The rain continued, it was not getting worse, but it was not letting up either.
Akira regularly went outside the room and checked the surroundings. He was checking the situation around the mansion while keeping close distance to the main room so he could quickly return back to where Sheryl was in case he spotted anything. His information-gathering device was also working just fine as long as it was indoor. Up until now, he had not met any monsters looking for a shelter from the rain yet.
Akira then thought.
“I hope that this situation would continue.”
Alpha smiled bitterly.
“When you say it like that, it sounds as if you’re rising your death flag, you know.”
“Nothing will happen. This is easy, we just need to wait for the rain to stop before going back home.”
“That in itself also did not sound good.”
“Okay okay, I just need to shut up, right?”
In contrast to Alpha who was smiling teasingly there, Akira pouted.
After Akira went back and forth from the main room several times, he spotted Sheryl looking displeased.
It was rather obvious that Sheryl was in a bad mood, but the moment she noticed Akira, she immediately welcomed him with a smile. Maybe because she could not fully hide the displeasure inside her, her smile somehow looked slightly awkward.
As Akira was about to sit next to Sheryl, he asked Erio who was standing near him.
“Did something happen?”
Erio glanced at Sheryl. Sheryl looked back at Erio while smiling. But her eyes were telling Erio not to say anything unnecessary.
Erio did something that angered Sheryl a few days ago, so he couldn’t afford to make it worse. While on the other hand, he also could not afford to worsen Akira’s mood either.
Akira was a dangerous person who would kill without any hesitation. There was even an occasion when he dragged the corpse of the person that he killed to the base of the gang that person was affiliated with. But Akira was harmless as long as he was not hostile. Unless the children of Sheryl’s gang told themselves that, they would need extra courage to even talk with Akira. That was the Akira that Erio knew. Although it should be fine for now since Sheryl was basically having him under control, Akira was still a dangerous person.
Erio carefully answered Akira’s question as not to worsen both his and Sheryl’s mood.
“There was a little dispute, but it’s already over.”
Akira only said that before he sat next to Sheryl.
Erio was relieved that he was at least able to avoid worsening Akira’s mood. He then glanced at Sheryl, who was still smiling at him.
It was not like Sheryl was obviously glaring at him. So Erio thought that she was not angry and it should be fine, or at least, that was what Erio prayed.
Since Sheryl’s heart leaned on Akira and as he was now back beside her, she returned to her normal self. Akira, who saw that change, thought that it was not something bad. So he just decided to stop thinking about it.
As Akira was taking a rest there before the next patrol, Sebla approached him. Sheryl’s mood quickly turned sour again.
Sebla then said to Akira.
“I have something I want to talk with you…”
“No, you don’t, now get back to your place.”
Sheryl interjected and glared at Sebla.
“I’m talking with Akira here.”
“I’m the boss of the gang and I’m telling you to get back to your place.”
“You’re just a proxy in the end, aren’t you? No matter how you look at it, the real boss here is Akira.”
Sheryl and Sebla were glaring at each other.
There were some children in Sheryl’s gang who thought that Sheryl was just a proxy for Akira. Most of the members who joined recently had a strong impression about it. While the senior members of the gang were much more afraid of Akira than Sheryl that they chose to carefully observe the situation as it developed. Thus prolonging the misunderstanding about Sheryl’s actual position in the gang.
So in short, they thought that if they could appeal to Akira, then they could ignore Sheryl’s opinion. Although that was true, there was no mistaking it that it was a bad choice of action.
Akira was basically just helping Sheryl as an individual. He was not helping Sheryl’s gang in particular. As such, if anyone from Sheryl’s gang came directly to Akira to appeal to him, Akira would flatly reject them.
Akira sighed and said.
“So, what is it?”
Since it seemed that Akira was willing to hear what he had to say, Sebla snickered mockingly at Sheryl. Sheryl glared at Sebla even more as she stepped back, it was because Akira was saying that he was willing to listen to Sebla.
Sebla then continued.
“Well, since the rain is not letting up at all, I just thought that it might be a good idea to search the mansion while waiting for the rain to stop.”
