Ultimate Origins: Chapter Twenty-four

City at War: Infiltration

 

Tyler cried in Nicolas’s arms as the teen carried him further into Demon City.

 

Shhh” Nicolas said. “It’s okay…we’re almost there. We’ll be at the safe place soon.”

 

“I wanna go home…” Tyler said.

 

“I know…” Nicolas said. The part of him that wasn’t under the control of the Spider Undead whispered: “Me too…”

 

The ground erupted in front of them. The earth moved with crackling bursts of electricity, forming a wall that blocked the rider’s path.

 

Nicolas set Tyler down. “Tyler...stay behind me. I need you to be brave, one more time.”

 

Tyler cowered and grabbed Nicolas by the pant legs.

 

A young man in a white jacket landed in front of the wall.

 

Zero, in his human form, landed behind the rider.

 

The man in the gold-embroidered jacket smiled. “Leangle…hand over the boy.”

 

“You know my name…but I don’t believe we’ve met.”

 

“Just kill him and take the kid,” Zero said as he unsheathed his twin swords.

 

“Patience, Zero,” the man in white said. He had long blonde hair and hazel eyes. “We’re not savages. This occasion calls for pleasantries. My name is Quentin, the White Rook.”

 

“You seem powerful, Quentin,” Nicolas said. “But you’re still only human.”

 

“Not just any human,” the White Rook said. “An alchemist.”

 

Zero scoffed. “Just kill him.”

 

“Your armor,” the White Rook said. “I won’t fight a defenseless boy. Only the spider beneath his skin.”

 

Nicolas armed his belt. “Transform.” He flipped open his buckler. “OPEN UP.”

 

A card of energy wrapped around his body and turned him into Kamen Rider Leangle.

 

The White Rook slammed his palms against the ground. His hands crackled with electricity that splashed across the pavement. The ground erupted into a battering ram that shot towards Leangle.

 

Leangle pushed Tyler away and dove aside, and the battering ram shot between them.

 

The Rider rolled across the street. But the White Rook caused the earth beneath the Rider’s feet to shoot upward, pushing the Rider off the ground.

 

Zero leapt through the air and slashed Leangle across the chest with a burst of spark. The blow whipped the Rider from the stone column and sent him plummeting towards the ground.

 

Zero dove after the falling Rider and smashed a kick against his body, driving him downward. Zero’s kick smashed Leangle against the ground with a thundering boom that cracked the pavement.

 

Zero flipped off the fallen Rider and landed in a fighting stance.

 

Leangle pushed himself to feet and swung his staff into a defensive stance. He swiped the Four of Clubs through his rouzer. “RUSH.”

 

A card of purple energy splashed across his chest and energized his body. He charged forward through a blur of motion and tackled against Zero.

 

Zero kicked upward and smashed his elbows against the Rider’s back, knocking him to the ground. The knight flipped through the air and landed near the White Rook.

 

The White Rook smashed his palms against the ground. Tendrils of electricity lashed across the pavement. The ground erupted into spears of stone that shot towards Leangle.

 

Leangle spun and batted the first several spears from the air. But one of the rocky spires stabbed against his chest with a burst of spark that hurled him backward.

 

“Is this the power of the Undead?” the White Rook asked. He slammed his palm against the ground and formed a box of earth around the Rider. “Pathetic...and disappointing.”

 

The prison burst outward with a cloud of dust and debris. Leangle stood with his staff held wide, energized with frost energy. 

 

“You hide behind your alchemy and call me pathetic? You are a coward and a fool.”

 

“Zero. Do it,” the White Rook said.

 

Zero lifted his sword and waved the blade in a circle. “Zero,”

 

Silver energy flashed around his body as he transformed into his suit of wolf-like armor.

 

The knight charged at the Rider and twirled with his swords held wide. The blades slashed across Leangle and hurled him backward. Leangle crashed back-first against the ground.

 

The White Rook transmuted the ground to form two waves of surging earth that sparkled with electricity and rippled towards Leangle. The Rider leapt upward, and the waves crashed against each other with bursts of electricity, dust and debris,

 

Zero leapt through a streak of silver and slashed across Leangle, whipping him from the air.

