As they continued talking to each other, the subject slowly shifted to Katsuyas groups work as Hunters. It was because Yumina and Sheryl intentionally pushed the conversation in that direction.
Katsuyas story started from when he was having a hard time just after joining Drankam. He already showed a glimpse of his talent right after he joined. The veteran skilled Hunters of the gang noticed that rare talent, so they sent Katsuya with the other Hunters to explore ruins and fight monsters. Then eventually, he grew strong enough to be recognized as one of the Drankam officers.
Katsuya and his friends had also formed a rather influential faction inside Drankam. Recently, he had even gotten to command a Hunter team to hunt for the bounty monsters. Katsuya took the command and his team was able to successfully hunt a bounty monster. It was a rather amazing track record that showed his talent as a Hunter.
Sheryl exaggerated her surprise before asking more questions to Katsuya. In the middle of their conversation, she praised, complimented, and applauded him frequently. She applauded Katsuyas ability to make decisions in a hard situation, or how he fought bravely in the dangerous battlefield, or how he tried to save his friends without caring for his own safety.
Sheryl listened closely with full interest, she showed a worried face when he talked about how he faced a dangerous situation, and she showed a happy face and praised him when he talked about how he and his friends made a big achievement.
Sheryl realized that Yumina kept bringing up subjects that would make it easier to praise Katsuya. Although she did not know the reason, she decided to jump wagon that subject and kept praising him.
Although Sheryls compliments were all intentional, they neither felt out of place nor weird at all. They did not feel forced either. Sheryls speech skills was so high that there was no flaw in it. But the response from Katsuya was rather dull.
At first, Katsuya started talking with full vigour as if he was boasting about his story, and when Sheryl praised him, he would blush and smile. But as his story went on, his expression started getting cloudy and he started to sound less and less excited. And when he talked about his hunt for the bounty monster, even when Sheryl complimented him, he just awkwardly laughed.
Sheryl thought that she might have complimented him too much and annoyed him instead, but when she looked at Airi and Yuminas expression, she noticed that it was not the case. Both of them looked worriedly at Katsuya, basically, both of them knew why Katsuya looked so down and Sheryl thought that must be the case.
Sheryl showed a puzzled face, she looked a bit at loss and worried at Katsuyas reaction as she was considering her options. She might have to wait for some time before her business there was finished, but she could say that it was about time for her to leave and withdraw from Katsuyas group. Although that would mean she would leave in the middle of a bad mood, it was still a choice that she could pick to leave before the mood got even worse.
But it seemed that Katsuya was starting to climb the ranks in Drankam, so she decided that it might be a good idea to stay there longer and use that chance to deepen their relationship and gather more information from him.
Sheryl sounded apologetic as she asked Katsuya.
“…Katsuya-san, Im really sorry but did I say something that offended you If thats the case, my apologies.”
Katsuya became fl.u.s.tered when Sheryl suddenly apologized to him.
“Eh! Ah, thats not it!”
“Is that so… It seemed that your mood got worse every time I said something…”
Sheryl replied while lowering her voice. She hung her head as if she was down.
Katsuya looked at Yumina, asking for help.
Since Yumina was worried about Katsuya, she made a serious face and changed the subject.
“Katsuya, if thats not the case, I think its better if you properly explain it to Sheryl”
“Eh Ah… Youre right.”
Katsuya was stumbling over his words while Yumina just kept staring at him.
Katsuya also reacted in a similar way the last time Yumina asked him whats wrong when she saw him looked so down. But when that happened, he always apologized for making her worry and said he was alright without telling her anything.
Yumina herself actually had a guess as to why Katsuya was feeling down. But she could not say that herself.
After Sheryl checked with them, she was relieved that it was not her fault that Katsuya seemed depressed. She then smiled awkwardly and both intentionally and naturally looked worried for Katsuya and said.
“I wont force you to tell me. Its enough for me to know that its not because of me. But if theres anything that bothers you, Im all ears. I will listen if you want to share it with me. I heard that it might help you feel at ease if you share your problem with someone else. Although I might not be able to support you like Yumina-san and Airi-san, I can at least listen to your worries and complaints. So, if youre okay with it, Im willing to listen.”
