Ultimate Hurricane: Chapter Eight prologue

 

Angel Grove, years ago

 

Seven-year-old Samuel waited in the basement of his foster home. He stood on a cold, concrete floor between rows of wooden bunk beds. The wood had rotted and creaked with every movement of the children who slept.

 

The young boy stared silently up the basement stairs towards the closed door. He waited anxiously for the director of the foster home to come down the steps. He had met a family that might have been interested in adopting him. And he waited to learn the results.

 

He hoped the director would come with good news. He hoped he would finally have a family. He wondered what that would be like—real parents, a bedroom of his own and maybe a dog. He wondered if he could talk his new parents into buying him a dog. He’d take good care of him.

 

 The basement door opened, and Mrs. Shanks stormed down the steps. Her old, crooked legs hobbled with every step.

 

“Well, you had to scare another one off, didn’t you?” she asked.

 

Samuel’s heart sank.

 

“You just have to be the weird one…” She walked down, grabbed him by the arm, and led him towards the back of the basement. “Next time just keep your mouth shut. Going off like you did, ‘him feeling this’, ‘her feeling that’, like some psychic. What are you, anyway?”

 

She opened a small cellar door in the rear of the room and tossed Samuel inside. “You’ll stay in here tonight. Maybe that’ll teach you.”

 

Mrs. Shanks slammed the door shut, leaving Samuel alone.

 

He curled up in a ball in the corner of the room, resting his knees against his chest. He leaned his head down and wept. The sorrow of every child in the basement washed over him, feeding his own despair. 

 

Chapter 08: Ultimate Hurricane

Sons of Hellfire

 

Angel Grove opened the Casino Lounge as part of a desperate move to attract tourists. The casino didn’t succeed, but did serve as a haven for the gambling riff-raff within the city.

 

Zadie sat at a blackjack table and won her ninth-straight hand in a row. “Ha!” she shouted as she took her chips. “The winning streak keeps coming, baby.”

 

Simon rolled his eyes. “Could you possibly call more attention to yourself?”

 

“I could take my top off,” she said. “Is that what you’re asking me to do?”

 

She played another hand and won. Again. “See,” she said. “What did I tell you?”

 

“Yes, very nice,” Simon said as he looked across the casino through the corner of his eyes. “They’re going to think you’re cheating, if they don’t already.”

 

He spotted a trio of security guards come from opposite sides of the room. He cursed beneath his breath. “See, I told you…”

 

“Relax,” she said after winning yet another hand. “They’re not here for me…” She looked up at the dealer and smirked. “Are they, sweaty?”

 

Simon noticed the dealer for the first time. His forehead dripped with nervous sweat, and his eyes darted back and forth between the security guards. Everyone who had played his table had won, all day—and the House wasn’t happy.

 

The guards moved over, grabbed the dealer by the arm, and escorted him away from the table.

 

“Oh, come on,” Zadie said to the security guards. “That guy’s my good-luck charm.”

 

A stage light above snapped and plummeted downward, smashing the dealer, killing him dead.

 

Simon opened his eyes wide with shock.

 

“See,” Zadie said. “I wasn’t having good luck. He was having bad luck.”

 

“A bad-luck demon,” Simon said.

 

“And to think you didn’t believe me,” Zadie said.

 

“In my defense, half of what you say is sarcastic bullshit,” Simon said.

 

“True story,” she said.

 

Simon ignored the murmurs and distress of the gamblers who had seen the dealer’s death. He looked across the casino for any sign of someone unfazed by the accident.

 

“So how do we find him?” Simon asked. 

 

“Check for name tags?” Zadie asked.

 

“That wasn’t even funny,” Simon said.

 

“I’m off my game. I couldn’t sleep last night,” she said. “You snore.”

 

Simon arced an eyebrow. “I don’t snore.”

 

“No, but half of what I say is sarcastic bullshit, remember?”

 

“I really hate you,” Simon said.

 

Zadie’s grin widened. “That’s not what you said last night, stud.”

 

“That was a mistake,” Simon said.

 

“Most people don’t shout ‘yes’ so much when they’re making a mistake,” Zadie said.

 

“Zadie, please,” Simon said as he looked across the casino.

 

He noticed a short, hunched man towards the rear of the casino. The man grinned slightly at the disturbance around him. Simon noticed the man’s eyes turn solid black for the slightest of moments.

 

“There!” Simon shouted as he dashed towards the demon. 

 

The man’s eyes opened wide with terror as he saw Simon rush to attack. The man turned and ran towards the exit.

 

Simon jumped onto a slot machine and pushed off, trying to catch up with the demon. Zadie followed, knocking over a waitress who spilled drinks as she fell to the floor.

 

“Stop!” two security guards shouted as they blocked Simon’s path.

 

Simon spun past them while kicking the legs out from one guard and bashing his elbow against the back of the second guard’s head, knocking him to the ground.

 

Simon ran after the demon. He followed the man outside and around a corner, leading down a dark alley. The teen called on his strength and pounced forward.

 

Simon smashed a flying sidekick against the demon. The man crashed to the ground and skid across the pavement.

