Sorry for the messy line breaks in the previous chapter. Somehow formatting removes the dashes and asterisks I put in earlier. Hope I'll be able to figure out how to get around this. Anyway, guess I was mistaken earlier. I managed to find some time to squeeze in one more chapter before the new semester. Enjoy!
Hunter felt himself being in a dream. He was floating, drifting in and out of consciousness. He was vaguely aware of his surroundings, which was cloaked in a thick fog. He couldn't see, but he could recall hearing frantic shouts of a few ninjas, his name being called and his shoulders being shaken. He felt his body lifted and moved, and then…
His eyes were forced open, and a bright light hit him. His mind instinctively shut them, and that was most control he was able to exert thus far. He could hear voices, some of them familiar to him.
"Hang in there bro, you'll be alright…" And then Hunter felt his arm being squeezed slightly.
"…on the medic bed gently…" Then, without warning, a burning sensation crept through him; he felt as if his entire body was on fire. He mind screamed out in pain, but all he could manage was a few moans and whispers.
"Hunter? Hunter? Can you hear me?" Again he felt his eyes being forced open, and a light shone on them. He felt a sharp jab on his left arm, and then his whole world turned black again.
"What's wrong with him?" Shane asked impatiently, as he stood by the bed staring at Hunter. His entire body twitched unnaturally, and thick beads of sweat formed around his face and neck. His eyelids fluttered slightly, and a few moans occasionally escaped from him. Dustin and Tori was nearby too; Tori carefully wiping the sweat around Hunter's forehead with a warm towel.
"It looks like some sort of powerful neurotoxin, which wreaks havoc with his whole nervous system. His usual biological functions like respiration and metabolism are fluctuating dangerously," Cam replied, his eyes skimming across the readings on the computer.
"I'm afraid it's no mere poison, but dark ninja powers at work here." Sensei Watanabe said, removing his hands from Hunter's chest. "It is fortunate he was discovered early, and Sensei Omino was able to channel some energy to slow down the effects of the toxin."
"Will he be alright?" Tori asked softly.
"I can't be certain yet. Initial readings shows that the toxin itself is not lethal, but if this condition prolongs…" Cam left his words hung in the air. They nodded grimly. "The depressants I gave him earlier should start kicking in, and his condition should stablize somewhat."
"Dude, you gotta beat this. We need you to kick Lothor's ass all the way back to the Abyss." Dustin broke his silence, his glassy eyes looking straight at his blond friend.
"Any news on Blake?" Tori asked hopefully.
"I'm afraid none so far. The Thunder Ninjas combed the entire school and couldn't find him anyway." Cam answered, never taking his eyes of the screen. His fingers continued furiously on the keyboard, drawing up more scans and analysis on Hunter.
"After Sensei Omino contacted me, he has declared the Thunder Academy on full alert. Right now he's working with Leanne of tightening security and cordoning all ninjas off the grounds. I believe it is best I do the same." Sensei Watanabe shuffled his feet to leave. "Let me know if there's any change in Hunter's condition." All four of them merely nodded grimly.
Like Hunter, Blake was only vaguely aware of what was happening around him, losing all voluntary control of his body. He felt himself being dragged somewhere, and then rough chains being slapped across his wrist. Maniacal laughter could be heard occasionally, whose voice sounded very familiar…
Blake spluttered as an unexpected splash of cold water hit his face.
"He's coming around."
"Good. The small dose of antiserum should stabilise him, but he still won't be able to lift a finger."
Blake snapped at the sound of that voice. Lothor! He blinked a few times as he raised his head slightly. His vision was still blurry, and he felt as if he had been roasted alive – a painful burning sensation flared through his muscles. He was barely aware of himself being suspended by two chains attached to his wrist, pulling him upright in the middle of the room. His legs were like jelly, and he was pretty sure without the chains, he would have collapsed on to the ground in a second. He shifted his gaze around… Hunter was nowhere to be seen. He closed his eyes again in a strenuous effort to feel his brother's presence, but without success.
"Hello, little Navy Ranger. Remember me?" Lothor grinned nastily, stepping right up to Blake's face. Under normal circumstances, he would have given a sarcastic reply, or spat right back at his face. But at that moment, it was taking almost all of his entire effort just to remain conscious. He tried to force the words out of his mouth. "Where's… Hunter?"
"Now, don't worry bout your brother. He's fine, well, as fine as can be under the circumstances. As for you, you must be wondering why you were brought here. I would love to explain the whole thing to you, but unfortunately I have some urgent business to attend too. People to blackmail, evil armies to raise. Sigh… the work of an evil genius is never finished. But I'm sure my new general here would be more than eager to explain everything… and make you feel right at home." Lothor continued in his sickeningly smooth voice, before exiting the room.
Only then Blake's attention snapped to the other individual in the room. He blinked a couple of times to clear his misty vision. It looked humanoid enough, even a little familiar. The brown straight hair, the piercing black eyes, the tight-lipped jaw. His mind wandered a bit before he realised…Lexton? But there was something different too – his expression was more arrogant, colder, and confident. His outfit too, was no longer of a Thunder ninja; it was completely black with a crimson emblem of a centipede. Two jet black katanas hung loosely by his waist. Even in his drowsy state, Blake was able to feel the new dark ninja aura emanating from him.
