Disclaimer: While I don't own the overall concept of Power Rangers, Zords, and all else that goes with it, I, along with the friends that are involved with the story, do own Power Rangers Literati itself and its components.
Power Rangers Literati
By J.T. Magnus, "Turbo"
Morning shift at Highway 2 starts at eight, but the employees have to be there to open the store at seven - A fact not enjoyed by many of the employees, especially between the time pre-opening preparations are done and when opening time rolls around and there's nothing to do.
"I hate my life," Daniel complained.
"I hate your life too," J.T. countered.
"Why do I have to work with you today?"
"Because you and Amanda would be too distracted making out."
"Then why not you and Jessica?"
"Do I really have to answer that one?"
"You and Amanda?"
"We'd spend half our time trying to kill each other and the other half trying to kill the humans."
"Yolanda or Justin?"
"Now you're just reaching, Mega Man."
"Do you have to call me that?"
"No, I'm sure I could come up with something more annoying."
"Just... be quiet and leave me alone until the store opens, okay? It'll probably be better for both of us."
J.T. shrugged, turning his computer on as he sat it on the counter; connecting to the internet as soon as it confirmed a wireless signal, "Fine."
After a few minutes, J.T. opened a news feed from California and turned the volume up so that he could hear it better.
"...today, representatives from Mirinoi, KO-35, Triforia, Aquitar and Inquirius attended the groundbreaking ceremony that officially marks the beginning of construction for New Tech City. Future plans for New Tech City upon its completion involve not only embassies for each of the extra-solar governments, but also for the city to be the site of Earth's Delta Base, a permanent presence on this planet for the galactic law enforcement organization Space Patrol Delta.
Questions have arisen, however, over S.P.D.'s status as a law enforcement agency in New Tech City. Captain Wesley Collins, commander of Silver Hill's privately owned and managed law enforcement agency the Silver Guardians and one of Earth's primary supporters of S.P.D. - who also happens to be the son of Alexander S. Collins, Silver Guardians founder and the CEO of Bio-Lab - has been quoted as saying the following; 'The Space Patrol's primary purpose isn't to replace a planet's own police force, but rather to help it. The police are fine for ordinary crime and the New Tech City Police, when formed, will fill that role. But you can't expect ordinary police training to prepare an officer for what they might encounter now that Earth is part of the galactic community. That's where S.P.D. comes in, to fight crime committed by non-Earthen beings while on Earth.' It should be noted that for the past several years, despite no permanent S.P.D. presence on Earth, Bio-Lab has been involved in numerous S.P.D.-related projects, many of them classified."
J.T. closed out the news feed as the reporter moved on to a new subject, "Bio-Lab and the Silver Guardians both - it's amazing what you can do with just a few million dollars."
"This isn't going to be like your opinion about professional sports, is it?"
"Yes, it is. Pro sports are basically a person who earns a hundred-fifty bucks a week cheering on a person who earns a hundred thousand a week just so that person can earn a hundred-fifty thousand a week... The guy's dad owns a multi-million dollar company, he's publicly known as a hero, AND for support he has not only a full team of Rangers, but a small army at his command. What do we have? A media store, secret identities to protect, and an occasional working relationship with the local police."
Daniel groaned, "So, what? You want to quit Highway 2, tell everybody you're a Ranger and join the police?"
J.T. shot him a look, "Nah, but I wouldn't mind his allowance."
"Has anyone told you you're an idiot?"
"Many a time."
"Then consider yourself told, idiot."
At two minutes to eight, there came a rapping on the glass door of the store, causing J.T. and Daniel both to raise their heads from what they were doing. With an annoyed groan, J.T. left where he had been perched on the counter and went over to the door, unlocking it and opening it an inch, blocking it from opening any further with his foot.
"Sorry, we're not open yet."
"I know, but this was the time I was told to report for work."
"'Report for work'? You got a name?"
"Luis Rojas, Mr. Taylor said I was supposed to start today and the manager would be here to help me get settled."
J.T. looked Luis over for a moment, taking in the red polo shirt and khaki pants he wore, "Since it's your first day, I'll cut you some slack... but if you show up tomorrow still looking like a private school reject we'll be docking your pay."
"I take it you're the manager?"
"I'm J.T. Magnus, that's Daniel Curtindolph, and you're the low-man on the totem pole. Welcome to Highway 2, Daniel will help you get started. If you have any problems, just remember; you're inconveniencing me," With that, J.T. turned and headed back towards his register.
For a moment, Luis stood in the doorway the look plain to read on his face. It was a look that said 'What in the world have I gotten myself into?'
"So, when do I watch the training video?"
J.T. put down the invoice he was using to check a new shipment of anime boxed sets that had come in before adding them to inventory and looked up, "Did Zack tell you to watch Clerks and Clerks II over the weekend?"
"Those are the training videos. Watch 'em, love 'em, memorize 'em," J.T. shook his head, going back to his work, muttering, "Zack, if he doesn't shape up soon, I'm gonna smite you for this..."
Daniel, who had overheard J.T.'s comment, replied, "It's his first day, remember?"
"I DO remember... I just don't care," the other man shot back under his breath.
What J.T. didn't realize was that although he had meant for Daniel to hear it, his fellow Ranger wasn't the only one who had...
Later, when J.T. had gone into the back to take a phone call, Luis looked at Daniel.
"He doesn't like me, does he?"
"It's not just you, he doesn't like anyone... well, maybe one person, but he actually loves her, not just likes her. At most, he tolerates people."
"Then what was with that comment earlier?"
"Before we came to work here; me, J.T., our girlfriends and the rest of the staff used to work at Movie Gallery... There was a very fast turnover for employees - most didn't last a month because they couldn't do the job. J.T., despite a lack of rank, was usually the one assigned to train them, so he lost his patience with trainees early on... Even before the rest of us went to work there, when it was just Amanda - the manager there and now Assistant Manager here - him, and a few others. There was one they talked about - we never met them - they just called 'Trainee Girl' who apparently was the worst possible trainee..."
Daniel realized he was starting to ramble, "Short version? After spending two months trying to train one person, he now gets more irritated than normal for him when he has to train someone."
The conversation was interrupted when the door to the back was slammed open and J.T. stormed out, throwing on a camouflage jacket as he headed for the main door.
"I've gotta go somewhere, I'll be back," was he said by way of explanation on his way out.
Luis blinked, "Were you joshing me about him?"
Daniel shook his head, looking out the windows as his friend walked past his car and down the sidewalk like a man on a mission, "No, but something's definitely under his skin today..."
Less than an hour later, J.T. walked out of the restaurant in a worse mood than when he walked in, something that would seem a feat to anyone that didn't know the Black Ranger well. With teeth clenched, he headed for the nearest alleyway, wanting to get away from people as soon as possible. When he had gone far enough that he could step into the shadows and out of sight, he did so, crossing his arms at the same time.
"Unleash that within...Dragon Spirit!"
Black light flared up around J.T. before dying down and forming the uniform of the Black Literati Ranger. Throwing his arms out to the side, the Black Ranger summoned his helmet and Literati Shield into existence. According to the rules of being a Power Ranger, one was not supposed to use their powers for personal gain. J.T. didn't know if blowing off steam so he didn't lose it on anyone counted as 'personal gain' and at that moment he didn't care, either. With a grunt, he Power-jumped up to the roof of the building he had just exited and landed in a crouch. Rising to his feet, he took off running and jumping from building to building.
"Twenty-two ninety-nine? But the price tag said fourteen ninety-nine!"
"Yes, ma'am," Luis answered, "It does, but that's because we're currently in the middle of putting the new price tags on them."
"If it says fourteen ninety-nine, then you should only be charging me fourteen ninety-nine," She gave an indignant huff and tossed her long hair over her shoulder before addressing Daniel, "Isn't that right?"
"Ma'am, Luis is the store employee conducting this transaction and I believe he's already told you that we're in the middle of re-pricing that movie."
"There's no need to be rude!" She turned back to Luis, "That's false advertisement! I'll sue."
Luis looked at her and replied calmly, "That's well within your rights, ma'am."
"I'm NEVER shopping here again!"
"We're sorry you feel that way, Ma'am, but there's really nothing I can do."
With that, the woman slammed the movie down on the counter and stormed out of the store, the door behind her shutting with such force that Daniel worried about the glass breaking. After the woman had cranked her car and driven away, Daniel turned to face the newer employee.
"Pretty good work. Next time, though, just remember that contrary to what some may think, the customer is not always right."
The phone rang and Daniel closed his eyes as he picked it up, "Highway 2, Daniel speaking… Hey, Mandi-Chan."
Luis looked at Daniel quizzically, only for the other employee to point at the pricing gun in response. He picked up the gun and headed back for the stack of movies that had caused the recent problem as Daniel continued talking.
"No, the psychotic ninja left earlier. He said he had to 'go somewhere'. No, Dear, no need to come in, I'm fine. Zack started the new hire today… What? You already knew? Why did you know and not J.T.? Oh, he had already left when Zack told you, sounds like the impatient ass. Well, he's already succeeded in making the new guy think he hates him. Yeah, I know…"
Jonathan Paul Maxwell slammed his fist against the wall next to his apartment's window in frustration. For weeks he had been plagued by thoughts that defied any attempt to quiet them, he had tried to write them away and they had only become worse. When he sought to drown them out by fighting, he couldn't. They kept coming back and troubling him more and more, making him doubt himself and the world around him. It had all started when he kept John from falling and hadn't just let him die.
No, he admitted to himself, it had started even before that. It had started when Dreamweaver had touched him and something long silent had broken its bonds and screamed of the wrongness of it. It was that something which had brought him to this point. He was finding her more attractive than he had in years and he hadn't been able to take the opportunity to kill John while the Black Ranger wouldn't have been expecting it. Instead, he had called the monsters he was leading back and talked to them.
'…At least until the Green one shot me in the ass,' Jon thought, "And I even did… it… because of her…"
A shadow flew past outside and for a moment blotted out the sun, causing Jon to look up at the rooftop of the next building and smile a feral smile.
'This day might just be getting better…'
In a dimly lit corner of his apartment, Marius put the finishing touches on a sketch of his latest intended monster.
"So, Curtindolph, you'll send your friends to face my righteous fury and run when it proves too much for you… How well will you be able to fight what you cannot see? How will you escape what stalks unseen, hm?"
The dark wizard's cruel smile grew wider, "IT'S TIME FOR YOU TO DIE!"
Picking up from his desk a gold medallion and chain and pulling it over his head, darkness swirled around Marius before forming into a black outfit. With a cruel sneer, Mars touched his medallion, causing his hand to glow before touching it to the drawing.
