Drankam was one of the countless Hunter gangs in Kugamayama city. It was also a private military organization that focused on Hunter jobs.
There were many Hunters in Drankam. When it was just a union of a small clique of Hunters, it had no problem at all. But as it grew, factions started to form inside the gang, to the point that it sometimes disturbed the management of the gang.
As Drankam grew into a huge organization, the gang started to take in common people to make sure that the gang’s management could continue smoothly. Although it gave a boost to its growth, it also worsened the faction problem.
Some frictions started to spark between the management and the other people in the gang. As they needed more Hunters to fill the executive positions, inexperienced Hunters started to flow into the gang. Those people who never stepped outside the safe city would give orders to the people who faced the dangers of the wasteland firsthand, they even complained saying that the very people who went out to fight the monsters used too much ammo or medicines, or scolding them for bringing back bad relics or not enough relics to justify the expense. Although that might be the correct way to manage a big organization, it still rubbed the Hunters the wrong way.
Then there was one particular faction that started to rise lately. It was a faction of young Hunters that kept gathering influences. The very people backing up this faction were the people of the upper echelons who decided on the rule of how the gang will be organized, to be more precise, they were the people who made the new rule about prioritizing young Hunters. They were the Hunters with no particular past achievements, it was rare for these Hunters to get to the upper echelons position.
The young Hunter faction had a feud with the veteran Hunter faction inside the gang. Shikarabe was a part of the veteran Hunter faction, and so he was aiming to get the bounty monster in order to win that war of influence.
After listening to Shikarabe’s story, Akira more or less understood the reason behind Shikarabe’s offer. He then asked Shikarabe about the points that he did not fully understand.
“I understand that there’s infighting inside Drankam. So, how exactly is that related to not passing this request through the Hunter Office?”
“It means that I’ll have to go through Drankam’s administration before I can get it to the Hunter Office, if I do that, some information might be leaked to the other faction. So it’s to prevent that from happening. Moreover, it’s better not to get this offer through Drankam so that we can adapt and make better adjustments in case if something happens. For example, if I try to bring along a rather suspicious Hunter with debt, the other faction or the office might cause some trouble. So that’s basically it.”
“That sounds rough.”
Akira sympathized as he mumbled those words. It seemed that joining a big gang brought more trouble than he had thought.
Shikarabe then asked Akira.
“If you don’t have any more questions and okay with it, it’s about time I hear your answer.”
Akira thought for a few sec.
“I don’t mind taking your offer, but I have a couple of conditions. I always fight alone, so I want you to let me stay like that. I’ll still help you with your strategy, but don’t expect me to work together with another team. And also, I’ll leave if I judge that we don’t have any winning chance. Although I’ll ignore you even if you tell me to stay and fight, I’ll at least let you know when I leave. I don’t want to die after all. If you’re okay with these conditions, then I don’t mind taking your request.”
“Those conditions are rather a lot to ask for, you know.”
“I can say the same to you too. I’ll be an unofficial part of your team, even my name won’t be recorded. I have no plans to be your sacrificial pawn. So?”
This time, it was Shikarabe who took some time thinking. After a few seconds, he smiled confidently and said.
“Very well, we have a deal.”
Akira and Shikarabe made a deal there. Although Akira would act separately, he was added to Shiakarabe’s bounty hunting team.
Alpha looked a bit surprised by that.
“Akira, are you really okay with that? Weren’t we going to avoid meeting with the bounty monster?”
“I at least got him to agree that I can run in case if I think we have no winning chance… Or is it still too dangerous with my current ability?”
“It’s not like you’re going to fight it alone, so I don’t plan to stop you. It just caught me by surprise that you suddenly got so interested in doing this.”
“Is that so? I think it should be relatively safe though, and since the reward is pretty good, I just thought that it might be okay to take the request. After all, it would be a problem to me if no one won’t take those bounty monsters out anytime soon since I can’t go to the ruin to gather relics.”