Katsuya glanced timidly at Sheryl. Sheryl locked her gaze at Katsuya while smiling at him.
Katsuya was not sure what to do. It was obvious that he was hesitating from telling about his worry to anyone else, he looked conflicted as his gaze wandered around. Then eventually, his gaze returned back to Sheryl. The moment he looked at her gentle smile one more time, Katsuya opened his mouth.
“…Sheryl, do you think that Im a great Hunter”
“…Are you sure”
“Im sure different people would have different indicators to decide whether someone is a great Hunter or not. But from my point of view and from what I heard from your story just now, as long as it was not a lie, I do think that youre a great Hunter.”
Katsuya paused for a bit, he then looked dispirited as he said with a voice that expressed his distress.
“…I dont really know anymore if Im that great of a Hunter.”
He then slowly continued talking.
Katsuya had admired Hunters for a long time. He had heard stories about Hunters and when he imagined that scene, his heart would flutter.
They worked so hard to get stronger and went to explore the dangerous, but more than that, wondrous old-world ruin together with their comrades that they trusted. They then fought against swarms of monsters that were way out of their leagues and explored undiscovered ruin without any guides, they had to go through a lot of ups and downs together with their comrades to be able to return back alive with valuable relics in their hands. Sometimes, they splurged on their reward money to throw a big celebration or when they discussed how to use their reward money to step up their power as Hunters. Those were the common stories of all those successful Hunters in the eastern district.
Katsuya imagined himself going through all of those things, he promised to himself that he would be one of those successful Hunters one day. Fortunately enough, he was blessed with a suitable talent to reach that and he was blessed with friends that he could trust and good luck.
His luck, comrades, and talent pushed him further up. He quickly climbed the ladder into a great Hunter and distinguished himself from all the other common Hunters.
Then finally, Katsuya, who had become one of those successful Hunters stories in the eastern district, had to face the darkness behind all of those glorious stories. It was the reason why people did not even try to accomplish it although they would be able to attain great wealth if they succeeded.
“…At first, wait no, its not exactly at first, huh. Basically, the moment when I realized it was when we took that request to face the monster swarm flooding out from the Kuzusuhara ruin heading to Kugamayama city. Some of my friends died back then, Ive known them well, weve eaten together in the same cafeteria in the past, weve gone through hard training together, weve worked together to explore ruins and hunt monsters. Some of them were blown into small pieces by cannons, some of them eaten alive by monsters, some of them ran out of medicines and died from nonfatal wounds… They died… and I couldnt save them.”
Hunters job was indeed an extremely dangerous job. It was a common thing for them to get killed on duty, so there was nothing strange about it at all. The stories of those successful Hunters were basically the stories of those Hunters who survived. Due to his rare talent, Katsuya and his friends had forgotten that truth. But it was only a matter of time before they had to face it.
“At that time, I thought that it would be alright as long as I can be strong enough, it would be fine as long as I can be powerful enough. So I tried my best and I thought that Id become the great Hunter that I aspired to be back then. Then, they gave me the responsibility to command a team to hunt for the bounty monster and we successfully hunted the bounty monster. Im sure a lot of people think that Im a great Hunter, but… It was no use, I lost a lot of my friends… I couldnt save them too. I do feel happy when you say that Im a great Hunter. But, like, you know, when you call me a great Hunter it also makes me feel conflicted… Thats all.”
Yumina looked at Katsuya who was speaking as if he was confessing his sin. Her guess was correct, Katsuya was lamenting the friends that he had lost, he was lamenting the fact that he could not save them. But Yumina could not think of any words to cheer him up.
Getting killed was an occupational hazard for Hunters. Thus, it was better for those Hunters to stop mourning for their dead friends, forget about it, and move on. At least thats what Yumina thought, but she could not say that to Katsuya. After all, she was also one of his friends and she might be one of his friends that would get killed too.
Yumina could not say those words since it might cause him to just forget about her and move on when she got killed.
