Chapter 12: Hurricane

This War Within

 

PRELUDE: Assault

                       

A small compound rested in the snow-covered mountains. Hand ninja hid in the shadows around the structure, guarded also by Rinshi of the RinJuken Akugata.

 

The forces belonged to the same individual: The Dark Man. He wrested control of the Hand after using a demon to infiltrate its leaders, and he gained control of the RinJuken after Jarrod and Camille fled following their battle with Long.

 

The compound itself hosted the Dark Man and his true army: The mysterious Marauders.

 

A group of standard Hand ninja — Genin — leapt from treetop to treetop while on patrol.

 

Suddenly, a young man dropped onto the lead ninja and smashed him to the ground. Ryan — the former Yellow Gao Ranger and current Kamen Rider Faiz — rolled to his feet and flipped open his Faiz Caller.

 

He pressed the “5” key three times: “STANDING BY…”

 

“Awaken.” He snapped the Caller onto his belt. Red energy flashed around him as he transformed into his armor: “COMPLETE.”

 

A group of high-level demonic ninja — Jonin — lunged towards him.

 

The Rider armed his blaster and fired; bullets ripped through the Jonin with bursts of spark.

 

Another wave of Jonin leapt towards Faiz from behind.

 

Suddenly, Garo dashed through the Jonin and swung his sword, hacking the ninja aside with bursts of spark.

 

A group of Rinshi hopped towards the heroes. But Titan Silver landed behind them.

 

The Ranger lifted his staff into a fighting stance. “Drive Detector! Silver Slash!”

 

He spun and slashed wide, firing a blade of silver energy that tore through the Rinshi with massive bursts of spark.

 

***

 

Within the compound, Zadie crept through the shadows and noticed the Dark Man sitting in the center of a dimly lit room. He stared at a cluster of old computer monitors, cobbled together with loose wiring. Some monitors sizzled with static, and others barely showed color. Each zoomed in on an image of Zadie’s “team” attacking his compound.

 

Her breath caught in her throat when she noticed the image on the central monitor: Simon and Shirogane.

 

***

 

PART ONE: Prophet of God

 

Simon followed Shirogane down a rural road in southern Minnesota. The ranger heard the voice of DaiShi shout in his mind: You would follow the man who killed you?! Strike him down! Take your vengeance!

 

Simon rolled his hands into fists. “Stop talking,” he whispered.

 

Shirogane looked over his shoulder and arced an eyebrow.

 

Simon shook his head. “Nothing.”

 

Shirogane nodded and looked forward. “You have the voice of a demon inside you. I know the feeling…”

 

“And you expect me to believe you’re in control?”

 

“You’re following me, aren’t you?” Shirogane asked. “You helped me after I broke free of Zena’ku. Allow me to do the same for you.”

 

“You killed me,” Simon said.

 

“Look past that…”

 

Simon shook his head. “I can’t believe I agreed to come with you…”

 

“I made…a convincing argument,” Shirogane said.

 

***

 

Two weeks ago

 

Simon raised his sword to slash through the bar.

 

But a hand grabbed his arm.

 

Simon looked over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes at who he saw: Shirogane. The young man who killed him.

 

“You…” Simon practically hissed. The voice of DaiShi screamed in his mind: This is the one who betrayed you. Killed you! Strike him down. Strike him down now!

 

For once, Simon listened. He twisted free and swung his sword, firing a wave of black energy. Shirogane leapt over the blast, which tore through the rear of the bar with massive bursts of smoke and fire.

 

Shirogane landed on the other side of the room.

 

Simon immediately snapped around and swung wide. His blade fired another wave of black power at the former Silver Gao Ranger.

 

Shirogane swung his own blade and fired a wave of pale-blue light. The blasts smashed against each other with enough power to blow up the entire building and scatter rubble across the block.

 

Simon and Shirogane faced each other in the fiery debris. Each had used TK energy to protect themselves from the shockwave.

 

Shirogane shifted into a defensive stance. “I didn’t come here to fight you, Simon…”

 

“You killed me!” Simon shouted. His face paled, and his hair turned chalk white, as he shifted into his Shaded form. His eyes turned solid black except for red irises. “You sent me to Hell, you bastard!”

 

“I may have struck you down, but I did not condemn your soul to the Pit,” Shirogane said. The former ranger shifted into his own Shaded form, with silver irises. “I was not in control…”

 

“You think that matters!” Simon shouted. “You took away a year of my life! And now I’m a monster!”

 

The voice of DaiShi screamed in his mind. Enough banter. Kill him! Use your rage as a weapon and-

 

Simon didn’t need to listen. He howled with anger and shot towards Shirogane with a blur of motion — a common move called a flash-step.

 

Shirogane leapt aside just as Simon’s blade chopped the ground with a burst of power. The former Gao Ranger landed and skid aside.

 

“I came here to help you, Simon,” Shirogane said. “I learned how to control the demon blood inside of me. And so can-”

 

“You killed me!” Simon shouted as he flash-stepped at Shirogane with a slash of his sword.

 

Shirogane dashed aside and elbowed Simon’s face, knocking him back a step.

 

“Angel Grove is dead.” Shirogane kicked Simon upside the head. “Your teammates have abandoned you.” The former Gao Ranger kneed Simon’s gut. “You have no home. No friends. You’re lost. Just as I was. Let me help you find your purpose, once again.”

