Chapter 39: Ultimate Samurai

A Crack in the World: Final Duel

 

Samurai Red and Juzou dashed towards each other through waves of power. They clashed swords with massive bursts of spark and energy.

 

***

 

The Sanzu River stirred with flashes of power beneath the water’s surface. The eruptions sent ripples that rocked the Gedoushuu ship.

 

Shitari waddled towards the nearest viewport. “Master Xandred should be recovering from his water depletion soon …But we’ll still need one final boost.”

 

The ship shook as the waves stirred with increased violence. Dayu stared out the viewport. She sensed something strange about the waves. Something familiar.

 

“There’s more to this disturbance than that…” she said.

 

“Hmm?” Shitari asked.

 

“It’s Juzou…” Dayu said.

 

***

 

Samurai Red and Juzou circled around one another. They slashed, parried and dodged with great speed, their swords clanging and sparking.

 

The Red Ranger let go of his emotions — to the point he felt nothing. No hatred. No rage. Just the sword. Nothing else mattered.

 

Some might call it the numbness of depression. He lost Bryce — his opponent, and yet not. He lost his team. He lost his purpose. But he wouldn’t let himself feel that loss anymore. So he chose to feel nothing. 

 

The brief encouragement from his brother’s words faded. But he still remembered the words of Juzou: All that exists is the sword. No lies. No deceptions. Only our duel…”

 

The sword didn’t hide its identity. The sword didn’t deceive.

 

Ignore thoughts of Bryce. Ignore the true Red Ranger. Set them both aside. And focus on the sword. Nothing more.

 

***

 

Ryan, Bradin, Anthony, Kirsten and Anna ran through the woods. Tommy had told them about Teddy’s fight with Juzou. Anthony had told them about Teddy’s despair.

 

They wanted to help their friend. Their leader. No matter what.

 

***

 

Night fell across the city.

 

Samurai Red’s arms and legs burned with fatigue. He parried one of Juzou’s strikes. But Juzou twisted his grip and slashed the Red Ranger with a burst of spark.

 

The demon warrior pressed forward and slashed Samurai Red’s chest with a burst of spark, knocking him back several steps.

 

Samurai Red staggered but stood his ground. He and Juzou slashed as one as they past each other — Juzou’s blade cut Samurai Red’s gut, and the Red Ranger’s blade slashed the demon’s chest.

 

The opponents turned to face each other as they stepped into fighting stances.

 

Samurai Red pounced and chopped. Juzou parried and swung upward; his blade slashed the Red Ranger’s chest with a burst of spark.

 

The demon chopped his sword towards the Red Ranger’s head. Samurai Red lifted his blade and blocked the blow. Their swords locked, and Juzou pressed down, driving the Red Ranger to his knees.

 

“This is perfect…” the villain said as he pressed his sword. “Sate my thirst.”

 

Juzou pressed down harder, driving his blade against the Red Ranger’s shoulder. “This is something only those who live by the sword can taste!”

 

The Red Ranger twisted his blade and knocked the villain’s sword aside. Juzou swung in an x-shaped pattern that sparked against the Red Ranger and knocked him off his feet.

 

Samurai Red crashed against the ground and tumbled aside. He rolled into a crouched position and used his sword for balance.

 

Despair swelled within the gap of his emotions. He should have been stronger. Bryce. He lost everything, and couldn’t lose this duel too. He had to prove himself. Bryce.

 

Stop trying and do, his brother had said. But how? How, when he was never meant to carry his powers in the first place?

 

He swept the emotions aside.

 

“Only the sword…” the Red Ranger whispered.

 

Juzou pounced and swung wide.

 

Samurai Red blocked the blow and lunged forward while sliding his blade along Juzou’s sword. The Ranger slashed past Juzou with a burst of spark.

 

Juzou turned and slashed.

 

Samurai Red blocked the blow and cut the demon’s wrist with a burst of spark. The impact knocked the blade from the demon’s hand.

 

The Red Ranger lunged and chopped. His blade slashed through Juzou’s body with ripping bursts of spark that drove him to his knees.