Airi also guessed the reason why Katsuya was depressed, but she thought that it was just a common problem, that was why she did not say anything. In the first place, she did not lament the death of her friends as much as Yumina and Katsuya. It was a common thing for people to die, especially in their line of work. So, there was nothing to be surprised about. Even if they were her friends that they just laughed together yesterday, after all, it was a common scene in the world where she was raised.
Airi looked up to Katsuya since he was the one who saved her from such a world. Moreover, she did want him to lament her if she got killed. She did not want Katsuya to just quickly forget about her when she died or think that she might have died just because he did not see her for some time. That was why she could not tell him to get used to losing friends.
From the outside, it looked like Sheryl was sympathizing with Katsuya but she was actually organizing that new information in the back of her head and thinking of how she should react to his story.
Katsuya thought that everything would be fine as long he worked hard enough. After all, he had the rare talent to accomplish that, he had done that in the past, he experienced that first hand, and he was likely to do that again in the future. Although Sheryl had no proof, she was sure that it must be the case.
No matter where and when he was born, it was very likely that Katsuya would work himself hard and reach success and happiness. Then loving him and getting loved by him would mean getting a share of his success and happiness.
Sheryl then thought that there must be 2 kinds of people around him. Either those that accepted him and cared for him, or those that rejected him and hated him to death. Either way, it showed that they were interested in him. There must be something in him that caused people around him to not be able to just ignore him. Leaving aside those sociopathic people who did not care about other people, normal people would not be able to just ignore Katsuyas existence.
Sheryl then smiled bitterly, but she kept it inside her heart and did not let it show on her face.
[I wonder if hes one of those people who are too talented and have to face hardship because of their talents. Honestly speaking, I cant sympathize at all, but lets leave that aside for now and think about how I should react. Well, I can just pretend that I cant find any words to say and just keep quiet, but…]
After a lot of thinking, she finally decided on what to do. Then she made a rather serious face and said to Katsuya in a strong tone.
“Katsuya-san, Ill tell you what I think after listening to your story. If its wrong or if I say something that I should not, I hope that you can just let it slide or just mock me and laugh it off.”
Katsuya, who was hanging his head low and looking down, raised his head and looked straight to Sheryl with a serious expression. He felt a bit overwhelmed with her staring at him as he was waiting for her to continue.
Sheryl was staring straight at Katsuya with a serious face, but she then smiled and bowed deeply to him.
“Thank you very much for protecting the city. I can only give you and your comrades as well as all of your friends that you lost my deepest gratitude for protecting the city. Thank you very much!”
Katsuya, Airi, and Yumina were extremely surprised when Sheryl suddenly thanked them. Sheryl then raised her head and stared at Katsuya before continuing.
“Had that swarm of monsters from the Kuzusuhara ruin not been stopped, I bet the city would have suffered extensive damage. And if those bounty monsters were left alone, they would have slowly killed the city. Im sure each Hunter has his or her reason to fight for protecting the city, some of them might have done it for the sake of money, some of them might have done it for the sake of renown, or it might be just because it was one of their jobs, some of them might even have done that because they had no other choice. But it did not change the fact that they had put their lives at stake and some of them even lost their lives in that fight. Thus I feel greatly indebted to them.”
Katsuya realized that he was really moved by Sheryls reply, but he did not know the reason why.
“As long as you work as a Hunter, theres a risk for you to get killed. It could even be said that its their own responsibility for taking that occupation. I bet the Hunters need to resolve themselves to take that risk when they decide to be Hunters. But with that being said, not everyone is blessed enough to work as a Hunter. Im sure there are people who dont have the skills and get killed in no time. Then, even for those Hunters with proper skill and equipment, they might also get killed simply because of bad luck. And I believe for those Hunters who died because you couldnt save them, it was simply because they were not lucky enough to get saved by you.”
Katsuya realized that he felt as if a burden was lifted off his shoulder. But he did not know the reason why.
“I dont know the detail of your relationship with the friends that you have lost. But if you feel proud that you have risked your life together with them, if you feel proud that you were able to fight alongside them, please never forget about them. But if thats not the case, if their deaths only chain you down, then please forget about them this instant.”
