Chapter 23:

Chapter 23: Assault


Dyna ran her soapy hands across Sky’s back. They could only afford to take three baths each week, and that meant two people would have to bathe together. The tub was too small to fit her and her mother, and she didn’t have the courage to ask Nyk if he wanted to-

Well, not like her mother would allow that, anyway.

So she took her baths with Sky, wiping down the girl’s pale skin even though the girl hardly noticed.

With a sigh, she tilted her head back to stare at the ceiling.


When she’d woken up that morning, Nyk was nowhere to be seen. He’d taken his rifle and telescreen with him, which only meant one thing. He’d broken their promise and gone to help Mysha defeat the Bounty Sentinels, it was the only explanation.

She wanted to scream, but she knew it didn’t matter. He was a Scavenger who put himself in danger every day. Nothing she said or did would change that.

“…He could have at least told me, though…”

That’s what stung the most. The fact that someone she cared about was throwing himself into such a dangerous situation and wasn’t even willing to be honest with her about it. That was why Dyna wanted to cry more than she wanted to scream right now.

“Please just come home safe.” She hugged Sky tightly from behind and hoped that her prayer would reach him somehow.

The massive Bounty Sentinel towered over the Scavengers, blocking out the sun. Bathed in darkness, they clutched their weapons and got to work.

The Bufon Barrager had arrived.

Its body was covered with metallic plates large welts raised out of the surface, like warts on a toad. Massive cannons jutted from its shoulders and smaller ones lined across its oily hide, turning their aim towards the approaching humans. The creature opened its maw, revealing a long tongue oozing black slime that lashed in the air.

“BUROOOOAOAAK!” It croaked, and began to fire.

They group scattered. They had two vehicles to combat the creature, and those would be crucial to the plan.

Dorem hefted a rocket launcher onto his shoulder as he rode shotgun, while Janys drove around the Sentinel to draw its fire. With the size of the creature’s guns, if it was allowed to concentrate on one target then nothing would survive. They need to maneuver around it and divert it while at the same time hammering its armored hide until it succumbed. Luckily, they had the firepower to make quite a show of it thanks to the mounted gun Rory commanded, releasing a constant stream of explosive rounds from the back of the truck.

While one team handled the left flank, Mysha and her squad took the right. Calum leapt behind the wheel and used his augmented eye to scan the pathing of the bullets so he could find safe places to maneuver their vehicle, while Axel and Mysha opened fire themselves.

That left Nyk, whose suit couldn’t fit in either vehicle, and Dolly.

“Say, Wolfy-boy!” Dolly threw her head back to glance at him. “That lady of yours, you sure she’s gonna be safe out here? Stuff’s about to get real messy!”

Unlike usual, Lulu hadn’t left the battlefield. Quite the opposite, in fact. She was lounging back in a folding chair under the shade of an umbrella, enjoying her tea. She glanced up and waved at them.

Nyk sighed. “She’ll be fine.” The reason Lulu could be so carefree was because she was inside a large forcefield that extended out from her carrier. Nyk couldn’t begin to guess what it was made of, but the shimmering screen rippled with light whenever a bullet struck, canceling its momentum entirely and causing it to fall harmlessly to the ground.

“Sounds good! Then let’s do this thing!” Dolly reached to her waist and unclipped two long, boxy pieces of metal that were attached to her legs by thin cords

He was intrigued. Nyk had only known Dolly for a little while, but he didn’t think she’d be suitable for a battle like this. Her mechanical legs were designed for speed, and her choice of weapon usually reflected that, often carrying two small pistols instead of a rifle. But not today apparently.

“Lulu, what are those? Some kind of weapon?”

“In a manner of speaking. See that pack?”

Nyk glanced at the large metal box on her back. It seemed too cumbersome to be useful for storage, but with her powerful legs it didn’t affect her movement at all.

She raised her hands and placed the ends of the odd rectangles against notches at the top of the box, and Nyk saw a flash of electricity spark from them. When she drew them back, they emerged with two thin long blades.