Alpha then thought. The reason why Akira decided to take that offer was mostly because of that conversation with Elena. For Alpha, anything that could greatly influence Akira action was bad news.
It was still tolerable for now. But no one knew how it would affect him in the future. Thus, Alpha decided that it would be better to come up with a way to mitigate it.
After that, Akira stayed in the pub to meet the other team members.
He moved to another seat since he would be blocking the next person negotiating with Shikarabe if he kept sitting on that chair that was across the table from Shikarabe. There was an order terminal fixed on the table where they were, Akira used that terminal to order some simple meal. He then waited for his meal to come while talking with Shikarabe about the details of his request.
Shikarabe had decided on a simple plan to hunt for the bounty monsters. The next day, at 4 in the morning, Akira would meet up with Shikarabe and the other Hunters outside the city before going to hunt for the bounty monster. As for which monster among the 4 bounty monsters that they were going to hunt, Shikarabe would gather information both from Drankam and from other routes and decide right before they went out on their hunt.
Although, in the worst-case scenario, someone might hunt the 4 bounty monsters before they could even try. But it was not like they could go right now. Shikarabe and his friends had a lot of things to prepare first. They were in the middle of making that preparation while gathering more Hunters. It seemed that they even planned to work overnight tonight to finish their preparation.
Not too long after that, a girl wearing a sexy dress came with the meal that Akira ordered. She was surprised to find a young boy like Akira there.
She then placed Akira’s order on the table and asked Shikarabe.
“This is a pretty young newcomer, not to mention that this is the second floor. Shikarabe, are you the one who brought him here?”
“Yes. This guy will be busy today and tomorrow, so don’t try to offer anything to him. Tell that to the other girls too.”
That girl made a friendly smile and said.
“Of course we won’t offer anything to a small boy like him. How about your friends?”
“I’m sure the master also told you that we’re going to be busy too, right? He didn’t tell you? Everyone in this table is out of question.”
“What boring men! Why are you even on the second floor?”
“We have a lot of things going on too. When we finish this job, we’ll throw a big party and spend a lot of money here. So wait until then.”
“Don’t forget those words, okay?”
She smiled seductively before leaving that place.
Akira was not sure what they were talking about, so he asked Shikarabe.
“Is there anything special with the second floor?”
“Well, the third floor of this building is a brothel. So the waitresses on the second floor also offer their service and will go to the third floor. So people who only want to drink would stay on the first floor in this building.”
After hearing Shikarabe’s explanation, he understood why he was told to leave when he was on the first floor. He looked at Shikarabe with a blaming gaze.
“…You shouldn’t call a boy to this place, you know.”
Shikarabe lightly laughed.
“Age doesn’t matter when it comes to being a Hunter. It’s not like I chose this place in order to annoy you, it’s just that it’s better to talk about an unofficial request on the second floor. So just ignore it.”
Akira sighed, he then decided to ignore the fact that he was on the second floor and started eating.
A group of 4 men approached the table where Akira and Shikarabe were. Yamanobe noticed them and waved his hand. They were the people that Yamanobe called and the people who accompanied them. Basically, 2 Hunters with debt, their observer, and someone sent by their creditor who would be the one negotiating with Shikarabe.
The observer and the person from the crediting company took a seat. The Hunters in debt stood behind them. The guy from the crediting company started first.
“Are we late?”
Yamanobe, who was dissatisfied, replied.
“Yeah, so you better bring the people that I asked you for making us wait like this.”
“Of course, if it was only random people, we can bring as many as you want. It’s hard to find the people who satisfy your requirements, you know. So like, just forgive us for being late. There are not that many Hunters out there who have enough skill to hunt bounty monsters while not minding taking an unofficial request not from the Hunter Office, you know?”
“Isn’t that why I paid you a lot of money? So if the people that you bring me are useless, I won’t let that slide.”
“I know, I know. Let’s start the negotiation.”
