Akira was traversing the wasteland on a vehicle with Sara and Elena. The vehicle itself was large with a removable top. At the moment it had its top open. Elena was driving in the front while Akira was sitting in the back with Sara.
“Elena-san, I’m the one getting helped here with this vehicle, so the least I can do is drive it, you know?”
Akira sounded rather apologetic, but Elena replied with a smile.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine. We’re the ones handling the transport. Since we’re doing our duty the best we can, I hope that you’ll do yours as well; as our main firepower that is.”
But Sara interjected there.
“Elena, I’m also responsible for that too though?”
“Oh, in that case, I hope you perform at least as well as Akira.”
“Whoah, that sounds tough.”
Seeing that friendly exchange between Sara and Elena, Akira decided not to let himself be bothered by his worries any further.
The job that Akira accepted from Hikaru was a request that was connected to the transport season. According to the contract, Akira had to do Hunter jobs in his designated area. And this time, that job was to prune the monsters around the transport route.
Of course, the large-sized transport vehicles used by the cities were accompanied by powerful escorts, but the bigger the vehicle, the more it would rouse the monsters in the area. Each assault from monster swarms meant accumulating delays to the delivery. In order to ensure the transport took the shortest time possible, there was a need to thin out the monster density along the route beforehand.
Akira came to do it with his new equipment, but as expected, it was impossible for him to move around all by himself. After all, his new equipment did not include a new vehicle nor a new bike.
The offers that came to Shizuka’s shop was not limited to Yodogawa’s Kiryou corporation only. Another offer came from a long-established corporation that was trying to expand its business throughout the eastern district, TOSON. As a matter of fact, TOSON was the manufacturer of the SSB multi-rifle. TOSON found it weird that a small shop that should have been only visited by third-rate Hunters was ordering expensive products from the corporation repeatedly. Thus, eventually, TOSON decided to send an inspector from the branch office responsible for the area where Shizuka’s shop was.
As a weapon manufacturing corporation, Yodogawa’s company was standing on the same level as TOSON. It was not rare for an augmented suit to be sold in a bundle together with guns. So if TOSON offers a huge discount for such a bundle, Kiryou would have to find a way to counter that offer. Thus, it created an intense price war between the two.
Because of that, thanks to the ‘generous’ discount that both companies were offering, Akira ended up deciding to spend all of his money to buy from both TOSON and Kiryou. Unfortunately, neither of them had vehicles to sell. Of course, if Akira had asked them to, they would use their connection to the other corporation that dealt with vehicles. However, as expected, they could not promise any discount for that purchase. Despite the large discount and the excellent cost-performance ratio of his new rifles and augmented suit, it was still a bad move for Akira to even spend his reserved fund, originally meant for purchasing vehicles.
Akira knew that it was a bad idea to not have any means of transportation, but he thought that it would be fine since he could ask Sara and Elena for help. After all, they did tell him to rely on them, or he could just rent a vehicle. So he pushed through with his decision and prioritized his equipment.
Unfortunately, at the moment, it was difficult to get a rental vehicle. Among the people who were related to the rental business for Hunters, Akira was already widely known as the vehicle destroying Hunter. Thanks to that, the rental fee was extremely high for him. After knowing the cost of renting a single vehicle, Akira thought that it was better to buy one himself and decided to seek help from Elena and Sara until he could buy his own.
Hikaru was giving a direct request to Akira. And that request did not put any constraints on how he would accomplish it, there was no need for Akira to give any explanation before the request, all he needed to do was to give his final report once it was done.
In order to guarantee the success of the request, many requesters tend to ask for detailed explanations and make a lot of suggestions as a form of support for the Hunters. Of course, in the end, it depended on the Hunters whether they would take that support or not. If the final report was not mandatory, it could be taken as the requester abandoning their responsibility. Which in turn would cause distrust between the Hunters and the requester. In conclusion, the requestor would need to be skilled in offering support, gaining the Hunter’s trust in order to increase the chance of success.