 

Leangle crashed against the ground, and his armor powered down with a pulse of purple-tinted light.

 

Zero landed near the fallen Rider. He looked to where Tyler cowered, near a pile of rubble. The boy opened his eyes wide with fear, turned and ran.

 

Zero pounced forward, somersaulted through the air and landed in front of Tyler. Tyler screamed and fell backward. He lifted his hands, which pulsed with fiery light. The light blasted against Zero with bursts of spark that hurled him backward.

 

The White Rook slammed his palm against a wall. The wall transmuted into a fist of stone that reached out to grab Tyler. The boy’s frightened eyes flared with fire, and the fist of stone exploded with a shockwave that hurled the alchemist off his feet.

 

Tyler turned and ran, crying for his father.

 

***

 

New Bitmap ImageTommy leapt towards a horde of random demon creatures that blocked his path deeper into Demon City. The creatures roamed freely across the evil landscape looking for prey. They thought Tommy would be an easy kill. They were clearly wrong.

 

The former ranger hurled a bolt of fire that exploded in the middle of the group, scattering them through the air.

 

Tommy slammed a flying sidekick against a demon, pushed off the creature, and hacked through a second demon while still in midair.

 

The former ranger landed and stabbed his sword against the ground, causing a shockwave of flame that incinerated the remaining creatures.

 

Tommy twirled his sword back into a fighting stance and waited, making sure the last of the demons were gone.

 

“This is ridiculous,” he muttered. He couldn’t travel more than a block without running into a random creature or spirit of some sort.

 

“Isn’t it, though?” a voice said from behind.

 

Tommy turned to see no one. He narrowed his eyes. “Who’s there? I don’t have time for this.”

 

A vision suddenly flashed through his mind. He found himself standing on an endless field of dead grass beneath a crimson sky. A falcon-headed image formed in the black clouds above.

 

“Foolish mortal,” the image spoke with a voice that completely surrounded the former ranger. “Your time has passed. I won’t allow you to-”

 

“Seriously, not the time!” Tommy shouted to the clouds. “I am so over this! Get me back to the city, now!”

 

“This fight is not-”

 

“Stop!” Tommy shouted. “I don’t care who you are or what you have to say! Get me back to the city so I can find my son!”

 

“I won’t allow you to stop what is about to happen.”

 

The clouds dissipated, but Tommy remained on the field of grass.

 

“Get back here!” he shouted.

 

He heard only silence against the artificial wind.

 

***

 

Nicolas slowly pushed himself from the ground and rubbed the back of his head. He was beaten. The Spider Undead within his mind screamed with rage.

 

He grabbed his buckler and ran towards the heart of Demon City.

 

***

 

Hunter stood on top of his fortress within Demon City. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked out upon the Hand and Ikkazuchi battling back the latest wave of Worms.

 

He felt restless. He hated staying on the defensive. He wanted to wipe out Demon City. And to do so, he needed to assault the black palace of Xanathor.

 

Chiyome walked onto the rooftop behind him. Two crimson-clad Chunin flanked her.

 

“Hunter…” she started to say.

 

“I’m tired of waiting,” Hunter said. “You said the Hand would serve the Ikkazuchi? Then serve. We’re moving forward. Now.”

 

“Agreed,” Chiyome said without hesitation.

 

Hunter looked over his shoulder to face her. He arced an eyebrow. “That was too easy.”

 

She smiled seductively. “Sorry to disappoint you, lover. I didn’t realize you would prefer it if I played hard-to-get.”

 

“What’s changed?” Hunter asked.

 

“The package I mentioned,” she said. “It’s been delivered to Demon City. It’s on the loose, but we’ll catch it.”

 

“What’s the package?” Hunter asked.

 

“Are you sure you’re ready to know?” Chiyome asked.

 

“Tell me,” he said.

 

“The package is a rather special person,” Chiyome said. “The package is Tyler Oliver, son of Tommy Oliver.”