“Attachment blades. They draw energy from the batteries in her legs, to run an electromagnetic current through the blade, affixing it to the hilt while also increasing their cutting power. Quite clever, I must say.”

“Can she really fight that thing with swords?!”

“We’ll see.”

Now armed, Dolly was off like a bullet, charging straight for the massive Sentinel. She entered the range of the creature’s guns and they turned towards her and began to fire, but even with all the bullets raining down on her not one hit its target. Closing the distance in a second she ducked under beneath it and swung her swords up into its stomach, and the moment they struck a burst of light flashed from the edges of the blades.

“RIBBBAAAAR!” The Sentinel bellowed, shaking slightly. But the swords only landed a pair of light cuts. Undeterred, Dolly skidded out from underneath it and leapt into the air, swinging her swords once more. The guns changed target from Dorem’s jeep to their airborne prey, but they weren’t fast enough. At the arc of her jump Dolly swung her swords, lopping off two of the turrets before they could fire.

Spurts of black rain soaked into the sand as she landed, leaping away from another burst of bullets. Now that the Sentinel was aware of the threat of her swords, it reevaluated its actions, making sure to keep her pinned down. If she jumped again, she would be dead before she hit the sand. Sensing this, Dolly switched tactics to prioritize her own safety, swinging at whatever was in reach with a little help of the covering fire from the trucks.

“So Slum Boy, are you just going to stand there dumbly or are you going to help?”

Nyk gasped, realizing he’d been captivated by Dolly’s sword dance, and lumbered forward.

“Sorry, I’m getting there. Did you have to make this thing so slow?!” Nyk had grown used to his previous Synchro Suit’s performance, but right now it felt like he was going into battle with weights strapped to his body. He could move everything just fine, but there was no way he’d be capable of doing the jumps and dodges he was used to.

“It’s fine. I told you that your new suit prioritizes firepower, right? So let’s give them some of that. Oh, and I’ll be handling the targeting to account for the others, so you don’t need to worry about any friendly fire! So for now, just go!”

He didn’t need to be told twice. He raised the two miniguns from his sides while the auto-targeter for his shoulder-mount followed his aim, releasing three bursts of bullets aimed at the creature’s face. The bullets were special explosive tips designed to shatter armor, and each gun fired a thousand of those rounds per second.

The Bounty Sentinel thrashed in pain as its bulbous face was buried in smoke and flame from the explosions, but due to its advanced targeting it was able to aim and fire its massive cannons even as it was taking hits itself. Two massive rockets erupted from the long barrels of its guns, flying through the air and coming straight for Nyk.

“Careful Slum Boy, if one of those hits you we won’t even be able to find the parts that used to be human.”

“I can’t dodge those! They’re moving too fast!”

He heard her snort on the other end. “Of course you’re not going to dodge them. The guiding principle behind Number 0-1 was ‘fighting fire with fire’ after all.”

“Wait, so you’re saying-“

“Counter-missiles deployed~”

The suit’s shoulder pads slid back and two large missiles fired from hidden silos. They swerved erratically through the air, their tracking software locking onto the incoming rockets and changing course to intercept. The explosives met in the air with a pair of massive booms that scattered shrapnel across the desert, scraping against his suit but leaving it unharmed.

“Nice work, Wolf!” Mysha called over coms.

“You got any more of those?” Dorem shouted. “We’re gonna need everything we got!” He fired a rocket of his own, aiming at the unguarded section of the Sentinel’s flank where Dolly had lopped off the creature’s guns. The missile struck paydirt and sent more black blood flowing, stunning the creature enough for Dolly to jump and slash again, cutting away more of the Sentinel’s weapons.

Unfortunately, that was the point that Dolly’s swords cracked and broke, and she jumped back.

“Lulu, her swords are broken!”

“Yeah, that’s the problem with running too much current through a blade like that. It increases the cutting power immensely, but the strain it puts on the blade will cause it to break with overuse.”