After thinking it through, Hikaru decided to just let Akira do what he wanted to do in the end. Of course, she would have to take responsibility if the request ended up in failure. She did want to meddle, but she did not think that a Hunter who was working with Kibayashi would like that. In order to gather likability points from Akira, she decided to hold herself back.
Thus, when he was told that he had free reign, Akira took that literally. He was basically doing everything based on his mood. The only thing that bothered him was that Elena and Sara were basically working under him due to the request.
“It might be weird for me to say this, although it’s because of the request contract, Elena-san and Sara-san are working under me though, are you really okay with that?”
“Why won’t we be? It’s not just because of the request contract, in truth, you’re already above us. So there’s no need to worry, you can just take the lead, you know?”
“U-Uhh, even if you tell me so, to be honest, I still want to learn from both of you though…”
Sara smiled and joined in.
“In that case, you can tell us to track the situation and report it to you with a suggestion on how to deal with it, you know? You’re basically our employer this time, so let us do our job to the best of our abilities.”
Sara then smiled as if to hide her loneliness and continued as if she was trying to convince herself.
“…Although you have surpassed us in many aspects, if you think that we can still help you, there’s no need to hold back. You can rely on us.”
“…Okay, thank you very much.”
Akira questioned himself if he was being a bit too considerate and decided to just put that behind for now. He smiled and thanked them. Elena and Sara responded back with the same cheerful smiles.
That was when Elena noticed that they were closing in on their destination.
“Akira. It’s time. It might be a good idea to let them know as well.”
“Ah, you’re right.”
Akira operated his headgear to contact someone else.
“It’s me, we’ll arrive soon. Get yourself ready.”
The one who answered that order was Erio.
A large-sized truck was running not too far from Akira’s team. It was also a vehicle designed for use in the wasteland. It was well equipped for battle as well. The backside of that truck had an operable cover as if it was designed to carry a powered suit. But the cargo that the truck carried was Erio’s team, who were armed with coordination-support powered suits.
The children reacted differently toward the current request. Some of them were joking and laughing while some were waiting nervously. Some were utterly scared and some were completely calm.
“I wonder if we’re going to be alright. This place is already quite far to the east, right? I heard that the monsters around there are so different compared to the ones around the city, you know?”
Though there were some anxious children, there were also those who took it completely fine.
“Don’t worry, Akira-san is here too after all. If boss thought that we were useless, she would not have sent us out in the first place, you know. If we’re only going to slow Akira-san’s down, boss would have stopped us instead.”
“Y-you have a point.”
The anxious boy nodded repeatedly as if he was trying to convince himself. Meanwhile, the calm boy was telling herself that repeatedly as well for the exact same reason. Considering that there was Kiryou’s staff were not in the trailer, it gave another reason for them to feel more anxious when they were looking for reasons to be calm.
Erio’s team followed Akira during this request as helpers. Both Viola and Kiryou received information regarding Akira’s request separately, but both of them then came to Sheryl to suggest she join that request. Sheryl wanted to be useful to Akira. Kiryou wanted to get a good track record for their support system. While Viola wanted to get profit from that request as well as to enjoy some other things as well. With all of these reasons lined up, Sheryl’s gang also joined in the pruning request. They took it in the form of a reinforcement request from Akira.
“Don’t worry, I heard that Akira-san is Rank 50 while the other two are already past Rank 40. They’ll be the vanguards. We’re not the main firepower this time. We can just fight safely while looking for chances to help out and get some money. In the case of an emergency, we can withdraw further and focus on providing support. Our role only amounts that much this time.”
“You’re right, yeah.”
As they calmed down, their conversation started to steer toward idle talk. It showed that they were already feeling safe as they talked about the things around them instead.
“But still, the other two that Akira brought with him today are both really beautiful. Sara has impressive boing boing, while Elena has an excellent body line… I thought that he’s not interested in that kind of thing since he’s going out with boss, but I guess that’s not exactly the case, huh?”
“Isn’t it the opposite? It’s because he doesn’t care about such a thing that he’s okay with any sizes, it must be nice to be in his position.”
Laughter started to spread, it just went to show how many agreed with that statement. Naturally, some of them took it as a joke while some were extremely envious of Akira.
