Chapter 38: Ultimate Samurai

A Crack in the World: Bonds

 

PART ONE: Meant for Fire

 

The squid-like demon Shitari sat within the empty Gedoushuu ship. He poured himself a bowl of white liquid and drank.

 

“Master Xandred…” he said quietly. “This ship is so deserted…come back soon…”

 

The demon heard the chanting of a single Susukodama — and the chanting matched the tone of Dayu’s shamisen. Shitari turned as Dayu walked onto the ship while carrying the Susukodama.

 

“Dayu!”

 

She looked upward. “No ‘welcome back’ as usual?”

 

Dozens of Susukodama dropped from above and dangled while chittering with delight.

 

Shitari nearly tripped over his feet with excitement. “Dayu! I didn’t think you were coming back!”

 

“It looks like it’s true that Master Xandred has sunk…” Dayu said.

 

“He was far too reckless,” Shitari said. “But you know that.”

 

Dayu lifted her shamisen, which Xandred repaired before his defeat. She owed him a debt. “Will he heal?”

 

“He will,” Shitari said. “Like the Ayakashi, he needs the Sanzu River, filled with lamentation and suffering, when dried out. It’s just that Xandred’s bottomless vessel will take longer than usual to revive.”

 

“Very well,” Dayu said.

 

“Yes…” Shitari said. “But even when he returns, it will be a waste if he’s sealed by the Red Ranger. We should finish him, before Xandred revives.”

 

The squid-like demon walked to the nearest viewing port and looked out upon the river. “Onmoraki! Are you there?”

 

shinken-va-yomotsugariThe water stirred, and the Ayakashi Onmoraki leapt from the river. She landed inside the Gedoushuu ship. Her long, feather-like hair covered half her white face. The purple hair matched half the color of her purple-and-red body, intricately layered with patterns of scales and feathers. Her right fist form a massive pincer that looked like the beak of a crow.

 

“It has been a while, Shitari,” she said. “It’s not often you summon me.”

 

“I have the perfect job for you…” Shitari said.

 

“Oh?” The demon glanced at Dayu. “Ah, look who it is. The stray, Dayu. I thought the Sanzu River no longer suited you. Why come back…?”

 

Dayu unsheathed the dagger from her shamisen and lifted the weapon against the Ayakashi’s throat. “Stray or not, a Gedou is a Gedou. Since my fall…this is the place I belong. Now…I have no quarrel with you. So don’t be bothersome.”

 

“I understand…” Onmoraki said as she took a step back.

 

***

 

Teddy stirred awake in the resting room adjacent to the dojo. Ryan sat at his side.

 

“Hey…” Ryan said, his brow knitted with concern.

 

“Hey…” Teddy said as he winced.

 

“What happened back there?” Ryan asked.

 

Teddy smirked. “Straight to the point?”

 

Ryan nodded.

 

Teddy sighed. “It was just…a lot of power. I strained myself.”

 

“We all did,” Ryan said. “But you’re the one who passed out. And this isn’t the first time.”

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Teddy said. “I’m fine.”

 

“But you’re not,” Ryan said. “Not really.”

 

“I just…” Teddy hesitated. “Let’s not make a big deal out of it. Ok? I’m fine. Besides…we beat Serrator. He’s gone. Can we just…enjoy that for a while? We actually had a win.”

 

“A big win…” Ryan said.

 

Teddy smiled and nodded. “That’s definitely not something we’re used to.”

 

Ryan nodded. “Okay…so we’ll enjoy it. But when you’re ready to tell me what’s going on…I’m here.”

 

Teddy took Ryan by the hand. “I know you are…”

 

***

 

Juzou stood in the rocky hills outside Angel Grove. He eyed his sword with undying passion as he unsheathed the weapon.

 

“At last…” he said as he stared at the blade. “I can once again live by the sword.”

 

***

 

Shitari stood alongside Onmoraki in the woods. He handed her a string of thick blue beads. “Your target is Samurai Red…leader of the Samurai Rangers.”

 

The monster took the string of beads. “What are these?”

 

“They are onibidama,” Shitari said. “Wisp bullets. Samurai Red’s symbol power is fire…An eye for an eye, fire for fire. With a shot of these bullets, fire will beget fire and burn him to the core.”

 

***

 

Tommy walked towards Ashley in Ops. She turned from her computer terminal to face her fiancé.

 

“How’s Teddy?” she asked.

 

“Resting…” Tommy said. “His powers nearly burnt him out. He keeps pushing himself.”

 

“Isn’t that what you used to do?” she asked.

 

“Yeah, but this is different,” Tommy said. “He wasn’t meant to be Samurai Red. His body can’t handle his Symbol Power when he pushes too hard.”

 

“Have you thought more about-”

 

The alarms blared. The computer showed an image of Nanashi attacking a shrine, located in the woods outside Angel Grove’s Little Tokyo. 

 

“Looks like we’ll talk later,” Tommy said.

 

Ashley shook her head and whispered. “It’s always later…”

 

***

 

Teddy didn’t listen to his teammates when they tried to talk him into staying at the dojo to rest. He joined them as they ran through the woods towards the shrine.

 

They armed their morphers. “Samurai scribe! Ha!”

 

Energy wrapped around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms.

 

Samurai Red and his teammates bashed through the Nanashi. Swords clanged against swords as the Rangers parried and slashed the grunts back. After battling Nanashi for nearly a year, they had the art down to a practical science.

 

Nearby, Onmoraki watched the battle from a rocky hill. She eyed Samurai Red with great interest.

 

“That’s him…” she whispered.

 

The Ayakashi inserted the thick wisp bullets into her beak-like pincer claw. She laughed as she teleported from the hill with a wave of feathers.

 

Back below, the Rangers slashed and hacked the Nanashi further into the woods. Their blades cut down Nanashi left and right and parried the grunts’ every attempt to attack.

 

Onmoraki teleported to the edge of the battle with a wave of feathers. She spotted the Red Ranger, aimed her pincer claw, and fired a bolt of blue energy.

 

The blast sparked against Samurai Red’s upper shoulder and whipped him off his feet. The Red Ranger crashed, tumbled across the ground and rolled into a crouched fighting stance.

 

A burst of blue flame ignited from within his upper chest and knocked him to the ground.

 

“Teddy!” Samurai Blue shouted as he slashed a Nanashi aside.