Akira was just silently looking at Sebla, waiting for him to continue. While on the other hand, Sebla was waiting for Akira’s reply. So they were just looking at each other silently. Sebla’s smile vanished, and right when he started looking confused, Akira opened his mouth.
“Like I said, it’s a good idea to search for relics in this mansion.”
Akira sounded exasperated as he said to Sebla.
“No. I’m in the middle of a job and that is to make sure of Sheryl’s and the other children’s safety. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed it.”
Sebla then annoyedly replied to Akira.
“So you’re basically our bodyguard, right?”
“That’s not right. When I say other children, it means the children who view Sheryl as the head of the gang. So it doesn’t include the children who won’t listen to her.”
Sebla’s face twitched, Akira was basically saying that he wouldn’t protect him. So Sebla quickly changed to provocation.
“What? Are you scared or something? Or like, you have no confidence at all?”
“Yeah yeah, I’m scared and I don’t trust my own skill.”
Akira just flatly took in Sebla’s provocation as if it was nothing. Sebla was taken aback. Sheryl, who was also listening at that exchange, was surprised. Akira then continued.
“The monsters are scary, that’s exactly why they’re called ‘monsters’. You don’t even know that? And also, I have priority on who I’m going to protect. First of all, I need to make sure of Sheryl’s safety before protecting the people who are with her. But even after I can be sure that Sheryl and her gang is safe, I have no plans to worry about the safety of the people who try to pick a fight against the monsters on their own volition.”
Not only was Akira mocking Sebla’s futile action, he was also saying that he put Sebla’s safety as his last priority. As Sebla obviously winced back, Sheryl was smiling happily since Akira said that he would prioritize her safety.
Akira looked annoyed as he continued.
“If you want to go search the mansion, you can just go ahead and do that. I won’t stop you. My job is to protect Sheryl and her gang. So stopping you from killing yourself is not included in my job description. So yeah, you can go ahead and do whatever you want.”
After he heard Akira’s straight answer, Sebla gave up trying to have Akira protect him while he searched the mansion. But he still wanted to go search the mansion.
Since they arrived at the mansion, Sebla kept thinking that he might be able to find some expensive relics inside such a luxurious looking mansion. And if he did find some and sold them in secret, he would be able to buy some powerful weapon and live a better life working as a Hunter.
As there was someone who had realized all of Sebla’s crazy dream right in front of him, he was caught in an even crazier dream.
Sebla went silent and thought. He then lowered his request and pointed at Akira’s AAH assault rifle.
“…T-then, at least lend me that gun.”
Sebla himself had no plan to search the mansion unarmed. So putting it in another way, he would search the mansion if he could get himself a rifle. As far as he could recognize, other than Akira’s equipment, he did not think there was that much difference between him and Akira.
Akira looked obviously exasperated as he said to Sebla.
“What the heck are you saying now? There’s no way I would lend you my rifle.”
“But it’s not like you’re using it right now.”
“Are you for real? Do you really think that is enough of a reason to lend you my rifle? Are you sure you’re okay in the head?”
There was no reason for Akira to lend Sebla his rifle. In his mind, lending his rifle to Sebla was equal to losing his rifle for nothing. Not to mention, Sebla might point that rifle at him, which was basically worse than simply losing his rifle.
When Akira got his calm back, he started to doubt Sebla’s sanity.
“Listen here, you’re basically still barely included as one of the people that I have to protect, that is if you don’t do anything crazy. If you keep bugging me like this, I’ll have no other choice but to think of you as an obstruction to my job and remove you from my escort target. If you understand, then get lost. You’re bothering me.”
After Akira gave him a strong rejection, he looked away from Sebla as if he had lost interest in him.
Sebla looked frustrated and stood staring at Akira for some time before he returned to the opposite side of the room. He then sat down leaning his back against the wall, bent his head down, and started mumbling.
Sheryl appeared happy. She was smiling in delight as she was so thankful that Akira took her side. She looked at Sebla, who was walking away, as she felt a sense of victory.
The rain was still pouring down.
As Akira was patrolling the area, Alpha suddenly moved in front of him and pointed her finger outside the window.
