Chapter 280: Growing Out Of The Poor Shell
After spending days out in the wasteland, Akira was finally in the slums of Kugamayama City. More specifically, he was in Sheryls HQ, completely revelling in his time in their wide, spacious bath.
After the huge fight in the afternoon, he was physically and psychically drained. He could tell if he let his guard down, his consciousness would melt into the warm water. Nonetheless, his body gradually sunk into the water. Watching him, Alpha, who was also in the bath albeit only as a hologram, warned him.
“Akira, if you fall asleep, you will drown.”
Akira pushed his body back up. He fixed his posture. Unfortunately, his drowsiness continued to pervade him. As he was bobbing his head, having a hard time holding it up, Carol, who was physically present, prompted him.
“Akira, if youre too sleepy, you can just sleep here. Ill hold your body up.”
Akira had his eyelids already half-closed as he turned toward Carol. Seeing his exhausted face, Carol gave a soft smile.
“If its too much to handle, Ill be there to help you. I did say something like that, remember”
“Ah, thats right.. Ill leave… The rest… To you… Then…”
While in his hazy conscious state, Akira believed that it should be fine. Thus, he left everything else to Carol. As his consciousness turned dark, his eyelids slowly closed. He gradually lost control of his body as the exhaustion crept in. Eventually, he laid his body on her.
Carol received him and hugged him. Since Carol now had full control of Akiras body, she moved Akira in front of her and hugged him from behind. Thanks to Carols plentiful chest, which she nurtured to seduce men, Akira was lulled to sleep until he finally closed his eyes. Carol was looking at him with a gentle smile on her face. It was obvious she was enjoying this.
Sheryl stared at Carol and Akira as it happened.
“You two are pretty close.”
“Hmm Well, we did entrust our lives to each other back in the wasteland, after all. So, this much is nothing.”
Sheryl pouted. That was not something that she could do. Even if she made her resolve and went out to the wasteland together with Akira, she would be nothing but a burden. She would basically be an amateur Hunter after all. Thus, she was doing her best to support and help Akira. She wanted to help him with everything but knew her own limitations when it came to fighting.
[As I thought… Everything else is not as meaningful as being able to fight side by side with him…] Sheryl sighed inside her heart and said.
“…Carol-san, Im sure that youre exhausted as well. So, I can take your place if you want.”
“Its fine. I have a nanomachine-enhanced body, after all.”
They both stayed close, next to the sleeping Akira. They both wished to stay beside him in the future as well. One was smiling brightly while the other was smiling wryly.
After the bath, due to Sheryls suggestion, Akira decided to sleep in Sheryls room. Carol simply smiled and did not say anything.
Back in the wasteland. In the Lion Steel facility in Higaraka residence ruin, Pamela gave a full report to Chloe, who was still inside the inner wall.
Chloe was reflected on a display. Although she seemed calm after hearing Pamelas report, there was no smile on her face.
“…I see, so, Latis is gone.”
“Yes, but he still can move. Im controlling his body right now.”
Behind Pamela was Latis corpse. It had gone through a simple medical procedure and was standing. Unfortunately, it was impossible to control his expression. Thus, Latis was simply staring blankly, expressionless. His corpse had been turned into a remote biological automaton.
“Chloe-sama. To continue my duty, I wish to be granted permission to use Rank 9 equipment.”
Chloe looked at Pamela in confusion.
“I dont have the authority to grant you that. Im sure you are aware, no”
“I am aware. My hope is for Chloe-sama to convey this request to the branch head, Beltram-sama.”
“…What are you planning to do with this equipment”
“Of course, I will hunt Akira and Reina down with it. Unfortunately, the Hunters could not take Akira down even when they prepared equipment and tools worthy of a 50 billion Aurum bounty hunt. We could increase Akiras bounty. But at this point, it would be more efficient to hunt him down ourselves. Weve also confirmed intervention from the fourth ward. So, I am sure that Beltram-sama would understand this as a necessity.”
“Im sure he doesnt want you to kill Reinas group though. Whats more, if a battle between wards breaks out, Im sure that the branch heads would have to make their moves as well. I think we can deal with Reinas group when that happens.”