 

The Red Ranger pushed himself to his knees and used his sword for balance. Smoke sizzled from his armor as he faced Onmoraki.

 

The villain lifted her claw cannon. “So…one shot isn’t enough?”

 

She snapped her cannon forward and fired a volley of wisp bullets. Samurai Red dashed aside, slashed several of the blue energy bolts from the air, and took cover behind a tree.

 

The Red Ranger leaned against the tree and grasped his wound. What was that…it’s like it burnt inside of me…

 

Samurai Red readied his sword and looked around the tree. But he saw no sign of the monster.

 

The Ayakashi appeared behind Samurai Red and blasted him to the ground with a burst of spark.

 

The Red Ranger tumbled across the dirt and landed on his back. A flare of blue fire erupted from his chest with a wave of pain and agony that made him scream.

 

Nearby, Samurai Blue chopped a Nanashi to the ground. “Guys, they’re targeting, Teddy!”

 

Onmoraki fired an energy bolt at the Red Ranger. But the Blue Ranger dashed in front of the bolt, which exploded against his chest with a burst of spark. The blast drove Samurai Blue to his knees.

 

New Bitmap Image“Be careful…” Samurai Red said to his teammate. “Those aren’t ordinary bullets.”

 

The Red Ranger climbed to his feet and stumbled towards the Ayakashi. He chopped his blade, but the monster disappeared with a wave of feathers, and the weight of the Red Ranger’s strike pulled him to the ground. He collapsed but used his sword for balance to keep from falling.

 

“Teddy!” Samurai Blue said as he ran to his leader’s side. The Blue Ranger crouched next to Samurai Red and held his sword ready, prepared to defend the moment the Ayakashi reappeared. “You okay?”

 

“What about you?” Samurai Red asked. “You took one of those bullets…”

 

“It’s just a scratch,” Samurai Blue said. “It’s no big deal…”

 

New Bitmap ImageOnmoraki reappeared near the two Rangers with a wave of feathers. She opened fire with a volley of energy bursts.

 

The other Rangers ran towards their teammates and leapt in front of the blasts. The blue energy bursts sparked against their armor. One of the blasts shot past them and exploded against Samurai Red’s chest, whipping him back.

 

Samurai Red collapsed to his back. A flare of blue fire ignited from his chest and washed white-hot pain through his body.

 

“Teddy!” Samurai Blue shouted.

 

Samurai Pink shook her head. “Why are they only having that effect on Teddy?”

 

“You noticed,” the Ayakashi said. “These wisp bullets react to Fire Symbol Power. The higher the Symbol Power, the higher the damage.”

 

The Ayakashi stepped back and vanished with a wave of feathers. But her voice carried on the wind. “Samurai Red…You will burn to death from your own Symbol Power!”

 

“Circle around him!” Samurai Gold shouted.

 

The Rangers formed a protective circle around the Red Ranger.

 

Onmoraki tele-skipped through midair around them, appearing and vanishing with waves of feathers as she opened fire. The blasts came too fast and sporadically for the Rangers to dodge. Bullets sparked against their armor and forced them to the ground.

 

“Guys, stop!” Samurai Red said. “Don’t be reckless.”

 

“Who’s reckless?” Samurai Green said. “Stay down…”

 

“Right,” Samurai Yellow said. “We’ll handle this somehow.”

 

Samurai Gold nodded. “The bullets don’t affect us at all. They’re just a pain.”

 

Onmoraki increased her speed. She vanished and reappeared in midair all around the Rangers with bursts of feathers as she fired massive volleys of wisp bullets. The energy bolts exploded against the Rangers with bursts of spark that whipped them to the ground.

 

“Okay…” Samurai Green said. “Maybe they’re just a bit more than a pain…”

 

Samurai Red used his sword for balance and climbed to his feet. He armed his Samurai Seal and transformed into the white robe of Super Samurai mode.

 

“You want me?” he taunted to the air. “Then come on. Let’s finish this.”

 

Onmoraki appeared in front of the Red Ranger and blasted him with a burst of spark. The blow knocked him several steps backward, but he stood his ground.

 

Then a flare of blue fire erupted from his chest with a wave of pain.

 

Onmoraki vanished with a wave of feathers.

 

Samurai Red ran into the woods.  

 

“Teddy, wait!” Samurai Blue shouted as the others ran after him.

 

“That guy…” Samurai Green said with disbelief. “Why does he always put himself in danger like that?”

 

Ahead, Samurai Red armed his Bullzooka and stumbled towards the shrine.

 

Onmoraki appeared several feet in front of him with a wave of feathers. “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish…but you’re wasting my time.”

 

The Ayakashi disappeared with a wave of feathers. She reappeared in midair behind the Red Ranger and opened fire.

 

A blue energy bolt exploded against the Red Ranger’s back and knocked him forward. But before he hit the ground, he twisted around and fired a massive energy blast from his Bullzooka.

 

The blast exploded against Onmoraki and knocked her through the roof of the shrine.

 

Samurai Red crashed, and the impact knocked him from his armor with waves of pealing kanji symbols.

 

Onmoraki rose to her feet as secondary explosions thrashed her body. “Impossible…I didn’t think you’d try for a suicide attack!”

 

The Ayakashi exploded with a massive burst of flames.

 

***

 

Dayu and Shitari watched from the cover of the trees.

 

“She’s done it…” Shitari said. “Although, I’m surprised the fire left his body intact.”

 

“Juzou will likely be disappointed…” Dayu said.

 

***

 

“Teddy!” Samurai Blue shouted as the Rangers ran to his side.

 

Teddy lay unconscious, barely breathing.

 

The Blue Ranger cradled his body. “Teddy, come on. Get up!”

 

Samurai Green shook his head. “No way this is happening…”

 

“Teddy…” Samurai Pink said.

 

Suddenly, a burst of flame ignited behind them as Onmoraki reformed and grew giant. She stretched her massive arms and looked down upon the Rangers. “Prepare to join him!”

 

Teddy stirred, barely conscious as he gasped for breath.

 

“Teddy…” Samurai Blue said.

 

The teen lifted his Samurai Seal. “Take it…”

 

“But-”

 

“Take it,” Teddy said between gasping breaths.

 

Samurai Blue nodded and grasped the black box. They sat Teddy against a tree and ran into battle.