“By the way, just a thought though, I wonder if boss knows that Akira is bringing those two with him on this job?”
“…Maybe not, I guess? Well, either way, even if boss doesn’t know, it’s not like we can just tell her. It’ll only sour her mood, you know?”
“Yeah, you can say that again.”
The others around them smiled bitterly and nodded in agreement, this time, all of them had the exact same thought.
In the middle of their idle chat, Erio suddenly lightly clapped his hands to gather their attention.
“Akira-san just called me. We’re already close, so get yourself ready. Make sure to check that the coordination support system is active after you turn on your augmented suit. Make sure to double-check, it’s basically our lifeline out here.”
Everyone started their preparation accordingly since they already decided beforehand who would be the leaders during the request. Thanks to all the training that they had done beforehand, their preparation proceeded smoothly and ended up without any trouble. Their moves there were no longer that of children from the slums.
But the fact that they still had the chance to have such silly conversation to calm themselves down showed that they were still amateurs. This time, their silly banter was directed at Erio.
“But still. Even with boss, those maids, Viola-san and Carol-san, along with those two Hunters that are with him right now, even with all of these girls, it doesn’t seem that Akira-san has any trouble dealing with them. Even you, Erio. You stick out among us and have something similar as well. As I thought, when you have a girl, it really pushes you to become stronger, right? Or is it because you get stronger that girls are attracted to you? Which one do you think it is?”
“Just so you know, I’m devoted only to Alicia.”
“It’s not really that different, I know that some girls are trying to approach you, you know?”
The boy was smiling mischievously when he said that, but Erio glared at that boy and warned.
“Stop it. I’m not the same. I properly turned them down… It might be because of those rumors that Alicia is getting worried lately. It was tough calming her down, you know?”
“Unfortunately, we can’t understand the hardship of a popular guy.”
As that boy looked around, the other kids nodded in agreement. Although some of them also had a girlfriend like Erio, they were not that popular so they had the right to agree with that statement.
In reality, Erio really did not have the luxury to brag about his situation, so instead, he replied with a rather snarky remark.
“Humph, if you’re really in a hurry, you can just ask Carol, you know?”
Suddenly everyone fell into silence, Erio immediately realized that he said something that he should not have and froze for a second.
“…I take that back, uhh, what can I say, never do that, okay?”
Carol was a beautiful girl with an excellent body. Most of her outfits were tailored to men’s preferences. She was someone who was easy to get along with and she knew how to get a conversation exciting. She listens when someone looks for advice and would give great advice. To top it off, for her side-job, she would even take little to nothing as long as it was the money that her clients got from risking their lives. Though, this offer mostly extended to first-timers.
Naturally, there were some who could not hold themselves back. They got too close to Carol during their joint activities in the gang and ignored Colbert’s warning.
Although the first go was cheap, the price quickly climbed up for the next time and subsequent times after as well. But even so, they could not forget that so-called heaven on earth and continued. Eventually, they started going out hunting for relics all by themselves. They worked hard past their limits to earn enough to somehow manage to continue. But of course, it was only a matter of time before everything spiralled out of control. Eventually, they could no longer earn enough money. If they were able to hold themselves back because they did not have enough money, then Colbert’s warning would have been unnecessary. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Victims started to pile up as they got themselves killed out in the ruins. Some even went as far as to steal money from the gang, which Viola quickly noticed and gave their names to the gang. Even after hearing that, Carol did not change her attitude at all.
Sheryl herself was troubled that more and more boys were falling for Carol just to meet their demise. She did make a contract with Carol though. It was so that she would not take the initiative and would not accept those who already had a girlfriend. But that was the furthest she could do. This was mainly because Carol threatened that if Sheryl put even stricter rules, then she would go for Akira instead. Thus, Sheryl had no other choice but to back off.
After all that happened, Carol was well known to be a dangerous honey trap inside Sheryl’s gang.
“…You don’t have to tell us that. We know well what happened to those who ignored Colbert-san’s warning, right guys?”
