Ultimate Gao Rangers: Chapter Sixteen

Birth of Zena'ku

 

1,000 years ago, Japan

The Heian Period

 

The warriors summoned their power and focused their energy upon the last temple. A smaller island carved out of Rokugan with a blinding flash of white light. The island slowly rose to the skies, carrying with it Murasaki, the infant Tetomu, and five Power Animal guardians.

 

Shirogane, the sworn bodyguard of Murasaki, remained below with the five Gao warriors. He knew that if he and the samurai of Rokugan failed, that island and its power would be the Earth’s last hope.

 

“Come,” Takeru, GaoLeon’s warrior said. “We must move to the southern ridge before nightfall…”

 

Shirogane obediently followed Takeru’s lead as the Gao warriors started moving towards the distance. Wide, sweeping hills of dead trees stood between the Gao warriors and their destination: the last village of the Wolf Clan.

 

They had no way of knowing that the last camp of the Wolf had been wiped out weeks ago.

 

***

 

The warriors walked through the dead forest for two days.

 

A chill crept down Shirogane’s spine as the winds howled, as if the earth were in pain. The stench of death filled his nostrils. His hand instinctively slid across the hilt of his sword.

 

The warrior narrowed his eyes as his hairs stood on end. “We are being watched…”

 

A stream of black flame suddenly shot towards the warriors.

 

He six samurai dove for cover and rolled across the stank dirt as the flame stream passed over them. They rolled to their knees and snapped into crouched fighting stances, looking up to see an Org monster approaching.

 

The creature’s body was covered in dirt-gold armor, and its fists were shaped like dark-golden barrels. The head of the creature appeared to be made of melted wax, with three blood red eyes.

 

It was Candle Org.

 

Nearly a hundred gray-skinned Org grunts leapt out from the cover of the dead trees and pounced towards the warriors to attack.

 

A grunt swung its club towards Takeru’s head. Takeru blocked the club with his left palm and stepped forward, driving his dagger through the creature’s chest. Takeru twisted his dagger, the blade tearing open rotted flesh, which seeped with puss-covered black blood.

 

Shirogane unsheathed his curved blade and stood in a fighting stance as two Org grunts charged towards him. “Demons…” Shirogane whispered as the grunts moved closer. “You will die by my blade…”

 

Shirogane spun forward and sliced a grunt’s head off while slamming a reverse sidekick against a second soldier’s chest. The warrior snapped around, bringing his blade through a backhand swing that tore open the third grunt’s chest. Black ichor and slime sprayed from the wound as the grunt collapsed in a pile of rotting flesh and bone.

 

The warrior used his robe to wipe his blade clean as the next wave of soldiers closed in.

 

Meanwhile Takeru charged side-by-side with Kai towards Candle Org. Kai was the warrior of GaoSawShark.

 

Candle Org extended his arms and fired two streams of flame at the two warriors. Takeru and Kai dove aside, hit the ground rolling into a crouched position, and sprang through the air to attack.

 

Candle Org used its left arm like a club to swat Kai from the air. The young warrior went flying backward and splintered through a dead tree.

 

Takeru landed while spearing his blade deep into the monster’s shoulder. Candle Org growled with pain and bashed the warrior aside. The blow slammed the warrior across the head, drawing blood on impact.

 

Nearby, Shirogane ran his blade through another grunt. The warrior kicked another soldier aside before looking towards the monster Org.

 

A tattoo of the moon, burned on the left arm of Shirogane, started to glow with pale-blue light. Shirogane narrowed his eyes at the Org and charged forward to attack.

 

The moonlight from his tattoo flowed down his arm, washing over his hand while flowing up his blade. The sword blade energized with pale-blue light.

 

Candle Org turned towards the warrior and fired a stream of flame. Shirogane held up his blade to deflect the flames as he charged forward.

 

The warrior spun and swung his blade through a streak of pale-blue energy. The blade tore through the Org monster’s gut, slicing through its rotting flesh and tearing open a gaping wound that leaked puss-covered blood.

 

Shirogane pressed forward and speared his blade through the Org monster. The sword pulsed with moonlight, tearing into the Org monster, causing the creature to explode into shreds of flesh and black slime.

