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Chapter 209: Not Two Choices
Akira was waiting giddily in front of the Kugama building. The suitcase in his hand contained his custom suit that was finally finished. Today was the day of his triple date with Elena, Sara and Shizuka. And right now he was waiting to meet up with them.
Alpha was playing coy as she teased.
“You look pretty happy.”
“Is that so? Well, it’s fine, isn’t it?”
But Akira just ignored Alpha’s teasing. Normally, he would give more response than that, but not today. It was proof that he was in a better mood than usual. To make sure that he would not be late, he came earlier than usual, this was also another proof of that fact.
A little before the meeting time, Elena, Sara and Shizuka arrived. Just like Akira, they were also carrying their own custom dresses in suitcases.
Shizuka knew that Akira was waiting for them, she smiled at him and said.
“We were planning to come sooner than the meeting time, but it seems that we ended up making you wait instead, huh?”
“It’s no problem at all.”
“Is that so? Well, shall we get going?”
Although Akira tried to hide his glee, he was not able to trick anyone there. Seeing how happy he was to go to eat together with them, Elena, Sara and Shizuka could not hold back their giggles as they entered the building.
Akira had visited high-cla.s.s restaurants located on the upper floor of the Kugama building a few times in the past, but even so, he still looked a bit nervous when he entered one. Elena then told the receptionist that they had booked dinner and went to separate changing rooms based on gender. They changed their clothes there before following one of the waitresses who guided them to their seats.
In the deeper part of the restaurant, there was a section separated by part.i.tions. Behind those part.i.tions, the tables were placed in rather wide intervals. All of the diners there were wearing proper suits, just like Akira. No one was using an augmented suit like he had done before. Even the cyborg diners with metallic skin were also wearing tuxedos suitable for that place. The luxurious decorations in that section gave off a high-cla.s.s and elegant aura that veiled the whole section.
It gave off a feeling of a completely separate place away from the harsh world of the eastern district. Akira followed the waitress as he felt like he stepped into a completely different world.
When he arrived at their table, Elena, Sara and Shizuk, who arrived there first welcomed him with a smile. Charmed by them, he froze for a bit the moment he saw them.
Each of them was wearing a custom dress that boosted their respective unique beauty. Although each dress had a different focus, all of them gave the same sense of gracefulness and elegance, making their charm as ladies much more prominent.
The beautiful dress adorned Sara’s ample body as she smiled bashfully. In contrast to that, Elena’s dress capitalized on her wonderful arms and legs which gave off a feeling that it was not only simply pure beauty but they were also functional as she smiled confidently at him. While for Shizuka, in contrast to her usual working dress which covered her whole body, her dress was designed to boast that part of her as she blushed and smiled gently at Akira.
Elena led the pack by asking for Akira’s opinion.
“So, what do you think?”
“…Uhhh, I think it’s wonderful.”
Not only was Akira lacking verbal knowledge to express himself, but he was also so fl.u.s.tered that it did not help him at all in that situation. He only managed to say that short sentence. But judging from his reaction, they knew that he was honestly amazed and that was enough for them as they smiled with satisfaction and bashfulness.
“Thank you. It’s worth paying that much money for this dress. You also look good in that suit, you know?”
“Thank you very much!”
Akira bashfully replied.
Akira looked like a young master from some large corporation in his suit. Although he would normally look like a young boy in a suit, Celene had put all her talent into creating his suit. Thus his suit gave a strong aura of cla.s.siness and elegance, it did not even give off any weird feeling even though the one using it was Akira.
Celene did her best to fulfil their orders. Thus all of them were using dresses and a suit, which allowed even someone as clueless to fashion as Akira, to understand just how amazing they were. It even caused the waiters that guided them to look at them with sparkly eyes.
As Akira sat in his seat, the waiters immediately brought the appetizers. They had chosen their course beforehand when they placed their booking. Since Akira refused to drink alcohol, everyone decided to remove alcohol from their course. But even so, all the dishes were simply amazing. They had an amazing experience although they did not partake in any alcohol during their meal.
