PROLOGUE-- SHADOW BLADE

 

Months ago...

 

His name was Tommy Oliver, but he was not the Tommy of our world. He came from Demon World Earth, an alternate reality where evil ruled. And in that twisted reality, Tommy's transformation into the Evil Green Ranger was permanent.

 

Dark Tommy howled with agony as pins and needles pierced all across his pale body, tearing into him and injecting him with what felt like molten lava. He was strapped to a lab table he could have easily broken free from, if not for the crippling pain that invaded his body.

 

"Accept the pain, Tommy," a voice said from the shadows. It was Akuma, who the real Tommy Oliver knew as the Dark Man. "You wanted power. You wanted to become strong again. I am giving you that power."

 

Tommy tried to shout at Akuma, but all that escaped his lips were unintelligible screams and cries.

 

"I know it hurts," Akuma said. "The potion I am injecting you with is a special creation, similar to the formula I gave to your counterpart's sister to help her create the Psycho Rangers. I am bonding your very essence, your soul, your entire being to the darkest energies of the One Power. Think of it like a skin graft over your spirit."

 

Tommy's screams intensified as strands of black energy seeped from his pores and wrapped around his body like strands of shadowy silk.

 

"It's no substitute for your Green Ranger powers, I know," Akuma said. "No morphing. But you'll be powerful enough that you won't need to. Your body itself will be a battery of energy that will turn you into a deadly wraith. A Shadow Blade..."

 

Ultimate Origins: Chapter Nine

Marauders: Diversions

 

"I don't believe it, Ashley," Tommy said, his voice grim, and his eyes narrowed. "I don't."

 

Ashley gently laid a hand on her fiancé's shoulder. "It's not as bad as it looks."

 

"How can you say that?" Tommy said. "Look at them all. They're all so...these kids are so much younger than us."

 

Tommy and Ashley had returned to college. Their first day, they walked across the campus of Crossworld City University, decorated with pathways of tan-colored brick that stemmed from a fountain plaza circled with amphitheater-styles steps. Students-- except those who were lost-- shuffled across campus as they made their way towards their classroom buildings.

 

"Not by that much," Ashley said. "We're not even in our 30s yet."

 

"Give it time, dear," Tommy said. "Give it time. I think our book fees alone nearly shocked me into having gray hair."

 

Ashley smiled and rolled her eyes. "Anyway...I guess this is where we split up." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "See you after class."

 

Tommy smiled sheepishly. "See ya."

 

Tommy watched her walk away and turned towards his class, and he stopped in his tracks at what he saw. His eyes opened wide with shock. Ahead of him, on the brick path, stood the Dark Man named Akuma.

 

The Dark Man wore his black jacket as always, and his skin was pale as ever; his hair slick, long, and black.

 

Tommy stood still as the Dark Man walked towards him. A cold smile spread across the villain's face. "Hello, Tommy...good to see you again. How is Ashley? And your son, Tyler?"

 

Tommy narrowed his eyes. "I don't care what you want. I don't care why you're here. But if you don't turn around, walk away, and never come near me or my family again, I'll-"

 

"You'll do nothing," Akuma said. The villain's smile betrayed his arrogance as he looked out upon the college kids around them. "You wouldn't risk any harm coming to any innocents. Even the sheep in their fraternities, and the whores in their sororities."

 

"Then just leave," Tommy said. "We have enough nut jobs around without having to worry about you."

 

"Now, Tommy, that's no way to treat an old friend," Akuma said. "I am here to offer you one more chance. One last chance. To join me. To use your power and help me remake this world. We can still find a way."

 

"If you honestly think I'd even consider that, you're a bigger freaking tool than I thought," Tommy said. "A bigger tool than Zedd was. And he was quite a tool."

 

The Dark Man nodded, and his gaze became distant, almost sorrowful, if the mysterious man was capable of that emotion. "Then I am afraid I will have to deliver a message to you. A warning. No more will I stay in the shadows and watch as the Wheel of Time continues to spin its endless cycle of death and destruction. I will have to take matters into my own hands. I have assembled a little task force of my own. I am going to use them to break you, Tommy. Destroy everything you care about. Then...when you've lost everything like I...when you've lost everything, you will come around to my way of thinking."

 

Tommy rolled his hands into fists. "Leave. Now."

 

Akuma nodded. "Good bye, Tommy." The villain turned and slowly started to walk away. "I'm sorry it had to come to this."

 

***

 

Blake anxiously adjusted the strap of his book bag and followed Rachel down the main hallway of the high school. She was smiling, pointing out every classroom and painting, and explaining each with great detail. Blake couldn't have looked more uncomfortable, with his shoulders awkwardly clenched and his head hung slightly low.

 

"Oh, would you relax," she finally said to him. "After everything we've been through, how can high school scare you?"

 

"Fear?" Blake's eyes occasionally followed students that passed them by. "It's not fear; it's near-crippling, nauseating anxiety."

 

She smiled and rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you clarified that."

 

"Me too," he said. "I'd hate to start my first day with a misunderstanding."

 

She led him to a locker in the midst of the long hallway, which was patterned with blue tiles that matched the dark-blue color of the lockers themselves. She placed her hand on a locker door. "And this is your locker."