 

Secondary explosions tore through Juzou’s body as his sword landed next to him, stabbing into the ground.

 

The Red Ranger’s balance waivered, and he collapsed to his knees.

 

Purple fire exploded from Juzou and splashed across the landscape. The light burned bright enough for the other rangers to spot in the distance.

 

***

 

Teddy collapsed to all fours and stabbed his blade into the ground to keep from falling. A ring of fire burned around him and Juzou.

 

Juzou lay on the ground, sprawled on his back. The villain smiled as his eyes opened slowly.

 

“That…was pure pleasure,” he whispered.

 

The villain lifted his head and sat up.

 

Teddy narrowed his eyes at the demon. “How…How are you still moving?”

 

“This body just won’t die….” Juzou said, his voice weak and raspy. He reached up and grabbed the handle of his sword. “As long as I can hold a blade…this pleasure will continue.”

 

He climbed to his feet while keeping hold of the weapon. “To be mortal? Is nothing. Loss and despair. Heartache and sadness. Life…seems like an illusion. But…this sword alone is truth. What is your truth, Ranger?”

 

“My truth…?” Teddy asked as he looked to his Spin Sword.

 

“Teddy!” a voice shouted from nearby. He looked to see Ryan and the others run to the scene.

 

They moved to the edge of the flames.

 

“Teddy!” Kirsten shouted. “Don’t listen to him!”

 

“There’s more than the sword!” Anthony shouted.

 

“Teddy…” Ryan said. “You’re better than this. You’re better than him…”

 

“Guys…” Teddy said as he looked to his teammates.

 

“Don’t look away from me,” Juzou said as he leaned on the handle of his blade. “This duel…isn’t over.”

 

He grabbed tightly onto the sword and started to pull. But it wouldn’t budge.

 

He looked down to see a ghostly image only he could see — the ghostly image of his sister Lal. She grabbed onto his feet to keep him from moving. And she looked up at him with disappointment.

 

His sword stirred with the souls of the Vorlock.

 

The feelings of Bryce flooded through Juzou. Guilt. Pain. Heartache. Regret. He sacrificed his love to save his people, and failed. He plunged into despair, and hid behind his blade. He buried his feelings with lust for battle. With anger.

 

He lost himself to despair. Completely. Utterly. Lost. For within the solace of despair, there was no loss. No pain. No regret. Only emptiness. 

 

Juzou? There was no Juzou. Not really. There was only Bryce. A frightened child who denied himself, and his feelings, to cling to family traditions that failed him time and time again. Traditions that thrived on ignorance and hate. He followed that path towards despair, to escape loneliness. Isolation. Rejection. Shame. Feelings no one should suffer. Feelings he buried. 

 

Only the sword mattered.

 

So deep into despair. No turning back. He failed his family. He failed his people. He lived as a disgrace to them, always. Emperor Kraigen’s words rang in his mind: “Your love for a surface-dweller is an abomination. Would you choose impure lust over the values and traditions of our people?”

 

The ghostly image of Lal looked upon him with shame. Such shame.

 

Urimasa…” Bryce said as he struggled to pull the blade free. “We’ve made it this far…”

 

He grabbed the sword with both hands and pulled, but the weapon wouldn’t budge. “Urimasa…cut down these feelings. Cut down this life. Only the sword matters…Urimasa!”

 

Teddy knitted his brow and looked to Juzou. The ranger gripped his Spin Sword and stood slowly.

 

“That’s your truth…” Teddy said as he watched Juzou try to pull the blade free.

 

“To abandon all hope. To abandon all feeling…” Bryce said as he pulled at the sword. “To abandon humanity…is to know strength. Without humanity, there is no loss. Without humanity, there is no pain. There is only the sword.”

 

He pulled at the weapon but could not get it to move.

 

“No!” Bryce shouted. He lost everything. His life. His love. His people. The feelings raged, but he buried them yet again. “Everything is an illusion. Life is an illusion. Life is…pain. This sword, this sword is the real thing!”