 

The other rangers slowly lowered their weapons and looked to Shirogane with amazement. Kai opened his eyes wide. “How did you do that?”

 

Shirogane lowered his glowing sword as the last of the Org grunts fell.

 

***

 

Shirogane and the five Gao warriors sat around a camp fire later that night. Gaku was standing watch nearby while the others silently prepared a boiled “stew” of rice rations.

 

Takeru looked to Shirogane and broke the silence. “Tell us, Shirogane…this power you have…where does it come from?”

 

Shirogane’s hand draped over his arm. “I do not know. I’ve had the moonlight tattoo for as many seasons as I can remember.”

 

Kai looked at Shirogane quizzically. “Were your parents shogenja?”

 

Shirogane shook his head. “I never knew my father or my mother. I was raised by Ronin in the wildlands.”

 

Takeru placed a hand on Shirogane’s shoulder and gave it an affectionate squeeze. “I am glad you found your way here, my friend. Perhaps with your power, the six of us can stand against the Org.”

 

***

 

The six warriors moved across rolling hills the next morning. They stopped at a cliff that looked down upon a Wolf Clan village nestled in the valley below.

 

The entire village was charred and burnt to the ground. Corpses lined the paths winding through the village.

 

“No…” Takeru said, his face growing pale. “No!”

 

The warriors darted down the hill and entered the valley. Their plans of grouping with the Wolf Clan and launching a counter attack against the Org were just as dead as the villagers.

 

“Keep your senses alert,” Takeru said as he unsheathed his dagger. “More Org could be near.”

 

Shirogane unsheathed his blade and slowly walked across a dirt path that extended between two burnt huts. He felt eyes watching him, but could not pinpoint from where.

 

***

 

Highness Duke Org Rakanjaz’no stood in the Nexus while watching the Gao warriors through a mirror, which served as a viewing portal.

 

The Highness Duke’s body was dark purple and covered in a thin coat of clear slime. What looked like slender hands grasped over the Org’s shoulders, fingers spreading across his chest. A dark purple cape was draped over his back.

 

The villain had no head. A single eye was on the center of his chest. Spikes of twisted bone protruded above the eye like a pair of horns. Similar bone spikes lined his arms and ankles.

 

Rakanjaz’no armed a pair of bone scimitars that extended from his palms. “I have allowed this group of humans to roam free for too long…”

 

Power Animals seemed to be attacking his forcing all across Rokugan. The Gao forces were obviously doomed, and served as a minor irritation at best, but they had to be eliminated.

 

Rakanjaz’no had come to learn that the Gao God known as Animus ruled over all the Power Animals. And the five Gao warriors were the tamers of Animus.

 

With Animus out of the way, nothing could stop the Org from leaving Rokugan and spreading a blanket of death across the entire Earth.

 

The Highness Duke carried his bone blades tightly in hand as he left the Nexus to deliver a fatal blow to Gao God.

 

***

 

Shirogane crouched down crouched down in the charred remains of a hut. A scorched scroll had somehow survived the blaze, and parts of the scroll were still legible.  He opened the scroll and started reading.

 

Takeru stepped inside nearby. “What have you found?”

 

“This belonged to a shogenja of the Wolf Clan,” Shirogane explained as he kept reading. “He must have lived in this village.”

 

Takeru knitted his brow. Shogenja did not typically live in villages, but of course, the Wolf was far from a typical clan.

 

Members of the Wolf Clan used to be savages that roamed the empire. It was only in recent decades that they had started to integrate themselves into society.

 

“What is the meaning of the scroll?” Takeru asked.

 

“It appears to be a battle plan,” Shirogane said. “A plan, or a man’s delusion. Are you familiar with this clans legends of a Wolf Demon?”

 

Takeru nodded. “I was told that story as a boy.”

 

“As was I,” Shirogane said. “The shogenja who wrote this scroll refers to ruins hidden beneath this very village, where the Wolf Mask is kept. This man was planning on using the mask to control the three Power Animals to the north that cannot be tamed.”

 

Takeru scoffed. “That mask is only a legend. A tale to scare children.”

