Chapter 271: Carol’s Past
Akira was surprised when someone from Lion Steel, which had placed the bounty on him, asked to have a meeting with him. Even so, the surprise he felt now was incomparable to that. Kill Chloe – that was the task Fulip, a man from the Lion Steel Fourth Branch, requested of him.
“Wait a second. Are you being serious? Are you seriously offering me this job?”
“Indeed, we are. That is also if you are fine with accepting it. I want to know if you are someone who would accept such a request. After all, there are many Hunters who refuse to commit assassinations. Though, with that being said, it is not rare to find them show no hesitation when it comes to hunting a bounty target. Personally speaking, I believe the only difference here is how the reward is handed out. The core of what they do is exactly the same. But what can I say? Different people have different principles? So, I have no plans to force my opinion on anyone. Anyway, what is your answer?”
“Well, even if you say so…”
“Let me be clear. It’s not like we are formally offering you this job now. We are still assessing whether you are someone who would take such a job. If the answer is a yes, we will take your answer back to our company, and deliberate on it with the others. Only after that, might we send you a formal offer for this job. If things develop in that direction, we will still need to sit down and talk about the reward some other time. There is still a good chance we might not reach an agreement. This is where we are right now. If you plan to refuse because of the risk, we can discuss the conditions and the reward later to make it worthwhile for you. So, I believe the lack of reward is not a good enough reason to reject this offer at this point.”
Akira thought that Fulip was not wrong, but he was still hesitating. The moment he realized why he was hesitating; Akira immediately firmly shook his head.
“Sorry, but I will have to refuse.”
“May I ask why? You’ve tried several times to kill Chloe and I bet you’re not done trying yet. So, that part should not change whether you take our offer or not. If you accept our offer, we can help craft a good reason for you murdering one of our people. It would be just a job. A request for a reward. Others will think that you simply got yourself roped into a conflict between Lion Steel branches. Instead of you, alone, picking a fight against the whole Lion Steel company. From that point of view, this is an excellent offer for you. You only stand to gain by accepting our offer.”
“Yeah, I bet it is. But my answer is still the same.”
“Why? Do you think this offer is too good to be true? That’s why you are refusing? We are offering a reward for accepting this job, in consideration of the problems that will arise from you picking a fight with Chloe. It is nothing more than compensation from the demerit of having a 50 billion Aurum bounty and monster designation from Kugamayama city. Considering all the troubles you have faced so far, we are willing to be generous with our reward and support.”
But even so, Akira once again shook his head. Fulip lightly sighed.
“…Well, although it is not a normal request, it is still assassination. I won’t force you. But, if I may ask, can you at least tell me why you can’t accept it? I’m sure it’s not like you’re hesitating to take her life after all that has happened, right?”
“Well, yeah. It would be way too late to be hesitating at this point. It’s just that…”
“I want to kill her purely because of my own will. I don’t want to get someone else’s intention mixed into it. That is all.”
Akira said firmly, without any hesitation. For him, it was vital. Thus, it alone was enough of a reason.
However, Fulip did not seem to be satisfied with his answer. So, Akira added another reason.
“And also, if I accept your request, it means that I will no longer be able to make decisions on my own. In case the situation changes where I no longer want her dead, it would turn into a huge problem. That’s why I won’t accept your request.”
“Oh. So you are saying even after all the battles that you have gone through, there’s still a possibility of you changing your mind, huh? Is that even possible?”
“Well, it’s not that simple for me too, you know? I’m already used to having to encounter unexpected turns of events. That’s why I can’t say with certainty that it is impossible.”
Fulip smiled. He seemed to be hiding something behind that smile.
“I see. Well, I will leave it as that for now.”
“Just to let you know, I’m not lying.”
“As the branch manager of the fourth ward, there are a lot of things going on that I have to deal with too, you see. So don’t mind the remark I left.”
Fulip smiled lightly and evaded giving a straight answer.
Now that the negotiation had concluded, Akira and Carol hopped back onto Akira’s bike. Just before they left, Fulip, who saw them off with a smile, said to them.