“Considering that they attacked us with such precise timing, it is likely they are already working with Akira. Weve also received a report that the head of the fourth ward, Flip-sama, had made contact with Akira as well. Im certain Beltram-sama will not keep quiet for long. Thus, I believe this is a good opportunity to take care of Reinas group, along with Akira.”
Chloe frowned. She noticed how Pamela kept coming up with counterarguments. This was no longer a matter of a servant presenting her master with options. Instead, she was pushing Chloe to make a specific decision. The authority to make a decision laid on the master, not the servant. Chloe glared at Pamela through the display. She placed a unique pressure on her, as a member of the founding family of Lion Steel.
Even so, Pamela did not step back. Her eyes were filled with emotions as she stared back at Chloe.
Chloe gave a light sigh and disengaged from the staring contest.
“…Fine. I will ask the branch head. Well then, its already pretty late. I will end the call here. Pamela, take a good rest and prepare for your next task.”
“Thank you very much.”
Pamela gave a deep bow and closed the call. After Chloe disappeared from the display, Latis walked and stood beside her. Pamela smiled at him. Although this was still his real body, he was already dead and got turned into an automaton.
“Latis, lets do our best.”
Pamelas smile was tainted by the insanity stirring inside her.
After Pamela closed the call, Chloe sighed once again and looked up at the ceiling.
“So… Latis is gone… huh…”
Chloe was still quite young. It would still feel natural to call her a little girl. For such a young girl, it was natural for her to hold feelings toward him, a loyal servant, who had served and supported her for years.
As a member of the founder family of Lion Steel, she never revealed her longing for him. Even if she had to hide how she felt, it did not mean such emotions went away. She had always thought that one day, when she had enough influence and power, she would convey her feelings to Latis. A day when someone she loved got taken as hostage would be trivial to resolve with her power and influence.
But that day would never come.
Beads of tears formed and ran down her cheek. Chloe kept wiping them off with her finger and flicking them away.
It was indeed depressing to lose someone important to her. However, she could not allow it to affect her. As a member of the Lorentz family, it was something that she was not allowed to do. That was just how she was brought up, and that was what she had decided to do. Being unable to express her sorrow except with tears, only showed her immaturity. She shed her last tear and wiped it away. It was as if she had declared that final teardrop to suffice as a representation of her sorrow and that she had overcome Latis death.
She then sighed once more. But this time, she had a sorrowful look on her face.
“…But still, losing two servants really hurts.”
Chloe already knew that Pamelas goal had shifted to taking revenge. However, she was completely fine with it. The only thing that bothered her was Pamelas overwhelming desire for revenge, which had taken priority over her loyalty toward the company. A servant who prioritized their own desires over their master was no servant at all.
With Latis gone and Pamelas change in attitude, Chloe had effectively lost two of her retinues.
“Up until now, Ive been using both of them as my extension outside the inner wall. I must now think of another way…”
Since Chloe no longer recognized Pamela as her servant, she had no other choice but to abandon her.
The next day, Akira woke up in Sheryls room. As he was about to push his body up from the bed, he felt something obstruct him. He turned his head and noticed Sheryl was using him as a pillow. Therefore, he carefully moved her aside, so as not to wake her up, and left the bed.
That was when Alpha greeted him.
“Morning, Akira! How was your sleep”
“Alpha, morning! I think I slept pretty well. Carols camping vehicle is comfortable but its just that as I thought, I can sleep much better on a proper bed.”
Akira stated. Alpha smiled wryly and said to him.
“Well, from what you said, it seems like you really did have an amazing sleep.”
“Why are you emphasising that”
“Unlike when you slept in the middle of the wasteland, everyone basically now knows where you are. Dont you feel anxious at all”
“Ahhh, you have a point.”
Akira broke out a smile. It did make sense now that Alpha mentioned it.
“…Well, it should be fine. If something happens, Im sure youll wake me up, right I will at least have enough time to put on my augmented suit… Right”
“Of course! You can leave that to me.”
Alpha smiled confidently and proclaimed. Akira also smiled back at her with confidence.
Sheryl suddenly woke up and looked around, confused.
“…Akira, good morning. Who are you talking to”
“Nah, I was just talking to myself.”
“… Is that so”
Akira replied so nonchalantly that Sheryl did not find it suspicious at all. Thus, she dropped the subject.
