Akira was patrolling through the wasteland around the city. It was because he had taken the patrol request from the Hunter Office. Just because there was a bounty monster roaming around the city, Akira could not afford to keep himself locked inside the city forever. Thus, he decided to go out while avoiding the areas where the bounty monster was spotted.
Akira was sniping at a monster from a moving vehicle, it was for his training so he had no support from Alpha. Of course, it was really difficult to accurately aim at his target from the constantly shaking vehicle. The hit rate was simply miserable. He kept on shooting while following Alpha’s instruction.
“Alpha, is there any news about the bounty monsters? Did someone get at least one of them?”
“No, all the 4 bounty monsters are alive and kicking. There’s almost no new information about them too. The latest one I could find only contained a more detailed description of the area where they were spotted and mentioned their increased bounty.”
Akira sounded annoyed as he said.
“I don’t care who it is, I hope someone would take them out soon. It’s not like they’re hiding deep inside a ruin somewhere, right? They’re just roaming in the open space! Those Hunters with tanks should be able to make a short work of them, right?”
“Well, most Hunters with tanks only work further to the east, after all. If they send some of those Hunters here and the Hunters in this city take out those bounty monsters before the other Hunters arrive, it would be a huge waste of time and money. That’s why those Hunters with tanks are reluctant to bring their tanks all the way here. Of course, it’ll be a different story if no one is able to take the bounty monsters out after a while or if the bounty prize increases.”
Akira lowered his aim. He spotted other Hunters coming from the same direction as the monster that he was aiming at. It would be a pain in the ass if he missed his shot and accidentally hit those Hunters. Even aiming at their direction was enough to cause a needless misunderstanding.
“…Again, huh? Aren’t there too many of them around this place?”
Akira had been encountering a lot of Hunters lately.
“I’m sure it’s because they have the same idea as you, trying to avoid going to the areas where the bounty monsters were spotted. Just like you, they have nothing to do if they only stay inside the city, and taking the patrol request will at least get them some money. Meanwhile, from the City Management perspective, this request would make sure that the bounty monsters are not going to approach the city. That is why the City Management issued a lot of the patrol requests lately.”
“I guess I’ll increase my patrol radius, huh. It’ll be a pain to deal with if I get into a fight with another Hunter after all.”
“You’re right, let’s do that.”
Since the other Hunters had already moved away from the monster, Akira took another aim at the same monster as before and pulled the trigger. This time, he had Alpha’s support in order to quickly take out that monster. The bullet went right through that monster’s head and instantly killed it.
Akira could feel the big gap between when he had Alpha’s support and when he did not. He then smiled bitterly and mumbled.
“I wonder how long it’ll take for me to do this with my own skill.”
“It depends on how hard you train, so let’s patiently keep training.”
Akira was driving his vehicle while Alpha was trying to cheer him up. After moving somewhere further from the city, he continued his shooting training.
The day started to get dark, Akira thought that it should be the time for him to finish his patrol request and head back to the city. On his way back, he encountered a lot of Hunters heading the opposite direction, they must be the Hunters who took the night patrol request.
The night patrol request had a higher reward than the patrol request for the day. Thus, a lot of Hunters preferred it. But looking at the number of Hunters who had taken that request, it seemed like they had run out of the day patrol request and had no other choice but to take the night patrol request. But if that was true, it also showed that most of the Hunters decided not to go out to the wasteland at all.
“Akira, there’s a call for you.”
“Who is it from?”
“Shikarabe from Drankam.”
Akira tilted his head. It was because he did not remember anyone who he was usually in contact with having that name. Alpha noticed that and continued to explain.
“It’s that other Hunter with whom you worked together in the underground city exploration with Elena and Sara, remember? He said something about the other Hunters who were in their team before you came in, something like having a fight against the other Hunters from Drankam.”
After listening to Alpha’s explanation, Akira finally remembered him. It was that male Hunter who was more or less as skilled as Elena and Sara. He was in the same team with Elena and Sara to explore the frontline during the Kuzusuhara ruin underground city’s temporary base aid request. He was a pretty strong Hunter.