 

***

 

“What happened?” Dayu asked as she watched. “I thought fire was supposed to beget fire and burn him up?”

 

“That’s strange…” Shitari said. “The Red Ranger should have a body completely filled with Fire Symbol Power.”

 

***

 

Samurai Blue morphed into Super Samurai mode. He snapped the Samurai Seal onto his sword hilt and inserted the Super Gattai Disc.

 

“Megazords assemble!” he shouted. “Super Samurai Megazord!”

 

The Samurai-zords rose, unfolded, and combined to form the Super Samurai Megazord: Daikai Shinkenou. The Rangers joined in the cockpit.

 

Onmoraki charged and slashed the Megazord with bursts of spark.

 

The Super Samurai Megazord slashed its blades. But the Ayakashi disappeared with a wave of feathers.

 

She reappeared behind the Megazord and slashed its back. “It’s no use.”

 

The monster tele-skipped around Daikai Shinkenou with bursts of feathers, slashing the Megazord with bursts of spark. She appeared and re-appeared too fast for the Megazord to target.

 

Her attacks sparked against the Megazord hard enough to disrupt its formation. The individual zords blasted away and skid across the ground. 

 

***

 

Below, Teddy’s vision blurred in and out of focus. He saw what looked like a blonde girl, no older than 20, with curled bangs that framed a slender face.

 

She stepped next to him, and a flash of red light surrounded her body.

 

***

 

Onmoraki fired a wave of energy feathers that exploded against the fallen zords. The monster laughed as she prepared another volley.

 

But the Lion Origami climbed to its feet and pounced. The zord smashed against her chest with a burst of spark, knocking her back several steps, and then leapt off.

 

“Is that Teddy?” Samurai Gold asked.

 

“Acting reckless again…” Samurai Green said.

 

“No,” Samurai Blue said. He looked through the viewport and saw Teddy below. “It’s not.”

 

“Then who is it?” Samurai Yellow asked.

 

The Lion Origami charged at the monster. The Ayakashi fired a wave of energy feathers. But the zord zigged and zagged to avoid the blasts, which exploded against the streets.

 

Lion Origami pounced through the air, opened its jaw, and fired a stream of flame. The fiery blast exploded against the Ayakashi with massive bursts of spark and fire.

 

The flames surrounded the monster and thrashed her body with bursts of spark. She dropped to her knees as secondary explosions tore across her chest.

 

The Lion Origami shifted shape, ignited with flame, and shot towards the monster. The zord punctured through the monster with a massive burst of flame.

 

Onmoraki collapsed, and her energy overloaded and exploded.

 

***

 

The teens powered down their armor and ran to Teddy at the shrine. He looked unconscious again.

 

Anthony and Ryan draped his arms over their shoulders and lifted him up.

 

“Come on…” Anthony said. “Let’s get him back to Ops.”

 

Kaoru-ShinkenredFrom behind, the pilot of the Lion Origami leapt from the zord and landed near the teens. She wore the armor of Samurai Red.

 

The rangers turned to face her and stood speechless.

 

Anna knitted her brow. “Another Red Ranger…?”

 

“Who are you?” Anthony asked.

 

“Samurai Red,” she said as she powered down her armor with a burst of red light. “My name’s Lauren. Lauren Shiba.”

 

***

 

PART TWO: Lady in Red

 

Teddy lay in the resting room next to the dojo. Burns covered his body as he recovered, still unconscious.

 

Below, the other five rangers gathered in Ops with Tommy and Ashley.

 

Ryan knitted his brow. “Who was that girl? And why was she dressed like Samurai Red?”

 

“There can’t be two Red Rangers,” Bradin said. “Can there?”

 

Tommy shook his head. “I didn’t mean for you guys to find out like this.”

 

“Find out what?” Anthony asked. “What’s going on with her?”

 

“I’ll fill you in later,” Tommy said. “Where is she now?”

 

“On her way…” Anna said.

 

“I don’t get it,” Kirsten said. “Teddy’s the Red Ranger…”

 

“But he wasn’t supposed to be,” Tommy said. “Not originally. Before Teddy got mixed up with the Vorlock, I meant for Lauren to have the Samurai Red power. She’s the half-sister of Simon Kaden, the Red Hurricane Ranger.”

 

“The one who went psycho and turned all black? Is that supposed to be comforting?” Bradin asked.

 

“They don’t even know about each other,” Tommy said. Simon and Lauren shared a birth father — John — whose girlfriend gave birth to Lauren a couple years before Simon was born.

 

The rear doors opened, and Lauren stepped into Ops. The rangers stayed quiet and still.

 

“Am I interrupting something?” she asked.

 

“No,” Tommy said. “It’s okay…Guys, I think introductions are in order. This is Lauren. Lauren, this is Anthony, Bradin, Ryan, Kirsten and Anna. Lauren’s not trained like you guys, but she’s strong…She should have enough power to use a Sealing spell and stop the Gedoushuu for good.”

 

“You’d just swap your own brother?” Bradin asked.

 

“It’s not like that…” Tommy said.

 

“It is,” Ryan said. “He thought you believed in him.”

 

“I do…” Tommy said. “Look, guys, this isn’t easy. I get that. But you see what Teddy’s been putting himself through. If he keeps it up, he could get hurt. I started looking for Lauren again right after your fight with Xandred…She can stop him. Permanently.”

 

“So the answer is yes,” Ryan said.

 

“What answer?” Tommy said.

 

“To whether you’d swap your own brother,” Ryan said. “The answer is yes.”

 

***

 

Shitari waddled back and forth across the deck of the Gedoushuu ship. “Who knew Samurai Red was an imposter?”

 

Dayu sat on the deck while stroking a Susukodama. “That was quite the farce,” she said. “If Master Xandred were here, that might be all we needed to fill the Sanzu River.”

 

***

 

Lal smiled wickedly after listening to Vaelel’s report. “So the Red Ranger isn’t truly a Ranger. What an odd little twist.”

 

“What will we do?” Vaelel asked.

 

“The emperor is ready to invade the surface world,” Lal said. “Before that…I will have my revenge for the corruption of my brother.”

 

***

 

Juzou walked through the woods north of the city, He carried Urimasa casually over his shoulder. So…the Red Ranger wasn’t meant to carry his power.

 

The villain smirked. Fitting. I imagine he will be quite eager to prove himself now…This will lead to a fitting match. A match worthy of my blade.