Yamanobe started his negotiation with Tomejima. Akira was still eating his meal while listening to them. The guy working as the observer then sat beside Akira. Akira knew him, he was the Hunter who Akira met in Higaraka Residence Ruin, it was Colbert.
“…Yo, been a while.”
Since Colbert talked to him first, it was not like Akira could just ignore him now.
“We meet again huh, Akira.”
“Observer for Hunters with debt, huh? Is it your main job?”
“Nah, just a side job. The company that guy is working for, I owed them the money that I spent to fix my arms which got eaten by the monsters. So it’s either I pay them the money or I have to do this kind of job for them. Since I want to fix my prosthetic arm too, I still need money. So then, why are you here? How about your job to escort Sheryl?”
“Being a Hunter is my main occupation. Sheryl’s escort is not.”
Akira and Colbert ended their conversation with that awkward closing. The air between them felt rather tense, but it was all blown away when Akira sighed.
“So that explains why you knew about Guyver’s debt, huh. I really hope you’ll do your job properly as an observer, you know. If you did back then, we wouldn’t have had to get in that trouble.”
Colbert just laughed and said.
“I know, I’m sorry. I never thought Guyver was that stupid.”
“Don’t tell me that Dale too…”
“Nah, he doesn’t have a debt and he’s not an observer for Guyver. He’s completely unrelated to us.”
Observers did a lot of things in the shadows to secretly watch over the debt-ridden Hunters. They even assigned some Hunters to join suspicious arbitrator companies. Then they got assigned on the same team as their target as if it was a pure coincidence.
Their front face was still an arbitrator company with proper permission from the Hunter Office, thus some other Hunters who were not related to that particular credit company also used their service. Dale basically was one of those Hunters. It was by pure coincidence that Dale and Colbert were assigned to the same team.
“I heard Dale sent a long complaint to the arbitrator company, but that was pointless. After all, it’s basically a creditor company pretending to be an arbitrator company in order to keep the Hunters in debt under its watch. Even if Dale caused a ruckus and told people how bad the company is, it’ll have almost no effect at all. It’s a half-dummy company, so it can just shed its old skin and restart again.”
“To think that Dale would get himself in that company, he’s really an unlucky guy.”
After listening to Colbert, Akira mumbled as if it has nothing to do with him. Well, it was about someone else after all.
But their exchange affected someone else who was present. It was one of the guys who were standing behind Tomejima. His name was Kadol, he was brought there to resolve his debt.
Kadol was already annoyed the moment he saw Akira. But he finally could not hold himself back as he suddenly interjected in the middle of the negotiation with a rude voice.
“Hey, is that boy also a team member?”
Tomejima quickly scolded him.
“Don’t interrupt like that! Just shut up and wait there!”
But Kadol ignored him as he said annoyedly.
“…I’m going to risk my life out there, you know?! So I don’t want a small boy like him joining the team and reducing my share of reward!!”
Everyone turned to Akira, who looked completely calm.
Kadol pointed his finger at Colbert and said.
“Moreover, isn’t that boy his acquaintance?!! Are all of you guys planning to cut my share and get them for yourself?!! Don’t fuck with me!!”
Tomejima suddenly came up with something. He saw a way to make him get the upper hand in that negotiation, thus he scolded Kadol and told him to shut up.
“Just calm down and shut up!! Don’t interrupt the negotiation!!… Colbert, you watch him!”
In order to hold Kadol back, Colbert stood up from his seat and stood next to Kadol. Tomejima then continued.
“…Well, uhh, I can understand him though. So yeah, adding a small boy like him as a member will only reduce our share, you know? Can you do something about that?”
“What exactly do you want me to do? If you’re here to negotiate, I’m sure you have thought of some terms too, right?”
“I won’t tell you to take that boy off the team, but I want you to reduce his share depending on his skill.”
Tomejima looked at Akira as he said that. He heard that there were a lot of young Hunters in Drankam, and he also heard that due to its preferential treatment, the gang loaned good equipment to those young Hunters regardless of their skill. He thought that Akira was one of those young Hunters.
