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Akira arrived at the stall where there was a problem. Over there, Revin was quarrelling with a young boy.
And that young boy was trying to get Revin to leave.
“As I said, I can’t take you to the main shop! So just give up, will you!? It’s not like I can do anything about it no matter how much you ask me! It’s the decision from the boss!”
Revin raised his voice as he said to that boy.
“I told you that I’ve gone there once before!! I’m someone who has permission to go there!! So just take me there!!”
“No means no! It would be really bad for me if I go against the Boss’ wis.h.!.+ Can you at least understand that for me?!”
That young boy was given the duty to filter customers to be brought to the secret shop by Sheryl. But the current Hunter in front of him now was someone that he should not bring back to the base no matter how you look at it. His desperation, temperament and behaviour were obviously telling that boy not to bring that Hunter to the secret shop. Not to mention, he did not even try to buy the relics in the stand nor to pay the entrance fee, so he did not seem to have much money either.
If that boy brought Revin to the base and then if Revin caused some trouble back in the base, he would be held responsible for that. In the worst-case scenario, he might get kicked out of the gang. So when that boy thought of that possibility, he knew that he could not bring Revin back to the base no matter what.
But on the other hand, Revin would not back down. If he got violent there, he could beat the c.r.a.p out of that young boy. That boy panicked, he knew that he was stuck between 2 hard places, the intimidation of the Hunter in front of him and the order from his boss.
Akira seemed to have remembered seeing that Hunter somewhere as he mumbled.
“What the heck is he doing?”
When that young boy noticed Akira, his face immediately turned teary, he was so happy to the point that he was about to cry. He then waved at Akira.
“O-over here!! Please help me!!”
Revin immediately noticed Akira and inadvertently said.
“Geh!? Why are you here!?”
Revin remembered Akira very well. He met Akira back in Yonozuka station ruin and Akira was the exact reason why he was in the current situation. Akira was also the one that Katsuragi would ask for to collect his debt when the time came.
Revin’s face puckered as Akira walked toward him.
[…Is he here to collect the debt?! No, that can’t be, right? I’m sure he’s not here to collect the debt!]
Akira then asked Revin.
“I was told that there was a problem here, so, here I am, what’s going on?”
At least Revin knew for sure now that Akira was not here to collect the debt. He was so relieved as he replied.
“Ah, it’s nothing.”
“Really? If it’s really nothing, can you just leave then?”
Even if Akira said that, it was not like Revin could just give up and leave. After all, if he got lucky, this might be his chance to pay all of his debts in one go.
“Uhmm, what’s your connection with these guys by the way?”
The young boy immediately answered.
“Isn’t it obvious, already? He’s one of us!!”
“No, that’s not exactly true though?”
But Akira immediately denied what that boy said. Revin saw how that young boy and Erio were so surprised by what Akira just said. So then he tried to put more pressure on Akira.
“If you’re not one of them, then this is none of your business, don’t b.u.t.t in. Or are you here trying to be a good samaritan helping them?”
“I’m not one of them, but I have a relations.h.i.+p with their boss. So basically I’m here because their boss asked me to.”
Revin had a bad feeling when he heard Akira’s reply. He sounded scared as he asked Akira another question.
“…Don’t tell me that their boss is Katsuragi.”
“Nope, it’s Sheryl.”
“Fuuh, don’t scare me like that.”
“Hm? Does Katsuragi have something to do with this? I heard that Sheryl used Katsuragi’s connection to open the bank account for the shop… Or what was it again?”
Akira was trying to remember what Sheryl had said to him, while he was doing that, Revin’s face turned paler and paler.
Akira suddenly seemed to remember something and said to Revin.
“Ahhh, since you’re asking me if their boss is Katsuragi, that means this problem has something to do with Katsuragi, right? Can you give me a sec? I’ll check with Katsuragi.”
Revin fl.u.s.teredly tried to stop Akira.