“Akira, over there.”
Akira peeked outside the mansion. Thanks to the vision enhancement from Alpha, his vision zoomed into the direction where Alpha was pointing her finger. She was pointing at a vehicle that was heading in his direction.
“The other Hunters, huh? I just hope they won’t cause any trouble but…”
Akira felt that his hope would get betrayed and his bad premonition would happen, that was why he stopped there. He then headed back to the room to inform Sheryl and her gang about the Hunters.
Not too long after Akira and Sheryl’s gang took shelter from the rain in that mansion, another vehicle was also heading to Higaraka Residence Ruin. It was a closed-roof car that was designed to explore the wasteland, a big symbol of the rental company that owned that vehicle was painted on the side of that vehicle.
There were 3 Hunters in that vehicle. Guyver and Colbert were sitting on the backseats while Dale was driving the vehicle.
Guyver said to Dale.
“Say, isn’t it better if we just head straight to Kugamayama city?”
“Didn’t I tell you before that we can’t do that in the middle of this rain?”
“It would be fine. We’ve put some distance between us and that ruin, I’m sure that dangerous-looking monster must have lost us by now.”
“We might still meet it again on our way back, you know. Not to mention that this car is a rental car, so its auto-drive function might get activated when it receives damage. When that happens, it’ll return back to the city on autopilot and I won’t be able to control it. What would you do about it if that happens? In the worst-case scenario, this vehicle might even bring that monster back to the city with it and I’m sure the city defense squad would blow that monster together with us the moment they spot it.”
“You’re just overthinking it.”
When Guyver brushed Dale’s worry as him overthinking it and laughed at him, Dale quickly turned at him with an annoyed face.
Then Colbert joined their conversation as he asked Dale.
“So, why Higaraka Residence Ruin?”
“You remember that big mansion inside the ruin, right? I’m thinking of taking shelter there.”
“It’s not like we have to go to that particular mansion, right? If you just want to take shelter while waiting for the rain to stop, we can just pick a random building around this area.”
“We don’t know how long this rain will stay. So if it’s possible, I want to take a good rest in a big room rather than in a cramped space like inside this vehicle.”
When he heard that snide remark from Colbert, Dale held himself back while telling that this would be the last time he went out to the wasteland together with both of them.
[That damn mediator!! Picking these dumb guys for me!! I’ll definitely file a complaint later!!]
Deep inside his heart, Dale kept cursing the mediator who introduced Guyver and Colbert to him.
Dale, Guyver, and Colbert did not go on an expedition together normally. They were all just registered under the same mediator and so they were just temporarily on the same team.
In the eastern district, there were several companies that acted as mediators between Hunters. They would introduce Hunters with other Hunters depending on the requirements set by those Hunters. These requirements included a lot of things such as the level of danger of the ruin that they wanted to explore, the type of request that they were willing to take together, the way to divide the reward, their equipments, Hunter Rank, battle record, and even age, gender and personality.
Most of the Hunters in the eastern district were utilising such mediator’s service. It was because a good mediator company often only introduced reliable and trustworthy Hunters. After all, these mediators would not accept Hunters with bad records. For example, those Hunters who always lose their team members in the wasteland for some reason, or those Hunters who are known to increase the risk of the exploration for other Hunters in the team. These Hunters would get rejected when they tried to register their names in those mediator companies. It was the same for the Hunters who got a lot of complaints after they were introduced to the other Hunters. With such a process of elimination, the Hunters who were left were usually trustworthy and reliable ones.
In the case when the company was requested by the City Management to send Hunters for some requests that had something to do with public image, it would prioritize those Hunters who had good personalities due to their track record.
In order to prevent the Hunters with powerful weapons from turning into bandits, the Corporate Government usually put a requirement on certain requests that the Hunters had to be registered with a mediator company and must have a relatively good image.
Dale usually worked alone and only formed a team temporarily with the help of a mediator company.