 

Simon ignited with a shockwave of red-and-black Ki that hurled Shirogane off his feet. Energy twirled around Simon and churned into Rinki, as a white Gorma mask formed over his face. The mask contorted into a lion-like face: The face of DaiShi.

 

Yes! DaiShi shouted within Simon’s mind. Unleash my power! The power of the Mogralord’s Heir! The next Great Beast of Destruction!

 

Simon laughed, his hollow voice echoing through the streets. “Now, Shirogane…” he said mockingly. “Would you like to try that again? Care to see if you can defeat me face-to-face?”

 

“You’re out of control,” Shirogane said. “I’m one of the few people who understands. Let me help you. Let me atone for my-”

 

“Atone for this!” Simon shouted as he poured red-and-black energy into his sword. The blade ignited with power. “Ha!”

 

He slashed his blade through a streak of energy that tore towards Shirogane.

 

The former Gao Ranger flash-stepped into the air and ignited his blade with pale-blue light.

 

Getsuga Tensho!” He slashed through a wave of pale-blue light, firing a massive wave of crescent-shaped energy.

 

Simon thrust his hand to block the blast. But the energy blade smashed his body like a tidal wave and hurled him off his feet. He slammed through a building, then another building, and crashed against the street. He skid across the pavement as his Gorma mask melted into his skin.

 

Still in his Shaded form, he started to sit up. But Shirogane flash-stepped next to Simon and pressed the tip of his blade against the ranger’s throat.

 

“End this,” Shirogane said. “You need to learn how to control your power. Give me one chance to show you why. One chance to show you what’s happened to the world during your absence.” The former Gao Ranger lowered his blade. “The people who helped me…they can help you too…”

 

DaiShi laughed within Simon’s mind. Pathetic. He would lower his blade to an opponent? He is no lion. Not like you…

 

Simon narrowed his eyes. “What people?”

 

“I will explain everything,” Shirogane said. “But first…you must understand why you’re needed. Will you come with me?”

 

DaiShi grumbled with delight. A lion does like to play with his prey…

 

“Fine…” Simon said as he climbed to his feet. “I’ll go with you. But if this is some kind of trick? I’ll cut your head from your shoulders.”

 

***

 

Simon tensed at the memory. “You still haven’t told me where we’re going.”

 

“Blue Earth, Minnesota,” Shirogane said.

 

OK, and what’s in Blue Earth?” Simon asked.

 

“The truth,” Shirogane said. “Most of the towns and cities of our world move forward, oblivious to the madness choking our existence. Not Blue Earth.”

 

“That’s incredibly helpful,” Simon said sarcastically. “Thank you.”

 

They moved further down the road and noticed a fire in the distance. The fire came from a truck, crashed on its side.

 

Shirogane ran towards the truck, and Simon followed. The ranger expected trouble: Monsters. Grunts. Demons. Something.

 

Instead, he saw a young man and woman scream their last breaths as the truck fire consumed them.

 

The screams triggered a memory in Simon. He remembered screams of souls burning in lakes of boiling blood. He could still see the thrashing dead scorched by pools of molten gold. Vague memories of Hell flashed through his mind like scattered pieces of glass that sliced through his every thought.

 

The teen staggered backward and gasped for breath as his heart pounded in his chest. “Son of a bitch…”

 

Suddenly, six men leapt from the shadows. Their eyes turned solid black — demon possessed. 

 

Shirogane stood still. He didn’t draw his sword. He didn’t step into a defensive stance.

 

Simon collapsed and narrowed his eyes. “You son of a bitch. This was a trap…”

 

“No,” Shirogane said. “Just wait. We are not alone…”

 

Suddenly, an engine roared from the shadows. A small fire truck sped onto the scene and skid to a halt. The truck carried a group of men, holding wooden crosses and iron crowbars. They looked worn and tired — and angry.

 

The men armed the truck’s water cannon and fired. Streams of water splashed against the demon-possessed men and forced them backward.

 

A trio of men hopped from the truck. One of them opened a book. He started reading an exorcism spell.

 

The demons howled with pain; two leapt towards the man holding the book.

 

But Shirogane jumped in front of them. He kicked a demon’s gut, and elbowed the second demon in the back of the neck, dropping him to the ground.

 

The rest of the demons charged, and Shirogane blocked their path to give the men time to finish their exorcism.

 

The former ranger dashed with a kick upside a demon’s head, hurled a demon-possessed man off his feet, and bashed his palm against a demon’s face.

 

The truck fired another stream of water that bashed the demons and scorched their skin. The man with the book finished his exorcism and clamped the book shut.

 

The demon-possessed men collapsed to their knees and screamed with pain as columns of smoke erupted from their mouths. The demon smoke vanished, and the hosts collapsed into unconsciousness.

 

Shirogane caught his breath and looked towards the truck’s water cannons. “Holy water?”

 

The lead hunter, Roy, nodded. “Yeah. What of it? Who the hell are you, anyway? Never seen anyone move like that.”

 

“I’m a hunter,” Shirogane said. “Like you.”

 

Nearby, Simon struggled to climb to his feet, but collapsed.  He muttered to himself, cursing at the voice of DaiShi shouting in his mind.

 

Roy noticed and arced an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with your friend?”

 

“He’s…not well,” Shirogane said.

 

Roy sighed and shook his head. “Come on…” he said reluctantly. “We’ve got a doctor in town. But if you try anything funny…or if your eyes start to look black…we’re putting a bullet through your skull.”