“That guy, huh? I wonder what it is about?”
Akira took out his information terminal and picked up the call from Shikarabe.
“It’s Akira, what is it?”
“Shikarabe here. There’s something I want to talk about, do you have some time? Where are you right now?”
“I’m in the wasteland, near the city, on my way back home. So, what is it you want to talk about?”
“Well, it’s related to our work as a Hunter. I’ve talked about it with Elena and Sara too, it’s not anything strange. You can at least listen to the offer first before deciding anything. I’ll send you our location, if you are interested, come here. Later then.”
Shikarabe only left Akira with those words before cutting the call off.
Akira thought for a bit, he then operated his information terminal to send a message to Elena asking if it was okay to call her right now. It did not take long before a call from Elena came in.
“It’s Akira. Elena-san, do you have some time?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“It’s nothing big, just something that I want to ask Elena-san and Sara-san.”
“If it’s going to be a long talk, how about we meet somewhere? I don’t mind if you come over, Sara is here too.”
“No, it’s just a short question. It should be fine to talk it through the phone.”
Akira then explained about his short exchange with Shikarabe to Elena. After listening to his story, Elena made a guess and said to Akira.
“Hmmm. I think he’s recruiting Hunters to join him in hunting the bounty monsters. It seems that Drankam is focusing its effort on hunting those monsters right now. Multiple Hunter teams from that gang are out chasing for the bounty prize, you know. We also got the same offer from Drankam too. They asked us to join one of their Hunter teams. The reward was pretty big, so we accepted it.”
“I see. So that’s the story, huh… But it’s not something that they would offer to a Hunter like me, right?”
“We were together during that Kuzusuhara ruin underground city exploration, remember? I guess he thinks that you should be a good addition to his team. Personally speaking, I also think that you’ll do just fine. I believe that Sara thinks so too. Well, you saved Sara back then in Yonozuka Station ruin. If I may say something about it, I don’t want to hear someone who has enough skill to save us call himself ‘a Hunter like me’, you know.”
Akira apologized in panic, Elena laughed bitterly and said.
“…Akira, I think you underestimate yourself too much. Being humble is a good thing, but some people might react negatively to it. So you need to be more careful.”
Akira thought that he evaluated himself pretty accurately. He believed that most of his performance was thanks to Alpha’s support. Although that might be really the case, the other people thought that his performance was all from his own strength.
Akira’s real ability was hidden behind Alpha’s support, thus Akira himself did not completely grasp his own real ability. That was the main reason why he evaluated himself lowly.
Elena then continued.
“Going back to our main subject, I think there’s nothing hidden behind that offer from Shikarabe. Although, I’m a little bit bothered by the fact that Drankam would even pay other non-member Hunters for the bounty request, well, I bet that they really want to get their names out by defeating the bounty monster. After all, when you take out even one of the bounty monsters, the Hunter Office will announce that achievement in public. But it’ll only include the name of the team and team leader, the names of the non-member Hunters in that team will not be mentioned in the announcement.”
This meant Elena’s and Sara’s name would not be mentioned too. Akira found that weird since having their names out would bring them a lot of benefits.
“Elena-san, are you okay with that?”
“I don’t really mind. After all, it’s not like I’m working as a Hunter to become popular. And of course, because of that, I asked for extra rewards as an exchange.”
Akira giggled as he imagined that Elena must be smiling smugly right now.
“Putting that aside, I’ll at least hear his offer. Thank you very much.”
“If you’re going to take that request from Drankam, I’ll be counting on you if we get assigned to the same team.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Akira then ended the call.
Alpha was staring at Akira.
“It’s nothing. If you’re planning to go to where Shikarabe is, let’s go there after you get back home first. The location sent by Shikarabe is the coordinate for a pub in the lower district. There might be no parking space for your vehicle.”
“You’re right… I guess I’ll at least let him know that I’ll go there later.”
Akira then used his information terminal to send a short message to Shikarabe.
