Ultimate Origins: Chapter Seventeen

Hellfire: Bloodlines

 

Simon struggled to break free from his chains. “Do you really think I’ll fall for this? Do you really expect me to believe you’re my mother?!”

 

“Of course I do,” the Black Queen said. “Reach out with your feelings. Sense it. You feel the truth behind my words.”

 

Simon scowled at the woman and said nothing. He sensed her honesty and amusement, and it sickened him. She was telling the truth.

 

“Fine…” Simon said. “Let’s say I do believe you. So what? Am I supposed to join your little cult? I don’t think so. Even if you did give birth to me, you’re not my mother, you sick, twisted psychopath.”

 

“I understand your hesitation,” the Black Queen said. “I know that you-”

 

“Stop talking,” Simon said. “Stop talking now. I won’t let you manipulate me. Even if you are my mom, you abandoned me. You-”

 

“I didn’t abandon you, you were-”

 

“It’s a good thing you did, too; being raised away from you was a blessing,” Simon said. “So what, was I some mistake?

 

“Far from it,” the Black Queen said. “Kimberly was the mistake. I never wanted to get pregnant. I had too much ambition. I craved too much power. But after she was born… I sensed the power within her, even when she was just an infant.”

 

Simon narrowed his eyes.

 

“Through Kimberly, I realized the power of my own blood. Blood strong with the One Power and attuned to the cosmic energies of the universe itself, the Power Cosmic. My body was already too old to harness these energies. But I knew that if I could bear children as strong as Kimberly by mistake, that I could bear even stronger children by design.

 

“So I traveled, in search of mates, strong bloodlines,” the Black Queen said. “They weren’t always willing. Some, like your father, needed…convincing.”

 

She lifted her hand. “Let me show you what I mean…”

 

Her power forced Simon’s mind to flash back.

 

***

 

Angel Grove, 1991 AD

 

Madelyn smiled down at her infant son’s crib. She reached down and traced a finger along baby Simon’s cheek.

 

“The potential is there…” she whispered. “But I was hoping for more.”

 

Her mate, John, wrapped his arms around her from behind. He had short, sandy-blonde hair and neatly-trimmed beard stubble across his squared jaw. “There are ways to ignite that potential,” he whispered. “Blood Magick.”

 

Madelyn smiled wickedly. “You are full of surprises, my dear.”

 

John smiled and kissed her neck, and for a moment, his eyes looked solid-black. “I’ve only begun to show you my tricks.”

 

John moved to the side of the crib and rolled back his sleeve. The infant cried, terrified at the sight of his father. The man whispered an incantation in a language known only in the depths of Hell, pulled a dagger from his belt, and slashed across his forearm.

 

The man’s blood dripped onto Simon, into the infant’s mouth.

 

John staggered, grabbed his head, and nearly collapsed. “Someone is fussy today…”

 

“Is it John?” Madelyn asked.

 

The man nodded. “The Blood Magick weakened me. But I’ll be able to…”

 

John screamed and dropped to his knees, and from his mouth, a column of black smoke erupted and shot into the air. The man’s body convulsed as if vomiting until the smoke cleared. He collapsed onto all fours and breathed heavily, his body sweating.

 

“What…what did you do…?” He looked up, eyes wide and maddening. “What did you do?!”

 

Madelyn laughed wickedly. “John…it’s so nice to speak with you again. It’s been over a year, hasn’t it?”

 

“I…” he said. “I remember everything. You…you!”

 

“Yes. Me, me,” Madelyn said with much amusement. “You made a lovely host for my friend Azmodai. And we have such a lovely child as a result.”

 

“Azmodai…” John whispered hoarsely. “A…demon…”

 

“Of course,” Madelyn said. “One who has visited me since childhood. But only recently did I become strong enough to help him take possession of others. You were his first host, and you performed so well.”

 

She turned back towards the crib and lifted Simon from his sheets. “Thank you for this gift…”

 

John tried to call out, but his body collapsed, slipping into unconsciousness.

 

***

 

Simon shook his head to clear away the images. “No…no, that didn’t happen.”

 

“It did,” the Black Queen said. “You were born of demon blood. It was the demon blood that gave you your empathic abilities, abilities you’ve only begun to tap.”

 

“That didn’t happen!” Simon shouted.

 

The Black Queen laughed. “You are as amusing as your father,” she said. “Azmodai used a different host each time we procreated, but your father was always my favorite.”

 

“Each time…how many?”

 

“Azmodai and I gave birth to five other children. But you, my dear Simon, were the first.”

 

Rage flooded through Simon. He struggled against his bindings, but could not break free. Determined, he tried harder, calling on all his strength.

 

The Black Queen smiled fondly at her child. “You won’t break free from those bindings,” she said. “They’re enchanted. But I applaud your efforts.”

 

“You’re insane…” Simon said through a clenched jaw.

 

“The world is insane,” the Black Queen said. “But you and your brothers will help me fix that.”

 

***

 

1991 AD

 

John’s vision blurred slowly back into focus. He pulled himself to his feet and looked across the empty room, his eyes panicked. He remembered every agonizing moment of the demon’s possession of his body. The memories filled him with rage.

 

Simon…he thought. He never intended to have a child, especially not with the witch named Madelyn. But he had a son, none the less. And his son was in the hands of a mad woman.

 

“You’re awake.”

 

John snapped around to see a man leaning against a khakkhara, a Japanese monk staff. The man was American, with long black hair and a dark jacket.

 

John instinctively reached for his gun, but the weapon wasn’t holstered on his waist as it should have been.

 

The stranger lifted John’s gun in his hand. “You won’t need this. Guns are crude, anyway.”

 

“What? You prefer sticks?”

 

“This is an ancient staff infused with magick.”

 

“A stick.”

 

“A powerful weapon, passed down through my family line.”

 

“It’s still a stick,” John said. “Now…who are you? And how the hell did you get into my house?”

 

“I’ve been trailing the demon that possessed you,” the stranger said. “I only caught its trail recently.”

 

“So what...are you some kind of demon hunter?” John knew all about the Egos and time travel, and yet demon hunting was a hard concept for him to grasp.

 

“That’s exactly what I am,” he said. “My name is Karato Takaoka.”

 

John shook his head. “This is insane. I don’t have time for this….I have to get my son back.”

 

“And do you really think you can do that alone? Without any help?”

