Ultimate Origins: Chapter Ten

Marauders: Secrets

 

The rangers regrouped at Ops to meet with Tommy and Ashley and discuss the issue of the Dark Man and his Marauders. The teens had never seen their mentor so upset. Tommy was tense, his hands tightened into fists.

 

"The first thing we do is recon," Tommy said. "We need to know for sure that Karas and Raven are Kou and Akomaru. That means we need to find out how they were created." He paused. "We'll have to visit their burial sites."

 

Justin knitted his brow. "That sounds kind of...morbid, doesn't it?"

 

"No jokes. Not now," Tommy said. "We take this seriously."

 

"I was being serious," Justin whispered, but a nudge in the ribs by Rachel let him know it was probably best to keep his mouth shut.

 

"We need to know if there was some kind of ceremony involved with their..." he hesitated and closed his eyes to calm himself. His eyes opened. "With their remains. If not, they may be fakes."

 

"I thought you said you knew," Simon said. "You said you could tell it was really them."

 

"I can," Tommy said. "But I don't want there to be any doubt from any of us. We need to know for sure, and once we do, we need to find a way to break whatever hold Akuma has on them. Knowing the kind of ceremony he used will help."

 

Justin slowly, and with great hesitation, raised his hand.

 

"Yes, Justin...." Tommy said.

 

"What about those other Marauders?" he asked. "We wiped them this time, but it was mostly luck."

 

"I don't know yet," Tommy said. "But I do know they're more than just monsters. Each of them. That's going to make them difficult to defeat."

 

"Great," Blake said. "I don't suppose there's anyone we can call in for backup? That's a rhetorical question, don't bother answering. All the other Rangers teams hate us, remember?"

 

"There're only two other teams," Justin said.

 

"And they both hate us," Blake said.

 

"Well what about that little ninja army you neglected to mention?" Justin asked.

 

"No," Hunter said. "They're not Rangers. I wouldn't put them up against anything stronger than grunts."

 

"Well that's helpful," Justin said sarcastically. "Thanks."

 

Rachel was barely listening. She was staring aimlessly towards the wall. "Guys...I think I know someone who can help."

 

"Who?" Simon asked.

 

"I'll let you know after I talk to him," she said. "Just trust me on this one."

 

***

 

The barren landscape near the mountains was cold-- the kind of cold that burned. What had once been a cave was now uprooted chunks of earth and rubble within a crater singed black my dark magick.

 

Akomaru and Kou stood at the rim of the large crater and looked down at the dirt and gravel.

 

"Do you remember this place, brother?" Akomaru asked.

 

Kou nodded, his eyes fixed on the blackened earth below. "Mother..." he whispered.

 

"This is where she died, and I with her," Akomaru said. He looked down at his hand, the hand his mother had held as their lives were crushed. He tightened his hand into a fist. "She was the only one who ever loved us, and she was taken. It's their fault, Kou. The Rangers."

 

"No," Kou whispered. "They..."

 

"They what? Loved you?" He scoffed. "They used you. They treated you as an annoyance. Even Kimberly. She only put up with you to keep from getting bored. I suppose she may have cared for you a little. But does that even matter anymore? She's gone now too. Dead. There's nothing left for us here anymore."

 

"Then why were we brought back..." Kou looked to his brother. "Why?"

 

"It's obvious," Akomaru said. "Akuma recreated Shadam, our bastard of a father, so we would be born. So we would have a purpose. A purpose we weren't meant to know until now, after our death and rebirth. Have you taken a moment to look at this world since we've returned? Nature itself revolts against the men who have consumed this planet like a cancer. The righteous are as foolish as the wicked." He looked to his brother with a half grin. "We were brought back to destroy it all."

 

Kou narrowed his eyes and looked back down to the pit. "And then what?"

 

"Then," Akomaru said, "we help the world start over."

 

***

 

Rachel returned to the Hayate Way dojo and met the rest of the team at the courtyard. She walked alongside a man draped with a cloak and hood, which covered his face with shadow. The stranger seemed hesitant to step within arm's length of the rangers.