Alpha thought that Akira should be thinking of taking that offer from Shikarabe. The reason why she made that guess was because Elena and Sara had taken that request. If Elena and Sara had refused, Akira might not even be willing to listen to Shikarabe’s offer.
It was rather unclear whether Akira realized that or not. But if she asked, Akira might realize it. Considering that it might affect her plans in the future, Alpha decided not to ask him.
Elena was sitting on a chair as she stretched her body. She was sitting in a very comfortable position, so comfortable that she might as well fall asleep on that chair. Though, it was an expensive chair that prevented her from getting tired even after sitting on it for a long time. It was her favourite chair that she splurged her money for.
She was in a very comfy getup. She was only in her undies and an information terminal that was attached to her head. It might be the side effect from working as a Hunter, who was regularly in the dangerous wasteland. So, she really put down her guard and relaxed when she was in her own house, where she was safe, it would not be an exaggeration to even say that she dressed rather slovenly when she was in her home.
Sara suddenly came in with some food. She was only wearing a shirt above her undies, just like Elena, she was in a very relaxed getup. It might be because she was always using a tight bodysuit when she was out doing her Hunter work, so Sara tended to use a very baggy getup that gave her a sense of freedom when she was at home. Both Sara and Elena would only change into something more respectable if there was someone visiting.
They were talking with each other while enjoying the meal.
“It sounded like you were talking with someone, is it something about tomorrow’s request?”
“Nope. That was from Akira. It seems Drankam also offered that bounty hunting request to Akira. But he hasn’t decided to take it or not, his offer came from Shikarabe.”
“So Akira has become a Hunter that even Drankam would request, huh. Well, it’s not that strange considering his ability… Wait? If it was an offer from Drankam, wouldn’t he have to talk with the person responsible for negotiation in Drankam first? So why would Shikarabe directly make that offer to Akira?”
When Sara pointed out, Elena also questioned that fact.
“Now that you mention it, you have a point there. Not to mention, when Shikarabe also made that offer to us, it seemed that he did not know we had already made a contract with Drankam… Is it because of some kind of misinformation inside the gang? He might be in a hurry since he doesn’t want other Hunters to make a deal with Akira before him.”
But that was all, it was just a small question, and after that exchange, Sara and Elena stopped from thinking any further about that subject.
There were a lot of pubs in the lower district. Since a lot of Hunters came there to drink booze after returning from the wasteland, those pubs were relatively dangerous places filled with rowdy Hunters. Not to mention, those Hunters would get drunk in those pubs while still carrying the rifles that they usually carried to the wasteland. Some of them would even drink until they were only left with their last shred of rationality.
Around those pubs, there were brothels where prostitutes would sell their services to those Hunters. Of course, those girls had people behind them who protected them in case something happened. It was simply an area that the people who could not handle a fight would never approach.
Shikarabe was inside one of the pubs in that area.
Shikarabe was sitting on a table further inside that pub, he was accompanied by other Hunters that looked more or less as successful as him. There were beers on top of the tables, but Shikarabe had not touched his yet.
The ones drinking those beers were his Hunter friends. One of them had a device installed inside his body to breakdown alcohol. Even if he was dead drunk, it would only take about 10 seconds for him to return back to normal. Some of them had drugs to help break down alcohol too. Thus, it should not cause any trouble during the negotiation for their tomorrow’s plan.
Shikarabe opened his information terminal and confirmed Akira’s massage. He then said to his friends.
“Akira will come here soon. I’ll handle the negotiation, don’t say anything unnecessary.”
“I know, I know. So then, is this Akira guy going to be useful?”
“He, at least, won’t be an extra burden to us. So how about the guys that you brought with you?”
After Shikarabe asked that question, his friends took turns describing the Hunters whom they had in mind.
“I have 2 Hunters with debt and their observer. They’re pretty skilled. I’ve also talked about them with their creditors. They told me that they don’t care if those Hunters get killed in the wasteland, but if that happens, they asked me to bring back their dead bodies. I’ve also asked others, but I’m not sure if any of them would come.”