“No no no! Stop! I get it! I’ll leave! So don’t do anything, okay?! Just don’t! I’m leaving! Alright?! This problem here, ends here, okay?! Bye!”
After Revin desperately pleaded Akira to stop, he immediately ran away.
Akira saw that Revin had left and tilted his head as he mumbled.
“…What the heck was that?”
There was no one there who could answer Akira’s question.
After Revin distanced himself away from Akira, he let out a big sigh.
[…That was dangerous. If Katsuragi found out, this would definitely cause some problems later. It’s a good thing that now I know Katsuragi might have something to do with that stand… Now that I can’t get close to that place, what should I do…?]
Revin started to have a headache. In order to prevent his debt from growing any bigger, he could not just give up here.
[…It was just a trump card in the end. So I should be able to find a similar thing in another stand or shop, right? After all, that Sheryl was selling that trump card without knowing its true value. If I try to look around, I’m sure I’ll find something similar somewhere. And if that story is true, then it doesn’t have to be a trump, anything that can be used for gambling should work fine, right? I feel like I should be able to find something good enough somewhere…]
Revin picked himself up and planned to use the new information that he got from Kurogin to pay for his debt.
He decided to look around the shops and stands in the slum for another hidden gem.
Not too long after that, a rumour was circulating about a certain man who was visiting stands and shops in the slum city, asking for peculiar things like a trump card set. It was a common happening when a rumour of an unexpectedly expensive relic was found, as just like usual, there were people who got lured by that rumour.
Sheryl was playing the game on Akira’s information terminal inside her private room. At the moment, she failed all of her trials. When she started to think that it was not because she was not good enough but more because the game was too difficult, Erio returned.
Sheryl stopped playing the game and let them in. Erio and Tiol came in, Erio then gave Sheryl his report.
“The problem in the stand ended without any trouble. The guy who caused the problem seems to know Akira-san, although, I don’t really understand the detail.”
Sheryl, who just heard that it seemed there was trouble with Akira’s acquaintance, looked at Erio with a serious expression and asked.
“I see, so it was Akira’s acquaintance, huh… Are you sure that there’s no problem at all?”
“Yeah. Although he knows Akira-san, it doesn’t seem like they are friends, I’m pretty sure it was solved just fine. For some reason, he just left after talking to Akira-san for a bit.”
“Well, that’s fine then.”
It did not seem like Erio was lying at all. So Sheryl could feel safe, at least for now. She actually wanted to ask Akira directly, just to be safe, but she immediately noticed that Akira was not present.
“Akira-san just went back home after that. That’s why we closed the stand too. We can’t do anything if something were to happen without Akira-san around after all.”
“I see, so… Did Akira really return back home? He left his information terminal here though, did he forget about it?”
“No, he did remember, he said that it’s okay since he has other information terminals.”
“I see, well then. Thanks for the report, you can go ahead and take a rest.”
Sheryl smiled and thanked Erio and Tiol. Tiol blushed and got fl.u.s.tered for a bit, but his face immediately regained its seriousness as he asked.
“Boss, there’s something that I want to ask, is it okay?”
“What is it?”
“Uhmm, what is your relation with Akira?”
“What do you mean by that? We’re lovers. Didn’t we tell you that too when you joined the gang?”
Sheryl answered back casually as if to say that it was weird for Tiol to ask something so obvious.
Seeing that, Tiol hesitated from saying what he was about to say next. But his curiosity and a glimmer of hope inside him pushed him to speak up.
“…Is that really true?”
Sheryl’s mood suddenly worsened the moment she heard Tiol’s question.
Sheryl’s smile for her friend from the same gang who had gone through thick and thin together with her completely vanished from her face, in exchange, her smile turned dark and ominous. It was obvious that she was looking at Tiol with hostility.
She then asked with a cold and low voice.
“…What do you mean by that question?”
