Max walked into the apartment with his book bag slung over his shoulder. He tossed the bag onto the couch and walked back towards the bedrooms. “Hey guys, are you here?”
No one was apparently home. Max smiled and plopped down on the couch, resting his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes. Peace, quiet, alone - each was a rare commodity for the teen who had spent his life in crowded shelters and foster homes.
He had a weekend trip planned to hike through the wooded mountains outside the city. As a kid, he would often go through the woods to read or tinker with a few of his gadgets.
Max was by no means an outdoorsy-type person, but he enjoyed the occasional seclusion and escape from reality.
Suddenly, he heard a scraping noise come from the foot of the couch. He knitted his brow. Someone was on the floor, hiding behind the couch’s arm. It could not have been his friends. One of their pranks would have already sprung.
He heard the person slowly crawl towards the back of the couch. Max reached for his book bag, intending to swing it like a weapon against the unknown intruder.
Max sprang over the couch, and at the same time, a teenage girl sprang over the couch towards him. Max screamed and stumbled backward, falling on the floor.
He recognized the girl immediately. Her brown hair accentuated the color of her walnut eyes. Her skin was tan and smooth, except for a few light freckles on her face.
“Jesus, Grace, you scared the crap out of me,” Max said. He narrowed his eyes. “How did you find me here, anyway?”
Grace knew Max from the shelter. If his fellow rangers were like siblings, then Grace was like the annoying cousin that always overstayed her welcome.
Grace shrugged, a smug grin of pride on her face. “It wasn’t a big deal. I just looked up the paperwork at the shelter your new ‘guardians’ filled out to move you. Don’t you think it’s kind of weird that you and the others were adopted by a company?”
Max narrowed his eyes. “Adopted?” he had no idea his arrangements were so formal.
Grace arced an eyebrow at him. “I find it interesting that this information shocks you.”
Max sighed and rolled his eyes. “Look, Grace. Now isn’t really a good time.”
“I figured as much,” Grace said. “That’s why I’m going with you this weekend.”
“Huh?” Max said.
“Your little hike this weekend,” Grace said. “You go at the same time every month. Like clockwork. It will be a good time to catch up.”
Grace moved towards the door as Max stuttered a response. “But…”
“Later,” she said as she opened the door.
The door slammed shut.
The weekend came.
A father and 10-year-old son went hiking through the tree-filled mountains during the afternoon. The father had wanted to bond with his son, who’s mother recently left them both. But his plan was not working to well.
The son, Logan, was exhausted. His legs hurt from walking, a backpack weighed heavily on his body, and sweat dripped down his forehead. He would have rather been at home with his Game Boy.
“Dad, let’s rest for second,” he pleaded for the fifth time in a minute. “My feet hurt.”
“This is the most you’ve moved in a year,” his dad said. “You need to get off that couch more.”
“I hate this,” Logan snapped. “I’m tired, dirty, and these bugs keep biting me.”
“I told you to spray before we left,” his dad said.
“Bleck,” Logan said. “That stuff stinks.”
“Fine,” his father said as he moved further up the hill. You just stay here and-”
Batlings suddenly pounced from the trees and grabbed Logan’s dad. The villains were far enough up the hill that they didn’t notice Logan.
A Saimajuu demon monster stepped forth from the trees and walked towards the man. The Saimajuu was a creature of twisting, decaying bark. His head was shaped like a stump, and sharp branches extended from various points on his body. The creature’s mouth was filled with jagged bark for teeth.
“You are ripe,” The demon, Kueikurosu said as he stalked towards the father.
Kueikurosu held a seed in his palm and stuffed the seed into the man’s mouth, despite his screaming protests. The seed took root inside the man’s stomach and started to sprout, releasing a chemical laced with demon magick that shot through his veins. The dead skin cells his body started to multiply and harden into bark, twisting, taking shape until he was imprisoned in a twisted, decaying tree.
The seed allowed Kueikurosu to drain the man’s life force. The demon monster’s victims gave him strength, which he would use to wipe out the entire city.
After the demon vanished back into the woods, Logan ran towards the mangled tree that used to be his father. The man’s face was imprinted in the tree like twisted bark. Logan dropped to his knees and started to cry.
