Wind and Thunder: Chapter 17

Death Looms

 

The remodeled Zergainzord stomped through the city streets of Angel Grove South. The rebuilt zord was different from its previous version. The zord appeared edgier and was tinted with shades of dark purple instead of green.

 

StormMegazord stomped onto the scene and blocked the evil zord’s path.

 

The metal arc above Zergainzord’s head crackled with crimson power and discharged a bolt of energy that exploded against the Megazord’s armor with bursts of spark. But StormMegazord stood its ground.

 

“All right guys,” Hurricane Red said. “Doesn‘t look like the Thunders are here yet, but we can do this without them.”

 

Yeah we can,“ Hurricane Yellow said.

 

The StormMegazord walked forward into battle, and Zergainzord returned the charge.

 

Below, Blake ran across a pedestrian bridge against the flow of the fleeing crowd. The Megazord and Zergainzord exchanged blows in the distance, and their strikes had enough force to shake the bridge.

 

Blake activated his communicator. “Hunter!” No one answered for the fifth time. “Where the hell did he go…he knows I can’t form the Megazord on my own…”

 

Blake cursed beneath his breath and dashed off to find his brother.

 

***

 

Hunter sat in a meditative position on the wooden floor of an old dojo near the Ikkazuchi Way grounds. He took deep breaths and tried to ignore the burning pain in his chest. Beads of sweat dripped down his naked body.

 

A Reiki master stood behind Hunter and placed a hand over the ranger’s back. The master’s hand pulsed with dark-purple energy, and Hunter convulsed in pain. The ranger tipped onto his side and screamed through a clenched jaw.

 

***

 

Zergainzord slashed its arm blades across Senpuujin with bursts of spark that forced the StormMegazord backward.

 

Hurricane Red slammed his fist against his control panel. “Let’s slim up a bit. StormMegazord, lightening up!”

 

The Megazord’s armor folded back and retracted to form a more slender, humanoid robo.

 

“Senpuujin!” the Rangers shouted. “Lightening mode!”

 

StormMegazord flipped through the air with a flying sidekick that Zergainzord blocked. The evil zord pushed the robo’s feet away, and StormMegazord flipped backward and landed on the streets.

 

Zergain laughed from within his cockpit. “Zergainzord…lightening up!” The evil zord’s armor retracted and formed a slender robo with sharp arm blades. The arch over the zord’s head retracted over the helmet. “Zergainzord! Lightening mode!”

 

“No way!” Hurricane Blue shouted.

 

“Poser!” Hurricane Yellow shouted.

 

Zergainzord snapped forward with a jump roundkick that StormMegazord blocked. Senpuujin swung the back of its fist towards the evil zord, but Zergainzord ducked beneath the blow, rose, and snapped a roundkick that StormMegazord blocked.

 

The evil zord swung an arm blade towards the StormMegazord. StormMegazord caught the arm and swung a backfist towards the evil zord’s head, but Zergainzord caught the robo’s arm as well.

 

StormMegazord used its leverage to hurl the evil zord through the air.

 

Zergainzord somersaulted through the air and landed on its feet.

 

The two robos faced each other and leapt towards one another. Their fists slammed against each other’s armor, and the blows knocked the zords backward.

 

Zergainzord twisted through midair, slammed its feet against the side of a building, and leapt towards StormMegazord.

 

StormMegazord flipped towards Zergainzord with a flying sidekick. But Zergainzord kicked the robo’s leg away and slammed a kick against the Megazord’s chest armor with a burst of spark. StormMegazord crashed against the streets and skid backward.

 

***

 

Blake tracked his brother to the old dojo near the Ikkazuchi Way.

 

The ranger quietly leaned towards the dojo and peered inside to see Hunter with his shirt off while kneeling on the ground. Reiki master Rabago stood behind Hunter and placed a hand over his back.

 

The Reiki practitioner’s hand glowed with shadow energy that caused Hunter to convulse with pain. The shadow healer’s eyes narrowed with concern.

 

“Is fighting for the world really worth killing yourself over?” Rabago asked. He lowered his hand. “I can delay the hatching time of the egg inside of your heart…but I can’t destroy it.”

 

Blake opened his eyes wide with shock. “Hatching time?!” Blake stormed into the dojo. “There’s a scorpion egg in your fucking heart?!”

 

“Blake,” Rabago said. “It has been many years.”

 

“Right, don’t care,” Blake said while keeping his eyes on Hunter. “Why didn’t you tell me? I‘m your brother!”

 

The rangers heard a low, mocking laughter come from outside the dojo. They turned towards the dojo’s entrance and saw Centhrax standing in the woods along with a group of Kelzaks.  

 

Centhrax had his arms crossed over his chest, and his body was concealed by his brown cloak. “How touching…” the villain said. “Navy Thunder, I can help you share your brother’s pain.”

