Akira once again joined the coordination support augmented suit experiment, which doubled as mock battle training. Despite having to fight Erio and the other children plus Togami and Reina this time, Akira was still maintaining his usual 50% win rate. It was meaningful training, with each round improving the fighting abilities of all its participants.
His opponents were extremely surprised. They thought that Akira would have enough leeway to hold back with the difference mainly being their numbers. But in reality, Akira was having a hard time as well. The only reason why they thought so was because Akira seemed ultimately unperturbed even after he lost a round.
During a small break, Togami glanced at Akira talking to Sheryl. Sheryl was donning a relatively stylish outfit for someone out in the wasteland. She took great joy in their conversation. Her smile reflected her strong feelings toward Akira. But in contrast to that, Akira was talking like usual. Although it was not like he was completely emotionless, his reaction was rather bland for a boy of his age when talking to someone like Sheryl. But even so, Sheryl still seemed to be extremely delighted.
“According to Erio and the others, it seems that they are lovers. But still, shes really a beauty. Seeing her talk to Akira, I bet that shes deeply in love with him. Man, seriously, both Akira and Katsuya. I wonder if beautiful girls normally flock to you when youre that strong. Which means that Im still far away from being strong enough, huh Im so envious. I wonder if a beautiful girl will come to me, I dont care if she just wants my money.”
Togami said so jokingly although with a slightly serious face. Reina, who heard it, felt mysteriously irritated, but she was being careful so as to not show it.
“You dont have anyone like that, huh Youre pretty famous as the leader of the anti-Katsuya faction, right To be honest, I think it wont be weird if girls try to approach you because of that.”
Togami smiled bitterly as if to mock himself.
“Nope. Not at all. I know a few people who used to say that Drankam has more girls both as Hunters and as administrators compared to the other gangs. But almost all the girls around our age are following Katsuya. So the rest of us have none left. Now that I think about it. Once you return to him, I think hell complete his collection.”
“Whoah, can you not treat me as a collection”
“Sorry. But again, the reason you left his team is because you thought you were too weak and would just slow him down, right To be honest, youre already strong enough now though.”
“That might be true, but still…”
An awkward silence pervaded, Togami prevented himself from doing anything that might hurt his pride while Reina was uncertain on what to do, including matters regarding Katsuyas team.
Togami then changed the subject to change the mood as well.
“By the way, Erios team is actually moving like Katsuyas team, right”
Reina deliberately followed through in order to get away from the awkwardness.
“I bet its some kind of imitation because the coordination system uses the battle log data from Katsuyas team as its learning pattern. Thats why their movements are similar… By the way, how did you notice that”
“Back then when I was training under Shikarabe, he showed me their battle log to analyze. Basically pointing out its weakness and how to face such an opponent. We did that for a whole day. It even came up in my dreams! Back then, I thought that it was impossible to fight such a big group all alone but…”
Togami smiled wryly, seeing which, Reina replied with a similar smile.
“Although its true that theyre weaker, we were able to do that last time. And Akira was able to do that all alone with us joining the other side…“
“At least, we know now that its not impossible. I guess that just shows that weve improved.”
As Togami and Reina lightly smiled at each other, a notice suddenly reached them. So they went to Akira to inform him that they were ordered to leave the training and return back to Drankams base.
Once they arrived, Togami and Reina were summoned to the meeting room by Mizuha. At the very start, they were informed that the gang had successfully sold the old-world automata, thus Reina and Togami were no longer restricted from dangerous Hunter jobs.
Although Togami was delighted, he also seemed a bit confused.
“If its only that much, you couldve just informed us through Arabe-san, right So why did you summon us here”
“Now that both of you are not prohibited from doing dangerous Hunter jobs, I have an offer for you. Theres a huge expedition plan to explore the inner part of Kuzusuhara ruin, so I want both of you to participate in that operation.”
Togami was really interested in that offer, but he still seemed not fully convinced yet. After all, Mizuha was still the officer in the Katsuya faction, so it was weird for her to bring an offer to him, and that suspicion caused him to knit his brows.
Mizuha immediately noticed what Togami was thinking and smiled as she explained.
“Of course, youll be working under Katsuya.”
Togami and Reina did not seem surprised by it. They had seen that coming. But they both reacted differently to it. Togami showed a rather cold attitude while Reina was at loss. It was obvious that one of them took that offer as an excuse to force him to work under Katsuya while the other one thought that it might be a chance to return back to Katsuyas team.
Mizuha proceeded by explaining in detail the benefit of participating in that large-scale expedition. Togami and Reina both understood the benefit that they could obtain. So, Mizuha continued by asking a question in a friendly manner.
“So then, what do you think I think its a great offer for both of you.”
Reina hesitated, but Togami replied firmly.
“Ill have to refuse.”
Mizuha and Reina raised their eyebrows and looked at Togami. Mizuha then frowned and asked him.
“…I know that our relationship is a bit complicated, but I think this is a good opportunity to start anew. Are you sure you want to refuse”
Togami showed firm resolve in his answer, but that only caused Mizuha to get a bit emotional.