 

Simon dashed forward, but tripped over a pipe and collapsed face-first to the ground.

 

“Bad-luck demon, remember?” Zadie said from behind.

 

Simon cursed beneath his breath, climbed to his feet, and thrust his hand forward. His arm suddenly cramped; he winced and shook his arm down.

 

“Son of a bitch…”

 

“He’s getting away,” Zadie said as the demon ran down the alley.

 

Simon thrust his hand forward and grabbed the demon in an invisible grip of Kiryoku. He spread his palm wide.

 

Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus…”

 

The demon’s body convulsed.

 

Omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursion infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica!

 

The demon tilted his head and screamed. A column of black smoke erupted from his throat and snaked into the air.

 

Simon released his grip on the man and used his Kiryoku to grasp onto the black smoke—the demon. The teen’s aura pulsed with the faintest hint of black flame as he tightened his fist.

 

The demon imploded with a burst of shadow energy that flared with dark light. 

 

Tendrils of dark power twirled through the alleyway like a storm and circled around Simon. The storm of energy howled like a tornado with powerful gusts of black wind.

 

The ranger used his power to drain the storm of its energy. Tendrils of black power struck the teen like lightning and washed through his body. He felt the demonic energy graft onto his soul.

 

Simon screamed, and the black wind surged into his eyes and mouth with a final flash of dark light.

 

The storm died.

 

Simon collapsed to his knees.

 

He rolled his hands into fists and narrowed his brow. “Son of a bitch…”

 

“Easier that time?” Zadie asked.

 

“No…” Simon said as he climbed to his feet. “And yes…”

 

“Good,” Zadie said. “You need your Demon Wheaties if you want to be strong enough to take on Azmodai.”

 

Pain suddenly shot through Simon’s head. He closed his eyes and rubbed his brow. “What the hell…”

 

A vision burned across his mind’s eye.

 

A scruffy-looking man tossed back another drink in a bar. He reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. His eyes betrayed days of sleeplessness and years of pain. He took another drink. And another. One after the other.

 

His pain ebbed with every gulp. Anger. Guilt. Loss. Regret. He was broken, utterly broken, and sunken into despair.

 

The man tossed back another drink and went into the bathroom at the rear of the bar. He stumbled, nearly collapsing, but managed to stay on his feet.

 

An invisible grasp suddenly tightened around the man’s throat. The man tried to scream, but the scream came out only as gurgles and spittle.

 

The grasp hurled the man into a stall and pushed his head into a toilet. The invisible grip forced his head downward until he drowned.

 

Simon shook his head to clear away the vision. He could still feel the man’s panic. And he felt…someone else’s emotions mixed in too. Fear. Anger. Despair. “That was…weird.”

 

“What was it?” Zadie asked.

 

“I saw something,” Simon said. “A man dying.”

 

“Since when do you get visions?” Zadie asked.

 

“I don’t…” Simon said.

 

***

 

Samuel felt his soul burn. He’d worn the Soul Metal armor of Garo for hours, at least.

 

The last thing he remembered was passing out in Demon City after the Sabbath. The next thing he knew, he found himself standing on the rooftops with his bloodied sword in hand.

 

The armor should have burnt his soul away into nothing. The Black Queen always said the armor could be worn for no longer than 90 seconds. The armor did scorch his soul, but he lived, despite the pain.

 

The pain fueled his anger. His anger masked his grief and confusion. He felt focused. He felt…right.

 

Garo watched a band of Jonin leap across the rooftops. The demonic ninja worked for the Hand, a group of assassins from Japan. The evil ninja had established a power base in Angel Grove in the weeks leading up to the Sabbath.

 

The Golden Knight pounced through the air to attack the demonic ninja. He didn’t know what they were up to. Nor did he care. He knew only that they were evil. And he wanted to destroy that evil.

 

Garo slashed his blade through a wide streak of golden energy that tore three Jonin in half. Their bodies split at the hips, splattering black ichor through the air.

 

A Jonin slashed its slender saber towards Garo. The Golden Knight swung his sword and blocked the blow, then smashed the pommel of his sword across the Jonin’s head. The grunt dropped to the rooftop.

 

Garo spun and slashed the head from a ninja. He continued the spin and smashed his fist through the last Jonin’s chest. His armored hand punctured through twisted flesh and bone, and the Jonin exploded with a burst of black flame.

 

Garo dropped his blade and collapsed to his knees. The Golden Knight grabbed his head and growled with a metallic howl that echoed through the night.

 

His armor powered down with a flash of fiery, golden light.

 

Samuel collapsed to the rooftop. He coughed, his throat raw, as tears streamed down his cheeks.

 

His mind raced with confusion. He sensed hatred and anger across the streets. He felt every negative emotion swell from the alleyways and barrooms. Then, for the first time, his physical senses spiked just as high as his empathic abilities. He could smell the stink of rot and decay. He could hear the screams of women and children.

 

“What…” he gasped. “What’s happening to me…

 

He needed answers. He needed help.

