Chapter 26:

Chapter 26: The Battle for the Slums


Mysha stared grimly past the makeshift ramparts set up at the edge of the wasteland. Her rifle was hot in her hands while her blood was cold in her veins.

Death marched towards the slums.

A horde of Sentinels larger than any she’d seen within the Towers approached, packed together so tightly it looked more like a wave of churning metal than a standing army.


The voice was broadcasted from a telescreen somewhere; this had been a coordinated effort on the part of the Scavengers and the City Defense Force. In an instant, rockets and grenades soared over the barriers, joined by a curtain of bullets that nearly blotted out the sun. Mysha added her own rifle ammo to the mix.

The explosions caused the roiling mass to stop… for a moment. And then the Sentinels continued to advance, marching over the remains of their predecessors without hesitation.

Mysha shivered. The sight of such a massive swarm, unyielding to everything thrown at it, tore apart the militia’s morale like it was made of tissue paper. But she squeezed down on the trigger and refused to give in. Retreat was common practice among Scavengers; there was no honor or glory in a meaningless death in the Towers. But today, retreat wasn’t an option. The city was on lockdown, there was no chance anyone would get past those walls, anyone living, anyway. Either the Sentinel horde would be beaten back here and now, or everyone Mysha knew and loved would be violently ripped apart and her along with them.

Imminent death had a way of crystalizing one’s priorities.

As she fired uselessly into the advancing horizon, she thought about her teammates fighting beside her, but her mind kept slipping back to those behind her as well. For years, Mysha had used the money she’d earned to help out kids in the slums, kids like Sky. She was with the others now, evacuating to one of the isolation zones as fast as she could.

As for Nyk…

Was he here right now? Somewhere on the wall, shooting at the beasts like she was? Or had he evacuated?

There was a third possibility that she didn’t want to consider, one that had been echoing in the back of her head since she saw Sky all alone in the wasteland. Nyk had been looking after her. If he wasn’t with her, then…

Now’s not the time to think about that! Mysha grit her teeth and opened fire. She’d lost people before. She’d even thought she’d lost him before.

She could grieve later. Now was the time to fight! All she could do was pray he was safe.

Nyk was safe at the moment. He was helping his friends evacuate while Lulu and Aud waited impatiently.

“Rowan, Dyna, you two head to the safety zone now!” He pointed his gun towards the city wall. Dyna quickly nodded but Rowan wasn’t convinced.

“Come with us.” She took his hand. “You don’t have to go out there.”

The sound of gunshots and mortar echoed in the distance. Nyk clenched his jaw.

“I have to. My friends are fighting out there. I can’t just hide in a shelter while they might be dying. If I can do anything to help, I have to.”

He looked deep into Rowan’s eyes, and she saw there was nothing she could say. She meekly nodded her head and stepped back.

Then Dyna immediately threw her arms around him.

“Please be safe,” she pleaded. “Don’t do anything stupid or reckless… just be safe. It’s okay if you run, it’s okay if you hide. Just survive and come back to me… to us. Please.”

Her eyes soaked his shirt as she buried her face in his collar. She clung to his warmth as long as she could, terrified he’d pull away from her.

He cradled the back of her head and hugged her back. “I’ll be safe, I promise.”

They both knew it wasn’t a promise he could absolutely keep. But that didn’t make it an empty one either. His words were heavy with purpose, and she knew he would do whatever it took to make it back home.

That was all she and her mother could hope for, really.

When he finally left her side, she felt a waver in her heart. Her eyes followed his back, and she tried to get as much strength as she could from his departing figure.

“So, enjoying your make-out session with mother and daughter? How adorable,” Lulu scoffed. She was running surprisingly well given how high her heels were.

Nyk wasn’t in the mood for her jokes. “Just get going,” he growled. “I know you have a suit ready. Take me to it.”

“Oooh, you’re giving me orders now? I gotta say, I like that Slum Boy.” She licked her lips with a purr and he threw up in his mouth a little.

She picked up the pace and he followed her lead through a maze of alleyways, until finally she reached a dead-end. With a flick of her fingers across a telescreen the ground fell open in front of them to reveal a deep tunnel.

“It’s a secret entrance to Number 24,” she explained. “It’s a perfectly reinforced bunker. We’ll be safe there.”

Nyk paused, turning his gun on her. “Wait, what?”


His confused look shifted into a glare. “I thought you were getting me a suit,” he growled.

Lulu rolled her eyes. “The Synchro Suit is still damaged after what your little friend did to it. And Number 0-1 is out of ammunition. I don’t have a suit for you. And even if I did, I still wouldn’t give it to you. What do you think you’re going to do? Go out there and get killed? There’s an army of Sentinels out there, Slum Boy. You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“…So that’s it, then? You’re just going to let them die? Everyone?! Even Dyna and Rowan?!”

“What do you expect me to do? Die with them? I’m not a fighter. I’m a businesswoman. So yes. I’m going to hole up in my bunker and wait for this to pass. Eventually, the Sentinels will reach the wall, and when that happens, the city guard will start to purge them. It’s as simple as that.”

