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Thread: [AdvanceShipping] PKM Rangers: Rise of the Dark Gems [Updated, PG-13]

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    Default Chapter 28

    Author's Note: I've been gone a while, and for that I apologize. When I started this project to catch up the series as I worked on new chapters, I really did intend to post new content pretty much every day so Advance fans could enjoy regularly updated content. The past few weeks have been hard on me, to an extent that I've been absolutely unable to work on anything, and I've only just started getting back into my routine. My grandfather got progressively sicker over the past few weeks, and he passed away last Sunday, and that really hit me hard. He was a good man, and the reason I have a master's degree, and it was a very painful experience that utterly sucked any joy that I had right out of me, and I didn't want to write in that mood. This isn't an excuse, and I'm not sure why I'm spilling my guts out to people over the Internet, but I know people read this and people enjoy it so I wanted you to understand why updates sort of abruptly stopped.

    Man, that really kills the mood, doesn't it? Why don't we enjoy a chapter?

    Morph Twenty-Eight: Welcome to Ranger Downs

    In the northern villages of Snowpeak, there is virtually no civilization.

    Beyond the city, further north than most people care to venture, was a man standing in the middle of a snowy forest. He wore little protection against the elements, his chest was bare and his pants were insolated only as far as they would not grow damp from the snow that covered him. His boots were of a similar substance, they would not cling to the snow or get wet.

    On the man's neck was a chain which had a bright emerald glittering from it.

    Max Birch glanced towards the eastern sky, the sun was not quite up yet. No matter, he thought. He was almost finished with his morning training, he just needed a quick reflex test to ensure he was still fighting fit.

    He had been in the mountains, living with the villagers, for over a year. They were kind and treated him well, mostly because he protected them from the wild Pokemon that would occasionally attack the village. It was for this reason he was standing with his back to the small, sleepy village. If any of the massive Pokemon he normally faced were about, they normally attacked at this time, just before everyone rose from sleep.

    "Come on," whispered the man. His hand strayed to the emerald on his neck and he touched its surface. In the year that had past he had grown fond of the precious evil gem and the gem had grown fond of him. Now there was little they could not accomplish together.

    Patience, whispered the gem in his mind, they were not far away.

    The first Mamoswine emerged two minutes later and Max bared his teeth. He had not morphed, he did not believe there would be a need to. Gradually over the year he had learned to fight without the aid of the transformation that overtook his mind. It bellowed at him, as the Mamoswine often did when they saw him.

    Max just growled right back.

    It was much bigger than a regular Mamoswine, this one was at least ten feet tall. Max placed his hands on the belt he wore and retrieved two Poke Balls. "Go," he ordered, "Grovyle and Mightyena!" He tossed both into the air and they exploded, revealing a green lizard and a wild dog. He caught both his Poke Balls and returned them to his belt.

    The two Pokemon stood just in front of their trainer, awaiting orders as expected. They were already analyzing the enemy in front of them. Mightyena bared its fangs, eager for the flank meat of the Mamoswine. Grovyle merely waited calmly, its eyes looking for any weak spots on the beast's body.

    "Okay, you guys know the drill," said Max. "Take it down fast and be on alert for any others. Grovyle, watch out for the Blizzard attack. Mightyena, Bite the hell out of them. Understood?" Mightyena barked its reply, while Grovyle simply nodded. "Good. Let's go when it approaches the marker."

    The marker, a specific distance that Max allowed the Mamoswine to remain at before he attacked, was located roughly one hundred feet away from where he was standing. It was marked by a few of the last trees of the surrounding forest, and after a few steps the big lummox Pokemon had indeed surpassed it. Time to go to work, thought Max.

    He reared and charged for the beast with his Pokemon in tow.

    His Pokemon dashed ahead of him while Max found the perfect spot to hold his ground. This was, after all, only the first one of the day, and he rarely got a chance to go all out on a single target. The Mamoswine trumpeted its approach and its deadly tusks glinted in the sunlight. Max took in a deep breath, pacing himself.

    When the tusks got close enough Max grabbed them. Each muscle in his body strained as he forced the beast to halt with only the power of his hands. The beast itself was surprised, and its eyes opened wider when Max used its confusion to throw it off balance and topple it to the ground with a simple jerk of his arms.

    "Now!" he shouted. Grovyle jumped up and smashed into Mamoswine with a full barrage of Bullet Seed. The beast groaned as its vital joints were blasted again and again. It tried hard to get back up but Mightyena was on top of it, forcing it to struggle in vain to regain its balance.

    Max walked up and drew back his fist. A second later it smashed against the swine's face, right between its eyes. Its mind reeled and it was conscious no more.

    Max turned to his team. "Good work." He heard a rumbling in a distance. "We'd better get ready. Sounds like the herd's on its way."

    To handle the herd of Mamoswine, morphing would be required. One or two he could handle with his Pokemon, but a herd of ten would require aid from the Dark Emerald itself.

    He turned to his Pokemon. "Okay, guys, let's try out that new fusion trick we've been working on."

    "Grov…" murmured his Grovyle with approval. Mightyena signaled its willingness through a bark and the wagging of its tail.

    Max felt the chains slink around his arm, across his shoulder, and down his other arm. The Dark Emerald was eager to please, and Max was eager to fight. He pressed the gem into his flesh.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The man exploded in an emerald fire, and out of the Gallade's shade emerged the Dark Emerald Ranger. His Pokemon surrounded him, ensuring he was adapting to the transformation and could control himself. After a few seconds of intensive breathing, the monster relaxed and looked to his Pokemon. They both nodded.

    The ranger released his chains at the urging of the Dark Emerald. They wrapped around both Grovyle and Mightyena, slowly bonding with their bodies. Eventually both Pokemon flashed green and seemed to disappear into the chains, which returned to their normal length around the monster's arms.

    Suddenly the monster grunted as if in pain. Its hands began convulsing, changing, transforming. The fingers melded together and grew, shifting into something completely alien. For the right hand, a set of vicious teeth emerged, followed by the face of a Mightyena. It snapped at the air while, on the left, a Grovyle's head emerged, nipping at the air just as the Mightyena head was. Each head had a set of dimly lit green eyes.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger seemed to laugh in his strange, Gallade tongue, then focused his attention on the onslaught of enemies headed his way. There were twelve Mamoswine, all intent on stampeding through the village.

    He crouched low and raised his left arm, pointing the Grovyle's face at the first few beasts. They would not remain standing long enough to even get to him.

    Bullet Seed ripped out of the head and smashed through the trees and Mamoswine. Unlike Grovyle's regular attack, it was reinforced by the Dark Emerald, and blasted out with the speed and strength of armor piercing machine gun rounds. He heard their screams as they faltered and fell. The five that managed to make it through surrounded him, intent on ending the battle with his head on their tusks.

    The leader, the one with the biggest tusks, roared to the others. The Dark Emerald Ranger's only response was to lift the Mightyena head over his head and open the snapping jaws wide.

    Just as they charged, the ranger fired a Dark Impulse. It struck each Mamoswine with a dark purple ring of energy and they flinched, giving him just enough time to raise the Grovyle head again and fire Bullet Seed a second time. With the close range, it did not take him long to clear the field of all the beasts. Each of them fell.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger waited. Eventually the beasts rose, but seeing him decided to take a different route in their migration. Beaten and disgraced, they would never come back to the village, lest they face him. Only one of them looked back to him, but the Grovyle face was trained on it and the beast charged away before its pride could be wounded again.

    When the sun set, the monster released his Pokemon from his hands. Grovyle and Mightyena scratched themselves as they waited for their trainer to demorph. Max Birch emerged from the inside of the creature, utterly exhausted. Keeping up the transformation for hours was tough work, but he was getting used to it. Sometimes he was even in control, and he always remembered the fights even when he wasn't. He was beginning to get a better sense of partnership with his Dark Gem, something he and the gem were quite happy about.

    He turned to his Pokemon. "Good work," he said and held up his Poke Balls. The Pokemon vanished in two flashes of red light.

    He put the balls away and grinned. "Who knew that the Dark Emerald had such an awesome skill?" he wondered aloud. All Dark Gems were, on some level, capable of taking in foreign material and utilizing it. That was how they absorbed Pokemon souls and activated the ranger form that was Max's Chained Form. But to actually temporarily absorb Pokemon, and bring them out safely when finished, that was an entirely different thing. Came in handy though, but he never seemed to be able to use it on Pokemon he didn't own.

    "Guess it's a friendship-slash-trust thing," he said. After all, the Dark Emerald was based on his dearest Pokemon, Gallade, it made sense that the only Pokemon he could absorb were ones he had an emotional attachment to. "I wonder what's for dinner tonight…" Normally it was something salty, but he never complained. He was being fed and clothed and housed for free.

    Well, not exactly free…Max thought fondly of who was waiting for him and the Dark Emerald whispered hungrily in the night. Already the sun had waned and above him he could see the beginnings of twilight forming.

    Aisha was at the stove, exactly as he predicted, cooking salted pork and what vegetables had been saved for the winter months. Max could bet money it was potatoes, those always seemed to do the best in the village during this time. He could see little of her because she always wore a massive amount of clothing, but knew from the months he had been in the village exactly what was hiding underneath.

    He closed the door to the house behind him and walked up behind her, nuzzling her ear. "Back so soon?" she asked, in a voice that was as sweet as honey. He found himself tangled in her long, raven-black hair as she turned to face him with a smile. She kissed his nose. "My little monster, did you get rid of the herd?"

    He nodded nonchalantly. "Wasn't too much trouble."

    "For us it is," she said. "You do the work of twenty men at this time of year. It's saved us so much. There's no way we could repay you."

    He grinned. "Oh, I can think of a few ways. And only two of them involve us with clothes on."

    She grinned right back. "How many involve us without clothes?"

    He thought for a moment. "About a hundred and thirty-five."

    She laughed and said, "My, someone has a vivid imagination. We'd better wait for dinner though, I don't want the food to burn."

    Max seemed to disagree. "True, Aisha, but I can always multitask."

    "Max, I think you'd better be patient. Sit down and watch me cook, I promise waiting has its virtues too."

    Max did wait, and found he did not have to for long to find out what exactly those virtues were.

    It was not until several hours later, almost near the brink of day, that Max awoke. His Dark Emerald often told him to do so, not wanting to miss a moment that could have been spent fighting lying in bed with Aisha. But this time the wakeup was different, like the Dark Emerald was expecting something else, something sinister.

    He reached for the gem instantly, but found he didn't need it. It was the communicator, the one 0 and the others had given to him, that was flashing urgently. Using as much care as possible not to wake the sleeping Aisha, Max reached over to the bedside table and put it to his ear.

    He listened to the message and his eyes widened.

    He didn't even think of waiting. He got out of bed as quietly as he could and found his clothes. Most of them were not built for the cold but that wouldn't be a problem. Not for him, anyway. They were the very clothes he had been wearing the night they had left from PKM, so they looked a lot like the PKM Ranger civilian uniform, only with a green tint. 415 had said something about him not being a real ranger, so he didn't get a real outfit.

    He put on the jacket and rubbed his brows. Now came the difficult part.

    "You have to go, don't you?" He looked up, Aisha was staring at him. Her eyes weren't angry, or sad, but somewhat depressed. He nodded. "You're needed for something else…"

    "My friends need me again," he explained. "I need to help them." He was about to say more, but Aisha hushed him and walked over. She covered herself with blankets from their bed.

    "Take me with you," she said.

    He shook his head. "I can't do that, Aisha. You know I can't. These people I have to fight, they kill the people my friends and I care about. I can't put you in that kind of danger. I'm sorry."

    Reluctantly, she nodded her head. "Yes, I know," she murmured and hugged him. "I just…wanted to try anyway."

    Max lifted her chin with a slight touch of his hand. "Aisha, I can't thank you enough for taking something like me in. Just remember that, okay?"

    "'Something like you'? Max, you're a person, just like anyone else. Only you're a person who is the savior of our village. You're a hero, Max."

    Max smiled, remembering the time he and Serena had saved Sarah, the first night he had considered himself a hero. "Thanks, Aisha. For everything." He put his glasses on and pushed them up to the bridge of his nose.

    He grabbed his bag, which contained all his earthly possessions, and walked out the door. Aisha watched him go, and only when he was out of sight did she permit a single tear to fall from her eye.

    "I hope one day you find someone who can tame you, you wild beast," she whispered to the wind.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena Brine tossed herself onto the other side of the bed.

    Her partner, a young gardener she had seduced from the hotel staff, merely grinned widely and chuckled. His entire body was drenched with sweat and seemed to gleam in the glow of the afternoon sun. He continued to gaze upon her perfect, sensuous form.

    "That was lovely," he whispered and nuzzled next to her. "I can barely move."

    She nodded. "Yes, I noticed." She glanced at the clock, it was quite late. "But I have dinner reservations, you're going to need to leave."

    He nodded back and got dressed. "Of course, but let me know when you want to play again." She could still hear him laughing when he closed the door behind him.

    She groaned. "Isn't there a single man on this planet who can satisfy me?" she wondered aloud. She got up and headed for the shower. "That idiot was at it for hours, what's wrong with men these days? Once they're done they think you are too." She tried hard to vigorously scrub away the last two hours of her life, it took some time but she was finally able to pull it off.

    She took it back, there was one man capable of doing the job. She smiled, it had been over a year since she'd seen him. When they'd all split up he had stowed away with his ex-wife and daughter somewhere, all her efforts to find him had yielded nothing. She blushed when she thought back on their adventures together, especially the one at the hot spring, one of the few memories even capable of enticing desire in her mind. She'd been thinking about 0 the entire time she'd been with the gardener, it was the only thing that had got her through his mediocre performance.

    She toweled off and got dressed. She wasn't jealous of May anymore, and she wasn't in love with him either. They had a family, which took precedence over her. But she had a partnership with him, and that was a big part of 0's life too. They had saved each other in battle over and over again. That was something May would never have with him.

    She giggled as she did her hair. Once again, she looked the splitting image of a princess. Out of habit she placed her com-link in her ear. "Dewgong," she said, "how long do I have to get to the restaurant?"

    The voice in her ear said, "About twenty minutes, little Serena. It shouldn't take you more than ten to get there, especially if you go by taxi."

    She nodded. "Thank you, Dewgong." She checked herself one last time in the mirror before pronouncing herself perfect one again and walked down the hallway to the elevator. She had insisted on a room at one of the higher floors, so she could have a breathtaking view. She arrived in the main lobby a minute later, where all the males within viewing distance ignored their wives, girlfriends, and work to stare at her.

    She was able to hail a taxi in moments, thanks to the glitter of her silver dress, and was at the restaurant in five minutes. She stepped out of the taxi and, her high heels clattering with each step, entered the restaurant for a truly magnificent meal. While it was true that she wasn't quite rich, neither was she very poor. The money she had saved up from her time as a ranger in PKM, plus her family's inheritance, was more than enough for Savannah Todd, her new identity. The only thing missing was the perfect eye candy draped around her waist. Preferably a big piece of Orre hunk with the ability to summon golden spandex.

    She was shown to her table by a gentleman who was a little too eager to please. He was a nice looking young man, maybe five years younger than she was, but definitely not her type. He wasn't seasoned enough. He took a bit too much time handing her the menu.

    "Thank you," she said.

    She spent the remainder of the evening in blissful silence, simply enjoying the view of Mikan Island's gorgeous starry night. The food was always excellent here, and it certainly was that night. It took her an hour to finish her meal, she wanted to savor the wine, the fruit, the meat… When at last she finished and walked out, she felt satisfied in a way that idiotic gardener would never be able to make anyone feel.

    She was just about to hail a taxi when, from behind her, she felt someone grab her. She tried to scream, but her cries were muffled by the hand that clamped over her face. Before she knew what was going on, she was in an alley with four men, not including the one who grabbed her.

    "Good find," whispered one of the men. Serena noticed that all of them were wearing black hoods.

    She groaned. Why couldn't she ever have a nice vacation?

    "Bend her over, and keep that knife on her throat." Serena felt something cool and sharp against her neck.

    Okay, boys. Let's see if you're man enough to handle me. Serena flexed the lithe but strong muscles in her arms and twisted out of the first man's grip. She heard something break, followed by soft weeping. The body fell behind her and Serena turned to the remaining three, who seemed rather dumbfounded.

    "Come on, boys," she cooed softly and cracked her knuckles. "One down, three to go." She rushed forward and punched one of the guys in the throat. He went down like a sack of potatoes. "This is too easy, I'm even wearing high heels to make it easy for you!"

    "Get her!" shouted the one on the left. He rushed forward and met an untimely end when Serena kicked him viciously in the groin. He screeched just like a little girl and fell over with tears in his eyes. Serena turned to the last one, who was shivering with fear.

    "You boys picked the wrong girl," she growled. She didn't even give him time to respond, she just smashed her heel into his face and he was knocked out.

    "Silly boys," she giggled. It was unfortunate she couldn't report them, since she couldn't expose herself to the police without blowing her cover. She could, however, kick every last one while they were still down, and she did so with gusto.

    "Little Serena," said Dewgong.

    She looked up from the thug she was beating down. "Yes, Dewgong?"

    "You have a message from the Gold Ranger. Shall I play it?"

    She nodded. "O-Of course." She felt flustered for some reason. While she listened to the message she exited the alley, and by the time she was out she'd heard it all.

    "Dewgong, book us on the first flight to Goldenrod City."

    "Of course, little Serena."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The machinery that surrounded Carol Dawson was simple and highly outdated. She typed with efficiency on a keyboard that any company with a decent budget would have replaced two years ago connected to a computer that had been operational for almost a decade, or at least it seemed like it whenever Carol tried to load anything on it. Each moment she was forced to watch a loading screen slowly crawl its blue bar to the right seemed like eternity. Eternity she could be spending being productive.

    Her cubicle looked exactly like the dozen others that surrounded it. The only noticeable difference to the casual observer might have been the absolute absence of any personal items on her desk or tacked to the cubicle walls around her. While her coworkers had photos of their families, their friends, or even comics, Carol's was completely empty. Her desk was clean, immaculately so, and free of clutter, something that could not be said about any other desk on the floor.

    Her eyes never left the computer screen. Carol was pretty, or as pretty as any girl could expect to be in a reasonable world. She wore big glasses that covered much of her upper face and underneath those massive glasses were a set of attractive blue eyes. Unlike other girls, she didn't wear makeup, but her face actually seemed to benefit from the absence of artificial assistance. Her hair was straight and neat, a strawberry blonde color that was pulled back into a tight bun. Her clothing was suitable, and completely ordinary.

    In fact, that might be the perfect word to sum up Carol Dawson: ordinary.

    She did not waver her attention, and for a full hour proceeded to type down a report regarding the coffee room abuses that had been going on in the office for the past three months. She had been asked to do this by her boss, a rather large man by the name of Reggie, who was beloved by all on the floor who wished to retain their jobs. This did not include Carol, but she did what she needed to do to make sure she had a steady paycheck.

    She finished he report and sent it off to the printer. She sighed and stood up from her desk. She exited the safety of her cubicle and approached the printer on the other side of the room. It was a monstrous, old beast, and took forever to get started. It kept Carol waiting for a whole five minutes until it finally belched out the report into Carol's waiting arms.

    "Took you long enough," she grumbled. She stapled the report together and walked through the office again. She was, for the most part, ignored by her coworkers, partially because of her cold, silent demeanor but also because they were terrified of her. And why shouldn't they be? She didn't like any of them and didn't pretend to, giving her a sense of freedom that the others undoubtedly were envious of. She marched through the maze of cubicles straight into Reggie's office. She opened the door and closed it just as quickly, dumping the report on his office without as much as a hello.

    "The report you wanted," she said briskly and turned around to exit the office.

    The man sitting behind the desk stood up. "Wait, Carol," he said. She paused and he stood up from the desk. "Carol, we need to talk about something."

    "What?" she asked, rather bluntly. Her hand reached into her pocket for a moment.

    "Carol, please," said Reggie and he gestured at the empty seat in front of his desk. With what looked like great reluctance Carol did as he asked. "Carol, I've been doing some reviews of the staff, and I think we need to have a talk about you staying on with our company."

    "Has my work been unsatisfactory? I have not received a single complaint regarding my productivity."

    He shook his head. "No, it's not that it's just…" He paused, as if he was having some difficulty in actually getting to the heart of the matter. "Carol, I've been receiving complaints from the staff here. They say you're weird and that you might be a serial killer."

    Carol's face remained remarkably placid despite the accusation. "Who said that?" she inquired innocently. "I would like to correct the misunderstanding in person."

    "Now you know I can't tell you that, but the problem is that you just don't seem to be fitting in here, Carol. Is something wrong? Are you feeling okay?"

    "Nothing is wrong, and I am in perfect health. If that is all, I think I will leave." She rose to leave, but felt Reggie grab her hand. She did not move.

    "Carol, these complaints have been coming in for months. If you don't make an effort to improve your relations with everyone, like the senior staff, we will have to let you go."

    Carol's gaze was ice cold. "Are you suggesting that I smile, make jokes, and entertain the others? While I could be working?"

    He nodded. "Yes, and-" Reggie tried to get closer, but Carol moved just far enough away.

    "What are you doing?"

    He grinned. "What do you think I am doing?"

    "I think you are abusing your power as my superior to coerce me into acts of deviance. That would why the curtains are shut and the door is locked. Am I right?"

    He grinned again. "Yes, you are."

    Carol offered a switch of a smile. "Thank you. Now then-" She lifted her hand out of her pocket, revealing a recording device she carried with her "-what do you think I should do with this?" She played back the last few seconds of audio and watched Reggie's grin transcend into a gaze of horror.

    "That's…err…you should-"

    Carol held up her hand. "Excuse me for one moment. Telephone call." She lifted her hand to the small Bluetooth device against her ear. "What? I am deciding someone's fate right now."

    "A call has just come in," said the feminine, malevolent voice. "It's from Gold. Do you want to take the message now?"

    She glanced at Reggie, who seemed to have something wrong with his face. "Yes. It is likely an emergency. Play it." For a minute, she listened to her superior's voice ring through her head. When it was finished she said, "Prepare the arrangements. I will be done here shortly."

    She turned to Reggie. "I think you get fired." She took out the recording and placed it back in her pocket. "Expect an order demanding your resignation in five minutes when I finish contacting your boss." Reggie had a weird look in his eye. "Do not try attacking me, you have no idea what I am capable of. Too bad, I was going to poker tonight." She unlocked the door and slammed it behind her, leaving a whiny fat man behind.

    She walked past the office workers, all of whom regarded her with confused looks. She headed to the elevator and went to the floor where Reggie's boss, a woman named Amanda, was sitting.

    "This is for you," said Carol when she saw Amanda. She handed her the recording and played it for her. "Reggie said to give it to you."

    "What is it?" she asked.

    "He foolishly thought he could molest me. This recording is his letter of resignation."

    Before Amanda could ask further questions, Carol was already leaving, going down the stairs to the main floor. She passed through the front doors without so much as a backward glance. She turned and headed to the nearest discreet alley.

    Making sure no one was looking, Carol lifted up her watch to her face. She pressed a button, and her face changed. Now she was green-eyed with long black hair.

    415 smiled. She was back.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Has everyone gathered?" asked Axi. His voice had an impatient tone about it.

    Bix said, "Patience, big brother. I am sure everyone is here."

    "Everyone is here that needs to be." Both Axi and Bix looked up to see the faithful face of Ame looking at them with a businesslike demeanor. "Top and Dia shall be here at any moment-ah, here they are now."

    The cavern Top and Dia entered was by no means interesting. Axi and Bix just seemed to have a particular fondness for the wilderness and for secret, dark places. Much of it was dark, the only light in the cavern came from Ame's flashlight. Axi and Bix themselves were shrouded in the darkness.

    There was little noticeable about Top and Dia. Top was very tall, almost seven feet, while Dia was very small, only four feet tall. However, it was Dia who held the duo into the cavern, while Top walked slowly behind her. He looked around the cavern, then finally came to a stop right next to Dia, who looked disgusted.

    "Why are we meeting here?" the little girl asked. She turned to Top. "Tell them I don't want to meet in stinky caves from now on!"

    Top said nothing.

    Axi jumped down and sat on the floor of the stinky cave. "Now now, little Dia. We just like camping, that's all! Now, why don't you pull up a rock and we'll get down to business."

    Dia reluctantly pointed to one of the rocks near the twins. Top moved towards it and sat down, only then did Dia dare sit, and only because it was Top's lap. She made no move towards any of the other Dark Gem Rangers.

    "What do you want us for?" asked Dia. "Can't they do the job themselves?" She pointed towards Axi and Bix, a look of disgust on her face.

    Ame shook her head. "They have explained to me-"

    "-We don't need to," said Axi, holding up his hand to interrupt her. "You're gonna do it, kiddie, and you'll do it with a smile because if you don't want to we have ways of making you."

    "Dreadful ways," whispered Bix. "Most of them involving your body. We could always harvest it for a more valuable girl."

    Top emitted a low growl from his throat. He started to get up, but one look from Dia settled him down. He continued to watch Axi and Bix carefully, patting Dia's head.

    "What do you want us to do?" Dia asked, giving Axi and Bix an ugly look.

    They grinned. "Thought you'd never ask," whispered Axi. "We've been looking for these people for over a year. Ame, give her the file."

    Ame did as she was asked and produced a small file for Dia to look through. "What exactly do you want us to do with them?"

    "Kill them. But there is an order to it."

    "An order?"

    Bix nodded. "Yes, an order. I want you to kill them all, but in a specific order. That's the contract. First, I want you to kill that boy Eme. He's been nothing but trouble and I do hate when one of us turns on our own kind."

    Axi agreed. "Next, we want May Birch to die. Destroy her, and you crush Golden Boy's spirit. Thirdly, Sarah Birch must die. It must be painful too. This will kill the Gold Ranger and render him useless to them. Then you can pick apart his team. Bring little Serena to us alive and kill the new member. Serena is the only one that can remain alive, without her our long term plans will fail."

    Dia looked up from the pages. "And what about Gold?" she asked.

    "Oh him? After you take away everything, you won't have to worry about anything. He won't even fight. You can just walk up and finish the job he started four years ago."

    Bix added, "Oh, there's one more thing. This job's for Top." He handed the big lug one more photo. "You will be messing with 0's mind."

    Dia looked up. "What's the picture, Daddy?" she asked with a giggle.

    "One of 0's friends," said Axi. "Take on his shape and screw him up. Understand?"

    Top nodded and did as he was ordered. Slowly, he face began to shift, melt, and twist into something new. His eyes narrowed and became slits his hair grew short and spiky with a brownish tint.

    "This is Brock Harrison," said Axi. "He was once a friend of our little friend the Gold Ranger."

    "He's heading for Goldenrod as we speak," added Bix, "on a trip we've sent him on thanks to a contest. Just screw with their heads a little."

    "Oh, that we can do…" Slowly, subtly, Dia began to giggle in the dank cave.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Kids, sit!"

    The individuals who surrounded the man known to the world as Keean Toby were not particularly large, but they were menacing in vast numbers. The class before him was composed of thirty children of various ages between five and ten, all of whom were driven by an overwhelming desire to test the realms of his patience. Had he not needed the money or enjoyed what he did, the adult the children addressed as Mr. Toby would have just as easily strangled some of his students for the depths to which they pursued their agenda to test his sanity to its absolute limit.

    Yet he was so large, so imposing, that often times if he was stern enough the children would do exactly as asked without complaint. It was mostly because of the goggles, which he supposed enhanced their supposed image of a demon that they had of him.

    It was an image he encouraged amongst the children, helped greatly by May's quiet, gentle appearance. Sometimes she would stop in on the class and teach a few Coordinator tricks that 0 didn't know. But the children loved her and respected her as a gentle, if somewhat firm, wife to Keean Toby and mother to Sarah, who frequented most of the classes and had befriended most of the children. And, if they ever felt that Mr. Toby was too mean, May was the one person besides Sarah that he would obey without question.

    To the girls in the class, it was a powerful lesson in family dynamics, a lesson they committed to memory. To the boys, it was a glimpse of their future, a future they couldn't see due to the onset presence of cooties they believed had been brought to the small school.

    The Gold Ranger was flanked by his two Pokemon. Tork was quite friendly with the students, and all of them seemed to take a fancy to riding on its back when there was free time. Lu, on the other hand, was respected mainly by the boys for the delicate, calm nature it had gained as it grew. It now stood over four feet tall and was getting stronger every day. Despite not having an experienced Pokemon Breeder around like Brock, it was doing just fine in 0's care.

    "Okay," he said, "you guys have a basic understanding of what a Pokemon Trainer does. They live with Pokemon and they train Pokemon for a bunch of things like battling, breeding, or just to keep them healthy. We're going to take that up a notch today."

    He smiled and held up two balls, roughly the size of human heads. He bounced them on the ground. "By a show of hands, who knows how to play Dodge Ball?" Most of the kids, only two or three didn't, raised their hands. "Well, these guys don't." 0 tossed one of the balls to Lu, who grabbed it with some slight confusion with its paws, and the other to Tork, who balanced it on top of its orange head to the delight of most of the younger children.

    "Your job, over the next week, is going to teach them to play this game. On Friday, we will have three games and the winner gets a party. With Mrs. Toby's home cooked dinner included, of course." 0 gestured at the back of the class, where his ex-wife was standing.

    "Really, Mrs. Toby?" asked one of the kids, 0 was sure his name was Devon.

    May nodded. "Of course, Devon. But you'll have to work hard as a team to train either Tork or Lu to play. Both of them are different, so you'll have to think differently depending on the Pokemon you're supposed to train."

    0 nodded. "Okay, what we're going to do is have everyone stand in a line. Tork and Lu will be picking the people on their team."

    "Why are the Pokemon picking?" asked a girl named Jasmine. "Don't trainers normally pick their Pokemon?"

    He smiled and shook his head. "Not all the time, Jasmine. Sometimes a Pokemon will pick you, and it'll become your partner. That's why Lu and Tork are picking their trainers for this exercise, so you guys can work with someone unexpected. Helps you think on your feet." Then, to make sure that still feared him, he barked, "Alright! Form a line, let's go!"

    The order was followed almost instantaneously. In no time, he saw a perfect row of children stretched over his backyard. Lu and Tork walked through the line and, seemingly randomly, picked out their trainers through a process that 0 couldn't even begin to figure out. Maybe because they knew her so well and wanted to meet new people, Sarah was picked last and went to Tork's team.

    As the children began working with Lu and Tork, 0 took the opportunity to take a small walk with May. "How's the training going?" May asked.

    He shrugged. "Kids seem to be doing okay. I think Tork and Lu should be able to keep them in line."

    "Well, I think this was a wonderful idea. You are the best trainer alive, after all. Teaching kids how to be trainers was a perfect choice for you." She grinned. "Plus, you look so cute when you're trying to be serious." 0 reddened.

    "He's trying to be serious? That's adorable!"

    0, even if he had been able to activate Agility, wouldn't have had enough time to stop what launched herself at him and pinned him to the ground. The Gold Ranger was almost ready to transform, then he saw his attacker.

    "Silver," he grumbled, "why do we always have to meet via tackling?"

    Serena shrugged. "Tradition?" She looked up at a somewhat embarrassed May and smiled. "Hi, May. How ya been?"

    "Oh, just fine, Serena. Mind getting off my husband?"

    "Oh, did you guys get married again?" She got up and dusted herself off. "Was it a big wedding? Why didn't you wait for the rest of us?"

    "We're not technically married," grunted 0 as he heaved himself back to his feet. "That's our cover." He turned to Lu and made sure that the Pokemon were capable of handling the children. "Come on, let's go inside."

    He led Serena and May back into the house. "Wow, this place is huge!" cooed Serena as she took it all in. "You've been living the sweet life, 0."

    "I wouldn't say that. I still work."

    "Yeah, saw the kids outside, guessing that they're not all yours."

    May nodded. "We look after the local children as a kind of daycare. 0 teaches them about Pokemon training and I give a few tips for the future Coordinators in the group."

    "Cool. What're your names now?"

    "Keean and May Toby."

    "Keean Toby again? What's your deal with that name?"

    0 shrugged. "It sounds nice and I can't use my legal name. It would bring trouble."

    "Good point," said Serena. "So, where's Max and 415?"

    "We don't know," May replied.

    "We do."

    Serena, May, and 0 turned to the door. Standing at the doorway was a tall man with black hair and glasses. Next to him was a smaller, but still threatening looking woman with short brown hair with matching eyes. Max had his bag slung over his shoulder while 415 had a neat suitcase rolling near her feet.

    "Max!" 0 stood up and walked over to shake his hand. For some reason, Max seemed bigger than he had been, older too. There was a wild look in the former Gym Leader's eyes that 0 recognized, had once seen in himself. His hair was untamed and savage, though possibly a bit shorter than it had been over a year ago.

    "In the flesh," Max said with a grin. "Only managed to get killed once today, so I'm doing well."

    "Once? What happened?" May asked. 0 parted from him to allow him a brief reunion with his sister. "Are you alright?" She hugged him with a chuckle.

    He hugged her back. "Oh yeah. Just happened when I ran into 415 on the way here. She greeted me in the traditional fashion."

    0 turned to 415, whose facial features as always betrayed nothing. "What did you do?" he asked.

    "Nothing permanent."

    "What?"

    "He recognized my morpher but did not identify himself. He approached me from behind and surprised me. I snapped his neck, thinking he was a Dark Gem. I was right."

    "Did anyone see this?"

    She shook her head. "Nobody."

    Max rubbed his neck. "It still stings, you know. Least you could do is warn me before you go around snapping my neck."

    "If I could crush the Dark Emerald, I would. Make no mistake about that. Would you prefer a more permanent end to our quarrels?"

    "What quarrels? I haven't seen you for a year and the first thing you do is try to kill me?"

    "Lovebirds," murmured Serena, "do you need to be grounded by 0 and me?"

    "We are not lovebirds," protested Max.

    415 nodded. "I finally agree on something the Dark Gem suggests."

    "Well, then…stop bickering like two kids. We're here for business, not a family reunion."

    "Thank you," said 0. "May, do you think you could watch the kids and make sure that Lu and Tork don't get hurt? I'm just going to fill them in on what's going on."

    May nodded. "Of course. Come out when you're done. It's good that we have three new teachers." She left.

    "Not a bad idea…" muttered 0.

    "What?" asked Max.

    "Nothing, I'll explain later. For now, let's go to Ranger Downs."

    "Ranger Downs?" asked Serena.

    0 nodded. "Ranger Downs."

    He led them to the bookshelf and found Brock's book. He pulled it out and revealed the hidden pathway behind it. "We have outlined this house with metal and enough bulletproof glass to keep an army outside. Short of nuclear weapons, nobody can even get through the front door if I don't want them to."

    "Good plan," said Max. "If those Dark Gems know where you are, that could come in handy."

    "Yeah. Now then, Ranger Downs will be acting as our base of operations from now on." He led them down the corridor and down the stairs to the base. "It is designed with technology that Bakaguru sent to me before he died. It has a teleporter, hacking equipment, basically everything the lab had at PKM."

    There was a whistle from Max when he saw the base. "You built all this?" he asked.

    0 nodded. "Not too hard. Bakaguru modified the technology so it could be built out of practically anything. The teleporter runs on the garbage disposal. Even works two ways now, as long as we're morphed. Well, everyone except for Max. Don't know if it can pick up the Dark Emerald's signal yet. Hope that's not a problem."

    Max shook his head. "No, used to being treated differently by now. I'll just grab on to someone if we need to teleport somewhere."

    "That could work," said 0.

    "No," said 415, "it would not. The teleporter might scramble the particles on the return trip, and nobody wants to be grafted onto a Dark Gem."

    "Good point. Max walks home."

    Max groaned. "Fine. But I'm going to need a bus pass if you expect me to walk all the way home from Goldenrod."

    "Do not give it to him."

    "Shut up."

    Max turned to the Gold Ranger. "0, do you have a battle arena in this place?"

    0 nodded. "Yes, I designed it so we could train without anyone noticing. Why?"

    "Because I really want to fight 415." He turned to the other ranger and gave her an ugly look. "And when I beat her, maybe she'll see that maybe she's the weak ranger after all."

    415 said, "I will not sully myself by fighting the monster. It would serve no purpose other than to remind him of his inferiorly constructed Ranger System."

    Max cracked his knuckles. "Please let me do it, 0. Oh please, oh please, oh please…"

    0 looked to Serena. "You up for dinner and a show?" he asked.

    "Oh we haven't been on a date in years. I'd love to."

    "Please let go of my hand."

    "I will not."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Go Uncle Max!"

    Sarah's shouting drowned out most of Serena and May's effort to catch up. The women sat by the sidelines of what looked like a Pokemon battle field, only it had a rubber surface designed for tough combat. At one end stood Max Birch, powerful and imposing. On the other was 415, stoically calm as always. 0 stood in the center, he would act as referee in the match.

    "So," Serena said, "how are you and 0 doing?"

    May shrugged. "We sleep in the same room again. For the longest time he stayed on the couch when he…rests, I guess that's the word for it because he still won't wean himself off the drug. Or he was working on the house. He still leaves, late at night, I don't know why."

    "I think I do. He always used to leave when we were partners. He's on the lookout again, looking for the Dark Gems. He knows they know where you are. I suppose he wants to even the odds a little."

    "Mommy! They're getting ready! They're getting ready!"

    415 lifted her morpher and activated it. The Ranger Black armor grafted onto her instantly.

    Max wrapped his chains around his arms. "Let's go," he growled. His eyes flashed just the slightest bit of green. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two Poke Balls, releasing Mightyena and Grovyle.

    "What are those and why do they need releasing?" 415 asked.

    Max grinned. "New toy," he said. "I'd be glad to beat you up with it."

    0 sighed. Why did every day nowadays seem to include a fight? "Is this really necessary?"

    "Yes," said 415. "The Dark Gem needs to learn his place."

    "Let's just get this over with," growled Max. "I'm ready."

    "Well, then begin!"

    "Go Uncle Max!" screamed Sarah.

    Max pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger emerged just in time to lift his hand to deflect a punch from the Black Ranger. Grovyle and Mightyena scattered, circling the fight just in case they were needed. The Dark Emerald Ranger growled under its breath and smashed 415 in the face.

    "Laaaade," he hissed, as 415 recovered. "Galla."

    "Speak English," 415 retorted. "Luxray, the Magnet Mace."

    A massive weapon materialized in her hand with a narrow handle and a massive blunt end with spikes covering it. She shouldered the weapon, it almost seemed too big for her, and swung it when the Dark Emerald Ranger got too close. His neck broke but healed instantly. He recovered just in time to avoid the mace's smash against the floor.

    "Galla Galla," growled the dark ranger.

    415 readied the giant mace again. "Come and get me," she said coldly.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger snarled and shot his chains out. He grabbed hold of the Magnet Mace and tore it out of her hands. It crashed into the ground at his feet and he growled with approval before retracting his chains.

    "Luxray, retrieve that," 415 ordered. She lowered her hand and her ranger spirit activated the magnetic strips inside her uniform's gloves. The mace tore through the air and she caught it by the handle.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger howled and suddenly Grovyle was at his side. Mightyena continued to watch from a distance. The dark ranger wrapped the chains of his left arm around Grovyle and absorbed the Pokemon. His hand again transformed into the Pokemon's face, his fingers melding into teeth and lips.

    "That's new," said 0 with interest.

    Sarah turned to May. "Mom, did Uncle Max just tape a Pokemon head to his hand?"

    "I…don't know," whispered May.

    Serena was astounded. "What kind of training did he go through this past year?"

    The Grovyle head's lips opened and the machinegun-like fire of Bullet Seed exploded forth. 415 grunted as she was pelted with hundreds of seeds and the dark ranger snickered as she dropped her mace.

    "Laaaaaade!" roared Max as he charged forward. The chain of his right arm fired out and grabbed 415 by her legs. They twisted and twined until she couldn't escape and she fell over. The chain continued to wrap until she couldn't even budge an inch. The Dark Emerald Ranger's charge slowed to a walk, until finally he stood in front of her.

    415 looked into the glowing green eyes of the Grovyle's head then shifted her gaze to the helmet Max wore.

    Max was breathing heavily when he demorphed. Grovyle separated from his body and reappeared by his side and the chain faded into the necklace Max wore. His face was ragged and beneath his glasses she saw the strain it had taken to reign himself in.

    "I'm…" He was breathing heavily. "I'm not one of them. Understand me. I'm not a monster."

    He walked away. 415, watching him go, could almost see the faint outline of the Gallade's shade that mimicked his every motion, and quivered with rage.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  2. #52
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    Default Chapter 29, Part 1

    Author's Note: Sorry for another delay, got sick and backlogged on papers for my classes.

    Morph Twenty-Nine: Top Steals a Present, Part 1

    The night was far from young.

    Jenny glanced out of the window of her car. There weren't many other people out driving, she was basically alone on Goldenrod's often-crowded streets. The police officer sighed and tried to turn on the radio, but after a moment decided against it. At this hour, all that would be playing would be the techno music that she understood the young people were fans of these days.

    She glanced at the passenger's seat. Seated in a special harness was a small Pokemon, a little Fire type by the name of Growler. Its mane was a little grey these days, it was an older but trustworthy Pokemon and, personally, Jenny would rather have no one else as her partner. It growled softly at the buildings they passed through its tired eyes.

    "Yeah, it is kind of late, huh," said Jenny. The Growlithe nodded its head in agreement. "I promise, we'll just spend a few minutes at the office then we'll go straight home." It growled appreciatively at the prospect of an early night.

    They arrived at police headquarters, Goldenrod division, five minutes later. The building was still lit up, so someone had to be there working the night shift. She let Growler out first and followed her Pokemon into the offices. She passed Vasquez at the front desk and marched towards her private office. She had a smile on her face, but all of the police officers she passed were well aware of the fact that she was tired and didn't bother her.

    She was grateful for that and closed the door to her office behind her. She briefly glanced at the wall, where she had a family photo framed, then headed straight to her desk with its mountain of paperwork waiting for her. Growler, after a moment, headed straight for its basket on the end of the room. It circled the basket thrice and pawed at it, trying to get the perfect comfort out of the pillow, then stretched out and curled up into a little ball and went to sleep.

    Jenny looked at it and sighed. "Wish it was that easy for me." She picked up the first piece of paper she could reach. It was a memo about the fire that had been reported in Aura Town almost two weeks ago. She didn't like thinking about it, it made her stomach uneasy. It had been reported originally as an accident, but evidence was showing up suggesting a struggle might have taken place beforehand.

    She put aside the paper, she didn't want to deal with something like that. The suggestion that there were people in the world who could commit such violent acts… "What is the world coming to?" she asked Growler. It offered only a slightly louder snore and began pawing at the air.

    She reached for another paper, this one was about the failed robbery of the Goldenrod Central Bank. This she could handle, she thought. She had just started reading the report when the lights in her office flickered. She looked up just in time to see them go out, plunging the police headquarters into darkness.

    "Oh come on!" she shouted and stood up. Growler woke up and started to growl softly. "What is it, Growler?" It began barking, and Jenny started reaching for the desk drawer with her gun.

    "Do not attempt to arm yourself," said a mechanized voice in the darkness. It almost jolted her with surprise. "We apologize for the interruption. We had no choice."

    Growler started moving towards the figure in the dark. Jenny couldn't make him out, but she could see as his circular-shaped head shifted its attention towards Growler and began barking, exactly like a Pokemon. Growler stopped growling and sat down next to the figure.

    "Who are you and what do you want?" Jenny asked. "I can have the entire squad here in seconds if I scream."

    "Please don't scream." Jenny was surprised, this voice was a female's. She began making out a figure standing in front of the man who had barked at Growler and calmed him down. "We don't mean any harm, we just want to talk."

    Jenny calmly sat down back behind her desk. "Talk, then. Make it quick, the power will be on quickly."

    "Don't think so," said the man. "I'm absorbing the electricity for this building thanks to a hack. It will be reactivated when we leave in a controlled manner to prevent a system overload."

    "I'm sorry, you're doing what?" Jenny was certain she had heard him wrong, people didn't absorb electricity unless they were being strapped to an electric chair.

    "Siphoning your electricity. It's one of the things I can do. Don't try to think too hard about it."

    "Excuse me- Who are you people and what do you want?" It had been her initial request, but their attentions had been diverted.

    "Friends. We have been attempting to remain hidden. That will no longer be possible now, so we wish to operate with your knowledge through Goldenrod City and its surrounding areas."

    "Operate what?"

    The male figure, clearly in charge of the discussion, looked towards the female, who nodded encouragingly. The male said, "You have seen reports of arson in Aura Town and the bank robbery, right?"

    Jenny nodded. "I have."

    "We were indirectly involved with them. The bank robbery was dealt with by one of our members and the arson was a threat against our team by another, rival group. They have given us a leeway of two weeks, which ends tomorrow. To that end, it was decided that it would be a good idea to make contact with you."

    "Wait, you guys are responsible for the robbery and the arson?"

    The figure shook his head. "No. We are a group that fights these things. I am its leader."

    "Uh-huh. And what's the group's name."

    "We don't have one," said the female. "We had a disagreement with our employers. We freelance now."

    "We're rangers," said the man. "Just rangers. My codename is Ranger Gold. My partner here is codenamed Ranger Silver."

    "Nice to meet you," said Jenny. "Mind giving me some names with those?"

    "Names are not necessary. Anonymity is part of our deal here."

    "What deal is that?"

    The man stepped forward. "Starting tomorrow, your city is going to be attacked by forces that you will be unable to combat. In fact, doing so will probably result in deaths. We would like to avoid that, if possible. That's why we need your help."

    Jenny considered the suggestion. "Are you sure that police officers will be killed? That nothing can be done about it?"

    "If you interfere, yes. If you allow us to operate covertly, we can minimize casualties by fighting these enemies on our terms. Do you understand?"

    Jenny shook her head. "I'm sorry, but I don't. Rangers, enemies the police can't fight, this is sounding a bit too much like one of those summer action movies."

    "Please," said the woman. "I know this is difficult for you to believe right now, but you have to trust us. These enemies are terrorists and they won't stop until they destroy everything. We need to be allowed to fight them without having to worry about civilians."

    "Ma'am, I assure you-"

    "-Silver," she said. "Call me Silver."

    "Miss Silver, I assure you our police force may be small, but we do not just back down when facing a tough opponent." Jenny slammed her hand on the desk. "Even the thought of running away…it sickens me!"

    The man, Ranger Gold, held up his hand. Jenny noticed that it seemed, even in the darkness of the room, to sparkle with golden light. "No one is saying you won't be involved, Officer Jenny. We have the full intent of cooperating with the police department instead of operating as vigilantes. It would waste time neither of us have and would serve no productive purpose."

    "So, you want us to be your errand boys? Just go around town and do what you tell us to?"

    "No!" Ranger Gold scratched his helmet, as if wondering why this was so difficult for her to grasp. "Look, this fight has been going on for almost two years. We've been hiding for a while, but they found us. Now it doesn't matter where we go, we'll have to fight them. And it has to be us, Jenny-No! Do not open your mouth and listen to me because I am trying to help you. These people do not worry about a body count, or whether they will be caught. To them, it is either kill or be killed and they are very good at killing. They will kill anyone who stands in the way of their goals and that could very well be your men if you do not cooperate with us."

    Jenny considered that for a moment. "Are you sure?" she asked in a low voice.

    "Hey, Jenny!" It was a voice from outside and Ranger Gold's hand instinctively formed into a knuckle. "Power's going to be out for a while. You okay in there?"

    "Fine Vasquez!" Jenny shouted back. "Don't come in."

    "Very good, ma'am." They heard Vasquez's footsteps walk away.

    Jenny returned to the conversation. "Are you sure?" she repeated.

    Ranger Gold nodded. "I am positive, Officer Jenny. There is no alternative. Your force is unequipped to handle the threat that it faces and we have the necessary weapons to fight them. You must permit us to operate in Goldenrod City and the surrounding areas in order to combat these terrorists."

    "And what shall we, the police, do? Sit around and twiddle our thumbs while superheroes do all the work?"

    Ranger Gold shook his head. "No. I only ask your officers do not enter combat with the terrorists. Traffic control, blocking off areas to protect the public, these are still jobs that will need to be done if this fight is to be successful. But it cannot happen without a cooperative measure with the police, Officer Jenny. Do you understand?"

    She did and she nodded her agreement. "On one condition."

    "What?"

    "You will tell us everything we might need to know about yourselves and these terrorists. We don't need personal information, but an idea of what we will be up against and helping you deal with would be appreciated."

    Ranger Gold thought for an instant then raised his hand. "Expect us and the information within the week, Officer Jenny."

    Jenny, hesitant at first, grasped his hand and shook it. He was wearing some kind of armor that felt tough yet flexible. When their fingers parted, she felt a rush of air and heard a crack of lightning. Suddenly the lights came on in the room.

    Jenny looked at Growler and smiled. "Let's just go home for the night, baby. I need to think." She rubbed her ears, the lightning crack had been too loud.

    Growler howled its approval and practically raced Jenny to the car.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Max Birch carefully attempted to decide what exactly he wanted.

    It was difficult, shopping for someone while knowing absolutely nothing about them. After about an hour of looking around, he reluctantly approached a sales clerk for some advice. She was the cheery type with a bubbly personality and wasted absolutely no time waiting for Max to get near her. She practically jumped over the counter to assist him.

    "Hi, I'm looking for a-"

    "Hello, I'm Melody! How can I help you today?" Max could hardly begin to describe how happy she appeared to be to speaking to him. Her red hair seemed to glisten with each word that escaped her painted lips. Max found it hard to look at her sparkling green eyes, simply because they seemed to be glowing with excitement.

    "Yeah," he said and scratched the back of his neck. "I'm kinda looking for something for a friend of mine."

    Melody looked him up and down. "A girlfriend…?"

    He shook his head. "No, just a friend. She's been mad at me lately and I need to get her something so she'll stop trying to kill me."

    "Too bad. I was hoping you were single. Come on, let's find your special friend a perfect gift."

    "She's not my- Whoa!" Before he could complete his sentence, Melody grabbed him and thrust him right into the center of the perfume aisle. The enhancements to his senses thanks to the Dark Emerald caused him to cough vigorously.

    "What kind of perfume does she wear?" Melody asked. "Women love perfume."

    "Uh…" Max could have probably smelt out the scent of 415's perfume, but he was relatively certain that she didn't wear any perfume. In fact, now that he thought of it, the only smell-related memory regarding 415 seemed to be a total absence of smell. "Do you have a…sterile thing or something? I don't think she wears anything like these things."

    "She doesn't wear perfume?" Melody's voice sounded confused. "Is she, like, a hippie or something?"

    Max shook his head. "Oh no, no, no, no, no. Just doesn't like smelling like weird fruit I guess. Do you have anything else?"

    "Like some jewelry or something?"

    Again, Max tried to remember. Did 415 wear jewelry? No, he was sure she did not and shook his head. "I've never seen her wear anything like that."

    "Then what? A stuffed bear? Something from Hello Kitty?"

    "No, she's too weird for that stuff. Do you have anything like an automatic weapon or a…hang on, that's not going to help me. That'll probably make it more difficult. Wait, how about a kni-no, not a knife either. What else do you guys have?"

    "Uh…clothes. Oh yeah! We've got tons and tons of clothes!"

    "Take me to those. That might be the way to go, I know she wears clothes."

    "Who doesn't?" She led Max through the store, up the stairs, and to the second floor. Rows and rows of clothes stood waiting for him to peruse. "Now, what size does she wear?"

    "Beg pardon? Size?"

    "What is her dress size? Her blouse size? Her pants size?"

    "Oh. I know none of those things. Wait, blouses have their own sizes?"

    "Of course," said Melody. "Why wouldn't they? So, you don't know?"

    "I do not know these things."

    "Well, why don't you go find out and come back. I'll help you pick out something nice for my girlfriend."

    "She's not my-" Max was about to finish, but decided to let it slide. After all, he knew that 415 was a creature of apathy and emotionless behavior. Nobody else needed to know. Nobody else would believe anyone like 415 existed, even if he tried to explain her.

    "Thanks," he finally said. They reached the first floor and Max started heading for the door. "I'll definitely be back."

    Melody smiled. "Oh, I'm just glad I could help."

    Then, from afar, someone in the jewelry aisle shouted, "Somebody help! He just stole all the diamonds!"

    Max turned and growled instinctively. "Go call the police," he ordered Melody. It was a simple robbery, transforming wouldn't be required for something like this…

    "What are you going to do?" she asked, her fingers were already dialing the buttons.

    He shrugged. "Just going to go get back the stuff. No biggie." From what Max could see of the dashing figure, he was certain that he wasn't armed with any guns. He was a bit tall, but an ordinary person was not going to be an issue for someone bonded to a Dark Gem.

    He caught up to the thief before he even managed to get out of the store and shoved him. The thief fell into a series of shelves and crashed the ground, sending fine china shattering to the ground.

    "Oops," muttered Max. "Uh, that was my bad."

    The man was getting back up, despite the fact that he should have been in an incredible amount of pain. There were pieces of plates sticking into his body and blood was gushing out. The man turned to Max and he almost screamed.

    It was Brock.

    "Brock," said Max, "what are you doing-"

    His sentence remained unfinished because Brock ran right up to him and smashed him in the chest with his fist. Max felt pain and fell over, coughing. He tasted blood on his lips.

    "B-Brock," Max growled. "What are you doing here?"

    Brock did not appear to recognize him, but when his gaze trailed down to the Dark Emerald on Max's neck his eyes flashed. Brock reached into his pocket and pulled out a topaz fashioned onto a long chain so similar to Max's.

    "Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Max grumbled.

    Brock growled and wrapped the chain around his neck and wrists. But when he opened his mouth, Max knew, knew, it couldn't be him. The mouth was a black pit, like a piece of mask coming apart.

    The store seemed to explode with light and, when it died, Max found himself face to face with a new Dark Gem Ranger. This one literally seemed to be made of muscles from its head to its toes. It was entirely orange, save for the black chains that were wrapped around its neck and wrists, along with a few accents of black around its boots and gauntlets. Its helmet was circular with an X-shaped visor. It glared down at Max and grabbed him with its free hand. The other one clutched a bag filled with precious gems.

    Max felt the chains surround his arms instantly, but he waited until he could contact 0 with his com-link. "Ranger Downs, come in!" Max shouted.

    A voice answered him moments later, Serena's. "What is it, Max?"

    "Fished out a big one at the department store. Backup would be cool."

    "Got it. Tracing your location now. Keep him busy until Black and I get there."

    "Where's…0?" growled Max. He wasn't going to be able to hold the beast back any longer.

    "One of us has to stay behind. Hang on, we'll be there in a second!"

    Max decided to let loose and, struggling to press the Dark Emerald into his flesh, shouted, "Dark Gem Ignite!" The Dark Gem Ranger strangling him let him go in surprise and watched as Max completed his transformation. The Dark Emerald Ranger growled and returned to his feet.

    "Laaaade," he hissed and ran forward. The other ranger, though strong, was incredibly slow, making it an easy task for Max to smash his fists into the Dark Gem Ranger's stomach. The Dark Gem Ranger doubled over but did not fall and repaid the debt by throwing a punch right in Max's face. He crouched and flipped backwards, landing with his fingertips just scraping at the floor.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger heard footsteps issue from behind him, and suddenly the Black and Silver Rangers flanked him. Recognizing them, the Dark Emerald Ranger stood up and growled at the Black Ranger, who for the most part ignored him and focused on the enemy.

    "What is that thing?" Serena asked.

    "Looks like topaz," said 415. "A Dark Topaz Ranger."

    The Dark Topaz Ranger roared and charged forward. Serena and 415 scattered, leaving the Dark Emerald Ranger to be the primary fighter. Max growled as the Dark Topaz Ranger threw a punch. He blocked its blow and grappled with the giant monster, keeping it positioned just so in order to let Serena and 415 get in a few hits.

    The Magnet Mace was downloaded instantly to 415 and the Black Ranger took advantage of the Dark Topaz Ranger's incapacitation to bust its head open. It was like a baseball player hitting one out of the ball park, the monster's head came flying off and smashed against the wall, disintegrating to dust.

    Suddenly, in Max's mind he heard the Dark Emerald screaming at him to get away. It overloaded his senses and he briefly lost his coordination.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger, from somewhere in its body, growled. Another head exploded out of its shoulders and two extra arms, just like a Machamp, emerged and grabbed Max's arms. The Dark Emerald braced him, but nothing could completely drown out the pain of his arms breaking. A guttered, wrenching screech issued from inside the Dark Emerald Ranger's helmet.

    "Black, backup now!" ordered Serena and she swarmed the Dark Topaz Ranger with 415. The Frost Fans slashed through the air and stuck into its back. It grunted in pain. The fans detached just as quickly and spun back to their mistress while 415 readied another blow. As the Dark Topaz Ranger turned around she smacked the Magnet Mace against its weak point on its chest. It screeched, but the gem didn't even lose its shine, let alone crack.

    It savagely kicked her in the shoulder, sending her flying into Serena. With nothing to stop it, the Dark Topaz Ranger bolted for the door and tore out of the store. The Dark Emerald Ranger got to his feet and headed over to where Serena was helping 415 up.

    "You okay?" Serena asked.

    The dark ranger grunted and his only other response was to begin following the trail that the Dark Topaz Ranger had left for them. He could sense the Dark Topaz now, the Dark Emerald wouldn't shut up when it was near. It followed the trail that made his Dark Gem go off the most.

    He lifted his head and spotted the Dark Topaz Ranger climbing a building. Its four arms had changed into spider-like legs and it was scaling the building with surprising efficiency. Max wasn't sure where the gems were but the Dark Emerald insisted that they were probably absorbed into the Dark Topaz's Ranger's body, like Max had done with the serum long ago.

    Max lifted his arm and the chain that wrapped around it elongated and fired upwards. It grappled itself to the roof and shot Max right into the air. The Dark Emerald Ranger fired the second chain into the building to perfectly align his body to deliver a high-powered kick to the back. The topaz ranger crashed through the window and into an office building. The emerald ranger followed it through the opening and landed on all fours.

    Bits of glass tumbled out of the Dark Topaz Ranger's body and it cracked all four sets of knuckles as it faced Max. The Dark Emerald was screaming at him to retreat, but he couldn't. He wouldn't show weakness, not in front of the Dark Gems and not in front of his friends. He hadn't battled and endured the harsh terrain of northern Sinnoh, he hadn't fought against the toughest wild Pokemon in the world, for nothing!

    The Dark Emerald shrank back, terrified at its contractor's need to battle, to prove himself. It knew his capabilities, it even knew that he probably had the best chance of the rangers to defeat the Dark Topaz. The Dark Emerald was of equal, if not greater power, and with both of the Dark Gem Rangers in Chained Form the likelihood of success increased. Serena and 415, once they got there, would be able to help him. If the Gold Ranger were here, whispered the Dark Emerald, the likelihood of victory would be certain.

    No, Max said back. He could win, on his own. He just needed the chance. He would prove himself to the Dark Emerald.

    But, whispered the Dark Emerald, if Max died there would be nothing proven.

    Then he wouldn't die, said Max. It was just that simple.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger roared, a sound that might have terrified others but not them. Not Max and not the Dark Emerald. They crouched low and waited for the Dark Topaz Ranger to rush forward, to attack.

    But it didn't. It turned and ran from the room, crashing through an office wall on its way out. Max growled and rushed forward, he would not let it escape. He leapt through the air and tackled it, sending them both crashing through another wall. They were so flimsy, these walls, thought the Dark Emerald. They could be used.

    Max lifted his hand. Out of his palm emerged a regular Poke Ball. He had learned he could conceal things inside himself well, just as the Dark Topaz Ranger hid the diamonds and precious gems inside its body too. The Dark Emerald Ranger opened the ball and absorbed Grovyle into his left hand.

    Its eyes glowed bright green as its head pointed at the Dark Topaz Ranger. Its mouth glowed as it fired bullet after bullet into the beast's hide. It screeched and rushed forward. Max dodged by rolling to the side and continued to fire at it. It crashed through another wall and did not return.

    Where was it? Max looked right and left, before finally asking the Dark Emerald to find its Dark Gem. It would not, or rather could not. The Dark Topaz was hiding, said the Dark Emerald, and once hidden would need to be found by sight. Max released Grovyle and demorphed to communicate with Serena and 415.

    "You guys out there?" he asked through his com-link.

    "No," said Serena's static voice. "We're already demorphed. Cops are all over this place, we didn't want anyone to see us. Are you still inside?"

    He nodded. "Yeah. Do I need to get out of here?"

    "You do. Figure a nice, discreet way."

    "Think you can handle that, Dark Gem?" asked 415.

    He nodded. "Where do you want to meet?"

    "Meet us two blocks south. Far enough away from the police and close enough to not get lost. Find the coffee shop."

    "Okay, I'll be there in five minutes." He terminated the line and started looking around.

    A lot of collateral damage had been caused. Walls were torn up, several cubicles were smashed. Max was careful not to touch anything and used his jacket sleeve to push knobs when needed. He wasn't giving the cops any chance of getting his fingerprint, that was attention he did not need.

    He followed the path of destruction left by the Dark Topaz Ranger. Actually, now that he thought of it, there wasn't much destruction. After the hole it had torn through to escape, the Dark Topaz Ranger had apparently gone out of its way to not damage anything. The cubicles and walls were still intact, so where did the monster go?

    The police, whispered the Dark Emerald. They were downstairs moving through the building floor by floor. There were guns.

    "What do I do?" asked Max. He needed something, fast.

    Go to the bathroom, whispered the Dark Emerald. He did as it said and broke open the door with a well-placed kick. It instructed him to climb onto the nearest toilet and towards the ceiling. With some effort he managed to reach the ceiling tiles and pull one out. The Dark Emerald was ordering him to hurry and he only got inside the narrow space between the floors just in time to see the police approaching.

    They didn't see him, insisted the Dark Emerald. Now he needed to summon the chain to create a diversion. Max focused on the chain he was holding and it elongated, though it wasn't nearly as large or powerful as it was when he morphed. Somehow, he could tell where the chain was going, how it was slowly but surely following the cops, and how it slowly reached towards the nearest figure in sight.

    Max grabbed hold of the nearest cop. He yelped and started screaming for help. The police were too focused to notice as Max, at the urging of the Dark Emerald, curled his other hand into a fist and smashed through the ceiling. The police officer was let go and Max was gone.

    Now, go to the stairs, whispered the Dark Emerald. Max did as he was told and found the staircase empty. He latched the chain to the nearest railing and jumped down the stairwell. He landed with a hard landing and continued to move through the building. He could not go out through the front door, police were there. Instead, he opened an ignored window and shut it before walking off.

    All in the span of three minutes. He still had two left to sprint two blocks to the coffee shop Serena had mentioned. He couldn't sprint, not from a crime scene crawling with police, so he carefully walked away from anyone he noticed down the two blocks and entered the coffee shop. He was breathing hard when he sat down next to Serena and 415.

    "You look like you've had some fun," said Serena.

    "I would say he looks like he failed to defeat our target," said 415. She sipped on a cup of water while Serena drank heavily from a cardboard cup of warm coffee.

    "Guy got away," he said. "Like to see you do better."

    "Comparison would not serve any use. Your Ranger System, though inferior, allows you to operate under more varied areas of combat. You should have understood that, if we could not follow you, you should have used whatever strength you are capable of to fight and defeat our opponent."

    "I could have!" Max growled lowly after he noticed his outburst had caught the attention of some of the other patrons. "I could have," he said, in a lower voice. "Guy is in Chained Form, he's at the first point of our evolution like I am. We're on equal footing. The thing is…I don't think the guy wanted to fight."

    "What do you mean?" Serena asked.

    "Well, while I was fighting it, I couldn't help but notice the guy was only reacting in self-defense the whole time. It only tried to fight me when I was threatening it, and kept trying to run away the whole rest of the time."

    "So what?" asked 415. "It was still a Dark Gem, maybe it sympathized with you when it recognized you were kin."

    Max shook his head. "I don't think that's it. The Dark Gems wouldn't send a ranger who was afraid to kill me. The fact that I'm one of them hasn't ever worked to my advantage."

    "Then we are dealing with a coward. It will make it easier to destroy in the long run," said 415.

    "No, that's not it. This guy can hold its own in battle, it just didn't want to fight."

    "Maybe," suggested Serena, "it's just that it didn't need to fight you. How did you find the thing again?"

    "I was- I was shopping for something and I noticed someone steal some jewelry. I thought that I could just trip up a simple robber, but my luck made it so I wound up fighting a Dark Gem Ranger instead."

    "So it was just getting some jewelry? Why would it do that?" 415 wondered.

    Max shrugged. "I don't know. I really don't. It's like the guy just wanted to get away." He rubbed his brow. "I think something's different about this topaz guy. The Dark Emerald was terrified of it."

    Serena lowered her cup. "Hang on…your Dark Gem was scared of it? How does it get scared of anything?"

    "The Dark Emerald is a part of me," Max explained. "It has emotions and feelings just like I do. Only it knows more than I do about the other Dark Gems. And it's terrified of this one. Each time I got near it I would hear it shouting to get away. I was only barely able to show it that I could protect it."

    "So, a Dark Gem is afraid of another Dark Gem," said 415. "And this Dark Topaz is pretty strong. It was able to manifest new body parts on command."

    "Hang on, getting a call," said Serena and she touched the headset on her ear. "Serena here. Yes…okay, we're on our way." She switched off the set and looked towards the other two. "Gold wants us back at Ranger Downs now for debriefing. Especially Max."

    "Well, he will have to wait for that. Dark Gems can't be brought back through the teleporter." 415 stood up. "We will wait for you then. Do not be out too late, little boy." She walked out, already speaking on her com-link to Gold to transport her once she was in a secure location.

    Max groaned. "Is she ever going to leave me alone?" he asked.

    Serena giggled. "You kids are still new at this. She's still feeling you out. When 0 and I were partners, I used to drive him crazy too. Oh, I had such a crush on him…" She trailed off, lost in memories, then she smiled. "Oh relax, kiddo. I'm not in love with him anymore. I wouldn't want you to worry about him and your sister."