During dinner, Akira enjoyed exceptional food while having a light conversation with people that he regarded as his close friends. The food, the smiles from Elena, Sara and Shizuka, the subject of their conversation, the mood of the shop, all made Akira feel happy. The time pa.s.sed by as he relished his time as he ate, not only for the sake of getting nutrition. The girls who watched him were happy to see that side of Akira.
Akira was completely in joy until the very end of dinner.
On the same day, Sheryl once again attended the feast in the Kugama building. After attending the same feast a few times, she had built up a level of resistance against the delicious-looking food served during the feast. So she only took a small portion onto her plate and ate it little by little. Although she thought that it was a blissful thing to be able to enjoy such amazing food, she was also having a hard time fighting back from making any exaggerated reaction to the amazing taste. Therefore, it was not like she could immerse herself in the food. Hoping to build her resistance, she took another small piece.
Inabe who saw that raised his eyebrows.
“You have quite an appet.i.te there.”
Sheryl stopped her hand and smiled politely at Inabe.
“…I’m of that age after all.”
Sheryl finished the rest of the food on her plate and solemnly placed it back on the table. She then once again turned to Inabe.
“Inabe-sama, regarding the coordination support system augmented suit that you’ve been kind enough to let us borrow, how long can I expect for this kindness to last?”
“Hm? It depends on how well they are doing. To be honest, I don’t know for sure myself. Well, I know that it would be troublesome for you if you suddenly lose your fighting capabilities. I would at least tell them to let you know beforehand so as not to trouble you when they finish whatever they are doing. If you need it, I can ask them to extend the testing period, or instead, I can look for another alternative.”
“Thank you very much!”
“…Uhh, so, in exchange for that, I have one thing I want to ask though.”
“We’re really thankful for your help, if it’s something within our power, we’ll be more than happy to accept your request.”
“I want you to help me negotiate with Akira. You’re close to him, right?”
Sheryl was smiling politely up until now, but the moment Inabe said so, her expression suddenly turned sharp.
“Just to be safe, is it for an informal request that doesn’t go through the Hunter Office?”
“The answer to that is obvious, isn’t it?”
“That might be the case for common Hunters, but this is Akira that we are talking about. Personally speaking, I prefer to remove any possible discrepancy in what we are talking about to prevent unwanted outcomes in the future.”
Inabe saw Sheryl’s reaction as a warning not to cause any harm to Akira because of some unwritten convention or anything similar to that. Although that was not exactly a mistake, half of the reason why Sheryl asked that question was also because she was not that familiar with that kind of dealing.
“Very well. I’ll answer that question. Basically, it is in order not to leave any unnecessary records in the Hunter Office. After all, leaving such a record might cause a problem in the future.”
A formal request that went through the Hunter Office contained a strongly binding agreement between the requester and the Hunter who accepted that request. Both sides must strictly follow the written detail of the request. But in some cases, even for a request that was agreed by both sides, the Hunter Office could intervene using the Corporate Government’s authority to change the details of said request. The requests that had gone through such changes were simply that important.
In order to avoid this, the content of the request would be written in a vague way so that it could be interpreted in various ways, or simply did not provide the detail of the request in the written agreement. Since it was not written, normally, the Hunter Office could not do anything about it. So even if the unwritten part of the agreement contained some unfair clauses, the Hunter could not make an appeal through the Hunter Office.
On the other hand, when the requester did not want a part of the request to be known by the Hunter Office, they often have already made an agreement with the Hunter beforehand. They would have already decided things like how far the detail of the request would be written in the agreement. Of course, the bigger the job, the more difficult it would be, so it was not strange for Hunters to ask for a 3rd party to help during negotiation.
“Yanagisawa agreed to temporarily stop extending the supply route into Kuzusuhara ruin. So all the area managers, including me, have turned our focus to searching and gathering relics, that’s why we are in need of high-ranking Hunters. If I pa.s.s the request through the Hunter Office, there’s a good chance that the other area managers would try to mess with my request. Everyone from the larger corporations would also try to make a direct request to the Hunter. After all, it is well known that information about such requests does not require a high authority to be accessible. So this is just a precaution to avoid it. Will that be enough for an explanation?”