He tried to mix a joke in his reply to lighten the mood and looked around to see if the others agreed. Of course, the other kids agreed with him. But among them, there were some who had a stiff awkward smile when they nodded.
Erio noticed a message from the coordination support system, so he changed gear and shouted.
“We’ve arrived!! Let’s go! Get to your post!!”
The trailer’s side door opened up. Everyone pulled themselves together to get ready for work as they followed the command from the coordination-support system. They got to their post and readied their grenade launchers.
Not too far from the trailer, there were 2 other vehicles. One of them was Colbert and his team. They also participated in the current request. But their employer was not Akira, it was Sheryl instead in a form of a proxy contract with Akira.
Bosshu, who was there thanks to Colbert’s invitation, chuckled and said.
“But still, to think that lone Hunter we met back then would turn into a Rank 50 Hunter. And now, we get to participate in the great transport season through him. Colbert, I bet your real aim in helping that gang is to make a connection with that boy.”
“Nah, it’s totally a coincidence.”
“Is that so? We’re talking about you here. Considering your connection with that witch, I thought that this was your real goal. But that aside, it’s pretty amazing how you can get along with her. Although Viola and Carol are not the same, both often lead Hunters to their demise, you know? Don’t you think you should keep your distance from them?”
“You just need to be extra careful with them. Both can bring you profit if you’re smart enough, you know? Well, although, I’m basically just trying to get by while taking a break from my original Hunter job. But just because I can do so doesn’t mean that you should do it too. It won’t be pretty if you make a mistake.”
Colbert said so while smiling bitterly. He thought of someone he knew who made a mistake dealing with those two women.
Peppa was also there from Colbert’s invitation, just like Bosshu, he laughed mockingly and spoke to Colbert.
“The one having it hard is you who is taking a hiatus, you know? It’s good that you’re slowly returning back to your origins as a Hunter, but isn’t it too much for your rusty skills to face the monsters around this area?”
Colbert gave a smug smile and replied.
“Oh, what was that? Don’t tell me that you’re too scared and want to go back home now? Don’t worry, you can use the excuse that I got too scared so you have no other choice but to retreat when the push comes to shove. Also, even if my skill got rusty after only taking easy jobs since I’m on a break, I’ll do something about it. Just like how the past me used to save your asses.”
“Hah! It’s funny how you can still run your mouth like that!!”
Seeing Colbert and Peppa exchanging jokes like that, Bosshu could not help but smile remembering their past.
In contrast to his casual attitude, Colbert actually understood that he could not take it easy. He knew that the difficulty of the request was already well above what he could handle. As expected, he could not fight side by side evenly with a Rank 50 Hunter. If the request from Sheryl did not specify that he would only need to provide support fire, he would never have accepted the request.
But even so, that request was a good chance for him to rehabilitate himself so that he could slowly return back to working as a Hunter. Up until now, he pushed himself to fight back against his trauma to get out to the wasteland. He would often use the excuse ‘I was just doing this to accompany Erio and the other children’. During that time, he encountered multiple monsters that looked like the one that took his limbs and almost killed him. Even so, he still forced himself to fight against those monsters and slowly treated his trauma. When today’s request came, he decided that it was his time to fully let go of his past and move forward.
If he could keep his calm even when fighting against monsters that were way above what he could handle alone, then there would be no longer any need to get scared of that weak monster which had almost killed him in the past. He stepped out into the wasteland with that thought in mind that day.
He used all the money that he had been slowly saving up when this day came. He got the best equipment that he could get, thanks to that, he would not even be able to return back to his past lifestyle if he could not earn enough from today’s request. Even so, he did not regret his decision at all. Talking with his past teammates like this helped him to regain his past sense of self, calming himself down for the incoming challenge, as well as pumping him up.
While the other vehicle was Levin and Hazawa. In contrast to Colbert’s team that was filled with light-hearted exchanges, the mood in Levin’s team was heavy. After all, they were heading east where the monsters were stronger and scarier than usual.
The source of the heavy mood was Levin. He kept sighing even as of right now. Hazawa, who had been listening to him this whole time, eventually had enough and spoke up.
