Chapter 19:

Chapter 19: The Road Back


Riding in the jeep with Dorem and his team back to the slums was a new experience for Nyk. Unlike the anxiousness when he rode with Mysha and her team, or the exhaustion and tension he felt with Lulu and Aud, the atmosphere was filled with cheer.

“50,000 silvs, can you believe it?” Dorem howled, throwing his head back in a raucous laugh. “Split three ways, that’s really something!”

He was sitting in the front seat, clutching his prize to his chest. Janys was at the wheel and Rory was in the back with Nyk and Mysha. All three teammates had big grins on their faces.

“You’re quite lucky,” Mysha politely agreed. “Although, wouldn’t that have been the normal reward for that beast anyway?”

“Well, normally we woulda been snake food,” Rory said. He slapped Nyk on the shoulder with his remaining hand. “Lucky we had you around, Wolf!”

“That’s true,” Janys agreed. “Tell you what, let me buy you a drink when we get back to the slums, just a show of gratitude?” It seemed like she was finally starting to warm up to him. But Nyk had to decline. It had only been a few days since his last drink, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go through that a second time.

“With the money he’s getting on that bounty, he could buy us all drinks!” Dorem hooted. But his tone of voice made it clear he was just kidding around. He turned in his seat to look at Nyk curiously. “So tell me, what are you planning to do with all that cash?”

Mysha looked expectantly towards him, she was also curious.

Nyk just shrugged. “No plans yet,” he mumbled, knowing full well that Lulu would probably not let him keep more than a handful of coins in the first place.

“Really?” Rory asked, surprised. “I know what I’m doing with my cut, I’m heading right to the red lights!”

“You’re disgusting.” Janys snorted in disgust and rolled her eyes. Mysha made a face herself.

Rory was undeterred though. “It’s perfectly natural!” He protested. “Come on Wolf, you know what I’m saying, right? A Scavenger of your skill must have spent his fair share of coins on pleasurable company, right?”

Nyk shook his head. “No, never.” He’d never been with anyone before, paid or otherwise, and the thought of those women honestly made him shiver.

Dorem raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. While it was fairly common for a Scavenger to use their money on women, it wasn’t like everyone did. To start, given the status of “Wolf’s” armor it was a question of whether or not such things would be desirable in the first place. From the high performance he had observed, Dorem suspected that much of the Scavenger’s body had been augmented by cybernetics, perhaps to the point where he was no more than a brain encased in an artificial combat drone. While it was not impossible for cybernetics to replicate sensations, things like sexual gratification might not be prioritized, especially if that body was created for use in the field by Volstgalph Industries. That was the assumption that Dorem was currently under as he assessed the Scavenger in front of him. Needless to say, the idea that the person in the suit was a young man with no augmentations whatsoever did not even cross his mind.

He had more important things to concern himself with at the moment, such as his newfound riches. So he let the matter drop without further questioning, and focused on the treasure in his arms.

Lulu’s truck moved much slower than normal due to the heavy cargo it carried, so dawn had broken by the time both vehicles made it back to the slums.

Nyk was exhausted. With the battery of his suit so low it barely did anything to increase his strength, almost feeling more like heavy armor than something to improve his performance. But he didn’t dare remove it without Lulu’s permission. He shambled out of the back of the jeep with Mysha and Dorem.

Aud was waiting for them.

“With this, our arrangement has come to a close. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.” She politely smiled at Dorem, who nodded.

“Oh, and I do hope you won’t be needing any reminder to keep this arrangement to yourself?” Aud added. Dorem’s face darkened. She was basically threatening him to keep his mouth shut about everything that had transpired, including the fact that Wolf was working with Volstgalph Industries.

He shrugged and scratched his beard. “I’m a pretty bashful guy at heart, I don’t think I’ve got it in me to risk upsetting a lovely lady such as yourself.”

“Thank you for your understanding on this matter,” she said without even flinching. Dorem nodded again and headed back to his jeep.

“As for you,” she turned to Mysha, “my employer would be willing to take your silence on this matter as payment for the medicine and ammunition you used from us. Is that acceptable?”

“Hey, wait!” Nyk protested. Aud shot him a glare, but he was adamant. He’d used that expensive medicine because he was concerned about Mysha, asking for repayment after the fact just wasn’t fair!