Inabe was not lying. But he also did not tell Sheryl the whole truth. Although, the thing that he was hiding from Sheryl was unlikely to cause trouble both for himself and for Akira. Sheryl noticed that as well, so she smiled politely and replied.
“Thank you very much. I will convey that to Akira and do my best to persuade him to accept your request.”
“If you have the confidence to persuade him, I actually don’t mind if you handle everything including the negotiation part though.”
“…Thank you but I will have to refuse that offer. I’m still an amateur in terms of my negotiation skill, so I will have to refuse so as to not cause you any trouble.”
“I see, in that case, I hope you’ll at least join the negotiation as a mediator.”
Inabe made a guess based on Sheryl’s reply.
[So, she basically doesn’t want to handle the most troublesome part of the deal which is the negotiations. She wants to avoid the risk of worsening her relationship with the Hunter supporting her gang, huh. As I thought, it’s not like she has Akira completely under her control. It seems that it’ll be difficult to use her as bait during the negotiation, I’ll have to think of another way.]
As Inabe and Sheryl were exchanging words, trying to a.n.a.lyze their respective partner in conversation. Katsuya, who was also attending the same feast, noticed Sheryl.
Inabe and Sheryl turned to Katsuya.
“Inabe-sama, if you’re looking for a high-ranking Hunter, wouldn’t it be a good idea to try to talk to him?”
“That one is under Drankam after all. So the one that I will have to negotiate with is Drankam, not him. Well, I’ll do that if I need to, but that’s plan B for me.”
Akira and Katsuya would be perfect if some of their personalities and situations were reversed. Both Inabe and Sheryl had that exact same thought there.
Katsuya, who attended the feast, hoped to find Sheryl here, and was looking for her.
Ever since Sheryl pulled him out from his slump, he has been performing very well. As a matter of fact, his performance as a Hunter well surpa.s.sed all his past performances. Moreover, thanks to the coordination support system augmented suit that his team was using, the team’s performance was also greatly improved. Not only did he believe that his problem was solved, he also thought that his luck had turned around.
During the huge incident in Kuzusuhara ruin, they had gone through a hard battle defending the supply route. Although the battle was immensely difficult, they formed a close friendship during that battle. The number of people who looked down on Kastuya’s team had also significantly decreased after that. He finally felt that all his hard work was starting to pay off.
That was when he started to think that Sheryl could help him quickly solve his problems. As long as he had her by his side, he would not need to be afraid of any issues that might crop up, and that would allow him to keep himself at optimal performance.
When he spotted Sheryl and called her name, Sheryl welcomed him with a smile. Katsuya was elated as if he just met someone that he loved as he walked to her.
As Sheryl and Katsuya were talking to each other and enjoying their conversation, Inabe, who was being considerate, left them alone.
The subject of their talk mostly focused on Katsuya’s recent Hunter jobs. He was fulfilling his promise to return back alive and to share his experience. He happily spoke about the days he went out to her.
Sheryl happily listened to his story with a smile. And then, while still maintaining her smile on the outside, she thought in the back of her mind.
[…Again, huh. And like, isn’t he stronger than last time?]
Sheryl had no doubt about Katsuya’s strength. At least, he was strong enough for Drankam to evaluate him highly and allow him to join the feast. Even Inabe, who was an officer from City Management, was also thinking of getting Katsuya on his side. There was no doubt Katsuya was a strong young Hunter. Both the impression from meeting him and the data from investigating him pointed out to that conclusion.
However, Sheryl felt something that was bothering her. Though normal people would not find anything wrong with him.
Sheryl herself did not think that she had the ability to accurately identify someone’s strength. If she had that kind of talent, she would have been able to notice how powerful Akira was right from the start and she would not have treated him the way she did in the past. But when it came to Katsuya, she felt like there was something unnatural about Katsuya’s skill and talent, and that feeling somehow felt really clear to her.
Judging from the way Katsuya was talking with her, Sheryl was sure that he really liked her. But judging from his expression, there was a chance that it was a misunderstanding or it was fake. Although, her intuition told her that it was not the case and she trusted her intuition with no hesitation at all.
