Chapter 21:

Chapter 21: New Normal


Nyk woke up to sunlight streaming in through the window. He sat up and stretched, looking around the small room. After all these months, it was beginning to feel more and more like a home.

He still couldn’t believe Lulu had actually agreed to let him stay with Rowan and Dyna. When he told her their terms, he’d expected her to laugh in his face and force him back to her base. But she’d actually been… reasonable.

“I don’t care where you’re sleeping, Slum Boy. As long as you remain in contact every day and come when I call for you, you could be living in the gutter for all it matters.” Those were the words she’d said in her sweet as sugar voice as she handed him a telescreen and kicked him to the curb with just his clothes on his back and his gun.

Since then, well… he’d been making the best of it.

“Good morning, Nyk!” Rowan greeted him with a smile as he came downstairs for breakfast. “Food’s almost ready, you can join Dyna and Sky at the table.”

Sky. That was the name of the girl who’d kicked off this strange little living arrangement. It wasn’t her real name, of course; even after all this time she still hadn’t said a single word to anyone. Dyna had just chosen to call her that due to her hair color, and because calling her “the girl” just felt wrong.

“Morning Nyk, sleep in late tonight?” Dyna asked, giving him a smile as he sat across from her. “Glad you could make it for once.”

“Really? And here I thought I was doing you a favor, going out to Scavenge so early all the time,” he smiled back. “Or is it that you miss having someone to tease?”

Dyna’s face twisted into an exaggerated gasp of shock and she held her hand over her chest. “Me? Tease? Why I never! I meant every word of those insults!” She lightly kicked him under the table.

“Kids, what have I told you about flirting at the table?” Rowan sternly chided, walking over with plates of steaming eggs.

Dyna’s face turned scarlet. “Shut up mom! That’s not it, we’re just fooling around!”

Nyk was confused. “What’s flirting?”

“Oh, nothing…” Rowan giggled, earning a glare from her daughter.

“It’s nothing, forget it,” Dyna muttered as breakfast was served.

“…Four plates again, mom?”

Rowan sighed. “Well, we had a little extra this week, so I just thought… maybe?”

Everyone looked at Sky and the plate of food in front of her. If the blue-haired girl noticed she certainly didn’t show it. She stared into space, expressionless as a doll.

Rowan walked over to her and took a spoonful of eggs, lifting it to her pale lips. “Here, Sky. They’re eggs. Would you like to try?”

Sky’s mouth didn’t move. Rowan pushed the spoon a little more insistently, but to no avail.

Thanks to this strange slip of a girl, Nyk’s first few days living here had led to him questioning a lot of things. She never ate. She never had anything to drink. And she never showed a need for either. She looked as healthy as the day they’d met, when by all accounts she should have been dead weeks ago. According to Dyna she didn’t even sleep, she just stared vacantly into the darkness.

They’d all been worried about going to see a slum doctor, due to the fact she was still being hunted. And as Dyna reasoned, maybe it wasn’t as big a deal as they thought it was. With all the cybernetics and augmentations floating around, not everybody needed sustenance to maintain their bodies. So even though she looked completely human, there was no telling what enhancements existed beneath the surface. Nyk once asked Lulu to examine her and see if she could shed some more light on the situation, but she was strangely cagey about the idea.

Rowan wasn’t going to give up trying, though. “I have an idea! Nyk, you aren’t going Scavenging today, right?”

“R-Right,” Nyk said, not sure where this was going. For once, Lulu had given him some time off. Something about needing to put the finishing touches on a secret project. He didn’t want to know. He’d been stuck training in the lab for the last week and was just happy to have a little freedom.

“We were gonna go shopping, actually,” Dyna added.

“That’s exactly what I was going to suggest! Why don’t you take Sky with you? It would be nice to give her a taste of fresh air, instead of being cooped up in the house all day!”

Dyna made a sour face. “Mom! Are you nuts? There are people looking for her, we can’t just take her with us!” She turned her hopeful eyes his way.

“I also don’t think that’s a good idea…”

“Oh, nonsense! It’ll be fine! She’ll have a tough Scavenger guarding her, after all. We just need to cover her up. I have the perfect thing…”

As Rowan got up to go digging through her closet, Nyk and Dyna glanced at each other and winced.

The trio stepped out onto the busy street and Nyk’s chest ached with anxiety. He held his gun tightly and scanned his surroundings for any sign of Brocas, or any Scavenger, really. His eyes leapt from pedestrian to pedestrian, searching for weapons while sensing for killing intent.

