Sheryl once again joined the feast. It had been a few days since Inabe barely got out fine from that incident. Viola was there too, but unlike last time, she received a separate invitation, so she was not there as Sheryls companion.
Inabe looked at Sheryl and Viola and smiled meaningfully.
“Well, Im really glad we are able to meet again. Im sorry to have troubled you last time and would like to thank you for your help.”
Sheryl smiled as if she was hiding something.
“I dont really understand what you are talking about, but Im really glad that we can be of use to you, Inabe-sama.”
Viola smiled confidently and joined in.
“I dont really remember we did anything, but since you said so, it means that we can look forward to some kind of gratitude, right”
“Of course. Ive finished all the preparations, we can talk about it later.”
Sheryl knew that Inabe had received a number of old-world terminals from a secret deal with Akira since she was directly involved in that deal. After all, Inabe made that request to Viola through Sheryl. So basically, Inabe asked Sheryl, Sheryl then asked Viola, Viola asked Akira. From this connection, finally, Akira went to meet Inabe. It was a deal that was made through multiple indirect contacts. So she thought that Inabe was being discreet here.
[…It doesnt seem to be that simple. But if that misunderstanding is a good thing for us, there is no need to go out of my own way just to fix it. I guess Ill go along with this flow.]
While Viola was handling the deal with Inabe, she also sent incomplete information to Udajima. She knew that Udajima and Inabe were not on good terms, so she was selling information to both of them, making them believe that they were the winner. The reason why Udajima saw through Inabes trickery back then was mostly thanks to the information that he had received from Viola.
There was nothing to be gained from dealing with a fool. And if he was that incompetent, then Viola might as well use him to get another customer. She thought so and when Udajima brought those relics to the appraisal companies union for an investigation, she thought that would be the end for Inabe. That was when something completely unexpected happened.
[…Not only this time but also that time with the incident in the slum city too. I wonder why Akira always throws a wrench in my perfect plan. Well, it seems that Inabe thought that it was all according to my plan so I guess Ill act as if that is really the case. And judging from his attitude, it seems that hes not doing it as a grudge for giving that information to Udajima either. So I guess this should be fine.]
Inabe believed that what happened back then with Udajima was the result of hisinsurance working as intended.
It was true that Inabe brought relics from somewhere in order to increase the value of the area that he was assigned to. If Udajima, who had such a piece of information, used another route to prove it instead of taking it to the appraisal companies union, there was a good chance that Inabe would have lost during their argument.
But result-wise, Udajima was the one who lost. Moreover, it looked like he had lost the argument by his own mistake. That had given Inabe a good momentum to go forward now that one of his competitors just basically self-destructed.
Inabe could not discard the possibility that Viola deliberately manipulated the information in order to make Sheryl look good, which might allow the girl to earn more profits. While at the same time, Sheryl was also indirectly telling him that if she wanted to, she could cut off Inabe anytime. That incident with the Udajima might actually be a bribe as well as a warning for him, or at least, that was what Inabe thought.
[…Sheryl basically has Akira and Viola with her. According to some of the reports that Ive received. She has enough power to rule over the slum city. I always thought that all of her actions are from Viola, but theres a good chance that it is not the case and that it actually comes from Sheryl herself. Her relic shop is doing well and the profit from it is well enough to increase my own profit margin. Theres nothing to lose by forming a connection with her… Although, I need to be careful.]
During that short exchange, the misunderstanding only got worse. Both of them were talking in a friendly manner while trying to extract information from each other. From that point of view, they were doing just what the other participants in that feast were doing.
That was when Katsuya suddenly came to them in a bit of a rush.
“Katsuya, we meet again, uhh…”
Sheryl at first showed a happy smile, but her face immediately turned to show a troubled expression right after that. Katsuya too looked happy to have met Sheryl, however, now he looked a bit confused after he saw Sheryls expression. Eventually, he noticed Inabe was also there and frowned with a rather stern face.
A moment later, Mizuha, Yumina, and Airi also made their appearances. All of them had different reactions to the scene. Mizuha was flustered, hoping that Katsuya had not done anything rude to Inabe. Yumina sighed exasperatedly, thinking that Katsuya had done it again, while Airi glanced at Sheryl and raised her guard.