 

“I have plenty of help,” John said. “Trust me.”

 

“Ah yes,” Karato said. “Battle Fever J. Those clunky suits of yours won’t do much good against demons. They’re not corporeal.”

 

John narrowed his eyes at the stranger. “You still haven’t explained what you’re doing here.”

 

“I did, you just weren’t paying attention,” Karato said. “I’m a demon hunter. I hunt demons. You, were possessed by a demon. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.”

 

“Can you still track it?” John asked.

 

“Of course,” Karato said. “The demon will be with his favorite witch, and your former lover.”

 

John rolled his hands into fists. “She was never my lover.”

 

“No, I suppose you rejected her,” Karato said. “Which is why she shoved a demon down your throat. Witches don’t handle rejection all too well.”

 

“Where are they?” John asked.

 

“Have you heard of the Hellfire Club?” Karato asked. “A charming organization filled with sin and debauchery. And also, black magick. Nothing major. Most of them can’t even get a Ouija board to work. But a few, like dearest Madelyn, are quite powerful.

 

“I generally stay away from the likes of them,” Karato continued. “But they’re at the center of something— I hate to use this word, because it sounds so cliché— ‘sinister’. Something involving demons.”

 

“What?”

 

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be here wasting my time,” Karato said.

 

“Wasting your time? No one’s keeping you.”

 

“Yes, well…” Karato sighed. “As it is, I’m great with fighting demons and evil spirits. But the Hellfire Club? They’re flesh and bone, and my fighting techniques don’t work as well on them. Just as you need me, I need you. And your little toy soldier friends couldn’t hurt.”

 

***

 

The dungeons stretched for nearly a square mile beneath the Hellfire mansion. A single cell held the remaining four rangers. Enchantments along the floor and walls somehow kept them from morphing or using their powers.

 

Hunter slammed kicks and punches against the iron bars, trying to break free.

 

“Hunter!” Blake tried to call off his brother. But Hunter kept kicking and punching the bars. “Hunter!”

 

Blake grabbed Hunter by the arms and pushed him back, knocking him to the ground. Hunter glared at the bars of their prison.

 

“We need out,” Hunter said.

 

“Yeah, we kind of realized that already,” Blake said. “What the hell has gotten into you? First you take a kamikaze dive at the Black Queen, now you’re trying to kick the crap out of immovable objects.”

 

“Let’s not forget the whole morphing-and-slaughtering-ninja thing,” Justin said.

 

Blake glared at Justin, and Justin merely shrugged. “I’m just saying.”

 

“Don’t question me,” Hunter said. “Not now. We need to find a way to escape.”

 

“OK, again, nothing new,” Blake said. “And I’m pretty sure escaping won’t involve beating your knuckles bloody.”

 

The teens heard footsteps from deeper in the dungeon. They turned to see Kaine step from the shadows.

 

“Rangers, I hope you’re comfortable,” the Black King said.

 

“Is that supposed to be funny?” Blake asked.

 

“No, I don’t do funny,” Kaine said. “I’ve come to release you. But we have to move quickly, before the Inner Circle discovers I’m missing.”

 

“Wait, why would you want to help us?” Rachel asked.

 

“When you arrived in London, did you see any giant robots fighting space monsters? No? Let’s just say, I’d like to keep things that way. That means getting you as far away from my country as possible,” Kaine said.

 

“It’s actually been a while since we used our zords,” Justin said quietly.

 

“Not now,” Rachel chided.

 

Kaine pulled an iron key from his pocket and opened the cell door.

 

“What about Simon?” Rachel asked.

 

“He’s with the Black Queen,” Kaine said. “We won’t be able to get to him, unless you plan on getting killed…which I would actually be OK with.”

 

“We can’t just leave him,” Rachel said.

 

“I suggest we move,” Kaine said. “We’ll have plenty of time to argue amongst ourselves as we’re fleeing for our lives.”

 

***

 

1991 AD

 

“Demons?” Col. Bridge leaned back at his desk. “John, I’ve known you for a long time. You were a damn good marine, and you’re an even better agent. But I think you’ve finally lost your goddamn mind.”

 

“Are demons any crazier than soldiers from the future or mutant rhinos?” John asked.

 

“Actually, yes,” Col. Bridge said. “Yes they are. Mutant rhinos: Freaky? Yes. Based in science? Yes. Time travel: Does it blow my goddamn mind? Yes. Based in science? Yes. Demons? No. No, that’s where I draw the crazy line, and I’m not stepping one foot over the crazy line. Not even a damn pinky toe.”

 

John slammed his hands again the desk. “They have my son! Even if you think this is crazy, we’re Section 31. We deal with crazy every day. Regardless of the demons, Madelyn and the Hellfire Club are real, they’re up to something, and we have to stop them.”

 

Col. Bridge sighed and leaned forward. “Alright…alright, fine. I suppose I owe you a favor.”

 

“At least seven favors by my count,” John said.

 

“Let’s not push it,” Bridge said. “I can authorize the use of Battle Fever J, but I won’t be able to get you a full support unit.”

 

“I can work with that,” John said. 

 

***

 

The Section 31 armory filled the lower floor of the division headquarters. Five walk-in storage units held the Battle Fever J armors in the center of the armory.

 

John stood in the Battle Japan unit and prepped his gear. The armor stood in a glass column in the center of the room, which was walled with racks of bladed weapons, blasters, and crates of ammunition.

 

“John…”

 

John snapped around and swung his blaster at the voice. He sighed at the sight of the Harrikenjaa who would one day be called Shurikenger. The Hayate Way had assigned Shurikenger to Section 31 following the Gorgom incident. Shurikenger had leaned Battle Japan’s true identity during their time together.

 

John lowered his weapon. “Do you have to keep doing that?”

 

“I’m a ninja, so yes,” Shurikenger said. “I’m supposed to be sneaky.”

 

“I’m not in the mood for banter,” John said.

 

“I’ve heard,” Shurikenger said. “Have you told the others?”

 

“No,” John said as he turned back to the ammo crates that covered the floor. He resumed loading his armor’s weapon systems with various types of ammo. “We don’t even know each other’s names, they don’t need to know that I…” he shook his head. “They don’t need to know the details. To them, this is just another mission. That’s the way it has to be.”

 

“I would disagree,” Shurikenger said.

 

“You can disagree with me when you hit puberty, kid,” John said. “How old are you, anyway? For wanting me to open up to my teammates, you haven’t told us anything about you.”