Nyk shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

Lulu shrugged, nonplussed. If she was upset by Nyk’s disgust with her, it didn’t show.

Then her face softened.

“Come with us. That’s why I brought you here. I still need your help with the Synchronization Project.”

“Lulu… you don’t get it. Do you know why I came back to work with you? Why I worked so hard every day as a Scavenger? It wasn’t for you and your project. Or to repay my debt. It’s because there were people that I wanted to protect. I wanted to get strong enough to help Mysha. To defend Rowan and Dyna. If I lived, and all of them died… what would even be the point?!”

“…You’ll die.” For a moment, he thought he saw a flicker of sadness in her eyes. But it must have been a trick of the light.

“…Goodbye, Lulu.” He turned and headed back down the alley, running as fast as he could towards the skirmish.

Lulu shouted curses at his back until he vanished from sight, and then slumped over in defeat.

“Fuck!” Mysha jammed her combat knife into a Sentinel’s throat, nearly ripping its jaw in half as she pulled it back. She jumped for cover as Axel opened fire behind her, taking out the ones that followed it.

The first barricade had been overrun, and the defenses had broken into chaos. The Scavengers were forced back into the slums, to the rear barriers set up in the streets. The walls of the shops made natural funnels to trap the Sentinels in while they opened fire, but without a unified front Mysha could feel they were losing ground.

“What are those city bastards doing?! We need some reinforcements!” Dorem was one of the Scavengers who’d survived the first waves with them, and was currently blasting at Sentinels with Rory and Janys. His jeep’s minigun was the greatest weapon this pocket of the city defense had to stem the tide.

“Communications are being ignored,” Calum muttered.

They were on their own.

Mysha grimaced as she reloaded. The worst of it was they were running low on ammo. How long could they-

“Gryysusssuhh!” Suddenly, a Sentinel broke away from the horde, leaping over the barricade Mysha had been hiding behind. Its claws were extended and its fangs were bared, ready to rip her to shreds. Her gun was lowered, and there wasn’t enough time to raise it.


A barrage of bullets pierced through the beast’s metal hide, killing it before it could hit the ground. Mysha whipped her head around in shock, and a smile broke across her face.

Nyk ran down the street with his M16-X5 raised.


“Hey, look who it is! About time you came to the party!” Axel laughed, celebrating Nyk’s arrival by opening fire on the horde.

“That’s our backup?” Dorem grunted, bemused. “A little girl with a gun…”

Nyk shot him a glare. “I’m a man, thank you!”

“Man or woman, that gun’s still bigger than you are,” he muttered, turning toward the swarm. “As long as you can fight, that’s enough! Rory! How’s the gun handling?”

“Low on ammo, boss! I don’t know how much longer we can hold out! Maybe ten minutes at most!”

“Mother of…” Dorem swore under his breath, shaking his head. “Too bad we wasted all our rockets on those Bounty Sentinels!”

“Mysha,” Nyk turned to his friend. “What’s the situation?”

She scowled. “Grim.” Then she turned back to the incoming horde and opened fire again.

Nyk swallowed, taking up position beside her. They’d have to hold out as long as they could.

“Milady, are you well?” Aud served Lulu her tea. The pink-haired girl watched the invasion from the safety of her command room, her face darkened with distaste.

“He’s going to die out there, isn’t he… foolish boy. Who does he think he is?”

“Apologies, milady. But could it not have been avoided?”

Lulu turned to Aud and rolled her eyes. “Oh, sure, of course it could be avoided. It’s so simple! Just give him a suit, send him out, even though it wouldn’t help one bit!”

“Would it not be possible?” Aud asked, raising her eyebrow.

Lulu made a sour face.

“That’s beside the point. He disobeyed me! He could be here with us right now, but no, he just had to go out and play the hero! Stupid inconsiderate Slum Boy. Doesn’t he have any idea what he’s costing me?!”

“I don’t see how he could, milady.”

“I’m sure you’d like me to go save him, wouldn’t you? Just send him a suit right now, even though it’s guaranteed to get smashed to bits! Is that what you’d have me do?!”

“I would never presume to speak for you, milady,” Aud shook her head. Her face was as inscrutable as always.

Lulu replied with a glare.


“Shit! I’m out!” Dorem tossed his rifle aside, reaching for the pistol on his belt. “Rory! How’s the…”

Just as he started shouting, the minigun ran out of bullets, spinning to a stop. Rory ground his teeth in frustration, slapping his hands against the handle.

“It’s empty! We’re shot!”

Mysha winced. “Then firearms! We need to hold out as long as we can, to buy time for the City Defense Force to get here!”

Without the minigun keeping the horde at bay, they began to press forward, knocking over barricade after barricade as the Scavengers were pushed back.

Nyk clutched his rifle tightly. How many times had he faced death since that day in the shop? It had been looming behind him, like a specter. He slipped away once, and beat it back countless more times with Lulu’s technology, but now it was after him once more.

He knew he only had as long to live as there were bullets left in his gun, and he would make the most of them. At least he could buy that much more time for Dyna and Rowan.