Noticing that he escaped from scrutiny, Akira exhaled in relief. He still maintained his expression as he telepathically spoke to Alpha.
“…That was dangerous, I should be more careful.”
“Well, I guess that just means that you were really able to relax here.”
Seeing Alpha smiling teasingly at him, Akira made a bitter smile. He reminded himself to be extra careful.
Around the same time, Katsuragi was driving his trailer through the slums, which were not normally empty. As usual, Darris was sitting on the seat beside him. However, for some reason, he was frowning. He was looking at Katsuragi with a stern gaze.
“Say, Katsuragi… Are you sure we will be okay Dont you think this is a little too dangerous”
Even Katsuragi seemed to be as equally worried as Darris. However, since he had made his decision, there was no hesitation in his voice.
“I know. But if this goes well, it will be massively profitable. This is a golden opportunity. You know that, right”
“Of course, I know. But… If it doesnt go well, they will hunt us like fugitives, you know”
Katsuragi laughed heartily as if to push aside his doubts and worries.
“Dont worry! Compared to that time when we went to the frontline like a couple of madmen, this is basically nothing!”
“Is that so I honestly think this time is more or less as dangerous as that time, though. We almost got killed back then too, remember If we hadnt met Akira, we would have been dead by now, you know”
“But that doesnt change the fact that were still alive and kicking now! Also, what Akira did back then was basically hold off a whole monster swarm. He did it with just a single AAH assault rifle, right So, if all of us have better equipment, hell do just fine. Thats where Ill place my bets!”
The trailer was filled to the brim. It was filled with powerful equipment that no normal Hunters around Kugamayama city would be able to afford. Naturally, Katsuragi would normally not deal with these kinds of equipment. However, he did this only for one person. He was betting everything on Akira.
“And if we can sell everything to him, it can be chalked up as a single favour from us! We can also get even more money! We cant afford to let this chance slip by! Darris, you should get yourself fired up too!!”
Darris had been together with Katsuragi for a long time. As he recalled all the crazy things that they did together out in the wasteland, Darris smiled and agreed.
“Geez, it cant be helped then! Good grief! Here we are, running through the slums but it feels as tense as the front-line wasteland!”
At the moment, a 50 billion bounty target was hiding inside the slums. Thus, there was a high chance high-ranking Hunters after Akira would attack the slums. Darris was aware of this and was keeping his eyes on the scanner, which kept close watch of his surroundings.
“Katsuragi! Im basically helping you go through this dangerous place. So, make sure to pay me handsomely if this goes well, yeah”
“Of course! So, make sure that you do your job properly, okay!”
Katsuragi and Darris were laughing. Everything out of their mouth was spoken at the top of their lungs as they were heading toward Sheryls HQ, where Akira was.
As Akira was checking his equipment inside the camping vehicle, he received a message from Katsuragi. Thus, he decided to go out of HQ to greet him. He opened up the robust shutter to allow Katsuragi in. Once Katsuragi moved the trailer inside, the shutter closed once again. Akira stared at Katsuragi, who was in the drivers seat with a solemn expression.
“Katsuragi, let me confirm this first. Its only you and Darris in that trailer, right”
“Yeah, I came here with powerful equipment specifically for you. After all, you got a 50 billion bounty on your head. Feel free to thank me.”
As Katsuragi spoke in a good mood, Akiras gaze turned cold.
“Alright then. In that case, you dont mind if I kill anyone else inside that trailer, right”
Katsuragi was obviously confused. Darris, on the other hand, quickly understood what was going on and reached for his rifle. He quickly aimed it inside the trailer. Meanwhile, he used his information-gathering device to check for anyone else inside. However, he did not find anyone else. He still had his rifle aimed inside the trailer as he glanced at Akira and asked.
“Akira… There should be no one else other than us here. Is there someone else”
Akira lowered his shoulders and shook his head.
“Nope, sorry. It was just to be safe.”
Katsuragi and Darris sighed in relief at the exact same time.
“Good grief, dont scare me like that!”
“Sorry, I had to at least be this cautious. Im sure you can understand that too, right”
“Well, yeah. But if you would go this far, Im sure you know just how dangerous it is for us to do this, right”
“Yeah, and Im thankful for it.”