 

“Mother…”

 

***

 

The next night, Simon and Zadie walked into the bar from Simon’s vision. They moved cautiously, still reluctant to let to let their guard down after their barroom encounter with the Seven Deadly Sins.

 

They walked to the bar and took a seat. The muscular bartender walked over to the teens and looked at them skeptically. “Yeah?”

 

“Hi,” Simon said. He wasn’t sure how to approach the conversation. “We’re not actually here to order anything, we-”

 

Ya don’t say?” the man said.

 

“Right…” Simon said. He shifted uncomfortably. “Anyway. We heard some rumors and were just wondering…has anything…strange happened around here recently?”

 

The bartender arced an eyebrow. “Let’s see some ID, kid.”

 

“Look, pops,” Zadie said. “We’re in a hurry, so why don’t you just answer the question.”

 

“Why don’t you, show me, some ID,” the man said again.

 

“Why don’t you, go fuck, yourself,” Zadie said.

 

“Whoa, Zadie,” Simon said. He lifted his hands defensively in a non-threatening manner to keep the bartender and Zadie from lunging at each other. “Let’s just calm down, OK?”

 

“Get the hell out of here before I call the cops,” the man said.

 

Simon felt the man’s annoyance and anger. And for the first time, he sensed stray thoughts. Specific thoughts. The man had walked into the bathroom and found the dead body one night ago, around 11 p.m., about the same time Simon had his vision.

 

“It’s OK, we’ll go,” Simon said. “Come on, Zadie…”

 

Simon stood and walked from the bar, and Zadie followed.

 

“You’re backing down this fast?” Zadie asked.

 

“It’s already happened,” Simon said. He told Zadie about the thoughts he sensed from the bartender, about him finding the body around the same time the vision happened.

 

“Wow,” Zadie said sarcastically. “Visions of the present. That’s helpful.”

 

“We don’t know the exact timing,” Simon said. “The vision might have happened minutes before the actual death.”

 

“That’s still not very helpful if the vision shows you something on the other side of the city,” Zadie said.

 

Simon sighed and shook his head. “There has to be a reason I saw that man die. I have to find out more…”

 

“Don’t get distracted,” Zadie said. “We have demons to hunt, and your demon-daddy to kill, remember?”

 

“Stop calling him that,” Simon said. “What happened here’s important somehow. We’re going to find out why.”

 

Zadie grinned. “That’s a stupid idea, but I have to say, you do look hot when you get determined.”

 

***

 

The Hellfire Club had established a mansion in Silver Hills, a wealthy suburb southeast of Angel Grove.

 

Madelyn, the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, stood on the mansion’s balcony and stared into the night sky. She heard shuffling noises come from the darkened room behind her.

 

“I can hear you, Samuel,” the Black Queen said. “You don’t have your brother’s training. I heard you the moment you entered this mansion.”

 

Samuel stepped from the shadows.

 

The Black Queen turned and smiled at her son. “There you are. I’m glad to see you. I’ve…missed you.”

 

“Don’t,” Samuel said. “I’ve seen enough to know that’s not true. That can’t be true.”

 

“You’ve seen horrible things, I know,” the Black Queen said. “Regrettable things. I will be the first to admit, we’ve had to turn to rather…unorthodox methods to achieve our goals. You used to believe in those goals. In me.”

 

“I wanted to believe in you,” Samuel said. “I wanted…I wanted a family.”

 

“You have a family,” the Black Queen said. “Here.

 

“With demons?” Samuel asked.

 

“With me,” the Black Queen said. “I am your mother, Samuel. And Zero is your brother, although not by blood.”

 

Samuel narrowed his eyes. “That is exactly what I’m talking about. You twist everything. Is he my brother or isn’t he?”

 

“He is a Son of Azmodai, as are you,” the Black Queen said. “Azmodai had other mates. None of them could bear children nearly as powerful as mine.”

 

“And Simon?” Samuel asked.

 

“Your half-brother by blood,” the Black Queen said. “I gave birth to six children for Azmodai. Simon was the first. You were the third.”

 

“Six…” Samuel shook his head. “You’re insane…I can’t believe I…”

 

“Samuel…” the Black Queen said. “Remember what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re trying to bring stability to a world gone mad.”

 

“By working with demons,” Samuel said.

 

“They have power,” the Black Queen said. “Power we need. I have always said: We wish to shape the world through conventional means. But to defeat our enemies, we must look beyond the conventional.”

 

“Demons,” Samuel said.

 

“With the power of the Dark One himself at our command, we could mend the world into stability within a matter of days,” the Black Queen said.

 

“Demons…” Samuel said again.

 

“Who says demons are evil?” Madelyn asked.

 

“They’re demons,” Samuel said. He narrowed his eyes. “You almost killed a kid. A kid! My nephew!”

 

He unsheathed his sword. He wanted to pounce and attack. But he stopped himself. Samuel wasn’t one to give into hatred or rage, no matter how intense. He knitted his brow.

 

“I trusted you…” Samuel said.