 

Bryce staggered backward and clenched his jaw. A red line glowed and split down his forehead, all the way down his body, from where the Red Ranger’s blade had struck.

 

He opened his eyes wide as his chest tightened with pain.

 

Teddy knitted his brow. He remembered the words Serrator spoke to Juzou: “Juzou…you truly are…Gedoushuu…”

 

“You did this to yourself…” Teddy said. “You walked away from everything. Your life. Your humanity.”

 

Bryce smirked as agony ripped his body. “To fall to Gedou…is to know strength.”

 

Bryce collapsed to his knees as a burst of fire exploded from his wound. 

 

Teddy fell back and lifted his arm for cover.

 

Suddenly, a wave of hydro energy cut through the flames, creating an opening. Ryan lowered his blade and rushed through the fire, and the others followed.

 

They helped Teddy to his feet, draped his arms over their shoulders, and moved from the flames.

 

Bryce tilted his head back and screamed as his body ripped into ash, which blew into the wind. 

 

***

 

Shitari stared through the viewport of the Gedoushuu ship. “He’s dead…Juzou.”

 

“I see…” Dayu said softly. “All that ambition…I wonder if it was fulfilled in the end.”

 

“Who knows… Shitari said. The squid-like demon used his staff for balance and waddled towards Dayu. “Now what about you? Maser Xandred went through the trouble of fixing your shamisen, but you haven’t played it.”

 

“No…” Dayu said, her voice distant. She thought of Juzou’s obsession. His despair. And she shuddered at the possibility of holding onto such obsession until the end of her existence.

 

“Perhaps its sound is the final touch to restore Master Xandred,” Shitari said.

 

“Perhaps…” Dayu whispered. Would she ever be free of her own despair? Would she ever find escape, as Juzou? If so, would her escape feel just as tormented as his?

 

***

 

Morning came. Smoke fogged the landscape where Juzou’s sword stabbed into the ground. Teddy sat against a tree nearby. Ryan and Anthony crouched next to him, and the other rangers stood.

 

They said nothing, letting awkward silence hang in the air.

 

Teddy glanced at Juzou’s weapon. Loss and depression clenched his throat.

 

“I’m sorry…” he said, breaking the silence. “I never should have been Red Ranger…”

 

“Don’t talk like that,” Kirsten said. “After all the battles we’ve been though together? And the fun at the dojo?”

 

“I was just a stand-in,” Teddy said.

 

“Stand in?” Bradin asked. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? Lauren came out of nowhere. Hell, she’s the half-sister of the Red Hurricane Ranger. If she wants to butt in somewhere, she can go bother that team. She doesn’t belong here.”

 

“I tried to be someone I’m not,” Teddy said. “If Lauren doesn’t fit in, that’s why. Don’t take this out on her.”

 

Ryan shook his head. “We’re not trying to take this out on anybody,” he said. “We’re just trying to say that you do fit in. This past year…you haven’t been a stand-in. This is your team. This is your story, not Lauren’s.”

 

“This isn’t a story,” Teddy said as he stood. He glanced at Juzou’s sword and felt loss swirl like an empty pit in his stomach. “Lauren’s the Red Ranger now…You guys better get back to her.”

 

Teddy started to walk off. But Bradin narrowed his eyes and ran after him.

 

Bradin grabbed Teddy by the shoulder, spun him around, and swung a punch. But Teddy dodged.

 

“Don’t dodge!” Bradin shouted as he punched again — this blow knocked Teddy to the ground.

 

“Bradin!” Kirsten shouted as she ran to Teddy’s side.

 

“It’s out in the open,” Bradin said. “You weren’t meant to be the Red Ranger. Who cares?”

 

“Right…” Anthony said as he walked towards his friend. “Don’t talk like you’re nothing. If you were nothing…we wouldn’t be here.”

 

Ryan nodded. “You’re the one we decided to follow. You’re the one we’ve kept following.”

 

Anna kneeled next to him and smiled. “Teddy…even if you’re not the true Samurai Red…What you’ve built up yourself, everything you’ve accomplished…that still exists.”