 

Shirogane nodded. “Very well. Lead the way…”

 

***

 

Simon’s vision blurred slowly into focus. He sat up and found himself in a cramped room, with dingy drapes and wooden floors.

 

The ranger winced and rubbed his head. “Where…”

 

DaiShi answered. This town is not what it seems, Ranger. I sense great evil here. Ancient evil.

 

“Ancient?” Simon asked. He typically tried to avoid speaking with DaiShi, but he needed answers. “What is this place?”

 

The door swung open, and Shirogane entered the room.

 

“You’re awake,” Shirogane said.

 

“You always were the smart one, Silver,” Simon said.

 

“Come with me…” Shirogane said. “Let me show you why we’re here.”

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane stepped into the deserted streets of the small town. Ahead, they saw a church surrounded by barbed-wire fences and armed guards.

 

They entered the building and faced an odd sight: A wedding.

 

Pastor Gideon stood at the front of the church. An older man with a goatee and hair grayed at the temples, he smiled at the man and woman in front of him.

 

“Who would have thought the Apocalypse could be so romantic? Marriage, family — it’s a blessing. Especially in times like this. So hold on to that.”

 

Simon knitted his brow. “A wedding? Seriously?”

 

Shirogane nodded. “I’m told they’ve had eight so far this week.”

 

The ceremony ended, and the churchgoers went outside. Simon and Shirogane followed, and shortly, Father Gideon walked towards them.

 

“So…Roy tells me you two fight demons,” Gideon said.

 

“Among other things,” Simon said. The back of his mind itched. He felt the need to lash out and strike the man, but he didn’t understand why.

 

Simon expected DaiShi to say something. Anything. But the demon simply laughed, a soft rumble in the back of the teen’s mind.

 

“And you’re really a preacher?” Simon asked.

 

“Not what you expected, huh?” Gideon said.

 

“You’re armed to the teeth,” Simon said.

 

“Strange times,” Gideon said with a nod. “Come with me…I’ll show you.”

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane followed Gideon into the church basement. They saw men and women pack salt rounds, vials of holy water and other weapons against the dark.

 

Simon arced an eyebrow. “Is that a 12-year-old packing salt rounds?”

 

“Everyone chips in,” Gideon said.

 

“The whole church?”

 

“The whole town,” Gideon said.

 

The ranger shook his head. “A town full of hunters…”

 

“The demons were killing us,” Gideon said. “We had to do something.”

 

“Why not call for help?” Simon asked.

 

“We were told not to.”

 

“By who?” Simon asked.

 

“…I can’t say.”

 

“Why…?”

 

A teenage girl walked towards them. She wore modest white clothes, with brown hair and hazel eyes.

 

“It’s OK, Dad,” said the girl, Leah. “It’s Simon Kaden and Shirogane. I know all about them.”

 

“You do?” Simon asked.

 

“Yes…from the angels,” she said.

 

Simon sighed. “Angels…great.”

 

“You’re saying you know of us because the angels told you?” Shirogane asked.

 

“That and other things,” she said.

 

“Like that snappy exorcism spell,” Simon said.

 

Leah nodded. “And they show me where the demons are going to be, before it happens. They show me how to fight back.”

 

“She’s never been wrong,” Gideon said. “Not once. She’s very special.”

 

“Special…” Simon said skeptically. “Right…”

 

***

 

Simon pulled Shirogane aside after they stepped into the town bar. “What game are you playing? Why are we here?”

 

“You will see,” Shirogane said. “As I’m sure you have guessed, not all is as it seems.”

 

Simon narrowed his eyes and looked across the bar. Men and women drank, sat at tables, played pool, and laughed.

 

Simon walked up to the bar and took a seat. He glanced at the barkeeper, Paul, with skepticism.

 

“Busy night?” he asked.

 

“I’m telling you, since The End started, it’s been like one long last call,” Paul said.

 

“Why attack your town?” Simon asked. “What are they after? The girl?”

 

“They’re demons,” Paul said. “You think they need a reason to kill people?”

 

“Then why not leave?” Simon asked.

 

Church bells rang before Paul could answer.

 

Simon arced an eyebrow. “Something I said?”

 

Paul shook his head. “Leah’s had another vision.”

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane joined the townspeople in the church. Father Gideon addressed the crowd after listening to his daughter, who stood beside him.

 

“Five miles off Talmadge Road…there are demons gathered. I…don’t know how many, but a lot. Thank you, Leah. So…who’s going to join me?”

 

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Roy said from the crowd.

 

“Someone’s got to cover Roy’s ass,” Paul said.

 

Simon stepped forward. “We’re going to.”

 

“Thank you,” Gideon said. “Now…I’d like to offer a prayer: Our Father in Heaven, help us fight in your name. We ask that you protect us from all servants of evil. Guide our hands in defeating them, and deliver us home, safely. Thank you, Amen.”

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane followed the party of hunters towards an abandoned home in the woods. They could see demon-possessed men and women through the windows.

 

Father Gideon took the lead and grasped his Bible. “We’ll go in from all sides. Fast, all at once.”

 

The group split up and moved quietly towards the house.

 

Simon and Shirogane stalked towards the back porch. The former Hurricane Power Ranger took the lead.

 

“So what…?” Simon asked without turning. “This is what you wanted to show me? A town going on demon-hunting parties?”

 

“You will see,” Shirogane said.

 

Simon cursed beneath his breath. “I’m getting really impatient.”

