Chapter 20, A Hunter Backup
Sheryl was standing in front of her base with a stern face. She was in a bad mood and was trying to calm herself but she could not, causing her to get more irritated.
No one except those that knew her well could see a trace of panic on her face, which she was trying to cover up with her best facade. An expression that would hide her irritation, bad mood, worries and nervousness that filled her heart.
A boy named Erio came to her, it was obvious that he was suspicious of Sheryl.
“Sheryl, what the heck is going on with that Hunter Akira. He doesn’t visit us at all.”
“Just shut up and wait for him, didn’t I tell you that already?”
“But yesterday too, we waited a whole night for him and he didn’t come at all…”
Sheryl interrupted Erio with a sharp look.
“Just stop yapping! I’m the boss here! So you should obey me! You did promise me that, didn’t you?!”
That sharp gaze was actually an act to hide the panic inside Sheryl’s heart since Akira did not visit this place at all. Her feelings also caused her gaze to turn even more intimidating.
Erio could not help but to stay shut. He then let out a sigh before mumbling.
“Alright, I know, boss.”
The people who decided to stay in the gang had already approved Sheryl as their boss. So Erio just stopped his complaint there. But it could be seen from his expression that his suspicion and displeasure did not go away.
Sheryl let out a big sigh, half of it was just acting. She then continued by uttering some words in order to further intimidate Erio.
“A Hunter is a very busy person, so I’m sure that’s why he can’t come here. Even if I did talk directly to him, it’s not like I’m in any position to order him to come here as soon as possible. You can’t even understand that, huh?”
“You’re right, I’m sorry.”
“If you can understand me, then get back on your job.”
“Roger that, boss.”
Although Erio answered back in a way that raised some questions, he obediently left Sheryl alone. But after he put some distance from her, he mumbled.
“…But like, aren’t you his favourite?”
Sheryl heard that mumble as her face immediately leaked a bit of her nervousness that she was hiding, but she was able to quickly place back her annoyed expression. Only after she looked around and made sure that no one was near, did she take off her annoyed expression. Her real expression showed that she was filled with panic and nervousness.
[…It’s bad if this goes on. What should I do? Should I go look for Akira once more…? No, I should not do that, they’ll definitely be suspicious of me if I keep doing that.]
That day when Akira said to Sheryl that he would visit her base, she and all her gang members waited for him. But in the end, Akira did not come. He did not come the day after that and also the next consecutive days too. Now her position in the gang was in peril.
The children who were in Sibea’s gang were already operating in the newly revived gang with Sheryl as its head. They searched the area around their territory and the wasteland near them for scrap steel and anything that can be exchanged for money. Since they would group up and go to the food distribution place together, the other gangs already knew about Sheryl’s gang.
At the moment, the other gangs had not started messing with her gang yet. That was because the other gangs believed that Akira was behind Sheryl. But Akira had not visited their base yet. So the members of her gang could not help but feel displeased and insecure.
Sheryl was able to keep her gang members under control by explaining to them that being a Hunter was a very busy job. But of course, there was a limit on how long she could keep that up. Soon, her gang members noticed her nervousness and started to distrust her, she became even more insecure because of that.
There were a lot of people talking behind Sheryl’s back, some of them were saying she was lying, some of them were saying that she was not lying but Akira was actually tricking her, and some of them were saying that Akira had already abandoned her. Her gang members started to look at her with suspicion and displeasure. They also started to display their feelings in front of Sheryl. It was not as bad that they would stab her on her back, but it was only a matter of time.
Sheryl already noticed about the feelings of her gang’s members. But she could do nothing about it. She had no means of contacting Akira and she could not find him even after waiting near his inn. She could not even come up with any good ideas to appease her gang members. She was basically at her wit’s end.
But right at that critical time, Akira appeared in front of her.
“Is Sheryl around? Ah, there you are.”
Sheryl who was at her wit’s end involuntarily called Akira’s name in a loud voice, thus her voice was heard by everyone in her base. And so all the other children came out from their rooms to see what was going on.
Sheryl regained her composure as she dragged Akira to a private room and immediately closed the door the moment they got in. She wanted to just shout at him and ask why he did not come on the day he promised her. But she knew if she did that, it would be the end of her. Thus she desperately tried to hold herself back as she smiled at Akira.
“Thank you very much for visiting our base. I’ve been waiting for you. By the way, we waited for you that night, you promised you would come. But you never turned up, did something happen to you?”
Sheryl’s smile showed that she did not mind him being late, or at least that was what she was trying to express with her smile.
“Sorry, I did plan to come, but I almost got killed that day.”
“Almost got killed??!?!”
Sheryl could not help but scream, Akira was a bit taken aback to see Sheryl surprised. But he then calmed down and answered back.
“No need to be so surprised. It’s a normal thing in this line of work.”
Sheryl was lost for words. She did think that something must have happened, but she did not imagine that he was almost killed. She then regained her composure and showed that she was worried.
