Sheryl was doing her job inside her private room when suddenly a call came in from her information terminal.
When she heard that particular ringtone, she quickly grabbed her information terminal and answered that call as fast as she could as if she was trying not to make the caller wait for her at all.
“Akira here, do you have some time now?”
“Of course. No matter whether it’s early in the morning or in the middle of the night, feel free to call me anytime.”
Sheryl answered back with a big smile and high spirit. Akira was obviously weirded out by that.
“Yes. There’s no need to hold back. So, how can I help you?”
If only Akira said that he just wanted to hear her voice, Sheryl would immediately ascend to heaven, but she knew well that was not possible. It was nothing more than a pipe dream, and as expected, Akira did not call her just because he wanted to hear her voice.
“Well, let’s say that if I’m offering to escort some of your gang members to Higaraka Residence Ruin. What would you do?”
Sheryl tried to process that sudden invitation from Akira. She tried to think if there was any other meaning or any hidden signals behind Akira’s words, and if there were any, then how she should react in that situation. If that was a demand or a command, then Sheryl would have to reply back with a yes. But that was an offer.
“If there’s no need to give a quick answer, is it okay if I ask you the details?”
“Well, even if you say so, it’s exactly like what you just heard… Ahhh, it’s really fine if you don’t want to go. If you have no wish to go at all, I have no wish to force you either. After all, even though I’ll be escorting you, we’re still going to the dangerous wasteland. So it’s not like I’m going to force you or anything…”
“Ah, that’s not what I meant…”
Sheryl then asked Akira a lot of questions and finally understood the situation. To summarize, it was just an offer from Akira to explore Higaraka Residence Ruin.
Akira was planning to take and escort some children from Sheryl’s gang to Higaraka Residence Ruin in order to collect relics there. There should still be a lot of valuable relics for Sheryl and her gang members in that ruin. If they could bring those relics back, it would earn them quite a lot of money.
Although it was somehow still suspicious, that was a very tempting offer for Sheryl. So she decided to take up that offer in the end.
“I understand. If that’s the case, then I’ll be taking that offer if it’s really okay with you, Akira.”
Akira sounded a bit surprised as he replied.
“Are you sure? Although I’ll be your escort, it’s still the wasteland. It’s dangerous, you know?”
“I think that the possible benefit of going outweighs the danger. Not to mention this kind of offer is a rare chance and we do need money too. So I can’t afford to pass such a rare chance to earn money.”
“…I see, you’re right. Alright then.”
Sheryl noticed that there was a slightly weird change in Akira’s voice. Her gang needed money, thus she decided to go to the wasteland even though she knew of the dangers. Although Akira felt like there was another reason why Sheryl decided to accept his offer, he chose not to ask any further.
After Sheryl confirmed when and where to meet, and the number of the people that she would bring, she thanked Akira.
“…Well then, we’ll be in your care. Thank you very much for giving us this precious chance.”
“I’m the one who came up with the offer, so there’s no need to be that grateful. Later then.”
Akira then ended the call. The moment he did that, Sheryl’s happy face immediately turned serious. She then asked herself the question that she put aside back then, but even so, she still could not answer that question even now.
[So in the end, why exactly did Akira give me this offer? Is there any kind of profit that he could get from us accepting this offer? I don’t understand at all…]
No matter how much Sheryl tried to think about it, she always ended up with the same conclusion, this offer would only bring Akira a huge loss. Escorting Sheryl and her gang to that ruin without accepting any payment would incur him a huge loss in the first place. For Hunters like Akira who could pay 10,000,000 Aurum like it was nothing, even just staying at home for a whole day doing nothing would need them to spend more money than what Sheryl and her gang could afford. Thus, those Hunters would only accept a request to take a lot of slum children, who knew nothing about living in the wasteland, only if that request offered a huge amount of reward money.
A Hunter on the level similar to Akira would have explored Higaraka Residence Ruin before. And any relics left in that ruin would be those that were not worth the expense for him. Even if he carried as many relics as possible from that place with the help of her gang, and even if Akira could sell those relics at a good price, the money would not even be close to enough to pay a Hunter like him to escort those children.
[…Is it some kind of training? Or maybe a practice run? Is he planning to see how useful we are in the case when he needs our help in the wasteland? But if that’s the case, he could just tell it to me straight, right…? I really have no idea what Akira is thinking.]
Even after that, Sheryl still spent some time trying to figure out the reason behind Akira’s offer. But in the end, she could not come up with any good guesses. It was because she actually noticed, albeit vaguely, the real reason behind that offer in the middle of her conversation with Akira.