He had a hint and was looking for a particular ruin that might earn him a lot of money. Although he was able to get the information about where that ruin was through his connection, he did not get the information about the monsters around that ruin. Because of that, he thought that it would be a bad idea to go there alone and ended up asking the mediator company to introduce him to some Hunters. And those Hunters were Guyver and Colbert.
Result-wise, Dale’s expedition ended up as a failure this time. They were not able to get their hands on any expensive relics and when they decided to just go back home, they encountered a powerful monster and had to escape that ruin in a hurry.
Dale believed that it was Guyver’s and Colbert’s fault that they failed.
[This Guyver guy can’t even properly scan the area for monsters, he was just loitering aimlessly in the ruin and got detected by monsters because of that!! And that Colbert didn’t even try to hide it when he was about to abandon us!! It’s would have been much better if I had come here alone!! I’ll never work together with these two again!!]
But all this was from Dale’s point of view. Both Guyver and Colbert thought that Dale was too scared to make any swift decision which made their expedition a total failure.
In all actuality, it might be just a matter of compatibility between their personalities, but putting that aside, all of them still felt awkward after that failure.
As Dale parked the vehicle near the mansion, he noticed Akira’s vehicle.
He took a good look at Akira’s vehicle.
“Someone’s here first, huh. Well, it’s raining cats and dogs here, no wonder another Hunter would come up with the same idea.”
Guyver glanced at Akira’s vehicle as he was putting on a camouflaging sheet on their vehicle.
“It’s packed with relics though. I wonder where all these relics came from?”
It was obvious that the tray was packed with a lot of relics, but because it was covered with a camouflaging sheet, Guyver could not really see how many relics were in it.
“I bet it’s from this ruin.”
Colbert suddenly interjected in, but when Guyver heard that, he replied back as if he was mocking Colbert.
“There are only garbage relics left in this ruin, you know. There’s no way someone would even go as far as preparing a detachable cart just to carry relics out from this ruin.”
Colbert annoyedly replied back.
“Then where do you think all of those relics come from?”
“Like hell if I know.”
Guyver snapped back at Colbert.
They then checked the area around that mansion. There were dead monsters around the area but there was nothing suspicious. They then noticed Akira by the end of a hallway.
Akira was standing near the entrance of one of the rooms, he was watching the surroundings with CWH anti-material rifle and DVTS minigun in his hands. He also noticed Dale and the other Hunters the moment they came in sight.
Akira walked a few steps toward them before opening his mouth.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but can you take any other room? We’re using this room to take shelter from the rain.”
Dale raised both of his hands, trying to tell Akira that they were not hostile.
“Calm down, we’re also Hunters. We’re only here to take shelter from the rain on our way back home from the ruins. Are you also on your way back from a ruin? Just so you know, I have no plans to cause any trouble.”
Guyver and Colbert lowered their guns. When he saw that, Akira also lowered his guns.
He then said.
“I’m also a Hunter, but I’m here today for an escort request. If you have no business with us, I hope that you would take shelter somewhere else…”
Since Akira wanted to reduce any unpredictable factors, he hoped that Dale would take his friends somewhere else.
But Dale did not step back.
“Don’t say that. This must be some kind of fate. Let’s at least share information.”
Dale wanted to have someone to talk to about his expedition, or to be more precise, he wanted someone that could help him vent his stress by complaining about Guyver and Colbert. Moreover, making connections was essential for Hunters, and that was doubly true when it came to a Hunter like Akira who was nice enough to be there as an escort and not for hunting relics. Thus Dale wanted to make some connections with Akira if it was possible.
Guyver threw a friendly smile at Akira.
“I don’t mind if you want to exchange relics too, you know? Moreover, if you’re here as an escort, it’s your employer who will decide to meet us or not, right?”
Guyver could not forget about the relic pile that was on Akira’s cart. He thought that if he could somehow ask the owner of those relics to exchange some of it, he might be able to see what kind of relics were in that pile.
Akira hesitated for a bit, he then decided to ask Sheryl. After all, getting more connections with the other Hunters might be a good thing for Sheryl. That was why Akira decided to ask her rather than making his own decision.
“…I’ll go and ask then, wait here for a sec.”
After saying that, Akira went back to the room where Sheryl and her gang were.