“A-are you alright!?”
“Yeah, I’m not injured and I’m in good shape right now.”
“I-I see… Uhmm, May I ask what happened?”
“I got attacked by two groups of monsters on the same day. I was too tired after the battle, or more like, I fainted out of exhaustion, that’s why I couldn’t come. Sorry about that.”
Akira calmly replied that he was sorry. He decided not to say anything about the fact that he forgot his promise since there was no particular reason to tell her that.
Sheryl let out a sigh of relief. She then changed gear and smiled at Akira.
“I see. In that case, it can’t be helped. It must have been hard on you but I’m glad that you’re alright now. I dragged you to a private room because I wanted to have a private talk with you. But since everyone is waiting for you, we can talk afterwards. I want to introduce you to everyone, are you okay with that?”
Sheryl grabbed Akira by his hand as she led him out of the room. She then quietly complained.
[…Good grief. I don’t mind as to why he was late, but that was really surprising. I’m sure he was only exaggerating, but I really hope he would stop joking like that.]
Although Sheryl was only able to achieve her current position because of Akira’s support, a made-up story like that still rubbed her the wrong way. But of course, she was not in a position to say anything about that. In order not to worsen her own mood any further, she suggested getting everyone introduced. Her face twitched out of irritation whenever she thought of the made-up story. It was because Akira told her that story in such a casual way that he sounded less believable.
The children gathered in the hall inside the base. Murmurs could be heard in the hall as those children saw Sheryl standing next to Akira in a pleasant mood.
“So he finally really came, huh? I was doubting her, but it turned out to be true, huh?”
“Is that really the Hunter who killed Sibea? Doesn’t he look like a small boy just like us?”
“Thank goodness it’s real. I feel much safer now.”
“I know that she said he’ll help us, but I wonder how far he’s willing to go? I’m really worried.”
“Say, he doesn’t look that strong though, are we really going to be okay?”
Although there were still a lot of questions, all the doubts about Sheryl talking to Akira were cleared.
Sheryl smiled as she confidently introduced Akira.
“This is Akira. I think you already know him. Sibea took some of our members to get him but he was able to fight back. But even so, he decided to help us, so be sure not to be rude to him, okay?”
When Sheryl turned her gaze towards Akira, he unwilling started to speak up.
“I’m Akira. I’m just helping Sheryl and I’m only helping Sheryl alone. I have no plans to get involved with any of you. Sheryl is the boss here, if you have any questions, just ask her. Don’t ask me about unnecessary things. And when I say not to ask something, then never ever ask about it for a second time. That’s all from me.”
It was obvious that the children were flabbergasted and confused. It was because although Sheryl was their boss, the person who was backing her and virtually the person who had reign over their gang and was responsible for taking care of them showed very little interest in them.
Sheryl frowned, but Akira did not care.
“Sheryl. I have something to talk about with you, so come with me for a bit.”
“Eh? Ah, okay.”
Seeing Sheryl was about to leave the hall with Akira, Erio suddenly stopped them.
“Whoah, wait for a sec!! Are you really Akira?”
Akira stopped, he turned back and looked annoyed.
“What have you been doing up until now abandoning us?! And what do you mean when you said that you’re not going to join our gang?! Aren’t you supposed to look over us?!”
“Didn’t I say that you should ask that to Sheryl just now? So stop asking that to me.”
Akira’s way of speaking really shocked Erio. When he heard that the hunter who killed Sibea would help them out, he was feeling hopeful but also insecure at the same time. But when that person never showed himself, doubts and displeasure were piling inside his heart. And right when that person showed himself in front of him, he did not look capable at all even when he was armed. It was a huge let down for Erio.
Adding those words that Akira just said to Erio, Erio’s doubt toward Sheryl and Akira peaked.
[…This boy might even be weaker than me, you know? Are we seriously going to trust our lives to this boy?!]
Sibea and his friends might be Hunters who had fallen off grace. But even so, they were strong. Thus the person who killed Sibea and caused his gang to dissolve must be someone stronger than Sibea.
But the boy who was standing in front of Erio did not look like he even had a chance against Sibea.
[…Is Sheryl tricking us? No, it might be him who is tricking Sheryl, right?]
Erio could not help but think that if he charged at Akira, took his gun and pointed it at him. Akira would not have any other choice but to confess the truth.
The view of Akira turning his back at him and heading outside looked so full of openings for some reason. And the way Akira looked so annoyed when he was questioned, it felt like he was mocking Erio. His life was really hard after Sibea’s gang was destroyed. And when the gang started operating again, he thought that these hard time had finally come to pass. But then this happened, he was utterly disappointed which gave Erio the final push.
Erio shouted as he rushed towards Akira. When Akira was only a few steps away, he clenched his fist, pulled back and threw it aiming at the back of Akira’s head. It did not seem like Akira noticed his intention, it was a surprise attack from his behind. Erio was sure that it would hit Akira.
But then Akira casually stepped to the side and evaded his fist without even turning back.
