Chapter 18: Ultimate Hurricane

Running with Shadows

 

Hurricane Green stood on a ruined rooftop. He looked out upon the crimson landscape of Demon City and felt nothing. He wouldn’t allow himself the luxury of feeling — that was something reserved for mortals, not non-men like him.

 

He looked down at the sword in his hand, not realizing he had drawn the weapon.

 

“Kou…” a voice whispered in his head. Somehow, the voice sounded like the Tiger Saber, Byakkoshinken. “Kou…”

 

Kou powered down his armor and narrowed his eyes. “Byakko?”

 

“Do you know any other tiger sabers that can talk into your head?”

 

“No…” Kou said. “No, I guess not. But the Kiba Ranger powers were destroyed after the Mogralord War.”

 

“Not destroyed,” Byakko said. “Returned, rejoined with the One Power, which is where I speak from now.”

 

“But why?” Kou asked. “I’m not really Kou.”

 

“And why’s that?” Byakko asked. “You have his body. You have his memory.”

 

“But not his soul, or his humanity,” Kou said.

 

“Maybe you have a soul and humanity all your own.”

 

“That’s doubtful,” Kou said.

 

“Let’s find out,” Byakko said. “Together. Together, let’s find your purpose in this world.”

 

***

 

Simon shifted uncontrollably in bed. He’d lost consciousness and broken out with a fever. Zadie had tracked him down to take care of him. She laid a cold compress on his head and tried to keep him still.

 

“Hey…” she whispered. “Hey, stay still. I know you can hear me. You’re better than this…”

 

They hid in an abandoned mall, within what used to be a retail shop. 

 

The young demon hunter Eiji Takaoka used the shop as one of his bases. He stood nearby, next to counters of holy water and salt.

 

“I can’t believe you brought him here…” Eiji said. “How did you even know about this place?”

 

“I followed you here once,” she said. “I was hunting this nasty demon and thought you might come in handy.”

 

“What changed your mind?” Eiji asked.

 

“You started to bore me,” she said.

 

“So what about this guy?” Eiji asked as he nodded to Simon. “He hasn’t started to bore you yet?”

 

“Hardly…” she said.

 

“Look, you can’t keep him here much longer,” Eiji said. “You two have been stirring up a lot of trouble. They’re after you.”

 

“If I ask ‘who’ you’re going to say ‘everyone’, aren’t you?” Zadie said.

 

“Actually, yes,” Eiji said. “Demons tend to get pissed when you start sucking out their souls.”

 

“You shouldn’t be worried about pissing off demons,” Zadie said. “You should be worried about pissing off me.”

 

Eiji sighed with annoyance and shook his head. “You’re impossible.”

 

Zadie ignored him and kept her attention on Simon. The teen’s closed eyes flickered as his mind flashed back.

 

***

 

Angel Grove, 2000AD

 

Nine-year-old Simon sat leaning against a tree. He was in a park nearby his home. The park was filled with trees and bushes. A creek cut through grassy fields, and a wooden bridge stretched over that creek.

 

He wrote in a small notebook his parents by adoption had bought him for school. But the boy used his notebook to write his stories.

 

Ever since he could remember, he preferred to sit outside and write instead of playing baseball with classmates or riding bikes.

 

Often the target of playground bullies and name-calling, Simon often wrote to escape the world around him. He let nature inspire him in that writing. Everything worked in harmony in nature. It was beautiful and alive.

 

In his stories, Simon would save all of nature. All of the people who bullied him would turn to him for help. The cute girls in his class would realize what a hero he was. His parents would love him as truly as if he were their own son.

 

Simon looked off to a nearby tree, where a bird’s nest was visible in the lower branches. Simon loved birds. They were his favorite animal. His grandfather always called him a “little hawk.”

 

A group of school kids Simon’s age ran through the park. Simon narrowed his eyes when he recognized them as a group of bullies. The bullies gathered beneath the bird’s nest. Simon heard parts of their conversation.

 

“…I betcha I could knock it down…” one of them said.