 

"Its uniqueness is staggering," Blake said.

 

"Oh hush," Rachel said. "Be excited."

 

"You're excited enough for both of us," she said. 

 

"That's true," she said. "And cliché."

 

"Are you insulting my wit?"

 

"Gasp," she joked. "I would never."

 

He looked at her and smiled. "I'm going to kiss you."

 

She smiled back at him. "Public displays of affection aren't allowed."

 

"Let's break the rules." He leaned in and kissed her.

 

Neither of them noticed a girl watching from further down the hall while slightly peeking around the edge of an open locker door. The girl had just enough of a tan complexion, almond-shaped eyes, and dark hair that one of her parents may have been Japanese. The odd girl glared at Rachel and slammed her locker door shut.

 

***

 

Simon and Teddy walked side by side down the halls of Angel Grove North Community High School. Teddy looked around the halls and breathed a sigh of relief. "This is it," he said. "Senior year. The terror is almost over."

 

"Not for another year," Simon said. "That's too long."

 

"It'll go by fast, you'll see," Teddy said.

 

"If not, I'm blaming you," Simon said.

 

"Fair enough," Teddy said. He adjusted the strap on his bag, which was weighed down with books. "Anyway. I gotta head over to the English wing. I'll see ya after lunch."

 

"See ya." Simon turned a corner and walked down a hallway with lockers on one side and wide windows on the other. The windows looked out onto a courtyard set up with park benches and tables where students could sit during lunch or in between classes.

 

Suddenly, the windows of the hallway shattered with a shockwave that knocked the students off their feet and slammed them against the lockers.

 

Simon smashed back-first against a locker and crashed against the floor, and when he looked up, he saw a red blur leap through the broken hallway window. The blur landed in a crouched fighting stance in the middle of the hall as students screamed and ran with panic-- except for those who stayed behind to capture the chaos on their camera phones.

 

"Run you idiots!" Simon shouted as he climbed to his feet.

 

vr-vi-redpythonThe young ranger looked to his opponent, who stood to full height in the middle of the hall. It was the Red Python, one of the Dark Man's Marauders.

 

Simon leapt towards her with a flying kick, but she grabbed his leg, swung him around, and slammed him against the lockers. The blow knocked the wind from Simon, and Red Python lifted him high before slamming him back to the floor.

 

Simon quickly rolled back into a crouched fighting stance and thrust his hand towards the villain. "Ki!"

 

He fired an invisible pulse blast of Kiryoku that smashed against Red Python and knocked her halfway down the hall. She slammed against the floor and skid across the tiling, and Simon charged towards her.

 

The ranger armed his morpher. Secret identity be damned, he couldn't let anyone get hurt because of him. "Ninjetti change!" Energy twirled around him as he morphed into his Ranger form.

 

Red Python rolled back into a couched position, and her body dissolved into orbs of red and white light that shot across the hallway and sparked across Hurricane Red while pelting around him. The cluster of orbs twirled behind the Red Ranger and materialized back into the Red Python, who quickly slashed across Hurricane Red's back with a burst of spark.

 

Hurricane Red toppled forward. But he stayed on his feet and twirled around with a back-fist strike that smashed across the Red Python's helmet, and he followed with a hook kick that bashed her against the lockers, which smashed from the impact.

 

"What are you?" Hurricane Red snapped a roundkick that Red Python ducked beneath. "Who are you with?"

 

"I serve my master!" she shrieked in a snake-like voice and snapped a roundkick towards the Red Ranger's head. 

 

Hurricane Red blocked the blow and smashed a sidekick against Red Python to knock her back several steps. She kept her balance, and Hurricane Red swung a spin kick that bashed across her helmet. Red Python spun with the blow, ducked low, and slashed her daggers across the Red Ranger's chest with bursts of spark.

 

The Red Ranger fought back, and their duel stretched down the hallway. The more they fought, the more it felt like they were growing accustomed to each other's fighting styles. Hurricane Red twirled his blade through a series of quick strikes and wide arcs, but the Red Python parried each blow and struck back with counter swings that Hurricane Red blocked.

 

The sound of steel against steel echoed down the halls as they moved down another wing of the school building. The fire alarm rang, and sprinklers sprayed water across the school-turned-battlefield.

 

The Red Python used the distraction of the water to smash a powerful kick against Hurricane Red, and the Red Ranger went crashing through a doorway and into a computer lab. He crashed onto a computer table that buckled beneath his weight and smashed against the floor.

 

Red Python aimed a dagger at the Ranger and fired a burst of crimson energy that sparked against his chest and kept him on the ground. "You've been warned," she hackled. "My master can strike you at any time, at any place. Nowhere is safe."

 

The villain's body twirled into spheres of crimson and white light that vanished out of sight, leaving Hurricane Red alone in the smashed lab.   

 

***

 

The courtyard of Rachel and Blake's high school was nestled in the center of the building, where trees cast shade across the neatly-trimmed lawn, surrounded by the tan-brick walls of the school building itself. 

 

Blake and Rachel met each other during lunch and sat at one of the picnic tables at the courtyard, after having swung by the cafeteria to get food-- or at least what passed as food.