Kadol more or less thought of the same thing as Tomejima, except it was worse. He thought that Shikarabe colluded with Tomejima by bringing that boy Hunter so that his reward share would be reduced.
Yamanobe then looked at Akira and Shikarabe. Akira was in contract with Shikarabe, thus he would need both of their agreements first to change the contract now.
Shikarabe looked annoyed as he checked on Akira, but Akira just started eating peacefully as if it was none of his business.
Shikarabe sighed and looked at Tomejima with a straight face.
“No, we already had a deal that his share is based on the number of people in the team. I can’t just change that to comply with your demand.”
Tomejima smiled bitterly and said.
“Whoa whoa. No matter how you look at it, isn’t it unfair for that boy to get the same amount of reward as the people that I bought today?”
Shikarabe made a serious face.
“If we divide the reward based on skill, no matter how we do it, it’ll only end up with a conflict. You guys bring us 3 people and we pay you 3 people worth of money. The contract will not change. To be honest, you should be happy that we assume you’re worth the money that we pay you.”
Shikarabe used themselves, i.e Shikarabe, Yamanobe and Valga, as the indicator when he said that, but Kadol thought that he was being compared to Akira.
Kadol, who thought that he was getting mocked, could not hold himself back as he shouted.
“Are you telling me I’m weaker than this brat?!”
Kadol still had some of his common sense left. But after his scream, Akira, who was still eating as if it was nothing, looked at him with an annoyed face. Akira then sighed as if he was just a minor bother to him and returned back to eating. That exact thing blew the last shred of rationality from Kadol. It looked as if Akira was mocking him.
Letting the anger take his body, Kadol quickly grabbed his rifle and pointed its muzzle at Akira. He himself did not know for sure if he wanted to kill Akira or just wanted to scare him. He just moved purely following his emotion.
But Kadol’s rifle was suddenly sent flying. He did not have the chance to even react as a muzzle was prodded into his mouth. It went so deep down to his throat and he found himself already lying on the ground.
Amidst the confusion, Kadol could see Akira standing in front with a rifle in his hand that extended to Kadol’s mouth. Akira was also the one who sent his rifle flying. Kadol finally realized that he had lost his rifle. As he looked at Akira who was standing expressionless in front of him, he finally realized that his life was hanging by a thread.
As Kadol tried to fight back, Akira pushed the rifle deeper down his throat. Kadol coughed in pain, his face was filled with terror and he finally calmed down.
The people who only saw the result without knowing how that happened were all dumbstruck, while the people who knew how that happened were only a bit surprised and smiled with approval. The former was Tomejima and his men, while the latter was Shikarabe and his friends.
Especially for Shikarabe, he had a good look on Akira’s move. There was no mistaking it that Kadol grabbed his rifle outside Akira’s field of view. But even so, Akira was able to react to it. He quickly closed the distance between them, hit away Kadol’s rifle from Kadol’s hand with his left hand, then smoothly pulled out his rifle with his right hand and prod it into Kadol’s mouth.
Colbert did try to stop Kadol, but Akira was even faster than him even though he was closer to Kadol than Akira.
Shikarabe smiled and thought.
[…He reacted to something that happened outside his field of view. It reminds me that he somehow was able to detect the monsters in the underground city, is it from the same technique? Is he always putting his information-gathering device to scan the area around him…? I don’t think that’s right. The way he moved might be thanks to his augmented suit and he’s already using a different augmented suit compared to when we were in the underground city. Anyone would need a lot of training to be able to use the full power of their augmented suit, and he was able to achieve that for a new augmented suit in such a short time? Or is it all thanks to the quality of the augmented suit…? No, that’s not it. For some reason, I feel like my intuition is always dulled when I’m around him.]
Although he was amazed by Akira’s moves, he was also trying to find the reason why Akira could do that. His guess was not correct, but not entirely wrong either. His ability to make such a guess was proof of how good he was as a Hunter.