 

Simon slowly rose to his feet. “Hey guys,” he called towards them without walking too close. “It’s just a nest…leave it alone.”

 

One of the boys, Keagan, laughed at Simon. “Don’t be so gay.”

 

Keagan picked up a stone and looked up at the bird nest. He whipped the stone forward. The stone bashed against the nest, and the nest crashed onto the ground, spilling its eggs into the grass.

 

Keagan and his friends laughed at Simon and walked off. “Later loser!”

 

Simon stared down at the nest. He could have stopped them. He could have struck the bully down and pried the rock from his hand. But Simon had stood still.

 

Simon sat on the ground and lifted the bird’s nest into his hands. A tear streamed down his cheek. He couldn’t save the nest. He didn’t even try.

 

***

 

Angel Grove, 2001 AD

 

Nine-year-old Simon walked home from school through a park area within Angel Grove North. Two other kids from school were with him.

 

“My dad said the Rangers are fake,” one of the kids, Brad said.

 

“Yeah,” another boy, Keagan said. “Mine said they’re really a bunch of terrorists.”

 

“No,” Simon said. He wrinkled his brow at his classmates. “They’re heroes.”

 

Brad and Keagan exchanged looks and laughed at Simon.

 

“What do you know, preacher’s boy?” Brad said.

 

“Yeah,” Keagan said. “Get lost, twirp.”

 

Brad shoved Simon aside. Simon stumbled over his feet and collapsed onto the ground. Brad and Keagan laughed as they walked off.

 

“Hey!” Simon shouted after them. His eyes narrowed. He pulled himself to his feet, turned, and slammed his fist against a tree. “I hate them!”

 

“Hate is a pretty strong word.” Tommy stepped out from nearby and walked over to Simon while staring in the direction where Brad and Keagan left. “Those guys give you trouble?”

 

Simon nodded. His brow was still wrinkled with anger. “They’re bullies.”

 

“You’re better than them, you know,” Tommy said. “For not pushing back.”

 

“I don’t push them back because I’m a wimp.” He sat down on the ground and hung his head low. Tommy sat next to him.

 

“I used to be like you,” Tommy said.

 

“A wimp?” Simon asked.

 

Tommy shrugged. “That’s what I thought at least.”

 

“So you went from being a wimp to being the strongest Ranger?”

 

Tommy blushed. “I’m not the strongest.”

 

“Sure you are,” Simon said.

 

“Well…it’s not about how strong you are anyway. It’s all about your inner spirit. And martial arts helped me to hone my inner spirit, my chi. It gave me a lot of confidence. I can teach you if you want.”

 

“Really?” Simon asked as his face lit up.

 

Tommy nodded. “Yeah.”

 

“Cool!”

 

***

 

The present

 

Kou walked through the depths of Demon City. War-torn streets and piles of rubble surrounded him. Toppled cars and trucks dotted the scorched landscape. The occasional spirit or demon drifted through the air.

 

“This place is ripe with evil, Kou,” Byakko said.

 

“I realize that,” Kou said. “I’ve been living here for months.”

 

“Yet you know nothing of the culture,” Byakko said.

 

“Culture? It’s a rotting hellhole,” Kou said.

 

“It’s become more than that,” Byakko said. “This darkened place is a haven for demons and evil spirits. Beings from other dimensions. Even aliens.”

 

“Aliens?” Kou asked skeptically. “I’m not a kid anymore, Byakko.”

 

“Then stop acting like one and listen,” Byakko said. “These creatures have formed their own social structures. They-”

 

Kou heard a scream come from a dark alley. Without thinking, he dashed into the alleyway and scrambled over a pile of rubble. The teen leapt down from the rubble and landed near an uprooted building, which had left a gaping hole in the ground.

 

New Bitmap ImageKou leaned down and looked into the massive gap. He saw six figures dressed in gray, cloth-like armor. They wore dull-gold crowns and carried skull-tipped staffs. Beneath their armor, they were skeletons, with glowing yellow orbs within their eye sockets.