Grace followed Max through the woods. “So about this adoption thing…”
Max sighed and kept moving, hoping that she would tire soon. “I really don’t wanna talk about it, Grace.”
The pair heard a sniffling boy from deeper in the woods. They moved through a group of trees and saw Logan at the base of what used to be his father.
Grace wrinkled her nose with disgust at the sight of the tree. “What is that thing?”
Max walked over and kneeled down next to the boy. “Hey…my name’s Max. What’s going on…?”
“My dad,” the boy sniffled while burying his hand in his face. “He…he…”
Max looked to the tree and slowly reached out to place his hand against the bark. He leaned in and listened closer. He heard a slight beating noise. It was a heartbeat.
“Hey…” Max said as he placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “He’s still alive. I can hear his heart.”
Logan’s eyes opened wide with a glimmer of hope as he placed his ear against the tree trunk.
Suddenly, the sound of bat wings flapping came from behind the ranger. He turned to see Kueikurosu walk forward along with a group of Batlings. Max cursed beneath his breath and shot to his feet.
Kueikurosu stared at Grace, lust burning in the villain’s eyes. “You are ripe…”
Max tightened his hands into fists. He had no choice. He had to morph.
“Lightspeed! Rescue!” he flipped his wrist morpher open, and the transformation device flashed with golden power. Fiery red energy surrounded him as his armor wrapped into place and he morphed into his Ranger form.
Rescue Red snapped into a fighting stance and placed his hand against the side of his helmet while activating his helmet’s communicator. “Guys, this is Max. we’ve got-”
He winced as a burst of static flooded his earpiece.
Kueikurosu laughed as he stalked towards the Ranger. “We’ve dampened all communications signals. The only way your friends will hear you is if you scream loud enough when you die.”
The Red Ranger’s face grew pale beneath his visor. He looked back to Grace and the boy. “Grace, take the kid and run.”
Grace arced an eyebrow. “You’re not going to try and fight those things, are you?”
“That’s the idea,” Rescue Red said. “Now go.”
Grace whispered calming words to the boy and led him off to safety. Huh, Rescue Red thought to himself. I was expecting her to be more surprised.
The Batlings dashed forward with short swords in hand to attack the Red Lightspeed Ranger.
Rescue Red charged towards the incoming Batlings. He leapt forward and slammed a flying sidekick against a soldier’s chest. His kick was not as polished as a martial artist’s, but it was effective.
The Red Ranger spun to his left and slammed a kick against a second grunt, smashing the Batling backward.
Arming his Rescue Blaster in baton mode, Rescue Red leapt forward and aimed his descent towards the Saimajuu while holding his saber high.
Grace and Logan scurried down the side of the mountain and took cover behind a trunk. A group of Batlings were following them.
The black-clad soldiers surrounded the area and slowly spread out. Grace could hear the villains’ footsteps approaching. Moving slowly, she reached for a large, fallen branch and grabbed hold of it.
A Batling suddenly tore through nearby bushes and charged towards Grace. She sprang to her feet and swung the branch, bashing the grunt across the head. The soldier’s body whipped backward from the impact as Grace turned and kneeled back down at Logan’s side.
As the Batlings closed in, Grace pulled out a handkerchief and wrote the number to Max’s apartment down. “They’re after me…not you. Get to a phone and call this number. They’ll send help.”
The boy knitted his brow with worry. “But…”
“Hey,” Grace said reassuringly as she placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You can do it. I wasn’t much older than you the first time I ran away from a group of muggers. Just be brave.”
Logan took the handkerchief and scurried off.
Grace quickly spun back to her feet and smashed across a soldier’s head. She spun in the other direction, spearing the branch against a grunt’s chest. She fought hard, swinging disbranch from side to side, but was eventually overtaken.
The Batlings grabbed her and pushed her against the ground, pinning her arms behind her back while she struggled.
Rescue Red tumbled backward across the ground. Kueikurosu lifted the Red Ranger off his feet and grabbed him tightly, nearly crushing his body. The monster released Rescue Red, only to slash its claws across the Red Ranger’s chest with a burst of spark.
The blow forced Rescue Red back a step as Kueikurosu pressed forward, spinning and slashing its claws across the Red Ranger’s chest. The strike sparked on impact and whipped the Red Ranger’s body backward.