"Arise, my instrument of vengeance! Your time is at hand, the time for Curtindolph to see HELL as everything he cares for is torn away… with him unable to do anything to stop it! Come forth, my Cameolion!"
"Did you know your watch is beeping?"
If there was one skill that had developed over the months since the six of them had become Rangers, Daniel mused, it was, ironically enough, their ability to come up with believable on-the-spot lies.
"I know. I have an appointment I have to leave for."
"You're leaving me here alone?" The near-panic in Luis' voice was evident.
"It's just for a few minutes. Zack should be here shortly to take over," Daniel put his hand on the rookie's shoulder, "You'll do fine. Just remember that for now, you are in charge – that means that you don't have to take anything from anyone. If you have to ask them to leave, do it. If you have to call the law, do it. Whatever you do is right."
Luis had no time to ask Daniel the reason for his words because seconds after saying them, the senior employee was already out the door. As soon as he had gotten around the building and out of sight, Daniel focused on the Command Center and pressed the teleportation button on his Communicator. When the Blue Ranger materialized in the Command Center, he walked over to where the three female Literati Rangers were near the Viewing Globe as Justin left the control ring to join them.
"What do we have?" Daniel asked the Red Ranger.
"Looks like Mars is at it again," Justin answered, pointing at the monster on the Viewing Globe, a fusion of beasts possessing a lion's body and lizard's head and tail.
Jessica raised an eyebrow, "Well. Now we know what happens when a Lizard-man breeds with a Catgirl."
Yolanda looked at the Green Ranger before shaking her head, "He really is a bad influence on you."
"No," Jessica replied, putting a hand on her hip, "I've always been like this. Being around J.T. has just made it more noticeable."
"Speaking of the moron, where is he?" Amanda said, waving her arm to indicate the group and J.T.'s absence.
Jessica sighed, "I love him, but we all know getting here after an alarm is not one of his fortes. He'll probably catch up with us at the attack."
Daniel nodded, "Let's do it…"
First Daniel, then the others crossed their arms over their chests as the Blue Ranger began…
"Unleash that within... Demon Spirit!"
Colored light flared up around the five of them before dying down and forming the uniforms of the Literati Rangers. Throwing their arms out to the side, the Rangers summoned their helmets and Literati Shields into existence. As one, the Rangers teleported to downtown Scenic City, ready to fight.
As they materialized, the Green Ranger stepped ahead of the group and looked around, "Hey, where'd it go?"
"Guys, where have you been?" The Black Ranger said, jumping from a rooftop and landing in a crouch, one hand clutching his chest, "This new monster is nasty!"
"J.T.!" Jessica started toward him, but was stopped by Amanda's hand on her shoulder.
"Something's wrong here," The Yellow Ranger said, "He just said the new monster was nasty."
"Yeah, so?' Jessica asked, annoyed and wanting to check on her significant other.
"Nasty. By the way he used it, dangerous," There was a pause before Amanda finished, "Have you ever known J.T. to think a monster dangerous enough that he wouldn't charge headlong against it? Ever known him to retreat and find help in a fight?"
Jessica's eyes narrowed in her helmet as she, and the other Rangers, caught on to what Amanda was getting at.
"The only question," Amanda said in a voice that was barely more than a whisper "is that if it's not J.T…. Who or what is it?"
"I know one way to find out," the Green Ranger whispered back before raising her voice, "'from pride and foolish confidence…'"
"Come on, guys, we need to find that monster," the ersatz-Black Ranger entreated.
Knowing that J.T. would never fail to finish at least the first verse of that poem, the five gathered Rangers looked at each other and nodded, hands drifting to their hips until Jessica gave the order…
"Bring it together, Phoenix Bow!" The Green Ranger brought her hand up quickly, now holding her Power Weapon in it before tossing the Phoenix Bow into the air, the other Rangers following suit.
As the Spirit Shot came together, albeit incomplete, and dropped down to the Rangers, Amanda caught it and took position behind the weapon with Jessica and Daniel to her left and right and Yolanda and Justin beyond them.
"Spirit Shot, FIRE!"
Even weakened by the lack of J.T.'s Dragon Sword, the Literati Rangers' Spirit Shot was a powerful weapon, more than capable of sending most monsters back to wherever they had come from. As the smoke cleared, the Rangers saw none of the usual signs of monster defeat.
"Did we… get it?" Yolanda asked.
"Ha ha, guess again!" The Chameo-lion shouted as it turned visible in monster form and flipped towards Yolanda, kicking her to the ground before vanishing again.
"He can disguise himself AND turn invisible?" Justin said in disbelief.
"Why doesn't somebody call Danny Glover? I think he was in Predator 2, he might know what we should do," Jessica commented.
"That sounds like something that J.T. would say," Daniel noted.
Jessica replied, "I know. But he's not here, so I said it instead."
Yolanda looked around, "Yeah… Where IS J.T., anyway?"
It hadn't taken long for Jon to catch up to J.T., even unmorphed, leaving the two of them facing either other on a rooftop. Any other day, the Black Ranger would be more than willing to fight the Dark Ranger, but on this day he just couldn't find it in him.
"Forget it. You want to fight someone, go find a four-year-old – it might even be a fair fight for you, but I just don't care," J.T. said, unable to keep boredom and disdain from his voice as he turned to leave.
"I challenge you!"
J.T. stopped in his tracks and turned around, Jon knew that would get his attention.
"I challenge you. Just you and me, no Spirit Armor, no monsters, no teammates, no Spiritzords – just you, me and our Blade Blasters," Jon said meeting J.T.'s visor with his eyes.
Jon raised an eyebrow, "Between us? Let's just say that we'll return any severed limbs."
"That's fine with me."
Jon nodded, "Darkness… Release!"
A purple light, so dark it was almost black surrounded Jon, solidifying around him as the uniform of the Dark Ranger. With an almost lazy arrogance, he brushed a lock of hair out of his face, his helmet and the black shield he wore forming as he finished. Lowering his hand, he put it on his weapon.
J.T. also rested a hand on the grip of his Blade Blaster, "I'm ready for you at any time."
Tense seconds passed by, neither of them willing to expose themselves by making the first move. Then, Jon cracked and drew his Blade Blaster, spinning around as he switched it from blaster to blade modes. J.T. followed suit, blocking Jon's downward strike as the two came to face each other again. Using his own Blade Blaster, J.T. pushed Jon's to the side and shoved his elbow in the Dark Ranger's stomach. He quickly followed up by stepping up beside his opponent and hooking one foot around the front of Jon's leg and them kicking him in the back of the knee with his other leg, sending them both to the ground. Because he was expecting the impact, however, J.T. managed to recover quickly and roll up onto a knee and leaping to his feet. Jon rolled on the ground, drawing back a leg and kicking the side of J.T.'s knee, a move that would've caused it to bend in a very unnatural way if not for the protection the Power gave him as a Ranger. As it was, though, the Black Ranger still ended up dropping down to his uninjured knee in pain from the blow. Rising to his own knee, Jon drove his Blade Blaster through J.T.'s bicep, pulling it out as he rose to his feet. J.T. clutched his arm with his free hand, pulling it away to look at the crimson blood staining the white of his glove.
"So, first blood is yours…"
The Black Ranger made his way to his feet again, stumbling because of his knee and once more gripping his injured arm, then – wincing in pain – he again took on a combat stance, the Dark Ranger following suit. Again, seconds passed as the opponents faced off; this time, however, J.T. was the one to break the face-off as he threw himself wholeheartedly into the fray. The Dark Ranger's shorter, more precise swings were blocked by the Black Ranger's Blade Blaster, but while J.T.'s larger arcs had more power they also gave Jon time to move out of the way. Finally, the younger of the two combatants saw his opening when one of Jon's swings left him overextended after J.T. had dodged it. Moving behind Jon, J.T. grabbed the collar of his Dark Shield and drove his Blade Blaster into Jon's arm in imitation of Jon's own earlier attack.
"One for you, Jonathan…" the Black Ranger hissed as he yanked out his weapon and kicked Jon in the back, sending him sprawling on their rooftop battleground, "And one for me."
"Backstabbing bastard!" Jon spat, "What happened to your much-vaunted 'honor'?"
"You shouldn't have challenged if you weren't prepared to fight… and bleed," J.T. retorted, wiping his opponent's blood off of his Blade Blaster and onto the leg of his uniform.
"The question is not about me being prepared to bleed," the Dark Ranger answered, rising to his feet, "The question is about you being prepared to die, John."
"I've died before – Germany, Rome, Belgium, Troy and a thousand more times than I can clearly see."
There was no humor in Jon's laugh as he spoke, "Oh, that's right, you think you're Patton, don't you?"
"Hannibal, Jackson, Patton, Magnus," J.T. said coldly, events of earlier that day flashing before his eyes, "Who I am doesn't matter… What matters is what I choose to make of who I am."
"Oh," Jon taunted, "Looks like I struck a nerve – again, because I probably got several when I drove my blade through your arm!"
J.T. clenched his fists and bowed his head, his breathing heavy as he fought to contain his anger. Behind his helmet's visor, a black glow was hidden by closed eyes as the Power flowed deeper into his being, the sound of his communicator going off drowned out by that of his own heartbeat echoing in his ears.
"'If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.'"
"I don't know," Jessica admitted, reluctantly, "And right now that makes me nervous – Jon, Mars and the bitch aren't anywhere around either… 'Least that I can tell."
Amanda nodded, "Which means Eru alone knows what they're up to, and we'll probably find out at the worst possible time."
The Green Ranger shrugged, "As my mom would say, Amanda, 'she right'. I mean, it's not like we've not been through the fire before."
"Says the girl who could probably walk through fire without even feeling warm because she's a firebird!" Amanda snorted in an unladylike fashion.
"You know," Justin mused, standing by the building that the monster had jumped from, as the two more spirited of the team's females continued their discussion and search in the direction the monster had disappeared in, "We don't have a thing to worry about from Mars and his bunch – we're more likely to kill each other than they are."
Standing nearby, Yolanda overheard and laughed, "You're just now figuring this out?"
The Red Ranger looked over at the Pink one and shook his head, "It's not that. It's more that I knew we were nuts, I simply didn't realize just how far gone we really were."
The Pink Siren Ranger shrugged, "So we're insane. At least we're the fun kind."
Daniel had been on the roof of the building itself, hoping to find if it held any clues as to the location and abilities of their current adversary, and leaned over the side as he spoke, "Justin, weren't you always the one who complained whenever we were talking instead of fighting or whatever else we were supposed to be doing?"
"Point out a fact isn't automatically complaining."
"You sound like you're lecturing… Oh, crap," Daniel planted his helmeted head in his palm.
"Zack's back at the store all alone with the new guy."