 

“What if the tale were true?” Shirogane asked.

 

Explosions suddenly rocked the village, knocking the warriors of their feet and sending them skidding across the charred ground.

 

Takeru and Shirogane climbed to their feet and looked up to see Org grunts swarming in from all directions. The Highness Duke walked among them.

 

“Gao warriors…” he said mockingly.

 

The villain extended his hand and fired strands of purple electricity that blasted against Takeru and Shirogane. The strands of energy electrified them, knocking them back off their feet and crashing them against the ground.

 

The Highness Duke armed his bone scimitars and stalked forward. “This village will be your grave…”

 

Takeru unsheathed his dagger and snarled at the Org. The warrior’s heart pumped faster in his chest, filling his veins with the blood of the mountain lion. He pounced forward like a cat and attacked the Org grunts.

 

Takeru landed while running his blade downward through a soldier’s body, bursting that grunt open like a sack of blood and puss. The warrior spun forward while slamming the hilt of his dagger against a  grunt’s head.

 

Shirogane noticed that the other warriors were scattered about the village, separated by a near-countless number of Org.  They fought hard, animal-like savagery fueling their every strike.

 

An Org grunt suddenly swung its club at Shirogane. The warrior swung his blade upward to parry the blow, and chopped his sword back down, tearing through the grunt with a burst of spark that ripped it open.

 

Black ichor sprayed from the wound as the soldier collapsed.

 

Shirogane looked to his right in time to see Rakanjaz’no charge forward. The Highness Duke swung his bone like downward towards the warrior’s head.

 

Shirogane held his blade high to block the blow, which forced him down to his knees. The Highness Duke kicked upward, smashing his foot upside the warrior’s head. The blow whipped Shirogane backward and sent him crashing against the ground.

 

Shirogane rolled back into a crouched position before springing forward. He swung his blade low, but the Highness Duke parried the blow with one bone saber and slashed his second saber across the warrior’s arm.

 

Screaming, Shirogane took a step backward while placing his hand over the wound, which was seeping with blood. The bone-deep cut on his arm was already becoming infected. The warrior could feel it burning.

 

“Die!“ The Highness Duke pounced forward and speared his weapons towards the warrior’s chest.

 

Shirogane took his sword in his left had as the moon tattoo on his arm started to glow with pale-blue light. The light extended along his sword. 

 

The warrior spun past the Highness Duke while knocking the villain’s sword from his hands.

 

Rakanjaz’no growled with frustration and turned to face the warrior. The Highness Duke extended his hand and fired purple lightning from his palm.

 

Shirogane held his sword in front of his body, and the blade deflected the lightning blasts.

 

The warrior narrowed his eyes as the lighting blasts intensified.

 

Rakanjaz’no screamed as he increased the lightning’s strength. “You are not even one of the Warrior Five. Die!”

 

“Not until I have removed every last one of your demon spawn from this world!” Shirogane swung his blade hard.

 

The sword emitted an moonlight energy wave that shot forward, cutting through the Highness Duke with a burst of spark, knocking the villain off his feet.

 

The villain crashed against the ground, purple slime and puss bubbling from his wound.

 

Shirogane stepped back into a fighting stance as the Highness Duke slowly pulled himself to his feet. The warrior was expecting Rakanjaz’no to attack again, but instead, the villain pulled out a handful of black seeds.

 

Shirogane opened his eyes wide with horror at the sight of the seeds. He pounced forward to attack, but was too late.

 

Rakanjaz’no pressed the seeds into his wounds. The seeds took root within his body and burst open with black vines, which meshed with the Highness Duke’s body and caused him to grow giant.

 

Nearby, the rangers continued to smash against the Org grunts. They kept the soldiers at bay while raising their daggers towards the sky. “Hyakajuu Shokan!”

 

Their five Power Animals stomped forth from the distance. Roaring, they charged into battle towards Rakanjaz’no. GaoLeon, GaoSawShark, GaoCondor, GaoJaguar, and GaoBuffolo moved as one, honed by countless battles.

 

Takeru looked up at the zords and shaped his left hand like a claw over the right side of his chest. “Hyakajuu gattai!”