    "No, she just doesn't like me. Can't figure out why."

    Serena leaned in. "Come on, kiddo. I'll go home with you." She and Max got up and walked out of the shop, headed to the bus station. "You know, I don't really think she hates you. She just doesn't understand you."

    "What's not to understand? I'm a good guy who happens to be bonded to an evil Dark Gem. I spent a year getting myself under control, I worked hard. What more does she want?"

    Serena shrugged. "She's not someone you can read. You can only hope she gets used to you. She hated Gold when he first became a ranger because she had a thing for the old one."

    "She did?"

    "He was the one who brought her into PKM. She thought of him as a father. But she got used to 0 eventually, she even looks up to him now as a leader. She got used to him, she'll get used to you too. Eventually.

    "But," she said, "what I want to know is how you're holding up with the Dark Emerald? You doing okay, Maxy?"

    "Yeah, I'm doing better with it. I've figured out ways to keep control and ways for it to help me. It sort of has a mind of its own, and when I morph mine gets melded with it. Do you get what I mean?"

    Serena nodded. "The bus is here," she said. They got on and sat near the back, where nobody would bother them. "So, when you're fighting, it's you? Even though you can't speak English?"

    "Yes and no. We both have to agree to do things, but it's more or less me who does the thinking. The Dark Emerald does the moving and the warnings."

    "Warnings?"

    Max shrugged. "Kinda like your system with the ranger spirit. The only difference is that I'm linked closer to the Dark Emerald than you guys are to the ranger spirit. It mixes with my brain. It's not a perfect sync yet."

    "Don't worry. You'll get it right someday."
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  3. #53
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    Default Chapter 29, Continued

    Morph Twenty-Nine: Top Steals a Present, Part 2

    "You are doing that wrong, you know that, right?" asked 415.

    She and Max sat in front of the sink scrubbing furiously at several dishes left over from May's dinner. Now that they were living in Ranger Downs, 0 had insisted that they help May with the chores around the house. Max partially thought this was because he wanted her to feel like she was part of a big home, but secretly thought it was because the Gold Ranger, for all his heroic deeds, simply didn't want to have to scrub in front of the sink.

    "How am I doing this wrong?" he asked. So far, from what he could see, each plate that he had scrubbed had been perfectly clean. May's plates were identical, each one was white and devoid of any leftover food. Max set the one he had just finished washing in the dish washer where it took its place surrounded by other, similar dishes.

    "You should be scrubbing in a counterclockwise movement to remove all of the excess grime. You are scrubbing in a vertical pattern."

    "Does it really matter? It's going in the dish washer anyway. It gets clean in there."

    "If you did not feel the need to leave mass amounts of food remaining on your plates, maybe we would not need to spend so much time removing them."

    "Do I have to beat you up again?"

    "Kids." Both turned to see 0 leaning against the kitchen's door frame with a frown on his face. "Does Daddy need to beat the two of you senseless to make you get along?"

    "I was just explaining to the Dark Gem his inferior technique," said 415. "He needs training."

    "415, give us a minute alone," 0 ordered. She nodded and set the plate she was cleaning down. "Max talk." Max waited until 415 was out of the kitchen.

    "'Bout what?" he asked.

    "Something's bugging you. What is it?"

    Max groaned. "Nothing. 415's just getting to me. I'm kind of getting sick and tired of being a pet for you guys. I'm a ranger too, I should have the same treatment but I don't. You and Serena treat me fairly, but 415 just won't give me a break. What's her deal, anyway?"

    "Relax. She's giving you a hard time because she's the newest ranger. Trust me, she wasn't my biggest fan when I first started this gig. Keep proving her wrong, eventually she'll shut her trap and let you be." He walked over and clasped Max's shoulder. "Besides, you're much louder than a pet. Now, think you can give me an idea of what this guy was?"

    "Y-Yeah." Max gulped, he was uncertain of how to explain what he'd seen. "The Dark Emerald was giving me some info. This thing's called the Dark Topaz Ranger, and it said that the Dark Topaz is really bad business."

    "Really? Why?"

    Max lowered his head. "0, this thing looked like Brock."

    "What?"

    0 looked into the other room, Serena and May were still talking and 415 was nowhere to be found. He motioned for Max to follow him and they headed into Ranger Downs so they could talk in private.

    "Tell me everything that happened out there today," he ordered. Max did, and 0 clenched his hands into fists when he was finished. "Now Max, you need to tell me this: is Brock a Dark Gem or is this just a trick?"

    Max shrugged and said, "I don't know. It looked like Brock, but when it transformed I didn't recognize anything. Can you find out on your own?"

    0 shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe…hang on." He bent his head and placed his hand on the communicator in his ear. "Pi? Yeah, you been listening in? Think you can run a trace on Brock and see where he was last spotted? Okay, thanks." He raised his head. "Pi said it would take a few minutes, but it thinks it can pull it off."

    Max nodded They waited three minutes, some of the longest minutes of their lives, before Pi signaled that it had finished the trace and invited them to the computer screen. 0 uploaded the Pikachu and the mouse emerged in the virtual world.

    "I ran a trace on Brock's name," it explained. Its voice was coming from the computer. "Bank records, credit cards, newspapers. I found out that Brock won a trip from a local contest in Pewter. A contest which brought him to Goldenrod City for the next month. The contest was sponsored by a local radio station, it includes several parties, hotels, and events, all paid for."

    0 groaned. "Oh no, this is not good. When did he get here?"

    "His flight arrived a few days ago."

    "Can you confirm where he was today?"

    "I can't. There's nothing on the schedule today. A better search will take time."

    0 nodded. "Do it. We will wait."

    "What are you going to do until then?" asked Max.

    "I'm going to go see Jenny. Get Silver down here so we can go and bring 415 with you too."

    "Why her?"

    "Because," said 0, "I need someone who can fire up the teleporter."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Are you sure this is the right thing to do?" Serena asked.

    0 nodded. "I am. We can't let them fight blind, they need to know what they're up against."

    "But what if they turn on us?"

    "They won't. Jenny might be a little incompetent…alright, a lot incompetent sometimes, but she's not a complete idiot. She'll know we're telling the truth and that we want to help her. We won't tell her any more than she needs to know."

    Serena shook her head. "I still don't trust these civilians. They always get in our way."

    "Which is why we need them on our side now. If we can work with them, maybe we can reduce casualties. This Topaz guy is dangerous, we can't afford to lose any more people." He was still thinking of Frank and Alice, their corpses burning before his eyes. "No more innocents die, understand Silver?"

    She nodded. "Yes sir. So, are we just going to stand outside the police headquarters or are we actually going to go inside anytime soon?"

    They had been outside the police station for a good ten minutes just looking at the building. They couldn't go inside normally, since they didn't want to compromise their identities so easily.

    "Jenny's not there yet," 0 said. "Her office is dark."

    "When does she normally get here?"

    "About now." Sure enough, in less than a minute they saw the officer's car pull up into her reserved parking space and a Growlithe jump out of the passenger seat. They waited for a few more minutes, as Jenny walked through the police station, just to be on the safe side. "Okay, let's go."

    They transformed and stuck to the shadows. Serena opened up a power box nearby that was connected to the police station's transformer. Just the right surge of electricity from 0 would send the entire block into a total blackout.

    He stuck he hand inside the wires and jolted the machine with enough electricity to power a city. The box exploded and sent sparks everywhere.

    "Geez, 0! You didn't need to overdo it like that!"

    He shrugged. "Sorry. Come on, let's go."

    She sighed and took his hand. His Agility technique was a very uncomfortable way to travel but she endured it since he was willing to carry her through it instead of drag her along. It was over in an instant anyway and then she was standing inside Jenny's office, just as she had the last time.

    "Officer Jenny," said the Gold Ranger.

    She almost had a heart attack. "I wish you guys could just come talk to me like ordinary people."

    0 motioned to Serena and she produced several photos for Jenny. "These are photographs taken from a local store. You will see what we were talking about." She passed them to Jenny whose face slowly turned to shock as she looked through the pictures of the Dark Topaz Ranger. 0 produced some light so she could see them.

    "What…is this thing?" she asked.

    "That," said 0, "is the Dark Topaz Ranger. It is the most recent threat sent by our enemies. As you can see from the pictures, it did a lot of collateral damage."

    "This is from that damage report I got today," she said. "I sent it up to major case because I thought it was a terrorist attack like the one in Saffron two years ago." She looked up. "You're saying this was the person responsible for the damage today."

    0 nodded. "I do. Does this look like the sort of thing your police force can handle?"

    "Sir! My force can handle this and more but-" She paused, and lowered her head "-anything we could do about this would just result in more damage and lives lost. We're trained to investigate murders and robberies, not hunt down things we don't even understand. Just what is this Dark Topaz thing?"

    0 looked towards Serena. "How much does she need to know?"

    Serena shrugged. "Everything, I guess. Maybe skimp on the identities but that's about it."

    "Okay. Jenny, is this a place we could speak in private? The discussion will take some time and I don't want anyone to disturb us."

    She nodded. "Of course. Let me just lock my door." Jenny passed the two of them and locked the door. "Talk to me. Tell me everything I need to know to keep my force safe."

    The Gold Ranger said, "Good, Jenny. I'm glad to see you can work with us. Please sit down again and I will fill you in." He offered her some light and she did as she was asked. "Simply put, the Dark Topaz Ranger is a member of the Dark Gem Rangers. They are a terrorist group that seeks to eliminate members of our own group."

    "And what is your group?" asked Jenny.

    "A task force that operates against the Dark Gems. We don't really have a name at the moment. We are, however, equipped with the technology needed to fight them."

    "How many of you are there?"

    "There are four active members of our team," said 0. "We are the two senior members. Our team consists of myself, Ranger Gold, my partner, Ranger Silver, and two others codenamed Rangers Black and Emerald."

    Again Jenny nodded. "And where are they?"

    "At an undisclosed location," 0 said. "We trust you, Jenny, but not enough to tell you our base of operations. It keeps both us and you safe for the time being."

    "I understand," said Jenny, "but what exactly is it you want me to do?"

    At this, 0 snapped his fingers and Serena produced a small, phone-shaped device. "This is for you, Officer Jenny. It is an untraceable communicator between yourself and my team. If at any time you require our assistance all you have to do is use that communicator and we will meet you where you need assistance."

    Jenny looked over the device, it looked so similar to a regular touch cell phone, then looked back up. "How do I know I can trust you, Ranger Gold? Or you, Ranger Silver? Or your friends? How do I know you won't turn on us the moment we begin trusting you?"

    She reclined in her chair, her hands resting on the communicator.

    "You can't," he replied. "I understand that you won't, at first anyway. But you will with time, because we aren't going anywhere Jenny. This war is only just beginning and that you're going to need every scrap of help you can get. I'm offering you a team willing to fight on your side to protect your city. I'm offering you a team that doesn't need training and that knows what they're dealing with.

    "I'm offering you a partnership, Jenny. One that will benefit the both of us. We can operate inside your city without your consent, or we can work with you. You can also choose to operate without our assistance and against us, but it would waste time and manpower you will not have."

    He held out his hand. She looked at it for a moment, before she finally took it firmly and shook.

    "I accept on a trial basis," she said. "But, I want something that will prove your commitment to justice."

    "Anything but our identities. What do you want us to do?"

    Jenny smiled and reached into her desk. "A few days ago I came across a homicide that took place in the club district of Goldenrod. We get a lot of calls up there so we now have an auxiliary building we lease and fill with cops to deter behavioral problems." She produced a folder and placed it on her desk. "A girl was murdered and we weren't able to solve her case."

    "What do you want us to do?" asked Serena.

    "Find out who did it. I tried to keep the department working on the case but there just wasn't enough evidence to keep the case open . If you can produce evidence that leads to a conviction I will be satisfied."

    0 touched the folder with his hand. "May I keep the file?"

    "By all means. If you need my help, you know how to contact me." Jenny smiled and waved her new communicator. "Now I have some tidying up to do. Please go."

    0 nodded. "Of course, Jenny," he said and took Serena in his arms. "We'll be in touch."

    Another crack of lightning issued and the rangers were gone.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "We have a situation."

    The Gold Ranger waited until his daughter was asleep to summon the others to Ranger Downs. Serena, Max, 415, and May all sat in chairs while 0 took the front of the room, what had once been Bakaguru's position. He felt uncomfortable having four sets of eyes staring at him and the computer screen displaying Pi.

    He looked to the computer. "Pi, please show the information Jenny gave me and Silver."

    Pi gave a virtual nod and its image was replaced by photos of several pieces of paper. "All yours, 0."

    He nodded. "Thanks," he said and turned to the group. "Today we received the cooperation of Goldenrod's police force. They will contact us if there is a disturbance about the Dark Gems and we will work with them to minimize casualties. Thing is, we were asked to perform a good faith mission to show them we can be trusted."

    Max half-jokingly raised his hand. "Is this why we needed to have a house meeting, Dad? This couldn't have been casual?"

    "Shut up," said 415 and slapped him upside his head. "Go on, Gold."

    "The victim's name was Erin Conner," said 0. The computer display changed to a photograph of the girl. "Nineteen years of age, black hair and blue eyes, one hundred and twenty pounds, five feet four inches in height. Found dead in an alley outside of the Goldenrod club district. Lack of evidence has caused the case to be closed and we are being brought in to obtain new evidence for the police."

    This time it was 415 who interrupted. "What is so special about this case that it requires our investigations? We should be concentrating our full efforts against the Dark Gems."

    "Yes, we should. But we should also focus on building a respecting relationship between the police force and ourselves." And then, 0's face hardened. "But there is more. This photo of Erin was taken several days before her murder. This is the photo taken afterwards."

    He nodded again to Pi. "Do I have to show it?" it asked. Its face looked uncomfortable.

    "Please, Pi. It's important."

    It sighed but relented. May turned her face away almost at once and Max shifted in his seat. 415 looked with interest and Serena with revulsion. Erin's face was completely different and looked like some kind of zombie. Her face was shriveled and shrunken in. Her skin actually appeared to be starting to crack at parts when the skin was too tight against the skull.

    "This was taken of her at the scene of the crime by the police. No one knows how she got this way, and no evidence was discovered to explain how she got like this. That's what we've been asked to do."

    "What could have done something like that?" asked May. She still refused to look at the screen.

    "Your guess is as good as mine. Pi, got any ideas?"

    "No, 0," said the Pikachu. "If I guessed I would say that it looks like someone removed the moisture from her body, that's why she looks like a mummy. But how I don't know. There isn't any known method for how this was done though. The level of dehydration is too advanced for the time between the last time she was seen and the time she was found."

    "How long was that?" Max asked.

    "Five hours. She was found early in the morning by a drunk couple. They were still sober enough to call the police."

    0 looked at Pi. "Please…take that picture off. Sorry May."

    The picture went off the screen. "It's alright, 0," she said. "So, how are we going to solve this?"

    "Solve what?" asked 415. "You're not a ranger. You will not be assisting us."

    "That's where you're wrong, 415," said Serena with a grin. "You see, as it happens I figured out exactly where this went down and it's exactly where we're going tomorrow. We will require all five of us to go there. Pi, the next slide please."

    Pi complied. The next slide displayed the storefront was far too elaborate to be an ordinary club. It's name, displayed in lavender letters, was Le Rainbow, which was what 0 thought was the most clichéd name ever imagined. The front was a massive collage of rainbow drawings of same-sex couples in various stages of passionate embrace. May started giggling with Serena while Max stared with interest at several of the female couples. 0, having already seen the picture, faced the group.

    "This mission will require us to obtain covers which will allow us to fit in," said 0. "Since we will be covering a large club, all five of us will have to go." He looked to May. "Is that alright, May?"

    She nodded. "Yes, of course. I just want to help that poor girl's family."

    "Thanks," he said. "As I was saying, we will all be obtaining covers for tomorrow night. 415 will prepare four additional masks for our usage."

    "I will? This is the first I heard about it."

    "Is it a problem?"

    415 shook her head. "The materials are easy to construct and I have several of them already. It will take me ten hours to program them with identities for us tomorrow."

    "Good. Now, because this is a gay club, May and Silver will be going as a couple. Max and I will be going as a secondary team."

    "What does 'secondary team' mean?" Max asked.

    "That means we are going as an infiltration team. You know how to flirt, right?"

    "Yeah…but-"

    "No buts. We will be gather information about the people at the club. 415 will be dealing with the women with Silver and May. She will be covering as their friend who has just broken up with her girlfriend and looking for a rebound. We have a perfect cover."

    This time it was 415 who raised her hand. "You expect me to play a role like that?"

    This caused Max to laugh. "She's got you there, buddy. The only thing she can role play is an emotionless lady."

    "That is precisely why she will have to learn to blend in. 415, you are a ranger. Time to start acting like one, starting with lessons in espionage."

    "I know espionage, remember how we met? You thought I was a fat male."

    "That was not outside your comfort zone. This time you are going to operate within a unit. Do I make myself clear, 415?"

    415 rose. "Fine, I will go prepare the masks." She left for her room.

    "This is gonna be fun," Serena said with a purr. "Can't wait for tomorrow night. I've been wanting to go dance for a while in a place where guys won't constantly hit on me." She left for bed.

    Max grinned. "Fantastic. Just let me know when we're going out. I'll be on lookout." He and 0 normally took turns doing it, since the Dark Gem gave him the ability to operate with two hours of sleep.

    "Look at you," said May with a smile. "You're playing the leader role pretty well, 0."

    He chuckled. "Think so? Well, I'll get the hang of it someday. Really wish Bakaguru was here, though. He was a natural at this kind of thing."

    "Well I think you're doing his job very well." She reached out and took his hand. "Are you coming to bed?"

    He nodded, but he didn't move. "May, there's something else I need to tell you."

    "What?"

    "May, it's about Brock."

    "What about Brock?" she asked.

    "He…he might be a Dark Gem. Max said that before the Dark Topaz Ranger attacked him, he saw its face. He said it looked like Brock."

    "But that's impossible," said May. "He's in Pewter City, he's not here in Goldenrod."

    0 didn't answer for a moment. "That's where you're wrong, May. Max and I checked. Brock won a contest and he's been here. There's just no way of knowing."

    "But…but it's Brock," said May. "He can't…"

    "I know. I don't think so either. But we're going to go scope out Brock's vacation here and see if he's got a Dark Gem. If he doesn't we'll know he's not dangerous but if he does we'll have to see how to handle it. Maybe deal with him like we did with Max, okay? But if the Dark Gems are playing a trick on us we'll have a problem. He's in trouble either way."

    They walked up to their bedroom and May said, "I wish things were like they used to be. I wish we didn't have to hide and that you didn't have to fight for our lives every day."

    He nodded. "I wish we were back to the way things were too, May. I don't like Sarah having to keep secrets about everything. I wanted her to have a normal childhood and I wanted us to have a normal marriage."

    They passed her room and stopped. Sarah was snoring and her sheets were thrown everywhere. "I don't know, 0," said May with a smile. "She looks pretty happy here."

    He squeezed her hand. "I am too."

    She smiled and kissed him. "Me three."

    Author's Note: So a bit of an update from me, seeing as how I didn't post a new chapter on FanFiction this month. Work has resumed on new material after almost a month's hiatus, and I'm currently working on four chapters together, not just the next one. It'll be more apparent why once that material is posted, but you'll like them, I think. I'm really exploring the boundaries of the genre, which always interests me, so stay tuned.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  4. #54
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    Default Chapter 30, Part 1

    Morph Thirty: Dia Wants the Shiny! Part 1

    "Is everyone ready?"

    0 didn't really recognize the group he was with. Le Rainbow's neon lights illuminated the street and cast the illusion of daytime. He glanced at the moon and consulted the watch on his morpher. It was time. He double checked the mask he was wearing, it felt uncomfortable and warm against his face. It itched too and he couldn't resist the urge to scratch it every now and then.

    "Do not do that," 415 ordered. "Scratching and touching the mask damages the fibers and will impair your disguise." She herself had short green hair today with matching eyes. Her body language suggested a quiet girl with a secretive wild side as 0 had ordered and she was wearing the clothing to match. Every part of her screamed chorus girl, except perhaps her voice, which was still rather rough.

    "I thought I told you to bring your voice synthesizer to help blend in with your outfit," he said.

    "I will not require it."

    0 himself couldn't exactly figure out what he was supposed to be. Serena had picked out his outfit and appearance in order to appeal to the majority of the men inside. That was why his hair was short and blond with sunglasses that matched his outfit, which mostly consisted of a flashy shirt and tight pants with designer shoes. For reasons 0 did not understand, he was wearing no underwear. Serena had assured him this was the standard dress of such clubs.

    May looked the most nervous. She and Serena were wearing matching outfits so they could pass as a couple. "May," he said. "You don't have to do this."

    "I'll be fine," she insisted.

    "Yeah," said Serena. "I'll keep an eye on her, but stay close May. This is your first covert job and you don't have a morpher like we do. If there's trouble in there, just bolt okay? You've got your communicator?"

    May nodded and touched the Bluetooth-shaped device in her ear. No one ever gave cell phone headsets a second glance.

    "I still don't like this," Max said with a grumble. He had been forced into leather jeans, a task that had not been easy, and shoes that looked suspiciously like men's high heels. His shirt was also extremely tight, displaying all his muscles. His hair was red and his sunglasses matched 0's.

    "Why not?" Serena asked. "Scared you'll be hit on the most? Or that maybe you'll have to pee?"

    Max looked at the building. "No way I'm going near the bathroom in this place, but that's not it. This murder we're checking out, I just don't know if we should be going in there without any kind of plan. We should have checked the place out before coming."

    "It's a gay dance club in the club district," said 415. "What's there to check out that wasn't in the police report? There are a few drugs that pass through it, don't drink anything that's opened, and always update your status. It is checked out. Let's go inside."

    0 looked at May, he could hardly recognize her. She was in a tight dress with long black hair and dark eyes. He missed her regular face.

    "Let's go," he said. The others followed him towards the entrance. Fortunately, the line was nonexistent and they reached the door in under a minute.

    There were two people at the door: a bouncer two inches shorter than 0 and a woman with a clipboard. When she saw Serena, 0 was pretty sure the clipboard girl started salivating.

    "Are you on the list?" she asked and looked the five of them over. It had been decided in advance by the group Serena would answer that question.

    She accomplished this by walking towards the woman in a manner that could melt ice in a glacier. "We're right here," Serena said. This statement was whispered into the woman's ear and Serena made certain she delicately placed her hand just on the woman's bare shoulder. She pointed to a false name on the list and gave the woman a look that could sizzle frozen bacon.

    The clipboard girl looked Serena over again and could scarcely contain her drool. "Y-Yes, you seem to be on the list," she said and turned to the giant man. "Let all of them in."

    Serena squeezed her shoulder. "Thanks, honey," she said and pecked the girl on the cheek. The group followed her into the club, stunned.

    "What?" Serena asked them. They were shown into an elevator which would take them to the main area of the club.

    "Absolutely nothing," said 0 wisely.

    "That was…" Max stopped right in the middle of his sentence because of the sharp look 0 gave him.

    "Typical men," 415 said and smacked Max upside the head. "Try to at least pretend you are attracted to men properly."

    "Hitting me doesn't help," Max grumbled and rubbed his scalp.

    The group, in unison, silenced when they entered the dancing area. It was like some sort of rainbow Nirvana. Techno music blared from the speaker system throughout the room and a throng of people were converging on the dance floor.

    "I'm getting second thoughts about this," Max said.

    0 chuckled. "Don't go anywhere near the bathroom."

    "Great. And now I have to go."

    "I suggest you hold it," said 0 as they advanced to the bar. They ignored the looks and gestures of approval from the dancing men and made it to the bartender, an extremely thin man who had no business wearing the tight dark shirt he had on.

    The man winked at 0 and Max. "Can I get you anything, honey?" He admired 0's physique with little regard for 0's privacy.

    "Ooh, we're going to need something strong tonight," he muttered. "Three fingers of whiskey, I don't think beer's going to get the job done."

    The bartender blinked. "But that's terrible for your complexion. Sure you wouldn't like a nice Cosmo or something tasty?"

    "No, I will have something that gets me in a pleasant mood and I will have it now." 0 waited until the bartender complied with the drink request and drained the entire glass in one big gulp. He smacked his lips and smiled. "I feel much better."

    "I'll bet you do," said Max before he turned to the bartender. "Could I just get something tasty and cheap?"

    The bartender nodded. "My kind of man," he whispered. The drink he produced was red in color and for some reason contained a cherry. The napkin it came on also had a phone number written on it.

    "Call me," said the bartender with another wink. Max took the drink carefully and, after a cautious sip, found it to be quite delicious.

    They paid the bartender and left. "Looks like someone's popular," 0 said and gently shoved Max with his shoulder.

    "Looks like someone's jealous," chided Max.

    "Not jealous. After all, I'm the one with the wife and kid." He looked around, but for some reason he couldn't find May or the others. "Hey, where'd Silver take the others?"

    "Who knows? Wish I was watching though." The two men broke out into laughter.

    "That's my wife and your sister you're talking about too, don't forget that."

    The two of them headed away from the dance floor towards some of the men sitting at a couple of the booths by the wall. They ignored the advances of the men waiting in line for the restroom and casually sat down next to a group of guys who seemed to know a lot of the people in the club.

    "That guy's probably a good source," 0 said and pointed to one of the men with red hair. "Saw him earlier checking out the people coming inside, think he's looking for the new meat."

    "You sure?" Max and 0 had to keep their voices low so that none of the others could hear.

    0 nodded. "Gotta be. Flirt with him, see what you can dig up."

    "Why me?"

    "Caught a glimpse of him earlier. He looked at you a little too long. Just keep the conversation light so he won't invite you into the bathroom."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    May, Serena, and 415 made their way to the other side of the bar where the vast amount of women seemed to be congregating.

    "I think the bar's pretty divided," said May.

    Serena nodded. "I'm guessing that's because there's not much in common. Gay guys and lesbians don't have much target crossing so for the most part I think the guys stay on one side and the girls on the other. Except for the bisexuals. I suppose they're the only ones that go around on both sides."

    "Have we identified a target?" asked 415.

    "No. Here's the plan…" As Serena explained they approached the bar and glanced over the menu. "You guys had a chance to take a look at the profile, right? The one 0 had for Erin?"

    "Yes," said May.

    "Well, we're going to hit on every woman we can find and see if they have any friends that look like Erin. We'll ask about her and get some more info that way."

    415 nodded. "Good idea. We should go."

    "Hang on. First the drinks. We need to blend in."

    The bartender for the women's side was an attractive girl who didn't look a day over twenty-one. "What'll it be?" May couldn't really see her eyes, they seemed to be hiding in between strands of her hair.

    "Whiskey," said Serena at once. "Two fingers."

    "Vodka cranberry," said 415.

    "Water," said May. "Just water."

    The girl looked at May oddly. "Is she underage?" she asked.

    May laughed. "No, no. I'm just not much of a drinker."

    The bartender handed them the drinks and they sat down in a booth.

    "May, are you alright?" Serena asked.

    "Of course I am. Why would you ask?"

    "It's just… May, I've seen you drink before. 0 said that you usually drink something light before dinner like a glass of wine. Is there something wrong May?"

    May sipped at her drink and didn't say anything for a moment. "Nothing, Serena. It's just… Serena, I'm late."

    Serena's eyes widened. "Wait…what? You're late? As in…late late?"

    415 nodded. "That explains it."

    Both Serena and May turned to her. "What's explained, 415?" asked May.

    "Lately I have noticed a slight change in behavior on behalf of May Birch. You appear to be pale, despite having perfect health. I have also noticed that you seem tired frequently over the past two weeks we have been at Ranger Downs and frequently nauseous for no reason."

    All thought of drink and espionage was forgotten at the table. "May," said Serena, "are you pregnant?"

    May shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't taken one of those tests to be sure." She lowered her hands and cupped her stomach. "I think I am."

    "We gotta find out!" Serena jumped up. "Let's go get a pregnancy test!"

    "No!" With considerable force, May managed to get Serena back into the booth. "No. I-we- We need to find that girl's killer. We can do this later."

    "Later? May, you could be carrying 0's child right now. Don't you want to find out?"

    May nodded. "Of course I do. It's just that-" She stopped and licked her lips. "It's just that another child means that everything will change. I mean, it means that Sarah will have a little brother or sister too, but it means that 0 will have to stay. After I locked 0 out of Sarah's life for three years…he would do anything to make sure that his second child would know him for its whole life."

    "But that's wonderful!" exclaimed Serena. "That's what you and he want, isn't it? A whole family. What's another baby?"

    "But-" She shook her head and sighed. "Serena, I don't want him to stay with me because he has to. I want him to want this family." She rubbed her belly again.

    Serena noticed she was almost on the verge of tears and put a comforting hand on May. "Listen, May. If I know anything about 0, whoever he is now or whoever he was then, it's that he wants a family with you. You know that's all he ever wanted all those years in PKM, don't you? You think he's going to be reluctant now that he's free and he can have that family?"

    "It is not that simple." Both women turned to 415, who had remained oddly quiet. "She is not worried about Agent 0 wanting to remain with her. She is worried about what is coming. If 0 knows about the pregnancy, he will allow no further harm to come to May Birch. He will undoubtedly do anything to ensure her safety. The differences between 0 as a warrior and as a husband and father to May and Sarah, respectively, is quite substantial. Either 0 will begin to ignore the investigation and fight less in order to be with May longer and keep her safe, or he will invest all of his time to destroying the Dark Gems as a way of escape and ensuring her safety."

    She turned to May and offered a lightening of the expressions on her face. "Am I right?" she asked.

    May nodded. "Right now you're so busy dealing with the Dark Gems, I don't want anything to happen to him to distract him from what's going on."

    "But it's a baby, May. It could be your and 0's second child."

    "It is important, May Birch," said 415. "Regardless of whether you intend to keep Agent 0 in the dark about the child, you need to determine if you are indeed pregnant. If we are to hide this from 0 we will need to begin planning immediately."

    "You're pretty gung ho about this 415," said Serena. "What's up?"

    "The Gold Ranger is our primary fighter against the Dark Gems," said 415. "If his judgment will be compromised by this child we need to make preparations to protect him. He is stable now, but he could easily slip."

    "Slip?" asked May. "What do you mean?"

    "During my tenure in the PKM intelligence division I had the opportunity to examine the Gold Ranger's psychological evaluation. Prior to becoming the Gold Ranger 0 was quite mentally unstable. His mind was fractured, but due to his single-minded devotion to his job he was allowed to remain an undercover operative and protect May Birch under various circumstances. It seemed to keep him under the radar. But there is something inside him, we saw it during Ame's attack on PKM Headquarters. There is a primal creature underneath his façade that he will retreat to when under extreme stress."

    415 pointed her finger at May. "In all circumstances, this primal state emerges when directly related to you, May Birch, and once with Serena Brine. 0 will do all in his power to ensure the safety of those he has placed under his protection. Increasing the necessity of this protection will increase the likelihood that he will revert to the primal state and be trapped in morph."

    "Trapped in morph?" May didn't like the sound of that.

    "The Ailed Morpher will, of course, do all in its power to prevent this. But there will come a bridge that 0 will cross that he will not come back from. From studies of his profile and my personal analysis I have seen this to be so. May Birch, he must not be told about the baby, if there even is a baby. We must confirm your pregnancy and make plans. The sooner the better."

    "But I thought 0's Ailed Morpher was built specifically to inhibit 0 fusing to it," said Serena.

    "It is built to inhibit, not prevent totally. Enough power will cause the fusion, much like in the original morpher and much like the original Golden Ranger."

    "And, if he fuses, what happens?" asked May.

    "If he fuses it will be permanent and there will be nothing we can do to return him to his original state. Not by any means I have ever researched."

    There was silence at the table for a while. All thought of the mission was practically gone and now all any of the women could think about was the baby. May felt tears trickle down her cheek.

    "Then, we have to keep it a secret," she whispered and lowered her head. "Why does history keep repeating itself?"

    "What's that mean?" asked Serena.

    "Don't you see? 0 had to live his life knowing that Sarah didn't know who her father was, and now this little one will have to be a secret too. Why can't I have a normal family, Serena? That's all we ever wanted: to raise a happy, regular family."

    "There is no such thing as a happy, regular family," said 415. "It is my understanding that there are happy, irregular families, or even unhappy, irregular families. But the concept of 'regular' is one that is misunderstood and different to all the people of the world."

    "She's got a point, May," said Serena. "Regular is overrated, and you gave up regular when you took him back."

    "I know…it's just…I always hoped that one day it would be over."

    "It will be, May." Serena patted her on the back and smiled. "One day this will all be over and you'll be able to start over."

    "But will he?"

    "What's that mean?"

    May sighed. "For the whole time we've been here, it's only been recently that he's…been himself. He was happy when we were alone, as a family, but he missed it. He missed the action, I know he did. When Ame showed up at Frank and Alice's house, it was when he finally returned. He was his whole self again."

    "0 has always been a warrior," said 415. "In his profile it stated that in his youth he had been a Pokemon Trainer, correct?"

    "Yes."

    "Well, he is still the same. The only difference is that he has channeled his basic instincts into a different kind of fighting."

    May smiled a little. "I guess you're right…"

    Serena sat up. "Hang on, getting something from the man himself." She touched her earpiece and said, "Go ahead, 0. What's going on?" She waited a moment then her posture changed. "Got it. On our way now."

    She turned to the other girls and said, "We have a problem."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    0 watched with amusement as Max attempted flirting with the man he had pointed out. Thus far it had been going well, the man kept buying Max drinks. From the amount of alcohol already consumed, Max must have been drunk, but 0 thought he didn't look it.

    "Guess the Dark Emerald does a lot more than heal his body," 0 said into his earpiece.

    "I think Max said it heals him in every way," said Pi. "I suppose that means it makes sure he can't get drunk or damage his liver. He'll hold anything he's given."

    "Wish I had that gift." With a chuckle, 0 finished what was left of his beer and ordered another. "Then I wouldn't have to rely on the serum."

    "It also means that he will live until his Dark Emerald is shattered."

    "Immortality's a *****, huh?"

    "I wouldn't want it. Life would be meaningless."

    0 nodded. "Everything quiet at Ranger Downs?"

    "Nothing has tripped the alarms and I just spoke with Sarah to make sure she was okay. She is apparently refusing to go to bed until you get home."

    0 laughed. "Tell her to go to bed and I'll wake her up when we finish up here. Looks like we'll be done soon anyway, I think this resource might be tapped."

    "Did you speak with the bartender?"

    "Yeah, but he didn't really have much to add on."

    "When should I let Sarah know you'll be back?"

    With a chuckle 0 said, "Right after I finish watching Max feel uncomfortable."

    0 waited for a few moments as Pi made the necessary connections to call Ranger Downs and speak to Sarah. 0 made himself busy by enjoying the subtle taste of beer. He had to admit, in a club where the obvious choice of drink involved something usually fruity, they had a good selection of beer.

    "Pi, what's taking so long?" he asked.

    "Incoming transmission from Ranger Downs. Urgent priority."

    0 straightened himself. "Patch it through."

    A moment passed. "Daddy?" said the voice on the other end.

    "Sarah? What's going on, Sarah?"

    Her voice was trembling, 0 could sense his daughter's fear. "Daddy, there's a monster here! Something's inside the house, it says it's coming to get me!"

    "Sarah, honey? Where are you?"

    "I-I'm inside Ranger Downs," she said.

    "Do you know how to lock it down?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "Do it. We're on our way and we'll be there before you know it. Love you, honey."

    "L-Love you too, Daddy." There was a click and then her voice was gone.

    "Pi, make certain Ranger Downs isn't compromised. Ready to test the new modifications to the teleporter?"

    "The modifications have been completed. I will teleport you when you are ready."

    "Then connect me to Silver and 415. We'll need to mobilize now."

    Another, crucial moment passed before Serena picked up her receiver. "Silver, don't have time to talk. Sarah's at Ranger Downs and there's a Dark Gem there. Meet us outside. Max will transport May home safely and we're going to teleport once we're together." He clicked the transmission off and went to go get Max.

    He hauled Max out of his seat and said, "We gotta go. Dark Gem."

    Max nodded and understood at once. "Uh, see ya later," he said to the man. "Friend's got indigestion." He left without giving the man a chance to give him his phone number and they headed outside.

    Serena, May, and 415 were already there. Without speaking they headed into an abandoned alleyway.

    "May, you're going home with Max." He turned to his former brother-in-law. "Max, there's a good chance there might be more than one of them. Keep her safe until you get word from me to come back. Can you and the Dark Emerald handle that?"

    Max nodded. "Yeah. Get going, we'll lay low."

    0 then turned to May. "Honey, I need to go save her. You can't be there."

    She nodded. "I know, 0. Just make sure she's safe, okay?"

    He lifted his thumb. "Count on it. Silver, Black, let's get going."

    Both women nodded and stood by his side. Max pulled May away from them, not wanting her to get some kind of side-effect from the teleporter.

    "Pi. Fire it up."

    Three bright lights flashed and then 0, Serena, and 415 were gone.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    0 did not like the teleportation process. It was annoying and uncomfortable, despite the fact that Bakaguru had designed it to be perfectly pain-free and harmless. Still, the ripping up of his atoms and then their sudden shift in location was a bit psychologically jarring to him. When he opened his eyes, he found himself both in Ranger Downs and in leaping distance of Sarah.

    She jumped at him and he caught her. "Sarah, where is it?"

    She buried her face in his chest. "Upstairs, Dad. It keeps smashing things in the house."

    "How did it get in?" Sarah averted her gaze, but didn't answer him. "Sarah, what happened? How did it get inside?"

    "It tricked me. She said she just wanted to play, but when I opened the door she tried to kill me! I got inside Ranger Downs before it could get me."

    0 patted his daughter's head. "Okay. It's okay, Sarah. Daddy and his friends will handle this." He growled and cracked his knuckles. "Stay here. We'll go get this."

    There was no signal, no command, but all three rangers pressed their transformation buttons at the same time and morphed. 0 waited until his visor was properly displaying before he started walking forward.

    "Pi," he said, "keep the Synchronization Drive on standby and prepare for emergency use of the Auxiliary Pokemon System."

    "Roger."

    Serena had her fans and 415 had her mace. 0 lowered himself down to Sarah's level and said, "Sarah, stay here. Whatever happens, do not move under any circumstances. You stay inside Ranger Downs and you don't come out, got it?"

    Sarah nodded. "Uh-huh."

    She hid in the corner and 0 led his team up the stairs. "Pi, switch to night vision and cut the power to the house. Whatever this thing is, I don't want it having any advantages." A moment later, the screen turned green and he could see through the darkness of the house.

    "Dewgong, the same for me please," said Serena.

    415 didn't have to say anything, Luxray knew without needing a request.

    The rooms were too small for the Bolt Blade, even in its compact mode, to be used properly, but 0 had enough electric buildup to jumpstart a car if necessary. They proceeded through the house, not knowing what to expect from the monster.

    "Kitchen's clear," said Serena as she surveyed the room.

    "As is the living room," said 415. "We need to move to the upper level of the house."

    They ascended the stairs very carefully, not wanting to alert the creature to their presence. When they reached the sleeping quarters they took it in turns to inspect each room and each closet carefully.

    Until at last they reached Sarah's room at the end of the corridor.

    "It has to be in there," said 0. "Get ready."

    They broke through the door and plunged into the room. When they saw what was inside, 0 gasped in shock.

    There was Sarah, tied up in her bed. Her mouth was gagged by she was screaming something 0 couldn't make out, but she was making muffled screams loud enough to let them know she was there.

    "Stand down!" be barked and went over to the bed and undid the mouthpiece. What's going on?"

    "Dad!" screamed Sarah, wriggling in the restraints. "It got in here and tied me up! Get me out, it's coming!"

    "The hell is going on?" asked Serena. The four of them heard something creak on the stairs. Something was coming up.

    "415, guard my daughter," 0 growled. His voice practically seethed rage. "Silver, back me up."

    They walked out into the hallway. 0's arm crackled with electricity just at the same time they heard the giggling. He growled because, standing at the edge of the stairs, was another Sarah. A smiling, happy Sarah.

    "What are you?" 0 asked.

    The little girl turned her head to the side and chuckled. "They call me the Dark Diamond Ranger, Golden Boy."

    0 watched her wrap her chains around her little, tiny body. Her entire body was covered in them, all save for her head, her feet, and her hands. In those she held a bright stone that seemed to glitter even in darkness and she pressed in against her flesh.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The night vision flared as the transformation was complete. Standing before them, in Shattered Form, was the Dark Diamond Ranger. It looked up at them and started shuddering as it chuckled. 0 thought it was remarkable about how much it looked like a miniature Sappho. It had the same claws and the same talon-like legs.

    It clicked its claws together. "Ready to play, Daddy?"

    "I will kill you!" 0 unleashed the energy directly at the creature. Another flash of light filled the screen. When it was over, the Dark Diamond Ranger was still standing, but now it was just lightly bouncing on its feet.

    "Finished? That was a big load wasn't it? My turn!" Before 0 could react, the Dark Diamond Ranger dashed forward and rammed him in the stomach.

    0 groaned and all but sank to his feet. He used what little strength he could muster to pick the little girl up and toss her down the stairs. "After her!" he ordered and forced himself to ignore the pain that ripped through his abdomen.

    "Gold, it's to the left," said the Black Ranger, who had come despite her orders. She swung her mace just fast enough to send the little monster flying right into a wall. There was a loud crash, but the wall held thanks to its reinforcements.

    The creature dropped to the floor and made a sound like it was hacking up a fur ball. It stood up and giggled. "That didn't hurt one bit!" it said with a squeal. "You guys must not be taking me seriously because I'm a little girl. Isn't that right?"

    None of the three rangers answered so she said, "That's okay! I'll just kill one of you. Then you'll have to take me seriously!"

    "415," said 0. "Go back and guard my daughter like I told you to." He heard her leave and focused some more electricity into his hands. "Silver, with me."

    The two of them progressed through the house.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  5. #55
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    Default Chapter 30, Continued

    Morph Thirty: Dia Wants the Shiny! Part 2

    "It's here."

    Max stopped in the center of the alley and sniffed the air. Though he smelt nothing he knew that the Dark Topaz was nearby. Run away, whispered the Dark Emerald through the corners of his mind. May stayed by his side, slightly behind him.

    "What is it?" she asked.

    "The Dark Topaz," said Max. "The Dark Emerald's afraid of it, so I have to be really careful."

    "Can we run?"

    Max shook his head. "At short distances it won't matter. If I can sense the Dark Topaz, that thing can sense me. We need to get ready for a fight." Responding to him, the Dark Emerald's chain curled around his arms and across his back, ready for the transformation. "Don't worry, big sis. I don't think it's here to hurt you."

    He wasn't sure what made him say that, he just felt that was the truth.

    "It won't?"

    "Last time it didn't attack us, even though I'm sure it must have wanted to. It only reacts to violence."

    A figure emerged on the other side of the alley and walked towards them. It wore a face both Max and May knew very well.

    "Brock," said Max.

    "What?" asked May.

    Brock walked towards them, his face expressionless. Already wound around him was his chain and in his palm was the Dark Topaz.

    "What is it with you?" asked Max. "Get out of our way!"

    Brock didn't answer verbally. A bright orange glow exploded around him and then the Dark Topaz Ranger stood in his place, muscles tensed and ready for battle. The monster growled and stayed standing still. It only moved when they did, a step forward or a step backward.

    "What does he want?"

    Max narrowed his eyes. "It wants to keep us here while the monster back at Ranger Downs does whatever it's doing. This thing's just here to baby-sit us." He looked around. "There's gotta be a way out of this."

    But there wasn't. From each point that Max considered, there was nothing to be done. They could not proceed ahead, the Dark Topaz took care of that. If they even took a step back, it moved with them, ensuring that there was absolutely no difference in the space that separated them.

    "Wait…" He looked up, and therein was an option. "Sis, keep an open mind about this, okay?" Max summoned the Dark Emerald and its chains wrapped around his arms. In response, chains wound around the Dark Topaz's neck and limbs. When Max transformed, the Dark Topaz transformed.

    May looked at him. Max didn't move for a while, as his mind adjusted to the Dark Emerald's influence. "You okay?" she asked.

    Max turned to her and, in one movement grabbed her and slung her over his shoulders. His arm raised and the chain jumped upward, rising and latching onto a nearby rooftop. Before Top could move, Max blasted upwards and jumped onto the roof.

    "Hurry, it's coming!" shouted May. From her position on Max's shoulder, she could see Top as it began to rip through the bricks and mortar that made up the building's wall as it scaled up to meet them. Max growled his understanding of the matter's severity and began moving.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger hefted itself up with a lurch and began following them, mute as always. It had not considered the possibility that they would escape upwards. The Dark Emerald Ranger was much more versatile in using its chains. However, it did not matter, for the Dark Topaz Ranger needed only to think of a way to catch up to them.

    Very rapidly, its four arms merged into two. The additional muscle mass went into its legs to enhance its speed and jumping capabilities. In next to no time it caught up to its prey.

    Max stopped abruptly, just in time to get May out of the way and take a powerful, crushing blow to his chest. Max was thrown back and smashed into the roof's railing and off the edge.

    "Max!" shouted May, and she ran towards the ledge to look down. There she saw Max returning rapidly, one of his chains securely attached to what remained of the railing. Max jumped back up over May and landed on all fours in front of her, in between his sister and the monster chasing them.

    "Laaaaade." May could not understand what he was saying, but the tone, the inflection of his voice, more than convinced her that she never wanted to be on the opposing side of her brother's growl.

    But the monster opposing him did nothing. It neither advanced to claim May nor retreat. It simply stared at them through its visor, an immobile giant of horror. For what seemed like an eternity it watched them until, finally, something happened.

    A pair of footsteps issued from the fire escape. All three of them turned as one to see the figure of a woman emerge and take her place on the rooftop.

    Ame smiled. "Evening," she said in a low voice before she moved towards Top. "Having fun?"

    "No," said May. "Tell him to leave us alone. We haven't done anything to you to deserve this."

    Ame said, "Oh, contraire, May Birch. That is your name, right, and not the alias May Toby? Your group is responsible for the destruction of two of my staff members and numerous Dark Onyxes. Not to mention the theft of the Dark Emerald." She gestured to Max, who growled and intensified his defensive stance. "You have done many thing to annoy us, May Birch. I would say we are completely in the right to deal with you in this way.

    "Now, as for tonight. Tonight you are allowed to live, provided you go nowhere until I say you are allowed to leave. My employers were gracious enough to give you a grace period this time, as there is another matter that needs attending to. My contract is, to the best of my ability, to keep you alive. Here."

    "One of your monsters is at my home right now," said May through clenched teeth. "Do you expect me to sit by and do nothing when my daughter's in danger?"

    Ame nodded. "I expect you to do exactly that. Not just because your life is guaranteed for tonight if you remain where you are, but because it would be pointless to do anything to stop us from what we are doing. After all, you are May Birch, and not a ranger. You are essentially dead weight that, like your daughter, must be protected as you are now." She gestured to Max. "That dog of yours is quite useful, but it only shows how much your ex-husband thinks of you. Does he trust you to be on your own, or must you always be accompanied?"

    May's face flushed. "That has nothing to do with this! Max is my brother, not my bodyguard. My husband loves me and wants me to be safe. There's a difference between being cautious and being restrictive. We know why you're after me and you're not going to get it." Unconsciously, she clenched her fist and rubbed the ring she wore.

    Ame lifted her eyes. "Aren't we now? Come May, it must be obvious that, if I wanted that ring right now, it would be mine no questions asked. However, I am reluctant to concede that I cannot break my contract and that you must live through tonight's affairs. Now then, remain there while I wait for Dia to tell me her business is done."

    "Is that the monster you set loose in my home?"

    "I did not do the 'loosing,' as you call it. My job is simply to follow my contract," said Ame firmly. She turned to Top. "You may revert. There will be no need for your services beyond remaining present."

    Top didn't make a motion to convey that he heard, but his armor faded away almost immediately after the order and the blank face of Brock stared at them.

    Max transformed back too and rose to his feet. "What is that thing anyway?" he asked and pointed at Top. "Is that Brock? What did you do to him?"

    Ame shrugged. "My contract does not say I have to answer that, defect," she said. "What the Dark Topaz Ranger is exactly is not your concern. All you need to know is that it will attack you if you attempt to escape again."

    Max growled. "What's your endgame exactly?" he asked. "Just keep torturing our family until we die? Is that all we've got to look forward to?"

    "I do not know the endgame, defect, and even if I did the last person I would tell would be you. Why would we tell our master plan to the very people attempting to unravel it?"

    Max grinned. "You don't know what it is?" he asked with a smile. "You must not be very important."

    "Silence, cur. You do not know either, so don't presume to know anything about my position. I have not been told because it is not part of my contract."

    There was silence for quite some time. Max had nothing to say to that and Ame didn't seem to have anything further she wished to divulge. Max returned his attention to the silent, stoic Dark Topaz, who continued to glare at them with such intensity that Max was surprised that he wasn't burnt to a crisp by making eye contact with the monster.

    "Why are you doing this?" whispered May. "All I want is for my family to be safe."

    Ame sighed. "I was rather enjoying not having to speak to you. As I said, I cannot disobey the contract. The contract says you are to stay alive. You will stay alive. However, a coma is considered technically alive, so do not think I do not have options in how you are to remain that way."

    "You wouldn't dare."

    Ame lifted her eyebrow. "Do you really think that? I burned your neighbors' house to the ground. I sat calmly in the center of the room while their dead bodies burnt to smoldering crisps. I killed them with poison beforehand and I did it all without blinking. All because it was in my contract, May Birch. Presume nothing about the manner in which I carry out my orders. I will follow it to the letter, but everything not specified is well open to interpretation." She smiled, a kind of slight smile that sent chills through May's skin. "So what will it be? You going to be quiet or should I put you in a persistent vegetative state that will guarantee that my suffering here tonight will be lessened?"

    "You harm one hair on my sister's head and so help me I will cut out your throat," said Max.

    "Yes, and how will you do that? With a cherry smile and a can-do attitude? You are no more a threat to me than an insect on my wall. You can buzz around and annoy me all you want, but all I need to end you is a newspaper and concentration." She noticed that Max's breathing was getting harder, and several veins were pulsating on his upper body. "Simply adorable. Is little Eme going to cry because I hurt his feelings? Would you like a hug? Or perhaps a knife in your throat so we can take the Dark Emerald and give it to someone who will obey us?"

    Max smiled. "Joke's on you, lady. You can't take this thing off of me. Not without shattering it. I die, it dies."

    "Yes and therein lies the tragedy of our system. It cannot simply be discarded from an unsuitable person and given to someone we would prefer. Which is why we have contracts. Well, that and we recruit people willing to see our vision of the world. It is a shame that Sap lost it to you, I always thought he was too unstable to work alone but it turns out that everyone we partnered him with ended up dead from either an 'accident' or just flat out murder. Sometimes he would get too lazy to lie to me."

    "Well, it's too late. I've got the most powerful Dark Gem, so you can go straight to-"

    "The strongest?" Ame interrupted him with a soft, cool chuckle. "No, little boy, you are not the strongest. Even if you were to finally, finally evolve into your Shattered Form, there is always a more powerful Dark Gem. My employers have much more powerful ones at their disposal, and that Dark Gold your sister carries is certainly one of the stronger versions."

    "You'll never get it," said May.

    "Maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but never is a long time, May Birch. And, despite their best efforts, the cur and his handlers are not enough to stop me. They are barely able to defeat Top here, and I assure you that Top is much, much weaker than I."

    Top said nothing.

    "He is in Chained Form, but he does not need to grow any stronger. His Dark Gem is special that way, in that he does not need to evolve to grow stronger. In fact, the opposite might occur if he does so. It is much, much better for him to remain like this: mute, loyal, and diligent."

    Ame paused to look at her watch. "Hmmm…I believe our time might be up. I will need to make a call." She reached into her coat and pulled out a small gem, the color of which neither Max nor May could see in the bad light of their surroundings. "Are you done?" she asked into the stone, as one would a cell phone.

    A response issued moments later. "I have to go now?" it asked. The voice was high, like a little girl's.

    Ame nodded. "Yes. Meet us back at the regular place." She lowered the stone and turned to Top. "Let's go."

    Top nodded and turned around slowly, giving himself as much time as possible to stare at Max and May. Top and Ame walked away, off the edge of the building. They simply fell down into the streets below. Max ran forward, to catch a glimpse of where they were going, but by the time he reached the other side and peered down they were gone. Vanished.

    He turned to May. "They flew the coop. We're alone again."

    May smiled. "Good. Then please let's go home. I need to see Sarah and make sure she's okay."

    "Sure, yeah," said Max. "But, one thing, sis."

    "What?"

    Max looked at her. "Y-You're pregnant."

    May's eyes widened. "How did you know that?"

    "When I was carrying you," he said. "The Dark Emerald felt something, something like a new life, in your body. I felt it too. You're not too far along, the life isn't too much yet, but it's there. You're having another baby."

    May looked down. "We weren't sure. I've been feeling sick lately, but I wasn't sure. We were going to check when I got home."

    "Does 0 know?"

    She shook her head. "No, it was 415 and Serena. We were-" She took a deep breath "-we were thinking it might be a good idea to keep the baby from 0. At least for now."

    "What? Why?"

    "There's something wrong with his morpher. Serena and 415, especially 415, said it would overstress him and he would end up trapped in morph or something like that."

    Max touched his sister's belly. "May, you can't keep something like this from him. You need to tell him the truth. I mean, after all those years away from Sarah? Don't tell me you're going to do the same thing and keep his child away from him again."

    May shook her head. "I don't want to either. I want him to love this child just like his loves Sarah, but if it'll hurt him in the end shouldn't I try to protect him from being stuck in morph and this child from knowing that it was the reason he'd be that way forever? This is all so complicated, we should never have had sex. I shouldn't have made him do-"

    "Sis?"

    "Yeah?"

    "That's a little too much information," said Max. "I know where babies come from. Let's let that be all I need to know about your love life."

    She giggled. "Oh yeah. Sorry, little brother."

    "That's better. Now come on, we'd better get back home. I'm pretty sure that 0's about as worried about you as you are about him."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    There was a hushed silence at Ranger Downs when Max and May arrived at the door. The lights were off, but Max saw several pieces of furniture destroyed.

    "All's quiet," he said in a low voice. He focused inside and called on the Dark Emerald. It whispered in his ear that everything was indeed safe, for now. "The Dark Emerald says that there isn't another Dark Gem in there. We can go inside."

    "Where is everyone?" asked May.

    "Good question," said Max. "Probably downstairs. Let's go." They moved through the abandoned-looking house until they reached the secret passageway that connected to the underground command center.

    There 0, Serena, and 415 were waiting for them. In 0's arms was a very tired, sleeping Sarah. May wasted no time and rushed into the arms of her husband.

    "She okay," he said softly. He stroked her hair. "She's just tired."

    "What happened?"

    "The Dark Diamond Ranger. Somehow she got in here and tied up Sarah. We searched for it, but it got out before we could stop it. At least we managed to get here in time to save Sarah."

    May nodded. "Poor baby," she whispered and took Sarah in her arms. "Come on, let's get her to bed." 0 nodded and helped her carry the little girl.

    Max approached Serena and 415. "You guys okay?" he asked.

    Serena nodded. "We're fine, Max."

    "Why wouldn't we be?" asked 415.

    "How are you holding up?" asked Serena.

    Max sighed and leaned against the wall. "Guys, I really need to know something," he said.

    "What?"

    "The new baby," he said. "How can you guys keep this kind of a secret from 0?"

    "So she is pregnant," said 415. "We had not confirmed it. How did you do it?"

    "The Dark Emerald," he said.

    "Ah. Well, now that we have the pregnancy confirmed, we need to begin putting the plan into motion."

    "What plan?" asked Max. "What exactly are you guys doing?"

    "We're making a plan for the future," said Serena. "Specifically, 0's future."

    "Why doesn't 0 get to know he's having another kid?" Max asked.

    "Because it will be dangerous for him to know," said 415. "If he were to discover that May is pregnant again, there is an increased likelihood that 0's emotions will hit a certain critical point. When that critical point is reached, 0 will become trapped in morph."

    "Trapped?" asked Max. "Like, he won't be able to go back?"

    Serena nodded. "His morpher is the only one with that problem because of the Synchronization Drive. It connects him too deeply to his powers, which means he has to be very careful about his emotions. Tonight was just an example of one of the things that can bring him to the breaking point."

    415 nodded. "In a way, PKM was right to separate him from his family. His morpher, even with the Ailed design, is still quite unstable. The critical shift has been pushed back significantly, but it is still present. The new child is only going to complicate things."

    "But how?' asked Max. "Sure, it's stressful to think that there's going to be another kid around here, but I don't think-"

    "I did not expect you to," said 415. "Consider for a moment the behavior that 0 exhibits in ratio to May and Sarah. There is ferocity there that cannot be surpassed, not by any means we have. He will, conceivably can, do anything necessary to protect his family. He will not stop. As a result, it is impossible to predict when the critical shift will take place, but we must prolong it as long as possible."

    "Why? Isn't there a way to reverse it?"

    Serena shook her head. "Not by any way we've ever found. Once it happens, he's stuck. Just like the old Golden Ranger and there's nothing we can do about it."

    "But he's gonna find out. There's no way he doesn't notice it for long. May's gonna get big and annoying again. When she was pregnant with Sarah, I was pretty sure neither he nor I were gonna last through the nine months."

    "Nevertheless, he must. We will think of a better plan."

    "You will think…? Who do you think you are, 415? You're not leader here. You're on the same level as me. Even when Gold's not around, Serena takes over."

    "First of all, Dark Gem, I am not on the same level as you. Secondly, Serena has already consented to this idea, as has May. We did not expect you to find out because, frankly, I did not believe you had the intelligence to deduce it. Fortunately, I was right in one sense but wrong in the other."

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Precisely my point."

    "Enough!" shouted Serena. "Look, Max, we need you to keep this under wraps for the time being. Just until we can think of a more permanent way to keep 0 unstressed and normal."

    "What if he takes it well?" asked Max.

    "Max, you didn't really see 0 before he got back together with May, but I did. I know what kind of person he was before, and it was scary. I was with a man with nothing left to live for, except to make sure that his family was safe. A family that he wasn't a part of. If we tell him now that there's another kid on the way, one of two things will happen: he'll either stay, become overprotective, and trapped in morph or he'll be convinced that this new child won't be safe, leave, and be trapped in morph due to guilt. Either way, we lose him and we get another robot just like the old Golden Ranger."

    Max looked down. "I'll…I'll keep it a secret. For now. But sooner or later, he's going to find out on his own and then you'll have to deal with the fact that you lied to the person we're supposed to trust completely. He's our leader, guys. He's the most powerful ranger, he's the senior ranger, and he's the reason we're all here today. He deserves better than this and you know it." He walked out.

    "Do you think he'll tell 0?" asked Serena.

    415 shook her head. "He may be foolish, but he is a man of his word. Or creature, anyway."

    "What's your deal with him anyway?" asked Serena. "He's no different than us."

    "He is a Dark Gem," she said simply. "It is only a matter of time, but he will go back to them. Whatever he is doing now makes no difference."

    "It makes every difference," said Serena. "He's trying to make the best of a bad situation. You should be nicer to him."

    "Why?" asked 415. "Am I ever nice to anyone?"

    "You were nice to May earlier. This plan will keep her husband and family together."

    "I did that because it makes sense, long term, to keep our best weapon functioning at maximum efficiency. The Gold Ranger is our best weapon and must be protected. The Dark Emerald, on the other hand, is a tool that will saw off our hands if we are not careful. It was designed for the enemy, by the enemy, and with the express intend of damaging our cause. You will of course notice that I do not care what you think because those are the facts about the device used by Max Birch. It does not matter if he is a good, decent man or if he is our comrade and friend. It matters only that Max Birch uses something evil. It does not matter how he uses it now, only that he will use it for evil in the future. We can prolong it all we want, but that is the truth."

    "But we have to try to save him, 415," said Serena. "It doesn't matter what he might become, it's who he is now. If we're good to him he'll stay with us. He won't turn his back on us."

    "Why not? What always makes you so sure of his loyalty to us?"

    Serena smiled. "May's his sister. No one would ever turn on their own family like that. It's just…I can't imagine anyone like that."

    415 almost, but not quite, smiled. "That is an interesting theory considering your family situation."

    Serena's smile faded. "What did you say?"

    "Exactly what I implied. I have read the reports regarding the MIA status of your twin brothers. I have also read the debriefing that was given by you and 0 shortly after your failed retrieval mission. Is that why you are so eager to save Max Birch? Because you think that saving him will make up for the way that your brothers betrayed you?"

    Serena looked away. "My brothers…that's not important, 415. What is important is that you need to stop acting the way you do to Max. He's a good man, you said it yourself. He won't turn his back on his sister. He won't turn his back on you, he won't turn his back on me, and he won't turn his back on 0."

    "Such an odd feeling it must be, to have trust in others," said 415. "Is it because you have had a family?" She looked into Serena's eyes, searching for an answer. "Is it because this is the only thing close to a family you have, Serena Brine? Let it be known then: I have no need for family. The only man I will ever care for is dead and gone, replaced by someone we must constantly protect from being overwhelmed by his own emotions. Does that sound like I need a family, Serena Brine?"

    She turned and walked away, leaving Serena alone with the computer.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "You are late," said Ame.

    The little girl that walked into the hotel room waved her hand with disinterest. "So?" she asked. "It's not like I'm missing anything." She looked towards the large Dark Topaz that sat in a chair next to Ame. "It's not like he can talk."

    "Quite. Well, take a seat then. The time has come for your debriefing. Our employers have a new plan that they want to attempt with the two of you."

    Dia walked across the room and into the lap of the Dark Topaz. The Dark Topaz lifted his hand and softly, ever so softly, stroked the little girl's hair while she smiled in content. "Tell us what we're supposed to do. I'm getting bored with this city. He is too."

    Ame looked up at the Dark Topaz. "How do you know?"

    "Because I know, okay? Now spill it. I don't like having to talk to you."

    Ame reached into her coat and pulled out a small file. She laid it on the table and passed it to Dia. "Our employers wish for you to begin a more aggressive campaign against Ranger Gold. The fact is that he poses a problem in his current state that we would like taken care of before he gains any more strength."

    "What kinda problem?" Dia happily opened the file and flipped through the various documents and pictures.

    "His abilities to assume various forms based on his Pokemon. At his current state he is quite useless against the Dark Topaz, but he may learn new abilities our employers would rather he not have the advantage of learning."

    "How are we supposed to do that?"

    "Trap him in morph," Ame said with a smile. "We believe that we are in a unique position now to severely impact his ability to gain new power by trapping him permanently in morph. The resulting strain of being trapped will drain his power, forcing him into a point where it will become quite easy to defeat him and obtain the Dark Gold from May Birch and Ranger Gold."

    "What about the other ones? There's four of them!"

    Ame laughed. "But you have yourself and the Dark Topaz. Surely that is enough."

    Dia looked up into Top's blank face. "Think we can take them?" He said nothing back, but Dia smiled and lowered her gaze to Ame. "How do we do it?"

    "This plan will work in accordance with your own skills, Dia," said Ame. "We need Ranger Gold trapped in morph, and the only thing that will do that is severe emotional stress. Ranger Gold needs to be stressed."

    "And the best way to a man's heart is through his family, right? That's why I had to go find the Sarah girl, right?"

    Ame nodded. "Right. If you strike him where he hurts the most, he will have no choice but to strain his morpher enough to trap him. He is too emotional."

    "He's a real wuss, huh?" asked Dia with a giggle. "He got sooooo angry when I came in and tied up his daughter like that."

    "I imagine so."

    "I still want her though, Ame. I need her."

    Ame smiled and said, "Of course, Dia. My contract says nothing about depriving you of your favorite hunt. Actually, the contract states that all of them are to be eliminated. I am sure our employers don't care how this takes place."

    "Good. I get to eat her! I'm so hungry, I haven't eaten in so long…"

    "Eat her quietly though. The last time there was severe collateral damage."

    "Oh yeah, nobody'll catch me, Ame. I promise. I'll just make Sarah disappear!"

    Ame looked to Top. "I trust you will handle the heavy lifting after she has started the attack. Dia is not quite as powerful because of her age."

    Dia giggled. "Don't worry, Ame. Daddy'll protect me. Won't you, Daddy?" She looked up and smiled, displaying both sets of pearly white teeth.

    Top finally reacted and looked down at his daughter. There was a soft, tender expression in his eyes. He resumed stroking her hair.

    Dia looked back to Ame. "Daddy's a monster to people that try to hurt me. Daddy would do anything to save me. Wouldn't you, Daddy?" Top kept brushing her hair. "If I was ever dying, Daddy would do anything to keep me going, and now that we have these Dark Gems, we'll keep going forever and ever, just like this. Won't we Daddy?"

    The monster kept stroking her hair while she laughed and laughed and laughed. Ame, her contract completed, rose and left the room, shutting the door behind her. She walked down the stairs and, as if by magic, simply vanished into nothingness. Dia's cackling, however, continued to howl into the night.

    Author's Note: Dia and Top are probably some of the best villains I've ever created. Yes, Top looks like a carbon copy of Karin at first, but underneath him is an entirely different order of code. Dia's a pretty interesting monster too, you'll find out why a bit later, though. When I was designing them, I decided to create villains that would reflect 0's greatest fears realized. In fact, each Dark Gem Ranger can be said to be an amalgamation of traits from the PKM Rangers, with each one representing different pieces of the worst qualities in each ranger. If you think about it, Sappho represented 0's insecurities of reuniting with his family, and the monster he could have become without them, and at the same time he represented Max when he first started as a Dark Gem Ranger, and how Max could have been evil just as easily as he is good now. Until next time!
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  6. #56
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    Default Chapter 31, Part 1

    Morph Thirty-One: Trapped…, Part 1

    There was a distinct lack of sensation.

    0 looked at his arm. It was ordinary, save for the fact that it was covered in his ranger armor. He looked at his chest; it bore the strange little emblem of Pikachu's face across his pectorals down to his bellybutton. The rest of his body was the same, a mix-and-match of gold and black. There was a puddle in the field. He walked to it slowly, completely uninterested in anything else. All around him, people were shouting, waiting, for him to do something.