"Oh," Justin said, understanding dawning, "Crap."
In his office, Zack clutched his Morpher in frustration. He was beginning to understand why Jason had willingly taken on the Gold Ranger powers despite the chance they could kill him, why all of the Red Rangers of the time had volunteered for the Moon Mission, why the black Dino Gem had bonded with Tommy…
The Power was calling him, tempting him, demanding him. For weeks its voice had been growing stronger, taunting, cajoling, insisting that he return to it, ever since he had fought unmorphed alongside the Literati Rangers against Jon. Each time his communicator sounded and let him know that he'd need to cover for his employees at the store while they went out to save the city, it became more and more difficult not to join them in the fight. Knowing that other Rangers were out there fighting, with everything in him screaming for him to join them, it took all of his willpower to open the desk drawer and return the Morpher to its hiding place.
"It's their turn," Zack whispered to himself, "I've done my part for the universe."
Now if only he could actually believe that…
Out in the store proper, for his part, Luis Rojas slumped against the counter and slid to the floor in exhaustion after the fourth hostile customer of the day, wondering if all days were like this or if that J.T. guy had special-ordered it just for his first day.
'Hail, Caesar,' he thought, referring to the ancient Roman phrase, 'Mr. Taylor may own the store, but Magnus seems to rule it like Caesar did Rome - I wouldn't be surprised if he had somehow made it happen. I guess it's a case of thinking that if I can survive this day, I can survive any day.'
Luis shrugged and stretched before standing up again, "Just like old times, really…"
"This is not good," Justin muttered, turning his Literati Rider around on top of a hill so he could get a better view, "Really, this isn't good at all. What insanity… No, what stupidity convinced us to split up?"
The Red Literati Knight Ranger shook his head, "More importantly, what convinced me to agree to take the solo look around? I should have switched with Dan or Jessica and took the historic district instead of the west side…"
There was a pause as he surveyed the area around him, theaters, baseball fields, restaurants, and businesses below him. Justin liked to think he was aptly named; he gladly stood up for what was fair and just. He might not have stood out as much as some of the others – J.T. and Amanda came to mind – but he was always willing to fight for what was right, a trait that had gotten him into more incidents involving street crime than the rest of the group combined. None of that, however, kept him from paying attention to the moods and opinions of his friends and teammates. He didn't know what it was, but both the Green and Blue Rangers were troubled by something…
"No, I take it back, I'm fine with the way things are."
"What's going on today? The Dragon's acting more grumpy than usual, you're distracted…"
Since her own Literati Rider had been destroyed during the fight with Car Org, Jessica had ended up borrowing Amanda's to search for the chameleon-like monster. At Daniel's words, she pulled the Yellow Literati Rider to a stop and leaned forward, crossing her arms on the handlebars and resting her helmeted head on them.
"Do you really want to know what's going on?" She finally asked a few moments after Daniel had stopped his own Literati Rider beside her.
"Considering he's snapped at me more than usual, he's gotten the new guy scared to death and you nearly walked right into Mars' trap… Yeah, I want to know," The Blue Ranger answered.
"I didn't lie when I said I don't know where he is, I don't. Contrary to popular belief we're not joined at the hip. I don't know where he is," the Green Ranger repeated, "I just know what's bothering him."
"Which is?" Daniel asked, annoyed.
"His father's back in town again," Jessica explained, "And you know what he thinks of J.T.'s choices."
Daniel winced, "How could anyone forget? That would even explain why J.T. left the store in a storm earlier, if he was going to be dealing with his father…"
Jessica nodded, "God pity the fool who crosses him today, because our friendly neighborhood Black Ranger won't."
J.T.'s visor was broken and blood could be clearly seen flowing from a cut above his eye; he could taste the tang of iron from the crimson stream on his lips, and gashes in his uniform showed skin that had been sliced open and the fabric surrounding them shown with wetness from more blood – none more than the wound to his arm. As he breathed heavily his only consolation was the fact that his opponent was in as bad shape as he was. The two foes were too evenly matched for either to gain a lasting advantage; while J.T. had more methods of fighting in his arsenal, Jon had greater skill in the ones he knew. By the same respect, despite their equal speed, the power in J.T.'s attacks and Jon's precision in his strikes each had left telling blows on the other.
For his part, Jon had known from the moment he had issued the challenge that the odds were high that either one or both of them wouldn't be leaving the rooftop they stood on. Even knowing that, it remained something he had to do; if he didn't, he might never stop doubting himself. Not that all of his injuries - including an arm that bled from the bicep where it had been stabbed and felt cracked or broken at the forearm - left him much time to doubt, just time to fight. Neither fighter had much strength left, all they had was being used to stay standing and keep fighting.
"If only you could see yourself right now, John," Jon said, "You'd see through your delusions…"
"You say you're not like me, that you'll never give into darkness… If anything, you're worse because you refuse to see that you already have."
J.T. shook his head emphatically, "I walk the line between the light and the darkness, yes, but I do so in order to stand the line against the darkness. …Stared into the abyss, yes, but never fell in."
"Pretty words, but then you've always been good at pretty words. Pretty words and playing the hero, but it's time to wake you up from this dream you're living…"
"I told you before, Jonathan; Dreams can become reality if you're brave enough to make them."
"Brave enough… or foolish enough," Jon shrugged, ignoring the pain shooting through his injured arm, "Either way…"
His words trailed off.
"Better a fool than a coward," J.T. snapped in reply.
"I'll make you eat those words, John," Jon replied, tightening his grip on his Blade Blaster.
The Black Ranger shifted his Blade Blaster to his uninjured arm, "Let's end this."
"If you insist," Dark Ranger nodded before charging forward, his opponent following suit as the distance between them rapidly closed.
As the two fighters met, their respective Blade Blasters struck, J.T.'s cutting deeply into the flesh of Jon's leg as the Dark Ranger's sliced through the clasp holding the Black Ranger's helmet closed, sending the armored helm flying. Before the helmet even reached the apex of its flight, its owner was already flowing into another attack, swinging to decapitate his opponent from behind. Reacting instinctively, Jon brought his Blade Blaster over his shoulder to block the incoming strike. Without disengaging their weapons, the two Rangers spun in place to face each other, circling like predators waiting for their prey to make a mistake.
"Why the Power chose you, I wonder," J.T. forced out through his teeth, pushing his glasses further back onto his face.
"Power comes to those willing to TAKE it, John," Jon replied with a smirk.
"You mean this... This shadowman you follow? Hmph! 'He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still', Lao Tzu," J.T. quoted.
"Always know what to say, don't you, John? The truth is you know nothing about what's really going on..." Jon laughed, "Let me give you a hint, there are powers in the universe that would see you as an ant - I just happen to be on the right side of them."
"You know, all that means is that they'll kill you last," J.T. countered, referring to Churchill's statement on appeasement.
"If I were you, I'd be more concerned with my own death."
"You forget, Jonathan, there's only one person that can kill me... and you're NOT THEM!"
With that cry, J.T. channeled all his strength to break the deadlock by pushing Jon's Blade Blaster away, then he followed up by using the opening to slash at the Dark Ranger's stomach, below the protection offered by his Dark Shield. A series follow-up strikes sent sparks flying as Power-enhanced weapon met Power-enhanced armor and left Jon staggering. The Black Ranger took the moment to wipe the blood away from his eyes, beginning to feel himself weakening from the loss of blood.
This time, whether by chance or fate, J.T. heard his communicator sound and Yolanda's voice come through, "Amanda! J.T.! Anyone, help! I'm under the George Street Bridge and I'm in DEEP monster trouble!"
From somewhere deep within, the Black Ranger felt more than heard another voice add to that, 'You are needed.'
"You're not running off so soon, are you, John?" Jon said, drawing himself up into a fighting stance once more, "We've only just started."
"Read Shakespeare," was all his opponent had to say before he charged forward, raising his Blade Blaster over his head as he did, while not his Dragon Sword, the smaller blade would do for this.
"SWORD OF FURY!"
For the two on the rooftop, time slowed as J.T. launched into the air, propelling himself towards Jon with killing intent behind him. Even as the Black Ranger got closer, Jon stood there with his own Blade Blaster drifting to the opposite hip from the hand that held it. When the other Ranger was within striking distance, the Dark Ranger made his move.
Over the millenia, across the universe, many theories have come into being regarding the Power Grid - some say that it has both good and evil sides, citing the existance of evil Power Rangers as proof. Others use the fact that most 'evil' Power Rangers eventually turn to good as proof that the Power Grid is inherently good and while it can be used for evil it will always 'snap' back as though an elastic band. Perhaps the most prevalant theory, however, is that the Power Grid in and of itself is neither good nor evil, but simply is and that the heart and intent of those accessing it's energies is what makes 'good' and 'evil' Power Rangers. Though details vary from wielder to wielder, at the core a Ranger is quite simply a person who accesses the Power Grid and channels it to metamorphosize into a mighty fighting force. As a Ranger becomes more accustomed to the Power Grid, they often can combine their own inner will with the Grid's energy to become something more than even a normal Ranger - often taking the form of more powerful attacks or forms.
In this case, Jon was channeling the energy of the Power Grid to increase the strength of his Blade Blaster's strike as he countered J.T.'s attack, leaving a trail of purple energy in its wake as he swung, shattering the Black Ranger's Blade Blaster as the two weapons connected. Continuing his counterattack, Jon drew back his own Blade Blaster and shoved it forward, the motion combined with the Black Ranger's own momentum driving it deep into his torso below his own armor. Cruelly smiling, Jon took a step back and let J.T. drop to the ground, the impact driving the Blade Blaster ever deeper as blood rapidly began to pool under the fallen Ranger. Only by catching himself on his arms and forcing them to hold him in a raised position was J.T. able to keep far enough off the ground that the weapon didn't go completely through him, but between loss of blood and using the last strength he had for his Sword of Fury attack, there wasn't much for him to draw on to maintain that support. As he lay there, it didn't surprise him when he looked up to see Jon approaching from one angle and a white figure from another, he had been wrong about other things in his life, things that he had ended up paying dearly for, so it only made sense that how he saw his death would be wrong as well. What did surprise him, however, were the words he heard when the white figure spoke.
"J.T, you possess more potential than even you realize. Call upon the Power. Your teammates need you."
The words spoken, the white figure shimmered out of existance as Jon continued his advance as though it had never been there.
And maybe it hadn't.