 

He thought the words because they seemed familiar. They fit. But at the same time, a part of him yearned for battle for a different reason.  Revenge? Did he feel betrayed by the Red Ranger? Juzou didn’t bother to sort through these thoughts. These feelings. He doubted they belonged to him.

 

***

 

Ashley handed Lauren a suitcase that contained the Symbol Discs, Samurai Seal and Lion Origami of the Red Ranger. “You’ll need these…”

 

Tommy nodded. “And as soon as you’re ready, we’ll go over the Sealing Symbol again.”

 

“Wait…” Bradin said as he shook his head with frustration. “Don’t you think this is happening too fast? It was fine following Teddy…but we don’t know anything about this girl.”

 

Lauren arced an eyebrow. “I’m standing right here.”

 

“I can see that,” Bradin said.

 

“We’ve been fighting alongside Teddy this whole time,” Anna said. “Now to tell us we have to follow her all of a sudden? I don’t think we can do that.”

 

“I’m still right here,” Lauren said.

 

“Guys, give her a chance,” Tommy said. “You all gave Teddy a chance. None of you were sure about him at first. But it worked out. And this will work out. You just have to trust me.”

 

They heard footsteps come from the stairwell leading to Ops. They looked to see Teddy walk slowly down the steps. Bandages covered his forehead, cheekbone and right arm.

 

“Guys…” Teddy said. “Tommy’s right. I was never cut out for this in the first place. All I’ve done is put you in danger. I can’t keep doing that. I can’t keep fighting with you…”

 

“That’s crap,” Bradin said.

 

“You never wanted me as your leader to begin with, Bradin,” Teddy said.

 

“That was before you saved my ass a dozen times,” Bradin said.

 

“You’ve saved me plenty of times too,” Teddy said.

 

“And how am I supposed to rub that in your face if you just walk out on us?” Bradin asked.

 

“I’m not walking out,” Teddy said. “I’m stepping aside so the real Samurai Red can take her place.”

 

Anthony shook his head. “You suck at lying. You’re not really okay with this…”

 

Teddy lowered his eyes. “Don’t make this harder than it has to be. You guys are Rangers. Follow Lauren. Stop the Gedoushuu…and the Vorlock.”

 

Teddy looked away and walked from Ops, never making eye contact with his brother, or Ashley.

 

***

 

Teddy walked aimlessly through one of the outer, wooded neighborhoods of Angel Grove North.

 

It’s over…he thought as he kept his head low.

 

His mind flashed back to one of his first conversations with Tommy after becoming Samurai Red, nearly a year ago…

 

“They didn’t even talk to me,” Teddy said as he joined Tommy in Ops.

 

“You didn’t try to talk to them,” Tommy said.

 

“I’m an introvert,” Teddy said. “Another reason why I suck at this leader thing.”

 

Teddy pulled out his morpher.

 

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I’d love to keep this and be the Red Ranger, to fight against the Gedoushuu. But I can’t. I’m not a leader. If you need a sixth Ranger, maybe a gold one this time, then we’ll talk. OK?”

 

Tommy sighed. “I’m not going to make you do this, little brother.”

 

“OK…good.” Teddy laid down his morpher and started walking from Ops.

 

The alarms suddenly sounded. The computer monitors showed an image of grunts attacking the city. The Gedoushuu grunts were called Nanashi. They looked fishlike, with fanged maws that covered most of their faces, slimy red skin, and black-and-red armor over yellow garments. They carried jagged swords and bows.

 

Teddy looked to the monitor and sighed.

 

Saying nothing, he walked back to his morpher, picked it up, and ran off to join his teammates. 

 

Teddy had rejoined Tommy in Ops following the battle and defeat of the Gedoushuu forces.

 

“I’m keeping the morpher,” Teddy said.

 

“I figured you would,” Tommy said.

 

“On one condition,” Teddy said. “Tell me why you wanted me to have it so badly.”

 

“I already told you,” Tommy said. “You can lead this team. I have faith in you.”

 

“I’m being serious, Tommy,” Teddy said. “You’ve never wanted to put me in harm’s way. Why now? Especially after everything that happened with Simon’s team.”

 

Tommy sighed and shook his head. “Have you always been this stubborn?”

 

“Not always, no,” Teddy said.

 

“You were already running into harm’s way,” Tommy said. “You were about to hop into a pit of Vorlock. I wanted you to be able to protect yourself. Then after seeing you fight…I was convinced you were meant to have the power.”

 

“Keep going,” Teddy said.

 

Tommy sighed. “Look, little brother,” Tommy said. “You know things are bad. Worse than they’ve ever been. If I could, I’d give everyone I loved a morpher so they could protect themselves if needed. But those things aren’t as easy to make as you’d think.”

 

“You’re not just giving me something to protect myself,” Teddy said. “You’re putting me into the fight. There’s a difference. You-”

 

“I need you,” Tommy said. “I need you, OK? I almost lost my son. I let my first Ranger team fall apart…So I need you. I need people I can trust and count on, and who won’t let me down.”

 

Teddy nodded. “That’s all you had to say.”

 

Teddy shook his head as the memory cleared.

 

“I guess you didn’t need me for too long…” he whispered. “Did you, big brother?”

 

***

 

Anthony, Bradin, Ryan, Anna and Kirsten waited silently in the dojo. They said nothing, thinking only of Teddy.

 

Bradin couldn’t help but remember one of their first battles…

 

Samurai Red pushed himself back to his feet despite the pain that tore through his body. He realized he hadn’t slept since Bryce had gone missing. His body was weak and worn—not ideal for fighting a new enemy.

 

“Guys…” he said. The other Rangers were still scattered across the ground. He felt panic clutch his throat. Had he gotten them killed already? “Guys, come on, get up. If you don’t get up, you’re dead.”

 

Samurai Green climbed slowly back to his feet. “We know that; thanks for the pep talk.”

 

The other Rangers started to climb to their feet too—except for Samurai Yellow.

 

“Kirsten, are you OK?” Samurai Pink asked.

 

The Pink Ranger ran to the Yellow Ranger’s side and started to help her to her feet.

 

“Leave her,” Samurai Red said.

 

He didn’t mean for that to sound nearly as harsh as it did, but the monster was moving off. The Red Ranger knew from experience that they had to move, now, or more people would die. They didn’t have time to lick their wounds. If they could move, they could fight.

