Book 2: Chapter 55
(TL: I noticed that the last part of the last chapter was accidentally lost at some point before the chapter was posted, and I apologise for not noticing sooner. I decided to just put it in this chapter instead of editing the last one.)
* * *
Looking at his unconcerned attitude, she couldn’t help but think back to the experience she had with him last time. It felt like it was all a dream.
The Lukas now, who was currently staring blankly out the window, didn’t exude any of the pressure she’d felt at that time.
…But that thought in itself was a bit terrifying.
“In any case, I look forward to working with you.”
“Yes. I also look forward to our cooperation.”
At that moment, the limousine smoothly came to a stop. They had arrived at the portal.
As she stepped out of the car, Joanna made a silent prayer.
She hoped their mission would end soon.
* * *
On the African continent, which had become a lawless zone, the only place where some manner of security was maintained was West Africa.
This wasn’t because the hunters were successfully defending it or that they had managed to suppress the Demons.
It was simply because the Demons weren’t interested in that area.
The place that Lukas and Joanna headed to was the country which had formerly been the Republic of Congo.
The Congo Branch of the Hunter Association left a very dirty impression. The building, which could barely be called a hideout, was on the brink of collapsing, and it was so dirty that it was clear that it was not being properly managed.
The surrounding area that could be seen from the dusty windows was even worse. It felt like it was a city where zombies lived.
Only depression and resignation could be seen on the faces of the people walking down the streets.
Maybe it was because they had just come from North America, but the atmosphere was so gloomy that they could feel it on their skin. It felt like they had gone to an entirely different dimension.
Joanna stared out the window with a blank expression on her face. She looked as if her soul had left her body.
While Lukas wondered about her reaction, someone approached them.
“Are you the hunters from America?”
It was a black man with a red tattoo on his face, and from his physique, it was easy to guess that he was either a Martial Artist or a Swordsman.
Joanna, who came back to her senses, let out a soft cough.
“I’m Joanna Goldberg, a hunter from America.”
“And who is the man beside you?”
Judging from his attitude, it was clear that he had never heard of Lukas before.
The man turned to look at Joanna again, and after observing her face for a moment, he nodded.
“Welcome to the Congo Branch. I’m Destin, the Branch President. I’ve already heard the details. Although it might not be much, I will give you my full support.”
Seeming to have escaped her previous daze, Joanna replied with her distinctive, haughty expression.
“Let’s not stand and talk. Follow me.”
After saying that, Destin turned around and started walking with large strides. From his actions, it was clear that his personality was just as blunt as his appearance.
While following him, Joanna glanced around.
‘…I didn’t expect it to be this bad.’
This wasn’t the first time she’d been assigned a mission in another region. However, she’d only ever been to relatively safe, clean cities. She’d never been to Europe or Africa, where the Demons were most active.
So this was her first time seeing a city that was on the frontlines.
And although she’d heard the rumors and read the reports, it was different from seeing it with her own two eyes.
As they followed behind Destin, they encountered several Congolese hunters.
When they passed Destin, they all nodded their heads a few times. But for Lukas and Joanna, the outsiders, they didn’t seem to be the least bit interested.
During their short walk, they encountered two types of hunters. Those who had sharp auras like unsheathed blades that could cut at any moment, and those who looked incredibly depressed and hopeless or were struggling with conflicting emotions.
When they finally arrived at the President’s office, she was surprised once again.
It was dirtier than any bathroom in the North American Branch, and smaller than any room in Joanna’s house.
“Sit wherever you like. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any refreshments to give you.”
“Th-, that’s fine.”
“That’s good then.”
Destin sat down on a couch that had bits of cotton sticking out. The dim light in the room highlighted his tired face.
“…I heard you guys are planning to go to Egypt.”
The place where Kran was staying was near Egypt. And it seemed that he would be staying there for a while.
This was because he had to recover from the damage he’d taken during his fight with the Demon Duke.
In other words, after that period, he would leave for another region without hesitation. From the patterns that he’d displayed so far, he would go looking for new prey.
So they had no time to lose.
“I was given a rough explanation of the situation. And I think it will be a fight against time. Have you thought about a means of transportation?”
Egypt was about 3,000km from the Republic of Congo, their current location.
To go on foot would be absurd.
‘I could greatly reduce the time taken if I used magic, but…’
It would inevitably attract attention.
There were countless Demons and Demon Beasts in Africa, and Lukas could not kill them because of his deal with Sedi.
If he used high ranked magic and drew in powerful Demon Nobles, things would become annoying.
That was why he planned to go to Egypt without the assistance of magic.
Sometimes, using mundane methods was the best solution. Of course, it would still take some time. After all, there wasn’t much public transportation in Africa currently.
Destin pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it before saying.
“If you went on foot, it would probably take a year. Personally, I would recommend using an army truck, since it’s good at traversing unpaved roads as well as flat lands. And it has enough space to store gas as well as food. You would even have enough space to sleep in.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“Mi- army truck…”
When Lukas nodded as though that was reasonable, Joanna’s expression became a bit bleak. For her, who was only used to using limousines or other luxury cars, the thought of traveling in an army truck was an unknown world.
“Of course, that won’t solve all of your problems.”
Destin let out a mouthful of smoke.
“You would rarely encounter high ranking Demon Nobles unless you enter North Africa, but there are still countless Demons Beasts. Well, their combat power isn’t much of a threat. It wouldn’t be much of a problem unless they came in a swarm. The problem is the other guys.”