Akira then sent a fist straight to Erio’s surprised face and dropped him to the ground.
Akira’s fighting ability received a huge boost in such a short time due to Alpha’s training and all the experiences he piled up. He was already strong enough that a normal boy like Erio would not even stand a chance against him. Of course, a surprise attack from an amateur might be able to take him down, but Akira was very cautious of such a thing due to his experience living in the back alley of the slum city for years. In a normal condition, a surprise attack would not work on him now.
Moreover, it was almost near impossible to launch a surprise attack against Alpha. Even for the attack just now, Alpha already forewarned Akira about it. Thus Akira was able to evade it without turning back. So in short, Erio’s winning chance was zero right from the start.
Erio was lying on the ground trying to suppress the stinging pain on his face. But when he glanced at Akira who was looking down on him, he found the muzzle of Akira’s gun was already pointing at him.
Erio’s face turned pale as he was trembling in terror. The other kids took some distance between them in panic. Akira’s expression did not change as he pulled the trigger.
Right after that, a hole was opened on the floor. But Erio was unscathed. Akira missed his shot on purpose, but Erio froze up as if he was shot, he even stopped shivering. Sheryl and the other kids could not even let out their voice.
After that, Akira looked angry as he spoke to Sheryl.
“Sheryl, I don’t mind whomever you want to add into your gang. To be honest, I don’t even give a damn f*ck. But since you’re the boss, at least be sure to keep your leash on them. You better fix this situation before I misunderstand that the people are acting on your order. If that happens, no one will have a good end.”
Akira then left the hall as Sheryl followed behind him in while being flustered. Only Erio who still could not stand up and other kids who were trembling in fear of Akira were left in the hall.
Sheryl walked beside Akira as she cursed Erio in her heart but she did not dare voice it out. She just kept following Akira silently as he took her out of the base and into the slum city. Sheryl did not know where Akira was leading her as she did not have the leeway of asking that question. She kept cursing Erio in silence as she was following Akira.
Akira suddenly spoke to her.
“Was that good enough?”
Sheryl was so surprised that she could not give a proper answer. She could only answer that question with a confused face. Akira thought that Sheryl actually was not able to understand what he meant due to her shock and added an explanation to his question.
“Oh, didn’t you call me to do something like that? Was I mistaken?”
Sheryl was finally able to regain her composure as she looked at Akira. The anger that she saw in the base was gone without a trace. Akira was completely calm. She noticed that Akira’s behaviour in the base was only acting. She then smiled at Akira as she was relieved.
“Well, it’s true that I asked you, but I think what you did now was an overkill.”
“I see, I’m sorry but can you take care of the aftermath? I’m not good with handling that after all.”
“I understand. So then, where are we heading right now?”
“You’ll see, we’ll be arrive there soon.”
After sometime Akira stopped and pointed at a trailer. It was Katsuragi’s trailer which also functioned as his moveable shop. As Akira arrived there, Darris who was watching the trailer noticed him and Sheryl.
“Akira, are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. Although, it was a big surprise to know that 3 days have already passed when I woke up.”
“I see, I’m glad that you’re alright.”
Akira and Darris laughed lightly to each other. Although there were gaps in their age, ability and social status, both of them were close to each other after facing a life and death battle together.
“So then, do you need anything? If you have come to buy something, you can go ahead and take a look.”
“Well, I just need to discuss something with Katsuragi, so can you please call him over?”
“Wait for a bit here then. Katsuragi!! Akira is here!! I don’t know what’s going on but he said he wants to talk with you.”
Katsuragi then popped out from deep inside the trailer and smiled at Akira as soon as he saw him.
“Akira, huh? I heard that you fainted out of exhaustion, but it seems that you’re doing very well since you have come here with a girl. So, what do you need? You came here to have a talk with a businessman, so I won’t listen to anything that won’t bring me money, you know?”
Akira replied a bit provocatively.
“That would depend on your ability as a merchant.”
“Then it’ll definitely be a profitable talk.”
Katsuragi smiled back at Akira.
Katsuragi listened closely and seriously to Akira’s talk. Akira’s suggestion was, in exchange for bringing relics to his shop, Katsuragi had to help out Sheryl’s gang. Katsuragi and Akira proceeded to calculate the possible benefit and loss that it could bring them.
There were many other places that would accept relics other than the Hunter Office, it was because the demand for relics was high and the profit that people can get from it was huge. Although it was only a side job for him, Katsuragi also bought relics.
As for the help for Sheryl’s gang, it would be alright as long as they used his name. Most of the merchants would look down on the people of the slum city and raise their price to a crazy level. So it would be a big help for Sheryl and her gang to find a merchant that would not do that. Even for people from the slum city who had zero trustability, a small word from someone like Katsuragi would help them a lot.
Katsuragi knew well about Akira’s fighting ability, he then predicted the quantity and quality of relics that Akira would be able to bring back from the ruins. And then he subtracted it with the amount of money that he would need to help out Sheryl and her gang. After all the calculations in his brain, he still ended up with a profit. After that, he looked at Akira with an inquisitive look.