 

Plus, if they had been seriously injured, they would have been knocked from their armor. The fact that Samurai Yellow was still morphed meant she would be fine. The Red Ranger knew this.

 

The Green Ranger did not. “What did you say…? You can’t be serious?”

 

“There’s no time, Bradin,” Samurai Red said.

 

Samurai Red pulled his sword from the ground and charged ahead.

 

“Teddy…” Samurai Blue called after him.

 

“Don’t shout after him,” Samurai Green said.

 

“Bradin’s right,” Samurai Pink said. “We gave him a chance. Look what happened…”

 

“No…” Samurai Yellow said. “You’re being too hard on him. Look…”

 

They looked to the other side of the plaza, to where Samurai Red caught up with Oostumuji.

 

Samurai Red hopped past the monster while swinging his sword. The villain parried the blow with a burst of spark. The Red Ranger landed, turned, and slashed his sword across the monster’s back. 

 

He heard a little girl cry nearby. Samurai Red ran to the girl and used one arm to lift her. He planned to carry her to safety. But Oostumuji charged at the Ranger and swung his sword.

 

Samurai Red dodged the blade.

 

Oostumuji twisted his grip and swung at the Ranger again. Samurai Red parried and stepped backward.

 

The Red Ranger carried the girl with one arm and used his free hand to parry the monster’s strikes. The villain kept swinging with quick and powerful blows that Samurai Red dodged and parried. 

 

The other four Rangers continued to watch.

 

“He knew we were fine,” Samurai Yellow said. “And he knew people were in trouble. He just wanted to protect them.”

 

Oostumuji swung at Samurai Red with a wide arc. Samurai Red crouched, covered the girl, and held his sword along his back. The monster’s blade clashed against the Ranger’s sword and slid forward with a burst of spark.

 

Samurai Red rose and slashed his sword across the monster, knocking the creature back a step. He thrust his sword forward, and the blade speared against the monster with enough force to hurl him backward.

 

“Ruthie!” a voice shouted from nearby. The little girl’s mother ran from the nearby rubble. “Ruthie!”

 

“Mommy!” the little girl shouted.

 

Samurai Red ran to the woman and handed over the girl. “Run. Get to the nearest shelter.”

 

The other four Rangers kept watching.

 

“OK…” Samurai Green said. “OK, I get it. But he still needs to work on his tact.”

 

“Tact doesn’t have a place on the battlefield,” Samurai Blue said.

 

“Please talk normal,” Samurai Green said.

 

“Come on,” Samurai Pink said. “Let’s go help our leader.”

 

***

 

The next morning, a wave of Nanashi attacked a group of civilians near the base of a sports stadium in Angel Grove North.  

 

Lauren, Bradin, Ryan, Anna and Kirsten ran to the scene and stood to face off with the grunts. Anthony had stayed behind, refusing to fight alongside the new Red Ranger.

 

“Gedoushuu,” Lauren called out as she armed her morpher. She spoke with a confidence that hid her inexperience. “That’s far enough.”

 

The teens armed their morphers. “Samurai scribe! Ha!”

 

Energy wrapped around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms. They unsheathed their swords and snapped into fighting stances.

 

“Blade of the Flame! Samurai Red!”

 

“Blade of the Woods! Samurai Green!”

 

“Blade of the Water! Samurai Blue!”

 

“Blade of the Earth! Samurai Yellow!”

 

“Blade of the Wind! Samurai Pink!”

 

“Symbol Task Force!” Samurai Red called. Together, they shouted: “Samurai Rangers!”

 

Samurai Green, Samurai Blue, Samurai Yellow, and Samurai Pink charged to attack. They parried and slashed through Nanashi with bursts of spark, tearing through the enemy soldiers.

 

Samurai Red walked towards the battle with a calm and casual stride. She kept her sword down, ready to strike. 

 

A wave of Nanashi broke from the main group and charged towards her.

 

A grunt hopped towards the Red Ranger and chopped towards her head.

 

With two quick strikes, the Red Ranger parried the blow and slashed the Nanashi to the ground. She lowered her weapon and continuing walking forward.

 

A wave of three grunts swarmed around her. With three quick strikes, she slashed them back with bursts of spark.

 

The Red Ranger wasted no movement as another wave of Nanashi swarmed around her. She slashed upward, horizontally, downward—striking the Nanashi with quick and powerful blows.

 

Samurai Red spun and slashed a single strike that sparked through three Nanashi and knocked them backward.

 

She spun her Symbol Disc. The disc ignited fiery energy that washed across the sword, which transformed into a massive blade. “Fire Breaker!”

 

Another wave of grunts charged towards her.

 

She chopped the blade against the ground with a shockwave that hurled several grunts off their feet. The Red Ranger used the flat side of the weapon to block two swords, then swung the weapon wide to slash five grunts with bursts of spark that whipped them backward.

 

Samurai Red twisted her grip and speared the weapon against a grunt with a burst of spark. Then she swung the weapon wide to slash through several soldiers. The Red Ranger swung the weapon through a powerful overhead chop that slashed several Nanashi aside.

 

***

 

Anthony walked to Bear Lake and spotted Teddy sitting on a grassy hill while staring out across the water. 

 

“Teddy…” Anthony said as he walked towards his friend. “So this is where you ran off to?”

 

Teddy nodded. “Tommy used to come here a lot to think.”

 

Anthony took a seat on the hill. “How are those burns?”

 

“I’m fine,” Teddy said.

 

“Right, right,” Anthony said as he looked towards the lake. “You know…it doesn’t really matter if you were meant to be the Red Ranger. That doesn’t change anything. It’s the same as it was before. You’re Samurai Red.”

 

“But I’m not,” Teddy said. “Just like I wasn’t meant to be the Kiba Ranger back when we fought Zedd…I wasn’t meant to be Zeored during the Second Countdown. I’m a fill-in. Nothing’s changed…and I don’t think it ever will. I’m just…I’m nothing, Anthony. I’m nothing.”

 

***

 

Samurai Red opened the Samurai Seal. She attached the Super Disc to the inside of the black box, then flipped the device shut. She thrust the box forward and ignited its power.

 

“Super Samurai mode.” The black box flared with golden power that activated the Red Ranger’s Super Samurai armor.

