After finishing his bath, Akira returned to Sheryl’s room. On his way there, the other boys in the gang were looking enviously at him. They knew that he shared the bath together with Sheryl. The girls in the gang could not blame the boys since they also knew that many boys fantasized about being with Sheryl. But it was obvious that Sheryl was only into Akira.
Akira was a Hunter who could pay 10,000,000 Aurum like it was nothing. If Sheryl was not the boss of the gang, the other girls in the gang would have tried to seduce him.
But doing something like that would be an obvious declaration of war against Sheryl. The reason why Sheryl could maintain her position as the boss was because of Akira’s influence. Thus trying to seduce him also meant trying to wrest the boss position from Sheryl. Because of that, no one dared to even attempt to do that.
After returning back to Sheryl’s room, Akira started to feel sleepy. He said to Sheryl while fighting against his sleepiness.
“…Sheryl, I’m going to sleep now. So, can I borrow your sofa?”
Sheryl replied happily.
“You can use my bed, it’s bigger than the sofa”
Once he got Sheryl’s permission, Akira put his luggage on the floor near the bed and was about to get on the bed. Although from the way Sheryl said it, she hinted that she would also sleep on the same bed, he did not notice that at all. She then carefully picked her words as she said.
“Is it okay if I ask you to take off your clothes? It would be a lot of work to clean the bed if it gets dirty.”
Akira was half-asleep as he removed his clothes and put them on his luggage. After leaving only the underwear on his body, Akira got on to the bed. His eyelids were already too heavy, thus he planned to just go ahead and sleep.
Although she looked rather disappointed, Sheryl still smiled and said to Akira.
“Good night and sleep well.”
Akira sounded drowsy when he replied, he then quickly fell asleep.
Even after Akira fell asleep, Sheryl still stayed awake to work on her job as the boss of the gang. She checked the progress of the work she distributed among the members of the gang, checked their results, and planned for the next job distribution. If there was any trouble with the work done by her underlings, she would try to formulate a solution, readjust the whole work schedule of the gang, and resolve any fights between the members of the gang. Although it would be unreasonable to simply compare her workload with the other members, it could be said that Sheryl was working the hardest in the gang.
After finishing, Sheryl returned to her private room and locked the door. She undressed down to her undies and crawled onto the same bed as Akira, she then slowly hugged him.
As Akira was already asleep on the bed for quite some time, his body warmth was spread throughout the bed. Both Akira and Sheryl were in their underwear. As she felt Akira’s warmth on her body, Sheryl revealed a satisfied smile.
Sheryl closed her eyes while still hugging Akira as she looked back at everything that happened that day.
[…Although a lot of things happened today, it was still an amazing day. I’ll do my best so that Akira will not abandon me…]
As she was thinking about the future, Sheryl was slowly consumed by her sleepiness. She eventually drifted to sleep with a big smile on her face.
The next day, Akira woke up and noticed that Sheryl was still clinging on him. She had a peaceful and blissful look on her sleeping face.
Akira, who was still lying on that bed, suddenly heard Alpha’s voice.
“Good morning, Akira. Did you sleep well?”
“… Morning… Ah, right, I slept in Sheryl’s place last night, huh.”
Akira pulled himself away from Sheryl, stepped down from the bed, and put his clothes on. He then looked at Sheryl who was still sleeping on the bed.
After he got a good night’s sleep, Akira regained his calm. He remembered what happened yesterday as he was looking at Sheryl, who was still wearing nothing but her undies.
“She was clinging on to me yesterday without any good reason. She also took a bath together with me, and until just a moment ago, she was sleeping with me only in her undies. What exactly does she think of me? Does she think that I definitely won’t attack her or something?”
Even when his mind was in good condition, Akira still came up with the wrong conclusion. So Alpha exasperatedly said to him.
“What are you talking about? She’s tempting you to assault her, you know. She did say to you that you can do anything to her, remember?”
