Wind and Thunder: Chapter 19

Not Even Death

 

Centhrax’s cocoon cracked open within the Jakanja ship. A humanoid figure slid from the top of the cocoon, arced his back, and pulled free.

 

The slimy figure landed on the floor and took deep breaths that echoed throughout the chamber. Ooze dripped from the creature’s rusty-brown exoskeleton and splattered onto the floor.

 

The figure took its first steps. Centhrax was reborn.

 

***

 

Tommy and Simon sat on the rooftop of the Hayate Way dojo and looked out upon the wooded landscape that surrounded the campus. The school almost seemed secluded, protected from the madness that often engulfed the city.

 

Unfortunately, that was far from the truth. Simon could tell every time his empathic senses picked up the fear that permeated the woods. Even the creatures and animals within the forest could sense the evil that corrupted Angel Grove.

 

Tommy finally broke the silence. “You scared the crap out of me. With the whole dying thing.”

 

Simon twitched a brief smile. “Don’t worry, it’s not something I plan on doing again anytime soon.” He tilted his head towards his mentor but couldn’t bring himself to meet Tommy’s gaze. “I’m…I’m sorry. Not for what I did for Hunter, just for…the way I’ve been acting since all this happened with the Jakanja. It’s just hard.”

 

Tommy nodded. “I understand. I’d give you some advice, but I think you already know what I’d say.”

 

Simon smiled. “You’re not alone, the responsibility isn’t yours alone to carry, don’t forget what you’re fighting for, blah, blah, and blah.”

 

Tommy laughed and tossled Simon’s hair.

 

“Okay,” Simon laughed as he pulled away. “I’m 17 now, you better stop doing that or people will start talking.”

 

The roof panel opened behind them, and Rachel poked her head out. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you guys were up here.”

 

“It’s okay,” Tommy said as he patted the roof next to him. “Have a seat.”

 

Rachel sighed as she walked over and sat on the other side of Tommy.

 

Simon looked to his teammate. “What’s wrong with you?”

 

“My agent Clint,” Rachel said. “He ditched me.”

 

“Ditched you?” Tommy asked.

 

Rachel nodded. “He’s moving out of the city. He says he’s been having trouble keeping good clients, so he wants to go somewhere more,” she air signed quotes, “‘lucrative’ or something.”

 

Simon shrugged. “He kind of sucked anyway.”

 

“Well Rach,” Tommy said. “Try to think of this as an opportunity-”

 

“I know, I know,” she said. “This will help me put some things into perspective. There’s more to life than performing, and even if I want to pursue making a career out of it, I need some kind of a back up plan.”

 

“Gee, do you guys even need me anymore?” Tommy joked.

 

***

 

Blake walked across the war-torn ground of the Ikkazuchi Way campus, but he wasn’t sure why. Life seemed to be offering him new opportunities, but he couldn’t keep his mind off the past.

 

He was warming up to Rachel and considered her a friend. His first real friend. She was even trying to talk him and Hunter into enrolling in high school to get their diplomas. They’d technically been home schooled their whole lives, although most of that schooling involved their father teaching them to fight and kill.

 

Blake’s gaze drifted to a cave his father had forbidden the students of the Ikkazuchi Way to ever enter. He tilted his head with curiosity and walked towards the cave. Its entrance was shaped like the maw of an insect, which was fitting for the Ikkazuchi, since most of its students had bugs for animal spirits.

 

Do not let modern society fool you, their father had told them. Beetles held a sacred status in ancient civilizations, and they were often likened to gods. Gods.

 

Blake entered the cave and walked into a dark cavern, where a single Ikazuti Maru was displayed on a rock. The weapon was similar to the Thunder Staffs, only it was tipped by a foot-long, golden blade, and most of the staff was wrapped with dark cloth.

 

The weapon had belonged to Blake and Hunter’s father.

 

Blake narrowed his eyes and walked up to the weapon. The hatred he felt for his father welled up inside of his throat. He traced his fingers along the staff, and a jolt of static electricity suddenly shocked his hand away. 

 

“What the hell-”

 

“Why haven’t you avenged me, Blake.”

 

Blake snapped around to see a ghostly image of his father.