Sheryl heard about the situation from Akira and decided to meet with Dale and his friends. Akira was a bit surprised by that, but since Sheryl decided to do so, he had no plan to criticize her at all. He then let Dale and his friends into the room.
After that, Dale and his friends introduced themselves to Sheryl and continued talking with her. While they were doing that, Akira was just standing silently next to Sheryl with both CWH anti-material rifle and DVTS minigun on his hands without lowering his guard at all.
Among the three of them, Dale was the one who was talking the most with Sheryl. From their conversation, it felt like they could get along well with each other.
Sheryl smiled while listening to Dale, it was as if her eyes were sparkling, showing her interest in what the other person had to say. She enthusiastically encouraged Dale to continue his story, sympathized with his complaints, and praised his hard work.
She already understood how much effect her beauty had when talking with others, that was why she thoroughly took care of her skin and hair every day. She was also wearing an old-world dress that looked expensive and was using it skillfully as if she was familiar with such dresses. While on the other hand, since the other children present were only wearing clothing that was a bit better than most of the children in the slum city, it boosted Sheryl’s appearance even more.
Sheryl continued her silly talk with Dale while trying to convey that she was not hostile. Because of that, Dale could not stop venting his stress from his failed expedition that day. As a result, their conversation dragged longer and longer.
Dale, who seemed to be interested in Sheryl, stopped boasting about himself and asked about her and her gang.
“So then, uhmmm, are you some kind of representative or something?”
“Yes, I’m the representative of a small gang in the lower district of the Kugamayama city, or more like, I’m the head of that small gang.”
“That’s a pretty impressive feat considering that you’re still so young, what’s the name of your gang?”
“It’s still a small gang, so we don’t have a name yet. Not to mention that it’ll attract more attention if we have a name and it might cause needless conflict. We’re trying to lay low and avoid any problem right now.”
“I see… It sounds rough.”
“Not at all, compared to the hard time that the Hunters have when facing the monsters out in the dangerous wasteland, our problem is not that bad. We don’t have anything that can be compared to the rewards that the Hunters get from hunting monsters or from selling relics. By the way, what kind of relics did you find lately?”
“Well, let’s see…”
Dale tried to remember the relics that he sold lately as they continued their conversation.
“Say, Alpha. This might be just my imagination, but…”
Akira who was standing silently next to Sheryl was a bit surprised and somehow a bit terrified, but he tried his best not to show it outside as he asked Alpha for a confirmation.
“Sheryl is trying to probe information out of those Hunters while keeping her own information a secret. I agree with you about that point, I think that she’s doing it intentionally.”
“…I thought so.”
The conversation between Sheryl and Dale was mostly about Dale’s team. Although the conversation shifted to about Sheryl from time to time, she was always able to subtly steer the topic back about Dale and his friends and it seemed that Dale did not notice that at all.
Dale and Sheryl talked about a lot of things. When the topic was about the ruin, they would talk about the monsters that Dale had encountered or about the relics that he had found in the past. Although all of them were information that a Hunter would not normally share with the other Hunters except when they were getting paid, thanks to Sheryl’s sympathy and praises, Dale started blurting out those information for free.
And even after that, Sheryl would still occasionally show her sympathy or throw some praises exactly when he was expecting for them, thus Dale just could not stop himself.
As he was watching Dale continue blurting out those sensitive information, Akira tried to remember all of his exchanges with Sheryl and asked Alpha.
“I didn’t leak any information when I talked with Sheryl up until now, right?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll properly warn you when you’re about to make that blunder.”
“I see. Well, the only sensitive information that I have is about you, so I guess it should be okay, huh?”
“Well, Akira, you sometimes lowered your guard and turned at my direction. So she might think that you have a weird habit of looking at a random direction when you’re deep in thought, but that’s all.”
“…Wait, that’s because you always wear strange clothing, you know? Is it still my fault?”
“It’s not like I’m saying that it’s your fault. And also, it’s so rude of you to say that. If you keep saying something like that, I’ll start using even weirder clothing to train you.”