Suddenly, something touched down ahead of them. It dropped into the center of the horde with enough force to send them flying. The barricades nearly toppled over.

“What the hell is that?!” Dolly shouted.

“It must be a warhead of some kind!” Mysha coughed. She squinted through the clearing dust.

Nyk gasped. It couldn’t be!

It was a Synchro Suit. But not like the ones he’d seen before. It was a new model, slimmer than the others and covered in silver from head to toe. Clutching it from above was a flying carrier of some kind; it detached from the armor and fell to the ground.

Nyk couldn’t believe it. Lulu must have sent it out here, that was the only explanation!

“Wooooo!” Dorem whistled. “Is that Wolf?! About time that old son of a bitch got off his ass! Talk about backup!”

“Wolf!” Mysha shouted, her face brightening.

Nyk was the only one who knew that armor was empty. At that moment, his telescreen flared to life.

“Hello? Hello there, Slum Boy! Are you still alive?”

“Lulu?!” Nyk couldn’t believe the shit-eating grin staring back at him. “What the hell’s going on?!”

She smirked. “So, you remember how I said that I didn’t have any suits for you? Well, uh… that may have been an eensie-weensie little fib, sorry about that!”

“Is this real?!”

“Yup! May I present, fresh from the line, Number 0-2: Stealth Sword Silver! Fully charged and ready to go, all you need to do is get inside!” Her eyes twinkled. “Oh, but don’t get me wrong. This is just a prototype model, you see, so if it doesn’t end up working properly, don’t come crying to me, ‘kay?”

Nyk turned and glanced at the suit. The Sentinels were staring at it, but none of them approached. It was like they didn’t know what to make of it. They weren’t the only ones; none of the Scavengers understood why the suit was just standing there, either.

“Hey, uh… is he alright?” Dorem asked, raising his eyebrow.

Nyk scowled. He needed to get into that suit somehow. But to do that, he’d need to come out from behind the barricade and throw himself head-on into the horde.

He took a few deep breaths to calm himself, and picked his rifle back up.

“Mysha!” He shouted, startling her.


“I need to get to that suit.”

“What?! Why?!”

He winced. He’d been keeping it secret for so long, but he didn’t have a choice. It was time to come clean.

“It’s a long story. Please, just buy me as much time as you can.”

Mysha didn’t know what the fire in her friend’s eyes meant. But she trusted it. “…Alright. I’ve got your back, Nykki.”

He burst into a big dopey smile. She was counting on him, finally! That surge of excitement gave him the strength he needed to come out from behind that barricade and charge into the fray.

“Everyone! Cover Nyk!”

As bullets whizzed past him, Nyk’s attention was focused on the suit. It was only twenty steps away, but it felt like a gaping chasm.

Closer. Closer. Ignore the roars. Ignore the gunfire. If he panicked, if he slowed down, he would be devoured. He trusted Mysha and the others to guard him, and if they failed…

Well, he wouldn’t be alive to know it.

He slapped the metal. The gun dropped from his fingers and he shouted with triumph.

Mysha stopped firing. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The back of the suit open up to reveal no one was inside it.

“No way…” Dorem said, shaking his head in disbelief.

Axel’s jaw dropped. “…Him?!”

Nyk stepped inside, and withstood the pain shooting through him as it synchronized with his senses. He didn’t have the luxury of pain.

Power surged through him as he felt the suit work its magic. He didn’t feel as strong as when he used the Synchro Suit, but his body felt as light as a feather.

“Hello, Slum Boy, glad you could make it here alive,” Lulu chirped in his ear. Great. Just what he needed.

Nyk picked up his gun and began firing at the Sentinels as he retreated. The others began firing as well.

“Nyk?!” Mysha couldn’t say much more than that at the moment, she was trying to put the pieces together.

“Sorry, Mysha,” he apologized. “I wanted to tell you, but…”

“Is now really the time for this?” Lulu snapped. “You do see the approaching Sentinel army, yeah?”

“Yeah, I know! What sort of firepower does this thing have?!”

“…One moment, please,” she said after a pause. He heard her fingers dance over a telescreen. “Take cover now.”

Nyk didn’t know what she was talking about. Then his eyes landed on the winged carrier, discarded on the ground. It started beeping.

“GET DOWN!” He shouted, pushing Mysha behind the barricade. Everyone ducked for cover seconds before the beeping carrier exploded, engulfing the entire block in a massive fireball.

She felt the explosion that knocked her over, but she could not hear it. The flash of the flames did not touch her eyes. There were too many sounds and sights flooding into her, more than she could process.

She scrambled to her feet and ran. 

She had to get away from here.

They were so close. They were coming. She was almost free. She just had to find her way out.

She did not know what it was she slammed into, knocking her back to the ground. She could not see it. But she could feel the metal fingers wrapping around her wrist.

“Found you, little rat.”

She could not hear the voice that hissed in her ear among all the other sounds. But she could feel the sting of hot breath against her cheek, and she fought with all her might to break free.