 

***

 

Centhrax stood on a ruined skyscraper that looked out upon the decimated landscape of Demon City, formerly Angel Grove Central. The villain tilted his head downward and crossed his arms over his chest. Where the mortals saw Demon City as a wasteland, Centhrax saw the former population center as a pool of potential.

 

“That fool Satora’kura was onto something, although by accident,” Centhrax said. “If this world is truly to be destroyed, corrupted, the way to do so is infection. A real infection.”

 

Centhrax extended his hand, and his palm pulsed with deep-purple shadow energy.

 

***

 

Blake narrowed his eyes and walked around the image of his father. He shook his head skeptically. “You can’t be real.”

 

“I am a physic imprint etched onto the blade,” he said. “I am a shadow of your father, one that is disappointed. The Dragon Ranger ruined our lives. He killed your mother. He nearly killed me. He killed your sensei Omino. Now he is your ally?”

 

“The Power Rangers are my allies,” Blake said. He hesitated, surprised that he was defending them. “They didn’t have anything to do with what Oliver did.”

 

His father lowered his head with shame. “You always were my weakest son. You know nothing of family honor.”

 

“Don’t talk to me about honor!” Blake shouted.

 

“Silence!” his father shouted with a force that knocked Blake onto his tailbone. “You will respect me, Blake, I am your father, whether an imprint or flesh and bone. You will obey me. Tommy Oliver…he destroyed our family, and he must die. Pick up my blade. Train with it. Use it to become a son that I, for once, can be proud of.”

 

Blake narrowed his eyes at the ghostly image of his father.

 

“I know you hate me, Blake,” his father said. “Take that hatred. Use it. Is it any more or less than the hate you feel for Tommy, the Dragon Ranger? Kill him and make me proud. Kill him and prove me wrong for thinking you don’t have what it takes. Kill him.”

 

Blake rose to his feet and slowly walked towards the sword. He reached out and pulled the weapon from its stone pedestal with a burst of lightning energy that sparked throughout the cave.

 

***

 

Two days passed without incident.

 

Justin walked into Angel’s Haven Children’s Shelter to start volunteering, and he was immediately cornered by one of the shelter’s staff members, named Charlotte.

 

“Justin, I’m glad you’re here. Listen,” she said, “I need you to run Phillip to the immediate care center. He’s been coughing all day, and now he’s broken out into a fever.”

 

The teen hesitated and ran his fingers through the back of his hair. “I don’t know. I kind of  only have a few hours, and that place can take forever-”

 

“Please, Justin.” Charlotte tried her best to smile, but the expression was obviously uncomfortable for her. “I know I can count on you.”

 

Justin sighed with defeat. “All right, I’ll take him. But you should know, if he makes me sick, I’m coming back here. And I’m coughing on you.”

 

***

 

Justin drove towards the immediate care center with Phillip in the passenger seat. The young boy had short red hair, freckles, and dark green eyes. He sat with his head hung low, and his pale face was blush with fever.

 

The boy cradled a small plastic container in his hands.

 

Justin looked at Phillip through the corner of his eyes. “How you feeling, kiddo?”

 

Phillip shrugged. “Okay I guess,” he said with a Georgia accent. “My head hurts.”

 

“We’ll get ya taken care of,” Justin said. He noticed the small container that Phillip seemed to be cradling. “What’s in that container?”

 

Phillip smiled and slightly lifted the container so Justin could see. “It’s my cricket. I found him yesterday outside the shelter. He was caught in a web.”

 

“That was nice of you,” Justin said.

 

Phillip nodded and lowered the container back into his lap. “My head hurts…”

 

His eyes slowly closed, and his head slumped down.

 

“Phillip…” Justin said. “Phillip!”

 

***

 

Blake stood in the tree branches of the Hayate Way campus and watched Tommy Oliver pass by below. Blake narrowed his eyes and gripped his father’s sword. He could hear his father’s voice in the back of his mind: “Do it…make me proud…”

 

The teen shouted and leapt from the trees while aiming his staff’s blade towards Tommy’s back. Tommy leapt clear, and the blade cut through the ground.

 

Blake quickly pulled the weapon free, lunged at Tommy, and swung the weapon through a wide arc that the former Ranger dodged.