 

"What is this stuff?" Blake stabbed the slab of meat on his tray.

 

"Meatloaf." Rachel wrinkled her nose. "Don't eat it. You should have just gotten a salad. Salad is safe...for the most part...I think."

 

"That's comforting," Blake said.

 

His gaze drifted over Rachel's shoulder, and he noticed a strange girl staring at them. Well, maybe staring was putting it mildly. She was glaring. The girl had just enough of a tan complexion, almond-shaped eyes, and dark hair that one of her parents may have been Japanese.

 

"Hey, Rach," Blake said. "Don't turn around--unless you'd like to make things awkward-- but there's this creepy girl that's been staring at us all day. I saw her after all our morning classes, and now she's here. Staring. She doesn't look pleasant. Marah and Kapri actually looked more cheery than this girl."

 

"Marah and Kapri were actually kind of cheery," Rachel said.

 

"Yeah, in a homicidal, whacked-out insane kind of way," Blake said. "But that's beside the point."

 

"You're just being paranoid," Rachel said. "Relax. This isn't a battlefield. There aren't people out to get us."

 

"Well, there are," Blake said. "They're just not here."

 

"Yes, that's what I meant," Rachel said.

 

"Aaaaaand now she's walking over here," Blake said. He lowered his gaze. "This is going to be weird. I can already tell this is going to be weird."

 

The girl who had glared at them walked to the table and stared down at Rachel with eyes like fire. "I swore to myself...that if I ever saw you again, I would say something..."

 

Rachel looked up at the girl and arced an eyebrow. "Um...what? We're just sitting here eating lunch...do I know you? You don't look familiar..."

 

"I just started school here," the girl said. "Not that it's any of your business."

 

Blake shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Okay, is anyone else confused? Is this some kind of weird, public high school thing? If so, I'm thinking a charter school might be nice. Or even one of those catholic places. I hear they have good wine."

 

The girl scoffed. "Does he even know about you?" she asked. "About what you've done?"

 

Rachel's face grew pale. "What?"

 

"That's right, Rachel," the girl said. "I know who you really are. You ruined my life."

 

"Listen," Rachel said. "I don't know what you've-"

 

hurri-vi-sandaruThe ground suddenly shook with enough force to knock the girl from her feet and knock Blake and Rachel from the picnic table. Students screamed and ran from the plaza, and as Blake and Rachel rose to their feet, they looked up to see Vexacus standing in the middle of the courtyard with his broadsword swung casually over his shoulder.

 

"Hello, children," the villain said mockingly. "I've missed you..."

 

Blake formed a crackling sphere of navy-tinted lightning in his palm. "Lightning bolt!"

 

Blake hurled a bolt of lightning that streaked through the air towards Vexacus, but the villain merely swung his sword and deflected the blast, which exploded through one of the building's walls.

 

Rachel looked back to the odd girl who had bothered her. The girl's eyes were open wide with terror. "Would you run already!"

 

The girl turned and ran towards the nearest door, and Blake and Rachel armed their morphers.

 

"Senpu..."

 

"Gorai..."

 

"Ninjetti change! Ha!" Energy swirled around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms.

 

Vexacus drilled beneath the ground with a blur of motion, and suddenly, a 7-foot-tall fin popped from the earth where the villain had dropped. The fin zipped across the courtyard like a land shark, knocking away tables and chairs, and slashed past the two Rangers with bursts of spark.

 

Hurricane Blue slammed against the ground, and she rolled into a crouched fighting stance as she slammed her palm against the dirt and shouted: "Water Style, Geyser Jutsu!"

 

A geyser of water erupted from the ground and blew Vexacus from beneath the surface. The villain twisted through midair and swung his blade at the Rangers, and the weapon emitted an energy blade that shot towards the two teammates.

 

The two Rangers dove aside as the blast sparked around them and singed their armor, knocking them on opposite sides of the courtyard.

 

Navy Thunder rolled into a crouched stance and unsheathed his staff. He stared towards Vexacus, who casually slung his broadsword over his shoulder. "Aren't you supposed to be dead, Vexacus? How are you not more dead? Like the rest of the Jakanja?"

 

"I was never truly Jakanja," Vexacus said. "I am a Marauder of Akuma.

 

Hurricane Blue looked to Navy Thunder. "We have to lure him away from here. There are too many-"

 

"Don't bother," Vexacus said. "My job here is finished. I was sent to deliver a message, and I have."

 

"What message?" Navy Thunder said.

 

"This one." The villain's artificial eye fired darts of energy that exploded across the Rangers' chests and whipped their bodies backward.

 

The Rangers crashed against the ground, and when they looked up, Vexacus was gone.

 

Navy Thunder scoffed beneath his breath. "So much for our first day of school..."

 

***

 

Police sirens blared as cop cars surrounded Angel Grove North Community High School. Officers barricaded the area to keep everyone from the high school building but contained to campus grounds for questioning.

 

The barricade was nothing difficult for Simon to sneak around to head back to Ops.

 

***

 

Less than an hour passed before Simon was joined at Ops by Rachel and Blake, who had their own horror story to tell.

