Further to the east from where Akiras team was, a guy by the name of Katsukawa was talking through his information terminal. He was the leader of the Hunter team that was responsible for area E1173.
“…In that case, we dont need to send our men, right Very well, understood… No… Yes, Im sorry to trouble you… No no no, its our fault, so please dont be sorry. Thank you once again.”
After he closed the call, he immediately made a stern face.
“Melshia! Theres no need to send anyone to hunt that Okpalos! Get everyone to look for those bastards!”
Melshia, who was Tatsukawas partner as well as the vice-captain of the team, frowned.
“Eh What gives Were just about to go, you know”
“The target for that hunt is no more. The team from area 1168 took care of it.”
Melshia walked toward Tatsukawa and tilted her head.
“If Im not mistaken, that area is handled by the Hunters from Kugamayama city, right Theres no way they can take care of that Okpalos.”
“Well, theyve been gathering high ranking Hunters with more rewards ever since that incident in Kuzusuhara ruin. Even I was called by Kibayashi. So, I bet one of those Hunters got assigned to that area.”
“Well, that would explain everything. Are you going too”
“Im still considering it… But that doesnt matter right now! Just get the men to look for those bastards!”
Melshia proceeded to convey that order to the rest of the team. Although they were complaining at first, Melshia, who was good with people, knew what they were thinking and told them that Tatsukawa was not in a good mood, thus shutting them up.
“Just to let you know, bringing a few extra people wont help much. I dont think we can find them, you know”
“…Its still better than not even trying. Its not like Im going to get angry at them if we get to find them.”
In order to expel his horrendous mood, Katsukawa heaved a big sigh.
“So then, what do you know about them I know you did some investigation beforehand, right”
“Well, I did confirm that their available record is fake. With this, its obvious that theyre weak Hunters who changed their track record to take on their current job and they seem to be already used to this kind of thing. Although, I still dont know their affiliation. They might be from City Management, or from the corporate government, or from the nationalists, or maybe even from somewhere else.”
“I still dont understand, whats their plan Luring the Okpalos to the west just to let it get away. And also, why would they use falsify their track record to join us”
“I have no guess either. It might just be harassment. Or maybe theyre one of those who get pushed aside from the fierce job competition during the transport season. Or theyre just trying to add something meaningful to their track record. There are many possibilities. By the way, they chased Okpalos toward the direction of Kuzusuhara ruin, right So, they might have something to do with that ruin as well.”
“Why would they do that”
“The A.I in that ruin can communicate normally with humans, right Although Kugamayama city is monopolizing that A.I, it must want to contact other cities as well. But with the soldiers from Kugamayama city surrounding the area, its difficult to send people there. So maybe theyre trying to open a hole in that blockade by sending powerful monsters there and to use that opening to sneak in Normally, intentionally sending monsters to a ruin guarded by a city is the same as picking a fight with that city, thats why theyre falsifying their background information to cover their tracks. It could be maybe something like that”
After working together for a long time, Katsukawa knew that rejecting Melshias guess, even if it was a paranoid one, would only give her more trouble to deal with, so she just ignored it.
“…Well, it doesnt really matter. Whoever they are and whatever their goal is, it doesnt change the fact that they gave us a bad name. So, we have to make them pay for that. Melshia, place a bounty on their head based on the information you have on them. Set it to 100 billion per person, wait, no, make it 200 billion.”
“Roger that. Ill do that later, Ah, youll be the one paying, okay”
“Ehhh, its related to our reputation, so shouldnt that money be paid by the whole team”
“No no no, we dont have that much money, you know”
Katsukawa clicked his tongue.
“Make it 2 billion each then.”
“Alright, Ill take care of the administration, but it doesnt change the fact that youll be the one paying, okay”
“…Yeah yeah, Ill pay for it, so just get the bounty up.”
“Honestly though, I dont see any need to go that far, you know”
“Theres no compromise for this one.”