 

“Interested to learn?” Shurikenger asked.

 

“Not really, no,” John said. “I’m just making a point.”

 

“It’s not a very good point.”

 

John slammed his blaster against the crate. “Look…” He sighed, his anger sinking into fatigue. “Truth is, when you’ve lost as many people as I have, you tend to keep others at arm’s length. That’s just the way it is.”

 

“I watched my family die when I was three,” Shurikenger said. “They were Harrikenjaa. Both of them. Until the Hand learned their identities and killed them. That’s my earliest memory. I know loss very well, gaijin. I may be a fraction of your age, but I learned early on that you cannot let your grief and rage consume you. When you live in the darkness, it’s important for your light to shine all the more brightly. Or the darkness will consume you.”

 

“Good advice, but bad timing,” John said. “That witch Madelyn and her demon dog stole a year of my life, and now they’ve taken my son. I have to get him back.”

 

“You realize, even if you do get him back, you won’t be able to raise him,” Shurikenger said.

 

“I don’t care,” John said. “I won’t let him grow up with a cult.”

 

“They’re not a cult, per say,” Shurikenger said. “They don’t do nearly enough chanting.”

 

“Why do you do that?”

 

Shurikenger smiled beneath his mask. “It’s how I stay in the light.”

 

***

 

The Black Queen left Simon alone in his chains. He struggled to break free, but could not, despite his best efforts. Runes along the chains kept him from using his Ranger powers. He was helpless.

 

The dungeon doors opened, and Samuel stepped into the room. He looked ashamed.

 

Simon glared at the younger teen. “Is this your idea of family bonding, brother?”

 

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Samuel said.

 

“This place is called the Hellfire Club,” Simon said. “Did you really think they’d be good people? They’re bad guys. It’s in the name.”

 

Samuel shook his head. “No. I’ll admit, some of them, like Zero, aren’t exactly peaceful people. But they have good intentions.”

 

“Global domination is not a good intention,” Simon said.

 

“Not domination,” Samuel said. “You make them sound like those monsters you fight.”

 

“That’s because they are!” Simon shouted, quickly losing his patience. “How stupid are you!”

 

Samuel narrowed his eyes. “You scare me.”

 

“…what?”

 

“Your anger,” Samuel said.

 

“We’re not having this conversation again,” Simon said. “Wake up, Samuel. These people are using you. You think you’re here of your own free will, but you’re not. Try to leave, and you’ll end up in chains.”

 

“I don’t want to leave, Simon,” Samuel said. “This is my home.”

 

“You doubt that,” Simon said. “I can feel it.”

 

“A part of me doubts that,” Samuel said. “A part of you doubts your path too. I can see where it started, when you were Gao Red.”

 

Simon’s mind flashed back…

 

Gao Red’s shoulders hunched over as he tried to catch his breath. The cold rain splashed across his armor as a storm raged across Angel Grove’s night sky. The thunder echoed the anger inside of him.

 

Simon shook his head to clear away the memory before it could go any further. “Stop that!”

 

“I’m sorry,” Samuel said. “I didn’t mean to…being close to you makes my powers stronger.”

 

“Look…” Simon said. “I understand why you came here. You wanted to be with family. Well guess what? I’m family. Let’s get out of here, together.”

 

“I can’t, Simon,” Samuel said. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

 

***

 

Kaine led the other four rangers through the dark tunnels of the dungeon. They heard screams come from within the shadows, and Kaine motioned the rangers to move faster.

 

Those screams…they’re not good,” Kaine said.

 

“Yeah, huge shocker, you’re so helpful,” Blake said.

 

“I really hate you,” Kaine said. “Those aren’t just any screams; they’re the screams of the dead awakening.”

 

“I’m sorry, what?” Blake asked.

 

“Zombies?!” Justin said. “No, no. Not zombies again, we did that last year.”

 

“Not exactly zombies,” Kaine said. “The White King is a necromancer. He can animate the dead.”

 

“Walking dead people,” Justin said. “That sounds like zombies.”

 

“I’m afraid there’s a shortage of fresh corpses,” the Black King said. “He’s more likely to find skeletons and spirits.”

 

“Well that’s just cute,” Justin said.

 

“The good news is there’s an entrance up ahead, not far,” Kaine said. 

 

They moved closer towards the entrance, a stone stairwell that extended upward.

 

The ground shook, and the ceiling collapsed at the entrance. Kaine knitted his brow with concern. “See, this is exactly why I hate you.”

 

“How is that our fault?” Justin asked.

 

“Last week, I was in my penthouse with two swimsuit models drinking martinis,” Kaine said. “You show up; now I’m crawling through dark dungeons and running from necromancers. That’s how this is your fault.”

 

***

 

1991 AD

 

Karato leaned over a rooftop and looked down at the police cars scattered below. The officers parked in front of a bank, where a trio of gunmen held more than a dozen people hostage.

 

The demon hunter casually swung his staff over his shoulder. He could sense the auras of the gunmen. They were no ordinary thugs. They were possessed by demons.

 

Demons couldn’t manifest in physical form—at least not without powerful magick only talked about in legend. They needed human hosts to wreak havoc on the mortal world.

 

Karato leapt over the street and landed on top of the bank. He scanned the rooftop and spotted what he was looking for—the building’s water filtration system. He walked towards the intake valve and opened it while pulling rosary beads from his jacket. He dropped the beads into the valve, into the water, and whispered an incantation in Latin.

 

The demon hunter smirked.

 

Karato twirled his staff and stabbed the weapon against the rooftop with a burst of electricity. The pulse triggered the building’s fire alarm, which triggered the sprinklers inside the bank.

 

Holy water rained down on the gunmen. They screamed as their skin sizzled and steamed. Dropping their guns, they rushed from the bank with supernatural speed and leapt to the rooftops. The police officers barely had time to react.

 

Karato pounced into the air to follow the three gunmen.

 

The demon hunter thrust two fingers towards the main villain. Joso!

 

A ring of blue energy formed beneath the villain, but the demon leapt away before the ring connected.

 

“Damn he’s fast…” He thrust his hand forward, index and middle fingers pointed at the demon. Hoi! Joso!

 

A blue ring formed beneath the villain while he leapt through midair.

 

Karato quickly thrust his hand upward. Ketsu!