“The Gray Sun.”
Lukas said the name he’d heard from Joanna.
“Exactly. This area is still fine, but as soon as you leave, you’ll be entering their territory.”
And they would just watch an army truck pass through their territory.
Destin’s gaze turned to Joanna.
“Besides, with how good looking you are, they might jump out with shining eyes when they see you.”
Joanna narrowed her eyes.
She normally liked being praised for her good looks. But if the other side was the Gray Sun, then it became a different story.
It was obvious that if she was ever captured, she would experience something indescribable.
“I can help you find the safest route, but it would be impossible to avoid them completely all the way to Egypt. So you should think of a contingency beforehand.”
“The army truck will be ready in the morning. We’ll also provide you with as much food, water and gas as we can. As well as sleeping bags, cooking utensils and daily necessities. If you need anything else, please feel free to tell me.”
* * *
The territory of the Republic of Congo was once covered in red soil, but now, the soil had mostly turned black, or in other words, the land had died.
Even though it was midnight, the weather remained grim. Dark clouds filled the sky and a nasty scent drifted in the air.
“Aren’t you gonna get some sleep?”
He heard a voice from behind him.
Without looking back, he knew that it was Joanna.
She pursed her lips slightly when Lukas didn’t respond, but continued anyway.
“What are you doing here? I don’t think getting hit by dusty winds is a hobby of yours.”
“I’m just standing.”
“Hmm. You didn’t even eat, did you?”
“…well. That’s smart. The rice here is the worst.”
It seemed she had eaten. And judging from her expression and tone, it was worse than not eating at all.
Joanna glanced at him and seemed to shrink into herself a little.
Lukas knew that she didn’t have a very good opinion of him. So she must have a reason for coming to him and talking about such trivial things.
And just as he expected, Joanna finally broached the main topic with a cautious voice. However, her words took Lukas by surprise.
“Hey. Is President Nina okay?”
Lukas turned to look at Joanna. She was looking into the distance with a faint glimmer in her eyes,
“Do you know her?”
“…she’s not dead.”
“Can’t you give me more details?”
Joanna spoke in an exasperated tone. Nevertheless, when Lukas didn’t respond, she let out a sigh.
“I’m not asking with any bad intentions. I was just asking because I was worried.”
“Why are you worried about her?”
“Can’t I be worried about a fellow hunter?”
Joanna straightened up before turning to look at him.
“It’s because I adore President Nina…. She is my hero.”
“You know her?”
“I don’t really know her. Well, we met a few times, but I doubt she remembers me. It’s just that I have a lot of respect for her.”
“She’s one of the most famous female hunters. She’s amazing. Nina Rednikova, Leader of the Iron Blood Division. There are even fan clubs and those who go to the frontlines just to be her shield.”
‘I’m a member of the largest fan club.’
Joanna added in her head.
Lukas made an expression as though he wasn’t sure whether to laugh at that remark, but when he looked at Joanna, he realised she was serious.
She was telling the truth.
“Her condition is serious.”
“But I believe that she can overcome it. That’s what everyone who knows her, including me, thinks.”
Nina was probably in the worst situation she’d ever been in in her life. It wasn’t just her physical injuries.
It was no exaggeration to say that her will had shattered. And the vast majority of humans became useless or even ended their own lives when their will was broken.
But Nina wouldn’t do that.
She would take advantage of the pain and become even stronger than before. Lukas believed in her.
‘However, it will be hard on her own.’
Lukas had been seriously contemplating Nina’s rehabilitation, and he was willing to do whatever it took to help her get better.
Right now, finding the clue from the Top Three was his main priority, but he intended to return as soon as he was finished.
Joanna nodded once before turning to look into the distance again.
“Have you ever been to Africa before?”
“Are the other places like this too?”
Was that all she wanted?
Lukas frowned slightly.
Joanna’s attitude was different from when they first met. Perhaps she felt more familiar with him since they came to such a dangerous place together.
Lukas looked around. He could understand what she meant just by looking at their surroundings.
Despair, darkness, poverty, hunger.
This city seemed to embody every facet of the dark side of humanity.
“It will be worse than here.”
Not just Africa, but in Europe as well. Especially in France, where the Demon King resided. The environment had become so toxic that no other creature could withstand it.
And North Africa, where Kran was, was filled with high ranking Demons.
Unlike here, where the association and hunters were active, it wasn’t strange for survivors to suddenly die the next day.
Perhaps Joanna had never been on a mission to the frontlines.
“They could go to America.”
Lukas turned to look at her at those words.
“America does not reject those who come to us. I don’t understand why people continue to live in such dangerous places.”
“You don’t know anything.”
Lukas didn’t answer.
Instead, it was Destin, who was standing behind her.
“What did you say?”
“They are not fools. If they could’ve moved to America, they would have done so already.”
“America only accepts hunters.”
“North America does not accept citizens without power or skill.”
Joanna’s pupil’s shook violently at those words.
“Th-, that’s not true. We accept at least a few thousands civilians every year…”
“That is limited to hunters’ families and close friends.”
Destin sneered as he continued.
“The people you see are the ones who don’t have any connections. So we can’t even get out of this cursed place and set foot on American soil.”
If they left, then all the civilians in this place would die. Either at the hands of the Demons, or their own kind.