 

“Blake, you don’t want to do this,” Tommy said.

 

“I think I do!” Blake pounced forward with a series of strikes that Tommy dodged while stepping backward.

 

Ryuuseikin!” Tommy summoned his golden-hilted sword with a flash of light.

 

Tommy parried Blake’s staff and stepped forward while slamming an elbow strike against Blake’s chest to knock the teen to the ground.

 

Blake crashed against the dirt and rolled backward into a crouched position. He armed his morpher. “Ninjetti Change!” His armor flashed around him.

 

Navy Thunder somersaulted through the air and chopped his blade towards Tommy’s head. Tommy blocked the blow with a burst of spark and kicked Navy Thunder backward.

 

“Blake listen me,” Tommy said. “Something isn’t right. That staff, where did you-”

 

“Lightning Style!” Navy Thunder placed his right fist against his left palm. “Lightning Chain Jutsu!”

 

Navy Thunder leaned forward and fired a chain of lighting from his forehead. He whipped the chain towards Tommy, but the former Ranger leapt over the lightning and thrust his palm towards Navy Thunder.

 

“Ki!” Tommy fired an invisible chi-powered blast that sparked against Navy Thunder and knocked him to the ground.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger rolled into a crouched fighting stance and held his staff back in a defensive stance. He heard his father’s voice in the back of his mind. “Stop playing with my sword as if it were a toy. Fight! Its power is yours!”

 

“Shut up!” Navy Thunder shouted as his blade and body crackled with electric power.

 

The Navy Thunder Ranger swung his staff through a wide arc and fired a barrage of lightning that blasted through the woods, splintering through trees and kicking up clouds of dirt.

 

Tommy stepped back and placed his right fist against his left palm. He summoned an invisible Kiryoku barrier, and the lightning barrage slammed against the barrier and sent the former Ranger flying through the air. 

 

Tommy twisted while in midair, planted his feet against a tree trunk, and pushed off towards Navy Thunder.

 

But a bolt of crimson energy slammed against Tommy’s shoulder and knocked him from the air. Tommy hit the ground hard, his shoulder battered from the blast.

 

The former Ranger rolled back into a crouched position, cradled his dislocated shoulder, and looked to see Crimson Thunder step through the woods. 

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger casually swung his staff over his shoulder. “Leave my brother alone.”

 

Tommy narrowed his eyes.

 

***

 

Justin anxiously paced back and forth in the waiting room at St. Ethelbert Hospital. He had his hands in his pockets, and his gaze was down low. His head snapped up when he heard the waiting room doors open, and he saw Dr. Murphy step inside. Justin quickly stepped towards the doctor. “How is he…”

 

Dr. Murphy’s face sank. The doctor looked tired, with bags of sleeplessness beneath his eyes. “I’m sorry…there was nothing we could do.”

 

Justin shook his head. Grief swelled in his throat. “No…come on, there has to be something…what was wrong with him? How did it happen?”

 

Dr. Murphy sighed with fatigue and waved his hands out in a helpless manner. “We’re not sure exactly…he was very sick-”

 

“No shit,” Justin said. “How many years do you doctors go to school again?”

 

The waiting room doors burst open, and a nurse frantically leaned inside. “Dr. Murphy, another one just came in, same symptoms as the others.”

 

Murphy rushed from the waiting room.

 

“Hey wait!” Justin shouted, but the doctor didn‘t stop to listen. “What the hell was that about…”

 

***

 

“Hunter, it’s not what you think.” Tommy stepped back into a loose defensive stance. “Something’s wrong with your brother. I can tell, he-”

 

“Shadow Bolt!” Crimson Thunder hurled a bolt of crimson-tinted shadow energy.

 

Tommy used his good arm to twirl his blade and deflect the blast.

 

Crimson Thunder dashed to attack Tommy from the front, and Navy Thunder moved in from the side.

 

Tommy parried a blow by Crimson Thunder, spun around the Ranger, and slammed a sidekick against Navy Thunder’s faceplate. Tommy turned back to Crimson Thunder and slashed upward with a burst of spark that forced the Crimson Thunder Ranger backward.