 

A short cylinder of blue energy thrust upward from the ring and snapped around the demon. The demon crashed against the inside of the barrier, unable to break through. The energy barrier contained spiritual energy, such as the energy of a demon.

 

Metsu!

 

The barrier collapsed with a burst of blue fire, killing the demon and dropping the host. Karato leapt through the air, caught the host, and lowered him to the rooftop. The man’s breathing was shallow, but he would live.

 

Karato turned to see the second demon leaping away from the block. The demon hunter pounced through the air towards the villain.

 

Hoi! Joso! Ketsu! Karato snapped a cylinder of blue energy around the demon, who slammed against the inside of the barrier. Metsu!

 

The barrier collapsed with a burst of blue fire that killed the demon.

 

The third demon suddenly shot through the air and crashed against Karato from behind. They skid across the rooftop while the demon held Karato downward. His staff fell from his hand and rolled across the roof.

 

The demon rolled Karato onto his back, straddled his chest, and reached down with a tight chokehold. The demon’s supernatural grip was like iron—which was ironic, since demons tended to shy away from iron.

 

Karato tried to knock the villain’s arms away, but the villain’s grip was too strong.

 

A trio of bullets shot through the air and blasted through the demon. The man snarled and turned to face his attacker: Battle Japan, in full armor.

 

The demon charged at Battle Japan. The agent opened fire with armor-piercing rounds that tore through the demon’s body. The host collapsed, and his body convulsed. The man’s jaw opened and vomited a pillar of black smoke that twirled towards the sky.

 

Karato dove across the rooftop, grabbed his staff, and rolled into a crouched position. He thrust his fingers towards the pillar of smoke. Ketsu!

 

He formed a cylinder of blue energy, but the demon burst through the cylinder and slithered into the clouds.

 

Karato breathed heavily and watched the demon vanish from sight. “Well…we’ve officially teamed up for less than five seconds, and you’ve already managed to kill a host and let a demon escape. Nice work.”

 

“I saved your life,” John said.

 

“That’s debatable,” Karato said. “Your armor looks ridiculous, by the way.”

 

“You should see what they’re wearing in the future,” John said, thinking of Time Force.

 

Karato arced an eyebrow. “What?”

 

“Nothing,” John said.

 

“I don’t think you understand what just happened here,” Karato said. “Those were three demons. Together. I typically go up against five or six a year, tracking them weeks at a time, one-by-one. I’ve never seen them group up before. Not until now.”

 

“We’re wasting time,” John said.

 

Karato ignored the agent and looked down at the fallen host. “The closer we get to the new millennium, the more creatures like these demons are crawling from their holes.”

 

“Have you tracked them?” John asked. “The Hellfire Club?”

 

“I’m getting closer.”

 

A shadowy figure dropped onto the rooftop behind the demon hunter. “Not close enough.”

 

Karato snapped around and swung his staff towards the figure, who unsheathed his sword and blocked the blow with a burst of spark.

 

“Stop!” John shouted. “He’s a…”

 

“Friend,” Shurikenger said as he slid the demon hunter’s staff aside.

 

“A ninja?” Karato said.

 

“You’re a smart one, dekai guzu,” Shurikenger said.

 

Zuui chibi,” Karato said.

 

Shurikenger tilted his head. And laughed.

 

“What?” John asked.

 

“He called me a sneaky dwarf,” Shurikenger said. “I like him.”

 

Karato looked to John. “You have weird friends.”

 

***

 

Karato continued to track the Hellfire Club, and this time, he managed to capture a man possessed by a demon. The demon hunter tied the man to a chair in an abandoned building. Beneath the chair, Karato had drawn a Devil’s Trap, a pentagram symbol that contained and weakened the demon.

 

Shurikenger and John, who had taken off his armor, stood nearby.

 

Karato splashed holy water onto the demon’s face, and the man screamed as his skin reddened and hissed.

 

“The Hellfire Club,” Karato asked. “Where are they? And what are they up to?”

 

The demon laughed, and his eyes turned solid black. “Even if I told you, what would you hope to do? Stop them?”

 

“That’s the general idea, yes,” Karato said. He splashed more holy water onto the man’s face.

 

The demon snarled with pain, and then laughed. “The witch who mates with Azmodai…she may have joined the Hellfire Club, but she is part of something greater. She is a Dark Priestess of the Oniashee, an order of necromancers, warlocks, sorcerers and witches.”

 

Bakana,” Shurikenger said. “The Oniashee are a legend.”

 

“So are evil spirits, mystical ninja and demon hunters,” the demon said. 

 

“He’s stalling,” John said.

 

He grabbed the holy water from Karato and emptied the container onto the demon’s head. The demon screamed as water pulled across his scalp and dripped down his neck, face and chest.

 

John tossed the empty container aside and smashed the handle of his gun across the demon’s head.

 

“Start talking.” 

 

The demon snarled. “He’s coming.”

 

“Who?” John asked.

 

“The Dark One,” he said. “His heralds are being born. The fabric of the world weakens. We have-”

 

John smashed his gun across the man’s hand. “I don’t like cryptic bullshit,” he said. “Where’s the Hellfire Club?”

 

“The Clarke Estate,” the demon hissed.

 

“Good,” John said. He turned to Karato. “Do it.”

 

The demon hunter gripped his staff, which crackled with energy. He lifted his hand towards the demon and spread his palm. “Vade, Satana, inventor et magister omnis fallaciae, hostis humanae salutis.

 

His staff burned with blue light, and the demon howled, his body thrashing back and forth. 

 

Humiliare sub potenti manu dei, contremisce et effuge, invocato a nobis sancto et terribili nomine, quem inferi tremunt!

 

The man’s body tilted backward. His jaws opened wide, and he vomited a pillar of black smoke that burst through the roof and dissipated. The host body slumped against its bindings, the man unconscious.

 

***

 

Justin tapped his morpher. “This thing’s still blocked…”

 

“The enchantments line the entire dungeon,” Kaine explained. “You won’t be able to channel a single strand of The Power until we’re clear.”

 

“Then how can this necromancer do his little necromanceronomy thing,” Justin said.

 

“Necromancy,” Kaine said. “He must be above the dungeon. The enchantments here don’t block magick, they just prevent a person from channeling magick.” He shook his read. “This is ridiculous, I sound like a Harry Potter novel.”

 

The Black King carried a torch as he led the rangers down a darkened, stone corridor.