“Thats good to hear. Come in then.”
Katsuragi changed gear and invited Akira in from the back door of the trailer. He and Darris also moved to the back of the trailer. He had the weapons he was so proud of behind him. Katsuragi looked at Akira with a serious expression of a merchant.
“Let me tell you this beforehand. I will give you a tour of my goods, but the price would be the wasteland price. You might accuse me of greatly jacking up the price. However, from my perspective, Im basically selling weapons, ammo, and medicine to a 50 billion bounty target set by Lion Steel. This price reflects the risk we are taking. So I wont accept any complaints, alright”
“I know. Dont worry. Kibayashi also warned me about that before.”
“Alright then. Lets start. Ah, by the way, Im fine if you want to bargain, so feel free to do so.”
Katsuragis smile was one typical of a merchant. He wore it as he started giving Akira a tour inside his trailer.
Akira was listening to Katsuragi while looking around together with Carol and Sheryl.
Sheryls eyes popped out when she found out that most of the goods here could easily cost above 100 million Aurum. However, watching how Carol and Akira were so calm about it, she felt this huge gap between them. She could not help but feel a bit discouraged by it.
Carol thought that they were indeed rather expensive, but considering the situation that Akira was in, it was understandable to some extent. Thus, she bitterly smiled. She then casually asked Akira about his budget.
“Akira, do you think you can buy some If its too expensive, I dont mind helping you with the bargaining if you want me to.”
Akira pondered over it for a moment. He believed Carol would include her side job into the bargain, so he shook his head and said.
“No, its fine.”
“You dont need to hold back, you know”
“You can do whatever you want with the ones that youre going to buy. As for me, Ill just buy mine normally.”
Hearing that, Carols smile turned rather stiff.
“…Akira, are you… bothered by that kind of thing”
“10 billion Aurum per night, right Even I have no desire to owe you that big of a debt. So, Ill thank you for your offer but still refuse. Thank you for the offer.”
Carol was relieved after Akira expressed himself. She then continued browsing the other items available.
“I see. In that case, I guess I will also just buy them normally…”
Akira also continued browsing the items. But since all of them were extremely expensive, he was having a hard time adjusting his budget. As he was pondering over his choices, no good idea came up. Suddenly, a telepathic call from Shirou reached him.
“Akira, you need money, right”
“I have some here, you know Of course, you have to pay it back later.”
“So, youre planning to make me take on your request as repayment, huh”
“Exactly. I helped you back then during that fight against those Hunters as well. Adding that into the equation, you should owe me enough to take my request, no”
In order to encourage Akira to take his request, Shirou had to help Akira first. That was the reason why he was travelling with Akira in the first place. Though, because he was so close, he got involved in the hunt for Akira. Nonetheless, that was an opportunity to provide support to Akira. With his previous support and the sum he was going to lend Akira, he thought that it should be sufficient to make Akira accept his request.
However, Akira rejected his offer.
“I see. But unfortunately, it is not enough.”
“What! You might have gotten killed back there if it wasnt for my help, you know Thats just how valuable my help is, no”
“Yeah, I do think so.”
“Then why Wouldnt it be enough already”
“Because I evened it out when I didnt tell Yanagisawa of your location. As a matter of fact, considering how strong those two were, I would even say you owe me one. After all, those two were even more powerful than those Hunters, and you know it. Furthermore, Yanagisawa said that he would kill me if I dont tell them your location. Even so, I still refused to tell them. That one is a huge favour from me, dont you think”
Shirou went silent. Since he knew just how powerful Hammerz was, he could not refute Akiras words. He only thought that Akira refused to leak his location because of pride. However, it does not change the fact that it would have been the end of him if Akira had told them his location. As he thought it over and really could not bring himself to say,that it was not counted since he never asked him to do so.
Akira then continued.
“And also, if youre seriously thinking of employing me for firepower, you should pay for all my equipment instead of just a part of it. That way, I will get better equipment, which is also a good thing for you, right”
“Thats true, but still…”
“I can promise you that I will use all the money you give me for equipment. Well, I wont tell you to believe me or anything. And I wont force you either. Its completely up to you.”