 

“Hunter, your brother’s not in control,” Tommy said as he parried a flurry of blows from the two Thunder Rangers. “I think it’s that staff. Trust me…weird, creepy weapons of darkness can screw with a guy’s head.”

 

“You think this is funny!” Navy Thunder shouted.

 

Navy Thunder’s strikes became more savage and random with each swing, and Tommy did his best to parry the blows without injuring the Ranger. At the same time, he had to worry about maneuvering around Navy Thunder at the right angle to use his only good arm to parry Crimson Thunder’s strikes.

 

The battle was frustrating.

 

“Would you two listen,” Tommy said. He swatted Navy Thunder’s staff aside and blocked a blow from Crimson Thunder. “Hunter, I didn’t attack your brother, he attacked me, and he’s not thinking straight.”

 

Tommy swung his blade in a butterfly pattern to deflect both staffs. “Blake, what happened to your mother was an accident! I was under a spell…but I still live with the guilt, every day, of the things I did. Killing me-”

 

Tommy had to leap back to avoid a fierce combination of blows from the brothers, and the duel continued. “Killing me won’t make things right.” He parried a series of blows, but his arm became weaker with each movement. “Focus your energy on fighting the evil that caused this messed-up world we live in.”

 

“You killed her!” Navy Thunder shouted and swung his staff through a random, ridged pattern of blows. “You killed Sensei Omino!”

 

Crimson Thunder seemed to notice his brother’s rash actions. And for the first time, he seemed to notice the bladed staff in his brother’s hands. “Blake…that staff, it’s father’s. Where did you…”

 

“He picked me to use it!” Navy Thunder shouted. He swung a flurry of strikes that Tommy blocked.

 

Crimson Thunder lowered his staff with disbelief and watched his brother lunge forward at Tommy. “Blake…father’s dead.”

 

“And I’m avenging him!” Navy Thunder shouted. “He doesn’t think I can, but I’ll show him!”

 

Navy Thunder heard his father’s voice in the back of his mind. “Quit talking and fight, you whimpering child! Focus!”

 

Navy Thunder intensified his attack and forced Tommy further backward. Tommy narrowed his eyes and fired an invisible chi-powered blast that knocked Navy Thunder back.

 

Navy Thunder leaned down and pounced at the former Ranger.

 

“Blake, listen to me,” Crimson Thunder said. “Father’s gone. He can’t hurt us anymore. We don’t have to live in his shadow or try to live up to his warped expectations.”

 

“I live in the blood of my children!” their father’s voice shouted in Navy Thunder’s mind. “Children I expect to be strong and carry out their duty! Restore my family name! And restore the name of the Ikkazuchi!”

 

Navy Thunder screamed and stepped back, swinging his staff into a defensive position. “Get out of my head!”

 

“Stop whining and fight!” their father’s voice shouted in his mind. “Is this what I taught you? Weakness? Coward-ness? Remember the lessons I taught you!”

 

He remembered the lessons. He remembered being young, terrified, and locked in pitch-black closets to learn how to embrace the darkness.

 

“Blake, he has no power over us anymore,” Hunter said as he powered down his armor. “He can’t hurt you.”

 

“Ignore your brother,” their father’s voice said in Navy Thunder’s mind. “He has chosen his side, chosen the Hayate whelps.”

 

Navy Thunder shook his head. His thoughts drifted to the Power Rangers. His thoughts drifted to Rachel. “No…”

 

“Keep fighting! Avenge me! Avenge your family and the Ikkazuchi!”

 

Revenge wouldn’t bring back his mother. His mother, who was hurtful, spiteful, condescending. “No…”

 

Revenge wouldn’t bring back Omino, who was just as twisted and evil as his father. “No…”

 

“You are not the son I raised you to be!”

 

“I’m not!” Navy Thunder shouted. “So shut the hell up!”

 

Navy Thunder grabbed the staff and swung his knee to splinter the weapon in two with a burst of lightning. The broken, smoking staff fell to the ground, and Blake’s armor powered down as he collapsed to his knees and wept, burying his face in his hands.

 

He cried for the mother who was never there for him, always making him feel small, like a liability instead of a son. Inadequate. He wept for a father who never knew how to love, who could only teach his sons how to kill. He wept for the life he missed, the childhood he never had.