“You and your hard head.”
Melshia smiled wryly seeing that childish side of her partner.
It was due to pure coincidence that Akira shot down that Okpalos. But the reason why that happened was not because of pure coincidence.
Erio stood frozen in the cafeteria back in the base. There was a pile of money in front of him, 3 million Aurum in total. It was his payment after his last job.
The pruning job that he took last time was already done. Akira himself already went to take another pruning and extermination request from Hikaru. As for the relics that Erio and the other children brought back from the last request, they were all basically bought by Sheryls gang and turned into money. After subtracting from the expense, the leftover was then divided equally among Akira, Elena, Sara, and Sheryl.
Then the money that Sheryl received was used to pay for Viola and Colberts reward as well as to Kiryou. The remaining amount went to the gangs collective deposit. After all, they could never have enough funds stored up considering the price of the coordination-support system that was lent to them for monitoring as well as the augmented suits and other equipment. Because of that, the sum paid to Erio and the other children were actually relatively small.
But even so, it was large enough to cause Erio to start shaking when he received it. Other than Erio, the rest of the team received 1 million Aurum each. Although all of them had their bank account made when they registered themselves in the Hunter office as Hunters and were able to receive the payment from direct transfer, in order to maximize the shock effect, Sheryl gathered everyone in the cafeteria and handed over their payments one by one. Thanks to that, most of them looked like nervous suspicious individuals with that large pile of money in hand.
Alicia sat down next to a flustered Erio. Alicia, who was one of the officers on the managerial side of the gang, had to deal with money on many occasions. Thanks to that, she had built up a level of resistance against something like this. In contrast to Erio who was greatly flustered, Alicia was sitting next to him, completely calm.
Erio kept looking around, alternating between the money in front of him and Alicia.
“…A-Alicia, is there anything you want”
“…Your safety, I guess.”
Erio did not expect that answer from his girlfriend and was taken aback a bit by it. After he managed to somehow calm down, he looked at Alicia once more with confusion still etched on his face. Alicia then whispered.
“Even if we use it to buy medicine, this much will only get us 3 boxes, right”
“W-well, that might be true… But, its still a huge amount of money, you know At least that is the case for us.”
After Erio said so, he could feel the worth of the 3 million Aurum in front of him drop. No matter how many times he looked at the pile in front of him, it would not shock him again the same way it did the first time.
Seeing that, Alicia knew that she had successfully changed Erios view of money. She then stared at Erio and said.
“Yes, it is. But its still not enough to endanger your life. So please dont think of joining Akira-sans job again just for this amount, okay I know that you couldnt refuse because it was the boss order, but please do your utmost effort to return alive. Not for money.”
Erio gave an honest smile, Alicia responded with a similar one.
“That aside, its money that you get from your hard work, so I think you should use it for yourself, but if I may, I want you to use it for your safety. Everyone used to ignore us in the past, but ever since the transport season began, there are many new people coming to the slum. Im sure I dont even need to tell what might happen to a slum kid carrying 3 million Aurum around.”
“You have a point. Well, I do think that it should be okay during my guard duty as long as I have that augmented suit on.”
“We cannot use that augmented suit unless its for gang-related work. Its the gangs augmented suit after all. They might kick you out if you use it without permission. I think you can use this amount to buy other equipment from Katsuragi or use it to get a rental augmented suit. You can also add it to the gangs collective budget. Boss will be happy to hear it and she might allow you to borrow some of the gangs equipment, I can put in some good words too if needed. I can also use my money too in case she says that the gang doesnt have enough budget.”
“Hmmm, thats also a good idea, what should I do…”
Seeing that Erio was starting to think about how to use the sum he received, Alicia was relieved in many ways.