From her past experience, she knew that there was something affecting her evaluation of Katsuya. Although she did not know what that something was, just knowing that there was something provided her with a little resistance.
[…I feel like if I let my guard down, he’ll dictate my view of him. There are some people in this world who have this strange kind of charisma. I’m still not knowledgeable nor experienced enough to handle this. I need to be careful.]
Sheryl reminded herself to be more careful dealing with Katsuya.
After a few minutes, Viola returned to Sheryl who was still talking with Katsuya.
“Boss, I’m sorry but it might be a good time to leave soon. I have another business to attend to, so I won’t be able to give you support. I have arranged for someone to pick you up on the first floor. You’ll know who when you’re there, so don’t worry.”
“Alright, Katsuya, I’m sorry but I’ll have to excuse myself for today.”
“Ah, in that case, I’ll accompany you to the first floor.”
“Thank you very much!”
Sheryl then left the feast together with Katsuya. Seeing that, Viola smiled amusedly. But it was a rather ominous smile that reflected her bad personality.
After finishing his dinner with Elena, Sara and Shizuka. Akira was back in his augmented suit, equipped with his rifles. With that short period of time which felt like a dream now in the past, he completely returned back to his usual self.
Shizuka gently smiled at Akira and asked.
“Akira, how was the dinner today? Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes, it was an amazing experience. Shizuka-san, Elena-san, Sara-san. Thank you for inviting me today.”
Akira smiled and bowed deeply. Seeing his response, Shizuka was glad that it was a meaningful time.
“I’m glad to hear that. Let’s go again if the chance comes up.”
“Of course, I’ll be more than happy to if the chance indeed presents itself… Although, as expected, it won’t be anytime soon.”
Akira’s delighted answer was followed by that remark and a bitter smile. Shizuka also replied with a bitter smile.
“Well, you’re right about that one. I too would need some time before we go again.”
Akira in the end paid his share of the food. Although it saved him from feeling bad getting treated to such an expensive meal, it also hit his money reserve. Not to mention, the custom suit was not cheap as well. Shizuka also followed suit and offered to pay her share as well. Despite the fact that they split the bill, it was still not cheap.
The day was already starting to get dark. Not only was it still a bit too soon to enjoy the nightlife, but Akira was also just an underage boy. Since it was not like there was anything they could do together after dinner, they decided to finish their date. Elena and Sara went to take Shizuka back to her shop, while Akira stayed behind because he had something else to take care of.
Before she left, Sara lightly rubbed Akira’s head.
“Well then, Akira, until next time.”
“Of course, until next time.”
Akira smiled and saw them off. As he was no longer able to see them, Alpha, who kept herself invisible up until now suddenly reappeared.
“It seems that you were having a good time while forgetting about me.”
“I’m sorry about it. I just didn’t want to look like a weird person during dinner. If I keep turning my head to empty s.p.a.ces, I might get conscious of it and end up not enjoying the food.”
“But then you still made me handle your information terminal though.”
“Yeah yeah, I’m sorry, alright?”
Alpha was pouting, so Akira smiled wryly and tried to cheer her up.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter now. By the way, you need to go soon or you’ll be late.”
“Ah, right. I need to hurry up.”
Akira returned back to the Kugama building. During the dinner, he had received a message from Viola to pick Sheryl up and to take her back to the base if he was around. Akira, who was in a good mood, did not think it through and simply agreed.
He did not wait long on the first floor before Sheryl appeared. But the moment he saw her, he was a bit surprised. Sheryl was together with Katsuya, and it seemed that they were pretty close as they were talking to each other.
When Sheryl saw Akira, her smile immediately sprung up. She thought well of Viola, who had arranged this, which was rare for her. And then, of course, she had some thoughts. [I wonder if Viola deliberately did this to get on my good side.] But while she was still trying to work out what was Viola’s aim for doing this, the situation suddenly changed. Katsuya stepped up in front of Sheryl as if to protect her from Akira.
