Chapter 1: Who's afraid of the big bad bear?
When the arrow landed, Emily was ready. Her mother had received a letter two days ago from someone named Ji and immediately packed her bags and informed the school of her departure. So, yes, she was ready to answer the call and become a samurai. But that was not enough to contain the anxiety and the butterflies in her belly. Taking the arrow in her hands, Emily ran to Serena's room.
"Serena, look. The time has come."
Serena sat on the bed and looked at the arrow in astonishment. A single tear ran down her face and she sighed heavily.
"I'm nervous. What if I fail? There's so much at stake and I feel like I'm not ready. Am I the best choice to take on the role of Yellow Ranger?"
"Emily, dear, look at me. Take a deep breath. Sit here on my side." Emily did as she was told and sat on her sister's bed. Serena took the arrow out of her hands and joined their fingers together. "You are stronger than you think. Mom has been training you for years, your control over the symbol force is impeccable and your stance with the sword is even better than hers. You're more than ready, dear. Do not ignore your qualities. I can't imagine anyone better than you to be the Yellow Ranger."
Probably you, Emily thought, but Serena's encouraging smile made her believe that maybe that was true.
"Emily!" Her mother appeared at the door "There's a Shiba clan motorcycle ready to take you to Panorama City. It's time, dear."
"Right." She released a sigh and looked at her sister. "I'll miss you."
"Me too, sis. Me too. Don't forget to write, okay? I want to know all the details of your adventure."
"I want to know everything as well, alright? And Emily, daughter, don't forget." Emily looked attentively at her mother "You may be a Power Ranger now, but you're still a teenager. Don't let your samurai chores take over your life." Her mother hugged her tight "Whenever you can, go out, have fun, make new friends, fall in love-"
"I'm just saying, dear. I let my responsibilities consume me and today I have several regrets. I just don't want you to make the same mistakes I did."
Emily released herself from the embrace and looked into her mother's eyes. It's the first time that she has seen her crying in 10 years.
"Don't worry, mom. I promise I'll remember to have fun. But now I have to go. It's a 3 hours ride to Panorama City and I can't keep the other Rangers waiting ... I love you."
"We love you, too, Emily."
"Have a nice trip, honey. You'll do great."
Finally saying goodbye to her family and her farm, Emily got on the bike that would take her to her new life.
It takes approximately 3 hours to travel from little Oak Town to Panorama City. Her mother usually makes the trip in 2 and a half hours. Serena, on the other hand, takes 4 hours, 'cause she's afraid of accelerating too much on the highway and flipping the family's yellow truck.
On the other hand, this guy on the bike finished the trip in 1 hour and a half. Half -HALF- of the time it takes for anyone who is driving within the speed limits. He stopped the bike at some corner of the city and said, "I'll leave you here. You can meet with the others by yourself, right?"
Of course not. Emily had no idea where she was. But she nodded and got off the bike. All she wanted to do was step on solid ground again. Her legs were shaking, her knees refused to support her weight. She felt nauseous, as if she was going to throw up. Wow, she thought, I'd never been at the speed of sound before. I hope I won't repeat the experience anytime soon.
She muttered a shaky 'T-thanks' to the driver and he was gone. After a few seconds of catching her breath, she stopped to think about what to do next. Emily doesn't know the city. Only the park and the market that her mother goes to monthly. What are the chances that the other Rangers would be in one of these places? None. No way. There's nothing for me to do. All I have left is to wait for a miracle.
As if listening to her thoughts, a big black car speeds past her. Luckily Emily caugth the Shiba clan symbol on the side of the vehicle. Here's your miracle, girl. Without thinking twice she ran. Maybe she won't reach the car, but at least she won't be lost anymore. She could follow the same path and meet with the others.
Oh, who's she trying to fool? She couldn't even blink and the car had already taken the lead in this race between them without any effort. If this keeps, she will lose sight of it in a matter of seconds. Or not. Because it looks like the car stopped. A young man in a blue sweatshirt was banging on the car's windows until a girl in a gray cardigan stepped down from the back seat. It's them!
Reaching the couple, Emily couldn't contain her excitement.
"Are you the Red Ranger?"
"No, I'm the Blue."