“Levin. I know it’s my fault for reminding you, but you should shake that off right now. Otherwise, you won’t be able to fight properly.”
Although Levin felt slightly angry, he knew that Hazawa was right. Of course, it was not enough to get his mind out of its predicament, but it was enough to help him try to shift his focus off from that thought.
“Regardless of the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that you manage to get yourself good equipment. Heck. it’s good enough that it would have been difficult to get through normal means. So just focus on earning more with those weapons of yours. It would be stupid to keep dragging yourself down and miss this chance to earn money, you know?”
“…I know, alright!!”
The moment he tried to calm himself down, he was reminded of how bad his situation actually was. Thus, Levin could not help but inadvertently roar out.
After working long and hard under Katsuragi to pay back his debt, he finally was able to get out of that life. Though, his debts have not been fully paid off yet.
He had to go to the ruins and return back with relics. He had to return back alive from these dangerous ruins and to do that, he would need to use up expendables. Each use cost him and when it was not enough, he knew had to get better equipment to safeguard his life and get better relics next time. Nonetheless, his cost usually exceeded what he could gain from the relics. Due to this, each time he was sent out, instead of reducing his debt, it was only piling up.
But even so, his rank was increasing. Thanks to the debt, he did not have the money to spend on drinks, or women, or gambling. So the time that he used to use for leisure in the past shifted to work instead. With each expedition that he survived through, he returned back with better relics, which also slowly increased his Hunter Rank.
That was when Katsuragi recommended him a set of equipment to match Levin’s Hunter Rank. This was when he had just a little of his debt left (in proportion to what he earns from a single expedition). It would have been all for nought if he died after raising his rank that high. Moreover, he should be able to pay it back considering his earnings at the moment. In the first place, it would be stupid to die just because he did not have decent enough equipment after all that he had gone through. Levin’s cautious nature pushed him to take up the offer even if he had to increase his debt even for a bit and hoped that he would earn enough to clear away his debt.
If Levin were to be frugal with his expendables for the sake of repaying his debt, he would take more time to fight against monsters. This would lead to a higher chance of getting injured, which in turn would mean he would have to rely on expensive medicines. So in the end, it would only end up increasing his debt instead. While on the other hand, splurging money on ammo for the sake of safety would be directly translated to more debt. He also could not go to a safe ruin. This was due to his contract with Katsuragi, which stated that the ruins he could go to were under the discretion of Katsuragi.
Levin himself knew that he had grown as a Hunter. But he also understood that his debt was only growing bigger. If he does not do anything fast, it would be really bad for him. As he was agonizing over his choices, he went for some cheap drinks, got into some fights, and by pure chance, he met and consulted Viola, who was nearby at that time.
Viola happily suggested a way out for him. It was to join all the debts from various companies into one place, moreover, they were concentrated on a single legitimate loan company. The interest was close to zero, which made the company seem like it was Levin’s sponsor. Thus, Levin was no longer controlled by Katsuragi and was able to get better equipment through the connections owned by that company.
And then, finally, Levin’s debt went past 300 million! It was the culmination of Viola’s payment and the more debt from his new equipment. That sponsor corporation was Kiryou and the new equipment was actually experimental products. Basically, he was participating in the pruning request for the sake of weapon testing.
[…My debt with Kiryou doesn’t have that strange rule like the one with Katsuragi. If the amount of debt passes a fixed limit, they will also give me some compromise to make sure that I would be able to repay all my debt. Kiryou itself will also cooperate in order to get good advertisement material for their products. If they can leave a good track record during the weapon testing, it should also increase my worth as a Hunter and increase my Hunter Rank. Considering all of these benefits, that 300 million Aurum is not really that bad. Or more like, it can be taken as some kind of investment from Kiryou to me… I know that, I know that but…]
Levin was once again reminded. Viola never lies in order to manipulate someone, but after a few days, he started to feel anxious. And finally, that day, after Hazawa asked him where he got all of his high-quality equipment from, Levin was reminded that Viola’s help never came for free, it always had some kind of string attached.