 

“I…” Teddy said. He hesitated as he remembered his older 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.”

 

Tears swelled as he closed his eyes.

 

***

 

Lauren leaned against the wall in Ops and stared at the doorway. She crossed her arms over his chest and sighed.

 

“They hate me…” she said.

 

“They don’t hate you, Lauren,” Ashley said from her computer terminal.

 

“They do,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d have this big of an impact on them.”

 

“It’s like Tommy said,” Ashley said. “This all happened too fast, and I don’t think any of us handled it well.”

 

Suddenly, the alarms blared. Computer images showed Nanashi swarm through a neighborhood next to the west coast. 

 

“You better go,” Ashley said. “I’ll contact the others.”

 

***

 

Ryan answered his communicator and listened to Ashley’s report. “Nanashi? We’ll be right there.”

 

He lowered his communicator and looked to the others. “Nanashi are attacking Angel Grove West…”

 

They hesitated and looked to Teddy, who stood. The teen nodded. “You guys go. I’ll…I’ll be right behind you.”

 

Bradin smirked. “Good enough. Let’s go.”

 

***

 

Kiros waited for the Rangers to leave. He stepped from the cover of trees and walked towards the blade Urimasa.

 

He narrowed his eyes. He thought not only of the Vorlock souls trapped within the blade, but of the prince who died while wielding the sword.

 

The Vorlock kneeled and felt the ground, still splattered with the blood and ash of the Vorlock prince.

 

“You will live again…” he whispered. “I swear it…”

 

***

 

Samurai Red slashed through grunts that chased civilians through the plaza. Her blade cut them down with bursts of spark.

 

Two grunts charged at her from behind and chopped.

 

But a blade blocked the strikes and kicked the grunts away. Samurai Gold and the other Rangers had arrived.

 

Samurai Blue and Samurai Green flanked the grunts and slashed them down with bursts of spark. Samurai Yellow and Samurai Pink moved in from the other side, swords slashing through grunts left and right.

 

Nearby, a group of civilians tried to run from the scene. But a wave of Nanashi blocked their path.

 

From behind, Teddy armed his Spin Sword and charged towards the grunts. He hacked a path through the soldiers, blade sparking on impact, as he dashed towards the civilians.

 

“Run!” he shouted as he slashed through a pair of grunts.

 

The civilians fled as fast as they could.

 

***

 

Dayu walked to the shore north of the Glimmering Coast. She lifted her shamisen and played her melody of sorrow and heart break.

 

But the sorrow sounded different than her typical despair. The sound carried the tune of a final goodbye. Of letting go.

 

***

 

Below, the Rangers split up and forced the Nanashi from the neighborhood. Samurai Pink followed a group of grunts onto the rocky shore.

 

She slashed them down with bursts of spark, and when she looked up, she noticed Dayu standing on a rock formation.

 

“Dayu…” the Pink Ranger said. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I am Gedou,” she said. “You already know the answer. I’m here to fill my emptiness with the suffering and lamentation of this world.”

 

Samurai Pink lifted her blade. “I won’t let you do that…”

 

“No…” Dayu said. “I suppose you won’t.”

 

The demon spread her arms and blurred from sight — but she reappeared several feet in front of the Pink Ranger.

 

Dayu unsheathed her dagger and slashed at Samurai Pink. The Pink Ranger parried and slashed back, but Dayu blocked the blow

 

They circled around one another and clashed blades. Dayu twirled and swung wide. But Samurai Pink blocked and twisted the demon’s sword aside.

 

The Pink Ranger spun and swung the handle of her sword towards the demon’s head. But Dayu blocked the blow.

 

Samurai Pink twisted away to gain distance, and then jumped.

 

She leapt through the air, angled her decent towards Dayu, and chopped her sword.

 

Dayu lifted her shamisen like a shield.

 

Samurai Pink landed while chopping through the instrument and demon with massive bursts of spark, tearing her body in two.

 

Secondary explosions thrashed the demon’s body as she stumbled backward.

 

The Pink Ranger lowered her blade with disbelief. The finishing blow came far too easy.