And in that moment, the Black Literati Ranger drew on everything he had - on his love for Jessica, on his rivalry with Amanda, on his friendships with the other Rangers, on the feeling of acceptance from his girlfriend's family, on the anger and resentment towards his father that had led him to that place at that time - he drew on all of that and more, but most importantly, he drew on the Power, a black glow surrounding him and lifting him into the air, a black glow tinged with green, undoing the damage done him. As he hovered above the rooftop, wounds closed, life returned, and his hands gripped the Dark Ranger's Blade Blaster tightly, drawing it out of his torso with a grimace as the wound closed behind it. When J.T. spoke, millenia of Power echoed in his voice.
"Jonathan Maxwell, you are a betrayer, a manipulator... you are NO RANGER!" Gripping the Blade Blaster by blade and grip, he began to exert force on it, " You have NO RIGHT to a Ranger's weapon!"
Before the final syllable faded, the air was filled with the sound of Jon's Blade Blaster being broken.
"You are no Ranger," J.T. whispered, dropping the pieces to the rooftop below him. Gold bands formed around the Black Ranger's biceps as the green tinge to the glow surrounding him grew brighter, at the same time, a new weapon replaced his destroyed Blade Blaster, holster and all at his hip.
When J.T. had rose into the air, Jon's advance had faltered. When J.T. had broken Jon's Blade Blaster, the Dark Ranger had frozen. When J.T. landed, his eyes not giving the typical flash that both Jon and the Literati Rangers experienced with a surge of the Power, but instead steadily glowing with the same black and green aura that surrounded the Black Ranger, Jon took a step back.
His opponent took two steps forward, with hell following him, straining to break loose. A chill gripped the Dark Ranger that he recognized all too well - the last time he had felt it he had nearly died as the Black Ranger's Dragon Spiritzord had literally torn the Scorpion Spiritzord apart with Jon still inside. Fear drove Jon back another step, shadows cast over him caused him to quickly glance to the side where a large air conditioning unit stood.
'Perfect,' Jon thought as he dropped to a knee, drawing back his fist and slamming it into the ground, "Darkness... EXPLOSION!"
The shadows that the Dark Ranger was standing in exploded, sending a wave of energy outward smashing into anything in its path and destroying it. When the wave hit J.T., the conflicting energies caused a secondary explosion, sending rubble and dust flying. Having collapsed a building the last time he had used this technique, Jon believed it was safe for a moment.
He was wrong, and hell broke loose.
Bolts of purely green energy shot out of the dust cloud, slamming into the Dark Ranger and knocking him onto his back. Moments later, they were followed by the Black Ranger striding forward like a demon from hell.
"You picked the wrong day to try and kill me, asshole," J.T. commented, unnaturally calm as he reached the Dark Ranger and kicked him, "By the way, that just broke some of your ribs."
Any response was cut off as the Black Ranger reached down to grab Jon by the throat and lift him first to his feet and then off the ground. Turning, J.T. slammed Jon into the nearby AC unit so had that the Dark Ranger's head dented the metal and bounced.
"Why shouldn't I kill you and make... a lot of people's day? Hm?"
Jon was only able to force out one word through the throat that was slowly being crushed, "...wouldn't..."
"Care to... bet your life on that?" The feral expression on his face proved that J.T.'s choice of words was not unintentional.
Even Rangers can be influenced by their environment, with the Command Center on their side, the Literati, including J.T., had turned to technology for support. For his part, surrounded by sorcerors, Jon had developed more mystical methods to achieve the same results. Where they used the Command Center's computers to control their teleportation, he used magic. Where they used Spirit Armors to increase their fighting ability, he learned new skills himself - skills like the one he had already used once in this battle and now saw as his only chance to break free of the Black Ranger's literal deathgrip...
Before Jon could force out the final word or strike the shadows behind him, J.T.'s free hand had slammed Jon's arm into the metal, breaking the bone with an audible crack as it pinned it there.
"Not this time."
With a draconian roar, the Black Ranger spun around, using his hold on Jon to throw him onto the open area of their rooftop battlefield, casting the Dark Ranger into the light where his strongest attack had no purchase.
'Is this how he felt?' Jon wondered, rising to his feet with the aid of his uninjured arm, the other limb dangling uselessly, and closed his eyes, waiting for the killing blow to come, 'If he's gonna kill me, I'll be standing when he does.'
'You are needed.'
It has been said that the order you answer two questions in can make you great or destroy you; 'Who are you' and 'What do you want'. And hearing those words brought J.T. back to his senses, as much as he wanted to rend Jon limb from limb and hang his skull on a pike, he was a Ranger and he was needed. Jon's reprieve came in the form of a flash of black energy as the Black Ranger teleported away.
In the middle of the Orenda River, an underwater dogfight - so to speak - was taking place between another pair of opponents.
'What was it Amanda always says? 'Don't be irreplacable, if you can't be replaced you won't be promoted'? Who ever would have thought it could apply to being a Power Ranger,' the thought flew through Yolanda's mind, 'Why do I have to be the only one of us who can fight underwater?'
It was true, while the majority of the team in the forms of Amanda, Daniel and Justin could fight on land alone, J.T. and Jessica's respective Spirit Armors allowed them to become fighters in the sky as well as on the ground, but Yolanda's made her the only Literati who could effectively fight underwater. Unfortunately, it also meant that when doing so she had no one there to help her.
'Why couldn't I have had something like a Unicorn Spirit or something?' The Pink Ranger wondered, diving down to avoid the Cameolion's claws.
Twisting around, Yolanda shot upwards and struck with her Siren Daggers, cutting off part of the monster's tail.
'Gotta stay out of range,' She thought, taking the moment that the Cameolion was writhing in pain to dart as far away as she could, 'If it gets too close - I'm dead.'
Amanda's specialties were water and fire when it came to magick, with her Spirit Armor she could take those and add lightning and ice to it. Unfortunately for her, and for Yolanda, even then she wasn't powerful enough to split the river under the bridge she stood on, evaporating part of it wouldn't stop the rest from flooding in to fill the gap, and freezing or electrifying the river would get Yolanda too and while she'd have no problem doing that to J.T., she wasn't about to risk the closest thing she had to a sister like that.
It didn't help her frustrations that the bridge didn't even shake when she slammed her fist down on the rail.
The two mounted Rangers groaned at the sight ahead of them, their Literati Riders idling beneath them as they looked out on the hordes of lower class monsters that seperated them from their teammate-in-need.
"What would you call that, Green?" Daniel asked.
"At least a hundred, Blue," Jessica responded, "Looks like they're getting smarter - this could really slow us down."
"No..." The Blue Ranger answered, almost mournfully, "Really slow ME down."
"Isn't stupid pride in the face of overwhelming odds supposed to be MY boyfriend's trait, not your's?"
"I'm serious, Jessica," Daniel said with an unnatural calm, "Yolanda might creep me out sometimes, but she's still Mandi-chan's best friend and they need help. We can't teleport to them because they're outside the limit from the Command Center and we've got cannon fodder on the ground between us and them. That just leaves one approach - the air, and right now you're the only flyer we've got, so get going!"
"Are you nuts? I just said there's a hundred of them."
Behind his helmet, Daniel gave his teammate an annoyed look, "We're all nuts, otherwise we would've gotten out of the spandex a long time ago. And the longer you stay here talking, the more trouble the others are in - GO!"
Jessica shook her head, muttering something about testosterone before she dismounted from the Yellow Literati Rider.
"Phoenix Spirit - the cycle of life and death."
Green energy surrounded Jessica, forming a shell before shattering as the wings of her Spirit Armor stretched open. Fire seemed to burn in her eyes, visible through the visor of her helmet, as protective guards formed on her arms and legs. As the last step, a flight mask seemed to appear out of nowhere and merge onto her helmet.
The Green Literati Battlized Ranger took one more look at the Blue Literati Demon Ranger, "You're sure?"
Hostility colored Daniel's voice, "Look, at times I may act whipped but there's a reason for it - namely the fact that it helps Amanda's confidence, it makes her feel wanted and needed - that DOESN'T mean I'm really weak, so for the last time; GO!"
Jessica nodded, still uncertain about leaving a teammate alone when the monster they were after could take anyone's form, but took to the air anyway as the Yellow Rider returned to the Command Center by means of a built-in automatic recall teleporter.
As the Green Ranger faded in distance, Daniel nodded grimly. Summoning his Demon Axe, he raised the kickstand on his own Blue Literati Rider, charging forward into the gathered masses of Pinchers, Arachnias and Hardshells like a mounted knight or samurai.
At least one hundred against one, logically he had no chance...
Then again, if he wanted to help Amanda and Yolanda he had to get through them. To help the woman he loved and her best friend he had to get through them...
And love is not logical and can be an impressive force multiplier.
Justin tilted his head to the side, taking in the sight before him. After all, even in Scenic City it isn't everyday that you see a half-dozen six-foot-tall anthromorphic crabs eating a shark that was previously an attraction in the Scenic City Aquarium that had recently reopened.
'What is their obsession with the aquarium?' The Red Ranger had to wonder, 'J.T. would be so ticked to find out I interrupted 'the sacred mealtime', but I don't have time for a drawn out battle... besides, I've been meaning to try this out anyway.'
Much like Daniel was also doing almost a mile away, Justin summoned his own Power weapon and prepared to fight. Lowering the tip of his Ragnarok to the ground, the Red Ranger used it as support when he raised his legs and revved the engine of his Literati Rider. Sparks flew from where the sword met the pavement as the Literati Rider roared forward, mixing with red energy as it formed around the Ragnarok's blade.
"Riding Twilight Slash!"
That announcement was enough to get the Hardshells to look up from their 'meal', just in time for the wave of energy to come flying towards them as Justin swung his Ragnarok upwards. The energy sliced through the air and cut them in two, the halves falling to the ground as the Red Ranger hit a handicapped access ramp and jumped over the remains of the monsters and their meal.
J.T. materialized in the air over the river just as gysers of water shot up from underneath one of the nearby bridges. Before gravity could take effect over the Power keeping him in the air, he spoke...
"Dragon Spirit - A Force of Nature!"
A black shell surrounded J.T. before breaking as his Spirit Armor's wings unfurled, the dragon claws on his arms opened and closed, armor forming around his arms and legs, and finally, a new helmet, more dragon-like in design than his normal one, took form to protect his head. Through all of this, the glow of the Power never died down, nor did the additions it had made to his uniform disappear. Using his Spirit Armor, J.T. raised himself several feet above the water before diving down, skimming across the surface with sheer speed creating a bow wave in the river beneath him as he flew towards the bridge, constantly looking under the water for Yolanda.
'Now I know what J.T.'s talking about when he goes on about "Some promises are made to be broken",' Yolanda thought as she dodged another rush from the monster, 'Why, oh why, oh why did we all have to agree to never use our Blade Blasters in gun mode? Doesn't matter, between the usual stuff and the fight kicking up more, it's almost impossible to see anyway. Gotta do something...'
