Chapter 68, Real Strength
Akira’s stomach was lulled by the great food, and when he finally regained some of his composure to fight back that pleasure, the only dishes left in front of him were the desserts. He could order for more, but since he did not want to leave any leftover food, he decided not to.
Akira took a spoonful of the beautiful mouthwatering dessert in front of him. Shiori also did the same while asking Akira a question.
“So like, Akira-sama, do you always work alone?”
He indulged in the taste of the dessert, but Akira somehow managed to answer Shiori’s question.
“Yes, I’m always alone. Although I did say ‘always’, it hasn’t been that long since I became a Hunter.”
Shiori was trying to learn more about Akira during the meal, but this was the first question which Akira was able to answer seriously. When she asked her questions during the meal, he was only able to give vague answers as if he had his mind somewhere else, and of course, it was because his mind was indeed filled by the flavour of the meal that he was eating. Because of that, Shiori could not gather much information about Akira till now.
“Don’t you have any plans to get more companions or join a gang? Neither hunting monsters nor exploring ruins, I believe, is an easy job to do alone.”
“Well, that’s true. But at the moment, it’s much more comfortable for me to work alone for a lot of reasons. I don’t need to fight for rewards when I’m alone, not to mention that I’m not really a team-player kind of person. So rather than causing a fight by being in a group, I would better do my job alone.”
Although Shiori was giving a friendly smile from the outside, she was actually diligently gathering information about Akira. She kept asking him questions as both of them were enjoying the desserts in front of them. Although for Akira, all the questions that she asked were just about ordinary stuff, Shiori was, in fact, carefully picking her questions.
Akira was also asking Shiori any questions that came up in his mind. Most of his questions were about the gang that she and Reina were part of, Drankam.
“Ohhh, so they’re gathering young Hunters, huh?”
“Yes. The current Drankam is aiming to recruit more young Hunters. At the moment, it seems that they’re even willing to accept complete beginners who had just registered their name in the Hunter Office.”
“I know it sounds weird for someone like me to say this, but is there any meaning in giving guns to complete beginners? They’ll just die in no time, right?”
There was a big difference between Akira’s and Shiori’s understanding of the word “beginner”. It was not like Drankam would accept any Rank 1 Hunter like the past Akira. One needed to be at least a Rank 10 Hunter with their name registered in the Hunter Office, to be accepted by them.
Although there was a slight misunderstanding between them, it was not big enough to disrupt their conversation.
Shiori then replied.
“In the worst cases, there are gangs out there that deliberately trick beginner Hunters to join their gangs just to use them as meat shields or decoys. Indeed there are many young Hunters who quickly die in no time depending on the quality of the gang that they join. In order to avoid something like that, Drankam offers a lot of support programs like setting up a training period for young Hunters or lending them better equipment to boost their fighting capabilities.”
“Equipment, huh… Well, equipments are indeed important.”
Akira mumbled as he remembered that he had once headed to the wasteland with just a handgun. To the current him, it looked like nothing but foolish and suicidal.
“Well, what can I say, I always thought that all of those gangs were only using young Hunters as sacrificial pawns. But I guess some of them are not that bad, huh.”
“Drankam provides the young Hunters with such support since it’ll benefit the gang in the long run. But lately, some of the veteran Hunters are complaining, saying that the gang is giving too many preferential treatments for the young Hunters. After all, they get some of their rewards deducted to help to pay for those support programs for the young Hunters. Although the veteran Hunters never received such a preferential treatment up until now, they have to lend some of their equipment and get their rewards deducted. But even so, the young Hunters are enjoying those benefits without showing any gratitude. So it’s to be expected that the veteran Hunters would get annoyed. While on the other hand, it’s true that the gang has gotten a lot of skilled young Hunters because of that too. Not to mention that those veteran Hunters, who work as the officers, are the very people who decided on those support programs in the first place. So I can’t really blame neither the young Hunters nor the veteran Hunters as a whole.”
Akira was reminded about Shikarabe and Katsuya. Those two people looked like water and oil, but it did not seem like it was only a matter of individual affinity between them.
“It reminds me of those two, Shikarabe and Katsuya, was it again? Those two don’t get along with each other because of that?”
