The Enetron Matrix collapsed and imploded with a thundering boom, tearing through the skies and streets. Reality hummed– but didn’t shatter. Instead, the Matrix malfunctioned with a quantum shock wave that rippled through the timestream.
The “Band Aid” timeline tore free, exposing the fractured and damaged reality beneath the patch. Angel Grove reverted to Demon City, a torn landscape ravaged by darkness and war. And the timeline restored the deaths of the champions who perished during the Second Countdown to Destruction and the final battles against the Dark One.
And yet the events of the “Band Aid” timeline had happened. Their after-effects remained.
Tommy sat next to Billy’s body in the ruins of Demon City. Silently, he held his old friend’s hand.
The breeze blew ash and dust, and the skies cast a crimson hue across the landscape. Tommy had felt the “Band Aid” timeline rip away. And he knew what that meant. The timeline had restored the deaths of countless people.
And soon, reality would shatter.
He looked towards the ruins of the Enetron Matrix. The Matrix wasn’t the cause of the Shattering as Tommy had thought. He was wrong. Billy died for nothing.
If the Enetron Matrix didn’t Shatter reality, what did? He lowered his gaze. Does it even matter…?
For the first time since his days as the Evil Green Ranger, he felt hopelessness consume him completely.
The Heavenly Saint of Time stared across the void towards Earth. Her grip tightened on her silver staff, and she narrowed her brow. I always knew these mortals would be the death of me…and everything.
She slammed her staff to the ground with a pulse of black light. The light summoned Mikhail, a Heavenly Saint trapped in human form. He appeared disoriented, with disheveled hair and eyes wide with terror.
“Mikhail,” the Heavenly Saint of Time said. “If you’re going to be trapped in mortal form for eternity, you best learn how to shower and shave.”
Mikhail shook his head. “I’m afraid eternity won’t last for much longer.”
“True, this,” the Heavenly Saint of Time said.
“Why have you brought me here, Pluto?”
“Your champions have failed.” Pluto’s gaze drifted back to the Earth. “The ones left alive are broken. Aimless.”
“You’ve never cared,” Mikhail said. “It’s why you banished me into this body.”
“I banished you because you violated the laws of time magick,” Pluto said. She waved her hand dismissively. “But I didn’t bring you here to debate the past.”
“Then I’ll ask you again: why [I[did[/I] you bring me here?”
The Saint waved her hand. Darkness parted like mist and formed an image– the image of Simon Kaden.
“This one,” she said. “Now that the so-called 'Band-Aid’ timeline has been removed, he will remember everything.”
“Good,” Pluto said. “Here is what has to happen…”
Simon screamed as he climbed through the rubble of the INET building. With the “Band Aid” timeline ripped away, he remembered everything.
A powerful voice echoed in his mind. The voice of the Dark One.
YOU ARE ALONE. AND YOU HAVE FAILED.
The Dark One’s voice drilled through Simon’s consciousness. He collapsed and grabbed his head. His soul screamed. Memories flashed through his mind’s eye. He recalled the start of his simple quest to find his birth parents. And how that path led him to the darkest corners of his very existence.
As a child, he dreamt of being a hero. He wanted to save people. Stand up to bullies.
But he’d accomplished nothing. After nearly 20 years of living in a world of Rangers and Riders–heroes and champions–he had accomplished nothing.
I HAVE WON. BROTHER FIGHTS AGAIN BROTHER. MEN ACT AS BEASTS. RIVERS OF KNOWLEDGE HAVE BECOME BARREN WITH IGNORANCE.
Simon narrowed his eyes. Pain. His spirit felt like a grease fire. His head felt as if someone had rubbed the inside of his skull with sandpaper.
“Get…out of my head. You can’t be…Tommy sealed you.”
DID HE? MY ADVERSARY IS A FOOL. HE HAS FAILED. AS YOU HAVE FAILED. AND IN YOUR FAILURE, YOU WILL BE THE TOOL I USE TO CRUSH HIM. HIS FINAL DEFEAT BEFORE MY ULTIMATE VICTORY.
YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A PAWN. YOU ARE NOTHING BUT.
Simon was born as a pawn of Azmodai and the Black Queen. He became a pawn of Tommy in the war against evil. Became a pawn of the Forsaken in the war against good. A pawn of Zadie. A pawn of the Dark Man.
“I’ve…had…enough!” He bolted to his feet with a shock wave that shook the streets.
The outburst consumed him with darkness, and he slipped from consciousness.
Still, Tommy sat next to Billy. He felt the fabric of reality itself tremble. The Shattering approached.
Footsteps came from behind him. He turned to face Mikhail, the Heavenly Saint stuck in human form.
The saint stood with his hands in his pockets, his blonde hair disheveled. “Hello, Tommy…”
“I know you are suffering, but we need to prepare.”
