Ultimate Origins: Chapter Sixteen

Hellfire: Bonds

 

“No way,” Justin said. “The Hellfire Club? What happened?”

 

Stewart shook his head. “I didn’t see everything. I never even learned why we were there in the first place.”

 

Alarms suddenly blared throughout the safe house.

 

“Company,” Stewart said. “I hate guests.”

 

***

 

Justin regrouped with his teammates in the corridor, where ranks of black-clad Genin hacked through Section 31 agents.

 

The rangers fought alongside the agents and bashed back the Genin with flurries of punches and kicks. The Hand ninja tried to hold their ground, but the rangers were too skilled at battling large groups. The teens flipped soldiers to the ground, twisted weapons from the grunts’ hands, and kicked them backward with fluid and powerful strikes.

 

“Dad!” Justin shouted back, not able to see his father through the wave of ninja.

 

Justin heard a trio of gunshots just before his father shouted. “I’m fine! Move!”

 

“This way,” Simon said.

 

Simon snapped a jumpkick upside a ninja’s head and spun forward with a reverse sidekick that bashed another ninja backward. They ran towards a stairwell, where another trio of ninja dashed downward. Simon leapt at the trio with a flurry of kicks and punches that bashed them aside, clearing a path.

 

The rangers moved up the stairwell and out into the alley, where a group of crimson-clad Chunin waited on the rooftops. The Chunin dropped into the alley and attacked with twin swords, bo-staffs and nunchaku.

 

The rangers defended themselves with blocks and counterstrikes, but before they could turn to offensive moves, black-clad ninja dropped into the alley. The rangers thought they were Genin, but then they recognized the uniforms. Each ninja wore either crimson or navy trimming, along with the lightning-bolt symbol of the Ikkazuchi Way. They were Hunter’s ninja.

 

The Ikkazuchi and Hand clashed, swords clanging against swords, and blades hacking through flesh and bone.

 

Hunter slammed a roundkick against a Chunin, and two of his Ikkazuchi ninja regrouped at his side.

 

“Kill them,” Hunter said. “Don’t leave any Chunin standing.”

 

Blake narrowed his eyes. “That’s a little harsh…even for you…”

 

Hunter said nothing. He morphed into his armor, unsheathed his staff, and hacked through the Hand ninja left and right. His weapon of power easily shattered their swords and bones.

 

“Hunter, what the hell?” Blake shouted.

 

Suddenly, the alleyway exploded with a ball of flame that hurled the rangers and villains into the streets. They slammed through nearby buildings and against cars. The ninja who weren’t instantly incinerated died on impact. Luckily, the rangers’ bodies were hardened from their use of The Power. They survived.

 

Justin slowly pushed himself to his feet, his shirt and pants torn, and his face and hands covered in ash. He looked to the burning remains of the Section 31 safe house. “Dad…”

 

***

 

Chiyome kneeled in front of her brother. He scowled down at her from his pedestal. 

 

“You let the Ikkazuchi brothers escape,” Sasaki said. “Your failure is…most intolerable. And unfortunate.”

 

“They may have escaped,” Chiyome said. “But while one enemy has slipped through my grasp, another has fallen. Only a black hole remains where Section 31 darkened our soil.”

 

“They were a minor irritant, at best,” Sasaki said. “I expected better of you, Chiyome. Father would be disappointed.”

 

Chiyome narrowed her eyes. She looked up to her brother and slowly rose to her feet. “This has gone on long enough.”

 

Sasaki glared at her. “Know your place, sister. You may be my blood, but you will kneel and-”

 

“Enough,” she said. “I’ve made arrangements to make the Hand stronger than ever. And in the meantime, what have you accomplished? Petty thievery and gang violence. Assassinations of no importance in the grand scheme of the world.”

 

“Arrangements?” Sasaki asked. “What are you-

 

“I planned to allow you to stay in your position,” Chiyome said. “You are my brother, after all. But now…I cannot afford to have you holding me back any longer. Jonin!”

 

The twisted ninja called Jonin dropped from the ceiling and surrounded Sasaki.

 

Sasaki cowered backward at the sight of the demonic warriors. “What...what have you done?!” he shouted. “What are these creatures?!”

 

“I am truly sorry, brother…” she whispered. She looked to her Jonin. “Finish him.”

 

A Jonin’s sword flashed, and Sasaki’s head tumbled from the pedestal.