 

“Then trust me again,” Madelyn said. “You saw the evil in Demon City. Xanathor. The Hand. The Marauders. The Dark Shaper. They’re sewing chaos. They have caused the deaths of innocents. The deaths of children. All I want is for their breed of madness to end.”

 

“You’re a part of that madness, mother,” Madelyn said.

 

“If you truly believe that…” the Black Queen said. She shook her head. “If you truly believe I’ve become that lost. Then help me, Samuel. Be my light. Be here to remind me of the good I hope to accomplish. Be my son.”

 

Every instinct screamed at Samuel to run as far away from the Black Queen as possible. He knew she was crazy. He knew she was headed down a dark path. But he felt her love for him. He felt her emotions wrap around him like warm blankets.

 

Pain suddenly shot through his mind like icepicks, and he nearly collapsed. He felt—and smelled—the fear of the lesser Hellfire Club members throughout the mansion. He sensed the twisted emotions of Azmodai’s demon-possessed men.

 

He grasped his head and closed his eyes tightly. “Dammit…”

 

“Samuel…” the Black Queen whispered.

 

“What’s happening,” Samuel said. “Tell me what’s happening to me.”

 

“As Azmodai grows stronger, so does his children,” Madelyn said. “Your armor…you’ve been wearing it?”

 

Samuel nodded. “I blacked out in Demon City. The next thing I knew, I was standing as Garo. I wore the armor for hours. It didn’t kill me.”

 

“You’ve grown too powerful for the armor to melt away your soul,” the Black Queen said. “Your father’s power is awakening within you. And your father is strong. As am I…”

 

“Why does it feel so…” He shook his head. “The pain…”

 

“It well pass, in time,” the Black Queen said. 

 

Samuel shook his head to clear away his clouded mind. He breathed deeply until the pain passed. “Tell me where it comes from. The Soul Metal armor.”

 

“I’ve told you the story,” the Black Queen said. “We forged the metal with The Power.”

 

“Which part of the story did you leave out?” Samuel asked. “There’s something about that armor that’s…primal.”

 

“Feral is more accurate,” the Black Queen said. “We used our magick to bond the Metal with the souls of lycanthrope.”

 

Samuel took a step back. First demons. Now werewolves? “Their souls?”

 

“Yes,” the Black Queen said. “Their race became extinct decades ago, but we used our most powerful spells to pull their souls from the underworld and bond them to the armor.”

 

Samuel’s heart pounded in his chest. “How could you…How could you do that to them. To me?”

 

“They’re just souls, Samuel,” Madelyn said. “They have no minds. They are merely sources of power to-”

 

Samuel waved his hand dismissively and shook his head. “No. No. Just…No.”

 

A part of him wanted to stay. He wanted to end the pain and suffering of the world, and he knew his mother had the power to make that happen, no matter how mad. No matter how insane. But he couldn’t bear to take part in the atrocities she had committed.

 

He didn’t know what to do.

 

“I can sense your confusion,” Madelyn said. “I tried to shield you from this darkness as much as possible. But now that you know, don’t think of darkness as evil. Darkness is pure. Darkness is peace.”

 

“I want it gone,” Samuel said. His heart pounded in his chest. His mind raced with panic. “Take the armor away.”

 

“Is that really what you want?” the Black Queen asked.

 

No. Samuel clenched his jaw. He rolled his hands into fists and felt the power of his darkened blood boil within his veins. His mind roared with blinding rage. Was the rage his? Or did the rage belong to the wolf of Garo?

 

“I shouldn’t have come here…” Samuel turned and walked from the balcony. “I’m going to find my brother.”

 

Madelyn followed, but stopped in her tracks when she saw the dead guards scattered across the adjoining hallway. Samuel had killed them to get to her.

 

The Black Queen smiled.

 

***

 

Simon called the police station the next morning and learned the name and address of the man who died in the bar. The police clerks were reluctant to give the information, until Zadie “politely” reminded them the police reports were a matter of public record.

 

The two teens walked to the door of the man’s home and knocked.

 

A frail woman opened the door. She looked tired and haggard. “Can I help you?”

 

“Yes,” Zadie said. “I’m sorry to bother you at a time like this. We’re volunteers with the local church, just here to see if we can help with anything. Spiritually, financially…we care about our community.”

 

“Oh…” the woman said. She sniffed and opened the door wider. “Yes, well, come in…”

 

“Thanks, Mrs. McArthur,” Simon said as he and Zadie walked into the home. “We’re very sorry about your loss.”

 

“Yes, thank you,” she said. Simon sensed she had heard the same thing from dozens of people, and the words were meaningless. “Have a seat. I’ll make us some tea.”

 

They walked into a spacious living room and sat on the coach.

 

“A church?” Simon asked quietly. “You told her we’re with a church?”

 

“Next time we’ll introduce ourselves as Zadie the Demon Hunter and Simon the Power Ranger,” Zadie said. “We’ll see how well that works.”

 

Mrs. McArthur walked back into the living room, carrying tea. She set the tea on the table and took a seat in a reclining chair.

 

“This is a nice place you have,” Zadie said. “I live in an old house like this one. So many problems. Electric shortages. Cold spots. Weird smells. You deal with any of that?”