 

Hunter kneeled down next to Blake and wrapped his arms around his brother. “It’s not our fault,” Hunter said. “We’re free of them now…”

 

Tommy lowered the sword, and it vanished with a pulse of golden flame. The former Ranger turned and walked back towards the Hayate Way dojo to leave the brothers alone.

 

***

 

Justin walked into the hospital lobby, which was a scene of chaos. People frantically shouted back and forth at each other, and at hospital workers, while piling towards the main entrance, which was blocked by a group of hospital security guards. The guards tried unsuccessfully to keep everyone calm. They were holding out their hands and trying to shout reassurances to the masses, but their voices couldn’t be heard over the commotion.

 

Justin narrowed his eyes and stepped back into a corner. He activated his communicator. “Ashley, this is Justin, I’m at St. Ethelbert Hospital. Is there a monster attack in the area or something? The people here are freaking out, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s allowed to leave.”

 

“You’re where?” Ashley asked.

 

“St. Ethelbert Hospital,” Justin said. “What’s going on?”

 

***

 

Ashley leaned back in her chair and shook her head. “Something…bad, Justin. Just…just stay there until I get you more information.”

 

Her gaze drifted to one of her side screens, which displayed a newscast by Lynn Holtkamp. The image was an aerial shot of several blocks around St. Ethelbert Hospital. Flashing sirens dotted the area. Across the bottom of the screen was the word: “Outbreak.”

 

“St. Ethelbert Hospital and the surrounding 10-square-mile area is under quarantine as the Center for Disease Control investigates the outbreak of an unknown, fatal virus that claimed the lives of 280 lives this morning. The first reported case was-

 

“Wait, this just in…the Center for Disease Control has issued a report that another hospital is under quarantine in Angel Grove North. Fifteen people have reportedly died from the same virus, and…wait, now…now another report, another hospital in Angel Grove West is being placed under quarantine…”

 

Ashley opened up a comm line with Tommy. “Tommy, you need to get back to Ops right now.”

 

“Is it Jakanja?” Tommy asked. 

 

Ashley shook her head. “I don’t know…if it is, they may have actually won this time.”

 

***

 

Justin got tired of waiting. He bolted up the stairwell and leapt off the rooftop of the hospital to find out what was going on.

 

***

 

Tommy leaned over Ashley’s shoulder at her control station. “So what is it?”

 

“Keep in mind, I’m not a biologist,” Ashley said. “But I hacked into the CDC’s database. This isn’t like anything we faced before. It’s an actual virus, but it’s been mutated with shadow energy, kind of like what happened with different plant and animal life in Demon City.”

 

“We have to find the carrier,” Tommy said. “A monster or demon of some kind must have spread this.”

 

Ashley nodded. “The problem is the virus doesn’t have a mystic chain, like all the Wolf Blade victims who were connected and cured when the Wolf Blades were killed. This virus needs an actual cure.”

 

“If we can find the carrier, where the virus originated, that will help,” Tommy said.

 

Ashley nodded. “But this is over our heads. I wouldn’t begin to know how to develop a vaccination or cure or whatever.”

 

“We’ll figure it out,” Tommy said. “We still have Dr. Ayuma. And maybe I can get in touch with Rocky.”

 

The television caught their attention. “The entire city of Angel Grove has been quarantined, as more outbreaks are reported by the hour. No one is being allowed into or out of the city, and…”

 

“I’m calling my parents to make sure they’re staying in the house with Tyler,” Tommy said. “Contact the Rangers.”

 

***

 

Dr. Murphy and two of his nurses piled the last body bag into the morgue.

 

The doctor warily leaned against the wall and rubbed his eyes, which were heavy with fatigue. “By god, after all my years I never thought-”

 

A body bag ripped open, and the corpse lunged at Dr. Murphy and snapped the doctor’s neck before tackling him to the ground and biting into his face.

 

The nurses screamed as more body bags ripped open, and the corpses pounced at the women, biting their necks, arms, and legs.

 

One of the women screamed and fled towards the door, but her Achilles tendon was torn off by one of the corpse’s teeth.

 

To be continued…Chapter 20