 

***

 

Simon and his team stayed in a hotel overnight. The next morning, Simon used his communicator to contact his sister Maya, and she told him everything she knew about the Hellfire Club’s whereabouts. She provided a wealth of knowledge on the Hellfire Club, courtesy of their late grandfather’s database from the future. 

 

“England’s our next stop,” Simon said to his teammates as they left the hotel.

 

Justin said nothing, prompting a look of concern from Rachel. She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Justin, are you-”

 

“I’m fine,” Justin said. “We talked about this last night. I barely knew him. Besides…he didn’t die in that explosion.”

 

“How can you be sure?” Rachel asked.

 

“I just know, OK?” he said. “And it’s not denial or anything like that. Those idiots have been smart enough to live off the radar for years. No way they’d let themselves get blown up. Now, let’s change the subject, shall we? What you really need to ask is why your boyfriend’s older brother went ape shit on those ninja.”

 

“They were Hand,” Hunter said in his defense. “Evil incarnate.”

 

“I get that,” Justin said. “But you didn’t just fight them, you morphed and slaughtered them. It was overkill. You might as well have stepped on them with your Megazord.”

 

“It crossed my mind,” Hunter said.

 

“The scary thing is I don’t think you’re joking,” Justin said. “Can we get out of this freaking country please?”

 

***

 

Elias Kaine sat back in the rear of his limo. The Black King of the Hellfire Club, Kaine wore a dark suit that matched the color of his sleek, jet-black hair. The powerful man looked no older than 40, with a squared jaw and chiseled features.

 

He flipped open his cellphone and placed a call. “This is Kaine,” he said. “Yes…yes I know…they’re coming here.”

 

The Hellfire Club was expecting Simon and his teammates. Ever since reorganizing following the Phoenix incident, when the Inner Circle failed to capture and contain the Phoenix Force, the Hellfire Club had kept watch of the Rangers. 

 

Kaine hated the thought of Rangers in London. He had no desire to mingle in the world of supernatural forces and monsters. He was content to live a life of wealth and influence, of power—the true kind of power, not mystical nonsense.

 

Unfortunately, not everyone in the Inner Circle shared his view. Most were far too ambitious, eager to take over where the previous Inner Circle had left off. They seemed willing to ignore the fact that the previous circle had died horrifically when caught between the battle of the Rangers and the Phoenix Force. 

 

Kaine had no desire to die in a burst of flame and spark.

 

“I know,” Kaine said. “Yes…I know. Our Black Queen has prepared for this moment since she was merely a Pawn…yes. Call a meeting of the Lords Cardinal…tonight. Tell the butlers to prepare five extra table settings.”

 

***

 

The rangers arrived at their hotel in London to see something quite unexpected: a limousine driver holding a sign that had one name written in bold red letters: “Simon Kaden.”

 

Justin looked to Simon. “Do you have any rich British friends you haven’t told us about?”

 

Simon shook his head. “Not that I know of.” His brow narrowed with caution. “Come on…”

 

The rangers walked to the driver, who opened the rear door of the limo when he noticed Simon.

 

“You seriously think we’re getting inside that thing?” Simon asked. “Who are you, and who do you work for?”

 

“He doesn’t know anything,” a voice said from inside the limo. “He drives, makes his money, then goes home and drinks himself to sleep every night. Now come inside, before people stop to stare. You and your Ranger friends tend to stand out.” 

 

Simon couldn’t sense anything threatening from the man inside the limo. Ominous? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. And certainly annoyed. But he didn’t mean the Rangers any harm at the moment.

 

Simon and the rangers got into the limo, where Kaine waited. The driver shut the door, then moved to the front of the limo and drove them off.

 

Rachel gave Simon a wide-eyed looked, silently asking if he’d lost his mind. Simon shook his head and tried to look reassuring.

 

“Children,” Kaine said. “My name is Elias Kaine. I am the Black King of the Hellfire Club.”

 

Hunter and Blake nearly grabbed for their morphers, but Simon held out his hand to call them off. “It’s OK,” he told them. He kept his eyes on Kaine. “How did you know we’d be here?”

 

“We’ve been watching your mentor Tommy since his last visit to London,” Kaine said. “As I’m sure you know, that little tourist trip did not end so well for my organization.”

 

“So I’ve heard,” Simon said. “Things seemed to work out well for you, though.”