The moment Katsuya heard Sheryl telling him to just forget about his dead friends, he immediately shouted in anger.
“Are you seriously saying that I should just forget about them”
But it did not faze Sheryl at all, she kept staring at Katsuyas eyes with a serious face as she continued.
“If youre proud of them, then it should be fine. Im sure that it would even help you down the road. It would give you the courage to push through difficult situations. It would help you stand up again in a hopeless situation. But, if it only serves as a burden to you, it would eventually kill you one day. It would one day trip you when you have to step forward and get you killed. It would drag you down when you have to retreat and get you killed. So just forget about them. You can go ahead and scream as much as you want then just forget about them. You can go ahead and curse me as much as you want then just forget about them.”
Katsuya did not say anything back while listening to what Sheryl was saying. He was still feeling sad for the friends that he had lost. But the thing that was born from that sadness was no longer something that was blaming him.
Sheryl relaxed her expression and said.
“…I wont tell you to keep on living for the sake of dead people. But, Ill tell you to keep on living for the sake of the other people who are still alive. The other two are really worried about you, you know”
Katsuya felt a bit at a loss as he looked at Yumina and Airi. It had been such a long time since the last time he saw Airi and Yumina making those faces, indicating that they were truly worried about him.
Katsuya then turned to Sheryl again. He then made a smile filled with resolve and optimism as he said.
“I wont forget about them, Ill always remember them.”
Katsuya somehow looked like he was finally able to move on, Sheryl then replied with a smile.
“Youre a nice person. Honestly speaking, I was expecting you to get angry at me and tell me to just shut up since Im only a stranger to you.”
Katsuya looked surprised as he said.
“…Then why would you say something like that”
Sheryl just smiled and answered back casually.
“Its because I thought that it would at least make you feel better once you get angry and vented everything that youve been keeping to yourself until now. And if you vent to a stranger like me, it at least wont affect your relationship with the people who are close to you. But it seems that there was no need for me to worry about that.”
It left a big impression on Katsuya. Sheryl helped him to move on from all of his acc.u.mulated grieve that he had kept inside his heart since the day he lost his friends. She prioritized helping him in moving out of worry even though the words that she said there might anger him, a Hunter who had even successfully hunted a bounty monster, a Hunter who was strong enough to easily kill a common civilian. Katsuya felt slight amazement as he stared at Sheryl.
Sheryl then stood up from her seat.
“Unfortunately, it seems that its about time for me to leave, so please excuse me.”
Sheryl lightly said her goodbye.
Seeing Sheryl was about to leave that place, Katsuya inadvertently tried to stop her, but he himself did not know the reason why he did that.
“…Uhmm, can we meet again some other day”
Sheryl looked a bit surprised, but she then smiled smugly and teasingly said.
“Are you trying to hit on me”
Katsuya was so fl.u.s.tered that he could not give any concrete reply to that. Sheryl then mischievously smiled and said.
“Im just joking. We should be able to meet again if were fated to. Yumina-san and Airi-san too, please be careful out there and until we meet again”
Sheryl once again said goodbye and left that place together with Erio.
Katsuya, Airi, and Yumina who were left continued eating their lunch. Yumina and Airi glanced a few times at Katsuya.
“…Uhmmm, is there anything wrong”
“No, its nothing. Im just glad that you cheered up.”
After hearing Yuminas answer, Katsuya then apologized to her and Airi.
“Im really sorry to have worried both of you… I shouldve talked about it to both of you sooner.”
“Were teammates, after all, theres no need to hold back. You can tell us sooner next time.”
Katsuya gave a firm nod. The shadow that plagued him lately had completely vanished.
Yumina sighed, the girl who she met only twice was able to easily clear Katsuyas worry. Yumina was amazed by that. Although she did not show it on her face, she actually felt discouraged by it too. But that was not the most important point here, Yumina was focused on something else.
[…I guess that was a mistake, huh… Ahhh, no no no, I should not think like that. Katsuya was cheered up, so it should be fine.]