Alpha was smiling invincibly and teasingly at Akira.
“I’m sorry… please don’t…”
Akira quickly apologized. He did not want to see Alpha in any super strange clothing that would even take him by surprise.
As Dale was boasting about his ‘adventurous’ story to Sheryl, Guyver was keeping distance while silently observing them.
Guyver was surprised when he entered that room since the scene inside was so much different from what he was expecting. He thought he would find Hunters resting inside the room. Since there was only one vehicle with its cart filled with relics, judging from that, he expected to find at most 6 Hunters. He also thought that Akira was guarding the entrance since he was the weakest among those 6 Hunters.
Some Hunters preferred to work as a paid mercenary to accompany other Hunters to the wasteland while any relics that they found during their expedition would all be owned by their employers. Guyver thought that Akira was one of those Hunters.
But what he found inside that room was a beautiful young girl who employed Akira and the other small children in shoddy looking clothing. It did not seem that there was another Hunter except Akira inside that room. Those children did not even seem like they could handle a fight well.
While Dale was talking with Sheryl, Guyver scanned the room and lightly checked all the children in the room. He also kept his eyes on Akira whilst trying to figure out Sheryl’s situation from what he heard from their conversation.
After Guyver finished checking everything there, he then interjected in Dale’s and Sheryl’s conversation.
“Can I say something for a bit here? I have a suggestion, this must be some kind of fate that we met each other here. We’re both on our way back from hunting relics. So how about we exchange relics? Although we don’t have that many, we got ourselves some good relics, you know?”
There were not that many Hunters who would sell all of the relics that they found in the ruins to the Hunter Office. So in order to adjust the relics that they collected according to the type of the relics preferred by the merchants that they sold those relics to, Hunters sometimes exchanged relics between each other. Usually, Guyver’s suggestion was a profitable one for both sides.
But Sheryl looked apologetic as she declined that offer.
“I’m really sorry. The relics that we gathered are nothing more than cheap relics. I don’t think we have anything worth exchanging.”
“Don’t worry, every merchant out there has a different preference. Your relics might not be worth much if you sell to the merchant that you frequent, but they might fetch a good price with the merchant that we frequent. Don’t worry about the price, it’s not like we have to exchange anything if we don’t find anything worth exchanging.”
“But it would take some time for us to unload the relics.”
“I’m the one suggesting it, so we’ll help out too.”
“…We’re planning to head back to the city as soon as the rain stops, so it might be a bit hard time-wise to unload them and load them again immediately afterwards…”
Although Sheryl was trying to decline his offer, Guyver kept pressuring her. Even though Dale found it weird that Sheryl was trying to decline the offer, because he liked her more than Guyver, he took Sheryl’s side.
“Whoah there, it’s not like you have to press her to do that, right?”
“…Well, that’s true, sorry about that.”
After Dale interjected, Guyver quickly apologized.
The reason why Sheryl refused the offer to exchange relics was to avoid having Dale and his friends looking down at her gang after seeing the cheap relics that her gang had gathered.
Sheryl noticed that Dale and his friends were misunderstanding her position. It seemed that they thought her to be the head of some kind of a big gang. Basically, they thought that Sheryl was someone with quite a load of money.
To be honest, Sheryl was just the head of a small gang and she did not have much money. Normally, she would not even be in that place. It was all thanks to Akira, who provided the transportation means and guard escort, that she was able to come to that place. Moreover, Akira paid for all the expenses for their expedition. Although Sheryl did pay some amount of money as a request reward to him, it was just a small portion of what he had paid in order to prepare for the expedition. And, in the end, the money that Sheryl used to pay Akira was the money that she got thanks to him in the first place.
If Dale and his friends noticed that the pile of relics in the cart was nothing more than just cheap relics and Sheryl and her gang were nothing more than just powerless and penniless children of the slum city, they would treat her and her gang differently. In the worst-case scenario, they might even start attacking her gang. That was what she thought.
Sheryl was immensely relieved that she had coaxed Dale. Thanks to that, she was able to maintain the trio’s misunderstanding.
Although, it was still unclear whether it was a good or a bad thing.