“Although we were not able to reach an agreement, we were able to get acquainted with each other. I believe it is not completely in vain. Let me say this again before you leave. We have no wish to be hostile with you. So, if you ever wish, we can offer some of our services to you. Although, considering your relationship with the third ward branch, we can’t charge you the usual price.”
Akira smiled bitterly. He was once again reminded of how Fulip was a business-oriented person.
“Sure, thanks for the offer. I’ll contact you again if I want to ask you something.”
Akira only said as much before he left the area and vanished into the dark wasteland.
After Akira left, the business smile on Fulip’s face vanished. It was replaced by a firm resolute look of a branch manager.
“What do you think of his fighting capability?”
The butler next to Fulip had a stern look on his face as he stated.
“It is enough of a reason for us to be careful with him. However, I don’t believe he is strong enough to defeat that wasp monster on his own as the report had stated.”
The maid, who was also standing next to Fulip, had the same expression as she added.
“I concur. But that stealthiness of his was impressive. Leaving aside his ability as a Hunter, as Fulip-sama’s bodyguard, I am rather reluctant to let someone like him near Fulip-sama.”
“I see. Then it was as I thought. It is worth all the trouble to at least let him know that we don’t wish to get into a fight with him.”
When they returned back to the vehicle, another of Fulip’s men was curious about how the negotiation went. Thus, Fulip sat on the back seat and gave him a quick rundown of what just happened.
Now that Akira had become a bounty target, Lion Steel was worried if he had a deep grudge toward the company as a whole. That he would show no mercy and give no quarter toward anyone whom he had a deep grudge against. They were afraid that if Akira somehow escaped to the fourth ward, he would launch an assault on one of their Lion Steel’s facilities. Therefore, in order to avoid such a scenario from developing, it was important to let him know that they were not hostile towards him. The offer to kill Chloe was originally meant to support their neutral stance. It was to help get that point through to Akira.
If Akira managed to kill Chloe, it would throw the third ward into disarray. They were already aware that the incident regarding Chloe had something to do with representative Alice’s plan to visit the third ward. If Chloe died, the third ward branch’s recent rapid development might get put on hold, which in turn, would reduce the possibility of having the fourth ward roped into danger.
The man in a butler suit showed his concern after he heard everything.
“But, branch manager. Would it not be dangerous for us to be messing with the third ward right now? Considering that the representative is coming to visit the third ward.”
“It’s not a problem. If that was the case, representative Alice would have sent a warning. Telling us not to mess with the third ward. But since we never received such a warning, this means that representative Alice is fine with us sabotaging the third ward… Well, though, I must state that I don’t know if representative Alice is approving or merely tolerating our actions.”
After that, Fulip let out a huge sigh.
“…But still, it seems that the reason why representative Alice is coming to the third ward is being kept secret. The other branches seem to be confused as well. I bet this incident will only grow larger with time…”
The woman in a maid uniform, who was not knowledgeable about administrative work since she was Fulip’s bodyguard, interjected without much thought.
“Would it not be wise to confirm it with HQ?”
“I did. But they did not deliver a clear answer. They did not even tell me that we have no need to know the reason why. The whole thing is still a mystery. If only Akira agreed to accept our offer, we could have used support and reward as an excuse to send some of our people to gather some information. But… It didn’t go well…”
Fulip’s confusion only grew larger as Alice’s visit to the third ward was approaching.
The reason why Akira and Carol went to meet up with Fulip on a bike was to keep the camping vehicle safe in case a battle ensued. For Akira, who could not return back to the city, the camping vehicle was an important resting place. It was also an ammunition warehouse for him. Thus, they kept it away from Fulip to keep it safe.
But even so, it did not take the bike that much time to reach the camping vehicle. Though, they stuck close to the ground while they travelled, which was slower. Akira even allowed Carol to steer on their way back while he sat behind her.
“Carol, what do you think of what just happened there?”
“Hmmm, let’s see. Well, I’m glad that your opponent is not as big as I had thought.”
They were able to confirm that the whole Lion Steel company was not hostile to him. Even when Akira was trying to kill a member of the Lorentz family. Therefore, if he escaped from the territory under the third ward branch, the 50 billion Aurum bounty would effectively lose its value. After all, killing a bounty target set by the third ward branch might be interpreted as picking a fight with the faction that opposes the third ward branch.