“As for me, I have 2 Hunters who wanted to come in order to make a connection with Drankam. One of them is pretty good while the other one is more or less as skilled as us. I’m also waiting for a call from the proxy corporation in case if other Hunters wanted to join in too.”
After listening to their explanation, Shikarabe asked them.
“If they’re really as good as us, rather than coming to us, they should be able to negotiate directly with Drankam, right? So what’s the catch here?”
“I don’t know the details. But I heard they got into a fight with someone and so they are looking for protection or something. I guess that’s the reason why they can’t go through the normal way. If you want to know the details, you’ll have to ask them directly later.”
“…So basically, they’re telling us to ask what’s going on with those Hunters ourselves and decide what to do with them, huh?”
Shikarabe’s team was aiming to hunt the bounty monster. They were gathering men for that purpose, it was also the main reason why Shikarabe called Akira.
But it was a little different from Elena and Sara who were invited by Drankam.
Akira was walking in the lower district, his destination was the pub where Shikarabe was. He was walking through a relatively dangerous area within the slum city.
There were some drunk Hunters knocked unconscious beside the road. The only reason that no one attacked them was because there were people who were monitoring the area so that it would not turn into a lawless zone. Not to mention, trying to attack those Hunters might get themselves killed instead. These people could not complain if they got attacked when they were sleeping beside the road, and the people who attacked them also could not complain if they got killed instead.
Akira ignored everyone who was trying to offer their services, mainly about alcohol or girls, in that place and headed straight to the pub. It was a pleasure district maintained with the money that the Hunters gathered from risking their lives. A particular kind of nuance and splendour was maintained in that area so that those Hunters, who exchanged their blood and sweats for money, would be willing to spend their money in that place. That place became the reason why some Hunters could still face the next day as well as the reason why some Hunters fell from grace.
Akira never came to that area himself normally. Thus, he could not help but look around with a face full of interest.
Alpha was walking next to Akira while evading the people who walked past him. Even if she collided with someone, her image would go through their bodies, so there should be no problem at all. But even so, she still evaded those people while walking beside him.
Akira found that weird and asked her about it.
“Alpha, is there any need for you to evade colliding with people? There should be no problem even if you collide with any of them, right?”
“It’s because of a different reason.”
“Is it because it makes you feel sick when that happens?”
“No, but it’ll make you feel sick. Well, I don’t think it’s a problem though if it doesn’t bother you at all.”
Alpha then walked to one of the Hunters there and fused her body with that Hunter. The moment that happened, her face half-fused with the head of that Hunter and it made her look like a weird looking humanoid creature.
Akira frowned. It was true that it looked disturbing.
“I’m sorry, can you keep evading people like before?”
Alpha returned beside Akira and smiled happily.
The equipment carried by the Hunters around them varied. Some of them carried huge weapons, those Hunters must have headed straight to the pub after they returned from the wasteland. Some of them even carried relics with them.
Akira himself only brought his augmented suit, AAH assault rifle and A2D assault rifle. He left his CWH anti-material rifle and DVTS minigun attached to his vehicle and his ammo-filled rucksack back home.
He thought that he would not be allowed to get into the pub if he carried his usual weapons as if he was going to the wasteland, that was why he left most of his equipment back in his home. But he started to think that he should have brought those weapons with him.
Akira eventually arrived at the pub where Shikarabe was waiting for him. It was a fairly huge 3-storied pub.
When Akira entered that pub, the master of that pub frowned and told him to leave.
“This is not a place for a young boy like you. You should go back home.”
But Akira calmly gave a flat reply.
“You should say that to the person who told this young boy to come to this place. Someone by the name of Shikarabe should be here, do you know him?”
“No idea, but you can go ahead and look around… Good grief, who is this fool, who told a young boy like you to come to this place?”
Although he complained, the master of that pub gave his permission for Akira to come into his establishment. Since he did not get kicked out, Akira proceeded to look for Shikarabe inside that pub.
The pub was fairly big and there were a lot of Hunters present. It would be a huge pain in the neck to look for Shikarabe among all those Hunters.
“Where exactly is Shikarabe…? Should I try calling him?”
