Sheryl was in her private room, talking with Akira through her information terminal.
“…I understand. See you tomorrow then, I’ll be waiting for you… Yes, good night.”
Akira then ended the call. Although she was smiling all the time when she was talking with Akira, her face immediately showed her tiredness the moment the call ended. She then let out a big sigh.
[I guess Akira won’t come here today, huh. That’s just too bad.]
Her call with Akira was basically him telling her that he would not come to the base for today since it was already pretty dark outside. To be honest, Sheryl wanted to use that as an excuse to make him sleepover in the base again, but her wish was not granted.
A lot of things happened that day and she was extremely tired both physically and mentally. Since her bathing time was around the corner, she decided to take a good rest while in the bath.
After Sheryl grabbed her stuff to take bath and exited her room, she suddenly heard her gang members making noises. It seemed that Erio and the other children were excitedly sharing their stories from the wasteland. Since someone got killed, the story became even more intriguing for the other children. But then on top of that, the reason that guy ended up dead was because he took Sheryl hostage and tried to kill Akira, thus the other children could not help but feel excited as they listened to the story.
Erio noticed Sheryl. It was the perfect chance for him to escape from all the other children who were bombarding him with questions.
“Oh, it’s the boss’ bath time. Sorry but I have to go and guard the bath.”
“I’m sure you’re tired, you can take rest for the remainder of the day.”
Sheryl believed that everyone who went to the wasteland that day must be very tired right now, that’s why she said those kind words to Erio. But Erio shook his head and said.
“No no no, don’t worry, I’m good. It’s not really that tiring to just stand guard anyway.”
“Is that so? Well, it’s up to you.”
Sheryl found his reply a bit weird, but she did not pay much attention to it and continued heading to the bathroom.
Since she went out to the wasteland that day, Sheryl took more time washing her body. She carefully cleaned her body before she dipped herself in the bath.
As her tiredness was melting into the warm water, Sheryl relaxed and recollected all which happened that day.
Sheryl always organized everything that she needed to review every day, she would self-evaluate her actions and use them as references to how she should react in the future. But since she was more tired than usual, the only memory that was replaying in her mind was the memory that left the biggest impression on her. It was the moment when Akira saved her when she was taken hostage by Sebla.
Sheryl smiled as she kept replaying that memory inside her head. Every time she did that, the scene would change bit by bit making Akira’s action look much more heroic and the scene became overly dramatized.
Soon, her smiling face turned into something different, maybe because the scene that was playing in her mind had already turned into a completely fictional scene.
She noticed that her body got increasingly relaxed as her head sunk deeper and deeper into the warm water. Engrossed in the soothing feeling, she eventually submerged her head in the water but she was able to pull herself up in a panic before any accident could happen.
“…That was dangerous.”
She knew that if she continued staying in the bath, it might happen again. Thus she told herself to be more careful as she continued enjoying the bath.
The same thing repeated at least twice before she decided to finish her bath.
Erio and Alicia were standing guard in front of the changing room. It was essential to make sure that no one tried to peek at Sheryl and got themselves kicked out of the gang.
Alicia glanced at Erio. It was obvious from his face that he was awfully tired, thus Alicia worriedly said to him.
“Sheryl also told you that you can take rest, so why don’t you go and do that? I’m sure you’re very tired too, right?”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m taking rest here. The other children would bombard me with questions if I take rest somewhere else. It’s tiring to answer their questions. I’ve even told the same story for about 5 times already!”
Erio sounded really tired when he said that. When he went to the wasteland with the other children, he was carrying a weapon despite it being only a cheap gun. Because of that, the other children seemed to be comparing him with Akira, who did all the amazing hard work back then. They were asking Erio what he did in the wasteland.
“…It’s true that I was carrying a gun. But there’s no way I can do what a Hunter does on a daily basis out there, you know. Every time they asked me what I did and I said that I didn’t do anything in particular, they would look at me with a shocked face. There are even some children who began complaining and telling me what I should have done. But they would immediately shut up when I say that they should take the gun the next time we go out to the wasteland. Those damn bastards!”