 

Rachel placed a hand on his shoulder to calm him. "It's Okay..." she said. She looked to the others. "You're not going to like this...but I brought him here to help us."

 

The stranger pulled back his hood to reveal a face made of stained glass. He was Kiva.

 

"Him?! You've been keeping in touch with this guy?!" Blake shouted.

 

"He was alone and needed help," Rachel said.

 

"That's just great," Blake said. "How nice of you to comfort him."

 

"Blake, calm down," Justin said. "You're getting jealous of an interdimensional vampire made of stained glass."

 

"No, no, that's not it at all," Blake said. "He's from the Blood Dimension. Come on, okay, the Blood Dimension. That's not exactly the magical world of Narniack."

 

"Naria," Rachel said.

 

"You know what I mean," Blake said. "The point is he's dangerous and we can't trust him."

 

"He helped us," Rachel said.

 

"Only to stop the guy who was trying to kill him!" Blake yelled.

 

Rachel narrowed her eyes. "Don't shout at me, Blake."

 

"I just can't believe you kept this from me," he said.

 

"Seriously?! You and your brother took over a clan of ninja assassins! When were you planning on telling me that little detail?" Rachel said.

 

"That wasn't my secret to tell, it was Hunter's," Blake said. "And what about you? Huh? What other secrets are you keeping? What was with that crazy girl back at school? She knew you from someplace, and she was acting all creepy and scared of you."

 

Rachel hesitated. "Like you said, she's crazy."

 

"Now who's not being honest," Blake said. "You're great at a lot of things but you suck ass at lying."

 

Justin smiled uncomfortably and stepped in between them. "Aww, that's so sweet. You hear that, Rachel? He said you're great. There, all made up, Jerry Springer moment over, let's move on."

 

"Justin's right, we're wasting time," Simon said. He looked to Kiva. "You really want to help? Fine. But the minute you step over the line, we're taking you down."

 

Kiva tilted his head. "Step over the...line? What line?"

 

"It means..." he shook his head. "Never mind. Just don't flip out on us and you'll do fine. Now come on, guys. Let's go."

 

***

 

Simon and the others ran to the burial site of Akomaru and his mother. They immediately noticed the charred crater where the cave should have been. The crater was crackling with a twirling vortex of black power.

 

Kiva narrowed his eyes. "I sense a great dark energy here."

 

"Wow," Blake said sarcastically. "That's not at all obvious. It's a good thing we brought you along, thanks."

 

Kiva nodded, not picking up on the sarcasm. "You are welcome."

 

"Rangers!" A voice shouted from behind.

 

The teens snapped around to see Vexacus standing alongside Shadow Blade, Red Python, Volf and Hell Blade.

 

"It's good to see you again so soon." Vexacus aimed his sword at the Rangers and commanded the Marauders. "Get them out of my sight!"

 

"Morph!" Simon shouted.

 

The Rangers and Kiva transformed into their armor just as Hell Blade unsheathed his swords and hurled a wave of fiery energy that exploded around the heroes with bursts of spark. Red Python swung her dagger and fired red energy darts that exploded against the Rangers, knocked them further off balance, and sent them tumbling into the vortex within the crater.

 

***

 

Hurricane Red wasn't sure how long the fall lasted, and he didn't have much time to think about it. His chest slammed against black rock that knocked the wind from his lungs and nearly snapped his ribs.

 

A fall had never hurt that much before, he thought to himself. He must have been winded from the attack by the Marauders. They are really getting annoying...

 

Hurricane Red clutched his chest, slowly climbed to his feet, and looked across the pocket dimension. He stood on a flat-top asteroid that hovered through empty space, filled with light fog. Through the fog, the Red Ranger could see dozens of similar asteroids floating aimlessly. Flashes of purple and red lit the endless cloud of mist like lightning.

 

The Red Ranger cursed beneath his breath. "This is why I hate pocket dimensions."

 

Suddenly, sparks burst across his back and nearly knocked him off his feet, but he managed to stand his ground, unsheathe his sword, and snap around to face his attacker.