 

Wind suddenly howled through the corridor, flickering the flames. Kaine cursed beneath his breath.

 

Skeletal creatures poured into the corridor ahead and raced at Kaine and the rangers with supernatural speed. They wore plates of battered armor and carried rusted, curved swords.

 

The rangers snapped into defensive stances.

 

“Blake, we meet their charge at the center,” Hunter said. “Justin, Rachel, hit them at their right flank. Go!”

 

Hunter and Blake dashed ahead.

 

Blake swung low with a sweep kick that knocked a skeleton off its feet. Blake stood, grabbed a soldier by the arm, and flipped the grunt to the ground. He smashed his foot through the fallen skeleton’s skull.

 

A skeleton swung a sword towards Blake’s head. Hunter snapped a kick that knocked the sword away, then spun forward with a sidekick that bashed the soldier back.

 

Justin spun a tornado kick across a grunt’s head. Standing next to him, Rachel snapped a crescent kick that knocked a skeleton away.

 

The skeletons pushed past the rangers and charged towards the Back King. Kaine pulled out his gun and fired, bullets blasting through skulls to no effect. He cursed beneath his breath and pistol whipped the first skeleton that came too close.

 

“Thanks again, rangers,” Kaine said sarcastically. He fired another volley of bullets that punctured through skulls but didn’t stop the skeletons from moving. “Really, thank you. This is exactly the kind of social event I had planned for the evening.”

 

“Sorry we kept you from your hookers.” Blake kicked back a skeleton.

 

Apparitions suddenly phased through the walls. Their transparent bodies were ghostly, shadowy figures that looked like rotting corpses. They carried slender blades and spears of ghostly metal.

 

“I don’t suppose any of you have any salt or iron daggers?” Kaine asked.

 

“That actually works?” Rachel asked. 

 

“On lesser spirits, not against the crazies you people fight.”

 

Kaine pulled the iron key from his pocket and threw it at an apparition. The key past through the spirit, disrupting its form. But the ghost quickly rematerialized.

 

“We can’t fight ghosts!” Justin shouted.

 

The rangers fell back, bashing through skeletons and trying to keep their distance from the spirits. They would have run, but evil spirits drifted into the hallway behind them as well. They were trapped.

 

The noise of steel cutting through bone whined from behind the skeletons. The rangers looked to see Samuel twirling his sword, hacking through skeletons while carving a path towards the rangers.

 

The boy kicked a skeleton back, hacked off the head of another skeleton, and speared his blade through a third undead grunt.

 

Three evil spirits floated at Samuel from behind and swung their ghostly weapons at the boy. Samuel spun low and swung his blade through a wide arc that hacked through the spirits. The spirits sizzled and floated apart, dissipating into the air with green-tinted flame.

 

He rose to full height, turned, and cut down five more of the spirits.

 

Samuel moved closer to the rangers.

 

“Come on,” he said as he speared his sword through a ghost. The spirit ignited into sizzling green flame and dispersed into nothingness.

 

“How are you doing that?” Rachel said.

 

“This blade is made of Soul Metal. Soul Metal can cut through spiritual energy and souls.”

 

“Yes, we’ll be sure to show you the manual,” Kaine said. “Now let’s stop prattling and move.”

 

***

 

Samuel led the rangers above the dungeon and into the mansion’s basement. Even the basement looked exquisite: a lounge area with plush chairs and couches arranged in a U-shape, facing a fireplace.

 

“I knew you would betray us, Kaine,” said the White King, Freidrich. “You have always been a-”

 

Kaine shot the White King in the head.

 

“I never understood why you Rangers let the bad guys ramble on,” Kaine said.

 

***

 

1991 AD

 

Equipped in his Battle Japan armor, John crouched next to Shurikenger and Karato. They looked out upon the Clarke Estate in the woods. Battle France and Battle Britain had taken position at the rear of the mansion. Battle America and Battle Cossack had taken position at the west side of the mansion. 

 

Karato sighed with frustration.

 

“Problem?” Battle Japan asked.

 

“More than three dozen guards. All possessed by demons. So yes, one might call that a problem,” Karato said.

 

“Demons being a problem for a demon hunter?” Shurikenger asked.

 

“Until recently, fighting three demons at once was unheard of,” Karato said. “Now I’m supposed to fight more than three dozen? That’s pushing it.”

 

Karato was the only one who could actually kill the demons. He’d instructed the Battle Fever J team to arm themselves with weapons of iron, salt, and holy water, but those would only slow down the demons, not actually kill them.

 

“We’re still moving forward with the plan,” Battle Japan said. He opened the commline in his helmet. “America. Cossack. Draw them out.”

 

“You got it, boss,” Battle America answered.

 

Gunshots blasted through the air from the side of the mansion. Battle Japan watched as guards on the rooftops and balconies leapt onto the ground and dashed into the woods.

 

“That’s better,” Battle Japan said.

 

“A little better,” Karato said.

 

Battle Japan looked to Shurikenger. “Ninja Boy, you’re up.”

 

“Don’t call me Ninja Boy, gaijin.” Shurikenger shot into the air and vanished from sight.

 

***

 

Three guards remained on the rooftop and looked out to where Battle America and Battle Cossack opened fire.

 

Shurikenger dropped onto the rooftop and hurled a net at the nearest demon. The iron-mesh net fell onto the demon and knocked him to the ground, burning his skin on contact.

 

The other two demons snapped around, and Shurikenger threw smoke bombs at their feet. The smoke bombs exploded with vapors of holy water and salt. The demons coughed and hacked while gripping their throats and dropping to their knees.

 

A grappling line attached to the roof, and Battle Japan reeled himself upward. Karato leapt from the air and landed next to Shurikenger as Battle Japan pulled himself to the roof.

 

Karato held back his staff. Ketsu! Ketsu! Ketsu! He formed energy cylinders around the three demons. Metsu!

 

The cylinders imploded with blue fire that vaporized the demons.

 

***

 

Battle Japan, Karato, and Shurikenger broke into the upper floor of the estate. Screams and gunshots came from outside, most likely from Battle France and Battle Britain breaking into the mansion from the rear. Their direct assault gave Battle Japan time to find his son.

 

“He could be anywhere,” Karato said. “This plan wasn’t thought out very well.”

 

“I like to wing it,” Battle Japan said. He looked to his ninja comrade. “Go.”