 

They surrounded a young girl, bound with chains, in the center of a demonic pentagram. The girl had long, red hair and tan skin.

 

Kou narrowed his eyes. “This must be one of those ‘social structures’ you mentioned.”

 

“In a manner of speaking,” Byakko said. “Those are the Mord’skai. Skull Wraiths.”

 

“What are they doing?” Kou asked.

 

“The demons here perform rituals and sacrifices on a daily basis,” Byakko said.

 

Kou reached for his morpher, but Byakko shouted at him to stop.

 

“No Kou!” Byakko said. “Morphing would be like sending up a signal flare. You’d bring too much attention to yourself.”

 

“I can’t just sit here,” Kou said.

 

“No,” Byakko said. “But you can use Karas…”

 

Kou closed his eyes and sighed. A part of him was glad for an excuse to use the dark power of Karas. 

 

The teenager called upon the dark energy within his veins. His body pulsed with shadow power as he transformed into the demon warrior known as Karas. He felt the energy surge through him like ice-hot flame, igniting his soul. The energy screamed with rage for having been suppressed for so long.

 

Karas echoed the screams, unsheathed his sword, and leapt into the pit to attack.

 

***

 

Simon stirred as Zadie laid another compress on his head. “His fever won’t go down…”

 

“I care completely,” Eiji said sarcastically. He stood with his arms crossed and looked towards the exit of the shop. “What were you thinking anyway? Letting him take on so many demons like that.”

 

“I told him not to,” Zadie said. “But he listens just as well as every other testosterone-fueled man-ape I know.”

 

Eiji snorted. “You’re such a bitch.”

 

“I try,” Zadie said.

 

“I know you do,” Eiji said. “You never let anyone get close.”

 

“I’m sorry we never bonded over milk and cookies,” Zadie said sarcastically. 

 

“Some ice cream would have been fine,” Eiji said. “Seriously, what’s the plan? We’re not going to be alone here much longer.”

 

“Is your Spidey Sense tingling?”

 

“Something like that,” Eiji said. “I’m pretty sure something snuck past the wards I put around the mall.”

 

“How sure is ‘pretty sure’?” Zadie asked.

 

Eiji shook his head. He grabbed his staff and started off. “Sure enough to take a look. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”

 

Zadie watched Eiji walk from the shop, then turned her attention to Simon. She dabbed the compress across his head. “Now would be a good time to wake up, pretty boy.”

 

Simon’s eyelids flickered as his mind flashed back.

 

***

 

Angel Grove, 2008AD

The Second Countdown to Destruction

 

Kar and his four demons approached Gao Rock on the Sky Island Anamarium. Unholy flames consumed the jungle behind them as they set their sights on the turtle-shaped mound in the distance.

 

Simon, Michael, Ryan, Timothy, Saiya, and Shirogane ran to the scene and blocked the villains’ path.

 

Simon narrowed his eyes and rolled his hands into fists. His heart pounded in his chest, pumping the blood of the lion through his veins. “You guys are going to pay for this!”

 

Kar laughed. “By all means, mortals, make us pay.”

 

“You asked for it, you got it!” Simon shouted.

 

They flipped open their morphers.

 

“Wild Access! Ha!” Energy shimmered around them as their armor wrapped around their bodies and their visors snapped into place. They morphed into their Ranger forms and snapped into animal-like fighting stances.

 

“Blazing Lion! Gao Red!”

 

“Howling Wolf! Gao Silver!”

 

 “Noble Eagle! Gao Yellow!”

 

“Surging Shark! Gao Blue!”

 

“Iron Bison!” Gao Black!”

 

“Belle Tiger! Gao White!”

 

“Guardians of the Earth” Gao Red called, “United we roar! Wild Task Force!”

 

“Gao Rangers!” they shouted together.

 

“More Rangers?” Kar said as he shook his head. “This is getting ridiculous.”

 

Kar fired an energy pulse that tore through the ground towards the Rangers. The six Rangers dove aside as the pulse exploded beneath their feet.

 

Gao Red and the others rolled into crouched fighting positions and sprang towards their enemies. The Red Ranger and Silver Ranger leapt towards Kar.

