The hole dumped them out into a blue sky, dotted here and there with a cloud or a flock of birds. Tai took a look around, and to his surprise, saw Yuki having a picnic in the grass next to a huge lake.
"Hey, guys- are we supposed to watch her? Is she vulnerable like us?" Denki nodded.
"That's what we had to do with you. When your dreamscape was under siege, your dream self was what we had to protect. If that Nightmare got to you, you probably wouldn't have lasted the night." He finished and flew a little higher. Suzume coughed and cleared her throat.
"And another thing- the thing that woke me up was some crazy pain in my head. Do you know what that was?" Tai rose higher with Denki. Below them, Suzume coughed again.
"I, uh… had to put you out."
"You hit me?!" She raised her hands in defence.
"Look, I could either put you under and carry you out of the field or let the Nightmare behind you knock your head off your shoulders. Your mom wouldn't have had fun cleaning that up, would she?" Tai wished he had a ruler.
A few minutes into the hour, Tai noticed that Yuki wasn't alone; she was eating with someone and having a conversation.
"So, can she see us up here? Are we gonna freak her out or something?" Denki shook his head.
"Nah, we're melded. It's a cheap, easy way to camouflage a body suit. You don't have to worry about her seeing us." It was at this precise moment that Yuki happened to look up and see Tai in his full angelic glory. She screamed.
"You moron! Meld, you idiot!" Suzume punched a button on his belt, and he instantly disappeared from the naked eye. Yuki looked around for a minute, and then continued with her conversation.
"Sorry." Tai floated a little lower to get a good look at Yuki's companion. He barely stifled his sharp intake of breath when he saw himself sitting on the blanket beside Yuki. "She's picnicking with me! What the heck does that mean?" He heard Suzume through his earpiece.
"Looks to me like she's a little dreamy. No pun intended, Tai- she must have quite an infatuation for you to be dreaming you into existence. Nice going, tiger." Tai blushed and soared back up to where Denki and Suzume were staying. Denki was observing Tai's doppelganger closely.
"What's that look like to you, Suz?" She peered down at the dream image.
"Yeah. Definitely a Shifter. The aura's clouding it over. See, Tai? The image's aura is darker than the others. That usually means it's possessed by a Shifter."
"What's a Shifter? A Nightmare?" Tai flexed his arm.
"Shifters are Nightmares that can change shape; they'll even possess an existing image and wait until they can strike." Denki gripped his hammer and began to descend. "Suz, I'll need you to grab the girl. She's not gonna want to see this."
"You heard Aburi, dad. Hold up. We don't even know if it's going to jump her."
"Have you ever known one to stay still and wait the night out? Get her, quick. I'll come in from behind. Tai, you follow me close and keep that arm hot. We don't know if there's more of them hiding out there." Suzume groaned and pulled a can of knockout gas from her belt.
"What, she gets the gas and I get belted in the head?"
"She's a girl; we're gentle." She gave him a look and took off. In a flash, she threw the can at Yuki's feet, watched it erupt in a cloud of gas, and picked her up. Before the Nightmare could tell what was going on, a hammer materialized from the air above its head and splattered it across the grass. Tai turned off his meld and gripped his mouth as Denki shook some of the oily tar from his hammer.
"Great. You got some of it on me." Suzume tried to get some of the blood off her boot.
"Is that it?" Tai was still watching each bush closely, looking for a shadow to shoot at. Denki wiped his hammer in the grass and waited for a few moments.
"We can only hope. Though if it was a trap, it would've been sprung by now. Suzume, keep her up there for a while yet. It's safer in the skies." She soared a little higher and looked around the area.
"It looks clear to me, dad. I think that was the only one." Denki turned to Tai, smiled, and fell to the ground with a clean cut through his left arm.
"Tai, go! Get higher up!" Denki picked himself and his hammer back up and wiped a Nightmare off the grass. Tai paused, and after a moment, started firing wide, inaccurate shots at the group of monsters now materializing around Denki. "Get your little toothpick butt clear of this! That's an order!" A colossal Nightmare, nearly twice the size of Denki, was crushed into the ground on top of another, smaller apparition. Tai finally found a good shot and bored a cavity in another Nightmare's chest.