With that thought in mind, the Pink Ranger took a split second to orient herself, then headed up.
Daniel charged into another group of Arachnias and Pinchers on his Rider, taking out several that weren't fast enough in dodging with his Demon Axe. Turning his bike to slide to a stop, he succeeded in taking out another target with a Power-enhanced kick as he did so.
"And forty-seven more to go..."
A series of seven explosions of energy drew Daniel's attention to a cluster of Hardshells that were falling to the ground as Justin sped past them on his own Literati Rider, Ragnarok sword in hand
"Make that forty, Blue," the Red Ranger said.
"What took you?"
"Would you believe I had to jump a shark?"
"Something tells me there's more to it than that."
"Of course there is, Daniel," Justin said dismissively, "We get rid of the rest of these things I might even share it with you."
"We get rid of the rest of these things and the main monster-of-the-week, I'm telling Zack he and J.T. can deal with the new guy and then taking my fiancee home and doing my best to satisfy her nymphomaniacal tendencies."
"Hm, fun for you, I'm sure. But we've still got the monsters to deal with first, remember?"
"You're cold, Red."
"Not cold, just not as insane as the rest of you."
"Finally, he admits he's insane!"
"To a lesser degree."
"But still insane."
As the two of them spoke, the gathered monsters looked at them with a mixture of confusion and amusement before one of the Pinchers 'spoke' in the form of hissing and clicking sounds that attracted the two Rangers' attention. Daniel and Justin looked over to see it with its head tilted, staring at them.
"Oh, shut up," the Blue Ranger commented, throwing his Demon Axe at the Pincher and cutting its head off, "Who asked you?"
"I think she's rubbing off on you."
"Among other things, yes."
Justin shook his head, revved his engine, and took off - cleaving an Arachnia in two as he muttered, "Couples..."
"Yeah, keep talking - one day you'll find a girl who can kick your ass and be head over heels yourself, Gibb," Daniel responded, having heard the comment as he too went on the attack.
Yolanda felt a pair of hands lock around her wrists as she burst through the surface of the water, Mars' monster fast behind her.
"Sorry, one passenger ONLY!"
Twin bolts of green energy shot past Yolanda and hit the monster, knocking it back down into the river. In shock, the Pink Ranger's mask of oblivous cheerfulness dropped when she spoke.
"Son of a bitch!"
"And that would make the last of them!"
"Not bad for a guy who wears blue spandex, Daniel."
"It's lycra! And anyway, you wear the same thing in red!"
Justin's response to the other Ranger's taunt was cut off as a dark shape rocketed along the surface of the river, sending fantails of water seven feet high in its wake. As the water broke in front of it and another form shot upwards, there was an incoherant roar and a flash of green light shot into the water below as the shape continued its movement.
"Son of a bitch! What was that?"
Daniel leaned forward on his Literati Rider, thoughtfully, "Overly-dramatic, violent and loud - I'm willing to say J.T.'s finally caught up with us."
Justin shook his head, "Are you sure? There hasn't been any gratuitous property damage yet."
"True, but so far it's still a Ranger fight, the property damage comes with the Spiritzord battles."
"Good point. Shall we?"
"Don't really have a choice - Pink as a color might scare the crap out of me, but if Mandi-chan found out that I didn't help Yolanda for no better reason than that, I'd be sleeping at MY apartment - ALONE."
"Ah... You're a chromatophobic."
"What? J.T.'s the one who freaks at small spaces!"
"Son of a bitch!" Amanda swore.
Jessica, unlike her yellow-clad counterpart, was stunned speechless as the figures silhouetted by the sun over the water came into focus, not even noticing Daniel and Justin pull to a stop behind them and dismount as the last two of their number arrived, J.T. letting Yolanda down before circling the group and landing himself.
Having had longer to recover from the shock, Yolanda was the one who managed to form words first, "J.T... What the hell?"
"You want the long version or the short version? Gotta warn ya, the long version's a Tolkien rip-off."
"Short version," Amanda answered.
J.T. turned away from his teammates, then tilted his head to look at them. Even with his helmet on, Jessica could tell the Black Ranger had a feral smirk on his face as he spoke.
"'Me, Grimlock... Badass.'"
Justin groaned, "Nice. Short, utterly pointless and doesn't really answer the question - all in all, about what we've come to expect from you half the time, J.T."
"What about the other half?"
Any retort from the Black Ranger was cut off as both Amanda's Blade Blaster and Spell Edge were placed at his throat, "This monster can change forms, it's already tried to trick us once by looking like J.T. does. How do we know you're you?"
"How does anyone know anything? It can't be physical proof, that can be copied, but we each know things about the others no one else does, don't we, Ce-"
"Finish that word and I'll kill you dead, Dragon."
"Well, that proves that I'm me and you're you... or that I'm you and you're me, one or the other... or that we're both me... or both you... or-"
"WE GET IT!"
"No, we don't," Justin said, shaking his head, "It's down there in the water, it's proved it can win in a one-on-one fight and there's only one of us who can get to it in the water."
J.T. shook his armored head, "There you go again, Gibb, using that damn logic of yours. Can't you just go insane with the rest of us?"
"Wow. You almost sounded less a Power Ranger and more Anla'shok then, Gibb."
The banter between them all lessened the tension that the six were feeling by some degree, but the knowledge that the enemy was below them, lurking unseen, kept them focused. That was their greatest weapon - loyalty, a bond that would never end, that gave them courage in the face of the enemy, whether minion, monster, Mars or even parents.
Speaking of Mars...
"Have none of you fools ever been told you talk too much?"
The Rangers turned, J.T. taking two steps forward to stand between Daniel and Justin.
"Hello, Mars-Bar, come for another piece of glass to the neck? That IS the position you were left in after the last time you faced one of us, I seem to recall."
It suddenly hit Daniel, "That's where you were?"
The Black Ranger nodded silently
"I don't know if I should feel grateful or concerned."
"In a few minutes, you won't be feeling anything, so it doesn't really matter," Mars added with evil arrogance.
J.T. looked to his right at Daniel, "You want me to shut him up, Bro?"
"No," Daniel said, drawing both his Blade Blaster and Demon Axe, "I tried being nice, I really did. I didn't want it to reach this point - even if you weren't mine, you were still Truman's friend, I thought that was worth something... Seems I was wrong, seems that the only way this will end is when one of us dies by the other's hand - I never really understood that about Amanda and Jon and J.T., but I do now - otherwise it will just keep going and growing... May whatever gods are watching forgive me, because necessary or not, I don't know if I'll be able to forgive myself for what I have to do."
Mars laughed diabolically, "You think it will be that easy? That I'll just roll over for you? I'm not your witch-whore, Curtindolph."
A growl that would've sounded more at home coming from J.T. tore its way out of Amanda's throat at the 'witch-whore' comment. For his own part, the Black Ranger blinked, impressed.
Whether ignoring it or not hearing it, Mars continued his diatribe, "You're only right about one thing - one of us will die - but it won't be me... Cameolion, destroy this bastard!"
At it's master's command, the monsterous hybrid launched from the water below, over the side of the bridge and through the air towards the Blue Ranger. Before it could reach its goal, however, it was knocked to the ground by an armored gauntlet. Turning, J.T. kicked the monster in where he assumed its ribs were.
"You stay out of it, Spanky," the Black Ranger with a snort, "We gonna be having a little talk about this looking like me thing of yours."
Daniel looked over his shoulder at J.T. and nodded his thanks.
The shout from his fiancee most likely saved the Blue Ranger's life as he spun to face her, causing Mars to miss with the axe and dagger he had created for himself by magic.
"Great," Jessica shouted as Daniel and Mars' weapons clashed against each other, "We've got the freak and the village idiot, now all we need is the bearded lady and the circus will be complete!"
Drops of water fell from the air, forming into schools of Hardshells on both sides of the Rangers.
"I said the bearded lady, not the clowns," The Green Ranger muttered, drawing her Power Blaster in dagger mode.
"Actually, Love," J.T. answered as he hauled the Cameolion to its feet, "What you said was..."
"Don't even think about finishing that sentence, Johnnie."
"Thinking is a bad habit I don't encourage in others," the Black Ranger said, throwing his opponent headlong into the Hardshells to the south.
"They've got us surrounded," Yolanda winced, Siren Daggers in hand.
"Poor bastards. Maybe we should give them a chance to surrender?"
"Amanda! We are NOT using 'Plan Xander'," Jessica said reprovingly.
"Guys! Monsters!" The Red Ranger reminded them as he destroyed several of the Hardshells near him.
"Hey, that's my line," The Red Ranger countered, causing another group of Hardshells to collapse into water, "Guys, it's impersonating me!"
The first Red Ranger shook his head, "Guys, it's impersonating me!"
The Hardshells backed away from them as J.T. raised the Dragon Claws on his arms toward both Red Rangers, "Simple solution is I flame you both."
"It's the only way to make sure you get the right one... Do it," the Red Ranger agreed.
"...I knew the day would come when you'd start knocking off the rest of us," The Red Ranger grumbled, "I just always hoped you'd start with the Pink one."
"Good answer," J.T. said, twisting as he fired to hit the first Red Ranger with both Dragon Burners.
Under the firey onslaught, Cameolion staggered backwards and lost his form, shifting back to its real self, "How?"
"You might be able to look like us," Justin informed it, "But you're nothing like us."
J.T. smirked, the claws extending from his gauntlets, "Here lizard, lizard, lizard... I think I need a bigger box..."
The Black Ranger lunged towards Cameolion.
Sparks flew as daggers and axes clashed as did the opposing beliefs of their weilders. One willing to sacrifice of himself for the betterment of others, the second set on the path of drawing power to themself to shape fate in their own image.
"Why won't you DIE?" Mars demanded, raising his axe to bring it crashing down towards the Blue Ranger.
"You know, Marius," Daniel lectured as he deflected the incoming strike with his Blade Blaster and countered with his own axe, "'Please' doesn't hurt every now and then."
"Please die, then," the sorceror sneered, placing a hand to the rent in his suit left by Daniel's attack.
"As Magnus likes to say, 'Suggestion noted... and ignored'."
The monster threw a punch at the Black Ranger that he managed to block with an ease that surprised even him.
"Un-uh-uh," J.T. mocked, "Simon didn't say."
Three side-kicks in quick succession had the monster staggering before a left-handed haymaker sent it flying off the bridge.
"Damn!" J.T. exclaimed, "I haven't felt this good since a December day in the school library! ...And I didn't say you could go anywhere!"
Running after Cameolion, J.T. lept into the air and drew the short sword from his hip, "'This party's getting crazy! Let's rock!'"
"He is your partner," Amanda glared at Jessica.