 

“Um, no,” the woman said. “Not here.”

 

Well, that means no signs of demons or evil spirits, apparently, Simon thought. At least not here.

 

Simon reached out with his empathic senses, just to be sure. He sensed someone upstairs, full of anger and sorrow.

 

“I know dealing with something like this can be hard,” Simon said. “Do you have…family to help you? Kids?”

 

She nodded. “A son. Brandon. He’s taking this pretty hard.”

 

“Would you mind if I talked to him?” Simon asked. “If he’s here…”

 

Mrs. McArthur nodded. “He’s upstairs. First door on your right.”

 

Simon excused himself and walked upstairs to meet Brandon. He felt bad about leaving the woman alone with Zadie, but hoped the act they were putting on would force her to behave like an actual person.

 

The teen turned into the bedroom, lit by a single desk lamp. Brandon sat at his computer, playing World of Warcraft. The teen had shaggy black hair and gray-blue eyes. He looked no older than 14.

 

“Brandon?” Simon asked.

 

“Yeah,” Brandon said. He kept his eyes on the game. 

 

“My name’s Simon,” he said. “We’re with…the local church. We just dropped by to see how you and your mom were doing.”

 

“We’re fine,” Brandon said. “And you’re not with the church.”

 

Simon arced an eyebrow. “Sorry?”

 

“You’re not with the church,” Brandon said. “I’m good at spotting liars.”

 

Simon sighed. “You’re right,” he said. “We’re not with the church. We’re trying to figure out what happened to your father.”

 

“Why?” he asked, keeping his eyes on his game. “He killed himself. The police said.”

 

“I know,” Simon said. “But we think there might be something else going on. We’re just not sure what. Do you know anyone who would want to hurt your dad?”

 

“I’m in an instance,” Brandon said.

 

“Which one?” Simon asked.

 

“Ramparts,” he said.

 

“If you need to focus for Ramparts, you have problems,” Simon said.

 

Brandon smirked. “I’ve done this one a dozen times. I want the staff that drops for my warlock.”

 

“Yeah, well…I’ll get out of your way, then,” Simon said.

 

“You play?” Brandon asked. He briefly glanced at Simon.

 

“I did…” Simon said. “Not for long. My friend Justin got me to start. I had a Night Elf Priest, dual spec Shadow and Holy.”

 

“Were you any good?” Brandon asked.

 

Simon shrugged. “I was OK.”

 

“Simon,” Zadie called from downstairs.

 

Simon looked back to Brandon. “I’ve got to get back downstairs. Listen…”

 

“I won’t tell my mom,” Brandon said. “Just do me a favor. Leave us alone, OK? He’s dead. There’s nothing more to it.”

 

Simon nodded and left the room. He walked back downstairs and joined Zadie, who was already standing at the door.

 

“I told Mrs. McArthur we’d be going,” Zadie said with a smile.

 

“Oh,” Simon said. “OK, yeah. Thank you for your time, Mrs. McArthur. Again, we’re sorry for your loss.”

 

Simon and Zadie left the home and started walking down the street. Simon waited until they were a few houses away to start talking. “I didn’t expect we’d leave that early. I didn’t find out anything.”

 

“I did, while you were harassing the children,” Zadie said.

 

“One kid,” Simon said. “And I wasn’t harassing him.”

 

“Right,” Zadie said. “Anyway, turns out the McArthur family just moved here a few months ago, from another neighborhood in the city.”

 

“How is that helpful?” Simon asked.

 

“When I asked about it, she got all weird,” Zadie said.

 

“Of course she got weird,” Simon said. “You were a complete stranger prying into her personal life.”

 

“So?” Zadie asked. “People don’t even have personal lives anymore; they post everything online. Did you know Maya and Kouishiro are getting a cat?”

 

Simon arced an eyebrow. “You checked in on my sister?”

 

Zadie shrugged. “I got bored.”

 

Simon sighed and shook his head. “Anyway…did you find out where exactly they used to live?”

 

She smiled arrogantly. “Of course.”

 

“Good,” Simon said. “Lead the way.”

 

“You just want to look at my backside,” she teased.

 

Simon sighed. “I really hate you.”

 

***

 

Simon and Zadie tracked down the McArthurs’ old neighborhood that evening. They started talking to the residents, but most people slammed their doors shut in the teens’ faces.

 

By nightfall, the rangers found the home of Old Man Bob, who loved to talk and just happened to live across the street from the McArthurs’ old home. 

 

He had known Mr. “Mac” McArthur as only a neighbor could, and happily answered the teens’ every question.

 

“He was quiet, mostly. But when he wasn’t…” He shook his head. “Poor kid.”

 

“What do you mean?” Simon asked.

 

“Mac had a temper,” the man said. “He’d go home drunk and take it out on the boy. You could hear the screaming from across the street. I had to call the cops on them a few times.”

 

Zadie narrowed her eyes. “And his mother just let that happen?”