Shirou hesitated. It was a promise offered by someone who would not confess even when faced with Yanagisawa. Therefore, Akiras promise was something he could rely on. Judging from Akiras battle against the Hunters, there was no denying Akira was indeed a powerful Hunter. Furthermore, it would be awful for him as well if Akira died. Overall, it was not a bad idea to increase Akiras upfront payment.
Even so, with no Chrome left, if Shirou also lost all his Aurum, it would really be the end if Akira died or betrayed him. Thus, he could not make his decision. He could not decide whether to place all his bets on Akira or not.
As such, he chose to make a compromise.
“…How about this instead As a form of upfront payment, I will pay for everything this time. How much will you owe me if I do that I know that your situation is not that good right now, but I can say the same for me as well.”
“Depending on my situation after I got my new equipment from Saka**a Heavy Industry, I at least will be willing to prioritize your request.”
“And when will that equipment arrive”
“In about a week if Im lucky, a month if nothing bad happens, and three months if Im really unlucky. Or so I was told about a week ago.”
“What the heck, its already been a week since then”
The time window that Sugadome gave to Shirou was only 1 month, of which he had already used 1 week. It was a bit doubtful if he could wait until Akiras new equipment arrived.
“Akira, do you need that equipment from Saka**a Heavy Industry no matter what”
“Like I said. It would depend on the situation. If Chloe dies before it arrives, I have no reason to break through the inner wall. Depending on how much I owe you, I dont mind doing your request first while waiting for my new equipment. Though, I can get much stronger if you are willing to wait. Unless theres something important. To be honest, I would rather wait for my new equipment.”
Shirou was in a pickle. Though it depended on his luck, waiting was not completely out of the question. Thus, he decided to try to increase that possibility as much as possible with his own effort.
“Alright then. Thats good enough for me.”
“I know Im the one who suggested it but are you really fine with that”
“Yeah. I dont want you to die after all. I will handle the account transfer from here. Later then.”
Shirou then closed the call. That was right when Katsuragi finished the tour.
“Akira, that would be all the items that I have today… I know that your budget is not unlimited. It would all be in vain if you are too frugal now and end up getting yourself killed, yeah I think its better if you spend as much as you can here.”
Katsuragi believed that Akiras budget this time was tighter than usual. Thus, he said that in an attempt to push him to spend more. Katsuragi was greatly amazed when he heard the news that Akira managed to repel the Hunters who came after him. Unfortunately, that event would not yield Akira any funding. As a matter of fact, Akira would have had to spend a lot to repel them.
Even when he was aware of this, Katsuragi still stuffed his trailer with expensive equipment and came to Akira. This was all based on nothing but his intuition. That was why he made an offer to Akira.
“But well, if you dont have enough to purchase what you want, here is the thing. About the bargaining I mentioned earlier…”
“Ahh, dont worry about that. I will just buy them normally.”
Katsuragi was obviously taken aback.
However, Akira simply ignored him as he casually picked some equipment off the shelves. An augmented suit, ammo, medicines, bike parts. He carried all kinds of things off from the trailer and unloaded them into the garage.
“I guess this should be enough. Katsuragi, how much is the total”
Katsuragi managed to return to reality as he awkwardly calculated the total.
“A-ah, r-right! Rounding it up, it is 16 billion Aurum.”
Akira took out his Hunter ID and casually handed it over to Katsuragi. Katsuragi clumsily received the ID with a stiff smile. He processed the payment, and as expected, it went through without an issue.
The moment Katsuragi saw the payment notice, he was so shocked that he nearly fainted. Thankfully, Darris flusteredly held Katsuragi up.
“Katsuragi! Get a hold of yourself!”
Seeing how Katsuragi was laughing awkwardly due to the shock, Akira was reminded of the amount of money that he used in that transaction.
“…I heard that even 10 billion Aurum is only spare change. But… Yeah… As I thought… It is not really something that can be considered as a small sum….”
Alpha smiled wryly when she heard him say that.
“It seems like youve grown to the point where your equipment can no longer be bought using spare change anymore. But front-line equipment is even stronger than this. Make sure you dont let your guard down. Lets continue to wait for them to arrive, okay”
“Of course… But still, it makes me wonder just how crazy the eastern front-line is.”