Her boyfriend, Erio, was able to return alive after going out on a Hunter job with someone who she considered a madman. Moreover, he had calmed down from the initial shock so there should be no need to worry about the danger of suddenly getting that much money. To top it off, although it might be just a selfish wish of hers, it seems that Erio did not have any plan to use that money for other girls. Though she felt a bit guilty about it, she was still relieved.
Due to her contract with Sheryl, Carol was at least banned from messing with any gang members who already had a girlfriend. But there was a loophole in that deal. If the other party insisted that he did not have a girlfriend or had broken up with his girlfriend, then Carol had free reign.
Girls in the gang were afraid of that. They were trying to find a way, through trial and error, to prevent Carol from getting her hands on their boyfriend or the boy that they liked.
Akira placed a one week gap between each pruning job, which always take place with Elena and Sara. As long as Akira himself was not badly wounded, he actually had no problem doing it every day. However, afterwards, he had to replenish his supplies through Shizukas shop. Although he did pay them upfront before he made the order, he still could not get all the supplies right away. Moreover, considering the time that Elena and Sara needed to recover from their fatigue, he could not afford to shorten the gap any further.
In reality, one of the reasons for the gap was because Shizuka, as well as Elena and Sara, thought that it was extremely likely that Akira would decide to go to the wasteland every time he had some free time. Thus, they were using those excuses to force Akira to take regular breaks. Even when Hikaru suggested shortening that time gap, Akira just ignored her pleas.
On one of those rest days, when Akira was training with Alpha in the garage of his house, he received a call from Shiakarabe. The content of the call was a simple wish to meet if Akira had some free time. Although Shikarabe asked in a casual manner, Akira could feel that there was something serious he wanted to talk about. Akira did find it weird, but he still decided to go and meet him.
Night in the entertainment district was still as busy as usual. Many Hunters were enjoying their drinks or the girls of the red-light districts. Meanwhile, there were some of them who were only passing through on their way back from the wasteland.
Akira waved between those crowds as he walked toward the bar where he was meeting Shikarabe at. But it did not take long for him to notice that there was something strange, and the source of that feeling became obvious after he took a few more steps.
“Alpha, people are avoiding me, are they not”
“Well, it cant be helped, youre basically flashing your expensive equipment out in public after all.”
Akira was using his CA31R augmented suit and carrying 2 LEO multi rifles, it was understandable for people to take him as one of those Hunters who were originally from the east. Even if they did not understand the exact cost and value of Akiras equipment, they knew that what he had on, were on a completely different level compared to the common equipment in Kugamayama city. It was not a big mystery that Akira was a high-ranking Hunter based on his appearance alone.
Many Hunters in the entertainment district were drunk. Among them, high-ranking Hunters tend to look down on the Hunters of Kugamayama city. Therefore, those who did not want to get in trouble with those high-ranking Hunters were keeping their distance from Akira.
“…I guess I should buy a coat next time. If Im not mistaken, one of the options that came with this augmented suit was a defensive coat… Wait, no, I guess its useless if I use that coat, huh…”
“Its better than using a cheap coat, making you seem weak and getting others to pick a fight with you, right Although its thanks to your equipment, isnt it great that people finally stopped looking down on you I think its better for you to just get used to this kind of thing.”
“I see, yeah. Youre right. This is better than having them coming at me. Im also planning to get better equipment as well, so its true that its better to get used to it from now.”
Akira also thought that he would rather have people actively avoiding him instead of going at him. Thus, he just shook that off from his mind and moved on. Because of that, he did not notice the other reason why the Hunters were avoiding him.
Ever since Akira accepted the fact that he was no longer a weak slum boy, strange changes have been happening to him. Others around him started perceiving him differently. He turned from a hidden landmine into an unearthed landmine. So, it was given that those who did not want to step on a landmine even by pure coincidence, would keep their distance from Akira.
Akira eventually reached his destination. It was the same bar that he visited the last time he had gone to meet Shikarabe. But this time, the master did not tell him to leave, instead, he took him to where Shikarabe was. Shikarabe then sent a glance to the master of the bar and he just left.