 

"So what are we supposed to do now?" Simon asked Tommy and Ashley as he paced across the floor of Ops. The couple was seated at the room’s computer cluster, while Blake, Rachel, and Justin sat on the nearby couch. "We’ve never been attacked at school before…if we start getting hit there…"

 

Blake shook his head. "I just want to know how Vexacus is alive."

 

"Well…" Justin said. "We never did see his body. No corpse, no death. That’s the rule. And even if there is a body…that’s still no death guarantee in this wonderful, screwed-up world of ours."

 

Tommy looked to his rangers. "Vexacus and this Red Python are working for an old enemy of mine. Akuma."

 

Simon wrinkled his brow. "As in 'the Dark Man?' Since when does he have cronies?"

 

"Since now, apparently," Tommy said. "For years he’s manipulated everything from the shadows. Now…it looks like he’s taking a more direct role."

 

Justin groaned and leaned back, smacking his palm against his forehead. "Tell him we have enough bad guys to deal with at the moment and to try back in a year or two. Or ten."

 

"We can handle Akuma," Tommy said. "We just need to stay alert…he'll try to get to all of us in whatever way he can."

 

"Speaking of 'all of us,'" Justin said. "Where’s Hunter?"

 

They all looked to Blake, who shrunk uncomfortably in his seat. "Look, it's not like he checks in with me every time he goes somewhere," he said defensively. "Here's a novel idea-- call him."

 

monster-18The alarms in Ops suddenly blared, and an image opened on Ashley's computer monitor. The image was a monster that resembled a praying mantis with a short mane of lion's hair along its spine. Its name was Mantizon.

 

Ashley turned to her monitor and pulled up information on the creature. "It's a Shinzon," she said.

 

"See," Justin said. "This is exactly what I was saying. Too many bad guys."

 

"Get going," Tommy said. "Akuma can wait until after you put this reject down."

 

***

 

Mantizon stood on the high rooftops of Angel Grove South and watched as a group of Zectoids spread out across the city streets, parks, and alleyways below. The grunts were to harvest all human and animal life they could find. And Mantizon was to prevent any unfortunate interference.

 

The creature was so focused on monitoring the harvest below that he didn't notice a volley of throwing stars buzz through the air. The whirling blades sparked across his body and knocked him forward, but he stayed on his feet and turned to face his attackers. Hurricane Red, Hurricane Yellow, Hurricane Blue, and Navy Thunder had landed on the rooftop.

 

Hurricane Red unsheathed his sword. "I'd ask you to call off your Zectoids..." He pointed his blade at the villain. "But something tells me-"

 

Bolts of ruby-tinted energy sliced through the air and exploded against the four Rangers with bursts of spark that whipped their bodies backward. They crashed against the rooftop as smoke sizzled from their armor.

 

They quickly rolled across the roof and scattered to avoid a counterattack, and when they rolled into crouched fighting stances, they saw the Red Python standing with her daggers held casually at her sides.

 

"You!" Hurricane Red shouted.

 

Red Python ignored the Rangers and looked over her shoulder to Mantizon. "My master has no quarrel with you or your...harvest. Be gone."

 

The mantis creature hesitated, looked to the Rangers, and looked back to Red Python. Whatever creatures the Shinzon used to gene splice Mantizon into creation were not, apparently, very bright. Mantizon hissed, extended a curved blade from his right forearm, and pounced at Red Python to attack.

 

Red Python merely stabbed her short blades through the creature's forearm, twisted the weapons, and tore the blade from the monster's exoskeleton. She spun forward with a reverse sidekick that smashed Mantizon off the roof, and the monster plummeted towards the streets.

 

"Heh." Red Python watched the creature slam against the pavement far below. "Gene trash."

 

Hurricane Red turned to his teammates. "Guys, get to the streets and clear out the Zectoids. I'll handle the snake lady."

 

Hurricane Yellow, Navy Thunder and Hurricane Blue dashed towards the edge of the rooftop and leapt towards the city streets below, leaving Hurricane Red alone to face the Red Python.

 

"My, my," Red Python said mockingly in that wretched voice of hers. "Separating yourself from your friends. "I didn't even have to try."

 

"I can take you, Python," Hurricane Red said. "You caught me off guard earlier, but this time it's you and me, no surprises."

 

She leaned her head back and laughed. "Shouldn't you know better? There are always surprises."

 

A shadow blurred past Hurricane Red from behind and slashed him across the back with a burst of spark that whipped his body forward. The Red Ranger managed to stay on his feet and whip back a hook kick towards his second attacker: Shadow Blade.

 

New Bitmap ImageShadow Blade blocked the blow and slammed a round kick against the Red Ranger's side. Hurricane Red stumbled backward but stayed on his feet. 

 

Red Python charged her daggers with crimson power and hurled the energy blades towards the Red Ranger.

 

Hurricane Red twirled his sword to deflect the blades, and while the Ranger was on the defensive, Shadow Blade leapt forward and slashed across the Ranger's armor with bursts of spark.

 

Shadow Blade was relentless as he pushed forward, swung, and hacked his blade at the Red Ranger.

 

Hurricane Red was forced several steps backward as he parried most of the blows, but some of the strikes slipped through and sparked across the Red Ranger's armor.