“I still owe you some. Moreover, selling and buying relics can bring me money. It’s true that it would bring a profit.”
“So do we have a deal here?”
“Well, wait for a sec. Before we decide on that, I have some questions. First of all, what is your relationship with that girl?”
Katsuragi then looked at Sheryl as if he was trying to evaluate her. Sheryl started getting nervous while Akira made an honest puzzled look.
“Why did you ask that?”
“Why, you ask? She’s someone that makes you strike a deal with me. So, of course, it makes me want to know. Moreover, you even asked me to help her out and this might become a long term deal between us, you see? So then, what’s she to you? Just an acquaintance? A friend? Relative? Lover? Or maybe even wifey?”
“Let’s just say that she and I grew up in the slum city and we’re close enough for me to bring this deal to you. But if she slows me down, I’ll abandon her anytime. That’s all there is to it.”
Katsuragi tried to figure out Akira’s relation with Sheryl through his behaviour, then he just shelved that topic away for now.
“The next problem is about relics. You do know that even if you bring relics to my shop, you won’t be able to get a rank up, right? After all, it means that you’re not selling your relics to the Hunter Office, is that okay with you?”
One could only rank up by bringing relics to the Hunter Office and other shops affiliated with them. There were Hunters who tried to get a rank up by only selling cheap and bad quality relics or even fake relics. There were also cases where a fight broke because Hunters who assumed the shop where they sold their relics to be affiliated to the Hunter Office.
Hunter rank is something that is used to decide the value of a Hunter. Even if he could earn profit from this deal, it was not worth that much to cause a problem with his Hunter rank. At least that what Katsuragi though since he knew well just how good of a Hunter Akira was. That was exactly why he needed to make sure that Akira understood this point.
Akira then answered back calmly.
“I don’t mind as long as you’ll buy expensive relics from me. At the moment, I need money more than a Hunter rank. If I find your price is not high enough, I’ll sell my relics back at the Hunter Office just like usual.”
“I see… Well then, we have a deal here!”
Katsuragi then smiled befitting of a merchant and sealed their deal by shaking Akira’s hand. He then turned to Sheryl and extended his hand for a handshake. But Sheryl was at a loss and did not reach for his hand.
“What’s wrong? Won’t even shake my hand, huh?”
Sheryl reached Katsuragi’s hand in panic and shook it. But suddenly Katsuragi gripped her hand strongly, Sheryl was so surprised that she shifted her gaze to Katsuragi. The moment she saw Katsuragi’s face, Sheryl froze up. He might be smiling but his eyes were glaring at her.
“Don’t you dare betray me.”
It was clear that Katsuragi was threatening Sheryl through his tone, glare, expression and his strong grip. It was as if he was indicating Sheryl what would happen to her if she did not heed his warning.
People got corrupted by riches. As a merchant, Katsuragi knew that very well. Only economic distress could lower the threshold for such a thing to happen. That was exactly why the price of one’s life in the slum city was abnormally cheap. With only the price of a single bullet, one could trample over the life and trust of the other person in the slum city.
When making a deal with someone from the slum city, this much of intimidation was very much necessary. That was what Katsuragi thought.
But he went too far there. Katsuragi usually made such a deal with Hunters who regularly fight monsters in the wasteland. So this level of intimidation usually shown to those Hunters was simply too much to handle for a little girl from the slum. As such, Sheryl was left trembling in fear unable to even answer back.
Katsuragi understood that he overdid it as he lowered his intimidation. But then Akira suddenly said.
“If she gives you too much trouble, then just tell me, I’ll take care of her myself.”
“Oh, what would you do, be more precise?”
“I’ll kill her and throw her somewhere in the wasteland.”
Sheryl shivered while Katsuragi was surprised by those words since it did not sound like Akira was joking.
“Woah, you’re really a straightforward person, huh?”
“We risk our lives by working in the wasteland, so the people in the slum city should also put their lives at stake in order to live. She should understand this. And she is not a fool who thinks she can go against me.”
“There’s nothing for sure in this world. If that’s not true, I won’t accept getting attacked by two groups of monsters on the same day.”
“You can say that again.”
Katsuragi laughed merrily. He then released Sheryl’s hand and showed a friendly smile to her.
“Sorry that I intimidated you, after all, there are all kinds of people in this world. So I have to be careful. Putting that aside, I hope we can get along well.”
Sheryl tried her best to make a friendly smile but she only ended up with a crooked smile.
Akira did not bat an eyelash on that as he continued by asking a question to Katsuragi.
“Ah, by the way, do you sell information terminal? I need something cheap that can be used without complicated setting and I’m fine with the most basic one.”
“Even if you say the most basic one, every person has a different interpretation of that, you know?”
“It’s fine as long as it can be used to contact me. It’s for Sheryl so that she can keep in touch with me.”