 

“Lunar Cue!” Gao Silver armed his staff-like saber and swung the weapon towards the demon general.

 

Gao Dagger!” Gao Red unsheathed his dagger and swung downward at Kar’s head.

 

Kar grabbed the blades and kicked the two Rangers from the air. Gao Red and Gao Silver crashed against the ground and skid backward.

 

“Damn he’s fast,” Gao Red said as he and Gao Silver climbed back to their feet, smoke still rising from their armor. 

 

The villain fired invisible optic blasts that exploded against the two Rangers with massive bursts of spark, which tore across their armor and knocked them off their feet.

 

Gao Red and Gao Silver crashed against the ground, and Kar stalked towards them with a feral grin on his face.

 

The Sky Island continued to burn in the meantime.

 

***

 

The present

 

Karas dashed past a Skull Wraith, his blade slashing through the creature with a burst of spark.

 

The remaining Skull Wraiths hurled bolts of shadow at the Ranger. But he shot upward, flipped through the air, and landed while slashing three more of the creatures, his blade twirling through quick and deadly patterns.

 

Karas felt dark power flow through his veins — the power of the Dark One. He reveled in that strength. He slashed left and right, sword blurring faster than sight as it cut through the creatures of shadow.

 

The final Skull Wraith twirled back its staff and lifted its palm, firing a burst of light that smashed against Karas, sending the Ranger smashing against a wall. The wall cracked on impact, and Karas crashed against the ground.

 

The Skull Wraith hissed in a Hell language and thrust its staff towards the Ranger.

 

Karas leapt upward. An invisible blast exploded against the ground where he had stood. The Ranger angled his descent and dashed past the Skull Wraith while slicing off its head. The creature’s head crashed against the ground and crumbled, and its body exploded into wisps of shadow and smoke.

 

Karas landed and lowered his blade to his side. He breathed heavily, dark energy still raging inside his body. He powered down his armor with a dark flash.

 

“Good work, Kou!” Byakko shouted into the ranger’s mind.

 

Kou collapsed to all fours, his body exhausted.

 

The girl he rescued broke free from her chains and rose to her feet. She glared at the ranger. “You idiot!” she shouted. “You ruined everything!”

 

Kou looked up at the girl an arced an eyebrow. “Umm…what?”

 

“I was setting them up,” she said. “Trying to learn their plans.”

 

Kou pushed himself to his feet. “Their plan was to kill you.”

 

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” the girl snapped. “But for what? Lately, all the demons and spirits have been getting way too many ritualistic hard-ons.”

 

Kou waved his hands. “Hold on. Back up. Back up several, several steps. Who the hell are you?”

 

“Who the hell are you?” the girl snapped.

 

“I’ll tell you when I know,” Kou said.

 

“Ugh. You’re one of those, she said.

 

“What?”

 

“A brooding demon warrior struggling with his identity and blah, blah, blah,” she said. “You’re all the same.”

 

Kou wanted to hit the girl. And a part of him wanted to do something…quite different. He shook his head. “You shouldn’t be here. You’re going to get yourself killed.”

 

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” she said. “I can take care of myself. I’ve been here almost two years, and I’ve only died once.”

 

Kou tilted his head. “I don’t even know what to say to you.”

 

“Good,” she said. “Then do us both a favor and say nothing.”

 

“At least tell me your name,” Kou said.

 

“What did I just say about saying nothing?” she asked.

 

319862-homura_picture_5Her body shimmered with fiery light and transformed into a suit of armor, similar to the Karas armor, but mostly red with gold trimming, and eyes that glowed green. 

 

The girl stepped backward and shimmered from sight.

 

“Wait!” Kou shouted. But she was gone. “Who was that girl? She was…” He shook his head. “Whoa.”

 

“That was unexpected,” Byakko said.

 

“Do you know who she was?” Kou asked. “She looked…That armor looked a lot like mine. Who was she?”

 

“A half demon, or possibly a demon possessing a human host,” Byakko said.