Katsuya was obviously directing animosity toward Akira. Meanwhile, Akira, who was at the receiving end of that animosity, tensed up and got himself ready for action. Of course, both Akira and Katsuya knew better than to cause a ruckus in front of the building managed by the Hunter Office. But they simply could not trust each other. They were locked in that situation as tension in the air rose up.
Sheryl was confused by the sudden change of events. Even in this situation, she did her best to try to understand what was going on as her eyes went back and forth between Akira and Katsuya. But when she looked at Akira, she remembered something that she had once imagined in the past and froze up. Akira’s slightly surprised face overlapped with an image. An image of him abandoning her without an ounce of regret or hesitation. The same image that she had imagined in the past.
Akira then showed a hint of movement, as if he was about to leave the place. When Sheryl noticed that, all the doubts and questions in her mind were immediately thrown out of the window as she ran and hugged him by pure reflex.
“Akira! You came to pick me up, huh! Thank you very much!”
Sheryl never expected that she would raise her voice that high and squeeze out a smile in order to ascertain her position. Although there was a mix of desperation in her smile, her arm was still hugging tight, as if she was clinging onto Akira for her life. Akira also did not expect that from her at all as he looked slightly troubled by it.
While on the other hand, Katsuya could not hold back his surprise. It was such a shock to him that he could not fully process what just happened.
Katsuya’s short sentence was filled with his earnest feeling. In response, Sheryl was still clinging to Akira’s arm as she turned around and replied.
“Can you please stop acting like that? Akira might misunderstand something, you know?”
The harsh words and the ice-cold gaze were so different from the Sheryl whom he knew up until now. The shock made Katsuya at loss for words.
Sheryl’s gaze returned back to Akira as she gave the best smile that she could muster. It was a desperate made-up smile to show her affection toward Akira, she then clung hard to him and earnestly pleaded.
“Let’s go back now.”
Akira was still a bit confused and uncertain of what to do there, so Sheryl forcefully pulled his arm and practically dragged him away from that place. They then left the building just like that.
Katsuya, who was left alone, was found standing exactly in the same spot when Mizuha found him. She was worried that Katsuya did not return after some time and went to look for him.
On their way back, Akira, who still did not fully understand what just happened, tried to make his own guess and said to Sheryl.
“…I don’t really know what was going on back then, but if you need connection with other Hunters for the sake of the gang, I have no wish to get in the way. So you should not worry about it. I won’t complain at all, you know?”
Sheryl’s made up smile crumbled and turned into a rather sad expression. Akira’s words showed just how little he thought of her. Although he once jumped straight into the fray during that huge incident in the slum city the other day in order to save her, he did not even feel a shred of jealousy when he saw Sheryl was having a good time with another guy. It was just extremely unnatural.
If they were really a couple, there was a word that would immediately solve that abnormality, but Sheryl averted her consciousness from that word.
“…You can’t say that to your lover. Our setting is that we are close to each other, that is why you are willing to support my gang. A lot of things regarding the gang are based on that a.s.sumption. Although I can’t force you, if I may, I really hope that you would try to be careful so as to not do anything that might break that a.s.sumption.”
“Hm? Ah, right, you have a point there, I’ll be more careful.”
Akira was convinced by that answer, although, Sheryl wished that he would not just obediently accept her reasoning like that.
But even so, Sheryl tried to give her best smile, hoping and wishing that their relationship would turn into a real one sometime in the future.
Back at base, Sheryl waited in her room for Viola to return. She had told Viola to visit the room later no matter what and she did not mind if Viola was late. It was already late at night and the date had already changed, but Sheryl still waited silently for Viola. Since her emotion had completely overpowered her sleep, she did not feel drowsy at all.
A few knocks could be heard followed by Carol entering with Viola.
“Boss, I heard that you called for me. Do you need anything?”
Sheryl silently pointed her pistol at Viola, but Viola’s smile was not perturbed.
“Oh, that’s not friendly at all. Is there anything wrong?”
“What was that?”
“Even if you ask me, I don’t really know what is ‘that’ you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb with me!”