After listening to Carol’s explanation, Akira gave a firm nod while a trace of surprise on his face.
“I see. Now that you mention it, I also have that choice, huh?”
Carol smiled bitterly when she heard his tone of voice.
“Akira, you didn’t even consider that when you went to meet them, huh?”
Although Akira was behind her, unable to lock eyes, he still looked away. It was as if he was avoiding giving a straight answer. But by pure coincidence, his eyes met Alpha’s instead, who was smiling teasingly. Therefore, Akira quickly turned to the opposite direction.
“Also, this is only my personal impression, but I’m glad that I get to understand how you think.”
“Hm? Did I do something?”
“You refused their assassination request, remember? Even with no desire to kill, there are those who can indifferently become a robber or an assassin. But you’re not like that. Rather, you’re the kind that feels nothing when murdering them. No matter what the reason, once someone accepts an assassination request, they would turn into a cold-blood murderer. Since you can choose to be one anytime you want, the reason you have not is extremely important.”
“Is that so?”
“Yep, that’s why I hope you would properly protect me and kill anyone who tries to harm me if something bad were to happen.”
Carol said so while smiling bewitchingly.
Akira replied with a smile. But then, something else came to mind.
“Who are these people trying to get you?”
Carol replied rather awkwardly.
“…Do I absolutely have to answer that question?”
“I won’t force you. But, well, since our fate is basically intertwined to some extent at the moment, I will let you know something. I’m actually scheduled to receive a rather powerful set of equipment. So, it would be great if those coming after you attack after I get my new equipment. I just thought I might be able to predict when they might attack if I know who they are.”
“When will you get your equipment?”
“In a week if I get lucky, or in 3 months in the worst-case scenario.”
“That’s a rather wide schedule.”
“Yeah, it’s complicated.”
Carol could not help but smile since it seemed like Akira really had no wish to force her to answer. It seems that he trusted her enough to inform her of his new equipment. Also, it would be bad if her enemies were to attack before he received his new equipment.
“I’m sorry. Just as I said before, I’m asking you to escort me just as insurance. It might actually be unnecessary. That’s why I don’t even know when we might get attacked nor who. After all, there’s a good chance nothing bad is going to happen.”
“I see. Well, if that’s really the case, it would be great. This means that I can just take it easy.”
Since it was not really that important of a subject for Akira, he did not pursue it any further.
As they eventually reached the camping vehicle, they stopped the bike near it. Normally, they would simply open the back door and put the bike in, but Akira stopped Carol from doing so.
“Akira, what’s wrong?”
“Something’s not right.”
After Akira stepped off the bike, he grabbed his rifle and slowly approached the camping vehicle. He moved forward while positioning himself to shield Carol. Naturally, Carol noticed this and became wary. She held a gun in hand as she trailed behind him.
Akira then opened the back door and moved the bike in. Afterwards, he used the bike as a shield to peek into the camping vehicle. After a while, nothing happened. He confirmed that the back of the vehicle was safe and he carefully proceeded forward. The moment they stepped inside the living room, they saw a familiar face waiting for them.
“Long time no see. Sorry for barging in like this.”
Shirou smiled and welcomed Akira and Carol.
Shirou had no weapon in hand and he showed no animosity. Moreover, he was someone from Sakashita Heavy Industry. Thus, Akira and Carol lowered their weapons. However, they were still cautious of him.
Carol was glaring at Shirou.
“…How did you get in?”
“I just opened the door and came in. Geez, stop glaring like that, will you? I’m sorry for barging in, but I’m sure you know it’s better than just waiting outside and attracting attention, right?”
Shirou acted extremely unceremoniously as if the security of the camping vehicle was nonexistent to him. That was when Akira suddenly interjected.
“You can at least contact us beforehand if you’re going to visit, you know? Those guys wanting to talk to me at least did that much.”
“Sorry about that, I was worried that others will be able to trace my location if I contact you. I was even planning to leave a letter if I did not get to meet you today.”