 

The Power Animals shifted shape and started to combine. Buffalo formed the lower torso and legs, jaguar formed the left arm, saw shark formed the right arm, and mountain lion formed the body. The condor perched onto the lion’s head and extended its wings. A crown with two golden horns appeared on the Megazord’s head as the Gao God awakened.

 

The Gao God, Animus, possessed a sentience higher than any zord that had walked the Earth.

 

Animus stepped back into a fighting stance, aiming its saw-blade arm forward towards the Highness Duke.

 

“Org,” Animus said, his low voice booming with power and authority. “You have raped the earth for the last time. Usanai!”

 

“No…” the Highness Duke said. “We have only just begun…”

 

Highness Duke extended his hand and fired purple lightning into the skies.

 

Clouds suddenly darkened as the skies turned black. Purple and crimson lightning shot from cloud to cloud as black rain started to pour from the skies.

 

“Come to me, God,”  the Highness Duke taunted. “Show this world you protect how weak you truly are.”

 

Animus leaned forward and dashed towards Rakanjaz’no at blinding speed while swinging his shark blade towards the Highness Duke‘s body.

 

Rakanjaz’no used his right saber to block the blow and slashed his second saber across Gao God’s chest. The blade sparked on impact, forcing Animus backward.

 

The Highness Duke pressed forward and chopped its blades against Gao God’s body like a pair of scissors. The villains sent strands of purple energy along the blades, and the strands thrashed against Animus’s armor with massive bursts of sparks and explosions.

 

Gao God’s jaguar fist energized and thrust forward, punching against the Highness Duke and sparked on impact, forcing the villain backward.

 

Animus’s saw blade energized with golden light and swung hard horizontally. The blade emitted a golden energy wave that exploded against Rakanjaz’no, knocking him further back.

 

Rakanjaz’no screamed as purple slime and puss erupted from his wounds, splashing against the burnt village below.

 

Animus extended his blade like an arrow and armed a mystic bow. Gao God fired an arrow of golden like that punctured through Rakanjaz’no with a massive burst of spark, exploding on impact.   

 

Half the villain’s body was blown away, revealing rotted flesh and muscle tissue, thick with slime and puss. But Rakanjaz’no merely laughed.

 

“I have tasted your power, and it is nothing,”  Rakanjaz’no said.

 

The Highness Duke extended his hand and fired a purple bolt of electricity upward.

 

Bolts of lightning suddenly crashed down from the skies and exploded against Animus, tendrils of electricity wrapping around his body, thrashing against his armor with massive bursts of spark.

 

Below, Shirogane watched the battle while slicing his blade through the remainder of the Org grunts.

 

The warrior spun forward and sliced off a soldier’s head while running his blade through a second grunt’s chest. Shirogane kicked the corpses away and turned towards the scroll he had found.

 

Shirogane darted forward and grabbed the scroll on his way to find the ruins. This battle could tilt the war to our favor, he thought top himself while running. It must be won.

 

***

 

Shirogane entered what appeared like a tomb. Eerie torches of pale light lit as soon as he stepped inside. He walked towards the tomb in the center of the room and ran his hand along its dusty edge.

 

Setting the scroll aside, Shirogane leaned down and pushed the lid off the tomb. Smoke rose from inside, nearly gagging Shirogane. He coughed as he took a step back.

 

The smoke cleared, and Shirogane spotted the Wolf mask inside the tomb. The mask sent chills of fear running down his spine.

 

Alongside the mask were three animal crystals: the wolf, the alligator, and the hammer head shark.

 

“Those that cannot be tamed…” Shirogane whispered.

 

***

 

Animus chopped his blade towards the Highness Duke’s body, but Rakanjaz’no parried the blow and slashed his bone blades across the Megazord’s chest.

 

Animus brought his blade back down and chopped across the villain’s hands, knocking the bone blades away from the Highness Duke. Although he could merely grow new ones. Animus did not plan on giving the villain time.

 

But before the Megazord could press on its attack, Rakanjaz’no pounced forward and grabbed a hold of Animus while pumping volts of energy against the Megazord’s armor. Explosions thrashed across Animus, sending cracks along armor and tearing into what lied beneath.