“Is that so? But still, is there any particular reason why she would do something like this?”
“She might be thinking that her current situation can quickly change for the better if you do something to her. As a matter of fact, I’m quite sure that’s what she’s thinking.”
Akira made a conflicted face as he stared at Sheryl.
“Is that so? I guess it’s true if you say so.”
“Well, I don’t really mind if you want to get involved with her as long as you don’t forget your contract with me. But if you really do, just make sure to be careful.”
“It’s about exploring the particular ruin that you want me to go to, right? Don’t worry. If you abandon me, I’m sure I’ll immediately die in no time eaten by one of those monsters. I won’t do anything that might endanger my life. So you don’t need to worry about that.”
Akira stated that clearly, the only reason why he was still alive was all thanks to Alpha’s support. He understood that one fact very well.
“That’s good to hear. But still, although there’s a beautiful girl of the same age as you sleeping only in her undies in front of you, you don’t seem to be bothered at all. Are you really not interested?”
“Well, what can I say… Since I have this girl, who always follows me around while being naked, I guess I grew up some resistance against it.”
Akira lightly laughed when he said that and Alpha smiled invincibly. Right at the next moment, he had a bad feeling, and his feeling was accurate.
Alpha’s dress suddenly vanished, leaving her beautiful body in full view. She was showing off her virtual body that was produced through an extremely advanced calculation without even a shred of embarrassment. She even adjusted her appearance to suit Akira’s taste, which she gathered from all of her observations of him, but her base body shape was also so beautiful that it would charm most of the members of the opposite gender.
Then, to put the cherry on the top, Alpha was looking at Akira with a flirtatious gaze and a charming smile.
He blushed a little and quickly turned his face away. Alpha giggled as she saw his vexed expression.
“Oh, I thought you said you’d grown some resistance against this, right?”
Akira still blushed as he complained.
“Just shut up. It depends on the timing and the girl, you know. Just get your dress back on already.”
Alpha returned her dress back. When she did that, Akira kept telling himself that he did not regret it.
“If you want to see it again, feel free to tell me anytime.”
Alpha teasingly whispered that to Akira.
As she was continuously observing him, she could tell that it was not like he had no sexual drive or interest in the opposite sex.
There was no denying the fact that Sheryl was a beautiful girl. The only reason why his reaction was so dull even when she clung on him, got on the same bath with him, and slept beside him defencelessly while being only in her undies, was simply because Akira did not think of her in that way at all.
In principle, Akira categorized the people that he met into one of two groups, either they were enemies or not enemies. He showed no gender bias when it came to this matter. But he did react differently towards a very small number of people, who were not included in either of those two groups, namely, people he thought as his allies.
This very small number of people included Shizuka, who worried for him without any ulterior motives, Sara and Elena, who saved his life, and Alpha, who was supporting him. As far as Alpha knew, Akira only regarded these 4 people as his allies.
This could be seen from how Akira reacted when Sara was only wearing a light dress when he was in their house, or when Elena came up in front of him with a sexy augmented suit that pronounced her body line, or when Alpha reconstructed the image of Elena’s and Sara’s naked body in front of him. And finally, he also reacted the same way when Alpha was showing her naked body just a moment ago.
If for some reason, Sheryl’s position shifted to this group, there was a good chance that Akira would be seduced by her in no time. Alpha thought so as she decided that she should investigate that possibility further.
But looking at how he reacted just now, Alpha knew that there was no need to worry about it.
As long as nothing big happened, it was very unlikely for Sheryl’s position to be changed from Akira’s ‘not enemy’ group. No matter what Sheryl would do, as long as he only thought of maintaining their relationship, it was unlikely for him to change how he treated Sheryl.
Not too long after that, Sheryl also woke up. She was still half-asleep as she probed for Akira with her hands. Sadly enough, her hands only wandered around the empty bedsheet around her, she looked disappointed when she realized Akira had already woken up.