 

Rabago stepped in front of the Thunders. “Blake, get your brother out of here now.”

 

Hunter shook his head and started to walk outside. “I don’t need- argh.”

 

He keeled over in pain, and Blake held onto Hunter to keep him from falling down.

 

“Go!” Rabago shouted.

 

Blake cursed beneath his breath and helped his brother flee into the woods.

 

Centhrax narrowed his eyes at the shadow healer. “Bastard. You dare to interrupt me?”

 

The villain inclined his head to signal the Kelzaks to attack. The soldiers armed their bladed tonfa and charged to attack the Reiki master.

 

Rabago somersaulted through the air and slammed a flying sidekick against a Kelzak. He landed, snapped around, and thrust out his hand while shouting “Ki!”

 

The healer fired an invisible burst of chi power that slammed against the Kelzaks and hurled them backward.

 

Rabago turned towards Centhrax and thrust out his palm. “Ki!”

 

The blast whipped off the villain’s cloak, but Centhrax did not budge, and he stood with his arms crossed casually over his chest. “Chi parlor tricks may work on grunts, but they will not work on me, human.”

 

Centhrax charged forward and slammed a punch against Rabago that sent the shadow healer flying through the air.

 

***

 

Hunter and Blake ran past a small creek near the Ikkazuchi Way grounds. Hunter had his arm draped across Blake’s shoulder and was leaning on his younger brother for support. He groaned with pain and grasped his chest with his free hand.

 

“We have to…go back,” he said between breaths.

 

“You’re in no shape to fight, big brother,” Blake said as he carried Hunter along and struggled with his brother’s weight.

 

***

 

Rabago slowly climbed to his knees while clutching his chest. Several of his ribs were broken. His body hurt with every breath.

 

The shadow healer looked up to see Shurikenger kneeling besides him. The Green Ranger placed a hand on the shadow healer’s shoulder. “Sensei Rabago,” he said in a soothing voice. “You know Blake and Hunter well, yes?”

 

***

 

Zergainzord reverted back to its armored form and fired a massive bolt of crimson lightning that exploded against StormMegazord and knocked the robo off its feet. The Megazord crashed backward as explosions ripped across its armor.

 

Explosions sparked within the Rangers’ cockpits as the Megazord tumbled downward.

 

***

 

Ashley watched the battle and tried not to panic. She activated her computer’s comm systems. “Hunter, Blake, where are you…the Rangers need your help.”

 

***

 

Hunter collapsed into the creek, and Blake leaned down to help him up. Their communicators toned, and Ashley’s voice came through. “This isn’t the time to be dark and mysterious. The Rangers need you. StormMegazord can’t go up against this new Zergainzord alone.”

 

Hunter narrowed his eyes and started to rise. “You heard her…come on…” He clenched his chest with pain as he tried to walk off. “We have to go…”

 

“Hunter, you can’t-”

 

Explosions sparked around the rangers and tossed them off their feet. They looked up to see Centhrax stalk forward with a group of Kelzaks.

 

Centhrax formed a black bolt of energy between his palms, and the energy bolt was surrounded by a cloud of dark-purple power. “There’s no escape.”

 

The villain hurled the bolt forward, and it slammed against Hunter’s chest and knocked him onto his back. Hunter screamed with agony as the villain’s shadow energy pierced through Hunter’s body and into his veins, twisting into his heart.

 

“Hunter!” Blake shouted as he kneeled down next to his brother.

 

Centhrax laughed. “Do you know what I have just done? My shadow wave will make the egg inside of his heart grow faster.”

 

Centhrax extended his hand and stalked towards the two rangers. Blake stood protectively in front of his brother, who was keeled over in pain but doing his best to stand in some sort of defensive stance in front of his younger sibling.

 

Rabago suddenly charged onto the scene in a blur of motion and dashed back and forth across Centhrax and the villains while bashing them with his staff. His staff sparked against their bodies and knocked the Kelzaks to the ground.

 

The attack forced Centhrax several steps backward. But the villain merely clutched his injured chest and laughed.

 

Rabago skid to a halt and stood with his staff raised in a fighting stance. “Jakanja, your opponent is me.”

 

Centhrax took several steps backward. “I think not…I did what I came to do…”

 

The villain shimmered away.

 

Rabago turned to the teens and walked towards them. Hunter was standing on his own strength, but he appeared weak and fatigued. “Hunter…you must go to Tibet. There is a temple there where I studied Qigong. If you trained for a period of time, the egg inside of you might be destroyed.”

 

Blake opened his eyes wide with hope. He looked to his brother. “We can head there now in our zords.”

 

Hunter shook his head. “There’s no time. We have work to do here.”

 

“But Hunter-”

 

“No Blake,” Hunter said. “We have a lot to make up for. Let’s go.”

 

Hunter staggered into the distance but kept his head held high. Blake reluctantly followed.