Tiol was taken aback by her sudden change that he could not immediately reply back, but that only caused Sheryl’s mood to get even worse. During that silence, Sheryl stared at Tiol with a gaze that the normal Sheryl would never give. She then gave a short order to Erio that was devoid of wish to resolve it peacefully.
“Erio, your rifle.”
It was a short and incomplete order, but Erio understood perfectly what Sheryl was talking about. She was telling him to aim his rifle at Tiol.
But even for Erio, he hesitated to do something like that to one of his friends who belonged to the same gang. Although it was true that Tiol’s question could be interpreted as picking a fight against Sheryl, he thought that it would be an overkill to aim his rifle at Tiol just because of that reason. So Erio panicked and tried to think of a way to defuse the situation.
Seeing that Erio did not immediately do what he was told to, Sheryl’s glare s.h.i.+fted from Tiol to Erio.
Erio got a gooseb.u.mp from that, so he fl.u.s.teredly tried to say something since he had a feeling that the situation would only get worse if he kept his mouth shut.
“Sheryl, just calm down, okay?! It’s not like Tiol was suspicious if you’re really Akira-san’s lover or anything like that! Isn’t that right, Tiol?! Try to word your question better next time as not to cause misunderstanding, okay?! See, Sheryl misunderstood because of that! So what exactly are you trying to ask here, Tiol?!”
Erio desperately tried to cover for Tiol who was still paralyzed from the pressure from Sheryl. At the same time, he was hopelessly trying to signal Tiol to agree with him even if it was not true. After all, if he did not do that, it might be his end.
Thanks to that, Tiol somehow was able to return back to himself and caught what Erio was trying to say there.
Tiol then started speaking slowly and carefully as if not to hit any red flags.
“Y-yeah, that’s right, it’s a misunderstanding. It’s not like I was suspecting that you and Akira are not lo- I mean, I thought that not only as lovers, I was wondering if you have some kind of special relations.h.i.+p with Akira, like maybe something from the past. I swear that was all I actually wanted to ask.”
Sheryl still had a bad mood as she inquired Tiol with a suspecting tone.
“It did not sound like that to me though.”
Tiol carefully checked Sheryl’s reaction as he replied in a panic.
“I-I’m really sorry for asking something that caused a misunderstanding like that. But like, you know, Akira seems to be a very strong Hunter, right? I heard from the other people in the stands that the person Akira dealt with when that problem happened in one of the stands was not a former Hunter, but a proper Hunter, someone who is still working as a Hunter even now. So, I just thought for someone as strong as Akira who can deal with someone like that so easily, I wonder why he would a.s.sociate with us. I just thought that maybe he has some other reason other than because he’s your love- I mean, on top of the fact that he’s your lover. It’s not like I’m suspecting that it wasn’t true, I swear!!”
Tiol and Erio held their breaths, waiting for Sheryl’s reaction. Sheryl did not say anything while still glaring at Erio and Tiol.
After a few seconds, Sheryl seemed to have regained some of her calm as she said.
“…I see, it’s fine then if that’s the case. Erio, you should teach Tiol stuff since it seems that he’s new here and doesn’t know much yet.”
“If that’s all, you can leave now.”
Erio and Tiol fl.u.s.teredly exited the room. After Sheryl heard a clicking sound from closing the door, she then let out a big sigh.
Sheryl looked rather dejected as if she was lamenting her mistake and mumbled.
“…To think that I would lose my cool from something like that, I wonder what’s wrong with me. I could’ve just smiled and cut it short. What I’ve done now might cause them to get even more suspicious… Just calm down, it’s alright, I’m doing well. I can do this.”
Sheryl repeatedly took a deep breath while reflecting on her reaction. She felt that she did not give the best reaction there and resolved herself to do better next time. She then thought about what could have caused her to react that extremely. She reminded herself to stay calm as she kept thinking about it. She removed any reason that she made simply out of anger at Tiol as she was evaluating her guesses.
After she arrived at a conclusion, she then said as if to tell herself.