“…You’re still taking this bodyguard thing really seriously, huh?” Dyna noted. She was holding Sky’s tiny hand. The shorter girl was wrapped in a big cloak, hiding her face and hair with a thick hood.

“Of course. I need to keep you two safe, after all. There have been more sightings of Sentinels entering the slums recently.”

“Protect, huh…” Dyna’s cheeks turned a little pink. “W-Well, I guess even you can say cool things every once in a while! It looks like you’re finally growing up!”

“Huh?! What’s that mean?” Nyk scowled. They were the same age! …More or less. Nyk didn’t actually know when he was born.

“Oh, just… you’ve been way more careful recently, more cautious, I guess? Focused! That’s the word, focused! It’s like you’re always bracing yourself for the worst-case scenario.”

Well obviously. As any Scavenger would tell you, preparedness and caution kept you alive in the Towers.

“…Sorry if I’m stressing you out. It’s a hard habit to shake. I guess I’ve changed a lot more than I thought, huh?”

“What?! Oh, you don’t need to apologize!” Dyna quickly said, frantically shaking her head. “I actually think it’s kinda cool, ‘cause I’m being guarded by a real Scavenger.”

Now it was Nyk’s turn to blush.

…Wait, no! What was he doing?! The streets were more dangerous than ever, he couldn’t stand here basking in praise, he needed to pay attention!

“Thanks,” he mumbled, taking another sweeping glance of the block. “Let’s get going.”

He led the two of them down the street, towards the marketplace. As he did, he noticed he wasn’t the only one feeling tense. There was an atmosphere of worry all around, and people were looking more stressed than usual for the slums.

Nyk picked up snippets of conversation as they passed by.

“Three more Sentinels were discovered outside the slum last night.”

“That’s ten this week!”

“What are the Scavengers doing?”

“Someone at the Collection Office needs to-“

“I heard-“

“You don’t think-“

He shook away the voices and picked up the pace. They were almost to the market. To his relief, the air there was a lot more relaxed now that they were closer to the city wall.

At the same time though, there were a lot more Scavengers around now. They had to keep their guard up.

“Hey, Nyk?”

Nyk flinched, glancing over his shoulder.


“Can we get some food?” Dyna asked, rubbing her stomach. “Kinda hungry over here.”

“Didn’t you just eat?!”

“Yeah, but come on. Meat skewers?” Her eyes twinkled and she smiled coyly at him. “It’s a classic.”

“Okay, sure, I guess-“

“And it’s also your treat.”

“What?! Why?”

Dyna pouted. “What’s the matter, mister big Scavenger salary can’t afford to treat his date to a meal now?”

A date? He rolled his eyes. “Please. I’m your bodyguard, not a date.”

“…Well, not with that attitude,” she huffed. “Besides I treated you before, remember?”

“Oh so now there are strings attached? I thought that was you being nice,” Nyk scowled.

“It was. And so’s this. I’m being nice by giving you a lesson on how to treat a girl when you’re escorting her,” she smirked. “Make that two girls.”

Nyk sighed. It wasn’t worth arguing at this point. They weaved their way over to the stand, and he scanned the menu.

That was another thing about his new living situation that he appreciated. Rowan had been teaching him to read. It was hard at first, but he was picking up new words every day!

Dyna cleared her throat, tapping the menu. “It’s that one.”

…But “skewer” wasn’t one of those words.

Flustered, Nyk handed over his Scavenger License. Lulu had arranged a new one for his “Wolf” persona, but she also put some money on this one just to keep up appearances.

“Thank you!” Dyna smiled, batting her eyelashes as she accepted the food. She lifted it up to her lips before pausing, and offered it to Sky.

No response. Well, it was worth a shot.

They found a place to sit so Dyna could enjoy her meal, and while she ate, Nyk observed the other Scavengers.

“Did you hear? That guy Wolf brought back an absolute mountain of relics the other day!” He overheard from a nearby table.

“Oh yeah, and didn’t he also kill like, what was it, 30 Sentinels singlehandedly last week?” The Scavenger’s buddy asked.

“Nope, 50,” his friend corrected him. “That guy’s really making a name for himself. Man… just a couple months ago, nobody’d heard of the guy, and then he comes strolling through town with that giant snake head like nobody’s business…”

Nyk couldn’t help but sit a little taller hearing their praise. The missions Lulu sent him on had been rough, but as a result he’d begun amassing quite a reputation. The fact that nobody knew who was under the Synchro Suit helped with that too.

“I heard he’s a specially-modified combat android from the inner city,” one guy speculated. “You know, like a prototype.”

“Really? The way I heard it he was a top-ranking Scavenger who nearly got killed, so a mad scientist rebuilt him as a cyborg.”