 

Rabago waited until the teens walked off before his body shimmered, and he revealed himself as Shurikenger in disguise.

 

The real Rabago walked out from the trees while using his staff for support. He was weakened because of his injuries, so Shurikenger delivered the message to the Thunder Rangers on behalf of the shadow healer. 

 

Shurikenger looked back to Rabago, and the healer gave an approving nod.

 

***

 

Hunter regained enough strength to run onto the scene of the Power Rangers’ battle, and Blake ran by his brother’s side. The rangers armed their morphers.

 

“Gorai…Ninjetti Change! Ha!” Energy lashed around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms.

 

***

 

Zergainzord slashed across StormMegazord with a powerful blow that knocked the robo off its feet. StormMegazord crashed backward and landed on its back as the evil zord stared downward at its fallen opponent.

 

Zergain lifted its arm blade and swung downward.

 

But the ThunderMegazord’s stag claw suddenly swung out and blocked the blow. ThunderMegazord kicked the evil robo backward and stepped back into a fighting stance while holding its weapon outward.

 

“The Thunders!” Hurricane Yellow shouted with relief and surprise.

 

“Blake!” Hurricane Blue called out.

 

StormMegazord climbed back to its feet and stood alongside the ThunderMegazord.

 

Crimson Thunder lowered his cockpit‘s targeting display. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

 

Navy Thunder did the same, and he glared at Zergainzord through his viewport. “Let’s go, Jakanja.”

 

Zergainzord stepped forward into a fighting stance. “Zergainzord…lightening up!” The evil zord’s armor retracted and formed a slender robo with sharp arm blades. The arch over the zord’s head retracted over the helmet. “Zergainzord! Lightening mode!”

 

Zergainzord dashed past the two Megazords and slashed across their armor with bursts of spark.

 

The two Megazords stepped back and regrouped.

 

“Hunter, Blake,” Hurricane Red said. “Let’s combine!”

 

“Right,” Crimson Thunder said.

 

Power Discs materialized in Hurricane Red and Crimson Thunder’s cockpits.

 

“Power Disc!” Hurricane Red inserted the disc into his console. “Lock…and drop.”

 

“Power Disc!” Crimson Thunder inserted the disc into his console. “Lock…and drop.”

 

The Megazords’ chest plates opened and shot our Power Sphere No. 7 and Power Sphere No. 8.

 

Zergainzord suddenly leapt forward and grabbed Power Sphere No. 7 before it could open. The zord flipped through the air and landed behind the two Megazords.

 

“No!” Hurricane Blue shouted.

 

Hurricane Red cursed beneath his breath. “We’ve got to get that sphere back.”

 

The Green Ranger’s zord Tenkuujin suddenly swooped down from the skies while in helicopter mode.

 

“Tenkuujin!” Shurikenger commanded. “Hisho Henkei!

 

The zord rolled hard to port and changed shape. The engines became a pair of legs, the bow split open into a pair of arms, and the four-point propeller formed chest armor. The star-shaped propeller’s top point flipped down to become the helmet of the zord’s head.

 

“Tenkuujin!” Shurikenger shouted. “Frisan!”

 

A Power Disc materialized on Shurikenger’s control station.

 

“Power Disc!” Shurikenger inserted the disc into his control console. “Lock…and drop!”

 

Strands of energy lashed out between the zord’s hands and formed Power Sphere No. 12. The sphere opened to reveal a spider-shaped weapon.

 

“Spider Grappler!” the Green Ranger shouted.

 

The spider-shaped grappler shot out, latched around Power Sphere No. 7, and pulled it free from Zergainzord. The Green Ranger swung the sphere around like a mace that repeatedly smashed against Zergainzord with bursts of spark that knocked the evil robo backward. 

 

“Hey, hey,” Shurikenger shouted to the Rangers. “I believe this belongs to you?”

 

Tenkuujin hurled the Power Sphere into the air. Power Sphere No. 7 and Power Sphere No. 8 opened and revealed two components, which combined to form a Minizord.

 

The zord placed its left hand against its right fist and spoke a programmed message. “I am Minizord.” The zord uploaded streams of data and programming into the two Megazords. “StormMegazord…ThunderMegazord…combine!”

 

“Megazords assemble!” the Rangers shouted. “Thunderstorm fusion!”

 

The lion and dolphin arms of the StormMegazord snapped off. The lion head formed the chest of the Megazord. ThunderMegazord split into four segments that formed new arms and feet with wheels. The dolphin split in two and formed a pair of cannons on the Megazord’s shoulders. Minizord formed a pair of gauntlets and helmet with a bladed crescent moon.

 

“Thunderstorm Megazord!” the Rangers shouted. “GouraiSenpuujin!”

 

Thunderstorm Megazord rolled forward on its tread wheels and charged towards Zergainzord.