Erio sounded really annoyed. Alicia’s expression changed as she heard his reply, it was a mix of worry and fear.
“…There’s a plan to go again?”
“…I don’t know, you should ask Sheryl about that.”
To be honest, Erio did not want to ever go to the wasteland again. But if Sheryl told him to go, he then would not have any other choice but to go. Leaving that part aside, Sheryl’s gang was actually a pretty comfortable gang. Thus he could not afford to make Sheryl angry at him and get kicked out of the gang.
Erio’s expression changed into something that showed more fear and worry than Alicia. So, Alicia tried to cheer him up.
“I’ll ask Sheryl not to assign you with the same members as this time if you get sent to the wasteland again.”
“I’ll be counting on you.”
“By the way, it’s not like you did anything that might anger Sheryl, right?”
Erio averted his gaze, Alicia noticed that and pressed Erio for an answer.
“Wait, what did you do?”
“No, nothing. She should have forgiven me after sending me out to the wasteland today. Maybe, I hope so.”
“Seriously now, what did you do?!”
Erio looked flustered as Alicia kept pressing him for an answer. There’s no way he could tell his lover, Alicia, that he saw Sheryl naked. He tried his best to avoid having to answer Alicia’s question.
At the same time, Akira was taking a bath in his own house. He planned to go straight to the bed and sleep after finishing his bath.
Although he did not realize it until he was in his own home, he was actually pretty tired that day. The moment he took off his augmented suit, he could feel all of his tiredness in one go. He was only able to avoid falling down to the ground after squeezing all of the power that he had left to keep himself up. Akira then quickly finished the minimum level of maintenance for his equipment and decided to take a bath first before going straight to the bed.
Akira took his time enjoying his bath as he let his body float on the comfortable warm water. He could feel tiredness melting away from his body as he made sure not to fall asleep by accident in the bath.
“Akira, there’s something I want to talk about.”
Akira looked absent-minded as he turned to Alpha. Alpha was also inside the bath together with him. Or to be more precise, she was projecting that kind of image into Akira’s view. Alpha used her fictional image to the best of its potency, she adjusted her already beautiful body to fit Akira’s taste.
Normally, people would at least give some kind of reactions when they saw Alpha’s naked body. But Akira’s reaction was really dull, it was not clear whether it was because he was too tired to give any reaction or it was because he had already gotten used to it. Humans could really get used to almost anything.
Seeing how Akira was looking at her with no more than usual interest, which was showing almost no interest in her body, Alpha thought a lot of things in the back of her mind as she struck up a conversation with him.
“Although a lot of things happened today, we also got quite a lot of relics. So then, when is your next plan to go to the wasteland again?”
Akira obviously looked confused.
“Next time? Are we going to do that again? Together with Sheryl’s gang?”
“With what happened today, I honestly don’t think that Sheryl would accept the same offer next time though. In the first place, what about my ammo expense? I did use quite a lot of bullets today, I don’t think Sheryl can pay for them, you know?”
Alpha smiled smugly.
“If it’s about that, then there’s no need to worry. Since there was no need to hide the destination, I made sure to take a general-purpose subjugation request too. And with the number of monsters that you defeated, it should at least give you some money to cover for the ammo, right?”
“I see. I did use quite a lot of ammo after all. It’s good to know that I don’t have to worry much about it.”
The ammo expense was paid from Akira’s own wallet and he did not expect to have to fight a swarm of monsters. It was good news for him that he could minimize the unexpected expense. But that was not enough as a reason to invite Sheryl again.
“…But still, I think Sheryl would still reject that offer, you know?”
When Akira said that, Alpha looked back at him with a serious expression and said.
“I’m sorry but I prioritize your growth more than Sheryl’s interest. Also, I’ll have to prioritize your training for the sake of my goal. Since I had to help you during today’s escort mission, it means that you failed the training. I need you to get stronger, so it would not be a good thing to reduce the chance for you to train. And just like I told you before, Sheryl will also get some benefits from this offer.”