There was more than one person in the room Akira just entered. Those inside did not seem like they were in a bad mood, and they were not as rowdy as the others in the bar. It did not feel like they were in deep trouble as well. However, it was obvious that they had something preoccupying their minds. Shikarabe was exuding that kind of feeling.
“Youre here, huh Im sorry for asking you to come here, we can talk later, so can you finish your talk with Arabe first”
“Long time no see, please, take a seat.”
Akira was a bit bewildered, but he still took a seat. Shikarabe took a sip of his glass and glanced at Akira.
“Do you want… Ah, right, you dont drink, right Well, they have non-alcoholic drinks as well. Well be the ones paying, so you can go ahead and pick anything you want. I know this is not the kind of place to request a meeting with a Rank 50 Hunter, but Drankam is not really doing well with money, you see. Due to that, unfortunately, we cant really invite you to the upper floors of the Kugama building, am I right, Arabe”
“Eh Ah, yes, its as Shikarabe just said.”
“I dont really mind though, so…”
Akira was a bit thrown-off by Shikarabes unusual attitude, but as they agreed on, he first listened to Arabes business with him. But after listening to the content, Akira was a bit surprised. Basically, Arabe was requesting to let Drankam join in the pruning job that Akira had been receiving from Hikaru.
Seeing Akira who was frowning at him, Arabe felt the awkward mood start to drift in, so he flusteredly added in an explanation.
“Ah, please dont misunderstand, Drankam itself finds this request a bit awkward. But it came from the higher up, or more like, it came from City Management so we cant really ignore it, you see. Its true that we have signed an official peace treaty, unfortunately, it doesnt mean that we can guarantee that there wont be any trouble… We thought that City Management had already informed you about this, but it does not seem to be the case.”
“I this is the first time I heard about this thought… So, give me a second.”
Akira quickly called the person that might know about this. Hikaru immediately picked up the call and after a short explanation of what was going on from Akira, Hikaru also replied saying that such a proposition did reach her as well.
“Back when we were talking about the gap between each request, you did say that you need someone else to handle the vehicle and wait for your supplies to arrive, and these two things become a bottleneck for you, remember You also said that otherwise, you would have gone every day, right And that was when you ask me if I have a solution for that, right”
“…I did I feel like I did, but… I feel like I just said it because I just wanted to complain. It was not like I was looking for a solution… Either way, Im sorry, I didnt mean to actually ask for your help back then…”
“But you did say that, remember Although, I might have received it differently than what you have intended. But putting that aside, because of that, I went around looking for something to help you out, you see.”
“And that included Drankam too”
“Not directly. I did ask the other staff, so someone with a connection to Drankam might have gone and asked them. Ah, Im sorry if Im troubling you instead. I have no wish at all to pressure you to accept it. So, if you think that its too troublesome, please feel free to just reject it. Tell them that theres no penalty even if you dont take up their offer. And also, if its too much work for you, you can just leave that to me if you want. I will happily do it for you.”
“Alright, ahh, dont worry, its not like Im angry or anything, I just didnt expect it, thats all.”
“Im glad to hear that. Please call me again if you need anything else.”
After he finished that call, Akira gave a short explanation to Arabe about what he just heard from Hikaru.
“…So thats basically what happened, it seems that its not like City Management is forcing Drankam to do it either. So, uhhh, can we just drop this subject”
“Ahhh, I see. Honestly speaking, if youre not bothered by it, we from Drankam wish that you would accept our offer. The transport season brings in many jobs and all of them are good for building ones reputation. Of course, we promise that well be careful with the team composition.”
“I-I see, hmmm.”
Akira started to look troubled. He had signed a peace treaty through the Hunter office with Drankam, so it might look suspicious if he insisted on not working with them. Its true that bringing more people would mean that Elena and Sara would have less burden and he himself would not have to resupply as often as before and put Shizuka in trouble. It was not a bad offer at all.
