Chapter 11:

Chapter 11: Strangers


Nyk was confused. He waited all morning for Rowan or Dyna to do something to him, to reveal their true colors, but so far only the opposite had happened. They untied him from the chair after he promised not to attack him, they gave him back his Scavenging License, and even his clothes, which had been cleaned as best as they could manage.

“I don’t understand, why are you doing this?”

“What do you mean?” Rowan asked, confused.

“I mean… you’re just letting me go? After letting me use your bed, cleaning my clothes, and giving me food, you’re just…” It didn’t make sense.

The smile she gave him was kind.

“Is it wrong to help people?” She asked.

What could he say to that?

The only person who had ever helped him without wanting anything in return was Mysha. Because she was such a great and caring person, so different from everyone else in the slums. Nyk knew, from his experience with Lulu, that city people were no better. She didn’t even consider him a person.

Which was why he couldn’t believe that these two had helped him out of the goodness of his heart. “People don’t do that sort of thing!” He protested. “Nobody would just give food and shelter to some rat off the street! So what the hell do you want from me, huh?!”

Rowan made a pained look. “Please, believe me, neither my daughter nor I want anything from you. We helped you because we thought you needed our help. That’s all. If you want to go, then you’re free to leave.”

She lowered her voice and a shadow crossed her face. “But… I wish you would stay a little longer.”

Nyk tensed. He knew it was coming.

“…Since it doesn’t look like you have anywhere else to go.”

Wait, what?

“That’s it? So you’re not going to make me work as your servant to pay off my debt or something like that?!”

Rowan blinked, then she chuckled. “Oh, no, that’s what my daughter is for!”

“I HEARD THAT!” Dyna shouted, looking up from the dirty dishes in the sink.

“Then why, I don’t… do you think I can’t pay you back or anything like that?!” Nyk asked, flashing his Scavenging License. “I have over 9000 silvs in my account, I could more than pay you back!”

“I don’t want your money,” Rowan said, shaking her head. “I already told you, I’m worried about you having a place to stay. 9000 silvs… that won’t last very long out there, will it?”

…Why? Why was she saying stuff like that?

“Why are you so concerned about me?! I can take care of myself! I don’t need your pity!” He spat. “You don’t need to treat me like some-“

“SHUT UP ALREADY!” Something wet and squishy smacked Nyk in the face, cutting him off. He pulled the tattered dishrag off and turned to see Dyna glaring at him.

“Mom, you just don’t get it. No matter how nice you are to this guy, it’s not gonna matter.”

“Young lady, that’s a rude tone to take with our guest!” Rowan frowned.

Dyna ignored her, walking over to Nyk and looking him straight in the eyes. She didn’t say another word, she just stared at him.

It was strange. Whenever Lulu looked at him, it was like she was staring at trash. Like everyone else, she saw him as just a slum rat. Only Mysha’s eyes were different, filled with warmth and kindness, like Rowan’s. But Dyna… he had no idea what to make of those eyes of hers. It was like she was staring right into his soul.

He pulled away, unable to withstand her piercing gaze.

“Come shopping with me,” she snapped. That made him look at her again, this time with confusion.

“What? Shopping? Wha…”

“Mom, I’ve decided. I want casserole for dinner tonight!” Dyna said, turning to her mother. “That means we need to pick up ingredients, right?”

“Y-Yes,” Rowan nodded.

“I’ll go pick the stuff we need up at the market.” Then, she turned back to Nyk again. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a coinpurse. “There’s about… 2000 silvs in here or so. That’s a dangerous sum of money for someone to walk around the slums with all alone. If you want to repay us for the food and stuff, then be my bodyguard.”

“Bodyguard?!” He sputtered in disbelief. She’d laid him out flat and she was talking about needing a bodyguard?

“Well, why not? You’re a Scavenger. I doubt you could get 9000 silvs without getting into a fight or two, right? Plus, you’ve got that gun,” she added, nodding to Nyk’s rifle, “so you should be able to handle it. You keep me safe until I make it back home, then you join me and mom for dinner and we call it all even, sound like a deal?”

“That… that’s it? Just being a bodyguard for a few hours, that’s all? Then you’ll let me go?” Did they think he was that stupid, believing something like that? But if they would actually give him back his gun…

Dyna rolled her eyes. “You’re free to go right now, if you want. Or, we can go shopping. It’s up to you.”

Nyk glanced at his rifle, still leaning against the wall. He had his hunting clothes back on, too, while both of them were unarmed. If Dyna tried something again, it wouldn’t end the way it did last time.

“…Fine,” he muttered. “Let’s go.”

“Excellent!” Dyna chirped. “Mom, watch the shop! We’ll be out!”

Nyk picked up his gun and warily followed her out into the storefront. Rowan and Dyna lived in the back of a machine repair store that Rowan ran, which explained their relative luxury. Not every house could afford running water or furniture, but stores like this were in high demand in the slums. If it wasn’t for his experiences with Lulu, he might have been impressed at some of the stuff he saw as they passed through.