Rescue Red crashed hard against the ground, pain shooting through his body.
Kueikurosu extended his hand and thwipped a cable-thick tendril that wrapped around the Red Ranger’s neck. The villain pulled back, whipping Rescue Red off the ground and swinging him backward.
The Red Ranger slammed back against the ground, less than a foot from a high-drop cliff. He pulled himself back to his feet and made the mistake of looking down. Fear gripped his stomach. Rescue Red hated hates.
Kueikurosu sent a surge of energy along the tendril that exploded against Rescue Red’s armor with a massive burst of spark. The blasts thrashed across his armor and knocked him backward, bashing him off the cliff and sending him tumbling downward, falling through the air.
Miss Fairweather stood at a control station in Mariner Bay. During a routine sensor sweep of the city, she noticed a dampening field in the mountain woods outside the city.
She checked the sensor history and noticed a spike of Minus Energy before the dampening field arose. Also, Max’s signal was lost just outside the area.
Fairweather opened a signal to the other rangers. “Rangers, this is Miss Fairweather. Max might be in trouble…”
The Rangers quickly morphed and regrouped at the Aqua Base. The Bay area rose to the surface as the Rangers slid into the Go-Liner cockpit.
“Go-Liner,” Rescue Blue commanded. “On track!”
Rescue Blue reached to his side and pushed a control joystick forward.
The individual liners shot forward like bullets, the force pushing the Rangers back in their seats. The liners combined and formed a single train that throttled across the ocean and onto the shore.
Onlookers stared in amazement as the massive train moved along tracks that curved across the city streets. The train moved along the outskirts of the city and shot towards the wooded damn area.
Rescue Blue pushed his joystick back as they approached the damn area. The Go-Liner screeched against the train rails as it came to a halt.
Rescue Green looked over the Liner’s scanner. He shook his head. “Short range sensors are being dampened too…we’ll have to search on foot.”
Logan ran as fast as he could to get help, despite the burning pain in his legs. He clutched onto the phone number he held in his right hand. Suddenly, he tripped over a root and fell face-first against the ground, skidding his knee and drawing blood.
He tried to move his leg, but his foot was actually caught beneath the root.
The boy winced and laid himself back down. He was tired. Dirty. And he wanted to go home. He just wanted to go home and sleep and forget the whole day had happened.
He closed his eyes as his mind drifted to his father. His dad was alive, but trapped in a twisted shell of bark. Grace had helped him, but she was probably a victim of the demon monster by now too.
He opened his eyes and looked around. Within the woods, he saw the faces of others trapped in twisted stumps of bark and wood. Fear practically choked him.
He had to keep moving.
The boy pulled his leg free, drawing more blood. He wrapped his wound with a cloth and started moving back towards the forest boundary.
“Max!” Rescue Blue shouted as he and the others searched the woods for their friend and teammate. They were not having much luck.
But Rescue Yellow did spot Logan in the woods up ahead. He was on the ground with his knees up to his chest while breathing heavily. The Rangers ran towards his side.
“Are you alright?” Rescue Pink said as she leaned down and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
Logan’s eyes opened wide at the sight of the Rangers. “There’s more of you?” he asked in awe. “Whoa…”
“More?” Rescue Blue asked.
Logan nodded. “The red one…he saved me…”
“Do you know where he is now?” Rescue Green asked.
The boy nodded. “There was a girl with him. She’s…I think she’s in trouble.”
“Can you tell us where?” Rescue Pink asked.
Logan nodded and pointed backward as he gave the Rangers directions.
Batlings forced Grace to her knees as the demon monster stalked towards her with a seed in hand. The creature smiled, snarling his bark-like teeth.
“You’re lucky I don’t have a match,” Grace said to the demon.
The demon monster was pried open Grace’s mouth and started sliding a seed in.
“Rescue Blaster!” Rescue Green shouted as he opened fire with lances of red energy.
The energy blasts exploded against the demons with bursts of spark, knocking them back before Kueikurosu could plant his seed in Grace. The villain looked up and narrowed his eyes at the Rangers.
“Leave her alone!” Rescue Yellow shouted.