 

“Don’t tell me you…”

 

“Once…I had to let go of all value in this world,” she said. “At last…I can now let go of my past…of all that was human…”

 

She dropped her damaged shamisen, which exploded with a wave of shadow energy that knocked the Pink Ranger off her feet.

 

The shadow energy surged with the released lamentation and suffering of the shamisen. The power of that suffering reached even the Sanzu River. 

 

***

 

The Sanzu River thrashed with enough force to nearly topple the Gedoushuu ship. Shitari stumbled back and forth across the deck as he heard the guttural breathing of his master ebb from the waters.

 

***

 

The burst of shadow energy caught the attention of Samurai Blue, Samurai Green, and Samurai Yellow, who ran to the Pink Ranger’s side.

 

They arrived just in time to see the ocean burst with a rushing wall of water. The water hissed with steam and pulsed with slight traces of crimson energy.

 

Master Xandred stepped from the water and walked onto the rocky shore.

 

“Dayu…” he said with a deep, gravelly voice. “I have returned.”

 

Dayu stumbled towards the demon and collapsed. “Master…Xandred…”

 

The demon looked down upon her. “I’m surprised you let go of your shamisen…I heard its final tune.”

 

“I see…” Dayu said weakly as her wounds flooded her body with pain.

 

“But…” Xandred said. “It wasn’t a piercing sound like in the past. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

 

“That was…the real shami…” she said as she climbed to her knees. “I…finally succeeded. For the first time. I haven’t felt this peaceful in centuries…”

 

Xandred grabbed Dayu and pulled her close. “You’re not the one I want anymore…are you?”

 

“It can’t be like it was in the past…” she said as he leaned against his chest. “Never again.”

 

“Then…shall we end this?” Xandred asked.

 

“That…would be nice…” Dayu said.

 

Xandred wrapped his arms around her and squeezed, tightly, to the point he nearly crushed her. She gasped for breath but did not struggle.  

 

The demon gave a final squeeze, and Dayu’s body shattered with dark pink light. The fragments of light washed past Xandred and floated into the air.

 

Nearby, Samurai Pink shook her head with disbelief. “Dayu…”

 

Master Xandred looked to the Rangers and growled as he held his arms wide.

 

***

 

Teddy inched closer to the shore as he parried and slashed a Nanashi aside. He heard Xandred’s scream in the distance, and he knitted his brow with concern. “That’s Xandred…”

 

Teddy held his sword back and charged towards the shore.

 

A wave of Nanashi swarmed in front of him.

 

But he didn’t break his pace.

 

***

 

Xandred stomped towards Samurai Green, Samurai Blue, Samurai Yellow and Samurai Pink.

 

“Samurai Rangers…where is the Red Ranger? The one who deceived me?” the demon demanded.

 

Samurai Blue stepped into a defensive stance. “Be careful…” he said to his teammates. “Don’t let him get too close.”

 

“Xandred!” a voice shouted from nearby.

 

Samurai Red stepped onto a nearby rock formation, and she looked down to face the Gedoushuu leader.

 

Samurai Gold ran to the scene nearby.

 

The Red Ranger unsheathed her sword. “I’m the Blade of the Flame,” she said to Xandred. “Samurai Red. I’m the one you want. And today…I’m the one who will seal you.”

 

Xandred snorted with disbelief. “What can a little girl like you do?”

 

Xandred swung his sword and hurled a blade of fiery energy. The blade exploded through the rock formation just as Samurai Red leapt aside.

 

She crashed against the shore and tumbled across the rocks. The other Rangers ran to her side.

 

“Lauren!” Samurai Yellow shouted.

 

Samurai Red used her sword for balance and climbed into a crouched stance.

 

“I’m OK,” she said. “I’m going to use the Sealing Symbol…But I need time. Keep Xandred occupied.”

 

She handed Samurai Blue the Samurai Seal. The Blue Ranger took the black box; Samurai Blue, Samurai Green, Samurai Gold, Samurai Yellow and Samurai Pink Ranger spread out to face off with Xandred.