Inabe thought for a bit before welcoming Katsuya with a hearty smile.
“Ohh, we meet again. Sorry for what happened last time.”
Katsuya was a bit surprised since he did not expect that from Inabe at all.
“…Ohh, I didnt expect that at all. Ah, Is it because we brought some relics to your place last time What was it again Old-world information terminal Those things are expensive right”
Katsuya smiled triumphantly, Inabe was not bothered by it at all as he laughed it off and replied.
“Well, its true that I see you now in a different light after knowing your skill. But from my point of view, youre still one of those common Hunters.”
Katsuya curled his lips, but before he could say anything, Inabe then continued to say something that made Katsuya fluster.
“But even so, if youre actually close to Sheryl, then its a different story. I dont want to get on Sheryls bad side either. So I apologize for accusing you of trying to hit on Sheryl last time. Its just that, I heard rumours of how much of a womanizer you are, you know. So it would have been great if you could have explained that to me back then, or am I wrong”
“Eh, ah, well, Im not actually that close to Sheryl…”
Inabe was acting confused hearing Katsuyas vague answer.
“Is that so I thought that was the case from our talk last time. Have you known her for a long time”
“N-Not exactly, its just that, we have met a few times… Including this time, itll make… it four times”
Inabe did not expect the number to be that low. Even Katsuya, who said so himself, seemed a bit surprised.
“…Well, its not like you can measure your relationship simply by how many times you have met, right”
Katsuya nodded deeply.
Inabe was originally planning to lift Sheryls reputation a bit and simultaneously provoke Katsuya, hoping to get Katsuya involved in his plan. But Inabe did not expect what he just heard. So, he started to ponder.
[…So, in short, the previous one was only the third time, huh Theyre already that close only after 3 meetings Is it because hes just that fast or is it because Sheryl is just that good I cant tell…]
Inabe lightly glanced over everyone there before he spoke up.
“Well, what can I say. Its not right to get in the way between the next generation of leaders. Should I leave you guys alone then”
Katsuya unconsciously nodded, but Mizuha, who was next to him, flusteredly interjected.
“No, exchange between generations is also equally important. Moreover, we are the ones barging into your conversation, so please dont mind us. We would be more than happy to join if were allowed to.”
“I see, I shall take on that offer then.”
Mizuha lightly sighed in relief. If Katsuya did not leave a bad impression, a chance to introduce him to an officer from the City Management was an important thing. Although it was awful that Viola was there, Mizuha was still satisfied with the current result. Seeing that, Katsuya, who was next to her, looked at her, confused.
As they continued their conversation, the flow of the conversation naturally separated them into two groups, the younglings and the adults. The adults were talking about their future prospects regarding ruin expeditions, while the younglings were talking about their recent experience working as Hunters.
Katsuya was talking enthusiastically about his experience, Sheryl listened closely to his story with her usual smile. Yumina joined in their conversation from time to time as she felt something bothering her about the relationship between Sheryl and Katsuya.
Back then when Katsuya suddenly cheered up and returned back to his usual self after he was in a long depression since the incident in the slum city, Yumina was honestly happy for him. When he lowered his head and apologized for making them worry, he said that instead of worrying about each other, they should be laughing together as compatriots. That smile was so bright that Yumina felt like she would fall in love with Katsuya again. But when she asked about what changed his mood, Katsuya said he met Sheryl by coincidence and had a talk with her. When Yumina heard that, she could not hold back the jealousy and other dark emotions that were welling up inside her.
Yumina was lamenting the reasons Katsuya did not say anything to her. She questioned if she was not good enough for him. All the jealousy and questions that came up inside her ended up making her loathe herself, hurting herself even more.
Yumina looked at Sheryl and compared herself to her. In order not to wound Drankams reputation and so that she would be able to attend that feast, Yumina was wearing a beautiful and expensive dress. But since she was not used to it, she looked a little awkward in her dress.
In contrast to that, Sheryl was wearing a refitted dress, especially made for her and it was refitted not only as a decoration but also as a weapon for negotiation. Furthermore, Sheryl herself had the skill to enhance that further making her undoubtedly charming.