 

“Stepmother,” the neighbor said. “Brandon’s mother ran out on the family a few days after he was born. I think Mac blamed the kid for that. But no…no, Mrs. McArthur just…let it happen. She’d help make excuses. Say Brandon tripped down the stairs, or hit his head against the door.”

 

Pain suddenly shot through Simon’s head. He winced and took a step backward.

 

The neighbor looked to Simon with concern. “You alright, kid?”

 

“Yeah, just…I get these migraines sometimes.”

 

“You should take some Excedrin,” the neighbor said. “Advil don’t do shit.”

 

“Yeah…” Simon said. “Thanks, I’ll…I’ll do that.”

 

Simon and Zadie walked away from the house. A vision burned across Simon’s mind.

 

An invisible force pushed Mrs. McArthur back-first against the wall. A knife hovered in midair and floated towards her head. The knife suddenly shot forward and speared through her forehead.

 

Simon felt her agony turn into the flare of desperation, anger, and helplessness that came with her death. He also felt…someone else. He recognized the presence.

 

“Brandon…” Simon whispered.

 

“What?” Zadie asked.

 

“Brandon,” Simon said as he walked away. “Christ, he’s just a kid.”

 

He broke into a jog, and Zadie followed. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Brandon killed his dad,” Simon said. “Now he’s going to kill his stepmom.”

 

***

 

Tears streamed down Brandon’s cheeks. He knitted his brow with anger and fired a burst of invisible energy that pinned his stepmother against the wall.

 

“What did you tell them?” he asked between sobs.

 

“Nothing, I swear,” she said. “Brandon, please calm down.”

 

“I didn’t mean to. I didn’t!” he shouted as he cried.

 

“I know you didn’t sweety, it’s OK,” she said, her voice trembling with fear.

 

“I thought of him coming home. Again. And I…”

 

“I know sweety,” Mrs. McArthur said.

 

“You don’t know!” Brandon shouted. “You let it happen!” The boy used his mind to lift a knife. The knife hovered in the air, aimed towards his mother’s head. “You let it happen!”

 

Simon kicked down the door as he and Zadie burst inside.

 

“Brandon,” Simon said. “You don’t want to do this.”

 

“I just want it to stop,” Brandon said between sobs. “The pain…there’s so much pain…”

 

“I know,” Simon said as calmly as possible. “I know. And not just your pain. Everyone’s pain. I can feel the same thing, Brandon. I’m like you…”

 

Brandon sniffed back his tears. “You’re…you’re what?”

 

“I’m like you,” Simon said. He did his best to send out waves of calm, soothing emotions. “You know I’m not lying.”

 

Brandon let the knife drop, but kept his stepmother pinned against the wall. “He would beat me…” Brandon said quietly. “He’d call me a monster and hit me. Why would he…Why would he do that?”

 

Simon sensed the boy’s memories. He saw flashes of Mr. McArthur stumbling home drunk, barging into Brandon’s room, and slapping him to the floor.

 

“You little monster!” the man had shouted. “You demon-child!”

 

Simon’s eyes opened wide. “Brandon…” Simon said. “Your dad…something happened to him. Before you were born. What he did…it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything. You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”

 

Sweety-” Mrs. McArthur started to say.

 

“I’d shut up if I were you,” Zadie said. “These situations usually don’t work out well for wicked stepmothers.”

 

Brandon’s pain and anger washed across the room. The more Simon sensed the boy’s feelings, the more he knew the undeniable truth. “Brandon…” he whispered. “Do you want to know why I’m like you?”

 

Brandon nodded, tears still streaming down his cheeks. “Your mother…she was my mother too. We’re half-brothers.”

 

“You’re…” Brandon looked to Simon with innocent eyes clouded by confusion and pain. “You’re my brother?”

 

Simon nodded. “And our mother? Your birth mother? She’s the one who brought all this pain into your life. She ruined your father. She walked out on you. But you and me? We’re better than her, aren’t we?”

 

Brandon nodded. His grip on his stepmother released, and she fell to the floor. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just…I thought about it, and it happened.”

 

“I know,” Simon said.

 

 Mrs. McArthur looked to Simon and Zadie. “Who are you two?”

 

“Lady, seriously,” Zadie said. “Shut up before I stab you.”

 

“Cute little reunion,” a voice said from behind. Simon and Zadie turned to see Zero leaning in the doorway. The punk flashed a smug grin and carried his sword casually at his side. “The brother bonding was touching. Why don’t you tell him about his dad. His real dad.”

 

Brandon knitted his brow with confusion. “What?”

 

“Your dad was possessed by a demon when he knocked up your mom,” Zero said. “You are a monster.”

 

Brandon narrowed his eyes, red with tears. “No…”

 

Simon felt the boy’s confusion and anger intensify.

 

“Zero, you idiot,” Simon said.

 

Brandon used his mind to lift a knife and hurl the blade towards Zero like an arrow. Zero casually swung his blade and swatted the knife aside.

 

“Kid, you really don’t want to-”

 

Brandon fired a burst of telekinetic energy that hurled Zero outside. The teen crashed against the street and skid across the pavement. Simon and Zadie looked outside and noticed several men gather around Zero and help him to his feet. The men had solid-black eyes.