 

He thrust his hand with a burst of TK energy that blasted the back porch into splinters. Several demons scrambled from the opening and dashed towards Simon.

 

The former ranger summoned his black katana with a burst of onyx flame, spun forward, and fired a wave of energy. The blast incinerated the demons into ash.

 

Shirogane grasped Simon’s arm. “You can’t use the full extent of your powers. Not near the others. They might see…”

 

“So what if they do?” Simon asked.

 

Simon shrugged off Shirogane’s arm and moved towards the house. He went in through the hole and heard the sound of the other hunters shout exorcism spells.

 

Men and women collapsed and screamed as demon smoke poured from their mouths.

 

Simon lifted his hand to his side and breathed deep. He spread his palm and absorbed the demon smoke through his hand. He lowered his hand, exhaled, and breathed a puff of darkness.

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane rejoined the hunters at their trucks in front of the house. A teenage boy, Gavin, walked towards them.

 

“Hey…” he said with a look of excitement in his eyes. “Looks like everyone made it out. Can I ride with you guys? That was awesome.”

 

“Don’t wet yourself, kid,” Simon said.

 

Suddenly, arms reached out from underneath the truck, grabbed Gavin’s ankles, and pulled him beneath the vehicle. Gavin screamed as a demon-possessed man stabbed his gut, killing him.

 

Shirogane grabbed the demon, pulled him off the ground, and stabbed through his chest.

 

***

 

Zadie watched the Dark Man’s static-filled screens show Shirogane and Simon. 

 

The Dark Man noticed her instantly. “You never were much for stealth, Zadie,” he said. “Is this your grand plan? Have your friends distract me while you stab me in the back? I’m disappointed…”

 

“Says the mad scientist who can’t even afford a decent flat-screen,” Zadie snapped back.

 

“I am not a man of science…” He swerved his chair to see her. “Science is a flawed construct used by man. A feeble attempt to explain the unexplainable. The Wheel of Time. The Pattern…Your science is as useless as-”

 

Zadie sighed. “You still can’t stop talking, can you?”

 

She hurled her knife at his shoulder. But the Dark Man grabbed the blade.

 

“Come now, Zadie,” the Dark Man said. “You weren’t even aiming for a fatal blow. Why don’t you-”

 

She lunged and aimed her knee towards the Dark Man’s face. But he lifted his hand, grabbed her with invisible energy, and held her in place.

 

Zadie glared as she struggled to break free. “I don’t know what you’re planning-”

 

“Planning?” the Dark Man asked. “My planning is done, after all this time. Now I can sit back, and wait…Thanks to Simon. He may not be under my control, but he is now the instrument of my grand design: To stop this endless cycle of death and rebirth. To create something…new.”

 

“What did you do to him?” Zadie asked.

 

“I had nothing to do with his resurrection, though I would have tried,” the Dark Man said. “Still, despite that technicality, he is paired with DaiShi, just as I planned. The Heir to the Great Beast of Hell, joined with the bloodline of the First Angel and First Demon. Best to stay out of his way…”

 

“If you didn’t bring him back…who did?” Zadie asked.

 

“Someone I never would have guessed,” the Dark Man said with an arrogant grin. “A force older than time and space, as I am.”

 

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

 

“As I said…my planning is done,” the Dark Man said. “All there is to do is wait…and use my armies to keep you and your champion friends busy, and the Forsaken away from the Seven Seals.”

 

He released his grasp, and Zadie crashed onto the floor. Quickly, she scrambled to her feet and lunged with a kick.

 

But a red blur shot from the shadows and bashed her aside. The attacker: Red Python.

 

Red Python armed her twin daggers and stepped into a defensive stance.

 

Zadie cursed beneath her breath and lifted her own dagger. “This isn’t exactly fair…”

 

“You have the blood of Lilith in your veins,” the Dark Man said. “Use your Shaded form. Surely the power of a virtual warrior is no match for the power of a demon spawn.”

 

Ya know…” Zadie said. “You act so dark and smirky. But you’re really just a dick in a trench coat.”

 

Red Python lunged and slashed wide.

 

Zadie sidestepped and stabbed through a weak spot below the villain’s shoulder. The impact burst with spark; Red Python staggered backward, her arm going limp.

 

Zadie scoffed. “Is your rip-off Nova Trooper made in China, Akuma?”

 

She hurled her dagger at the villain’s faceplate. Red Python swatted the dagger aside and lunged with a jump-kick that bashed Zadie across the room.

 

The hunter smashed against the wall and crashed onto the floor.

 

Red Python leapt through the air and angled her descent towards Zadie.

 

Suddenly, Kamen Rider Faiz burst into the room. He launched a flying side-kick that bashed Red Python through the air. She crashed through the Dark Man’s computer terminals with massive bursts of spark, as glass and wiring scattered with explosions.

 

Red Python crashed and skid across the ground. Energy discharges sparked across her armor, which powered down with a flash of red light.

 

In her human form, she stood.

 

Kamen Rider Faiz tilted his head. He barely knew her, but recognized her instantly. “Kaitlin…?”

 

The Dark Man laced his fingers. “Nothing more than her body. Her mind and soul are gone. But I used her residual Nova Trooper energy to craft her into a weapon. An…early attempt at resurrection.”

 

The former White Nova Trooper looked pale, with glazed-over eyes and black lines running down her cheeks like circuits.