 

Hunter’s face grew pale. “You kidnapped his son?”

 

“It was necessary,” she said. “The boy has power. Power we’ll need to bring the Hand and the Ikkazuchi to the next level of strength.”

 

Hunter shook his head and looked away. His body tightened, and he clenched his fists. His consciousness screamed at him from the darkness in his soul. How could he endanger a child? He had never done such a thing, not even at his low point as a lowly assassin.

 

“You’re hesitant,” Chiyome said. She stood close to him and laced her fingers through his hair. “I understand. You’re a good person, better than I. No one wants to see this child hurt. But his power...we need his power to make things right. This is your chance to lead the Ikkazuchi further onto the path of righteousness. You’ve done great work already, but your resources are limited. With more power, you could do so much more. You know this. You believe this. It’s why you joined me. This is why we’re here.”

 

“We’re not here to hurt children,” he said.

 

“He doesn’t need to die,” she said. “This isn’t a sacrifice. I would never ask you to take an innocent’s life. You have too much blood on your hands already.”

 

Hunter narrowed his eyes and thought of Keiko. He hadn’t killed her himself, but he may as well have.

 

He thought of the first person he’d ever murdered, a classmate at the Ikkazuchi Way at the age of 11. He thought of his first mission, the assassination of a high-ranking politician. He thought of the atrocities of his father, and the evil forced upon his little brother.

 

The Ikkazuchi had tainted his life and his family, and he had to make things right.

 

“You tried to walk the path of the Rangers,” Chiyome said. “You fought beside them. But accomplished nothing.”

 

She was right. The Rangers were limited. This was why he went to Japan to regain control of the Ikkazuchi: to turn them into a force for good. He needed them. He needed the Hand.

 

His anger boiled. He doubted Chiyome’s intentions, despite his attraction to her. The Hand were evil, just as evil, if not more so, than the Ikkazuchi. But with Chiyome at his side, he had a chance to turn the Hand into a force for good as well. No matter what the cost.

 

His mind again drifted to Keiko. He drew on his anger to mask the guilt and despair he felt at the thought of her death.

 

“There’s a darkness inside of you,” Chiyome said. “Use that power to right the wrongs of your life.”

 

Hunter lowered his head and glared down at the war-torn streets. “Round up the ninja. We’re moving to the palace. And to Tyler.”

 

“You’ll take the child?”

 

Hunter stared ahead, his body rigid. “I will.”

 

***

 

Hunter didn’t realize Chiyome held dozens of prisoners within the fortress. The Hand had kidnapped them and brought them into Demon City in waves.

 

SPD had learned of the kidnappings. And the DECA Rangers infiltrated the Hand fortress to investigate. They did so by posing as captives.

 

“This was a stupid idea,” Sky said. They stood in a dark cell with iron bars. Similar cells lined the walls throughout the fortress’s lower level. “Quite possibly your biggest leadership fail ever.”

 

“What were we supposed to do? Blend in with the shadows and sneak through the walls?” Nat asked. “They’re the ninjas, not us.”

 

Z stepped between the two rangers. “This isn’t the time for you two to start butting heads. Again.”

 

Nat looked to a corner, to where Bridge stood in a hand-stand. “Got anything yet?”

 

Bridge was the oddest member of the group, but that gave him a unique ability. He could pick up on patterns and observations that the other rangers often missed. He would think about his observations and try to piece them together while in a hand-stand. When the other rangers first asked him why he would always use a hand-stand, he had simply answered “why not” and rambled for the next minute or so. They never asked again. 

 

“More yes than no,” Bridge said as he flipped back to his feet. “I think I have somewhat of an idea. Not a full idea exactly. I’ve figured something out, but not everything, so I don’t know everything. But I do know something.”

 

“Bridge, for the love of God,” Sam said.

 

“Shadow power,” Bridge said.

 

“Huh?” Sam asked.

 

“The captives,” Bridge said. “See, The Power has different currents, and each current is a different type of power, like a river of different colors, a rainbow river-”

 

“Bridge…” Nat said.