    All that mattered was the puddle. He lowered his head and looked at himself. A mask stared back.

    It was his face. What lied beneath, that was gone. Somehow, he sensed that. His cheeks, his eyes, his nose and lips…they should be there. But they weren't. He was aware of something moving as he twisted his face into a snarl, but it wasn't the muscles underneath the tanned skin he'd once had. That was gone, too. He wasn't sure why, but it was gone.

    And all that was left was rage. Rage that, though it couldn't be expressed by the visor that was his face, was apparent from the way his suit trembled. His fingers clenched, forming fists that quivered as he turned around to face the creature that had done this.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger. Never had 0 felt something so pure, so complete, as the hatred that boiled through what had once been his veins. Once, he thought, he'd felt something like it. I was holding someone. A bundle of pure love. It was nothing, nothing, compared to the pure rage he felt for Top. He wanted the creature dead. He wanted it ended. He wanted the heaving behemoth torn limb from limb, the gem that gave it its power crushed and turned to dust in the rainstorm.

    He roared, a primal scream that tore through the thunder and the lightning, and 0 smelt fear all around him. Perhaps not from the Dark Topaz Ranger, who was merely wary of his animalistic hate, but from the tiny Rangerlings that crowded around it. 0 barely registered them. Those were insects worming around the husk of the true threat, the thing that dared to touch what was his.

    The thing that dared harm Sarah.

    "0! 0! You have to fight it!" There was a sound in his head, it seemed so irrelevant. "There's still time, you can still change back!" That made 0 laugh. There was no going back. There was no happy ending, or joy, or pleasure waiting for him. It had all been a lie. PKM had promised him the chance to protect his family, and ripped it away. Bakaguru had promised to give him back his family, and in return had only brought the enemy that much closer to him. Serena, Max, 415, they'd sworn to defend each other to the very end, and once again they were useless.

    "Once again, it's my job to fix everything," 0 growled. At least Logan and Karin had been honest and took off. Who knew where they were, probably safe with nothing trying to murder them every single day.

    There was a little girl on the field. Her, 0 knew. There was no mistaking it. The entire battle had ground to a halt, like it was some sort of movie, just to watch him approach her. There was an arm sprouting from Max's mangled form, but even 415 and the Rangerlings had stopped fighting over him to watch 0.

    He reached the little girl, and picked her up. She was hurt. Nothing was broken, maybe a few bruised ribs, but nothing that wouldn't heal. 0 touched her face, careful to avoid the damage on the left side of her face, just below her eye. He shifted her hair so it wasn't touching her mostly-purple face.

    The girl's eyes fluttered open. It must have hurt, and she winced several times, but she finally got her right eye open to look at him. She couldn't smile, but her voice was assuring. "D-D-Daddy?" she whispered, just loud enough for him to hear it.

    He nodded. "Yes, little girl?"

    "I…I'm hurt." She tried to cough, but a little blood dribbled down her chin. "D-Daddy, it hurts." She had started to cry, somehow ignoring all the damage they'd done to her face. "Please make it stop, D-Daddy. I think…" She paused, so she could cough again. 0 held her close. "I think… Is this dy-d-dying?"

    0 tried to chuckle, but the part of his body where his vocal chords should have been were disappearing. He still managed to speak. "No, Sarah. Everything's okay. Just a few bruises, nothing worse than falling off your bike. We'll take you inside, wash you off, and 415'll clean you right up. Get you a big Band-Aid for being such a brave little girl."

    She tried to nod, but she was too tired. "G-Good. I'd…I'd miss you and Mommy." Then her eyes closed and she stopped coughing.

    0 lifted his head. She was still breathing, but only just. "May!" he shouted. "May!"

    From the ground, where she'd been lying in pain, May Birch stood up in the rain-soaked field. She crawled past the Rangerlings, past Top and even Dia, until she reached where 0 cradled their child and took her from him.

    As she steadied her new weight, she looked at him. She felt something, something so terrifying, that for a second she was afraid. "0?" she asked. "Are you…?"

    He nodded slowly. "I think so. Pi isn't sure, but I think so."

    "0, I—"

    He cut her off. "No time. Get her inside and lock yourselves in Ranger Downs. There's medical equipment in there. Use it. I'll send Pi to help." She didn't move, she just stared at him. "Go! We don't have time for this!" She ran, and 0 was left alone. Even the voice in his helmet left, because Pi never needed to be told where he was needed. The door shut behind them, and no one dared follow.

    The last link left him. He couldn't even feel the rain as it fell against the fabric of his uniform. He couldn't feel the breeze that swept the battlefield. As he screamed, he noticed that there wasn't any air in his lungs, in fact he wasn't altogether sure where his lungs were. As he ran into battle, he stopped sensing his boots absorbing the shock of his legs hitting the ground.

    There was one last feeling, one hate sensation, one last goal, that swept through what was now his body and made him feel whole.

    I'm going to kill you all.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    There was a soft whirling hum that gradually died down.

    "The analysis is complete, Ranger Gold," said 415. "You may disengage your morpher from the scanner."

    0 nodded and gingerly removed his arm from what looked like a miniature MRA machine. It was a machine, built on Bakaguru's schematics and 415's technical expertise, that they had been using to monitor his morpher.

    "What's the prognosis?" he asked. He lightly massaged around his wrist.

    "One moment. The information is being printed." 0 waited for another machine to spit out paper, which also took some time. When it finally coughed up the data, 415 snatched it up and studied it again.

    "Can I please see how the morpher's doing?" 0 asked.

    415 glanced at him briefly over the documents. "I am ascertaining accuracy. I am also checking to see if our other morphers might not benefit from such analysis. Cease your pestering, it will not make my research go faster." She returned to work and, ten minutes later, looked up with what seemed to be a content expression on her mask-face. She brushed a red hair from her eyes. "Now it is done."

    "And?"

    "The data is mixed. On one hand, it notes that the morpher is beginning to adjust for the extra uses of your ranger system. Your uses of Lucario and Torkoal have increased, and the morpher seems to be learning to accommodate them without continuous usage overloading the system and forcing a demorph during battle. This is good, as it means that our Ailed Morphers might be evolving as well. It warrants further study on my morpher and the morpher of Serena Brine."

    He nodded. "Makes sense. And what's the bad news?"

    She pointed to a chart on one of the documents that made no sense to 0. "Your morpher is making these adjustments by bonding to you. It is gradual, and there have been no noticeable changes, but its acceptance of you is resulting in you becoming more merged with the technology. There is a possibility that, as the morpher continues to evolve to suit your needs, it may become a permanent bonding."

    "So trapped in morph, like the former 0 was."

    "Somewhat, yes. The morpher will not force such an extreme transformation without an extreme catalyst for the morph. Say there is a great deal of anger. Were you to morph in such a state, the psychological effects could extend to the morpher and bond you. Mind you, such as transformation would require an exceeding amount of rage the likes of which—"

    0 raised his hand. "I get it. No getting angry when I'm about to morph. Keep my emotions clear."

    "You say that like it is something you are physically capable of. Were I able to wager, I would place a bet on you being trapped in morph within the year. You are not one for restraint."

    "Maybe I'll take up yoga."

    "And maybe the mongrel will state something of significance. The point is hypothetical speculation, particularly impossible hypothetical speculation, wastes everyone's time. Dreams are for sleep."

    "Speaking of." 0 glanced at the clock on the wall. It was just after midnight. "Shouldn't you be going to sleep? Big day tomorrow. Er, today."

    "For you, perhaps. For me, it is another day of simulations. I am not assigned to above ground cover for your children event."

    0 nodded. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to get out once in a while. Fresh air is good for people."

    "Most people. My appearance changes daily. There is no point in getting to know anyone outside of the group, there is no way to explain my appearance in a way that would remove our cover."

    "Well, about that. Why don't you just drop the disguise? We're not undercover in PKM anymore. We're our own group. You could go out, make friends, relax."

    She looked up from her work, and her red eyes gave him one of the coldest expressions he'd ever seen. "My appearance is not your concern, Ranger Gold, and the last time I checked, it is not a subject you have say over." She returned to her research.

    "I wasn't suggesting that I did have say over it. I just thought—"

    She raised her hand and looked up. "Clearly you were not, otherwise you would have kept silent. It is not your concern, Ranger Gold, what I look like under my mask. It is not May Birch's concern, nor the Dark Gem's concern, nor Serena Brine's concern, nor the concern of your daughter. It will never be any of your concerns, so why not spend a bit more time admiring your wife's face instead of complaining about my refusal to—?"

    She cut herself off, breathing a bit more unevenly than usual. Her mask seemed to mimic her embarrassment, because its cheeks tinged red briefly. Then it vanished, and she regained her composure.

    "You're right, 415," he said. "It isn't my concern, is it? Just thought it might be nice for you not to hide anymore. We're not part of PKM. You're allowed to be yourself once in a while, and not just a ranger."

    "This is myself, Ranger Gold. There is nothing deeper."

    He nodded. "Sure, whatever. Get some sleep anyway, never know when the Dark Gems are going to start smashing through the city."

    "Of course," she said, but he had already started heading upstairs. If he heard, he did not react, so 415 returned to her work.

    The laboratory was quiet, aside from the occasional whirl and hum from the machines. She tried to work, but found herself distracted. Again and again she turned to a reflective screen on a nearby monitor, touching pieces of her mask. Every now and then she would shift it, just to be certain it was still there. She went through seven different eye colors and three styles of hair before she heard a set of footsteps on the stairs.

    She firmly stared at her research. "If you are here to apologize, Ranger Gold, I am not interested in—"

    "Wrong guy, 415." It was Max. Of course it was Max, of all the times for him to visit. "I couldn't sleep, so I started wandering the house. I saw the lights were on down here and thought it might be someone working late in need of some company."

    "You were incorrect in your assessment. I am working late but I have no need for your company. I am extremely busy and your presence is always a distraction."

    "Is that a compliment?"

    "If you consider your mental inferiority and lack of use a compliment. Dark Gem, I am not in any mood to placate your need for attention."

    "Hey, you're using my name now. Have you decided I'm a human being?"

    "Not as such. It is more convenient."

    "Another thing. Since when do you have moods? I thought you had two modes- mean and asleep. Are you starting to get a little bit more normal on us?" Max grinned, but when 415 dropped her research, his smile faded instantly.

    "Why is everyone so obsessed with my personal life?" she demanded. She walked away from her machines and started towards him. He tried to turn and leave, but she grabbed his hair and held him in a vicegrip. "Tell me, what is the reason behind your incessant need to spend time with me? Why do you, and everyone else here, insist on bothering me? When I worked undercover, I was alone. No one had any need to disturb me. It was paradise compared to this arrangement."

    Max strained, but 415 had always been stronger than him out of morph. "That's because we're a team, moron."

    "Who is the one in the vicegrip? You are the moron here."

    "And you're the idiot that can't figure out how important she is to this team." He jabbed her sharply in the ribs, and in her distraction she released him. "I know nothing about you, 415. I don't know your name, your family, anything about you before I met you through PKM. All we know is that the Golden Ranger was like a father to you, right? That's why you got so mad at 0. And you know what?" He was panting at this point and his face had turned into a sharp reddish hue.

    "What?" she hissed.

    "I don't care. None of us do. You think we care about seeing your face? It won't be your face. Not the one you have that changes every day, the ones that are yours. You think I'll never call you anything other than 415, even if your rank is technically 4 now? Your name doesn't matter, nothing about you matters, except the fact that you think you can just put up a shield around yourself like you're still an undercover agent when you're supposed to be part of our team."

    She punched him in the face. He barely noticed, so she did it again, and then a third time for good measure. "I am a ranger. Your points are meaningless. I perform my duties and functions. That is all that is needed."

    He shook his head as a black eye healed. "Wrong. What matters is that this team is like a family, and you're not some unwanted stepkid. You don't need to act like some kind of living wall around us. We just want you to be part of this family, and the fact that you're reacting this way just proves you're getting defensive because you know I'm right."

    "You are wrong." 415 grabbed him, threw him to the floor, and set her heel against his windpipe. "I told you I was in no mood to discuss this. I specifically told you that, and you decided you would ignore my order." She dug her heel in deeper and Max began gasping for air. "Besides, your sentimentality is filled with lies."

    "What're you…talking 'bout?"

    "I know what you want of me, Dark Gem. I am aware of your heart palpitations in my presence, your direct attempts at socialization with me, even your endeavors to curry my favor. I have studied you, noticed when these correlations intersect with the Dark Emerald, and have concluded you are in love with me."

    "I have no idea—"

    "Data cannot lie! I know what you are trying to do." He definitely couldn't breathe anymore, he was fighting to stay conscious. "I know what these are. Mating rituals. Courtship. 'Dating', as the common vernacular calls it. Things I have never wanted and will never need." She felt his final spasm before he died.

    "I have neither heart to give nor soul to receive in return," she said to no one. "Your attempts are futile." She removed her foot and began picking up her work.

    When she stood back up, he was alive again and breathing heavily. "Believe what you wanna believe," he said. He dusted off his pants. "Doesn't change the fact that everyone, not just me, would take a bullet for you in a heartbeat. We'd die for each other, because that's what families do, and you're a part of this one whether you like it or not. So get used to us trying to get close to you, 415. That's what families do, and we're all we've got."

    He left her and went upstairs. He still wasn't sleepy, but couldn't stay in that room anymore.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena woke up. She glanced at the clock on her nightstand and discovered it was seven in the morning. Too early, always too early, for people to be awake.

    Sadly, she was alone when she woke up. This stemmed from the fact that overnight guests, or really any guests, were prohibited from entering Ranger Downs. 0 had been very clear about that rule the first night when she'd thought she could bring a cute guy home, a guy who ended up screaming and running away in terror when he got a look at 0's expression when he stepped onto the porch.

    She slipped out of her sheets with nothing but a shirt on, so she found some sweat pants to wear and rubbed her eyes. It was just getting bright outside and she caught a glimpse of some Pidgey flying east over some of the houses in the distance. "Nice day," she murmured and headed out to the hallway. "Too bad I'm on monitor duty."

    She passed by Sarah's bedroom and stepped inside. May's daughter was still tucked in her bed snoozing. Serena chuckled, Sarah frequently had difficulty getting up in the morning and rarely got up without prompting before nine. Since May hadn't gotten here yet, Serena headed over to Sarah's bed and poked the little girl's head.

    Sarah groaned and rolled over. "Go away," she mumbled. "Sleepy."

    Serena giggled. "Come on, Sarah. I'm pretty sure your mom and dad wants you up early for the events today. Aren't you doing the basketball tournament?"

    The little girl refused to open her eyes. "Nope! I'm staying in bed!" She scurried under the covers.

    "But Lu and Tork'll miss you if you're not ready," Serena said. "You don't want to disappoint them, do you?"

    Sarah peeked out from under the cover. "No. Just sleepy is all."

    Serena laughed and tickled her. "Come on, Sarah! Get yourself moving!" The little girl squealed with laughter and threw the covers off trying to get away from her.

    "Serena? Sarah?" Both looked up to see May leaning against the doorway with a big grin on her face. "Having fun horsing around?"

    Serena blushed. "Sarah here doesn't seem to want to get up. I was just trying to motivate her to get ready for her big day."

    "Uh-huh." May turned to Sarah and crossed her arms. "And why aren't you listening to Serena? You know you're supposed to be up at seven every day, little girl."

    "But I wanna sleep in, Mom. I couldn't sleep last night and I'm still sleepy."

    May smiled and sat down on the bed with the others. "Doesn't matter, sweetie. Still gotta get up. Big kids show how responsible they are by following the rules their parents make. So go get some breakfast. I think your Dad's making some pancakes."

    Sarah shot up. "Pancakes?" she asked hopefully.

    May nodded and sniffed the air. "I saw him pouring the batter before I came upstairs. If you hurry you can probably get to the first batch before your Uncle Max eats all of them."

    "Okay!" Sarah shouted.

    "But first thank Serena for waking you up."

    Sarah turned to Serena and hugged her. "Thanks, Aunt Serry!" she said, then galloped downstairs.

    Serena watched her go and turned to May. "Aunt Serry? Since when?" she asked.

    May shrugged. "You're part of the family. And you've been helping with her. Why not?"

    She chuckled. "Just that I remember how we met, and neither one of us liked the other."

    "To be fair," said May, "you were in love with my husband. And I was mad at my husband. And he was dying. And everything was a mess."

    "Oh yeah. Hey, don't think I've given up on him." The two of them shared a laugh. "How is his shoulder doing?"

    "I barely notice it. It didn't really have much of an impact on him and he never really brings it up. I guess it's fine."

    "So, how are you two doing?"

    May smiled. "I think we're doing really well. He did really great readapting to family life while you all were away for the year. And the lull managed to give him and Sarah time to bond. She's still my little girl, but I think it's more balanced. She's letting him in."

    "That's good. When I was working with him, that was his big problem. He really missed being a dad."

    May smirked. "Do I detect a little bit of jealousy in your voice?"

    "How do you mean?" Serena asked.

    "I was just wondering if you might be having a little maternal moment thanks to Sarah."

    Serena giggled. "Maybe a little bit, but I'm not really the motherly type. I'm more of the 'I miss getting some strange on a regular basis' type."

    "Want me to set you up with Max? I mean, he's my brother and all, but he's a nice guy. All of his old girlfriends spoke highly of him."

    Serena shook her head. "No thanks. I'm pretty sure 415 would rip my head off if I tried to move in on her man."

    May laughed. "She can be really odd with him sometimes." She stood up and checked outside the door to make sure 415 was not around to hear their gossip, then returned to the bed. "I think she just wasn't taught how to do the whole relationship business."

    "Well, from what I learned in PKM, she was brought up by the Golden Ranger, so that sort of makes sense. 0 never liked to talk about him, but the Golden Ranger really didn't have time for those sorts of things. He might have just forgotten to clue her in on how to deal with boys outside of ripping their necks out."

    "Maybe we should help her. I think Max might like her too, but he's about as dense as 0 is when it comes to romance." At this, both women cackled hysterically.

    "So, pancakes?" asked Serena.

    "Pancakes. Right. We'd better get down there before Sarah eats them all."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Brock Harrison woke up.

    He gazed out of his palatial bedroom and towards a large window to his left. The skyline of Goldenrod City was beautiful in the morning. It was much nicer than the one over Pewter, which tended to be mostly industrial buildings. Here, tall skyscrapers dominated the landscape, each a different color, shape, and size. He yawned and stretched, then got up and headed over to the phone on the other side of the room.

    He dialed the reception desk. "Hello?" asked a friendly-sounded woman on the other end.

    "Hi," he said. "This is Dr. Harrison in 3310. I was wondering if I could get some room service for breakfast."

    "Certainly, sir. What would you like?"

    "Uh…" He glanced over a small menu on an adjacent table. "Could I have the Kanto Continental with extra bacon, please?"

    "Kanto Continental with extra bacon? Certainly sir. Will that be all?"

    "I wouldn't say no to some scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice on the side."

    "We'll have that up for you as soon as possible, Dr. Harrison. Shouldn't be more than twenty minutes."

    "Great! I'll see you then. Thanks."

    "You're very welcome, sir."

    Brock hung up the phone and grinned. Today was going to be awesome, no questions about it. It was his last full day on his vacation. Tomorrow, he'd fly back to his regular life in Pewter City and return to the Pokemon Center to work with Nurse Joy, but today he was going to live it up like a big shot.

    He jumped in the shower to groom himself properly for his big day. He shampooed his hair with the most expensive brand the hotel had, anointed his skin with fancy fragrances he would never had allowed near himself back home, and shaved a little stubble that had been growing under his chin. When he was finished, he wrapped a robe around his body and returned to his bed. He watched some morning news until someone knocked on his door.

    It was the waiter with his breakfast. "Good morning, sir," said the young man as he wheeled in the rather large meal Brock had ordered. He opened the tray. "I take it everything is to your liking?"

    Brock stared at the tray like he might a rather attractive woman. It had everything: freshly baked blueberry muffins, soft pancakes, and plenty of bacon. On the side, he saw a batch of scrambled eggs, lightly salted. An entire pitcher of orange juice stood to the side of his tray.

    "It's perfect, thank you," he said, and gave the waiter a generous tip for the speedy service. The waiter tipped his hat then headed out. Brock settled into his breakfast and pulled out a newspaper.

    As he ate his way through a mountain of food, he started noticing some odd things in the news. It all seemed to be ranger this and ranger that, and it made no sense. He'd heard something about the rangers that were around the city, but he hadn't personally gotten the chance to see any of them. He'd been shopping in a store where one attack had happened, but by the time he had gotten to where they were, the rangers had already left behind a giant mess to clean up.

    When Brock finished his breakfast, he decided to spend the day out in Goldenrod City before the musical at the theater that night. He dressed casually, with a light jacket and work boots, before he left the room and headed down the elevator. As he passed through the main lobby he waved to some of the employees he knew and ducked out into the street.

    Even the streets of Goldenrod were different from Pewter. Everyone was out and about, nobody ever seemed to be stopping in one place for too long. Brock watched a couple stop in a coffee shop, pause for a bagel from a cart on the road, and eat both as they crossed the street, all in the span of a minute. He decided to follow their example and grab a cup of coffee for his excursion. Another difference between Goldenrod and Pewter he noticed was that the coffee cost three times as much here.

    He headed into the northern districts, interested in the possibility to running into Whitney again. It'd been a while since he'd seen her, maybe two or three years. They used to run into each other all the time at Gym Leader conferences, but since his switch to medicine Forrest had taken over most of those duties. He headed passed the department store and, with the help of a map on his phone, managed to finally find the gym.

    It hadn't changed much since the last time he'd been there, and from the looks of the outside it was still active. He could hear some shouting going on inside so he stepped through the gym's entrance.

    The aesthetics were very western. The walls were a hardened wood, matching the floor. Brock's shoes clattered against the floor as he headed into the main room, which was mostly the same save for the battlefield itself, which was composed of soft soil with fresh grass. There was a battle already going on, so Brock leaned against a wall and settled in to watch the fight.

    "Milty, Rollout!" Whitney shouted. She pointed in the direction of her opponent's Darmanitan. The Miltank nodded and curled itself up into a fat ball and began rolling all over the arena to build up traction. The Darmanitan was confused and scratched its flaming eyebrows.

    "Darmanitan, Belly Drum!" shouted the challenger, a woman with gigantic glasses. Darmanitan obeyed and pounded away at its stomach. It smashed its fists thrice, glowed red briefly, and groaned from a surge of power that exploded from its body. "Track Miltank!" The Darmanitan watched the ball of fat keep rolling. Its rotations were speeding up, it was only a matter of time before it would be strong enough to strike.

    "Now, Milty!" shouted Whitney. "Finish it off!" The cow mooed and began charging towards Darmanitan.

    "Darmanitan, Superpower!" the challenger ordered.

    "Darmanitan!" it roared. Its body glowed a violent blue and it turned to the rolling Miltank. It raised both its fists and smashed into the soft dirt.

    For an instant, nothing happened. Then, a giant clap of thunder exploded through the air and the ground shook. Shockwaves blasted through the ground and slammed into Miltank, cancelling its Rollout and tossing it into the air. It mooed its name in confusion, but the challenger did not let up. "Darmanitan, Flare Blitz!"

    Breathing heavily, the Darmanitan vomited up flames from its gullet to set itself on fire. It crouched, waiting for Miltank to start falling, then launched itself right at it. Brock fanned himself as the heat coming off Darmanitan's body started to affect the weather inside the gym. Darmanitan drew back a fist and connected, driving its knuckles deep into Miltank's chest. The cow traveled through the air and crashed into a wall.

    It could not get up. It cried pitifully than fell unconscious. Whitney shouted and bolted to Milty's side. She screamed when she got close.

    "Help! Help!" she cried. "Milty's hurt!"

    The Darmanitan and the challenger got there first, but Brock was already moving. He jumped across the field and was instantly by the Pokemon's side.

    Whitney turned to him. "Brock? What're you—"

    "No time," he said. "This is bad. You mind if I take a look?"

    "N-No, please."

    Brock nodded and surveyed the damage. It was not promising. Milty's body wasn't on fire anymore, but there were burns on the left side of its body just above the udder. He could see how bad the skin had seared. The burn had even gotten down into the muscle tissue. He thought he saw part of the lining of Milty's first stomach.

    He checked its pulse, which was elevated, and its breathing, which was steady. "It's going into shock," he said. "Do you have anything here to help? Potions? Burn Heals? First aid?"

    Whitney shook her head. "We ran out last week! I meant to restock the cupboard, but I've had so many challengers that I forgot." She was starting to cry.

    He nodded. "Don't panic, we can still help her." He took out two Pokeballs. "Chansey, Swampert, let's go!" The balls exploded and two Pokemon, one that looked like a fat pink oval and another that looked like a blue catfish with legs, emerged. "Swampert, I'm going to need some cool water to soothe some of these burns. Chansey, Healing Pulse. We've got to get Milty back to normal."

    Chansey nodded and immediately began channeling psychic energy. It placed its paws on the egg it carried around in its pocket and a ball of pink energy started forming in front of it. Wasting no time, the ball moved away from Chansey and over Milty. It scattered into thousands of little pink particles that covered Milty. The Miltank moaned and opened its eyes feebly.

    Brock placed two fingers on its neck. "Pulse is getting back to normal," said Brock. "Chansey, be ready with another one of those in case we need it. Swampert, water please."

    The giant Swampert nodded and towered over the little cow. It opened its mouth and a steady stream of water started trickling out over Milty's skin. The burn twitched, and Milty mooed in protest, but Brock held it down with Darmanitan's help.

    "Next, does anyone have a Pokemon with teleport?" he asked.

    "I don't," said Whitney.

    The challenger nodded. "I do. Elgyem, go!" She released another Pokemon, a grey little humanoid, which looked towards them with its beady green eyes awaiting orders.

    Brock turned to it. "Elgyem, I need you to take this." He dug into his pocket and withdrew all the money he had on him. "Go to the department store and buy a Full Restore. Go immediately and get back as soon as you can. Do you understand?"

    Elgyem looked at its trainer, who nodded her consent. It glowed white, then suddenly vanished.

    There was nothing to do but wait. Brock monitored Miltank's condition and kept Whitney calm.

    "Couldn't we just take Milty to the Pokemon Center?" she asked.

    Brock shook his head. "Injuries like this, you really can't. The technology that puts the Pokemon into its Pokeball won't heal this kind of damage, so it'll just fester. The damage needed immediate attention. Chansey, hit Milty with another Heal Pulse. It's losing a lot of color again."

    Chansey complied. "Whitney, I am so, so sorry," said the challenger. "We didn't mean for this to happen." Behind her, Darmanitan slowly nodded its head. It dragged its knuckles on the ground in an expression of regret.

    Whitney waved her hand. "It's not your fault, Christie. You didn't mean to do it. We were just lucky Leader Brock was passing through."

    Brock grinned. "Actually, it's Dr. Harrison now. Hence why Milty's going to be fine. Aren't you, girl?" Milty mooed softly and nodded its head slowly. "Besides, I might have just done it so I could hit on the both of you once Milty's back on her hooves."

    "Haven't changed a bit since I saw you last," said Whitney. There was a sudden flash of light and Elgyem reemerged with a vial of Full Restore.

    "Good work," said Brock. "Got any change for me?" Elgyem shrugged its shoulders and Brock forgot about it. "No worries, let's just get this done. Swampert, hold Milty down. She's not going to like this."

    Swampert nodded and held the Miltank down firmly. Brock aimed the spray bottle carefully and applied the medicine to the affected area. It screamed and thrashed, but Brock ignored it and emptied the whole bottle into the burn. Milty slowly stopped struggling as the wound closed up and new skin formed over the burn. It was still breathing heavily.

    "She'll make a full recovery," said Brock as he wiped his brow. "Close one, though. She wouldn't have made it to the Pokemon Center, especially with your navigational skills. Remember the time we got lost in the—"

    Brock stopped talking because Whitney threw herself around him in a giant hug. Brock ignored his baser instincts and returned the hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she shouted with glee. "I couldn't bear the thought of losing poor Milty!"

    He patted her head. "It's okay. She's fine, and I'm sure…Christie, is it? Yeah, Christie will use a little more restraint next time she's in a fight."

    Christie nodded her reddened cheeks. "I'm really sorry about all this."

    "These things happen," said Brock. "Just glad to be of help."

    He would have gone on longer, but at that moment there was a huge crash from upstairs and a man came charging out of another door and into the gym. He was panting furiously with a microphone in hand. A few seconds later, he was joined by another man carrying a camera.

    "That was awesome!" he exclaimed. He ran up to Brock and wrung his hand in a lengthy handshake. "Derek Anderson, gym reporter for Goldenrod Radio Television. That, sir, was one of the best things I've seen in a while on this beat. Could I trouble you for an interview?"

    Brock looked at Whitney. "What's going on?"

    She shrugged. "They televise all the matches online for people to watch. It's a fun little thing that helps with the upkeep around here. When something big happens, Derek runs over here for an interview. Would you mind?"

    "Uh, sure, but I didn't really do anything too big." He looked at Swampert and Chansey. "What do you guys think?" Both of them nodded and smiled, so he did the same. "Alright, let's do this."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    0 finished the last batch of pancakes and set them on a platter next to the skillet. They smelled great or, at least, great considering he had made them. He still wasn't quite the chef that May was, but at least he had people to learn to cook for now.

    "Dad?" 0 looked down and noticed Sarah peering over the counter at the new stack.

    "Yes?" he asked.

    "Why don't you ever eat anything?" she asked.

    He thought about it. "Well, Sarah, that's sort of hard to answer. I used to have nightmares, really bad nightmares, like the ones you get sometimes. I couldn't sleep, so I tried this drink that Bakaguru made and it kept me awake. But I took it for too long, so now I have to drink it every three days."

    "Or else what?"

    He chuckled. "I'd go to sleep for a really long time. But the drink also covers my need to eat, so I'm never hungry." He took a sniff of the pancakes. "Even though these do smell nice." Sarah nodded. "Why don't you have mine?"

    She hugged him. "Thanks, Dad!" she squealed. "You're the bestest."

    He held her tight and nodded. "And you're the bestest daughter, baby girl."

    "0!" shouted May from the other room.

    He looked up. "Yes?" he caked back.

    "Might want to get in here! There's something on the TV you'll want to see."

    "Mind giving Dad a hand with the food?" Sarah nodded and grabbed the platter of pancakes. 0 took another platter filled with bacon and followed her. 415, Serena, Max, and May were all sitting at the table. Max and May looked incredibly confused by what they were seeing on the television screen.

    "What's going on?" he asked as he and Sarah set the food on the table.

    May was aghast. "It's…well, it's Brock." She pointed to the screen. "He's at the Goldenrod Gym."

    0 looked at the television. Sure enough, it was Brock's face plastered on the screen. A caption underneath his face read "Brock Harrison, P.M.D., Pokemon Rescuer." Brock himself looked very uncomfortable being on camera. Next to him was Whitney, whom 0 recognized from years ago, and another girl he didn't know. Swampert and Chansey were in the background, obviously enjoying the media attention more than Brock.

    "Turn it up," 0 said.

    Serena grabbed the remote and turned up the volume.

    "…Really, it wasn't anything I did," said Brock. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."

    "He's being modest," said Whitney. "He saved my Milty on his own using just Pokemon."

    An off-camera reporter asked, "Can you walk us through what was going through your mind, Dr. Harrison?"

    "Uh…well, I just stopped by because I knew Whitney from my days as a Gym Leader, and I happened to walk into a match she was having with Christie here that got a little out of hand. I then just used my Pokemon to keep Milty stable until we could get a Full Restore from the department store." Brock was sweating. "That's really all there is to it."

    "Why didn't you take Milty to a Pokemon Center immediately?" asked the reporter.

    "Well, the burn had gotten through the first layer of skin and had actually seared a bit of her first stomach. I knew the burn would keep draining on Milty if we put her in a Pokeball, so I just thought it would be safer to operate on her here and not risk hurting her by moving her or anything happening while she was in the energy form in the Pokeball. And now Milty's perfectly healthy and she'll be good to go for gym matches after a few days of relaxation on Whitney's farm."

    Beside Whitney, the Miltank mooed softly and nodded its head. The entire group chuckled, then the screen cut back to a pair of women in the studio, likely the hosts, who started commentating on Brock's bravery.

    "So," said 0, "we really should figure out what to do about this."

    Sarah ignored the conversation and suddenly became immersed in the nearby pancakes. Max nodded and said, "Well, this confirms Brock is still here. And his arrival in the city fits the timeline for Top and Dia."

    "That could be deliberate, though," said May. "Besides, he has his own Pokemon with him. I've never seen a Dark Gem with their own Pokemon before."

    "Fair point," said Serena. "Did the Pokemon look familiar?"

    "I wasn't sure," said 0 with a shrug. "Swampert looked familiar, but I haven't really spoken to Brock in a few years."

    "I have," said Max. "It's definitely his Swampert. Wasn't too sure about the Chansey, those all look alike. But Swampert has a chipped tooth I noticed."

    "Okay," said 0. "That means Brock is either Top and is deliberately hiding it, or Top's just shape-shifting to mess with our heads. One way or another, we need confirmation."

    "I have a suggestion," said 415.

    "What is it?" asked May.

    "Use Serena Brine. Brock Harrison's profile suggests he prefers the company of women. Have Serena Brine pose as a woman impressed by his appearance on the news and discern whether he has been corrupted by a Dark Gem."

    "That could work," said Serena, "except I don't really know Harrison. I'd need someone who knew him pretty well helping me."

    "I can do it," said Max. "Aside from 0, I probably know him the best out of the group here. Let's go." He and Serena rose from the table and headed out.

    Sarah looked up. "Dad, is something wrong with Uncle Brock?"

    "Not sure, Sarah," he said. "We hope not, but we'll try and find out. But if something is wrong, we'll do everything we can to fix him." Then he smiled. "Okay?"

    "Okay, Dad." She seemed to forget what had happened and instead continued feasting on the food at the table. When she was finished she wiped her face on her sleeve and gave her father a syrupy grin. "So, when do we get to go outside and help set up?" she asked eagerly.

    "As soon as you hop upstairs and get washed. Whole town's coming out, I'm not having my daughter be the one that looks like a hooligan."

    "What's hooligan?" she asked.

    "Remember when you first saw me fighting Mom in Saffron City?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "Remember what I was wearing?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "That's hooligan. Get upstairs and take a shower. You can come help us set up when you're done," said 0. Sarah nodded then ran up the stairs. 0 chuckled and headed outside with May.

    "Did you remember to grab Grovyle and Mightyena from Max?" 0 asked.

    She nodded and produced two Pokeballs from clips on her belt. "Sure did. Where are Lu and Tork?"

    "Probably out back with your Pokemon. I think they're trying to explain dribbling to Tork."

    May giggled and released Max's Pokemon. Grovyle and Mightyena emerged and yawned. Grovyle started at the sun for a few moments, then went off in search of a nice twig from some of the adjacent trees. Mightyena scratched around its ears then became incredibly interested in a nearby grouping of trees.

    "Grov, Grov!" shouted 0. "Ena!" Grovyle, without turning its head, nodded and quickened its search. Mightyena barked back a reply.

    "What'd you say?" asked May.

    "Break's over in five minutes. We've got a little bit more work to do before everything's ready and I can't have Mightyena marking territory all day."

    Around the back of the house, Blaziken and Lu were taking turns working with the basketball. To its credit, Blaziken had figured out how to dribble without popping the ball with its claws, something Lu had learned a week ago. Tork's head darted between the two as they played. It occasionally attempted to headbutt the ball when they got close to it, but its stubby feet made it impossible for it to play fairly. Tork hung its head and sighed.

    "Don't worry, buddy," said 0. "You might not be able to handle the ball, but Sarah can definitely ride you to the basket." Tork perked up and made a happy noise. It lumbered over and, waiting for the right moment, poked its head out and smacked the ball right out of Blaziken's claws. The ball bounced to Lu, who grinned and jumped up to dunk it on the hoop. Blaziken gave the two of them an ugly look and retrieved the ball for another round.

    "Don't drop your guard," said May to it. "I know you're more used to getting through Contest rounds, but just think of it as another performance instead of a human sport." She patted it on the back. "And good job with the dribbling."

    "Blaz," it crowed happily, then returned its attention to carefully bouncing the ball.

    "Cario," said Lu and stepped forward, demonstrating its claws. Blaziken eyed it warily. Lu made a dribbling motion with an open palm. "Lu, Lu."

    "Ziken," replied Blaziken and passed the ball. It bounced past Lu, who ran back to retrieve it. Lu grabbed the ball and demonstrated a way to handle the ball with its palm and completely avoid its claw-tipped paws touching the ball.

    "Cario, Lu," it said and passed the ball back. Despite overshooting, Blaziken managed to snatch it up before the ball sailed over its head.

    It tried to do as Lu had done, but it found stretching its fingers out difficult. "Blaz!" it groaned.

    "What're they talking about?" asked May.

    "Lu's trying to help Blaziken with its handling. It figured out a way to stretch out its paw so it has greater control of the ball and avoids clawing it apart. I don't think Blaziken can do it though. Its hand is designed like a claw machine, so it has a harder time bending its fingers in the same way."

    "I wonder where Beautifly and Glaceon are?"

    "Probably setting up the obstacle course," said 0. "Why don't you head over there? I'm sure Grovyle can lend a hand."

    She nodded. "Okay sweetie." She kissed him on the cheek then dashed off to the other side of the house.

    When he was alone, he folded his arms and tapped his earpiece. "Hey, Pi?"

    "Yeah?" it replied.

    He looked at Lu, Tork, and Blaziken. "Do you ever miss that? Being in the real world, I mean."

    It chuckled. "Sometimes," it said. "But then I remember that if I was in the real world I'd have to eat your cooking, and I soldiered through too many years of that after Brock left for med school."

    The two of them shared a laugh. Then 0 got back to work.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  7. #57
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    Default Chapter 31, Continued

    Morph Thirty-One: Trapped..., Part 2

    "Whitney, you've gotta get me out of here."

    Brock looked outside. There were no less than ten different news vans converging on the parking lot in front of the gym. No less than twenty cameras were trained on the locked doors, and no less than thirty reporters eagerly wanted to speak with him. Understanding that the doors were sealed, the reporters had just started raising their voices to ask their questions, perhaps hoping he might shout back an answer, but he was having none of it.

    "What's wrong with a little publicity, Brock?" she asked. "You saved Milty. Surely you deserve some kind of recognition. I'm pretty sure the mayor would give you the key to the city if you stuck around."

    "I'm good, thanks. Just tell me there's a way passed them."

    "But if you did some more interviews, the ladies around here would probably throw themselves at you. You know how much Goldenrod loves Milty."

    "Well, that might be a—no! As fun as that would be, I've seen the paparazzi harass and annoy a bunch of my friends. I'd just really rather get out of here and enjoy my last day on vacation in peace."

    "Okay, okay." Whitney thought about it for a moment. "There's a fire exit out back. I'm pretty sure that they won't find you if I stall them."

    "Thanks." He turned to Christie. "You want to come with me? I guarantee if they love me they're going to be mad at you."

    "But I didn't do it on purpose," said Christie.

    "No, he's right," said Whitney. "Probably best you not get nabbed by the news crews. Head upstairs and find the fire escape. And you!" Whitney turned to Anderson, who had been on the phone arguing with a producer, and snatched up his phone. "No helping! You got your exclusive, so you come help me."

    Anderson groaned, but he reluctantly followed her to deal with the press. "Follow me then," said Brock and led Christie upstairs. There were a few rooms but he spotted the one with the fire escape and led Christie to the window. "Alright, let's just take a look and…" He looked down and noticed a pair of reporters looking around the escape. "Oh boy."

    "What is it?" Christie asked, then peered down. "Oh."

    "Not a problem, I think I can fix this." Brock took out a Pokeball and tossed it down to the ground below. Swampert emerged and confused the two reporters. They looked around while Swampert stared at them warily. It glanced up briefly, saw Brock, then nodded without giving away their location.

    "What's it going to do?" asked Christie.

    Brock chuckled. "Well, some people tend to frown on using Pokemon against other people, but I fought Team Rocket long enough to know how to get someone blasting off." He raised his arm and gave Swampert a thumb's up. It nodded.

    "What's this doing here?" asked one of the reporters. She made the unwise decision to approach Swampert. She was rewarded with a Water Gun directly to the face and fell flat on her back. "Oh, gross! I'm all wet!"

    "Now we run!" said Brock and he jumped onto the fire escape. "Swampert, again!" Christie and Brock scaled down the ladders as Swampert lightly blasted the other reporter. His camera flew out of his arms and clattered to the ground. Brock recovered Swampert's Pokeball.

    "Oh, come on!" shouted the reporter as he scrambled for the camera.

    "One more time, Swampert!" Brock commanded. Swampert spewed water between the reporter and his precious camera and forced him to back down long enough for the three to make their escape. "Return." Swampert vanished back into the Pokeball. They sprinted down a nearby alleyway before the cameras could catch up to them.

    They resurfaced a few blocks south of the gym, far away from the paparazzi. There weren't too many people walking the street, so Brock wiped his brow in relief. "I think we lost them. Should be okay to head out."

    She smiled. "Thanks, Dr. Harrison," she said. "You were amazing back there."

    He shook his head. "I'm not usually one for modesty, but it's no big deal. You're very welcome."

    She started to head out, but stopped and turned around. "Hey, how'd you like to grab something to eat sometime? Say dinner?"

    He chuckled. "I'm flattered, but I think I'm a bit old for you. What are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?"

    She groaned. "I'm nineteen."

    "As tempting as that would be, I'm thirty-five. I'm going to have to pass on the dinner." He held out his hand. "Take care, Christie. Try to take it easy in the league, okay?"

    She shook her head. "Just passed up a sure thing, old man, but you're a good guy." She held his hand firmly. "At least I got the badge. Only four more to go."

    "Good for you. I'll be looking for you when I'm watching the Silver Conference this year," he said. She headed off down the street and Brock watched her go, mentally kicking himself for being too mature to take her up on her offer. "Maybe she… No, no, that's a bad Brock. If Croagunk were here it'd have jabbed you by now. You don't have Max and the others to keep you in line anymore." He sighed, put his hands in his jacket pockets, and headed the other way.

    He hadn't made it to blocks when he heard a woman's voice behind him. "Dr. Brock Harrison?" He groaned, but turned around with a smile.

    Standing behind him was a woman he'd never seen before. She was a platinum blonde and much, much shorter than he was. She had green eyes and a devilish smile. She also had a piece of gum in her mouth that she was chewing. She held out a stick in her hand. "Gum?" she asked.

    He nodded and took it. "Juicy Fruit's my favorite," he said and cautiously unwrapped it and put it in his mouth. "Uh, thanks?"

    "Thank you. Saving Milty was much appreciated by the city."

    He waved it off. "Really, really wasn't anything," he said, while internally he began thanking every life decision that had led to this beautiful woman offering him gum. No, Brock. Play this cool. He grinned. "Not to be rude or anything, but you wouldn't be a reporter would you?"

    She shook her head. "Nope. Just me, Dr. Harrison."

    "It's actually just Brock. Nobody calls me Dr. Harrison back in Pewter."

    "Such a shame." She looked him up and down and smiled. "Dr. Harrison has such a nice ring to it."

    Control yourself right now, Harrison. Do not jump up and down. Do not profess love. Do what normal people do. Do what normal people do. Do what—

    "C-Coffee?" he blurted out.

    "Hmmm?"

    "Uh, coffee," he said. "Would you like some?"

    "An invitation, Dr. Harrison? Are you asking out a complete stranger?"

    "I know a place a few blocks away," he replied, having not listened to a single word she said. "If you wouldn't mind."

    She laughed. "I like you, Dr. Harrison. The name's Samantha. Lead the way."

    Brock decided it would be wise to remain silent on the walk to the coffee shop, if only so he would not get down on one knee and propose right there. He supposed she noticed, because after two blocks of silence she poked him in the side.

    "Hey," she said. "Why so quiet?"

    He coughed. "Honestly?"

    "Please."

    "Okay," he said. "Truth is, I have a habit of overreacting to beautiful women talking to me. When I was younger, this would manifest in the form of flowers and music, so I'm trying to keep calm around you."

    She giggled. "So, is there a song and dance number, or do you just hear all that in your head?" She poked him again. "Ooh, what kind of flowers?"

    He scratched his head. "It depends. Usually roses, those smell nice. And it's a swelling up kind of music, like you get on TV shows when there's a big confession. I have to pay all these royalties. But no, it's just in my head. You don't want to hear me singing. Couldn't find a tune to save my life."

    Samantha cackled, and had to stop to bend over and belt out her laughter. "You've gotta be kidding me? Let me get this straight: you can save a Pokemon on national television but you can't meet a girl without getting your mom on speed dial to meet her?"

    "It wasn't on national television, and my mom is not on my speed dial."

    "Let me see!"

    "No!"

    The argument continued all the way to the coffee shop, at which point Samantha wrangled his phone away and started flipping through it.

    "You have a Jenny and Joy screensaver?"

    "Is that an app for My Little Ponyta? Are you a Bronyta?"

    "She is on your speed dial! That's so cute!"

    "Give me that!" he shouted and snatched it back up. He made sure to lock it with a password before he put it back into his pocket. "My personal property! No touching!" Samantha just laughed while everyone in the shop stared at him quizzically. "Uh," he muttered, as he noticed the growing amount of people recognizing him, "just go about your business please. Nothing to see here. Just a man regaining his cell phone from a girl with boundary issues he impulsively asked out."

    A man stood up and dramatically pointed at him. "It's Brock Harrison!" he cried. Brock tilted his head, confused by the man's stance. "The man who saved Milty!"

    Others began to stand. "For Milty!" they announced, then charged towards him.

    "How am I this famous already?" Brock shouted.

    Later, much later, when the seemingly endless stream of Milty fans left him be, Brock found himself sitting at a small table in the corner of the coffee shop with Samantha, utterly perplexed as to why he had thirteen white chocolate mochas on the table in front of him. Then he vaguely remembered ordering the first one and everyone clamoring to pay for it, which resulted in the caffeine fest in front of him.

    "I'm sorry about all that," he said. "I'm really not sure how to turn it off. I have friends that put up with this every day and I really can't imagine doing that. I'm never going to be able to come back to this city."

    "Don't be," said Samantha as she picked up one of the cups and took a sip. "It was really funny to watch. And you can come back to Goldenrod. You'll just need to go incognito. Maybe grow a moustache. Then nobody will want to talk to you."

    "But then wouldn't you not want to talk to me?"

    She shrugged. "Maybe. Depends on how big it is."

    "Nope, not worth it. Maybe you can come to Pewter one day."

    She eyed him. "You're not seriously asking me to come visit you a whole region away after one coffee date are you?"

    "One, possibly. I told you I'm trying to keep a handle on that whole romantic thing. Two, you just suggested you might see me if I come back and brave the paparazzi for you."

    She grinned. "Touché, Dr. Harrison." She raised her glass. "Not only can you rescue local heroes, you can also argue reasonably well."

    He raised his cup. "Maybe you should give me your number, just in case I need a quick ego boost and visit."

    For a brief moment, Samantha's grin faltered. It was only for a second, then it returned as if it'd never gone. "I'd love to, Dr. Harrison." She pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote the number down on a napkin. She passed it over and Brock pocketed it. "So, how does it feel to have gotten a girl's number?"

    "Not gonna lie, I feel like doing a little jig."

    "Well, don't let me stop you. Dance away."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "There's no way you win, Sarah!"

    0 watched with interest as his daughter blew a raspberry at the child she was playing against, a girl by the name of Molly. Instead of letting the taunt get to her, Sarah instead continued her approach. He noticed she was doing quite well keeping her footing on Tork's shell and briefly reminisced about a race he'd once ridden a Lapras in.

    He'd paired Sarah with Tork, Lu, and Blaziken, figuring she'd be at ease with her parents' Pokemon, but hadn't counted on how quickly she'd taken to basketball with them. It hadn't been but a few minutes, but she'd already figured out how to get Lu and Blaziken to work together while coordinating attacks from atop Tork.

    "She takes after you," said May. "She's a natural with the Pokemon."

    He shook his head. "She takes after both of us. She's the prodigy of a world-class trainer and a world-class coordinator." He reached down and held her hand as the game continued. Across from them, Molly's father was recording the match on a small camera along with a few other parents.

    Sarah was assessing the situation. She was down five points already and her opponent had an easier mount. Mightyena growled at the weight, but didn't let up and kept her steady while she directed Grovyle and Beautifly onto the field.

    "She should have had this already," said 0. "She has the home field advantage with the Pokemon and the terrain. I wonder what she's waiting for."

    "When does she get the ball again?"

    "In a bit. If she can block the shot this time."

    "You sound a bit disappointed," said May.

    "I'm not disappointed. I'm just supporting my daughter."

    "Yes, but you expect her to be as good as you. Remember, she can't talk to Pokemon or substitute for the years you've been training Pokemon." She grinned and nudged him. "Don't be such a soccer mom, okay?"

    "I am not a—fair point," he grumbled. "Okay, we'll see what she does."

    The primary reason Sarah was at a disadvantage was because of Molly's Beautifly. All Grovyle had to do was pass the ball up to it and it could fly over Sarah's entire defense. She was eying it suspiciously as she tried to figure out a way around it. Then Molly passed the ball to Beautifly and Sarah started moving.

    "Blaziken, Sky Uppercut!" she shouted. As Beautifly neared her side of the court, Sarah's Blaziken crouched and jumped straight up. Beautifly tried to dodge, but the ball was cumbersome and it dropped the ball. Blaziken grabbed it in midair as it sailed back down.

    "Pass to Lu!" said Sarah. "Lu, take it to the hole!"

    Blaziken delicately passed the ball right to Lu who immediately started dribbling up the court. "Grovyle, block it!" Molly ordered.

    Grovyle had a natural advantage and instantly grabbed the ball with its long, slender fingers. It jumped passed both Blaziken and Tork and tossed the ball into the basket.

    0 cursed under his breath. "Keep trying, Sarah!" May shouted over him and tightened his grip on his hand. "Don't be a butt, Keean."

    "Right, right," he said. "Go Sarah! Try and find a way around Grovyle this time! You can do it!" He turned to May. "Better?"

    She smiled. "Much."

    Sarah waved at them and took the ball from Lu. The minutes were ticking down, she wouldn't have enough time to catch up before long.

    "Is 415 handling everything, Pi?" 0 asked under his breath.

    "She's doing fine with the obstacle course. It was a good idea to only do two events today. Serena and Max are still working on Brock."

    "Roger." He turned his attention back to the game and gasped.

    Sarah found a way around Molly by going through her. She passed the ball back to Blaziken and charged forward riding Tork. She almost slipped off but held on to the front of its shell. Grovyle tried to slink around and grab the ball from Blaziken, but Lu blocked it off and kept Beautifly from diving down and stealing it. Mightyena, not wanting to be trampled by several hundred pounds of fire turtle, dodged out of the way despite Molly's protests to grab the ball herself. Blaziken jumped and earned Sarah her first point.

    "Whee!" she shouted with glee as she retreated back to her side of the court.

    0 roared his approval. "Way to go, baby girl!"

    May raised her hands. "Go Sarah!"

    Sarah turned to her parents. "See? I did it!"

    "Great work, Sarah!" shouted 0. "But get your head back in the game! Molly's got the ball again!" Sarah nodded and shifted her attention back to defense. Across the court, Molly's father looked like he growled before resuming filming.

    For a moment, he looked directly at 0, who felt a slight shiver that was unmistakable. "Oh no," he said. "Oh, let me be wrong. Please let me be wrong."

    "What is it?" asked May.

    "Nothing, I just, I just really want to be wrong about something right now."

    The rest of the game was uneventful to 0. Sarah managed to defend her side of the court but it was too difficult for her to get passed Molly. Eventually the time ran out and Molly won, but 0 wasn't paying attention to the game anymore.

    Molly's father kept staring at him and nodded his head. He stopped filming and went to his Molly, whom he picked up and hugged tightly. Then, before 0 could do anything, they started approaching Sarah.

    0 tapped his earpiece. "415! Max! Abandon posts and get over here!" he ordered. "I think we have a situation!" He started moving and got in between his daughter and what he was pretty sure was—

    "Hi, I'm Keean Toby" he said and held out his hand. "Great match, huh? Well, we'll make sure Sarah improves for next time. Right, sweetie?"

    "Keean, what did I say about encouragement?"

    "Yes, dear, but—"

    0 never finished, because an instant later Molly's father drew back his right arm and slugged 0 right in the face. 0 crashed into the ground and rolled back up to his feet.

    Molly's father transformed. His features melted back into Brock's grinning face. Someone must have noticed it because 0 heard someone scream as Top's face started to bubble and drip off. He started pulling out his Dark Topaz and began wrapping himself in his chains.

    Molly giggled. "Hey, golden boy," she said. "I wanna eat your Sarah. Is that okay?" She started jumping up and down as her chains wrapped along her body.

    "May," said 0. "Get Sarah out of here right now."

    "No, no, no!" said Molly before anyone could move. How had 0 not seen them? Rangerlings, scores of them, surrounded the court. "I wanna eat her! She's mine and I want her!" She turned to Top, who had finished his transformation. "I want her! I want her now!"

    But Top didn't move. He just kept staring at 0, as if waiting for the other man to make his move. "Daddy, I want her! I want her now!" When Top still refused to move, she started screaming. "Dark Gem Ignite!" she wailed and finished her transformation. "Why aren't you moving?" she shrieked. "Why aren't you moving?"

    And then something terrible happened. A chain shot out of the Dark Diamond Ranger and embedded itself into Top's skull. Though he didn't collapse, he shuddered in place for a few seconds before raising his hand. Satisfied, Dia withdrew her chain and stepped aside. Top grew an extra two arms and started walking towards 0.

    What was happening, he wondered. It was suddenly cloudy, too cloudy from the way it had been only a few minutes ago. Could it be starting to rain? There wasn't anybody around anymore except for Rangerlings. Everyone else had taken off.

    "Sweetie, baby girl, stay close," he said and morphed.

    The bright Pokeball hologram appeared around him and burst open, revealing his ranger gear. He positioned himself between his family and Top. "Pi, recall Lu and Tork now," he ordered. Two points of light issued from the two Pokeballs attached to his belt. "Prepare the Auxiliary Pokemon System."

    It only took two seconds, then Cario Form was online. He braced the giant gauntlets and prepared for combat. "Where's the rest of my team?" he asked Lu

    "415 will be here soon, sir. Pi is helping Max teleport Serena. Won't be long!"

    There was a flash of light next to him. He turned and saw the Black Ranger with her giant magnetic mace in her hands.

    "Ready to do this?" he asked 415.

    "Target the big one," she suggested. "He will be angered if we target the Diamond first."

    "Cover me," he said. "Don't let either get to May or Sarah. Keep the Rangerlings away until everybody else joins the party."

    "Understood." She fell back into a support position while 0 advanced to combat Top.

    The first blow was mitigated thanks to the gauntlets. They weren't strong enough to hurt Top, but they were powerful enough to block his blows without breaking 0's arms. 0 got behind Top and smashed the back of his left gauntlet into his body. The spike broke through his armor and wedged itself into where Top's kidney would have been. Top didn't scream, or grunt, or do anything verbal, but he slowed visibly, just enough for 0 to reach for his next Pokeball.

    Oal Form came online just as quickly as Cario Form went offline. Immediately, 0 took advantage of the gaping wound and smashed his reinforced fist right into it. It tore through more muscle and Top slowed even further.

    He might win this yet, he thought. Tork approved and encouraged him to stop damaging Top's body and refocus on some of the Rangerlings that were surrounding him. He grabbed Top's neck and activated Protect, sending the wave of Rangerlings crashing down to the ground and straining Top's muscles even further. Top dropped motionless and 0 switched back to his standard ranger form.

    "Pi, download the Bolt Blade," he asked. "I'm sensing an easy victory for once." The blade formed in his hand and he slashed at the Rangerlings.

    "Are we late for the party?" 0 looked up. Serena and Max were crashing through waves of Rangerlings to make their way to the center where 415 was holding off most of them by herself. Max roared and tore off one of the Rangerlings' heads, reducing it to dust in moments. He stationed himself around May and Sarah while 415 and Serena took to the offensive and began preemptive strikes on the waves that kept coming.

    Top was getting up again. "Pi, switch to compact mode." The blade shrank instantly. "Only way to beat this guy is if we go faster than him."

    "Agreed. Should we use Agility?"

    "I'm sort of burning through the Synchronization Drive, but this would be the time for it. Fire it up." 0 vanished, too quick for the eye to trace, and managed to score two deep wounds on Top's back. Top roared and tried to reach him, but he was too fast.

    "We're going to win!" he shouted with another slash across Top's chest.

    "Are you?" 0 couldn't see the voice, but he knew it was Dia. "You think you can just keep slicing at my daddy and expect everything to work. Didn't you kill Sap? The only thing that matters is the Gem. And you'll never hit my daddy's."

    She was right. He was scoring victories, but Top kept one set of arms constantly guarding the gigantic gem at the center of his chest. And each time he murdered a wave of Rangerlings, it seemed that two more took its place almost immediately. There were too many.

    "Oh no…" he muttered. "There are too many."

    It hadn't happened immediately. Dia had been smart, very smart. She'd kept May and Sarah on the battlefield. She added Rangerlings slowly. She'd separated 0 from the others. And Top had been playing with him. 0 swung the sword again and Top caught it easily. The blade bit into his fingertips but he barely noticed it as he grabbed 0 by the throat and started twisting. 0 tried to get away, but not even a fully-charged Volt Tackle could sway him. But Top didn't kill him. Top waited, showing how the Rangerlings kept coming and coming for his family, until finally they were overrun.

    Serena was the first to fall, being in the front. She missed one Rangerling with a punch and a dozen more fell on top of her.

    415 fared better, swinging her mace in a giant arc over her head to keep them away. But one got underneath the arc and twenty followed.

    Max never wavered. He killed scores, droves, everything that dared get within a hair of either Sarah or May. 0 struggled and watched as the Dark Diamond Ranger approached him and performed the same trick she had done with Top. The chain melted into the Dark Emerald Ranger's face.

    "How are you good?" asked Dia."What is wrong with you?"

    "L-Laaaaade," Max groaned.

    "Oh, that's right. You're stuck like that, aren't you? Well, let's fix that." She gripped the chain and, in one move, tore it from Max's face. The Dark Emerald Ranger screamed. He started to glow violently. The world got so bright amidst the rain.

    Nothing happened, though. Max became brighter and fell to the soggy ground. "Pathetic," she whispered and turned to the others. She reached 415 and, without even trying, kicked her so hard her ranger system just faded away. She didn't look bruised, but only because her mask would not let her.

    "You're all just pathetic, you know that. All I wanna do is eat one little girl. O'm tired of eating the others. They're so fat and old, it's like eating expired bacon." She grabbed 415 by the face. "What do you really look like?"

    From the distance, 0 could hear a faint plea from 415's lips.

    "What's that?" asked Dia. "Don't take the mask? But what's the fun of a mask if you can't take it off? Stupid old lady." 0 tried to stop it, but Top canceled the morpher and 0 was left powerless to stop what came next.

    The mask came off and, for the first time, 0 heard 415 scream.

    He couldn't get a good look. It was too dark in some places because of the storm and too bright in colors because of whatever was happening to Max. But whatever 415's face was, in the brief instant he saw it before she covered her face, he felt fear.

    Then Dia turned to Sarah.

    "No," said 0. "No!"

    "Little girlie, come out from behind your mommy," cooed Dia. "Mommies are useless anyway. They just get in the way." She got onto her tiptoes and punched May in the stomach. There was no contest. Without any sort of protection, May fell between her daughter and the monster. Dia stepped over May to get to the little girl. May grabbed her boot.

    Dia laughed. "Idiot." She kicked May in the face. May fell, and Dia turned to Sarah. "Come here, dinner."

    "Get away from her!" Top tightened his grip on 0's throat. "Get away!" Something was happening, he didn't like it. Something was boiling inside him.

    Dia hit Sarah. 0 watched his little girl get smacked in the face, kicked, and punched. Sarah screamed in pain, it was the worst sound 0 had ever heard. 0 started thrashing, ignoring Top's tightening grip, ignoring everything but the need to protect his daughter.

    He was breathing heavily. I gave up everything. I gave up my wife. I gave up my daughter. I gave up my life! And now that I have it back, you think you can take it away from me? You think you can take what's mine? Stop touching her! Get away from her! Get away from my family you psychotic freaks!

    He screamed and light exploded out around him. He felt Top's hand loosen around him and smashed his elbow into Top's chest. He was released and Top backed away. 0 didn't care, 0 barely noticed anything had happened.

    "The morpher will not force such an extreme transformation without an extreme catalyst for the morph. Say there is a great deal of anger. Were you to morph in such a state, the psychological effects could extend to the morpher and bond you. Mind you, such as transformation would require an exceeding amount of rage the likes of which—"

    He understood. He didn't necessarily comprehend everything but he understood. He felt so much power building up inside him, so much strength, that it hurt. It hurt so much, it tore through his body.

    "No," he whispered, before the pain overloaded him and all he knew was hate. He lifted his head and screamed as the rain pelted his skin for the last time.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Brock returned to his hotel late that night. It had been a great day, even after Samantha had had to leave on such short notice. He still had her number, maybe he would text her when he was back in Pewter. Maybe he wouldn't. All he knew was that he'd managed to make it through a date with a woman without making a complete idiot out of himself. Well, not counting all the mochas at the beginning.

    He slid his key card into the lock and walked into his room. He began to grab his clothes and put them into his suitcases. His flight left at ten in the morning and he was rather punctual. He would get everything ready tonight, then reward himself with a casual morning before hiring a taxi for the airport in the morning.

    He was so invested in the packing that he didn't even notice what was in his bathroom the first time he went in. He had missed it completely, opting instead to pick up his shaving kit and pack it. It was only when he realized he'd missed his toothbrush did he go back inside and turn on all the lights. Then he saw it.

    Lying in the tub was a mummified girl. Her skin looked stretched over her bones. She was huddled in the fetal position in the shower, no wonder he hadn't noticed. He screamed. His heart was racing. "There's a dead girl in my bathroom," he said to no one, unable to believe it. "She's not breathing, she's not doing anything. She's just…dead."

    Then he noticed something else. Something…familiar about the girl. "C-C-Christie?" he breathed. There was no mistaking it. The girl looked like someone had hollowed out Christie and left nothing. "What the—"

    "Good. This was taking an inordinate amount of time." Brock nearly jumped out of his skin. Standing in the doorway to his bathroom was another woman with her arms crossed and a sick look of satisfaction in her eyes. "It is lucky for you that you were requested as a live capture. I was growing very impatient."

    "Who are—what is—what's going on?" Brock shouted. He ran up and tried to get passed the woman, but she just punched him in the stomach and drove him to his knees.

    She bent down and looked him in the eyes. "Brock Harrison. My designation is Ame, and that handiwork there is the talents of my associate Dia. Now that the rangers know Top's ruse is up, you are now the property of my employers until such time as you can be disposed of usefully."

    Then she kicked him in the chin, but not before he got out one last word:

    "Huh?"

    Author's Note: Fun fact you might appreciate: a lot of the plot points that start in these chapters weren't in the original drafts of the story. For instance, May being pregnant. I included that in as a nod to the fact that no one ever seems to get pregnant in fan-fiction despite having unprotected sex. Plus, the idea of a growing family is something that appealed to me, because the team in this story is essentially a family at this point. In addition, 0 was never supposed to be trapped in morph, but I thought it was necessary for his character development, which will come into play later.

    How are you liking Dia and Top? I always thought that one of the most terrifying things in the world was a selfish child with unlimited power.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  8. #58
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    Default Chapter 32, Part 1

    Morph Thirty-Two: Brock Dies, Part 1

    "Serena? Serena, wake up!"

    Serena blinked thrice then tapped at her earpiece. "What is it Dewgong?" she asked groggily and glanced at the clock by her bedside table. "It's three in the morning. I'm not on duty tonight."

    "I know," it said. "There's been a break-in downstairs. Everyone else is heading there."

    Her head cleared immediately. "Okay." She got up and threw on some sweat pants and a shirt before she ran out the door. May was waiting at the end of the corridor.

    "Hurry. Max and 415 are already waiting for you."

    "Figures," said Serena. "And Sarah?"

    "She's asleep," said May. "Finally got her down without any pain pills."

    "Okay, let's go." As they headed to Ranger Downs, Serena asked, "Do they know what it was? Are the Dark Gems after something again?"

    May shook her head. "No, no Dark Gems. We…we think it was 0."

    Serena froze. "Are you sure? What did the cameras show?"

    "I don't know. That's why Max and 415 are waiting for you. I'd come, but—"

    Serena put her hand on May's shoulder. "It's okay. Stay up here and take care of Sarah. I'll let you know if anything big's going on." May nodded, then retreated into Sarah's room. Serena rubbed her eyes and descended into Ranger Downs.

    The entire headquarters was in disrepair. Wires were disconnected and random sparked jumped out of the computer monitors. The transporter was untouched, thankfully, but several files had been withdrawn and scattered around. It looked almost like…

    "Were we robbed?" asked Serena. She sidestepped a wire that was jumping around due to a surge of electricity.

    415 and Max were already looking through the damage. "Unsure," said 415. "Preliminary report suggests that whoever was responsible was definitely searching for something. It is, however, possible that the individual was unsure where their query was located." She gestured to the files. "Nothing regarding our classified data appears to be stolen. The intruder might have created copies that could have been more easily removed, though."

    Serena nodded. "And you, Max? Anything from the Dark Emerald?"

    Max shrugged. "I can definitely tell you that Top and Dia weren't here. I'd be able to sense some residue if they touched anything with active Dark Gems. This was either done demorphed, or Dia and Top aren't responsible."

    "What about Ame? Could she have done it?"

    "Could be. I really don't know her scent, though, so I can't say for sure either way." 415 and Max both looked at each other, then Max returned his attention to Serena. "I think there's really only one person it could have been."