 

Kaitlin lunged at Zadie. Kamen Rider Faiz jumped to her defense, but the Dark Man lifted his hand and suspended them all with invisible energy.

 

“Enough,” the Dark Man said. “You came here to learn the truth about Simon’s resurrection. I have given you that truth. What’s more, I will point you in the direction of more answers…”

 

The Dark Man pulled a scroll from his jacket and tossed it onto the floor. “At the right location, that scroll can summon the one who resurrected Simon. He will tell you all that you need.”

 

“Well aren’t you Mr. Helpful today,” Zadie said.

 

“As I said…All that’s left to do is keep you busy…” the Dark Man said. He stood and slid his hands into his pockets. “Oh, and one final thing…”

 

The Dark Man nodded his head. Kaitlin collapsed lifelessly to the ground. Her body glowed with crimson energy, which burst from her corpse and splashed against Zadie. The impact hurled her across the room, and she skid across the floor.

 

She winced and climbed to her feet. “What the hell…”

 

“The power of the Red Python is yours,” Akuma said. “A parting gift. I originally intended the armor for you, to use during your manipulation of dear Simon. But it turns out you didn’t need it.”

 

Zadie narrowed her eyes. “And now?”

 

“You most definitely will…” the Dark Man said as he stepped into the shadows and vanished.

 

***

 

PART TWO: Commandments

 

Roy and the others joined the townsfolk back in the church. Roy looked sad, and angry, as he told his wife Jane the news: Demons killed their son Gavin.

 

Father Gideon laid a hand on Jane’s shoulder. “I wish I knew what to say. But I don’t…I’m so sorry, Jane. Roy. There are no words. Gavin…I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know why any of this is happening. I have no easy answers. But what I do know is — Leah, honey?”

 

Leah swayed as if about to faint, and then collapsed into a seizure.

 

“Leah, honey, it’s OK…” Gideon said as he crouched next to his daughter and tried to hold her still. “Sweetie, it’s OK…”

 

Leah stopped seizing and breathed deep. She sat up, sweat dripping down her forehead. “Dad…it’s Gavin. Listen…Gavin’s coming back.”

 

Leah stood and smiled at Roy and Jane. “It’s going to be OK. You’ll see Gavin again. When the final day comes, Judgement Day, he’ll be resurrected and you’ll be together again. We’ll all be together. With all our loved ones. We’ve been chosen. The angels have chosen us. And we will be given paradise on Earth. All we have to do is follow the angels’ commandments.”

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane walked through the deserted streets of town. Simon knitted his brow and rolled his hands into fists.

 

“What the hell’s going on?” he asked. “These people just outlawed drinking, gambling, premarital sex…Do you expect me to believe they’re really getting orders from angels.”

 

“No…” Shirogane said.

 

“Then what’s going on?” Simon asked.

 

“You have to see for yourself,” Shirogane said. “Learn for yourself.”

 

Simon grabbed Shirogane by the collar and pushed him to the ground. “I’m getting sick of your cryptic bullshit, Silver. Whatever’s happening, someone’s toying with these people!”

 

Shirogane climbed to his feet and brushed off his jacket. “And you have the power to stop it…don’t you, now?”

 

Simon tried not to listen to the voice of DaiShi scream in his mind: Slaughter everyone in this town to destroy the evil hidden within!

 

***

 

The townspeople gathered in the church that night.

 

Leah pulled her father aside. “Daddy…Can I talk to you for a second?”

 

“Of course,” Father Gideon said. They moved aside, and the priest noticed the look of terror in his daughter’s eyes. “Leah, honey, what is it?”

 

“I’m…I’m sorry,” she said as she rubbed her head. “They’re just so angry.”

 

“Who’s angry?”

 

“The angels.”

 

“Why…?” Father Gideon asked. “Why are they angry?”

 

“They said…They said we can’t go to Paradise.”

 

Jane overheard. “What? But we’ve been doing everything they say!”

 

“They said they gave clear commandments, but some people aren’t listening…” Leah said.

 

Roy stepped closer to them. “Who, Leah? Who?”

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane kept walking. Suddenly, they head glass shatter in the distance, followed by shouting. They ran to see a mob swarm around Paul’s bar.

 

The mob dragged Paul outside and tossed him to the ground.

 

Father Gideon tried unsuccessfully to calm everyone down. “People! People!”

 

Paul cursed beneath his breath and scrambled to his feet. “I’m not going to tell you again…” He pulled a gun from his belt. “Back away!”

 

“Calm down,” Father Gideon said. “Everyone!”

 

Paul tightened his grip on his gun. “You come onto my property, spouting some kind of crazy-”

 

“Sorry, Paul,” Roy said. “There’s no other way!”

 

“Come on!” Paul shouted. “What country is this, huh?”

 

“Just, everybody calm down for a minute!” Father Gideon shouted.

 

“Calm down?!” Paul shouted. “My friends are trying to run me out of town. You think I should calm down?”

 

“I’m sorry, Paul,” Roy said. “It’s not our choice.”

 

“Oh, come on,” Paul said. “That’s bull.”

 

“You’ve got to go,” Roy said. “For everyone’s sake!”

 

“We grew up together!” Paul shouted. “I stood up at your wedding!”

 

Jane stepped forward. “Yes, you did. But that was then. And now, you’re standing against the flock.”

 

“That’s not true,” Paul said. “I fight with you.”

 

“This is a town of believers, Paul,” Jane said. “You are not a believer.”