 

“Of course, I’m not complaining,” Kaine said. “The former members of the Inner Circle were fools, and the Phoenix did us a favor by wiping them out. Now on to better and brighter things.”

 

“Like?” Simon asked.

 

“We plan to tell you everything,” Kaine said. “You won’t even need to poke or prod with that little empathic ability of yours.”

 

Simon narrowed his eyes. “Good. Then tell us what you want.”

 

“We’ll tell you over dinner,” Kaine said. “The Inner Circle is quite anxious to meet you all. You in particular, Simon.”

 

“I say we kick his butt now,” Blake said.

 

Kaine laughed. “You make me miss my youth. So brash and arrogant. I can assure you, the Hellfire Club has no intention of making you enemies. We’ve learned our lessons and hope to greet you as friends.”

 

Simon tilted his head. Kaine didn’t like the Rangers, not at all, but he wasn’t lying, either.

 

Kaine tapped the side of his head. “Are you poking around at my feelings? I told you that wouldn’t be necessary.”

 

“There’s something you’re not telling us,” Simon said.

 

Kaine sighed. “Of course there is. I don’t like you, and I don’t want you here. I wasn’t hiding anything I was trying to be polite.”

 

***

 

The limousine pulled up to a mansion in the countryside outside the city. The ride had been long and awkward. Kaine had tried to dispel the tension by talking about his climb from a simple mailroom worker to the head of his own corporate powerhouse: Kaine Industries. The rangers couldn’t have cared less.

 

The Black King led the rangers through the mansion entrance and into a large banquet hall, decorated with ornate tapestries and paintings. Seven men and women sat around the table- they were the members of the Inner Circle.

 

A woman in a black dress stood and smiled at the rangers with ruby-red lips, a contrast to her pale-white skin and dark-black hair, which flowed down her back. She waved her hand towards five empty seats around the table.

 

“I’m so glad you’ve arrived,” the woman said. “My name is Madelyn, the Black Queen. Please…join us.”

 

The rangers reluctantly sat around the table with the Lords Cardinal. In front of them was a banquet of more food than they could have eaten in a week. Salmon baklava, crab cakes, lobsters, roasted duck, cranberry sauce, and for dessert there were cannolis, red-velvet cheesecakes, pastries and pumpkin bread.

 

“Dear god,” Justin whispered. “Evil has never looked so delicious.”

 

“I know you have questions,” the Black Queen said. “Rest assured, we have nothing to hide.”

 

A man in a white suit nodded in agreement. He looked young, but his hair was colored a silvery gray. He was the White King, Freidrich. “Madelyn is quite right. We’ve prepared this meal in your honor. Please accept this food as a gesture of our good will.”

 

“Can we drop the pretenses,” Simon said. “We have no reason to trust you. And no amount of food is going to change that.”

 

“Very well,” the Black Queen said. “I can respect a young man who likes to get straight to business. We have invited you here to join us.”

 

Blake arced an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, what?”

 

“Join the Hellfire Club,” the Black Queen said. “Lend us your power, and we will lend you ours. You need allies, after all. Your enemies keep growing. And you remain five.”

 

Simon shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing. “What? What could you even…I mean, what could you possibly…what?”

 

“The Hellfire Club has great power and influence. We are corporations. We are politicians. We are military men and women, farmers, and fishers. We are everywhere,” she said.

 

“OK…” Simon said. “So with that kind of power, what do you need us for?”

 

“There have been many organizations of great power in this world,” the Black Queen. “But after the turn of the new millennium, these organizations started to become irrelevant.

 

“Do you remember the Technomancer Organization? They’ve crumbled into nothingness, completely dissolved, without making more than a few splashes. Do you remember Hydra? They grew in power, but now, they too have dissolved, splintering into meaningless terrorist cells no more uncommon than any man with a bomb strapped to his chest.

 

“These were two powerful forces that never quite made it onto the grand stage where you and your friends play. And in today’s day and age, that stage is all that matters. That stage is everything,” she said. “The Hellfire Club tried to step onto that stage years ago and failed. The time has come for us to try again.”

 

“How?” Simon asked. “More rituals?”

 

“No, not exactly,” the Black Queen said. “We still practice the arcane arts, of course. But we work towards a different end than our predecessors.”

 

“And what end is that, exactly?” Simon asked.

 

“This world is rotting,” the Black Queen said. “We only want to save it.”