 

The Red Ranger slapped the villain's blade away, leapt forward, planted his feet against the villain's chest, and pushed off while kicking Shadow Blade in the body.

 

Hurricane Red somersaulted backward through the air to gain distance, but Red Python leapt forward, twisted through the air towards Hurricane Red, and slashed him across the armor with bursts of spark and enough force to drop him to the roof.

 

The Red Ranger crashed against his back, and Red Python aimed her decent towards the fallen Ranger. 

 

Hurricane Red flipped up and snapped a kick that hurled a wave of wind towards Red Python. The air blast slammed against her body and knocked her aside, and she crashed against the roof as Hurricane Red flipped onto his feet.

 

On the streets below, Navy Thunder, Hurricane Yellow, and Hurricane Blue slashed their way through a group of Zectoids that cluttered a landscaped road leading to a park area. The grunts had gathered a group of people in the center of the park, and the Rangers were trying to make their way to the residents before the Shinzon teleported them away.

 

Dozens of Zectoids blocked the Rangers' advance.

 

Hurricane Blue twirled her blade through an intricate pattern that tore through three Zectoids with bursts of spark that cut off their limbs. "We're not moving fast enough..."

 

Hurricane Yellow armed his Lion Hammer and smashed his way through a quartet of the grunts. "This is their biggest attack yet. They must be getting desperate. Or really bored."

 

The noise of spinning blades suddenly cut through the air, and sparks tore across several Zectoids and knocked them onto the street leading to the park. The Zectoids started to split up to defend themselves from their unseen attackers, but sparks again tore across their armor and knocked them back.

 

Hurricane Yellow looked to the rooftops surrounding the park area, and he noticed Hunter standing on the ledge of a building. And the teen was not alone.

 

Hunter was joined by about two dozen figures dressed as ninja. They wore black over gray mesh exposed on their arms. About half the ninja had robes with crimson highlights, and the other half had robes with navy highlights. A dull-gold medallion was at the center of each ninja's headband, and about half the medallions were tipped with a small beetle horn, while the other half were tipped with small stag claws.

 

"Okay," Hurricane Yellow said. "I've been under a lot of stress, so I'm not sure I'm seeing this right. Is that Hunter standing with a bunch of bad-ass ninjas?"

 

Hurricane Blue looked at Navy Thunder, and the Thunder Ranger sighed. "Well...you guys wanted to know what we did in Japan a few months back?" he said. "We may or may not have taken over the Ikkazuchi Way. And now, Hunter may or not be...pretty much...in charge of all the remaining Ikkazuchi in the world."

 

"Are you freaking serious?" Hurricane Yellow said.

 

From above, Hunter aimed a sword towards the Zectoids, and the Ikkazuchi ninja leapt from the rooftop towards the park below. They snapped off volleys of lightning-shaped throwing stars that slashed through the Zectoids, and when the ninja landed, they quickly armed themselves and attacked the grunts head on.

 

Hunter leapt from the rooftop and armed his morpher. "Ninjetti change!"

 

Energy thundered around his body as he morphed into his armor and landed near the other Rangers.

 

Hurricane Blue looked to Navy Thunder. "Why didn't you tell me?"

 

"Things have been complicated enough," Navy Thunder said.

 

Explosions suddenly sparked around the Rangers, and they quickly dove and rolled for cover. They rolled into crouched fighting stances and looked up to see their attackers coming from three different directions.

 

From one direction came two attackers: a red-and-black armored, bug-like warrior named Agito and a figure dressed in demonic armor who wielded two swords and called himself Hell Blade. From another direction came two more attackers: a gold-and-black, phoenix-like warrior named Wraith and a green-armored, chameleon-like attacker named the Chameleon. And from the final direction were two villains the Rangers recognized, Vexacus and Feral, walking along with a blue-furred werewolf named Volf.

 

"Hello, children." Vexacus walked towards them with his blade held casually over his shoulder. "Allow me to introduce my friends. Well...friends may be too generous of a word. Let me introduce the people who are going to help me kill you. The Marauders."

 

Crimson Thunder looked back towards his ninja and shouted new orders. "Clear the civilians and fall back!"

 

"Fall back?" Navy Thunder asked.

 

"Not us." Crimson Thunder unsheathed his staff.

 

Vexacus laughed beneath his breath. "Oh, this is going to be fun...Marauders...tear my old friends into multi-colored pieces."

 

The Marauders charged to attack.

 

"Split up," Crimson Thunder said as the Rangers returned the advance.

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger dashed towards Hell Blade and Agito. Crimson Thunder skipped forward and chopped his blade towards Agito's head, but the bug-like warrior swung his forearm to block the blow.

 

Agito charged his knuckles with fiery power and smashed a punch against Crimson Thunder's chest with a massive burst of spark that knocked the Ranger off his feet.

 

Crimson Thunder crashed against the ground and rolled into a fighting stance. He looked up to see Hell Blade charge towards him.

 

Hell Blade chopped his swords towards the Thunder Ranger, and Crimson Thunder rolled aside to dodge the blows.

 

Crimson Thunder rose to full height and swung his staff towards the villain, but Hell Blade used one sword to block the blow and twirled his second sword to slash across the Ranger's chest with a burst of spark.  