"That doesn't mean I have any control over him," The Green Ranger countered as she grabbed a Hardshell by the pincher and twisted so that it was behind her with the arm over her shoulder, then used the added leverage to throw it into one of the steel girders, cracking its shell and causing it to collapse into a puddle of water, "I just go along for the ride!"
J.T. slashed downward, the strike being caught by the Cameolion in its clawed hands as they tumbled through the air. With a thought impulse command, the thrusters of J.T.'s flight system ignited, carrying both Ranger and monster higher and higher into the sky. Holding tightly to the sword in the Black Ranger's hands to not fall, Cameolion shifted and altered, trying and failing to copy his opponent's form.
"That's your weakness, isn't it?" J.T. laughed in realization, understanding dawning, "You can only copy one power signature at a time, can't you?"
Speaking no words, Cameolion snarled and snapped its reptilian jaw at the Black Ranger.
"Bombs free," J.T. replied, releasing his grip on his sword and letting the monster fall.
As it fell, Cameolion let loose a roar and changed its form, becoming a duplicate of the Green Ranger in her Spirit Armor. Whether because of a leftover from his last fight, or because of the form it took, when Cameolion changed into Jessica, J.T. broke the first rule he had been taught about fighting...
He hesitated. A moment of hesitiation that cost him dearly as the copy-Green Ranger flew upwards, slamming into him at great speed, taking the wind out of him as it threw him off balance and sending him pinwheeling towards the water below, shock and disorientation keeping him from forming the thoughts that would stop his fall.
"JOHNNIE!" Jessica shouted, watching in horror as he fell out of control. Across the battleground, the other Rangers were stunned as their friend and teammate fell. Fear drove the Green Ranger as she deflected a Hardshell's attack to the side with her Blade Blaster, running past the attacker to the edge of the bridge and without pause dove off after her partner, arms and Armor wings tucked in close for speed, hoping to reach him before he reached the surface of the Orenda.
Daniel was stunned. He and J.T. might have had their differences from time to time, but he still thought highly of the Black Ranger as a friend and person.
"That's one," Mars laughed, letting Daniel watch the tragedy unfold uninterrupted, "And I've only just begun. Before I'm through, I'll have stripped you of everyone and everything you hold dear, just like what you took from me."
A rare anger started building up inside Daniel, rippling outward unbidden to summon his Spirit Armor around him, his Blade Blaster fading away as the hand it was in became clad in his Power Fist, "You... IDIOT!"
The outburst was accompanied by an explosion of Grid Energy that forced Mars back, battering the aged steel construction of the bridge and destroying several Hardshells that were too close for the energy wave to disappate before it struck them as it moved outward.
"You weak coward!" This was followed up by an uppercut from Daniel's Power Fist that the Blue Ranger could hear crack bone as the horns of his Battlized form grew outward from his helmet, while armor and cloak took shape around him.
"You were like a brother to him, he talked about you all the time, always highly and with pride... But just because he never cared for you in the same way you did for him, you blame me? You blame me instead of taking responsiblity for your own beliefs and actions? You blame me and go after the people I care about, people they care about, people who never even met Truman themselves?
A backhand from Daniel's Power Fist knocked Mars into one of the bridge's girders, rust and debris shaking loose from the impact.
"He's ashamed of you. What you do. Who you've become. It sickens him," Behind his helmet, Daniel closed his eyes, "The last time I visited his grave, he was restless because of what you've done in his name, he wished that he could have actually said the words while he was alive, but he didn't want to hurt you. Now he's kept here, bound by those regrets... I promised him."
Daniel's throat tightened as did his grip on his Demon Axe, "I promised him I'd deal with you, that I wouldn't let you ruin his afterlife... anyone else's life... the wrong you do before I fulfill that promise, it rests on my soul... I only hope I can be forgiven it."
Some experts have postulated that we are the sum of our dealings with others, that those around us are the biggest part of us and that to lose them is to lose a piece of ourselves. As J.T. fell and Jessica went after him, as Daniel turned his full strength on Mars, the others felt that piece of themselves be ripped away and each reacted in their own way.
As Justin watched his friend fall, he lashed out with his Ragnarok, a series of vertical strikes finished off by a spinning slash destroyed all the Hardshells that had ventured close to the Red Ranger.
Yolanda screamed, in fear of losing a brother, in anger of too far away to help even if she could do anything before he hit the water. Yolanda screamed, her Armor and the Power took it and changed it, amplified it, made it an expression of her emotions as waves of sonic energy moved outward from her like ripples in water, shaking apart any Hardshells that they passed through.
For Amanda, if her lover was the shield then her cousin was the sword, they both protected her in their own ways, one by giving her a safe place to turn to and the other by striking out against the darkness. Time slowed as J.T.'s stunned form tumbled downwards, anger building up in the strawberry-blonde's heart. He was supposed to be there on her wedding day to keep her parents from interfering, he had already promised to corrupt her and Dan's children, to keep her from becoming the crazy cat lady, if he died she'd hate him forever for taking those things away. All of this exploded from the Yellow Ranger in a expanding sphere of raw, unshaped magical energy that smashed the shells of Hardshells that had been weakened by the fighting, causing them to collapse into the tiny river crabs and water they had been formed from, water that was almost instantly turned to vapor by the sheer power being unleashed. For those that hadn't, the maelstrom of energy lifted them off the ground, slamming them into each other and into the bridge girders before they met the same fate as their compatriots, and at the center of it all, Amanda's Spirit Armor began to form around her.
From one end to the other, chaos reigned on the George Street Bridge. And beside it, J.T. fell and Jessica went after him, the Cameolion in its stolen form diving after both of them.
The powers of the Literati Rangers differed from those of others by drawing not just on the universal Power Grid, but on the spirit and willpower of the Rangers themselves, making each one literally as strong as their belief in themselves. This was further amplified by the Spirit Armors taking the hard shell formed around the core of their being to protect it from the world and giving it a greater form. The drawback to this was that the longer and harder one fought, the more likely it was for them to reach a breaking point where their will to fight could be destroyed and their powers fail with it.
He had reached that point. His father, Jon, Mars, the monster, then finally the monster taking on the form of the one person... the only person... he had discovered a second wind, a second fire within that helped him keep going though the gauntlet, but now he was burnt out. Physically, he was in better shape than ever as the Power had healed the wounds Jon had inflicted in their fight. Mentally, he knew what was happening around him, what he must do.
But the Spirit wasn't willing. He had reached his breaking point. He knew what he had to do, he had to fly, he had to fight, but he couldn't summon up the will to get back into the fray.
And he fell, the water closer and closer.
It was happening again. Her worst fear right before her eyes, only worse because this wasn't one of Dreamweaver's illusions. Loss. She had lost so much and he had given so much back to her...
She willed herself to dive faster, to break physics and reach him, to stop the loss.
'Two hearts shattered into one forged,' she thought as wind and mist and magick energy whipped past her as she dove, 'Please, dear God, not again... I don't think I could survive it this time...'
Her heart broke as she saw him hit the surface of the water and vanish beneath it. Turning in midair with a tear in her eye, she narrowed her eyes at the doppelganger who had done this to her and charged at the look-alike Green Ranger, bursting into flame as she flew harder and faster, ever faster, with no regard for her survival with no reason to live.
An angel of death wreathed in white-hot flame shot through the air, aimed at a doppelganger like a targeted missile, watery mist turning to hissing steam as the Green Ranger passed through it to slam into Cameolion's stolen form, screams echoing and sparks flying from the impact. Not letting up, never lessening the flames surrounding her, Jessica lashed out with a flip-kick, causing her opponent's head to snap back before spinning around and catching it a second time from the side with a helmet-shattering spin-kick.
Shards of ceramite fell away into the water below, followed by more as Jessica struck her double just below the visor with the heel of her palm, an attack that was followed by a punch to the midsection, aimed at the gap between armor and belt. With the Cameolion still reeling, Jessica placed a foot to the imitation phoenix sigil on it's armor to use as a pivot and twisted to launch another kick to the head, an enzuigiri that caused the remaining pieces of helmet to crumble beneath the onslaught.
Imitation blue eyes met a black mirrored visor that couldn't hide the glow from blue eyes turned green by the Power running through them. Throughout this assault, the flames surrounding the Green Ranger had never lessened, tempered only by the protection of Cameolion's imitated powersuit, a protection that was now breeched. Like a hawk snatching its prey in its talons, Jessica's hand shot out before Cameolion could react and latched onto the bare face that was a copy of her own. Without the protection of the helmet, hair incinerated in a flash; skin began to blister, blacken and burn; and as it did, it exposed muscle that started to slough away under the extreme heat...
With no attention paid to the airborne combat, Mars came charging back at Daniel, axe raised for a crashing blow. As it was brought down, a resounding cha-clang sounded as Daniel blocked the strike with the vambrace of his Power Fist.
"No more, Marius."
With his opponent's axe still locked in his block, Daniel lashed out, slashing first one way and then the other with his own Demon Axe, leaving cut flesh and trails of vermillion on each of Mars' cheeks.
"No more threatening my friends, no more blaming everyone else for your problems, no more people suffering because of you."
An upwards slash severed the chain holding Mars' medallion and left another trail of red across the magic-user's chest and knocking him back.
"This has to stop, Marius, and it stops now," Daniel thundered, unconsciously channeling the team's missing member as symbols on his Power Fist began to glow and parts began to move.
"Stop? There will be no stopping... Your death will wash away what I've suffered like the tides wash away grains of sand. Can you stop that? Can you stop a force of nature, Curtindolph?"
"I only know of one 'Force of Nature', and you're not him..." Daniel shot back, causing his opponent to snap and charge him, a dangerous mistake.
As he ran, Mars drew back the arm holding his dagger, intent on running the Blue Ranger through. Before he could close, however, a torrential stream of water blasted him back; the dagger went flying away and skidded over the edge of the bridge to tumble into the water below as the arm that had been holding it broke with an audible crack.
"That's for... I was supposed to get to kill him," Amanda forced out through clenched teeth, pointing at Mars with her staff.
Justin ran forward, leaping first onto Daniel's shoulders and then into the air again, twisting as he did to cut the head off of Mars' axe as he flipped to land on his feet behind him, "'We stand on the bridge and no one may pass'."
Yolanda didn't say anything as she and Amanda moved to flank Mars; she was thinking that if she had been stronger, strong enough to have handled the monster in the water, she wouldn't have needed rescuing and J.T. wouldn't have... and here she kept stopping herself, refusing to let her thoughts take that direction, not then or there.
"It stops here," Daniel added, as Siren Daggers, Ragnarok and Spell Edge joined his own Demon Axe in being pointed at Mars, "This is for everyone you've hurt... This is for Truman, myself, even for Magnus..."