Rescue Blue arced an eyebrow beneath his visor. “Is that Grace?!”
The villain snarled his ugly teeth. “Not for long…”
Rescue Green narrowed his eyes beneath his visor. “Where’s Max?”
“Dead,” the villain said. “As you soon will be.”
Logan kept running. The bandage around his leg was dirty and soaked with blood. Scratches lined his skin. He was in pain but kept moving.
The boy tripped over a thick root and went stumbling down another hill. He rolled to a stop at the foot of the hill, injuring his already skid knee. He winced and clutched onto his knee, and through the corner of his eye, he say someone lying nearby a creek.
It was Max. Logan recognized him after a moment and ran towards him. “Hey! Hey mister!”
Max’s eyes were closed and he was not moving. Blood trickled down his forehead and his clothes were torn and tattered. Logan leaned down and tried to shake him awake. “hey…come on…get up…”
Max did not move.
The monster slashed his bark-like claws across the Green Ranger’s chest. The claws sparked on impact and whipped the Ranger’s body backward. Rescue Green went tumbling across the ground as the others regrouped around him.
The villain lashed out with four thick plant-like vines that wrapped around the Rangers’ necks. The demon snapped Rescue Blue and Rescue Yellow off their feet and thrashed them back and forth across the air.
Kueikurosu tightened his tentacles around Rescue Pink and Rescue Green while slamming them onto the ground.
“I will not bother to seed you,” the creature snarled as he tightened his vines even further, choking off the Rangers’ air. “You will die.”
A figure suddenly jumped through the air as if from nowhere and slammed a flying kick against the villain. The creature was knocked off its feet and went skidding across the ground as its tendrils slackened.
The figure landed on the ground near the Rangers. It was Max.
“Max!” Rescue Blue shouted.
Rescue Yellow shook his head as he and the others regrouped around Max. “Christ, we thought you were dead.”
“Almost,” Max said as he glared at the monster. He tightened his fist as he armed his morpher. “But I made it. This demon won’t be so lucky.”
Max stepped forward.
“Lightspeed! Rescue!” His morpher flashed with golden energy as his armor wrapped around his body and he morphed into his Ranger form.
The Rangers snapped into their individual fighting stances.
“Rescue Task Force!” they shouted together.
“Rescue!” they shouted as one.
“Rescue Blasters, Baton Mode!” Rescue Red shouted.
The Rangers armed their sabers and slowly circled around the demon monster, looking for weaknesses and trying to anticipate the creature’s next move.
The Saimajuu opened its jaws wide and fired a wave of jade-tinted energy at the group. The blast exploded with a massive burst of flame as the Rangers dove and rolled for cover.
The Red Ranger rolled onto his feet and sprang through the air towards the demon. Rescue Red landed while swinging his saber downward, slashing the baton across the demon monster’s body with a burst of spark.
Rescue Blue and Rescue Pink spun past the demon monster while slashing horizontally across the demon monster’s body. Rescue Green and Rescue Yellow spun in from the opposite side of the villain and slashed horizontally.
The four Rangers lashed out with their grappling cables, which wrapped around the demon’s limbs. They held the demon monster steady as Rescue Red charged forward with his blaster.
The Red Ranger opened fire with lances of red energy that exploded against the villain with bursts of spark. Rescue Red switched his blaster back to baton mode and sprang forward. He speared the weapon through the villain’s body, the saber sparking as it punctured through the bark-like demon.
Injured, the villain was not able to sustain his dampening field. The Rangers comm lines opened.
Rescue Red activated his communicator. “Rescue Bird!”
The Rescue Bird blasted from the Bay Area in the blink of an eye and shot towards the battle scene. The Rescue Bird materialized above the Rangers and lowered into their hands. The Rangers stood in formation while arming the weapon in its blaster mode.
“Rescue Bird, UniLaser Mode!” Rescue Red shouted as they aimed the blaster towards the demon. “Fire!”
A broad wave of crackling blue-and-gold energy shot forth from the Rescue Bird. The blast shot through the demon monster with a massive explosion of crackling energy and sparks. The villain was pulverized and smashed into pieces. The creature’s remains hardened like rock and scattered across the ground.