But making a deal with an organization was a huge pain in the neck, or at least, that was the case for Akira. Unlike with Elena and Sara, who he could trust, or Sheryl, who would just accept any amount that Akira decided to give her, dealing with an organization was different. He would have to wrestle with all the trouble that came with dealing with an organization, not to mention, he had to think about commanding the team as well as some kind of insurance for each person. All in all, it was extremely troublesome.
After taking his time to consider his options, Akira decided to take on Hikarus offer. He then recalled Hikaru, gave her a quick overview, and left the rest of the negotiation with Drankam to Hikaru. Hikaru happily accepted the job, she quickly called Arabe after that and completely took over the negotiation in place of Akira.
With Arabes negotiation opponent being shifted to Hikaru, Akira decided that he had no more business with Arabe, so he moved on to Shikarabe.
“So then, what do you want to talk about with me”
“Well, about that… It has more or less already been taken care of, so…”
“The heck Its done But I havent said anything yet. You cant just say that when youre the one who called me here. So, what is it”
Seeing Akira was still curious, Shikarabe took a rather aggressive chug of the drink in his hand.
“…Lets see. Well, you did come here, so I guess its only fair if I tell you. What can I say… Its some kind of adjustment for my intuition, wait, no, its more like a check for my intuition…”
“What in the world are you even talking about”
“It would be a long story if I have to tell you everything, but I will tell you the bare minimum since you did come here after I called you. If youre interested, youre welcome to listen, but if youre not, feel free to finish your meal and leave anytime you want.”
Akira frowned and took a posture saying that he was interested. Shikarabe took one big gulp of the newly filled beer cup before he started talking.
After Katsuyas death, Drankam went through dramatic changes. It basically eradicated Katsuyas faction and it sent a shockwave through the inner management of the gang. Everyone, including the officers as well as the ordinary members, were all busy dealing with the aftermath. Thanks to that, there was no struggle for power at all.
With the excessive prioritization toward the young Hunters gone, Kurosawa and the other veteran Hunters, who had left the gang because of that policy, returned to Drankam. It was all thanks to them that the gang was able to finish the other deals that should have been handled by Katsuya. Although they were able to fill in the hole that Katsuyas left, they still could not do anything about the long-term contracts involving Katsuya as an individual. Due to the violation of the contract from Drankams side, Drankam had to pay a huge fine. With no more support from Yanagisawa, Drankam was quickly thrown into a financial crisis.
“Its all because those in the managerial side accepted those reckless long-term contracts. Those who took on such risks are now in deep trouble. But still, its not like I can just say that they got what they deserved and be happy about it. Its also our fault for not stopping them before they signed those contracts. I know all of them are now blaming themselves, but thats the same for me too. Just like them, Ive believed that Kastsuya would never die, that he would only keep growing bigger.”
Shikarabe pour another beer into his empty cup and heaved a huge sigh as if he just let out something heavy that was latching onto him. He brought the beer to his mouth as if to fill in the hole that was left from his huge sigh.
“He was basically just that good. Whether it was hatred or the opposite, he had power that not all Hunters have, and his power threw us off. But with all being said, he still died in the end. People die when their time comes, it was obvious and even doubly true for Hunters. His death allowed us to come to our senses and sober up.”
Shikarabe then looked up as if he was digging through his past.
“I always hated his guts. No, I still hate him even now. Although its not as bad as how the me from the past would have felt. I hate him just like how I hate the other brats that get too cocky. I still dont know, even now, why I hated him that much. Well, it might be actually just jealousy for his talent and that jealousy is now gone now that he is dead.”
No matter how far he dug through his past, Shikarabe could not recover the hatred that he once had. He somehow looked even more irritated than before.