“…I thought I had resolved myself, but it seems that it wasn’t enough, huh. I guess it’s a good thing that I was able to confirm it.”
Sheryl put a stop to her thought there and nodded deeply.
Although there were many rooms in Sheryl’s base, she was the only one with a private room. Those with high positions in the gang like the officers were sharing a room with the other officers that they were close with. The ones with the highest position in that gang after Sheryl was Erio and Alicia, both of them were officers and a couple, because of that, they were sharing the same room albeit it was a small room.
While the other gang members were living in the shared s.p.a.ces inside the gang like in a big hall or in the hallways. It could be inferred how high their position in the gang was from where they slept when it got dark outside. From that point of view, Erio and Alicia’s position in the gang was pretty high.
As Sheryl’s gang continued to grow, there were more people than expected who wanted to join the gang. Or at least, it was more than Sheryl had antic.i.p.ated. While on the other hand, it also served as proof that her gang was doing well as an organization inside the slum, it also showed how much influence her gang had in the slum.
Thanks to that, the children in the slum started to gather around Sheryl’s base. They got extra protection just from joining since those who wished to attack would think twice before crossing Sheryl’s gang. The slum children even had to pay if they wanted to stay in certain places where people were more likely to misidentify them as Sheryl’s gang members.
Tiol was a new member of the gang, he used his hard-earned money to buy his way into the gang. The only reason why he got special treatment compared to the other new members was simply because he brought in extra money and equipment for the gang.
Erio, Alicia and Tiol were inside Erio and Alicia’s room, Erio brought Tiol there.
Although Alicia was not exactly happy when she saw Erio bringing someone else into their room, she seemed to be okay with it after a short explanation from Erio.
Alicia said to Erio with a rather serious expression.
“…Alright, I’ll check on Sheryl later. But still…”
Alicia looked at Tiol, her gaze was saying that she was blaming him as she said in a slightly annoyed tone.
“…Did you really think that it would not anger Sheryl when you asked that question? Good grief, give me a break.”
Tiol looked really uncomfortable as he apologized.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think she would get that angry.”
Erio then tried to calm Alicia down.
“W-well, let’s just end that here, alright? We are getting a lot of new members too, so it’s completely understandable.”
“Then, what are you planning to do if she did not let that slide just because he’s a new member? Back then, not only Tiol, but you almost get roped in too, right? So, do you really think that I’ll accept that excuse?”
“Look, like I said, we need to be extra careful from here and on to make sure that it would not happen again. Tiol is not the only new member of the gang. I’ll warn the people under me, so you should do the same too, Alicia. I don’t want you to get involved in something like that because of another new member who doesn’t know about it. I want to be together with you, so please make sure to do that.”
“…You’re right, I’ll do that.”
Seeing how Erio was worrying about her safety, Alicia finally calmed down.
Erio then said to Tiol.
“So then. If there’s still anything you want to ask us, this will be your chance. Both Alicia and I know Sheryl for quite some time now, so I’m sure we can give you answers to your questions about her. You can go ahead and ask us questions that might trigger Sheryl, it’s far better if you ask them to us rather than getting Sheryl angry later.”
So Tiol asked Erio a question with a serious face.
“I see. In that case, I want to know if Sheryl is really the boss of this gang.”
“Whoah, right from the bat, huh…”
Erio placed both of his hands on his head. Alicia looked at Tiol with a mix of amazement and resignation.
Although Tiol was surprised by their reaction, he still wanted to know the answer.
“Even if you say so, I think there are many other people here including me who are wondering about the same exact question, you know. I know that people have told me the boss in this gang is Sheryl. But just like me, there are other members who still have some questions about it. Like how did she get to be the boss of the gang? Or if the boss seat is just a decoration or that you can only sit there if you have enough power? Is she just using Akira? Or is it the other way around? Like maybe Akira is the real boss of the gang and Sheryl is just his proxy in public? Is it that Akira is simply in love with Sheryl and he’s actually an outsider who has nothing to do with this gang? And then there’s also that Katsuragi guy, is he actually giving us money and controlling us from the shadow or something? There are a lot of questions I want to ask and I’m not sure who I can trust.”