Yanagisawa was able to find him once back in Mihazono ruin, that was why Shirou was being extremely careful.
“Well, I apologize for coming without telling you first and breaking into your vehicle. As someone who is also in a precarious situation, I hope you can understand my actions. I’m here because there’s something I want to discuss with you.”
Carol started to look anxious.
“Discuss? What is it?”
Shirou glanced at Akira and Carol while smiling confidently. It was as if gloating he had the upper hand.
“Well, there’s something I want to discuss as a fellow old-world connector.”
Akira inadvertently furrowed his eyebrows. The moment he noticed that he had reacted, he thought that his cover had been blown. This caused him to show an even more obvious reaction. However, someone else in the room reacted even more vigorously.
Carol raised her voice. She was obviously shaken. Her pale face and her constant trembling from the fear caused her words to lose credibility. As a matter of fact, it was as if she was confessing that she was indeed an old-world connector.
As Akira was trying to conceal his surprise behind Carol’s reaction, Shirou was looking at them in confusion. However, Akira and Carol were not in a situation where they could notice it.
“There’s no need to be that surprised. Since I’m already here, I’m pretty sure you at least expected this, no?”
Akira saw the completely calm Shirou on one hand and an extremely distraught and scared Carol on the other hand. He decided to push aside his worries for now and stood in between Carol and Shirou. He then once again pointed his rifle at Shirou.
“Carol, is it okay to treat him as hostile?”
Although he did not know what exactly was going on, it did not change the fact that his escort target was frightened. Therefore, even if faced with someone from Sakashita Heavy Industry, it was enough of a reason for Akira to point his rifle at Shirou. If Carol made any signal to show affirmation, Akira would not hesitate to pull the trigger.
The moment Shirou realized this, his expression immediately turned solemn. Judging from her mental state, it seemed to be useless to try to say anything to Carol right now. So, he slowly withdrew from the place, thinking that it was an unfortunate failure.
“Alright. It doesn’t seem like we can have a proper chat here. So I will leave for now. Until next time.”
Shirou then slowly exited the living room without turning his back to Akira. He then proceeded to the door and finally left the camping vehicle. Akira was not sure if he should stop Shirou or not. However, seeing the state Carol was in, he prioritized her safety first and allowed Shirou to leave.
“It’s alright. He really left.”
Akira heaved a big sigh and lowered his rifle. He then glanced at Carol, who was cowering in fear.
Inside the camping vehicle’s living room, Carol and Akira were sitting in silence. It has been a few minutes since Shirou left. The drink that Akira placed in front of Carol had gone lukewarm. Even so, she did not touch it, not even once.
Akira was sitting on the opposite side of the table from her. He only sat there in silence without doing anything else. He only occasionally threw a glance to check on her, nothing more. He was simply sitting there without saying anything.
Time passed, no one broke the suffocating silence and it only continued indefinitely. Carol, distraught from the shock, slowly calmed down. It was as if the shock she felt was dissipating into the silence.
When she had regained some of her senses, enough to say something, she mumbled a question to Akira.
“…You won’t ask, huh?”
“I’m not going to force the issue.”
“You were the one who said that you don’t want to talk about it, right? I already knew that when I agreed to be your bodyguard. So, I won’t ask. That was one of the conditions when I accepted this job, after all.”
Silence once again pervaded the room. Seeing Carol once again fall silent, Akira thought that he gave the wrong answer. Thus, he tried to make up for his mistake.
“Well, it’s not like I’m not interested. So, I do want to know if you are willing to tell me.”
Carol only said as much and once again fell silent. Akira could not help but think that he made another mistake again. After a short pause, she straightened up her hunching back and declared.
“I’ll tell you.”
She never wanted anyone to find out. But now that the cat was out of the bag, she wanted Akira to know.
“I really meant it when I said that I’m not an old-world connector. Or at least, that’s what I believe. I was an old-world connector but that should no longer be the case now… Probably…”
Up until now, she had been keeping it a closing guarded secret. Believing her life would be endangered if it ever got out. However, a portion of her heart wished she could share it with someone. The desire to be free from her shackles pushed her to continue her story.