"Shut up, already! For god's sake, if I go listening to every order you give you'll lay me lower then they will!" A beast lunged at Denki and toppled him to the ground. He reached for his hammer, but three of the other monsters grabbed it and dragged it from his hand. The bulk on top of him opened a wide, gaping mouth to devour his head whole- and then it was gone. The monster had split open down the middle, spurting tar from the incision before it fell to the ground in two neat halves. Suzume, still carrying Yuki in one arm, whipped her glaive in a tight arc that decapitated two Nightmares at once. Denki laughed and burst into the air, falling like a meteor on the burgeoning forces that now surrounded him.
"Denki, make a tightbeam! Don't jump back into it!" Tai was still hovering above the battlefield, loosing random shots at the masses. Fortunately, there was little chance that he'd miss. The burly man was making a good fight of it before the biggest Nightmare Tai had seen-in fact, the biggest any of them had seen-roared and lunged at him, knocking smaller monsters out of the way to get to its target. Suzume was too far away to act. Tai was rapidly losing ammunition. And Denki lost his weapon when he threw the five-hundred-pound hammer at the monster, who backhanded it with a knuckle and ricocheted it into oblivion.
Before Tai knew what he was doing, he dropped from the skies in a nosedive, shoulder and elbow thrusters blazing. In the full three seconds of the drop, Tai felt little more than pure adrenaline and the need to crush this one abomination that threatened his new friend. The knuckles of the glove split and solidified around his fist, turning it into a massive titanium shell–that bellowed a sonic boom as it connected with the Nightmare's skull, drilling through the cranium, neck, torso, and finally, the ground when he ripped out the other end of the thing. Mere force of the impact cratered the soft earth and blew some of the smaller Nightmares off of their feet.
It was at this precise moment that scores of doorways opened in the sky, each of which released angelic soldiers that rushed the enemy lines in sleek battle formation. The Nightmares, having recovered from their initial shock at the arm's impact, met the attackers in the sky as one chaotic cloud. Tai, his right arm now useless, crawled to Denki's side and huddled against him as Nightmares and soldiers alike fell from the battleground above. Suzume weaved a tight pattern through the fray and landed next to them. The three set the unconscious Yuki on the ground and kept her surrounded, Suzume slicing away at anything that came too close; her dad and Tai shouldering rifles and unloading clips at everything else. Even though the skirmish lasted only minutes, Tai emptied three rifles into the mayhem and Denki four. When the last Nightmare fell to the ground with a sickening crunch, the remaining soldiers descended and saluted Denki.
"We're glad we got here on time, sir. Heavy losses on both sides, but it looks like we ran the gauntlet. With your permission, I'd like to tightbeam a troop of medics; we'll have trouble fixing up the rest of the platoon ourselves." The lieutenant nodded towards Tai. "And you, private…you did well. Defending the target to the death, that's the spirit. That's what turns the tables." Denki patted the man on the shoulder.
"Get those medics in, boy. Make sure you get one for the kid here A.S.A.P. …it looks like he broke his arm in the fall. Give your troops a rest after tonight, too. They've earned it." Tai, his adrenaline rush gone, realized that his arm's casing had shattered and the fist had flattened. He had no feeling in it at the moment, but he knew he'd feel plenty when they tried to get the thing off.
"By arm…you mean the armor, right?" Denki sat him down on the torched grass.
"Look at that arm, Tai. It's destroyed. There's no way your bones made it out intact. It's a good thing we have medics on call, though. They can fix you up as long as you cool down your blood pressure and stay still; that way, it takes the cells in your body longer to replicate the damage." He jumped into the air and lifted off. Before he left, he turned back and smiled.
"You did good, kid. Thanks for savin' my neck back there. I don't think I could've finished that one off…" His voice trailed off for a second before he shook his head. "Nevermind. Good job. Suz, you stay here with him and the girl for now. We've gotta start the cleanup here soon and I don't want her going anywhere yet. I'll see you tomorrow."
With a wave, he hopped through a portal and disappeared into thin air.