 

“Right,” Bridge said. “So, different people are better attuned to different currents. These captives are mostly attuned to currents of Shadow energy.”

 

“They must not know it,” Z said. “Or they’d be blasting their way out of here.”

 

“How’d you pick up on that?” Sam asked.

 

“Observation,” Bridge said. “You can tell a lot about a person’s attunement just by watching how they act. Not everyone is obvious, but a lot of people are, like the people here, they are, which is how I know. At least I think I know. Something. Not everything.”

 

Sam shook his head. “Remind me to stop asking you questions.”

 

“Why would the Hand capture people like that?” Syd asked. “Especially if they can’t even channel.”

 

Nat shook his head. “I don’t know. But it fits their MO. First they steal tech and artifacts of power. Then they steal people of power.”

 

“But why,” Sky said. “We’re not doing any good until we find out.”

 

The cell gate suddenly slid open with a loud clang, as did the others within the prison block. Chunin, Genin, and Ikkazuchi ninja started to gather the prisoners and bind their wrists behind their backs.

 

“And we are out of time,” Sam said.

 

***

 

Hurricane Green stood on top of the black palace of Xanathor and stared ahead.

 

He could feel the taint of his soul—if he could even call it a soul. He didn’t belong outside Demon City. But he grew tired of being Xanathor’s puppet. Still, he thought to himself. It’s what I deserve.

 

He didn’t deserve any better than the dark lord. He didn’t deserve freedom. He didn’t deserve humanity. He was a broken, evil, non-person. Literally, he was everything inhuman about the boy known as Kou. He accepted this fully. And he hated himself for it. Gorma blood flowed through his veins, and Gorma blood was tainted. Imperfect.

 

He was imperfect.

 

“Karas…” Xanathor said as he stepped onto the balcony. “Our esteemed guests are about to arrive. Ready the Death Knights.”

 

“Yes…master.”

 

***

 

Simon followed Zadie through what remained of the back alleys of Demon City. She avoided his every attempt to learn the slightest piece of information about her identity.

 

“Why so quiet all of a sudden?” she asked with a taunting tone.

 

“What’s the point of talking?” Simon asked. “The only language you know is smart-ass.”

 

“Aw, poor thing,” Zadie said. “Have I hurt your feelings?”

 

Simon grumbled beneath his breath. “I really don’t like you.”

 

“Am I supposed to be hurt by that?” Zadie asked as she continued ahead.

 

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Simon said.

 

“Of course you don’t,” she said. “That’s always been the problem with you and your Ranger buddies.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” Simon asked.

 

She stopped and turned to face Simon with an angry look.

 

“You want to know who I am?” Zadie asked. “I’m one of the people who’s left to fight the demons while you and your Ranger friends play with your giant monsters and robots.”

 

“I don’t even-”

 

“Can your pretty little mind even grasp the concept of how much evil this world hides? Demons. Spirits. Vampires. Hell, there’s a whole race of people living underground I bet you didn’t even know about. Then there’s the worst of the worst—the great dark of humanity itself,” she said. “They’re out there, every day. You and your Rangers think you’re above it all. You think you’re fighting the wars that need to be fought. But in the meantime, mankind is tearing itself apart.”

 

Simon glared at the girl. “The Rangers have saved this world more times than I can count.”

 

“I’m not talking about saving the world; I’m talking about saving humanity. Fighting for humanity. How much of that have you done with your life?”

 

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Simon practically shouted. “You don’t know anything about me…”

 

“I know plenty about you,” she said. “I know you dreamed of being a Ranger since the first day you saw them morph and fight against the Dora Titan. You were naive and stupid, until you picked up your first morpher and learned for yourself the weight of the power. The responsibility. And the helplessness…knowing that no matter how strong you are, you can’t save everyone. That eats you up inside. Especially now…”

 

Simon shook his head. He walked around her and moved farther down the alleyway. “You’re way off…”

 

“You’d think that demon blood in you would make you a better liar,” Zadie said mockingly as she followed. “Oh, come on, Simon, you wanted to talk. Let’s talk some more.”

 

“Shut up,” Simon said.