    "You think it was 0?"

    415 nodded. "Transporter indicates it was used twice. Once the security system was overridden for the first transport, then again to transport the object away. While whoever it was wiped any trace of who was responsible, I would infer that a Dark Gem would have slit all our throats instead of ransacking our data. It is therefore likely that 0 tapped through the systems. He did, after all, construct Ranger Downs."

    Serena grabbed a tossed-aside chair, righted it, then sat down. "He's maintained radio silence. What could he have possibly wanted now? More importantly, what could he have wanted that he couldn't simply show up at the doorstep and asked for?"

    415 thought for a moment. "Serum," she suggested. "He may have trapped himself in morph, but he could still require the serum."

    "For what, though?" asked Serena. "Does he even need it anymore? What happens to the body when someone gets trapped in morph?"

    "Again, I cannot confirm," said 415. "All I can assume is based on the data left over from when the…previous Golden Ranger was trapped in morph." She turned to Max. "Make yourself useful and check 0's supply of serum." Max grunted but complied. "The process can best be explained through an analogy to a Poke Ball."

    "Well, enlighten us then," said Serena.

    415 nodded. "As you know, a Poke Ball is designed as a temporary storage unit. It converts the physical body of a Pokemon into an infrared code that is unique to that Pokemon. That code, however, is not a physical body and interacts with the functions programmed into Poke Balls to maximize their comfort. As a result, Pokemon do not eat need to or sleep, nor do they perceive time as we do when confined to the Poke Ball."

    "Yes, but what does that have to do with 0?"

    "Our morphers run on the same basic principle as a Poke Ball, with the exception being how the code formed from the Poke Ball is used. Our Pokemon, such as Luxray and Dewgong, are permanently transformed into the coded state. The coded state, in return, releases our ranger systems and battle armor in the same way a Poke Ball releases a Pokemon. The difference between our morphers and a Poke Ball is what the code physically releases. It is the reason Pokemon cannot be recovered once they have been used to generate a Ranger Mode.

    "A hypothesis could be made," continued 415, "that 0's body has been dealt with in the exact same manner. His fusion with his morpher has caused his body to transform into the same infrared code used to store Pokemon, only in this relationship his Ranger Form functions as his Poke Ball. There would be a physical presence, but there is likely nothing underneath 0's Ranger Form other than pure energy. This explains why rangers such as 0 and the former Golden Ranger cannot morph back: there is nothing for them to morph back to because there is no known method to revert the infrared code back into a physical body."

    "But that doesn't make sense," said Serena. "How come we can't get his body back? We can keep Pokemon and release them from Poke Balls. For that matter, how come we can do the same thing with equipment like motorcycles or helicopters? PKM has that technology."

    "If I may," said Max, resurfacing from his search, "I'm guessing that's because those things have a medium that lets the object go back and forth. Poke Balls have buttons on them that release the code and set up the Pokemon's transformation back to its regular body. I'm guessing 0 doesn't have that."

    "Then how does he morph?"

    "The morph doesn't affect your body." Max pointed at his Dark Emerald. "Take my emerald. When I morph, the Dark Emerald fundamentally alters my physical body and mind and lets me do all the crazy awesome things that are associated with it. When I demorph, my body returns to normal, or normal for me, and I regain my ability to speak." Then he pointed at Serena's morpher. "Your body doesn't change when you morph. Neither does hers and neither did 0's. It just makes armor. 415's trying to say that the Ailed Morpher doesn't have a system to alter the ranger's physical body, just the infrared code that makes up your ranger spirit." He turned to 415. "How close am I?"

    "As close as an ignoramus can aspire to," she replied. "He is fundamentally correct. The Ailed Morphers you and I are not equipped with a Synchronization Drive or an Auxiliary Pokemon System as 0's is, so there is no danger of us fusing with our morphers to the extent that we become trapped in morph. As a result, no failsafe was ever designed to reconvert a ranger's physical body from the infrared form 0 has been transformed into. That is why 0 is trapped."

    Serena turned to Max. "What'd you find?"

    Max scratched behind his head. "Serum was definitely taken, from the looks of it ten vials. Guess 0 really was here. Still, if his body's made of code, he shouldn't need it anymore. His body automatically wouldn't go to sleep since it has no need to."

    "It doesn't matter," said Serena. "0 was always addicted to the drug. Addicts don't quit cold turkey. Even if his body doesn't need it anymore, his mind might be telling him otherwise. If the code specifically mimics him, his mind might be going through withdrawal anyway."

    "That is likely," agreed 415. "He will require therapy to completely remove the addiction, regardless of whether he has a physical body that can process the serum. It would function as a placebo, placating his mind without affecting his body."

    There was a brief lull in the conversation while Serena thought. She placed her head on a table and moaned. "I really don't want to do this," she groaned. "We have enough problems without worrying about whether 0's gone crazy. Why'd he have to leave? I hate being leader."

    "Putting my two cents forward," said Max, "he's probably not crazy. Well, crazier. He might be ashamed of himself. Could be distancing himself to protect everyone."

    "Exactly as I feared," said 415. "Regardless, Serena Brine, we are without our primary asset and you are the senior ranking officer. You must guide us through this. You must formulate a plan to protect May and Sarah Birch without Ranger Gold."

    "It's not that simple," said Serena. "0 always came up with the plans, or Bakaguru. We need help. We need—" She stopped for a second. "We need help." She looked up. "Do you think we could ask Jenny?"

    "The police woman?" asked 415. "It is unlikely she would be an asset."

    "Not as an asset. I'm willing to bet she's been trying to keep tabs on us. Find out who we are, that sort of thing. If she is, odds are good that every report that might even remotely mention us will be on her desk. What if someone's reported spotting 0? And—" She turned to the transporter and pointed "—0 might have left without a trace over here, but there might be some residue energy from wherever he teleported. If we scan for traces of our teleporter's activity, we could probably find where he dropped himself off and bring him back ourselves. Could that be done?"

    415 considered the plan. "I disagree with obtaining Jenny's information personally. It would be unwise to panic her with the belief that one of our operatives could have gone rouge. We can likely obtain the information by hacking into their security system and downloading all the police reports for the last two days. The teleporter energy will be difficult to obtain, given the feedback from buildings such as Pokemon Centers, but it may be possible to lock onto a general area 0 could have teleported to."

    Serena shook her head. "No. Work on finding where the teleporter energy shows up, but I'm telling Jenny. She trusts us, so we need to trust her."

    415 shrugged. "Do what you want. Do not take him." She gestured at Max. "She will not respond positively."

    "Good idea. No offense, Max."

    "None taken from you. I know I'm not exactly someone you want around when you want to create a stress-free environment. I'll go let May know what's going on."

    "Okay." Serena pressed the transformation button on her morpher. "We've all got our assignments. 415, power up the transporter. I'll need to be shot near Jenny. Where is she?"

    "One moment." 415 consulted a monitor on the main computer. "According to the communicator we provided her, she is at her personal residence."

    "I'll need you to short out her electrical wiring."

    "How? Do I look as though I can hold an entire house's worth of electricity inside my body?"

    "Oh yeah," said Serena. "Sorry, it's just something 0 did whenever we went—"

    "I understand. The transporter is prepared," she announced. "Please step onto the disk and await teleportation." Serena stepped onto the plate and, a few seconds later, she vanished into thin air. "Transport confirmed. She has arrived at her destination."

    "Great," said Max. "I'll go let May know the plan."

    "Fine, just do not interrupt me. Searching for teleportation energy is hardly an exact science." Max left 415 to her project.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Splash some water on his face. Wake him."

    Freezing water jolted Brock back into a state of consciousness. He blinked and spit out some of the water that had wound up in his mouth. "Ugh. What's—what's going on?" He muttered and emitted a weak groan. "Where am I?"

    "Dr. Harrison," said a voice to his left. "Thank you for joining us."

    He moved his head. There was nothing. "I can't see," he said. He blinked furiously. "Can't see!"

    "Calm yourself, Dr. Harrison," said the voice. "You are blindfolded. With your permission, I will remove it momentarily. We do not wish to put you in a state of discomfort."

    "Gee, thanks." He had a splitting headache. "Glad to know I'm getting the first class treatment." He heard a slight chuckle, and after a few moments he felt a pair of arms reach around his head and undo the blindfold. He blinked and stared into the eyes of his captor.

    It was the woman, Ame, he had figured that out from her voice. She had bright purple hair and eyes, but there were no lines on face. She was beautiful, but there was no emotion anywhere, not even in her eyes or around her lips. She lifted the blindfold then dropped it to the ground. "I apologize for the circumstances around your invitation to our abode. It was quite necessary that we have you."

    Brock shook his head. He couldn't remember much of anything, only that… "C-Christie," he muttered. "I think I remember. She was in my bathroom." He shuddered. "What did you do with her?"

    Ame pointed at herself. "Me? Oh no, that was not my doing. That was the work of our little helper Dia." In response, a little girl hopped up into Brock's line of sight. She giggled.

    "Yeppers! That was me!" She then grinned, displaying a full set of perfect teeth. "She wasn't very tasty, though. Tasted like a worn-out tire." She reached up and, very deliberately, licked Brock's arm. "Mmm…you taste soooooo good!" She looked up at the woman. "Can I have him? Please can I have him? I'm so hungry!"

    Ame shook her head. "Not yet. My contract stipulates he must remain alive for now. Perhaps when we have obtained the Dark Gold. Besides, you just ate."

    "That girl wasn't anything! I've had Gummy Bears more filling than her!"

    "Dia, not now. Go play with Top."

    The little girl fumed for a moment, but eventually muttered, "Fine, Ame. Daddy! I wanna play horsey!" She tossed her hair in the air and bound out of the room.

    "I apologize for my associate," said Ame. "She remains immature as ever."

    Brock rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm sure she'll grow into it. Now, how's about you untie me and let me go?"

    Ame shook her head. "I am afraid that is not possible. We require your assistance."

    "I'm not really sure what I can do for you," said Brock. "I'm just a doctor."

    "You are mistaken, Dr. Harrison. You are quite valuable to May Birch."

    "What?" Brock had to think for a second. "May? I haven't heard from May in something like a year. Her whole family dropped off the map."

    "Wrong, Dr. Harrison. What if I were to tell you they were here in Goldenrod?"

    "I'd ask what's the point? If she wants to lay low, let her lay low. Her life's her own business."

    A quick smile flickered across Ame's face. She reached over and grabbed Brock's hair. She pulled until the handful was torn from Brock's scalp. "Wrong again. It is important we have her, Dr. Harrison, and you are going to lead us to her." She watched a slight dribble of blood fall from Brock's brow and form a small puddle of red on the floor. "However, we do not expect you to cooperate willingly."

    Brock grunted. "N-Not a chance," he muttered. His brow scrunched up as another handful of hair was ripped off his head. He screamed.

    Ame shushed him and lightly brushed against his chin with her fingers. "If it is any consolation, know I take no pleasure in this." She watched the blood trickle down his head. "But I have no choice. We all have no choice."

    "W-What is it you w-want?" he asked.

    "May Birch and Serena Brine, and it is the belief of my employers that your torment will result in their acquisition."

    "Who's S-Serena?"

    "Oh yes, of course. You are out of the loop, as it were." She ripped out a third handful. "No matter. The others will finish with you shortly."

    Brock was gasping for breath. "The others?" he asked. "What's going to happen to me?"

    "Nothing you will comprehend once it is over. Top! Dia!" Brock looked away from Ame and noticed that the little girl and another person, a gigantic man, entered the room. "Dia, Axi and Bix want him unrecognizable. He must live through it, though. Top will supervise. Do you understand me?"

    "Yes, Ame!" shouted the smiling girl.

    "Good. When you conclude I will brief you on the final stages of your contracts."

    "Ooh!" Dia jumped up and down. "That means we're almost done, right? We get to go bye-bye?"

    Ame nodded. "Once the Dark Gold is released from its bond with May Birch and Serena Brine is in our possession, Axi and Bix have assured me you will be allowed your freedom."

    "Freedom!" said Dia with relish. "Think of it, Daddy! I can eat anyone I want, whenever I want! No grumpy Axi and Bix to tell me I can't eat anything. I'm a growing girl, aren't I Daddy?" Top made no sign that he heard her, but followed her with his eyes warmly. "Yes I am!"

    Ame pointed at Brock. "Well, you can start with him. Limbs and nonessential organs only. This plan requires him alive." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a camera. "Top, film the best parts. We will also need those."

    Top took the camera and turned it on. He pointed it at Brock.

    "Okay!" said an excited Dia. She turned to Brock as well, and Brock swore he saw a bit of drool on her lower lip.

    "H-Hang on!" he shouted. "What are you going to do?"

    Dia perked her head. "Don't you know?" she asked.

    "I really don't," he said. "I have no idea what's going on."

    "Oh, well let me explain. See, we're the Dark Gems." At this, she pointed excitedly at herself and Top. "My name's Dia and this is my Daddy. Ame calls him Top. Anyhow, we're trying to get some people to come out and play with us. Especially Sarah. They've got this girl named Sarah and I really wanna play with her. I got really close last time too. But they won't come out of hiding and it's hard to get into their clubhouse. So Ame got together with the bosses—that's Axi and Bix—and they thought of a new plan to get them to come out. And all we had to do was get you! Easy, huh?"

    "Still not understanding most of that."

    Dia laughed. "You're sweating! That'll make you taste even better! Daddy, can we put a heater on him so he'll do it some more? Can we, please?" She looked up at Top and batted at him with her eyelashes. After a while of Top just staring at nothing, Dia finally sighed and returned her attention to Brock. "Oh well. Guess you're as tasty as you're ever going to get."

    "Hang on, I don't understa—"

    Brock tried to say more, but it all came out in a scream. Dia leapt up behind him and grabbed his arm. Despite her size, she was quite capable of shattering his wrist with one slight jerk. She tore his arm from the binding that tied it to the chair and, through his tears, he watched her lean in and bite his thumb off.

    The room erupted with his shrieks. Over his protests, Dia grinned and spit out the thumb. It clattered to the floor, only instead of a healthy tan thumb it was shriveled and mummified. "Oh delicious!" she exclaimed. "So fresh!" She dove onto the rest of the arm. She didn't physically rip any more off, but each time her teeth fell on him they passed straight through his skin and mummified it.

    "Stop!" he shouted. "P-Please!" He looked at the lifeless husk that was attached to his left shoulder and he fell of his chair to the floor. Dia withdrew, just to watch him cradle what was once a working arm close to his chest.

    "But I'm still hungry!" she protested. "Do you know how hard it is to eat someone's essence without killing them? It's really hard!" She ripped his other arm from its binding on the chair. "Watch."

    She lowered her mouth and bit in. Brock screamed. He watched in horror as her lips passed right through his wrist, leaving behind mangled, withered remains where there had just been a healthy hand. She kept going and going, until all that was left of Brock's arms couldn't have lifted a thimble. They were dry and skinny remains he clutched close to his chest. He heard himself whimpering and tried as best he could to scoot away from her.

    "Daddy!" Dia wailed. "He's trying to get away! Stop him!"

    Top registered the command and moved forward.

    "No," whispered Brock. "P-Please. I have family, friends, you can't do this to—" He cried out as Top viciously kicked him in the side, knocking all the air out of him. Brock gasped and tried to crawl, but all he accomplished was a half-hearted scoot.

    Brock Harrison started sobbing. Clutching himself in the fetal position, he felt the tears pouring out of his eyes. He didn't want to die. Not here. Not now. He just wanted to close his eyes and wake up in his bed in Pewter City. "I-I can't die here," he whimpered. "I need to get home. I need to go back to my family. I don't even have a girlfriend!" There was so much he wanted to do.

    But then Dia turned him over and sat on his chest. "Are you done yet?" she asked. "I still want to play. Why doesn't anyone want to play with me anymore?"

    He sniffed, but glared at her. "I-I'm not afraid of you." He spit in her face. "I'm not afraid of either of you!"

    Dia laughed. "You're silly," she said. "Grownups always say silly things around me. I think it's because they are afraid. But why would they be afraid of little old me? I mean, I'm just a little girl. A cute little girl. Aren't I, Daddy?" She turned to Top and giggled. "Make sure to get my good side." She ruffled her hair and turned to Brock. "He never gets my good side. He's so silly, just like you!"

    She started again, destroying his right leg and then his left. Brock screamed and screamed as his body twisted and contorted with pain. After what seemed like hours, he finally felt her stop. He couldn't feel anything, he could barely see.

    "And that's all I get," she said. She then lifted her head and belted out a gigantic belch. "Mmmm-hmmm! So much better than the girlie I had earlier! This one was full of vitamins." She turned to Top. "Did you see, Daddy? I ate all my dinner. No fats for me! All natural!"

    Top looked down and patted his daughter's head. Dia closed her eyes and grinned while Brock cringed in the corner.

    "Ame!" shouted Dia. "I'm all done! Want us to do anything else?"

    "No, Dia," said Ame. "What I require now is Top and the camera. Go play in the other room while I finish up here."

    "Okay!" Dia jumped away from her father and danced away to the other room.

    Ame bent towards Brock. "Dr. Harrison?" she asked. "We need to finish the video. I need you to sit in the chair." She motioned to Top, who grabbed Brock by the scruff of the neck and hauled him right back into the chair. "Good. Now, let us conclude this."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena immediately found herself on the business end of a gun.

    "Silver," said Jenny. The two of them were standing in Jenny's bedroom, Serena with her arms above her head and Jenny aiming the extra gun she kept under her pillow right at Serena's visor. "I thought we were going to call if there was going to be a meeting."

    "We were," said Serena, "but something happened just now and we couldn't afford to wait for your permission. I'm sorry to be calling on you so late."

    Jenny nodded and lowered the gun, but still kept her finger on the trigger. "Where's your partner, Gold? I thought he did the talking for your gang."

    "He's indisposed at the moment. That's why I'm here to talk with you."

    Jenny sighed and rubbed her eyes. On the other side of the room, Growler had lowered its voice to a lithe grumble. "Well, if this is going to be a long visit, I may as well make some tea. Follow me." Serena waited for Jenny to put on a robe before following her out the bedroom door and to the other side of the house. Jenny flipped on the lights for the kitchen. "Huh. Doesn't your friend usually jam my electricity when he shows up?"

    "He's really not here, Jenny. It's just me." Jenny offered her a seat at a small dining table.

    They talked while Jenny waited for the water to boil. "So how can I help you rangers today?" she asked as she turned the burner on.

    "We wanted to know if you've had any unusual police reports in the last forty-eight hours," said Serena.

    "Forty-eight hours? Hmmm… There was a disturbance in Aura Town, but that's out of my jurisdiction. They tend to not respond to my requests for evidence very quickly. I heard reports that there was another ranger brawl out there, this one during a field day hosted by some daycare or something."

    "No, I mean anything in Goldenrod."

    "There was one. Hang on, I'll get it from my office." She left the kitchen for a minute then returned with a small file. "Here it is. It was kinda sketchy, which is why it wasn't taken seriously, but I thought I'd give it a glance just in case there was something to it." She set the file on the table then went back to checking on her pot of water.

    Serena opened the file. "What happened?"

    "It was just a tip. We got a call last night about a robbery, and that there's been a ranger sighting, so of course I have to go all the way over there to interview the guy. No footage or anything, but the owner gives a description of Ranger Gold that sounds believable. Says some guys tried to rob him then a giant bolt of lightning tore through the store and worked everyone over. Sound like your guy?"

    Serena nodded. "That sounds like him."

    Jenny's water started boiling, so she poured herself some and grabbed a teabag. She joined Serena at the table. "Now here's my question: why are you so interested to know where your partner is? More importantly, why are you asking me?"

    Serena paused. "Jenny, this is a sensitive situation. We've decided to trust that you won't panic and go on a witch hunt."

    She nodded. "Go on."

    "Ranger Gold had an accident and we've lost track of him. He's deactivated his communicator and we have no way of getting in touch with him. We thought you should be informed of what's happening with the hope that you'll not go after him."

    "What exactly happened?" asked Jenny.

    "It's classified, I wish I could explain it more clearly," said Serena. "What you need to know is that he likely isn't a threat, but we wanted to keep you in the loop and find out if you knew anything about his movements. That's all."

    Jenny nodded. Her tea was finished and she took a deep draught from the mug. "I'd offer you some, but I guess the helmet doesn't come off right?" Serena nodded. "I can't promise we won't do anything, but as long as he remains a non-threatening presence, there's no point in me wasting officers trying to find him. That's the best I can do, Silver."

    Serena nodded. "I understand. Thanks." She stood up and looked at the files. "Could you spare a copy of those? I'm sure my team would want to analyze them."

    Jenny nodded. "Those are copies. My regular files are all on my computer. And, Silver?"

    "Yes?"

    "Over the last few months you rangers have been in town, a couple of officers in my tech department have noticed someone is duplicating files from a location that isn't on police property. They haven't traced where those hacks are coming from, but I'm going to make a pretty safe bet here and guess you're the ones doing it. Am I right?"

    "We—we don't really mean to. We just didn't know what sort of relationship we were going to have with your department. We wanted to be able to get information if we needed it but didn't have access to it."

    "Nevertheless, you can still get the files without my consent, but here you are asking for my help. That's a very good step, even if you did wake me up at three in the morning. I guess what I'm trying to say is thanks for trusting me as much as you are. You didn't need to tell me, but you did. I'll be sure to remember that."

    Serena nodded. "We appreciate it. We'll let you know if we hear anything on our end."

    "I'll do the same," said Jenny. A moment later, Serena vanished.

    Jenny finished the rest of her tea and looked at Growler. "You know, old pup," she said as she scratched it behind the ears, "I think I like dealing with her more than Gold. At least the lights are still on."

    Growler gave a small bark of agreement.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  9. #59
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    Default Chapter 32, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Two: Brock Dies, Part 2

    "So that's what we think is going on," said Max. "But we aren't sure what's going to happen."

    May nodded. "I just wish he would come back."

    "Hey," said Max, and he put his arm around his sister, "it's all going to be okay. Wherever he is, I'm sure he has a reason for what he's doing." He turned and looked at Sarah, still sleeping peacefully in her bed. "He's not going to abandon you. Especially now that he's got a chance to stay."

    "But if he's stuck in morph, how can he have a normal life? How will Sarah feel, knowing she'll never be able to see his face again? How do you think I feel, knowing I can't touch my husband again?" May felt tears in her eyes but brushed them aside.

    "Don't worry, sis. We both know how hard 0 has tried to make this work, and I know how hard you've been trying to make this work. The two of you are meant to be together, regardless of what happens. We'll find a way to bring him back and we'll find a way to get him out of that stinky ranger suit."

    A little giggle escaped her lips. "But 415 said it would be impossible."

    Max waved his hand. "415 doesn't know anything about humans, or how hard they'll try to make things work. If 0 can get trapped in morph, there has to be a way to get him out of it. We just have to figure out what that is. It's all going to be okay. 0 brought me back from being a raving animal. I'm pretty sure we can fix him up too."

    May smiled. "Okay, Max. I'll be brave." She looked at her sleeping daughter. "For all three of us." She put her hand on her stomach. "I'm not showing yet, am I?"

    Max coughed. "There's no right answer for that, is there?"

    "No, there isn't. Other than 'you're glowing'."

    "Oh," said Max. "May, you're practically glowing. Not in the way that I glow when I'm doing some hardcore fighting. A good glow."

    "Thank you," she said. "Now come on, we should probably get downstairs and see what's left to be done. I think Sarah can be trusted to stay asleep up here."

    "Sure thing." Max and May stood up and headed downstairs into Ranger Downs.

    The room was very quiet all of a sudden. Lying in her bed, Sarah opened her bruised eyes and saw nothing. May had turned off the lights. She was all alone.

    "Daddy," she whispered and, as best she could, Sarah drew the blankets close and wished she could go to sleep.

    Quite sudden, there was a crash downstairs. Sarah flinched when she heard it. There was supposed to be bulletproof glass on the windows and doors, so what had gotten through the defenses? She pushed aside her covers and tried to get up, but her chest was in pain and she was forced to sit back down. She took a few deep breaths. It wasn't good to be alone when under attack, that's what her father had taught her. She got up and ignored the pain. "I'm a brave, brave girl," she told herself. "Just like Dad wants." She held onto her side and slowly made her way downstairs and headed towards the entrance to Ranger Downs.

    Almost instantly, her mother, uncle, Serena, and 415 jumped out of Ranger Downs and surrounded her. May grabbed her in her arms while Serena and 415 had their fingers hovering over the transformation buttons on their morphers. Max was already uncurling his chains.

    "Sarah, honey, why are you awake?" asked May.

    "I was—I was listening and then you left and then there was a crash. Dad said we shouldn't be alone, so I had to come down here because you weren't there." Sarah sniffed. "I know it's past my bedtime but I was afraid they'd come back."

    "Shhh… I'm not mad, baby. You're a good girl coming down to get us. A brave little girl." She patted Sarah's head. "I'm going to put her to bed in the cot down here. Can you find out what that was?"

    Serena nodded. "Go ahead." May, holding Sarah in her arms, ducked down through the entranceway and out of sight. Serena, 415, and Max began sweeping the house.

    "Are any of the sensors picking up movement?" 415 asked into her com-link. A few moments later, she announced, "The house is not registering movement outside of us. There is no Dark Gem, but the broken window is on the east side of the house near the kitchen."

    "Still, stay on guard," ordered Serena. They approached the kitchen. The broken window was in the corner, right where 0 usually sat at the breakfast table. Where 0's bottle of beer usually sat, there was a small case large enough for a DVD.

    "Anybody else think this could be a prank from the neighborhood?" asked Max hopefully.

    "Doubt it." Serena looked over the DVD. Written on the case in black marker were the words "Play me, Rangers!" in neat handwriting. "No," she said, "this is definitely something from the Dark Gems."

    "I've got a bad feeling about this," said Max. "Remember the last time they sent us a message via tape?"

    "Speculation will get us nowhere," said 415. "Let us retreat to Ranger Downs and see what is on the tape for ourselves." Serena agreed and the three of them made their way back into the headquarters.

    May was still trying to get Sarah to sleep. She looked up when the others came in. "Did you find anything?" she asked.

    Max nodded. "They sent us a DVD. Which can only be good news."

    "Oh dear," said May. "Do you think they have another hostage? What if they have 0?"

    Serena shook her head. "I spoke with Jenny tonight. She showed me a report of what appeared to be 0 stopping a robbery. If the Dark Gems had him, I'd bet there'd be another report just to account for the collateral damage alone. They could be making their final move and this is just their way of gloating like always."

    May turned to Sarah. "Baby, we're going to have to watch this. I want you to cover your ears and close your eyes, okay? I don't want you seeing what's on it. I'll come stay with you when we're done."

    "Okay, Mom," said Sarah.

    "Not just 'okay'. Promise me you won't try to watch, Sarah."

    "I promise, Mom." She covered her ears, closed her eyes, and turned around in the cot.

    Satisfied, May turned to the others. "Alright. Let's see what they want."

    415 took the disk from Serena and set in to play on one of the monitors in the main room. When May closed Sarah's door, 415 hit the play button. The video started as bright static, but quickly focused in on the image of Ame's face.

    "Hello, rangers," said Ame, in the professional tone she always used when speaking to them. "I have not met some of you formally. I am Ame, and I currently represent our Dark Gem organization. Do not mistake this for a leadership role, merely an obligation. Someone must supervise, after all." She paused and retrieved a bottle of water from an unseen table. She slowly twisted open the cap and drank. When she finished, she placed the cap back on and continued.

    "My employers, while amused by your antics, have made the decision that your behavior and existence are not to be tolerated anymore. Simply put, they grow anxious to move ahead with our plans and you possess materials that would allow them to move forward. Materials you are unwilling to give us. From a personal perspective, I understand your reluctance to part with them. The Dark Gold, after all, will require the death of May Birch to be successfully utilized and it is my understanding that Serena Brine is a trusted companion of yours. Nevertheless, we must have both the Dark Gold and Serena Brine. For necessity's sake, we have therefore decided to force your hand."

    An image flashed across the screen of a man sleeping in a chair. He was tied with rope, ensuring there could be no possible escape. Ame's voice continued. "This is Brock Harrison, P.M.D., of Pewter Town. Our intelligence suggests you are acquainted with him."

    "Brock!" shouted May and Max simultaneously.

    "The man we surveyed?" asked 415. "What of him?"

    "That's the guy I went on the date with," said Serena. "Why do they have him?"

    As if in answer, Ame said, "He is our bargaining chip. Dr. Harrison was foolishly left unattended and, as such, was easy to obtain. I will now show you what Dia was allowed to do to him over the course of several hours."

    May screamed and covered her eyes. Max looked sick. They watched as Dia fed upon Brock, rotting away his arms and legs into withered pieces of flesh. They watched them hurt him, debase him, while Brock begged them to stop in what little voice he had left. When it was over, Brock looked like the dead remnants of a torso.

    Ame's face returned. "Dr. Harrison, as a result of your negligence, will never walk again. He will never hold anyone again, he will never be able to live by himself again. He is, however, quite alive, or what passes for it once Dia has had her way with her food. We are keeping him alive for the sole purpose of exchanging him. We will trade Dr. Harrison, at midnight tomorrow night, for May Birch, the Dark Gold, and Serena Brine. Coordinates will follow at the end of this video. If you fail to comply with our demands, Dr. Harrison will be completely consumed by Dia and an innocent man will die to spare your lives." Ame bowed her head. "We await your decision." The screen faded to black and a series of coordinates followed that 415 wrote down and inputted into the computer.

    "The coordinates are for a rescue building on the south side of Goldenrod," said 415. "The structure is called the 'Goldenrod Pokemon Rescue Society'. They have been in operation for twenty years and are apparently a subsidiary of the Fuji Memorial Volunteer Society based in Kanto."

    "Why would she be hiding there?" asked Serena.

    "Does it matter?" asked Max. "We need a plan here."

    May nodded. "Yes. We're not letting them kill Brock."

    "At the same time, May, we're not letting them get you or me," said Serena. "Realistically, we're not in a position to do anything. Max can barely keep up with one Dark Gem, let alone two, and 415 and I aren't exactly heavy-hitters. We're mostly support."

    "Speak for yourself," said 415. "We should sneak up and surprise them."

    "Uh, they can probably smell my Dark Emerald," said Max. "Not to mention they've probably got security that can rival ours. Odds are good we won't be sneaking up on them."

    "Fine, then we should charge through the front door in a shock and awe campaign. Overwhelm them before they have a chance to react and retrieve Brock Harrison that way."

    "That's not going to work either," said Max. "Did you not see that video?" He repressed a shudder. "If he's lucky, Brock's going to be quadriplegic for life. He's not going to be able to get up and run away with us. That already makes us down one ranger when we're escaping."

    "Wait," said Serena. "What if we teleported out of there? What if we outfitted him with a transmitter and beamed him with us? He doesn't have a Dark Gem like Max, so the transporter likely won't do anything to him." She looked at 415. "Well? Can we do it?"

    415 nodded. "Theoretically. I will have to outfit a transmitter he could use, but I should be able to complete one in time. That takes care of the escape plan."

    "Wait," said May. "How are Max and I getting out?"

    "You're not going to," said Serena. "I'm guessing 415 is already planning to assume your identity for this mission. Right?"

    415 nodded again and in a brief flicker her face assumed the exact shape of May's. "It will require some effort. I am taller than she is and do not know her diction, but I will pass for the short time we will need to trick them."

    Max groaned. "So I guess I'm the bait to keep them from coming after Brock?"

    "Bingo, Max," said Serena. "You can get through the city a lot faster than they can. Lose them and then make your way back home. Think you can do that?"

    Max shrugged. "You think I can outrun three Dark Gems?"

    "Considering how lax she's been in our last few run ins, I'm guessing Ame isn't really a fighter," said Serena. "I'm also guessing you're faster than a little girl and a giant muscleman. Am I right?"

    Max chuckled. "Probably," he said.

    "We should contact 0." All of them turned to 415, who shrugged. "Regardless of whether he appears, the fact of the matter is that we may not succeed without him. A transmission will assist in this endeavor."

    "Can we even do that?" asked May.

    Serena looked away. "We haven't tried it. We figured he wouldn't answer."

    "We can send a distress signal to his morpher," said 415. "We will not be able to trace him, but we will be able to communicate with him. I will begin the preparations."

    "Good. He needs to know our plan as soon as he can."

    415 opened a communications channel. "Ready. Begin transmission."

    Serena cleared her throat and approached the communicator. "Uh, 0? This is Serena and everyone. We… Look, we need you to come back. We have a situation going on. The Dark Gems, they took your friend Brock. They're…they've almost killed him, but they've agreed to trade him for May and me. We're trying to—we're going to try a plan and get everyone out, but we could really use your—"

    "I think I can handle this better," said 415. "Ranger Gold, this is 415. I am sending coordinates to your morpher for the rendezvous point sent to us by the Dark Gems. Be there at midnight to assist us in the operation. Or not. If you do not, odds are likely your friend will die and we will fail. End transmission." She shut off the machine.

    Serena looked at her. "I could have done that."

    415 nodded. "I understand. However, I caught an attempt to hack the signal and was uncertain how long you were going to remain on the communicator. I felt this would be faster and get Ranger Gold the information without him being compromised."

    "Alright," said Serena. "Next time warn me though. Now, we need to start planning, this operation has to succeed even if he doesn't show up."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Brock couldn't really feel much of anything.

    There was pain, blinding pain, but beyond that he couldn't tell what was going on. His eyes hadn't adjusted to the dim lighting they were keeping him under, and he had the tendency to pass out at random intervals, only coming to when the pain was so severe it shocked him into consciousness.

    "I am impressed, Dr. Harrison," said Ame, somewhere in front of him. "I have never seen someone outlast death from Dia's special skills for this length of time. You are to be commended for your tenacity."

    "T-Thanks," he grunted. "L-Let me know when I can pick up my freaking medal."

    Ame, despite herself, giggled. "Answer me this, Dr. Harrison: do you believe your friends are coming to save you?"

    "Of course they are," he gasped.

    "Really? Even in your current condition? You are permanently crippled. Your arms and legs will never work again. Many of your internal organs and systems have been damaged beyond repair. Do you think you will even survive the time between now and the exchange?"

    "Have to," he mumbled. "Gotta get out of here somehow."

    "I do not understand Ranger Gold's friends sometimes."

    "What?"

    Ame sighed. "Of course you were not told. Ranger Gold is our primary antagonist, and he seems to exist solely for the purpose of infuriating me. He is also the protector of May Birch, whom I do believe you remember."

    "Y-Yeah."

    "Well, Dr. Harrison, Ranger Gold has thus far prevented two highly intelligent plans of mine from succeeding. Once in Petalburg and another in Orre. Because of this, my contract is nowhere near complete. These actions on Ranger Gold's part have resulted in me continuing my service to my employers which, while admirable and necessary, does leave me with a certain yearning for freedom."

    "Why don't you just bail?" asked Brock.

    "Bail? Do you mean abandon my position?" Brock made a feeble nod. "I cannot. None of us can. We must obey for as long as our contract requires us. There is no turning back." Ame lowered her head and gripped something in her hand, a small stone Brock couldn't see properly. "We made our decisions long ago. Decisions that have brought you into this predicament." Ame turned towards him and gave him what looked like a sad smile. "I lied earlier. You will live, but there is no life you can lead after Dia has fed on you. You are the first she has ever left alive."

    "I feel so special."

    "Amusing, Dr. Harrison." She stopped and looked around. She consulted a watch. "It is time. My associates will be here momentarily." She stood up.

    "Ame! Ame!" shouted Dia from across the room.

    "Are they here?" asked Ame.

    Dia nodded. "They are! We just saw two ladies come into the building. They're following the trail."

    "Good. Have Top bring Dr. Harrison upstairs so we can join them."

    "Daddy!" shouted Dia. "Come get him!" Brock screamed in agony as his mangled body was roughly grabbed and thrown over the shoulder of the gigantic man. "Thank you, Daddy!" The beast didn't responded and followed the others upstairs.

    Brock shut out the pain until he was unceremoniously dumped onto the floor in what appeared to by a Pokemon gymnasium. He twisted his head. Across the room were the outlines of two people. He couldn't see them, the lights were still dim, but he was certain it was another two women.

    "May Birch," said Ame, "Serena Brine. So glad you could make it. How shall we be doing this exchange?"

    "We have our own Dark Gem outside," said a voice that sounded familiar, but Brock wasn't sure he could place it. "With your permission, we'll trade May here as a sign of good faith to let him come inside. You'll get me once Max is outside with Brock."

    Ame nodded. "That sounds reasonable, Serena Brine. Send her over and let your pet inside." Serena signaled to May, who nodded and walked over to where Ame and Brock were with her head down. She crouched down to make sure Brock was alright.

    "May?" he asked, squinting hard through the haze. The woman, who did look just like May, leaned over to him and placed her finger over her mouth, asking for his silence. Brock just grunted and looked to the other side of the room again.

    "Your pet may enter," said Ame.

    "Thank you," said Serena. She reached up and cupped her left ear. "You can come in now." A few seconds later, Brock distinctly heard a series of growls coming from somewhere close by. A monster smashed through a door covered in green armor and began emitting a series of snarls. It approached Serena and awaited instructions. "Take Brock and get him out of here." The monster turned to Brock and nodded its head. It walked across the gym.

    Ame and the others backed away from him. The beast heaved Brock up onto its shoulder and ignored Brock's pained protests. "We have reached an agreement. Your pet leaves now and you will be taken into our custody." The monster that had grabbed him seemed to understand this and took Brock away. Brock's last sight of the room was the woman, who appeared to have white hair, looking back at him with a determined smile.

    The monster shoved him outside and lightly set him on the ground. Brock tried to sit up, but his arms couldn't support his weight and he fell on his side. He watched the monster stop and shudder, before something started to emerge from its side. It looked like a Bluetooth earpiece and the monster immediately jammed it onto Brock's ear.

    "Laaaaade," it growled, seemingly content.

    "W-What is going—" He started screaming again as his body vanished into thin air "—on?"

    "Oh no, Brock!" shouted someone right next to him. "I'm so sorry!" He screamed again as someone started dragging him across a floor and laid him down on his back.

    He blinked. "M-May? But I…"

    She nodded. "I know. I'll explain everything in a little bit. But right now we should get you on some painkillers. I have some morphine that can…"

    Brock stopped listening. He just watched everything get darker and darker until it all faded to black.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena slowly walked across the gymnasium.

    She had to be certain the plan had succeeded before she could do anything. 415 was sitting silently, trying not to draw attention to herself from an organization that would see through her disguise the instant she opened her mouth. It wasn't until she heard May's voice on the communicator.

    "Silver, this is Ranger Downs. He just got in. Phase one is finished. Get away and come on home!"

    Serena didn't let the message have any effect on her facial expression. She walked across and took her position next to 415. Ame smiled and approached them.

    "I apologize we went to such lengths to capture you two," she said. "It was, however, a necessary evil. In time, you will come to realize the decision you made today was the correct one." Her smile widened. "Even if we did only obtain you, Serena Brine." She snapped her fingers.

    "What?" Serena couldn't ask much else, because Top grabbed both her and 415 in his arms and wound his hands around their necks.

    "I am unsure whether to be insulted or honored by this gesture," said Ame. "On the one hand, you think me incapable of discerning whether May Birch is standing in front of me. On the other, with all three of you rangers here, May Birch is unguarded due to that little mishap Ranger Gold is going through." She turned to Dia. "Go retrieve her this instant before Eme can return to their hideout."

    Dia nodded. "Can do, Ame!" She turned to Top. "I'll be right back, Daddy! Love you!" She started skipping her way out of the room, at which point a giant stream of lightning burst through one of the windows and fried her brains out.

    "Owwwwww!" shouted Dia and rubbed her head. "Daddy, I got electrocuted! Do something!"

    Top made no motion, partially because he was still holding 415 and Serena hostage but also because of a gesture from Ame. She looked around for the point of entry and found the broken window at the top of the building.

    "Up there!" shouted Ame and pointed towards a figure in the window frame. Dia started winding the chains for her transformation around her body.

    In response, Ranger Gold jumped from the window and landed on all fours in the middle of the gym. He barely even flinched, even though a fall from such a height should have easily fractured his legs, and surveyed his surroundings. Only when he was certain that no one had made a motion against him did he stand up.

    He wasn't looking good. He was breathing heavily and his body seemed stuffed with electricity. Every few seconds a series of sparks would form in various places around his armor and brighten up the darkened gym. Extra electricity shot out from his armor if he so much as twitched a muscle. He looked from one side of the gym, where Top and Ame were waiting with Serena and 415, to the other where Dia was waiting to transform.

    "Finally showed up, huh?" said Serena in an exasperated tone.

    0 shrugged. "Always did like a dramatic entrance," he said. "Move two centimeters to the side." Serena and 415 jerked themselves just enough to obey him and, in a flash, 0 emerged right in front of Top and drove him into the wall. Top, in his surprise, released the two and they regrouped away from Top.

    "0, we need to talk," said Serena. "With what's been going on—"

    "There's no time right now," said 0. "You two need to get out of here."

    "No," said Serena. "You listen. You abandoned everyone. You need to come back and explain what's—"

    "Silver!" he shouted. "I swear to you and the others it wasn't my intention to abandon anyone. My morpher's communicator malfunctioned and I lost my com-link when I was trapped. I was in no position to contact you until you managed to signal me. I promise you and May I'll be back, but I need to take care of something first. Now transport out of here! That's a direct order!"

    Serena grumbled. "Fine. But you'd better get back soon. Your wife misses you and so does your team. And we're going to want a real explanation!"

    "Understood, Silver. 415, signal May for the transport. Tell her I'm sorry, but I can't be near you all right now. I'll be back once I fix something."

    415 nodded. "Ranger Downs, transport both myself and Ranger Silver. Ranger Gold is remaining." A moment passed. "He appears stable, but requires additional time. We will fill you in once we return." The two of them flashed, then vanished.

    0 turned towards Ame. "Now then, where were we?"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena and 415 reappeared inside Ranger Downs. Within two seconds, May was on them.

    "What did he look like?" asked May. "Is he okay? Can he come back?"

    Serena held up her hand. "Hang on, May. We'll fill you in later, but right now we need to look at your friend Brock."

    "I know, but—"

    "May," said 415, "your husband is fine. Prioritize your concerns."

    May nodded. "Of course. I've set him up on the medical table, but I really don't know what we can do." Serena and 415 followed her into the medical room, where the twisted mass that was once Brock lay withering on a high table. "He…he isn't well."

    "Excuse me," said 415 and proceeded immediately to the table. "Brock Harrison? Brock Harrison, can you hear me?" She checked his responses with a small flashlight. "He is unresponsive, but he is breathing. His eyes are not responding to outside stimulus, even in the manner that would be characteristic of an unconscious person. He may be blind."

    "Blind?" asked May. "Can we fix him?"

    415 looked at her. "That depends. Do we appear to have access to a fountain of youth?"

    "415, don't be rude," said Serena. "Is there anything we could do?"

    415 shrugged. "We were able to replace 0's shoulder once. Theoretically it is possible to give him cybernetic prosthetics. But we had a team of specialists to generate the shoulder. I am unsure whether I would be able to keep him alive long enough to generate the machines necessary to allow him to live a normal life."

    "We need to try," said May. "Brock…he's done so much for 0 and me over the years. We can't just let him die like this."

    Serena put her hand on May's shoulder. "I know, May. We won't let him die. We'll fix him, somehow. Come on, I'll make you some tea and fill you in on 0. 415, I want you to hook Harrison up to whatever supplies we have and assess what we can do for him."

    "Aye," said 415 and watched the two leave. Once they were gone, 415 turned to the heap of flesh that had once been Brock Harrison and began her diagnostics.

    "Brock Harrison," she said. "Can you hear me?" She injected him with another dose of morphine.

    Brock blinked, but his eyes still weren't reacting to light. "Y-Yeah?" he asked. "Where am I?"

    "You are in Ranger Downs," she explained. "This is the base of operations for the team formerly known as the PKM Rangers. We are an anti-terrorist unit at war with the Dark Gems who kidnapped you."

    "T-That made sense. Any idea why they did this to me?"

    "You were kidnapped because you have sentimental value to May Birch and Agent 0. The Dark Gems used you as a pawn to further their agenda. We succeeded in rescuing you and escaping ourselves. Now we're assessing the damage to your body to see what can be done to repair you."

    "That's morphine, right? It feels great." He sighed and closed his eyes again. "I still can't see anything. I thought it was temporary, but I guess I really can't see."

    "Quite possible considering the trauma you have been subjected to," said 415.

    "I'm guessing my prognosis isn't good, eh doc?"

    "My designation is 415. And no, your prognosis is not good."

    "415? That's a weird name. What's the damage, 415?"

    She finished her initial report. "Your limbs are completely gone. It would require years of physical therapy to even regain the feeling, much less the use, of your limbs. You will never recover. Your internal systems appear undamaged, but the trauma the Dark Gems inflicted may have caused problems for your respiratory and circulatory systems. And your optic nerves are likely dead from shock."

    "You're right. That doesn't sound good."

    "My superior has suggested we may have some success with cybernetic implants, but it is uncertain whether they can even be designed. It will require time, likely more time than we have considering your condition. We will have to wait and see whether this option is even advisable."

    "And if it isn't?"

    "You will die. Now that you are involved in our conflict, and even though you are useless, odds are good you can never leave this bed. You can never leave our base. We cannot take you to a hospital, because they would find you. We can only hide you here. We will likely have you declared legally dead by the police." She paused and looked down. "If it comforts you, this is not ideal for us either."

    "You know, you sound a lot like the other one. That girl Ame."

    "I have never noticed a resemblance. I will now continue your examination and prepare your accommodations."

    Brock groaned. "Well, might as well. Looks like I'm not going anywhere for a while."

    Author's Note: This chapter represents an interesting turning point for the series, because we're officially in new chapters that I started doing when I revived the series last year. As a result, I'm noticing a changing tone. A lot of what went into these newer chapters was a desire to escape the fan-fiction genre and verge closer into original content. The characters are much more clearly defined, the villains are more complex, and the story is starting to shift around and focus on new structures. This chapter takes place at roughly the same time as the next one I'll post, and both of them give key clues as to what the finale is going to look like. Stay tuned!
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  10. #60
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    Default Chapter 33, Part 1

    Author's Note: This chapter runs pretty much at the exact same time as Morph Thirty-Two, and fills in some of the gaps left by that chapter. Enjoy!

    Morph Thirty-Three: Dragon's Rage, Part 1

    "0! 0, the energy's building up!"

    Ranger Gold looked around. The battle was dying down. The Dark Gems were withdrawing, which meant that the pent-up rage inside him had nothing to do anymore. He just stood there in the middle of the battlefield until the panicked voice on his arm prompted him to react.

    "0! 0, can you hear me?" the Pikachu shouted. Its voice seemed so distant. Shouldn't its voice be in his ear? "0! Lift the morpher up to you!" That's right, he didn't have ears anymore. He could still hear, but something else was responsible for that now.

    He lifted the morpher up to see Pi's panicked expression superimposed on the screen. "0, we're starting to build up too much energy! You need to get away from here!"

    "What?" he asked vaguely. He still wasn't sure what was going on.

    "There's a massive energy being generated from your body. If it detonates, it'll destroy everything around here! You have to run somewhere far away!"

    "Energy? I'm still not understanding."

    "You're trapped in morph!" Why was Pi yelling so loudly? "The energy you usually expend while fighting isn't going away! It's just building up! You're going to explode!"

    "Explode? That's not good, is it?"

    "No it's not good! What's wrong with you?"

    "Not sure." Everything felt weird. He was all alone, but someone was running up to him.

    "Sweetie!" It was May, he distinctly remembered her voice. She ran up to him and grabbed him. "0, are you okay? Talk to me!" He looked down and stared at her. She looked so pretty.

    "0, we have to leave now!"

    "Leave?" asked May. "Why? Where are you going?"

    0 nodded. "I'm—not sure exactly. I'll be back soon. Pi, let's go." May tried to hold on, but he was too quick. He simply vanished with a crack of lightning.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    He wasn't sure how long he kept running, only that when he resurfaced it was nighttime. He looked up and saw a few stars through the city lights around him. "Where am I?" he asked and looked around. He was on top of a building, with no idea how he'd gotten there.

    "0?" asked the Pikachu in his morpher. He lifted the device up to his face and Pi's face flashed into the screen. "Thank goodness. Are you feeling any better?"

    "Not really. I feel really funny, Pi." He sat down on a nearby edge and let his legs dangle with the wind. "It's like my whole body's been turned inside out." He looked himself over, he was still in the armor. "I want to take this off. Can you do that?"

    Pi's face looked nervous, and it didn't respond for a moment. "I'm sorry, 0. You can't. There was a lot of rage in your last transformation. It trapped you in morph."

    "Oh." 0 was trying to remember. In his mind's eye, he saw a girl fall in battle, injured by a monster. He remembered a red haze flow over him, and a scream that silenced everything around it. He remembered the hate, the anger. "I guess May's going to be mad at me," he said. "I let Sarah get hurt."

    "You didn't let anyone get hurt," said the Pikachu. "You got caught in an impossible situation and made a choice to protect everyone."

    0 shrugged. "I suppose," he said, then he remembered something. "Didn't you say I was going to explode or something? Isn't that why I started running?"

    "Yes," said Pi. "I noticed it right after you transformed. Your body is producing a lot more energy than it usually does due to the transformation. It's boosting your power and everything, but there's a lot of energy that wasn't being used and it was getting to a critical point because of your emotions. You were about to explode and kill everyone."

    "Am I still going to explode?"

    "No," said Pi. "The energy's gone down from the critical point, but it could happen again. That's why I suggested we get out of there."

    "Shouldn't we tell the others what's going on?"

    "I've been trying. The com-link that was in your helmet is gone."

    "Gone?"

    "Yeah," said Pi. "Guess it got converted into infrared data with the rest of your physical self under the armor. The signal in our morpher's dead too, so we're on our own for now."

    "Why is the signal gone?"

    "Who knows? There's only been one other ranger stuck in morph and that guy's dead. We're in uncharted territory as far as the Ranger System is concerned. If we wait, maybe they'll contact us. The morpher should still be able to pick up messages from Ranger Downs."

    But there was nothing. 0 sat on the ledge for a while, watching the night sky slowly turning to dawn. People started walking around on the streets, but no one noticed him above them. "Hey, Pi?"

    "Yeah?"

    "If I explode, will I die?"

    The Pikachu thought for a moment. "I don't think so. All that's happening is a buildup of energy. Once it reaches the critical point it'll just get released, but you shouldn't explode."

    "Why not?"

    "This really isn't my strong suit but I'll try to explain," said Pi. "Basically the energy's being collected from the infrared data your body turned into and it's being stored in the armor. But because the armor's used to receiving power from your physical body, the infrared data is supercharging the armor. The armor will detonate, but you'll reform into a new armor with better containment that can handle the infrared code better than the armor you're wearing now. Same thing that happened with the old Golden Ranger."

    "Huh. Well, should we try and trigger the explosion so I can go back home? I don't want them to worry about me."

    "If we do it now, it could level several city blocks."

    An idea popped into 0's head. "What if we used it against the Dark Gems? Would it hurt them?"

    "That's a great idea. If we can figure out a way to generate the explosion right next to them, it'll cripple them. This thing has a huge blast radius. We could concentrate it on one of the Dark Gems and vaporize it!"

    "That could work if we found out where they were," said 0. "We can't trace them if we can't go back to Ranger Downs."

    "They'll slip up soon. Don't worry, we'll figure this out."

    "I hope so," said 0. He looked around and stood up. "I'm starting to feel better."

    "Good. Now, why don't we figure out a plan of action? We can't stay on this rooftop until the Dark Gems show up again. We need a plan."

    "Plan?" 0 looked down, he noticed that there were a few men in masks walking down the street. "That doesn't look good, does it?"

    "Probably not," Pi agreed.

    There were about five of them, all wearing matching ski masks, though they all varied in color. 0 noticed the man in the red mask seemed to be the leader, since he was walking in front and was concealing the largest handgun. The other four followed the leader into a small convenient store at the end of the street, just before an intersection.

    "I should get down there," said 0. He looked around. "Uh, how should I do that?"

    "Maybe you're not back at a hundred percent," said Pi. "I can try diverting enough energy to your legs' armor so you won't break them when you jump down."

    0 looked down the ledge of the building. "That's a long way down," he said to the morpher. "We'd better be careful, Pi."

    Pi chuckled. "I've done this a few times. I think we'll be good." 0 nodded and decided to trust the mouse. "I've finished the calibrations. We can jump. Once we're down there, start running for the convenience store. I'll start up the Synchronization Drive."

    "Sounds good. Let's go!" 0 crouched down and jumped right off the building, soaring across the street to the other side. "Yahoo!" he shouted. He then landed, but failed to balance himself properly and crashed face-first into the ground.

    "0!" shouted the Pikachu. "Are you alright?"

    0 picked himself up. "Yeah," he said, and stared at his arms. Nothing was broken, not even his back or legs. "I guess so. Nothing hurts."

    "Of course it wouldn't," Pi realized. "There's nothing left to break. Get up, people will see you!" It was true that there actually weren't too many people out right at dawn, but a little stealth never hurt anyone. 0 jumped up and dashed into the convenience store.

    It was quite a sight. An entire gang of thieves wearing multicolored masks pointing all their guns at the one little old man who happened to be manning the store. The manager, a portly man who was barely tall enough to see over 0's chest had his hands behind his head while the blue thief busied himself with emptying the cash register. While they held the manager at bay, the other thieves seemed to be doing their best to wreck the store and eat all the sweets they wanted. Then 0 entered, a giant man wearing gleaming armor that covered him up completely.

    In next to no time, 0 found himself on the business end of five different handguns, none of which belonged to people who looked happy to see him.

    "Uh…freeze?" said 0, uncertain of the protocol for the situation.

    The entire gang started laughing at him. The red thief even got close to him and pointed at his chest with the gun. "You a fool, you know that?" inquired the thief. "Coming in here messing up our business. And what's that thing you're wearing? Ain't you too old for Halloween?" Then he pointed at the insignia. "And a Pikachu? That's really the best you could come up with?"

    "But I like Pikachu," said 0. "It's my partner."

    "Funny, fool. Too bad you're so stupid." Then he pulled the trigger and emptied his whole gun into 0's chest.

    0 was thrown back by the force of the eight bullets, he hadn't braced himself properly. He crumpled against a nearby display for a soda and fell to the floor, immobilized. The gang leader laughed and returned his attention to the manager. The blue thief resumed his quest to liberate all the manager's money from the cash register.

    "Ow!"

    The hang leader froze, and then slowly turned around. Getting back on his feet was a very much alive Ranger Gold. "That hurt!" 0 shouted. The red thief traced 0's body with his eyes. He saw eight bullets stuck in the armor of 0's chest. "That really hurt!" 0 started feeling angry again.

    "How're you still—" The red thief didn't finish asking his question, because the Gold Ranger vanished then suddenly reappeared close enough to deliver a roundhouse kick that sent the youth flying into the wall.

    0 watched the boy fall to the ground. Electricity shot out of his body and shorted out the power system in the store. The entire room plummeted into darkness, which the other four thieves took as a signal to start shooting everything.

    0 ran over and grabbed the manager. The two of them ducked behind the counter, where the metal plating the man had installed kept them safe from the barrage of bullets. "You okay?" he asked the manager.

    The manager looked himself over and nodded. "I think so, sir. Are you one of those rangers from the news?"

    0 nodded, but remembered the manager couldn't see. "I am. Want me to take care of the others?"

    "I would very much appreciate it."

    0 crouched. "If you have a cell phone, call the police. Everything electrical in here's broken, unfortunately. Wish I could've had you trigger a silent alarm." 0 jumped up just as he noticed the manager pulling out an old, outdated cell phone.

    "Go!"

    The Synchronization Drive kicked in for real and everything slowed down. The thieves noticed him and tried to shoot at the lightning he was generating, but he was too quick. In between dodging and swatting away their bullets, 0 found time to punch all of their lights out. First blue, then green, then grey, then purple. It was almost embarrassing how quickly he disarmed then obliterated them. 0 barely had time to enjoy himself before all five thieves were sprawled all over the store. In a moment of personal pride, 0 noticed he'd managed to avoid breaking any of the displays.

    0 stopped the Synchronization Drive and stood calmly in the middle of the store. He then tilted his head towards the manager. "On the phone?" he asked.

    "I am. Hello, police? I'd like to report a robbery."

    0 nodded and started for the door, but stopped when something caught his attention at the newsstand. "Hey, Pi. You see that?"

    A pause. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me. No. No way that works."

    0 shrugged. "We need a place to hide out, right? Why not in plain sight?" He looked at the manager. "Mind if I borrow one of these papers? I promise I'll bring it back."

    The manager waved him away. "Take it. It's a reward."

    0 waved. "Thank you," he said and scooped up the paper. A split-second later, he vanished.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Two hours later, 0 was sitting comfortably in a chair in the middle of a hotel.

    "This is ridiculous," said Pi. "I can't believe this worked."

    It had been a simple matter to locate the Crown Royal Hotel on the south side of Goldenrod. It was a huge building, and considering 0 had memorized much of Goldenrod's important landmarks he wound up there in next to no time. All that had been necessary was ensuring he hadn't been seen arriving and the rest would take care of itself.

    Fortunately, there was a lot more to stare at.

    0 had heard of these things called conventions before, but never understood them to the extent that he did now. There had been no problem with getting in unnoticed. His armor scarcely qualified in the top hundred most interesting costumes being paraded around. Across the hall he saw what had to be the most intricate costume of a Jigglypuff he'd ever seen in his life. He watched a man go around the corner wearing what appeared to be period clothing from the sixteenth century with a traditional katana. Every now and then he'd wave it and an Axew would spin out from the weapon just like a Poke Ball. He still wasn't quite sure what the theme of the convention was, only that they seemed to be celebrating Pokemon.

    "Well, it sounds like you're back to your old self," said Pi with a notable air of relief. "You were starting to freak me out."

    "Sorry about that," said 0. "I really can't describe it. It was like being drunk, only not as fun. The whole thing felt like an out of body experience."

    "I guess that makes sense. But we still need to figure out a way to get in touch with Ranger Downs. I've been tinkering with the morpher, and it's no dice. It took all I had to make sure it was able to receive a signal from headquarters. And of course we don't have a com-link, which would be easiest."

    "Why'd the com-link get lost? It's not even part of my body."

    "I'm going to guess everything inorganic just got lost in translation. So your clothes, your com-link, even that fake shoulder of yours. It's like it rebooted your body. I bet if you could change back your scars would all be gone."

    "Well, we can't worry about that. What we need to be worrying about are our friends. Without us, odds are good they won't stand much of a chance if the Dark Gems come back."

    "We can't get close to them, you know that," said Pi.

    "I don't understand that. I've been in control of myself all this time around these people and I was pretty calm until they decided to hurt Sarah. I'm calm now, so I should go back."

    "0, do you really think that you'll be able to stay calm? Think about it. Picture Sarah, broken and hurt, lying on a bed, all because you couldn't do anything to help her when she needed you."

    0 did just that. He thought of his little girl covered in casts, surrounded by the others. None of them would judge him, after all it wasn't his fault that he wasn't strong enough to protect her. He was just the only person that could have done anything about it. He started to growl and felt the anger boiling inside him…

    "0! Calm down!"

    "Huh?" Without realizing it, he noticed that his body was starting to overproduce electricity again. Several of the people in costume were staring at him. He calmed his mind and the electricity subsided.

    "Dude, that was so cool!" shouted some guy dressed up as a Butterfree. "How'd you do that?"

    "Yeah!" said a girl dressed up as Ponyta. "Did you put wiring in your costume?"

    0 nodded. "Uh, yeah. Took a lot of effort to install."

    "You should so enter the costume contest!"

    "Maybe," said 0. "Excuse me, please." He removed himself as quickly as possible from the circle that was starting to form around him. "Man, that was close. We okay, Pi?"

    "We're fine," said the Pikachu. "For now. But the energy surplus was heading in the direction of the critical point. You see what I mean about avoiding potentially upsetting places?"

    "Okay, you win. We stay away for now. But we still need to let them know I'm alright. I've been gone for over twenty-four hours. What if they think I've abandoned them?"

    "I'm sure nobody thinks that,' said Pi. "They probably just think you need some time to yourself. Either way, we'll get this situation sorted out before they start panicking."

    "Well, we should make a plan. We can't sit around all day staring at our thumbs."

    "Present company excluded, I'm sure." Pi thought for a moment. "If we're going to do anything, we should figure out where the Dark Gems are hiding."

    "Right, but we don't know where they are."

    "That is a problem, but not a major one. We should get to a computer and do some digging."

    "Where?" 0 gestured at himself. "I'm not exactly wearing something we can just walk around in."

    "What if we went to Brock's hotel? He's probably already checked out and the staff won't have gotten to his room yet. We could probably just swing by his place, break in, and use the computer there."

    "You sure there's a computer there?"

    "It's a hotel where humans vacation," said Pi. "How could a hotel be without something humans need to live?"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Brock's hotel wasn't hard to find either. 0 and Pi worked out the location to the Crown Royal Hotel and scaled the walls with static electricity until they reached the roof. From there, it was a simple matter. 0 had studied Brock's movements and figured out exactly which hotel he was staying at and where it was. The Gold Ranger then crouched and leapt across the street to the next building, then repeated the process until they arrived.

    "Which room was Brock staying in?" Pi asked.

    "It was one of the higher floors. 3310 was the number."

    "Okay. Well, let's get to the roof and go from there. Try not to get spotted by the guests. I'm guessing they're paying good money to not see men scaling their walls."

    0 nodded. "Can do." He jumped again and found himself grabbing onto the ledge of the twentieth floor. The static charge in his gloves held, so he continued climbing up the walls. They passed a few people in their rooms, but no one really noticed them. It was midday and the majority of the denizens still inside the hotel were sleeping in beds that, to 0, looked exceedingly comfortable.

    He reached the thirty-third floor. "Okay. Which one is ten?" 0 found it incredibly uncomfortable to scrunch his body upwards to see Pi on the morpher's display.

    "Two to the left," said Pi.

    "Thanks." 0 started moving again, this time slinking left instead of up, and finally came to the correct balcony. "Uh, Pi. I don't think this is it."

    "What do you mean? That's 3310."

    "Well, it's not empty. There's a guy tied to the bed wearing a Blastoise mask."

    "What? Hang on." A few moments later, Pi said, "It's one more to the left. I miscalculated."

    "I'll bet you did." 0 kept moving until he came to the actual correct balcony. "Here we go. Completely devoid of people wearing Pokemon masks."

    "Glad to hear it," said Pi. "Get onto the balcony and get in."

    0 gripped the ledge and heaved himself up to the balcony. He got back up on his feet and approached the glass door. Sure enough, there wasn't anyone inside. Though the bed hadn't been made, everything else looked about the same. 0 tried the door and, surprisingly, it opened without needing to be broken into. "That's odd. Unlocked."

    "Well, of course it is," said Pi. "There probably aren't too many people like us who can slink up here and break in through that door. Plus, think of the lawsuits the hotel would get if someone got trapped out there without the balcony door key."

    "Fair point," said 0. "But what about that?" 0 looked to the bed. There were a number of articles of clothing, as though someone had been packing and forgot about them. "And the suitcase there." A still-open suitcase was on the other side of the room.

    "Maybe we got here in the middle of Brock's packing."

    "Why would he leave the room in the middle of packing?" asked 0.

    "He could be in the bathroom. Go check."

    Though 0 really did not want to peek in on Brock in the shower, he complied and went over to the bathroom door. It was slightly ajar so he gently pushed it open, careful to avoid it creaking and alerting anyone to his presence. 0 then spotted a body, but it didn't belong to Brock.

    "Pi, you see that?" he asked.

    He heard the Pikachu gulp. "Yep. That's a dead body."

    0 opened the door all the way and walked in. There was a girl's body in the shower, only it didn't look like a woman anymore. She looked like a Mummy. "Pi, remember that Conner case a while back? The pictures?"

    "Yeah. This looks just like that."

    0 surveyed the body and noticed two Poke Balls attached to her belt. "Those could tell us who she was. We could get her trainer number." He grabbed them and carried them over to the sink. "Do you think Brock did this?"

    "No," said Pi. "Look around. There's blood on the floor. Mummified remains wouldn't do that." The Pikachu was right, there was a small trail of blood on the floor. It was too far away from the body. "Somebody was injured here. I'm guessing it wasn't the girl. It had to be—"

    "Brock," 0 said suddenly. He walked back out into the main room. "He must have been packing and the Dark Gems got to him. They used the girl as a distraction then jumped him." He groaned. "Great. First my family gets hit, and then they go after my friends."

    "There's nothing we can do about it now. All we can do is try to find them."

    "How? Hold up. We've got Pokemon in balls in there. Maybe they can help."

    "Do you think they saw anything?" asked Pi.

    "It's worth a shot. Best lead we have right now. Nobody ever remembers Poke Balls." He walked back into the bathroom and clicked the two buttons. Two Pokemon materialized, one Darmanitan and one Elgyem. Both immediately assumed a battle stance, confused as to their surroundings.

    "Darmani," grunted one. It looked at 0. "Tan! Tan!"

    Elgyem looked at the body. "Gyem gyem!" it shrieked and pointed at the girl.

    The Darmanitan's voice faltered. "M-Mani," it mumbled. Its head sank low, and 0 could hear the soft sobs it tried so hard to conceal. The tears appeared, then suddenly evaporated due how close they were to its flaming eyebrows.

    Elgyem held the Darmanitan and buried its head in its red shoulder. "El, gyem el!" it wailed. The two drew close, and even forgot 0 was in the room.

    0 looked at them. "Pi, what do I do?" he asked.

    "Console them! It isn't like their pet rock died. They just realized they lost their trainer while they were trapped in their Poke Balls. They were probably secured to her belt when she died."

    "Right, right," he said. He reached down and gently touched the Darmanitan's shoulder. "Mani, Man," he said reassuringly.