 

The evil robo leapt towards the Megazord and swung its arm blades downward, but Thunderstorm Megazord simply punched the blades away and slammed a volley of punches against Zergainzord, bouncing the evil robo up and down in the air while rolling forward, each punch sparking on impact.

 

The final punch slammed a dent against Zergainzord and knocked the evil robo through the air. Zergainzord crashed against the ground and rolled back to its feet.

 

Hurricane Red grasped his controls. “Thunder Hurricane!”

 

The lion mane spun and fired a beam of twirling energy, and the shoulder cannons fired pulses of energy that combined with the twirling wave. The energy blast punctured through Zergainzord with a massive explosion that tore its armor apart with a burst of flame. Zergain managed to eject just before the zord exploded. 

 

***

 

Hours later, Hunter kneeled on the floor of the old dojo as Blake stood nearby. Rabago placed a hand over Hunter’s chest, and the shadow healer’s hand pulsed with dark-purple energy. But nothing happened.

 

Rabago tried again, but to no effect. He wrinkled his brow with frustration. “Something seems to be protecting the egg inside of you. I can’t slow it down any longer…this must be the work of that villain who attacked us.”

 

“Centhrax,” Blake cursed. He walked to his brother. “We have to go to Tibet.”

 

Hunter kept his back to Blake, stood, and pulled on his shirt. “We can’t leave.”

 

Rabago shook his head. “You’re as stubborn as your father.”

 

Hunter narrowed his eyes. “I am nothing like him.” He looked to Blake. “We can’t leave, Blake. We squandered our abilities for too long. We lived in our father’s shadow for too long. It’s time for us to come out. Into our own. If I’m going to die, I’m going to die redeeming our family name. Our school. Ourselves. I won’t die sitting in a temple. I won’t. I can’t.”

 

Blake started to protest but closed his mouth. His older brother’s words sunk in, and he felt a small pang of guilt. He nodded. “Okay.”

 

“Good,” Hunter said. “Don’t mention this to the Hayate Rangers. They don‘t need to know.”

 

“I won’t,” Blake said. He wished he could have thought of more to say, but he couldn’t. His brother was right. They had a lot of work to do and a lot to make up for. Even if it killed them.

 

***

 

Night passed. Centhrax stood on the bridge of the Jakanja ship. His lowered head was covered with his cloak, and his arms were crossed over his chest.

 

The villain reached out with his cosmic awareness and sensed the ripples of time, which were in flux, constantly changing. But certain events seemed more likely than others. He could sense the waves of the future, but more importantly, he could sense the moments that caused the waves to ripple.

 

Centhrax saw a vision of his own blade striking down Crimson Thunder.

 

“Yes…” Centhrax said quietly. “On the next full moon, Crimson Thunder will die…”

 

But his vision shifted, and he saw his own demise. He saw his body whimper and turn to dust that blew away on the wind.

 

The villain’s breath caught in his throat. “That cannot be…no. It will not happen.”

 

Centhrax left the bridge towards his private chambers to prepare.

 

***

 

The meteor shower that swept across Earth’s upper atmosphere had no scientific explanation. The meteors illuminated the sky with streaks of white light, identical to the event that drove Hunter and Blake’s father to madness. The new meteor shower came from the same source as the shooting stars spotted by Blake and Hunter’s father years before, and that source was shrouded in secrecy.

 

The shooting stars illuminated the hull of the Jakanja ship as it floated in Earth’s oceans. The light reached the bridge and splashed across the face of Lothor, who had sat motionless for days. The villain’s eyes shimmered. And something inside of him stirred.

 

Lothor’s hands clutched onto the armrests of his throne. “I can sense it…” he said in a deep voice that dripped with venom. He sounded different, more like his alter ego Tao Zento. “The Final Prophecy…”

 

He closed his eyes and recited the message that the meteors seemed to etch in his mind. “Men will walk as beats. The heart of the shadow will rip asunder. And the Ultimate Secret will reveal itself.”

 

Lothor knew that Centhrax had planted a scorpion egg in the heart of Crimson Thunder, who could channel shadow energy from The Power. This was obviously not a coincidence.

 

“Men will walk as beasts…” Lothor lowered his head thoughtfully. Then a thought struck him. He lifted his gaze. “Satora’kura…”

 

The Dark Spear named Satora’kura dropped to the deck of the bridge from above. “You’re awake!” the villain shouted. “Marah and Kapri were considering tossing you into the ocean. They wanted your shiny new chair.”

 

Lothor lifted his hand, and a telekinetic force grabbed Satora’kura around the neck and forced him to his knees. “No more jokes. No more games. No more pathetic attempts at humor,” Lothor said. “When we were together in the Rigel Expanse years ago, you spoke of three beasts you had at your command. Wolf Blades. Summon them.”

 

Lothor released his grasp, and Satora’kura gasped for air.