Kiryou itself was a decent and honest company, compared to other individual lenders such as Katsuragi, it was obviously a better choice to borrow money from them. Levin had no complaint regarding the matter.
But still, 300 million Aurum was not a small amount. Each corporation had different ways to collect their loans depending on their size. Or at least, they would always have a connection to certain debt collectors. If it was a debt collector sent by individual lenders like Katsuragi, he at least would have a chance to fight back. However, that was not the case when it was against a large corporation like Kiryou.
At the moment, he was given special treatment since he was helping out with the weapon testing. However if he could not deliver good results during the testing or if the corporation decided that he was useless during the testing, he would lose that special treatment. That would be the moment when Kiryou’s debt collector would come for him. That would also mark his end. What awaited him after that was the same thing that happened to those that attacked Sheryl’s base the other day. He would have preferred death instead of having to go through that fate.
After Hazawa pointed that out, Levin finally realized just how dire his situation actually was. If he could not perform well in today’s weapon testing, it would end up really bad for him and that possibility sent a shiver down his spine.
Hazawa tried to calm Levin down for the sake of his own safety as well.
“Your new equipment has that coordination support system, right? It’s a support system that includes augmented suit’s manoeuvring support. It’s the same system that those brats are using. Right?”
“Yeah. I heard it’s a version of that system with some extra adjustments. After all, unlike those who are working in a huge team, I’m working alone. I think it’s to create a system where you can join the other already working network under the same system when it’s needed. Considering that there are Hunters further to the east who prefer to work solo. They developed this new option to attract them, and they also mentioned many other features as well.”
“It’s good enough to turn those brats who were moving like amateurs not too long ago to be decent enough to bring out for this request. I’m sure it’ll work like magic for an experienced Hunter like you. Especially since you have gotten a lot stronger as a Hunter recently. So I’m looking forward to your performance.”
“…Yeah, you have a point. I paid a lot of money for this, so it must be at least be that good.”
Levin knew that Hazawa was trying to calm him down by saying that, but since it did help him lessen his anxiety, he decided to just accept it and use it to get himself more fired up.
“But still, I didn’t expect someone as cautious as you to come as well. No, wait, it might be because I’m too anxious that I assume it’s more dangerous than it actually is, huh?”
“Well, it’s up to you how you want to take it.”
Seeing how casually Hazawa responded, helped Levin to calm down as well.
But Hazawa was only trying to look calm. Moreover, remembering his first time meeting with the source of the main true requestor, Akira, really made him feel conflicted.
[Although we were riding in the same truck not too long ago, to think that we’re already this different in such a short span of time. It’s a matter of talent, huh… Or maybe it’s a matter of how many times we challenge dangerous situations? Though, I don’t think that’s all there is to it…]
It was a mix of envy and jealousy toward someone who overtook everything that he had worked hard to achieve. Constant victories over the life-betting gambles was an obvious route to reach glory. Although he had given up in the past, it seemed that he still had some admiration, or even hope, to reach that glory.
Being cautious was nothing more than an excuse to be a coward. He had fallen from grace compared to his past self. He thought that he did well dragging himself out of that hole. Although he was able to reduce the times when he hid behind the word ‘caution’, he still could not return back to those Hunter’s activities that proactively chase for greater glory.
But as of late, there were way too many big incidents around Kugamayama city. Many Hunters died in those incidents. Half-baked caution would only lead to death. Being overly cautious would mean that he would not even be able to go out of the city. When he was agonizing about what he should do, Colbert suddenly came to him with today’s request.
[…I’ve started to change ever since I met him, this must be some kind of fate, I just have to keep moving forward.]
He could not afford to get back to his past self that had nothing to chase after. Hazawa decided so as he took a step forward.
When they noticed that Erio and the other children started to move out, they changed gear and said with a big smile.
“Levin, here we go!!”
“Yeah!! Let’s do this!”
Levin tried to fire himself up by saying so as he pulled out the large-sized gun that he saved for that day. If he could not earn enough today, then there would be no tomorrow for him. That thought filled his mind as he had a grim look on his face and fought with the ferocity of a cornered man.