The four Rangers began to close in, the weapons of each glowing with Power in their color.
Cameolion's limit to imitating only one person at a time wasn't its only weakness, Jessica was discovering, as long as an opponent had physical contact with it the monster couldn't change forms. When that opponent was literally on fire and burning it alive, it was all it could do to slow the damage. The real Green Ranger's grip was like steel and an attempt by the imitator to draw the copied Blade Blaster from its hip saw her free hand knock it loose and send it flying away. Then, Jessica's free hand came up to join the first and bone began to crack under her firey grip.
"Die. Die. Die!" Jessica kept repeating, focusing on the words through the red haze that clouded her mind as she strove to crush her opponent with her bare hands.
"Die," Cameolion finally echoed, curling up to put its feet on Jessica's midsection and use that leverage to break away.
Spinning through the air as Jessica flamed out, faltered in midair and regained stability, Cameolion landed in a crouch on one of the cross-girders of the bridge. In a series of rapid flashes it had changed back to its true form and returned to being a copy of the Green Ranger, now without the Spirit Armor, but a duplicate Phoenix Bow in its hands and aimed at the real Green Ranger.
"Time to add another Ranger to my collection," Cameolion announced in Jessica's voice as it launched an energy bolt at her.
The bolt of energy cutting through the air attracted the attention of the other remaining Rangers, distracting them from Mars and forcing them to watch as another of their number was lost in a cloud of smoke and fire.
"Jessica!" Yolanda cried out, unable to believe what her eyes were telling her as the Green Ranger was lost from sight, she had always seen J.T. and Jessica as outliving the rest of them by sheer determination.
As the smoke cleared, all the Rangers were stunned at the sight of J.T. hovering in front of Jessica, clad in Spirit Armor sans Dragon Claws, the sword that had fallen with Cameolion back in its sheath, the energy arrow launched by the doppelganger Green Ranger caught between his crossed arms.
The imitation Ranger growled, "Didn't I destroy you!"
"As the man said," J.T. tilted his armored head, "'You'll find I'm not so easily deleted'!"
Quickly throwing his arms outward, he launched the energy back at it's originator before following it. Before the smoke and sparks from the attack had cleared, he was standing next to the stunned Cameolion and had wrapped his arm around the ersatz Green Ranger's neck from the side.
"I didn't say we were finished, bitch... Bulldog!" With that announcement, J.T.'s Armor's wings disappeared, and he had thrown himself off the cross-girder, sending them both plummeting to the mass of wood, steel and concrete below; the Ranger was backwards, but the monster being forced to watch as it fell face first towards the rapidly approaching structure.
"Son of a bitch!" Amanda cursed as she realised that Mars had disappeared in the confusion of the last few moments, "He vanished when that Idiot distracted us."
Daniel's Demon Axe faded away as he clenched his Power Fist, "I'm getting really tired of this..."
All four stumbled as a massive impact shook the bridge.
"We've got to watch it," Yolanda shouted, "They closed this bridge to cars because it was getting old, it's definately not made for fighting monsters on! If this doesn't end soon, we're all going to end up in the river!"
"Try telling him that!" Justin retorted, "J.T.'s on a mission and he's pissed!"
The combination of gravity and the combined weight and velocity of Ranger and monster shook the bridge again as the unstoppable force of battle met the immovable object of the bridge. Unheard by the combatants, Yolanda shouted that the bridge wasn't made for what was happening to it and that if they weren't careful, it was going to come apart. Ignoring the pain shooting through his lower back, J.T. spun and twisted up onto a knee, then shot up to his feet as the imitation Ranger rose to its knees.
"Get up," the Black Ranger snarled at the kneeling monster.
Without even standing up, the Cameolion lunged through the air towards J.T., growling as he dodged the attack and used the monster's own momentum to side kick it into one of the support girders.
The monster pushed away from the girder and turned around, "What does it take to KILL YOU?"
J.T. launched himself into the air and landed on a horizonal girder, turning to face his opponent, "More than you've got, boyo..."
The next thing Mars' creation saw was a pair of white boots coming at it in a Missile Dropkick. As the monster hit the ground again, Jessica was front flipping across the bridge and letting her own Armor's wings fade away as she twisted in midair and dropped to her feet.
"...Because you've got to deal with both of us," Jessica finished.
"All of us," Daniel added, unheard by Black and Green as he started forward, Power Fist drawn back.
"Dan, stop," Amanda's voice cut through the battle haze, "This is their fight."
"But nothing, Daniel," Amanda cut him off, "How would you take it if you thought someone had killed me and somebody got between them and you?"
Daniel froze and looked at the fight, then back to his fiancee.
The grid energy flowing through the powersuits allowed the Rangers to perform actions that would be impossible without them, from being able to jump hundreds of feet in the air to reach their Spiritzords to surviving a fall from the same height, being only staggered by a blow that would crush anyone else to being able to deliver a similar one. J.T. had once described them as transforming each of them into a one-man attack force, a comment that had immediately been followed by Amanda asserting that not all of them were men.
J.T. dropped from his perch fist-first, slamming his fist into the helmet covering prone monster's face and a knee into its midsection covered by a copied Literati Shield before rolling away and twisting up and onto his feet. Reaching down and grabbing the stunned imitation Ranger by the arm-holes of its Literati Shield, J.T. picked it up and threw it at Jessica who jumped up to catch it with another flip kick before running after it as it flew back towards her partner.
J.T. gave a short nod, "You're on!"
A double-handed axe-handle slammed into the oncoming monster from above and knocked it to the ground as the two Rangers readied themselves on opposite sides of their fallen opponent.
"What are they doing?" Yolanda stared, "Why are they letting it recover?"
"Finish it off!" Justin exclaimed, "Do it now!"
Laying on the ground, stunned, the Cameolion faded back into its own reptilian/feline-hybrid form. Quickly recovering, it focused and again attempted to copy J.T.'s power signature. Again instead of succeeding it only made it part way before the copied powersuit began shifting between black and green, failing to lock in on the power signature. It had failed with the other one, so it took a third option, the shield and details turning ebonite and the powersuit itself a deep purple.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Daniel muttered as he saw the monster take on Jon's form.
"I wonder what roasted monster tastes like," Yolanda pondered, then frowned at everyone's incredulous looks, "What? We were all thinking it, I just said it."
Slowly, the now-double of the Dark Ranger rose, first to all fours, then to its knees, finally to its feet. As it stood, the two Rangers struck. Jessica dropped to the ground from her sprint and slid the last few feet, thrusting out a leg as she went past Cameolion to take its knees out from behind with a slide kick. Falling backwards, the monster was unprepared as two quick steps brought J.T. to the opposite side from Jessica or for the enzuigiri that sent it falling forward once more.
"Time to end this," Jessica said, rising to her feet next to J.T. and summoning her Phoenix Bow.
"No," J.T. stopped her from calling for the others to form the Spirit Shot with a hand on her shoulder, "This one's mine."
Jessica turned her head, looking visor to visor with the Black Ranger, "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," J.T. said simply.
"We're just getting started," Jon's voice echoed from Cameolion's form as it began to rise.
"'No more foreplay'," J.T. retorted as the monster stood up again and turned around, his hand drifting down to his side. Closing his hand firmly around a grooved grip, J.T. slid it down the sheath of his weapon, feeling it shift beneath his hand, "You're the third person today who's attempted to destroy me. You know what they say, three strikes..."
Taking hold of the handle with his other hand, he pulled the weapon away from his side to reveal a gun that put those watching in mind of a shotgun and aimed it, "And strike-out."
For the first time, a Literati Ranger's sidearm was fired in gun mode, the whine of gas ionizing in the firing chamber when the Black Ranger pumped the slide drawing the attention of all present before a series of plasma bolts were fired. The first shots burning through the imitation Dark Shield and powersuit before the electromagnetic shell and plasma charge of the following bolts incinerated flesh and disrupted nerves, causing Cameolion to revert back to its original form as it fell backwards, a hole in its chest. As it hit the ground, the forces that had created it began to break down in an explosion of sparks and flame, smoke drifting off the monster's form as it began to fade slowly away.
"Incompetents," Dreamweaver frowned as she watched the battle's outcome from Montgomery Island in the middle of the river, "As usual, victory relies on me... and a timely application of one of my special crystals."
An eight-sided violet gem appeared in her hand with a flash of light and was thrown into the air, flying towards the disappearing form of Cameolion as Dreamweaver herself vanished.
On the bridge, the crystal entered the faint form of Cameolion and began releasing energy, regenerating the monster and causing it to return to a solid state as it began to grow, unnoticed by the Rangers who were gathering around each other. Rolling under one of the protective rails and off the bridge, Cameolion fell towards the river. Just as it landed in the water, the crystal took full effect and caused it to suddenly grow two hundred feet, the sudden difference in volume causing waves to rock the nearby shores.
"Okay," Justin groaned as the monster let out a roar that attracted the Rangers' attention, "You know we should have expected this. Megazord?"
"Megazord," Five voices chorused in answer.
"We need-" J.T. began, but instead of pressing his hand to the Dragon emblem on his chestplate, he ended up clutching his chest as his Spirit Armor vanished suddenly.
"Don't worry about me! Scheisse," J.T. swore under his breath before raising his voice again, "Call the 'Zords!"
"You're injured!" Yolanda tried.
Amanda looked at J.T. and nodded, touching the Magick emblem on her armor, "We need Spiritzord power!"
Launch tunnels carried the five summoned Spiritzords away from the Command Center; the Siren Spiritzord through a tunnel that released it into the Orenda River itself, causing it to arrive first as it surfaced and Yolanda jumped from the bridge down into her Spiritzord's hands before entering the cockpit. The Witch and Knight Spiritzords arrived riding on the back of the larger Demon Spiritzord, dismounting as they reached Green Park so that each could recieve their own Ranger as they lept into the air and were drawn towards their partner. Only one Spiritzord was left unpiloted as the Phoenix circled the air above the bridge, its Ranger still down below...
As the others entered their Spiritzords, Jessica was putting a hand on her boyfriend's shoulder, "Johnnie, we've got to get you out of here, somewhere where I can heal you."
J.T. dropped to a knee, cringing in pain as first sections of his powersuit flashed away, showing the civilian clothes underneath, then waves of energy passed across J.T.'s body, causing the powersuit to disappear completely before reappearing with the next wave.
"I'm fine! Go! Help the others!" J.T.'s words were made doubtful, however, by the next series of shifts causing him to fall forward onto the ground.
Jessica stared for a moment, torn.
"Dammit, Kella, go! They need the Megazord..." J.T. demanded, "I can handle it from here!"