 

“Who just happened to have armor like mine?” Kou asked.

 

“She mentioned she died…perhaps she was resurrected with demonic power, as you were,” Byakko said.

 

“Now you’re just guessing,” Kou said. “Aren’t you supposed to be guiding me or something?”

 

“I didn’t anticipate a distraction, Kou!” Byakko said. “Now, let’s move back to the task at hand. I’m sure you’ll see the girl again.”

 

“You don’t know that — you’re guessing again,” Kou said.

 

“Fine, you’ll never see her again, ever. Does that make you feel better?” Byakko asked.

 

Kou smiled, and then stopped himself. He had smiled. 

 

Byakko laughed. “Do you see, Kou? I’m not denying the darkness inside you. Many people struggle with their inner demons, but in your case, you actually have inner demons. Demonic energy, at least. But just because you have that darkness inside you, the darkness is not who you are. You are still capable of joy and attraction. Of heroism and adventure. You are still capable of being human. You saved that girl-”

 

“That girl…” Kou whispered.

 

“Focus, Kou!” Byakko said.

 

“Look,” Kou said. “I appreciate what you’re trying to tell me…but that doesn’t change anything. The facts are the same. I’m everything in Kou that was evil, twisted, and inhuman, mixed up with a little demon voodoo. I may not belong in Demon City, but I don’t belong in Angel Grove either.”

 

“You always were stubborn, Kou,” Byakko said. “If you won’t listen to me, maybe you’ll listen to yourself…”

 

Byakko roared with enough force to drop Kou to his knees. He gripped his head, and felt his body shift, as if about to pass out. But he stayed conscious. The teen looked up to see a younger image of himself blur into view.

 

***

 

Eiji walked from the retail shop and moved through the darkened mall. Shattered glass and toppled displays filled the storefronts around him. Looters had taken anything of value. Squatters had tried to live here, too, but decided to move to better venues. Angel Grove had plenty of vacant properties to choose from.  

 

The hunter gripped tightly onto his staff, passed on from his father. The clanging of its metal rings echoed throughout the mall.

 

Eiji leaned down and placed his palm against the broken floor. He closed his eyes and reached out with his senses.

 

He saw nothing. He heard nothing. But he felt dozens of demons in the storefronts around him, peering through the shadows. They surrounded him completely.

 

The hunter opened his eyes. “Well…” he said quietly. “This should be fun.”

 

***

 

The image of young Kou shimmered into view. He looked up at the older version of himself and wrinkled his nose. “You look like crap.”

 

“I’m…I’m not sure what to say to that.”

 

“Ha!” Kou laughed. “No, I don’t suppose we would be. This is surreal…”

 

“Tell me about it…” the older Kou said. “Are you…?”

 

“This is Kou’s soul,” Byakko said. The Tiger Saber allowed the bond between the two Kou’s to serve as a conduit for them to speak.

 

The older Kou placed his hand over his chest and gripped his shirt. “This proves it then…” he said. “You’re everything that was human…and I’m everything that got left behind.”

 

Young Kou rolled his eyes. “You’re you. Why do you overthink everything? I never had that problem.”

 

Byakko laughed. “That could not be more true!”

 

“Wait, what?” the older Kou asked. “What do you mean ‘you’re you’?”

 

“You’re you!” young Kou shouted. “That’s who you are. You aren’t my memories. You aren’t the evil of this Karas thing or whatever the heck that is. You’re you.”

 

“You don’t understand…” the older Kou said. “I’m everything about you that was evil and tainted. Everything that was Gorma.”

 

Young Kou slapped his forehead. “I’m impossible…”

 

The older Kou knitted his brow. “Do you think this is easy?”

 

Bakka,” young Kou said. “It’s weird but not that hard. You’re you! You are who you are, and that’s you. You carry my memories, but you’re…unique. Don’t worry about where you came from. Worry about who you want to be. You control that. Every day.”

 

“You’re oversimplifying it,” the older Kou said.