“Shikarabe-sama and Katsuya-sama, huh? I’ve only heard that Shikarabe-sama was once assigned to look over Katsuya-sama’s group and that they just can’t get along with each other. Although to be honest, I don’t think it’s because Katsuya-sama’s group fault…”
Shiori’s expression looked a little bit conflicted. After that, they started talking about Katsuya, it sounded like Shiori was complaining and Akira was forced to listen to her.
According to Shiori’s story, it seemed that Katsuya was a rather skilled Hunter among all the young Hunters in Drankam. During the underground city request, Katsuya was proactively trying to accomplish his duty as he worked together with the other skilled Hunters. As a result, the young Hunters in his group had gotten quite famous among the other Hunters for their skills. It also seemed that the young Hunters in Drankam had even formed a faction with Katsuya as its head.
Because of his skills as a young Hunter, the gang placed all its hope on Katsuya to show the success of their young Hunters’ support program. But if that was all there was to it, it should not be enough to cause Shiori to make that expression. The real problem was the side-effect of that.
Katsuya was greatly admired by the other young Hunters, especially by the members of the opposite gender. He was pretty handsome and not arrogant even though he was skilled. To put it simply, he had a good prospect to be a good Hunter with stable earnings in the future. Thus it was only to be expected that the young female Hunters would be admiring him.
Some of them ended up falling for him although they only approached him for money at first. Some of them fell for him after Katsuya saved them. Some of them grew closer and closer to each other after they recognized each other’s skills. Basically, a lot of girls were taking his side. Some of them were even fighting each other in the background to be able to be in the same team as Katsuya.
That was also the case for Reina. At first, Reina only looked at Katsuya with disdain thinking that he was just an unruly boy. But after she recognized his skill, Reina started to fall for Katsuya although she was yet to realize this herself. Shiori noticed that was also one of the reasons why Reina forcefully got herself in the same team as Katsuya.
Shiori sounded rather annoyed as her voice became slightly heightened.
“I have nothing to complain if Katsuya-sama is being honest with Milady. But, even though it doesn’t seem like he’s planning to go out with anyone, Katsuya-sama never makes that clear and always only gives vague answers as if he’s trying to woo Milady. Not to mention that he keeps getting more and more girls around him every single day!! Just because he isn’t doing that intentionally, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay to keep doing it!!”
Akira could only reply awkwardly as he slurped the after-meal coffee. It was already his 3rd cup of coffee. They had long finished their desserts even after Shiori ordered 2 more plates of desserts after their first one.
“It’s true that Katsuya-sama is a skilled Hunter and I’m sure he’ll be a great Hunter in the future. You can even say that he has this heroic aura. But there’s a limit on everything!! Even if he can do that by his own ability, if he wants to create a harem, he can just go to the western district and become a noble or a king or something!! After all, I heard that having a harem is a normal thing for kings and nobles according to the culture in the western district!! Don’t you think so too, Akira-sama?!!”
To be honest, Akira did not care at all. Moreover, it was only to be expected for them to grow closer to each other if they were to go through dangerous situations together numerous times. Although Akira thought so, it would only worsen Shiori’s mood if he answered back honestly.
Akira carefully chose his words to find a compromise so that he would not go against his own principle since he had taken this meeting as a request. He then awkwardly replied.
“Well… Uhhh… I’m still of the age where food is much more interesting than girls though. So it’s like, I’m not really knowledgeable about something like that… To be honest, I don’t think I can give you any good opinion even if you ask me. So… Uhhh… It’s not like I’m taking his side here. But since he’s working as a Hunter, it’s normal for him and his companions to face life and death situation on daily basis, so things like that are not really that unexpected, right…?”
“But Katsuya-sama even tried to hit on me too, you know?!! Not to mention that Milady was right beside me when he did that!! That’s just… Hm? My apologies.”
Shiori was interrupted by a call notification. She apologised to Akira and checked her information terminal.
“I’m really sorry, it’s a call from my workplace. It seems that I’ll have to excuse myself here. How about you, Akira-sama? If you want to order more meals, this will be your last chance…”
“No thanks, I’m pretty much full right now, so I’ll leave too. Thank you very much for treating me with such delicious meals.”