 

“Shit,” Zadie said. “Demons. They’re after Brandon.”

 

“Demons?” Brandon asked. “Then it’s true?”

 

“It’s complicated,” Simon said. “I’ll explain as soon as we’re safe.”

 

“No…” Brandon said. “No, just…Just leave me alone!”

 

The boy bolted towards the back of the house and ran out the rear door.

 

“Brandon, wait!” Simon shouted as he followed.

 

Brandon leapt over his backyard fence and dashed towards the street on the other side of his block. Simon and Zadie leapt over the fence and followed.

 

They noticed about a dozen men circle around from nearby yards and head towards the boy.

 

“Company,” Zadie said.

 

“Can you take them?” Simon asked.

 

Zadie smiled and unsheathed her knife. “Please.”

 

Simon kept after Brandon while Zadie moved to intercept the demons.

 

The demon hunter pounced forward and slammed a jumping roundkick against a demon’s gut. The demon keeled over, and she plunged her knife through his back. She twisted the knife, and the blade glowed with fiery-orange power. Sizzling light erupted from the man’s eyes and mouth and flashed beneath his skin. The blade burnt the demon from the man’s soul.

 

Zadie spun forward with a reverse sidekick that bashed against a demon’s chest. She lunged forward, slashed that demon across the throat, and stabbed another demon that tried to sneak up behind her.

 

Sizzling light burned beneath their skin as if their insides were on fire. They collapsed as fiery light pulsed from their eyes and mouths, hissing steam.

 

Five demons broke away and ran after Simon and Brandon.

 

Zadie hurled vials of holy water at the demons. The vials shattered, spraying water against the demon-possessed men. They screamed and stopped in their tracks as their skin sizzled, like being burnt with hydrochloric acid.

 

Zadie dashed ahead, leapt against a demon’s back, and planted her feet against his hip while she grabbed his head. She slit his throat, kicked off with a backward somersault, and landed while slashing through the guts of two other demons.

 

She hurled her knife at the fourth demon. The blade speared through his head and whipped his body backward.

 

Zadie dove forward, rolled across the ground while pulling her knife from the demon’s head, and kicked the legs out from beneath the last demon. The demon crashed against the ground, and Zadie rolled over while plunging her blade through his chest.

 

The demon’s mouth opened in a silent scream as his eyes and mouth sizzled with flickering, fiery light.

 

***

 

Brandon ran down the street as fast as he could.

 

“Brandon!” Simon called from behind. But the boy ignored him.

 

Brandon wiped the tears from his cheeks and ran faster. He couldn’t go on. Not anymore. He wasn’t strong enough.

 

“Brandon!” Simon shouted again.

 

A wave of green-tinted fire suddenly tore across the street, separating the ranger from his little brother.

 

The flame surged with a shockwave that hurled the ranger off his feet.

 

Brandon stopped in his tracks and turned to face the flames, his eyes open wide with horror.

 

1000081556_8“Do not be afraid,” a metallic voice said from above.

 

Brandon turned to see a red-armored warrior leap from the rooftops and land on the street.

 

The warrior’s wolf-like armor looked similar to Garo’s, but red, with traces of gold. The knight carried a thick, curved saber.

 

He leaned the saber casually over his shoulder and looked down upon Brandon.

 

“Who…” Brandon took a cautious step backward. “Who are you?”

 

“I am called Zen,” the warrior said. “The Flame Sword Knight.”

 

“Zen…” Brandon whispered in awe.

 

“I’m here to save you. To take you…home. Your father is dead. Your stepmother doesn’t care for you. I can give you a family,” Zen said. “You have a special destiny, Brandon. Come with me…Claim your birthright. Become the Thunder Knight.”

 

“Thunder Knight?” Brandon asked.

 

“A warrior for good. Like me,” Zen said. “With power like mine, you’ll never be hurt again.”

 

An armored figure suddenly crashed to the street behind Zen. Zen looked over his shoulder to see the newcomer—the Golden Knight, Garo.

 

“Samuel…” Zen said.

 

“What do you think you’re doing, Zen?” Garo asked. “Leave the boy alone.”

 

“I’m not harming him,” Zen said. “He’s free to-”

 

A blast of Kiryoku smashed against Zen and hurled him off his feet. The villain crashed against the side of a nearby home, collapsing the porch with a rain of splintered wood and concrete.

 

Simon leapt through the green flames with a shield of Ki power and landed near Brandon.

 

“Are you all right?” Simon asked. “Did he hurt you?”

 

Brandon knitted his brow. “What did you do that for?”

 

“You can’t trust him, Brandon,” Simon said.

 

“And I can trust you?” Brandon shook his head. “The first time you saw me, you lied to me. He was telling the truth. I sensed it.”

 

“They think they have good intensions, but they don’t,” Simon said.

 

“He’s right,” Garo said from the other side of the street.

 

Zen swung his arms wide and burst from the rubble of the ruined porch. Debris exploded across the street like giant chunks of shrapnel, smashing through nearby homes and shattering windows.