Sheryl slowly got to her senses. When she was finally fully awake, she could see Akira already prepared to go out.
Akira was sitting on the sofa while operating his information terminal, he was looking through the emails that reached him by his Hunter Code. One of the emails was from Kibayashi, it contained the information about the property agency that Akira had asked.
Akira noticed Sheryl who just woke up.
“Ah, you’ve woken up, huh. Morning.”
“Good morning… Are you going out already? You can at least eat some breakfast here, you know?”
“It’s fine, I’ll just grab something outside.”
If Akira ate something there, it would reduce the portion for the rest of the gang’s members. After all, he knew perfectly well how precious food was in the slum city.
“I understand, please allow me to at least see you off.”
Akira smiled bitterly and asked.
“…You sure you want to see me off dressed like this?”
When Akira pointed it out, Sheryl realized that she was wearing nothing but her undies. She then quickly grabbed her dress and put it on in panic.
Akira left Sheryl’s base and headed to the real estate agent’s office introduced by Kibayashi.
In the middle of his way there, Alpha asked him.
“Akira, what kind of house do you want? I’m sure the staff would ask you this question, so it’s a good idea to think about it now.”
“Let’s see. First of all, I want a big bath. I’m also planning to buy a vehicle, so I want a big garage too. And also maybe a big room to store my equipment, ammo and my reserves. Then maybe a warehouse and a bedroom too.”
“Then the next problem will be the rent. I’m sure Kibayashi has told that real estate agency about you, so it would be troublesome if they recommend you an expensive estate thinking that you still have that 100,000,000 Aurum.”
“Well, that’s true… I already spent 90,000,000 Aurum yesterday… My money sense is completely broken, isn’t it? I wonder where that small boy, who got all flustered by 200,000 Aurum, is now.”
“It’s not like you wasted that money on unnecessary things, just think about it as proof of your growth.”
When he heard Alpha’s words, his expression turned bewildered as he mumbled.
“…Growth, huh? To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve really grown stronger. Since, until now, I only got myself better equipment and I’m still fully relying on you. I don’t feel like I’m getting stronger myself though.”
Akira himself did not think that he had grown stronger. After all, he still had problems in all his fights and he was only able to barely survive till now because of Alpha’s support.
Alpha smiled at Akira to reassure him.
“Don’t worry. You’ve become stronger. But I think it’s okay to think like that too. It’s better to underestimate your ability rather than to overestimate it. After all, it’s not like you would be able to breeze through your fights against the monsters just because you got a little bit stronger. If Hunters could easily kill them, they would not be called monsters after all. Not to mention, facing danger is your occupational hazard too, so let’s not get too reckless and stay careful. If you’re worried about it, you can put more effort into your training and you can also rely more on me.”
Akira smiled, he was rather relieved after Alpha said that to him.
“…Is that so? Well, I suppose you’re right. I’ll be counting on you.”
Akira collected himself as he stepped forward.
Eventually, he arrived at the real estate agency that Kibayashi introduced. After he showed his Hunter ID at the reception counter and mentioned Kibayashi’s name. One of the staff quickly came to serve him.
That staff was surprised when he saw Akira. It was because not only was Akira a small boy, he also did not seem like a Hunter who could receive a recommendation from the Kugamayama City Management. But that staff quickly showed Akira a friendly smile before Akira could notice his surprise.
Akira told that staff what kind of house he was looking for. After that, they finished their small consultation and went to check the prospective houses.
The real estate agency Kibayashi introduced to him was located in the outskirts of the lower district. Although there were a lot of open plots in the district, only a very small number of them were safe. There was a big difference in the values between the plots on the upper and middle districts that were located behind the wall, and the lower district that was located outside the wall. This difference in values came from the difference in their safety and security.
The closer the property was to the wasteland, the cheaper it would be. And the closer it was to the wall, the more expensive it would be. Although there were exceptions, these exceptions were sold at a higher price since they were located in regions that were maintained by private security companies. So in short, the extra price was for the safety provided.