“In that case, that’ll be 20,000 Aurum.”
Akira handed 20,000 Aurum to Katsuragi and received the information terminal. He then connected it to his own information terminal to finish the essential settings before giving it to Sheryl.
“You can contact me with this if anything happens. If you can’t contact me for an extended period of time, just assume me to be dead. Remember that I’ll assume the same in case I’m unable to contact you too.”
“I-I understand, thank you.”
“And also, about showing up in the base regularly, as I thought it’s not a good idea to decide the time now. After all, I always spend my time doing what I want to do, so it would be too much trouble if I book my schedule beforehand. I don’t mind if you call me to show up in the base and if I’m in the mood, then I’ll show up. But that doesn’t mean that you can call me every day, okay?”
“Well then, I have work to do so I’m going back home. As for you… you should discuss with Katsuragi about what kind of help that you need from him.”
But Katsuragi then called Akira with a displeased tone.
“Whoa whoa, you came here after all, so why don’t you buy something before leaving?”
“Sorry, I’m a bit tight on money right now, but I’ll buy next time.”
After saying that, Akira left. Katsuragi then turned to Sheryl.
“Well now, Akira did say that too, so let’s finish up on the details, shall we? Do you have some time?”
“Eh, ah, yes. I’m okay, I’ll be in your care.”
Sheryl regained her composure as she politely bowed to Katsuragi.
Katsuragi took a scan of her again trying to evaluate her before he laughed lightly and asked her.
“Well, Akira is gone now so I want to ask you this again. What is your relationship with that boy?”
“It’s as he said before…”
“I see. Let me rephrase my question then. What do you want your relationship to be? Are you aiming to be his lover or even wife perhaps?”
Sheryl knew that it might cause trouble if she gave Katsuragi a bad answer. So instead, she answered back with a question.
“…That is… He’s helping my gang, is there anything more than that?”
Katsuragi smiled still with his merchant expression.
“There’re a lot of things other than that. You see, I’m planning to get along with Akira for a long time, which means that I might need to get along with you too. But that depends on what your relationship with him is, right? So I should at least confirm whether you want to get into a closer relationship with him or will he abandon you instead. So then, what is it? Looking at how he behaved just now, do you think it’s possible for you?”
Sheryl knew well that she was being appraised there, so she laughed confidently and said.
“Of course that’s my plan. Not to mention that I believe Akira likes me, you know? After all, he even did something like this for me, right? I believe that his behaviour just now was to show Katsuragi-san not to think lightly of us, although we’re just small children from the slum city. After all, Akira is also a Hunter.”
She knew that if she pulled back now, then she would be looked down upon. Although she knew that she was saying too much, she still tried her hardest to make an expression full of confidence.
But Katsuragi kept staring at Sheryl while trying to look deeper into her words. He then let out a sigh.
“That sounds like you tried to seduce him with your body only to get rejected.”
Sheryl froze up. Looking at that, Katsuragi just smiled invincibly.
“Ah, that face is saying ‘how in the world do you know that?’, huh? It’s not that rare for Hunters who have a high income to bring their girls to my shop. In due time, I became able to see whether those Hunters are genuinely interested in the girls that they’re bringing or if they’re thinking of abandoning those girls anytime soon. After all, it’s one of the essential skills for a merchant, you see. If it’s the former, then it’s a good chance to sell expensive equipment, after all, they would want to flaunt in front of the girls that they are interested in. To be honest, you’re situation seems more inclined to the latter, you know?”
Actually, it was a bet to draw out the truth from Sheryl. Katsuragi actually did not have any evidence to say that far. But after seeing how Sheryl reacted, he at least knew that Sheryl did try to seduce Akira only to get rejected.
“But still, I think it can’t be helped, you know? Sorry to say this, but someone like you is just… Ah, it’s not like I’m mocking you here. It’s more like I’m talking about the standards, I think Akira’s standards are higher.”
“…What do you mean?”
Sheryl could not help but to make a confused expression. Normally, Sheryl would be able to hold herself back, but now it only showed how much she was shocked by Katsuragi’s words. She was also very interested in knowing about Akira’s standards. She thought that she may be able to reap some benefits from it in future.
Katsuragi smiled as if he found her reaction amusing to him.
“This is only my theory, but there’s a lot of beautiful Hunters out there. Ah, when I say Hunters, I mean like Hunters who properly earn their money from working as a Hunter and not like those who are Hunters in name only. Of course, each person has a different basis on what kind of beauty that would make them think a girl is beautiful. But there’s at least a common ground there for everyone. And I believe that would be their health.”
“Yes, the complexity of the skin, the shine on the hairs, the amount of meat in one’s body. I think most of the people think that a healthy girl is a beautiful girl. So if you use this point of view, then many of the female Hunters are beautiful girls. After all, an unhealthy girl will have problems with manoeuvring around. In order to survive in the wasteland, a Hunter should keep his or her body in tip-top shape. That’s exactly why they would stock powerful medicine to heal their wounds and recover their fatigue. The healing medicines always heal wounds on the cellular level. Thus it would also heal damaged skin. Not to mention that exploring the wasteland is hard work, so it’s impossible for them to get fat. Moreover, some of the medicines would instantly convert any excess fat into energy. Thus I think that health and natural look are the basis of beauty.”