“Overuse?! She only hit that thing like 4 times!”

“And if she’s running enough power through it, that might be enough,” she replied. “It’s just a testament to how strong that thing’s armor is. It’s not a Bounty Sentinel for nothing.”

“But we can still kill it though, right?! We won’t have to rely on one of those charge grenades, right?!”

“Relax, Slum Boy, you’re not going to get eaten this time.” He didn’t like the laugh in her voice as she said that.

“…Besides with that tongue it’ll probably crush you to pieces long before you get anywhere close to the stomach…”


“Kidding, kidding, in the meantime- ooh. Well that’s something.”

What caught Lulu’s eye was the same thing that caused Nyk to glance away from his guns and over to Dolly. With a flick of her wrists she ejected the shattered blades, and immediately brought the hilts back up to the box. In a single fluid motion she withdrew two shiny new swords from her pack.

“Did she just-?”

“Backup swords, very impressive! That backpack must be filled with dozens of spare blades, designed to replace them quickly in the heat of the fight!” It was the most admiration he’d ever heard from Lulu before.

“So even though her previous blades are broken she’s just grabbing new ones?!”

“Exactly! Now that’s really something! Using attachment blades as consumables, that must cost quite a bundle of silvs! Though I suppose it’s worth it if it means she can do damage like that. Hmm, seeing this, she’s actually giving me a good idea for something…”

Nyk shook his head, returning his attention back to the beast at hand. His chest surged with triumph as he looked at the state of the Sentinel. The creature was far from vanquished and its armor still held, but they were slowly but surely wearing it down. Rockets from Dorem and Axel shook the creature from all sides as the trucks danced around it, while Mysha’s impeccable aim took out the mounted guns one by one, shooting masterfully even from the back of a moving vehicle. With Dolly’s continued pressure, striking at weak points on the creature from close up where no one else could approach and the massive swaths of bullets belched out from his miniguns and Rory’s, it looked like they had a real chance against this thing.

“Add in rockets and missiles as well, Slum Boy, we really want to go for shock and awe.”

Following her orders Nyk sent silent commands to the Synchro Suit, releasing several bombs from different panels on his armor. He could see what Lulu meant when she described the suit as prioritizing combat, because from what he could tell of the weapon systems he had enough firepower packed into this thing to level an entire slum block.

Then things changed. The Sentinel tilted back its head and let out a croak that made the sand shake, its thick tongue lashing out of its mouth. Sentinels behaved like wild beasts but they possessed a certain rudimentary intelligence, allowing them to prioritize and address threats in terms of need. And in terms of threat assessment, there were two targets damaging it more than any other. The first was Mysha’s jeep, due to the twin rocket launchers in Axel’s hands and the rifle that kept sniping its own weapons. To deal with that, it swung its tongue. The thick appendage struck the vehicle from below, sending the whole thing flying into the air and the Scavengers inside along with it.

“Mysha!” Nyk shouted.

The jeep rolled across the desert and shockingly, Mysha was able to leap out in time. Calum and Axel weren’t so lucky since Calum was trapped behind the wheel and Axel’s body was too large. They ended up crashing along with the truck, but thankfully, they didn’t stay down for long. With his massive arms Axel ripped through the vehicle like tissue paper, stomping out and immediately opening fire. Calum managed to drag himself out of the wreckage as well and grabbed a rocket launcher of his own, joining Axel’s assault.

While this was going down, the Bufon Barrager lumbered forward, shaking off the explosions rocking its armor. Its red eyes were burning towards Nyk with purpose and it let out another roar.

“Lulu, why’s this thing coming after me?!”

“Hmm, if I had to guess, it’s probably because the others are either shooting at it or firing rockets, but you’re doing both. It’s to be expected I suppose, right now you’re using more firepower than the seven of them combined.”

“So if I cut back on my attacks it might let me go, then?” He wryly asked, not that he planned to do anything like that.

“Maybe, but then again, it might choose to attack you anyway. And letting up now would only prolong the time it takes to kill that thing, which would be even riskier for all parties involved.”