 

Simon placed his right fist against his left palm. He formed an invisible barrier that blocked him and Brandon from the debris.

 

“Brandon, run,” Simon said.

 

“No,” Brandon said. “He’s not going to hurt me. He said no one would ever be able to hurt me again.”

 

Zen rushed from the wreckage and dashed at Simon as fast as a blur. But Garo streaked in front of Zen and blocked the villain’s blade. Garo smashed the pommel of his sword across Zen’s head and slashed across his armor. The blade clanged on impact and knocked the Flame Sword Knight back several steps.

 

Garo growled and chopped his sword towards the Flame Knight’s head. But Zen high-blocked the blow, twisted his sword, and slashed across Garo’s chest with a burst of spark.

 

Another blur of motion dropped onto the scene with a streak of silver light. Zero, in his armored form, dropped behind Garo while slashing both blades across the Golden Knight’s back. Garo stumbled forward, but managed to twist around with a wide swing that slashed across Zero’s chest.

 

skybowSimon started to arm his morpher. But an arrow streaked through the air and sparked against his bracer. He cursed and turned towards the rooftops, where he saw another Hellfire Knight. This Knight wore silver armor, but more dull than Zero’s. The armor looked somewhat feminine, and the warrior carried a bow. She was the Sky Bow Knight.

 

The Sky Bow Knight fired a rapid volley of arrows that streaked through bolts of silver light. The arrows exploded across the street with bursts of silver flame.

 

Simon grabbed Brandon by the shirt and dove for cover. They hit the ground hard and rolled aside as arrows exploded around them. The blasts tore through the street and sidewalk with bursts of asphalt and concrete.

 

“Stay here,” Simon said to Brandon as he leapt towards the rooftop.

 

The teen landed against the side of a home, pushed up, and jumped towards the Sky Bow Knight. The Knight swung her bow towards Simon. But Simon knitted his brow and fired an invisible blast of Kiryoku that smashed against the Knight’s chest.

 

The blow hurled the Sky Bow Knight off the roof. The Knight crashed against the street below and skid backward, ripping up pavement.  

 

Nearby, Zen and Zero circled around Garo.

 

Zero dashed at Garo and chopped his blades towards the Golden Knight’s head. Garo used his blade to high block the blow, and slammed a kick against Zero’s chest. The kick hurled the Silver Knight backward.

 

Zen closed in on Garo from behind. But the Golden Knight snapped around while swinging his blade through a wide arc. Zen parried the blow and slashed upward across Garo’s armor.

 

The Flame Sword Knight pressed forward and chopped his sword against Garo’s shoulder, driving the Golden Knight to the ground. Zen chopped his sword again.

 

But Garo grabbed the blade. The Golden Knight’s gauntlet sizzled with fiery power that washed across his opponent’s sword.

 

Garo pushed the sword aside, lunged, and tackled against Zen with a burst of speed. The two opponents crashed through a nearby home with an explosion of splintered wood, glass and dust. 

 

The two Knights quickly shot upward from the blast through streaks of light. In midair, they swung their blades through quick and savage slashes, sword clanging against sword.

 

They began to fall back towards the street below. Garo let Zen’s blade hit against his shoulder so he could slide in and grab hold of the Flame Sword Knight. The Golden Knight twisted so that, when they crashed against the street, Zen hit first with an impact that cracked the road and rumbled the block.

 

Nearby, Brandon watched Garo and Zen scramble back to their feet and resume their duel. Zero dashed towards the two opponents and lent his strength against the Golden Knight.

 

On the other side of the street, Simon dove aside to avoid a volley of energy arrows from the Sky Bow Knight.

 

Brandon narrowed his eyes and rolled his hands into fists. He could feel the rage ebb from Zero. He could sense Simon’s anger and the determination of the Sky Bow Knight. He sensed the primal fury of Garo, and the cold, calculating emotions of Zen.

 

The emotions washed through Brandon and fed his frustration. He wanted them all to stop. He wanted to go home. But when he thought of home, he didn’t think of his father’s house. He didn’t think of a specific place, because he had no home. He never had, really. A roof over your head didn’t equal a home—a place of comfort and family.

 

He had no home. He had no family. Except for maybe Simon? Were his true family members really born of demons? He thought of his father.

 

“You little monster!” the man had shouted. “You demon-child!”

 

Brandon’s anger swelled in his chest.

 

He screamed with the force of a psionic shockwave as powerful as an explosion.

 

The telekinetic shockwave tore through every home within a five-block radius. Brandon screamed, and houses burst into spheres of flame and splinters. He screamed, and pavement ripped from the ground and shredded into dust. He screamed. Louder. And louder. Smashing through houses, and pulverizing the debris into dust.

 

The boy collapsed and lost consciousness, his own power overwhelming him.

 

His assault had scattered Simon and the Hellfire Knights.

 

Zen climbed slowly back to his feet. The Flame Sword Knight stumbled, weakened, and lifted his blade. He walked towards Brandon, lifted the boy over his shoulder, and leapt into the distance.  

 

To be continued…Chapter 09