Yeah, it makes sense. I mean, he's wearing a blue outfit. She's wearing a yellow sweater herself. The other girl must be the Gray Ranger.
"You guys must be my peeps."
The voice came from behind her and belonged to a boy who seemed to exude confidence and a certain arrogance. By his stance, he could very well be the leader.
"You're the Red Ranger?" Blue asked the newbie.
"No, I'm Mighty Green!" And with that his stance is gone. He was still trying to show some seriousness, but his gaze was that of a child eager for their birthday party. It seemed that he wanted to say something else, but they were interrupted by the neighing of a horse. The Red Ranger has arrived.
The battle against the Moogers and the Nighlok Tooya was a success. Apart from the Zord totem they formed by accident, everyone fought very well.
"Hey, dude! You rocked! Punch it in."
"Oh, thanks, um ... dude."
Green and Red greet each other with a fist bump and Red draws the attention of the group.
"Guys, congratulations on your first battle. You were better than I expected. If you could follow me, I will take you to the Shiba house, where you'll live from now on."
The group started to follow their leader. Without realizing it, Emily slowed down and increased the distance between her and the others. The adrenaline from the first fight as a Ranger had left her body and her mind went back to work.
This is it. This will be my routine for I don't know how long. These guys fight like professionals. Next to them I'll look like a child trying to imitate her favorite superhero. I cannot fail. I have to try and be stronger. I promised Serena.
"Hey, are you okay?"
The hand on her shoulder pulled her out of her daydreams and she finally realized how far she was from the three boys in the group who walked ahead.
"Did you get hurt during the battle?" Pink asked. She had a maternal tone to her voice that calmed the troubled thoughts inside Emily's head.
"Oh no. I'm fine. Just sinking everything in, y'know."
"Yeah, I get it. My name is Mia. Nice to meet you."
"Emily. Nice to meet you too, Mia."
"It looks like we'll be the only girls here. So, what do you think of the boys?"
What she thinks of them? Well, if she's being honest, the first impression that Emily had is that the personality of each one of them matches their Zord animal. Red, like a lion, is a natural leader, courageous and confident. Blue appears to be as proud as a dragon, diligent, disciplined. Mia herself carries the patience, reliability and wisdom of the turtle. Now, Green ... she doesn't know how to describe Green. Like a bear, the first word that comes to mind is 'big'. Which is ironic, since, among the boys, he's the shortest. But, apart from his height, everything about him makes him big. He has broader shoulders, a more powerful voice, gesticulates with more intensity. He's a bear, big, wide, loud and scary.
The only one that doesn't fit with their Zord is her. Emily is shy, easily startled, afraid to leave her comfort zone. She's more like a rabbit than an ape. Serena, on the other hand ...
"I think they're all super hot. Don't you think so?"
Again Mia's voice brought her out of her unpleasant thoughts. But this time she ended up throwing her into uncomfortable thoughts instead.
"H-hot? Ah, w-well, I think you can say that they're ... um ... handsome, huh." I can feel my face flushing! I'm so embarrassed. Why, Mia? Why? Pink Ranger's laughter was her only response.
"Guys, we're here."
The Shiba house is actually a mansion. Red introduced them to Mentor Ji and soon took them to a tour through the house. The garden, the room with the conference table, the kitchen, the infirmary, the dojo ...
"And lastly, in this corridor we have our rooms. The two on the left are for the girls and the two on the right are for the boys. At the end of the corridor is my room. And that's it guys, your luggage should arrive in a few hours, but if you already want to get settled, feel free to do so. I'll wait for you in 5 minutes at the conference table. We have to make the presentations, right? Yeah, presentations."
He mumbled the ending and left. Emily had the impression that her leader, although very skilled as a ranger, did't do so well when it came to social interactions.
"Say." Green turned to her. "Why did you already bring a backpack? When they called me they said they were going to send a car to get my things."
"Ah, y-yeah, I'm not from here. My suitcase won't arrive until tomorrow."
His eyes looked like they wanted to drill a hole in her head. Emily looked anywhere but at the boy staring at her.
"Got it. Ok then, guys. See you in 5 minutes. "
He opened the door to one of the bedrooms and went in, Mia and Blue doing the same, until Emily found the strength to move her legs and leave the corridor.