Although Shikarabe was the one who invited Akira to the team, Yamanobe and Valga actually were still suspicious of Akira’s real ability. But their opinion was changed in an instant. They thought that it was as expected for Shikarabe to invite such a Hunter and approved that Akira would be an important addition to the team’s power.
Akira was still pushing the muzzle of his rifle into Kadol’s mouth, he was expressionless as he stared at Kadol. He then casually asked Shikarabe.
“Shikarabe, if I kill this guy, how much will it affect tomorrow’s plan?”
Kadol tried to break away, he knew that Akira was not trying to scare him. Akira was seriously asking that question to Shikarabe.
Shikarabe was a bit surprised by that question, but he did not try to stop Akira.
“It won’t affect much. It seems that this guy can’t judge his own situation well after all. You can do anything with him.”
The only reason why Akira had not pulled the trigger yet was because Kadol was already in a contract with Shikarabe. And if Akira killed him, it would lower his success chance for hunting the bounty monsters. But with that answer from Shikarabe, most of his worries were already resolved.
Akira’s eyes suddenly turned dark and ominous. Kadol who was looking at those eyes was frightened. His life was hanging by a thread, but before the thread snapped, Shikarabe suddenly said.
“But if you kill that guy here, the master of this place will ask you to pay for cleaning the corpse and the blood. Not to mention that he might also ask for money to repair the bullet hole on the floor too. We won’t help you pay that, you know?”
Akira then grumbled.
“It won’t be counted as reimbursed expense?”
“No. You’ll have to deal with the master, I’m sure he’ll come here angry after hearing the gunshot. We won’t help you with anything.”
Akira sighed and pulled back his rifle. His desire to kill Kadol was not big enough compared to the aftermath that he should deal with later. If it was in the middle of the wasteland, Akira would have killed him. After all, if it was the wasteland, he could just pick a random place and dump the corpse there. A lot of people had the same line of thinking, that was why the civil order in the wasteland was the worst.
Akira turned back to Shikarabe and his friends.
“I’m leaving. I feel like it’ll only cause me more trouble if I stay here. Not to mention, I have to wake up early tomorrow. Just to be safe, send me the position and time for the meeting tomorrow to my information terminal.”
“Alright. Make sure to finish your preparation by then and don’t be late, okay?”
“I know, see you tomorrow.”
Akira then headed to the stairs. But he suddenly stopped and added.
“…And also, I don’t care if you want to pay that fool there, but it might be better not to expect him to return back alive, you know.”
“I totally agree with you.”
Shikarabe laughed as he said. The thing that Akira wanted to say was well conveyed to him. Akira then headed to the stairs and went to the first floor.
Yamanobe mumbled as he saw Akira off.
“That boy is really short-tempered. People like him tend to kill too much and get broken later.”
Valga also made his remark, but compared to Yamanobe’s remark which was rather negative, his remark was positive.
“There’s no guarantee that he would take that insult lightly. It was more or less an act of self-defence. I think it’s a good idea to keep that distinction in mind, you know?”
“Depending on where you put that line, you might be taking it too lightly. I mean like, look at the aftermath over there.”
Yamanobe then pointed at Kadol. With that easy to understand example right in front of him, Valga nodded in approval.
Kadol was about to pull himself up and retrieve his rifle. But before could he extended his hand, Colbert appeared and got hold of his rifle. Colbert then kicked him and knocked him unconscious with face down on the floor. But he managed to let out a scream of pain, so Colbert just told him.
“Just sleep there.”
Colbert then warned the other debt-ridden Hunter.
“You too, don’t try anything funny.”
As Colbert sent his glare to him, that hunter could not help but to give a firm nod.
Yamanobe and Tomejima laughed awkwardly.
“Now then, we were in the middle of a negotiation, right? Well, it’s true that I didn’t ask you in particular not to bring a fool who would point his gun at his teammate. We haven’t made any deal yet, and we haven’t made any detailed plan yet. It could even be said that we’re not teammates yet. So let’s keep that in mind as we continue our negotiation.”