"Hello Blake. Sorry for the ah… current discomfort you're in. A necessary precaution, you must understand, to make sure you remain here. Your presence here is needed by Master Lothor to carry out his plan." Blake could only blinked slightly at what he heard coming from Lexton's lip…Master Lothor?
"Do not worry though about being neglected. Master Lothor has left me fully in charge of attending to your needs." Lex walked up to Blake and leered at his face.
"You know, I remember the first thing Sensei Omino taught was that one of the purposes of ninja training is to enhance our mind and body to withstand any challenges. See, I'm not such a forgetful student after all. Well, I could see you've a strong mind; anyone else would have remained unconscious and probably delirious beyond help an hour after infected." Lex circled Blake slowly, measuring him up and down.
"But how strong is your body? Perhaps we can find that out together.' Lex smiled again, walking towards behind Blake. Blake knew Lex definitely had something wicked in mind, but frankly he was just too tired and dulled to actually feel fear. A moment later, he felt his tunic being cut open, and flung aside. The next thing he knew, a sharp lash bit into the bare skin of his back, spreading ripples of boiling pain throughout his entire body. Instinctively he cried out in pain, but even that tiny relief was denied to him. All he could manage was a grunt, even as he felt a second lash flicking across his back…
Leanne could feel the blanket of fear hanging so thickly at the Thunder Academy, and she felt as if she could almost cut it with a kukri. She glanced around carefully as she rounded the western parameter. Everything seems to be in order, she noted to herself. She had just finished discussing academy security with her father. The number of guards per patrol has been increased, and more patrol groups has been set up to cover a smaller area.
Some of the newer students has already been sent home, and she could feel how some of the older students secretly wished that they could be allowed the same too. Especially those who survived Lothor's mass kidnapping 2 years ago. Most of them fear a similar attack, what with 2 of their teachers gone and their Head Teacher incapacitated.
No, it won't happen again, she told herself. And if it did, this time she was there to prevent it. She never told anyone about it, even her father, how she blamed herself for the first attack on the academy. How she wasn't there to lend her aid. How she felt utterly guilty to return and see the school in ruins, and she was the only one who escaped Lothor's clutches. That was, until she ran into Blake and Hunter.
She lifted her head, watching carefully the changing of patrol shifts. If Lothor dared to try anything else today, she'll be ready for him.
The sudden blaring of the alarm jarred everyone at Ninja Ops, where the atmosphere was equally tense. Cam quickly pressed a few keys and adjusted the volume to prevent it from disturbing Hunter's rest, as the other crowded around him. He typed in several commands, and the screen changed to display the source of disturbance.
It showed the beach, which was quite deserted as it was almost evening. If there were anyone there, most likely they would have taken the cue to flee as the satellite feed zoomed in on the lone figure in black standing there. No one spoke; they knew who it was.
"Is this thing on yet? Ahem, ahem." Lothor began, clearing his throat.
"Hello rangers, it's been a while. How are you all doing, especially oh, your little crimson friend?" Lothor asked nastily, his face appearing larger on the screen as if he knew where he should be peering at. Shane clenched his fist in anger at the sight, and instinctively he knew the rest felt similarly.
"Well now, don't you guys worry yourself sick over your crimson friend. He should be alright under your care. He was no major importance, but he had to be taken care of in the…obtainment of your navy friend." A soft breath escaped Tori's lips; she didn't even realise up till now she had been holding her breath.
"Where's Blake?" Cam asked in an even tone.
"Oh, he'll survive. Depending on your willingness to cooperate of course. Specifically you, water ninja girl." Tori drew back slightly before narrowing her eyes angrily at the screen.
"What have you done with him?" She asked tensely. Lothor continued to smile as he snapped his fingers and a glowing red light formed, outlining a circle in the air. Blurry images swirled in it for a few moments before it became clear. All of them gasped as they saw Blake hanging half-conscious with thick sweat all over him, his hands bound by two chains hung from the ceiling. His eyes were barely open; he had the same delirious look like Hunter. Tori gasped when she saw the angry red lines across Blake's back.
"Oh, it looks like my new general is certainly enthusiastic about his job." Lothor grinned as he too peered into the floating image he just conjured up.
"I want you, water ninja girl, to meet me here at the beach in half an hour. If not, your pretty boyfriend here…" As if to emphasize his point, a black figure which they haven't noticed earlier flung his wrist. They could only watch and winced as the whip dug in Blake's back. No sound could be heard; he was too exhausted to even groan anymore. All of them were too stunned by what they saw that they let slide whatever Lothor said about Blake.
"Why you worthless…" Tori spoke again, her voice full of anger.
"Tick tock, time's a-wasting." Lothor cut her off, grinning nastily before snapping his fingers again. And the screen went blank with static.