 

“OK, OK, let me guess,” Blake said. “You want to save it with a raging hellfire that kills everyone. No no, the apocalypse, right? You want to bring on the end of the world, smash everything, and start over. Same concept. Less fire.”

 

The Black Queen smiled. “We are not fanatics,” she said. “We wish to shape the world through conventional means. But to defeat our enemies, we must look beyond the conventional. We must look to you. And…other resources.”

 

“What ‘other resources’?” Simon asked.

 

“We can’t create Rangers or monsters or little men made of putty,” the Black Queen said. “But we have learned how to make powerful Knights capable of wielding the same power as you. They are limited, but strong, and we would ask you to lead them.”

 

“You realize that’s not something we’d ever agree to, right?” Simon asked. “That you’re wasting your time?”

 

“But Simon, my dear child,” the Black Queen said. “For you, personally, this is an opportunity to do more than lead the Knights of Hellfire. This is an opportunity for you to learn the truth of your father.”

 

“I can find out the truth without selling my soul,” Simon said.

 

The White King looked to Madelyn. “I told you,” he said. “This is pointless.”

 

“Yes, agreed,” Blake said, pointing at the White King. “The smartest guy at the table, right there.”

 

“I knew you would have trouble trusting me. Trusting us,” the Black Queen said. “Before you make your decision, I have someone I want you to meet.” She looked over her shoulder to the butlers, just out of sight. “Please send him in.”

 

The doors to the banquet hall opened, and in stepped a young teenager dressed in a white suit with silver embroidery. He had soft, handsome features and blonde hair. He looked stiff and uncomfortable in the suit, and more than a little nervous.

 

“Simon, I want you to meet Samuel,” the Black Queen said. “Your brother.”

 

***

 

Simon’s breath caught in his throat. His brother? Simon reached out with his empathic senses, and he felt Samuel do the same. They had the same ability. Their surprise echoed off one another.

 

The Black Queen and the Lords Cardinal cleared the room to give the two brothers a chance to meet. Simon—after staring silently for several minutes—asked the rangers to do the same.

 

“So…” Samuel spoke first. “This isn’t awkward at all, is it?”

 

Simon shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

 

“I didn’t either,” Samuel said.  

 

“You’re part of the Hellfire Club?” Simon asked.

 

Samuel nodded. “I’m one of the Knights of Hellfire.”

 

“So…you have powers…”

                                                                                                  

“Yes,” Samuel said. “It started with empathic abilities. But since coming here, I’ve grown so much. Telepathy. Telekinesis. And as a Knight, I become Garo.”

 

“I have no idea what that means,” Simon said.

 

“I transform into a suit of Soul Metal armor,” Samuel said.

 

“Soul Metal?” Simon asked.

 

“Special metal, forged with The Power,” Samuel said.

 

“That the Hellfire Club gave you,” Simon said.

 

“Yes,” Samuel said. “They developed the metal, but it’s imperfect. I can only wear it for about 90 seconds before it starts…eating away at me. The metal burns, not the flesh, but the soul. Normal humans can’t wear the metal for even a second.”

 

“Normal humans,” Simon said. “What does that make you?”

 

“Special,” Samuel said. “We’re both special.”

 

“But…why?” Simon asked. “Why do we have these abilities?”

 

“I…” Samuel hesitated. “I’m not supposed to tell you yet.”

 

Simon scoffed and rolled his hands into fists. “Then what’s the point of all this? I won’t be manipulated. I won’t join the Hellfire Club, even if you are my brother.”

 

“I’m not asking you to do anything,” Samuel said. “You’re…” He shook his head. “Until a month ago I was no one. I moved from foster home to foster home. No real family. No real friends. And…I could feel everyone, the way they looked at me like I was a freak. 

 

“Then the Black Queen approached me,” he continued. “She brought me here. Gave me the power of Garo. Gave me a purpose. And told me about you. My big brother.”

 

“How…” Simon hadn’t given much thought to his brother’s age. “How much younger than me are you?”

 

“About two years,” Samuel said.

 

Simon nodded. “I was in foster care too,” he said. “I remember what that was like. I was lucky enough to be adopted, though. I’m…I’m sorry that never happened for you.”

 

Samuel shook his head. “There’s no need to be sorry. Not anymore. I have a home here now. And a purpose.”

 

“Have they made you fight yet?” Simon asked. “As Garo?”