Sheryl listened closely to what Katsuragi said. And at the same time, she also cursed the things that she could not do anything about.
“The cellular level of healing from the medicines can also be thought of as an anti-ageing process. That’s why some of the Hunters stay beautiful past their prime. But well, you can also say that it’s due to all kinds of beauty products that they can buy from the money that they earn. So then, if we have to compare you with those girls… Well, uhh, you know… the female Hunters that Akira is acquainted with are all beautiful girls.”
Katsuragi then remembered about Elena and Sara, both of them were beautiful girls. Not to mention that they brought Akira to their home when Akira fainted. So he thought that those two girls must be in a good term with Akira. Katsuragi thought that it would not be strange if Akira already got used to seeing such beautiful girls, thus his standard for beautiful girls would have been pulled higher.
Sheryl’s voice trembled a bit as she said.
“So… what do you want me to do? Is there any meaning in telling me all this?”
Seeing that there was a shred of frustration in Sheryl’s behaviour, Katsuragi just gave her a meaningful smile.
“What I’m going to tell you after this is for your sake so that you understand this better. I’ll give you something good, so just wait here for a bit.”
After saying that, Katsuragi went back to his trailer, Sheryl could hear his voice from outside the trailer.
“Darris!! Do you know where those prototypes weapons are kept?”
“You stuffed them back while saying that it won’t sell at all and you’re going to return them back, didn’t you?”
“Ah, you’re right!!”
Not too long after that, Katsuragi returned to Sheryl with a big rucksack and then he just put that rucksack in front of Sheryl.
“Sorry for the wait, I’ll give this to you, it’s a souvenir from me, take it home with you.”
That bag was stuffed with foods that were near their expiration date, guns that did not sell and many other things. All of them were valuable things to Sheryl. Thus Sheryl bowed while being flustered.
“T-thank you very much.”
From inside that bag, Katsuragi took out a few things and showed it to Sheryl.
“There are soaps, makeup kits and many other things inside this bag. Although they’re just trial products, there are also medicines that were produced for Hunter’s use, so it should be better than those cheap medicines. Remember, you should be at least beautiful enough to make Akira think that he’s lucky when you try to seduce him. Let me tell you this upfront though, this is just an investment. I’m not sure why Akira helps you, but for now, you’re the reason why he’ll come to me to sell his relics. So you should work hard so that Akira would not abandon you, and so that he’ll keep selling relics to me. You get that?”
Sheryl still tried to smile even though she could not make a perfect smile.
“I’m looking forward to us working together for a long term.”
Katsuragi then laughed loudly with a shred of expectation his gaze.
Before going back to his inn, Akira decided to visit Shizuka’s shop to replenish his ammo. The moment he entered the shop, Shizuka immediately noticed him and waved at him. Akira found it strange for the person at the counter to take initiative like that, but even so, he just obediently walked to the counter and went on with his order just like usual.
“Shizuka-san, I have come to buy some ammo again, this time I spent a lot of them. So I’ll be buying more than usu-“
Shizuka stopped Akira’s words and hugged him tightly.
Akira was flustered when Shizuka hugged him. He could feel Shizuka’s body temperature and there was a soft sensation hitting him from the front. He was so embarrassed and confused as he tried to break off Shizuka’s hug. But Shizuka kept her arms tight even after knowing that.
“I heard about everything from Elena and Sara. I know well that being a Hunter is a dangerous job and I understand that you need to go above your own limit from time to time. That’s why I can’t say don’t do anything dangerous or don’t push yourself too hard. So at least please let me say this, I’m glad that you’re fine.”
Shizuka tightened her embrace for once more before letting off.
Akira smiled while looking a bit surprised, but his expression immediately changed to contentment as he bowed to Shizuka.
“I’m sorry to have made you worry, but I’m okay now.”
Akira’s reply was so well composed that it was not something that would come out from someone who was unconscious for a few days. Shizuka smiled feeling relieved since it looked like it was not just a facade and Akira was really fine.
“It’s all good as long as you’re fine. Ammo replenishment, right? I’ll bring it right away, just wait here.”
While Akira was waiting for Shizuka, Elena suddenly entered the shop. She noticed Akira as she smiled at him and walked to his side.
“Akira, so you’ve woken up, huh? I never thought to meet you here. Although I already told Sara to contact me as soon as you wake up-“
Elena stopped her words mid-sentence as she noticed a notification came up on her information terminal. She then checked the notification and smiled bitterly.
“It just came. That Sara, she must have forgotten about it.”
Akira then bowed to Elena.