 

Karas dashed through the air and slammed against Hurricane Red with enough force to send them both shooting off the floating rock. The villain slammed Hurricane Red back-first against the side of another asteroid and let go, letting the Red Ranger fall.

 

Hurricane Red spun in midair to land standing on a floating asteroid below. He looked up just in time to see Karas shooting down with a curved saber in his hands.

 

The Red Ranger readied his sword. "Air Style! Blade Storm Jutsu!"

 

He dashed upward and swung his blade through a streak of energy that Karas easily deflected. The villain spun, slashed across Hurricane Red with a burst of spark, and smashed a spin kick across the Ranger's helmet. The blow knocked Hurricane Red from the air, and he crashed onto one of the floating chunks of rock below.

 

"Damn it, Kou!" Hurricane Red climbed back to his feet, and Karas landed on the rock to face off with the Red Ranger. "Are you even in there? Or is some demon setting up shop in your corpse?"

 

Karas tilted his head. "You're a Ranger."

 

"We've established that," Hurricane Red said. "The question is, what are you? Is there anything left of Kou in there? If there is, if you really are Kou, then fight. I know we barely knew each other when you were alive, but I've heard all the stories. You can beat this. Think of your mother. She-"

 

Karas screamed and dashed at the Red Ranger while snapping volleys of throwing stars.

 

Hurricane Red twirled his sword to deflect the spinning blades. Stepping forward, he thrust his hand out and fired an invisible Kiryoku blast that smashed against Karas. Karas stood his ground and skid backward across the rock, kicking up dust beneath his boots.

 

"You're not making this easy, Kou!" Hurricane Red shouted. "We came here to try and help you, not to fight you."

 

Eerie laughter sounded from behind, and the Red Ranger snapped around to see Raven standing on a hovering asteroid. "You Rangers haven't changed at all," he mocked. "Your roster may be different, and your powers-- I really did prefer the Chinese motif, by the way-- but you're still hopeless idiots, oozing with the weakness of human compassion."

 

"Okay, you, we didn't come here to save," Hurricane Red held his sword back in a fighting stance. "You, I can take out."

 

"Not interested," Raven said. "Now, if I were you-- which thankfully, I am not-- I would be less concerned about Kou and more worried about your friends."

 

Four asteroids slowly hovered into view in the distance behind Raven. On each was one of Hurricane Red's teammates. The Rangers were trapped in small domes of crackling energy that had forced them to their knees. Shadowy waves of power covered the asteroids like a massive shroud.

 

"In this place is a power that will tear their souls raw," Raven said.

 

Hurricane Red narrowed his eyes beneath his helmet. "What are you talking about?"

 

"Akuma crafted this pocket dimension as a conduit, from the afterlife to your world, for me and my brother," Raven said. "The transition required some...counseling. The entity you see before you, the shadow waves of power, was the counselor. Your mentor fought something similar once, years ago, a creature called Nightmare."

 

***

 

Hunter was surrounded by a darkness as thick as smoke. The darkness pealed back to reveal a pale image of his past. No older than 11, a young Hunter walked quietly across the floor boards of the Ikkazuchi Way dojo. His feet bare, his goal was to walk across the floor without making a sound. His goal was to learn the art of silence to become the assassin his sensei desired.

 

The boy took each step with great caution, but one step had fallen too heavily and wiggled a nail with a slight squeak. The squeaking noise was enough to warrant punishment; Hunter had gone to bed that night only after the bottoms of his bare feet were whipped raw by his sensei.

 

The real Hunter watched the younger version of himself squirm with pain on the floor of the dojo where he slept, with more than a dozen other children being trained to become soldiers of shadow. A girl named Keiko had snuck from her sleeping bag and applied an herbal mixture to the bottom of his feet, which cooled the pain.

 

Hunter had looked at her, and she at him, without saying a word. They dared not speak for fear of waking up their sensei. Her act, as simple as it was, was one of the first acts of kindness Hunter had experienced.

 

And he had ended up betraying her.