 

“No,” Samuel said. “But I’ve practiced. And actually…I’m not good at this…talking thing…but if you’re interested, I’d like to show you what I’ve learned.”

 

“You mean, like sparring?” Simon asked.

 

“Yes,” Samuel said.

 

Simon couldn’t help but smile.

 

***

 

Hunter, Blake, Justin and Rachel waited in a small room adjacent to the mansion’s main corridor.

 

“Remind me why we’re going along with this?” Justin asked.

 

“Because Simon’s our friend,” Rachel said.

 

“That doesn’t mean we should let him get us all killed,” Justin said.

 

“We’re not going to get killed, Justin,” Rachel said. “Just calm down.”

 

Blake shook his head. “Justin’s right…wow, saying that actually hurt. I get that you want to be supportive, and I’m not saying we should Ranger up and start a fight. But we can’t just sit here while they manipulate Simon with this brother-bonding love fest.”

 

“What are we supposed to do then?” Rachel asked.

 

“Snoop around,” Blake said. “Be sneaky. We’re freaking ninja, let’s act like it and go…blend in with the shadows and stuff.”

 

Hunter nodded in agreement and creaked open the door. “If we’re going, we should go now.”

 

Rachel sighed. “OK, fine,” Rachel said. “But I’m only going along with this because I don’t want to be locked in a room with three antsy boys.”

 

***

 

Samuel led Simon to a courtyard behind the mansion.

 

“This is where we practice,” Samuel said.

 

“How many of you are there?” Simon asked.

 

“Right now only three, including me,” Samuel said.

 

They stood across from each other, and Samuel bowed. Simon bowed back, then snapped back into a dragon-fist fighting stance.

 

Samuel merely extended his arm at a downward angle and stood sideways.

 

“That’s a pretty weak stance,” Simon said.

 

Samuel smiled. “We’ll see.

 

Simon didn’t want to hurt the younger teen, so he started small with a jumpkick that Samuel dodged. Simon snapped his leg around through a hook kick that Samuel sidestepped to avoid. Simon kept his leg up and snapped a roundick Samuel blocked.

 

“Not bad,” Simon said.

 

The ranger pushed forward with a series of quick kicks and punches, but Samuel dodged and parried the blows. Frustrated, Simon narrowed his eyes and launched into double jump kicks, spin kicks and precision strikes, all of which were blocked or dodged.

 

“You have a lot of anger…” Samuel said with a look of concern on his face. 

 

Simon narrowed his eyes. He lunged forward with a flurry of punches and kicks, but Samuel managed to block the blows with ease.

 

“How the hell are you doing that?” Simon asked in between punches.

 

“I can feel your emotions drive you,” Samuel said as he blocked a kick. “I know when you’re going to attack and how. Don’t you use your abilities this way?”

 

“No, not really…I don’t think so,” Simon said.

 

“Your senses are clouded,” Samuel said. “What happened?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Your anger,” Samuel said. “What happened?”

 

Simon stopped attacking and lowered his guard, catching his breath. He shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”

 

“The Second Countdown to Destruction,” Samuel said. “That’s what the media called it, at least.”

 

Simon shook his head. “You don’t want to go there.”

 

“I’m sorry…” Samuel said. “I was just trying to help.”

 

“Don’t be sorry,” Simon said. “Look…it’s just not something I like to talk about. Ever. So many people died, and I couldn’t stop it from happening.”

 

“You can’t save everyone,” Samuel said.

 

“I know that,” Simon said. “But…” He shook his head. “Their names are in my head all the time. The Rangers and champions who died. Trini, Jonathan, Damien, Sion, Cy, Kaitlin, Ryan, Drew, Josh, Dex, Kimberly, Neil, Luke, Tyler, Carlos, Cassie, Tanya…I felt each one of them die in that battle.”

 

Samuel nodded. “I know what that’s like.”

 

“You can’t,” Simon said.

 

“I do,” Samuel said. “I grew up in Angel Grove. I was there during the first and second countdown. Each time I felt hundreds of people die. Most were terrified, for themselves or for loved ones they’d leave behind. Some shouted to God for forgiveness one final time. Others wondered if they’d wind up in Hell, or just stop existing, and the thought of that terrified them even more, the thought of just…ending. And then feeling them blink out. It was…I was so helpless. I couldn’t do anything to protect them. At least you were able to fight. All I could do was feel them die, each and every one of them.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Simon said.