 

“Did I hurt your feelings? You poor thing. Maybe you should go find your mommy for a hug.”

 

Simon turned and snapped at her. “I said shut up!”

 

She grabbed him by the back of his hair, leaned in, and kissed him full on the mouth.

 

Simon pushed her away and wiped off his mouth. “You’re insane…”

 

“Yeah, well, the whole world’s gone bat-shit crazy, I figure I better just roll along with it. Roll with me?”

 

Simon took deep breaths to calm himself. “Who are you? No stupid remarks, just tell me.”

 

“I’m like you,” she said. “Demon-possessed whack-jobs have been having kids for years. You aren’t the first. You’re just one of the lucky ones to come from Azmodai, the very first demon ever.

 

“My dad was possessed by a minor demon when he knocked up mom,” she said. “He killed himself right after that. I’ve been a demon hunter ever since mom told me. She killed herself after that. The whole family was big on suicide, I guess.”

 

“I…I’m sorry,” Simon said.

 

Zadie rolled her eyes. “Don’t start blabbering, pretty boy. We have nightmares to kill.”

 

***

 

Tyler ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His hands still sizzled from the Phoenix fire.

 

He wanted to go home. He remembered being in Demon City before, but he didn’t remember feeling this afraid. His dad had been with him last time, though. He wanted to see his dad. He would make everything OK.

 

A surge of earth plowed across Tyler’s path with bursts of electricity, forming a wall.

 

The boy skid to a halt and fell. He turned to see the White Rook standing alongside Zero in human form. Tyler’s heart pounded in his chest.

 

“Go away!” he shouted as he climbed back to his feet. “Leave me alone! I hate you!”

 

“Tyler,” the White Rook said softly. “We don’t want to hurt you. Your father-”

 

Tyler lifted his hand.

 

Zero and the White Rook took several steps back. Zero glared at the child. But the White Rook held up his hands and stepped away. “Now, now, it’s okay, don’t panic.”

 

The wall suddenly split in half with bursts of electricity that blew outward with gusts of wind.

 

Tyler looked to see a man in a black jacket with short, black hair. He was the Black Rook, Kimblee.

 

The Black Rook slapped his hand against the wall. The wall transmuted with crackling bursts of electricity. Stone tentacles thrashed free from the wall and snaked through the air towards Tyler.   

 

Tyler started to scream. But tendrils of stone transformed into steel and wrapped around the boy, completely encasing him.

 

Kimblee smiled wickedly at his fellow Hellfire Club members. “Was that so hard?”

 

***

 

A wave of Jonin rushed towards the black-stone palace of Xanathor. The demonic ninja unsheathed their swords and slashed through Worms left and right, blades sparking through shells and splattering green ichor. Defeated Worms collapsed and exploded with bursts of green flame.

 

Kamen Rider Gattack reluctantly followed Kamen Rider Kabuto deeper into the thick of the battle. They had ditched the ZECT Troopers and Kamen Rider TheBee to follow the villains, despite Gattack’s protests. 

 

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Gattack said as he slashed through a trio of Worms. 

 

“This is a rare chance to glimpse the home of the Worms,” Kabuto said as he snapped a volley of punches against a Worm, then bashed a sidekick against the creature. “To glimpse the source of evil is to understand the evil.”

 

“Right, right,” Gattack said. He sighed and slashed his blades through a Worm’s gut.

 

***

 

Hurricane Green armed his sword and rushed towards the advancing Jonin. The Green Ranger leapt upward and landed hard while chopping his blade through a ninja with a burst of spark.

 

He kicked the injured Jonin back, spun forward, and smashed a reverse sidekick against a Jonin’s face.

 

Four Death Knights fell into rank behind the Green Ranger. Their swords ebbed with icy-blue power that glowed from demonic runes etched across the blades. 

 

The Death Knights chopped their blades against the ground, emitting waves of ice that crackled with blue-tinted power and surged towards the Jonin. The ice waves swept across several dozen Jonin and froze them in place.