Akira had eaten quite a lot of dishes, and the final empty space in his stomach was already filled with coffee and desserts. Since he did not want to turn the entrance of the meals into the exit, Akira reluctantly decided to stop there.
As Shiori was making the payment, Akira received his guns back. When he heard the total bill for the meals they had, he decided to just forget it by convincing himself that he must have misheard it.
With his current earning ability, it was very unlikely that he would ever come to this restaurant ever again for the time being. After they left the restaurant, Akira said his thanks to Shiori one more time before going back home.
After Akira left, Shiori picked her information terminal and called her colleague.
“It’s me, please tell Milady that I’m on my way back now.”
“Alright. So, are you okay? He didn’t rip your limbs, right? Milady is really worried, you know.”
The person, who Shiori was talking to, said something so awful like it was none of her business. Shiori then replied back with a serious expression.
“I’m alright. Kanae, you didn’t say anything unnecessary to Milady, did you?”
“We just had some small talks about the current situation.”
“To be more precise, what were you girls talking about?”
“A lot of things, like Milady’s work as a Hunter or any interesting Hunters that Milady knows. Then we talked about the underground city too. Milady also told me the story where you almost got killed too, you know? You went to meet that Hunter today, right?”
Shiori sounded annoyed as she sternly said to Kanae.
“…Didn’t I tell you to avoid talking about the underground city when you talk with Milady?”
“We somehow ended up talking about that due to the flow of the conversation, you see. And unlike you, I’m basically a soldier, so I’m not good with that kind of stuff. If you have anything to complain about, then you should return back here as soon as possible.”
“I’m already on my way.”
Shiori then ended the call after she said that.
Inside a mansion in the middle district behind the city wall, a young girl wearing a maid uniform lightly smiled while looking at her information terminal as her call ended just a moment ago. It was Shiori’s colleague, Kanae.
Though she looked like a young girl, her age was unknown. However, there was a shred of innocence in that smile of her’s. Yet from the outside, it looked like nothing but a mischievous smile.
Kanae imagined the kind of face Shiori would be making as she mumbled.
“She sounded pretty annoyed.”
Although Kanae was wearing an outfit which looked like a normal maid uniform from the outside, it was actually made of enhanced fibres, making it bulletproof and stab-proof. It was more or less as strong as the armour that Hunters commonly used. Kanae was wearing such an armour since she would need to take blows in order to protect Reina in case of an emergency. The black tights that extended from under her skirt was a part of her augmented suit that she was wearing under the maid uniform.
Kanae was there as Reina’s bodyguard. Although her job as a bodyguard was more or less the same as Shiori, unlike Shiori, her duty didn’t extend to taking care of Reina. Kanae was actually a soldier who had no maid skill, so she would never get assigned to such a job normally. The maid outfit was only to disguise herself so that she would not cause a ruckus in the middle district as well as simply out of her employer’s preference.
After she closed her information terminal, she returned back to Reina’s room. Since Shiori was sent to the hospital after her fight against Akira, Reina was told to take a break from her Hunter job until Shiori recovered. Reina was studying inside her room when Kanae spoke to her.
“Milady, Ane-san is already on her way back.”
“Ane-san? Ahh, Shiori, huh. Uhh, is she alright?”
“It seems that she’s not injured at all. She also said that she’ll return here as soon as possible, so I’m sure she’s alright.”
“Thank goodness. It’s all your fault for saying all of those worrying things to me, you know. Don’t scare me like that again.”
Reina looked relieved, but her expression turned stern as she scolded Kanae.
Kanae swiftly replied back.
“People die when they die. And it’s doubly true for people who do a dangerous job like the Hunters. You need quite a determination when you step out of the city wall on your own volition, you know?”
Reina sounded rather annoyed as she said.
“…Well, that’s true, but still…”
After passing her post to Kanae, Shiori quickly went out without even telling Reina where she was going. It was also Reina, who told Kanae, to check on Shiori’s safety.
All this while, Kanae was whispering worrying things to Reina like ‘Shiori might not be able to come back alive’. Only after confirming Shiori’s safety, did Reina realise that everything Kanae said was nothing but jokes. If not, just her honest opinion.
In truth, before she even went to meet Akira, Shiori had finished leaving her will and instructions to tie up any leftover business in case she died.