Yumina kept telling herself that at least Sheryl was not looking at Katsuya as her love interest, that was why it should be fine.
After finishing the rest of the administrative work, Sheryl walked through the streets of the lower district and headed back to her base. She had met up with Darris beforehand. But after telling Darris what happened, she decided to take a detour to avoid meeting Katsuya again.
Sheryl realized that Erio was looking at her. Ever since she finished her business in the Hunter Office, he had been glancing at her with a conflicted expression.
Sheryl was weirded out by that as she lightly snapped at him.
“Erio, what is it Youve been glancing at me. Do you have anything you want to say to me or something”
But Erio then replied as if he was trying to run away.
“Ah, no, its nothing.”
Half of the reason as to why he kept glancing at Sheryl was out of fear. He was fearful of how she was able to completely trick Katsuya and his friends. It was because he noticed how much the person that he knew well, had changed. But, he did not have the courage to say that in front of Sheryl.
But then, Sheryl sounded irritated as she replied back to Erio. It might be because she did not like the fact that he was not being honest there.
“You wont behave like that if it was nothing, right So just tell me already, what is it”
Erio understood well that it would be a bad idea if he kept trying to say that it was nothing. Thus he decided to ask Sheryl something that had been bothering him.
“…Back then, you said all of those things to that Hunter… Katsuya, was it again So like, how much of them were your true feelings”
“My true feelings”
Sheryl looked flabbergasted after hearing Erios question, her face was saying that she did not understand the meaning behind that question. But after she had that expression on her face for a few seconds, she suddenly seemed to have realized something and said.
“…Ahhh, I see!! By any chance, do you think that I was really worried about Katsuya and sympathized with him, thats why I tried to cheer him up Dont be stupid, I dont care about his story at all. As a matter of fact, the main point that I was actually saying to him was for him to stop moping around and move on, you know Although I did overly dramatize it though. You got hooked to his story too much, you know. Were you so bored just standing next to me that you could not help but to listen closely to our conversation”
Erio was rather surprised by her answer as he said.
“I-is that so But well, I do feel sad when I lose my friends too. So when I realised that even a strong Hunter felt the same, I sympathized with him for a bit though…”
“Erio. Get a better grip of yourself, will you Were not in a position to feel pity for them, you know Seriously though, sympathy Do you really think that such a thing could exist between slum children like us and a successful Hunter who had even hunted a bounty monster I bet youre just mistaking it for your feeling of wanting to be like him.”
“W-well, now that you mention it, that might be true… No, but still, like, you know, dont you think that it might be a good idea to get close to them and get them to support us just like Akira”
“So then what Will you be satisfied if he mourns when you, me, Alicia, and the other children get killed Thats obviously not the case for me though.”
“Neither for me as well…”
“In the first place, what do you think we can give back to them if we get them to support us Its already a miracle to have Akira supporting us, you know Even right now… Im at loss on what we can give back to him.”
Sheryl was about to say that she still could not repay for everything that Akira had done for the gang and she had no idea how long Akira would keep helping the gang, but she somehow was able to change her wordings.
When he heard that, Erio hung his head low. It was because the hope that he was unconsciously having was crushed with no mercy at all by Sheryl.
“…Youre right, Im sorry. I just thought that it would be great if they could do that. But I guess the reality is not that kind, huh.”
“Its all good that you understand now. And if you really understand it now, you should be more thankful to Akira. Its all thanks to his support that were not dead now, you know… Well, of course, except for that fool. That fool even dared to be so rude to Akira and tried taking me hostage, thats why hes dead now. You got spared once, so you should be extra careful.”
“I know, I dont want to die after all.”
Sheryl nodded in satisfaction after hearing Erios response. She then added an extra warning.
“Erio, Ill give you one other warning besides that one just now. In case if you never break up with Alicia, you should never let her get close to that Katsuya.”
Erios face stiffened. He then asked Sheryl in panic.
