Chapter 44: The Orphanage part 1
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There really was no logical reasoning behind it: trying to help someone you were unlikely to meet ever again did not offer anything beneficial— at least, not anything that would justify going out of your way to help them.

In most cases, the most you would get back was gratitude; very rarely would assisting a complete stranger result in receiving the kind of great reward you’d read about in stories. Even then, considering the time spent on helping all those people without getting anything in return, the cost-benefit ratio was quite clearly not worth it. If you wanted to get something for doing a good deed, you might as well have bought a lottery ticket and hoped you won that instead.

However, that was taking into account only the material factor— a tangible reward that could be used in everyday life. It was necessary to also take into account what sort of mental or psychological effect helping others would have on you; the dopamine release that you would experience from knowing you played a part in changing someone’s life— now that was arguably worth it.

In conclusion, you should always help those in need, for not only did you stand to possibly gain some sort of physical remuneration for your efforts, you were guaranteed to feel good about yourself after doing so.

Except that’s not true at all!

No one ever told me that you could put in your time and effort into helping someone, only to not actually be the one to solve their problem. Well, it was probably a given, hence why it was left unsaid, but knowing it and actually experiencing it were two completely different things!

I mean, sure, I felt relieved knowing that the people in the orphanage were not in trouble anymore. But come on, there was literally no reason for my presence at all; whether or not I went there would not have changed a single thing. And that particularly bothered me, because it made me feel useless.

I knew I should not have felt that way, and that it was probably a result from my own sense of helplessness when I was unable to do anything as a slave. But it was a feeling I disliked and wanted to go away nonetheless. Which was why—

“Are you sure you?” I asked, not too abrasively, but in a manner that emphasized the importance of the question.

“I, uh—” The man hesitated. Then he shook his head, earning a sigh from me in return. “I’m sorry, Missy. I don’t keep up much about the orphanage. But the guys they borrowed from— those assholes— are known to be scummy in the way they deal with things. Everyone knows to stay away from them unless you’re really desperate.”

“I see,” I said nodding, but slightly dejected. That was nothing I did not already know; I had gleaned that information from the first few people I questioned several hours back. “Thank you for your time, regardless.”

I bowed my head slightly and took my leave. I exited the tavern— not the inn I was staying at, but a random tavern that looked rather full— and continued down the street. I paid careful attention for any individuals that might seem open to having a conversation. I was trying to learn as much as I could about those debt collectors I saw yesterday. The ones that harassed the orphanage for money, before promptly getting dispatched by the Plague Doctor.

Despite being the one to throw the first punch, the Plague Doctor did not get arrested when the town guards showed up, and the six thugs— minusing the last guy who fled— were taken away. As mentioned by the man earlier, they had a reputation of being troublemakers and even lawbreakers— and it was not just in this town, but in the surrounding areas as well.

They were a gang, and although they were not incredibly large, most people who lived here knew about them.

The Lord of the land however, had never bothered to send anyone to deal with them, due to how minor of an issue it was in the broader scope of things; and since this town along with its neighbors were located in the periphery of his domain, it would not have been worth the cost to deal with the problem even if he wanted to. Not to every noble, anyways; noblesse oblige was not an ubiquitous trait.

But that was pretty much all the relevant bits of information I managed to gather from going around and asking random people off the streets, or in taverns and inns: places where people should have known stuff like that. I had hoped that I would have found out more, but not only were criminals criminals for a reason— in that they would have at least a semblance of subtlety when it came to doing illegal things— people were also not extremely liberal in telling what they knew about it to a literal kid.

So as I thanked the older man handling the stall and headed off, I heaved a sigh. It was not that he refused to tell me anything; it was quite the opposite, in fact— he was rather chatty, even going as far as to talk about himself for extended periods of time, in addition to what he knew about those debt collectors. But despite being much more helpful than the previous guy I asked, it was nothing I did not already know from speaking with the town guards.

Since they frequented the town to find potential victims to extort, or possibly— but rarely— kidnap, I could have tailed a member of their group to their base of operations wherever it might have been. But that was only if I knew what they looked like: other than the one guy who got away, I could not have identified with any sort of certainty whether a random person walking by was one of them.

As such, there was not much I could do. There was only one thing left I could have done, and I was not too excited about it.

Return to the orphanage.

That was the only place I could possibly get proper information from, considering the caretaker— Ms Sharity— dealt directly with this gang, and would know more than anyone I picked off the street. But…

It’ll be so awkward!

Just waltzing in and interrogating them about a persistent negative experience they have had right after they found a moment of relief the day before was bad enough by itself. But I had to do so after pretty much being an unnecessary third party during the entire ordeal. That made it all the more embarrassing!

I was certain that this was a me problem, and that they would not have thought twice about it. Since I spent most of my time with Jay, they already thought I was a friend he brought over to hang out with. But unless I went there with him, it would be pretty weird to come in and asking weird questions. So the first thing I had to do was find Jay—

“Hey, watch it!”

Speak of the Devil...