Kanae was somehow able to read what was in Shiori’s mind when she saw her off. She then thought while carefully making sure that it would not show on her face.
[…Ane-san told me to assume that she’s dead and act accordingly if I can’t contact her for 24 hours. She even arranged for soldiers to be dispatched if she was killed. Although our current situation is dangerous enough that Ane-san might get killed, Milady’s sense of danger is still too naive.]
Kanae realized just how naive Reina was, but she did not find that unpleasant at all. It could be said that it was because Reina was living a comfortable life since Shiori was always there to support her. And if she made another blunder, the situation might roll to the direction that Kanae preferred.
Kanae was a battle maniac, she herself understood that very well. Thus she had no complaints about her employer as long as she got enough reward and was able to experience good fights.
It was Shiori’s duty to teach Reina to avoid any needless danger. So Kanae had no plans to fix Reina’s sense of danger.
It did not take long for Shiori to arrive. After she changed to her maid uniform, she then went to explain the reason why she went out to Reina.
Although the incident with Akira was resolved, Reina might make a similar mistake if she was not made aware of the gravity of the situation. Thus, Shiori carefully explained everything to Reina.
After she finished listening to Shiori’s explanation, Reina then asked Shiori.
“…So, basically, Akira is not angry or anything, right?”
“Since nothing happened, then there’s nothing to be angry about. At least that’s Akira-sama’s current stance. Thus, just to be safe, I want to tell Milady that Milady should not try thanking him or apologizing to him because of that incident since nothing had happened between us. Not only doing such a thing might bring the whole problem back to square one, but it might also be taken as a form of harassment since Akira-sama has signed a confidentiality contract with the City Management. So, please be extra careful about this subject.”
For Reina, it was a big disappointment since not only could she not say sorry after she caused so much trouble because of her blunder, she also could not convey her thanks after she got herself and Shiori saved by Akira. But if it would cause Akira more problems, then it was a whole different story.
Reina sounded apologetic as she said.
“…I see, I understand now.”
Shiori somehow understood what went through Reina’s mind, she then smiled and said.
“I’ve conveyed our thanks and apology to Akira-sama, it seemed that he also really enjoyed the meal. So I believe it’s alright for Milady to stop worrying about that.”
Kanae smiled and interjected.
“Milady, if you’re still angry for getting abandoned there, I can just go and give him a good beating in secret, you know?”
Reina and Shiori immediately turned at Kanae and sent their intense glare to her. Kanae winced back as she pretended that it was a joke.
“Oof, I guess I went too far. You know, like, I just thought that saying something like that might cheer everyone up, no ill-feeling intended at all, alright? It’s not like Milady is a saint either, so I just thought that there’s no way Milady is not at all angry about that part, okay? Ah, I’m sorry if I’m mistaken here.”
Reina and Shiori were still sending death glares to Kanae.
“Stop there, Kanae.”
It was not like Reina and Shiori had no ill feelings toward Akira at all. Although it was true that he had no duty or reason to save Reina, Akira did abandon her to die in that incident. But it was all because of Reina’s fault in the first place and he did save both of them in the end. Thus both Reina and Shiori were not as shameless as to vent their displeasure toward Akira.
Kanae then lightly apologized.
“I was just joking. I’m sorry that I went too far.”
Kanae actually was interested in knowing Akira’s real strength since he was able to fight evenly against Shiori even after Shiori used her trump card. Kanae was even thinking of pretending not to know anything or misunderstand the information given to her to mess a bit with Akira. But after seeing how Shiori and Reina reacted, she decided to give up that plan.
[Leaving Milady aside, to see that even Ane-san, who thinks about nothing but Milady, would react like this. This Akira guy must be a really dangerous guy. Yep, this is interesting.]
Unlike Shiori, Kanae was not very loyal to her employer nor to the person that she was assigned to as a bodyguard. Although she could feel their gratitude; good reward and a pleasant working environment were much more enticing. Kanae might cover for Reina and go as far as sacrificing herself, but it was because it was her job and not because of her loyalty toward Reina.
Kanae also knew well just how loyal Shiori was toward Reina. That was why she couldn’t believe that Shiori did not feel any grudge against Akira, who abandoned the object of her loyalty to die. If it was indeed true, then it carried a huge meaning.