Tomejima let out a cold sweat as he tried his best to look calm, his hard negotiation was just about to start.
Akira was on his way to the wasteland, the sky was dark, it was not clear whether it was in the middle of the night or early in the morning. He was heading straight to the meeting ground to meet Shikarabe and the other Hunters for hunting bounty monsters.
It was still a few hours until the sun rose. Although he slept sooner than usual the day before, he still did not get enough sleep for the day. He was driving his vehicle while trying to stay awake.
Alpha, who was sitting next to Akira in the driver assistant seat, said.
“I can do the driving if you want to get some sleep. I’ll wake you up when something happens, so don’t worry. Being sleep-deprived would affect your performance after all.”
“Is that so? I’ll be counting on you then… Wait, if I sleep, won’t it affect your driving? If I lose consciousness, you won’t be able to control my augmented suit, right?”
Akira remembered when that happened because of a stun grenade, thus he wanted to check that with Alpha.
Alpha just smiled and said.
“No problem. The vehicle is not like your augmented suit, it won’t affect me even if you lose consciousness.”
“I see, I’ll be counting on you then.”
Although Akira did not understand what exactly was different about his vehicle and his augmented suit, if Alpha told him that it would be okay, he was sure that it would be okay. Thus he decided to get some sleep.
Alpha smiled as she saw Akira starting to fall asleep. She then adjusted her driving so that he would not be late while also not interrupting his sleep.
After Akira got a good nap, Alpha woke him up.
“Morning, did you get a good sleep?”
“…Pretty much, yeah.”
Akira was still a bit dazed as he looked around to confirm the situation, the sun had still not risen yet.
“How about getting something to eat while you still have the chance? There’s no guarantee that you’ll have a chance to eat after you meet up with Shikarabe.”
Akira took out the Hunter ration from the pile of his stuff in the backseat. Half of that pile was ammo and other equipment but there was some food too.
The Hunter ration was completely made of a different material from the normal ration.
Although it tasted normal and had a normal texture, it would get completely broken down inside Hunter’s body and produce almost no waste. It also suppressed bowel movement and urine production. You could even use it in place of medicine. It was engineered so that it would not cause any harm in case it got mixed in the flesh and blood when your stomach got punctured while still digesting the ration. It got digested so fast too and increased the sharpness of your mind. It was augmented with so many extra effects and safety features that you did not need in case you spent your peaceful and normal life in the city.
Akira had bought a lot of those rations to try using them. The ration that he had that day was a coffee and sandwich, both of them looked completely normal from the outside. Or to be more precise, the sandwich was soft and the coffee was warm, just like normal food. He made a long “hmm” and said.
“It’s normal. Well, that in itself is pretty amazing though.”
“If you don’t like it, you can choose something with better taste next time. Warm tasty food is important for your combat performance after all.”
“You have a point there. I have some surplus money too, I guess I can afford that much of luxury… Maybe.”
“It’s weird to hear that from a Hunter who doesn’t hesitate to use 2,000,000 Aurum medicine or pay 80,000,000 Aurum for equipment. It should be okay for you to get something better to eat daily, you know?”
“Even if you tell me that, it’s not like I have any complaints with my usual food.”
The food that he was eating on a daily basis back in his home was not that different compared to what he ate when he was still staying in inns. But even so, his food was still way better than most of the food in the slum city. Thus, at the moment, he was really satisfied with his current food. Of course, Akira himself wanted to eat something better, but he was still hesitating about paying a huge amount of money for that.
“Well, I won’t force you or anything. But, just remember that it should be okay for you to afford a little bit of luxury. At least enough for you to pick the Hunter ration you like.”
“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind. In that case, I might as well eat some more, that was not enough to fill my stomach.”
Akira then extended his hand to the back seat and took another Hunter ration. Looking at that, Alpha just smiled bitterly.
Right after Akira finished his meal, the meeting ground started to come into his view. Shikarabe and his friends were already waiting for him there.