 

The clown-like villain muttered to himself and rose to his feet while pulling a small whistle out from underneath his robes. He blew on the whistle, which emitted a high-pitched sound. 

 

The air seemed to distort and spit out three wolves that landed in crouched positions on the deck. Each wolf wore a mask and had spikes of bone growing from its shoulders, forearms, and legs. One wolf had white fur, the second beast was colored black, and the third wolf had brown fur. The creatures snarled and snapped their jaws. They were hungry.

 

“Send them to the city,” Lothor commanded. “Let the wretched men and women of this planet walk as beasts.”

 

***

 

Simon got a call from the last person he ever expected: Hunter. And what was weird was that Hunter had called Simon’s house instead of using his communicator. The call had come at about 11 p.m.

 

The teen jogged through the woods towards the Ikkazuchi grounds, where Hunter wanted to meet. He stopped in his tracks when he saw Hunter step out from behind a tree.

 

“Hunter…” Simon said. “What’s this about? Why’d you call my house?”

 

Hunter pulled a pair of shinai from behind his back and tossed the bamboo training swords onto the ground. He used his foot to kick one of the swords towards Simon.

 

“I called you for training,” Hunter said.

 

Simon arced an eyebrow. “You what?” He wished the other ranger would show some sign of emotion, anything, so that Simon could read past the older teen’s cold exterior. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

 

Hunter lifted his sword. “Pick up the shinai.” He charged forward. “Now!”

 

Hunter chopped his sword towards Simon’s head. Simon dove underneath the swing, rolled across the ground, and picked the practice sword up from the dirt. “Hunter, I thought we were done fighting!”

 

“This isn’t about that.” Hunter swung several strikes that forced Simon back while he parried the blows. “Your Hayate moves are weak. You’ve gotten too dependent on me and my brother.”

 

“We’re a team now! Like it or not! We all depend on each other!” Simon parried several blows and stepped around to Hunter’s side. Hunter snapped a hook kick that slammed across Simon’s jaw.

 

Hunter stepped back and placed his sword in a defensive pose. Suddenly, he swung the sword across the ground to kick up dirt that flew in Simon’s face and distracted him.

 

Hunter flipped through the air, slammed his heels down against Simon’s collarbone, and snapped his sword against the ranger’s head while landing. The blow knocked Simon to the ground.

 

“That’s the Thunder Break move,” Hunter said. “Remember it.” He stepped back into a fighting stance. “Again!”

 

Simon glared at Hunter and grabbed his shinai. “You’re insane!” he charged towards Hunter and swung at the ranger. Their swords clashed against each other as they circled around the woods. “These are Ikkazuchi moves! You should be showing your brother, not me!”

 

***

 

The three Wolf Blades dropped onto the city streets overnight and spread across several blocks of Angel Grove North. Citizens screamed and ran in panic, but the Wolf Blades pounced at them, forced them to the ground, and bit their necks.

 

The victims screamed and struggled against the wolves, and soon after, they felt something in their bodies change.

 

*** 

 

Ashley was alerted to the disturbance early the next morning and sent Simon, Justin, and Rachel to the scene.

 

Justin quickly noticed the bruise on Simon’s head and bags of sleeplessness beneath his eyes. “Man, you look like hell. What happened?”

 

“Hunter paid me a visit,” Simon said as the rangers ran across the empty streets in search of the disturbance. 

 

“Hunter?” Justin asked. “Are they trying to kill us again?”

 

Simon shook his head. “No, they’re just crazy.”

 

Rachel scoffed with annoyance. “I’m tired of you two being so judgmental. Hunter and Blake have been through a lot and it’s not their fault. They’re trying to make up for everything, so give them a chance.”

 

“Um, guys,” Justin said as he looked around. “Where did all the people go?”

 

They stopped running for a moment.

 

Simon shook his head and looked around. “The streets normally clear when there’s  a monster attack.”

 

“That’s just the thing,” Justin said. “The alarms didn’t sound last night, and there’s not an attack going on. So where did everyone go?”

 

The sound of a helicopter came from the distance, and the rangers looked up to see Tenkuujin fly by.

 

Shurikenger looked down at the rangers from his cockpit. “Ohayou,” he called to them. His zord swung around to a patch of woodland a few blocks away. “I found the missing people. Follow!”

 

The three rangers ran into the wooded park. It didn’t take them long to notice that something was amiss. They heard shuffling noises come from behind the trees around them, and they heard deep breathing that almost sounded like growling.

 

Rachel spotted someone behind a tree close by. “There!”

 

The man was hunched down and snarling. His teeth were jagged, his eyes dog-like, and his nails long and yellow. Several other men and women stepped from behind the trees as well, surrounded the rangers, and stalked towards them while snarling.