“One last stand,” Mikhail said. “We still have a chance to stop the Shattering.”
Tommy shook his head. “I can’t even…I can’t even remember which of us are left alive. How sad is that?”
“There are enough of us,” Mikhail said. “I believe the key will be reaching out to Simon.”
Mikhail nodded. “He is like you, one who can break free from the strings of Fate. But he is also something…more. Something new. The Dark One knows this and speaks to Simon even now.”
“How is that possible?” Tommy asked. “I thought I sealed him.”
“The seal was imperfect,” Mikhail said. “His influence still extends from his prison.”
Tommy climbed to his feet. “I have to face him again…” It wasn’t a question. “I don’t know if I can.”
“You will,” Mikhail said. “But your true test of strength, your true opponent…is Death himself.”
“From the beginning, it has always been about you and him. This will not end until you face him.”
“So is he what Shatters reality?”
“I still do not know,” Mikhail said.
“That’s less than promising.”
“It is.” Mikhail’s gaze drifted to Billy’s body. “Tommy, I asked you not to jump to conclusions about the Enetron Matrix.”
“And you were right.”
“I was,” Mikhail said. “You didn’t trust me then. Trust me now. The Dark One. Death. And Simon Kaden. Whatever happens next revolves around these three.”
Simon’s vision blurred into focus. He looked up at a ruined ceiling within the subway systems of Demon City. Someone had carried him here. But who?
He got his answer when the Dark Man stepped from the shadows.
Simon sat up and narrowed his eyes. “Akuma…”
“You look at me as if I am your enemy.”
“You engineered the Second Countdown to Destruction and everything leading up to it. So yeah…not a fan.”
“I understand your frustration, Simon. Your fatigue.” The Dark Man leaned back. “Imagine, if you will, feeling that way for an infinite lifetime, through the birth and destruction of multiple universes, as I have, and-”
“I’m not doing this,” Simon pushed himself to his feet.
“What is it that you are are doing, exactly?” the Dark Man asked. “Do you even know? You don’t. You’ve been torn between so many. Tommy. Azmodai. The Dark One. Even myself.”
“I pity you. You were never evil. Not truly. All you ever wanted…was peace.”
“I said shut up.”
“Poor decisions, poor friends, poor mentors, led you to where you are now.”
Simon used his TK powers to grab Akuma by the throat and lift him off his feet.
Akuma merely smiled. “Of course you are angry. All of existence is angry. Spinning out of control in an endless cycle, an endless loop, one that you can break. Do what Tommy would not. Burn the Wheel of Time to ash. And reshape all of existence into a new reality. One of stillness. One of peace. One of death.”
Simon released his grip. He breathed deeply but said nothing.
Akuma took advantage of the silence. “Doesn’t death sound appealing as an alternative to the cruelty of your life?”
“I’ve seen what comes after death.” Simon shook his head. “Hell…”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” the Dark Man said. “I am speaking of True Death. Void. Stillness. To break the Wheel of Time into pieces would break the realms of Heaven and Hell. Only death would remain. Peace…”
“I’m not playing your…” He hesitated. Yes, Simon wanted to die. A true death. An end to it all. “I’m not playing your games.”
“It’s not a game, Simon.” Akuma walked closer to Simon, stopping mere inches away. “This is what will save all of humanity.”
Simon kept his head low and eyes down. He said nothing.
“There’s something you’re not telling me…” Akuma said. “Something you’re having trouble accepting. You’ve seen it, haven’t you? The Final Prophecy. The Ultimate Secret.”
Simon knitted his brow. Anxiety clutched his throat, but he said nothing. He nodded.
“I see,” the Dark Man said. “And what did it show you?”
Simon lifted his head and looked Death in the eyes. “Purpose.”
Mikhail had aimed Tommy in the right direction.
Next, the Saint needed recruits to plead with the remnants of Simon’s humanity. He chose Zadie, the Red Python; Eiji, the Silver Overdrive Ranger; Ryan, the holder of the Gao Yellow and Kamen Rider Faiz powers; Shirogane, Gao Silver; Simon’s brother Samuel, the Golden Knight Garo; the Hurricane Rangers Justin, Rachel, Hunter, Blake, Kou, and Simon’s half-sister Lauren; and the Gao Rangers Michael, Timothy, and Saiya.
Simon stood in the ruins of Angel Grove Central, cluttered with debris from buildings and temples. Black trees and vines grew from the rubble. And a few skeletal buildings and skyscrapers still stabbed upward from the landscape.
The Dark One’s voice stabbed into his mind. DO IT.
Simon cursed beneath his breath. “Stop talking, you son of a bitch.”
DO IT, the Dark One said. TAKE YOUR TRUE FORM AND DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU MUST DO.