Akira looked hesitant. It was because he knew well that he did not have enough strength.
“If you really don’t want to do it, I won’t force you either. I don’t want you to hate me for forcing you after all.”
Akira continued talking with Alpha after that. Although a lot of things happened, Sheryl did get quite a lot of profit in the end. So it was basically up to Sheryl whether to take that offer again or not.
“I’ll at least ask Sheryl about it. If she agrees, then I’ll do it again.”
“Alright then. Next is about you.”
“About me? If it’s about the mistakes that I made today, can you do it tomorrow instead? Even if you tell me now, I might just forget it.”
Akira was only half-conscious as he was enjoying the bath. It was not a situation where he could properly react to a review discussion.
“That’s not what I meant. When that guy asked you what’s so different between him and you, and you said that it’s all about luck, remember? I don’t think that’s true. I know more than anyone else how hard you’re working yourself. After all, I always stick around you since the day we met. Not to mention, the reason why you were able to meet me was because you worked hard to the point that you were able to go to the ruin, right? That’s why I don’t think you’re the same compared with that boy and I don’t want you to have any similar thoughts.”
Alpha smiled smugly at Akira as she said. In that smile, she was actually saying that she didn’t make any mistake in choosing Akira.
Akira looked a bit surprised when he heard her, his expression then turned back to normal as he said.
“…it’s not like I think I’m the same as him. I do think that I have worked hard before I met you and I keep working hard even after I met you. But that guy might have also given the same amount of effort too, he might have even given more effort than me. But it’s a completely different matter whether his effort gave him result or not.”
Akira looked down as he recalled his past. His gaze was directed at the swaying water surface.
“…I know that I’m giving effort, but…”
“I don’t think it’s anywhere near the effort that I gave before I met you. That’s why, I’m just lucky. I won’t say that’s it, but I think the contribution from my luck is too big to ignore. Which means that boy is just unlucky. That’s why I don’t really think that everything he said was false.”
There was not a trace of self-deprecation or empathy in Akira’s face. It was just his objective evaluation of himself.
“I’m really happy to hear that you actually think so highly about meeting me.”
Alpha smiled teasingly as she slid closer to Akira. Akira immediately realized what he said and bashfully looked away from Alpha.
After Akira finished his bath, he went straight to the bed and fell asleep. Alpha looked at the sleeping Akira and began her reflection.
Alpha recognized and praised Akira’s hard work in order to increase her likeability. She even considered his personality when she said that, but Akira’s reaction was duller than what she expected.
She thought that the way she worded it out was counter-effective, there was a need to fix that flaw.
Alpha had always been and would always be observing Akira.
The next day, as previously decided, Akira visited Sheryl’s base. He directly went straight to Sheryl’s private room.
The moment Akira put his rifle down and sat on the sofa, Sheryl sat on top of his lap and clung to him as if it was a normal behaviour.
Sheryl looked a bit bothered, it seemed that clinging on Akira while he still had his augmented suit on did not feel too good. She placed both of her hands on Akira’s shoulders, extended her arms, and complained straight to Akira’s face.
“It’s hard, can you take it off?”
Since Akira refused, Sheryl started to grumble.
“Isn’t it fine? It’s not like you’ll lose anything.”
“I’ll lose my augmented strength. It’s a pain in the ass to put it back on too.”
“That’s just too bad.”
Sheryl looked disappointed as her hands reached behind Akira’s back and she clung on him again. Akira, who started to get used to her, just sighed.
“So then, Sheryl, where do you want to start?”
“Alright. First of all, about the relics that we brought back, what should we do with them?”
“Even if you ask me… You can do whatever you want with them.”
“But you should at least decide your share and the other details…”
Akira tilted his head.