                                                              

The Blue Ranger thrust the Samurai Seal forward and transformed into Super Samurai mode.

 

The five Rangers charged towards Xandred, leaving Samurai Red behind.

 

Samurai Blue and Samurai Green slashed Xandred as they dashed past him. Samurai Gold lunged and slashed the villain’s chest. As one, all five Rangers chopped their blades against Xandred with bursts of spark.

 

Xandred leapt upward as fast as a blur. The demon dashed back and forth past the Rangers faster than sight while hacking their armor with bursts of spark.

 

The demon leapt through the air and blasted bolts of lightning that exploded against the Rangers with bursts of spark and fire, knocking them off their feet.

 

Master Xandred landed nearby and laughed at the fallen Rangers. “I have no business with you small fish…”

 

He looked to Samurai Red, who stood on a rock formation. He lifted his blade and started stalking towards her.

 

But Samurai Blue and Samurai Green lunged to their feet and grabbed Xandred from behind.

 

The villain swung his arms and knocked them away.

 

Samurai Gold dashed and slashed his blade towards Xandred. But Xandred parried and chopped the Gold Ranger to the ground.

 

Samurai Yellow and Samurai Pink moved in to attack.

 

Nearby, Samurai Red armed her morpher in brush mode.

 

New Bitmap ImageShe started writing the Sealing Symbol. Her slow brush strokes painted thick lines of red energy, and each line shimmered with flame upon completion. She poured all her power into each stroke of the kanji symbol.

 

The Red Ranger felt fatigue with each stroke. Each line exerted her strength, which made her arms feel heavy as lead.

 

Below, Xandred hacked the Rangers aside with wide swings that sparked against their armor.

 

The Gold Ranger crashed onto his chest, and Xandred stomped onto his back with a burst of spark. The demon lifted his blade and aimed towards the Gold Ranger’s head.

 

“Stop!” Samurai Green shouted as he and the others charged to help their teammate.

 

Xandred looked to the Rangers and opened his jaw, blowing a powerful gust of wind. The blast exploded against them with bursts of flame, hurling them off their feet. 

 

Samurai Gold knocked Xandred’s leg away and rolled to his feet. The demon hacked the Gold Ranger to the ground.

 

Samurai Blue and Samurai Green rolled to their feet. They spun their Symbol Discs and swung their swords, hurling energy blades at the demon.

 

Master Xandred swatted the energy blades back towards the Rangers. The blasts exploded around them with massive bursts of spark that whipped them backward.

 

They crashed against the ground as smoke sizzled from their armor.

 

Xandred turned towards the Red Ranger.

 

Samurai Red started to finish the last few strokes of the kanji symbol. “Almost there…”

 

“I won’t allow it!” Xandred shouted.

 

Nearby, Teddy ran to the scene, having finished off the last of the Nanashi. He watched as the Red Ranger finished the last stroke of the kanji symbol.

 

“Sealing Symbol!” Samurai Red shouted as she swiped her morpher through the symbol, which shot forward.

 

The symbol blasted Xandred with enough force to hurl him through the air like a cannonball. The demon smashed against the side of a rocky hill with a massive explosion of fire and electricity that swept across the shore.

 

Samurai Red breathed heavily and lowered her morpher. “I did it…” she said between breaths. “Not bad for the new girl…”

 

The smoke and flames started to clear.

 

And through the flame walked Xandred.

 

Teddy opened his eyes wide with shock. “That’s impossible…”

 

Master Xandred’s breath sounded deep and guttural. “It’s not over, little girl…”

 

Samurai Gold, Samurai Green, Samurai Blue, Samurai Yellow, and Samurai Pink regrouped. They stepped back into defensive stances.

 

Samurai Yellow shook her head. “How is he still standing?”

 

“I don’t know,” Samurai Green said. “But I’m about to freak out about it.”

 

Samurai Red stood slowly.

 

“It should have worked…” she whispered.

 

Xandred grasped his chest. “Dayu…” he said. “Your body came in handy…”

 

“Dayu?” Samurai Pink asked. “Just because he absorbed Dayu…?”