“Elena-san, I’m sorry to have caused you a lot of trouble and thank you very much for taking care of me. And also, sorry for occupying the bed for a few days.”
“Don’t worry about that. It’s big enough for us to sleep together, after all. But that aside, Sara used to unconsciously hug you like a pillow though, so are you okay? That girl is an augmented human, you know. Although she looks like that, she’s actually very strong. She didn’t break any of your bones, right?”
Elena smiled teasingly, to which, Akira could only return it with an awkward smile.
[I bet that was just a joke.]
Sheryl dragged her feet to her base. She was on her limit in every sense.
Because Akira did not visit the base for some time, a lot of the gang members started to doubt her, she feared that she would get killed. And when Akira finally came to her base, one of the gang members attacked him, it was just disastrous. She thought that Akira would kill her. And then she met a weapon merchant called Katsuragi and was overwhelmed by his intimidation. She again thought that she would get killed. Finally, Akira said clearly in front of her that he would kill her himself if she did anything foolish.
But when Sheryl returned back to her base, she should behave as if everything was well and she would need to direct her subordinates as if nothing bad had happened. She should keep her poised and confident look in front of her gang members and in front of the other gangs too. At least she needed to keep that up until there was no need for her to fake it. But she was already at her limit now.
Once she arrived in front of her base, Darris who was accompanying her casually put the heavy bag that he was carrying on the ground.
“I won’t carry it inside, you should do the rest yourself.”
The gift that she received from Katsuragi was filled with guns and other useful things, it was quite heavy so it would be hard for Sheryl to carry it herself. Moreover, it would be meaningless if that gift was robbed on her way back. That was why Katsuragi made a smart move and sent Darris to accompany her.
Sheryl politely bowed her head to Darris.
“I understand. Thank you very much for carrying it all the way here.”
“Well, it seems that you’re having a hard time, so give your best, okay?”
Sheryl left a positive impression on Darris as he thought that she was a girl with proper manners although she was raised in the slum city. Thus Darris left Sheryl with those words before he left the place.
Sheryl was somehow able to carry that heavy bag inside the base. The moment she entered her base, all the children in her gang already lined up there waiting for her. Although it was a correct manner for welcoming the boss, it was obvious that Sheryl looked angry. She thought that she would not see one face anymore as she glared at that person that she deemed unnecessary in her gang. It was Erio.
“And here I thought that you’ll be gone already, but you’re still here, huh?”
Erio flinched back in fear as he tried to calm Sheryl down.
“Sh-Sheryl, I’m really sorry.”
“Sorry? If you have the brain to recognize that you’re at fault, then you should’ve been gone from here.”
“H-He looked like a normal boy. Although he did carry a gun, he did not look like a strong Hunter at all. That’s why I thought that he was tricking you, you see…”
“A normal boy, huh? Normal… Right?”
Erio who was frozen still did not look like he could spout any excuses, while on the other hand, Sheryl had already reached her limit. As such, Sheryl had an outburst now.
“A normal kid, huh!? So for you, a kid who can defeat 3 armed Hunters is normal, huh? A kid who can do this is normal, huh?! So that’s normal inside your head, huh?! If it’s normal for you, then you can do that too, right? In that case, you go ahead and do that too?! Go to the ruins and get some relics then get ambushed on your way back and successfully fight your way out!! You should be able to do that, right? So go and do that!!”
Sheryl who just had an outburst tried to control her breathing. Erio was so scared that he could not move at all and the other children could do nothing but stand frozen there.
Sheryl then turned to the other children and shouted.
“Get that fool out from here!! Quickly!!”
“Get him out of here, right now!! I’m your boss here and I’m telling you to kick him out!! You accepted that I’m the boss, right? If you don’t accept me as your boss, then you get out of this place too!!”
The children around Erio then looked at each other before they grabbed Erio’s shoulders and arms and dragged him outside. Erio just obediently let himself be dragged outside the base while hanging his head low.
Sheryl calmed her breathing. She understood that she had lost her composure just now, so in order to avoid making any mistake, she tried to at least regain her composure as she took a deep breath.
Alicia, a girl who was close to Erio, then spoke to Sheryl.
“Sh-Sheryl… about Erio…”
Sheryl then let out a very long sigh and expelling all the anger left inside her heart. Thanks to that, she was at least able to clear most of the anger left inside her heart and regained her composure to think straight. But even so, she looked at Alicia with a stern look.
“…I know, I know, but we can’t do that now. We can’t let Erio stay in this gang, you know at least that much, right? At least until we have more people in the gang that Akira won’t notice if Erio is mixed up a member of the gang or until Akira has forgotten his anger about him. But until then, we can’t let him in the gang.”
Other children were surprised after hearing Sheryl’s words, then one of them asked Sheryl.
“Increase the members? In this situation?”
“We should at least be able to give some benefits to Akira as soon as possible. Otherwise, he would abandon us, we need to remember that he is not helping us out of kindness. If he abandons us, it would be the end for us.”