Jessica's eyes darted from him to the waiting Spiritzord and back, "If you die because of being an idiot, I'm going to find a way to bring you back so I can kill you again."
As Jessica jumped into the air to enter the Phoenix Spiritzord's cockpit, J.T. rolled over onto his back and pushed himself into a sitting position against one of the girders.
"Power Down," the Black Ranger gasped out.
Though each Spiritzord had its own power signature based on what part of the Power Grid it drew on, for the Megazord to work they have to be synchronized to allow the Rangers to operate all the component Zords as one. When the Spiritzords are undergoing the combination sequence, the synchronization creates a shield that protects them while they're combining and vunerable. If synchronization is lost, it causes the Megazord to break apart as each Zord rejects the others and forces them away, usually resulting in damage to the Zords and even harm to the Rangers. It was this synchronization that allowed Camelion to take on the form of the full Literati Megazord, the combination of not only the five Spiritzords facing it, but the Dragon as well, outmatching the Spirit Megazord that was all the Rangers could form at the time.
"That's a challenge, is it?" Jessica snorted as she saw scales and fur shimmer and shift to metal, "Who gets to say it this time?"
"I guess it's my turn; Spirit Megazord, form on me," Daniel responded.
In their respective Spiritzords, each of the Rangers entered the appropriate commands to activate the Megazord sequence. For the Demon, the head and left arm retracted back into the torso as the legs folded in half to accept the Siren and Knight Spiritzords as they transformed into legs. At the same time as the Witch Spiritzord shifted into an arm and took its place on the Demon's left shoulder, the Phoenix all but collapsed as it landed in the middle of the shoulders to form a new head. Organized in the cockpit in two rows, Amanda and Daniel in front, the others behind, the Rangers activated the completed Megazord.
"Spirit Megazord, online!" The five Rangers commanded in unison, using the activation code that transferred command from the Spiritzords' individual cockpits to the group cockpit of the Megazord.
"I could use some pocky, but I'm ready," Daniel announced from the main control seat.
"Spiritzords are fresh from the hanger, we're good," Yolanda added from the damage control console.
"Weapons ready to blast that cheap knockoff," Amanda acknowledged that the Spirit Megazord's built-in weapon systems were activated.
"Backups are at your disposal, Daniel," Justin nodded as he confirmed that the weapons of the individual Spiritzords had been stored in subspace and were ready to be accessed by the Megazord.
"We're go for flight, ready zero," Jessica continued since the flight controls were seperate from the ground-based controls Daniel had.
"What does that mean, anyway?" Daniel muttered, but was overheard.
"It means shut up and fight, Honey," Amanda informed him, "And try not to step on anything important."
"Break one water main," Daniel complained, "And this from the woman who smashed a building just because she felt like it..."
"What was that, Dan-chan?"
"Nothing, Mandi-chan, nothing at all..."
"Here it comes!" Yolanda shouted, breaking in on the couple's conversation
Acting instinctively, Jessica brought the Spirit Megazord up into a low hover and jinked it away as the double of the Literati Megazord darted towards them, skimming over the bottom of the river. Flight systems activated, not enough to lift them out of the water, just enough so that they were off the riverbed, the two Megazords circled each other.
"What's it waiting for?" Justin muttered.
Jessica heard him and answered, "For us to break. It's a war of nerves."
"It's working," Justin added under his breath.
"Just stay frosty," the Green Ranger answered, "He'll never let you live it down if you crack."
Across the water, the Literati Megazord reached its Demon hand behind its back and drew the dragon-tail sword from between its wings. The Spirit Megazord drew back its Demon hand and clenched its fist. Channelling fire energy to its Dragon hand, the Literati Megazord ran it along the blade of the sword it held in the opposite hand to ignite it in flame, unlike the actual Literati Megazord's method of holding it in the Dragon hand and charging it from there. In response, the Spirit Megazord shifted its stance.
The strength of the Literati Rangers' Spiritzords isn't in their individual weapons and abilities or even their Megazord Sequences, but rather in their ability to adapt; creating new weapon combinations and attack functions during combat, or - as the Rangers had learned - even adapting their own structures to merge in different ways with each other - hence the ability to form not only the Literati Megazord but also two versions of the Spirit Megazord depending on which of the larger Spiritzords were used - as well as the Zords of other Rangers as when the Demon and Dragon, Phoenix, Siren and Knight Spiritzords had combined with the Alligator, Hammerhead and Wolf Wild Zords during the battle against Car Org to create the 'Literati Megazord Predator Mode'. Some trace of that had appearantly remained with the Spiritzords enough that by copying the form of the Literati Megazord, Cameolion had managed to copy techniques that had been used by the 'Predator Mode' and Predazord itself.
The tip of the duplicate Literati Megazord's flaming sword began to spin, the flames curling around it as it picked up speed.
"Oh, crap," Daniel muttered as Cameolion's Megazord form lunged toward them, sword first, in a Revolver Phantom, "Jessica, hard left!"
With both the primary motor and secondary flight controls being used, the Spirit Megazord took a flying leap to the side, avoiding the imitation Literati Megazord's attack.
"Channel power to the Demon fist."
"On it," Amanda answered her fiance.
The runes on the demon fist started to glow and parts started to move as it powered up.
As soon as it landed, the smaller Megazord swung fast and hard, a Power-charged haymaker aimed at the back of its larger opponent. If it had been an actual Megazord, then it might have been a successful attack with the delay caused by the time needed for sensors to register a threat and alarms to alert those in the cockpit, but as a monster using the form of the Literati Megazord, it was able to sense the oncoming attack and react by taking flight. Turning in midair, the Literati-Cameolion raised the flaming sword in its hand high above its head, then moved it anticlockwise to form a circle of flame in front of the Megazord. It was then lowered until the sword's crossbar was just below the imitation Megazord's eyes.
"Incoming!" Jessica shouted, "Yolanda, shunt coolant to the outer components!"
The flaming circle shot away from the Literati Megazord towards the Spirit Megazord.
"I'm trying!" the Pink Ranger shouted from damage control.
Collision and overheating alarms blared throughout the Megazord's cockpit as Jessica jerked back on her control sticks, causing the Spirit Megazord to lift into the air and tuck into a ball, barely fitting through the Ring as it passed around it to strike the river and unleash a torrent of steam as it flash-evaporated the water where it struck and more rushed in to fill in where it had been.
"That was close," Daniel said as the Megazord straightened out.
"It's not over yet," Justin announced, "Here it comes again!"
Arms and sword tucked back, wings swept back, the copy Literati Megazord dove towards the hovering Spirit Megazord.
"It's bad enough when the Idiot says that!" Amanda complained as she shunted power to the Demon fist for a second time.
The Spirit Megazord spun as it rose upwards, catching the Literati Megazord in the face with its charged Demon fist, knocking it into an upright stance as the Spirit Megazord continued to spin, bringing its Siren leg around to strike the back of the imitation Megazord's head, sending it towards the ground face-first and out of control. As it fell, Cameolion in the Literati Megazord's form twisted and with its Dragon hand unleashed a Dragon Burner at nearly point blank range where there was nothing the Rangers in the Spirit Megazord could do to avoid it. The outer components of the Spirit Megazord's flight system melted and failed, sensors overloaded, alarms blared, and the Rangers did the best they could to stablize the Megazord as it tumbled towards the river. It was fortunate that as the battle between the Rangers and the latest monster had first erupted people had evacuated the area, as when the two massive forms hit the water only seconds apart, the resulting tidal waves devastated the banks of the river.
Daniel groaned and shook his head, trying to deal with the sense of vertigo caused by the position of the Spirit Megazord being facedown, the front of the cockpit towards the ground and the Rangers kept i their seats only by their restraints, "Damage?"
"Targeting computers down, tracking systems are out," Yolanda announced, "Parts of the flight systems are melted beyond self-repair, we'll have to fix them ourselves... Worse news, one more attack with fire energy and our protection against it will be gone, the Phoenix Spiritzord can only absorb so much of it without the Dragon to help."
In his thoughts, Daniel swore hard, "Justin, we need the Megablaster."
"What good will that do?" Justin asked as his hands flew across his controls, "We can't lock onto anything."
"Then we'll sight down the barrel!" Daniel answered forcefully.
Justin closed his eyes for a second, "Get us to our feet, I'll see what I can do."
Across the water, Cameolion made it to its feet, still in its stolen form, and started toward the fallen Megazord, sword gripped tightly in its hand. Both hands pushing off the river bed, the Spirit Megazord rose up enough to get one leg under it and bring the other foot forward, leaving one hand on the riverbed for balance as it raised the other and summoned the Demon Spiritzord's Megablaster. As the barrel of the Megablaster was leveled at the on-coming counterfeit Megazord, blue energy began spiraling around the barrel, then yellow, red, green and finally pink before blending together into a ball of white at the end of the barrel. As the Literati Megazord raised its sword, the Spirit Megazord fired, smoke and sparks obscuring the copycat monster before clearing as it fell backwards into the water, defeated and headless.
"Bang," Daniel whispered.
Jessica took a couple of deep breaths, the adrenaline still strong from the fight, before her eyes shot open, "Johnnie."
"What the hell was all that?" Amanda swore.
J.T. winced, breathing heavily as he stood up, "I'll tell you in about a week..."
"A week! A week?" By this point, the blonde was almost hyperventilating.
"Yeah... That's when I'll probably wake up," J.T. expanded, staggering and putting his hand on the railing behind him to brace himself as his eyes flashed black, then green, and back to black before settling on their natural grey, "I did something... something really stupid and... I'm going to suffer for it... Kella, could you help me get home? I need to be sure I make it there since when I fall... I'm going to hit hard and won't be getting back up for a while..."
A faint ironic smile traced its way across J.T.'s lips as he read, "Evicted..."
Jessica looked at the note on her partner's apartment door, "Oh, Johnnie..."
"Not..." J.T. forced out, leaning against the wall, "...Surprised... Hardly here... any..."
J.T. winced, "Anymore... work, 'work', the... team, your house... Your house... take..."
The unmorphed Black Ranger couldn't force his body to go any further, injuries, forced accelerated healing, massive Power surges all had taken their toll on him and he slid down the wall, collapsing on the floor as he lost consciousness.
Over two thousand miles away, deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, a pair of red eyes glowed to life for a moment before fading back to darkness.
Author's Notes: Dear God, it's finally done. Over three years in the making, the most intense and detailed fight scenes I've ever written, wrapping up several plotlines and threading the needle for more... Fortunately, the next couple of stories are more character driven, lighthearted and/or inspired and will hopefully not take anywhere near as long to write. And if you feel the urge to flame, just remember... Dragons love fire.
...I'm going to make like my counterpart and pass out now...