“W-what do you mean by that”
“Its just my intuition. Since both of you are officers in my gang, Im sure therell be a lot of occasions where both of you accompany me, it would be bad if Alicia gets to meet Katsuya by pure coincidence. There is a chance that she will fall for him, you know. Judging from what I heard back then, it seems that Katsuya has a habit of saying things that invite misunderstanding to girls. After all, hes a kind young handsome powerful Hunter with a lot of money and talent. Even though it seems there are a lot of girls around him, if he treats Alicia kindly… Im not sure if she can just give up on him, you know”
After saying that, Sheryl sent a deep meaningful gaze to Erio. Erios face turned pale, he must be imagining what she just said. After she confirmed that, she then made a serious face and thought.
[It seems that Erio was really pulled to Katsuyas side although he was only listening to our conversation from behind me. Well, its true that its a rather amazing story of successful Hunter, so its no surprise that Erio admired him, but… I wonder if thats all there is to it. Or maybe he felt that weird feeling that I also felt back then In the worst-case scenario, he might even propose a crazy idea like kicking Akira out and hiding behind Katsuya and his friends for protection. I brought Alicia into the conversation to prevent him from getting too close to Katsuya, but… Looking at his reaction, I guess that was unnecessary, huh…]
As Sheryl kept on thinking about it and Erio kept making a pale face, Darris who heard their conversation thought about something else.
[I dont know just how strong that Katsuya guy is, but leaving him aside, Akira himself is pretty crazy… He fought a swarm of monsters twice on the same day. I didnt think about it much since he saved us, but back then, he was not using an augmented suit and was able to fight a swarm of monsters with just his flimsy AAH rifle. He was even able to save us in the end. Well, its true that back then, we had a machine gun as our main firepower, then Elena and Sara saved us on our second encounter with the monster swarm that day, but theres no mistaking that Akira did very well in both fights… As I thought, its really weird. Katsuragi is also bothered by that sudden change in Sheryls behaviour but… Sheryl is indeed a competent person and theres nothing strange about it, As for Akira… Its true that hes a powerful Hunter, but… Theres just something not right about him.]
All of them had their own thoughts as they walked back to their base.
On the night of that day, Katsuya was lying on the bed of his personal room as he remembered what Sheryl said to him. That time when he had only met her once, he yearned to meet her again. And, on their second encounter, she was able to clear his worry.
Lately, Katsuya could not get a good sleep since he always had nightmares where his dead friends blamed him. His regret for not being able to save them, his feeling of guilt, they unconsciously turned his dead friends into ghosts. But after listening to what Sheryl said to him, they had been turned back to his important friends that he was proud of. He was sure that he would not see those nightmares anymore.
Katsuyas heart was gnawed by his regret and guilt. Although it pushed him to get stronger as fast as he could, it only chained and bound him down. Thus preventing him from showing the true value of his talent.
But now, it had completely disappeared. It left a big hole in his heart, and the feeling for a certain someone was slowly filling that hole.
“We didnt exchange contact numbers but… I wonder if we can meet again one day”
Katsuya lightly smiled and closed his eyes, he was then peacefully lulled to sleep.
That night, Sheryl was lying on the bed in her private room and recollecting what happened that day.
She looked back at everything that she said that day, analyzed them to find any flaws that she should fix next time. Then she remembered how much Katsuya grieved for his dead friends.
It might be due to the creeping sleepiness that she started to think about unnecessary things.
As questions welled up inside her head, they were quickly followed by her own answers. Although she was answering her own question, there was a good chance that her answers were correct. Sheryls face then twitched.
Her question was short and simple–if she got killed, would Akira mourn for her death And the answer was an obvious resoundingno.
She then immediately stopped herself from thinking of any reasoning or assumptions that she could think of to refute that since it felt like she could spend eternity just thinking about those things.
[…Lets think about something else, there are still so many other things that I need to worry about.]
If she kept thinking about that, there was no mistaking it that she would get a nightmare that night. As Sheryl thought so, she immediately tried to think about something else. She tried her best to fight back against the sleepiness to think about other subjects, and in the end, she fell asleep without thinking about anything.
Inside that white world, she heard a voice.
“Stop thinking about unnecessary things.”
And then, that voice vanished.