 

Samurai Red pulled the Super Disc from the black box, slid the disc over her sword handle, and attached the black box to the hilt.

 

The Red Ranger walked through a group of Nanashi and slashed them aside with quick and powerful strikes that sparked on impact.

 

Samurai Red swung her blade through streaks of red energy that slashed through the last Nanashi with bursts of spark that whipped them to the ground. The fallen grunts exploded with bursts of flame.

 

The other Rangers lowered their weapons and faced the new Red Ranger with mixed feelings.

 

***

 

PART THREE: Showdown Clash

 

Teddy left Bear Lake and walked through the woods. He heard footsteps come from behind and turned to see Juzou walk towards him.

 

The demon warrior held his sword in its scabbard and stared ahead with cold, dead eyes. “Samurai Red…” he said. “No…it seems that’s wrong. But why care about titles and destiny? Fight me…”

 

Juzou unsheathed his sword and aimed the blade at the ranger.

 

“You have some of Bryce’s memories, right?” Teddy asked.

 

“This again?” Juzou asked. “Do you believe I’m him simply because I have his memories? If that were true, you humans would be immortal. You would live on in the memories of everyone you encountered, with everyone you shared a hardship or joy.”

 

“Why’d he do it?” Teddy asked. “Why’d he turn himself into you?”

 

Juzou hesitated, surprised at the question. “He thought he could save the souls of his people.”

 

“So he gave up his entire life?” Teddy asked.

 

“Wouldn’t you, to save the souls of humanity?” Juzou asked.

 

“I’d make sure to get my facts straight first,” Teddy said. “Was everything…Was everything we went through together a lie?”

 

Juzou hesitated again, and his blade lowered slightly. “No. He never lied, except to hide his heritage. You made him feel…human. But that humanity has long since faded. Only my lust for battle remains…Why these pointless questions?”

 

Teddy pulled the bandages from his forehead. He armed his Spin Sword and held the weapon casually over his shoulder.

 

“Because this was my last chance to ask,” Teddy said. “You’re not walking away from this fight…Juzou.”

 

Juzou smirked. “You’re finally ready...All that exists is the sword. No lies. No deceptions. Only our duel…”

 

Juzou charged and clashed blades with Teddy. Their weapons clanged and sparked as they circled around one another, parrying and slashing with their swords.

 

They dashed deeper into the woods as they faced each other and clashed blades. Juzou spun and swung wide. Teddy ducked beneath the blow. But Juzou kicked the legs out from beneath the teen.

 

Teddy crashed against the ground but quickly rolled to his feet. He lunged and chopped his sword, but Juzou blocked the blow. Their blades locked, Teddy punched Juzou across the face and kicked him backward.

 

Juzou staggered but stayed on his feet.

 

Teddy chopped his blade. But Juzou blocked the blow and smashed the pommel of his sword across Teddy’s head. Teddy dropped to his knees, and Juzou kicked the teen’s side.

 

The demon chopped his blade towards the fallen ranger. But Teddy parried the blow while rolling aside and pushing himself to his feet.

 

Juzou stepped back and held his sword forward. Purple flame washed over him as he shifted into his demon form. The demon warrior charged to attack.

 

Teddy armed his morpher. “Samurai scribe! Ha!”

 

Energy wrapped around him as he morphed into his Ranger form.

 

The Ranger and demon clashed blades with bursts of spark. They shifted their stances and slashed at one another with powerful strikes and blows.

 

The Red Ranger slashed downward diagonally. Juzou blocked the blow and twisted the sword aside. The Red Ranger twisted his sword free and slashed. But Juzou parried and countered — Samurai Red blocked the blow.

 

Samurai Red had lost Bryce. He had lost his status as the leader of the Samurai Rangers. He had lost his best friend Simon to darkness. He had few things left in his life — all that remained was the duel.

 

***

 

The rangers returned to the Hayate Way just in time to see Tommy head out.

 

“Going somewhere?” Bradin asked.

 

“Teddy ran off,” Tommy said. “I need to talk to him…”

 

“To explain why you kicked him off your team?” Bradin asked.

 

Tommy narrowed his eyes. “I’m not in the mood, Bradin. Keep it up, and I’ll send you right back to the curb where I found you.”

 

“Whoa,” Anna said. “Let’s just calm down.”

 

“I know this is hard, and I didn’t exactly handle it well,” Tommy said. “I never meant for everything to happen this fast. But stop and ask yourself: If I really wanted Teddy off this team, why would I let him keep his morpher? Why go through the trouble of giving Lauren her own?”

 

Tommy looked to Lauren. “Lauren, we need you…You’re the only one who can harness enough Fire Symbol power to make the Sealing Spell work.”

 

He looked back to Bradin and the others. “But that doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel about Teddy. He still has his place. But with Lauren, the pressure’s off him to be the one to seal Xandred for good. Now…I’m going to go find him.”

 

“Let us come with you,” Ryan said.

 

“No,” Tommy said. “You guys stay here in case the Gedoushuu attack again. And Lauren…you need to work on the Sealing Symbol.”

 

Lauren nodded. “I will. I think I’ve almost got it down already.”

 

“Good,” Tommy said. “Keep practicing. And the rest of you? Practice with her. If you want to hate someone, hate me. Don’t blame Lauren for being willing to fight.”

 

***

 

New Bitmap ImageSamurai Red and Juzou’s battle moved to a pedestrian bridge that spanned a chasm. They exchanged fierce blows as they circled each other on the narrow walkway.

 

The Red Ranger parried, dodged and slashed. The opponents moved with a rhythm that came with the skills and experience of seasoned sword fighters.

 

Samurai Red couldn’t get Juzou’s words out of his mind: “You’re finally ready...All that exists is the sword. No lies. No deceptions. Only our duel…”

 

He’s right, the Red Ranger thought as he swung low. But Juzou blocked the blow. No lies. No hiding…no pretending to be something we’re not…

 

Their blades clashed with renewed fervor.

 

***

 

Shitari stood within the Gedoushuu ship. His squid-like tentacles lashed out and wrapped around the latest Ayakashi: Oborojime. Flashes of purple shadow energy flowed from the tentacles and poured into the Ayakashi.

 

shinken-va-oborojime“Such…such power!” the Ayakashi shouted. He wore dark, samurai-styled armor that appeared wrapped in thick centipedes. More than half a dozen claws curved from his left wrist in place of a fist.