 

A glow floated from Agito's belt and formed a curved, bladed staff. The villain grabbed the staff, leaned down, and charged towards Crimson Thunder while holding his blade back in an attack stance.

 

Agito swung the staff, and Crimson Thunder parried the blow. The villain swung again, Crimson Thunder blocked the blow, and the two opponents pushed their blades against each other.

 

Agito twisted Crimson Thunder's staff aside and slammed a sidekick against the Ranger's chest to knock him back.

 

Crimson Thunder stayed on his feet, but Hell Blade charged his weapons with unholy energy and slashed the blades across the Ranger with bursts of spark.

 

Nearby, Hurricane Yellow charged towards Wraith and the Chameleon and swung his Lion Hammer towards the villains. But Wraith burst into feathers of yellow energy, and the chameleon vanished from sight.

 

"Damn." Hurricane Yellow stepped back into a defensive stance, and his eyes scanned back and forth for any sign of his attackers. "I picked the wrong bad guys."

 

A blur spun past him with a tornado kick that smashed across his helmet. The Yellow Ranger swung his Lion Hammer, but the blur-- the Chameleon-- spun from the opposite side of Hurricane Yellow and slammed another kick across his helmet.

 

Hurricane Yellow stumbled backward, and a flurry of yellow feathers suddenly fluttered in front of him and formed Wraith. Wraith spun his phoenix-tipped staff and knocked the Lion Hammer from Hurricane Yellow's grasp. Continuing his advance, the villain stabbed the end of his staff against Hurricane Yellow's chest with a burst of spark that knocked the Ranger off his feet.

 

Meanwhile Navy Thunder and Hurricane Blue dashed towards Vexacus, Feral, and Volf.

 

Feral was the first to pounce through the air.

 

hurri-vi-fanbeast45The cat-like villain leapt forward, grabbed Hurricane Blue by the neck, slammed her to the ground, and pushed her across the dirt away from her teammate.

 

"Rachel!" Navy Thunder shouted. Before he could help, the Ranger was tackled to the ground by Volf. 

 

Feral released her grip on Hurricane Blue's neck and rolled into a crouched fighting stance, giving the Blue Ranger time to rise to her feet.

 

Hurricane Blue immediately turned and thrust her hands towards the villain. "Hydro Blast!"

 

The Blue Ranger hurled a bolt of spinning hydro energy that sparked against Feral and sent her stumbling backward, but instead of falling, she sunk into a shadow on the ground and disappeared.

 

Hurricane Blue stepped back into a defensive stance, not noticing a shadow slither across the ground from behind. Feral leapt from the shadow, pounced onto the Blue Ranger's back, and grabbed her in a choke hold.

 

vlcsnap-202949.jpg image by maverick-eririnNearby, Volf snapped his head and whipped a bladed ponytail that slashed across Navy Thunder's armor with a burst of spark. Vexacus charged in, swung his sword, and chopped down hard against the Ranger's back, driving him to his knees.

 

"That's a fitting position for you," Vexacus snarled.

 

Meanwhile, from above, Hurricane Red plummeted downward and crashed in the park. Looking up, the Ranger saw Red Python and Shadow Blade leapt towards him from the rooftops.

 

***

 

Tommy and Ashley monitored the fight, shown via the computer cluster at Ops. The displays showed images of the Rangers being separated from one another while fighting the Dark Man's Marauders.

 

"I don't get it," Ashley said. "Where did the Dark Man get this little army?"

 

"I have no idea," Tommy said while studying the battle closely. "And I don't get why they'd just attack. Straight-up, in-your-face has never been the Dark Man's style. Not even at his craziest."

 

"You think it's a diversion?" she asked.

 

Tommy nodded. "I'm just not sure from what."

 

Ashley's monitor started beeping, and she pulled up a small window in the lower corner of her main computer screen. "I've got something..." The display window showed a small map of the city and two blips moving from outside Angel Grove towards the site of the Rangers' battle with the Marauders. "Two energy signals, moving fast. I can't get an ID."

 

Tommy cursed beneath his breath. "Great." He opened up a comm line to his team. "Guys, it's about to get even more crowded. Two energy signatures are moving towards your location. The civilians have cleared the area, so fall back and regroup until we find out what we're dealing with."

 

"We can't just leave," Hurricane Red answered. "Even if we wanted to-"

 

"Which some of us do," Hurricane Yellow said over the line.

 

"-we're pinned down," Hurricane Red continued, ignoring his teammate. "They have us outnumbered and separated."

 

"It looks like they've had time to study you," Tommy said. "So throw them off balance. Try to pair up and combine your attacks."

 

***

 

Hurricane Blue looked over her shoulder and saw that Hurricane Yellow was her closest teammate, stuck between the Chameleon and Wraith.

 

"Justin!" she shouted at him. "Did you hear that?"

 

"Yeah," he answered. "Ready when you are. No rush..."

 

Hurricane Blue placed her right fist against her left palm and summoned a twirling vortex of hydro energy and water that circled around her like a tornado. She thrust her hands forward. "Tempest Wave!"

 

The hydro cyclone spun towards the Yellow Ranger. 