    The Darmanitan flashed him an expression of pure hate. "Darmanitan!" it shouted and shoved him away. "Manitan darmani!" It pawed at the ground and, despite the fact that Elgyem was trying to hold it back, charged and knocked 0 into the bedroom.

    "Gyem!" it shouted, but Darmanitan wasn't listening. All it cared about was bashing 0's head in. It raised its arms and swung, but 0 blocked and tried to hold it off. Darmanitan responded by spitting out a Flamethrower. It quickly became apparent this wasn't going to be a fight 0 was going to be able to win by keeping his distance.

    "Pi, activate the Synchronization Drive," said 0. "I'm going to need both Agility and Volt Tackle."

    "You can't," said Pi. "It isn't thinking. It's just lashing out because we're all that's here."

    "That's exactly why we need to. If it gets passed us and gets out of here, it'll just keep lashing out. We can't exactly let it run wild until it calms down."

    "I know, but…" Pi hesitated. "If I was in their situation, I'm not sure I'd be acting any differently."

    "Look," said 0, while he desperately tried to stay out of the reach of a Seismic Toss, "I'm not saying I'm in the right here. I'm saying we need to get it under control if we want to help it. Now punch up Agility!"

    "Online!" shouted Pi. 0 immediately felt everything start to slow down, just as it always did. The Darmanitan moved, but it was far, far too slow to even touch him. 0 dodged around its mighty arms and delivered a kick directly to its midsection. The beast lurched from the sheer force that 0 was producing, but it wouldn't be enough to completely knock it down.

    "Pi," said 0, "Volt Tackle."

    0 did his best to hold back the scream that fought to escape as lightning burst from his skin and fried the Darmanitan's body. Darmanitan bellowed like a wounded beast and fell to the carpeted ground. 0 found himself breathing heavily, despite the fact that he shouldn't have had any lungs anymore. But the moment he became aware of this fact, he found his breathing abruptly cut off and simply stood up.

    "Elgyem!" shouted Darmanitan's partner, who rushed to its side and tried to help it up. It turned to 0 and glared. "Gyem, gyem elgyem."

    "Gyem," 0 apologized. "Elgyem elgyem gyem el. Elgyem."

    The Pokemon nodded. "Elgyem." There were still tears in its eyes, but the Pokemon understood 0's words. It would help.

    "Manitan, darmanitan," said the Darmanitan, rising up onto its knuckles. It bowed its head in apology and stood silent. 0 could see it fighting back tears.

    "I knew they would help," said 0. "Pi, can you get me a picture of Brock on the morpher's display? They might be able to help us track down Brock."

    "Yes, one moment." A little bit later, Brock's face flashed onto the screen.

    0 showed Darmanitan and Elgyem the picture. "Manitan maintain. Elgyem elgy," he said.

    The Darmanitan squinted up its eyes to get a closer look. "Ma," it said with a nod. It continued, relaying the entire story of how Brock had come to the gym and rescued the Miltank from Darmanitan's accidental overuse of energy. They told 0 of how Brock had saved Milty and helped their trainer escape from the hordes of paparazzi that would not have taken kindly to a woman who had accidentally created a severe injury to one of the biggest mascots of Goldenrod City.

    Then, Darmanitan paused, as if the thought of continuing would be too much to bear. Elgyem patted its back and spoke of the last time they saw their trainer alive. They had been in a hotel room, not as nice as the one they found themselves in now. Their trainer had praised them for their performance that day, for how strong they had gotten since leaving Unova to challenge the Kanto and Johto Pokemon Leagues. Then she had put them into their Poke Balls for the night, and that was the last time they had seen her, or hugged her, or heard her voice.

    When they finished, both Pokemon were in tears once more. 0 comforted them until they were ready to continue.

    "We need to call the police," said Pi. "They need to know there's another body in here."

    0 shook his head. "Not yet. If we call this in now, they'll think Brock did it. We have to prove he's innocent. If we can find and eliminate the Dark Gems, we can prove they're the ones who've been doing these murders."

    "We still don't know why or how."

    "Then we have to find out. There has to be a reason for it. Sappho didn't do it, so it must be something specific Dia and Top are doing." He turned to the two Pokemon. "Darmani mani darmanitan maintain."

    The Darmanitan shook its head. Its nose wouldn't be quite powerful enough to track Brock's scent over a very long distance, but the Elgyem nodded its head. "Elgy, elgy." It could track Brock's aura. It could sense where they went.

    0 nodded. "Elgyem elgy?"

    Darmanitan stomped its knuckles. "Manitan darma," it growled. 0 could see the glint of hate in its eyes. It begged for the chance to avenge its trainer.

    0 nodded and placed his hand over where his heart should have been. "Ma," he said.

    The Darmanitan grinned savagely. The two Pokemon got to work. 0 retrieved their Poke Balls from the bathroom. Before they left, Darmanitan and Elgyem went in there and sat with their trainer one last time in a moment of silence. Then they left, their hearts heavy, and never looked back.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Darmanitan recalled itself into its Poke Ball. It did not want to return, but there was no way it would have been able to travel with 0 and Elgyem. After it disappeared in a brilliant flash of red light, 0 secured the Poke Ball to one of the empty slots on his belt. He wouldn't be able to use it with the Auxiliary Pokemon System, but there wasn't anywhere else to put it. He attached Elgyem's empty Poke Ball to another slot as well, and then surveyed his surroundings.

    He wasn't on the top floor of the hotel, but he was very close. He'd stopped at a vantage point that would allow him to reach the nearby buildings and still remain unseen. The simple fact was that, despite how welcoming those at the convention had been, his appearance was highly likely to create a panic if he and Elgyem started walking through the streets.

    "Elgyem el?" 0 asked. Elgyem scanned for Brock's aura for a few seconds before pointing directly to 0's left. After thanking the Elgyem and making sure it was securely fastened to his back with the blankets they'd taken from Brock's hotel room, 0 had Pi prep the armor's energy for the first jump.

    "Careful, 0," said Pi. "Jumping isn't a very well-understood art and this is a long one."

    "I'll be fine." Truth be told, it was quite a distance. For whatever reason, Goldenrod had built a gigantic plaza in between his present location and the position of the nearest building. Nevertheless, he took a few steps back and crouched low. "Go!"

    The world slowed down again, but he was still running forward at breakneck speed. Elgyem held on for dear life as he reached the end of the ledge and jumped straight forward, whizzing through the air like a bird. He barely cleared the jump, but instead of tucking into a roll he just kept running. He came to a stop at the next ledge.

    "How was that, Pi?" asked 0.

    "Pretty good. Since you don't technically have legs anymore I channeled all the available energy into keeping the armor stabilized. Allowed you to go much faster and jump farther."

    "Fantastic. Keep it coming." He turned to Elgyem. "Make sure you keep pointing me in the right direction. If we offshoot, it could take a bit of effort to get back on track."

    Elgyem nodded and pointed its arm over 0's shoulder. "Gyem," it said with certainty.

    "Good enough for me," he said. He started running, following the Elgyem's orders, and kept moving until the Synchronization Drive finally gave out and he came to a screeching halt somewhere. He looked around the rooftops. There were numerous, interchangeable buildings surrounding him. It looked like an office district, but 0 wasn't sure.

    "Elgy elgyem?" he asked. They'd been running for quite a while and, somehow, he felt tired.

    "Gyem gyem," said the Elgyem. It loosened itself from the makeshift straps that bound it to his back and lightly levitated to the ground. 0 followed it to the ledge.

    "Goldenrod Pokemon Rescue Society?" 0 asked, staring at the small sign at the front of the building. "Why would they hide out there?"

    "Last place I'd look for them," said Pi.

    "Fair enough." 0 turned to Elgyem. "Gyem. Elgyem elgy, em?"

    It nodded and glowed briefly. Its Poke Ball detached from 0's belt and floated over. "Elgyem. Elgyem," it said in a hard voice. The Poke Ball activated and it vanished. The Poke Ball dropped to the ground, where 0 walked over and reattached it to his belt.

    "Don't worry," he said. "We'll make sure you get your revenge." He lifted his morpher up to talk to Pi. "So, what do you think the best plan is?"

    "Might want to try heat vision to see where everything is in there," suggested the Pikachu. "After that, we can probably settle in to wait for night. We'll probably stand a better chance at retrieving Brock during the night. Fewer people around." Pi was right, 0 looked down into the street and distinctly noticed several people wandering around. "We need to get Brock, but we can't needlessly risk lives."

    0 nodded, but he was feeling anxious. "I know, but Brock's one of my oldest friends. He was the first gym leader I ever battled. He's—"

    "I know, 0. He was the first for me too, remember?"

    0 decided to sit down and get out of the sun. He took a spot next to a ventilator and rested his back against it. "I'm feeling pretty calm. I wonder if I can demorph now."

    "You know you can't," said Pi.

    "Yeah, I do. I'm just wondering, is all." He looked at his morpher. "How can I feel tired if I don't really have a body anymore? How can I feel relaxed if there's nothing to relax?"

    "It might be that some parts of what were your body are still being simulated, just like how the environment inside a Poke Ball simulates a world a Pokemon can interact with. The armor might need to recharge, and what your body has become interprets that as being tired because that's the closest analogy for it."

    "Huh." 0's helmet clanked against the ventilator. "You know, you're a lot smarter than most Pikachu, aren't you Pi?"

    There was a chuckle. "Maybe you're just a lot less smart than most humans, 0."

    0 looked over his body. "Considering the fact that some of the choices I've made got me stuck like this, I'd be inclined to think that's definitely a possibility."
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  11. #61
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    Default Chapter 33, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Three: Dragon's Rage, Part 2

    It became apparent some time after midnight that something was wrong.

    It was a gradual change. Four hours earlier, 0 noticed that his body was feeling heavier. He had attributed it to impatience and nothing more, and the thought was quickly forgotten. But it kept getting worse, until finally he found he couldn't move.

    "Pi," he rasped. He hadn't spoken for hours either, his voice had already changed. "Pi, something's wrong."

    He could barely hear the mouse. His arm seemed so far away all he heard was a faint whisper. "I don't know. We were fine a few hours ago. But all your systems are dropping. We're running on fumes."

    He thought for a moment. "Oh no," he whispered. "Serum. I haven't taken it. I…I completely forgot about it." How long had it been since he'd had his last dose? "It's been forty-eight hours. I need to take it, Pi."

    "Do you, though? You don't have a body for the serum to work with. Why would you still need it?"

    0 tried to shrug, but his shoulders barely twitched. "M-Maybe the program my body turned into is mimicking my addiction," he said. "I-I think I still need it, Pi. We need to get back to Ranger Downs. We need to get that serum."

    "I don't know if we can. I can't communicate with Ranger Downs. I don't think we can activate the teleporter."

    "You have to try!" 0 bellowed. "Please, Pi. If I die here, they're all going to die! There's no one to take my powers, there's no one to save them without me. I'm not letting my wife and daughter die because of my mistake!"

    "You can barely move," said Pi. Its voice sounded…broken. "You can barely walk. How are you going to pick up that serum and get out before they reach you?"

    "Oh I'll get up, if that's what you want," he muttered.

    Pain. Blinding, sheering pain shot through him as he tried to find the strength to stand. He stopped briefly, gasping for breath with lungs that no longer existed, and then tried again. More pain, but there was a mixture of rage behind the agony that allowed him to sit up straight. The anger helped, so he let it fuel him until he stood on his feet. All of his limbs were rigid, but he managed to lift his arm up to speak to Pi.

    "Are you ready?" he hissed. "I'm…not sure how long this is going to last."

    "I—I don't know, 0," it said. "I've got a connection to the teleporter, but it's feeble. We aren't going to be there long. I can give you thirty seconds, then you'll be transported back. No trace, no nothing. And we won't be able to connect again. You have one shot. Are you sure you want to risk it on this?"

    0 nodded. "I'll get the serum, I'll detonate the overcharge, and I'll go home myself. Let's do it." If he had a throat he would have gulped. "But I can't do any of those things if I'm dead from withdrawal symptoms."

    "I've established the link. Standby."

    There was more pain, even more crippling than before. Somehow the infrared code that was his body was not properly attuned to the teleportation process. He felt himself get scrambled, scattered, than reassembled in an instant. He lurched forward the moment he felt whole and smashed into a computer, knocking over something in front of him.

    He barely registered what he'd done. All he heard was Pi's voice in the air, screaming at him to hurry. He dragged himself through the room, he could barely remember what he was doing. "Serum," he grunted. "Serum." He reached the counter, but fell over and his head bashed against the floor.

    "0, get up! The alarm's been triggered and you've got maybe ten seconds left! Move!"

    He did, groaning all the way. He kept crashing, but he eventually grabbed as many vials as he could before the pain ripped through him again. Everything went black.

    "0! 0!" Dimly, 0 was aware Pi was trying to wake him again, but for some reason he couldn't see. Everything was blurry, despite the fact that his vision shouldn't have been impaired. He tried to get up, but it was like his body wasn't there. He could see the vials. There were ten, maybe twelve of them scattered in front of him, but he couldn't reach them.

    "I need…I have to…" Nothing. The pain returned and he shrieked again. He wished he could clutch himself, escape from the agony, but he just laid strewn across the rooftop, inches away from relief. Inches away from the one thing that could save him.

    "No," he mumbled. He could barely muster anything else.

    Then, suddenly, he heard a chuckle. "Yes," said the voice. Even though his body was wracked with pain, and he could barely comprehend the world around him, the voice broke through his mind and froze his pain.

    There was no way. It was impossible.

    He felt something turn him around, shove his back against the roof, and then something pressed down on his throat. It felt like an arm.

    "Are you really going to die here, 1076? Is my successor really that weak?"

    0 couldn't hear Pi anymore. It took the entirety of his consciousness to comprehend what was happening.

    Against all odds, the Golden Ranger was standing over him. It was dark, sure, but there was no mistaking that voice. He recognized the voice, the feel of his hand, and the cold stare of the man's visor.

    "N-No," whispered 0. "I watched you die."

    0 was certain the old man had a grin underneath the visor. "Oh, little boy," he hissed. "Do nightmares ever truly die?"

    0 screamed as his mind slowly began the process of ripping itself to shreds.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The Golden Ranger was laughing.

    0's eyesight gradually returned, but the light was faint in the cave. There was soft blue lining the curved walls and a familiar aroma penetrated his nose. He could smell…

    "Wait." He looked down. He was himself, down to the last detail! Arms, legs, face, hair, everything! He pulled the strands of black hair on his head and stretched his arms. They wheezed, as though they'd been somewhere and gotten lazy, but they were there alright. It took him a moment, but he realized that his shoulder was back too. It was his, in the flesh and blood. It was as though he was greeting an old friend again. He took off his shirt, just to get a better look at it.

    Then he noticed something else. His scars, the ones he'd earned defending Serena, were still etched onto his body. "Why are these here and my mechanical shoulder isn't?" he wondered. "For that matter, where am I?"

    "Because," said the Golden Ranger, rising from a stone he was sitting on by the other side of the cave, "those were deemed necessary. There was a vote. The scars were kept because of what they symbolize. The shoulder was considered more of a lesson in humility than a symbol."

    0 grunted. "Alright, but you still haven't explained where I am. Or what any of that meant."

    The Golden Ranger waved his arm. "Those questions are not important right now," he said. "You will figure it out. In the meantime, boy, why not try and answer some questions yourself. For instance, have you considered why you are where you are? Does it not seem familiar to you?"

    "Come to think of it…" Yes, 0 had definitely been here before. That was why the smell was so familiar. "Why would I have been in a blue cave?"

    "Think. Do you remember where you were before you were brought here?"

    0 tried, but all that he could remember was pain. "I was hurting. A lot. I was trying to reach something…" He trailed off and gave the Golden Ranger a grimace. "You. You showed up and stopped me. Grabbed my throat. Brought me here."

    "Close on several points, but a miss with the last. I suppose even a few years of being in my boots have not been enough to wean the stupid out of you. You are here, in short, because your body is shutting down. This is a near-death experience. Can you think of why that would be familiar to you?"

    0 thought for a moment. "I think so. Mewtwo. I remember it tried to kill me. I ran out into a field and I woke up here. But you weren't there, something else was…"

    "But you came back. Why was that?"

    "I—I'm not sure," he said. "Wait, how do you know that? The only reason I do is because Mewtwo let me remember, and I never told anyone at PKM about it." He backed away from the Golden Ranger. "What are you?"

    The Golden Ranger shrugged. "It really depends on the day, really. Right now I exist as a figment of your imagination. You are the reason I am here. Your dying body produced me to comfort you."

    "Why would it pick you? Why not my wife or my friends?"

    "You should be asking yourself that. I am not responsible for the choices your mind makes," he said. "Perhaps there is something you wish to know from me, or what your mind has constructed from your memories of me. You were never very fond of me in life. I cannot imagine any other explanation."

    0 thought. There really was only one thing he could think of to ask him. "Why couldn't you ever morph back? I'm trapped, but every now and then I feel like there are bits and pieces of me that are still there. Is there a way for me to bring my body back?" He looked at himself, then around in the cave. "Is this where my body's trapped?"

    The Golden Ranger sighed. "Boy," he said, "did you ever wonder why that morpher works the way it does? Why I gave you the Auxiliary Pokemon System, the Synchronization Drive, everything? Why I kept none of it for myself? I am sure the thought has crossed your mind."

    "Pi and I thought it was because you couldn't use either of them. That you couldn't generate the emotional stress necessary to trigger the equipment."

    "Interesting theory, but no," he said. "The real reason is much simpler than that, boy." The Golden Ranger pointed at his chest, where his heart would have been. "There was nothing here. You mentioned that you can sometimes feel bits and pieces of yourself inside your trapped body. I never could. There was nothing for the system to respond to. That was why the morpher could not work for me in the way it does for you." The Golden Ranger than laughed. "And, because I knew the Dark Gems were coming and my…modifications would be needed, it was necessary you take the morpher.

    "Now, whether you truly are trapped is another question entirely. I told you I was trapped because there was nothing for me to go back to." He paused, then looked at 0. "I ask you, is there anything for you to go back to? Is there anything that has so much meaning to you that you can will your own body back into existence?"

    "I…yes, of course," he said. "My wife, my daughter, my friends. I can't stay in the armor forever. I can't not hold May or Sarah. I couldn't live a normal life with them if I stay like this." He looked at his hands and clenched them into fists. "I have to go back. For my family. For my friends."

    "So go back. What is stopping you?"

    "I don't know. I guess I'm worried."

    "About what?"

    "I'm worried I might not be strong enough to protect them. Being trapped in morph seems to give me a lot of power, maybe enough to take them out. I'm just worried it might not be enough."

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "Would it put you at ease to know the systems I designed into your morpher are powerful enough to conquer your foes?"

    "I don't think it would."

    "Good, because that was a lie. The ranger system is only as powerful as the user. And it is not as simple as believing in yourself, or trusting fate, or whatever hokum it is people think of when they consider inner strength. The system does have limits. For instance, your Cario Form is more powerful than Rio Form. Why?"

    "Uh, because Lucario is a fully evolved Pokemon and a Riolu isn't."

    "Good. Maybe you do have a spark of intelligence. But your Lucario is still weaker than others of its species, correct?"

    "Well, it's still relatively young."

    The Golden Ranger pointed at 0. "Same with you. Compared to me, anyway. You are still young, yet you are trying to obtain power beyond what you should have. Did you consider this might be the problem? Did you consider that might be the reason you perceive yourself to have insufficient power? Trying to run before you can walk, 1076?"

    "Hadn't thought about it like that," said 0. "But I can't just wait to get the power while my friends are in trouble."

    "I agree. In that case, you should do what comes naturally in these situations."

    "Which is?"

    The Golden Ranger smacked him across the head. "You should rely on your team. If you are not strong enough, so be it. But is your team strong enough to face this threat? And are you not part of that team? If so, then there is no need for you to run so abruptly."

    That did seem to make sense. "I know I should have known that," he muttered.

    "The world does not always revolve around you, boy," said the Golden Ranger. "Though I admit sometimes it is possible to forget how the forces of gravity work. It is something we take for granted."

    0 looked at him. "You know, you're a lot nicer than I remember you being when you were alive," he said.

    "That is because this is not me. This is just your reconstruction of me, with a few tweaks here and there." He chuckled. "Believe me, were the actual me to greet you in the afterlife, you would not recognize me." He looked at his wrist, consulting his morpher like a watch. "Well, I am afraid that is all the time we have. You should be ready by now. Once you detonate, your armor will reform into something that can stabilize the excess. I would suggest not being around your loved ones when you detonate.

    "Goodbye, boy," he said. "Let us try not to meet again for a while, eh?"

    0's head started to hurt, and then everything went black again.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "0, please wake up!"

    0 just remembered a blinding wave of pain that rippled through his body like a tsunami. There would be a few moments where the pain would subside, and he believed the worst was over, before the pain returned en masse and he groaned again. He rolled over and noticed the moon was high in the sky.

    "Ugh," he grumbled and scrunched himself up into a seated position. "This really, really hurts."

    "Oh thank goodness," whispered the mouse. "0, you can never, ever do that to me again."

    "Do what? I was only out for a minute."

    "You were out for a day!" it shouted. "I sat on your arm and shouted and shouted, but nothing worked. It was like you were dead." 0 detected an undercurrent in its tone. "I was so…so worried."

    It was crying, he realized. "Pi, I'm sorry," he said. His head sunk low, his chin touching his chest. "I didn't know. It seemed like it was only a little while. I was out of it, in a big way." It wasn't helping, the Pikachu was still crying.

    "You know, it's not just May or Sarah that'll miss you," it said. "She's your wife and Sarah's you daughter, and I understand that. Serena's your partner and I understand that, and you're so close to Max and 415. But you knew me first, 0. We met twenty years ago and you don't seem to understand that they're not the only people that worry about you. I do too."

    0 caressed the morpher. "I know, Pi," he said. "You're not my Pokemon, you never were. You're my brother. I've never forgotten that. I wouldn't be who I am without you too." He paused. "I love you like my own flesh and blood, buddy."

    Pi stopped crying, just for a moment, and offered a slight chuckle. "Poor choice of words at the moment," it said. He and it shared a laugh.

    "I guess we know one thing for sure," he said, and looked at the still-filled vials of serum. "Guess I kicked the habit. Who knew losing your body could be so good for your long-term health?"

    "At least you can quit now," said Pi in agreement.

    "Well, you were here. Did I miss anything while I was gone?" 0 asked. He stood up and stretched his arms.

    "Actually, yes," it said. We received a transmission from Serena and the others. They're making their move on the Dark Gems tonight."

    "What happened?" 0 listened as the mouse filled him in on the transmission, and when the mouse was finished he nodded his head. "That sounds like bad news. We'd better help them."

    "I agree," it said.

    "Wait." 0 looked up at the sky, the moon was still there. "What time is it now?"

    "It is twelve-ten. Because of you, we're late."

    "Oh. Well, we'd better get over there, huh?"

    "I'd say that'd be for the best."

    "Alright. Well, we'd better make an entrance," said 0. He immediately had Pi begin preparations for the jump to the volunteer building.

    "Wait. 0?"

    "Yes, Pi?" he asked.

    "Get angry. We're going to need that detonation to go home, remember?"

    0 nodded. "I think I have plenty to be angry about. Should be therapeutic."

    He braced himself, and then jumped.

    There was some form of discomfort, he noticed, as he landed. He felt something shoot up his legs and drive him to his knees. It didn't make him shout, it didn't make him question anything. It was just pain. Pain to be converted to annoyance. Annoyance to be converted to anger. As he rose, his body began overcharging, and by the time he resumed movement again he saw quite a little bit of lightning jumping out of his armor.

    He found them just as Serena started walking across the length of a gymnasium. His attention immediately focused itself on the fact that May was on the other side, held by the Dark Gems.

    "No way," said Pi. "May? Why are they risking her?"

    0 shook his head. "It's not May. Look at the way she's standing. It's 415. Whoa!" Ame was doing something, ordering Top and Dia around. "Guess they figured that out."

    "We've gotta do something!" shouted Pi. "Let's go!"

    "Right," he said. He concentrated the electricity into one of his fingers and pointed it through the window at the skipping Dia. "Bang!" The window shattered and a giant stream of lightning blasted out of his fingertip, shattered the glass, and ripped straight through Dia.

    "Good entrance," said Pi, while 0 climbed into the window frame. "The electricity's already been replenished."

    "Fantastic," he said. "We're going to need all we can."

    "Up there!" shouted Ame. 0 snapped out of his conversation with Pi and looked down. Ame was pointing directly at him.

    "Well, no point in standing on ceremony," he said and jumped straight down. This time the landing didn't hurt, but it did cause him to start breathing heavily. It must be the electricity, he thought. No one had dared to move since he dropped, so 0 stood up and surveyed his surroundings.

    "Finally showed up, huh?" said Serena in an exasperated tone.

    0 shrugged. "Always did like a dramatic entrance," he said. "Move two centimeters to the side." Serena and 415 jerked themselves just enough to obey him and, in a flash, 0 emerged right in front of Top and drove him into the wall. Top, in his surprise, released the two and they regrouped away from Top.

    "0, we need to talk," said Serena. "With what's been going on—"

    "There's no time right now," said 0. "You two need to get out of here."

    "No," said Serena. "You listen. You abandoned everyone. You need to come back and explain what's—"

    "Silver!" he shouted. He was beginning to feel annoyed. "I swear to you and everyone it wasn't my intention to abandon everyone. My morpher's communicator malfunctioned and I lost my com-link when I was trapped. I was in no position to contact you until you managed to signal me. I promise you and May I'll be back, but I need to take care of something first. Now transport out of here! That's a direct order!"

    Serena grumbled. "Fine. But you'd better get back soon. Your wife misses you and so does your team. And we're going to want a real explanation!"

    "Understood, Silver. 415, signal May for the transport. Tell her I'm sorry, but I can't be near you all right now. I'll be back once I fix something."

    415 nodded. "Ranger Downs, transport both me and Ranger Silver. Ranger Gold is remaining." A moment passed. "He appears stable, but requires additional time. We will fill you in once we return." The two of them flashed, then vanished.

    0 turned towards Ame. "Now then, where were we?"

    Ame faced him with a sneer on her face. "I believe we were at the part where you are torn limb from limb, Ranger Gold," she said. "I am unaccustomed to being so inconvenienced. Top, handle him."

    Top transformed instantly, he didn't seem to have to stand for the formalities of wrapping his chains, then tore after 0. He waited for it to attack, let it hit him, allowed it to drive him to the ground and pummel him.

    It only made him angrier.

    Top allowed him a brief reprise, just enough for 0 to stagger to his feet. The lightning was getting more and more erratic. "Come on," he grunted. He was hurting everywhere, but Top's attacks hadn't gotten through. It was the continual discharge of lightning that was doing it. It ripped apart the pieces of him underneath the armor he could still feel, disintegrated them, then reformed them only to be shredded again. "Come on, you lumbering idiot. Come on!"

    Top obliged and sent him flying into the nearby wall. 0 growled and extracted himself from the ranger-shaped hole in the wall before running back to Top. He was starting to feel lighter.

    "0, we're getting close!" shouted Pi from his wrist. 0 howled savagely and launched himself onto Top.

    0 couldn't really remember the next few minutes very well. It was a blur of punches and grappling. One moment he and Top had their arms locked, straining to bring the other to their knees, and the next he delivered a punch that sent Top toppling to the ground. He then delivered a bone-shattering elbow-smash to Top's neck that temporarily slowed down the beast.

    "That's what I'm talking about," he growled. "This power…it's awfully useful." He turned to Ame and Dia. "Who wants to be next?"

    "I will I will!" shouted Dia and she rammed him hard in the stomach. "That's what you get for hurting my Daddy! Nobody hurts my Daddy!"

    0 growled. "Hurt your Daddy? Like you hurt my Sarah? Like you hurt my May?" He grabbed the little girl by the neck and started squeezing. He saw Top try to get up, but he used his overwhelming power to hold the beast down under his boot. "I'm so sorry, Dia. I didn't mean to, just like I'm sure you didn't mean to hurt my family."

    She wrapped her arms around his hand, trying to break free. There was entirely too much power in his grip. "It's—It's just business," she croaked. "Business!"

    0 howled with laugher. "Oh, if I had a buck for every time I heard that one." Without his knowledge, he began shocking her and Top with a surge of electricity.

    Ame realized what was happening. "Dia, Top, get out of there this instant," she shouted. "He is going to—"

    It was too late. The electricity kept building and building, until eventually there was nothing but a wide burst of golden light.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    When the light died down, 0 was standing in the moonlight.

    The roof was gone, essentially everything around him was gone. His own armor was gone, all he could see was a brilliant golden light where his body should have been. Eventually, the armor started reforming. It all looked the same, but it felt incredibly different. When the light died out completely, and it was only 0 standing in the rubble, he heard a voice in his head.

    "0?" It was Pi.

    0 tapped his head. "Yeah, buddy?" he asked.

    "E-Everything's stable. Our systems are back to normal levels. No signs of the overcharge like before. We-We can go back."

    "That's good. Hey, how can I hear you in my head?"

    "I don't know. That's a good question."

    0 shrugged. "We'll figure that out later," he said. "For now, we'd better make sure the Dark Gems really are toast before we head home."

    "Really, Ranger Gold." 0 froze in place. Ame simply materialized in front of him. "The sheer volume of the blast, while admirable, is no more effective against me than the nip of a baby. True, it may take Dia a moment to recover, but my other friend was shielded from the blast in much the same way you were."

    "What?" he asked.

    She sighed. "Look around you, Ranger Gold. The explosion only detonated your surrounding area. Most of the area has been damaged, but the explosion only moved upwards from your position." Then, she offered him the slightest of smirks. "Where was Top when the blast went off?"

    0 was about to respond, but an arm reached up from the rubble and grabbed his leg. 0 felt himself jerked upside down as Top emerged and stared at his upside-down body. The Gold Ranger swung with his fists, but Top elongated his arms to keep 0 at bay.

    "Pi! Pi, I need something here!" he shouted. He tried to reach out for the Synchronization Drive, but there was no response.

    "We're tapped out, 0!" it replied. "The explosion didn't just eat up the excess energy, it ate up the reserves too! We can't use anything without an auxiliary Pokemon."

    "Just great," he muttered and reached for his belt. Before he could get anywhere, Top twisted his other arm and it slunk around his body, binding him in place and without the means to reach the Poke Balls. "Just great."

    "Do you see, Ranger Gold?" asked Ame as she stepped forward. "There is no hope. No chance of success. Just lucky breaks you scraped together until we eventually outran you." She turned to Top. "Kill him. Kill him and make sure he does not return. Then we finish the contract."

    Top tightened his muscles. 0 was aware of his body slowly being crushed. He screamed, but that didn't stop anything.

    "Now, Ranger Gold, you meet your maker," said Ame. "Do send my regards."

    It was at that precise moment that Ame stopped standing directly next to Top, and began a very speedy journey in the direction of a nearby wall. 0 barely even had time to register what was happening when he felt Top's grip loosen on him, then abandon him altogether. 0 fell to the ground and lost consciousness for an instant.

    An instant later, he was rushed back to life by the sound of a roar. A deafening, violent, angry roar, the likes of which he'd only ever heard from one beast in the world. One furious monster, who for so long had never listened to him, to the point where he'd himself been on the receiving end of that roar. A monster that had come around and become one of his closest allies, one of his closest friends, one of his strongest Pokemon.

    Top was literally lifted off his feet, and then hurled in the same direction as Ame. He crashed into her and buried her under some more rubble. It was only then that 0 got a good look at his rescuer in the moonlight.

    It was gigantic, ten feet tall, fifteen counting the tail. There was a fire coming from the tip of that tail that burned brightly in the night. Its orange scales glistened, its muscles bulged. Its fangs gnashed at the air, flames spitting out from both ends of its mouth. It looked down at him with its fierce, terrible blue eyes staring into 0's very soul.

    "Z," he breathed. "You…You came for me. You came to save me."

    The Charizard grinned. It lifted its head and filled the night air with its voice once more.

    In between all of this, Ame and Top had managed to get themselves untangled. Dia was still nowhere to be found, but Ame had a look on her face that suggested she was extremely angry about something.

    "That Pokemon makes no difference," she said. "You will both die, here and now. My contract ends today."

    "I don't think so," said 0, then turned to Z. "I take it you saw us on the news, right?" It roared and nodded its head. "You've seen what my system does. I'm betting you have something for me."

    It nodded, and produced a Poke Ball it had been holding onto. 0 took it.

    "Return," he said, and clicked the button. Z stared at the Dark Gems and roared at them as it disappeared in a flash of light. Before they could do anything, 0 set the new Poke Ball into his morpher. "Scan it."

    "Auxiliary Pokemon System activated- Chariard Form registered." There it was again, the mysterious AI voice. 0 watched in fascination as the regular Poke Ball holding Z suddenly turned deep orange.

    His mind shifted, turning away from the calm, if irritated, leader of his team and into a sheer wave of confidence. There was no chance he could lose, absolutely no chance at all. The mere suggestion of it was laughable. He didn't even bother watching as the armor shifted, morphed into position for the new form. There was no point. He was already going to win.

    He pointed a finger at Ame and Top. "You," he said, "are going to regret you ever learned I existed."

    "Dragon Burners- installed," said the voice.

    "Z," said 0, "you ready to rock it?"

    A rough, old voice answered him with a spattering laugh. "Born ready, boss."

    "Then let's show them how we do things back home."

    0 crouched, tensed his muscles, and charged with a roar.

    Author's Note: Of the encounters in this particular chapter, the two I like most are 0's encounter with Elgyem and Darmanitan and the meeting in the cave with the Golden Ranger. The encounter with the Pokémon is significant because, for the most part, we don't really get much of that side of the relationship between Pokémon and humans, since the story is usually told through the eyes of people. However, I wondered what would happen to Pokémon whose trainers died. Do they stay in their balls? Are they inherited? Elgyem and Darmanitan represent Pokémon who lose their trainers and the process they go through.

    In addition, the meeting in the cave between 0 and the Golden Ranger signifies an important plot point that will be explored later. 0 brings up an interesting question when he asks why he would manifest someone he hates in the cave and, while the apparition does not know the answer, this relationship hasn't been completely explored yet. Stay tuned!
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  12. #62
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    Default Chapter 34, Part 1

    Morph Thirty-Four: Love's Remorse: The Sins I Bear, Part 1

    Chariard Form was, for lack of a better word, utterly cool.

    Words alone could not do it justice, the sheer spectacle of it needed to be seen to be truly experienced. The bottom half of 0's visor had changed, just like in his other two forms, only this time it was dark orange instead of blue or black, but that was easily the least significant thing about it.

    The most significant thing about it, thought 0, was the fact that Chariard Form came with awesome new wings.

    Huge, huge wings stretched from his back, each one ten feet long. 0 couldn't believe them when he saw them. He was sure they wouldn't have been able to get him in the air. But, then again, Z's wings had always seemed too small for it and the giant Charizard had always managed to haul itself into the air and best supersonic speeds without so much as a shrug. They were bright orange and latched to his back through the vein-like structures that appeared every time he used the Auxiliary Pokemon System.

    Oh, and he had a tail. Was it mentioned that he had one? A giant, unfolding tail to stabilize his movements and keep him balanced. A tail with a giant ball of fire at the end of it. That should have been mentioned, because he did indeed have such a tail and loved every moment of it.

    "Get some!" he shouted as he tore through the gymnasium in his effortless quest to reach Top. Top responded by attempting to smash four arms directly through 0's body. 0 retorted in kind by folding his new wings over his body and turning himself into a battering ram. Top suddenly found himself entirely unable to dislodge Ranger Gold, mostly because in next to no time 0 curled his tail around one of Top's legs and forced him to the ground.

    "I guess you could say you…toppled over, Top!" said 0 with a gleeful vengeance. Top, as per usual, said nothing back, but did manage to get in a solid punch that got 0 off of him and afforded the Dark Topaz Ranger enough time to recover his footing.

    "Enough with the taunting, boss" Z whispered in his mind. "We are here to win, not prance about like cowards."

    "You're right," said 0, and he stepped up his game. Two steps forward, one side-step passed Top's grasp, and he jammed his fist into the general vicinity of Top's kidney. There was no real way to tell if the attack was effective, but Top halted his assault long enough for 0 to use his now-superior strength to get behind Top and grab the Dark Gem's neck in a chokehold.

    "He will attack from the left," said Z. "Dodge."

    0 obeyed and Top's first left arm whizzed around right where his head would have been. Top was forced to the ground.

    "Enough, Top!" shouted Ame. "Finish him!"

    "Yeah, finish him, Daddy!" shouted Dia. "I want my next meal!"

    Top seemed to think it over, before he simply regained his footing, hauling 0 up in the process. It was as though the Dark Topaz Ranger wasn't even aware of the fact that a human being was holding onto his neck for dear life. His arm slunk around and grabbed 0 by the tail.

    "This doesn't seem promising," 0 managed to get out, before he felt his grip on Top's neck loosen, then come apart altogether as Top began swinging him around like a sack of bricks.

    "Tuck into a ball," said Z. "The wings will protect you from the impact."

    0 did as he was told, but it was much more complicated than just one impact. 0 lost track of the amount of times Top smashed him into the rubble on the ground, or how many times he was battered against the walls. All he had a clear memory of was being tossed out of the gymnasium and clear across the street, landing on the very rooftop he had almost died on just a short time ago.

    "I've got some serious déjà vu," he muttered as he climbed back onto his feet.

    "He's behind you," said Z. "Forward."

    0 ran forward as best he could. Top dropped down like a bomb and landed right where 0 had been standing. 0 turned around.

    "Hey," he shouted suddenly. "Can you talk?"

    "What are you doing?" asked Z. "You're opening your defenses!"

    "I know, give me a second." 0 stepped forward. Top made no move to oppose him, and waited until 0 was standing a few feet away from him. "A couple of days ago, when you crashed the field day, you talked to me." Top made no motion he understood. "You looked directly at me, creeped me out, made me realize who you were. Why did you do that? Why would you care whether the civilians at my event lived or died? You gave me plenty of time to get the place cleared so there would be as few casualties as possible. Why would a Dark Gem Ranger care if a few people got away from the fighting?"

    Top still didn't do anything. It was both infuriating and insulting. 0 stomped one boot and snorted. "Were you afraid of what Dia would do to those people? Why would you care? I saw the body in Brock's hotel. I know it's you and Dia doing it. Why would you care if a few kids and their parents got gobbled up by your monster daughter? It's not like kids matter to people like you!"

    Top didn't even telegraph the attack that ensued. 0 barely got his wings wrapped around him in time to avoid Top's punch, then retreated to a safer distance.

    "Tell you what, Top," 0 shouted. "Say I beat you, right here and now. Will you tell me why? Will you tell me how you can sit back and watch that little she-demon murder innocent people while you sit around and coddle her?" 0 lifted his arms and wings. "You man enough to make that bet? A simple nod will suffice!"

    It was a tiny, tiny gesture, 0 almost didn't recognize it for what it was. The Dark Topaz Ranger tilted his head forward slightly to offer the barest of nods, and then returned to his attack stance.

    "Alright," said 0. "Let's dance, partner."

    Top charged forward, bearing all four of his arms to grab onto anything, anything at all, so long as it belonged to 0 and could be ripped apart. 0 responded by lowering his wings over the top of his head and shielded himself from the blows, using the opening to deliver a series of vicious punches directly to Top's Dark Gem. The monster back away and grabbed his chest for a moment, then ran back for another round.

    "Z, I need to know our move options," said 0.

    "The system indicates we are loaded with Inferno and Dragon Claw. Which would be more effective right now?"

    "What do you suggest?"

    He heard Z chuckle. "If we hit him with the Inferno, it may soften up that big rock in his chest. He seemed to dislike that earlier."

    "Agreed. I'll get some breathing space. You fire it up."

    "Get ready, boss," it warned.

    0 jumped out of the way and opened his wings. He was…he was flying! He flew straight up, leaving Top stranded helpless on the rooftop. "Z, I think we've got plenty of space between us. Inferno!"

    Immediately, 0 felt pain. His armor should have protected him from it, but he was still able to keep himself focused. The fire started charging in the palms of his hands, causing the armor around his gauntlets to be set ablaze. Orange balls of fire leapt out and began swirling together, forming a gigantic typhoon of flames until, at last, it was ready to be unleashed.

    0 almost couldn't stand the heat. He briefly wondered how Top would fare. "Synchronization Drive- Inferno!" he roared, and the fire burst forth in a massive, swirling column of heat and flames towards the Dark Topaz Ranger.

    Top only had to look at the tower of fire once to realize what he was, and 0's distance from him allowed Top to smoothly dodge the attack. Because 0 could not move the blast or affect its blasting radius in any way, he was forced to watch the searing heat incinerate the rooftop, turning the concrete and steel into molten lava.

    Top casually glanced back up at 0. Two of his arms retracted and, in their stead, two billowing wings emerged from his shoulders.

    "Way to be unoriginal," 0 snorted. He started moving away at the same time Top's wings began beating up and down, up and down, until finally he lifted off and began slowly making his way towards 0. "I need another plan."

    "We're faster than he is," said Z. "Outrun him, then grab him. Even he must dislike falls from this height."

    "Fair point," he said. He straightened out his wings and tucked into a dive. He swooped down and battered Top in the chest, altering the Dark Gem's trajectory and sending him into the nearest building. Top recovered briskly and began tailing in him midair.

    "Great, now he thinks he can catch us." 0 doubled back and slammed into him again. Nothing changed, it was as though he was striking a particularly mobile brick wall. It was the same as always, nothing he did seemed to affect the Dark Topaz Ranger. "How do you defeat an impenetrable force?" he asked aloud.

    Z answered. "You respond with an equally impenetrable force. If you and he are of equal strength, there must be a way around it. There is always a factor which decides who breaks the tie. You need to decide whether you are that man or if you intend to scurry off in defeat."

    0 nodded. "I know. I just wish there was a way to be sure."

    "In situations like this, there never is," said Z. "That was what gave me the strength to battle Water-types and prevail. It was not just my strength, but my belief in you. It allowed me to conquer water, when all evidence pointed to the contrary. It was what allowed me to grow strong and powerful, into one of the mightiest of my kind. I believed in you." It paused, and snorted into his mind. "Now I ask you: believe in me. Believe in our power, our might, and together not a single thing can stand in our way! It never did when we were young, and it never shall as long as we stand together and refuse to be defeated by the likes of this lackey and his cheap tricks! Believe in yourself! Believe in me! Believe in the bond that we share, the bond which saved me from the rain when I was but a child and brought me here to fight for yourself and your family!"

    It took a deep breath. "Believe!" it shouted. "Believe in victory and nothing shall dare oppose you!"

    0 stopped in midair. He allowed Top to catch up, to grab him, to try to bring him down. He just opened his mind to the Charizard's voice, and the answer appeared.

    As he felt Top's arms close around him, he made certain that Top had not grabbed hold of his wings or tail. He allowed Top to point downwards, aiming to destroy him in a high-speed impact on the streets below. He made certain the Synchronization Drive was charging again.

    "Now, boss?" asked Z, anxious.

    0 shook his head. He could see the street approaching. "Not yet," he said. "Believe in me."

    Z snorted. "Amusing."

    0 opened his wings. The metallic constructs burst forth, titanic shapes that gradually ensnared Top in their embrace. Top scarcely realized what was happening, and by the time he did it was too late. He was already covered by 0's grasp. It was only then that Top truly realized what 0's plan was. It wasn't until it was too late to stop anything that Top noticed 0's palms were resting on top of his Dark Topaz.

    "Z!" screamed 0. "Synchronization Drive- Inferno!"

    The first time 0 had tried the move was nothing compared to this burst. The heat surrounded him, enveloped him, transformed him into a raging inferno of fire. The flames burst out from his fingertips and smashed directly into the Dark Topaz. If Top could have screamed, there was no doubt in 0's mind that he would have in that instant. The flames tore through both of them, though only 0 had the presence of mind to do anything. Top's grip loosened, and 0 positioned himself so he was on top of Top when they landed in the streets, the impact squarely targeting and damaging the Dark Topaz inside his chest.

    To be fair, 0 himself was not uninjured by falling into the streets. It took a moment or two for him to get moving. He found one finger, then another, then worked his way up until he could pull himself from the huge crater Top's body had created in the street. Car alarms from both sides of the street were screaming in his head as he pulled his body from the wreckage. It was damaged, but not to an extent that it could not repair itself.

    Still, 0 did not wait for victory to be declared. He went right back into the crater and wrenched out the Dark Topaz Ranger. The monster was unresponsive and allowed himself to be pulled free. 0 flung him onto the lip of the crater, exposing a Dark Topaz that was emitting an unusual amount of steam.

    "He is injured," said Z. "Finish him honorably."

    0 nodded and extended the fingers of his right hand. "Synchronization Drive- Dragon Claw!" he snarled. His hand erupted with a fierce blue light that surrounded the fingers in claw-like auras. 0 pinpointed the Dark Topaz and struck.

    Briefly, before the claws sank in, 0 swore he saw Top raise his hands in a sign of protest.

    But it was too late. The Dragon Claw buried itself in Top's chest, sending deep, rippling cracks through the Dark Topaz. 0 heard something akin to a sonic boom when he stabbed through the gem, but recalled from his previous experience with Sappho to stop where he stood and hold his arm in place.

    So, towering over the broken, battered form of the Dark Topaz Ranger, 0 dug his arm deeper and hissed, "Talk. I deserve to know."

    There was a sudden jerk, before the visor and helmet of the evil ranger simply melted away, and the face of a man emerged. In reflection, 0 couldn't believe how much he did look like Brock. True, he didn't have Brock's fox-like eyes or the grin that normally adorned Brock's face, but the skin tone and the spikes of hair on his head were very similar. Instead, Top had bright eyes that sparkled like his namesake stone, and those eyes looked upon 0 with the greatest ease 0 had ever seen in a man.

    "So," he said, in a voice that croaked out of his lips like he'd forgotten how to use it, "my contract is done."

    0 was not swayed by the man finally deciding to speak. "Talk," he said. "Who are you? Why are you doing this?"

    The man coughed. "What does that matter, little boy?" he asked. "Will the knowledge ease your conscience? Give you certainty that you did the right thing? You think answers are for such a purpose?"

    "You talk really fancy for a mute," said 0.

    The man rolled his eyes. "Do I? Did it cross your mind that I simply had nothing I would like to say? It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool in these games. You, on the other hand, always open your mouth and remove all doubt in the process. What is it you want me to say? That I am sorry? That I regret my actions? Such a confession will not bring you comfort when you sit at night, alone and unable to sleep. I am dying, boy, so tell me what you want before I remove your arm myself and finish my existence."

    0 growled. "I want to know why you murdered those girls and hurt my friend. I want to know if you even considered their families, their loved ones, that you sacrificed to further your own agenda!" He twisted his arm, and Top groaned. "I want to know what could drive a man like you into being the monster you've been."

    Top offered him a smile. "But I did it for a reason that would frighten you, Ranger Gold. I did it for love."

    "Love?"

    "The greatest emotion there is. What if I were to tell you that I was once a man, a doctor, whose only crime was that he had a daughter. A man whose wife passed away, leaving a little girl to be loved and cared for. And then, Ranger Gold, what if I told you that at the cusp of adulthood, that girl was stricken with an illness. A cancer for which there was no cure known to man or Pokemon. A cancer that robbed her from him at the age of seventeen." Top narrowed his eyes and glared at 0. "Imagine you were that man. What would you have done, were an offer presented to bring your daughter back to life? What sort of man, what sort of father, would refuse a chance to be reunited with their daughter? What sort of monster would leave their daughter rotting away in a hospital bed, all the while knowing a chance to see her, to hold her, to love her, existed just beyond the door. What would you have done?"

    Before 0 could answer, Top continued. "There are choices we make, Ranger Gold. Choices we must live with, no matter how terrible. Choices like the loss of your soul. Choices like the return of a daughter who wants nothing more than to be alive again. Choices like helping that daughter feast so she may have the life she had once more. Choices that bind you to the plots of mad men. Choices you make for love. Not because they are right, not because you won't regret them, but choices you have to make, because either way you will never be able to live with yourself if you walk away from them."

    He glared at 0 and lifted his head. "Do I regret my choices? You may as well as me if I regret my daughter. I regret what we became. I regret who she is. I regret who I am. But when she looks at me and begs to be fed, who am I to refuse? Who can refuse their own flesh, born then ripped from their bosom, if they return with loving arms? Could you be stronger than I, Ranger Gold, and let go of the child who called you 'Daddy'? The girl whom you changed diapers for, whom you promised to protect no matter what?" His voice raised, almost to a frothing pitch. "Could you be stronger than a man whose only crime was that he wanted to hold his daughter in his arms again?"

    He started shouting, but was silenced abruptly. Not by 0, he had not removed his arm to shatter the gem, but from Dia, who had snuck up nearby and cradled her father's head.

    "Daddy," she whispered.

    He was breathing in short, raspy breaths. "I-I'm sorry, Dia. I won't be able to protect you anymore."

    "Daddy," she whispered. "I'm hungry."

    His eyes widened. "I'm dying," he panted. "Please, please hold me before I fade away."

    Dia shook her head. "No need, Daddy." 0 suddenly recognized that her voice had changed. It was no longer the giddy, homicidal girl he knew. She sounded like a predator, who had finally found the perfect prey to round off an evening of supper. "You'll be with me. You'll always be with me. Always protecting. Always watching. Always." She wrapped her chains around herself and quickly transformed. 0 watched shadowy chains begin to extend from her arms and around Top's body.

    "Baby girl," he gasped. "You can't I-I love you. I did all this for you. I did everything so we could be together again."

    "And we will," she said. "Together forever."

    Top's eyes hardened, 0 thought he saw a tear in the monster's eye, before he looked back to the Gold Ranger. "Stop her," he said. His voice was so faint, it was almost a whimper. "Don't make my mistakes. Don't cling to your past, fight for your futu—"

    If there was more, 0 did not hear it. The Dark Topaz Ranger's body simply disappeared. There was no dust, no anything that normally accompanied a Dark Gem's disintegration. One moment he was there, the next 0 found his hand striking through nothing but air. The man was gone, and now all that remained was Dia.

    Dia stared at 0 and giggled. "Silly Daddy," she said. "Always telling stories about me as a baby. It's so embarrassing!" She clicked her claws together. "I'm so close, you know. I'm so close to being alive again." Then she patted her belly. "But I'm sooooooooo stuffed! There's no way I could eat another bite tonight!"

    Not good, thought 0 to himself. Not good at all.

    "Tell you what," she said. "I'll come back tomorrow night and eat everyone then! Of course, I really just want Sarah. I get Sarah, I'll probably get all full and definitely get my life back. You know I could smell it off her first time I met. So full of life." She sniffed 0 and groaned in disgust. "You, on the other hand? No life. None. So nasty. Like eating spinach. I hate spinach, but Daddy always made me eat it."

    "You think for one second I'm letting you touch my daughter, then Sappho wasn't the only Dark Gem who was insane," said 0. "I'll rip you apart just like I did him."

    She bent over and delicately pointed at her cheek. "Why?" she asked sweetly. "You wouldn't hurt little old me, would you? I'm a perfect angel. I just want to be a regular human is all. Why can't you let me just do what I want? I just wanna eat Sarah! I don't understand why this is so complicated!" She began stamping her feet, exactly like a spoiled brat.

    "You step in my home," said 0, "I'll send you to your own personal family reunion downstairs."

    "Maybe." She blew a raspberry at 0. "Maybe not! I'll see you grownups tomorrow! You'd better be ready, I hate when people hold back!" She then started somersaulting down the street, albeit very badly. Eventually, however, she simply disappeared around a corner 0 and Z were left standing in the crater that had just held the Dark Topaz Ranger.

    "I'm going to switch back to Pi," said 0. After the Charizard confirmed, 0 removed the new dark-orange ball from his morpher and attached it to his belt. He felt his mind loosen up immediately then Pi returned to his mind.

    "Well, that was interesting," said Pi. "Have some fun, I take it?"

    "Yeah, bagged the big guy," he said. "Not sure what happened though, the guy got eaten by the little girl."

    "That's really weird," said Pi.

    "Super weird," agreed 0, "which is why we need to get home. Dia ate Top, and now I'm guessing she's cranked up on topaz juice. We need to get back there to defend the group."

    "Good. My scans continue to indicate normal functions," said Pi. "We won't be detonating again. Return home to Ranger Downs."

    0 checked the night's sky. "Well, I'm willing to bet we can't do a teleportation jump, so I guess you'd better hit up Agility."

    "Already fired up, 0."

    "Much obliged, Pi."
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  13. #63
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    Default Chapter 34, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Four: Love's Remorse: The Sins I Bear, Part 2

    The road home seemed much longer than usual.

    0 cut off the Synchronization Drive about half a mile away from Ranger Downs, wanting a quiet walk to himself before he met with everyone again. He looked up at the moon and sensed a light breeze fluttering around his armor, then began the slow march home.

    "Do you think they'll be mad at me?" he asked Pi.

    "I don't know why. You couldn't really explain the situation without giving away the plan," said the Pikachu. "May and the others are reasonable people. I'm sure they'll understand that you didn't want to detonate around them."

    "I sure hope they see it that way," 0 said. He could see the house in the distance. There was no doubt in his mind they could already see him. The long-range sensors for Ranger Downs were incredibly sensitive, only the most covert of individuals could hope to bypass them, and extended in a two mile radius around the house. He was walking unarmed and uninterested in being covert. He wanted to be seen.

    When he reached the front porch, he was still the only one there. Nobody had come outside to greet him, nothing. "Hmmm…what's the protocol for this, Pi?" he asked.

    "Well, you could try knocking," it suggested.

    "Oh yeah. Not sure why that went over my head." He raised his hand and rapped sharply on the door. He then backed away. A moment later, it creaked open and 0 found himself looking into the eyes of his wife.

    There was a moment of silence between the two of them. "H-Hey," said May.

    He waved. "Hi," he said. "I—I think I have a lot of explaining to do, huh?"

    She nodded. "We just saw the explosion. They had an emergency bulletin. Sirens, everything. What happened over there?"

    "It's a really long story," he said. "Mind if I come in? I need to fill everyone in about what's happened."

    May held up a hand. "Wait," she said. "Is it safe? I mean, are you safe?"

    "What do you mean?"

    She looked at him. "You know what I mean. I just saw you blow up an entire building by yourself, and now here you are standing in front of the door like your usual self. Is it going to happen again? Is that why you left again?"

    He sighed. "May, I didn't have a choice. I promise you I'm going to tell you everything and that I'm not going to explode. Please let me inside before the neighbors see me—" He paused and looked himself over "—like this."

    May consented and opened the door wide enough for him to come inside. 0 stepped in and shut the door behind him. There was another moment of silence, before he asked awkwardly, "Where should I start?"

    May folded her arms. "At the beginning. Why did you leave and why didn't you try to get in touch with us?"

    0 crossed his arms. "I left because there was a problem. When I got stuck in morph the energy that I normally produce to run the armor went into overdrive. I got angry and frustrated, and the suit picked up on that and increased the energy output even more. Pi suggested we get out before I blew everyone up. Later, when we had time to think about it, we realized it would be a better idea to detonate near the Dark Gems, so we started looking for them. We couldn't come back because we thought it would trigger the detonation."

    "Okay, why would we trigger the detonation?" she asked.

    0 shrugged. "I felt ashamed. I couldn't protect Sarah and I got stuck. I was angry at myself, I hated myself. I was just trying to stay away from those feelings. Pi and I tried to contact you."

    "You did?"

    He nodded. "Yeah." He sat down in a nearby chair and sank his head. "We went to Brock's hotel room. We figured we could both check on him and use an internet connection to contact you. But—" He stopped, as the body of the girl flashed through his head "—there was this girl there. She looked like the girl from the Conner case. We found her Pokemon." He retrieved the two Poke Balls from his belt. "After we talked to these guys, we just sort of lost track of everything. It's just—I had never had that kind of experience. I'd never met a Pokemon whose trainer had died. Pi and I, we wanted to help them." He looked up. "I'm sorry, May. My mind still isn't back a hundred percent. Still working out the kinks."

    May said nothing for a while and absorbed the information. Finally, she said, "When you exploded, did you know you'd walk away from it or did you think you were going to die?"

    "Huh? No, we knew we'd survive. It was a question of getting rid of the extra energy. Now that it's gone, I won't be exploding again. May," he said, and stood up, "did you think I was trying to kill myself because I got trapped? Is that what this is?"

    May gave a slight nod of her head. "I don't know what you're going through, 0. I just didn't know. You left us. After you promised us you wouldn't. I just—I wish I had known why you left. You know, you aren't alone anymore. You don't need to shoulder these things yourself." She held out her arms. "Could you please hug me? I think I'm entitled to a hug."

    0 approached her gingerly. "Are you still mad at me? I can't really tell."

    She let him hug her, and breathed deeply. "I'll get over it," she said. "I'm not mad now, but I'm not happy either. You should have explained what was happening to me. I know you couldn't have, and I'm not asking you to understand what's going on in my head right now, but right now I'm just glad you're home safe." She looked up at him. "If it makes you feel better, you still feel the same when I hug you."

    0 chuckled. "It does improve my mood," he said. "How's about we go downstairs? I—Is Brock alright?"

    May shook her head. "He's not. He really isn't. He…maybe you should come see for yourself. The Dark Gems, they did things to him. 415 says he'll be a cripple for life."

    0 groaned. "Geez, Brock…" He rubbed his visor. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't—"

    May shushed him. "This isn't your fault. You didn't mean for Brock to be here. You didn't mean for anyone to kidnap him. We're all going to take care of him now. So don't worry. We're a team, right?"

    0 remembered the strange vision of the Golden Ranger, and nodded. "The best team," he said, and followed her downstairs.

    Inside Ranger Downs, Brock was indeed not doing well. He was awake and on quite a bit of painkillers, judging from the IV drip bag latched to his bed. His limbs were withered pieces of flesh that dangled uselessly off the bed. His eyes were constantly moving, but they weren't looking at anything.

    "Who's there?" he asked the room. "May? May, are you back?"

    "Yes, I'm here Brock," she said. "I had to go let 0 in. You remember me telling you about 0, right?"

    May crossed over and placed her hand on Brock's shoulder. "Yeah," he said. "The guy, Ranger Gold. Is he here?"

    "I'm here, Brock," said 0. "I'm sorry you got mixed up in this."

    "Eh, you know, it's all good. I'm sure I'd be furious, but it's really hard to be mad when you're on an IV drip filled with morphine." He grinned. "Do you know how nice morphine is? Because it's fantastic. I can't begin to describe how happy it makes me."

    "How's he been?"

    May shrugged. "Stable. We managed to get everything working again. But he's stuck on the bed until 415 can figure out what to do with him."

    "The other lady said I'm gonna be some kind of cyborg," said Brock. "It sounds pretty cool. Won't have to work out again."

    "Actually, I think the physical therapy's going to be really rough," said May. "You need rest, buddy. Why don't you take another nap?"

    "But I just took a nap," said Brock. "I kinda want to be up. I think I need to be up. Not sure why, though." He shifted his head so he was looking in the direction he heard 0's voice coming from. "So you're May's new husband? Do I just call you Ranger Gold, or what?"

    "You don't recognize my voice?" he asked.

    Brock shook his head. "Might be some ear damage too, but I'm afraid I can't place it. Have we met?"

    0 chuckled. "Well, I guess you deserve to know," he said. Then, to Pi, he conveyed instructions to have the suit's voice control altered to his regular voice. He took a deep breath.

    "Brock," he said, in a voice free from the armor's synthesizer or his years of inflecting an Orre accent. "You're telling me you can't recognize the voice of a little kid you used to know that came all the way from Pallet Town?"

    Brock's eyes widened. "You—You're—"

    0 chuckled. "Used to be, yeah. Now I'm just 0, and that's the way it stays."

    "Okay, fair enough. May here filled me in on what was happening, but I'll admit that I'm kinda hazy on the details."

    "I wouldn't mind hearing those details myself," said Serena from the stairs. Behind her, Max and 415 nodded in agreement. "Hey, big guy. Finish your vision quest or something?"

    "Or something," said 0. "My body's as stable as it's going to be, so it's safe for me to be back. I'll need 415 to run diagnostics on me, but so far so good."

    415 nodded. "That can be arranged, but before you do so we should debrief you. The explosion on the news did not have sufficient data."

    0 nodded. "As best as I can then, I managed to take down one of them. We can scratch the Dark Topaz Ranger off our list. I used the Auxiliary Pokemon System with Z and we managed to—"

    "Z?" asked May. "It flew all the way over here?"

    0 nodded and produced Z's orange Poke Ball. "Yep. I flew, May. It was amazing. But we managed to get the best of him and broke his Dark Gem. Then Dia ate him."

    "She ate him?" asked Max. "But why? Isn't he her father?"

    "He was," said 0. "He spoke to me."

    "He could talk?" asked Serena.

    "Yeah." 0 lowered his head. "Very honorable in the end. He told me why he became a Dark Gem Ranger. He did it because they promised to bring his daughter back to life. Instead he got a sadistic child who ate him. Now she's got all his power plus her own, and she's coming after Sarah."

    "Sarah? Why?" asked May.

    "Dia's dead. Or, at least, she's in some kind of in-between state where she needs life energy from others to come back to life. That's what she did to those girls, to Brock, and to her own father. She said she's full now, so it gives us time to prepare for her counterattack, but she says once she eats Sarah she'll be fully charged. She'll come back to life, and there's no telling what that means."

    "Interesting," said 415. "It shows a pattern, does it not?"

    "A pattern?" asked 0.

    "Yes. All of the Dark Gems have had a pattern that suggests the organization targets certain types of individuals, those who have lost pieces of their souls. For example, the Dark Sapphire Ranger was characterized with a lack of sanity. That is a fact we cannot deny. The Dark Topaz Ranger revealed he lost his daughter, and the Dark Diamond Ranger lost her life." She turned to Max. "And you, you lost your Pokemon. When you lost it, did you feel as though a part of your soul was lost in the process?"

    Max blinked. "I…I just remember there being a lot of pain and hate. I can't remember that first time I transformed, but I remember the pain." He nodded. "It could have been a piece of my soul."

    "Then that explains the actions of both Dia and Top. Dia fed in other to regain her life and, as a result, her piece of soul. Top was compelled to help, as her regaining her life would return his daughter and, again, his soul. This may explain Ame's fervor for following her contract. If she does not, she will not regain her soul."

    "It doesn't matter why they're doing these things," said Serena. "They need to be stopped."

    "It does matter," said 415. "Our understanding of our enemy's plans are limited at best. We only understand their interest in May Birch and Serena Brine. We do not, however, understand the motivations of the underlings they dispatch to enact this plan. This information grants us a higher level of understanding of our enemy."

    "Regardless," said 0, "the fact remains we need to get ready. Dia's coming, and I'm willing to bet she's not going to be as fun-loving as she was around her Dad. Max, 415, I want you outside, ready for an initial wave. Silver, you're support with me in case they breach the outer walls. May, you'll get Sarah and hide here with Brock. Keep him monitored, but you're Watchtower for this little show. Everyone understand?"

    "Yes, sir!" his army shouted. Immediately afterwards, they noticed that someone was snoring. They turned as one and noticed that Brock had succumbed to the morphine-induced rest.

    "Now, I think I'll be spending some much-deserved time with my wife and daughter," said 0. "Everyone, get ready."

    The group dispersed.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Max wasn't entirely sure why he was being partnered with 415. It wasn't the first time it had happened, yet Max couldn't help but feel a certain reluctance to work with her. But when 0 asked him to do something, he did it, which was why he was sitting outside the house with 415. The two of them were watching the rising sun on a small bench.

    "How have you been feeling?" asked 415 abruptly.

    "W-What?" he asked.

    "Your condition," said 415. "I would rather not go into battle aware that my assigned partner was of a quality too inferior to handle the situation."

    "I'm fine, thanks," he muttered. "As fine as a guy can be when one of his best friends has been crippled permanently."

    "Actually, my query was in reference to your Dark Emerald."

    Max tightened his grip on the gemstone. "Why are you interested in that? Aren't you the grandmaster of hating Dark Gems?"

    "My views are unchanged. However, it is my understanding that something was done to you recently by the Dark Diamond Ranger. The reports from the battle suggest she tried to force you to evolve from Chained Form to Sealed Form."

    "Uh, yeah. That did happen, but I haven't noticed anything different. She stuck her weird shadow chains in me and tried to trigger it, but I got out of there in time. Other than that, I've been fine."

    "You are lying," said 415. "Your posture indicates something is troubling you about my questions. Out with it."

    "Why do you care?" asked Max. "There's no point in talking to you about it. You just belittle me and insult my very existence because I don't wear one of your fancy 'safe' morphers."

    415 was silent for a moment. "Dark Gem, you are my partner. You are responsible for my safety in the unlikely event of my failure. You are obligated to share with me any reservations you have regarding your current status."

    "There's no point in explaining it to you," he repeated. "You aren't going to understand what I'm going through. Nobody here does."

    "Are you considering defecting?"

    "What? No!" Max stared at her with a confused expression. "How could you think I'd do something like that?"

    "It is the nature of this business to question everything," explained 415. "When a parameter cannot be controlled, it is necessary to understand as much as possible about the subject if one is to make an informed decision. Basic logic, Dark Gem. Even you should be aware of such simple philosophies."

    "It's just…" Max started, but then he stopped. "It's just that I'm scared of evolving. I'm scared that I won't be me. You know, when I was traveling with 0, he told me this story about his Bulbasaur. It was this powerhouse of a Pokemon, I'd only ever seen it a few times. Anyway, one day Bulbasaur realizes it's going to evolve into an Ivysaur. Everybody's happy for it, except for Bulbasaur. It wants to be itself, not an Ivysaur. And to this day, it's still a Bulbasaur. Never made the change. It missed out on the firepower of being a Venusaur, but it was always itself. I'm feeling the same way, and so is the Dark Emerald."

    "You are both worried you will no longer be yourselves?"