 

Shurikenger nodded. He pounced down the hallway and vanished into the shadows.

 

“I’ll bet he comes in handy,” Karato said.

 

“He does indeed,” Battle Japan said. “Come on…”

 

***

 

Battle Japan and Karato opened doors that led onto a narrow balcony, looking down upon a wide, circular room. Thirteen demon-possessed men and women stood in a circle around a demonic pattern etched on the floor of the empty room.

 

Madelyn stood alongside a tall, bald man in the center of the circle. Battle Japan didn’t recognize the man. He had a slim build, trimmed goatee and pale-white skin. His goatee was black, and his were eyes solid black. Possessed. The agent may not have recognized the man, but he recognized the demon inside the man. He could feel it. Azmodai.

 

Without looking, Madelyn thrust her hand towards the balcony, and a powerful gust of wind ripped the balcony apart. Battle Japan and Karato crashed onto the floor as rubble rained down around them.

 

“Hello. John.” Madelyn smiled wickedly. “So glad you could join us.”

 

The thirteen demons remained in their circle, but several other demons dashed forward to attack the agent and demon hunter.

 

Battle Japan dove aside while aiming his gun at the demons and firing bullets tipped with iron. The bullets plunged through the demons, whipping them off their feet.

 

Karato stabbed his staff against the ground, emitting a burst of light that dazed the demons. He swung his staff back into a defensive stance and thrust his hand forward. Joso! Ketsu! Metsu! Ketsu! Metsu!

 

The demon hunter trapped demons in barriers, which collapsed with bursts of blue flame. The flame consumed the demons into nothingness.

 

Azmodai extended his hand. The villain fired an invisible wave of energy that smashed against Battle Japan and Karato, hurled them backward, and slammed them against a wall, pinning them in place.

 

“Your presence here is pointless,” Azmodai said. “Even if you could stop us, which you cannot, the ceremony we are about to perform is merely a test of Madelyn’s blooming power.”

 

The demon looked to the witch. “Madelyn…you may begin…”

 

Madelyn stepped into the center of the circle, pulled out a ceremonial knife, and cut open her arm. She turned her arm downward so that her blood splattered onto the demonic symbol. She whispered an incantation known only in the depths of Hell.

 

The thirteen demon-possessed men and women started to pulse with fiery light beneath their skin. Their eyes, pure black, started to glow with dark energy. Artificial wind twirled around the room, and Madelyn chanted louder.

 

The demon-possessed men and women exploded into columns of black smoke that circled around the symbol, and then combined into a single column of crackling energy. The energy shot into Madelyn, hurling her backward, and then splashed into the center of the circle. The demonic engravings pulsed with fiery energy and opened a portal of flame.

 

demon-lord-yariFrom the portal rose a demon in physical form—a large ogre with dirt-gold armor burnt across its muscular, black skin. The demon carried a bladed staff in one hand, and a thick broadsword in the other, both weapons golden, with demonic engravings that matched the markings on his armor. The horned creature had four small, orange eyes and an orange beard. Horns grew from its head, and massive pauldrons of gold and bone extended from its shoulders. Flames sizzled from the demon’s shoulders and down its back like a fiery mane.

 

“This, my friends, is Balorg,” Azmodai said.

 

The demon walked towards Madelyn, extended his hand, and helped her to her feet. “You have done well…you are becoming more powerful by the day…”

 

Madelyn smiled with approval. “And I have years to grow stronger.”

 

She looked to John, still pinned against the wall. “It’s been fun, John. Play nice with Balorg.”

 

Azmodai and Madelyn walked out of the room.

 

The invisible bindings released Battle Japan and Karato, and they crashed against the floor.

 

The rear wall suddenly exploded, and Battle France and Battle Britain leapt through the opening. They stopped in their tracks at the sight of the demon ogre.

 

Shurikenger leapt into the room from behind the two agents. “Battle Japan, I’ve found the infa-” He stared with shock at the sight of the demon. “An oni…”

 

Balorg rolled back its shoulders, bones cracking loud enough to echo within the room. The creature tilted its head from side to side, and then snarled with laughter.

 

Battle Japan tightened his grip on his blaster. “Shit…”  

 

Karato thrust his hand forward. Joso! Ketsu! A ring of blue energy circled the floor beneath the demon and shot upward, creating a cylindrical barrier. Metsu!

 

The barrier imploded with a burst of blue fire. But the creature stood unharmed.

 

The demon hunter’s eyes opened wide with shock. He slowly lowered his staff. “Impossible…”

 

The ogre chopped his staff against the floor, creating a shockwave that tore towards the demon hunter.

 

Shurikenger tackled Karato aside just as the shockwave exploded with a massive burst of flame.

 

Battle Japan armed twin blasters and fired at the creature. But his bullets sparked harmlessly against the demon.

 

Battle France and Battle Britain leapt towards the creature from the sides. Battle Britain armed twin longknives, and Battle France armed a spear.

 

The demon spun and slashed its staff across Battle Britain, while slashing its sword across Battle France. The sword slashed open Battle France’s armor with a burst of spark, hurling the ranger backward. The mighty ogre pounced forward and chopped its sword through Battle France’s fallen body, killing the agent.

 

“No!” Battle Japan snapped a pair of blade boomerangs at the demon.

 

The blades bounced off the creature’s hide.

 

“This is impossible…” Battle Japan muttered. Even their new iron-coated weapons were ineffective.

 

The demon opened its mouth and spat a torrent of flame.

 

Battle Japan dove aside. The flames splashed against the wall, then spread, quickly enveloping the entire room with fire. Battle Japan rolled across the floor and rose into a crouched position. He armed high-explosive rounds and opened fire. The bullets exploded against the demon but did no damage.

 

The demon laughed, a low rumbling that shook the building.

 

Karato dashed to Battle Japan’s side and swung his staff into a defensive position. He lifted his hand towards the demon and spread his palm. “Vade, Satana-”

 

The monster roared with enough sonic force to hurl the demon hunter off his feet. Karato smashed against the fiery wall, then crashed against the floor. Flames caught his jacket on fire, and he quickly flipped the jacket off.

 

“Fall back!” Battle Britain shouted.

 

The ogre turned and speared its staff through Battle Britain’s throat with a burst of spark, cutting off the agent’s head.

 

Battle Japan’s anger swelled. He ran over to Karato and helped the demon hunter to his feet. “You have to do something,” Battle Japan said.