“You watch it!” I retorted, as the boy steadied himself after nearly running me over from behind. “This is the second time you’ve bumped into me like this. If you took something from me again just return it now, before I chase you down an alley and take it back by myself.”

Jay scowled. “I didn’t do anything this time, alright? I was in a hurry and was trying to get around you, but you were the one blocking me while wandering around aimlessly with a hand up on your chin.”

“Sure,” I said. “But if I find anything missing—”

I know, I know,” he interrupted me. “You said that already, ok? But I’m in a rush, so if you’ll excuse me—”

He began to walk away, but I reached out to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Hey, wait!”

The boy halted midstep, mostly because I was holding him from running off. He whirled around and tried to pry my hand off to no avail. “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?”

“I need your help—” I started, then stopped when I caught a glimpse of his hand. It was bandaged over, with some dried blood visible through the cloth on some of the fingers. “What happened to your hand?” I asked, letting go of him.

Jay stepped back, grasping his arm as if he was worried that I was going to try and pluck it off his sides. “It’s none of ya business.”

Folding my arms, I frowned as he looked like he was about to run off again. “You’re hurt,” I stated the obvious. A dark thought crossed my mind, making me voice my concerns. “And you didn’t have that just yesterday evening. If someone in the orphanage is doing this to you, you should not just keep quiet about it.”

“What are you saying?” Jay narrowed his eyes, slowly realizing what I had implied. “Are you trying to say— Ms Sharity would never hurt me!”

“I wasn’t talking about her.” At least, not just her; from what I had seen at the orphanage, it was quite clear that Jay was more of an outsider within the family dynamic. “Eaton, Hannah, or anyone else there. You can tell me.” I spoke reassuringly.

The boy snapped back. “Nobody in the orphanage would hurt me! In fact, you’re the only person I know who would want to do that.”

“Then who did that?” I asked, gesturing at the bandages while ignoring his provocation.

“I—” Jay paused. He glanced back for a moment, before finally responding to my question. “I did it to myself. And before you ask— no, I didn't do it on purpose.”

I felt my worries wash away, and relaxed a bit. “How did that happen then?” I asked a follow up question, more curious than anything.

“I was helping fix a toy. It’s this Dwarven made doll— they call it a stuffed animal. I’m not used to sewing something that’s not just… flat y’know?”— he made the vague shape of a square-like object with his hands— “so I poked myself a lot by accident last night. I’m not rich like you, I can’t just buy a healing potion. So since it’s nothing bad, I just wrapped it up with a piece of cloth.”

Right, and you haven’t changed it for a new one. I filled in the missing blanks myself; he was being unhygienic— which was something you did not want to do during a plague outbreak— but it was not like he knew any better. I decided not to lecture him on the importance of proper sanitation, since he was already annoyed at me.

“I didn’t know you could sew. Was it the little girl’s toy you fixed?”

Obviously,” he replied impatiently. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets now, and I could see him tapping his foot on the ground.

I tried to redirect the conversation back to the orphanage. “That’s really nice of you. You’re such a good brother,” I said, smiling.

Jay’s ducked his head, obscuring the pinkish hue that came over his face from being complimented. “I, uh… t-thanks?” He said, uncertainly scratching the back of his head now. “I mean— sewing isn’t really difficult. I’ve mostly just fixed torn clothes to help Ms Sharity. But I’ve made a few things too.”

“Wow. And you picked up sewing to help your mother?”

“Well, yeah. She’s always so stressed with so many of us to look after. So I thought if I could help her in some way, why not just do it. Even if it’s girlish, it’s not like it matters.”

“That’s so sweet,” I sincerely said. “You must really love her, huh?”

Of course. And it’s not like I hate sewing. I do enjoy doing it a little bit…”

“Well, I don’t think it makes you any less of a man for it. And you said you’ve made actual clothes and stuff?”

“Thanks…” Jay’ hesitated. But when he realized I was being genuine, he nodded. “Yeah, I’ve made quite— a few.”

That was obviously a lie; there was no doubt in my mind that he made more than just ‘a few’.

“I’d love to see some of it, if you don’t mind. It’s at the orphanage, right?”

“Y-yeah,” the boy answered after a moment.

“Then let’s go on over right now!” I took a step towards him, but he backed up. “What’s wrong?” I asked, leaning in closer.

“No, I—” His head snapped away from me, and he took several steps back. “I-it’s not anything you’d want to see. It’s not very good, ok? And didn’t I tell you I was busy? I can’t just bring you anywhere you want!”

“That’s not what I

He cut me off.

“I’m busy, ok? If you want to see it, why not just go see it! I don’t have to be there for that. I need to go. Goodbye.

Jay dashed off before I could say anything in return. Well, there goes that.

I wanted to chase after him, but this was not something that warranted such drastic actions. And more than that— he was right: I could very easily just go to the orphanage by myself, since most of them would recognize me as his friend from yesterday. The thing is—

"I don’t want to...” I murmured quietly to myself.

I went there anyways.