“Let me return to the real subject, so, basically, my intuition is telling me that hes someone who would not die and grow big. In contrast to that, Im sorry to offend you, but youre not that amazing and Ive always felt that youll die sooner or later. But then, the result was the opposite, hes dead and you survived, you even got to Rank 50. So, I just want to know just how wrong my intuition is.”
As a Hunter who placed his very own life on his intuition, for Shikarabe, questioning his intuition was like questioning the most basic principle of his identity. That was the reason why he called Akira to meet him. Even though it was important for him, it did not show at all on his face.
“And so, after I calmed down and threw away all my preconceptions. I once again asked my intuition, whether youre an amazing Hunter. If even after that, I still cant see you as an amazing Hunter, then it only means that my intuition is not to be trusted. Thats why I called you here and Im already done with that as well. So basically, thats all there is it.”
“I see, so, what is your intuition saying now”
To Akira who was asking while showing his honest interest in the answer, Shikarabe just smiled at him.
“We are not so close that I would just tell you that. Well, at least, Ill tell you that theres no need to completely throw it off the window for the time being.”
Shikarabes reply already served as half an answer, so Akira just slightly smiled at him.
They continued talking while Shikarabe was enjoying his beer and Akira, enjoying his meal. As the alcohol started to take effect on Shikarabe, he suddenly asked a rather rude question to Akira.
“But still, thats pretty impressive of you to kill Katsuya. Oh, its not like Im looking down on you. Its just that you were alone when you were facing Katsuya and his whole team, right Considering the difference in fighting prowess, it should have been impossible, no So how did you kill him Did he make a mistake somewhere Or did you catch him off-guard or something”
“…Both, I guess. Ill omit the details, but in the end, he died protecting his teammate. Thats why I won. If he had abandoned his teammate, I would have been the one dead.”
Shikarabe gave a lonely bitter smile and mumbled.
“…I see, so in the end, he thought too highly of himself and brought his friends closer to death again, huh But I guess he did hold on to his belief to the very end. Well, thats just like him to die like that.”
“He was always like that”
“Well, yeah… Now that I think about it, back then, when he was the leader of a small team, he remained like that. He should have continued to lead a small group of people that he could save with his hard work. That way, others would not have died. Well, its Drankam who pushed him to lead a bigger team, so it would be wrong to blame him on that one, huh He has always…”
Akira listened to Shikarabes recollection of Katsuya for a while before leaving.
On their way back, Arabe glanced at Shikarabe and threw a question to him.
“By the way, what is your intuition saying about Akira now”
“Whoah there, are you seriously asking me that”
“Its fine, isnt it Its not like were strangers anyway, right”
Arabe asked that question in a casual manner. But Shikarabe replied with a rather serious tone.
“Lets see. Before you think of anything weird, Ill tell you this first. Hes crazy, thats what I think about him right now.”
“That‘s rather harsh, but its not like hes weak or anything, right”
“Overall, including his equipment, theres no doubt hes stronger than me. And even if were using the same equipment, it would still be a close fight. But rather than strength, his craziness sticks out more. In order for that crazy talent to bloom, it needs to be accompanied by someone crazy enough to do crazy things. Youve heard about Kibayashi, right I heard that Akira is just the kind Kibayashi loves. A reckless Hunter. So, basically, he gambles on his life on a daily basis and survives through all the risks he takes. Theres no doubt that someone who has gone through all those things would become that strong. So, it just makes me wonder… Why did I only see him as a common Hunter in the past…”
Seeing Shikarabe starting to admonish himself, Arabe decided to stop his original plan of trying to recruit Akira to Drankam. Shikarabe, who had been close to Arabe for so many years noticed that.
“I think youve made a good choice there. If you got Akira into Drankam, I bet he would drag the whole gang to his crazy stunts. So just forget about it, he would never be able to replace Katsuya.”
“Youre right, Ill tell the others that too.”
“…Whoah there, so there are others who consider that too”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
Shikarabe sighed exasperatedly, seeing that Arabe could only smile wryly.-