 

***

 

Darkness surrounded Rachel. She looked through the darkness and saw an image of her younger self appear with a wave of mist. The image tightened her throat with sorrow. She had gone by a different name then, when no older than 13. Her given name had been Tori, and she had lived in the small community of Blue Bay Harbor just south of Stone Canyon.

 

She had tried to bury the former name, and her secret, but the secret apparently wasn't meant to stay buried.

 

***

 

Blake's vision blurred into focus until he saw a veil of mist peal back to reveal a younger version of himself. At the age of 14, Blake sat in a limo outside of an office building.

 

Inside the building was Blake's first field assignment as an assassin of the Ikkazuchi Way. Inside was the first man Blake had ever killed.

 

***

 

Justin was surrounded by a darkness that peeled away to form an image of his younger self in his junior high school locker room. He was changing into his gym uniform and trying to fight off the temptation to watch the other boys change too.

 

***

 

Hurricane Red tightened his grip on his sword. He remembered the stories of Nightmare all too well. The creature would have killed the Power Rangers in 2003, if not for the help of their friends, the Ninja Rangers.

 

The Red Ranger leapt through the air to save his friends. But Raven hurled a volley of black energy bolts that sparked across his armor and knocked him back onto the rock.

 

"Don't try to help them," Raven said. "It's already too late. Their deepest secrets and fears and being uprooted from their minds and shared with one another. They will be destroyed, not just by the power of their own fear, but by the fear of what they see in each other. It's a fascinating process. It's made me and my brother who we are today."

 

"This is how you turned Kou evil?!" Hurricane Red shouted.

 

"Evil's the wrong word, but yes," Raven said. "Now sit back and watch the same fate unfold for your friends."

 

***

 

Young Hunter stood in the courtyard of the Ikkazuchi Way and watched Keiko trim the strings from a bonsai trees. He knitted his brow with concern and walked towards her.

 

"You shouldn't be doing that..." he warned her. "You'll get in trouble."

 

She shook her head dismissively. "It's fine. I don't believe trees should be forced to grow in a certain direction. Their hearts know where they're supposed to grow."

 

"Trees don't have hearts," he said.

 

"Everything has a heart," she said as she looked away from the tree and into Hunter's eyes.

 

"I don't," he answered.

 

"But you do." She reached out and smiled playfully while placing a hand on his chest. "I can hear it talking to me. It says hi, and it's nice to meet me."

 

The slightest of smiles crossed Hunter's face. "You're lying."

 

"Am I?" She turned her attention back towards the tree.

 

The scene shifted, and the real Hunter watched Keiko fighting in a sparring match against one of the other students at the Ikkazuchi Way. The other student had failed miserably, but Keiko had refused to deliver the final, fatal blow.

 

As punishment, she was imprisoned in a cell of bamboo that was so tight, she could barely move while standing up. She was forced to stand in the bamboo for days. While captive, Hunter would bring her water and let her drink through a straw he managed to squeeze through the bamboo poles.

 

The night after her release, he noticed that she had snuck from their room and fled. He ran after her and caught up with her in the woods just outside the dojo.

 

"Keiko, wait!" he shouted. "Why are you doing this?"

 

She stopped and looked at him. "I have to."

 

Hunter shook his head. "You know the law. If they catch you running away, they'll tear out your heart."

 

"No..." she said. "They can never touch my heart.

 

She leaned in and kissed him, and he kissed her back as they pulled each other close. Keiko pulled away, but kept her face close to Hunter's.

 

"Come with me."

 

"I can't," he said. "What is there to leave for, anyway?"

 

"Life," she said.

 

Hunter shook his head and took a step away from her. "My life is here..."

 

The scene shifted, and the real Hunter watched a view of the Ikkazuchi Way courtyard days later. Keiko had been found, taken captive, and tied up against a pole outside of the school. The students watched as one of the Ikkazuchi Way sensei stood by with a sword in hand.

 

"We, of the Ikkazuchi Way, are a family. Brothers and sisters," he said. "That bond is sacred, and can never be broken. To betray your family, to flee from your brothers and sisters, is punishable by death."

 

The real Hunter watched as his younger self stood by and did nothing. He did not even attempt to break Keiko free, or stop the sensei from what happened next. The sensei plunged his blade into Keiko's chest.