 

One of the Death Knights hurled a bolt of Unholy energy. The black-and-green tinted burst of power exploded through the frozen Jonin, shattering them into pieces.

 

Hurricane Green shivered at the strength of the villains. 

 

***

 

Hunter and Chiyome landed on a pile of rubble about a block away from Xanathor’s palace.

 

“We’re here,” Chiyome said. “Finally…”

 

They looked out upon the fighting that surrounded the palace. Worms, the Hand, Undead, the Hellfire Club, and Marauders all battled each other—although the Marauders and Hand seemed to leave each other alone.

 

“The fighting’s chaotic,” Hunter said. “We’ll use that to our advantage.”

 

“Not yet,” Chiyome said.

 

Hunter looked to her and narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean ‘not yet’?”

 

“We need more power,” Chiyome said. “I’ve been keeping a secret from you, Hunter. The heart of this tainted place is the key to unlocking a power, an awesome power. A legion for us to command. Once this legion is under our control, then we can strike at Xanathor. He would easily fall.”

 

“I don’t like secrets,” Hunter said. “If you’ve betrayed me, I-”

 

“No more secrets,” Chiyome said. “Come…I’ll show you…”

 

Chiyome led Hunter to the outskirts of the battle, close enough to see and hear the fighting, but far enough away to avoid the conflict.

 

Death Hand and Night Stalker stood in the middle of a massive pit they used their energies to carve from the ground. Meanwhile Genin and Chunin led ranks of prisoners towards the crater and tossed them downward.

 

Hunter glared at Chiyome. “What are you doing? Those people…”

 

“Necessary sacrifices.”

 

Hunter armed his bracer, morphed into his Ranger form, and aimed his staff towards the woman’s head. “Call them off and release those people. Now.”

 

“I’m afraid I can’t,” Chiyome said. “This is the reason we came here, Hunter.”

 

“We came here to destroy Demon City,” Crimson Thunder said.

 

“And we will,” Chiyome said. “But first we must use its power to strengthen our forces. We are strong, but we need to be stronger.”

 

She looked out towards the pit. “You were willing to kidnap a small child,” she said. “The people you see there, they are not innocent children. They all have darkness within their souls.”

 

“That doesn’t make it OK to sacrifice them,” Crimson Thunder said. “I…”

 

Crimson Thunder staggered backward and dropped his staff. He clutched his chest as pain seared through his mind and body. “What’s…what’s happening. What are you doing to…

 

“The Sabbath,” she said. “It’s almost time. Trust me, my lover. When this is all over, not only will you forgive me. You will thank me.”

 

She looked over her shoulder. “Jonin.”

 

Four of the demonic villains dropped to the ground behind her and crouched low, bowing.

 

“Find the Tyler Oliver boy,” she said. “Kill his captors and bring him to me.”

 

“No…” a voice said.

 

She turned to see the Dark Man Akuma step onto the rubble and walk towards her. He tilted his head, and without a move, sent rippled of telekinetic energy that tore apart the four Jonin with bursts of spark.

 

“You don’t need the boy,” Akuma said. 

 

Chiyome unsheathed her daggers and glared at the Dark Man. “You…”

 

“You don’t need the boy,” Akuma said. “Proceed with your Sabbath.”

 

“You were the one who showed me the boy’s importance,” Chiyome said. “I was a fool to-”

 

“What’s important is that he’s here. The boy. Your Sabbath. The Scar of Demon City. Everything is here where it is supposed to be. So proceed…You’re running out of time.”

 

The dark clouds parted above, revealing an eclipse through the crimson sky.

 

***

 

The White Rook and Black Rook used their alchemy to rip apart a path towards Xanathor’s palace. Waves of earth rose with crackling bursts of electricity and massive shockwaves that hurled aside their enemies.

 

Azmodai walked casually towards the palace with the Black Queen at his side. The rest of the Inner Circle fell in behind them, as did Zero and Samuel, who had rejoined the group after fighting his way into Demon City.

 

Xanathor stood at the entrance to his palace with his sword drawn.

 

Azmodai smiled wickedly and walked casually towards the villain. The demon allowed his eyes to turn solid black.