 

“Don’t make this hard for us,” Roy said.

 

“Hard for you?” Paul said. “No. This is my home. You want me out of here? You’ll have to drag me out.”

 

He lifted his gun.

 

Jane bashed a rock against Paul’s head, knocking him to the ground. “No one’s going to stop me from seeing my son.”

 

She lifted his gun and shot him in the head.

 

***

 

Simon cursed beneath his breath and walked away from the scene.

 

Shirogane followed. “Where are you going?”

 

“Away from this crazy town,” Simon said. “And away from you.”

 

“Don’t you see what’s happening here?” Shirogane asked. “They’re being manipulated.”

 

“By who?” Simon asked.

 

“Leah,” Shirogane said. “The whore.”

 

Simon looked taken aback. “Gee, tell me what you really think.”

 

“No…” Shirogane said. “The Book of Revelation calls her the Whore of Babylon. ‘And she shall come, bearing false prophecy.’ This creature has the power to take human form, read minds. Her goal is to send as many souls to Hell as possible. And it’s just beginning. She’s well on her way to dragging this whole town to the pit.”

 

***

 

Jane and several others gathered in the church basement along with Father Gideon and Leah.

 

Jane crossed her arms over her chest and shivered. “I only want to…Did I make it worse? Did I make the angels angry?”

 

“Jane…” Leah said. “The angels…They understand.”

 

“They do?”

 

“What you did was for the greater good.”

 

“Yes…” Jane whispered to assure herself. “Yes…”

 

“We all liked Paul,” Leah said. “But he was a sinner, and he would have taken us down with him. You saved us.”

 

“Thank you,” Jane whispered.

 

Father Gideon narrowed his eyes. “How can that be OK? She killed him. That sin is so much greater-”

 

“It’s not a sin to strike down evil,” Leah said.

 

“But how can the angels-”

 

“You always taught me to have faith…” Leah said.

 

She turned and went upstairs; her father and small group of townspeople followed, and they joined the crowd in the church.

 

“The angels…” Leah said to them. “I don’t know why they’ve chosen us. But they have. And today…Today, they told me the most important thing yet. Tonight, at midnight…I’m sorry. It’s just that we knew this day would come, and it’s here — the final judgement. Now, we need to do this right. We don’t have much time. They angels said we’re not ready. There are still a few elements that need to be taken care of. Sinners.

 

The crowd muttered and looked around at one another with suspicion and worry.

 

Father Gideon tried to calm them. “Now, uh, now, everybody calm down. Just hold on.” He turned to his daughter. “Leah, you’re scaring these people.”

 

“I don’t want us to panic, but we have to hurry,” Leah said.

 

“Stop it,” Father Gideon pleaded.

 

“I’ve been given instructions,” Leah said. “Names.”

 

Father Gideon took his daughter by the arm. “Stop it! You’re going to get somebody killed.”

 

She swatted his arm away and grabbed his throat. “Don’t get in my way. Or the next sinner I name will be you.”

 

Simon and Shirogane broke down the church doors. Simon carried his black katana, and Shirogane held his curved blade.

 

The ranger narrowed his eyes at Leah. “Let him go, whore.”

 

Leah pointed at them. “Stop them! They’re demons!”

 

The crowd rushed towards Simon and Shirogane.

 

Simon twirled his sword and stabbed the ground with a burst of black light that knocked the townspeople off their feet.

 

Leah smiled mockingly at the warriors. Her eyes turned solid black and swirled like pools of oil.

 

Gideon opened his eyes wide at the horror. “You…You…Let my daughter go!”

 

“Your daughter’s dead, you sheep,” she said as she walked towards Simon and Shirogane.

 

Leah lifted her hand with a TK pulse that hurled them off their feet. They smashed against the walls and crashed to the ground.

 

Simon quickly rolled to his feet — just as Leah grabbed him by the throat and lifted him up.

 

“I know who you are…” she whispered. “What you are…Let me show you.”

 

Simon stared into her clouded, misty eyes, and he felt pulled onto the Astral Plane.  

 

Images whirled through Simon’s mind. He saw the ruins of cities and towns, ripped to shreds, with rubble that floated in midair and crackled with energy. The images spun and spun with a wave of vertigo that felt strong enough to tear Simon’s mind apart.

 

“This is your destiny,” Leah said as she laid a hand on his shoulder. “The Fifth Seal will break and bring about the Apocalypse, freeing Lucifer from Hell. He will raze your world. Then the Sixth Seal will break. Then the Seventh, freeing the Dark One, and he will reshape the entire cosmos in his image. You…You are a part of this all…”

 

The Whore of Babylon split into dozens of images that surrounded Simon. The duplicates smiled mockingly.

 

Simon gritted his teeth and collapsed to his knees. “DaiShi…” he whispered through clenched teeth. “Where are you the one time I actually need you, you son-of-a-bitch…”

 

One of the Leah’s perked her eyebrow and stepped towards him. “Do you call for the demon that shares your mind? I am afraid he cowers in fear at the mere sight of me, as all simple demons do. You mortals have your deities. And the demons have theirs. I am a sign of-”

 

Simon snapped to his feet, turned and grabbed the real Leah by the throat. His eyes turned solid black.

 

“DaiShi cowers from no-one,” he said with the voice of the demon. He tightened his grip, and the duplicates vanished with puffs of black smoke. “I am no simple demon. I am no minor creature of the pit, or disembodied spirit damned to wander the lake of fire. I am the Heir of the Great Beast of Hell!”