“No, you guys are totally wrong! He’s definitely a hunky corporate executive from the city!” Another girl swooned with stars in her eyes. “That’s why he wears a mask, because he doesn’t want his rich friends to know he’s going out every day helping slum dwellers like us!”

The female Scavenger’s two friends gave her wary looks. “…Yeah, that’s not it.”

Nyk couldn’t help but smile. Some of the guesses were close, while others-

“You seem to be in a good mood all of a sudden.”

He snapped back to attention, realizing Dyna was staring right at him with a curious expression.

“Oh, well, I just…”

“Don’t tell me you’re a fan of that Wolf guy…” She sighed, rolling her eyes in disgust.

“Wh-What? You don’t like him or something?” Nyk asked, his heart sinking.

She sighed again. “Are you kidding? He’s a reckless idiot! Going into the Towers like that, fighting waves of Sentinels, hell, did you hear? He fought a Bounty Sentinel all on his own! What sort of idiot does that, huh?! That’s basically suicide!”

Nyk coughed on his water, not sure what to say.

Dyna’s expression softened. “I just don’t want you to do crazy stuff like that, that’s all.”

“…What do you mean?”

“W-Well, look, if you look up to this guy, I don’t know, maybe you’ll start being just as reckless and stupid as he is!” She sputtered. “And when I think about you going out and fighting Bounty Sentinels all by yourself, I just…”

She looked really worried. Which made Nyk feel kind of guilty since he was, in fact, that very same idiot.

“Dyna, I know you’re worried, but-“

“Worried? What? No! I’m not worried! My mom! She’s the one who’s worried about you, not me! She’s always, like, staying up late, wondering when you’ll be back, afraid you’ll get yourself killed out there… So I mean… yeah. Yeah. …I’m not worried at all, though! I know you got this!” She wore the most forced smile he had ever seen and lightly punched him in the arm.

Nyk gave her a reassuring smile in return. “Well, tell your ‘mom’ not to worry, I’m as safe as can be. I promise, I won’t do anything reckless.”

The Synchro Suit is really something, after all…

“Okay, well… you know, you don’t have to go out so often, right? You could stay home more, help out around the shop?” She suddenly turned her head down, like it was too hard to look him in the eye. “I mean, I know we couldn’t pay you as much as you’re making as a Scavenger, but… it’s not so bad, right?”

She glanced back up at him. There was a hopeful look in her eyes, mixed with concern. It reminded him again that Dyna really was a good person to care that much.

He opened his mouth to comfort her but never got the chance.


He nearly fell out of his chair. He whirled around and his jaw dropped when he saw who it was.


She was with the rest of her team, but they were quickly forgotten as she ran through the plaza and threw her arms around him, nearly tackling him out of his seat.


“Nykki, how?! You… You’re alive, I thought… how?!” She finally let go, pulling back so she could look him in the eye. She was crying. “I-I… Why didn’t you tell me you were-?!” She swallowed and regained her composure, leaving him to fumble for an answer.

He’d been in life or death situations where he had to make split second decisions or risk dying. But it was like his brain refused to cooperate. He turned to Dyna for help, but she had none to give. Her face had turned ashy and the smile she’d had only seconds ago was replaced with a sour scowl.

“It… It’s a long story,” he finally got out.

“Come on, he probably just didn’t want to bother you,” Axel came to his aid, patting Mysha on the back with his massive hand.

“Y-Yeah, exactly! I’ve just been kinda doing Scavenger work all this time, since… since we split up, and I didn’t want you to worry. That’s all, really.”

Mysha’s face turned stern. “I appreciate that, but next time, forget it! Do you know how worried I was? I thought you’d died! I don’t want you to ever worry me like that again, okay?! Next time I don’t hear from you this long, you’d better be dead for real, or I’ll make sure of it!”

“Y-Yes, okay…”

She sighed with relief, relaxing a little. Then she looked at Dyna and Sky as if noticing them for the first time.

“Oh? Who’s this?”

“Dyna,” Dyna muttered. “That’s Sky.”

Mysha didn’t seem bothered by her cold tone, flashing a friendly smile. “Well hi, Dyna! I’m-“

“Mysha. Yeah. I know. The Mysha. He talks about you all the time.”

Nyk winced. “H-Hey, come on, I don’t talk about her that often.”

He got a glare in response. “Yeah. You do.”

“And you’re Sky, then?” Mysha turned to the quiet girl. She got no response, of course, Sky didn’t even turn to look at her.

Not that Mysha minded of course.