Simon rolled his hands into fists. Could he really…?
Teleportation bursts flashed around him.
To his right, he saw his former Gao Ranger teammates: Michael, Gao Black; Saiya, Gao White, and Timothy, Gao Blue. Ryan, Gao Yellow, and Shirogane, Gao Silver, walked alongside Eiji, the Silver Overdrive Ranger, Zadie, the Red Python, and Samuel, Simon’s brother and wearer of the Golden Knight Garo armor.
To his left, he saw his former Hurricane teammates: Justin, Hurricane Yellow; Rachel, Hurricane Blue; Hunter, Crimson Thunder; Blake, Navy Thunder, Kou, Hurricane Green and Lauren Shiba, Simon’s sister and holder of his old Hurricane Red powers.
Simon stepped back and narrowed his eyes. “Is this an intervention?”
“Something like that,” Samuel said.
“I’m not in the mood,” Simon said.
“We’re here to help you,” Samuel said. “The way you helped me when I was with the Hellfire Knights. Remember that? You pulled me out of a really dark place. Let me be the one to help you this time.”
Simon scoffed. “You’re the one who always wanted to stop the world from spinning out of control.”
“And you taught me that that can’t happen by playing god,” Samuel said. “What you’re trying to do…”
“Will work,” Simon said. “You’re still naive, Sammy.”
“I’m not naive for believing in you.” He stepped closer and placed his hands on his brother’s shoulders. “For believing in us.”
Simon swatted Samuel’s hands away and stepped back. “Don’t.”
“Simon…” Lauren said as she stepped closer to her brother. “Come home…”
Simon shook his head. “It’s too late.”
“It’s never too late,” Saiya said. “It’s never too late to fight back, and to keep fighting. You taught me that.”
Michael nodded. “Never give up, right?”
Simon scoffed. “I always hated it when you said that.”
The reminder filled Simon with rage; anger at his younger self and time as a Gao Ranger. Anger he could ever be so foolish as to believe he could be a hero.
He tightened his fists and ignited the darkness within his animal spirit. Demonic ninja armor covered his body. The armor appeared black with the slightest hints of purple and violet. Spikes extended from the knees and elbows. A tattered cloak wrapped around his neck, and his eyes glowed red above his black mask. His silver headpiece and helmet looked styled after a hawk. He carried his black katana.
The others morphed, just as Simon attacked.
Simon charged through a burst of black energy, battering Gao Blue, Gao White and Gao Black.
Gao Silver and Gao Yellow armed their swords and leapt to attack. Simon snapped around and swung his sword wide, slashing the heroes from the air with bursts of spark.
Titan Silver and Red Python moved at him from opposite sides.
“Silver Slash!” Titan Silver swung his Drive Detector through a streak of silver power that fired an energy blade.
“Serpent Sting!” Red Python swung her daggers and fired darts of crimson energy.
Simon swatted the blasts from the air and stabbed his sword to the ground. Shadow tendrils sprouted beneath Titan Silver and Red Python, wrapped around their bodies, and exploded with bursts of spark.
Garo grabbed Simon’s arms from behind.
“Knock it off!” the Golden Knight shouted.
Simon smashed the back of helmet against Garo’s faceplate, sending him staggering backward. The villain whipped around with a hook kick that bashed the Golden Knight’s head, whipping him aside.
Hurricane Red and Crimson Thunder leapt at Simon from ahead, as Navy Thunder and Hurricane Green leapt at him from behind. Simon recognized the pattern, meant to keep his attention split. It didn’t work.
“Darkness Burst!” He erupted with a shock wave of black energy that bashed the four Hurricane Rangers backward, explosions sparking against their armor.
Hurricane Yellow tunneled beneath the ground and shot up near Simon’s feet; Simon expected the attack and slashed the Yellow Ranger aside.
Anger burned through Simon’s veins. “Is this really what you want? You can’t just leave me alone?!”
Hurricane Yellow rolled into a crouched position. “Stop trying to kill us all, then we can talk. Come on, man, we’re your friends!”
Simon snapped a volley of shadow shuriken; they stabbed Hurricane Yellow with bursts of spark that whipped him backward.
Hurricane Red leapt at Simon from the side.
“Fire Blade!” She swung her sword through a streak of energy that fired a super-heated blade of wind.
Simon dodged, and Hurricane Red pressed forward. She swung her palm.
“Whirling Flame!” She fired a pulse of superheated air that burst into flames and shot towards Simon.
The former Ranger swatted the blast away as casually as he would a bug.
“Simon.” Hurricane Red shifted into a defensive stance. “Let us-”
Simon tightened his hand into a fist. Invisible energy forced Hurricane Red to bend backward, nearly breaking her back.