 

***

 

Shirogane stared hauntingly at the mask. Could he really do it? Could he really risk corrupting his entire soul?

 

His thoughts drifted to Murasaki on the sky island. The majestic priestess had surrendered her entire life for the sake of protecting the Earth against the Org. Could he do any less?

 

Shirogane grabbed the mask and animal gems before darting outside.

 

***

 

Shirogane arrived back on the surface as black rain continued to pour around him.

 

The other warriors, their clothes torn and tattered and their skin red with bruises and blood, continued to fight against an onslaught of Org grunts.

 

Takeru slammed the hilt of his dagger across a soldier’s head before looking to Shirogane and noticing the mask. Takeru’s eyes opened wide in horror. “The mask…the legends are real?”

 

Eyes burning with determination, Shirogane looked at Takeru and nodded before running into battle.

 

“No!” Takeru shouted as he kicked a soldier aside. He speared a second grunt through the chest. “Don’t do it, Shirogane!”

 

Lightning continued to scorch the skies as Shirogane ran closer to Gao God’s battle. The warrior’s legs burned with fatigue, and his arm wound had nearly made the whole limb numb.

 

Shirogane stood on a boulder and looked up to the two titans clashing above. Animus was losing. Without Animus, the Gao warriors had no hope of standing against the Org.

 

Shirogane narrowed his eyes and tightened his hand around the animal crystals. He slid the cold black mask onto his face and held the three gems in front of his chest.

 

“GaoWolf!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “GaoGator! GaoHammerHead!”

 

……

 

Nothing happened.

 

Shirogane snarled with anger and tried again. “GaoWolf! GaoGator! GaoHammerHead!”

 

Again, no response.

 

The warrior’s heart started pounding in his chest as anger and impatience filled his veins. “GaoWolf! Gao HammerHead! GaoGator!”

 

His anger overwhelmed him as he shouted a fierce war cry that spread across the village, causing his own hairs to stand on edge. His anger fueled him, giving rise to dark emotions buried inside of him. Or were they buried inside of the mask? Or both?

 

It didn’t matter. Shirogane continued his howl as the animal crystals in his hand started to glow with dark power. “Majuu Shokan!”

 

A flash of dark silver light appeared on a hill behind Shirogane. A silver-armored wolf appeared and howled into the skies.

 

A purple-armored hammerhead shark suddenly swooped down from the skies as if it were swimming, and a massive green-armored alligator stomped onto the scene.

 

Shirogane tightened his grip on the animal crystals as they pulsed with dark power. The warrior tossed the gems upward, and started to crisscross the skies in streaks of dim energy.

 

Majuu Gattai!” Shirogane shouted. 

 

The three Power Animals pulsed with energy and started to change shape. GaoGator formed a body and legs as GaoWolf and GaoHammerHead formed the arms. The wolf-like head of the zord rose from the body as its Org horn snapped upward.

 

The gator’s mouth opened wide as the zord howled, crackling with dark energy that danced across its armor.

 

Shirogane materialized in his zord’s cockpit and placed his hands over two dark, slick control globes embedded in the control station. “Sanjou!” he shouted. “Gao Hunter!”

 

Gao Hunter moved in and took the Highness Duke by surprise.

 

“Hammer Claw!” Shirogane shouted. The hammerhead fist swung forward and slammed against Rakanjaz’no with a burst of spark.

 

“Wolf strike!” Gao Hunter’s wolf fist energized and thrust forward, slamming against Rakanjaz’no and knocking the Highness Duke back a step.

 

The Highness Duke growled with frustration and extended his hand towards the two Megazords. Purple lightning lashed out from the villain’s palm and exploded against the zords, knocking them off their feet as strands of electricity thrashed across their armor.

 

Animus was the first to rise to his feet. The Megazord swung its saw blade forward. The blade energized with golden power and tore deep into the Highness Duke, cracking through bone while tearing apart rotting flesh. The wound sprayed purple and black ichor that splashed across the Megazord’s armor.

 

Rakanjaz’no quickly recovered from the blow and pounced forward, slamming against the Megazord and gripping Animus on the shoulders. The villain’s claws buckled through the Megazord’s armor and pierced inward, sparking on impact. The Highness Duke sent strands of electric energy through his nails and inside the Megazord.