But Mysha didn’t see it that way.

“That would be perfectly acceptable,” she agreed with a nod. “Considering that Wolf undoubtedly saved my life, it’s the least I could do for him.”

Her cheeks turned pink as she smiled at him, and for a second Nyk’s heart leapt out of his chest. But he quickly had to remind himself that it wasn’t him she was looking at that way, it was the fake persona “Wolf” that she’d built up in her mind. Considering that, he was able to calm down right away.

“I’m glad to see you’re so understanding of this matter,” Aud replied, her polite smile returning. She lowered her head in a bow. “Thank you for your assistance in this matter, please have a nice day.”

With Dorem and his team already departed in his jeep, Mysha didn’t have much she could do other than awkwardly walk the rest of the way into the slums on foot. But before she left, she turned to Nyk with another smile.

“Thank you again for saving me, Wolf. You’re a very skilled Scavenger, and I hope we meet again soon. If you’d like to work a job with my team and I, I could leave you my number?”

There was a hopeful tone in her voice that made Nyk immediately want to shout “yes!” The idea of working with Mysha and repaying her for everything she’d done was tantalizing. But he never got the chance.

“I’m afraid that will be quite impossible,” Aud interjected. “Wolf’s contract with my employer is very clear in this regard. So, thank you for your generous offer, but I’m afraid we must decline.”

Mysha gave them both an awkward look, shrugged, and headed back into the slums. Nyk watched her walk away regretfully, then turned back to Aud. Her smile was gone, like it had never been there in the first place.

“Let’s get going,” she coldly addressed him. “We have to transport the remains.”

Aud brought the Sentinel’s head out of the back, on a strange piece of equipment Nyk had never seen before. It was nothing like the carrier he’d lost back in the Towers, even though it looked similar. Rather than wheels, the carrier was floating above the ground, like it was rolling along a cushion of air. With its support, Aud was able transport the massive head without any trouble at all.

People were shocked by the sight. A young woman in a fine suit from the inner city pushed a piece of a Sentinel the size of a small truck through the slums, while accompanied by a figure clad from head to toe in black and silver armor. Nyk knew they must be making a scene, but he didn’t have time to think about that right now.

He was in the middle of a conversation with Lulu.

“I have a question for you, about my job yesterday.”

“Oh? What is it?”

There had been something bugging him since last night, but he hadn’t felt confident enough to ask until now. But he figured he might as well just do it before it ate away at him.

“You said that you wanted me to go to the lower levels of the Towers in order to find more expensive relics, right?”

“Something along those lines, yeah.” The lighthearted tone of her voice almost sounded mocking, and served to further confirm his suspicions.

“That was a lie, wasn’t it?”

“Oh? Whatever would you say that for, Slum Boy?”

He scowled. She didn’t deny it outright, which meant she was playing with him. So he revealed his suspicions.

“You knew about that Bounty Sentinel all along, didn’t you? Or rather, you anticipated that I would run into it, and that was your plan all along, isn’t that right?”

She gasped, like what Nyk had said had shocked and horrified her. But he knew her better than that by now.


“I’m shocked and chagrinned, Slum Boy, shocked and chagrined! Whatever made you think I would plan such a thing?”

“50,000 pieces of silver-pressed fulcrumite, to start.”

“…Oh. That.”

“Yeah. That. That’s a pretty specific sum. Almost like you were expecting to bribe anyone who may have gotten wrapped up in this mess, exactly like you did. That was your whole plan, wasn’t it? Not to raise my reputation through relics and artifacts, but by fighting a Bounty Sentinel!”

She was silent for a long time.

“…Well, I didn’t plan EVERYTHING.”

So you admit it!”

“Hey, even I couldn’t count on you running into Mysha, Could I? Or that your communication signal would break out like that? Or that you would let yourself get eaten?”

“I wasn't ready for a Sentinel of that level!” He hissed. “What were you thinking?! You could have gotten me killed!”

“I was testing your capabilities, that’s all!” Lulu chirped, like she saw absolutely nothing wrong with her actions. “And you made it out alive! Congratulations!”

Nyk couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He wanted to scream. But before he could chew her out any further, a commotion up ahead caught his attention, and he rushed to go check it out.