Although Akira didn’t explicitly tell her not to ask him that question, it was enough to stop Sheryl from digging any deeper.
It was not like she could do anything about things that she did not understand. But it was true that it was a tempting offer for Sheryl. As such, she thought that she had to try her best to get the most out of this opportunity.
Sheryl then decided to push aside all her questions for now and moved on to decide who she would take with her to Higaraka ruin.
Eventually, the day when Akira escorted Sheryl and her gang to the Higaraka Residence Ruin to gather relics came. Sheryl brought her subordinates to their meeting place that was located on the border between the slum city and the wasteland; they were waiting for Akira there.
As the meeting time came closer, all the children that Sheryl brought with her to go to the wasteland started having mixed feelings.
Sheryl looked excited as she was thinking of her plans for the day with a big smile.
[What should we do about the relics that we’ll gather? Should I look for someplace to sell them? Or should we open a stand to sell them ourselves? After all, I don’t think we’ll find any relics that Katsuragi-san would buy in that ruin, I need to find another way to exchange them into money. Even if we get lucky and end up finding some expensive relics, it’s not like we can just keep the money without sharing them with Akira. I need to find a way to exchange those relics for a good price even if we only find cheap relics there…]
Sheryl mostly thought about what she should do after coming back from that ruin. She did not worry about going out to the dangerous wasteland or exploring the dangerous old-world ruin at all. It was because she was simply happy to be able to go out with Akira even if it was to the wasteland.
In contrast to that, Erio’s expression was filled with fear and worry.
[It’s not like Sheryl is sending me to gather relics because I saw her naked back then, right? My assumption is not wrong, right? It’s not like she is just sending me to die, right? Please someone tell me that I’m right!!!]
As one of the armed children from Sheryl’s gang, Erio had a gun with him. But it was just a cheap handgun bought from Katsuragi-san and he did not have much ammo in his reserve either. It was not a weapon that people would normally use to fight against monsters.
Erio was almost killed in the wasteland before. Thus, he actually did not want to go out to the wasteland again if it could be helped, while on the other hand, he could not go against the command of the boss of the gang. As well as for the sake of his girlfriend, Alicia, he could not afford to go against Sheryl’s order and get kicked out of the gang.
Even if Akira did say that he would escort them, Erio had no idea how far Akira would go to protect the gang’s members. But one thing was for sure, Akira would prioritize protecting Sheryl more than him. Thus, when the push came to shove, he would have to do something about his situation himself. But again, when it even came to that point, then he would be in a situation where he could do nothing about it anymore.
Erio could not clear his worries. For the sake of his girlfriend, Alicia, he resolved himself to go out and swore to return back alive. So he decided to ward off his fear of going to the wasteland by telling himself that it would be okay with Akira escorting him.
Nasha looked around her and checked how the other children were doing. The only person who was relaxed in that situation was Sheryl. Although each kid was showing a different level of anxiousness, it was obvious that all of them were worried. Leaving Sheryl aside, none of them had come to that place out of their own volition.
[Although I know that they would push the jobs that they don’t want to do to me since I’m a new member, to think that they’ll send me to the old-world ruin to gather relics right off the bat. But again, what’s going on here? Even the boss and the other gang’s high officers are here too. I just don’t understand what’s going on with this gang, I at least need to gather more information before I contact Alna…]
There were a lot of peculiar things about Sheryl’s gang, but even so, it was a good enough gang for Nasha to put her hopes on. She thought that she had to get on Sheryl’s good side so it would be easier for her to help Alna join this gang. That was why she resolved herself to come.
Akira arrived there in his vehicle a bit sooner than the meeting time. He then finished simple greetings with Sheryl’s gang before heading to Higaraka Residence Ruin.
He attached a pull cart behind his vehicle and was sitting on the driver seat. Sheryl sat next to him, while the rest of the children were on that cart.
Although the back seats were empty, Akira did not allow anyone to sit there. It was because it would be a hindrance when he wanted to use the CWH anti-material rifle or the DVTS mini gun that were mounted on his vehicle. There was someone who was about to sit there but Akira sent him to the back cart.
Akira had bought that cart after seeing how useful it was during the ruin exploration with Elena and Sara. Since he was planning to carry a lot of relics in the future, he decided to buy a big cart. Because of that, there was still a lot of space even after all the children from Sheryl’s gang got on that cart. But still, sitting in that cart was nowhere near comfortable.
A boy by the name of Sebla, who was sitting next to Nasha, voiced out his complaints.
“Seriously though, he doesn’t let anyone else sit there other than Boss Sheryl, huh. Is he saying that the cart is enough for us? Dammit, that damn boy getting ahead of himself although he was just another slum kid like us not too long ago.”