 

Explosions blasted outward from beneath the Megazord’s armor, tearing apart plating with massive bursts of spark as Animus tried to keep his balance.

 

“No!” the warriors shouted from below.

 

“Now, humans,” Rakanjaz’no said as he tightened his grip on Animus. “Watch as the god of your precious Earth dies.”

 

Shirogane clutched onto his control station to keep from falling. Through the view port, he watched Rakanjaz’no pump energy against Animus. Explosions were ripping the Megazord’s armor apart piece by piece.

 

Shirogane  snarled at the sight. His heart started to pound in his chest, sending the blood of the wolf coursing through his veins. Sweat dripped from his forehead beneath the mask.

 

“Animus…” he said as he willed his Megazord to stand. Shirogane could not let this battle be lost. “Animus!”

 

Gao Hunter armed its Gator Blade and dashed forward, slashing the Highness Duke away from Animus. The Gator Blade’s ridges tore away at the Org’s body, ripping apart flesh and slicing through bone, which sparked on impact.

 

The Highness Duke slammed the back of his fist across Gao Hunter, knocking the Megazord off its feet and onto the ground.

 

Animus stepped forward and swung his shark-blade arm downward towards the Highness Duke. Rakanjaz’no grabbed the blade and squeezed down tightly. His hands sparked with purple electricity that shattered the blade.  

 

The villain stepped back and summoned a sphere of crackling electric energy between his palm. Tendrils of power lashed out from the energy sphere and exploded across the ground.

 

Rakanjaz’no thrust his arms forward and hurled the energy sphere at Animus. The sphere exploded through the center of the Megazord with a massive explosion, shattering armor and ripping a gaping hole in Gao God’s chest.  

 

Secondary explosions tore as Animus, bursting with spark and crackling with energy overloads.

 

Gao God flashed with energy and fell backward. A final explosion tore through Animus with a massive burst of flame, vaporizing the Megazord.

 

“No!” Shirogane shouted, his eyes open wide with terror. He tightened his hands into fists, nails digging against his skin and drawing his own blood. Animus had been the one thing standing against the Org. He had been the one ray of hope in an otherwise hopeless war.

 

Shirogane narrowed his eyes at the Highness Duke and shouted a bone-chilling war cry. He thrust his hands forward. “Howling Fury!”

 

The gator jaws opened and fired a twirling column of pale-blue energy. The blast howled as it rushed forward, splashing across the Highness Duke with a binding burst of light. The Highness Duke’s skin was torn away and vaporized as his bones were pulverized to duct. The villain’s body was torn to shreds and vaporized by the power of the wave.

 

The wave powered down, and the Highness Duke’s dusty remains slowly blew away in the wind.

 

***

 

Shirogane leapt from his zord and landed on the soiled ground below. Dark energy still crackled around his body. The warrior tried to remove the mask, but he could not pry it off his face.

 

Shirogane clawed at the mask with frustration as panic flooded his system. The more he tried to remove the mask, the more securely it fastened against his face.

 

His heart started to pound faster in his chest. Sweat dripped down his forehead, and his entire body tightened.

 

“Come off!” he shouted as he pried harder against the mask. Blood started to drip along his forehead near the edge of the mask. “Come off!”

 

“Shirogane!” Takeru shouted as he and the others ran towards their friend.

 

“Stay back!” Shirogane shouted, his voice thick with madness. “Do not come near!”

 

The mask flashed with dark power that covered Shirogane like a blanket. Then the power seeped into his pours, flooding his system. He screamed in pain, which was quickly replaced by anger.

 

His scream became a howl, and black hairs started to stick out from his body. His mouth elongated into a muzzle, filled with salvia-dripping fangs. His eyes became yellow and wolf-like. Black armor wrapped around his body like a shell, as an edged horn extended from his forehead.    

 

Blood-lust clouded his mind as the blood of the wolf pumped through his veins.

 

The five Gao warriors opened their eyes wide with horror as Shirogane, Zena’ku, looked to the skies and howled like a wolf.

 

To be continued…Chapter 17