 

“Don’t be,” Samuel said. He cracked a smile to break the tension. “It’s not your fault being an empath sucks.”

 

Simon laughed, and his brother joined him.

 

***

 

Justin, Rachel, Hunter and Blake crept along a balcony that looked down into an art room, displaying sculptures, tapestries and paintings.

 

They crouched low in the shadows and looked to where the Black King and Black Queen stood, near a painting of a phoenix.

 

“This was a mistake,” the Black King said. “We never should have brought them here.”

 

“You worry too much, Elias,” the Black Queen said as she slid her hand onto his shoulder. 

 

The Black King pulled away. “It’s not worry, it’s valid concern,” he said. “Even if you succeeded and lured them into our fold, it would be a disaster.”

 

“Disaster?” the Black Queen asked. “Our enemies would fall. All of them. We would be unstoppable. The world would be ours, completely.”

 

“After how much fighting and destruction?” Kaine asked. “We don’t need this, Madelyn. We don’t need the Rangers, or even your Hellfire Knights. We’re pushing ourselves too far, just like our predecessors.”

 

“Our processors tried to control the Phoenix Force,” the Black Queen said. “The power of creation itself. The Power Cosmic. We’re not attempting anything as arrogant and foolish.”

 

“Foolish?” the Black King asked. “If I remember correctly, you were responsible for the Phoenix.”

 

“Indirectly,” the Black Queen said. “Just because I gave birth to the host doesn’t mean I summoned the entity itself.”

 

It took a moment for her words to sink in. She had given birth to the host of the Phoenix, the late Phoenix Ranger, Kimberly Hart. The Black Queen was Kimberly Hart’s mother.

 

Hunter suddenly leapt over the balcony and lunged towards the two Lords Cardinal.

 

“Hunter!” Blake shouted.

 

The Black Queen waved her hand, and strands of wind wrapped around the ranger, suspending him in midair.

 

The other three rangers leapt down onto the floor, and the Black Queen casually waved her other hand, swatting the teens back with a forceful gust of air.

 

“Foolish children,” the Black Queen said. “I sincerely wanted to avoid confrontation. But…I don’t need you four. Only your leader.”

 

She hurled Hunter from the air, and he crashed through a statue that crumbled on impact. The teen slammed against the floor and skid backward, but he quickly rose to his feet and armed his morpher.

 

“Ninjetti change! Ha!” Energy thundered around him as he morphed into his armor, unsheathed his staff and charged at the Black Queen.

 

The Black Queen thrust her hand forward and blew a gust of wind energy, but the Crimson Thunder Ranger leapt over the attack and angled his descent towards the Black Queen.

 

Crimson Thunder smashed against a wind barrier and crashed to the ground. He quickly rolled into a crouched fighting stance.

 

“Shadow Bolt!” He hurled a crimson-tinted bolt of shadow energy at the Black Queen.

 

The Black Queen wove a wind barrier that deflected the bolt, which sparked harmlessly around her.

 

“I’ve been channeling since before you were born,” the Black Queen said. “Your attacks are like insect bites. Which is fitting.

 

The rear door to the art room burst open, and a figure dressed in a long black jacket burst into the room. No older than 17, he had long black hair and dark, hateful eyes.

 

The Black King shook his head. “And so it begins…”

 

“Zero,” the Black Queen said to the boy. “It’s time to test your metal.”

 

The teen smiled and unsheathed a slender blade. He raised the sword above his head and swung the blade through a circle.

 

 “Zero.” Silver light flashed around him as he transformed into a suit of intricately-designed armor. His helmet resembled the head of a wolf, and he carried two massive, curved swords.

 

The teens rose to their feet and regrouped around Crimson Thunder.

 

“That must be a Knight of Hellfire,” Justin said.

 

“Perceptive,” Blake said as they armed their morphers.

 

“Ninjetti change! Ha!” Energy twirled around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms.

 

Zero shot at the Rangers like a cannonball and slammed against them, pushing them backward through the wall and into the corridor. Shattered wood and debris followed in their wake, raining into the hall.

 

The villain moved fast despite his bulky armor. He charged at the Rangers, swords spinning, and slashed against their armor with bursts of spark before they could recover. The villain’s strikes were simple yet powerful, quick and strong.

 

Zero growled like a beats with each strike.

 

The villain smashed a kick against Navy Thunder, and the Ranger went flying backward, slamming through another wall and arcing towards the courtyard outside.