“So in other words, I gotta keep firing even if that thing’s going to kill me, huh? Great.”

“Well, it’s not like you’re fast enough to dodge. Oh, and do be sure to take ammo consumption into consideration as well. I may be good, but even I can’t work miracles. You’ll need to withdraw soon in order to restock at this rate.”

“Yeah, assuming I survive that long!”

“Oh come now, even that thing’s not stupid enough to fully concentrate its firepower at you. It’s primarily concerned with self-preservation, so it can’t afford to redirect its suppressing fire your way. Aren’t you glad you have those meat shields to draw its attention?”

“They aren’t meat shields, they’re my comrades!”

“Temporary allies at best,” she scoffed. “But either way, they’re certainly useful, whatever they are. The Bounty Sentinel won’t aim at you with everything, so whatever it fires at us, we’ll use our counter-weapons to- oh, well that’s something.”


While Nyk was caught in the heat of the battle and not letting up with his guns, Lulu had been rather casual about the whole thing since she’d assumed the Sentinel’s weapons had been dealt with so long as Nyk maintained a healthy amount of ammo, which the Assault Demolisher had in abundance. The suit was stocked better than some weapon stores, so she hadn’t foreseen any problems.

My, I suppose this will be marked learning experience for me. I didn’t expect a move like that.

What had caused this change in attitude was the fact that the Bufon Barrager had not struck with its cannons like Lulu had anticipated. It hadn’t even relief on its guns, or the tongue that totaled Mysha’s truck.

Instead, the Sentinel had lifted its arm into the air, spreading its hand wide and swung it down towards Nyk to smash him like a bug.

“Lulu!” Nyk cried. The Sentinel’s hand was the size of a tanker truck, and moving faster than he could hope to dodge in his suit. He didn’t know if it was strong enough to crush him in his armor, but he really didn’t want to find out.

“It’s fine, Slum Boy. Now’s when we make our big scene!” He could hear her typing something into a telescreen, and a series of words flashed in front of his eyes.

“Assault Mode: Activate!”

As the hand drew closer, time seemed to slow down for Nyk. The seconds seemed to stretch on forever and because of this enhanced perception he was able to see everything the happened as a series of still shots. It was like the hand was frozen in the air.

His arms raised, and so did the mounted minigun on his shoulder. Every panel of armor sprung open as the entire arsenal of the Assault Demolisher armed itself, aiming at the falling hand.

Then he fired.

Missiles and rockets launched themselves alongside both explosive and charge grenades, while more bullets than could be counted blotted out his vision. It was like the suit was creating weapons out of thin air, firing blast after blast of heavy artillery all wrapped in a curtain of burning death courtesy of the mounted napalm flamethrowers on his wrists. The explosions deafened out his mad roars as he kept repeating the mental command to fire, not stopping until he exhausted every last weapon the suit had to give.

The hand smashed flat against the desert floor, kicking up a tidal wave of sand.

“Wolf!” Mysha shouted, whipping her head to see what had become of their comrade.

“Shit!” Dorem spat, his eyes wide with shock. “That thing smashed him like a tin can!”

Only Calum and his augmented vision could tell differently. And Lulu, of course, who watched the whole scene play out in front of her with a proud smile.

Nyk hadn’t been smashed by the Bounty Sentinel’s hand. It was just the opposite. The amount of firepower he’d unloaded hadn’t stopped the limb’s descent at all, but what it had done was blast a massive of hole right through the center of it. His blood-soaked form stood still as a statue as pieces of Sentinel fell apart around him, the toad ripping its ruined claw back with a pained scream.

“Wheeeeeyeeew!” Dorem whistled. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

Mysha sighed with relief and then returned to the matter at hand. The Sentinel thrashed with pain, but that didn’t stop its fire, and it continued to assault the others as Nyk stumbled back.

“Slum Boy, you need to reload. Pretty much everything.”