"Blake…" All of them turned around to see Hunter stirring, his eyes squinting at the screen. He had woken up a few minutes ago and saw everything on the screen. Immediately three pairs of hands pushed him back gently on the bed.
"Don't worry bro, we'll get Blake back." Shane promised. Dustin didn't say anything, but nodded seriously.
"But…" Hunter protested. He made a further effort to get up, and this time the hands that pushed him down were firmer.
"Just rest for now and leave it to us alright? You're delirious, dehydrated and fatigued – you're in no condition to fight now, let alone rescue Blake," Cam pointed out sternly. After a few more futile attempts to get up Hunter finally relented, rather reluctantly. Well, someone had to get message through to the stubborn ol' Hunter, Cam reasoned with himself.
"Don't worry bout it. We'll come out with a plan and get Blake back, right Tori? Tori?" Shane glanced around, puzzled, when he didn't get a response. His teammate was nowhere in sight. Dustin too, looked around. "Oh dude…Tori." Dustin slapped his forehead as realisation dawned on him.
"She's moving quickly across the woods, in a northwest direction," Cam answered. Always one step ahead, he was already in front of the supercomputer tracking Tori's morpher signature.
"Dude, we gotta stop her before she throws herself at Lothor," Dustin said, already pulling Shane to the exit stairs.
"Dude, calm down. I don't think she'll do anything stupid. She's the reliable one, remember?"
"Like dude, it's Blake. Like, you think?" Dustin snapped, exasperated.
"Point taken." Shane nodded.
"Wait, she's stop moving." Two heads turned around curiously and crowded in front of the supercomputer.
Tori ran as fast as she could through the trees and the undergrowth, breathless. Her mind was racing – the image of Blake being chained, exhausted and just being so vulnerable kept playing over and over again. And the last part, when the whip sliced across his skin. How he was even too weak to protest. No! She stopped, out of breath and panting.
She knew she should be more rational about this. After all, they all knew the risks involved being rangers. Heck, each of them had one time or another either been brainwashed, cloned, kidnapped, and even transfigured. So why was this time any much different?
Because it's Blake. There was no escaping this fact. She knew she cared deeply for younger Bradley. But did feelings run deep enough that she… loved him? She shut her eyes; her thoughts are too jumbled up. Her thoughts flashed to that time when Blake stood up bravely for her against Mr. Ratwell, taking hit after hit before unleashing his fury. She knew she was just as good as the guys, able to hold her own; but secretly she enjoyed it. She enjoyed how Blake was always protective of her, yet never looking down on her. Her mouth involuntarily formed a tiny smile, remembering those deep brown eyes, the wide smile that never failed to make her heart beat faster every time…
And this time, it's up to you to save Blake, she thought determinedlyShe involuntarily wiped her eyes, she didn't realise when the tears formed in her eyes. Blake needs you now. And you'll be no help if you're a wreck yourself. She stood up, took a few deep breaths slowly and opened her eyes. She hadn't realised that she was standing near the holographic portal exit to the waterfall.
No doubt Lothor will take full advantage of your emotional state right now, she told herself. Whatever the hell that creep wants, I just need to keep Blake alive and bring him back. Feeling much calmer now, she started walking slowly towards the exit when two figures darted out from behind, stopping right in front of her and panting.
"No Tori, wait!" Shane panted.
"Yeah!" Dustin added. Tori eyed her teammates weirdly. "Um guys, I need to go to the beach like immediately to save Blake."
"We're coming with you." Shane said authoritatively. Tori sighed.
"Look, Lothor said he wants me to come alone. Wait, let me finish," Tori said, seeing the protesting looks on their faces. "Don't worry guys, I won't do anything stupid. Look, I'm sure Cam is trying his best to find Blake right now. I'll try to distract Lothor as long as I can while you rescue him, alright?"
Shane and Dustin exchanged looks – sheepish looks.
"Hehe, wow. Like dude, I think that's a pretty good plan." Dustin mumbled, looking down. Shane nodded sheepishly, finding a sudden interest in a dead leaf on the ground.
"Guys, I'll need to go now ok. Wish me luck." Tori looked at both her teammates.
"Be careful,alright?" Shane said, giving her a hug. Dustin followed suit, "Don't let Lothor get to you ok. Oh dude, I almost forgot. Hunter like wished you all the luck and he hopes you'll bring back Blake safely too."
"Hunter said that?"
"Well actually, he said you better bring his bro back or not he'll kick your ass all the way up the waterfall if you don't. Or something like that. He was pretty mumbly and all. Or maybe it was…"
"Dude, she gets it."
"Right." Dustin kept quiet instantly. Tori shook her head a little and smiled. With one final nod, she streaked past the holographic portal and made her way to the beach.
Author's note: I sorta imagined that the ninja skills of the rangers continue to develop, and they'd now be able to sense auras. Especially those that they're close to and in a small vicinity. The basis for this would be how Sensei Watanabe could predict Lothor's presence moments before he attacked (Prelude to A Storm), and Lothor's escape from the Abyss of Evil (Thunderstorm Pt.1).