“Thanks to Akira, we got a connection to a weapon merchant called Katsuragi. We are somehow able to get some help from that merchant. We have no other choice but to use that connection and try a lot of different things.”
Sheryl then opened the bag which she carried. The children who saw the foods, guns and other things inside the bag could not help but let out shouts of joy.
“For now, we were able to get a lot of things thanks to Katsuragi and Akira. So we should come up with a plan before distribu-“
Sheryl caught some children trying to extend their hands to reach inside the bag, she shouted in a loud voice.
“If you take anything from it without my permission, then I’ll kill you.”
The children then stopped from reaching the bag before slowly retracting their arms.
Sheryl glanced at everyone there, thinking about how hard the road ahead for her was to develop the gang, she let out a big sigh.
That day, just like usual, Elena only wrapped herself in a bath towel after finishing her bath while operating the information terminal that was fixed on her head. Looking at that, Sara let out a sigh and said.
(p4553r: Elena’s information terminal is on her head, not on her arm.)
“Elena. Just because Akira already went home, are you going to relax around the house like that again??”
When Akira was in their home, Elena knew that it would be bad if she stayed like that. Although Akira was only a younger boy and was asleep, he was still a boy. That was why she always put on her clothes where Akira was sleeping so that it would be fine if Akira woke up anytime. But now that Akira had already gone home, she started to turn back to her old habits.
Elena ignored that question, she then even criticized Sara who was only wearing a T-shirt on her undies.
“It’s fine, isn’t it? Moreover, I don’t want you to preach me while you look like that yourself. Was that what you were wearing when Akira woke up?”
“Sara, what the heck were you thinking? You should at least be more careful.”
“It’s okay, Akira’s reaction was pretty amusing.”
“I don’t mean it like that, good grief…”
Looking at Elena who looked like she had already given up on her, Sara just laughed lightly and said to Elena.
“Well, it’s fine, right? It’s just a small service for someone who we owe our lives to.”
Elena was shocked when she heard that as she immediately turned to Sara. Sara’s face also turned serious.
“It was Akira who saved us back then in the wasteland, you know?”
Elena’s reaction was way lighter than Sara had expected, thus Sara looked a bit surprised.
“You don’t seem that surprised, huh?”
“I somehow expected that you know. Isn’t it the same for you too? But since it seemed like Akira wanted to keep that a secret, I decided not to inquire him about that. I don’t think that Akira would say it himself, so I bet you asked him first, right? Was it okay?”
Sara smiled bitterly as she looked a bit apologetic.
“It went fine. He even apologized for keeping it a secret. Although it was me who pressured him for an answer.”
“Well, it’s fine then, wait, that’s not fine. You did say you are sorry for pressuring him, right?”
“I did say sorry, you know?”
“It’s all good then. Now that we know that he was the one who saved us, we owe him our lives, so be sure not to cause him too much trouble, okay?”
After talking thus far, Sara then looked at Elena with a serious face.
“So Elena, I have a request for you. I’m sure you have a lot of questions that you want to ask him. But please don’t ask him anything and don’t tell anyone about him. After all, I did promise Akira about that. So please, I’m begging you. I know that you might not be fully convinced, but please don’t ask anything and promise me the same.”
Sara was desperate because she did promise Akira that. That was why she resolved herself to definitely get her best friend’s promise now.
In contrast to Sara who was looking dead serious there. Elena just casually but strongly nodded.
“I understand. I give you my promise. I won’t ask anything needless and I won’t tell anyone else. So there’s no need for you to worry.”
“…You’re okay with that?”
Sara was surprised seeing how Elena just gave her promise so easily like that. But Elena just smiled and said.
“I told you this, right? I expected this, that was why I was at least able to guess why he was hiding it and what he would not want us to ask him. I bet you asked Shizuka too, right? So don’t worry, I’ll keep my lips sealed tight about this. And like I said before, I don’t want to cause too much trouble to someone that we owe our lives to.”
Sara was surprised and then smiled bitterly.
“…You already know everything, huh? Am I that easy to read?”
“After all, you suddenly asked me about the people who can connect to the old domain. Sara, when you want to hide something, you should be careful when you ask your questions, you know? Because the people that you asked would at least think of why you ask that question.”
Sara realized her mistake and felt a bit downhearted, but she then decided to just change the mood and smiled.
“…As I thought, it is correct to leave negotiations to you.”
“Yep, just leave that to me. Next time we meet Akira, I need to properly say my thanks too.”
After saying that, Elena smiled pleasantly and laughed.
“Sara, now that we know the real identity of our saviour, what do you think after realising that he’s not a young man from a rich family?”
Sara looked a bit annoyed and embarrassed.
“Please spare me from the teasing.”
Although Sara was a bit confused about Elena’s remark, she remembered the embarrassing imagination she had of their saviour. She couldn’t help but blush heavily, which was rare for Sara.
Seeing how her best friend looked a bit at loss at first and finally coming to a conclusion herself, Elena just smiled amusingly.