The Iron Streets were the same miserable sight as always. Some things never changed. Crowds of people shambled back and forth with their heads down and their hands clenching the scant coins in their pockets warily. The gutters and alleys on either side were filled to the brim with people who didn’t even have that much. Some were scraping at the puddles of rainwater from the storm before, desperate to slake their thirsts, while others watched the pedestrians with a careful eye, looking for an easy mark.

And then there were the Scavengers like him. They were few and far between, but they were easy to tell because they carried weapons, and the crowd parted as they passed by. Nyk clutched his rifle tightly in his hands and scanned the crowd carefully, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

Had it always felt this light? He hadn’t noticed it last night due to all the stress, but the rifle that had seemed so heavy to him back then now rested comfortably in his grasp, like he’d been using it forever. Now, he could barely remember feeling that way, his first expedition felt like a lifetime ago.

“…So, uh… are you usually this much fun?” Dyna asked dryly, glancing back at him.

“I’m being vigilant,” he answered. He kept the barrel down but his finger at the trigger, ready to raise and fire at a moment’s notice.

“Of what, pickpockets? You don’t need a gun to handle something like that.”

“Don’t underestimate a pickpocket,” Nyk replied, making eye contact with a particularly brazen-looking punk. “They’re a lot faster than you’d expect, and you might not even notice when they get you.”

“Oh, speaking from experience, I see?” Dyna smirked, and he tensed. “…That was a joke.”

It wasn’t a very funny one. Living on the street built a familiarity with thievery, as both a victim and a perpetrator.

“We can’t all live in a fancy store,” he scowled at her.

“…You know, you don’t have to stay on the street. We do have a spare room.”

He almost wanted to laugh. “Oh, please. Like I told your mom, I don’t want your charity. I can take care of myself just fine.”

Dyna raised her eyebrow. “…Yeah. I’ll bet.”

They walked in silence for a while as Nyk tried to figure out what was up with her. For someone who requested a bodyguard, she seemed rather careless. Rather than letting him take the lead, she’d decided to walk right next to him, which would probably slow down his reaction time if something happened. And she wasn’t even watching for any potential thieves.

Maybe that’s why she hired me, so she doesn’t have to be vigilant the whole time… But still, he couldn’t believe that someone this trusting could be alive.

“Tell me something,” he said, turning towards her. “What are you and your mom really after?”

She rolled her eyes and groaned. “Ugh. This again? I told you, we aren’t ‘after’ anything.”

“…Then are you just stupid or something?”

“Hey!” She growled, glaring at him. “Watch it!”

No, this was all wrong. He didn’t have instincts as a Scavenger, but as a slum rat, he knew when something smelled too good to be true. He wasn’t some clueless mark. Nyk raised his gun and nudged Dyna in the shoulder with it, turning her towards him and jabbing the barrel right over her heart.

The crowd gasped and scattered, not wanting to get involved in a firefight. Dyna flinched a little, obviously startled, but didn’t run or scream. She just stared at him with those pale eyes of hers.

“…What are you doing?” She asked warily.

“That’s what I’m asking you,” he snarled back. “What are you doing? Taking me out like this? To go shopping? Giving me back my gun, then showing me all that money of yours, it’s like you’re just asking to get robbed. So either you’re the biggest idiot in the world, or you’re up to something.”

Dyna blinked, taken aback. Then she laughd.

She fucking laughed.

“Come on, I know you wouldn’t do something like that! You’re not that type of guy!”

“You don’t even know me! You tied me to a chair because you thought I was dangerous, so what the hell makes you say something like that?” He demanded.

She shrugged. “Things change.”

“That wasn’t even two hours ago!”

She shrugged again, unfazed by the rifle pressing down on her chest. “The way I see it, if you were the sort of guy to do that sort of thing, you’d have just walked out when we said you were free to go.”

“Because I didn’t trust your words.”

“The gun was right there. You could have just shot us both. Instead, you felt guilty, isn’t that right? Like you didn’t deserve our kindness. That’s why you were making all those excuses, yeah?”

“N-No, that’s not… those weren’t excuses!”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah because mom and I really look like we were plotting something. And mom’s stew was just to ‘lull your into a false sense of security’, I’ll bet.”

He jabbed her in the chest again. “Maybe! Who knows?”

“You coulda just said ‘thank you’. Coulda just walked away. Instead you’re here going shopping, because you couldn’t stand owing someone else a favor.”

“You…” Nyk felt his face getting hot. “Sh-Shut up!”

Dyna smirked and pushed his gun away. “It’s fine,” she chuckled. “I like earnest guys like you. Now then, if we’re done, can we get back to shopping please? We both know you didn’t go to all this trouble to rob me.”

Nyk didn’t know what to say to that. Feeling embarrassed, he followed her with a sullen expression and wondered if he really did have the wrong idea.