“Yes, although we only lent you manpower, we did contribute by sending some of my gang members to the wasteland. So, it would be great if you could decide on the share that the other children could accept. But of course, I’ll help to convince them no matter what you decide.”
These children went out to the wasteland because of Sheryl’s order. They had to collect relics while under the fear of getting attacked by monsters, and to top it off, they did get attacked by a swarm of monsters. Thus it was understandable that they would be angry if they only got a small number of relics as payment. Of course, Sheryl could shut them down by telling them what happened to Sebla who betrayed her, but it would not erase their dissatisfaction. That was what Sheryl thought.
Akira noticed that Sheryl was misunderstanding something there, so he explained to her in order to clear up her misunderstanding.
“What are you talking about? Those relics are all yours and your gang’s. That’s why I’m telling you to do whatever you want with them.”
Sheryl stiffened when she heard Akira’s answer.
“A-all of them?”
“Including the relics from Dale and Colbert too?”
Seeing Sheryl flustered there, Akira found it a little weird.
“All of them, so those relics are included.”
Sheryl remained frozen as she replayed Akira’s answer again and again on the back of her mind. She was making sure that she did not omit or mishear anything. She then concluded that she did not mishear it, and that there was no deeper meaning behind his answer.
Since Sheryl was frozen there while clinging at him, Akira called her.
Sheryl then stepped off from Akira and sat beside him. She sounded hesitant as she said with a low voice.
“…Uhmm… I don’t really know the details, but like, don’t you need them to offset the ammo expense and other stuffs?”
“I see, I made sure to get money from the other source for that, so there’s no problem.”
“I-is that so? Then how about an extra reward? There were a lot of unexpected things that happened after all, like that fight against the swarm and the other Hunter…”
“Reward? Ahh, reward for the request, huh? You should actually deduct some of it, after all, I put you in more danger by letting those Hunters come with us and you also got taken hostage too. No matter what happened, the fact is that someone I should protect got killed, so it was basically a failure on my part as my job was to escort you and your gang members. Since those relics are the reward for finishing the request, I’m fine with not getting any.”
Akira’s answer seemed to make Sheryl more depressed. She hung her head low, she felt like she just got into a huge debt that she would never be able to return.
Akira did not understand why Sheryl was so depressed. From his point of view, she had to go through a lot of bad experiences in the wasteland, not only he basically half-forced her to go along with his training, she got attacked by a swarm of monster, then the Hunter, who they gave a ride to, also attacked her, and to top it off, she was also taken hostage.
Akira, who thought that he did nothing good for Sheryl, decided to give all of those relics to her in order to reduce his guilt. But there was a huge gap between their perspectives.
Akira was bewildered while Sheryl looked depressed, there was an awkward silence between the two of them.
Someone suddenly knocked on the door. Akira and Sheryl quickly turned to the source of the sound. Sheryl still looked depressed as she stayed quiet, Akira, who was at loss on what to do, answered in her stead.
“It’s not locked.”
The door opened and Alicia entered the room.
“Sheryl, Katsuragi-san is here…”
Alicia noticed the mood between Akira and Sheryl, she then tilted her head in confusion.
There were 3 people gathered in the base’s guest room–Akira, Sheryl, and Katsuragi. Alicia just left 3 glasses of drinks in that room before hurriedly excusing herself out.
Katsuragi looked a bit confused feeling the mood in the room, after he asked what was going on, he then sipped the coffee and said.
“…Well, so that’s how I heard that you guys returned back from the wasteland with relics and I’m here today just to check those relics.”
Akira replied to Katsuragi.
“I see, so you’re here to buy the relics, huh? But those relics are from Higaraka Residence Ruin. They’re not those expensive relics that you usually handle.”
“They’re from Higaraka Residence Ruin? Why would someone on your level go to that ruin? There are no more expensive relics in that ruin, you know? Do me a favor and go to a ruin with better relics next time, alright?”
“It was Sheryl and her gang who went there for the relics. So those relics are Sheryl’s.”