The villain narrowed his eyes. “You might be related to me by blood, but I don’t know you. So don’t try to manipulate me. I won’t-”
Crimson Thunder hurled a bolt of shadow energy that smashed Simon with a burst of spark and sent him staggering aside, releasing his grip on the Red Ranger.
The Crimson Thunder Ranger armed his staff and shot forward to attack.
“Don’t touch her.” He swung his staff through streaks of crimson-tinted shadow energy that Simon blocked, parried and dodged.
Simon hopped backward. He fired a TK burst that slammed Crimson Thunder with the force of a battering ram, hurling him backward. He crashed into a nearby building.
Gao White swung her Tiger Baton towards Simon’s head. Hurricane Blue slashed her sword towards Simon’s side. Simon grabbed Gao White’s wrist, kicked Hurricane Blue’s head, and flipped the White Gao Ranger to the ground. He turned and slashed the Blue Hurricane Ranger off her feet.
Hurricane Blue tumbled, rolled to her feet, and lunged.
“Water Palm Blade!” She thrust her palm with a blade of water.
Simon grabbed her arm, twisted, and round-kicked her ribs, sending her staggering.
“Bastard!” Navy Thunder charged his staff with electricity and shot towards Simon.
Simon flipped backward, kicking the Navy Thunder Ranger upside the head. The villain landed and spun, slashing Navy Thunder with a burst of spark that whipped him backward.
Gao Silver and Titan Silver chopped; Simon blocked; Their blades pressed against one another. The Silver Gao Ranger leaned in close.
“That’s enough, Simon,” he said. “End this.”
“You first.” He bashed them away with a wave of dark power.
Red Python dashed at him with a flying spin kick. Simon ducked beneath the kick and slashed upward, striking Red Python with a burst of spark that whipped her to the ground.
Simon snapped around just in time to block a strike from Hurricane Green. The Green Ranger pressed his blade down hard against Simon’s sword.
“I know what you’re going through, Simon,” Hurricane Green said. “I know what it’s like to have darkness inside of you.”
Simon tightened his grip on his sword. “Do you know what it’s like to feel the darkness inside of everyone else? To have that overwhelming feeling of despair and pain weigh down on you every day for your entire life?”
He dashed and swung wide. Hurricane Green parried and countered. Their blades clashed and clanged as they circled around one another.
The Green Hurricane Ranger hopped backward to gain distance.
“Sonic Blade!” He swung his sword through a streak of power that fired an energy blade at Simon. Simon swatted the blade aside and hurled a darkness pulse that bashed the Green Ranger backward.
Nearby, Gao Yellow used his sword for balance and climbed to his feet. He powered down his armor with a flash of yellow light and tossed his morpher aside.
“OK,” he said between breaths. “That’s enough.”
He armed his Rider belt, flipped open his Faiz Caller and input the code 5-5-5: “STANDING BY.”
“Awaken.” He slid his Caller into his buckler, which spoke the command: “AWAKEN”
Energy flashed around him as he morphed into Kamen Rider Faiz.
He lunged at Simon with a flurry of punches and kicks that the villain blocked. Simon swung his blade upward, slashing Faiz with a burst of spark that whipped him off his feet.
Faiz crashed and tumbled into a crouched stance.
He attached his Faiz Pointer onto his right anklet’s Energy Holster, which spoke the command: “EXCEED CHARGE”
He leapt through the air with a flying side-kick that projected a cone of energy. The kick shot towards Simon. But the villain managed to grab Faiz by the leg, flip him overhead, and smash him against the ground.
Faiz rolled to his feet and armed his sword, the red-bladed Faiz Edge. The Rider lunged and slashed through a streak of energy. Simon blocked, grabbed the Rider by the throat, and smashed him back-first against the ground.
Simon punched Faiz’s faceplate, knocking him out.
The villain lowered his blade and looked out across the battlefield. His former teammates had fallen, injured.
Zadie powered down her armor and climbed to her knees. She looked up at Simon with an expression he’d never seen on her face. Sincere sorrow. And something else. A broken heart. Simon felt her emotions wash over him.
“Simon…” she whispered. “I loved you. I’m…sorry.”
Simon powered down his armor. Anger swelled in his chest. And pain. “You loved me? Zadie, you were my first…everything. My only. You brought me out of my shell. You helped me become the person I am.” He looked down at his fists. “I can never forgive you for that.”
He reached out his hand. His TK grabbed Gao Silver and lifted him by the throat. Energy flashed around the Ranger as his armor powered down.
Simon tightened his fist.
“Look at him closely,” Simon said. “This is what we all are.”
Energy flashed around Shirogane and returned him to the form of the cursed wolf-man known as Zen’aku.
Simon released his grip.
Zen’aku landed, armed his Crescent Blade, and charged to attack Simon’s former teammates.
Simon turned and walked away.
To be continued…