Akira pulled out his information terminal, but Alpha suddenly said to him.
“It seems that he’s on the second floor. Let’s go.”
Although Akira was a bit interested as to how Alpha did that, he stopped himself from asking any questions about it because he thought that he should get used to it. Even before Akira bought an information-gathering device, Alpha was already able to tell him the exact location of enemies around him even when they hid behind an object. Thus it would be weird to question how she did that now.
Akira had learned a lot of things from Alpha thanks to her classes. As he learned more and more about common sense from her, it reminded him more and more that she was an anomaly.
But to be honest, Akira did not really care who or what Alpha really was. The important thing to him was whether she was his ally or not, although she might be only helping him since she was in contract with him.
That was why Akira decided not to ask too much about Alpha. He prioritized on the most important part as he thought that there was no reason to needlessly ask about her techniques. It was so that he would not deplete his luck and that his days with Alpha as his ally would continue.
Akira followed Alpha’s instruction as he headed to the second floor and right to Shikarabe’s table. Just like she said, Shikarabe was really on the second floor.
Shikarabe quickly noticed Akira. He then waved to Akira and called out.
“Come over here.”
Shikarabe and his friends were sitting around a round table. Akira took the seat on the opposite side where Shikarabe was sitting. Shikarabe and his friends were sitting on the big sofa that was originally put there so that customers could sit with the server girls.
Shikarabe smiled at Akira.
“These two are my friends, Yamanobe and Velga. Yamanobe, Velga, this is Akira.”
Yamanobe looked at Akira with curiosity. While Velga looked at Akira with suspicion.
Akira did not care about them as he looked at Shikarabe’s eyes and asked him.
“So then, what is it?”
“Well, before that, do you want to order something first? Although this is a pub, they also serve meals other than the snacks for drinking alcohols.”
“No need. I’ll order something if it seems that it’ll be a long talk. Not to mention, I don’t know how much they cost too.”
Akira seemed to be cautious, Shikarabe smiled and said.
“I see. Let’s get into the main subject then. You heard about the bounty, right? We’re planning to hunt those bounty monsters. If we just want to kill them, we alone should be enough. But to be able to do that faster, with a better winning chance, and to take them all out, even us alone would not be enough. That’s why I’m recruiting for extra helping hands right now, and that’s why I called you here. I can guarantee that you’ll get paid handsomely, so, do you want to come with us?”
Everything that Shikarabe said up until that point was already guessed by Akira after hearing Elena’s explanation. So he calmly replied.
“That would depend on the terms of the contract. But if that was all, you could have told me when you called me, right?”
After Akira said that, Shikarabe’s expression turned serious.
“It would be bad if you make a decision without listening to what I have to say from here on. This request is not an official request passed through the Hunter Office. It’s simply an offer between two Hunters. I want you to agree about this part first.”
Shikarabe and his friends waited for Akira’s reply with serious expressions. But Akira was not sure what exactly those words meant. Although he knew that it was a pretty important point, he did not know anything further than that.
Akira then asked back, also with an equally serious expression.
“…If I take that offer, what kind of down-side might I be facing? Tell me as much as you can. I’m sure you know this even without me telling you, but secrets like that are the main source of conflict in the future. And don’t give me that ‘I didn’t tell you because you didn’t ask’ thing. I’m not someone from Drankam, I’m just a Hunter who is used to working alone. That’s why I’m not really familiar with the conventions and other subtle things between Hunters.”
“Very well. Just tell me if anything still bothers you.”
Shikarabe then explained his offer in detail to Akira.
Requests that did not get passed through the Hunter Office were basically informal requests. To be more precise, even if Akira was paid by Shikarabe to help him fight the bounty monsters, it would not get written in his Hunter track record.
Furthermore, there was no insurance for such requests. For the requests that were passed through the Hunter Office, in case if there was a defect in the request or if the reward went unpaid, it would leave a record. Thus it would help force the Hunters to follow through with their contracts. And so without it, the only people who protect the contracts would be the Hunters who signed those contracts. There were cases where Hunters used violence to claim their unpaid rewards and got framed as robbers instead and got themselves killed in the end.