Katsuragi frowned, it was obvious that he was suspicious of Akira’s unexpected answer.
“They’re Sheryl’s? Didn’t you hire them to collect the relics?”
“It’s the opposite. Sheryl hired me to help them collect the relics.”
Katsuragi knew well of Akira’s ability, he then guessed how much it would take to pay a Hunter with similar skill as a bodyguard. One thing was for sure, Sheryl should not have enough money to pay Akira. His suspicion got deeper, he then tried to ask for more information.
“Sheryl’s gang doesn’t have enough money to have you escort them, right?”
Akira sounded as if he was only making excuses as he said.
“…Well, about that, like, you know, friendly discount.”
“If that’s the case, then you’ll give me a friendly discount too, right?”
“Well, you know what, I guess I should rethink about my relation with you if you’re in so much trouble that you can’t pay for my reward.”
Katsuragi and Akira then laughed. Although both of them seemed to be just getting along with each other from the outside, they were actually carefully gauging each other’s reaction.
Katsuragi then changed into his business smile and looked at Sheryl and Akira.
“Well, since I’m here, can you show me the relics? There might be some expensive relics that amateurs can’t recognize, you know?”
Unlike what Katsuragi expected, his offer was immediately accepted and he was guided to the storage room. The storage room was filled with all the relics that they brought back from the Higaraka Residence Ruin. Even after Katsuragi scanned the whole room, he found nothing but cheap relics that Hunters usually found in Higaraka Residence Ruin.
[They’re really relics from Higaraka Residence Ruin. I was hoping that it was just an excuse for Akira to store relics, that he can’t leave in his home, in Sheryl’s gang… But I guess I was expecting too much…]
The relics that Sheryl received from Dale and Colbert were placed inside her private room since she planned to give them to Akira later. If Katsuragi saw them, he would try to buy them from her.
Katsuragi sighed, it was obvious that he had lost interest.
“…So, Sheryl, what do you plan to do with these relics?”
“I’m thinking of selling them.”
Sheryl, who had somewhat recovered, calmly answered Katsuragi’s question. She could not afford to show Katsuragi that her relationship with Akira was shaken a bit.
Katsuragi then warned Sheryl.
“Just to make it clear, I won’t buy them, you know?”
“There’s no need to worry, we’re planning to open our own stand to sell them. We’ll clean those that can be cleaned and fix those that can be fixed before putting them out for sale. We might also sell some of them to the other gangs that we have a connection with.”
Since Sheryl planned to go to the Higaraka Residence Ruin to collect relics, she had always been thinking of the way to exchange the relics into money. Her conclusion was to sell them herself, although she had some inklings as to how much she should sell them for, she had no guarantee whether it would go well or not.
Katsuragi had lost interest in all the relics in that place, so he apathetically said.
“I see, well, good luck.”
Beside Katsuragi, Akira seemed to be deep in thought.
Katsuragi went back right after that, he was a busy person after all.
After Katsuragi left the base, Sheryl, who had regained her calm, turned gloomy again. Although she was calmer than before, it did not change her situation at all.
She glanced at Akira and realized that he was thinking about something.
Akira’s gaze was directed to the relics inside that room. Sheryl looked at those relics again, but she did not find anything out of ordinary.
She seemed confused and asked him.
“Is there anything wrong with the relics? If anything piqued your interest, I don’t mind giving it to you.”
“No, that’s not it. Sheryl, you plan to clean and fix them before selling them, right?”
“There’s something that I want to ask from you…”
Sheryl quickly replied even before Akira told her what he wanted to ask of her. Akira winced back when she suddenly interjected like that.
“Then wait here for a bit.”
After he said that, Akira left the base.
Not too long after, Akira returned back with a filled rucksack. He then unloaded everything inside that rucksack on the floor, those were the relics that Katsuragi refused to buy from Akira the other day.
Akira then turned to Sheryl and asked.
“Can you sell these relics too?”
Sheryl, who heard that, turned gloomy again.