 

He tightened his grip and lifted Leah high off her feet. “I transcend your symbolism. I transcend your purpose. I am the engine of destruction that will kill even the Forsaken. Fear me, you wench…Fear me!”

 

He tightened his grip, and she exploded with shadow fire.

 

***

 

Leah collapsed with a scream. A column of black smoke poured from her jaws as her body shriveled into a broken husk. Instead of flying away, the smoke spread and dissipated, evaporating into nothingness.

 

Simon breathed heavily and leaned on his sword to keep from collapsing. He looked at the shriveled corpse, and heard the voice of DaiShi laugh in his mind.

 

Do you see, little Hawk? Little Lion? DaiShi asked. Not even the forces of the Apocalypse can match my power…

 

Simon closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. The astral battle with Leah stirred fragments of memory from his time in Hell: Landing in limbo, Moridyn appearing in astral form, and small creatures trying to tear him to shreds — the twisted souls of damned, unbaptized infants, condemned because of their parents’ faith.

 

Father Gideon laid a hand on Simon’s shoulder. “It’s…over,” he said. He couldn’t bear to look at the shell of a body that used to belong to his daughter. “It’s done.”

 

Simon knitted his brow. He stood, slowly, and started to move towards the door. “Shirogane…let’s go…”

 

***

 

Simon and Shirogane stepped outside the church.

 

“Why bring me here?” Simon asked as they walked aimlessly. “What was the point of getting me involved with this?”

 

“To show you the sign,” Shirogane said.

 

“Of the apocalypse,” Simon said.

 

Shirogane nodded. “You needed to see for yourself. There are other signs, across the country, and across the world: A scope beyond anything we have faced before.”

 

Simon shook his head. The images of limbo still appeared fresh in his mind. “Not me…I’ve been to Hell and back, remember? You should…”

 

Shirogane skirted the subject. “I can take you to the people who taught me how to tame my own darkness. Harness the power of my Shaded form. They can do the same for you, and together, we can fight against the rising tide of evil that heralds the End of Days.”

 

“Who are these people?” Simon asked, barely interested. The images of little creatures, demons, the souls of helpless infants, scratched at his thoughts.

 

“They call themselves the Night Troops.”

 

***

 

Zadie, Eiji, Samuel and Ryan regrouped in an abandoned warehouse.

 

Eiji arced an eyebrow at Zadie. “So, what…You’re the Red Python now? That came out of nowhere.”

 

“You wear silver spandex, adventure-boy,” Zadie said.

 

“Fair enough,” Eiji said.

 

“Guys…” Samuel said. “The scroll.”

 

Zadie pulled the scroll from her jacket. The rough parchment ruffled her hands, like an uneasy bird waiting for its master to set it free.

 

Ryan shook his head. “You’re really going to open that?”

 

“Scared of getting a few paper cuts?” Zadie asked as she waved the scroll, taunting him.

 

Samuel took the scroll from Zadie. “If it means finding Simon…we open it.”

 

He opened the scroll. Its words glowed with faint golden light that Samuel somehow understood, despite the foreign script.

 

The teen read the words without thinking. With each word, the parchment ebbed with greater power.

 

Suddenly, lightbulbs exploded, wind blew through the building, and the ground shook with a massive tremor.

 

A golden portal flashed on the other side of the building, and a man stepped through the vortex. He looked pale, with short blonde hair and hazel eyes with flickers of gold. He wore a light tan trench coat over a white, unbuttoned dress shirt.

 

Ryan grasped his Faiz Caller and stepped into a defensive stance. “Who the hell are you?”

 

“A Heavenly Saint of the Cosmos,” he said, with a voice like a melodious whisper. “You may call me Mikhail…”

 

“My brother,” Samuel said as he stepped forward. “Where is he? What have you done with him?”

 

Mikhail tilted his head. “What have I done with him? I’ve raised him from the flames of perdition. If you doubt me, I do not blame you. You’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated by others so easily.”

 

Samuel unsheathed his sword. “Answers. Now.”

 

“There’s no need for violence,” Mikhail said. “I fight on the side of the light, as I have since before the turning of the Wheel of Time.”

 

Ryan sighed. “Still waiting on those answers.”

 

“The Dragon Ranger called out to the Heavenly Saints for help. I answered,” Mikhail said. “And in doing so, I found myself here on Earth, banished into this mortal form.”

 

Eiji arced an eyebrow. “Banished?”

 

“We Heavenly Saints are not to interfere in the lives of men,” Mikhail said. “But I set certain actions into motion. Some of these actions involved the use of Time Magick…forbidden. And for that, Sailor Pluto exiled me from the Heavenly Realms.”

 

“Did you seriously just use the name ‘Sailor Pluto’ and pretend it wasn’t weird?” Zadie asked.

 

“It’s what you mortals call her,” Mikhail said.

 

“Why raise Simon from the dead? What’s it…” Samuel trembled at the thought. “What’s it done to him?”

 

“The Dragon Ranger was key to whether this world lived or died: The one who broke free from the strings of Fate. Now…that power rests also with Simon,” Mikhail said. “With his resurrection…the first mortal to break free from Hell…the Fourth Seal broke…”

 

“Nice,” Eiji said.