The trustability of such requests was so low that people usually took any of those informal requests as a scam.
Putting aside if the reward was worth that risk or not, Akira was offered a huge amount of money for that request. They would subtract their expenses from the bounty prize before dividing it equally among them. But Shikarabe and his friend were not included there. Although the final number of people was still subject to change, if Akira and the other 4 Hunters excluding Shikarabe and his friends were able to defeat a bounty monster, the rest of the prize money would be theirs after subtracting their expenses and Shikarabe’s share.
As for the payment, Shikarabe would get the money from the Hunter Office first before distributing it to the other Hunters through bank transfer. Even if they failed taking out the bounty monster, Shikarabe would still pay 1,000,000 Aurum to Akira. But in this case, Akira would have to pay his ammo expense and the other expenses himself.
Akira thought carefully of Shikarabe’s offer and asked everything that bothered him.
“There are some points that I want to confirm. First of all, for the expense, how much is acceptable?”
“I have no plans to put any particular limit. That’s why I’ll explain to you things that we won’t accept. First, we won’t include paying back your debt. If you can’t join us because you have a debt to pay, we won’t give you any money to pay for that debt. You’ll have to pay that debt using the money that we pay you. Second, money for new equipment. It’s to avoid Hunters who ask for compensation for buying equipment that is worth the same amount of money as the prize money. Just because the prize money is 500,000,000 Aurum, we won’t give you any money if you buy yourself 500,000,000 Aurum worth of new equipment. After all, that would mean you would basically take away all the reward money from the bounty. But, we will reimburse you for the money that you spent on ammo or rental equipment… It would be a pain in the ass if you guys look for any loopholes. That’s why for my offer, even if we are able to kill a bounty monster, leaving the expense aside, all three of us won’t take even 1 Aurum more. I can guarantee you that.”
“Second question. How many people would be on the team?”
“Including you, it’ll be at least 4 people. Although it still depends on how our negotiation goes with the other Hunters, I think it would go up to somewhere around 15-20 Hunters. We do plan to get as many people as possible, but we won’t go above 30.”
“Alright, is there any guarantee that you would really pay the reward?”
Shikarabe gave a straight answer without any hesitation. Akira’s expression turned grim, it was as if Shikarabe and Akira were putting pressure on each other with their gazes.
After a short silence, Shikarabe then added.
“…If I have to be honest, I prefer to pay your reward than to have to fight you over the reward. If I really think that you don’t have enough skill to pose a threat to me, in the scenario that I don’t pay your reward, I wouldn’t bring this offer to you in the first place. After all, it would be useless to bring you with me if you’re really that weak.”
Akira stared at Shikarabe and thought. If he took that positively, it meant that Shikarabe recognized his skill. But if he took that negatively, it meant that Shikarabe would do that if he discovered that Akira was not that powerful. So in the end, depending on his performance, it could swing either way.
“…Lastly, why don’t you pass it through the Hunter Office? You could have offered me this request through an official contract, right?”
When Akira asked that question, Shikarabe frowned.
“Are you going to refuse this offer unless I tell you the reason?”
“Yes. After all, I don’t want to get roped into some troublesome conflict without realizing it.”
Shikarabe turned to Yamanobe and Velga. Velga smiled bitterly and said.
“It’s fine to tell him that, right? It’s only a matter of time before it gets out to the public. Well, I can understand if you don’t want to tell him though.”
Yamanobe also agreed with Velga.
“It should be fine as long as he’s not going to spread it around. He’s the guy that you picked, so if it’s possible, I don’t want to lose him just because we didn’t tell him about that thing.”
Shikarabe sighed, he then turned back to Akira.
“Don’t tell anyone, okay? It’s due to a problem in Drankam. So don’t tell anyone outside Drankam about this.”
Akira nodded firmly.
Shikarabe judged that Akira was not lying. He then looked so annoyed as he said.
“…Well basically, there is currently a power struggle within Drankam.”