 

Three blurs of motion suddenly leapt from the trees and knocked the rangers to the ground. The Wolf Blades landed around the teens and stepped forward into fighting stances as they snarled.

 

“Three of them?!” Justin shouted as he pulled himself to his feet.

 

The rangers stood back-to-back in fighting stances as the Wolf Blades circled around them.

 

Shurikenger somersaulted onto the scene behind the group of transformed civilians. “Rangers, don’t let them bite you! They’re responsible for the virus infecting the civilians!”

 

“Great,” Justin said. “You could have warned us beforehand.”

 

The rangers armed their morphers.

 

“Senpu…Ninjetti Change! Ha!” Energy twirled around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms. They snapped into fighting stances as Shurikenger leapt besides them and unsheathed his sword.

 

“Let’s go!” Hurricane Red shouted as he lead the charge towards the Wolf Blades.

 

***

 

Hunter and Blake heard the call for help through their communicators while in the cabin near the Ikkazuchi grounds. Hunter had been meditating when they got the call.

 

He rose to his feet and made sure his morpher was securely fastened around his wrist. He looked to his brother. “This may be the last time we fight together.”

 

“Stop, just stop,” Blake said. He couldn’t bring himself to look his older brother in the eyes. “I don’t want to hear you talk like that. I told you.” 

 

“Blake, you have to accept this. I have.”

 

“Accept what? That you’re going to die?!” Blake snapped. “I can’t accept that. I won’t. No. We lost…no. Just no. It‘s not too late for us to go to Tibet.”

 

“We can’t leave. This is what we were meant to do,” Hunter said. “I accept my fate. You should too. When I’m gone, I’m counting on you to keep helping the Rangers. From the shadows. That’s our responsibility. The new role of the Ikkazuchi.”

 

***

 

The Wolf Blades dashed in blurs of motion past the Rangers and slashed them across their armor with bursts of sparks. The monsters landed behind the Rangers and turned to face them.

 

The Rangers stood their ground as the wolves stalked forward.

 

“They’re too damn fast,” Hurricane Yellow said.

 

“Patience,” Shurikenger said. “All things have a weakness. In time, theirs will reveal itself.”

 

Bolts of crimson energy suddenly sparked against the creatures and forced them backward. The Rangers turned to see Crimson Thunder aiming his Horn Blaster while walking onto the scene alongside Navy Thunder. 

 

The Wolf Blades regrouped, and they heard the whistle of Satora’kura. They were being summoned back into the city to find more victims. The three Wolf Blades leapt into the distance.

 

“After them!” Hurricane Red shouted. “We can’t let this happen to anyone else!”

 

The six Rangers followed the Wolf Blades.

 

***

 

Lothor sat on his throne and watched through the bridge’s viewscreen as the Rangers chased after the Wolf Blades. He looked to his underlings gathered before him: Zergain, Centhrax, Satora’kura, Marah, and Kapri.

 

He lifted his hand. “Go, my Dark Spears. Stop the Rangers. Don’t let them interfere with the Wolf Blades’ work.”

 

***

 

The Rangers dashed after the Wolf Blades until explosions sparked in front of their path and knocked them to the ground. They rolled back to their feet and looked up to see Satora’kura, Marah, Kapri, and Zergain.

 

Zergain unsheathed his blades from his shoulders. “You ruined my zord. Again.”

 

“I’m surprised you’re not used to us busting your toys,” Hurricane Red said. He looked over his shoulder to the Thunder Rangers. “Hunter, Blake, go after the wolves. We’ll hold off the Dark Spears.”

 

The Thunder Rangers dashed away, but didn’t get far before Centhrax blocked their path. The villain stood with his arms crossed over his chest. “Crimson Thunder…Navy Thunder…together till the end. How touching.”

 

The Thunder Rangers unsheathed their Thunder Staffs and charged forward to attack.

 

Meanwhile, Hurricane Red swung his blade at Satora’kura, but the villain grabbed the blade, slammed a punch against the Ranger’s gut, and bashed a knife-hand chop against the Ranger’s neck with a powerful swing that knocked him to the ground.

 

Satora’kura stomped his heel towards Hurricane Red’s faceplate, but the Red Ranger rolled out of the way.

 

Nearby, Zergain dashed past Shurikenger and slashed the Green Ranger across the chest with a burst of spark. Shurikenger swung his blade around to strike back, but Zergain slashed across the Green Ranger with an x-shaped pattern that knocked Shurikenger to the ground.

 

Meanwhile, Marah spat darts of pink energy that sparked across Hurricane Blue and whipped her body backward, and Kapri slashed her blade across Hurricane Yellow with a burst of spark that knocked him to the ground.

 

Further way, Centhrax slammed his foot upside the fallen Navy Thunder Ranger’s head.

 

Crimson Thunder swung his staff towards Centhrax, but the villain stepped aside, knocked the blade downward, and slammed a knife-hand chop against the back of the Crimson Thunder Ranger’s neck to knock him forward and send him tumbling across the ground.