It was not like Akira explained anything when he sent the other kids to the cart, that was why Sebla interpreted his order as a disparaging treatment to show them their difference in position.
“Say, do you know that Akira guy?”
When Nasha asked him that, Sebla’s annoyed expression loosened. It was because he realized that she was a new member who did not know much about Akira. So in short, she was someone who might join him in bad-mouthing Akira.
Sebla answered back as if he had found a good place to vent his displeasure.
“Well, it’s not like I know him on a personal level, but I have seen him during the days when he was still living in the slum city back alley. Since he was living near where I was, I sometimes saw him when he went to the food distribution place. So I somehow remember his face.”
“He went to the food distribution place although he was a Hunter?”
“He just started working as a Hunter recently. Up until that point, he was more or less the same as us. I bet he just found some expensive relics out of luck that allowed him to get good equipment and that he’s just doing well lately thanks to his luck.”
“Is that so? I heard that he’s a very strong Hunter though…”
“I’m sure it’s just a bluff. He just got lucky and got himself a powerful weapon. Anyone can be strong if they have a powerful weapon. Even for that incident with Shijima’s gang, I’m sure he just used his gun to threaten the underling that Shijima sent here. Seriously speaking, does he look that strong to you without his gun?”
Nasha took another look at Akira and tried to reconfirm it. It was indeed true that Akira looked strong when he was with his weapons, but when she imagined him without those guns, he did not look that strong at all.
“…Now that you mention it, that’s kind of true.”
Sebla smiled, but his face quickly returned back to being annoyed.
Sebla looked at Akira and all of his equipment. An augmented suit to enhance his physical power, a strong looking vehicle to explore the wasteland, the powerful-looking CWH anti-material rifle and DVTS minigun, and finally the 2,000,000 Aurum per box medicine inside the rucksack on the back seat of his vehicle. They were all the equipment that supported Akira.
He looked at those weapons that made Akira appear strong, equipment that made others envious and jealous.
“…Dammit. How much money do I need to get those guns? If only I can get them too, I’ll be able to become a strong Hunter just like him. If I become one, then the boss would fawn over me too and I’ll be able to do anything I want with her body… Dammit, I bet he has done all kinds of stuff with the boss. He did take a bath with her the other day too after all. I still remember those guys that got kicked out of the gang just because they took a peek when Sheryl was in the bath. Why is he that special although he just got a little lucky…”
Sebla’s complaints somehow sounded as if he was chanting a curse which could be easily interpreted as picking a fight with Akira and Sheryl.
[…Yikes, I asked the wrong person.]
Nasha slowly moved away from Sebla when he was not watching. After all, she did not want to get roped into trouble.
Akira was driving slowly so as not to rock the cart too much. He also picked a level route to Higaraka Residence Ruin to reduce the rocking. But because of that, he took more time going to that ruin than usual which of course increased the possibility of encountering monsters on their way to the ruin.
While driving his vehicle, Akira was constantly checking the data on his goggles. Suddenly he turned on the auto-drive function of the vehicle’s control unit and pointed his rifle outside the vehicle.
“It’s a monster.”
Akira swiftly replied to Sheryl who was sitting on the driver’s assistant seat.
Sheryl quickly turned to the direction where Akira was aiming, but she could not see any monsters there.
“Uhhmm, where exactly is this monster?”
“Just use that binocular. It’s integrated with my information-gathering device, so you should be able to easily spot the monster.”
Sheryl picked the binocular that was lying near her and tried to look for the monster. She followed the indicator shown in her enhanced vision to look at where the signal was coming. Thanks to the automatic readjustment function of that binocular, which worked in tandem with Akira’s information-gathering device, she was able to quickly find the monster that Akira mentioned.
She could see a big carnivorous beast running toward Akira’s vehicle with a speed that did not fit its size. As she saw the large legs that supported that monster’s huge body kicking the ground, she could somehow hear its stamping sound that she should not be able to hear from such distance.
Akira started shooting at that monster with his AAH assault rifle. But none of his shots hit its mark.
He kept on shooting at that monster although he could not hit any of his shots. That monster eventually got close to Akira’s vehicle.
The children in the cart noticed the monster when they heard the gunshots. They quickly peeked out their heads from the cart to look for the monster. Since that monster was raising a cloud of dust while running toward the vehicle, they could easily find it. Also, it was already close enough to be spotted with naked eyes.
The children in the cart started to make a ruckus.
“Oii!! It’s getting closer and closer!! Can he hit his shot?!!”
“I-Isn’t this getting bad!?”