 

***

 

Shitari laughed on the bridge of the Gedoushuu ship. “It’s all thanks to Dayu…”

 

Two types of demons lived in the Sanzu River: Demons born of the river, like Xandred and Shitari, and demons who fell to Gedou. A demon could fall to Gedou from a possessed human only, and in the process, retain a part of that human’s soul. Although that lingering humanity twisted into Gedou with the rest of the demon, it still lingered. 

 

So when Dayu fell to Gedou, when she fell to the Sanzu River, unable to enter Hell or live as a human, she retained a part of the woman she possessed.

 

That sliver of humanity, even though fully corrupted into Gedou, acted as a shield against the Sealing Symbol.

 

***

 

Samurai Red looked to her morpher with disbelief. “It can’t be…”

 

“Now…” Xandred said. “All of you die!”

 

He thrust his palm and fired a burst of crimson energy that blasted against Samurai Red and the Rangers. Fiery explosions thrashed their armor and tore the landscape.

 

The explosions blasted Samurai Red from the rock formation. She crashed onto the shore, and the impact knocked her from her armor with a flash of red light.

 

Teddy lifted his sword over his shoulder and ran to his teammates. He stood between them and Xandred and flipped open his morpher.

 

The teen drew the kanji for “smoke” and summoned a billowing wave of smoke that surrounded them.

 

When the smoke cleared, Teddy and the Rangers had vanished.

 

***

 

The rangers regrouped in the dojo. Lauren lay unconscious in the resting room. Bandages covered burn marks on her forehead and arms.

 

Tommy and Ashley stood over her.

 

“She should be okay…” Tommy said.

 

“How’d this happen?” Ashley asked. “The Sealing Symbol should have worked.”

 

“Xandred shielded himself somehow,” Tommy said. “Lauren channeled the spell perfectly. She’s a natural…

 

Lauren stirred as her eyes opened. “What…How’d I get back here?”

 

“Teddy,” Tommy said. “He used a smoke screen so you could slip away.”

 

“Is her here now?” Lauren asked.

 

Ashley nodded. “He’s in the dojo room.”

 

“I’d like to talk to him…” she said.

 

***

 

Anthony, Bradin, Ryan, Anna and Kirsten sat silently in the dojo. Anthony cracked his knuckled with agitation.

 

“Not even the Sealing Symbol worked,” Anthony said. “All that trouble, for nothing…”

 

“It should have worked,” Anna said as she leaned against a wall. “But Dayu….”

 

“She saved his life,” Ryan said. “We should have acted faster…”

 

“So now what?” Bradin asked. “How do we stop him?”

 

Kirsten glanced down. They said nothing, and she broke the silence.

 

“I wonder if Lauren’s okay…” she said.

 

***

 

Tommy and Ashley left the resting room so Lauren could speak with Teddy alone.

 

Teddy sat near the edge of the bed.

 

“Hey…” he said awkwardly.

 

“Hey…” Lauren said. “I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. My name’s Lauren.”

 

“Teddy…” Teddy said.

 

“Teddy…” Lauren said. “So…this is awkward.”

 

Teddy smirked. “Just a little.”

 

Lauren smiled. “You have that look, you know.”

 

“What look?” Teddy asked.

 

“The look of someone who’s alone,” Lauren said. “I have the same look most of the time. Even when I’m surrounded by people…which doesn’t happen too often.

 

Teddy looked aside. “This isn’t exactly an easy time for me…I don’t suppose it is for you either.”

 

“No…” she said. “When I was younger, growing up, I lived with this big foster family. I was the youngest, so I was always trying to live up my older brothers and sisters. Never could. Not really. I never really felt like I belonged with them, anyway.

 

“Then a few weeks ago your brother finds me. He tells me I’m special. That I have this gift…” Lauren said. “So I come here…and it’s like I’m a kid all over again. Out of place, and trying to live up to someone else.”

 

“Me?” Teddy asked. “I’m not exactly the greatest Red Ranger role model.”