 

Xanathor and Azmodai faced each other silently.

 

Azmodai’s hand crackled with red electricity. Xanathor’s armor ebbed with icy blue power. 

 

“We both want the same thing, do we not?” Xanathor asked.

 

“I suggest you get out of my way,” the demon said. “I am Azmodai, First of the Demons, Son of the Dark One. You’re a mutt. Part Avatar of Death, part insignificant mortal, part insignificant bug monster. It’s laughable.”

 

“I could kill you and take the child,” Xanathor said. “Even if you’re foolish enough to believe you would win, the battle would take time. And we are out of time. Look above.”

 

Azmodai didn’t need to look. He knew the eclipse was in place. He could feel the dark light penetrating through the crimson skies.

 

“What do you propose?” Azmodai asked. “I won’t surrender the power of-”

 

“You fail to understand that whoever performs this ceremony is irrelevant,” Xanathor said. The villain stepped aside, allowing a clear path to his palace. “True, I wanted the ceremony performed by my hand, but we are out of time, and you have the boy. So go.”

 

Azmodai narrowed his eyes at the villain. “If this is some kind of-”

 

“You are a stupid meat-sack, and I’ll kill you when this is over,” Xanathor said. “For now, take the boy, and go.”

 

***

 

Hurricane Green slashed through a Jonin. He looked over his shoulder and watched Xanathor lead the Hellfire Club into the palace of black stone.

 

“We’re out of time…” he whispered and hacked through another ninja.

 

The dark part of him that was Karas suddenly stirred. Something about the eclipse and approaching ceremonies stirred memories that were not his own. Maybe not exactly memories—but knowledge.

 

He understood what the Hand was planning, and to some extent, the Hellfire Club as well.

 

He narrowed his eyes beneath his helmet. He couldn’t let this happen. Nor could he stop it alone.

 

***

 

Nat narrowed his eyes. Genin, Chunin, Jonin, and Ikkazuchi ninja led him and the other rangers towards the pit ahead. They wore shackles around their wrists.

 

Most of the prisoners tried to scream and run, but the ninja held them firmly in place and tossed them into the crater.

 

“You were right,” Nat said to Sky. “This was a stupid plan.”

 

“You pick now to tell me I was right for the first time ever?” Sky asked.

 

“Yes,” Nat said. “Because as stupid as this plan was, it’s about to get dumber.”

 

The ranger snapped a sidekick against a Genin’s face and spun forward with a reverse sidekick that bashed back a Chunin.

 

He reached into his pocket and grabbed his morpher. “SPD! Emergency!”

 

Energy flashed around him and shattered his shackles as he morphed into his Ranger form.

 

The other rangers did the same.

 

“SPD! Emergency!”

 

“Emergency! DECA Break!”

 

They morphed and broke from their shackles.

 

Ya know, we could have just done this back at the fortress,” DECA Break said as he smashed a roundkick against a Jonin’s gut and slammed a knife-hand chop against the ninja’s back.

 

“Stop talking,” DECA Red said as he armed his D-Magnums and opened fire.

 

***

 

Simon and Zadie stopped at the exit of an alleyway and crouched low in the shadows. They heard footsteps approaching. They were close enough to the center of Demon City that they didn’t want to take any chances.

 

Zadie armed her knife, and Simon nodded, signaling her to move out.

 

They rushed from the alley and turned to face Justin, Rachel and Blake, along with Ken, Benjamin and Zayden.

 

Zadie dug her heels into the ground to pounce forward and attack. Simon held out his arm to hold her back. “Wait.”

 

He looked back to the rangers. “Guys…”

 

“Simon!” Rachel shouted. She ran to the teen and wrapped him in a hug.

 

Zadie rolled her eyes. “This is getting a little too Hallmark Channel for my tastes.”

 

Rachel narrowed her eyes at the girl. “Who’s she?”

 

“A friend,” Simon said. “Sort of…”

 

“Man, where have you been?” Justin asked.

 

“It’s a long story,” Simon said. “What are you guys doing here? And you’re with the Riders?”