 

“I’m not!” young Kou shouted. “I had the same darkness that’s in you inside of me, and I turned out fine. I saved the Rangers a billion times. I died a hero. You can do the same…maybe without the dying-so-quickly.”

 

“You had your humanity.”

 

“And don’t you?” young Kou asked. “You’re a hero. How many times did you go warn the Rangers? What evil acts have you actually done? Anything? Step on a fly once, maybe? How horrible. You might have come from my Mind and Body but you have your own Soul. Otherwise you’d be…a zombie or something.”

 

Older Kou arced an eyebrow. “A zombie?”

 

“I’m eternally 11-years-old, I’m doing the best I can,” young Kou said.

 

Older Kou smiled at his younger self. “I really was an idiot.”

 

“Hey!” young Kou said defensively. 

 

“So let’s say you’re right,” older Kou said. “Let’s say my identity is that simple. Where do I…” He shook his head. “Where do I belong?”

 

“Do you think anyone knows that?” Kou asked.

 

Older Kou nodded. “Good point…”

 

“Listen,” young Kou said as his gaze drifted downward. “My story ended. I’m with mother…and Akomaru…but my death was pointless.” He looked up, a grim look of determination on his face. “Make it mean something…through you.”

 

The older Kou’s face hardened with the same look of determination. He still remembered the feeling of Zedd’s staff stabbing through his body. Quickly. Efficiently. And without meaning. “I can do that.”

 

“Good,” young Kou said. “Then you’re not completely useless.”

 

The older Kou cracked a sideways smile, and young Kou did the same.

 

“I really hate pep talks,” young Kou said.

 

“Me too…” older Kou said.

 

Byakko cleared his throat. “It’s time, Kou…” the saber said. “You must be returning, or you risk lingering as a ghost.”

 

Young Kou’s face lit up. “That actually sounds like fun.”

 

“Kou!” Byakko shouted.

 

Young Kou rolled his eyes. “OK, OK…Thanks, Byakko.”

 

“Thank you, Kou…” Byakko said.

 

The older Kou looked down at his younger self and took a moment to remember that innocence. To remember the simplicity of youth. Maybe he could learn something from that simplicity.

 

“Thanks…” older Kou said.

 

“Don’t mention it,” young Kou said with a grin as his spirit faded into wisps on the wind.

 

“That was…” older Kou started to say. “Surreal.”

 

“Do you understand now, Kou?” Byakko asked.

 

Kou nodded. “I’ve been beating myself up over nothing,” he said.

 

“Not for nothing,” Byakko said. “Through struggles, we grow stronger, Kou. You have grown stronger.”

 

He tightened his hands into fists. “I’ve got to get out of here.”

 

“That’s the spirit!” Byakko shouted. “I will come with you…”

 

“Is that possible?” Kou asked.

 

“It will be,” Byakko said. “Morph, Kou.”

 

Kou pulled his sphere-shaped morpher free. “Tenku!” He brought the morpher to chest level. “Ninjetti Change!” He thrust the sphere forward. “Ha!”

 

Green energy twirled around him like a cyclone as he morphed into the armor of the late Shurikenger. He snapped into a fighting stance as the energy of his Animal Spirit surged through every aspect of his being.

 

“Power of Sonic! Hurricane Green!”

 

His sword’s pommel started to pulse with white-tinted energy that flickered with shades of green. He unsheathed the sword and looked to the pommel, which transformed into a sculpture of a tiger-like face.

 

“Byakko?” Hurricane Green asked.

 

“Yes, Kou!” the saber answered. “I have resumed my physical form, thanks to our connection through The Power.”

 

“…If you can call being on a sword handle much of a physical form,” the Green Ranger said. He couldn’t help but smile.

 

“Are you ready to leave this place, Kou?” Byakko asked. “Because I am.”

 

“Then let’s go,” Hurricane Green said as he looked to the skies. “Hurricane Eagle! Arise!”

 

The Hurricane Eagle swooped from the clouds, and Hurricane Green leapt into his cockpit. He inserted his sword into the control panel and used the weapon like a control rod. 