“Are you sure youre not getting ahead of yourself with people calling you the leader of the anti-Katsuya faction Let me tell you this. That faction is no longer functional. Thats just how great Katsuyas track record is.”
It was indeed as Mizuha said, most of the people in Drankam were actually supporting the Katsuya faction either passively or actively. Although there were still Shikarabe and his cliques who were still taking the opposition side, it was no longer big enough to be called a faction.
“The reason why I offered you this chance is only because you returned back with old-world automata although they were already in a broken state. Otherwise, theres no reason to invite someone who is against Katsuya. This is a very gracious offer. Do you really understand what will happen to your standing in the future if you refuse this offer”
Mizuhas words started getting mixed with threats. But even so, Togami did not change his mind.
“Its true that I was getting too confident in myself and its true that a part of the reason why I refused is my pride. I do know well that refusing this offer will bring me a lot of trouble later on. On the contrary, if I accept this offer, Im sure Ill get better requests and equipment from the gang, which will make me stronger. Moreover, theres no doubt that guy is stronger than me, so I have no plans to make excuses like I dont want to work under someone weaker than me. As a matter of fact, he might be so strong that I might slow him down instead. When that happens, he might save me and that might be a trigger for many more good things in the future.”
Togami, who spoke as if he was talking about someone else unrelated to him, showed that he understood very well how good that offer was. That was why Mizuha was more confused than before.
“So then why wont you accept it”
“Its true that Ill get stronger if I work under him. But that will be a strength that relies on him. I want to be stronger myself. I dont need power that wont work without him. I dont want to degrade myself to being just another drone under him. I know that its just my dumb pride. But its the kind of pride that I bet my life with even if you see it as foolish. Thats why Ill have to refuse your offer. At least, Ill thank you for offering me such a good deal.”
There was no chance for negotiation. Mizuha looked coldly at Togami and warned.
“…Youll regret it.”
“If I do, then its because Im weak. So it cant be helped. Ill excuse myself then.”
Togami lightly bowed toward Mizuha, made a 180-degree turn and left.
Mizuhas gaze shifted to Reina.
“Youre going to accept, right”
Her time to make her decision had come, so Reina made her resolve.
“Im sorry, but I also refuse.”
Mizuha could not believe what she just heard and looked completely surprised.
“Even you too! Why Are you being serious here! If you dont take this opportunity, you might not have any chance to return back to Katsuyas team, you know!”
“Its true that I do want to return back to Katsuyas team. But, I want to stand beside him. I have no wish to return back to be someone under him. Someone that he needs to protect. I want to stand beside him as a fellow Hunter of the same standing. Although I dont think I will ever be able to surpass him, Im thinking of doing my best until the day I can be as good as him.”
“Do you really think that day will ever come No matter how much you try, hell only drift further and further. Katsuyas skill and talent are already good enough to attract the attention of City Management, you know Youll definitely regret it.”
“If I do, that will be because of my lack of talent and effort. So it cant be helped, please excuse me.”
Reina lightly bowed and left as well. For some reason, she seemed extremely satisfied. In contrast to that, Mizuhas anger was shown in her expression.
“Good grief… these people…”
That whisper was rather childish for someone of her age.
As Reina left the room, she saw that Shiori was already waiting outside with a surprised expression.
“Ah, its nothing. Milady, are you sure”
Reina was not sure what Shiori was asking about, so Kanae jumped in to fill in the blank.
“Milady, it is about that offer back in the room, or more like, the offer to return back to Katsuyas team.”
“Eh You knew”
“We more or less predicted it based on the information that we had gathered. Not to mention, we heard from Togami just now. So then, both Ane-san and I thought that Milady would take that offer to return back to Katsuyas team. But it seems that did not happen, thats why Ane-san is surprised.”
“Milady, Im sorry for the lack of explanation.”
“Oh, I see. Dont worry about it… By the way, is it really that easy to read my expression”
Reina blushed a bit and mumbled. She then regained her usual composure before continuing.
“Since I refused the offer, I think its impossible for me to join the expedition now. But since the gang already sold the automata, I can start taking Hunter jobs again. I guess I need to discuss with Togami about what to do next.”
Shiori and Kanae looked at each other, it seemed that Reina had not noticed it yet.
“Milady, with the automata already sold, Togami-samas training with Shikarabe has also been completed. This means that the team has been disbanded.”
“Eh Ah, thats true. But, it doesnt mean that we cant still stay as a team, right”
“Milady, it seems that Togami thinks Milady will return back to Katsuyas team, thats why he already made his next plan. As a matter of fact, he was already talking with someone regarding that matter.”
“Ehh! Why didnt you stop him!”
“As we said, we didnt expect Milady refused that offer.”
Reina pulled out her information terminal in a panic and tried to make a call. But since there was no answer, she immediately started running to where Togami might be.
Shiori and Kanae smiled wryly at each other before they went to follow their master.
Somewhere in the inner part of the Kuzusuhara ruin, Yatsubayashi was driving his mobile clinic. Since the plan to extend the supply route was halted, there were many Hunters around the supply route hunting for relics. Yatsuyabashi did not find any lack of patients from those Hunters.