 

“An unintended consequence,” Mikhail said. “But one well worth the risk. Bubbles of evil continue to rise from the Dark One’s prison. Some of these eruptions have manifested as signs of the Apocalypse — the event that will break the Fifth Seal. Simon has the power to stop this from happening…by killing the Four Horsemen.”

 

“Four Horsemen?” Samuel asked. “The Rangers fought the Four Horsemen years ago.”

 

“The Four Horsemen of DaiSatan. Pale imitations,” Mikhail said. “These are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They herald the rise of Lucifer onto the mortal plane, and the End Days.”

 

“You…” Samuel whispered. “This is your fault…You brought back Simon. You broke the Fourth Seal. You made everything worse…”

 

“Your brother had already risen from the pit…somehow,” Mikhail said. “He was about to enter his mortal form when I…intervened.”

 

“Intervened how?” Samuel asked.

 

“I grabbed him by the soul and allowed his mind to overpower DaiShi, heir to the Great Beast of Hell,” Mikhail said. “They share a body, but Simon remains in control, and he remembers nothing of his time in the pit. I placed a powerful wall around those memories.”

 

“A wall…” Ryan said. “What happens if the wall breaks?”

 

“If he remembers…” Mikhail said. “If his memories of the pit resurface…he will break. And he will become the darkness he dedicated his life to defeat. He will become not only the next Great Beast of Hell…but the next Dragon.”

 

***

 

Simon stepped into the church at night. Father Gideon sat on the front pew and wiped tears from his face.

 

“Ah, Simon…” the man said as he stood. “I thought you and your friend left…”

 

“Soon…” Simon said as he walked towards the man. His voice sounded cold and uncaring. “I have something to take care of first. I know you’re hurting…aren’t you?”

 

Gideon nodded. “You saw…” He shook his head with disbelief. His mind still couldn’t process the truth about his daughter’s death. “You saw…what they did to her. There’s nothing in this life left for me but pain.”

 

“This life…” Simon said as he stepped closer to the priest “Or the next….”

 

Simon stepped close to the man and jammed a knife through his gut. The ranger twisted the blade.

 

“Do you know what I saw in Hell, Father? Babies. Innocent children, turned into monsters. Because of your belief. Because of your faith.” He twisted deeper. “Your Church damned them…and for what? Lacking a few drops of water? You deserve to die, Father…You all do.”

 

He pulled out his blade, and the priest’s lifeless body slumped to the ground.

 

DaiShi laughed within Simon’s mind.

 

To be continued…Chapter 13

 

The Dark Man’s Marauders

 

Agito: The Dark Man gathered the shattered, powerless King Stones following the Second Countdown to Destruction. Although the fragments lacked energy, they retained the outlines of the genetic coding that created Kamen Rider Black, Shadow Moon, Kamen Rider Kuuga and Kamen Rider Ryuuki. The Dark Man used that coding to craft the powers of Agito. He gave the powers to a young, amnesiac man named Shouichi Tsugami, whose family was involved in the research of paranormal abilities. The Agito powers consumed and controlled him.

 

Chameleon: Itsuro Takamizama led the Takamizawa Group, front companies for the Technomancer Organization. The organization combined magick and technology for the amassment of power in the business and political world. The Dark Man approached Itsuro and offered him power. Itsuro accepted and became Chameleon. After he abandoned the Takamizawa Group, the Technomancer Organization collapsed — cleared from the board by the Dark Man.   

 

Feral: Jala’arin was a member of the Falean race, a cat-like species that lived alongside the simian inhabitants of the planet Titan. She was banished from Titan after using her powers of healing to kill senselessly and without honor. She became one of the many alien refugees on Earth, where the Dark Man found her and turned her into an assassin.

 

Hell Blade: After the Second Countdown to Destruction, the Dark Man gathered the spiritual energies of the demonic Hell Rider Hibiki. He manipulated that energy to create the demon warrior Hell Blade.

 

Raven: The Dark Man pulled Kou and his brother Akomaru from Hell. To do so, he paired them with the energy of demons: Karas and Raven. Akomaru harnessed the powers of Raven and remained in the Dark Man’s service after Kou joined the Hurricane Power Rangers as Hurricane Green.

 

Red Python: The Dark Man revived the body of Kaitlin Starr, the White Nova Trooper. Mindless, soulless, she retained her virtual energy. The Dark Man used that energy to turn her into the Red Python.

 

Shadow Blade: His name was Tommy Oliver, but he was not the Tommy of our world. He came from Demon World Earth, a parallel world where evil ruled. In this world, Tommy never lost the powers of the evil Green Dragon Ranger. Dark Tommy accidentally crossed over into our world after the Astro Rangers accidentally stumbled upon Demon World Earth, following the Countdown to Destruction. The Dark Man recruited the evil version of Tommy and gave him the Shadow Blade powers.

 

Vexacus: Seventh Spear of the Jakanja Seven Spears of Darkness. He betrayed the Jakanja after the Dark Man recruited him.

 

Volf: Jiro was a wolf who roamed forested mountains. Mankind destroyed his forests, and he died of starvation. Jiro returned as a vengeful wolf spirit. The Dark Man was attracted to that spirit; he used it to forge the wolfen warrior Volf.  

 

Wraith: The Dark Man pulled a twisted demon, Wraith, from the pits of Hell. Wraith moved from host to host, completely corrupting and controlling his victims until their bodies died. The Dark Man set Wraith loose on Hydra, which helped lead to the terrorist group’s collapse. It’s unknown how many hosts Wraith has possessed and killed.