 

The zord shot through a streak of green and golden energy as it flew from Demon City.

 

***

 

Simon stirred as memories continued to flood his dreams. His subconscious seemed intent on reaching past his darkness and grasping his humanity.

 

***

 

Angel Grove, 2008AD

Shortly after the Second Countdown to Destruction

 

“Ha!” Simon smashed a cross punch against the punching bag. “Ha!” Again. “Ha!” Again. “Ha!”

 

The teen was in a small, empty barn near the Hayate Way dojo. He set the barn up as a practice room with punching bags, weights, and other pieces of equipment. He recently set up the practice room to have a place to work out alone.

 

The shed door slowly opened, and Tommy stepped in. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. He watched with concern as his young friend punched the bag with growing intensity.

 

“You’ve been holed up in here all day...” Tommy said. “Wanna talk about it?”

 

“Ha!” Simon’s punch knocked the bag off its chain and sent it smashing against the wall.

 

The teen stood and caught his breath. He used the back of his hand to wipe the sweat from his brow. “Not especially.”

 

“You missed the funeral,” Tommy said.

 

“Which one?!” Simon said louder than he meant to. He shook his head and walked over to the fallen bag. “How many of us died? How many people died?” Simon lifted the bag and started to hang it back up from the ceiling. “I felt them all die. I felt them!”

 

He gave up trying to hang the bag and let it drop back on the ground. “You have no idea what that was like...”

 

“Tell me...” Tommy said. “Talk to me...”

 

“The fear in some of them,” Simon said. “Kaitlin wasn’t ready to die, and she had to feel...” a tear streamed down his cheek. “She had to feel a damn snake literally eat through her body. And Sion...watching his best friend die, and having to sacrifice himself. The Turbos...dying just to prove their worth. Kimberly...dying, knowing that her son will have to grow up without a mom.

 

"It's too much to handle," he continued. "The irony is, I used to fantasize about this life, about being a Ranger. But now...it's too real. There's been too much pain. And I don't know how to handle it...but what I do know...is that I won’t let anything like this ever happen again.”

 

***

 

The present

 

Simon gasped a breath and snapped open his eyes. He clenched his hands into fists and nearly cried out with pain and rage. He still felt the demon energy storm within his soul.

 

***

 

Eiji twirled his staff into a defensive stance. Unseen demons shrieked from the darkness and stirred pieces of broken tile and pavement, which scattered across the broken floor.

 

The demon hunter narrowed his eyes. “I’ve heard worse.”

 

Suddenly, the demons shot from the darkness through streaks of smoke. The wisps flew around the hunter and surrounded him while blowing artificial wind. They didn’t look like typical demon smoke — they looked vaguely humanoid, trailing smoke and steam in their wake. Their translucent eyes and mouths glowed with blue fire.

 

“That’s different…” Eiji said as he twirled his staff.

 

He thrust his hand forward, pointing his index and middle finger. “Hoi! Joso!”

 

A blue ring of energy etched across the ground. A short cylinder of energy thrust from the ring and surrounded four demons. But the demons shattered through the energy cylinder.

 

The four demons landed around Eiji and assumed human form — gray-skinned, dressed in rags, with blue eyes and mouths filled with blue fire.

 

Eiji cursed beneath his breath and spun forward with a reverse sidekick that bashed a demon backward. He spun his staff and cracked the weapon across a demon’s skull, then bashed the third demon’s gut.

 

The hunter snapped his staff towards the fourth demon. But the creature dissipated into smoke and streaked to safety, joining the other demons that circled the hunter. 

 

“Zadie!” he shouted. “I could use some help! They’re not possessed, they’re in physical form!”

 

His barrier spells didn’t work on demons that took physical form, only on demons in spiritual form, or demons that possessed humans.

 

A demon materialized in midair and dropkicked the hunter. The blow hurled Eiji off his feet, and he crashed against his back while skidding across the floor.

 

The hunter rolled to his feet and reached for a vial of holy water — then cursed beneath his breath. Holy water, salt and iron didn’t work on demons in physical form either.