Something that looked like a Hunter came into the clinic, Yatsubyashi saw that face and pointed to the bed, telling it to lie down there. Yatsubayashi then closed the trailers back door, which he usually keeps open even when he was treating his patients.
Not too long after that, the door opened and the thing that was lying down on the bed exited the clinic with a completely different face.
[Although its a deal that I made with her, this is pretty dangerous stuff. I think its barely against City Management, but… Well, I wonder if it was a mistake But again, I cant just give up on learning old-world technology.]
Yatsubayashi had made a deal with Tsubaki. She was the one who controlled the thing that just entered his mobile clinic. It was actually Tiols terminal and it had kept its human form even after the incident from last time. What Yatsubayashi did was just change the appearance of that terminal. He had done that a few times already. All the terminals that started with a young boys appearance, were transformed into humanoids of all ages and gender by Yatsubayashi. And just to be safe, he also regularly assigned them with different faces. They were then sent to mix in with the other Hunters working in the ruin, to work on their own goals.
Yatsubayashi himself had no idea what Tsubaki was trying to accomplish by using them. But he also had no wish to know. He thought that the best way to deal with Tsubaki was to fulfil his part of the promise, make sure not to get himself involved more than necessary, and most importantly, not to pick a fight with her.
As another unit came into the clinic, Yatsyubayashi once again closed the back door.
Shikarabe was drinking in the pub that he frequented with Kurosawa. They enjoyed their drinks while having the waitress serve them as they talked about recent events.
But suddenly, Kurosawa asked the waitress to let them speak in private. Seeing that, Shikarabe understood that Kurosawa was going to talk about something that was not exactly a secret but was also not for public ears and lightly sobered up.
“So then, Kurosawa, what do you want to know this time Is it about the insider information of Drankam again Im sorry but I cant tell you anything. The current Drankam is fully under the Katsuya faction. So Im already in a pretty bad position, you see. They no longer let me know about important information regarding the gang.”
There was a trace of self-mockery in Shikarabes cold expression. It was clear that he had begun to give up on things.
“Its about Katsuya.”
“Humph, I have nothing to say about that guy.”
Shikarabe was obviously repulsed by that matter. But seeing Kurosawas absolutely serious attitude, he then sighed and continued.
“So then, what do you want to know”
“Actually, there are some people around me who are thinking of rejoining Drankam.”
“Are you joking Didnt most of them leave the gang since they didnt like Drankams policies So why are they thinking of returning back now Just to let you know, the situation is worse than when they had left. Even Im thinking of leaving sometime soon.”
“I totally agree with you, but its true that some of them are thinking of returning. Some of them are even thinking of taking it easy, even if it means working under Katsuya. To be more precise, the people who think so are those Hunters who have worked in extending the supply route. They had some of the areas under them overlapped with Katsuyas, and after watching how he works up close, they reevaluated their opinion of him. Although it sort of makes sense, Im still not fully convinced for some reason. Unlike them, I got too bored expanding the supply route, so I went to take other jobs like the one in Lida commercial district ruin and various other jobs as well. Thats why I was not around with them for a while. I cant help but wonder what exactly had happened when I was not around. But when I asked them in detail, nothing struck me as amazing or anything. They dont seem to be hiding anything from me either. To be honest, Im a bit creeped out by this.”
Shikarabe felt that was a bit weird since Kurosawa was talking as if it was some kind of ghost story.
“Shikarabe, you hate that Katsuya, right Why do you hate him that much”
“Why you ask Let me ask you this instead, what is so good about that cocky guy”
“If its about a cocky young Hunter, you can find them anywhere. Even that Togami was one of them. Back then, he was too confident of himself. You hated him as well, right But that is not as bad as your hatred towards Katsuya. Although they are similar, the difference in your impression of both of them is just too big. Why do you hate Katsuya so much Did he do something that makes you hate him greatly”
“Why, huh, well…”
As Shikarabe was about to answer that question, he suddenly stopped midway and seemed a bit weirded out. He had a lot of reasons to simply hate Katsuya, but he could not think of any reason to explain his intense hatred.
Seeing that, Kurosawa made an equally weirded out expression.
“Whoa there, get a hang of yourself. I was just wondering if I could share with them your reasons, they might change their minds, you know You really hate Katsuyas guts, so there must be a reason for that, right Even saying that you just dont like how he looks is fine, you know”
Shikarabe sobered up a little more and tried to look for a reason. He kept asking himself to think of a reason. It might be the accumulation of smaller grievances from back then when he was responsible for guiding Katsuya. It could be because he had become jealous of Katsuyas talent before he knew it. But in the end, he could not find any good reason, leaving him as simply hating Katsuya without any good reason.
Shikarabe was uncertain if he couldnt think of any good reason because he was drunk, or if his real reason would only come up if he was more intoxicated. He seemed to be deep in thought and looked slightly puzzled. Kurosawa, who was expecting an answer, could not help but make the same expression.-