It was an innocent question, but Green scared her. He reminded her of Rick Thompson, top player on her school's football team. Agitated, cheerful, noisy, piercing gaze.
Rick was also extremely impulsive and highly volatile. Last year, during a fight with his girlfriend, he ended up punching poor Sarah Martinez in the middle of the cafeteria. He and his family moved out of Oak Town to avoid popular judgment, but no one forgets about the incident. For Emily, just one look at that scar on Sarah's face is enough to bring the memory back.
But Green is not Rick. She needs to calm down and remember that. Rick would never risk his life to be a ranger. This in itself shows that, despite the intimidating appearance, Green has a good heart. Exactly, Emily. Now, stop being silly, control yourself and go to the conference table. You can't keep calling them by the color of their uniform.
"So ... now that we're all here, we can start with the presentations."
The five rangers were seated on the stools surrounding the rectangular wooden table that would apparently be used as a meeting place. Mentor Ji was propped up on the wall in a corner of the room watching the younger ones interact.
"I think ... it's only fair for me to start, right? Well, my name is Jayden Shiba, I'm 19 years old and I was raised here, in the Shiba house, since I was born."
Jayden seemed to relax, seeing that he could now pass the torch on to someone else. He's not good at social interactions at all.
"What do you like to do in your spare time, Jayden?"
With that question from Mentor himself, tension returned to the leader's shoulders, who stammered several times until he managed to form a coherent response.
"O-o-oh, I-I like to, er, play with my Zord and watch the clouds, I guess."
"Right. Use Jayden's answer to make your presentation, please. Next."
"Oh, my name is Kevin Baron. I'm 21 and I'm from Panorama City. When I'm not training I like to go for a run and ... swim."
"Are you a professional swimmer, Kevin?"
"Yes. My team was one step into getting a place in the state tournament. But ... I had to leave. I'm a samurai now. As a ranger, I will defend the world and the Red Ranger with my life. No thinking about the past."
He says that, but Emily has the feeling that she saw a little sadness in his eyes. He must love being a swimmer.
"Very well. Next."
"I'm Mike. Mike Parry. What's up."
Green -Mike- starts to introduce himself and Emily feels her heart racing. He's not Rick. He's not Rick.
"I'm 18. I was born and raised here in Panorama City, and I like to skate and play video games."
"Did you graduate high school yet, Mike?" When did the Mentor start to control the flow of the conversation? Jayden at least seems happy to just listen.
"My father bribed the principal to let me get through this year without having to repeat it later, which is awesome. But I'm going to miss graduation, which isn't awesome. Other than that, all's good Mentor."
"... Okay. Next."
"Hi. My name is Mia Watanabe, I'm 20 years old and I'm from Lakeview City, one hour away from here. It's so close and I come here so often that I feel like I was raised in Panorama City anyway. I really enjoy cooking and, well, taking care of children."
"Taking care of children?"
"Yep. I work- I mean, I worked at a daycare back in Lakeview. I always loved to play with the little ones. My second dream profession is to be a teacher. The first: chef."
"Interesting, Mia. Next."
It was her turn. Take a deep breath, don't think about it too much and go, girl.
"M-m-my name is Emily. Ava. E-Emily Ava." Breathe again, it's gonna be fine. "I'm 17 years old, I was born and raised in Oak Town, a small town surrounded by farms that's about 3 hours away from here and I like to play the flute and watch over the chickens."
WATCH OVER THE CHICKENS, EMILY!? I know I told you not to think too much about it, but you thought too little, dear.
"Wait, you live on a farm?"
Her blood froze instantly. Mike was the one to ask. She could practically see Rick Thompson laughing scornfully at her face-
"Man, that's so cool! I've never been to a farm. I'd love to though. Do you have cows and horses and all that?"
He's not Rick Thompson. Rick Thompson did not have those green eyes full of kindness, filled with an almost childlike curiosity. This is Mike Parry. Mike Parry is better than Rick Thompson.
"Yeah, we do! Uh, look, if you want, after our mission is over, you can spend some time there. You are all more than welcomed to. There is plenty of space on the farm."