A long time ago, when her name was not Carol yet. She was just one among the thousands of the common eastern district Hunters. One day, she got assaulted by a crippling headache while exploring Mihazono ruin. Right after, her vision was littered with images. Images which seemed to be from augmented reality. It was to the point where she could not even look at what was in front of her. She eventually fainted and lost consciousness.
She woke a few days later and found herself right where she lost consciousness. She wondered how she had survived, unconscious for a few days in the middle of a dangerous ruin. Her first thought was to return while enduring the incessant headache. The moment she stepped outside the building, she was flabbergasted. Although it was in the middle of the night, her vision was filled with light.
Buildings were adorned with signboards and roads were decorated with road markers. They were in all directions and even extended up to the sky. Names of each building and street were floating around. Images of the original buildings were overlapping with already crumbled dilapidated remnants. There were even images of walls with warnings, stating that it was a restricted area. She could even see patrol routes for the security drones as well. All of these were floating in her vision.
The moment Carol could see all this, her head was once again assaulted by crippling pain. Although it was excruciating, she managed to stay awake. But, she still thought that it was dangerous to stay there. Thus, she decided to head back home. However, the pain quickly became unbearable the moment she hurriedly returned back inside the building. It was only after she got inside a room, with few augmented reality images, that her headache slowly subsided, allowing her an opportunity to take a short break.
Afterwards, Carol spent a few more days inside the buildings. She did try to find a way to go back home. She did so by looking for areas where the pain was relatively weaker. However, the moment she stepped outside, the pain quickly returned, which forced her to cut the attempt short. The pain was simply too much no matter which exit she tried.
One day, while she explored the inside of the building, believing she had no means to leave, she suddenly found a room with a human-like image inside of it. The pain immediately flooded back, which knocked her unconscious again. While her mind was still muddled, she was asked something. She even managed to give a reply. However, due to the pain filling her senses, she hardly had any recollection of what took place.
The next time she woke up, her headache had disappeared. Even when she stepped outside, she could no longer see floating images. Carol was relieved but also confused. Nonetheless, she managed to drag herself out of the ruin.
Afterwards, she did some research to investigate what just happened to her. Eventually, she concluded that she had temporarily turned into an old-world connector. The things she saw back in the ruin were an augmented reality that old-world connectors could see. Since she could no longer see them, she thought that she was no longer an old-world connector.
Just to be safe, she tried visiting ruins that were known to still have active augmented reality systems. It was to check if she could see anything. She used certain information-gathering devices and confirmed the presence of active augmented reality entities. She was glad that she could no longer see them with her naked eyes. She was afraid of going back to Mihazono ruin to make absolutely sure she was no longer an old-world connector. However, that was fine.
She had heard numerous rumours involving people getting investigated and even kidnapped for being misunderstood as an old-world connector. But since she was no longer an old-world connector, she thought that everything would be fine. Nonetheless, she still felt worried that she might return back to being an old-world connector.
One day, Carol accompanied a Hunter party to go to Mihazono ruin, which she had avoided up until that point. The outcome surprised her. Although she was still able to see everything, she did not have any headaches. And unlike last time, rather than having her vision filled with signs, she was only able to see a portion of it.
Carol was shocked, and the other Hunters looked at her with worry. She came up with vague excuses and finished her job there just as planned.
After that, Carol took more time to carefully investigate her situation. She found out that she only became a temporarily functioning old-world connector when she was around Mihazono ruin. Although it was limited to such a scenario, she was able to access information panels and gather all kinds of information.
It was enough of a reason for those seeking old-world connectors to look for her. At the very least, if she got found out, she would be placed in the same situation as those rumours. Since she could not be accurately classified as an old-world connector, there was a good chance that she would go through even more terrible experiments. Carol was so scared that she decided to throw away her past in order to keep it a secret. In fear that even the slightest mistake might connect to her secret, she completely cut her past off from her.
She changed her name, her face, and even enhanced her body to change her body figure. She threw away her past Hunter record and registered as a new Hunter, with a new name. Without any relation to her past, it was easy for her to blend in with the low lives. Since she registered her name from the Hunter Office in the slums, no one was suspicious of her.