 

***

 

Simon saw Navy Thunder burst out of the mansion and crash into the courtyard. Crimson Thunder, Hurricane Yellow, and Hurricane Blue quickly followed, crashing into the courtyard and skidding across the dirt.

 

“Guys!” Simon shouted as he ran towards them. His younger brother followed.

 

Zero leapt through the opening in the mansion and landed in the courtyard. Simon dashed in front of the Knight, to stand between the villain and his friends. Simon armed his morpher, and Zero lifted his blades to attack.

 

“Wait, stop!” Samuel said as he stood between Simon and the Knight.  

 

Zero powered down his armor. He breathed heavily; the fight had taken its toll on the teenager’s body and soul.

 

“Stand back, Sammy,” Zero said. “You’re in my way.”

 

“Don’t do this,” Samuel said. “We weren’t supposed to fight them.”

 

“They attacked the Black Queen, you idiot,” Zero said. “Besides, we don’t need them. Rangers don’t fit in here. Not with us.”

 

“He’s not just any Ranger,” Samuel said.

 

Ya’ know, I’m really not in the mood to argue.” He lifted his sword. “Stand back. Or I cut through you.”

 

Samuel raised his sword into a defensive position.

 

Zero scowled. “Fine…”

 

He lifted his sword upward and swung the blade through a circle, and Samuel did the same.

 

“Zero.”

 

“Garo.”

 

Energy surged around them as they transformed into their wolf-like armor of Soul Metal. Samuel’s armor was similar to Zero’s, but golden, and he carried a single double-edged sword.

 

Garo lunged through the air and swung his blade towards Zero with a wide arc. Zero easily leapt over the blade and smashed a kick against Garo’s chest, using the footing to leap upward.

 

Garo pounced into the air and slammed against Zero with enough force to hurl backward, farther upward, before crashing onto the roof of the mansion. 

 

The two Knights tumbled across the roof but quickly rose to their feet.

 

Zero lunged at Garo with a flurry of sword swings. Garo swung his sword through a series of blocks and parries, his blade clanging against Zero’s with bursts of spark. They growled like beasts with each strike, their armor filling their souls with primal rage.

 

Garo swung upward with a powerful strike that clanged against Zero’s armor and whipped him backward. Zero somersaulted backward and landed on the roof, feet skidding backward and tearing up shingles.

 

Ya’ know, Sammy.” Zero’s voice sounded metallic through his helmet. “I never did like you much. You’ve always been the runt of our little group.”

 

Garo traced his hand along the edge of his blade, which ignited with green flame. “That doesn’t hurt much coming from a guy who calls himself ‘Zero’.”

 

The Knight swung his blade through a wide arc that fired a wave of flame.

 

Zero shot upward over the flame. The villain angled his descent towards Garo, but a bolt of navy-tinted lighting blasted him from the air. Zero crashed back-first onto the roof.

 

Navy Thunder, Crimson Thunder, Hurricane Yellow, and Hurricane Blue landed on the rooftop around the villain.

 

“Don’t hurt him!” Garo shouted to the Rangers.

 

Hurricane Red landed on the rooftop. “I think we should be more concerned about him hurting us.”

 

Zero laughed and pushed himself to his feet. “The twig in the red spandex is right.”

 

The villain smashed his blades down with a massive explosion that tore off the roof.

 

Garo, Zero and the Rangers tumbled into the mansion, crashing into a wide art gallery. Dust and debris rained down around them as they pushed themselves back to their feet. They stood in a gallery filled with ancient suits of armor, from Feudal Japan to Medieval Europe. Stands of armor lined the walls and stood in rows across the floor.

 

“These things are going to come to life, aren’t they?” Hurricane Yellow asked.

 

“Justin…” Hurricane Blue shook her head.

 

“I’m serious,” Hurricane Yellow said.

 

Zero pounced forward and crashed against Hurricane Red, tackling the Ranger through a stand of armor and slamming him against a wall.

 

Garo lunged at Zero and slashed his sword across the villain’s back, whipping him aside. Zero snapped around and swung his blades towards Garo, but Garo raised his sword and blocked the blow, which sparked against his weapon.

 

Garo smashed a kick against Zero’s gut, knocking him backward.

 

The Rangers dashed forward to aid the Knight, but gusts of wind knocked them off their feet, sending them skidding across the floor.

 

“Let them play,” the Black Queen said as she stepped into the room.