Nyk reported over coms that he needed to resupply, and the others agreed to do their best to buy him time. His performance had turned the tide of the fight, and now it was time to capitalize on the small victory and turn it into a big win.

But as Aud loaded new weapon and energy packs into the suit, the wounded Sentinel let out a deafening croak that changed the entire crux of the battle.

The large welts on its back pulsed and expanded, and then finally burst. From inside, smaller frogs about the size of a large dog poured out by the hundreds, scurrying across the sand towards the Scavengers.

“Fuck!” Mysha shouted, turning her attention to the incoming swarm. “What are these things?!”

“It must be a carrier Sentinel of some kind,” Calum theorized.

“So what, are these it’s babies or something? Gross!” Dolly made a face. Because she was the closest to the Sentinel, the froglings swarmed her first, and she had to rely on her quick feet to break the encirclement as they started firing.

Rory turned his mounted gun upon the small creatures, and to his delight he tore dozens of them apart with each burst.

“It’s fine, guys!” He shouted. “They aren’t as strong as the main one! We can get them with conventional arms!”

“That’s fine and all, but I didn’t come prepared for that,” Axel grumbled. Because they’d been anticipating a giant Bounty Sentinel, he’d brought rocket launchers to break through its tough hide. His machine guns were somewhere in the truck, which was currently a smoking pile of rubble.

“We’ll have to do our best,” Calum said, grimly switching to his rifle. “Wolf, how’s it going over there?! We could really use some support!”

“Almost done!” Nyk shouted as Aud loaded in the last pack. He stormed past the forcefield and turned his miniguns on the swarm.

“Slum Boy, I’m setting the auto-targeter to attack the frogs you don’t shoot yourself, okay? In the meantime, keep firing at that Bounty Sentinel.”

“You want me to do both?!”

“The Assault Demolisher can handle it, trust me. More importantly, this thing WANTS you to focus on the little ones, to give it time to replenish its energy and strengthen its armor. That’s why it deployed them in the first place.”

“Yeah, great, so what do you want ME to do about it?!”

She was silent for a while.

“I don’t know. I didn’t expect this.”

He didn’t have the opportunity to understand what she meant by that, because his attention was focused on beating back the swarm.

Dolly was delighted that she could lower the power output of her swords and still cut through the small frogs, letting her get much more out of each blade. With Rory’s mounted gun and the shooting from Mysha’s team, Nyk’s return to the battlefield was enough to stem the tide of the swarm, beating them back as he stomped closer to the giant frog.

“BUREROOOOARAK!” The Sentinel croaked angrily, firing more missiles and bullets at the others. It lashed out its tongue to try and smash Nyk again, but some quick footwork from Dolly and extending the output of her blades to the max severed the appendage.

“Everyone!” Mysha shouted over her com, “we need to concentrate our fire! Wolf, you’re fully reloaded?”


“Perfect! Can you do that again? The thing where you broke through that beast’s hand?”

“I-I think so! Just tell me when!”

“More like where,” Calum noted. He scanned the Bufol Barrager's body for the weakest point. “There. Left flank.”

Nyk’s targeting system adjusted to a large gash that Dolly had been working on carving into the side of the Sentinel. It was about a meter long and oozing black slime. The swarm had forced her to back off, but the damage was still there.

“I see it! Yeah, I should be able to blow that thing open!”

“Perfect!” Mysha grinned. “Everyone, follow Wolf’s lead!”

“Assault Mode: Activate!”

Again, Nyk unloaded everything the Assault Demolisher had upon a single concentrated point. It had been enough to practically rip the Sentinel’s hand off before, and he prayed that the armor was just as vulnerable on its side.

The team of Scavengers concentrated their fire at the same point, bombarding the Bufol with everything they had. As explosion after explosion broke through the Sentinel’s armor and burst within, the toad began to expand like it was preparing for a massive croak. But it only let out a sickening whimper of a hiss as its body finally began to burst at the seams, tearing itself to shreds as black sludge and machinery rained down upon the wasteland.