 

Hurricane Yellow placed his right fist against his left palm as the ground rumbled beneath his feet. "Seismic Storm!" The Yellow Ranger thrust his hand forward and fired a jagged burst of yellow energy that streaked through the air with a shockwave that tore apart the ground.

 

The energy burst and hydro cyclone combined into a whirling tornado that tore across the ground and blew past Wraith and the Chameleon, sparking across their armor, and hurling them off their feet, as the ground erupted beneath them. The vortex continued spinning and whipped Feral from her feet as sparks ignited across her armor.

 

Nearby, Navy Thunder and Crimson Thunder moved nearer to each other while fending off their opponents.

 

"Blake." Crimson Thunder dodged a swing of Agito's blade and parried a flurry of sword strikes from Hell Blade. "Send your lightning my way."

 

"Lightning Style! Chain Lightning Jutsu!" Navy Thunder leaned forward and fired a chain of lightning from his forehead.

 

The chain of navy-tinted lightning lashed out and struck Crimson Thunder's staff; the Crimson Thunder Ranger stood his ground and held his staff firm as the lightning lashed around his weapon, nearly knocking him from his feet. Tightening his grip, the Crimson Thunder Ranger used his own Kiryoku to redirect the tendrils of lightning as his brother poured on the power. Dozens of smaller lightning tendrils reflected from his staff in multiple directions and lashed out at the Marauders. 

 

Bolts of lightning whipped out and lashed against Vexacus and Volf with bursts of spark, while other whips of lightning snapped against Agito and Hell Blade with bursts of spark.

 

Crimson Thunder swung his staff hard, destroying his brother's chain lightning with a massive explosion that transformed into a wave of navy-tinted black energy that surged towards the four Marauders.

 

The blast exploded across Vexacus, Volf, Agito, and Hell Blade and cut across their armor with massive bursts of spark; the energy wave ignited into a powerful shockwave that scorched the earth and sent the villains flying off their feet, as secondary explosions ripped across their armor.

 

"Glad to see that actually worked," Navy Thunder said. He looked over his shoulder towards Hurricane Blue. "Maybe your sensei isn't so worthless after all."

 

Hurricane Blue shook her head. "You and I...we're not speaking."

 

"Later." Crimson Thunder ordered his brother as he ran to regroup with Hurricane Red.

 

The others followed, and the five Rangers stood together and faced Shadow Blade and the Red Python. Neither villain seemed the slightest bit intimidated.

 

Shadow Blade inclined his head and spoke with a voice not much louder than a whisper. "Do you idiots think you have actually won? Didn't your fool sensei teach you the meaning of the word 'diversion'?"

 

New Bitmap ImageStreaks of black suddenly slashed past the Rangers with bursts of spark, whipping them backward before they could defend themselves. They hit the ground hard but quickly rolled backward into crouched fighting stances, using their weapons for balance.

 

When they looked up, they saw their attackers. The pair looked similar, dressed in all black armor, although one was more slender than the other. The slender warrior's eye pieces pulsed with an eerie blue light, and the larger warrior's eye pieces pulsed with crimson. Each carried a curved samurai sword.

 

Hurricane Yellow clenched tightly onto his sword. "Are you freaking kidding me?! More of them?!"

 

The Dark Man, as if from nowhere, stepped out from behind the pair. "I give you, Karas and Raven, my finest warriors. They were reborn while you were busy being defeated by my Marauders."

 

"Akuma." Hurricane Red cursed.

 

He held back his sword and charged to attack the villain, but Karas, nearly faster than eyes could follow, dashed forward and slashed across the Red Ranger's chest with a burst of spark. Hurricane Red whipped his sword around to strike the villain, but Karas leapt into the air to avoid the blow and fired a volley of throwing stars that spun through the air faster than bullets and sparked across the Ranger's armor, knocking him to the ground.

 

Akuma smiled with amusement. "Don't be so eager, little toy soldier. Haven't you learned by now to let the villain taunt? It's the polite thing to do."

 

Tommy's voice spoke over the Rangers' communicators. "Guys, fall back so we can figure out what we're dealing with."

 

Akuma spoke before Hurricane Red could answer. "What we're dealing with, Tommy, is a very special surprise for you. If only dear Kimberly were here to see it too."

 

Shadowy energy shimmered around Karas and Raven as their armor powered down, revealing two Chinese boys, who each looked around 18 years old. They had cold stares on their pale faces, and their eyes were tinted with red. They wore all black. Even with their cold, empty stares, Tommy could recognize them.

 

They were Akomaru and Kou.

 

***

 

"No..." Tommy said. "No, no, no! That's Kou. Akuma, that son of a bitch, he brought back Kou!"

 

Ashley laid a hand on his shoulder to try and get him to calm down. She silently questioned whether she had ever seen him so  mad. "It could just be a trick..."

 

"It's not a trick, Ashley." Tommy was practically shaking with rage. "That son of a bitch perverted Kou, and his brother."

 

Tommy thought back to Lord Zedd's first attack, when the former Kiba Ranger Kou was killed, more than six years ago.