 

Blake looked to Benjamin. “We’re pals now, aren’t we Benjy?”

 

“Yeah...” Benjamin glared at Blake and rolled his hands into fists. “Come see how friendly I am.”

 

“Don’t start again,” Ken said. “I swear to God…”

 

Simon looked to Zayden and knitted his brow quizzically. Blake noticed. 

 

“Oh, and this is the best part,” Blake said. “Remember Chalice, the evil psychotic Rider who hates all humans? Yeah, that’s him right there, good olZayden.”

 

Ken stepped in before Zayden could snap and attack. “OK, seriously, stop. This is why we agreed: we team up, but under no circumstances does Blake speak.”

 

“We didn’t expect a tearful reunion with our vagabond leader,” Blake said.

 

“What’s going on?’ Simon asked.

 

“He’s nosey, isn’t he?” Zadie asked.

 

Simon grabbed his forehead. “Oh my god, there are too many smart asses here right now. What the hell is going on?”

 

“It’s Tyler,” Rachel said. “They kidnapped Tyler and brought him into Demon City. We’ve been tracking him.”

 

“Tyler…” Simon whispered.

 

Rachel caught Simon up to speed about the attack and abduction of Tyler.

 

Simon looked to Zadie. “Could this have anything to do with the First Seal?”

 

“What makes you think I can keep track of which evil ceremony does what and with who?” Zadie asked.

 

“Zadie…” Simon said.

 

“I don’t know, pretty boy, calm down,” she said.

 

“Rangers,” a voice said from above. They looked up to see Hurricane Green standing on top of a toppled building. The Green Ranger jumped down to the street to join them.

 

“Great,” Blake said sarcastically. “It’s a reunion.”

 

“Rangers,” Hurricane Green said. “You have to come with me.”

 

“Kou…” Simon said. He had lost all patience. “What’s going on…?”

 

“The Pattern’s been unraveling,” Hurricane Green said. “It’s like reality itself is starting to crack.”

 

“We’ve all heard that,” Justin said.

 

“Yes, very scary,” Blake said. “Point?”

 

“The point is, something’s happened to people attuned to currents of Shadow energy from The Power,” Hurricane Green explained. “If they’re driven close enough to despair, they break. They become Gates, literal gateways for demons. The stronger the Gate, the stronger the Demon.”

 

“Hunter uses Shadow energy…” Rachel said.

 

“It’s more accurate to say he’s the strongest Shadow user alive,” Hurricane Green said. “That’s why the Ikkazuchi allowed him to take over. And that’s why the Hand have decided to follow him. They’re manipulating him.”

 

“So a nasty demon can burst from his body?” Justin asked.

 

“His soul…But then his body, so yes,” Hurricane Green said.

 

Blake lunged forward, grabbed Hurricane Green by the throat, and smashed his back against a wall. “Stop screwing around with us,” Blake said. “That can’t be true.”

 

“It is.”

 

“It can’t be!”

 

“It is,” Hurricane Green said. “With the Pattern unraveling, these Gates have appeared, and your brother is one of them. He’s not alone either.”

 

Rachel stepped forward and laid a hand on Blake’s shoulder.

 

“Blake…” she whispered.

 

Blake let go of Hurricane Green. The Ranger continued. “The Hand have brought other Gates into the city for a ceremony they call the Sabbath—dozens of gates, all bursting open at once.”

 

“What does this have to do with Tyler?” Simon asked.

 

“I’m not entirely sure,” Hurricane Green said. “I just know that the Sabbath has to happen in the heart of Demon City, along with whatever ceremony they’re using with Tyler, to break the First Seal.”

 

“Then what happens?” Simon asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Hurricane Green said. “I just know we’re out of time. Moments from now, they’re going to drive Hunter, and all the captive Gates, into despair. Then the First Seal is going to break.”

 

“Wait, what’s this First Seal stuff?” Justin asked. “First Seal to what?”

 

“I assumed that was obvious,” Hurricane Green said. “The First Seal to the Dark One’s prison.”

 

To be concluded…Chapter 25