She could come up with two possible reasons. One, because Shiori’s gratitude toward Akira, who ended up saving Reina, outweighed her grudge. Two, because Shiori was afraid of expressing her grudge towards Akira.
Kanae lightly smiled, hoping that it was the latter.
Akira was enjoying the bath inside his house while reminiscing the taste of the meals that he ate in the restaurant that day, he looked like he was in a good mood. And just like always, Alpha was also together with him in that bath. Although there was a goddess-level beautiful naked girl beside him, for the young Akira, who was of the age where delicious food was more interesting than a girl, his mind was filled with the memory of those delicious foods, so much that he ignored Alpha even more than usual.
“That was really amazing. I want to go there again. I guess I have one more reason to earn more money now, huh.”
“It’s good that you discover more things that you can enjoy in life… But you can’t go there with your current earning, you know?”
“…You’re right. Now that I think about it, I didn’t really consider the price back then, huh. I can’t really go to that restaurant again until I can at least pay those meals like it was nothing.”
Being a Hunter was an expensive job, there were equipment expenses, ammo cost, and treatment cost when injured. For the current Akira, it would be very difficult to eat in that restaurant using his own money. It was not like he could not afford to pay the bill, but that would mean that he would have to cut other expenses which would increase his chances of getting killed. At least, until the day when he earned a stable income to pay for his own expense, he would have to stay with frozen food.
“Now that I remember it, there were many cyborgs inside that restaurant. I wonder if they ate their meals in the end? And if they did, what would happen to the food that they ate?”
“For those cyborgs who have an organic furnace installed inside their body, the food that they eat will be broken down and then converted into energy or become one with their biological organs. But for those cyborgs who don’t have such a thing, I’m sure they’ll take the food out from their body later.”
“And then after that?”
“Throw them away, I guess.”
“So it’s basically purely for their eye’s pleasure, huh. I bet those cyborgs have a whole lot of money with them so that they can even enjoy such a luxury.”
Akira looked exasperated. For him who had grown up in the slum city where getting food was a matter of life and death, he found such behaviour disgusting. But it had a very important significance for the cyborgs, so important that there were demands for developing foods for cyborgs. After all, it was a matter that affected their psychical health.
“Well, just because they exchanged their biological organs for mechanical ones, it does not remove their desire to drink and eat. In exchange for getting a body that is stronger than their organic body, they have to take care of problems that they could have easily solved when they had organic bodies. Of course, there are high-quality cyborg bodies that would allow them to solve those problems easily, but I’m sure they cost much more. Also, there are only a very small portion of people who can afford those high-quality cyborg bodies like the staff from big companies, people from super-rich families, or those Hunters who work on the frontline.”
“…That does sound super expensive. It doesn’t seem like I would be able to get one just from selling mountains of relics. Now that I remember it, those relic Hunters were cyborgs too, right? They even took their chance stealing those relics even if it meant having to fight the City Management, I wonder if they wanted that much money in order to buy such kind of cyborg body.”
Akira remembered about Nelia and Yajima. Up until now, no matter how much money was at stake, Akira never thought that any amount of money was worth fighting against the City Management. But that might not be true for the people who got turned into a cyborg because of some kind of accident or after getting attacked by monsters and had to live their life in a body that could not even process food. For them, getting a high-quality cyborg body that could process food as if it was a normal biological body, and then using it to enjoy expensive meals in a high-class restaurant would be like a dream come true. Since Akira had already tasted the pleasure of such a delicious meal, he somehow understood why people with cyborg bodies would even do something like that.
During the night of the same day, Akira saw a dream. He was fighting against Nelia in his dream.
Akira was desperately trying to evade Nelia’s attacks as she was swinging the blades in both of her hands at him. Although it was a difficult place to move around freely with all the rubbles around them, both Akira and Nelia were not bothered by those rubbles at all.
There was no opening where Akira could slip any counter-attack. Because there was a big gap between their skills, he was only able to barely survive Nelia’s onslaught. Akira was unarmed in his dream. Nelia was not someone that Akira could defeat without any weapons, his kicks and punches could not damage her cyborg body at all. Not to mention that Nelia might even cut his limbs if he tried to attack her.
Akira turned to Alpha and asked in a panic.