 

The real Hunter tightened his fists with rage.

 

A dark voice whispered through the darkness as the image slowly faded, leaving only the image of Keiko's dead body hanging from the pole. "You let her die. She trusted you. Loved you, and you betrayed her."

 

"No," Hunter whispered. "It wasn't my fault."

 

"Wasn't it?" the voice asked. "Didn't your sensei ask you which direction she fled? And didn't you answer willingly?"

 

"I..." Hunter felt his guilt overwhelm him as the darkness closed in.

 

***

 

Rachel saw an image of her younger self, named Tori, sit on the floor with her friend Alisha. The two girls were gathered in a classroom after school for a club meeting. The club was supposed to be a book club, but its members had taken up the hobby of witchcraft.

 

Tori was at her first meeting with the group, having been invited by Alisha. Tori looked at the assorted candles and chalk outline of a pentagon with great interest. "So you do this every week?"

 

"Not every week, but yeah," she said. "We mostly practice basic stuff, like meditation and protection spells."

 

Tori and each of the girls had spell books open in front of them. They weren't anything ancient or mystical, just pagan books purchased from the local Barnes and Noble. They started whispering an incantation meant to conjure protective magic, but Tori felt something inside of her stir.

 

Rachel tried not to cry as she watched her younger self call on the Power for the first time by accident. Something about the spell, the symbols, and her inner focus awakened her power. A sphere of Ki energy had exploded out from around her and blown up half the school in the process, killing her friends and nearly a dozen others who had been in school after hours.

 

Rachel closed her eyes but couldn't seem to make the images go away.

 

"You killed them all," the dark voice whispered. "And then you fled, along with your parents, changing your name and family name to protect you."

 

"I'm in control now," Rachel said. "That's why I found the Hayate Way. To learn."

 

"Now doesn't matter," the voice whispered. "They're dead, gone, and it's all your fault."

 

***

 

Blake watched a younger version of himself scale up the side of a building and sneak through a window. Barely a teenager, he snuck into an office window and blended in with the shadows while approaching the office of his target, a businessman with ties to the assassins known as the Hand.

 

The boy found his target's office, kicked down the door, and snapped a volley of throwing stars towards where his target was supposed to be sitting. But the stars struck an empty chair.

 

From behind, Blake felt the cold steel of a knife press against his throat.

 

"The Ikkazuchi Way is getting sloppy," an aged voice said from behind.

 

Blake slammed his elbow against the man and turned to deliver a death blow upside the man's nose, but he hesitated. The man was so aged he was barely a threat.

 

"What?" the old man said. "Not what you expected?"

 

The man walked past Blake and slowly made his way to look through his window towards the city. "No, I'm just an old man. Surprising, yes?" He laughed. "I was wondering when you would come."

 

"You're with the Hand," Blake said firmly.

 

The man scoffed. "No, no, but I suppose that's what they would tell you. Even an organization like the Ikkazuchi needs ways to manage its money. They use my firm, here. At least they did until recently. I've outlived my usefulness to them, and I know too much. So they sent you, a boy, to kill an old man."

 

The real Blake watched his younger self hesitate.

 

"You could at least put up a fight," the younger Blake said.

 

The man laughed. "No, no. Just kill me and be done with it. Make it quick, though. I'm tired and have already suffered enough in this life."

 

The real Blake closed his eyes tightly shut but still couldn't avoid the image of his younger self snapping the man's neck.

 

The dark voice whispered. "You killed a man in cold blood. An old, helpless man."

 

"I was different back then," Blake said, keeping his eyes tightly closed. "My father was a homicidal maniac, it's a wonder I'm capable of speaking in complete sentences."

 

"You are still a killer," the voice whispered. "A murderer. A cold-blooded assassin. That is not a title you can ever walk away from."

 

***

 

Justin watched a younger version of himself get slammed against a gym locker by one of his classmates.

 

"Were you watching me dress, you perv?!"