 

The Thunder Rangers regrouped, but Centhrax fired orange optic blasts that exploded against their armor and knocked them onto their backs.

 

Crimson Thunder started to sit up, but pain tore through his chest and forced him back down. His armor flashed and powered down.

 

“Hunter!” Navy Thunder shouted and tried to help his brother up, but Hunter shoved him away.

 

Centhrax laughed mockingly. “Give up, Crimson Thunder. Stay down and die.”

 

Hunter glared at Centhrax and rose to his feet, despite the pain. His breathing was deep, and his forehead dripped with sweat. “We’re not done, Centhrax. I’ll die on my own terms.”

 

“Hmph.” Centhrax lowered his head. “Very well. Come then, Crimson Thunder. Come to your death.”

 

Centhrax leapt into the distance with a streak of motion, and Hunter followed.

 

“Hunter!” Blake shouted as he leapt after his brother. 

 

From the distance, Hurricane Red saw the Thunders leap after Centhrax. He pinned Satora’kura down in an arm lock and looked to his teammate. “Guys, something’s up with the Thunders.”

 

Shurikenger slashed his blade across Zergain’s armor with a burst of spark. “Follow them.”

 

Hurricane Red leapt after the Thunder Rangers.

 

The Green Ranger was too busy paying attention to the Red Ranger to notice Zergain move in. The villain slashed the Green Ranger across the chest with a burst of spark that whipped his body backward.

 

Shurikenger rolled across the ground and regrouped with the others.

 

But Zergain, Satora’kura, Marah, and Kapri regrouped too. The villains fired a joint, jagged energy burst that exploded around the Rangers with massive bursts of spark and flame. When the smoke cleared, the Rangers were gone. They had leapt away.

 

Satora’kura tilted his head back with insane laughter.

 

***

 

Blake dashed across the wilderness with Simon at his heels.

 

“Blake, stop!” Simon shouted. He got close enough to tackle the other ranger to the ground. He pinned Blake by the arm to keep him from moving. “What’s going on with you and Hunter. Start talking.”

 

“Let go you freak!” Blake shouted. He tossed Simon away and rolled to his feet, but Simon quickly grabbed Blake by the arm.

 

“Stop running and tell me what’s going on,” Simon said. “I know something’s up with your brother. So what is it?”

 

Blake’s eyes were screaming. He shrugged off Simon’s hand and tried to catch his breath.

 

***

 

Hunter followed Centhrax to the Ikkazuchi Way, where torn banners and flags littered the battle-worn ground.

 

They stared at each other silently. Hunter lifted his morpher, activated its control panel, and morphed into his armor.

 

The opponents circled around each other.

 

***

 

“What?” Simon asked. “There’s a scorpion egg in his heart?”

 

“Like you care,” Blake said. “Just stay out of his way, that’s what he wants. I shouldn’t even have told you, but you’re so damn persistent.”

 

“I try,” Simon said. “Now come on, we have to help your brother.”

 

Simon went to leap off, but Blake stopped him. “Stay out of it.”

 

“Blake, we can stay here and kick the crap out of each other or we can go help your brother,” Simon said. “Which is it?”

 

“Stop acting like you care!” Blake snapped. “We tried to kill you at first! You don’t like us, we don’t like you, and that’s fine. So stay back, watch us, mock us, I don‘t care. Just stay out of our business.” His voice broke up. “You have no idea…I can‘t lose him. Not him too…”

 

Simon narrowed his eyes. He thought of Tetomu. He thought of his own fallen friends. “Let’s go help your brother.”

 

***

 

Shurikenger regrouped with Justin and Rachel on a rooftop, and he told them about Hunter and the egg inside the Thunder Ranger’s heart.

 

“Why didn’t you tell us before?” Rachel asked.

 

Shurikenger shook his head. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to. I was hoping he’d go to Tibet, study, train, and meditate to rid his body of the scorpion. But he was determined to stay here and fight.”

 

They heard the Wolf Blades howl in the distance. Shurikenger stepped forward and placed a foot on the rooftop ledge. “Simon is helping the Thunder Rangers. So we must protect the city. If we don‘t stop the wolves, we won‘t be able to save their victims.”

 

“What exactly happened to them?” Justin asked.

 

“The Wolf Blades’ venom is toxic and contains a virus,” Shurikenger said. “But the wolves are linked to the virus, so if they die, the virus dies, and its victims will be cured.”

 

***

 

The sun set, and nighttime covered the city to reveal a full moon, which shined down upon the Ikkazuchi Valley. 

 

Centhrax swung a flying crescent kick that Crimson Thunder ducked under. The Ranger rose and swung his staff towards Centhrax, but the villain used his forearm to block the blow.