Jinxer stood in the Saima temple. He hurled a demon card into the fiery Hell Gate’s portal. The card teleported to the monster’s remains as Jinxer whispered an incantation in a language known only in the depths of Hell.
The card flashed with dark energy that spread across the rubble. The energy and rubble shot upward like a giant wave of countless bats. The bats twisted and took shape, meshing flesh and energy while forming a giant sized version of the demon monster.
“Rescuezords, mobilize!” Rescue Red commanded.
From the distance, each zord rolled out of its Go-Liner rail and moved towards the battle scene. The Rangers hopped into their individual cockpits.
Rescue Red thrust his blaster grip forward. “Lightspeed Megazord fusion, online!”
Aero Rescue hovered over Hydro Rescue and lowered two grapplers. The grapplers hooked onto the zord’s side and started to lift the machine from the ground. Meanwhile, Med Rescue and Hazer Rescue rolled side by side. The two zords tilted upward, forming a pair of legs.
Rescue Green maneuvered his zord over the legs and slowly lowered the Hydro Rescue downward. The Hydro Rescue locked into position with the legs, forming a lower torso.
Pyro Rescue extended its ladder arms and grasped onto the torso. The red-armored zord used its ladder arms to rise from the ground and slide down onto the torso. Pyro Rescue locked into position, forming the zord’s chest and arms.
Aero Rescue slid onto Pyro Rescue and completed the transformation, forming the Lightspeed Megazord.
The Megazord stomped forward towards the demon.
Kueikurosu thrust a pair of vines into the ground. Burrowing forward, the vines slithered to the feet of the Megazord and sprang upward through the dirt. The tendrils wrapped around the Megazord and dragged it down while tearing a massive crack in the Earth.
The vines dragged the Megazord down, sending the robo falling through the crevice.
Logan kept running. He spotted Grace near a clearing and ran towards her, relieved she was alright. “Hey!”
A crack suddenly split through the ground, tearing a crevice between Logan and Grace.
Logan narrowed his eyes. He was sore, tired and pissed off. The boy rolled his hands into fists and dashed forward, hiding his fear and leaping over the crevice to the other side.
The Lightspeed Megazord’s ladder arms reached up from the crack and grabbed hold of the demon. The Megazord used its grip to pull itself upward and land back on the ground.
The Megazord lifted the villain off his feet and hurled him aside, sending the giant tumbling across the ground.
“Lightspeed Megazord Saber!” Rescue Red shouted as he pushed his blaster grip forward.
The zord’s double-edged saber formed in Lightspeed Megazord’s right fist. The blade started to pulse with fiery energy as the demon monster rose to its feet.
“Lightspeed Megazord Saber…ignite!” Rescue Red shouted.
The Megazord slowly swung its weapon in a circular pattern, creating a ring of fire. The blade energized with blue-tinted power and swung downward through the fire ring while chopping through the demon monster. The Megazord’s white-hot blade tore the demon’s body apart with a single stroke.
The demon monster crashed against the ground as his power overloaded and exploded.
With the demon dead, the people trapped in trees below returned to normal.
“Dad!” Logan shouted as he ran into his father’s arms. The father held on tightly to his son as Max and Grace stood by.
The father looked to Max and nodded. “Thank you…for helping my son.”
“Don’t thank me,” Max said. “I’d probably still be laying unconscious if he hadn’t found me and woke me up. You should be thanking him.”
The father smiled at his son with pride and tossled Logan’s hair. “I’m proud of you, son…”
Max felt jealously and sadness well in his throat.
Grace and Max walked towards the border of the woods on their way back to the city.
“Thanks,” Max said. “For helping that kid out and everything…”
“Don’t mention it,” she said as she nudged against him. “So I have a proposition…”
Max sighed and tried to walk faster. “What kind of proposition?”
“I want to join the team,” she said.
Max rolled his eyes. “That will never happen.”
“Oh, come on,” Grace said. “Don’t you have as spare wrist thing laying around anywhere?”
“Could you at least tell me how you got your powers?”
Max practically started to speed walk. “I’m thinking no.”
They trailed off as they walked deeper into the woods, the trees covering their exit path. Capt. Mitchell watched from nearby, staring at his son with a blank expression on his face.
To be continued…Chapter Five