed time to organize a hunting party.
During the hunt for the Tank Tarantula, they also did the same. For the sake of safety, they bombarded their target from afar. And this time, that target was him. They sacrificed accuracy for the sake of keeping their distance. They would not get too close nor too far. They would just keep bombarding him.
According to the image sent by Shirou, Akira could see the enemies were actively moving in order to keep him in the middle of the encirclement. However, because of the scale of the operation, it was difficult to keep the formation perfectly circular. Very quickly, some clumps started to form in the encirclement.
Alpha then pointed out that part of the encirclement was relatively thin and told him to go in that direction.
“Elena-san! Please go in that direction!”
Elena quickly turned the vehicle toward the direction Akira pointed to. The high-speed sharp turn caused Hikaru to yelp.
The sound of the explosions was of course transmitted to Inabe through the information terminal.
“An ambush, huh? Akira. Let’s continue this talk some other time. Hikaru-kun, head back to the city as soon as possible.”
“B-back to the city?! But Akira is also with us here…”
Hikaru inadvertently asked. After all, they could not afford to bring someone designated as a monster back to the city. However, Inabe quickly replied with no hesitation.
“Leave him behind.”
That heartless suggestion shocked Hikaru. Elena and Sara were obviously unhappy with it as well.
However, Akira then nonchalantly said to them.
“Elena-san. Just keep driving like this and don’t stop.”
“Of course! Let’s get out of here together…!?”
Elena had no plans to leave Akira behind. She smiled confidently and looked back at him. However, she was shocked to find that he had already jumped off the vehicle.
“Akira!? What are you-!?”
If not for Akira telling her not to stop beforehand, Elena would have stomped on the brakes right there and then.
She could not decide whether to turn back and pick him up. After all, Akira jumped off the vehicle himself. It was doubtful that he would jump back in even if she turned back. Before she could make her decision, Akira’s voice could be heard through Hikaru’s information terminal.
“Elena-san. Once again, keep heading in that direction and don’t stop.”
Elena frowned and bitterly asked.
“…Akira, are you sure you’re fine with it?”
“Elena-san and Sara-san are here to make sure that Hikaru is safe, right? In that case, it’s only right for you to prioritise it. As Hunters, it’s important to do our job perfectly.”
Akira’s voice was calm and somehow sounded happy. Elena, who was always presented with difficult decisions as the team leader, smiled bitterly. A smile directed at herself. So, in her place, her best friend, Sara smiled confidently and gave a firm reply.
“Alright, Akira. Just leave Hikaru to us.”
“Sorry, and thank you. If Hikaru dies, I would lose one of my negotiation routes with City Management after all. That would be really troublesome. The encirclement should be weakest in that direction. But, considering I am a 50 billion Aurum bounty target, I bet it still won’t be easy, so, be careful.”
Hearing Akira’s apologetic tone of voice, Sara replied with an upbeat one.
“Don’t worry. We are really exceptionally well equipped for taking this job. So, we should be able to handle it just fine.”
In reaction to that attempt to cheer him up, Akira also replied with a more upbeat tone.
“Is that so? I’m actually scheduled to get new equipment too.”
“Really? Then we should show our equipment to one another soon. We can have a good, relaxed talk next time.”
“Yeah. Well then, until next time.”
After making a promise to meet up again, they closed the call. While at the same time, Elena trembled in sorrow and stepped on the gas.
“…Elena, we should do our job. If we don’t, I’m sure Akira would be disappointed in us.”
“…You’re right, Sara.”
Thanks to her best friend’s cheer, Elena somehow managed to regain her cool. She smiled confidently to convey that to Sara.
Sara smiled back softly.
“So yeah, Elena. Anyway, rather than hold back, how about we bring out our trump card?”
Without even waiting for a reply, Sara pulled out a seemingly ordinary gun from the back. When she activated it, it automatically unfolded and expanded itself. Its barrel got longer and thicker, and its overall shape changed. The total length of the gun was now even longer than that of the vehicle.
In its folded state, it was using the same technology for the extended magazine. Thus, it greatly expanded when it was undone. Although it had the shape of a gun, once it was fully unfolded, it was impossible to fold it back to its original form. They would need to pay a specialist to do that for them. However, all the trouble was worth it for its firepower.
Elena expanded her scanning range to its maximum. Due to the distance, she was still unaware of the enemy’s formation. Naturally, it was difficult to ascertain their position with such limited information. Nonetheless, she was able to infer their general position from the incoming barrage.
Although it was still far from accurate, after she did more calculations and narrowed down as much as she could, she smiled amusedly and ordered Sara.
The large-sized gun, suitable to be used by a powered suit instead of a human, immediately started spewing out bullets. It was only thanks to Sara’s enhanced body and augmented suit that she was able to use such a weapon. It sucked the energy packs attached to it dry in an instant. All the energy was compressed into energy bullets and shot out of its muzzle.
The barrage of the energy bullets rampaged through like a storm, leaving trails of light while they headed to their targets. The gun spewed out bullets as if the expense was non-existent. The powerful bullet storm lashed out as if Elena and Sara were venting out their emotions. It completely devoured everything in its way, leaving destruction and annihilation in its wake.