The hand gripping the pistol reflected Sheryl’s real feeling, it was shaking with anger. She was barely able to stop her finger from pushing the trigger. Her face showed obvious animosity. In order to hold back her anger and maintain her logical mind, her expression was more of cold ruthlessness instead of anger.
But even so, Viola still had her usual smile.
“It’s not like I’m trying to play coy here. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to bait me with words, you do know well that won’t work on me, right?”
Viola kept up playing dumb as if to tease Sheryl.
In order not to accidentally shoot her and to keep her calm, Sheryl repeatedly took deep breaths while telling herself to remain calm.
“On the first floor of the Kugama building, why did you make the three of us meet there?”
“Hm? I thought that it would make you happy to have Akira escort you back though, did something happen?”
A gunshot echoed. The bullet left a hole in the wall next to Viola. Sheryl readjusted her aim at Viola. But Viola did not move at all, as a matter of fact, her smile widened.
“For the sake of the gang’s future, I just thought that you might be able to mediate between Akira and Katsuya since it seems that both of them have a rather hostile relationship. But it seems that it didn’t work out well, huh?”
“For the gang’s sake, huh? Do you really think that would work? Stop with the lies. I know that you don’t honestly think so.”
“I’m not lying. Katsuya is a very skilled Hunter and it seems that he’s interested in you. So if you can use that to make peace between him and Akira, there’s no doubt that it would greatly help the gang. I’m sure you know well yourself just how profitable it would be for the gang if that works.”
Viola made a good argument. Sheryl tried to calm herself down but as if to mock her efforts, Viola then continued.
“Well, if that was enough to break your relationship with Akira, it means that there’s less chance Akira would come for my head if I somehow get you angry. To be honest, I was hoping for that outcome as well. So basically, for me, I didn’t mind how it would turn out either way. If it was a success, it would be very profitable for the gang, and if it failed, then it would bring profit for me. Well, but unfortunately, it seems that it didn’t exactly go either way huh? That is really unfortunate.”
Viola had her evil smile on her face as she said so. Sheryl was shaking in anger as she was barely able to hold herself back. Moreover, as they locked their gazes, Viola’s eyes were challenging her to shoot if she could really afford to do so.
After a short silence, Sheryl lowered her pistol. If she killed Viola here, all the amazing ongoing progress of the gang would be thrown down the drain. The gang was the only thing that Sheryl could hand over to Akira in order to repay her debt to him, so she could not afford to lose it. That reasoning was barely able to save Viola.
“Is that all? Alright, Boss, good night.”
Viola turned around and was about to leave the room with Carol, but before she exited the room, she left a few words for Sheryl.
“You can’t win me with violence, you know? So suit yourself. Later then, Boss.”
After Viola and Carol left the room, Sheryl threw her pistol onto the floor, but not before emptying its magazine at the door.
“…I’ll definitely win, just you see!!”
Sheryl replaced the raging emotion inside her with determination and renewed her resolve to remove Viola.
Outside of the room, Carol sighed in exasperation.
“Geez, you’re just as awful as ever. You might provoke her like that, believing that she won’t shoot. But if you keep this up, you’ll really get shot.”
“Nope, I was hoping that she would shoot.”
“Wha-!? Is that so?”
“Yep. That’s why I brought you with me. I know that you can handle such a situation when it happens, right?”
“Well, that’s true, but still.”
“I was hoping she would shoot, and you would protect me, then I can leak that information and use it to do other things. But it seems that she can control herself well. It was pretty impressive. It seems that she has gotten tougher. To be honest, I really didn’t expect that at all.”
Viola seemed to be pretty happy there, in contrast to that, Carol smiled wryly and mumbled.
“And here I thought it was pretty rare for you to seriously help someone else, like the gang. But it turns out that you were just playing with the fire here just now, huh? You just can’t give it a break, can you?”
“Just so you know, I’m already being careful so as to not get on Akira’s bad side. Of course, I would change my mind if you would get him under control though.”
“That’s really unfortunate.”
Viola and Carol exchanged jokes and lightly laughed. Both of them knew well just how horrendous each of their att.i.tudes was.
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