“My rifles?! Where’s my CWH anti-material rifle?! There’s no way I can win this fight without it!!”
“You lost your CWH anti-material rifle, remember? You need to buy a new one from Shizuka later.”
“Ah, that’s right!!”
Although there were a lot of strange things happening, Akira did not realize that he was in a dream.
“Now that I remember it, I did go to Shizuka’s shop not too long ago, right?! So why didn’t I buy one back then?!”
“There’s no way you can use that rifle without an augmented suit, you know? You did lose your augmented suit too, remember?”
“Ah, you’re right!… Hm, wait?”
Akira checked his equipment while making a puzzled face. He was not wearing his augmented suit, not even an armour, but the same durable clothes that he received from Kibayashi.
His movements immediately dulled the moment he realized that. After all, without his augmented suit, Alpha could not give her support and his physical capability would return back to normal.
When his movement dulled, Nelia did not let that chance slip as she quickly lunged at Akira. He could see Nelia’s blades chasing for his neck in slow motion.
[Ah, I’m dead.]
As that thought ran through Akira’s mind, Nelia’s blade separated his head from his body.
[I really wish I can at least taste those foods again…]
That was his last thought as he looked down on his headless body that fell down to the floor in front of him, then his consciousness was swallowed by the darkness.
Akira suddenly woke up from his dream. He looked around and realized that he was on his bed inside his room. It was dark since it was still very early in the morning. Trembling, he moved his hands to his neck. Once he confirmed that his neck was still attached to his body, he realized that it was only a dream.
“…Just a dream, huh.”
Alpha looked worried and asked Akira.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just had a weird dream. But I’m okay now.”
Even after replying, Akira did not shift his gaze from Alpha.
In reality, Akira did survive his fight against Nelia. But in his dream, he was killed by Nelia when he lost Alpha’s support.
The current Akira and the Akira in his dream were not that different. If for some reason, he lost Alpha’s support, he might simply drop dead just like inside his dream.
[The me from that dream is the current me, with my real strength.]
Because of his luck, he was able to meet Alpha and was receiving her support since then. That was the only thing that allowed Akira to survive until now. But not even he knew just how long his luck would remain.
As Akira kept staring at Alpha without saying anything, she just smiled mischievously and said.
“What’s wrong? Are you falling for my beautiful face again?”
Akira retained his serious face.
“…Alpha, for how long are you planning to keep giving me your support?”
Alpha sounded puzzled as she answered back.
“Of course I’m planning to keep giving you my support until you are finished with my request. Why did you ask that question so suddenly?”
“I just thought that rather than asking me, wouldn’t it be better if you ask one of those veteran Hunters out there? The reason why you got in that contract with me is because I can connect to the old-world domain, right? So like, I’m sure I’m not the only Hunter in this world who can connect to the old-world domain. I bet you can find another better Hunter if you look for one, right? Ah, but rather than looking for another person who can connect to the old-world domain, I can just post a request in your name to accomplish your request, right?”
Hearing Akira’s answer, Alpha stared into his eyes. Akira too stared back at hers, awaiting her reply. There was a moment of silence before she answered his question with a serious expression.
“I have no plans to neither interrogate you nor to make you confess what made you think that I might stop giving you my support. But I’ll at least make this one thing clear to you. My support is just the front payment for doing my request. So I’ll keep following you until you finish my request even if you don’t want me to.”
“…I see, you’re right.”
Since Akira received Alpha’s support, he had the debt and duty to accomplish her request. Even if he thought that it would be better for her to replace him, even if that was the truth, Alpha would not let him get away from her, that was what she meant between the lines.
Akira was relieved after hearing Alpha’s answer. To be honest, he even felt a bit guilty for receiving such superb support from Alpha since he sometimes felt that he did not deserve it. But on the other hand, somewhere inside him, Akira knew that Alpha intentionally said that to him since she knew that it would give him a sense of reassurance.
Akira smiled and said.
“I see, I’ll go back to sleep then.”
Alpha smiled and replied back.
“Good night, I hope you’ll get a nice dream this time.”
“I think it’ll be okay.”
Akira laid down on his bed again. Since his worry was already cleared, he quickly drifted back to sleep.
For some reason, Akira was sure that even if he got the same dream again, it would not end the same way as his previous one.