The agency staff gave Akira a tour through a certain house. As Akira looked around the inside of that house, he felt that it was big enough for him to live alone. It had a big bath, a lot of rooms, and a huge garage. It was also fully-furnished, so there was no need to buy new furniture. It fulfilled most of Akira’s expectations.
The staff then explained to Akira.
“It’s a building designed for a Hunter. Normally, we would only recommend this house for a Hunter above Rank 30. It’s pretty well made that it can withstand explosives and gunshots. The city security gave permission to install heavy weaponry on this house for self-defense too, but if it causes problems with other people who live around the area, then we’re not liable for that and you would have to solve that problem yourself. Although it is mentioned under the contract that this area is guarded by a private security company, don’t put your hopes too high. In case you’re attacked by robbers, expect to handle it yourself. As for cleaning up rubbles and dead bodies, you can contact us and we’ll take care of them for you. While for the rent, considering the position of the person who introduced you to us, we’ll charge you 500,000 Aurum per month. It already includes the water bill, energy bill, security bill and insurance. You can always ask us anytime in case you need more security guards. Do you have any questions?”
Normally, this house would not be introduced to a small Hunter like Akira. It was all thanks to Kibayashi’s influence as city staff. Thus, Akira thought that this kind of opportunity might never come again if he let it go here.
Akira enquired the staff.
“When can I rent this house?”
“You can use it immediately after you pay the rent. If you pay it here and now, you can immediately use it right afterwards.”
“I understand, I’ll take this house then.”
Akira then gave the staff his Hunter ID. The staff received the Hunter ID, scanned it with his terminal, and operated his terminal to finalize the contract. He then deeply bowed to Akira.
“I’ve confirmed that we’ve received the payment. Thank you very much for using our service. This is the key for that house. Please do inform us if you lose it. The future rent payment will be automatically withdrawn from your bank account. If you’re late in paying the rent even by a second, the rental contract will be immediately nullified and all the properties inside the house will be confiscated by the company who owns the building. So please be careful. You can do anything you want with all the furniture that is already inside. You can throw them away or sell them if you don’t need them.”
“Wait, those furniture… were they…”
“Yes. They were owned by the previous renter.”
Akira glanced back at the furniture inside the house. Those furniture were left behind by the previous person who lived there. He realized that if he too died, then his furniture would also be passed on for the subsequent renters in the same way.
“Well then, please let me excuse myself. If you need anything, feel free to give us a call. Once again, thank you very much for using our service.”
The staff bowed deeply at Akira once more before leaving.
Akira then locked the door, went to his new room, and put down his luggage and equipment.
He then sat on a chair near him. He looked deeply moved as he took a big breath and let out a long sigh.
“…A home… My home…”
“You’re only renting it though.”
“Even if I’m just renting it, it’s still my home. After living all these years in the slum city alley, I finally get a place that I can call my home.”
Akira looked around the room. He became a Hunter hoping to improve his life condition and a lot had happened since he went to the wasteland for the first time. He just sat there reminiscing those days.
The past Akira, the Akira before he met Alpha, would have never imagined that he would be able to live in such a place. But right now, right here, it was his reality.
Akira stood up and turned to Alpha, he made a serious face as he bowed his head.
“It’s all thanks to you, Alpha. Thank you. And also, I’ll keep counting on you.”
Alpha was smiling just like usual.
“You’re welcome, and I’ll be counting on you too.”
For Akira, today was an important day, it was the day he stopped living in inns. But for Alpha, it was not that big of a deal, it was nothing more than a day where Akira reached one of the checkpoints. These differences between them were shown in their respective expressions.
After that, Akira went to and fro to the lower district to buy food, indoor clothes, and other daily necessities. He also adjusted his new information terminal so that Alpha could access it. He then checked all the rooms inside his new house one more time. He spent the whole day to prepare himself for his new lifestyle. By nightfall, Akira had finished all the preparations that he needed for his new life inside his new house.