 

She wove strands of wind that blew into dozens of suits of armor within the room. The wind moved the armor as if alive. The suits lifted war axes and war blades, reinforced with wind energy, and stalked towards the Rangers.

 

“I told you,” Hurricane Yellow said. “I so told you.”

 

A bulky suit of medieval armor swung a mace that Hurricane Yellow dodged. The Yellow Ranger armed his Lion Hammer and swung the weapon hard, smashing the armor apart.

 

He turned his attention to three suits of samurai armor, but the medieval armor reassembled, picked up its mace, and smashed the weapon across the Yellow Ranger’s back with a burst of spark.

 

Navy Thunder swung his staff left and right, hacking through suits of armor that merely reassembled and attacked again. “This is getting old.”

 

Zero hacked through armors to clear a path towards Garo, and the villain smashed the hilt of his sword upside the Knight’s head. The blow whipped Garo’s body backward, and he crashed against the floor.

 

Hurricane Red slashed his sword through a suit of samurai armor and snapped a spin kick that knocked the armor back. The armor reassembled, lifting a spear from the floor.

 

“These armors are just weapons,” Hurricane Red said as he cut through the armor’s spear. “We have to take out the queen.”

 

Crimson Thunder swung his staff through a flurry of strikes that cut down three suits of samurai armor.

 

The Crimson Thunder Ranger crouched and pounced towards the Black Queen. “Shadow Style! Shadow Clone Jutsu!”

 

Five shadowy, crimson-tinted clones split from Crimson Thunder and surged towards the Black Queen while hacking through suits of armor. The shades dashed to attack the villain, and the Crimson Thunder Ranger followed with his staff ready.

 

Zero leapt in front of the Black Queen and hacked the Shades from the air.

 

Crimson Thunder chopped his staff towards the villain’s head, but Zero used one sword to block the blow and used his second sword to hack the Ranger aside with a burst of spark.

 

Zero started to dash towards the Ranger to attack but stopped in his tracks. He collapsed onto one knee, dropping his swords, as his armor steamed across his body. The villain cursed beneath his breath and powered down his armor with a flash of silver light. He collapsed onto all fours, breathing heavily, as sweat drenched his body.

 

Garo dropped to his knees and grasped his head. His armor glowed red, as if burning, and sizzled with steam. “The Soul Metal…I can’t get it off!”

 

“Samuel!” Hurricane Red shouted as he ran to his younger brother’s side.

 

“Stand back…” Garo said. “It’s dangerous, I can’t…stand back!”

 

Garo swatted Hurricane Red aside with a powerful back-fist strike.

 

The Knight’s armor burned brighter, filling the room with golden light. “Get it off!”

 

The Black Queen smiled wickedly. “Perfect,” she whispered. “He’s stronger than I hoped.”

 

Garo’s armor powered down with a surge of golden light and power that hurled the Rangers off their feet and incinerated an entire wing of the mansion.

 

***

 

Simon’s vision blurred slowly back into focus. He tried to move, but his arms and legs were chained to the wall.

 

“Where…” he whispered.

 

He looked up to see a dungeon-like room walled with dark bricks. The Black Queen stood in front of him with a look of amusement on her face. 

 

“Good morning,” the Black Queen said.

 

“Where are my friends?” Simon asked.

 

“Don’t worry about that now,” she said. “I’m truly sorry this had to happen. We never wanted a fight.”

 

“No…you just wanted to use us as pawns.”

 

“You were never going to be a pawn, Simon,” the Black Queen said with a wicked smile that gave the ranger chills. “Not you…You’re stronger than you realize. Your morpher is like a crutch you don’t need, slowing you down.”

 

“I’ll ask again,” Simon said. “Where are my friends.

 

“Forget about them,” the Black Queen said. “You belong with the Knights of Hellfire.”

 

Simon tried to break free from his chains, but they held firm.

 

The Black Queen walked closer towards the ranger. “All this time you’ve been searching for your father,” she said. She stood in front of the teen and leaned in close. “Do you want to know who he was? He was nothing. A useless grunt. No special powers. No special history. Just a man who fought for his pathetic little country.”

 

She traced her finger along the side of his cheek. “The real question you need to be asking is this…who is your mother?”

 

She smiled wickedly, and Simon’s eyes opened wide with realization.

 

“That’s right…” she purred. “My son…” 

 

To be continued…Chapter 17