    "Exactly." Max lifted his chain and let the Dark Emerald glitter in the light from the porch. "We have a good thing right now. It's changed me, but I think I've changed it too. It wants to help me. It's not just an angry hunk of stone like the other Dark Gems. I'm worried that if we get more powerful, its urges will return and I'll be lost. And it's worried of losing its connection with me. It's still fueled by Gallade's soul." Max lowered his head, the pain from that loss still cut through him. "It's still fueled by my friend."

    "Would you evolve to save us?" asked 415.

    "Huh?"

    "I am speculating about the circumstances that you would evolve in. For instance, 0 recently sacrificed himself and became trapped in morph to save his daughter. Would you do something similar? If there was no option, would you evolve to save us?"

    "I don't know. You're asking me to choose between hypothetically losing my friends and hypothetically losing myself. It's not something I can answer right away."

    415 nodded. "It is a difficult decision."

    "Since when are you nice to me, anyway?" ask Max. "I asked before, but you seem to be a bit more concerned than just a person covering for themselves. You sound legitimately concerned about me."

    415 scoffed. "My opinion of you has not changed. You are a monster, but at least you are an honorable one. Should you evolve in battle and, should you turn from the honorable path you have so desperately clung to, I will make you this promise. I will kill you myself rather than let you lose yourself to the Dark Gems. I can offer you that comfort, at least."

    That almost made Max smile. "That may in fact be the nicest thing you've ever said to me," he muttered. "Now that I think about it, that's a little depressing."

    "I suppose so," she agreed. "Then again, your behavior rarely invites compliments."

    "That's rich, coming from you," he said.

    "What do you mean?"

    Max looked her up and down. "This whole thing, this demeanor of yours is meant to keep people away, right? You said so the other night, but you seemed really defensive about it. What I still don't understand is why you keep people at bay. We're as close to family as you're ever going to get, and we're not asking for you to take off the mask or tell us your name. All we really want is to know that those feelings of family aren't one-sided, that you care about us in your own way too."

    415 took a deep breath. "They are not feelings, insofar as you can understand them, Dark Gem. My behavior is based on the life I have lived, which dictates solitary survival." She looked at him, and her eyes blinked twice. "Until the Golden Ranger appeared in my life, there was no one. I mean that not in a stereotypical way, but in a realistic one. There are no memories of family or friends in here." At this, she pointed directly at her skull. "There are no memories of my life before PKM. I was taken in as a youngling and raised by the Golden Ranger and Bakaguru Niwa, as the other option would have been to abandon me once more."

    "Well, that explains the weird love-thing you've got for the guy," said Max.

    "There was no love. There was only closeness. The Golden Ranger was my father in every way but biologically. He trained me to seal myself away. He taught me to behave this way. He is responsible for everything I am, from my personality to the diction of my voice." She turned to Max. "You ask me if I love your family. I do not. You are an assignment to me, even if we have disbanded relations with PKM itself. But there is a sense of unity. That is really all I can do. We are all damaged in our own special way. I suppose unity is the closest that I can come to love."

    "Do you think we could ever really be partners?"

    "All things are possible. For instance, it is possible that a gigantic asteroid will strike the world, destroying civilization as we know it. And, as the planet begins to tear asunder and scatter into pieces, as the last remnants of the atmosphere fade and die, it is conceivable that I could turn towards you and view you as a partner in the instants preceding both our deaths."

    Max smirked. "What that a joke? Did you really just make a joke?"

    "Possibly. My humor inflection was not developed as a child." She lifted her hand to her ear, nodded, and said, "Understood. Will engage."

    Max sat up straight. "What is it?"

    415 pointed down the road. "The Dark Diamond Ranger will be here shortly. We are to act as a first response unit and draw her away from the inhabited homes. After that, we are to engage until such time as 0 can guarantee May and Sarah Birch's safety. He will then enter combat. Serena Brine will act as a measure of security against Rangerling invasion of Ranger Downs."

    Max nodded and got to his feet. His chain immediately began slinking over his arms in preparation for his transformation. "You sure we can do this?"

    "Again, all things are possible. In theory, anyway."

    "That's another joke. This is getting weird." Max growled and pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Instantly, Max Birch disappeared. In his stead, the Dark Emerald Ranger emerged to howl at the dawning sun. His mind softened as it joined with the Dark Emerald, merging to form the single mentality they both shared. It was angry, very angry at the Dark Diamond Ranger. Inside, it was just as afraid as Max Birch had been of the power it would shortly receive. It knew its time was close, it had known for a while now, but the little girl had accelerated its development far faster than anything it had ever seen. It could happen tonight if…

    No, they thought. It would not happen tonight. If it did, and they lost their friends, how could they live with themselves for the eternity it would take to grieve for their mistakes? They shook their head and moved into attack position. It would not happen. It would not.

    Next to him, he saw Ranger Black materialize where 415 had been standing moments ago with the Magnet Mace in her hands. "Wait," she said. "Not yet."

    Max grumbled, but relaxed his attack stance as they waited. And wait they did. What seemed like a little dot on the horizon took forever to get to their front steps, and when it did Max recoiled almost instantly.

    Eating the Dark Topaz Ranger had warped Dia. She slumped towards them, ten feet tall but as if she did not yet know how to control her body. Pieces of her were bloated with muscle, which others seemed like portions of a little girl's body stapled on. She had one powerful left leg supporting her entire frame, the other was a tall skinny pole that dragged alongside her. She supported herself through a combination of her good leg and one of her right arms. One arm was resting on the ground acting as a third leg, while the other was raised for balance. There was a crude, bone-like wing jutting out of her left shoulder, and her entire body looked hunched as she stumbled ever closer.

    "Sarah," she hissed, in an unnaturally deep, booming slur. "Sarah, come out and play! I'm sooooooo hungry, Sarah. Don't let me be hungry Sarah." She slowed to a stop in front of the porch and turned her attention to 415 and Max.

    "Dark Diamond Ranger," said 415. "Do not attempt to proceed further. You will not be allowed on the premises."

    The Dark Diamond Ranger made no sign that she even heard 415's warning. She turned herself on Max. "Eme!" she shouted. "Don't fight with me! Come play with me! Look how much I've learned! Look what a big girl I am! I ate my meals just like Daddy wanted, and now look how big I am!" She lifted her arms and cheered. "I'm bigger than everybody! I'm stronger than everybody! Whee!" She then erupted in a fit of giggles and almost collapsed.

    "Stand down," 415 repeated. "We will not warn you again."

    Dia nodded. "Okay, I'm just going to eat you first! Appetizers are important!" She drew herself up and started stumbling up the stairs.

    "Lade!" Max shouted and launched himself at Dia. The monster crumbled and almost seemed to fall apart as the Dark Emerald Ranger tackled her and threw her to the ground. He dove off almost immediately and got out of the range of its hulking fists, and it took Dia a considerable amount of time to regain her balance.

    "No, no, no!" she shouted. "I play with you! You don't play with me!"

    When she finished rearing back into attack position, she turned her attentions to the smaller 415 and reached out with one of her right arms. It instantly uncoiled, as if it was collapsing in on itself, into a long-range tentacle that tore through the porch and tried to wrap around her. 415, to her credit, did not simply wait to be attacked and leapt away from the tentacle before it could ensnare her.

    "Fine," said 415, and turned to Max. "Engage without mercy."

    415 ran forward and immediately took out the monster's weak right leg with a well-placed swing of the Magnet Mace. Whatever was beneath her skin shattered and folded into itself. Max took out the arm she was using as support to bring her right back to the ground. The two of them worked together to keep her on the ground and slowly began the process of battering through the Dark Diamond that looked as though it was stapled haphazardly to her chest.

    "Watch the tentacle!" 415 shouted as she looped around the monster's body.

    Max grunted and twisted left, but it wasn't fast enough to avoid it. He felt the monster wrap herself around him and start tightening her grip. His arms became useless, his legs feebly kicked at the air.

    Only then did he realize what it was she was trying to do. She lifted him up and targeted 415. Then she started hammering at the ground with his head.

    The Dark Emerald softened his mind, taking over so he wouldn't feel the agony that threatened to rip through his body. His neck was crushed instantly into tiny little pieces inside his armor, but that was nothing compared to Dia's intended target.

    415 was hammered into the ground, battered and bruised. She dodged the first few strikes, but there were too many, too many. Eventually Dia struck 415's leg and offset her balance. 415 fell and was then battered by the body of the Dark Emerald Ranger.

    Dia giggled. "Now we're playing!" it cried. "Isn't this fun? Aren't you having a great time at my tea party? Whee!"

    The Dark Emerald woke Max just enough to let him know what was happening, what Dia was making him do to 415. They conversed. The Dark Emerald could not let Max wake up, not entirely, as the pain would be too terrible. Max understood that, and agreed. What then, could be done?

    There was one option, one that neither one of them cared to consider. But Max could not muster the strength to escape, and the Dark Emerald was not powerful enough as it was now. They were still in Chained Form, fighting a monster that had not only started out in Shattered Form, it had taken in another Dark Gem into its being.

    The point at which they finally arrived at a consensus came when 415 stopped moving. The Dark Diamond Ranger paused from the onslaught, if only to gleefully look at her handiwork.

    "That'll teach you," she murmured. "Teach all of you to think you can stop a growing girl like me. Now for my first appetizer."

    "Laaaaaaaaaaade!"

    An unearthly shriek emerged from within Max, driving a violent emerald aura out of his body. His muscles strained, and all of a sudden he found himself strong enough to move Dia's gigantic fingers. He pushed them away, just enough for him to escape. He jumped down and positioned himself between Dia and 415 crumpled body. He lashed out with one of his chains, almost as an afterthought, threw Dia off-balance, and decked her to the ground.

    When Max was certain that Dia would have to take a bit of time to recompose herself, Max moved swiftly to 415's side and lifted her into his arms. She was injured, that much was clear, but the extent of the damage was difficult to determine. Several of her ribs were broken, along with both her right arm and leg. He could hear her heartbeat. It was still there, but there was a distinct dimness to its pitch.

    We need to help her, though Max. The Dark Emerald agreed, but there was no way to help her in their current state.

    Dia was getting up. His aura was growing more and more potent, crystallizing into a force field that Dia battered against, but found herself unable to break through.

    "Let me in!" she shrieked. "I'm famished!"

    Max noticed movement in 415. She lifted her head and secured her grip on his shoulder with her one good arm. "Dark Gem," she grunted. "We must fall back. Retreat is our only option. Ranger Gold should be able to handle things from here on out."

    But instead of agreeing, Max growled and shook his head. The change was already beginning. The force field was gaining power, enough for even Dia to back away with concern.

    "Are you evolving, little Eme?" she cooed. "That's so cute! You think you can stop me with a little pinch of firepower?"

    Max roared his response. He felt the chains around his arms tighten and tighten, threatening to snap his arms off. But they didn't. Instead, they simply melted into his skin and scarred the flesh beneath. He screamed in pain, but fought through the urge to pass out. He held 415 close against him, hoping to shield her from the sheer energy he was generating.

    Friend, thought Max, is this happening?

    It is, it whispered back.

    There was so much he wanted to ask it about what was waiting for them on the other side. But it had no answers he could understand, so eventually they said the six words they knew they should say.

    See you on the other side.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    His body was of emerald fire again.

    When the light died down, and the screaming stopped, Max realized his mind was his own again. He stopped moving, he stopped breathing, he stopped for just an instant as the force field came down and he found himself exposed to Dia once more.

    His body hadn't changed much. It was larger, maybe a few inches or so, with quite a bit of extra muscle along the arms, legs, and chest. His chains weren't corporeal anymore, they were black marks that crossed his arms and his shoulders, creating intricate designs along his gauntlets. Everything else though, the helmet design that so looked like Gallade, the emerald and black colors, the rough armor, all that was still there, yet at the same time felt so incredibly different.

    He realized he was still holding 415, and that she was still injured. I need to get her help, he thought. Her breathing was getting faint.

    As if in response, the shadowy chains on his body began to slink down his fingers and, remarkably, jumped off his armor and bit through 415's forearm. She hissed, but then fell silent. Max was silent for a moment himself, until he was suddenly overwhelmed by what he discovered.

    His energy was sapping away, he felt himself becoming woozy. His own raw healing power was being fed into 415. He could feel her bones sew up and heal underneath her armor, her bruises disappear, her strength return.

    Of course, he thought. I can absorb and control my Pokemon as if they were my own body. It makes sense this version of me can take pieces of itself into others and help them in the same way. He waited until it seemed the shadow chains were done, at which point they withdrew from 415's body and back into his arms.

    415 was still unconscious, so Max gently lowered her to the ground. He touched her brow, then returned to his attack formation. Other than the sudden display of his new power, most of the armor remains the same. He could still move, he could still think. It was just the silence in his head. He couldn't hear the Dark Emerald anymore. It wasn't whispering advice to him. He could still feel it, but it was so busy powering his body he couldn't speak to it anymore.

    He pushed his loneliness from his mind, and faced Dia head on.

    "So," she mused. "Ready to feed me yet?"

    Max took a deep breath. "Not a chance," he said, in his own voice. "This fight's just getting started."

    He pawed at the earth, stamped his feet, and charged forward.

    Author's Note: Dia's really freaky, huh?
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  14. #64
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    Default Chapter 35, Part 1

    Morph Thirty-Five: Obsession's Wrath: I Will Live Again! Part 1

    "They're in trouble," said 0.

    He, May, and Serena had their attention trained on the monitor displaying the battle between Max and Dia. 0 had had the camera monitoring the situation focused on the fact that Max appeared to be transforming. There was some feedback on the screen, some static, but what was happening was clear.

    "He's evolving," said Serena. "What's he evolving into?"

    "He explained it to me once," said 0. "I think he's been in Chained Form since he got his powers. He would be evolving into Sealed Form. There's no telling what that means. There's no telling if he'll even be the same person."

    "That doesn't sound right," said May. "Max will still be Max, even if he's evolved."

    "Well, that may be," said 0. "But remember what happened when Sappho evolved. He was a weakling, but his powers got enough of a boost to give us a run for our money. The power overload may be too much for Max to handle on his own." He started moving. "I'm heading up there to help. He might need the whole tamer/Pokemon relationship thing to keep himself calm."

    "I'm coming too," said Serena.

    0 shook his head. "We need at least one person behind to make sure Ranger Downs stays secure. Brock won't be able to do much to help us, and May and Sarah aren't much in the fighting department."

    "Hey!" said Sarah.

    0 chuckled softly. "Sorry, baby girl. Be a brave little girl, but don't go fighting. You're still recovering from last time." He turned to May. "You remember the drill for the failsafe, right?"

    She nodded. "Seal all entrances into Ranger Downs. Get Sarah into the safe space. Coordinate from the watchtower monitor."

    "And that's why I love you," he said. "Silver, you stay put."

    She blew him a raspberry and transformed. "Not interested. I've been sitting out of too many fights lately. I'm feeling frisky."

    0 groaned. "Fine. You stay in the house, though. You can set up a preliminary defense system in the house. It'll buy May a little time to teleport herself, Sarah, and Brock if things go really south."

    "Sounds like a plan. Let's get rolling."

    Rangers Gold and Silver leapt up the stairs and the door sealed itself behind them. 0 and Serena headed through the kitchen and towards the front door. It was in the atrium they found themselves suddenly stopped by an invading force of Rangerlings. Ame stood in the middle with a grim look on her face.

    "Ranger Gold," she said softly. "I see you persist."

    "That's the general plan," he replied. "Mind getting out of our way?"

    Ame shook her head. "There is no force that will allow me to comply with that request. My Rangerlings will have you, then Ranger Silver, and then they will have your wife, daughter, and friend. Dia will devour your friends outside. Then my contract will finally conclude."

    "There's a little problem with that," said Serena.

    Ame raised her brow. "Oh? What might that be?"

    Serena patted Ranger Gold on the back. "My buddy here. See, he don't take kindly to you folks, and he did totally destroy your beastie Top. Methinks he won't be held back for long by a few dozen Rangerlings."

    Ame smirked. "True, I suppose. Ranger Gold has been allowed to grow at an unchecked rate over the course of our little war. However, there is such a thing as quantity when quality remains stagnant. Let us see how you do against two hundred Rangerlings. I assure you they're merely waiting for you to tire out before they overrun you like a horde of Durant." She looked 0 right in the face. "Tell me something, Ranger Gold. How long do you think you will last before my sheer numbers overwhelm you? How long do you think Eme will last out there before he is eaten? How long until Ranger Black falls? How many of us do you think you can destroy before you can even find out?"

    0 crouched. "Every last one of you. Silver?"

    Serena nodded. "Go. I'm pretty sure I can handle just a few hundred of these. I've been hitting the gym."

    "Good. I'll deal with the preliminary wave. Think you might need Rescue Mode for this."

    "No promises, but I'll make sure your family's safe."

    "Stay safe. You're part of the family too."

    Serena blushed underneath her visor. "Don't make me regret this," she grumbled.

    0 chuckled. "Right."

    Ame cleared her throat. Both 0 and Serena looked at her. "If you are quite done," she murmured, "shall we conclude this?"

    0 nodded. "Ready…go!"

    0 exploded in a bright flash of light. Instantly, ten Rangerlings surrounding him vanished in rapid bursts of dust. Serena could barely track him as he rocketed around the room with his Bolt Blade. But he was gone before she knew it and the door he'd used was smashed on its hinges, leaving her to face off against one hundred and seventy Rangerlings.

    "Guess that just leaves you and me, Dewgong," she said.

    "I suppose so, little Serena," it replied. "What should we do?"

    Serena shrugged. "Can we even use Rescue Mode?"

    "My records indicate that there was a Rescue Mode created when we were Ranger White, but I can't say for certain whether or not it still works."

    "Might as well try it. Fire up the Frost Fans and Rescue Mode."

    "Very well, then."

    Serena's entire body started to glow with a faint blue light. Her armor seemed to fold in on itself, transforming into a brighter, crystal-like material that was giving off a tremendous amount of cold. The surrounding temperature dropped and the air near her became visible and wispy. She twitched her fingers to ensure the Frost Fans were still there, it had been so long since she'd used them, and she brought them up to her attack stance.

    "Rescue Mode, activated," said Dewgong.

    "Thank you," said Serena. She didn't quite feel like anything had changed, but decided she would trust Dewgong's word that everything was operational. She noticed the Rangerlings growing impatient. One was too impatient and punched her right in the chest before she could even react. She expected pain and grunted, but there was nothing.

    Instead of injuring her, the Rangerling began emitting some sort of violent, agonized shriek. That's when Serena looked down, and realized that its hand was stuck to her chest, and that the hand was turning into ice. "I'm…freezing it alive?" Serena wondered aloud. She lifted her arm and brought a Frost Fan down on its hand, which shattered instantly. The Rangerling whimpered and fell straight to the floor.

    "Is my entire body ice?" she wondered. She tried touching her shoulder, but she didn't freeze to herself. Then she took a step forward and realized that the floor beneath her feet had frozen completely solid. She could have given it a little tap and broken right through.

    "So everything freezes but me?" she asked herself, and then grinned. "Oh, this is going to be plenty useful."

    She ran up to the nearest Rangerling and punched it directly in the gemstone in its chest. Its chest froze instantly, and when Serena drew her fist back the chest simply broke apart and the little monster collapsed into a pile of black dust.

    She punched her fists together, and turned to the rest of the party. "Next," she said with a smirk. "Come on. You should know I'm not a one boy show."

    Ame turned to her forces. "Everyone, attack. She cannot touch all of you. Overwhelm her, pin her down, and be about our business."

    The Rangerlings obeyed and charged forward. Serena ducked out of the way of the first wave but wasn't so lucky with the second. They slammed into her and she heard them shriek the instant they touched her. She got through quickly, using the Frost Fans to keep a majority of them at bay and away from her body and smashing through the ones who had been unlucky enough to get too close.

    "Left, little Serena!" shouted Dewgong.

    Serena flipped and twisted her body left, just barely avoiding two Rangerlings attempting to jump and cover her with their bodies. She tagged both of them on the back and their entire shoulders, back, and neck froze instantly. She smashed them apart with her fans.

    "Thanks for the assist," she said. "Now what?"

    Dewgong thought for a moment. "I can apply power to your boots to make everything they touch turn to ice. Are you still good at skating, little Serena?"

    Serena smirked. "I don't even want to think about how long ago that was. Better fire it up."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    In reflection, Max didn't remember doing much thinking while transformed. Usually, his mind would sort of doze off and a gentle haze would settle in. He would be part of the action, but distant from it as well. It was often like directing a movie. He could suggest changes and revisions to the motion of his body, but it was always as though someone else was controlling those specific motions for him. The Dark Emerald had always been there to help, always whispering suggestions to keep him, them, alive. Always…

    Until now. For the first time, Max found himself fighting alone with a quiet mind and one hundred percent control over his body. It was frustrating. He would tell the arm to move, and it would move a little too quickly. His control over his transformed body was unrefined, and he paid the price for it by continuously missing Dia. Each blow moved entirely too quickly, and each blow swung wildly to a location Max assumed Dia would be at, but would never arrive at fast enough to connect.

    "It's too quiet," he muttered with his own voice. That in itself was strange, Max was so used to thinking the words to say, and then having them flow out in Gallade's growl, that hearing his own voice was an experience in of itself. "Too quiet." He was so used to hearing the Dark Emerald whispering to him, pushing him on, looking out for him, that being on his own was a little nerve-wracking, even with his newfound strength.

    "Little Eme," she hissed, "what's wrong with you? Why won't you play right? I wanna play right."

    Max didn't respond. He was far too busy avoiding the tentacle growing out of her back. He missed his chains. He was so used to relying on them to help him in combat. Now he just had his flimsy arms that couldn't extend or anything.

    "Wait," he said to himself. "The chains."

    He extended the shadowy chains and bit into Dia's skin. Dia grunted briefly, and then started laughing. Max instantly understood why, he felt his strength start fading away into Dia's body. He tore himself away immediately, his breath ragged, and paused to regain his strength.

    "Do you want to lose the game, Eme?" she asked. "You should know you can't take, only give. What a silly mistake to make. That's like losing your queen to a pawn in chess!"

    Max recovered quickly, but the fight was getting more and more dangerous. His Dark Gem had radically shifted his battle style, his entire body felt different. Dia, meanwhile, seemed perfectly comfortable in her new body and was more than happy to try to take Max's head off. Max wasn't sure if that could kill him, but he wasn't exactly eager to find out.

    "Finding it hard to move that new body?" asked Dia. "Don't worry. I'll gobble it up soon enough."

    Max dodged, drawing Dia away from 415's body. She now stood a good two hundred feet away from his fight, just where he wanted her. He couldn't have the distraction of having to fight Dia for 415. It was a fight he knew would take a toll on whatever new powers he'd achieved.

    "If I can't attack with these new powers and I'm too unused to moving my own body, then what good is this thing?" he wondered. He just barely avoided getting wrapped up by Dia's tentacle before he noticed a shadow descending from the sky. "What the—"

    What it was, Max immediately found out, was 0 tucking his wings into a dive in Chariard Form. He heard the roar not two seconds later, a mighty blast of volume and wrath that even made Max's heart skip a beat. Max did what anyone else would have done, and made the decision to clear the blast radius as 0 rocketed down to earth.

    "Synchronization Drive: Inferno!" 0 roared. Everything surrounding him turned red as he body slammed Dia and seared her body in a flash of fire and heat.

    Max could smell Dia cooking when 0 stood up and positioned himself away from her reforming, mangled body. "You look different," he said, taking in the subtle changes in Max's ranger form.

    He nodded. "So do you. I take it Z came back?"

    "It's as if I was being pummeled by Entei," said 0, and then turned to look at Dia. "Having some trouble?"

    Max grunted. "It's not so much trouble as it is getting used to everything. I don't have my chains anymore. I can't hear the Dark Emerald anymore. It's all really confusing."

    0 nodded. "My advice is to worry about it later, right now we need to figure out a way to put her down." The two of them agreed, and then turned to face the smoky monster.

    Dia was not happy, not happy at all. She screamed murder as she stood up. Steam was pouring out from all over her body and one of her three arms had been reduced to a melted husk. "You don't get to play with me like that!" she shrieked. "Nobody gets to play with me like that!" She stamped her good leg and charged forward like a wounded beast. "Nobody!"

    "Max, split up!" Both 0 and Max jumped in opposing directions and circled around, dealing blows to the monster's sides. Dia roared, but couldn't reach them. Both rangers kept up the pace, striking and striking every chance they got.

    The only problem was they weren't damaging Dia at all. Every time they would get in a blow she would bellow, but it was more out of annoyance because she couldn't reach them. If she tried to focus on one, all they had to do was have that ranger withdraw and the other would take over until she switched her focus, and the cycle repeated over and over again.

    "We're not doing anything!" shouted Max.

    "Great," 0 grunted. "Why is it every time I get a power up, these fools come right back with something stronger?" He ducked underneath the tentacle and regrouped next to Max. "We need a new plan."

    "Wait," said Max. "I—I think I might have one."

    "What?"

    "My new powers," he said. "They don't exactly do much for me, but I was able to heal 415 when she was injured and most of her got repaired. And when I tried to absorb Dia's power, she just sucked up my own strength. What if I gave my strength to you? Together we're pretty tough, but if we put our combined power into the one body, it might be enough to take her down."

    0 didn't have much time to think about it. It wouldn't take long before Dia, even in her warped mental state, understood what was going on. "Will it affect me? I mean, will the effect be the same as it was with you?"

    Max shrugged. "I barely know if it's going to work now! We don't have another option and she's not going to be distracted forever."

    "Then do it," said 0. "Z, get ready."

    Max concentrated, and the shadowy chains slipped off his wrists and fingers to bind themselves into 0. They dug into the armor and touched the infrared particles that made up 0's body. 0 grunted, and then relaxed as an overwhelming burst of energy flooded into him. Max felt his energy slip away, touching the particles that made up 0's body, when he made an interesting discovery.

    It wasn't anything too noticeable, he barely saw it. Just a flash, an instant, of flesh and blood inside 0's body. Then it was gone, and there was nothing to be seen but infrared.

    "0, what was that?" asked Max.

    0 barely heard him. "W-What?"

    "Your body, it's still—" Max felt his head lighten, he couldn't think. 0 had drained too much energy from him. He felt his knees grow weak. In response, his shadow chains instantly retracted from 0 and back into Max's arms. Max then felt his armor fade away and he found himself sinking to the ground.

    "Max!" 0 shouted. He caught Max just before he collapsed. "Max! Speak to me!"

    Max's voice was faint. "…Fine," he mumbled. "Your body though. It's…" Then his eyes rolled back and he fell unconscious.

    "What about my body?" 0 shouted.

    "Focus your attention," said Z. 0 looked up. "The monster has made progress towards your base of operations. Our power output suggests it will be impossible for it to ignore us."

    Z was right. He felt a surge of energy supplementing his already-supercharged Chariard Form. There was a faint green aura around him, 0 figured it was the Dark Emerald energy from Max. Strangely, it wasn't conflicting with the Ailed Morpher. The two energy sources seemed to be flowing well together.

    "Right," he said. 0 casually walked up to Dia and punched her right in the face with a Dragon Claw. She stopped dead in her tracks and was thrown back by the force of the blow. 0 watched her fall all over herself and positioned himself in between the Dark Diamond Ranger and Ranger Downs.

    "Stop playing so rough!" she screamed. "I'm getting hungry!"

    She started hobbling forward, trying as hard as she could to run. 0 just prepared a defensive stance to target the giant gemstone in the center of her chest. "You're not eating anyone, Dia!" he shouted. "I'm sending you to join your father!"

    "Don't talk about Daddy!" Suddenly, and 0 hadn't been expecting it, Dia's entire body shifted and flattened out into a huge wave that crashed into him. 0 couldn't target anything, he could barely cover himself in Z's wings fast enough before he was swallowed up. Everything went black and he found himself being constricted.

    "Now I eat you!" she cackled. "Grind your bones to make my bread!"

    "Suggestions?" asked 0 calmly. She wasn't quite strong enough to pierce through his wing cover.

    "Inferno could melt you along with the beast," it noted. "Dragon Claw will not succeed in piercing its hold on you."

    "Okay. What could we do?"

    "We are supercharged, regardless of whether I am the Pokemon aiding you, yes? Is there no one else we might make use of?"

    0 thought. "Of course. Prepare to switch out." He would not have a lot of time between Pokemon, and Dia might sense what he was doing. He removed Tork's Poke Ball from its holster and positioned it as close as he could to his morpher. "Now!"

    Z's ball ejected and the wings vanished. He set Z's ball safely on his belt and literally shoved Tork's Poke Ball inside the morpher. Instantly, his mind shifted from the energetic rage that Z gave him and towards a tranquil peace as Oal Form set in. 0 felt Tork's mind touch him and greet him, it'd been so long since they'd worked together. 0 felt the extra armor clamp down on his body and Dia increase the pressure. But that was fine, he thought. He and Tork were more than capable of taking things from here.

    As if in response, Tork instantly generated the blue force field that was Protect. This time, however, 0 noticed a faint piece of green amidst the blue, the effects of the Dark Emerald. Then, Tork and 0 calmly started to expand the force field further and further out until it was a huge bubble.

    "No!" shouted Dia. She contracted, trying to force them down, but to no avail. "No no no no no no no no!"

    She exploded rather suddenly, and bits of diamond scattered around 0 as he looked up into the beautiful sky.

    Tork was concerned, but 0 calmed it down. After all, they had yet to shatter her diamond. Surely she would reform and reform until that was taken care of. They watched as the little flecks of gemstone did indeed begin squirming around in an effort to join themselves together again.

    0 turned his attention to Max and 415. They appeared safe and were regaining consciousness. Good, they thought. One less thing to worry about. 415 recovered first and, seeing what was going on, immediately moved to drag Max further away from the conflict. 0 and Tork made a mental note to thank them later.

    Dia was almost completely reformed, but the giant hulk was gone. Instead, they saw a tiny little girl in a costume that seemed entirely too evil for her to be wearing. Dia perked up her head.

    "You won't kill little old me, will you?" she asked sweetly. "I'm just a little girl."

    0 and Tork knew better than to trust her. This was her last gambit and they wouldn't be following it. 0 moved forward to end the battle, but suddenly stopped. An image flashed inside his mind, a single photo of Sarah in almost the exact same pose. In that moment, in that crucial instant of decision, 0 froze.

    That instant was all she needed. Dia rushed forward and drove him to his knees. He let her. She bent his body backwards and grabbed him by the neck. He let her. She positioned her claws so that they would rip apart his morpher in their next strike. He let her do that, too.

    "Goodbye to you," she whispered. "Guess you can't do anything right, huh?"

    She moved, but never finished. Her claw ended up just millimeters away from 0's morpher. 0, for a brief instance, believed himself dead, until Tork assured him that he was quite alive. He turned his head and saw what had saved him.

    Serena's hand had gone straight through the Dark Diamond Ranger, freezing the Dark Diamond and shattering it instantly. That was all it had taken. Just a quick flick of Serena's wrist and Dia was done.

    Dia started giggling. She tilted her head back and cackled at the sky. "You'll never defeat us," she hissed. "You'll never win. We'll just keep coming and coming until there's nothing left for you to live for. We'll take May, we'll take Sarah, and in the end you'll be just like my Daddy. Daddy couldn't protect me from dying. He couldn't save me." Her helmet vanished, and 0 looked into her cold, terrifying eyes one last time. "You won't save them either. Either they'll die, or you will, Goldilocks."

    And then she crumbled into dust and 0 fell back onto the ground.

    Oal Form instantly disengaged. Tork's Poke Ball went rolling on the grass, and 0 grabbed it before it got too far. "W-What's happening?" he asked, still a bit disoriented from Tork's influence. All he could think of was the little girl.

    Serena shut down her Rescue Mode and helped him up. "Gave you an assist. You looked like you could use it."

    "No, that's fair. I can't be the one to kill them all," he said. He adjusted himself. "What about the Rangerlings? Did you deal with all of them?"

    She nodded. "Yeah, this Rescue Mode thing is awesome. Can't believe I never tried it before. I might just be even stronger than you."

    0 chuckled. "I can still burn you to a crisp. Keep that in mind, ice queen." 415 and Max were approaching, Max having regained consciousness. "How are you feeling?"

    "Normal," said 415. "There was minimal damage thanks to the Dark Gem's new ability."

    "I'm okay too," said Max. "Guess my healing powers got a boost with the rest of my status." He dropped his smile for a moment. "It's still a bit quiet in my head."

    "You'll probably just have to readjust how you talk with it," said 0. "You can still feel it in there, right?"

    He nodded. "It's definitely there."

    0 clasped him on the back. "Well, how's about we go inside then? I think we've earned a very nice vacation."

    The others could not have agreed more.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  15. #65
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    Default Chapter 35, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Five: Obsession's Wrath: I Will Live Again! Part 2

    There was a lot to do, and a very short amount of time in which it could be accomplished.

    There was, unfortunately, nothing that could be done involving the damage done to Brock's arms and legs. Despite the fact that he had managed to heal 415's broken bones and bruises, Max could not generate entirely new tissues and revitalize the muscles underneath Brock's skin. He would remain a cripple, until such time as prosthetics could be developed to supplement for his ruined body.

    However, all was not lost. Though Max couldn't repair everything, he was able to return some of Brock's body to life. The vital organs that had been damaged during his torture, and his eyesight, were returned to perfect working order. When Brock opened his eyes for the first time and actually saw his rescuers, tears of gratitude trickled down his face.

    "I…I can see," he mumbled. "And the pain, it's gone!"

    "The limbs will have to be replaced," said 415. "I will have the computer begin the process of constructing blueprints for the new prosthetics. They will be metal, but odds favor you walking again."

    "Oh, that's alright," he said, then turned sharply towards Serena. "Just the gift of sight is all I need to make my day."

    Serena smirked. "Your friend is a flatterer, 0. You should warn him about me."

    "We usually have things to keep him under control," said 0. "By the way, Brock?"

    "Yeah?"

    "We managed to get back into your hotel room and swipe your stuff, seeing as you'll be staying here from now on. We made it look like a robbery gone bad. Jenny's already listed you as a missing person." He pulled out two Poke Balls and released Swampert and Chansey. Both Pokemon immediately rushed towards their trainer with a flurry of concern.

    "Hey, hey, easy!" said Brock. "I'm alright, I'll be okay."

    "Chansey!" shouted Chansey and instantly pushed 415 out of the way so it could begin taking care of him. Swampert similarly moved to assist the Chansey in any way.

    "Well, it would appear we now have a full medical team," said 415. "Good. This means everyone can stop coming to me for diagnostics."

    "Brock," said 0, ignoring 415. "Swampert and Chansey weren't the only Pokemon we found in your room."

    Brock inched his way around his bed to look at 0. "They weren't?"

    0 shook his head and produced another two Poke Balls. "There was also a girl in the hotel room. One of Dia's victims. Do you remember her?"

    There was a flash of recognition across Brock's face. "I—Yes," he said. "Before Ame got me, there was a girl in the bathroom. I met her during the day. Christie, right?"

    0 shrugged. "I didn't check identification. She had two Pokemon on her. I decided to confiscate them since they were Unova Pokemon. It could take years for them to track down the next of kin for these Pokemon, and it'll only take us a few weeks. They allowed me to bring them here with me to work with us until they can be returned to their trainer's family." He opened both Poke Balls. Darmanitan and Elgyem emerged in two flashes of light.

    "Oh, you guys." Brock attempted to sit up, but Chansey violently forced him down. "You were Christie's Pokemon. You guys got caught up in this too, huh?"

    "Darmanitan," said the Darmanitan with a soft nod of its head.

    "Elgyem, ele elgyem," said Elgyem with a determined look on its face.

    "What?" asked Serena.

    "They won't be going anywhere," 0 translated. "Darmanitan and Elgyem have decided to join our team until they avenge their trainer's murder. I've decided they'll operate in Ranger Downs with Brock's Pokemon."

    Elgyem nodded, and immediately rose off the ground to take a position at the primary computer terminal. Darmanitan joined it. "Elgyem, ele," it said with a nod.

    "Manitan," said Darmanitan.

    "Looks like things are getting a bit crowded in here," said May. "We're going to have to build all new sleeping quarters for the Pokemon."

    0 grinned. "Not to mention this guy." In addition to Tork and Lu, Z popped out of its Poke Ball to reintroduce itself.

    "Woof," said Serena. "You really couldn't have brought that one out sooner? If you'd mentioned you had a super powerful Pokemon like that I would have made you get back in the helicopter and fetch a whole batch of them for your Auxiliary Pokemon System."

    "Actually, that might not be a bad idea," said Max. "Think you and May could take a trip down to Pallet and grab some more Pokemon?"

    "A trip to Pallet?" 0 asked. "I haven't been there in a few years. Besides…" He gestured at himself. "I'm not exactly suitable for travel as I am right now."

    "We could crate him," Serena suggested. "We'll tell them May has a huge pile of clothes in a giant suitcase. It's not like he has a back to ruin anymore." Everyone gave Serena a dirty look. "Too soon to joke about the morph-trapping thing?" she asked.

    "Very soon," said May. "We still don't know he's trapped. We could rig something up to help him." She turned to 0 and smiled. "Don't worry. You'll have your body back soon enough."

    0 scratched his helmet, and then immediately wondered why he was doing that. "I don't know, sweetie. It was implied that the change was sort of permanent. But I'm up for trying anything."

    "Well," said Max. "There was the thing that I saw."

    "That's right," said 0. "You were trying to tell me something about my body, then you passed out."

    "Didn't pass out, just lost a lot of juice," muttered Max. "Anyway, I noticed flesh and blood in there somewhere. It was just a little flash, and it seemed to move from place to place, but there are bits and pieces of your original body scattered inside your suit. At least, I think so."

    "Impossible," said 415. "His body cannot be inside the armor. It has already stabilized into a form specifically designed for the infrared code inside. His body cannot be physical and infrared at the same time. It would be unprecedented."

    "For humans, sure."

    Everyone turned over to Brock's bed. He had just managed to fight Chansey off long enough to get a word in. "You guys haven't really explained what's going on to me, but I take it he's stuck in the suit, right?"

    0 nodded. "Essentially."

    "Does the suit run on technology similar to a Poke Ball?"

    "The Ailed Morphers were designed to mimic a Poke Ball's functionality," said 415. "Only, instead of the Pokemon, the Ranger Mode comes out of the morpher."

    "That's a weird name for a morpher," said Brock, "but if it's anything like a Poke Ball, I might be able to help answer why he's got a body and he's infrared at the same time."

    "How?" asked everyone, almost at the same time.

    "It's a glitch in the Poke Ball's programming. Used to see them all the time in the old days before the technology was perfected, but sometimes Pokemon wouldn't be completely converted while inside the Poke Ball. So bits of meat were swirling around in the infrared. Doesn't hurt the Pokemon, but it does make them more prone to being able to get out of their Poke Ball on their own. You run into the glitch every now and then, but if you weren't looking for it you wouldn't notice it." Then Brock sagged, as if the exercise of speaking had completely drained his newfound energy reserves. "Might explain why 0's breathing when he clearly wouldn't have any lungs as an infrared being." Then Brock rested his head against his pillow and the faint sound of snoring filled the room.

    "Is he right?" 0 asked 415.

    She shrugged. "I was unaware of such a study, it must be obscure. To his credit, Pokemon doctors do have a higher working knowledge of Poke Balls than the layman, as their patients frequently arrive in the Poke Balls. It would explain why some Pokemon have the ability to liberate themselves from Poke Balls at will. If pieces of their real body still exist inside the ball, they might be viewed as foreign material by the Poke Ball if they will themselves to be released and the entire Pokemon could be expelled whenever they pleased."

    "We have had a few Pokemon like that. Ott and Misty's old Psyduck could do that." 0 rubbed his chin. "In any case, for them it was just something they could do. What if it's one of those things you either can do or you can't?"

    May touched his arm. "Hey. We'll figure it out, okay? No need to take everything all at once. Here, why don't we go see our daughter? I'm pretty sure she'll want to know everything's safe and that her dad's back."

    0 nodded and took her hand. "Sounds like a really, really great idea May." May led Ranger Gold out of the headquarters and towards Sarah's bedroom.

    Serena grinned and folded her arms. "My, my, do I love a man in uniform," she lamented. "Ah well. Max, 415, think you can handle everything here? I'm going to go out on patrol."

    "Patrol?" asked Max. "We just took down two Dark Gem Rangers. You really think they'll be back so quickly?"

    Serena shrugged. "I have no idea. I'm sure Jenny would want to know why we leveled a good chunk of Goldenrod City last night, though. Plus, I'm second in command. Should do something to earn my keep, besides taking down giant girl monsters." She turned to Elgyem. "Think you can run this bad boy?"

    Elgyem nodded. "Gyem," it said as a faint glow surrounded its body. Computer keys instantly began typing by themselves and the teleporter fired itself up. Serena stepped onto the platform.

    "Do you already know where I'm going?" she asked it before transforming.

    It nodded.

    "Psychic types always come in handy," she said, then vanished.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Little Ame," whispered one voice. "Where are our other guests?"

    "Yes," said another voice. "We specifically invited four other guests. Where are they? Our caterer will absolutely lose his head if we have to cancel another party."

    Ame was standing in a small, surprisingly furnished cave. The lights were dim, but then again they always were. Ame bowed low then closed a door behind her. The cavern floor, while still a natural, slippery rock, had on it an old moldy carpet that she treaded on to take her seat next to the others. Like them, she too sat in an exceedingly tall leatherback chair which had a back that extended up to the ceiling.

    "Apologies," she said. "The PKM Rangers have grown powerful in their exile from their employer. Dia and Top have fulfilled their contracts. We were unable to procure Serena Brine and May Birch."

    "And how many Rangerlings lost?" asked the first voice.

    ""Three hundred total," she said. "Should we not dispatch them to detain more allies of Ranger Gold? There are several in Kanto and Unova that would prove adequate temptation."

    One of the voices blew a raspberry. "There is no point in that, little Ame," he murmured. "We have only two thousand Rangerlings left. We cannot waste them on foolish schemes which have proven to fail in the past. No, no, his friends are not the problem here."

    "The problem," said the other, "is you, little Ame."

    "Me?" she asked. "My performance has been exemplary. I have carried out three of your last campaigns."

    "Campaigns that have ended in failure!" One of them emerged from the shadows, Axi, and he ground his teeth. "Look, Ame, we like you. I like you, he likes you. We all like you. We're just wondering if maybe, just maybe, we could get on with the business of the rangers! We've been dealing with them for two years!"

    "Enough already with the rangers!" agreed Bix. "Do we look like villains from a Saturday morning cartoon show? Do we look like we should be outwitted by My Little Ponytas every week for the amusement and entertainment of little girls and hairy men? No! We're real big time bad guys! And we keep losing to a guy with a Pikachu on his chest."

    "How do you think that makes us feel?" asked Axi. "We have plans! Big, fancy, elegant plans! Classy plans! All we want to do is break things, and you're not helping us do that, Ame! You're just sneaking around while everything falls to pieces!"

    "Maybe you don't want us to win," suggested Bix. "Maybe you don't want to be released from your contract."

    "Incorrect," said Ame. "It is in my best interests that your endeavors succeed. The simple fact of the matter is that our staff continues to be outclassed regardless of our preparations."

    "What staff?" spat Axi. "It's empty here in the cave. Bix and I have just each other for warmth! You're the only one that's left to do something!"

    "You suggest I engage in combat?" she asked. "I was to understand that I was to never do so, under any circumstances. I almost violated my contract by rendering Dr. Harrison unconscious."

    "Times have changed. We will authorize it," said Axi. "Won't we, Bix?"

    Bix nodded. "Oh yes, there really is no other option, little Ame. Either you will bring us May Birch and little Serena, or we will crush you to death with our bare hands. Won't we, Axi?"

    "Oh yes. No question. It's far too late in the game for you to run away like a little girl," said Axi.

    "If you are suggesting that I run up to the PKM Rangers on my own, in their present and potential conditions, I will be slaughtered. There is no way to combat them with a sole Dark Gem anymore."

    "Well duh!" shouted Axi. "Obviously you'd be slaughtered. We wouldn't want that, would we Bix?"

    Bix shook his head. "Not at all," he agreed. "Then we'd have to get up and do something about it. We don't want that, do we Axi?"

    "Not one bit. We're so comfortable down here." Axi reached into his pocket and fished out something shiny, something that sparkled in the faint light of the cavern. "Here you go! Hopefully this will solve all the problems in the world!"

    He tossed it to Ame and she inspected it. "Another Dark Gem? If I may ask, to whom am I to bestow this Dark Ruby? We hardly have any worthy Rangerlings. The last time that happened we created Sap, and I recall the mess that Sap was."

    Axi shrugged. "Give it to whoever you like! We don't care, do we Bix?"

    "No we don't! But you should. It's your pretty little tasty head on the chopping block, not ours. So go, be off with you. We have opera tickets."

    "Silly Bix," said Axi. "We're going to the ballet tonight. I'm so sorry, little Ame. He just gets so messed up sometimes in the head. I think it's all the fish he eats."

    "That'll do, little Ame," said Bix. "Don't make us regret all the time we put into you."

    Ame required no further instruction. She rose and left the cavern, shutting the door behind her. She crossed through the cave and found herself outside, staring at the moon.

    She could feel the pulsations of the Dark Gem beneath her clothes, and gently lifted it from a pocket in her coat. The Dark Ruby told her where to go, and a small smile slid across her face. "Of course," she murmured. There was perhaps no one better to fill the position. "And away we go."

    Ame always did find the Orre desert beautiful at night. The moon was high, and the stars were out, a familiar sight in the desert but one she always missed when she had to go to cities with their bright lights and noise. She followed the moon east from the cave, heading towards a remote location on the outside of Pyrite Town. It would not be viewable to those with normal eyes, but luckily for Ame there would be no problems.

    She passed through the force field without any issue. The field did not even register her presence; she simply slipped through the atoms that composed it with a teeny bit of intangibility. Bullets immediately began to whiz around her, two hundred of them actually phased through her before she got to the complex. She tore through the soldiers guarding the front as quickly as one might rip through construction paper. She killed none, that was not part of her contract, but she did leave many of them regretting every decision in their lives that had led up to meeting her.

    The facility had not changed since her last visit. She walked through the familiar corridors until she came to the room she wanted, the room she knew he would be in.

    Him, whispered the Dark Ruby. Only him.

    She simply walked through the door, not bothering to even give the man the chance to open it for her. When she walked in, she found him sitting behind his desk, ever calm in the face of danger.

    "Why, don't I know you?" he asked her. "What brings you all the way to my neck of the woods?"

    "A proposition," she replied, and pulled the Dark Ruby from her pocket, "and a chance for revenge."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "So, why don't you just go back to your regular name?"

    Brock and 0 sat in the peace of Ranger Downs, finally alone after a very long couple of days. 0 had found a seat, and had joined Brock by his bedside.

    "It's a difficult situation," said 0. "When I went into PKM full time, they didn't want me recognized, so they sent me to this camp designed to reinvent me. I mean, I can barely talk the way I used to anymore, I've got this weird Orre twang I can't get rid of if I tried. I walk different, I move differently. You didn't recognize me when you met me."

    "I didn't?"

    "There was a dinner in Saffron I think we met at. Barely registered me."

    "Huh. Well, I didn't recognize you this time because of the whole…you know…spandex thing."

    0 laughed. "I used to call them spandexes, until I actually got in one. This one's closer to Kevlar."

    "Fancy," said Brock. "So, I guess I just sort of sit here until they figure out what to do with my arms and legs, right?"

    0 shrugged. "They replaced my shoulder a while back. Completely cut everything out. I never even missed it. Odds are good they'll just hack off your arms and legs and put in some first rate cybernetics."

    "Somehow I don't think I'm as excited about my limbs getting cut off," said Brock. "I've kind of grown attached to them, if you see what I mean."

    "Don't worry. With Chansey here, I'm sure the operation will be a breeze. It knows Sing, right?"

    "Yeah, it knows Sing. Trainers almost always prefer that to anesthesia when Pokemon need surgery."

    "Well then you'll be fine. I had to have my operation without any, so consider yourself lucky."

    Brock chuckled, then looked 0 over. "I have to say, when we were traveling together this wasn't exactly how I pictured everything turning out."

    0 looked himself over. "I suppose not," he agreed.

    "I mean, I figured I'd get to at least third base with a woman before I died. Now…" He looked himself over and shook his head. "Couldn't even make the move if I tried. Life sucks sometimes."

    0 laughed. They heard footsteps coming from the staircase.

    "That can be arranged, big boy," said Serena, the first to come down. "You think you're man enough to handle me?"

    Brock looked her over. "Well, I already got you on one date. Might as well try for the jackpot."

    Serena turned to 0. "Remind him I'm bad news."

    0 turned to Brock. "Brock, she's bad news. I've seen her run many a man ragged in just one afternoon."

    Brock just grinned sheepishly. "Never hurts to dream."

    "Now that's the spirit," said Serena, just as May wandered downstairs.

    "Oh, hey May," said Brock. "I'm feeling much better."

    "That's good to hear," said May, though she seemed distracted for some reason. "Uh, 0, could I see you for just a second please?"

    Serena appeared concerned about something. "May, are you sure? I mean, really sure?"

    "Sure about what?" asked 0.

    May nodded. "I'm absolutely sure, thank you Serena." She faced 0. "Come on. We need to have a talk."

    "Somebody's in trouble," said Brock with a chuckle. He nudged in 0's direction with his shoulder. "Go on. I'm sure Serena can keep me company for a few minutes."

    0 nodded and rose. Serena took his place and he followed May up the stairs. 0 wasn't sure what was going on. His wife didn't seem mad at him. On the contrary, she seemed nervous about something. She passed the porch too and led him upstairs. They kept moving until 0 found himself in his daughter's room.

    Sarah still looked pretty bad, but Max had been to heal her and most of the bruising was gone, along with her broken bones. There were a few shiners along her face, and her bones still ached if she moved too quickly, but Sarah was on the mend. Her face lit up when she saw her parents, and 0 could tell it was taking every bit of restraint in her little body not to jump out and hug them.

    He patted her on the head. "You being a good girl, Sarah?" he asked.

    She nodded. "Dad's brave little girl," she replied.

    "No kidding brave little girl," he said. "Not too many adults can get through what you got through without wetting themselves."

    "Ewwwww, Dad!" squealed Sarah and she pulled the covers over her face to hide her embarrassment.

    "Now, now," said May. "Out from under there, baby girl. We're having a family meeting."

    Sarah poked her head out. "Then where's Uncle Max, Uncle Brock, Aunt Serry, and 415?"

    May shook her head. "Not the whole family. Just you, me, and your dad."

    "Oh, okay." Sarah instantly sat up.

    May paused for a moment, as if trying to figure out the right words to use. Finally, she said, "I wanted to tell the both of you together. I wasn't sure if I was going to, but now that Dad's gone and got himself trapped, there's really no danger in letting him know."

    "Letting me know what?" asked 0. "Are you alright?"

    She nodded and smiled. "I'm fine, sweetie. 415, Serena, and I weren't sure how you were going to handle the news. We decided to keep it a secret because you were in a pretty fragile emotional state. Now that you seem better, you can know."

    She took his hand in hers. "What's going on, May?" asked 0.

    "Yeah!" shouted Sarah. "What's going on, Mom?"

    She blushed. "Sarah's going to have a little brother or sister," she explained. She patted her stomach. "I'm not too far along, but we're sure. I'm pregnant."

    Sarah, after a few seconds to work out what exactly the news meant, was the first to respond. "You're going to have a baby, Mom? A baby!" She jumped up and down on the bed and started hollering. "I'm gonna be a big sister! I'm gonna be a big sister! Yay!" She kept jumping until the euphoria died down and the pain from her ribs kicked in, at which point she still kept cheering from a seated position on the bed.

    0 had not moved. His hand was still being held by May. "Are you alright?" May asked. "Is this…you know, okay?"

    He slowly turned. "Okay? This is…the best news I've ever heard in my life! This is better than when I got Pikachu, better than we got married, almost as good as when Sarah was born. This is…" He paused, and placed his hand where his heart would have been. "I don't exactly have words to describe what I'm feeling right now. It's just…my heart is beating so fast. It's going a mile a minute!" He grabbed her hand and placed it against his chest. "Can you feel it? It's there."

    She nodded in surprise. "I can feel it," she said.

    "I mean, I just feel like exploding. I can't—" Suddenly, 0 groaned and bent over onto the floor. He twitched and moaned as his body started glowing.

    "0!" shouted May. "0, what's wrong?"

    "Dad?" Sarah shouted. "Dad!"

    But 0 couldn't hear them. He was too busy dealing with some odd sort of pain. He was aware it was there, and the pieces that made up his body were being ripped apart, but it was almost as though he was outside himself while it happened. "I feel really funny, guys!" he muttered. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the pain stopped and he found himself able to stand up again. "Sorry about that, I guess there was still some residual—"

    May abruptly cut him off by screaming very loudly and cupping her mouth with her hands. Sarah joined suit, and 0 wasn't sure why.

    "Hey!" he barked, and scratched at the hair on his head. "What're you screaming at me for? I'm the one who—" Then 0 stopped talking, because he realized he had just scratched the hair on the top of his head. Hesitant, as if he were certain it had just been a trick, he raised his hand and felt the top of his head again.

    Coarse, black locks met his fingertips. Suddenly, 0 realized he had fingertips again. He moved passed May and Sarah and towards a dresser mirror in Sarah's room. There, sure enough, was his old face and his old body looking back at him. He turned to his family.

    "Do you see it too?" he asked them. Slowly, in unison, May and Sarah nodded their heads. "Then I'm not hallucinating?" Once more in unison, May and Sarah shook their heads. "Then, I'm back?"

    "Dad!" shouted Sarah, and all but tackled him to the floor. May followed suit, covering his face with kisses.

    "Hey, this is great!" he shouted. "Now the kid won't just have pictures of me. He'll be able to see the real genuine article."

    "Are you sure that would be an improvement?" 0 looked up, 415 was standing in the doorway with a strange expression stapled to her face. It wasn't surprise, no, it was something else.

    "Are you trying to look baffled, 415?" he asked, focusing on the task of figuring out her expression. Then, as if there was some sort of switch, he felt the strange pain again and noticed he was back into his own Ranger Gold uniform.

    415 coughed. "The expression I was going for was incredulity," she replied. "It appears you have managed to manipulate the glitch Brock Harrison spoke of."

    0 looked himself over again. He was back to the uniform. "Not for long, though. Guess I really am stuck like this."

    415 shook her head. "Hope springs eternal, Ranger Gold. Perhaps there are other ways of extending the glitch. Should we run some tests?"

    0 nodded. "Absolutely. I haven't had a nap in five years, and I can't wait to try them out with my brand new body."

    "Then right this way. And bring the three of them with you. They might prove useful."

    "The three of them?" It took a moment for 0 to remember. "Oh yeah." He turned to his wife and daughter and offered them his arms. "Shall the four of us go downstairs and see about this glitch of mine?"

    May rubbed her belly and nodded. "Love to, dear."

    Sarah practically tackled her father's arm. "We're having a baby! We're having a baby!"

    0 laughed. "Yes we are, baby girl. Yes we are."

    Then they went down the stairs.

    Author's Note: With this arc concluded, I thought it would be fun to talk about my weird little theories about the Pokémon universe. Specifically, the technology. The PKM Rangers have morphers specifically designed to mimic the Poke Ball technology that flourishes in this particular universe, and because of that I wanted to be as detailed as possible about what Poke Balls did and how they work. Now, I suppose one could simply accept the fact that Poke Balls work and leave it at that, but I've always wondered what makes them tick, so I decided to include the technical specs (at least in my head) of how Poke Balls worked as a way to explain the morphers used in the series.

    Next chapter will be a bit of a filler chapter, then things are going to heat up again!
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  16. #66
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    Default Chapter 36, Part 1

    Morph Thirty-Six: Brand New Day, Part 1

    "Your name escapes me, young lady," said the man, offering Ame a seat across from his desk. She took it, still cradling the Dark Ruby in her hands.

    "I am called Ame, Alexander Charon," she replied. "As I said, my employers wish to discuss some business with you. Business that concerns your PKM Rangers."

    Charon laughed. "I'm afraid you're misinformed, Ms. Ame. You see, PKM no longer has rangers. Too volatile, I think was the word. Much better just to have loyal soldiers, though I will admit my own business has been lacking somewhat without the brand name the rangers gave me."

    "Our business has similarly lacked progress due to your rangers," said Ame. "This business, which must be completed as soon as possible, requires the absolute destruction of the PKM Rangers. I believe we could be of mutual benefit to one another."

    Charon raised an eyebrow. "Really?" he asked. "And what mutual benefit might that be?"

    "Perhaps an anecdote would best explain our situation, Alexander Charon," said Ame.

    Charon raised his hand. "By all means, Ms. Ame."

    "Thank you. Alexander Charon, have you ever wondered why this country of Orre has no naturally occurring Pokemon? Why there are no native Pokemon, despite our distance from other countries such as Hoenn or Kanto? Surely there should be some native species, but there are not. Have you ever wondered why that was?"

    "I assumed it was because Orre is a barren wasteland," said Charon. "Humans colonized it centuries ago, but there wasn't anything living here before we arrived."

    Ame shook her head. "That is the popular theory, but no. Pokemon existed, perhaps more powerful than any others due to the harsh terrain they lived in. Yet there are none alive today. Humans must import Pokemon, and even the wild Pokemon are non-native Pokemon that have only just begun to thrive in the environment. Tell me, Alexander Charon, do you find it odd that Orre's entire population of native Pokemon would suddenly, inexplicably vanish without a trace?"

    "In truth, no," said Charon. "I don't care much for them myself. Always crawling around where humans should be. It's one of the reasons so few PKM Agents have Pokemon."

    Ame tilted her head. "Well, the reality is that the Pokemon disappeared for a specific reason. Do you recall the myth of the Pyrite Trickster?"

    Charon chuckled. "Ah, yes. I'm familiar. Something about a man who appeared and promised the people a great power, but one that cost them all their Pokemon. What of it?"

    "That man was Nicholas Brine," said Ame. "You may recall him as an ancestor of one of the three founding families of PKM, as well as an ancestor to one of the rangers. Nicholas was a native of Orre at the time of its settlement, when there was much strife within the region. Forces from the north threatened to seize Orre unless something was done. Nicholas found a way through old tomes that spoke of the Dark Gems. He decided to forge three gems of monumental power, strong enough to turn the tide of war. But, in doing this, Orre paid a price."

    "The price being?" asked Charon.

    "The price was the life of each and every Pokemon within the boundaries of the Orre region. Millions of lives, scores of species lost in an instant. And through that sacrifice, three Dark Gems were born, the likes of which have never been seen on this planet. Two of them contained the minds and souls of the Pokemon that were sacrificed, but this gem I offer you contains the bodily power of those Pokemon. It is the least powerful of the three, but it is substantially stronger than mine."

    "How interesting," said Charon, as he eyed the gem. "But whatever happened to this Nicholas fellow?"

    "He was ostracized. His family exiled him for his actions and he died alone, researching how to harness the power of the Dark Gems. He died holding his three Dark Gems, as he could never activate them himself. He died holding the bodies, minds, and souls of every Pokemon in Orre. Now I offer you the opportunity to extract revenge with me against your PKM Rangers."

    Charon considered it, then shook his head. "I am afraid, Ms. Ame, that such actions would not result in revenge against the rangers. The simple truth is that they continue to outsmart you and to defeat you. Did you ever consider why that is?"

    "They are underestimated by our operatives."

    "No. You have no power over them. Threaten them, fine. Hurt them, good, but where is the fun in it? Where is the joy you should feel every time they feel pain and suffering? They need to be tortured, Ms. Ame, not defeated." He reached into his desk and pulled out the charred remains of some small machine. "This will bring them torture. We will combine your technology with mine, Ms. Ame, then I will regain my morphers and give them to people more deserving of their powers."

    "Can a Dark Gem be combined with a PKM morpher?" asked Ame.

    "Oh, dear lady," said Charon, as he widened his grin. "All things are possible if you're willing to jam things in hard enough. Besides, it is absolutely necessary that we bring this morpher back up to code. The rangers won't know what hit them when they get a look of me in this little suit."

    "What is it?"

    Charon caressed the surface. "A prototype, from before we used ranger spirits. More specifically, this is the Master Ranger morpher, owned and operated by the late Bakaguru Niwa, also known as the mentor of our little batch of renegades."

    "Bakaguru Niwa," said Ame. "I am afraid I am unfamiliar with most of his records."

    Charon waved his hand. "It doesn't matter. He's an insect in the grand scheme of things. His story was that he died uselessly before his friends could come and save him." Charon held out his hand, and Ame deposited the Dark Ruby into his palm. Charon gripped the Master Morpher in his other hand. "And now I'm going to destroy what remains of his legacy so his name never haunts my door again!"

    The room suddenly filled with laughter, and Charon and Ame immediately began work on their little project.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    It took some time before 0 was ready for an international flight.

    Regardless of the fact that the transformation shouldn't have taken more than a button press to activate after the first success, the simple fact of the matter was that it was weeks before he could bring his entire body over voluntarily. Sometimes a piece would get left behind, such as his head, so he would end up with a regular body and a helmet firmly clamped on.

    Today marked the second week of consecutive successes. As long as he was calm and had little to distract him from maintaining the shape of his body, he was fully able to reconstruct his physical shape from the infrared particles inside his suit.

    "Dad!" shouted Sarah when she saw him reemerge from the Gold Ranger shell, and proceeded to show her glee by tackling him. He grabbed her and positioned her sturdily in his arms.

    "Hey," he said. "Not missing anything, am I?"

    "The trials continue to be successful," said 415. "You now appear to have a maximum time of two hours before you will be forcibly reverted back to the infrared body."

    "I have the timer on me," said May. "It'll go off when we have ten minutes on the clock, so he can find somewhere discreet to change back, recharge, and come back out for another two hours."

    "Very good. Remember, the slightest undue stress will also cause him to forcibly revert back, so ensure he remains calm throughout the flight."

    "You sure we can't just teleport him?" asked Serena. "This whole thing would be a cinch if we could just warp them all to Pallet Town."

    415 shook her head. "Impossible. The limited range scarcely allows us to reach Goldenrod. Were we to try a trip to Kanto, chances would be good they would die."

    "Why's that?" asked 0.

    "The teleporter transfers the atoms that constitute the body from one location to another. Actual teleporters that are used for transferring Pokemon and equipment are actually part of a relay system that make shorter jumps over a longer distance to ensure safety. Because we want no one gaining unauthorized access to our teleporter, it operates at a different frequency and cannot connect to that system. Such is the price for security. Were we to attempt a jump to Kanto, the atoms that form up your bodies would break down and scatter due to the increased distance."

    "Gotcha. We go with the plane," said 0.

    "You guys had better get a move on," said Serena. "You lollygag here any longer and you'll miss your flight."

    "Now, you're sure you can handle city defenses on your own?" asked 0.

    "Yes, Dad," said Serena. "I'm absolutely sure. Jenny's been made aware our heavy hitter's going to be out of town, but I'm pretty sure I can keep the city under control for a few days. Plus, I've got Max and 415 here as backup, not to mention our new Pokemon support system." Serena grinned at Darmanitan and Elgyem, both of whom were busy recalibrating the computer system. "And Brock will have plenty of company."

    "At some point we're going to have a conversation about me getting some fresh air!" shouted Brock from his bed. "I haven't seen the outside of this hospital bed in weeks." Chansey glared at him, and he shrank back into the bed sheets.

    "Your prosthetics are being completed on schedule," said 415. "We should be ready to begin amputation and application within a fortnight."

    "Oh yeah…amputation. Great." Brock relaxed himself on the bed and tried to think about something else.

    "Take care of yourself," said 0. "We'll be back in a flash."

    "Have a safe trip," he said.

    0 stepped onto the teleporter with May and Sarah. Each one was holding a piece of luggage, enough for a week-long trip. 0 turned to Elgyem. "Ready to test out the civilian teleport system?" he asked.

    "Gyem em," it said eagerly.

    0 bent down to adjust Sarah's coat. "You have your receiver, little girl?"

    She nodded and produced a small transmitter the size and shape of a Poke Ball. "Yes, Dad," she said, in a tone that made it seem as though 0 had already asked her the question ten times already.

    "Me too," said May with a smile and produced a transmitter of her own.

    0 grinned. "Well let's get to it. Elgyem, transport us somewhere discreet."

    Elgyem nodded and fired up the machine. There was a bit of discomfort, almost queasiness, then suddenly 0 found himself staring at a concrete wall.

    They were just outside the airport, out of the line of sight of the security cameras and the security agents on duty. 0 looked around, both his wife and daughter had made the trip safely.

    "Everyone alright?" he asked.

    May nodded. "A little nauseous, but I think that's morning sickness."

    "I'm fine too!" said Sarah.

    "Excellent." 0 had been worried about May, but nothing had happened. She looked safe and healthy, and the little bulge on her stomach looked safe too. "We could have just taken a cab. You are three months pregnant."

    "Nonsense," she said and touched her belly. "We're perfectly fine. Come on, we have to go check in." May reached out and took Sarah by the hand. "Come on, little girl. Dad can grab the bags." She stuck her tongue at him and led Sarah inside the airport.

    "Hey, wait up!" he shouted as he slung her carryon over his shoulder and gripped the other two bags. "Geez, excuse me for being concerned."

    Pi was laughing in his head. "Way to go, Superdad."

    "I see nothing wrong with wanting my wife and unborn child safe," said 0.

    "True, but you could tune it down a little. Remember, too much stress, no more human body."

    "Thanks, I'll keep it in mind." He caught up with May and Sarah just as they had gotten in line at the ticket counter.

    "Everything alright?" asked May with a sweet smile.

    "Very much so," he said, then turned to Sarah. "So, you remember how to behave on an airplane?"

    Sarah nodded. "No messing around with my seat, no bothering other people, no screaming."

    0 nodded. "That's my brave little girl. I'm sure they'll have a movie or something for you to watch." Sarah seemed to be quite content to hear that, and began busying herself by looking around. "What're you doing?"

    "Looking for suspicious people," she said seriously. After a few moments she turned around satisfied. "No Dark Gems, but I'll keep my eyes open, Dad."