 

“Take as much as you need…” Shitari said. “Just make the humans suffer…”

 

Dayu sat nearby while stroking her Susukodama. “For Xandred to return, we need more humans to suffer?”

 

“This is all I can think of to hasten his healing,” Shitari said as he poured his energy into the Ayakashi. The drain flooded his body with weakness, and he dropped to his knees.

 

Oborojime opened his jaws and screamed as power flooded his body.

 

***

 

Tommy hurried through the woods. He headed towards the sound of swords clanging in the distance.

 

He stopped when he saw Samurai Red and Juzou ahead. The opponents spun, slashed and parried with ferocity.

 

Tommy recognized his brother’s fighting style. He fought as if lost, with nothing to lose. The former ranger knitted his brow with concern. He couldn’t help but remember when he fought that way. When he felt lost.

 

Samurai Red and Juzou clashed blades with a force that knocked them both several steps backward. They dropped to their knees and used their swords for balance to keep from collapsing.

 

“Teddy!” Tommy shouted as he ran to his younger brother’s side. “Come on, let’s go…You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to fight this way.”

 

Juzou stood and lifted his blade. “Don’t interfere with our duel, human.”

 

Tommy stood and glared at the demon. “You better back off, Juzou. I won’t let this fight go on…”

 

Juzou charged to attack.

 

Tommy slapped his right fist against his left palm and fired a Ki blast that hurled Juzou off his feet.

 

The demon warrior crashed and skid down a hill, plummeting towards the crevice below.

 

***

 

Lauren stood in the Hayate Way courtyard. She practiced brush strokes on a blank canvas, repeatedly drawing the Sealing Symbol meant to stop Xandred and the Gedoushuu forever.

 

The other four rangers sat on the steps of the school.

 

Bradin shook his head. “Did he really expect us to practice with her?”

 

“I suppose we should say…something,” Anna said. “This isn’t her fault.”

 

“Guys…” Ryan said. “I’m worried about Teddy. We should be looking for him.”

 

“Yeah,” Kirsten said. “What if he’s hurt?”

 

Suddenly, the alarms blared.

 

***

 

Oborojime thrust his clawed fist and fired tendrils that wrapped around citizens and hurled them through the air.

 

The villain stalked across a financial district in Angel Grove North and lashed out at everyone who screamed and ran.

 

“Don’t worry…” he said mockingly. “You won’t die quickly…”

 

Nearby, Anthony ran to the scene. He narrowed his eyes as he saw the Ayakashi toss helpless men and women.

 

The teen armed his morpher. “Samurai scribe! Ha!”

 

Energy wrapped around him as he morphed into his Ranger form.

 

Samurai Gold unsheathed his sword and charged to attack.

 

***

 

Bradin, Ryan, Kirsten and Anna rushed into Ops. Ashley pulled up a map of the city on her screen, to show the location of the attack.

 

“It’s an Ayakashi,” Ashley said. “A powerful one…”

 

“Who wants to go get the new girl?” Bradin asked.

 

“New girl?” Lauren said from the entrance. “Listen, I didn’t ask for this…I was drafted. Just like all of you. And just like all of you, I agreed so I could fight. Fight to protect this city. I’m not trying to replace anyone. I’m not trying to step on anyone’s toes…I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

 

Bradin glanced down with shame and shifted uncomfortably. “Well…”

 

“You can apologize later,” Lauren said with a smirk. “Right now, we have work to do.”

 

***

 

Samurai Gold held his blade in a reverse grip and slashed at the monster. The Ayakashi used its forearms to block the blows with bursts of spark.

 

The Gold Ranger spun and swung wide. His blade slashed the monster with a burst of spark that knocked him several steps backward.

 

Oborojime staggered but stayed on his feet. He opened his jaws and blew a cloud of mist that surrounded the Gold Ranger, clouding his vision.

 

A volley of energy daggers blasted from the monster’s body and shot towards Samurai Gold. The Gold Ranger swung his blade to knock several blasts away. But they came too fast and exploded against his armor with enough force to hurl him off his feet.

 

The Gold Ranger crashed and tumbled across the pavement. Slowly, he climbed to his feet and stepped into a defensive stance.

 

The monster stalked forward. “One Samurai Ranger? You are nothing…”

 

Oborojime thrust his clawed fist and fired tendrils that wrapped around the Gold Ranger. The monster snapped the Gold Ranger through the air, bashed him against a building, and dropped him to the ground.

 

The impact knocked Anthony from his armor with a burst of golden light.

 

The Ayakashi laughed. “What’s the matter? Finished already?”

 

“Gedoushuu!” a voice shouted from nearby. The Ayakashi looked to see the five rangers run to the scene.

 

They armed their morphers. “Samurai scribe! Ha!”

 

Energy wrapped around them as they morphed into their Ranger forms.

 

“Blade of the Flame! Samurai Red!”

 

“Blade of the Woods! Samurai Green!”

 

“Blade of the Water! Samurai Blue!”

 

“Blade of the Earth! Samurai Yellow!”

 

“Blade of the Wind! Samurai Pink!”

 

“Symbol Task Force!” Samurai Red called. Together, they shouted: “Samurai Rangers!”

 

Oborojime fired bursts of energy daggers from his body. The Rangers slashed the daggers aside with bursts of spark as they charged to attack.

 

The five Rangers surrounded the monster and slashed. The Ayakashi dodged and parried, and he slashed the Rangers with his claw fist.

 

Samurai Red chopped at the monster. But he blocked and slashed the Red Ranger with a burst of spark that whipped her backward.

 

Samurai Green slashed and maneuvered around the monster to run to Anthony’s side. He leaned down next to the fallen Ranger.

 

“Anthony, nap time’s over,” Samurai Green said.

 

The Green Ranger helped Anthony sit up. The teen looked to see the Red Ranger fighting alongside the others. They surrounded and slashed the monster with bursts of spark.

 

“You’re really fighting with her?” Anthony asked.

 

“She’s not…all bad,” Samurai Green said.

 

***

 

Teddy leaned on his Spin Sword and sat back. He breathed heavily as he tried to catch his breath.

 

Tommy sat down next to him. “You ran off…”

 

“I realize that,” Teddy said between breaths. “What did you follow me for?”