Yumina and the other girls awkwardness was the unique trait of new younglings. Others opinions about them would not change just because of that. But there was no denying that the aura exuded by the veterans there was completely different from theirs.
Yumina swore that she would stay beside Katsuya to protect him from his tendency to jump the gun. But Katsuya was able to solve his problems with his talent as a Hunter as he continued climbing the ranks. Skill-wise, even as fellow Hunters, Yumina was hard-pressed to keep her place beside Katsuya. She was able to attend this feast not because people recognized her skill, but because Mizuha had listened to Katsuyas selfish request.
Yumina was pulled by her emotion and asked Sheryl a question.
“By the way, is there any particular reason you are attending this feast Were here because of Drankams connection… Or more like, we came here as Katsuyas companions.”
Inabe, who heard that, immediately interjected.
“Ahh, about that, I was the one who invited her. So, I guess you can say that shes here because of her connection to me.”
“Indeed, I understand that I dont have the influence to attend this feast, so Im here because of Inabe-samas kindness.”
Katsuya and his group were surprised. According to what they had learned before attending the feast, the position of the participants in that feast was decided by who invited them. And an invitation from someone in the City Management signified a rather high position.
Inabe continued by praising Sheryl in order to pull in Katsuya.
“Sheryl might one day join this side, to be the one sending out invitations, you know. But a Hunter can only be a Hunter. A Hunter will never be the one sending out invitations. Thats the reason why I call you a mere Hunter. I didnt do that to discredit you or anything. If you wish to change your profession from scouring for relics and selling them to us, to becoming a Hunter who is more actively involved in this kind of thing, you can call me anytime.”
Mizuha lightly laughed and said with a smile.
“Inabe-sama, Im really happy that you find Drankam Hunters reliable, but it would be troublesome if you snatch them from us.”
“Ohh, sorry about that. We are in a perpetual lack of skilled people in the City Management, you see. So I just could not help it. Well, competing for a skilled Hunter is not that rare anyway. If you guys from Drankam dont want to lose your exceptional Hunters, I suggest you offer them something special.”
“Of course we do.”
Both Katsuya and Sheryl were growing up in their respective fields. Yumina wondered if she would appear to suit that position and have such achievements. She knew that she would not be able to win against Sheryl in that matter. Although she was talking happily like usual, that thought on the back of her mind was dragging her down.
After a short idle talk, Mizuha thought that it was about time they took their leave. Since they were there to represent Drankam, they still had to meet others in that feast too. So with the limited time they had, they could not afford to stay there for too long.
Katsuya understood Mizuhas signal as he smiled regretfully. But then, he remembered something as he took out an accessory from his pocket and bashfully gave it to Sheryl.
“Ah, right, this accessory, I found it during a ruin expedition. Its like a souvenir, so if youre okay with it, will you please accept it Its also my thanks for listening to my problem last time.”
The old-world relics accessory still retained its shine as if the long years did not wither it at all. But making such an accessory was actually possible with the current eras technology, as a matter of fact, such an accessory was not that rare. So judging from that point of view, it was not that expensive of a relic.
Sheryl stared at that accessory and shook her head.
“Thank you, but I have to refuse it.”
Katsuya was flustered, he did not expect Sheryl to not take it.
“…Ah, uhhh, do you find it unpleasant perhaps”
Sheryl once again shook her head and said with a smile and a serious face.
“You can just laugh at me if Im overly self-conscious about this, but if I accept it, I believe that you would try to look for a better thing to give me next time. Which means that you would push yourself to face needless danger for it. As such, I cant accept it.”
Sheryls serious face relaxed for a bit, in contrast to that, her smile grew fonder as she continued.
“You should put that effort into your own safety. To make sure that you can return back alive. For me, the best souvenir will be for you to return back alive, bringing back more stories with you.”
Since all the girls around him simply accepted any gifts that he gave, the fact that Sheryl refused his gift left an impression on him. In order to match that strong impression, Katsuya smiled and said firmly.
“I see, I will bring more stories with me next time then.”
“Ill be looking forward to it.”
They then said their goodbyes before leaving. But Mizuha stayed behind for a bit after Katsuya and the girls left. She then nervously asked Sheryl a question.