Akira dipped himself inside the warm bath to recover from all the hard work that he did during the day. Just like he wished, the bath inside his house was pretty big. It was large enough for him to fully extend his arms and legs as he enjoyed the warm water. Alpha was also there together with him, although she was only an image.
When he was enjoying his bath, Akira did not even pay any attention to Alpha who was naked right beside him. After all, it was a normal sight for him every time he took a bath. It was also because she was calmly enjoying the bath just like usual. If she was teasing him there, he would not be able to ignore her.
“Akira, it’s about our plan for the future. Starting from tomorrow until the day your new equipment arrives, you’ll spend your time studying and training, okay?”
“I understand… But what kind of training are we going to do?”
Akira was puzzled, after all, it was not like he could do shooting training or CQC training inside his house. He might be able to do CQC training inside the empty garage, but his movements would be restricted in such a small place. But Alpha’s answer had nothing to do with both of those training.
“You’ll train on how to compress your time perception both intentionally and out of pure reflex.”
Akira sounded puzzled as he said.
“…I’m sorry, I don’t really understand what you just said. So, what exactly am I going to do?
“Well, you’ll understand that tomorrow.”
Akira did not have any idea on what kind of training he would be doing, but since Alpha said that he would understand once the training started, he stopped worrying any further. It showed just how far he trusted Alpha.
Alpha was satisfied with his answer.
On the next day, Akira started his training inside the garage. Alpha initiated the training with an explanation on what to do.
“The training that you’ll be doing starting from today will be to freely compress time perception by yourself. Simply put, you’ll accelerate your cognitive mind to compress your time perception. When you do that, things around you will look like they’re moving in slow motion. You’ll train on how to do it intentionally. While on the other hand, we’ll also condition your body to automatically do that when you’re in a certain situation. Once you achieve it, we’ll train to increase the level of compression. For starters, let’s aim to extend 1 second into 10 seconds, then into 100 seconds, and so on. We’ll also train so you can maintain it for an extended time with a minimum level of burden to your brain. If you can do this, I’m sure you’ll grow strong really quickly.”
Alpha gave a very straight forward and plain explanation. But Akira did not get the same impression after hearing her explanation. For him, it sounded like an impossible and crazy idea, it was as if Alpha was telling him to fly.
“Even if you give me that explanation… Can I really do something like that? To be honest, I’m not even sure I can do it, you know?”
But her reply quickly cleared up Akira’s doubt. She smiled and said.
“You can. Or more like, you’ve done it unconsciously before. You just need to work it out so you can do the same intentionally.”
Akira was surprised by what he heard.
“…I’ve done something like that?”
“That’s right. If you need a more precise example, you still remember your fight against Nelia, right? That’s a good example. I’m pretty sure Nelia was using an accelerator when she fought you. It increased the speed of her movements and slowed down her time perception, thus allowing her to fight at a very high speed. In order to adjust her cyborg body to fight in such a high speed, I bet she put in extra modifications inside her brain too.”
Akira remembered his fight with Nelia. At that time, although he was moving his body desperately, he was barely able to follow the movement of his augmented suit that was controlled by Alpha.
“So, does it have anything to do with my training?”
“Yes. At that time, you were somehow able to follow and react to Nelia’s movements. You were also barely able to follow the movements of your augmented suit when I was controlling it. Although you weren’t aware of it since you were so desperate at that time, there’s no way you could do something like that unless you were compressing your time perception, you know? The danger of death made you so focused that you were unconsciously compressing your time perception in order to survive that situation.”
Akira was dumbfounded as he heard Alpha’s explanation. He was only vaguely aware of it during that fight and now Alpha, who he trusted, also confirmed it. Thus Akira thought that it must be true.