 

"What?" Justin's voice squeaked. He had been. "No! I-"

 

The bully punched Justin across the head. Later, young Justin walked the halls of his school and stood at his locker while pulling out the books from his bag. One of his few friends, named Matt, walked towards him.

 

"Hey Justin," he said.

 

"Hey," Justin was too embarrassed by the gym incident to look his friend in the eye.

 

"Don't let those idiots bother you, man," Matt said. "They pick on me too. You just gotta brush it off. Besides...you're not...you know..alone. I'm kind of...well..ya know...I 'm gay too."

 

"I'm not gay!" Justin shouted and pushed the boy to the floor. "Leave me alone, you fag!"

 

Tears swelled in Matt's eyes as he gathered his books from the floor and ran down the hall, while trying to ignore the laughter of those who heard. The boy had killed himself that night.

 

***

 

Hurricane Red leapt through the air again, but Karas dashed forward and slashed the Red Ranger across the chest. The Red Ranger twisted in midair to land on his feet, and he looked up as Karas shot forward with a flying sidekick.

 

The Red Ranger knew he wouldn't have time to dive aside. But luckily, he didn't have to. Kiva leapt through the air as if from nowhere and bashed a flying kick against Karas. The blow sent the villain crashing against the rock and skidding across its surface.

 

"Kiva!" Hurricane Red shouted with relief.

 

The Kamen Rider looked over his shoulder to the Red Ranger. "Did I cross a line?"

 

"No, keep him off my back, I have to get to the others." Hurricane Red turned and leapt through the air towards Raven again.

 

The Red Ranger knew he couldn't fight his way past Raven, and if Kiva helped, they would have Karas to get past too. He also knew that as long as he couldn't get past Raven, he couldn't reach out to his friends and get them to break free from Nightmare's control. So he had a more practical plan in mind.

 

Raven hurled a volley of black energy bolts that scattered towards the Red Ranger.

 

Hurricane Red twirled his blade and knocked the blasts back, sending them zipping past Raven and exploding through the floating asteroids that held the four other Rangers. With the asteroids pulverized, the Rangers dropped, literally falling from the grasp of the Nightmare creature.

 

The four Rangers landed on a floating asteroid below, and Hurricane Red leapt down to join them. "Guys!"

 

They could barely move or speak, they were so worn and beaten.

 

Hurricane Red cursed beneath his breath. "We need a way out of here..."

 

Kiva jumped down onto the asteroid and landed next to the Red Ranger. "I can get us out," he said. "This is a simple pocket dimension, easy to break form."

 

"Simple?" Hurricane Red asked. "What's simple about a pocket dimension strong enough to transfer two dead boys from the afterlife and back into the land of the living."

 

"My power can tear through this place...but I hate to use it. It is a dark power," Kiva said.

 

"Just get us home," Hurricane Red said.

 

Kiva reluctantly unclipped a red gem from his belt and placed it in the mouth of his bat-like buckle, which shouted: "Waik Awp!"

 

Kiva crouched down low as the bat detached from his belt and circled around him. He swung his right leg through a crescent pattern, and the bat buckler circled around the armor of his leg and snapped its chains, making the armor release like the wings of a bat.

 

Kiva leapt high into the air and turned upside down, suspended by the wings of his leg, as he faced outward. Kiva felt power burn through his veins as he flipped forward with a flying sidekick that shot through the air.

 

The kick smashed shattered through the very fabric of the pocket dimension and dropped the Rangers back into the mountains with a flash of crimson light. The blast knocked the Rangers out of their armor and sent them skidding across the dirt.

 

Kiva powered down his arm and went to help Rachel from the ground. "Are you alright?"

 

She shook her head and said nothing. Away from the pocket dimension, the teens seemed to be regaining their strength, but their gazes were distant. They looked hurt, as if they had lost a loved one, or a part of themselves. Their darkest secrets had been ripped from their souls and shared with one another.

 

"Well," Simon said. "It looks like we know what happened to Kou. Let's go talk to Tommy."

 

They stood silently, saying nothing, and one by one, they walked off in different directions.

 

Simon knitted his brow. "Guys..what happened? Guys...?"

 

To be continued...Chapter 11