“So that’s what’s been keeping you so busy you couldn’t say hello, eh Nykki?” She grinned, patting him on the shoulder. “You got yourself a couple of girlfriends huh?”

“G-Girlfriends!?” Nyk sputtered, turning bright red. “N-No, we’re not… not like that.”

“Yeah, you got that right,” Dyna said, smiling. But there was a strange bitterness emanating from her.

Nyk cleared his throat and tried desperately to change the subject.

“Hey, um… so what are you guys doing here, anyway? Not going Scavenging?”

Mysha shook her head. “Nope. We’re preparing. Big job tomorrow, after all.”

“Oh, really? What kind of job?” Nyk asked curiously.

Axel grinned. “Hunting a Bounty Sentinel, that’s what.”

“A B-Bounty Sentinel!? But aren’t those stupid strong?!”

“You’re telling me,” Mysha agreed. “Had a tangle with one a few months back that nearly did me in. I’m lucky to be alive…”

Strangely, she almost looked happy about it. Her eyes were glassy with longing and her cheeks flushed. She quickly returned to her casual demeanor. “But this one we’re facing as a team. Also getting a lot of other Scavengers in on it, since it’s such a big emergency.”

The atmosphere changed. Nyk sat up a little taller. “What kind of emergency?”

His question seemed to take them by surprise.

“You… haven’t heard? They’ve been talking about it down at the Collection Office for a while now.”

Nyk felt his face heat up with embarrassment. Unlike other Scavengers, all his assignments came from Lulu, so he was a little out of the loop.

Mysha sighed. “Well basically, you know how Sentinels have been leaving the tower these last few months, and coming into the slums? You’ve at least heard about that, right?”

“Yeah, obviously.”

“Well at first, it was just the smaller ones. But then, well…” Her expression darkened. “…Now the big ones have come out to play.”

A chill went down his spine.

“Y-You mean…”

“Bounty Sentinels. Five of them. They left about a week ago. The city is organizing the Scavengers together for a sort-of impromptu strike force to make sure they don’t get too close. So my team and I are working with some other Scavenger teams to try and take some of ‘em down.”

Nyk felt a lump in his throat. He remembered the last Bounty Sentinel he’d fought. That giant snake had swallowed him, Synchro Suit and all. And there were five more just like it, coming here? He imagined the havoc they would wreak and it terrified him.

Wait, a week ago? That was the same time Lulu paused my Scavenging missions for more training…

…Of course. Of course she knew. She’d probably been hiding the information from him, knowing that if he’d heard Mysha was going out to face them, then he’d want to go help. It was just like her to do something that underhanded.

“Hey, why don’t you come with us?” Axel suddenly suggested.


“You serious?” Mysha asked, shocked that Axel of all people would invite him along.

“Sure, why not? He’s been doing fine for himself, clearly, he’s definitely not a Shiny anymore. And we could use all the help we can get. What do you think?”

Mysha turned to him. It was clear she wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but she asked him anyway. “Well, Nykki? Want to come?”



Nyk had forgotten Dyna was even there. He turned towards her and saw the desperation and anger burning in her eyes.

That’s right, he couldn’t help them. He’d just promised not to be so reckless. But… But it was Mysha.

“…I can’t,” he gasped out. “S-Sorry. I’m doing a job as a bodyguard for Dyna and her mom right now, so I can’t help you guys.”

He felt like a huge jerk to turn them down like that, but what was he supposed to do? It’s not like he could just say “yes” even if he wanted to help. But while he was filled with turmoil at his answer, Dyna was flooded with relief.

“Well, that’s fine too!” Mysha chirped, holding no hard feelings at all. “If you change your mind, we’ll be headed out at 6 in the morning, just join up with us at the edge of the town! Now then, we gotta go. See you, Nykki!”

Before he even had time to say goodbye they headed off on their way, leaving him with Dyna and Sky.

A dark cloud was still hanging over Dyna for some reason. What was wrong with her, he thought she’d be happy that he’d agreed not to go.

“…Thank you for keeping your promise,” she whispered, and the faintest of smiles touched her lips.

A stab of guilt pierced his chest.

In the dead of night, Nyk snuck out the door with telescreen and rifle in hand.

“I’m sorry, Dyna.” He whispered. “I promise I’ll come back.”

The reason he’d turned down Mysha and her team had nothing to do with any promise. It was practical. After all, they didn’t want scrawny Nyk’s help. What could he hope to accomplish without the Synchro Suit?

He turned on the telescreen as he headed towards the edge of the slums, gun at the ready for any Sentinels prowling the streets.

“Lulu, it’s me. I think I found another job.”