Leaving the truth aside, Akira believed her explanation. Now that he believed it, it became the truth for him. It turned his belief from being impossible to possible.
“Let’s start by trying to fool your brain into thinking that your life is in danger. With this, you should be able to grasp how to compress time unconsciously. Once you’re done with it, you’ll next learn how to do the same in any situation.”
“…I understand the gist of it, but what exactly should I do?”
“You’ll understand once we start the training. So let’s get into it right away.”
After saying that, Alpha changed her appearance from her usual dress into some kind of exotic costume for dancers which had a lot of decorations on it. The only exposed part of her body was her head, she was wearing a long skirt that extended to the floor and her arms were covered by long sleeves.
Alpha was holding blades in both of her hands. Those blades were thin and looked extremely sharp. She then thrust the blade in her right hand toward Akira. Although Akira understood well that the blade in front of his eyes was not a real thing and only an image, it looked sharp enough that Akira could not help but take a step back.
“I’ll be dancing in front of you and you’ll need to keep your eyes on me. I’ll launch some attacks in the middle of it and you just need to evade them, you get that?”
“Since it’s training to compress your time perception, you’re not allowed to keep your distance to avoid my attacks. You’re also not allowed to take a step back when I approach you as long as I don’t try to attack you.”
“Very well, let’s begin.”
After both of them opened up some distance between them, Alpha saluted Akira, closed her eyes and started dancing while making a dignified expression with her beautiful face.
The multi-layered dress flailed in the air as she danced, she looked completely mesmerizing. The many decorations on her dress swayed along, complimenting her every move. The blades, which were as smooth as a mirror, gave a clear reflection of the garage as they slashed the air.
Watching her dance, Akira felt like he was taking part in some kind of ritual. It was obvious that Akira was slowly hypnotized by that dance. It made him immediately forget that he was in the garage and both Alpha’s dress and dance were completely out of place.
When Akira got back to his senses, Alpha had already finished her slash. Alpha, who was dancing next to him, had slashed at his neck with the blade in her right hand. He could not react to that at all. If that blade was real, he would have been dead by now.
Alpha smiled mischievously at Akira, who was still dumbfounded.
“You should properly keep your eyes open for any attacks, okay?”
Akira pulled himself together. It would be all for naught if he did not feel any sense of danger even when there was someone flinging a sword right at him. He could not just stand there mesmerized, he should properly keep his focus and watch Alpha’s movements closely. He gathered all his focus and directed all his attention towards Alpha.
Alpha reset the distance between them. Akira kept his eyes on her so that he would not miss even the slightest move from Alpha, but then he suddenly realized something and looked puzzled.
A layer of cloth tore off from Alpha’s dress. That piece of cloth fluttered and vanished before it could touch the floor. Akira understood that it was nothing more than an image, thus it was not like that piece of cloth would just peel off from Alpha’s dress on its own. So in short, Alpha did that intentionally.
“…Alpha, why did you let that piece of cloth off?”
“I’m just reducing the difficulty, this multi-layered dress is hiding my movements which in turn hides my attack. If you can get a better view of my limbs, you should be able to see my attacks more easily, right?”
“Well, that’s true, but isn’t it like we’re doing this training so that I can quickly recognize my enemy’s movement, compress my time perception, and evade incoming attacks?”
“It’s fine. It doesn’t seem like you can even react to my attacks at this rate, after all. Or more like, you don’t feel any danger at all, do you? As long as you don’t recognize the danger, you won’t be able to notice that you’re being attacked, and it won’t be able to trigger you to compress your time perception.”
“…Well, that’s true.”
“I’ll take off one layer of my dress every time my attack hits you, okay?”
“If you want to see me naked, you can just go ahead and take it easy, you know?”
After Alpha said that while smiling bewitchingly, she started dancing again in front of flustered Akira.
Akira stiffened his face to not let out his inner feeling as he was keeping his eyes on Alpha, who was dancing beautifully in front of him.