That monster was running faster than the vehicle and it did not slow down even though Akira was shooting at it.
The children who started to panic moved to the other side of the cart except for Erio. Although he was pointing his gun at that monster, he was also making the same scared expression as the other children.
Akira let out a sigh and put down his AAH assault rifle. He then moved to the back seat of the vehicle and aimed the DVTS minigun at the monster. He calmed himself down and pulled the trigger.
The minigun showered that monster with bullets, so many that it didn’t matter even though Akira missed some of his shots. Those bullets pierced through the monster’s skin, tore its flesh, and crushed its bones. It splattered its meats and blood around before falling over and stopped moving.
Akira sighed and returned back to the driver seat. It took sometime before the children in the cart started making another ruckus.
“Whoah!! He just killed that huge monster like it was nothing!!!”
“As expected of a Hunter.”
All the children then started raising their voices at the same time after they were released from the fear of that monster. All of them were smiling except for one person, it was Sebla.
“He couldn’t hit that monster when he was using a normal rifle. The amazing one is that weapon. I can do that too if I had that gun…”
Sebla’s complaint was drowned by the voice of the other children celebrating, so no one heard him.
Sheryl welcomed Akira with a smile.
“That was amazing, as I thought, you’re really a powerful Hunter, Akira. It’s really reassuring to have you escort us.”
Sheryl directed her wonderful smile filled with amazement and praise to Akira, but just like usual, Akira’s reaction was very bland. Or more like, it was worse than usual.
Akira’s expression showed no change as he said.
“…Well, I’ll at least do my escort work properly.”
For some reason, it seemed that Akira did not want to be thanked. Sheryl understood that from how he reacted.
“…A-alright, I’ll be relying on you.”
Although Sheryl was surprised by that, she decided not to ask any further to avoid making Akira’s mood worse.
Akira did not say anything as he kept driving the vehicle. There was an awkward silence between him and Sheryl who was sitting in the assistant driver seat, it was not a mood that could be fixed by simply throwing some random subject to talk about.
Moreover, it was not like Akira was in a situation where he could afford to engage in silly talks. He was focusing all of his attention to monitor his surroundings for any monsters and he had no plans to divide his attention for anything unnecessary.
In the middle of that awkward mood between Sheryl and Akira, Alpha was smiling as if it did not affect her at all.
“Akira, you’re too tense. If you don’t calm down, it’ll only unnecessarily shave your stamina, you know?”
Just like usual, Alpha was relaxed. But in contrast to her, Akira replied swiftly while pouting.
Since Sheryl took the assistant driver’s seat, Alpha was sitting on the door on the other side of Akira. She let her legs flap freely on the outside of the vehicle as she lightly turned her body around to Akira’s direction.
“It seems that you’re having a hard time there. Just tell me anytime you think that you can’t take it anymore, okay?”
Akira was escorting Sheryl and the other kids without Alpha’s support. Although he might still be able to see and hear Alpha, she did not give any type of support to Akira at the moment. She did not enhance his views as she usually did nor did she help with his aiming. There was also no aiming correction support from his augmented suit. And Alpha did not give Akira any instructions at all.
But more than that, Akira had to search for enemies himself. If he let his guard down, he felt like he would be ambushed by monsters in no time. Thus, he could not relax much which slowly shaved his focus and stamina.
This time, Akira was going to gather relics in the ruin as well as to train. To be more precise, the training was his main aim.
The last time he went to explore ruins without Alpha’s support, it was with Elena and Sara. At that time, he was able to finish the exploration without encountering any monsters. But if his performance was to be strictly evaluated, then the only word that Alpha could come up with was ‘embarrassing’.
Alpha thought that it would be bad to let it stay like that, thus she sent Akira for another training. And that was today’s relic hunting. His duty was to simply escort Sheryl and the other children to the ruin and return back alive.
Alpha thought that Akira needed to get used to the situation where he had no support from her. It should at least be to the point where he would not endanger himself from being way too nervous when he was in such a situation.
The reason why Alpha chose Sheryl’s gang as the target for the escort was because Sheryl and the other children were complete beginners when it came to exploring the wasteland. Thus, unlike Sara or Elena, they would not be able to protect Akira. And also even if Akira failed and they ended up killed, it would not affect his conscience much.
If Alpha told Akira to invite Sara and Elena for such a purpose, he would be super angry. In the worst-case scenario, it might cause considerable damage to his trust in Alpha. She herself understood that very well.
Because of all those reasons, Alpha decided to use Sheryl’s gang. And in order to convince Akira, she put an excuse that it would give Sheryl and her gang some profit too. She also told Akira to cancel the plan if Sheryl refused his offer. But Sheryl accepted it, after all, just like Alpha explained to Akira, it was a delicious offer for her.