 

Centhrax knocked the staff away and snapped a roundkick that Crimson Thunder blocked. The Ranger swung his staff upward, but Centhrax parried the blow and snapped  a high kick that Crimson Thunder blocked.

 

Centhrax followed with a kick that slammed against Crimson Thunder’s side, and he smashed a hook kick across Crimson Thunder’s helmet to knock the Ranger backward.

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger crashed against the ground and rolled into a crouched fighting stance. Before he could attack, crippling pain swelled in his chest and kept him down. The pain nearly knocked him out as he dropped his staff and clutched his chest. 

 

Centhrax fired orange optic blasts that exploded around Crimson Thunder with bursts of spark that knocked him back.

 

His armor powered down as he crashed onto his back. Hunter clutched his chest and screamed through his clenched jaw. His chest tightened, and pain shot down his arms and legs. He felt like his insides would burst. Pain, like shards of glass, cut into his gut and into his head.

 

Centhrax stalked towards Hunter. “Our game has been fun, Crimson Thunder. But now I am afraid the angel of death will fall upon you. I have won. You will die a whimpering and helpless fool.”

 

Two blurs of motion streaked through the air and slammed Centhrax backward. Simon and Blake landed next to Hunter.

 

Blake kneeled down and cradled his brother’s head. Simon snapped into a defensive stance and stood protectively in front of the two brothers. “No one’s going to die, Centhrax. I won’t let that happen!”

 

Centhrax crossed his arms over his chest. “And what is it exactly you think you can do?”

 

“Take you down.” Simon armed his morpher. “Senpu…Ninjetti Change! Ha!”

 

He morphed into his armor, unsheathed his sword, and charged towards Centhrax.

 

“Air Style! Tornado Blade Jutsu!” Hurricane Red twirled around Centhrax like a tornado while slashing at the villain with a flurry of sparks.

 

The Red Ranger landed and grabbed Centhrax in an arm lock. He looked to Blake. “Get your brother out of here! Now!”

 

Centhrax twisted his arm free and smashed a jump crescent kick across Hurricane Red’s helmet. The blow knocked the Red Ranger to the ground.

 

“Simon…” Hunter called out. “Use the Thunder Break.”

 

Hurricane Red stepped back into a defensive stance and faced off with Centhrax. The Red Ranger placed his sword in a defensive pose as if waiting for an attack. Suddenly, he swung the sword across the ground to kick up dirt that flew in Centhrax’s face and distracted him.

 

Hurricane Red flipped through the air, slammed his heels down against Centhrax’s collarbone, and chopped his sword against the villain’s head with a massive burst of spark while landing.

 

Centhrax clutched his injured head, stumbled backward, and crashed against the ground as steam rose from the wound.

 

Hunter gave a weak smile of approval. But then, the pain inside of his chest magnified. He felt like a well of boiling water had burst in his heart and flooded his entire body. The egg in his heart had hatched.

 

“Hunter!” Blake shouted. “Hunter!”

 

Agony tightened Hunter’s chest and cut off his breath. He opened his mouth to scream, but he couldn’t. His eyes rolled back, and he passed out from the pain.

 

“Hunter!” He tried to shake his brother awake.

 

Simon powered down his armor and ran to the brothers. “Hunter!” He leaned down next to the fallen ranger and placed a hand on his chest. “Hunter, hang on!”

 

Simon’s empathic senses kicked in, and he felt Hunter’s pain, but not from physical wounds.

 

Hunter was overwhelmed with shame. And bitterness. Shame at his own actions, his father, and the Ikkazuchi Way. Bitter at his upbringing. Bitter at the world that had shunned him and his younger brother. He didn’t feel like he deserved to belong to the broader world.

 

But the fight against Jakanja, the fight alongside the Rangers, had given him a purpose and chance at redemption, not just for himself, but for his brother, his family, and the Ikkazuchi. He didn’t deserve to fight alongside the Rangers, but he could help them from the shadows, where he was meant to live. He couldn’t abandon them to save himself. He couldn’t show weakness. He had to stay strong and fight until the end.

 

Simon felt Hunter’s emotions become dim. “No, hold on!”

 

His empathic senses shifted, and he felt Blake.

 

Blake had lived most of his life alone. And frightened. Everyone who got close, as rare as that happened, left him or died. And he was sick of it. He couldn’t lose his brother too. His best friend. His mentor. His protector.

 

He couldn’t go on alone. He couldn’t imagine his brother not being there for him every day. He couldn’t bare the thought. 

 

A tear streamed down Simon’s cheek. He clutched tightly onto Hunter’s shoulder. “Just hold on…”

 

Above, the meteor shower illuminated the night sky.

 

***

 

Ashley watched Simon, Blake, and Hunter through her monitor at Ops. She opened up a comm line. “Tommy, you better get back home. Something’s happened.”

 

To be continued…Chapter 18