Erio and Alicia’s faces twitched, but their faces were also saying that it was understandable. It was not easy to gather information about that kind of thing. After all, the only one who knew the answer to those questions in that gang was Sheryl. Other people could only make guesses.
Tiol confirmed how Alicia and Erio reacted to that, he then asked another sensitive question.
“In the first place, that story about Akira going out with Sheryl, it’ll have a different impact if they are in love with each other or it is actually a one-sided love. It seems that Akira bought an expensive dress for the boss, but we don’t know for sure if he actually spent a lot of his money to get the boss happy or that expensive dress might actually not cost that much for Akira. Then there’s the fact that Akira rarely comes to the base. I know that being a Hunter is a busy job, but is it okay to always leave your lover that much? And even if they’re lovers, that doesn’t mean that Akira would do anything for her, right? So how far can we ask from him before it’s too much?”
Erio and Alicia looked at each other. They could understand why Tiol would ask something like that. But at the same time, it was a taboo to ask that question in the gang. Questioning Sheryl’s relation with Akira was equal to treason after all. So even if those questions were fully reasonable, it was not like Erio and Alicia could do anything about it. They could only trust what Sheryl told them even if it was not the real truth.
Erio then said to Tiol with a serious face.
“I can understand why you would ask those questions, but the answer to those questions are simple and easy. Don’t ask. That’s the answer. I’ll tell you later the reason why that’s the answer. So basically, it doesn’t matter if that answer is enough for you or not, if you want to keep staying in this gang, you’ll have to accept that answer, okay?”
Tiol was overwhelmed by the pressure and barely managed to reply back.
Alicia looked rather dejected as she said to Erio.
“…So basically we need to explain this to the other new members too, huh.”
“It can’t be helped. We’re the ones who know the most about it and it’s not like we can ask Sheryl to do that for us too.”
Alicia smiled and jokingly said.
“If only you’re as strong as Akira-san, we might be able to find a good solution to this problem though.”
“Don’t be stupid. Being a Hunter, going out to the wasteland, exploring old-world ruins, fighting monsters, and returning back alive with old-world relics like Akira-san… That’s just impossible for me. I’ll definitely die halfway. Even back then, I was only saved because I got lucky and Akira-san found me. Otherwise, I would’ve died eaten by that monster.”
“I know, sorry, I don’t want you to die either. So please don’t do anything dangerous, alright? I know that you get yourself better equipment, but make sure that it won’t go to your head, okay?”
Erio and Alicia stared at each other. Tiol, who was left outside the sleeping net, looked at them awkwardly. Alicia and Erio quickly noticed Tiol’s gaze, they fl.u.s.teredly started to explain what they meant back there.
Erio and Alicia did not notice that Tiol had those questions not because he was interested in the strong Hunter supporting the gang.
Tiol actually wanted to know Sheryl’s relations with Akira. He wanted to know if they were really lovers. He wanted to know if there was a crack between them where he could slip in.
He thought, in secret, that Sheryl actually was not in love with Akira. After all, it did not matter who led the gang. It was more of who was strong enough to support the gang. If he could get strong enough to rival Akira, then Sheryl might abandon Akira and try to get closer to him instead.
Tiol actually liked Sheryl. It was love at the first sight. When Sheryl appeared in a dress that was specially made for her and smiled lovingly, it took his heart away.
He wished that the relation between Akira and Sheryl was nothing more than a relation out of profit. He was hoping to have a chance to be Sheryl’s lover.
Although it was not too long ago, another member by the name of Sebla also had the same thought and he had to pay for that with his life. Tiol might end up meeting the same end. Or at least, he almost met the same end just a moment ago. Although, it was a whole different problem whether Tiol himself noticed that or not.