    He smiled. "Sounds good, kiddo."

    "Do you ever wonder if we shouldn't have taught Sarah all these anti-terrorism techniques?" asked May as an afterthought.

    "To be fair, I'm sure they'll come in handy when she starts dating."

    "Oh, that's coming up soon," said May. "She'll probably be dating in ten years." She lowered herself to adjust Sarah's jacket. "Are there any cute boys that have caught your eye, little girl?"

    "And what are their addresses?" asked 0 as he cracked his knuckles.

    Sarah made a disgusted face. "Ew, Mom. Boys are gross. They keep picking their noses around me. And they smell bad."

    "That's my girl," said 0.

    "Sweetie, you know she's going to start dating someday."

    "Absolutely," said 0. "When she's thirty."

    They approached the ticket counter and the subject suddenly became moot. May produced their tickets and the inspector checked their two suitcases. 0 kept the backpack as they stepped towards the scanners.

    "Uh," said 0. "I think we forgot something."

    May turned to him. "What?"

    "How do I get my morpher passed security?" he asked. "It doesn't exactly come off."

    "That is a good question," said May. "Just tell them it's broken and you can't get it off. It looks enough like a watch that they won't be bothered with it."

    0 nodded. "Good idea."

    May's plan worked. When it came time for 0 to get through the scanner, it beeped once and they asked him to remove the morpher. 0 used May's explanation, so they just patted him down and sent him on his way.

    "There's something funny about watching male security guards pat you down," said May.

    "Didn't think you'd be into that," said 0.

    She shrugged. "Just nice to see my man being worked over in a way that doesn't end up with him as a pulp."

    "What're you guys talking about?" chirped Sarah.

    "Nothing!" they both shouted.

    They reached the gate terminal just as boarding commenced. "Well, this is all moving very smoothly," said 0.

    "Now you've jinxed it," said May. "We're never leaving the airport."

    May was quite incorrect. The family jumped right to the front, considering they had first class tickets, and were seated in next to no time. 0 positioned the backpack in the storage unit above their seats while May began the entertaining process of getting Sarah's seatbelt on her.

    "Baby girl, you need to sit still," said May.

    "But look! Look!" she said, pointing to her window. "I get a view! I'll be able to see the clouds!"

    "True, but you need the seatbelt on," said May. "If you're not wearing the seatbelt, they won't take off and you won't be able to see the clouds." This instantly changed Sarah's mind about the seatbelt. She sat still at once and allowed her mother to fasten her in. May secured her own seatbelt just as 0 sat down.

    A stewardess was heading in his direction and he signaled her down. "Could I please get a hamburger and a cola?" he asked.

    She nodded. "I'll be sure to get that to you once we take off, sir," she replied. "Would you like anything on it?"

    "Cheese, beef, and ketchup please."

    "Can do." She headed off and 0 turned to May, who had an odd look on her face.

    "What?" he asked.

    "You're going to eat airplane food?" she asked.

    Sarah made a face. "Yuck! That's why we bought the jerky, Dad."

    He chuckled. "To be fair, I haven't had a meal in five years. I'm sure it'll taste just fine."

    A voice began speaking on the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. If you would please secure your luggage, fasten your seatbelts, and recall any Pokemon you might be carrying with you, we will begin takeoff procedures."

    0 waited while the airplane attendant demonstrated the proper methods of securing seatbelts, attaching air masks to children, and other things he was sure he would have no need for. In the event of an emergency, he fully to rip out an emergency door and fly his family to safety in Chariard Form. But he paid attention, insofar as he didn't fall asleep in boredom, and eventually the plane shifted itself towards the runway and took off.

    Maybe thirty minutes into the flight, the stewardess returned with the gourmet burger and a crisp, chilled cola. She set it before 0 with a smile.

    "Will that be all, sir?" she asked.

    He nodded. "Thank you. I'll let you know if I want more later." She bowed her head and departed.

    0 grabbed the two sides of the burger and lifted it to his face. It smelt delicious. He could smell the juicy, warm beef, cooked medium well if he wasn't mistaken, and the sweet scent of ketchup that had been drizzled onto the bottom bun. Soft, melted cheese adorned the top of the burger, and he very delicately took a bite into the sandwich.

    "How's your first meal?" asked May.

    He turned towards her with a smile. "This may be the most delicious thing I've ever eaten. I may have to have five of these."

    "I've never heard someone so enthusiastic about airplane food," said May.

    "To be fair, we are in first class," 0 pointed out. "I'm pretty sure I won't be as excited when they show up with the soggy sandwiches." He then returned his attention to the cheeseburger with the gusto and fortitude of a Snorlax approaching starvation.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Your diagnosis is complete."

    Max demorphed. The process had become a much more fluid, graceful art, primarily because of how his mind remained during his transformation. Previously, his transformations included the light cloud that would merge his consciousness with that of the Dark Emerald, but now the only difference he noticed was an increase in sheer power.

    "I'm still not used to being alone in my head," said Max.

    "The diagnostic explains that. Here." 415 brought up a brain scan the equipment had taken of Max while morphed. "See these centers here?"

    "Yeah," said Max.

    "Those represent active consciousness or, rather, your functioning consciousness during the transformation. Unlike a normal human, your unconscious mind does not appear to exist. There are no unconscious decisions being made by you. All activity in the brain is focused towards your conscious self."

    "Alright. But don't I need some unconscious reactions?"

    "I was getting to that. There is unconscious activity stimulating pieces of your brain, but it is not originating from you. Instead, an outside source has supplemented your unconscious material, allowing your entire mental capacity to focus on conscious decisions. I believe this is where the consciousness of the Dark Emerald is being stored. It still exists, but your unconscious mind is not interacting with your conscious mind and thus you do not recognize the Dark Emerald is still in there."

    "Huh." Max looked at the brain scan and smiled. "Well, good. I'm glad it's still in there, even if I can't hear it."

    "In reality, it should have been foreseen. Previously, your mind was supplemented to the subconscious while the Dark Emerald utilize your conscious mind. It is logical that the inverse might occur upon evolution. Perhaps the relationship will change again upon your final evolution."

    "I hope not," said Max. "Every other Dark Gem we've come across in Shattered Form has been a total nut job. That's why I was so worried when I first thought I might be evolving. Now that everything's normal, I just want to stay that way for as long as humanly possible."

    "Well, remember my offer still stands to kill you once you become a liability," she said.

    "Duly noted," said Max. "I'll try not to become a liability."

    "It would be unadvisable."

    Someone coughed, and both Max and 415 straightened up as Serena wandered in Ranger Downs. "Heyo, everyone. How'd the tests turn out?"

    "Tests indicate the Dark Emerald is operating within parameters," said 415. "I will continue his weekly monitoring until we are certain he is completely stable."

    "Love it," said Serena. "Max, why don't you head out on patrol tonight? I'm beat, and we can't very well keep you stuck inside here forever."

    "We should continue testing to ensure—"

    "I'm making an executive decision," said Serena. "Besides, when 0's not around I'm in charge, right? Well, I say he goes out and gets his feet wet again. It's better for him to adjust to the changes in some actual patrol duty instead of sitting around in a lab."

    Max nodded. "I can do that. I'll go ahead and head out with one of the motorcycles."

    Serena waved her hand. "We can probably fit you on the teleporter. Why don't we give that a shot?"

    Again, 415 interrupted. "We do not know the effect the teleporter may have on his physiology. I request time to continue my research before we place the Dark Gem under duress."

    "Overruled," said Serena. "Elgyem, beam our Dark Emerald Ranger into Goldenrod."

    Elgyem nodded and began charging up the system.

    "Uh, you sure about this?" asked Max. "I have no problems waiting for that research data to come in before using this."

    "We were able to teleport two civilians with no Ailed Morphers today," said Serena. "I think the system can handle a little Dark Gem. Just take a receiver for good luck." She tossed him the Poke Ball-shaped apparatus and gave Elgyem the signal. Max vanished instantly.

    "Gyem, elgyem," it announced, confirming the success.

    "You should have waited for my confirmation," said 415. "It could have endangered our Dark Gem specimen."

    "Yeah, about that," said Serena, as she approached 415. "Is there any particular reason your attitude towards Max has changed in the last couple of weeks?"

    "My attitude towards him has remained the same since the moment I met him," replied 415.

    "So you've always been in love with him? All that verbal abuse was a fancy cover for your affections?"

    415 did not verbally respond, nor did her mask reveal any sort of blush that might give away her true feelings, but even Serena noticed when 415's throat tightened for just a millisecond before it faded away. Had she not been looking for it, Serena would have never have spotted it.

    "What are you staring at?" asked 415.

    "You twitched your neck. You're afraid," said Serena.

    "Absurd. I have long since trained out emotional responses, particularly emotional responses that have no purpose," said 415.

    "Then why are you being so friendly with Max? You were practically concerned with his well-being right there. Why do you think I was so adamant about it?"

    "I…" 415 took a breath. "I am obligated. He rescued me and evolved to save my life. Under ordinary circumstances, it would be ignored, but the Dark Gem and I talked prior to his evolution."

    "Ooh? About what?" Serena pulled up a chair and invited 415 to join her.

    415 sat down. "The Dark Gem expressed his fear of evolution. He had noticed how the Dark Sapphire Ranger changed upon evolution and naturally concluded that evolution destabilizes the mind linked to the Dark Gem further. Though we have had few problems after acquiring the Dark Emerald Ranger from the Dark Gems, it is also unknown whether the Dark Emerald will affect him as other Dark Gems have affected users. He did not wish to change. He was adamant about this belief. He should not have evolved during the battle with the Dark Diamond Ranger. He should have remained in Chained Form."

    "Instead he evolved," said Serena. "So you're wondering why he evolved when you don't think he wanted to?"

    415 nodded. "There is no explanation. Why would a person deliberately act against their own self-interest? The Dark Gem risked his life and sanity on the hunch that he would obtain enough power to hold the Dark Diamond Ranger at bay. Ranger Gold and yourself were on standby. Why did he then evolve?"

    Serena rolled her eyes. "Geez, you're even more clueless than the men around here. Have you considered the possibility that he might be in love with you, and love makes people do stupid things?" Under her breath, she muttered, "Like fall in love with you."

    415 nodded. "I considered that possibility. I informed him in no uncertain terms that I am simply not built with such capacities."

    "You sound like a robot," said Serena. "Look, you loved the old Golden Ranger, right?"

    "Not in such a fashion, but yes."

    "Why was that?"

    "The Golden Ranger rescued me as a child."

    "Go on."

    "I was a child in a military zone," she replied. "I was recovered by the Golden Ranger sometime between my second and third birthday. I was his daughter. There are no records of my family prior to my recovery by PKM, only that the Golden Ranger rescued me from the likelihood of becoming a child soldier, or worse, as I grew up."

    "Okay, so he rescued you. You ever think that might be what's going on here?"

    "What?"

    Serena sighed. "Do I have to spell out every single bit of romantic advice in this family? Look, you loved the Golden Ranger because he rescued you as a child, right?"

    "Correct."

    "Well, isn't it possible that because it's been over two years since he died you're just transferring those feelings towards someone else? Someone you don't view as a father? Someone who, by sheer coincidence, also just happened to rescue you and cause this shift in personality I've been noticing over the past few weeks? Do I really need to keep connecting the dots, or do you get it yet?"

    415 considered the evidence. "What you say is not without merit," she agreed. "True, he did save me and, true, so did the Golden Ranger. It is natural the emotions would correlate. Yet, if this emotional attachment is taking place, there has been no rapid increase in emotion. Upon reflection, my attitude towards the Dark Gem remains unchanged."

    "There could be an answer for that," said Serena. "You might just have always been in love with him and subconsciously hidden it."

    "Impossible."

    "Is it? You've spent all the time Max has been with us belittling him because he's a Dark Gem Ranger instead of one of us. You try to kill him over and over again, you insulted him, you did everything to make him feel unwelcome. Couldn't that have just been a mask? Goodness knows May and I thought so."

    "You did?"

    Serena nodded. "Yeah. Classic move, really, pushing away a guy you really like. Can't tell you how many times I've done it. Just makes the guy want you more. We figured that's what you were doing, because we seriously wondered why you would torment the guy like that."

    "Because he is a Dark Gem, and thus an inferior range—"

    "That needs to stop," said Serena. "You're really not fooling anyone, so there's no point in putting him down anymore. You like him. He probably likes you. Get over yourself and do him."

    415 hesitated. "'Do' him?"

    Serena rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to have to draw you a diagram or something, am I? I just finished explaining your attraction to him, I really don't want to explain what to do with those feelings."

    415 shook her head. "There will be no need. However, I disagree with your final diagnosis."

    "That's not my problem. You want to ignore your feelings, fine. But, and I can say this from experience, you want him bad, girl. You want him real bad. I'd even say he's probably the first person you've ever wanted and that's why all of this is confusing to you."

    415 had nothing to say to that. She sat in her chair for a while and considered everything. Serena watched as the blank slate that was her mask began to shift. Her brows arched as she thought, her eyes stared directly into a small space on the floor, and her hands slowly began clenching into tightened fists. When she looked up, Serena saw an expression she had never seen all across 415's face.

    She was confused.

    "I…I do not understand," she said. "Everything you said makes perfect logical sense. But I do not understand how to utilize these emotions that are surfacing. What are they? How do I handle them? I…was not trained for this."

    "Nobody really is. Don't worry too much about it. You'll get the hang of using them. Or you'll kill Max. But I'm betting you'll get the hang of it. Max is hard to kill."

    "He is," said 415 warmly. "I have tried on numerous occasions."

    "There you go, speaking fondly of him. Next thing you know you'll be ready to have his little Dark Gem babies. Or at least actually say his name."

    "Perhaps May Birch would be more suitable to assist me in this self-analysis," said 415. "After all, she is the only one of us with a husband."

    "No way," said Serena. "Us single girls have to stick together."

    "I am unfamiliar with that vernacular," said 415.

    "Well, it's good to know you're not changing that much," said Serena. "Now let's talk strategy before Max gets back!"
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  17. #67
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    Default Chapter 36, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Six: Brand New Day, Part 2

    Obtaining a cab at the airport proved to be much more difficult than originally believed.

    After the brief layover in the Kanto International Airport, 0, May, and Sarah boarded a small, rickety plane that 0 scarcely fit in for a short two hour flight that was a far cry from the first class service they'd enjoyed on the flight from Johto. When they got out at the Pallet Town Regional Airport, all of the cabs seemed to have mysteriously vanished. 0 spent ten minutes waiting outside in the rain before May found out the reason for the delay.

    "There's a strike," she said and held up a newspaper she had purchased at the concession stand. "All the public transport is out. The only people working are the airlines."

    "Great," said 0. "Guess we'll rent a car, then. I think I have a driver's license I haven't used." He consulted his pockets and came up with one of his fake identities. "I think this ought to handle it."

    May looked at the same. "Sherman Marsh? Where do you pick these names?"

    "I just picked random names out of a hat," he explained. "Much harder to trace names picked based on chance. You stick out like a sore thumb if you deliberately pick inconspicuous names."

    "Like Walter Jones?"

    "Sort of, yeah. Jones or Smith always makes you seem suspicious." He turned to Sarah. "Come on, kiddo! Dad's driving!"

    Sarah had been in the magazine kiosk looking around for some kid's magazine. She immediately dropped what she was doing and ran back to her parents. "What's Dad's name this time?" she asked.

    "Sherman Marsh," said May.

    Sarah made a face. "That's a dumb name, Dad."

    "That's the idea. Cool names can get you in trouble."

    Compared to the time 0 spent waiting for a cab, it took considerably less time to rent a car. He let Sarah pick the car, as they all seemed to look the same to him, and she settled on a giant caravan with a DVD player for the backseats. 0 just smiled and signed the paperwork, and soon he and his family rolled off the rental lot in the giant vehicle.

    "This thing is huge," he muttered. "The turning radius is all wrong." He instantly wished he could have fit his entire family onto the 0 Cycle.

    "It's awesome!" exclaimed Sarah. "I can watch all my shows!" She immediately dug through her backpack and retrieved some DVDs. "Play this please." She handed the first DVD to May, who showed 0 the title: My Little Ponyta.

    "Guess she's mostly normal," said 0. "Though I don't know why Brock likes it."

    "Oh hush," said May. "I think it's adorable that she and Brock watch it together every week." She popped the DVD in and it started playing behind them. 0 focused his attention on the road as they approached the Pallet Town city limits.

    "They've really modernized this place since I was a kid," said 0. "I remember that road over there used to be dirt. There used to be a fishing hole over there."

    "There hasn't been that much changed," said May. "Pallet's one of the few towns to keep their local landmarks."

    "I suppose so, but it's just weird seeing all these changes." They were getting close to the laboratory. "We're almost there."

    "Are we going to get to see all of Dad's Pokemon?" asked Sarah.

    0 nodded. "Most of them. A couple of them are still training around the world, like Z was. I can still call them, I used Z all the times for PKM missions, but most of them will be at this lab. When I got back from Unova I had all my Pokemon at Juniper's lab brought back here with me."

    "How long has it been since you've seen them?"

    "A long time. I still pay a fee for Oak to board them, but I haven't visited Pallet for years. I'm too easily recognized in my hometown." He parked the car in the small lot in front of the building. "They should be in. I contacted them via e-mail to let them know someone would be stopping by to check the place out for Pokemon storage."

    He stepped out of the car. "Coming?" he asked with a smile and shut the door.

    He would be lying if he said he was not nervous as he approached the door to the Pokemon Laboratory. He remembered how, two decades ago, he had walked through those doors with Samuel Oak and received the greatest friend he had ever known. He remembered being shocked, repeatedly, over the early course of their meeting. He remembered the parade of people that had gathered to wish him luck on his journey. He remembered wearing rubber gloves on his way out of town.

    He opened the door again, and found one of his oldest friends waiting on the other side.

    He didn't recognize 0, not at first. He approached 0 casually, loosely wearing his white lab coat as he always did, and shook his hand. It wasn't until 0 said, "Gary," that it dawned upon Gary Oak who exactly was standing before him.

    "You…" he whispered. "I haven't—we haven't. When did you come back to life?"

    0 smiled. "It's good to see you too," he said. "You're right, I haven't been around much lately. I trust my Pokemon are alright?"

    Gary nodded. "Yeah, yeah." He looked around 0. "May? May, is that you?"

    May nodded and approached Gary to give him a light hug. "In the flesh."

    Gary then looked down at little Sarah. "And this must be little Sandra—no, Sarah, right? Geez, I haven't seen her in person since she was a baby. She's so big."

    "Of course I'm big," said Sarah. "I'm seven."

    Gary chuckled. "How about that? Come see me in three years, I'll give you a Pokemon to make up for the weakling my grandfather gave your dad. Speaking of, where is Pikachu?"

    0 paused. "They wouldn't let it on the plane. Some sort of new rule about putting Pokemon into Poke Balls before takeoff, even Pokemon that won't be a bother. It just didn't want to go back in, so it's grounded back home."

    "Of course, I remember that. I'm thinking about writing a paper about Pokemon claustrophobia discussing possible treatments so adverse Pokemon can at least temporarily handle the Poke Ball without triggering some sort of panic attack."

    "Gary," said 0. "I don't mean to interrupt your train of thought, but we're not really here for a social call."

    Gary nodded. "What can I do for you? Got a new Pokemon to drop off?"

    0 shook his head. "I'm actually here to pick up some Pokemon. I have two slots free."

    "Sure. Want to take a walk, see everyone?"

    "Sounds good. I don't think Sarah has seen too many of my Pokemon."

    "Woo! Let's go!" shouted Sarah, who immediately tore out of the lab and in the direction of the Pokemon fields. May followed her daughter outside, leaving Gary and 0 standing in the laboratory's atrium.

    "Where's Tracey?" asked 0.

    "At a conference in Sinnoh," explained Gary. "Had we known you were coming, he might have stayed just to see you."

    "Sorry about that," said 0. "There were a couple of reasons for that. I can't get into too much detail."

    "Haven't seen you on the news, either. I think you were last reported in Orre living as a recluse."

    "I'm in a different field now," said 0. "Private security."

    "Huh. Glad to see you got your family back. The paparazzi were reporting on that for months. I think I even got interviewed for it. It was weird. I was doing some doctoral work and a giant camera crew broke into my lab. Had to redo the whole experiment."

    "You know," said 0, "you still talk too much."

    "And you're still a blockhead, but we live with what we've got. Come on, let's see your Pokemon."

    The two men strolled down to the fields. Instantly, 0 felt like he was ten years old again, visiting his old friends before the start of a brand new adventure. He remembered the time he came home and his Taurus herd broke loose of their fence, and the time he and his friends had spent rebuilding that fence. He remembered checking in on them every week when he was away. He remembered so much, in fact, that he almost didn't notice when one of his very first Pokemon strode out in front of him.

    The Bulbasaur was enormous, almost as big as a Venusaur. It lumbered over in 0's direction with a look of confusion on its face, as though it could place 0 but couldn't quite remember where from. 0 smiled, and purposely spoke in his natural voice as he had with Gary.

    "You look a lot bigger than you did when we first met in that forest, Bulbs," said 0.

    Its eyes widened. "B-Bulba?" it asked.

    0 nodded. "Saur," he replied.

    0 wasn't able to say much more. Bulbs jumped up and tackled him to the ground, knocking the wind out of his lungs. Bulbs buried its head into its trainer's chest, sobbing hysterically, almost like Tork would. 0 laughed and patted Bulbs on the head.

    "This one missed you a lot," said Gary. "It was really peeved when you had me ship over Tork."

    "That right?" asked 0. He turned to the Pokemon and grinned. "Saur, bulbasaur." Bulbs immediately recomposed itself, just in time for Sarah to pounce on it with a Heracross.

    "Cross!" it said with glee as it began to sap nectar. It turned to 0 and made a happy noise.

    "What's it saying, Dad?" asked Sarah.

    "It's thanking me for distracting Bulbs. Ever since Bulbs got this big, Cross has had a hard time sapping nectar from it. Cross, hera."

    Bulbs groaned, grabbed Cross with two vines, and tossed it into an adjacent tree. It readjusted itself and looked embarrassed.

    "Well, which ones were you looking to take with you?" asked Gary.

    "Well, actually I'm looking for Serp and Noct," said 0. "Do you know where they might be?"

    Bulbs nodded and started heading off on a path east. "Bulba bulbasaur," it said. The others accepted its invitation to follow it along the path towards a forest section. Sarah merrily strolled around and played with Cross, while 0 and Gary caught up.

    "So how's it been the last couple of years?" asked 0.

    Gary shrugged. "It's been alright. Ever since Gramps passed, though, I've been giving more and more thought about whether I'm doing right by him. I'm getting better at running everything, and Tracey's been a big help with the transition, but it's still hard to get up sometimes and work in the same labs I used to work in with him."

    "I think I went on a week-long bender when I heard about it," said 0. "It was after May and I separated, and I didn't get the chance to come back for the funeral. Pi and I just sat around and drank our way through a liquor store." He gripped Gary on the shoulder and smile. "Cheer up, though. Professor Oak would be proud if he could see us today."

    "Who's Professor Oak?" asked Sarah.

    "He…" 0 chuckled. "He was the professor in Pallet before Gary here. Great guy, he gave Pokemon out to most of the new trainers in Kanto. You got to pick a Bulbasaur, a Charmander, or a Squirtle."

    "But I thought you started out with Pi, Dad."

    0 nodded. "I did. I woke up late and Pi was the last Pokemon there. I seem to recall Gary got the Squirtle just before I got there."

    "I remember that," said Gary. "You were still wearing your pajamas."

    "And you had a sports car and a trail of cheerleaders. How did you get a license at ten?"

    Gary grinned and shrugged. "Having a famous grandfather has its perks. We were both dumb when we were kids."

    "Dad was dumb?" asked Sarah.

    "The dumbest," Gary immediately quipped. "But he's not so bad now."

    "Gee, thanks," said 0. "Are we there yet?"

    "It's your Pokemon, why don't you ask it?" Gary looked around for a moment. "We are near Gramps, though."

    0 paused. "Mind if we visit?" he asked.

    Gary shrugged. "Sure. It's quiet enough. Why not let Bulbs know that's where we'll meet it with Serp and Noct."

    "Good idea," said 0. "Bulba bulba bulb?"

    It nodded and took off running. Gary showed them the way to a small grove in the middle of the forest, a small, quaint meadow shaded by the trees. Sitting in the middle was a small stone grave with a beautiful garden cultivated around it.

    "The Grass Pokemon did a good job," said 0.

    Gary nodded. "I was surveying in the forest a few years back and it was just here. It's actually gotten bigger over the years."

    The piece of black marble was simple and unadorned. There was no bust of Oak's head looking out at them, no intricate shape or pattern carved on the surface. Instead, a small inscription was on the top, so small that they had to walk down a small path between the garden to read it.

    SAMUEL OAK

    PROFESSOR, MENTOR, FRIEND

    "I'VE SENT MANY ON THEIR FIRST STEPS INTO THE WORLD

    I'M SURE THEY'LL KEEP ON WALKING JUST FINE."

    "Modest," said 0. Suddenly, his heart felt quite heavy. "Even dead, he still knows how to give a pep talk."

    Gary nodded. "He said that at a conference just before he died. I told him not to go, because at that point he was getting around in the wheelchair, but he insisted on one last lecture to the community. He talked about how what we do only matters if it can keep going after us. Nobody liked the lecture, nobody wanted to think about the fact that he was almost gone. He ended with those words. He looked at me and said, 'There's my grandson, Gary. He's following in my footsteps on his own. He gives out Kanto's starters to new trainers, just as I did when I gave him his first Pokemon'." Gary paused, taking a few deep breaths before continuing. "He didn't want anyone to be sad when he left, because the future would be fine without him."

    Sarah looked at the grave, and then at her father. "He was a good guy, huh Dad?"

    0 nodded. "Sure was. One of the best I ever knew."

    "Saur." 0 turned around upon hearing Bulbs' voice. It stood just a little ways away from them, flanked by a long green snake and a small golden owl.

    Serp just cooed, twisting its head around to make sure it was seeing properly. There was no need for Noct to do so, it merely tilted its head to one side and widened its eyes with glee. After it was certain, Serp decided to greet its trainer with an overjoyed cry that was entirely out of character for it. It slid forward and curled up around 0, lightly squeezing him in a greeting.

    "Dad, careful!" shouted Sarah.

    0 chuckled. "No need to worry, Sarah, that's just Serp's way of saying hello." He turned to Serp and cooed something. Serp immediately released 0 and slid up next to Sarah, who flinched briefly but then calmed down enough to touch Serp's coat.

    "It's so smooth!" she said with glee.

    Noct, seeing that Serp had released 0, flapped its wings and fluttered over to land on 0's shoulder. It gently gripped 0's collar with its talons and chirped a hearty greeting. 0 helped Noct preen its feathers.

    "Bulbasaur," said Bulbs with a low head.

    Noct flew to the ground as 0 bent down to pat Bulbs on the head again. "Bulba, bulbasaur saur bulba. Bulba bulba, bulbasaur. Saur?"

    His words did seem to cheer Bulbs up, though it was still sad to know it wasn't going with its trainer. It took the pat on its head with grace and resumed wearing its usual grin.

    Gary took two Poke Balls out of his coat pocket. "Here you go. These were just registered to you, they'll work with all your Pokemon."

    0 took them and recalled both Serp and Noct. "And that makes six. Thank you, Gary. For everything."

    Gary nodded. "Just don't be a stranger. Come around more often. Go see your mother. She still stops by once in a while to see your Pokemon."

    "We'll see," said 0. "I still have a lot to—wait. Sarah, where's your mother?"

    "Huh?" asked Sarah. "Oh. Oh, she tried to catch up with me but I gave her the slip with Cross. Not sure where she is."

    "Oh. Well, we should probably find her before we head out. Gary, you think you can keep a secret? Kind of on a schedule here, and we took a big detour."

    "What kind of secret?"

    "Well," 0 hesitated, unsure of what might happen if he told Gary what was going on. "Well, I live near Goldenrod. You watch the news recently about Goldenrod?"

    "Something about superheroes. Didn't really pay attention to it, I was knee deep in Pidgey migration patterns. Why?"

    0 raised his arm and checked his morpher. He had maybe a minute left, maybe less. "Might as well use this and test out the new gear that'll come with it." He pressed the button and instantly reverted back to his Ranger Gold form.

    "Whoa!" Gary backed up as the glowing died down. "Whoa, that's new. That's really, really new. What is that?"

    "Ranger technology," 0 explained. "We sort of inherited it. Hang on." He reached for one of the now-five Poke Balls that were clipped to his belt, one that was solid gold. He inserted it into the Ailed Morpher.

    "Auxiliary Pokemon System activated- Towl Form registered," said the voice. "Tracker Lenses- installed."

    His mind changed again, this time he felt himself reminiscent of Lu. He felt cheeky and mischievous, but there was a sharpness to it, a blade of cunning that was amplifying his intelligence. The armor did not appear along his body. Instead, his helmet warped in shape, changing from a circular oval and adding bits and pieces of what appeared to be armor based on a Noctowl's face. Metallic brows adorned the sides of his head. The top of his helmet was higher and rounder. Golden veins connecting the additional armor to his body ran down his neck.

    And he could see! The visor had been amplified to such an extent that he could see each individual blade of grass and every leaf on every tree. He could see for miles in any direction, there appeared to be mirrors in the visor that allowed him to look behind himself without having to turn. He had no blind spot.

    "Still can't see her," said 0. "Switch to something else to track her."

    His visual spectrum instantly changed. He could see in heat vision again, something he thought had been removed from the system during the upgrade to the Ailed Morpher. He could see through the trees and through the streams and eventually his ability to perfectly capture the detail of his surroundings led him to her. He pointed to a position south of their location.

    "She's looking for us there. Let's go," he said, as he led the way through the forest with a dumbfounded Gary and a playful Sarah in tow.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    When Max returned home, it was to what appeared to be an empty house. The kitchen was empty, and no dinner was on the table, so Max set about the task of making himself a sandwich. He piled on the meats and cheeses in an effort to satisfy the hunger he'd cultivated during his time out on patrol. He set the massive sandwich on a plate then made his way through the home looking for everyone.

    "Was there some sort of emergency?" he wondered. "No, I'd have been called. I've got the com-link now and they can actually talk to me."

    Where were they, then? They weren't in any of their bedrooms or anywhere else on the second floor, and the ground floor was just as empty as ever when he returned. He shrugged, about halfway through his sandwich, and decided perhaps the best approach would be to try Ranger Downs. He headed through the secret entrance and down the staircase.

    Brock was still there, Max could hear that the television was on again. Brock was relaxing in his bed with Chansey and Swampert, so thoroughly engrossed with his program that he hardly noticed Max descending into Ranger Downs.

    "Hey, Brock," said Max, before taking yet another bite out of his sandwich. Brock had Chansey pause the program and smiled.

    "How was patrol?" he asked.

    Max shrugged. "Fine. Dark Emerald's still quiet, so no Dark Gems in town."

    "That's good."

    "What're you up to?"

    Brock stared at the television. "Trying desperately to distract myself from my surgeries. 415 said they'd be happening soon because Elgyem is apparently really good at designing prosthetics."

    "You nervous?"

    "A little. I've had my limbs for a while. Even if they are like this, it's a little hard to say goodbye to them. I've had them all my life."

    "To be fair, you are getting nicer limbs to make up for that," said Max. "You'll never have to work out your biceps again."

    Brock laughed. "Good idea. Think about the positives. Like permanent biceps."

    Max finished his sandwich. "Well, I think I'll head to bed. Long day and all that. You know where the girls are?"

    Brock shook his head. "I think they went out. Serena said they were going to go do some shopping."

    "Alright. Get some rest, watch less TV."

    As Max left, he heard Brock shout, "I'll shut off the TV when I can reach it!" As he ascended the stairs, he heard Brock chuckle to himself before the television turned back on.

    When he returned to his room, Max changed from his casual clothes and into his sleeping gear, a plain green undershirt and dark sweatpants. He yawned and positioned his glasses by his bedside table. "You know, seeing as I'm a superhero and all, maybe it's time I made the switch to contacts. Be a pain if I broke my glasses before a fight." He briefly wondered if the Dark Emerald would simply heal his vision if that happened, then decided maybe he shouldn't rely on the Dark Emerald for everything. He shut off the light and got under his covers.

    Max was unable to sleep, though. He immediately realized he wasn't alone in his own bed. It took every bit of his self-control to contain the Dark Emerald's shadow chains and remain untransformed. He slowly tilted his head to his left, unsure how he could have missed the fact that there was a woman in his bed. Not just any woman, either. 415 was lying there, deliberately staring at him.

    "Hello," said Max cautiously. "Can I help you with anything?"

    415 continued to stare at him, leading Max to suspect the very worst possibility: she was there to smash his Dark Gem and kill him for real. Why she had chosen this particular battleground was a little unclear. Maybe she had wanted a sneak attack, but then why would she have just sat there waiting for him to notice her? None of this was making sense.

    "Dark Gem," she said at last. Max noticed something different in her tone. Usually, whenever 415 spoke, it was a mechanical speak that seemed to have been composed hours in advance. This time was different. She seemed hesitant, there was a crack in her voice. It almost sounded like a completely different person. "Dark Gem, we need to talk."

    Max nodded, but made no other sudden movements. "Okay. What'd you want to talk about that could have happened when both of us were not in the same bed?"

    "We need to talk about us," she said, but offered no further explanation.

    "Mind clarifying that for me?" he asked. "As I recall, there is no 'us'. You were very clear about that, even if I wasn't hitting on you."

    "It would appear that I have erred," she answered. "Serena Brine and I had a conversation. The topic was you."

    "A conversation about what?"

    "A topic of which I still understand very little. Serena Brine accused me of being infatuated with you. She presented numerous arguments I had not considered. At the end, I was forced to conclude she was correct. There has been a gradual shift in my attitude towards you."

    "Well, yeah." Come to think of it, Max had noticed her seeming to get friendlier over the past couple of weeks, ever since he had evolved. "I just figured you were just studying me to make sure I wouldn't go berserk."

    "My investigation has concluded. It is my opinion that there will be no issue on that front. I had intended to report several days ago but…I confess something stopped me from doing so."

    "What? You've had me running tests today. What were those for?"

    "Busy work. Stop interrupting me." She moved very, very quickly, as if she was entirely unsure of how to go about her movements and just wanted them over with, until she was several inches away from Max's face.

    "I—" Max took a deep breath. "I'm really not sure what's going on here."

    "I admit confusion as well. I am unaware of how this is…done. The technicalities are known to me, but theories are not much use in the practical world."

    "Wait, hang on. Whoa!" 415 had moved the covers, and in that instant he had realized she wasn't wearing anything either. 415 usually wore full-body clothing. Turtlenecks, pants, long sleeve shirts, anything to disguise her body. He had never seen anything other than her hands before. "Wait. Wait. Nope, hang on. Hang on."

    "Does this not please you?" she asked. There was an unusual tone in her voice he had never heard before. "Is this body not attractive?"

    "I can't believe I'm having this conversation," Max muttered. "No, that's not it, 415. I'm just not that sort of guy. I like to do the whole romance thing."

    "Illogical. My evidence suggests that men do not require such arbitrary prerequisites. They are much more willing to engage in carnal activities without them."

    "Well, in the case on one night stands, yes," said Max. "But not with someone that I see every day. That's just not going to happen. If you want to date, we can date, but I'm not just going to give it up because you're in my bed and you're—"

    415 once again got really close to his face, close enough that she could have bitten off his nose if she were so inclined. "Dark Gem" she said. "This is an ultimatum. I am taking what I want from you in an effort to determine the extent of my emotional response towards you. You may either comply willingly, or I can force your hand. There will be no difference from me."

    Max gulped. "I take it that means there's no negotiating about this?"

    "There will be none. I will assess the accuracy of Serena Brine's hypothesis with or without your consent."

    "Well, I guess that settles the issue."

    Max leaned over and, in the same manner that one might take with tasting a jalapeño, gently kissed 415 on the lips.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    After they had found May, 0 piled them back into the van for the trip to the hotel. But, after thanking Gary and driving off, he began to reconsider that plan and his mind led him to drive in the opposite direction of the city, towards one of the smaller suburban districts of Pallet Town.

    "Uh, honey, where are we going?" asked May. She looked out the window. "I'm not sure the hotel is on this side of the town."

    "It isn't," said 0. "We'll head there later. I want to make a quick stop first."

    May wasn't sure where they were going until they made the next turn. Her eyes widened and she looked towards Sarah, who was in the back still enamored with the television. "Are you sure about this?" asked May. "I don't even think Sarah remembers who she is."

    "It's not about Sarah," said 0. "It's about me. We managed to get your parents into the wind and keep them out of trouble. We never got to do the same for mine. I haven't heard anything around these parts, but I'm willing to bet that if we keep picking off their numbers the Dark Gems are going to get desperate. They might come after her. She deserves to be warned so she can get out before anything comes after her."

    He pulled up to the driveway, the same driveway he hadn't seen for years. He had run up it so often, first when it was his home and then after returning from some foreign land, but she would always be at the other end by the door, waiting for him with a fresh meal and open ears to hear all about his adventures. He unblocked his seatbelt and stepped from the car.

    "Keep her here," said 0. "I'll let you know when you can come in."

    He approached the door and rapped thrice. It all seemed entirely too familiar, only now he was able to actually reach the top of the door. It creaked open, just like it used to when he was a child, and soon 0 found himself face to face with a small, petite woman with brown hair.

    "Why hello there," she said with a smile. "I was beginning to worry you'd forgotten how to call me."

    0 chuckled. "Sorry we were so late, Mom. Do you have enough dinner for three?"

    His mother looked passed him, to the car where she saw Sarah and May waiting, and her smile widened. "Looks like I missed out on some stuff. Don't worry. I'm sure my Mimey can whip up a few extra places at the dinner table. Come on in."

    Nodding vigorously, 0 grabbed his family from the car, and came home.

    Author's Note: This chapter serves as a set-up to the breakneck pace of the next few chapters we'll be getting to next week. Perhaps the main message to take from it is that it explains why this series never had 0 return to Kanto to visit his mother and his friends. I decided to set the series in Petalburg and later Goldenrod because those settings made sense in the long run. It made sense that May would return home to Petalburg after the disaster in Saffron and it made sense that the family would choose to hide in a city they had no ties to. But, perhaps more importantly, 0 could never really go home at the beginning of the story. We've talked a lot about 0's identity through his actions in this text, but I feel we've established clearly how different he is from the man he once was, and how he's slowly becoming that man again. That's why he could only now return to Pallet and see everyone. Perhaps I'm reading too deep into my own motivations for writing the story, but a large part of my decision to keep working on this series came from my need to explore who 0 is and, to an extent, various areas of the Pokémon world I wanted to examine more closely, such as the Poke Ball technology, or the relationships between trainers and Pokémon from the Pokémon's perspective.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  18. #68
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    Default Chapter 37

    Morph Thirty-Seven: The Master's Revenge, Part 1

    "The baby appears to be perfectly healthy."

    415 waved the small wand over May's stomach, adjusting the image on the monitor to her liking, until the static-filled image cleared up and a video feed of a small little baby appeared. It seemed to be active, occasionally shifting its limbs around as if trying to get comfortable. "The child is currently three months away," said 415. "We will have to make arrangements to take you to the hospital for delivery. I do not have the necessary equipment to deliver the baby here and, even if I did, my technical skills as a health practitioner end well before the maternity ward."

    0 nodded. "Alright. Which hospital would you recommend?"

    415 shrugged. "I have not yet finished my consultation in that field. I am still examining floor plans from hospital blueprints around Goldenrod to assess the safest location for the child's birth."

    "Good. When it comes we'll just use the teleporter, same as the trip to the airport. No problems at all." 0 kissed May's forehead. "Anything else we should be aware of?"

    "No. The baby looks very healthy, despite some of the trauma suffered by the mother. All signs point to the baby having zero defects when it is born."

    "Wonderful," said May.

    "So," said Sarah, peeking up from the side of the table, "am I gonna have a little sister or brother? Can you tell yet? I wanna know."

    "Sarah, we agreed that would be a surprise," said May. "Do you really want to spoil the surprise?"

    "Yes," said Sarah bluntly. "I wanna know if my little sister and I are going to have awesome tea parties and ride Pokemon together, or if I'm going to have a stinky little brother that farts all the time."

    "To be fair, Sarah," said 0, "I seem to distinctly recall you farting on me all the time when you were a baby."

    Sarah turned bright red. "Gross, Dad! Don't just tell people that!"

    May laughed. "I remember this one very vividly. We were sitting at a café and you somehow wriggled your way out of your diaper, and when I went to put it back on you peed all over the seat."

    "Ugh! Stop embarrassing me!" Sarah flung her arms into the air and ran out of the room before May or 0 had the chance to tell another story from her infancy.

    "If we could return to the analysis," said 415, after 0 and May had stopped their snickering, "are you certain that you do not wish to know the sex of the baby? At six months, it is quite simple."

    May looked to 0. "Well? Do you want to?"

    He nodded. "I know we said no, but I don't think I can wait another three months. We can keep it a secret from Sarah, though, since she doesn't seem to want a little brother."

    "Very well," said 415. She maneuvered the wand once more, positioning it so that they could ascertain the gender of the baby.

    "Is that—" said 0.

    "Are we—" said May.

    415 nodded. "It would appear so. You are having a boy."

    0 pumped his fist. "Yes!" he shouted. He proceeded to jump up and down several times before he remembered he was the only one celebrating like that and calmed down. "Uh, I mean great. Good to hear."

    May eyed him coyly. "I take it you wouldn't have reacted so positively if it was another girl?" she asked.

    "Of course not! It's just…you know…I was really hoping for a boy this time. That way we have both."

    "I'm only teasing," said May. "It's wonderful news. Just think, in three months we'll have ourselves a healthy baby boy. Ooh, we need to think up names."

    "Should've asked Mom while we were in Kanto," said 0. "Our family usually recycles names."

    "I recall. Sarah's name came from your side, didn't it?"

    0 nodded. "Yeah, one of my great-grandmothers, I think. Mom suggested that one too." 0 consulted the morpher on his watch. "Hang on, I have to morph back." He pressed the button and reverted back to his ranger form.

    "How long are the time outs now?" asked 415.

    "They're still two hours," said 0. "Every time I try to stretch it passed that point I end up stuck longer. But if I morph back before the limit, it only takes me five minutes to recharge so I can reassume my regular body."

    "Interesting," said 415. "Does it correlate to your current project?"

    "No. The five-in-one combo's still got some kinks," said 0. "Pi and I can't seem to make much of a crack in it. That part's annoying."

    "You'll get there," said May.

    "I know I will. It's just that we went to Kanto for the sole reason of getting enough Pokemon to attempt the new form and it just hasn't been clicking in all these months. So far we've only worked out the core process for it."

    "Which is?"

    "The idea is to split the work. If we can pull it off, I'm channeling six different Pokemon, each one regulating a specific function. That makes the form possible, but we don't have the raw power to pull it off yet. Maybe if I went and hooked myself up directly into a power plant."

    "That would likely be unfeasible in combat."

    "Exactly. Hence why it's just a theory. But at least I get to keep my human body around longer. And I can eat and sleep now."

    "Well," said 415, "my diagnosis is complete. Do either of you have further questions for me?"

    "Can you pinpoint when the baby'll be due?" asked May.

    "Yes," said 415. "You have three months, five days, assuming all goes according to plan. We can adjust for anything, but uninterrupted the baby should be ready for birth around that time."

    "Wow," said May. "We really will need that name sooner rather than later."

    "We'll start making a list," said 0.

    "If that concludes your appointment," said 415, "I have another one scheduled. The Dark Gem and I are reviewing his progress once more. Your presence would distract from my research."

    "Of course. Come, my lady." 0 gallantly assisted May off the examining table. "Be seeing you. 415, do you have patrol duty tonight?"

    415 shook her head. "The Dark Gem is assigned."

    "Good to know." He left, and briefly exchanged greetings with Max as the younger man entered the room.

    "You are late," said 415. "Explain yourself."

    "Sorry about that," said Max. "I had to spend an extra five minutes explaining to Sarah that the world isn't going to end if she winds up with a baby brother."

    "Regardless, we must do tests."

    "Yeah, sure. Tests. By the way, have you picked out the movie for tomorrow night?"

    "Silence your voice," said 415 in a hushed, quick tone. "Do you want everyone to know?"

    "I honestly don't think they'd care," said Max. "Anyway, the movie?"

    415 shook her head. "I have not decided. The choices are all arbitrary."

    "How is it arbitrary? It's a movie, just pick one."

    "How am I supposed to choose? I do not watch movies, Dark Gem. I review research. You gave me a selection of six available movies that are opening this weekend. How am I supposed to know which one would be the least waste of time? Do I judge by length, or the plot synopsis, or the reviews made by biased journalists? There is no frame of reference."

    "Well, why don't we just pick a comedy?"

    "Comedy is subjective. There is nothing I find humorous."

    "What about an action movie?"

    415 glared at him. "After the life we lead? How is any sort of film supposed to compare with the combat we have experienced?"

    "Geez, I don't know. Why not pick one at random?"

    "And leave it to chance? There are no variables to be considered. What if we pick the wrong movie?"

    "Then we'll make fun of the movie. Isn't the point that we're supposed to go on a date, not where the date is?"

    "It is not. A first date location may set the tone for the entire relationship. It may establish a hierarchy or inside joke of some kind. Failure to select the correct venue for such an event could result in this entire experiment collapsing."

    "It isn't an experiment. It's just a movie. We'll be fine if the movie isn't great, most of them aren't."

    "Then why bother having movies?"

    Max shrugged. "Because people like being around other people. I used to really like movies because I could get together with a bunch of friends and just spend some time hanging out in front of the screen sharing an experience, no matter if the experience was entertaining or boring. We would just make fun of the movie if it sucked and have a great time anyway."

    "That is not logical."

    "Most people aren't. I'm not. You're not."

    "I am exceedingly logical."

    "No, you're still struggling to work out your emotions for the first time. That's not something a logical human does as an adult. You still haven't called me by my name."

    "You do not call me by a name."

    "You don't have one. That's not a fair comparison. And your name isn't important. I know who you are. I don't need to know your name for that."

    415 grew uncomfortable and shifted herself. "This discussion is getting us nowhere. Shall we concede a draw? I will make sure we have a venue tomorrow night."

    Max smiled. "Sounds good. Now how about we do some tests?"

    At the mention of tests, 415 instantly relaxed and prepared the nodes she used to monitor Max's status while under the influence of the Dark Emerald. The nodes attached by sticking to veins and nerves just underneath the skin, an experience Max never really enjoyed. He usually transformed the moment the computer was ready and assumed the mantle of the Dark Emerald Ranger.

    "Are you stable?" asked 415.

    He nodded. "I am," he said. He still wasn't used to speaking in his own voice. "Releasing the Pokemon." His armor parted just enough for him to unhook the two Poke Balls attached to his clothes underneath. Mightyena and Grovyle emerged in bright flashes of light. "Ready?"

    415 nodded. "Proceed."

    "Alright. Let's do it, guys." Mightyena and Grovyle stood at his side as his dark shadowy chains slunk across their bodies, reabsorbed into Max's own body. He immediately sensed their minds, somewhere far away but close enough that he could hear their suggestions.

    "Picking up the spikes in your consciousness," said 415. "Still stable."

    Max concentrated on Grovyle, focusing on its strong, powerful legs. Instantly, he felt himself grow and looked down to see his legs elongating into the natural shape and build of a Grovyle's legs. He bent them, they felt quite sturdy. He jumped, he leapt quite high. "How we doing?" he asked.

    "Vital signs are still stable," said 415. "I would advise adapting no more than fifty percent of your form to incorporate the Pokemon. Any further and you may lose your mind to the Pokemon instincts that will be generated the more attributes you take on."

    "Should we test that?" asked Max.

    "It is advisable to be certain. Approach no further than forty-nine percent."

    Max concentrated again. This time he kept the legs, but his right hand sprouted a green version of his Mightyena's face. At the same time, his left arm took on the shape and appearance of his Grovyle's bladed elbows and dexterous fingers. In the dead center of his shoulders his skin erupted into Grovyle's face, peering out into the space behind him.

    "Still stable?" asked 415.

    Max had to focus. "Yeah," he said. "You're right. This thing is going to be hard if I keep adding stuff. Hang on." He concentrated, and the Grovyle face at the base of the back of his neck disappeared. "Ah, much better. Okay, it's still all me here."

    "Good. Were you discomforted by your additional transformations?"

    Max shook his head. "Didn't know you cared so much. Uh, no. I can kind of sense it's happening, but I can't feel anything of it. It was sort of like seeing yourself being operated on while under anesthesia."

    "Of course I care about you. You are my prize experiment."

    "Whom you are in a relationship with."

    "That has nothing to do with this. You may demorph. I have the information I require."

    Max nodded. "Thank you." He immediately released the Dark Emerald. Max, Grovyle, and Mightyena reappeared in a series of bright flashes of green light. "I can't tell you how great it is to get these out of me."

    "Why? You heal the moment they are removed."

    "Well, while they're stuck inside me, they itch like no tomorrow." He scratched each and every single healing hole in his body until they were all gone. "Can we seriously not figure out a better way to do this? Preferably with me not ending up as a human pincushion."

    415 shook her head. "I am afraid not. Other methods are simply not as useful in gathering data. You will have to continue to use the needles while we monitor your growth."

    "Was there any change from last week?"

    415 nodded. "Some. The energy spikes increased, indicating your strength is still growing. Your base strength level is presently the same as Ranger Gold when not using the Auxiliary Pokemon System. With Grovyle and Mightyena attached, your power reaches a threshold halfway between Ranger Gold's standard form and Cario Form. There is no indication the incline is decreasing, either. Eventually, chances are good you will be the strongest ranger in our arsenal."

    "Huh," said Max. "That sounds pretty cool. And I'm not even fully evolved."

    "There is no way of measuring your potential strength in Shattered Form, but based on the jump in strength from Chained to Sealed Form, your Shattered Form may be on par with Ranger Gold's Chariard Form." 415 inputted the data into the computer. "However, it is unadvisable you attempt your final evolution. There is no way to predict how you will react to the biological change."

    "I know. I don't have any intention of evolving. I think I'm just right for how I work in the team and I don't want to change that any time soon."

    "Good. I would not want you to evolve unnecessarily."

    Max grinned and got close to her. "That sounds awfully like concern again," he said. "Sure you're being impartial in this analysis?"

    "I am still quite capable of cleaving your head from your shoulders. We are in public. Refrain from such trivialities." 415 offered him a brief smirk, just a tiny incline of her lips, before she resumed her stoic facial expressions and drew away.

    "Yes, ma'am." Max turned to his Pokemon. "You guys don't care about 415 and me dating, do you?"

    Mightyena perked its ears and looked towards 415. Then it shrugged and decided to scratch itself behind the ear. Grovyle suddenly found itself incredibly interested in flicking off a piece of dead leaf from its arm.

    Max stuck out his tongue. "Return," he said, and held up their Poke Balls. They vanished and he reattached them to his belt. "Bunch of sourpusses."

    "Come," said 415. "It is my understanding that Brock Harrison will be undergoing his physical therapy upstairs. I should observe how the prosthetics are operating."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Brock was clearly not accustomed to life as a cyborg yet.

    He missed his arms and legs dreadfully. Since the operations to remove the withered remains of his arms and legs and prepare the ports for the mechanical replacements, he found himself wishing that he could still feel flesh and blood when he closed his hand into a fist. The limbs had been connected to his nervous system, so he could still feel in a way, but it was more of a distant, calculated sense of feeling, the sort one gets while analyzing data never truly experienced.

    Still, Elgyem and Chansey had made the limbs so well that they were virtually indistinguishable from his old arms and legs. They had his exact skin tone, the exact same length (with a little bit of additional muscle, to Brock's delight), they were perfect replicas. He could move his arms and change a channel on the television by himself. He could lift himself up and wheel himself over to the bathroom to do his own business without Elgyem levitating him. He had adapted to his new arms perfectly.

    He was, however, still having trouble with the legs. Having spent months in the hospital bed waiting for the transplant, his balance was terribly off. Every time he tried to lift himself to stand he fell over, leaving him to crawl back to his wheelchair. He could wiggle the artificial toes and flex the artificial muscles, but something was off when he tried using the legs for their intended purpose.

    "Maybe we connected something wrong," said Serena, as she looked him over.

    Brock shook his head. "No, that can't be right," he said. "You guys did a great job on me. The arms work fine. It's gotta be something wrong with my head. Some kinda mental block."

    "Maybe you need some motivation," said Serena. "Do you think that could help?"

    Brock shrugged. "No idea. What'd you have in mind?"

    "Well…" Serena giggled. "Okay, I've got it. Now, bear with me on this. What if, if you can try and take a few steps, we can go out to dinner again? Would that be enough motivation?"

    Brock turned bright red. "Uh, I don't know about that."

    Serena frowned. "Why not?" she asked, and gestured at herself. "Aren't I pretty enough for Brock Harrison, cyborg, to take to dinner?"

    "Well, sure, but—" Brock paused, as if unsure how to phrase his thoughts. "Aren't you ten years younger than me?"

    Serena huffed. "Why I never! A gentleman does not ask a lady her age!"

    "I'm sorry, it's just that—" Brock stopped, he noticed that she was starting to laugh. "Oh, I get it. Ha ha."

    Serena broke out into a full-body laugh. "I'm sorry, Brock! I'm just busting your balls. Geez, you really can't take a joke when it's coming from a beautiful woman, huh?"

    Brock shook his head. "I really can't. Comes with the territory of being a hopeless romantic."

    "Tell you what. We'll make a deal. You try to take a few steps, we'll watch that Bronyta thing you like together. But if you don't, Sarah gets to watch it first and spoil everything for you."

    Brock's face fell. "That's not funny, Serena! She'll tell me everything before the credits are done."

    Serena shrugged and sat down on a table on the other side of the room. "Guess you'll just have to get up and stop Sarah."

    Brock groaned and immediately tried to adjust his legs so he could stand. They wobbled warily into place so that he could actually shift himself out of his chair. He immediately lost his balance and grabbed an adjacent counter to stabilize himself. "N-No fair," he muttered. "Why couldn't we have done this on some carpeting? Tile's slippery."

    "I'm hearing a lot of complaining and not a lot of walking," said Serena. "Guess someone's getting spoilers."

    "No!" Brock grunted again and hoisted himself up to the top of the counter. He was standing, albeit shakily, but standing nonetheless. "Okay, and now we balance." He shifted himself so he was still grabbing onto the counter with one hand. "Now we balance, now we balance, now we balance."

    "Come on," said Serena. "I'm getting bored over here."

    "I'm on it, I'm on it," said Brock. "Let me just…" He ordered his left foot to take a step forward. There was a brief delay as his mental command transfer from his nervous system to the electronic supplements, and then the foot shifted into place and set itself firmly down on the tile floor. "Okay, that's one step."

    "More please," said Serena. "Just that one isn't going to cut it here."

    "Alright, alright," he muttered. He tried taking another step with his right foot, taking advantage of the quick delay between thought and action to adjust himself as he moved. The other foot came down as well and he felt stable. "There. Two steps. That's a lot considering I've been stuck in that chair for a while."

    Serena shook her head. "Uh-uh," she murmured. She pointed to the hand that was still balancing him on the counter. "Let's see you walk on your own. You do a good job, we might go get you a cane."

    "But that wasn't part of the deal," said Brock.

    She shrugged. "I'm allowed to change the deal if it suits me. There's no sense in complaining about it. I'm the one with the power to wheel you out of the room when the show's on."

    Brock grunted again and suddenly released his grip on the counter. He instantly swayed, but was able to hold his balance with a tremendous amount of focus. He took another step forward and almost fell, but at the last minute used the weight of his new arms to steady himself and maintain his balance.

    "One," he said, and offered a big grin.

    "Try another one," said Serena.

    He did just that, finding that his prosthetics were automatically adjusting to his motions. On his attempt for a third step he fell, sprawling himself on the floor, which resulted in Serena bursting into laughter.

    Brock hoisted himself up off the ground and back into his chair. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Can I watch my show now?"

    Serena nodded. "Let's go," she said and allowed him to wheel his way into the living room, where Sarah was already waiting impatiently as close to the television as she was allowed to be.

    "Uncle Brock, Aunt Serry, hurry up!" she shouted. "It's gonna start!"

    "We've got ten minutes, Sarah," said Brock. "Believe me, I'm just as excited as you. But take a deep breath."

    "Brock Harrison," said a voice behind him. Brock turned and noticed Max and 415 standing in the atrium of the living room. "We must evaluate you."

    Brock rolled his eyes. "Can it wait? I just want to watch the show."

    "I am afraid it cannot," said 415. "My time is extremely valuable. Your evaluation time is scheduled to take place now. Please comply."

    Brock sighed. "Fine, make it quick. We already did my testing."

    415's eyebrow perked up. "You did? How?"

    "Serena had me walk from one side of the room to the other."

    "Did you succeed?"

    "Sort of. I got the balance, but I fell over after the third step."

    "That's pretty good," said Max. He and Brock then promptly exchanged high fives. "Considering you haven't been able to make a single step, that's really good."

    Brock grinned. "Thanks. Truth be told, she made me do it or I wouldn't have been able to watch my show."

    "Guys!" said Sarah. "Stop talking, it's about to start!"

    "Leave it to Serena," said Max. "She just gets guys."

    Serena smiled broadly and ruffled up Brock's hair. "Sure do. Especially big lugs like this one. You should have heard him complaining about not getting spoiled on today's episode."

    "Uh, let's not go down that road," said Brock. "I'd rather that were private."

    "Nothing's private in this family," said Max. "Lay it on us."

    At this point Sarah, having had quite enough of the grownups speaking while she waited for her show, stood up and marched over to where they were all sitting. "Look," she said, in a sudden severity that none of them had ever heard before. "My Little Ponyta is starting in thirty seconds. It is my favorite show and I want to watch it in peace and quiet!" The adults, far too terrified of this little girl, said nothing in response. Satisfied, Sarah nodded her head and returned to her position as physically adjacent to the television as she was allowed.

    "Remind you of anyone?" asked Max.

    Brock nodded. "Getting more and more like her mother every day."

    "Imbeciles," said 415, and left them to their show.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  19. #69
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    Default Chapter 37, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Seven: The Master's Revenge, Part 2

    Later in the afternoon, 0 and May took Sarah out for a walk with their Pokemon. Sarah, having already discerned that there was little that Z would not do when asked nicely by an adorable little girl, was riding the gigantic, orange dragon around the path. Z, trying its best to ignore the pain of being grabbed by its long, tube-shaped horns, stomped and snarled at the behest of the little girl. May found it to quite possibly be the cutest thing she had ever seen. 0 found it terrifying that his daughter could already subjugate one of his most powerful Pokemon in this fashion.

    "You know," said May, as she watched Blaziken and Lu spar up ahead, "she's going to be eight in a few months. We might want to start looking into getting her enrolled in a Pokemon accreditation school to get her license to register as a Pokemon trainer."

    "I don't know," he said. "I'm not sure I feel comfortable with Sarah starting the journey right now."

    "Why? We both left at ten."

    "Oh, I know. It's got nothing to do with that. It's just that I'm worried about what'll happen to her if I'm not around to protect her. I mean, we've got so many enemies out there, who knows if they would try to come after her? I just think we should hold off on her getting ready to leave until we're sure the coast is clear."

    "Do you think this'll still be going on in two years?"

    0 shrugged. "It's already been going on for more than two. There's no way to tell when they'll run out of rangers. I'd just feel more comfortable waiting until the threat's over."

    "Still, she doesn't have that many friends," said May. "And she barely knows anyone her own age that didn't try to eat her. I just want to make sure she gets to interact with kids her own age. That's part of school too. She doesn't have to leave home just because she has the license."

    "I suppose that's true. I guess I'm just being overprotective."

    She lightly punched him. "Not overprotective. Sweet. Our parents probably went through the same thing." She looked to where Sarah had convinced Z that it would be a good idea to have a small flight in the air above. "It's just hard letting them go."

    "Preaching to the choir here," said 0. "I just got back into her life. I definitely don't want her going off so soon. Maybe I should go on the journey with her…"

    "You'll do no such thing," said May. "She'll be a big girl. Let her live her own life."

    0 smirked. "Fine. But one of my Pokemon is going with her to supervise. Fair's fair."

    "Alright. One Pokemon, so she doesn't just use that one in battles. Your Pokemon are very strong."

    "Yeah they are," said 0 with a chuckle.

    Z tucked its wings into a dive and gently cascaded down towards a soft landing. Sarah squealed with joy and pulled on its horns even harder, causing Z to grunt with discomfort. Then she leaned in and lightly kissed its neck, and Z's skin changed from bright orange to a deep shade of red. 0 chuckled. The Pokemon had not changed an iota in all the years since they had traveled together. He saw so much of himself in Z, both of them seasoned warriors capable of going through anything to defend the ones they loved. When he had transformed with Z, it had almost been like being supplemented by himself, unlike when Lu's playful nature or Tork's emotional side emerged, both of which were able to completely transform his personality.

    "She's going to be quite the little heartbreaker in a few years," said May with a smirk. "You know, back when the paparazzi were always on our tails they'd always do nice little photo ops of Sarah. I think that was the one thing about them I liked."

    "Hrmmm…" grumbled 0. "She's not allowed near boys until she's an adult. She should be focused on Pokemon, not boys."

    May giggled. "That's ridiculous. There's no way she'll not be meeting boys on her trips. I mean, I traveled with you and Brock. Oh, and Drew for a while."

    "My opinion is not swayed," said 0. "My little girl, my rules."

    "Our rules, dear," said May.

    "Oh. Yeah, that's what I meant."

    Sarah had Z head back in the direction of her parents, touching down lightly at their feet. "Hey, Mom, when do you think the school is gonna open back up?" she asked. "I miss the games and everything."

    "I don't know, little girl," said May. "When a bunch of bad guys show up and just start attacking in front of everyone at a school, parents aren't really interested in having them come back. Maybe in a little while, when everything calms down."

    "But if we wait too long, I won't be able to get my trainer's license," said Sarah.

    0 grinned. "Don't worry, you're a natural. The other kids won't know what hit them when you get in the ring."

    "You think so?" asked Sarah.

    "Definitely. Now let Z have a break. Why not go play with someone else?" A look of relief flooded Z's bright eyes, while the other Pokemon all suddenly took on expressions of extreme concern. Tork retreated into its shell in response.

    "Mmmm…alright," she said and hopped off Z's back. She immediately decided that she would play tag with Lu and Blaziken, who took off across the front lawn in gratitude for Sarah's decision not to ride them as she did Z.

    And for a little while, 0 and May held hands while they watched their daughter play. They looked to May's protruding stomach, and they shared a smile.

    "She's not going to be too happy about having a brother," said 0.

    "She'll adapt. She always does."

    "Ranger Gold, May Birch?"

    0 immediately touched his hand to his com-link. "Here, 415," he said.

    "We have guests. Recall your Pokemon and your daughter. We will join you presently. Out."

    0 nodded, and then turned to May. "Looks like we have company," he said.

    May turned to Sarah. "Little girl, come back! It's going to be a bad day!"

    Sarah immediately stopped what she was doing and led the Pokemon back to her parents. 0 and May recalled everyone just as Max, 415, and Serena emerged from the house. Sarah found herself instantly surrounded by a circle of adults. She put her hands in her pockets and looked down on the ground.

    "Who is it?" asked 0. "Another pair of Dark Gems?"

    Serena shrugged. "Another pair of something. They're making a beeline for our location. One of them looked very familiar."

    "Ame?"

    Serena nodded. "Ame. Looks like she's finally making her move."

    "Well, there's four of us and two of them, and Ame's never been much of a fighter. Let's give them something to remember."

    Ame was indeed approaching, flanked by another, somewhat taller individual. An individual that was immediately recognized by all of them. The two approached the gathering of rangers and the man standing next to Ame offered them the biggest smirk they had ever seen.

    "Alexander Charon," said 0.

    Charon nodded. "Good day, everyone. I trust you're all doing well?" He then took out and placed upon his nose a pair of sunglasses, in spite of the fact that it was approaching dusk. "Me? I've been just peachy. Peachy, I tell you! Life's been great in PKM without my big shiny meal tickets wandering around being cool superheroes."

    0 readied the trigger on his morpher. "You know why we left, Charon. We made the choice to leave because you were trying to split our family apart. You were going to gut Max to see what made the Dark Gems tick, you were going to abandon Silver, and you wanted us to be your slaves. We weren't just going to—"

    Suddenly, Charon's eyes bulged out of his head. "I own you!" he screeched. "The technology was funded by my family, it was our turn to run the organization, you were my soldiers! Soldiers follow orders! You should have just shut up and done what you were told!"

    "We're not soldiers," said Serena. "We're rangers."

    "Because there's a difference!" Charon spat. "All you're arguing is a question of semantics!"

    "Why are you here, Charon?" asked 0. "We're all kinda wondering why you're on a date with a Dark Gem that doesn't really do much fighting."

    "Ah yes, that. Yes, why am I here?" Charon paused, as if waiting for someone else to complete his thought, then resumed the conversation. "I'm here to take back what's mine. I figure a few brand new rangers, ones that won't be so annoying, would be perfect for my brand new PKM."

    "Well, that's just not going to happen," said 0.

    Charon smiled. "Oh, but I'm afraid it is. You see, I have this." Up until now, none of the rangers had noticed, but Charon's right hand had been kept behind his back. He withdrew it, and it took all their power not to recoil with disgust.

    They knew exactly what it was, even if Charon had made modifications to its design. The Master Morpher. Bakaguru's morpher. Its orange and white surface proved a sharp contrast against the black clothing Charon was wearing, and he lovingly caressed a new, small hole in the center of the morpher.

    "You're sick," hissed Serena, who took a step forward but was held back by 0. "We have to do something. He can't just run around wearing that."

    "It is an abomination," agreed 415. "We must remove it from his person." There was a quiver in her voice, a distinct distain that permeated the air.