Living in secrecy was not cheap. She needed to prepare money in the case something was to happen. In order to earn more, she took on another job besides being a Hunter, which was creating maps.
There were cases where proficient map makers were suspected to be old-world connectors. However, that also meant those non-old-world connectors had special means to gather information. Thus, with her great skills as one of those highly capable map makers, she was able to further disguise herself.
As a side job, she also started selling her body. As she started charging more and more for her services, she also started accepting information in place of money. When others got suspicious of her knowing things she could not have known unless she was an old-world connector, she could claim that she heard it from the other Hunters.
Eventually, she started to befriend Viola despite knowing of her bad reputation. After all, those associated with Viola knew of things others did not. Thus, she decided to associate with her. Afterwards, it turned out that they got along pretty well and with them influencing one another, it was only a matter of time before Carol got recognised as a bad woman as well.
Those days greatly changed her. She eventually started trying various means to keep her secret hidden.
While at the same time, the fear of her secret leaking out one day caused side effects. Her inner desire to be released from her burden caused her to start seeking thrilling and risky things. She wanted someone suitable to be roped into her trouble. Thus, she started to entice people. To risk their lives. Seeing them ruined made her feel as though they took her place. It made her feel safe and she even took joy in it.
The more one gets paranoid, the more it pushes them to self-destruct. In Carol’s case, the wish to share her secret slowly grew bigger.
In the beginning, she only sold her body for a small price. She would then slowly make her customers addicted to her body, meanwhile, increasing the price exponentially. It would result in them one day no longer being able to pay with money. At that point, she would accept information instead. The distortions in her caused her to act in such a manner.
She wished for someone she could confide in. That wish caused her to prefer men who would not share secrets even when seduced. Thus, she went around seducing men, seeking that particular type of person.
However, due to her superb skill in seducing men, she was not able to find the right one. She only ended up repeating the cycle. Getting her hopes up, seducing the guy, making him spill out his secret, and getting herself disappointed in the end. Naturally, it also led to the ruin of the man, which also led to her infamy for ruining others’ lives.
Then one day, as she was going about her usual life, Carol met someone unique. A boy who showed completely no interest in her. It was Akira. No matter how hard she tried to seduce him, Akira always showed no reaction. Furthermore, Akira was extremely particular. He always stuck close to his principles no matter what. He also occasionally made insane decisions, which went against any semblance of common sense. He was a young boy who was strangely extremely dutiful to requests that he accepted.
Carol started unconsciously getting interested in him. Hoping that if it was such a strange boy, then he might be the person she was hoping for.
But before she was able to do anything to confirm her feelings, she received some info. It stated that a huge organization was looking for an old-world connector near Kugamayama city. Although she knew that they were not looking for her, she was worried that she would get investigated.
It was then that Carol asked Akira to be her bodyguard. If it was him, she believed he would not abandon the job that he had taken; even if he faced those people. Indeed, her guess was on the nose. Even after Akira encountered those chasing Shirou back in Mihazono ruin, he did not show any signs of withdrawing from his duties as her bodyguard.
Though, later, Akira did withdraw from the job once. However, it was to make sure she would not be roped into his problems. Basically, he did not wish to put his escort target in any form of danger. It was after a series of events that Carol managed to convince Akira to re-accept the bodyguard request again.
Akira’s unbending obsession to kill Chloe was a good thing from her point of view. If it was someone who would not back down even when faced against a huge company like Lion Steel, there was a good chance that they would also not back down when faced against Sakashita Heavy Industry.
The 50 billion Aurum bounty was another positive for Carol. In such a scenario, if her position leaked out, there was a high probability Akira would escape with her. The camping car was also prepared for the scenario they had to run around the eastern district. Thus, it was beneficial for her.
Carol did not trick Akira, she did not lie to him, but she certainly intended to use him.
She confessed everything to him. But, as expected, she could not say anything about the things she was uncertain about herself. Such as her preference in men. However, she did confess everything. The reasons behind her request to have Akira as her bodyguard.
There was no more trickery, no more secrets, nothing.