The sun settled below the horizon, as did the moods of the four-some sitting in the center of Sun Square. Ryan had decided to become better acquainted with D.A.W.N.’s abilities and had disappeared inside. Zero had initially placed himself on the top of the vehicle to keep a lookout, but was now lying on his back, with his head propped up on his hands. Buddy and Alexa had found a pack of playing cards at a nearby Marty’s Mart convenience store and were currently finishing their forty-second game of rummy while sitting on the ground.
“Alright, Buddy, I think I’ve played enough rummy for a couple of lifetimes now,” Alexa said as she stood and stretched her back. Buddy stood as well.
“Well, the only other game I know is Go Fish, you up for that?”
“Are you two still playing games?” Zero yelled down to them. “Now is not the time for such tomfoolery.”
“And what is it the time for?” Alexa asked. “As far as we know, Memphis is still at the bottom of the ocean. We can only stand guard for so long.”
“You should be using this time to further prepare for the impending battle. Perhaps designing your new uniform.”
“And what are you doing to prepare?” Buddy asked.
“As if you aren’t aware. I have been standing watch this entire time. Not once have any of you offered to take over for me. Do you have any idea how exhausting it is to be constantly on alert?”
“On alert?” Alexa yelled. “Aside from getting all excited about seeing a couple of pigeons, you’ve just been laying there in the same spot for the last 3 hours!” Zero jumped down from the hatch and walked briskly to where Buddy and Alexa stood, stopping immediately in front of Alexa, his breath beating across her face.
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be here. You couldn’t hold a candle to anyone in the Defenders. I have earned a certain amount of–”
“Respect? You want some respect? If it weren’t for you, Damon wouldn’t even be here. It’s your fault he’s not still stuck on some planet out in the middle of nowhere, so don’t start talking to me about–”
“That’s right,” Buddy joined in, “if it weren’t for you, I could be having a pint at Maggie’s right now, instead I’m stuck here waiting for a mad man to come and des—” The trio erupted into a cacophony of noise as the three of them argued over each other. The group became so focused on their argument they didn’t notice the hatch on the vehicle open, nor did they notice Ryan emerging from it. They barely heard him attempt to get their attention, until:
“Hey! Cut it out!” Buddy, Zero, and Alexa turned to see who was yelling at them. “This is no way for people your age to act! Ryan, go ahead.”
“Thanks, D.A.W.N.” Ryan said as he looked curiously at the trio. “What happened out here?”
“Zero was being a total jerk about how–”
“I was being a jerk, how about you and Buddy and how you were–”
“Don’t start blaming me, ‘old chum’, I don’t even know why–”
“Oh, are you making fun of me now? You think that’s going to–”
“Yes I’m making–”
“Never mind,” Ryan yelled. “I don’t want to know. You guys think you can get your crap together quickly? Damon’s here.” Buddy, Alexa, and Zero all looked to the air, expecting to see him hovering above them.
“Where?” Zero asked excitedly.
“Not here here, sheesh. Out there.” Ryan pointed to the west. A plume of smoke could be seen rising above the building tops.
Zero immediately jumped into action. He ran to the vehicle and jumped, floating above it and landing softly on top. He looked down at the two still standing in awe of the smoke.
“Are we going to stare, or are we going to fight?”
“But,” Buddy stammered, “aren’t we supposed to be the bait? Aren’t we supposed to wait for him to find us?”
“According to Flores, Damon set up shop over on the west side of the city without even a second thought. I’d guess he’s probably pretty pissed about what happened last time. Sounds like he’s been there for a while calling you out.”
“Okay, so what’s the plan then?”
“Flores has begun moving everyone to the source of the action.”
“I am currently teleporting them into battle, Buddy,” D.A.W.N. added.
“But, what does that mean for us?” Alexa asked.
“Well, officially it means we’re off the hook,” Ryan said.
“Off the hook?!” Zero yelled. “Not a chance, young Red. I came out here for a fight. I shall have my battle.”
“I agree with Zero,” Alexa added. “We came out here to do our part, we can’t just stop now, can we?”
“I’m with you, sis. Buddy?”
There was a pause as the group looked at him.
“Hey, if Damon’s calling for me, I can’t disappoint him, can I?” Buddy jumped from his location and landed hard on top of the vehicle. “It’s hero time!”
The group disappeared inside the vehicle and were immediately off toward the location of the smoke.
As they neared their destination, they saw many signs showing the battlefield was near. The growing thickness of smoke in the air around the vehicle was the most apparent one. The second was that there was no one to be seen. The streets were filled with abandoned vehicles. D.A.W.N. made quick work getting around the immobile traffic. They crossed the next intersection and Buddy noticed something out of the corner of his eye.
“D.A.W.N., stop. Go back,” he said.
“I saw it too,” Ryan added.
D.A.W.N. reversed slowly and they all looked anxiously at the view screen Buddy had pointed to. Once they reached the intersection they had passed, they all wondered how they could have missed it the first time.
D.A.W.N. stopped and made an audible gasp.
Through the view screen, something lay out before them which Buddy was certain had never before been seen on this planet. Strewn out all over what was left of the street were the bodies of hundreds of Arthur’s men and women, appearing to have been taken out without much of a fight. Bodies upon bodies lay on the ground, barely moving, yet alive. As if mesmerized, each person’s head was focused on the action occurring at the end of the street.
The item holding their attention was what appeared to be a massive sacrificial altar built out of nearby wreckage. Cars, buildings, and sidewalks had been torn from their locations to create this structure of unbelievable size. At the top of this altar stood Damon Memphis with his hands in the air, yelling out to the world around him. Yet the sight of Damon was not what had caused D.A.W.N. to gasp. It was what lay directly behind him.
Hovering just above the altar hung a swirling oval. The interior of the oval was black and purple clouds streamed out. There was an army of other-worldly creatures entering the street from this mysterious vortex. The creatures ranged in size from puppy to skyscraper. Some flew, some crawled, and some stomped, but each creature escaping this hole hanging above Damon’s head went immediately to work destroying everything around it.
Buddy recognized one of the larger creatures escaping the void.
The group was silent. Buddy had a difficult time grasping everything that this meant. The monster he had faced only a few nights prior, or one related to it, was under Damon’s command.
Zero was the first one to break the silence. “Are we waiting for something to occur, companions?”
“No, of course not,” Buddy responded quietly. “So, looks like we’re up against something more than we expected, huh?” Buddy laughed, showing a confidence he wouldn’t have known how to fake.
“Dude, do we have any clue how we’re going to go up against that?” Ryan asked.
“Not here. Anyone got any ideas?” Buddy asked, looking around at the group.
“I believe we do what we have always done,” Zero answered. “Fight until we can’t fight any longer.”
“Perfect,” Buddy cheered. “So, let’s get out there and do what the Defenders do best.”
“What’s that?” Alexa asked.
“Get erased from history?” Ryan laughed.
“You got it!” Buddy joined Ryan in his laughter.
Go to Chapter Twenty-Four