Akira was always putting his life on the line as a Hunter and Sheryl’s gang was reaping benefits from it. So it should be alright to put Sheryl’s gang in danger from time to time as a compensation to that. After all, if Akira died, then Sheryl would lose her position anyway.
That was why Alpha thought that it was okay to put Sheryl and her gang in danger in order to train Akira. Alpha adjusted her explanation to Akira to make him agree with her thoughts, and as she planned, he unconsciously began to think like that too.
If Akira had shown even the slightest refusal when Alpha manipulated him, she would have categorized Sheryl’s gang as a threat. Had Akira put that much care for Sheryl’s gang, he might even place himself in danger in order to help them. So in the worst-case scenario, there might be even a need to exterminate Sheryl’s gang.
The lesser Akira was emotionally attached to the people around him, the better it was. Alpha planned all of this to ensure that she will have the biggest influence in his action. In order for him to accomplish her request, in order for her to accomplish her goal, and in order not to repeat the mistakes that she made in the past, Alpha kept adjusting her plans behind her usual ever-present smile.
Sheryl’s gang’s profit, Akira’s profit, and Alpha’s profit. Alpha might be the only existence there who fully understood that these 3 interests were mixed in today’s ruin exploration.
Akira glanced at Alpha and complained.
“In that case then, I’ll do that right away. Can you change into something else that won’t disrupt my focus?”
Alpha was wearing a bold swimsuit with a small amount of fabric. It was a swimsuit with a lot of laces wrapping around her body to secure the few pieces of fabric in their respective places. That extremely risqué swimsuit only served to boost Alpha’s charming body.
On the other side of Alpha, there was Sheryl who was wearing prim and proper clothing, thus it made Alpha’s swimsuit even more disturbing for Akira’s focus.
Alpha smiled and said.
“Nope. Don’t let yourself get bothered by something unnecessary. Just focus on the important information. This is also a part of your training, you know? If your focus is disturbed by my appearance, then it means that you’re not focused enough.”
“That might be true, but still…”
When Akira made that pause, Alpha quickly turned her body around like a gymnast. Thus her body wrapped in that risqué swimsuit was facing Akira right now. Her chest was right beside him.
Alpha got her face close to Akira and said.
“Don’t just sit there, another one is coming.”
Another monster was running towards him. Akira quickly confirmed its position from the data shown in his goggle.
Akira turned on the auto-drive function, stood up, readied his rifle, and aimed at that monster through the aiming device in his goggle. Although that monster was only a small dot when seen with naked eyes, he was able to properly aim at that monster.
Akira stabilized his grip with the help of his augmented suit, but since the ground was not smooth, the vehicle was swaying up and down and disrupting his aim. While on the other hand, that monster was running as fast as it could towards Akira. It would be nigh impossible to hit that monster’s weak points in such a situation. It was even hard enough to accurately shoot at that monster in the first place.
“Predict the moves of your target. Consider the lag between when you pull the trigger and when the bullet reaches your target. Feel the swaying of the vehicle and adjust your aim accordingly. There’s no need to rush yourself, just calm down and take your aim. Even if you might miss your shot because of your bad luck, don’t think that you can hit your shot because of your good luck. Don’t rely on luck and aim properly.”
Akira listened to Alpha’s instruction and pulled the trigger. The bullet flew past right beside that monster.
He frowned and asked.
“That’s a miss, what did I do wrong?”
“That was simply because you did not take a good enough aim. Now try again but do it more carefully.”
“Even if you tell me so, if I take too long to aim, that monster would move outside the view of the aiming scope, you know?”
“If you can slow down your time perception right before you pull the trigger, you should be able to take a far more accurate shot though.”
“I’m already trying to do that.”
Akira was still doing his time perception compression training until now. But he still could not use it freely. If he could do that, it would boost his shooting accuracy.
As that monster came closer and closer, Akira was able to hit its oversized body. But as long as he could not hit any of its weak points, the bullets which hit that monster were barely affecting it.
The children in the cart started making a ruckus again. That was it, Akira put his rifle down and moved to the backseat to aim his CWH anti-material rifle at that monster. He then readied his stance and pulled the trigger. The powerful piercing bullet that flew out from his CWH anti-material rifle pierced the torso of that monster and immediately killed it. As that monster fell to the ground and the vehicle moved further away leaving that monster’s corpse behind, the children in the cart started to raise their voices once again.
Although Akira encountered some monsters again after that, he eventually was able to arrive at the Higaraka Residence Ruin safely.