Akira himself thought that he was pushing troublesome stuff to Sheryl, that was why he thought it was the reason why she looked depressed. But in actuality, it was because she was expecting to get a much harder request from Akira. If that was all that he asked from her, it would be not even close to enough to repay her debt to Akira, that was why her expression turned depressed again. Their perceptions of the situations were completely opposite.
Sheryl then asked Akira.
“Uhmm, is it okay if I ask you the details in my private room? I want to ask about the price and how to sell them… After all, they’re your relics, so it’s not like I can just decide the price on my own…”
“I see, you’re right.”
Akira and Sheryl then returned back to Sheryl’s private room.
He then explained to Sheryl, who was sitting in front of him, about the details of his request.
Akira wanted Sheryl to sell them for a high price as possible. There was no time limit and it was okay if she could not sell them at all in the end. He also wanted the other related information such as when and to whom Sheryl sold them, for how much they were sold, how long it took for Sheryl to sell them, etc. Although he asked a number of things, all of them were easy requests.
Sheryl listened to Akira’s explanation and understood what he really wanted from his requests.
Basically, Akira wanted to check the relic market, and he wanted to do that through Sheryl. He wanted to make sure if the relics that Katsuragi would not buy from him were really cheap relics, or was it that they could be sold at a high price as long as he knew where to sell them, or that maybe there was actually a way to process them into something that could be sold at a high price. If Sheryl sold them in her stand and someone bought them at a high price, then there was a good chance that Akira’s guess was correct.
The relics that Akira gave to Sheryl would only collect dust in his house. Even if they were sold only for a small price or even if no one would buy them at all, Akira would not lose anything.
“Of course, there’s no need to worry about it too much, I’m okay with any result. I know that you guys are busy too. So, your share is half the selling price… I guess that’s all from me, do you have any questions?”
“I understand. I don’t know how high I can sell them for, but I’ll try to do my best.”
Sheryl smiled invincibly at Akira, there was no trace of hesitation or doubt in her smile.
Akira felt relieved seeing her reaction. Since there was no restriction or limit in his request, Akira thought that she could do his request as a side job. So it should not put too much burden on her.
But Sheryl focused more on the fact that Akira did not place any particular expectation in it. Unlike yesterday’s escort request, this was a request from Akira that would clearly bring some profit for him. It was a good chance for her to return her debt to Akira that she kept piling up. Sheryl thought that if she could make enough profit for Akira, if she could prove to him that she was useful, then Akira would not easily abandon her.
No matter whatever it was, Sheryl wanted to be useful to Akira. She must become someone useful to Akira. Sheryl thought that her situation was pretty bad since she had become dependent on him as well as all of the debts that she had to Akira. Thus, this request from Akira seemed like a perfect opportunity for her.
If Sheryl expressed her happiness, Akira might find it suspicious. She had regained her composure enough to notice that and just smiled at him. Akira thought that Sheryl had calmed down and smiled in return.
Although both of them took the situation in a completely different manner, both of them were smiling at each other.
Akira thought that it should be okay to invite Sheryl to the Higaraka Residence Ruin again right now. But right when he was about to invite her, Sheryl suddenly asked him.
“So then, Akira. Do you have any other business after this?”
“Eh? Not really.”
“In that case, would you please accompany me to go shopping?”
Sheryl smiled widely when she said that to Akira.
It was not like Akira had any pressing matter to take care of, so he really did not mind going. The moment he was about to say yes, his information terminal suddenly rang, it was a notification for a message. When he checked it, it was from Elena and Sara. The content of the message was about the next schedule to go exploring the ruin again.
“Ah, I’m sorry, something came up, just invite me again next time.”
“I see. It’s really unfortunate. But since you said to invite you again next time, it means that you’re willing to accompany me, right?”
“Thank you very much, I’ll be looking forward to it.”
Sheryl was delighted with that promise. Although there was a little bit of displeasure since Akira did not prioritize her, she tried her best to hide it from him.