 

“Your friends certainly think so,” Lauren said. “I know I haven’t been around you long at all, but it’s obvious they care about you…Which is why they aren’t exactly lining up to join my fan club.”

 

“Give them time,” Teddy said.

 

“I won’t need to,” Lauren said. “Not if you stay here where you belong. This destiny and One Power stuff your brother keeps talking about? I don’t buy it. I don’t care who was meant to be the Red Ranger. I just know you’re supposed to be here. Not because of some mystical energy or destiny. Because these people are your family.”

 

“Why are you telling me this?” Teddy asked.

 

“Because…” Lauren said. “I have a plan…and we’re going to need you.”

 

***

 

The Sanzu River churned and rocked the Gedoushuu ship Rokumonsen. Red light flashed like lightning beneath the water’s surface.

 

Shitari watched from the ship’s view port. “Soon…soon the river will overflow! Thanks to Dayu, you no longer have to worry about dehydrating in the mortal world.”

 

Master Xandred grunted with acknowledgement.

 

“And…” Shitari said. “The Sealing Symbol has no effect on you!”

 

“Yes…” Xandred said as he looked out upon the river. “Thanks to Dayu.”

 

“What should we say?” Shitari asked. “To…honor her? Things like prayers don’t exist for us Gedoushuu…”

 

Xandred turned and walked away from the view port. “Come…”

 

***

 

Lauren, Teddy and the other rangers gathered with Tommy and Ashley in Ops later that day.

 

“Thank you all for coming,” Lauren said. “I wanted to say…now that the Sealing Symbol won’t work…there’s no point in me being the Red Ranger. I’m stepping down…”

 

“But Lauren,” Ashley said. “Even if the Sealing Symbol doesn’t work…we still need a Red Ranger.”

 

“You’ll have one,” Teddy said. He stepped closer to his brother and stood tall. “You told me to stop trying to be the Red Ranger and be the Red Ranger? That’s what I’ll do. It doesn’t matter if I was meant for these powers. I have them…and this is my team.”

 

Tommy smiled and placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Glad to see you came around…”

 

Lauren looked to the other rangers. “Shouldn’t you all…bow to him now, or something?”

 

Bradin arced an eyebrow. “We’re not actual samurai…”

 

“We kind of are,” Ryan said.

 

“Not just samurai,” Anthony said. “Samurai Rangers.”

 

“That’s so corny,” Bradin said.

 

“Bradin…” Kirsten said as she took him by the hand. “Just be happy…for once?”

 

“I’m always happy,” Bradin said. “I’m downright chipper.”

 

Lauren leaned to Teddy and whispered. “Are they always like this?”

 

Teddy smiled. “Mostly…”

 

***

 

Angel Grove West stirred.

 

The gaps between skyscrapers started to glow with a red hue, as did the gaps between street vents and alleyways.

 

***

 

“Okay…” Anthony said. “Now that we’re all one big happy family…how do we stop Xandred without the Sealing Symbol?”

 

“Even if we can’t seal him, he’s injured,” Teddy said. “And we know Fire Symbol Power is effective.”

 

He pulled a red Symbol Disc from behind his back. “Lauren and I made this disc together. It’s charged with our fire power. It’s our best chance at stopping Xandred.”

 

The alarms suddenly blared. Ashley’s monitor showed dozens upon dozens of eruptions in Angel Grove West.

 

“What’s going on?” Kirsten asked.

 

“The Sanzu River,” Tommy said. “It’s overflowed…”

 

***

 

The Sanzu River’s red water gushed from between skyscrapers and crevices.

 

The floodwaters surged across the streets, washing away cars and civilians and completely covering smaller buildings.

 

The Rokumonsen burst from between two skyscrapers and sailed across the water.

 

Xandred stood at the bow of the ship and looked out upon the flooded city. The demon held his sword forward.

 

“Go! Make the humans suffer!” he shouted.

 

Nanashi scattered ahead of the floodwaters and slashed through people who tried to flee east, to a higher elevation above sea level.

 

Xandred spread his arms and shouted. “This world belongs to Gedoushuu!”

 

To be continued…Chapter 40