She observed everyone smiling and thanking the invitation with varying degrees of excitement.
"Nice! Look, it's a promise, okay? Pinky promise, come on."
He held out his right hand and pointed his pinky in her direction. Was she seriously afraid of him? Okay, she could still see the big scary bear in his personality, but now it seems that what predominates in him is the teddy bear. Smiling at the thought, Emily joins their pinky together.
"What about you, Emily? What's your school situation? "
Mentor's question popped the bubble that enveloped the group and the girl quickly pulled her hand back to her lap.
"Well ... I don't know if my mom bribed the principal, but she agreed to pass me through this year and I'll finish Senior year when I get back."
"Right. Well, rangers, now that the introductions are over, I'm going to make our dinner and I recommend that you go to sleep after eating. We will start early tomorrow with some symbol force training."
A few hours later, lying on the bed that would be hers for the rest of her journey as a Ranger, Emily thought about Serena. She would be the oldest in the group. I'm sure she would be loving all of this. Don't worry, Serena. I will train as hard as I can. Not only for you, but for my new friends as well.
A new day begins and Emily's determination to improve only grows. After the symbol force training, she decides that it would be better to train with the sword as well.
But I'm still kinda sheepish about asking one of the others to train with me. I'm already the youngest, I don't want them to see me as the baby in the group. No, I can do this by myself. I won't disturb them with my own weaknesses.
With that in mind she takes one of the shinai and leaves the house without anyone noticing. It was't difficult. Kevin was training at the dojo, Jayden and Mentor were having a private "meeting", Mia was tidying up her room and Mike was eating again. Nobody saw her leaving and nobody will see her coming back. I'm going to the park. At least I know how to get there and it's better than training at the market.
She rose from her position and saw Mia, Kevin and Mike approaching. They seemed concerned. Oh no, how long has she been gone?
"You've been training all by yourself?"
"Yes! The dedication of a samurai."
Mike rolled his eyes at Kevin's excitement and continued to eat a barbecue skewer as if to give the impression that he doesn't care about the conversation.
But he does. They all care, otherwise they wouldn't have gone out looking for her. They have to know the truth. It's not fair to them to hide this forever. I just hope they'll accept me here, even if I don't deserve it.
"Is not just that. I promised my big sister to work hard so that I can be as good as a fighter as the rest of you."
"Your big sister?" the confusion in Kevin's voice was also noticeable in everyone's eyes. Justifiable as well.
"My big sister was supposed to become the Yellow Ranger, but she got sick. I had to take her place."
"Wow, that's a lot to ask of you."
"It's been tougher to see her go through her illness. And anyways, I wasn't a superstar at school-" What is she trying to do? Am I trying to justify my insignificance? Is that it? No, I won't make excuses.
"Don't sell yourself short." Does Mia have a sensor that alerts her when it's time to interrupt Emily's thoughts? She smiles at them. Suddenly she felt a little more confident.
"Oh, I do have talents. I'm really good at playing the flute, and I can definitely handle a sword. So, becoming a power ranger is a fresh start for me." ...It's true. I hadn't seen it from that angle yet. It's time for me to start valuing myself and this is the perfect opportunity to do so.
"Did you hear that?" Kevin looked at Mike. Why are they picking on each other so much today? "She has the heart of a true samurai warrior."
Emily blushed at the compliment. She wanted to say that he was exaggerating and that it was't that big of a deal, but she didn't have the time.
"You've been training hard. You need this more then I do. Here."
Mike held out the barbecue skewer to her.
"T-that's not necessary, Mike. Thanks anyway. "
"Yeah it is. Take it. I didn't see you having breakfast and you skipped lunch. A hungry samurai can't fight, learned from experience. You know you want it, it's delicious. Take it, come on. Come. On."
How does he know she didn't have breakfast? Well, anyway, he's not wrong. She is really hungry and it would be better not to pass out on the second day. He started to swing the skewer in front of her face and pouted.
"Okay, okay, I'll take it! Thank you."
"Hey, no prob. We have to take care of the youngest, you know."
Um, it's really tasty.
"You're not even a year older than me, you dummy."
"And? I'm still older."
"No, Emily is right. You two are the youngest."
"Hey, come on, Kevin."