 

“To talk to you,” Tommy said. “To apologize…”

 

***

 

Back in his human form, Juzou used his sword for balance and climbed to his feet. He breathed heavily and narrowed his eyes.

 

“I’ve only just had a taste…” he whispered.

 

***

 

Samurai Red slashed at Oborojime. The Ayakashi blocked and bashed his claw fist against the Ranger’s chest with a burst of spark. The blow knocked her to the ground, and she tumbled across the pavement.

 

The Red Ranger rose to her knees, and the others regrouped round her.

 

The Ayakashi thrust its claw fist and fired three tendrils. The tendrils whipped at the four Rangers as they parried and blocked. But eventually, the tendrils overpowered the Rangers and whipped them to the ground with bursts of spark.

 

Samurai Red climbed to her feet and transformed into Super Samurai Mode with a flash of golden energy.

 

Oborojime snapped his tendrils at the Red Ranger. But she chopped them aside with bursts of spark.

 

The other four Rangers climbed to their feet and armed their elemental Symbol Discs. They spun their discs, sending tendrils of energy wrapping around their blades.

 

“Spin Swords!” the four Rangers shouted. “Element Wave!”

 

They chopped their swords, firing blades of energy that cut through the air towards the monster. The energy blades exploded against the Ayakashi with massive bursts of spark, forcing the creature several steps backward.

 

Samurai Red armed her morpher — equipped with a new feature Tommy dubbed the Battleizer. She attached the device to her wrist.

 

MegaFemaleRed“Battleizer!” she shouted as she swiped her hand across the morpher.

 

Red energy flashed around her as she transformed into her Battleizer mode — a suit of hardened red armor, a gray mouthpiece and a folded sword.

 

She slid a lever from the sword’s handle to snap the blade open.

 

“Battleizer Blade!” she shouted as the weapon pulsed with fiery energy.

 

The Red Ranger dashed past the monster and slashed through its body with massive bursts of spark. She spun and swung in an x-shaped pattern that tore the creature to pieces. 

 

Oborojime collapsed as his body overloaded and exploded.

 

***

 

“You don’t have to apologize…” Teddy said. “This probably should have happened sooner.”

 

“No,” Tommy said. “I meant everything I told you before. It doesn’t matter whether you were meant to be Samurai Red or not. But…the bottom line is, Lauren can use the Sealing Symbol. I never meant for her to replace you…that’s why she has her own morpher.”

 

“There’s another ‘but’ coming,” Teddy said.

 

Tommy nodded. “But…you keep putting yourself in danger every time you push yourself.”

 

“I have to,” Teddy said. “You pushed yourself all the time when you were a Ranger.”

 

“It’s all about your mindset,” Tommy said. “You can’t struggle with The Power and try to force it into submission. That’s like trying to fight a volcano. And that’s exactly what you’ve been doing. I did the same thing…Sensei Kaku actually tossed me into a volcano to teach me that.”

 

“That was on the Astral Plane,” Teddy said, having heard the story. “That doesn’t count.”

 

“You know what I mean,” Tommy said. “This whole time you’ve been trying to prove you’re worthy of being the Red Ranger. Don’t try to prove it. Just do it.”

 

Teddy arced an eyebrow. “Is that your way of saying ‘do or do not, there is no try’?”

 

“Chelsea let Tyler watch Star Wars for the first time,” Tommy said. “Everything he says sounds like Yoda now.” 

 

Teddy grinned. “He’s a good kid.”

 

“And you’re a good uncle,” Tommy said. “You’re a good Ranger, too…I still need you to be that Ranger.”

 

Suddenly, they heard footsteps come from a nearby creek. They turned to see Juzou stagger towards them.

 

“Talking?” the villain asked. “Talking when you should be fighting…All that exists…is the sword.”

 

Teddy lifted his Spin Sword.

 

Tommy laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “There’s more than the sword…You have your family. Your teammates. The bond you have with them…that can never be replaced. You don’t have to face Juzou. Not alone.”

 

Teddy tightened his grip on his weapon. “I have to, Tommy…I have to put this behind me.”

 

***

 

Anthony returned to the dojo and patched up his wounds. Lauren, Bradin, Ryan, Kirsten and Anna joined him after finishing off the giant Oborojime.

 

“There you are,” Bradin said. “Where’d you run off to?”

 

Anthony glanced at Lauren, then looked back to his friends. “Teddy basically thinks he’s worthless now…because of her.”

 

Their communicators toned, and Bradin answered the call. “This is Bradin…”

 

“Guys, it’s Tommy,” he said. “I found Teddy. One guess who he’s fighting…”

 

***

 

Teddy and Juzou dashed sideways through the woods while facing each other and holding their blades.

 

Teddy remembered the words of his brother: “This whole time you’ve been trying to prove you’re worthy of being the Red Ranger. Don’t try to prove it. Just do it.”

 

The opponents leapt at each other and clashed swords in midair. They landed back to back, then spun and slashed at one another. Their blades clanged and sparked as they circled around each other. 

 

Teddy stepped back and armed his morpher. He drew his kanji symbol, which glowed with red light and wrapped around him as he morphed into his Ranger form.

 

Juzou burst with purple flame and shifted into his demon form.

 

They dashed and clashed swords. They slashed, parried and dodged with renewed strength and fervor. The Red Samurai Ranger fought not out of anger. Not out of despair or heartbreak. And not to prove his self-worth. He fought because he was a Ranger. He fought to protect those who could not protect themselves.

 

He faced Juzou. Not Bryce.

 

He remembered his brother’s words: “There’s more than the sword…You have your family. Your teammates. The bond you have with them…that can never be replaced.”

 

The Red Ranger felt power surge through his veins. He let his feelings of worthlessness vanish like a passing cloud. He let go of his feelings of loss and despair.

 

But as a result…he felt nothing. He buried his emotions. Only the sword remained. He again remembered Juzou’s words: “You’re finally ready...All that exists is the sword. No lies. No deceptions. Only our duel…”

 

“Ha!” He hopped forward and chopped with a powerful blow that knocked Juzou backward. “Ha!”

 

He swung upward, then wide, forcing the villain back.

 

Fiery energy surged around the Red Ranger as he charged to attack. “Haaaaa!”

 

Waves of purple fire flared through Juzou’s body as he charged back. “Haaaaaaa!”

 

They shot at one another through streaks of power.

 

To be continued…Chapter 39