 

“Those Ranger morphers seem a lot less stupid now…” he said as the demons circled around him, taunting him.

 

Eiji closed his eyes and reached for a power he spent his life learning to suppress. He carried a darkness inside his body, and he called upon that darkness. His veins pulsed visibly beneath his skin as if ready to burst. His muscles tensed. And his eyes turned solid black.

 

His staff tried to suppress the energy, as it was meant to do. So he dropped the staff.

 

Eiji smashed his palm against the ground and sparked tendrils of power that lashed through several demons like bolts of lightning. The lightning bursts dissipated several demons into could of smoke with bursts of dark light.

 

The energy discharge overwhelmed Eiji with a wave of vertigo, and he collapsed to all fours. He breathed deeply as his heart pounded in his chest. The darkness threatened to overwhelm him, so he reached out and grabbed his staff.

 

The remaining demons shrieked and streaked towards the hunter. A demon landed and materialized in front of him, and then kicked him upside the head. The blow whipped Eiji backward, and he crashed against the floor.

 

The hunter looked up just as three demons materialized in midair. The creatures aimed their descent with their knees pointed at the fallen teen.

 

Suddenly, a wave of black fire lashed through the air and incinerated the demons before they could strike.

 

Eiji looked over his shoulder to see Simon standing with his hands rolled into fists at his sides. Wisps of black, fiery wind circled the ranger as he glared ahead.

 

The remaining demons screeched and streaked towards the ranger.

 

Simon slapped his right fist against his left palm. “Whirling shadow!”

 

Wisps of fiery wind lashed from around his body and whipped through the demons. The waves of shadowy energy tore the creature to pieces, ripping through their ghostly forms with shreds of dark light and smoke. Several demons swerved and tried to fly to safety. But Simon’s weaves of shadow power snapped quickly and incinerated the creatures.   

 

The shadow wind died down as the last of the demons scattered into nothingness.

 

Simon lowered his head and breathed deeply, his eyes narrowed.

 

Eiji looked at Simon cautiously as he climbed back to his feet. “I’d say ‘thanks’ but I’m not entirely sure you won’t attack me next.” 

 

“It’s okay…” Simon said. “I’m in control.”

 

Zadie ran from the shadows to catch up with Simon. She stopped in her tracks when she noticed the ash of the fallen demons still floating through the air like settling dust.

 

“What the hell happened here?” Zadie asked.

 

“Demons,” Eiji said. “I called for you.”

 

“I heard,” Zadie said. She looked to Simon. “I meant what happened with you. One minute you’re on your death bed, the next you’re standing here in the middle of demon dust.”

 

“I wasn’t dying, I was just…adjusting,” Simon said. “I took in a lot of power. But I’m OK now.”

 

“Oh, you’re okay,” Zadie said with disbelief. “How reassuring…”

 

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It still feels like an army of demons are using my head like a beat drum…”

 

“Surprisingly accurate…” Zadie said.

 

“…But I’m in control,” Simon said. “I have to see this through.”

 

“For revenge?” Eiji asked. “Even if you kill yourself in the process? I don’t particularly care. Just curious.”

 

“I won’t,” Simon said. “And this isn’t just about revenge anymore. I lost sight of that…There’s been too much pain in the world already. If Azmodai and the Black Queen break the rest of the Seals and release the Dark One? Pain is all anyone will ever know…”

 

“Wait…” Eiji said. “The Seals to the Dark One’s prison? That freak show’s trying to break the Seals to the Dark One’s prison?”

 

Simon nodded.

 

“OK…” Eiji said. “Maybe I’m starting to care about your situation a little bit more…”

 

“You should,” Simon said.

 

“So what now?” Zadie asked.

 

Simon looked ahead, as if staring through the walls of the abandoned mall. “I want to see how far I’ve come. Like I said…I took in a lot of power. I want to know if it’s enough.”

 

“To take on Azmodai?” Eiji said.

 

“Not yet,” Simon said. “First, I want another shot at the Seven Deadly Sins…”

 

To be continued…Chapter 19