 

After a few more minutes of fighting, the Rangers were all defeated and held up by Golems. A lightning bolt struck the ground, and Lord Zedd appeared. “Well, well…this was supposed to just be a test of your powers…but it looks like I win earlier than expected.”

 

“I wouldn’t jump to conclusions,” Dragon Ranger said.

 

“Ah, the mighty Dragon Ranger…Tommy of the Fire Star…” Zedd said as he walked over to the Ranger and held his head up with metallic fingertips. “You and your friends have disappointed me.”

 

Zedd turned his back on the Rangers and walked away. “Kill them,” he said as the villains all prepared to deliver fatal energy blows.

 

“No!” Kiba Ranger shouted as he knocked away the soldiers that were holding him. He unsheathed his tiger saber and aimed the weapon forward before charging towards Zedd.

 

Zedd turned and held up his staff.

 

“Kou, no!” Phoenix Ranger shouted.

 

Kiba Ranger leapt towards Zedd and held Byakkoshinken high.

 

Zedd fired energy tentacles from his staff that coursed around and through Kiba Ranger, explosions and sparks ripping across his armor as he fell to the ground.

 

Kiba Ranger rose and ran towards Zedd, shouting at the top of his lungs.

 

Zedd held his staff horizontally, knocked Kiba Ranger in the faceplate, and then turned, jamming the end of his staff through Kiba Ranger’s chest.

 

“No!” the Rangers yelled.

 

Zedd removed his staff, and Kiba Ranger slumped onto the ground as his armor shimmered away.

 

“No!” Dragon Ranger shouted as red energy shimmered around him. “Hell Storm!”

 

Red, fiery energy circled around him and expanded with explosive force. The Rangers and Zedd’s army were all thrown off their feet as Dragon Ranger charged towards Zedd.

 

“Twin Dragon Swords!” he shouted as he leapt through the air. “Saber Flare!”

 

A flare of white-hot energy cut towards the villain. Zedd held his staff vertically and split the flare. “I’m not impressed.”

 

***

 

Akuma tilted his head and looked towards the sky. "I know you are watching, Tommy. Are you surprised? Kou and Akomaru were two of my fail safes. I am as responsible for their creation as I am yours. Their deaths only allowed them to become stronger. All this time, their dark energies have grown into the two-"

 

"Okay, shut up!" Hurricane Red shouted as he and his teammates regrouped. He armed his Hawk Blasters. "Weapons, guys. Let's bring 'em together!"

 

The five Rangers assembled their weapons to form the Thunderstorm Striker. Crimson Thunder and Navy Thunder kneeled down on opposite sides of the weapons and set its barrel on their shoulders, and the three Wind Power Rangers grasped the weapon from behind.

 

"Thunderstorm Striker!" they shouted. "Fire!"

 

They fired a whirling bolt of flame that crackled with seismic electricity and pulsed as if made of water, but with a deep shadow of crimson.

 

Kou quickly dashed in front of Akuma and transformed into his Karas armor while unsheathing his sword and swatting the Rangers' energy blast. The bolt of power streaked back towards the Rangers and exploded against them with bursts of spark that scattered them across the ground.

 

"Hmph." Akuma's hands slid into his pockets, casually, as he looked down at the fallen Rangers. "We're done here. You've seen what you need to see."

 

Akuma and his Marauders vanished from the park in blurs of shadow.

 

To be continued...Chapter 10

 

EPILOGUE-- FERAL

 

Months ago...

 

She had traveled to Earth for freedom; a chance to start a new life. But her new life, of wonder and excitement, had turned into a life of hunting rats in alleyways. Jala'tarin was a member of the Falean race, a cat-like species that lived alongside the simian inhabitants of the planet Titan.

 

Short, pale-white fur covered her face, and she had yellow, cat-like eyes. She wore no clothes, because she refused to dress in the rags of Earth, and her own clothing had been torn to shreds during her first skirmish on the Terran homeworld. 

 

Jala'tarin prowled through the alleyways and stalked a group of several rats that scurried nearby. She loathed the creatures. But a hunt was a hunt. And her last attempt to hunt humans had resulted in an ambush by a group of Terrans that called themselves the Silver Guardians.

 

The Terran soldiers quickly learned that a Falean's innate power to heal could just as easily be used to kill. Her talent for killing was why she was banished from Titan in the first place.

 

"Look at you..." a voice whispered from the shadows.

 

Jala'tarin snapped around but saw no one. "Who watches me? Speak, or become my next meal..."

 

The voice laughed softly. "You poor thing. When was the last time you feasted on anything but vermin?"

 

"Come out," she said. "I will not speak with cowards hidden in shadow."

 

"But isn't that exactly what you have become?" the Dark Man stepped from the shadows and into sight. "Your talents are wasted here. Your people are respected across the galaxy, but here-"

 

"My people are as foolish as these humans," she said. "They lower themselves by working with the weak and helpless. We should be warriors, even stronger than the simians who cover my world with stench."

 

"I can name you a warrior," the Dark Man said. "I can make the shadows work for you."

 

Her pupil's slightly widened. "If I believed you...and accepted...what would you expect in return?"

 

"Only that you fight alongside my other warriors. That you join your powers with theirs," Akuma said. "In exchange I will turn you into the ultimate huntress. You will become Feral..."