 

“Don’t you think I’m trying?”

 

 Nearby, Shurikenger slowly pulled himself back to his feet.

 

The demon noticed and lunged at the ninja.

 

Shurikenger quickly shot upward, leapt over the creature, and landed behind the villain. He channeled his chi into his throwing stars and hurled a volley of the blades at the demon. The throwing stars sparked against the demon, nearly knocking the creature off balance.

 

Karato thrust his hand forward, pointing with his index and middle fingers. Hoi! Joso! Ketsu!

 

He formed an energy cylinder beneath the creature that raised the demon upward.

 

Metsu!

 

The barrier imploded with a burst of blue fire, and the creature fell towards the floor. Shurikenger snapped a volley of chi-powered throwing stars, and the blades sparked against the demon, knocking him backward. The creature crashed against the floor with a thundering boom that shook the room.

 

Parts of the ceiling collapsed, and a wall of debris crashed down, separating the demon from its attackers.

 

“Now quickly,” Shurikenger said. “This isn’t a fight we can win. Move.”

 

Shurikenger, Battle Japan, and Karato scrambled through a nearby corridor as flames tore through the building around them.

 

“Simon,” Battle Japan said. “We have to get him out of here.”

 

“We will…” Shurikenger said. “I’ll show you where he’s being kept.”

 

Twelve demon-possessed men suddenly spilled into the hallway to block their path.

 

Karato thrust his hand forward. Joso! Ketsu! He formed a barrier that hurled the demons aside. “Go, I’ll cover you…”

 

“Karato-” Battle Japan started to say.

 

“Go!” Karato shouted. Metsu!

 

The barrier imploded with a burst of blue flame, keeping the path ahead clear. Battle Japan and Shurikenger dashed down the hallway.

 

The demons scrambled back to their feet. Most charged towards Karato. Others ran after Shurikenger and Battle Japan.

 

Battle Japan kept running and swung his weapon backward while firing rapid-volley shots. The iron-soaked bullets punctured through the demons and whipped them backward.

 

A demon suddenly burst through a nearby wall and tackled Battle Japan to the ground. The villain armed a sword and plunged the weapon through Battle Japan’s midsection with a burst of spark.

 

Battle Japan screamed.

 

Shurikenger snapped a volley of throwing stars that punctured through the demon, then dashed forward while slashing off the villain’s head.

 

Shurikenger moved back to the fallen agent and kneeled at his side. Shurikenger started to lift the agent up. But John shook his head. The agent pulled off his helmet and hacked up blood.

 

“Poi…poison-tipped blade. I can feel it…”

 

“All the more reason to get you to safely quickly,” Shurikenger said. Hayaku.

 

“No…no,” John said. “Get Simon…get my son…”

 

“I can get all of you to safety,” Shurikenger said. “Don’t underestimate me, gaijin.

 

John smiled, despite his pain. “I’m not going to miss that mouth of yours one bit.” The man reached into his armor and pulled out a golden Egos ring. “I need you to promise…promise me you’ll get this to him somehow, when he’s older. Promise me…”

 

“But-”

 

“I want him to know,” John said, “I want him to know everything. To understand. When he’s ready…don’t want him to think I left him…don’t let him think I left him…”

 

Shurikenger grasped onto John’s hand. “I won’t…”

 

“You…you give him that ring,” John said. “You show him…show him…what this world’s really like…”

 

John’s body went limp, and his eyes dimmed lifelessly.

 

“Rest well…” Shurikenger said. “My friend…”

 

***

 

Samuel burst into the holding room, and Kaine and the other four rangers followed.

 

Simon smiled at the sight of his friends, then looked to Samuel. “Change of heart?”

 

“Slightly…” Samuel walked over to his brother and cut through the bindings. “I’m still staying here. This is where I belong. But…you shouldn’t be kept here against your will. I have faith you’ll join us willingly. Someday.”

 

“That’s not going to happen, little brother,” Simon said.

 

“Touching,” Kaine said. “I have a helicopter waiting on the roof. Please leave. As soon as possible. Which would be now. Right now.”

 

Zero suddenly burst into the room. In full armor, the villain swung back his blades to attack. Samuel stepped in between the villain and rangers.

 

“Go,” he said as he unsheathed his sword.

 

He lifted his sword upward and swung the blade through a circle. 

 

“Garo.”

 

Energy surged around him as he transformed into his wolf-like armor of Soul Metal.

 

Garo and Zero pounced at one another, and their blades clashed with a burst of spark.

 

Simon armed his morpher. “We can’t leave him…”

 

“Simon,” Rachel said as she lowered his hand. “He’s made his choice. We’re all still weakened from the enchantments. Let’s leave while we can.”

 

“Yes, now,” Kaine said. “Shoo. Please…”

 

Simon rolled his hands into fists. Reluctantly, he ran out of the room along with his friends.

 

***

 

The Black Queen stood on the rooftop and watched the helicopter fly away. She could have stopped the craft. But she thought it best to let the rangers go. Maybe she acted too prematurely in trying to recruit the rangers now. Maybe Simon wasn’t ready. At least, not yet.

 

Samuel walked up behind the Black Queen. Madelyn kept her gaze ahead. “You helped them escape.”

 

“I…” he hesitated. “I did. I’m sorry, but holding them was wrong. I believe in what we’re trying to do, but we can’t turn evil in the process. We just can’t. I’m…I’m sorry.”

 

Madelyn turned and smiled at the boy. “No need to be sorry, my child. I’ve waited nearly 20 years for my plans to take shape. I can wait a little while longer.”

 

“You’re not mad?” Samuel asked.

 

“No,” Madelyn said. “Let’s not dwell on what happened here today. Let’s look forward. Even without your brother, it’s time for the Hellfire Club to step onto the grand stage, where we can really make a difference. In time, Simon will join us. We are, after all, family.”

 

***

 

Simon sat on his bed days later. He traced his fingers along the Egos ring. He had finally learned the truth of his parents. His father, possessed by a demon. His mother, the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club.

 

Demon blood, he thought to himself. Evil blood…is that what I’m born from?

 

And his brother. He had brothers and sisters by adoption, but to have a flesh-and-blood brother? Simon silently cursed at himself for not being able to free his brother from the Hellfire Club.