"I'm serious. In fact, Mia and I are the ones who should be taking care of you both."
Mia laughed at the joke (and probably at the outrageous face of the two younger Rangers) and decided to join in on the fun.
"Exactly. I agree. In fact, time to go home, children. Let's go?"
"Children!? Emily, did you hear that? Are we going to just take it?"
She swallowed the rest of the meat, threw the trash in the nearest bin and made the most determined expression she could while holding in her laughter.
Thus began the fierce race between Emily and Mike against Mia and Kevin. Whoever arrives at the Shiba house first wins. Go!
Shame. Disappointment. Guilt. That was all she felt now. That last nighlok, Scorpionic, was strong but it wouldn't be much of a challenge for them. Jayden went to face him alone and she knew he would be victorious. The problem was when she used her Earth Slicer against some Moogers but ended up hitting the Red Ranger as well. She ran to serve as a human shield for her leader, but the others did the same and in the end everyone received the monster's attack.
It doesn't matter that they still won the battle. It doesn't matter that Jayden didn't blame her and even said that she showed strength. Not even Mia's encouraging words ("Your sister will be proud of you." Is that so?) or the little dance Mike started at the dojo were enough to dispel those feelings. She knew that if anything had happened, it was her fault. Purposefully or not she harmed the mission.
For that reason she retired to her room after dinner and never left. She just sat on the bed and started playing her flute. The same song that Serena taught her years ago. Today Emily hopes that it will drive away some negative thoughts.
An unexpected knock on the door is enough to interrupt both thoughts and music.
"Hey Emily. I needed to talk to you. Can I come in?"
"Oh, sure Mike. The door's open."
He closed it again after entering and sat on the end of the bed while she tried to hide her feelings behind a forced smile.
"Was it your sister who taught you to play the flute? You play very well."
"Thanks. Yeah, it was her. What about you? Who taught you how to dance? You rocked."
"Thanks. My mother is a dance instructor. She forced me to dance with her when I was a kid and I ended up enjoying it."
An uncomfortable silence fell over them until Mike decided to speak up again.
"How are you doing? Feeling better? I hope that dance helped, because it was the only thing that came to my mind to cheer you up."
"Did you do that just to cheer me up?"
"Yeah. But I also wanted to show the others how much of a twinkle toes I am. Was it too weird? "
The smile on her face was now genuine. She owes an apologie to Mike for being afraid of him when he is such a kind and good natured person.
"No, it was't."
"That's a relief. I just didn't want you to be torturing yourself over a mistake that had no major consequences and that, honestly, could have been made by any of us. Even more so after you showed so much courage and strength today. And I'm not talking about jumping in front of Jayden."
He squeezed her shoulder, looked deep into her eyes and she knew. He's talking about Serena.
"Emily, I have no idea what you're going through or what you're feeling. But I wanted to let you know that if you need someone to vent, or just talk to, you can count on me. I'm not the best at giving advice, but listening is definitely one of my strengths."
Emily felt like she was going to cry. She thought she would continue to mull over the shame, guilt and disappointment for several more days. But just hearing those words made her feel lighter. It's comforting to know that you're not alone. That your friends support you and will help you at all costs. She does not need to blame herself for every minor mistake. This will only do her, and everyone around, more harm.
"Thank you very much, Mike. And I echo your words. If you need help with anything, you can count on me."
His smile splits his face and gratitude is clear in his eyes.
"Thanks, Em. Ah, I can call you Em, right? Because, now that I've started, it's going to be kind of impossiple to stop."
"Hahahaha, yes, you can. It doesn't bother me."
"Great. Does this mean that you are no longer afraid of me?"
"Yeah, I could tell."
Ugh! How embarassing.
"Look, I'm sorry, Mike. It was silly of me. The thing is, the first impression I had of you reminded me of a scary ex-classmate. I think I ended up projecting his image onto you. But then I realized how nice you are and figure out I was being ridiculous. I'm really sorry."
"Don't worry about it. Some friends have already told me that I look a little intimidating. Relax. Friends?"
He raised a clenched hand, ready for a fist bump. It seems that's his favorite way to greet others. Emily didn't hesitate before touching their fists. There was no doubt about it.