“Sheryl-san… Was it again So, uhh, if I may, what is your relation with Viola Uhm, actually Ive been working with Viola for a bit in the past, but it is the first time I heard about you, so…”
“We are business partners, nothing more, nothing less.”
Sheryl replied back almost in an instant, Viola immediately interjected.
“Oh, is that so And here I thought theres more to it than that, you know”
Sheryl still had her smile as she looked at Viola with a gaze that was a few degrees colder than before.
“Im basically keeping you alive until you have no use to me, is that good enough now”
“Yikes, thats so scary. Ill do my best to make sure that Ill always be of use for you, boss.”
Mizuha was surprised by Sheryls attitude toward Viola and Violas reply there.
“Yep, Im basically working for Sheryl right now. Shes directly above me at the moment.”
Mizuha frowned and slightly puckered as she watched Sheryl and Viola smiling while facing each other.
“…I-I see. Ill take my leave then, please excuse me.”
Mizuha lightly bowed before leaving. Although it was obvious that Sheryl was skilled, she was still not sure whether it was more dangerous than profitable to deal with Sheryl. She was at a loss whether to warn Katsuya to stay away from Sheryl or to encourage him instead.
Inabe looked at Mizuha, who was leaving their area, with a look that was saying he understood what she was thinking.
“But still, it should be okay to accept that gift, no Its true that not accepting it would leave a bigger impression on Katsuya, but to be honest, I think itll leave a better impression if you happily accept it, you know.”
“I didnt do that to leave an impression on him, its just simply an excuse not to accept that kind of gift.”
“Is there any problem To be honest, I dont see any problem accepting that gift though.”
“There are people who get offended when you dont use the gifts that they give you. And sometimes, that is doubly true for non-expensive gifts that they can get without much work and it still applies even if you say that you lost it or sold it by mistake. So in the end, if I accept that, I will have to keep using it regardless of whether I actually want to or not. I just want to avoid that.”
Inabe smiled bitterly.
“I see, sometimes lying is the right choice, huh.”
There was a slightly ominous feeling from Sheryls smile as she said.
“I didnt lie. Rather than a relic, Im happier to receive stories and information instead. So its the truth. By the way, judging from what he said, it seems that all the credits for bringing the old-world terminals were given to him, huh. Are you really okay with that, Inabe-sama”
Inabe smiled wryly as he felt Sheryl reproached his decision.
“Oof, thats pretty strict of you. Im sure no one would dare to question the relics that were brought back by a Hunter who even Yanagisawa is interested in. If you say that it was not a good choice, I have no argument to deny it. But result-wise, we are getting better results without causing any problems. Or am I wrong”
Inabe, who misunderstood a few things there, was indirectly saying with a smile that even if that mistake came from Viola, or in effect to that, from Sheryl herself, no one would dare to criticize them. Sheryl replied with a smile and an agreement.
“Well, its true that we didnt face any troubles at all.”
To be honest, Sheryl was only asking if Inabe was okay giving that credit to someone else when he was the one who bought those expensive relics with his own money through a secret deal. But from Inabes reply, she was able to gain more information which she did not know and it allowed her to notice that Inabe was misunderstanding something. So she had no reason to straighten that up.
Viola more or less understood what was going on in Sheryl and Inabes minds as she smiled.
Inabe suddenly remembered something regarding their secret deal and asked Sheryl a question.
“By the way, about the Hunter who came to the meeting place, Akira, was it again I heard that you have him as your support too. For a young Hunter like him, hes more or less as strong as Katsuya, you know. So what is your relationship with that Akira”
“Were a couple.”
Sheryl was trying to answer that as casually as possible, but as a City Management staff who had gone through a lot of negotiations, Inabe did not miss the slight change in Sheryls attitude.
It was nothing but a brave front hoping that it was not wrong. Inabe was surprised when he noticed that from Sheryl as he thought.
[…Shes like that with Katsuya whom she had only met a few times, so I thought that is the case for Akira too, but… Is she having trouble trying to get Akira I thought that Sheryl could easily manipulate someone like Akira, but I guess thats not the case, huh.]
During that feast where the participants schemed and conspired, Inabe, Sheryl, and Viola were perfectly blending in with the rest of the participants.-