 

Demon blood…Simon thought to itself. It’s in him too…

 

His Kiryoku somehow bled from his fingertips and etched across the ring, which started to glow with golden light.

 

Simon dropped the ring and snapped to his feet.

 

The ring pulsed and formed a ghostly image of a man with short, sandy-blonde hair and neatly-trimmed beard stubble across a squared jaw. It was John. 

 

“Simon…” John said.

 

Simon narrowed his eyes. He recognized the man from the Black Queen’s vision, but he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “How…”

 

“That ring,” John said. “I’m bonded to it. But now that I’ve…appeared…we don’t have much time before I cross over.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Simon asked. “You seriously expect me to believe you’re some kind of ghost?”

 

“Just listen…” John said. His ghostly image took a seat on a chair. “Please…”

 

John told Simon about the demon Azmodai and the battle with the Hellfire Club. Before that battle, Karato had woven a spell inside the Egos ring. The spell bonded John’s soul to the ring, so when John died, his soul attached to the object. John wanted to make sure he could warn his son, and he knew a conventional message would not work. Plus, he liked the idea of being able to speak with his son before letting go.

 

“I never did learn Hellfire’s end game,” John said as he finished his story. 

 

“If your…” Simon shook his head. This was so surreal. “If your soul’s been attached to the ring this whole time, why wait until now to say something? I’ve been trying to learn the truth all year.”

 

“I know,” John said.

 

“Then why?” Simon asked.

 

“The spell was very specific,” John said. “You had to be ready. Apparently, you weren’t ready until tonight. So to answer your question, why I didn’t appear until now, you’ll have to ask yourself.”

 

Simon looked down. “I don’t know what to say.”

 

“Say something…about you,” John said. “Tell me about you…” 

 

Simon sat back and told his father everything. He spoke of growing up in foster care, joining Maya’s family, and meeting the Rangers when Bandora attacked. He talked about meeting his friend Teddy, enrolling in the Hayate Way, and becoming a Ranger.

 

John’s face grew sadder the more Simon spoke.

 

“What is it?” Simon asked.

 

John shook his head and smiled. “Nothing…I’m proud of you. I just…I hoped you would somehow manage to stay away from all this madness.”

 

“No such luck,” John said.

 

“And Madelyn…she’s still alive?”

 

Simon nodded.

 

John shook his head. “She may have given birth to you, but she is not your mother…remember that. She is pure evil.”

 

“I know,” Simon said.

 

John looked to his son and smiled. “Do you know why I joined the marines?”

 

Simon shook his head.

 

John shrugged. “It was basically my only option. I got into so much trouble growing up. My parents sent me to summer camps, military schools, they didn’t actually take the time to raise me. I enlisted after I graduated. And I served, until the day I died. That basically sums up my whole life. I ran. I fought. I hid. When I look back at my life…there’s not much there. Don’t let the same thing happen to you. Don’t let being a Ranger define you. Spend time with your friends. Be a teenager. Date girls. Make jokes. Pull pranks. Be happy. Live…”

 

“I’m…” Simon choked up. “Don’t you think I’m trying? How can I when all this…” He shook his head. “There’s just so much death. It’s everywhere.”

 

“When you live in the darkness, it’s important for your light to shine all the more brightly,” John said. “Or the darkness will consume you.”

 

Simon looked down. “So…what if you had lived? Mitchell, Stewart…they both went into hiding and left their kids behind. My friends. Would you have done the same?”

 

“Honestly?” John asked. “I don’t know. Time Force was very insistent that they either kill us, or that we drop off the grid. I’d like to think I would have told them to go to Hell. But I don’t know…I probably would have thought it best if you were raised away from Section 31, the Egos, the Hellfire Club, all of it…”

 

John’s ghostly image shimmered. He was losing time. “Your family here…are they good to you?”

 

Simon nodded. “Yeah…they were supposed to be just another foster family, but they adopted me. They’re good people.”

 

John smiled and nodded. “Good…” He looked to his son and smiled. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”

 

“I promise,” Simon said.

 

“Promise me you’ll make a life for yourself. A real life.”

 

“I…” Simon hesitated. “I promise I’ll try.”

 

John nodded. “I suppose that will have to do…” His image faded further, like a dimming light. “I’m glad I got to see you. Don’t let where you came from poison you. Where you come from doesn’t define you. Remember that.”

 

Simon choked back his tears. “I…I will.”

 

John’s light dimmed, and he disappeared from the room, passing onto the afterlife.

 

Simon choked back his tears. He picked up the Egos ring and gripped it tightly in his fist. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, sorrow clutching his throat and tightening his chest.

 

He smashed his fist through his nightstand and screamed.  

 

***

 

John felt warmth radiate around his soul. He opened his eyes and looked down upon his body, a new body, ethereal. “I’m…I’m dead…”

 

It wasn’t as scary as he would have imagined.

 

“Welcome, John,” a voice said from behind.

 

John turned to see a figure whose body was made of golden light. White cloth draped across his upper chest, and short golden wings extended from his legs, head, and back. His eyes were solid white. The figure’s golden body had different shades of light, darker where its muscle tones would have shown. The being had no mouth, yet he spoke.

 

“You have entered the Heavenly Realms,” the being said. “I am Sungael, the Heavenly Saint of the Sun.”

 

“Heavenly Saint?”

 

“A higher form of angel that the archangels of your legend,” Sungael said. “You have a very special place among us…”

 

“And why’s that?” John asked.

 

“You have heard the stories of angels walking among mortals?” Sungael asked. “These are mostly stories. Mostly. Few angels have dared to break from the Host and walk among humans. The last angel to do so produced the bloodline of the young man your son knows as Adam Park, the Lion Ranger of the Heaven Illusion Star. 

 

“The first, the very first who dared, was the very First of the Angels. He produced the bloodline of your family. The blood of the First Angel flowed through your veins,” Sungael said. “Just as it now flows through the veins of your son.”

 

***

 

Maya wanted to be there for her little brother but thought it best to leave him alone. Instead, she combed through her grandfather’s research for information on Battle Japan and the demon named Azmodai.

 

She found a reference to Azmodai, and her face grew pale.

 

Kouishiro noticed from their nightstand, where he stood while getting ready for bed. “What is it?”

 

She shook her head, unable to speak the words out loud. “Nothing…”

 

Azmodai wasn’t just any demon. He was the First Demon—the Son of the Dark One.

 

To be continued…Chapter 18