Akira began to imagine a perilous place. A place which even his new 16 billion Aurum equipment would not suffice. A place where he had to get even stronger equipment just to have a chance to survive. As his thoughts wandered off, his body continued to move as he proceeded to prepare his new equipment.
Meanwhile, Katsuragi continued to laugh awkwardly. It took some time before he could finally calm down.
Seeing Akira preparing his new equipment, Sheryl lightly sighed and thought.
[16 billion Aurum, huh The gap between us is only getting wider again…]
The relics from Tsubakis area, which were coming to her shop with the help of Inabe, were a huge boon to her relic shop business. Unfortunately, Sheryl could only support Akira for about 100 million Aurum.
She thought that at this rate, she should be able to repay all her debt to Akira soon. However, upon seeing how Akira just paid 16 billion Aurum like it was nothing. She felt disheartened. After all, her perceived worth of 100 million Aurum crashed right into the ground.
Furthermore, the relic shop was temporarily put on hold because of the current situation. The size of the gang had also greatly diminished as well. It had become exceedingly difficult for her to repay Akira.
Sheryl could not hide her sorrow. She had thought that she was slowly but surely getting closer to Akira. But now, reality has hit her. She found out that was not the case at all.
Eventually, Katsuragi returned to his senses. He heaved a huge sigh wearing an equally huge smile. He glanced at Sheryl with a frown.
“Sheryl, just when exactly did Akira become able to casually pay that much I heard that he received quite a lot from the inter-city transport escort mission. However, I thought that he had already spent it all on his own equipment.”
“…Its Akira, after all. Im sure hes earning from other sources as well.”
“You have a point…”
Judging from Sheryls reaction, Katsuragi was certain that Sheryl was equally clueless about how Akira had earned so much. Thus, he began to be suspicious of Akiras relationship with Sheryl. After all, Akira did not even share his monetary sources with her. Since he thought that it was better to keep it to himself, Katsuragi did not voice it out.
Sheryl naturally noticed. However, she was pretending not to notice. Thus, she asked Katsuragi in a manner which seemed as if she was venting.
“Katsuragi-san, if you really had thought that Akira did not have that much, then why did you come here with all this expensive equipment I dont see how that would be useful to you at all. After all, even if you brought them here, Akira would not have been able to purchase them.”
“Ahh, well, about that, I just thought that if its Akira, then it should be okay. Well, it turns out that my hunch was right, no That just means my intuition as a merchant is as good as ever. Though I might sound haughty, feel free to admire my merchant skill. After all, I did not let this chance slip by.”
Katsuragi really thought that Akira would not be able to afford anything but a handful of ammo. The reason why he brought expensive equipment, knowing Akira would most likely not be able to purchase them, was to lure Akira to negotiate with him.
As a 50 billion bounty target, many Hunters were closely observing Akiras moves. When Akira managed to repel the groups of Hunters that attacked him, it was only natural for other Hunters to get interested in his equipment. It was an extremely effective method of advertising.
Katsuragi had brought the expensive equipment from Kiryou and TOSON, using Kibayashi as an intermediary to procure them. He was planning on renting them to Akira, which would bind him under a contract. If everything went as he had envisioned it, he would be able to get powerful connections to these large companies and force Akira to only purchase equipment from him. The profits from this were huge. Naturally, at that point, his relationship with Akira would change to that of a lender and a borrower. However, since it was not a sale but instead, a rental, it was a plan made for long-term profits.
Unfortunately, Akira did not borrow from him but managed to purchase new equipment from Katsuragi. Thus, the rental contract of equipment worth 16 billion Aurum had turned to dust. Instead, it had become a pure sale of 16 billion Aurum. The transaction of 16 billion Aurum had shocked Katsuragi so much that he nearly fainted.
Sheryl had an inkling of what Katsuragi was trying to do. Thus, she hatched a plan and then lightly reminded Katsuragi, that it was all possible because the person in question was Akira.
Sheryl then reminded Katsuragi.
“Well, your sale went so well that you nearly fainted. Please continue to support us with that amazing business skill of yours.”
“Of course, that is, as long as you and Akira are together.”
This meant that their relationship would end the moment Akira died. They both had all kinds of thoughts in their minds as they were staring silently at Akira, who was busy with his new equipment.-