    "It's not an abomination, it's my toy," said Charon. "And it's not my only one, is it Ame?" He turned to the woman next to him, who so far has resigned to keeping quiet, who looked up at the rangers with a grim expression etched into her face.

    She nodded. "Rangers, there is no other alternative. I have been authorized to use lethal force to fulfill my contract. In addition, Alexander Charon has been contracted by my employers to perform the single, solitary task of bringing about your demise. He has been given a Dark Gem which has been incorporated into PKM Ranger technology."

    0 was stunned. "Incorporated? You can mix those two together?"

    Charon smiled and produced a bright ruby. In a flash, he set the stone into the morpher, which acknowledge the foreign material and incorporated it into its design, transforming from a white and orange surface to a deep red and orange hybrid. "Just did, baby. Ame, you want to get in on this?"

    Ame responded by producing a stone of her own, a dark purple gem that looked almost like an onyx. "Prepare yourselves," said Ame. The chain wrapped up one leg, across her waist, then down the other leg again. Charon's, on the other hand, produced no chain as he raised the morpher to press the trigger.

    The transformation was not unlike the sequence that 0, Serena, and 415 went through when they transformed. A bright light in the shape of a Poke Ball just surrounded Charon and, when it opened, there he stood looking exactly as Bakaguru had when he had transformed, the only differences being where there had once been white there was now red and the giant, gleaming ruby in the center of his chest. Charon marveled at himself, looking this way and that to inspect the suit himself, before he appeared content and faced the others.

    "Yes," he said. "I think this will work perfectly, don't you?"

    0 clenched his hands into fists. He instantly demorphed back into his ranger form. "Burn him to the ground," he growled. "Burn him and leave nothing but ashes!"

    "Dark Gem Ignite!" shouted Max. He, along with the others, followed suit and morphed into their ranger forms.

    Ame waited until they were all done to transform. "Dark Gem, Ignite," she whispered as her body surrounded itself with a fierce, radiant purple.

    "Beautiful," whispered Charon, when the light faded away. "Even more beautiful than I could have dreamed."

    "Dark Amethyst Ranger," she said simply. Her body, from her arms to her helmet, was shaped in the distinct image of a Haunter's face and claws.

    "She's already in Sealed Form," said 0. "Be on your toes."

    "Ruby Master Ranger!" shouted Charon to himself. "Attack!"

    Charon was on them before they could even get May and Sarah inside Ranger Downs. He tore towards them, disregarding the laws of physics, decency, and common sense, to punch 0 square in the face and send him flying. Max immediately took over and grappled with Charon for about five seconds, long enough for Sarah and May to start making a break for the house, but also long enough for Charon to topple Max's balance and shove him into the ground.

    "415!" shouted 0 as he returned to the field. "Retreat with Sarah and May. Silver, activate Rescue Mode! Max, get your Pokemon out!" He himself inserted a distinctly green Poke Ball into his morpher. "Auxiliary Pokemon System: Perior Form!"

    0's legs immediately started to change, growing vein-like vines from his boots to his waist. 0 wasted no time. "Synchronization Drive: Vine Whip!" The vines instantly started to multiply and grow, lashing out from behind 0's back like tentacles to distract Charon from the others. He flipped through the air and landed gracefully in front of Charon, covering the ground with vines.

    "Boyo," said Serp, "the other is trying to pass us."

    0 flicked his head over to check on Ame. She was indeed trying to get passed his squad, but Serena was holding her off with her Rescue Mode. Ame just kept backing up, avoiding the fight at all costs.

    "No matter," he said. He was always surprised by how elegant he sounded when he used Serp. "We shall deal with this one, then conclude our business." He turned to Charon, who had only just noticed that his legs were covered in a thicket of vines. "Now then, how shall I dispatch you?"

    Charon grunted. He twisted and turned, but was unable to escape the ever-increasing number of vines surrounding his body. The sheer mass forming from 0 even allowed Max the opportunity to retreat to a safer position. "You're nothing but a coward," Charon spat. "Don't make me do this the hard way."

    "You're an impetuous one, aren't you?" asked 0, before marveling at the fact that he had no idea what the word impetuous meant. He assumed Serp knew what it meant and continued with his plan. "Synchronization Drive: Leaf Tornado!"

    Somehow, the wind suddenly and sharply focused its attentions onto Charon. It kicked up and increased as dozens and dozens of leaves simply appeared around 0's body. They glowed faintly as they targeted Charon with their sharp, jagged edges. 0 shifted his head just so and the leaves attack, firing at Charon like a thousand little battering rams. Each time they struck Charon lurched back just a bit, but was trapped due to the vines and forced to endure as the next attacked, and the next, and the next, until finally all the leaves had fluttered to the ground.

    With Charon still standing, looking no more worse for wear than if he had just had to endure the onslaught of a light breeze.

    "Are you done?" he asked, glancing about himself. "Good. I wasn't sure, and you were taking forever, but I really didn't want to interrupt your big moment." He then patted the growing amount of vines around his waist and legs. "Get out of my way."

    And then the strangest thing happened. The vines simply fell away. No withering, no vanishing, the vines simply loosened their grip and fell off, allowing Charon to step out and dust himself off. He double-checked himself again, and then turned towards 0.

    "But…how?" asked 0. He had never seen anything like it.

    Charon shrugged. "I just moved them out of the way." He tapped his helmet. "Force of will and all that nonsense. Now…" He ran up and punched 0 right in the gut.

    Pain, pain that should not have been there in his infrared form, shot through his body and forced him to the ground. No one had hit him that hard. Sappho had not hit him that hard. Top had not hit him that hard. It was another new level of power.

    "Max," he grunted. "Lend me the power of the Dark Emerald."

    He hauled himself to his feet as Max approached. Charon had already moved on to assist Ame in dealing with Serena. May and Sarah were inside with 415, probably working to seal themselves into Ranger Downs with Brock. Max nodded and extended the shadow chains, flooding 0 with insurmountable energy once more.

    "Our capacities are full," said Serp. "Have him release us and let us be off."

    "Yes." Max's chains withdrew from him and he turned to Max. "Make your way to the base. Leave the rest to me."

    "Aye, aye, boss," said Max. "Don't get yourself kill."

    "That is the plan," said 0. He watched Max bound away then turned towards the fight. "Serp, begin powering up the Synchronization Drive. I have a plan."

    "Oh?" asked the snake, who complied with his suggestion. "Have you forgotten the success of our last maneuver? What do you propose?"

    "I recall Silver being capable of smashing through the Dark Topaz with the merest touch," he murmured. "Perhaps it would be a wise decision to repeat the process."

    He could practically see Serp chuckling. "Very well, let us see."

    0 rejoined the fight, separating Ame and Charon from his team. "Everyone, gather round!" he shouted. They instantly positioned themselves around him. "Silver, make ready your Rescue Mode for a direct attack upon the ruby. Max, concentrate on Ame. 415, with me."

    Serena darted behind them as 0 and 415 charged forward into a headlong collision with Charon. Charon just stared at them and let them tackle him to the ground before he burst forth in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

    "Is that really the best you've got?" he asked. Then he shoved them and both 0 and 415 went flying into the air. "A fluff of dust is more lethal to me!"

    0 and 415 recovered just in time to see Serena punch Charon directly in the chest, only instead of the Dark Ruby crumpling and cracking into nothingness to take Charon to the death he so dearly deserved, Charon stood unharmed. He had grabbed her wrist with minimal difficulty, only touching the pieces of her armor that remained untransformed into the powerful ice plates so she could move about. He took her by her dainty hand and gave a slight bow of his head.

    "May I lead?" he asked, and then threw her into the others. She barely managed to disengage her Rescue Mode before 0 grabbed her and set her back on the ground.

    "Retreat," muttered 0.

    "What?" asked Serena. "We can totally take them."

    0 shook his head. "Not right now. We must retreat and plan for a second encounter. We cannot win at this moment." He disengaged Perior Form and reverted back to his standard gear. "We've got to teleport out of here, get Sarah, May, and Brock out of harm's way, before we can do anything. They'll just keep battering us down like this unless we fight on our terms."

    He tapped his helmet, where a small com-link had been attached to the left side. "Watchtower, beam everyone back. We need to regroup."

    "We can take them—"

    "No you can't!" Charon abruptly cut off Max's retort by smashing the Dark Emerald Ranger in the face. Max slammed into the ground, but instantly rolled away and recovered.

    "Watchtower, teleport us now!" 0 shouted. He suddenly felt himself fading away, and then found himself standing in the middle of Ranger Downs with the others.

    "We could have taken them!" shouted Max.

    "This isn't up for discussion, Max," said 0. "We don't know what capacities merging the PKM Ranger System with a Dark Gem produced. He could be strong enough to kill us even if we were ten times our size."

    "We still could have tried," said Max. "Since when are you such a fan of playing it safe?"

    0 stepped close to Max, to the point where they barely stood a foot apart. "I'm trying to keep everyone alive," he said. "We had three civilians that can't fight inside Ranger Downs that the Dark Gems want. If they had gotten through our line, who's going to protect them? Do you think I'm going to be of any help if they tear through my containment suit and scatter my data so it can't ever be recovered? Do you think my wife, daughter, and unborn child are going to be better off if Uncle Max gets his Dark Emerald crushed because he was afraid to run away? Do you think any of us are going to just be fine if we lose anybody? We already lost Bakaguru, we're not losing anyone else."

    Max said nothing for a moment, and lowered his head. "I still think we gave up too soon," he said. "We had options."

    0 shook his head. "No. We have options now."

    "Alright," said May, stepping in between them, "so what's the plan?"

    "Scatter," said 0. "We set the teleporter at random and bide our time. If I can synch all my Pokemon into another form, we might have a better shot with that kind of power."

    "Hello, hello!" shouted a voice from behind the failsafe door. "I want to come inside!"

    "We have to go," said 0. "Everybody stay demorphed, they can probably track us through the energy our ranger suits produce." He turned to Elgyem. "Whoever winds up with you will use your telepathy to communicate. Understand?" Elgyem nodded its head. "Then fire up the teleporter. Set the range to Goldenrod City so we can stay within telepathic range."

    Charon was knocking on the door, which sounded a lot like a battering ram scraping against the metal. "Come on out, boyos! Time to take your medicine!"

    Max stepped onto the teleporter first. "You'd better be right," he said. He helped Brock up to his feet and, with the aid of a cane, Brock made his way to the teleporter. Everyone else followed suit, and before long all eight humans were ready for transport.

    "See you all soon," said 0. He clenched his wife and daughter's hands.

    The machine whirled to life and the humans, and all of their Pokemon, vanished into thin air.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Charon took another five minutes, but he eventually made his way through the failsafe door and into the room. He snarled and broke at least three computers before Ame joined him.

    "They got away," he complained. "Do something!"

    Ame moved towards the machines. "There is nothing to be done. You just destroyed the equipment that would have allowed me to track them."

    "No, no, no!" he shouted. "Fix it!"

    Ame shook her head and demorphed. "It would be an unproductive use of my time," she said. "Better to find Eme and have him lead us to them."

    Charon demorphed in order to spit on the ground. "Fine! Go get him for me! I'll track down their morphing signals. As long as they're morphed, I can find them."

    "I would not bank on such a plan. Odds favor them keeping their morphers inactive for the time being." Ame crossed the room and returned to the door. "Remain here. I will contact you when you are needed."

    Charon shook his head. "Oh, no. I've spent too much time sitting behind a desk and not enough time torturing those insubordinate fools. I'm coming with—" He stopped approaching her when she raised her hand.

    "Remember, Alexander Charon," said Ame, "you may have a Dark Gem born from the pain and suffering of an entire nation of bodies. I have a Dark Gem that can rip your heart out and feed it to you. It will not kill you, but it will take some time for you to rejoin me."

    Charon did not sweat, but he made no move to follow her as she vanished from the base.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    …Twenty-Five Years Ago…

    He watched as the computer decided his fate.

    There were literally hundreds of possibilities as to where his aptitude test would place him. The computation was supposed to take five minutes, but he had been standing in front of the monitor for at least ten at this point. He was hungry too, he had not eaten since breakfast and they had made him skip lunch to take the test. He sighed and lost himself in a fantasy of the beef stew awaiting him in the cafeteria.

    It took an additional two minutes, but eventually the machine reached its decision and started printing out his assignment. He took it with trembling hands and looked it over:

    CANDIDATE NAME: NIWA, BAKAGURU

    PKM AGENT NUMBER: 12334

    CADET NIWA IS ASSIGNED TO THE SCIENCE DIVISION, RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT SECTION, SUBSECTION 003.

    He could scarcely believe it. He turned the short message over to make sure it was not a hoax, but there was nothing on the other side of the paper. He reread it, then read it once more to be certain. It was unheard of, so far as Bakaguru knew, for a cadet to be assigned to Research and Development, particularly Subsection 003, which had the reputation of only selecting agents after years of training in other divisions.

    "Why would they want me?" he wondered aloud. The design he had submitted was…strange, to say the least. He decided he would question it no more and simply accept his good luck, so he stood up and began making his way to the cafeteria. His mouth salivated as he approached, catching a whiff of the delicious stew he so enjoyed.

    The cafeteria was incredibly crowded. All the new recruits were challenging the senior agents for breathing room in the lines, and as a result Bakaguru was forced to wait in a seemingly-endless line for his lunch rations. He found the slow crawl of the line almost unbearable, and almost devoured his bowl the instant the chef placed it in his hands. He reflected that such an action would not endear him to the female agents and took a seat at a table in the back as far away from the din of noise as he was able.

    He unwrapped his spoon and dove right into the stew, but before he could complete his first, blissful bite he was approached by two other cadets.

    He chewed then swallowed. "Can I help you two?" he asked. He had noticed the two of them in line, but had thought nothing of them at the time. One was very tall, with a shock of dusty black hair and fierce dark eyes. The other was a little shorter, though both were taller than Bakaguru, with brown hair and, oddly enough, natural red eyes.

    The man with the dusty hair nodded. "You Bakaguru Niwa?" he asked.

    Bakaguru nodded. "I am. Why do you ask?"

    The man grinned then turned to the other. "Told you it was him. Saw him in one of the preliminary classes. Real smart cookie."

    The two men put their portions of stew on the table and sat down with Bakaguru. "Nice to meet you," said the red-eyed man. "My name's Arthur. Arthur Logan. My associate is named Terrance."

    "Terry," said Terry, lightly punching Arthur on the arm.

    "Yes, Terry. Excuse me." He took a tentative sip of the stew and smiled. "This is excellent, by the way. We're your new coworkers."

    Bakaguru's eyes widened. "You two were assigned to Research and Development too?" he asked.

    Terry nodded. "Subsection 003."

    "Pardon me if I say this, but the two of you don't exactly look like the smartest bulbs in the box," said Bakaguru. "I'm still surprised that I got in. Why would they want the two of you?"

    Arthur shrugged. "In my case, it's nepotism. I come from one of the three founding families that started PKM, so I received my pick of assignments. I have no idea why Terry is here."

    "It's because I'm a tactician," said Terry. "Before I got in, I used to be an awesome Pokemon brawler. I even won a championship once. I'm not the brightest bulb, but I'm a pretty tough one."

    "Charmed," said Bakaguru. "So, why are you guys in PKM anyway? Well, I guess Arthur's here because of family."

    "Ain't that the truth," said Arthur. "I really just want to write, but we take our lots in life. Figured at least Research and Development would be the best way for me to do some creative work while I'm here."

    "I'm here because of family too," said Terry. "I wasn't pulling enough in from the Pokemon tournaments, so I figured I'd try a career change for the wife and kid."

    "Won't they miss you while you do your training?" asked Bakaguru.

    Terry shook his head. "I was on the road a lot as a trainer. I worked out a deal where my time here is about the same. Took a little hit in pay, but I've gotta see my little squirt."

    "What about you, Bakaguru?" asked Arthur. "What brings you here?"

    "I was drafted. After I finished my graduate work at university, I received an offer to join in the form of the company dangling enough money in front of me to pay for the design of all my blueprints."

    "That's pretty neat," said Arthur, as the three of them began eating. "What were you designing?"

    Bakaguru reddened slightly. "In truth it's a bit embarrassing. I had an idea for soldiers to use advanced armor, sort of like medieval samurai, in battle. I designed a system similar to Poke Balls to store the armor when it's not in use and bring it out with a push of a button."

    Terry's eyes lit up. "Awesome," he said. "We would be total superheroes."

    "It does sound rather fantastic," said Arthur.

    "If you think about it, it really isn't," said Bakaguru. "We already have the technology to make the suits and the technology to store them. Poke Ball technology could be converted to work with a number of things. We could store weapons and vehicles, really anything we wanted. It isn't inconceivable that we could store and summon a regular suit of armor."

    "Is there a way for us to make these suits different colors?" asked Terry. "I really see myself in red."

    "Please," said Arthur, as he pointed at his eyes. "If anyone deserves to be the red one, it's me."

    "We can see. Everything's hypothetical at this point. Who knows if they'll even let us make the technology? They might put us to work testing their new artillery or some sort of helicopter or tank."

    "True, or they could put us on your awesome suit of armor plan," said Terry. "Now I'm really excited I got stuck in this science group. I thought for sure I was just going to be handing test tubes to nerds because science wasn't really my strong suit in school."

    "Well, if the plan does get underway we will require a test pilot," said Bakaguru. "But we need to get approval before we can even consider positions."

    But Terry ignored him. As they continued to eat, slurping up pieces of stew, they discussed how the technology would theoretically work, how the armor would materialize over someone's body without users having to physically strap themselves in, and what would be the best tools to put into the armor.

    "Personally, I'm all for putting machine guns on the shoulders," said Terry. "Can we do that?"

    Bakaguru shrugged. "I'm not sure, to be honest. I do know that if we continue to get more complicated with the design, the harder the armor would be to store. As the variables increase, the likelihood the armor will materialize in the wrong place increases."

    "What's that mean?" asked Terry.

    "Means that if you stick too much onto it, odds are good it could show up again up your keester," said Arthur. "Plus, the more we put onto it the more memory the storage device needs to keep it in stasis. Same reason we need bigger Poke Balls for bigger Pokemon."

    "Exactly," said Bakaguru. "This would need to be compact, possibly not much larger than the human that would go inside the armor. And even then, odds are good that the storage device would be huge compared to a Poke Ball, possibly the size of a twenty-pound backpack. If we kept increasing the capacity, we could end up with gigantic packs that would be unfeasible for agents to carry into combat situations."

    "Eh, I guess we could just carry guns around with us normally," said Terry. "Unless we make other storage units that could hold those. How much room would we need to store a regular gun?"

    "Maybe the size of a Poke Ball. Those could be carried around in separate containers." Bakaguru smiled. "That's not a bad idea. I hadn't considered that."

    "See, you're already pulling your weight around here," said Arthur.

    Terry flashed him a grin. "So, how do we go about getting these things started? I'm eager to be getting my superhero suit on."

    "Well, first we would have to finalize the schematics necessary to convert the armor to the storage device and have it successfully reemerge onto the user's body. Then we need to finalize the design for the armor itself."

    "You don't have a design for the armor?" asked Arthur.

    "Only insofar as its general appearance," said Bakaguru. "I'm not much of an artistic type. I essentially saw it as armor plating over a regular infantry suit."

    "No, no, no," said Arthur. "There are a whole slew of factors to consider. What about Kevlar? It's new, but the research shows that it could become a viable replacement for metal in the coming years."

    "I'm open to new ideas, trust me," said Bakaguru. "My primary skill was just figuring out how to store non-Pokemon components."

    Terry pointed at his bowl, which was quite empty at this point. "How's about we continue this discussion over some more food? I need at least three of these before I'm satisfied."

    Arthur and Bakaguru nodded in agreement and followed Terry over to the line. They continued to talk, ignoring most of the shenanigans going on amongst the newer recruits around them, and scheme about a proposal to set in front of the Council.

    "You can really do that?" asked Bakaguru.

    Arthur smiled. "Naturally. I can call in my father and get him to force the Council to hear the proposal. Unfortunately, it isn't our turn to lead the organization, the Brines have it for the next few years, so there's no guarantee that it'll work. With my backing, though, we definitely have a better shot than if it were just you two on your own."

    "Whoever said that nepotism was useless and for hacks never met you," said Bakaguru. "It will take some time, but we should be ready to submit a proposal within the next year. It could lead to a new arms race. Think of it. Soldiers with the strength of tanks combined with the mobility and dexterity of any agent."

    "And we'd be the ones that make it happen," said Terry. "Man, it'd be cool. I'm sure we'd get some kinda promotion."

    "Maybe," said Bakaguru, "but I think our focus should probably be on the safety of the agents in the field, not promotions. Remember, we're just starting out here, even if we do have a huge head start over the others."

    Terry nodded. "Fair enough," he said, and put his hand on the table. "So, we a team?"

    Arthur placed his hand on Terry's. "Agreed."

    Bakaguru smiled despite himself, and also put his hand on theirs. "Agreed," he said. They then lifted their hands in a traditional sign of friendship.

    Author's Note: This next arc that we're starting is very intense, mostly because it continues answering questions about the history of the ranger technology and how Bakaguru wound up with it. This arc will also set up and give building blocks towards the finale of the series, so you're going to want to pay attention to certain key scenes in these chapters. The next few chapters will all have flashbacks, as I really wanted to do an origin chapter but it never fit anywhere, so I tied it through this whole arc.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  20. #70
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    Default Chapter 38, Part 1

    Morph Thirty-Eight: Scattered, Part 1

    "Sarah! Sarah!"

    0 and May ran through the streets, shouting and shouting their daughter's name. It was too dark, it was raining, and they could barely see the noses in front of their faces. Still they searched until, finally, May tired and they were forced to stop.

    "Go on," she murmured, as she forced herself to sit on a nearby bench. "I can't…I'm too tired. Come back for me later."

    0 shook his head. "We're not separating. I might not be able to find you again. And what if they managed to track us? They could get to you before I get back."

    "0, I don't care if they find me!" shouted May. "Our daughter could be scared and alone in a city with millions of people. She doesn't have a cell phone, she doesn't have a way to let us know she's safe, she could be all alone waiting for us. I'll find somewhere to hide, I have cash, but we're going to find our daughter. Is that clear?"

    0 just nodded his head. "Understood. But I'm still not leaving you. Remember, we don't just have Sarah to look out for anymore. We have to keep him safe too."

    May rubbed her belly. "I am all the protection this one needs, 0. You go find our daughter."

    0 gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. "This wouldn't have happened if I could synchronize everything. Pi and I've worked everything out, except for that actual transformation."

    "Would it be powerful enough to fight Charon?"

    0 looked away. "I'm not exactly sure. There's no base to compare the theory with. I have no idea how they managed to synch a Dark Gem to the Ranger System. Especially…" He paused. "Oh no. That's why."

    "What's why?"

    "It's because of the morpher. Bakaguru's morpher was really, really old technology. Didn't have the ranger spirit, didn't have the weapons, didn't have anything. But it was still on par, relatively speaking, with our morphers. If it wasn't Bakaguru using it, it could have gone toe to toe with everyone. And it was empty. It had the potential to use a Pokemon, but Bakaguru never bothered to install one. Charon just overrode the controls and tricked it into accepting a foreign material."

    "So it has the best of both worlds. An ultra-strong Dark Gem and Bakaguru's upgrades."

    "Plus whatever else Charon did to it so it would take the new power source," said 0, and he turned to her. "We have to figure out a way to synch my five Pokemon. If the fight today was any indication, it's going to be our best bet to put him to bed."

    "We can sort that out later," said May. "For now, you need to go find our daughter. You're what she needs right now."

    "What she needs is both of us," said 0.

    "We're not having this debate all over again," said May. "Go! Use the Agility and do a wide-sweep, or something. Anything."

    "I can't use Agility. If I do, they'll lock onto the energy I give off."

    May growled at him. "Then do something else! You've got all those contraptions, there has to be something we can do."

    0 instinctively tapped his head. "Pi?" he asked.

    "What do you need?" asked the mouse.

    "Is there any way we can track down Sarah without sending off a signal Charon can pick up?"

    "That's a really good question. Technically, he'll be able to tell the moment you have to demorph. That shouldn't be possible, should it?"

    0 shrugged. "I don't know. I thought Bakaguru disconnected the morphers so they couldn't be tracked by anyone."

    "Maybe," said May, "maybe Charon can track the energy you give off. He might not be able to track the morpher itself, but he could probably pick up a reading when you demorph."

    "She's probably right, 0," said Pi. "We have to figure out a way to mask our energy. We're starting to run out of time."

    "We could get underground, get some steel around me."

    0? May?

    0 paused. "Hang on. Did you hear something?"

    May nodded. "I think it sounded like Serena."

    0 agreed, and then tapped his head. "Silver, that you?" he asked.

    Of course it's me. You know anyone else with an Elgyem to communicate with telepathically?

    "Fair point. Status update."

    I have Darmanitan and Elgyem with me. Brock's here too. And Sarah, so you can stop looking for her. Both parents instantly breathed sighs of relief. We're not sure where we are. I can't send Brock or Sarah out to go buy a map. We're hiding out in an alley right now.

    "Make for the nearest motel," said 0. "Try to avoid the Internet. Odds are good your morpher's signal will be spotted the moment you try to hack in with Dewgong. Find a map that way. Keep our daughter safe."

    "Any news on Max and 415?" asked May.

    Couldn't tell. You two were the first we contacted. We had to keep moving until we found a discreet spot to try the telepathy. You would think there would be more abandoned alleyways.

    0 nodded. "Okay, Silver. Continue transmitting on the telepathy and we'll see if we can't figure out where everyone went. Maintain radio silence on the morphers and try to find a more secure spot to hide until we can figure out our next move."

    Roger, boss. Over and out.

    His head suddenly felt silent again, and he looked down at May, who nodded her head. "Me too," she said as she tapped her skull. "At least Sarah's safe."

    He sat down next to her. "For now," he said. "Until the next crisis. Until they find her again."

    "She's got her Aunt Serry looking out for her. Look, the fact that they're bringing out these big guns is both a good and bad thing."

    "How so?" asked 0.

    "Think about it. What does it say that they had to bring in Charon, or that Ame has to fight now? They're both heavy hitters. They shouldn't have to fight. Ame hasn't touched us in the entire time she's been following us. They don't even have any Rangerlings with them. What's changed?"

    "We took down Top and Dia, and a whole bunch of those Rangerlings. Maybe they're running out of options. They're using the big stuff because it's all they have left."

    "Exactly. At this point they would have sent all the weak stuff out already. They're scared, so they're using as much power as they can to take us out."

    0 thought about that. "Then that means that there's something else out there. Ame works for someone. It couldn't have been Charon, she must have brought him in to mess with our heads. There's someone else out there pulling these strings and making us dance."

    May took his hand. "We'll get through it. They're not getting the Dark Gold, they aren't getting Serena, they aren't getting me. Now explain the plan to me."

    0 squeezed her fingers. "In theory, Pi and I realized that the Auxiliary Ranger System has a backup…something, that lets…hang on." He pulled out his communicator and opened the speaker. "Pi, can you hear us?"

    "Yes," said the mouse.

    "Please explain how the Synch Battlizer is supposed to work."

    The mouse chuckled. "Basically, he already explained it," it said. "Usually, when 0 uses the ASP, he uses one Pokemon at a time over the suit I generate. The theory is that we can put all five Pokemon into one suit. There's some code available in the Ailed Morpher to make the Battlizer, but we can't figure out a way to supercharge the morpher. In theory, we'd need enough energy to power the whole city for a week, and we're pretty sure we can't just hook him up to a power plant and let him soak all that up."

    "Pretty sure I'd explode," said 0.

    "So we need to find some other way of getting him energy. We thought about using the Dark Emerald, but even what we got from Max doesn't give him enough juice."

    "What's left to sort out in the code?" asked 0.

    "Eh, it's complicated. Short answer is that the code seems to only focus on rotating the Pokemon. So we could, in theory, link the Pokemon wirelessly to the morpher and make it so we could switch the Pokemon without having to take out and reinsert Poke Balls. But putting all five together still doesn't work."

    Pi was about to say more, but May's alarm started sounding. "Come on," she said. "We need to get you somewhere to demorph."

    "Let's head for the subway," said 0. "Might have a better chance of masking the signal there."

    "And they won't come after us, because there won't be a way of telling where we're going next."

    0 smiled. "Now that's why I love you. You always were smarter than me. Well, except in battling. Now there I'm—"

    "Dear, we're wasting time."

    "Right, right."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena released her hold on Elgyem and turned to Sarah. "Just spoke with your parents. They were awfully worried about you, but they're doing okay. Told us to lay low, alright?"

    Sarah nodded, though she still found herself staying close to Brock's wheelchair. "Okay, Aunt Serry," she said, keeping her hands firmly in her pockets.

    Brock looked up as Elgyem recalled itself into its Poke Ball. "So, what's the plan, fearless leader?" he asked.

    "We find a hotel, probably something middle class. They'll look at the cheaper motels and we can't afford anything fancy with the emergency pack I have with me. Then we get in touch with Max and 415. Then we sit tight until 0 can figure out how to counteract Charon's little tantrum." Serena got behind Brock and started pushing his chair. "After that, I don't know. This might not be a problem we can solve."

    "Why not?" asked Brock.

    Serena sighed. "You didn't know him, but Bakaguru was probably one of the most important people in my life growing up. He's the reason I'm Ranger Silver now, and he was a mentor to us all. He built the technology that made up the ranger system, from the ground up. In a lot of ways, he's responsible for our family."

    "And he protected me," said Sarah. "If he hadn't become the Master Ranger, I wouldn't be here either."

    "No you wouldn't," said Serena. "He loved each and every one of us, even if he never said it. He showed he loved us and that he loved you, maybe not as much as your parents but definitely as much as the rest of us. The point is, though, that Bakaguru had access to some major firepower, all of which he built into the Master Morpher. Charon's got everything we do, plus who knows what else. We'll figure it out, probably, but those are the odds we're stacked up against."

    "We can do it," said Sarah. She smiled, but the expression was fleeting and she lowered her head again. They continued walking down the street, trying hard not to draw attention to themselves. Brock's wheelchair could not be helped, but most people seemed to directly ignore it as they passed. They kept moving, until at last they came upon a hotel that Serena deemed acceptable.

    "What do you think?" asked Serena.

    The hotel itself was nothing special, but was definitely square in the middle in terms of quality. There was not pool, but the building itself looked renovated. They had the distinct sensation that rooms were not rented for an hour at a time and families were welcome.

    "It'll do. Definitely looks like a place a family would hunker down for a night in," said Brock. They headed inside where they located the front desk.

    "Welcome to the Palace Goldenrod," said the receptionist. "Will you be checking in today?"

    Serena nodded. "We'll be staying the night. How much?"

    "Let me see…our family suit is one hundred sixty for one night without a reservation," said the receptionist. "Is that alright?"

    Serena nodded. "Sure. My husband can't be counted on to tie his shoes." She turned to Brock and gave him a stern look. "This is your fault. You were the one in charge of the reservations."

    "But I—"

    Serena shushed him and turned to the receptionist. "That'll be fine." She opened her bag and located a purse containing cash. She paid the receptionist and received a key card to a room. "Thank you very much."

    The receptionist bowed. "And thank you for choosing the Palace Goldenrod."

    Serena and Sarah wheeled Brock out of the atrium and towards a room on the east side of the building. They found the room, number 326, and Serena quickly got everyone inside. When she clicked the door shut, she let out a sigh of relief.

    "Think we're in the clear?" asked Brock, as he positioned himself between the room's two beds.

    "Boy, I hope so," she said. "I really, really do."

    "Can we try talking to Uncle Max now?" asked Sarah.

    Serena nodded and took out Elgyem's Poke Ball. "I'll step into the bathroom and check in on him. Sit tight, kiddo."

    The moment Serena stepped into the bathroom, though, Sarah climbed on top of her bed and started sobbing. Brock wheeled himself over, gently rubbing her back.

    "It's okay, little Sarah," he whispered. "Everything's going to be alright, you'll see."

    "No it won't!" she shouted. "Nothing's going to be okay, and I can't do anything about it."

    Brock smiled. "Hey, hey. You're almost eight years old. You're not supposed to be protecting anyone. That's our job."

    She glared at him. How had her eyes gotten so red? "I could do it. I could save everybody. But I can't. It won't work. It never works."

    "What won't work?" asked Brock.

    Sarah looked around, as if to ensure they were not being spied on, then pulled something out of her pocket. "This thing." Brock was not sure what it was, it looked almost like one of the morphers that 0 and Serena wore, except that it was blue. "Dad and Aunt Serry and 415 have them. Before he died, he—Bakaguru…he gave this one to me. He told me it was really strong. He told me to keep it really safe. But it's broken. It won't work. Every time my dad gets in trouble I try to put it on but it won't ever work! It's just…it's just broken." She started crying again. "Why can't I ever help Mom and Dad?"

    Brock held up his arms, and she jumped into his chair for a hug. "Listen," he said. "Trust me, I understand how you feel." He grinned, and gestured at his body. "Look at me. I'm stuck in this chair. You don't think it kills me that I can't help your dad out? Back in the day, I would have gladly given up both my arms and legs for him. But, since I've already done that, I've got to make the best with what I've got. I've gotta hide, same as you. But it's not because I'm no good, or I'm not help. You know how you and I really help your dad, Sarah?"

    She sniffled. "How?" she asked.

    "Because of who we are. We're people your dad loves. Nothing ever changes that. From what I've seen of that morpher he has, it's based on the bond between a Pokemon and his trainer. Well, a hero's strength is based on the people they love. Who they'll fight for. Who they'll win for. That all matters. We matter. We might not be able to turn into superheroes, but we always matter."

    "You sure?" she asked. She was holding him so tightly, he could feel her tears on the collar of his shirt.

    "I promise, little girl," he said. "Never think you don't matter. Your dad's the strongest guy I know, and we're the reasons he fights. We must be pretty good reasons, right?"

    She giggled. "I guess you're right."

    "Of course I am. I'm a doctor. Now, why don't you go try and get some sleep? Sleep deprivation never solved anything."

    Sarah took a few deep breaths, then sat up in Brock's lap. "Okay, Uncle Brock. I'll try." She got off his lap and curled up in the bed sheets. Within minutes, Brock heard her softly snoring.

    "That was really sweet." Brock jumped slightly, but realized that it was just Serena. He turned his chair and moved away so as to not disrupt Sarah's rest.

    "I used to be her babysitter," Brock explained. "Comes with the uncle territory."

    Serena smiled. "Well, I'm glad you're here. I'm not sure I'd know how to help her. Kids aren't exactly my forte."

    "Glad to help how I can," said Brock. "Any word for Max?"

    She nodded. "He's with 415, both safe and out of sight for now. Looks like everyone's with somebody and in the clear. I think we can relax a little. Maybe get some rest."

    "If you want to get some sleep, go ahead," said Brock. "I can stand watch."

    Serena smirked. "Sure about that, big boy?"

    Brock winced, but managed to make it to his feet. "Yes I am, as a matter of fact," he said, before grabbing his cane for extra stability. "Get some rest. I'm wide awake anyway."

    She smirked. "Sure you won't be joining me? It's awfully lonely in this big bed."

    "I think I'll take my chances with the chair," he replied with a smirk in return. Serena jumped into the bed and started napping away, leaving Brock to watch the window for signs of activity. He practiced on his balance, finding that he could indeed walk from the window to the minibar to procure some peanuts when he grew hungry.

    It was perhaps because he was so focused on the outside that he did not notice it. Neither did Serena nor Sarah, for that matter, as both were asleep. But somehow, impossibly, there was a faint blue light blinking on and off in the room, directly underneath Sarah's sheets.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "This is uncomfortable," said 415.

    Max shrugged. "Serena said we should lay low until we hear otherwise. May as well go."

    415 hesitated. "Still, I am uneasy. Alexander Charon and the other Dark Gem are free agents. They destroyed our base. We should be doing something about that, not waiting in line for some trivial film."

    The line was surprisingly crowded for a 'trivial film'. They had managed to get there early, but others had not been so lucky. The end of the line was now approaching the other side of the street, with scores of people apparently clamoring to see some kind of film. Max could not help but notice that the line seemed to be disproportionately female, with a few guys in the crowd that looked not one bit happy to be seeing the movie.

    "I wonder what this is all for," he said. "What's coming out this week that's got everyone so excited?"

    A girl that looked at least ten years younger than Max, with some sort of shirt displaying a message that Max really did not understand, jumped at the chance to relay this information to him. "You don't know?" she screamed, as though Max had just committed sacrilege. "It's the premiere of Sonata Under the Moonlight! Don't you know anything?"

    415 leaned forward. "What is this…Sonata Under the Moonlight?" she asked.

    "Oh, it's so great!" she said, at a breakneck speed that jumbled the words together into one when Max heard her. "It's all about this girl named Miriam who gets spirited away by this mysterious billionaire she meets named Bertram Alphonse! And at first he doesn't like her, but then he saves her life and he's always buying her stuff! It's so amaaaaaaaazing!"

    415 tilted her head. "I am confused. Is it a farce?"

    The girl tilted her own head. "No, stupid. It's going to be the most romantic movie ever made."

    Max instantly saw 415 clench her left hand into a fist. "How is it a romance? The woman seems as if she is feebly waiting for the male to do something, creating an unhealthy relationship constantly based on him purchasing her goods. How is it romantic?" she asked.

    The girl blew a raspberry. "You just don't get the inner meanings behind it. You must be one of the idiots that are here to see something useless."

    "You really don't want to say things like that," said Max, and then he turned to 415. "Please ignore her. She doesn't know what she's saying."

    "Oh I know what I'm saying," said the girl. "You think you know something about love because you two are on some stupid date? Please. I know more about love and I'm here by myself."

    415 was very quiet, so as few people as possible would hear her. "If you do not stop talking this instant, I will permanently ensure that you are incapable of speaking for the rest of your existence," she said.

    "W-What?" The girl had obviously picked up on 415's calm, yet intensely threatening tone.

    "Do you know how incredibly simple it is for me to stuff my hand down your throat, seize hold of your tongue, then forcibly extract it without anesthesia?" She lifted her hand to demonstrate. "As you see, my hands are small, comparatively speaking, small enough for your throat anyway. Then, the instant I am done, I will take great satisfaction in depositing your appendage in the nearest waste receptacle. And it will spare me no more thought than the purchase of a small bag of those potato chips that my partner appreciates."

    The girl's expression gradually changed, first from a bemused denial to inevitable, terrifying panic as 415 described in explicit detail the exact angles which were the most ideal for removing a tongue. She started to tremble, then to cry, then finally she ran out of the line and into the street, intent on getting as far away from 415 was she was physically able.

    Max sighed. "You really shouldn't have done that," he said.

    "Why not? She was ruining the date, was she not?"

    "Well, she was annoying, sure, but I'm not sure she really needed to be threatened. We could have ignored her."

    415 simply stared at him. "It is my intention for this evening to be a success. If we cannot do anything regarding Alexander Charon and Ame, we will succeed here. I will succeed here."

    Max smiled, and took her hand gently. "Relax. We can't do anything, so let's just have a nice night out, okay? You don't have to try so hard."

    "That is a simplistic viewpoint." She removed her hand. "This entire experience is new to me. I do not have the necessary training. I am in a scenario I was not prepared for."

    "We'll be fine. It's just a movie. Look, the line's moving." He gestured forward, and indeed the line was moving at a snail's pace towards the front. "C'mon. Let's go get some good seats."

    "Are we seriously contemplating seeing this Sonata nonsense?" asked 415.

    Max shrugged. "We could do worse than see a cheesy movie. And if it sucks, we'll just poke fun at it all night. You can criticize to your heart's content around hundreds of people that love this stuff."

    415 seemed to relax. "Well, I suppose that would be entertaining."

    They followed the line, eventually securing some tickets for a theater on the far side of the building. They followed the herd of fan girls and took two seats to the back of the room so as not to sit next to too many of them. There was entirely too much squealing in the auditorium, leaving Max quite content with the fact that he had mostly missed out on popular culture since he'd gotten the Dark Emerald.

    He tried to drown out the noise, but 415 seemed fascinated by her surroundings. She was on the edge of her seat training her eyes on almost anyone that even considered moving.

    "You scouting the place out?" he asked. "There's no point, the Dark Emerald's quiet."

    She shook her head. "No. I was observing the audience. They appear to be quite animated, yet are they not aware that their city is frequently attacked by the Dark Gems. Should they not be on alert?"

    Max shrugged. "Doesn't 0 tell Jenny to keep most of it out of the press? I think they just think weird stuff just happens sometimes."

    "Does that not concern them? Do they not wish to investigate?"

    Max shook his head. "You know people better than most. Didn't you used to dress up as a fat nerd?"

    "It was a cover."

    "Well, what happened when you went out in the cover disguise?"

    "People would avoid me, often ignore me completely."

    "Exactly. People hate weird. They avoid it. They like things to be copasetic. Take a look at the people here. They're all ignoring us because we're not part of their subgroup. These seats might as well not even be there for all they notice."

    415 considered the information. "I suppose your point has merit. However, if there are no desires for change, then how are there investigators? How are there police? How can people who search for contrarians exist?"

    Max shrugged. "How am I supposed to know? Maybe that's a little subgroup too. Can't we just accept that everybody's weird?"

    415 rested her head against the back of her chair. "I just prefer when things are easily categorized. Much simpler to handle."

    "Eh, you're still taking your baby steps. The real world is still a scary place for you."

    She turned to him with a droll expression. "Do not make me snap your neck in the middle of all these witnesses. I do not wish to deal with the fallout of explaining to an audience of belligerent children why you are technically immortal."

    "Have I mentioned how attractive you are when you threaten?" asked Max. 415 hesitated, and Max smirked. "Admit it, you're having fun. You get to see humans in their natural habitat with me, Max Birch." He put his legs up on the seat in front of him. "Doesn't get much better than this."

    She abruptly smacked his legs and forced them to the floor. "Do not do that. It is considered impolite."

    Max just grinned as the lights in the theater dimmed, indicating that the film would soon begin. Almost immediately, screams of delight rained down through the auditorium as the first preview began screening.

    "Why are they making all that noise?" whispered 415. "I thought the darkness suggested that we are to be silent."

    "They're just excited. They might have been waiting for this movie for years."

    The first preview for some type of action movie played, and both Max and 415 found it uninteresting due to its unrealistic representation of the action sequences. Both had experienced combat a thousand times more interesting than half the obviously computerized explosions that filled the screen.

    The second trailer was not much better. It was a romantic comedy of some sorts revolving around a man driving across the country to reunite with his girlfriend. 415 could not understand the premise of a long-distance relationship. Max did not understand why the man simply did not just fly to the location.

    Eventually the movie started.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Found them."

    Charon, for some reason known only to Charon, was perched on the ledge of the building instead of standing next to the stairwell like a normal person. Ame glanced around and waited for him to explain his discovery.

    When he did not, Ame simply asked, "Where are they?"

    Charon pointed somewhere in the distance. "Over there. There's a morpher signal… Ooh, that's interesting!"

    "What is it?" asked Ame.

    "I didn't know they had that one. Thought it got lost in the fire. Huh, learn something new every day." He sat up and jumped off the ledge. "The Ranger Blue morpher is ringing. Not sure why, but they probably have that one too. Better go pick it up, it probably isn't active."

    "Why would they have an inactive morpher?" asked Ame.

    "And how am I supposed to know that?" he retorted. "Do I have some sort of magic psychic ability that lets me see into the inner workings of the human mind? Do you have any idea how easy this would be if I could do that? Geez, get your head in the game. Come on, we've gotta go get them."

    "I cannot. I have another appointment."

    "What other appointment?"

    She stared at him. "We have discussed this. Your assignment is to handle the PKM Rangers. Mine is to handle Eme. Do you not believe yourself capable of combating those meager rangers? Is your technology not adequate?"

    Charon shrugged. "Thought Dark Gems worked in pairs."

    Ame glared at him. "Some do, Alexander Charon. It is because they are weak and will not survive alone. I assure you that I have never needed a second body to drag along with me."

    "Sheesh, fine. I'll deal with them on my own. Not like I can't."

    "Splendid. Happy hunting, Alexander Charon." Then she vanished into thin air, leaving the monster alone with his thoughts.

    "Not like I can't," he repeated. He could hear something faint in his head, the sound of something screaming in the distance. He looked at his morpher and the Dark Ruby set in the center of it. "You trying to tell me something?" he asked. It screamed at him again.

    "Blood…flesh?" he asked. Then he nodded. "Oh, I can do that, little buddy." He briefly considered jumping down from the rooftop into the street, then thought better of the idea and took the fire escape instead. It did not matter either way, as the signal was not moving in the slightest.

    Still…it was confusing. "Why would they leave something like that on?" he wondered aloud, confusing a pair of men waiting at the nearby bus stop. "I mean, it could be a trap. Or it could just be someone being stupid. No, if it were a trap it would have been turned off. Besides, how can they trap me? I have their mentor's morpher."

    The bus came and he got on with the men. He took a seat behind them. "Maybe they're trying to turn it on," he said. His voice was growing increasingly more frantic. "Maybe it's their last shot to get me and they're trying to turn it on with someone and it's not working. And now they're panicking and everyone's going crazy trying to get it on before I get there."

    The men exchanged glances. Charon noticed and leaned forward. "Got a question, buddies?" he asked. He took perhaps too long in staring at them and they awkwardly looked away.

    "No," said one. "Just looking out for our stop."

    "Oh? Oh that's too bad," said Charon. He pressed the Dark Ruby and felt his fancy new armor form all around him. "I'd love to tell you, but I'm afraid I'm going to be far too busy to tell such a complicated story."

    They screamed, as did everyone else. Charon tried not to take it personally and conked their skulls together. They fell to the floor in a heap, so Charon climbed over their chair in the direction of the driver, whose eyes widened in the rearview mirror as he saw Charon advance.

    "P-Please," he whispered, "don't."

    Charon clapped him on the back. "Don't what, my means of transport? I can't kill you! It would take way too long to get where I'm going by walking! No, just follow my directions and everyone leaves a happy chappy! Understand?"

    The bus driver nodded and followed Charon's instructions, very calmly making it to an insignificant hotel on the other side of town. Charon, cool as a cucumber, thanked the driver merrily for all his hard work, then disembarked the bus and watched it tear through the traffic in an effort to put as much distance between itself and Charon as possible. Charon waved before turning his attention onto the hotel. He could tell exactly where they were, so he casually walked along the perimeter of the establishment until he came to the spot of the building where the signal was the strongest.

    "Time to make some noise," he murmured, and he smashed through the dark windows and entered the room.

    The response was not as quick as he would have hoped. He distinctly heard someone fall down, and noticed a giant man with dark skin sprawled on the floor reaching for a cane. On the bed nearest to him was 0's brat, the little girl holding something flashy in her hands. On the other side of the room, the tiny woman with the silver hair was already reaching for her morpher.

    "Ah," he said. "You weren't getting ready for me." He looked towards the little girl, who was already in the process of hiding her precious toy. "You were just stupid and trusted a little girl with one of the most powerful pieces of technology ever invented." He held out his hand. "Give it here, little pup, and I promise this will all be over in the blink of an eye."

    "What's he talking about?" asked Serena.

    Sarah buried her head in her hands. "It's the morpher Bakaguru gave to me. He told me to keep it safe! I turned it on by mistake and didn't know! I thought we were safe!"

    Charon wagged his finger. "Never safe, love. Never safe from me. Now give it here."

    "Don't you dare, Sarah!" shouted Brock from the floor. "Your dad wouldn't do it, no matter what. Don't let him have anything!"

    "That's enough out of you," he said. He stomped down hard on Brock's left leg, but nothing happened. No snapping of bone, no ripping of muscle. Just a slight ping and then a mild twinge vibrated up Charon's own leg. "Hmmmm…how strange. Metal?"

    "Best there is," said Brock. He lifted his leg and delivered a kick that slammed into Charon's crotch and launched him out of the shattered window. He scampered to his feet. "Didn't know I could do that. Adrenaline?"

    "And hydraulics," said Serena with a smirk. She transformed immediately. "You and Sarah need to get that morpher out of here. Rescue Mode ought to be enough to stall him." She switched to said mode immediately, and the temperature began plummeting.

    Sarah shook her head. "No! Uncle Brock, we're not going without Aunt Serry!"

    "I'm with the kid, we can't just—"

    "This isn't up for discussion!" She released Darmanitan and Elgyem from their Poke Balls. "I'll contact 0 with Elgyem and use Darmanitan as backup for now, but that morpher is important and so are the two of you! Neither of you are any good to me here nor am I not good to you if you stay here much longer! Now go!"

    "But Aunt Serry—" Sarah was interrupted by Brock grabbing her and hauling her over his shoulders. "Aunt Serry!"

    Brock glared at Serena. "Better make it back," he said. "This doesn't count as a date."

    She gave him a thumb's up. "I've had worse dates," she replied, then turned towards the window. Charon was climbing back through. "Go!"

    Brock tried to put Sarah's screaming out of his head as he stumbled out of the room, hoping that the adrenaline coursing through his system would be enough to keep his balance and momentum working for him.

    "Please!" Sarah screamed. "Please go back for her!"

    "We can't help her!" shouted Brock. "We'd just be in the way!"

    "If I could morph, I could help! If I could morph, I could be more than just someone that always needs saving!"

    Brock reached a corridor and ducked through it. When he felt he had enough distance between himself and the fight he lowered Sarah. "Listen," he said. "That doesn't change anything. You don't have a Pokemon registered to you to make that morpher work."

    She looked at him through her tears. "If not me, then who?" she asked. "Who, Uncle Brock!? I don't want Charon to kill Aunt Serry too! Someone needs to save her for once!"
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  21. #71
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    Default Chapter 38, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Eight: Shattered, Part 2

    "I understood exactly none of that."

    Max and 415 were walking now, moving through the crowds of people and towards the emergency packs they had hidden in a small factory a few blocks south from the theater. Everyone around them was jabbering loudly, inhibiting any real conversation not punctuated with a torrent of squeals.

    "I was really with it until the guy just started obsessing over that girl," said Max. "Don't think the movie made enough effort to establish her as a human being."

    "Indeed," said 415. "She reminded me of a mobile hunk of wood."

    "That's an insult to most Sudowoodo," said Max.

    415's face flickered briefly into a smile. "Amusing, Dark Gem."

    They reached the factory and quickly climbed over the security perimeter, taking care to avoid the cameras positioned along the walls. It took a little bit of maneuvering, but the two of them were inside the factory in two minutes.

    They took three steps forward into the atrium before Max stopped and growled. "What?" asked 415. "Is your Dark Gem reacting to something?"

    He nodded and pulled out his pulsating gem. "Somebody's in there. Either Ame or Charon, I'm not sure which."

    "Proceed forward. Can you pinpoint their location?"

    Max closed his eyes and arched his brows. After a moment, he pointed forward, directly into the manufacturing center of the factory. "In there. Where we stashed our gear."

    "Splendid. Prepare for battle. If they are waiting, perhaps we can distract them with conversation to better formulate our plan."

    Max led 415 into the room, where there was indeed a person waiting for them. Ame stood, almost casually, in the center of the room, cradling her Dark Gem in her fingers. She dangled it this way and that on the length of her chain. When she saw them, her purple eyes lit up and she offered them a slight smile.

    "Ranger Black," she said, "and Eme. So good to see you again. I was hoping to run into you."

    "Pleasure's all ours," said Max. "Don't suppose we could all leave peacefully?"

    Ame rolled her eyes. "Our encounters serve as evidence that we will not, little Eme," she said. "But, for once, this time our conflict stands to profit me. You see, this is my final mission. When we are done here, my contract will be completed. There will be nothing more for me to do."

    "Really? And what might your contract entail, Dark Gem?" asked 415. Her fingers were casually grazing her morpher's trigger.

    Ame spotted this, and wagged a finger at 415. "Now now, we do not need to resort to such unpleasantness so quickly," she said. "We can have the conversation you seem intent on having. I presume it is so you might discern a way to defeat me? Are you not intelligent enough to come at me as you are?"

    "Do not bother with such tactics," said 415. "They may work on the brute, but I do not have an ego to bruise."

    "Very well, Ranger Black. My story is for little Eme anyway." She turned and narrowed her gaze on Max, who involuntarily found his chain wrapping along the length of his arm. "Now, little Eme, shall I tell you how you came to be?"

    Max tilted his head, confused. "What're you talking about?" he asked. "My birth? Uh, my mom and dad loved each other, and one thing led to another, and—"

    Ame held up her arm. "Please. Your parents' copulation is the least of my interests. I refer to the day you became Eme, and Max Birch ceased to be. Do you recall your second birth? Do you recall who is responsible for it?"

    Max's eyes flashed green. "Sappho," he said. "He's the one who killed Gallade. He made the sacrifice that activated my Dark Gem." He was starting to get angry.

    Ame smirked. "Close, but not quite. Sap was always such a weak little demon. He was incapable of even the simplest of assignments. He needed guiding and nurturing to complete anything. Would it shock you, little Eme, if I told you that I told him to kill your Gallade? That I made the decision to forge you into a Dark Gem Ranger?"

    "Dark Gem, she lies," said 415. "Do not let her provoke you into conflict."

    Max bared his teeth. "You weren't there," he said confidently. "Sappho was there, not you. There's no way you could have directed him the way you're saying you did. You're trying to throw me off my game."

    Ame smiled. "Before Sap killed your Pokemon, you met someone. A woman named Verity, yes? Does that name ring a bell?"

    Max froze. The name did ring a bell, but…no. "It's impossible. There's no way."

    "What is she talking about?" asked 415.

    "Before the attack at Petal, I met a girl. But she didn't look anything like you!" Max turned to Ame and his eyes flashed. "That doesn't have anything to do with this!"

    "Oh, but it does." Ame smiled, and suddenly her hair curled and her nose softened. It was such a subtle change, but it was her. "I was Verity. I marked you for Sap. I chose you to wield the Dark Emerald. I made you Eme. I killed your Pokemon."

    "Remain calm!" warned 415. "She is attempting to provoke you into conflict. We must radio Ranger Gold and the others for backup."

    Ame shook her head. "No, Ranger Black, you will not. I am here for him and no one else. I am here to fight the master of the Dark Emerald and fulfill my contract. That is the only thing that is going to happen today."

    415 turned to Max, whose face was lowered. She could see the tints of green aura around him. "Dark Gem," she said, "do not—"

    "Quiet," he growled. "Please, quiet." He then lifted his head and looked at Ame. "Then answer me this: why me? There were hundreds of people at that spa. Maybe a thousand. You didn't have to take me. You didn't have to take Gallade. You had your pick of people who would be easier to control. There must be a reason."

    Ame nodded. "Very astute, Eme. You were chosen for my own reasons. Perhaps if you succeed in defeating me, you may learn those reasons."

    "No." Max shook his head. "You explain it to me right now, or we're done here."

    Ame tilted her head. "And what suggests that I will comply with such a request?"

    Max grinned. "Because you found us," he explained. "You were waiting for us, you let your Dark Gem signal you were here. You had any chances to kill us, but you decided to wait. You want a duel, not an ambush. So spill, or we're getting out of here. I'm tired of this. I'm tired of you guys trying to get me. I'm tired of you hurting my friends. So what is it, Ame? What is it that makes you tick?"

    "You really want to know?" she asked.

    "I'm not going to fight you until I do," he said.

    "Fine, Eme. You are correct. I do want a duel. I require a duel with the master of the Dark Emerald because of my own Dark Gem." She dangled her little purple stone between her fingers. "My Dark Amethyst can activate briefly, even without needing to transform, but it can only obtain its full power when alongside the Dark Emerald. They are two halves to the same coin. The Dark Emerald received the raw power, while the Dark Amethyst received the raw potential. Without your light, I cannot truly fight. Without my light, you will never achieve your true potential."

    "So you fight me, and then what?"

    Ame smirked. "One of us absorbs the other. The survivor will gain dominion over light and darkness. One of us receives a power strong enough to rival my employers."

    "And what's in it for you if you get this power?" asked Max. "You keep saying your contract ends tonight. What good is infinite power if you plan on retiring?"

    "I will survive oblivion. I will endure with my employers beyond the oblivion that they plan to bring to this world."

    "Their plan is to destroy the world?"

    Ame's chain began wrapping around her legs and waist. "You think so small, Eme. I hope you plan to bring more than that to our duel." She gently pressed the stone into her flesh. "Dark Gem, Ignite." The light in the air dimmed as it rushed into her and transformed her into Sealed Form.

    "Fine." Max wrapped his chains up and squeezed the Dark Emerald. "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    When Max's own light dimmed down, he noticed 415 preparing to transform. "Wait," he said. "This is my fight. I can handle this."

    She brushed him away. "Please, Dark Gem. This woman aims to consume you. Do you think I intend to stand by and let that happen? Besides…" He saw that little smile on her face before she licked her lips. "She said she wishes to duel the master of the Dark Emerald. That person is me." She pressed down the trigger on her morpher and her ranger armor clamped down onto her body.

    Ame tilted her head. "Very well. The both of you then." And she charged.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    ….Twenty-Five Years Ago…

    With a sharp outburst, Arthur pounded his fists on an adjacent table. "They've rejected the funding! Again!" He was absolutely livid, and had been pacing around the room for at least five minutes. This declaration was, in fact, the third time he had shouted it across the small dormitory he shared with Bakaguru and Terry. Terry was in the nearby bunk bed, trying desperately to sleep after his day of physical training. Bakaguru found himself having to constantly turn away from his computer to discuss the matter.

    "Did they at least give a reason for the refusal?" he asked. "Maybe it's something wrong with the way we're presenting the idea. It is relatively radical."

    Arthur stared at him. "You can't be serious. You of all people should know what this could do to the entire organization. We would be revolutionaries. Heroes who created armor to keep our soldiers safe."

    "Did they give a reason?"

    Arthur shrugged. "Father said it had something to do with the budget that would be required to even field-test the designs. Basically the Council didn't understand most of the lingo you used when you wrote the proposal for the container. I told you that you should have let me handle that."

    "You have no understanding of the quantum physics required to draft the proposal," Bakaguru pointed out.

    Arthur shrugged. "So? That's half of the problem right there. The Council didn't understand it in the terms you presented. You need to be less formal and more understanding when talking to the Council. They didn't get to where they are by having doctorates in nuclear physics or quantum biology or experimental toasters. They got to where they are because they fund this operation. They aren't exactly the dream team in the noodle department."

    "Do you guys mind?" asked Terry. Both of them turned to look at the now very-irritated Terry who sat up in his bunk and yawned. "I've got emergency response training at four in the morning tomorrow, and I'd appreciate some shuteye. Somebody's gotta learn to protect you smartypants scientists while you do all your inventing."

    "Explain it to him," said Arthur.

    "What?" asked Bakaguru. "He understands the theory."

    Arthur shook his head. "You misunderstand. If you write it in terms Terry can understand, the Council will understand it too. You didn't have to dumb it down for Terry, right?"

    "It required some different examples, but the basic message was unchanged," said Bakaguru.

    "Then rewrite the draft and have him look at it. If he doesn't get what you're saying, it's too smart and you need to go back to the drawing board. If he gets it, it's ready to be presented to the Council next time they meet."

    "That could work," said Bakaguru. "What do you think, Terry?"

    Terry shrugged, and then returned to his resting position. "I'm a fan of anything that gets you all good and quiet so I can sleep." He immediately shut his eyes and started snoring.

    "Does he always have to do that?" asked Bakaguru. "I'm thinking of investing in a set of noise-cancelling headphones."

    "You try rolling that lummox on his side," said Arthur. "But he does have a point. We should turn in for the night. Leave the rewrite for tomorrow. We might as well take our time. We've got six months before we can resubmit."

    Bakaguru glanced at the screen wearily. He was indeed quite sleepy, and he had been working on the computer for almost the entire day. "Perhaps some rest is in order," he agreed, and yawned deeply. "You're right, Arthur. We have plenty of time to plan our next submission."

    Arthur grinned. "Glad to hear it. I'll catch you guys later."

    Bakaguru grinned. "The perks of being a Logan know no bounds. Can you at least arrange some noise proof curtains around Terry's bed?"

    "Sorry, no can do." Arthur saluted and then headed out, back to his own lavish room that was not partially occupied by a snoring Terry.

    Bakaguru shut the door behind Arthur and stretched his arms. He headed to his own bed, beside the light switch, and shut it off as he climbed into his bed sheets.

    "Hey, Bakaguru?" asked Terry, having suddenly woken.

    Bakaguru shut his eyes. "Yes?"

    "Had a question I wanted to float your way," said Terry.

    "Uh-huh," said Bakaguru.

    "If the armor gets built, what happens afterwards?"

    Bakaguru turned his head to face where Terry was lying across the room. "What do you mean? If the armor gets built then we get promoted. We get to have safer agents. Less casualties. Less families with soldiers who died in the line of duty."

    "Yeah, but what happens to the other side?"

    "Other side?"

    "Think about it," said Terry. "We build the armor, that's awesome. But even if we're supposed to hate the other side, what's stopping them from trying to replicate the technology? We kick their butts the first time, then they come back with better, more powerful armor. Then we have a new giant war with super soldiers trying to outdo each other. How's it any different from our guns, or our Pokemon, if it just leads to everyone having super soldiers?"

    Bakaguru thought for a moment. "I hadn't considered that," he admitted. "If we receive the grant, we start building. We start building, we make the armor. We make the armor, we test the armor. We test the armor, our enemies see the armor. You're right, there's nothing to stop them from infiltrating us and stealing the design."

    "Unless we don't give it to everyone," said Terry. "If we give it to just a few people, and make the design so no one can have it without us, we make sure the armor stays in the right hands."

    "A failsafe," said Bakaguru. "How could we do it?"

    Terry grunted. "Maybe a DNA synch? Maybe voice control? Ooh, we could have it so the device stays permanently attached to the user's body, and it'll deactivate once someone tries to remove it."

    "We can't do the last one. The device is a backpack. People won't be too pleased about being permanently attached to a backpack."

    "Eh, when it's portable we can use that failsafe. I think a DNA sample would be fine for ours."

    "It would require an onboard computer system. That will increase the size of the backpack."

    "Think a few extra pounds would be worth the extra security," said Terry. He turned around. "Going to bed. Night." Then he was asleep again.

    Bakaguru spent a very long time trying to get to sleep, as a mixture of feelings prevented him from settling in for the night. He was annoyed at their failure, irritated by the Council's stupidity, and bewildered by Terry's concerns. And, when he did fall asleep, he did not dream so much as wake up in another world.

    He found himself in a war, which confused him as he had never been to war before. True, he had seen many war films and undergone basic training, but they had been nothing like this. The noise was too loud. The lights from the explosions were entirely too bright and seared his eyes. He buried his face in his arms and waited for the noise to die down.

    When it did, he looked up and saw perfection.

    A man stood in front of him, a man covered in armor, armor exactly as Bakaguru had envisioned it, right down to the helmet, the glove design, the armor plating, everything. He was covered in glittering, beautiful gold and black. The man looked down on him, and almost seemed to smile beneath the visor.

    "What is this?" asked Bakaguru. "This doesn't feel like a dream."

    "You are my creator?" asked the figure, with a seemingly amused chuckle. "I would have thought you taller."

    "If I were taller, I wouldn't have had to become an inventor," quipped Bakaguru.

    There was a smidgen of a chuckle underneath his visor. "You speak well," he said. "You will do quite nicely."

    "What is this?" asked Bakaguru. "I'm sorry, but this doesn't feel very much like a dream."

    The figure tilted his head. "You may be right, Bakaguru Niwa. I certainly seem more than dream, do I not?" He shifted his body to admire it. "The simple truth is that there is no way to tell. Dreams and premonitions are tricky things to differentiate."

    Bakaguru nodded. "Then what are you?"

    "I? I am your creation, born of your mind, your blood, your toil. I am the armor you sought to create."

    "You speak well for a hunk of metal," said Bakaguru.

    The armor shrugged. "A reflection of yourself. I am what you are."

    "Are you saying I should build one of these for myself?"

    "That hardly concerns a figment of your imagination like me."

    The two of them stood there momentarily, while bombs dropped all around the battlefield. Bakaguru looked to the left and saw soldiers, PKM's soldiers, advancing up the cliff toward a tower covered in machine guns. He watched them ripped to shreds, without a single man or woman left standing. Yet he stayed perfectly safe, in a little bubble with the armor. The bullets simply disappeared the instant they approached him.

    "Why can't they hurt me?" asked Bakaguru.

    "You? The engineer? What would you be doing on the front lines like this? No, you would be safe in a bunker, creating weapons out of scrap with your team. There would be no need for you in a place like this."

    "But those people…I know they're just pieces of my dream, but I—you could have saved them." Bakaguru clenched his hands into fists. "I have your designs. You could have saved all of them."

    "But I let them die. Why am I not being used?"

    Bakaguru thought. "Because of what Terry said. Because he's right. Escalating the conflict will only result in more bloodshed. It's a short-term solution that will create a long-term problem. The system would be too powerful Mankind is not ready for it."

    "But those people will die without it. What to do, Bakaguru Niwa? What to do?"

    "If I release the system, everything escalates and people die. If I don't, agents that risk their lives will find themselves in even more danger." Bakaguru rubbed his eyes. "Is there no end to this riddle? How do we control a weapon once it is released? How does anyone?"

    The armor shrugged. "A million dollar question, to be sure."

    "Wait." Bakaguru's eyes gleamed. "What if it was controlled by us? What if it required authorization by me specifically? Or the person in charge? Someone who would use it for the right reasons? And any attempt to hack it would destroy the system. It would provide a failsafe that would keep the technology in my hands alone, to choose the few that would wield it."

    "Maybe it would work. Maybe not." The armor chuckled. "I suppose there is no way to know for sure. Safety only goes so far. Eventually you have to trust people with their own future."

    "Bakaguru! Bakaguru, wake up!"

    Bakaguru's vision of the gleaming armor faded into an image of Terry's concerned expression. He blinked thrice, then groaned. "Terry, what is it?" he asked, rubbing his brow. "I was in the middle of—"

    "No time! We gotta go!" He literally hauled Bakaguru out of the bed and straightened him out.

    "Hang on! What's going on?"

    "Orders! Just got them sent in over the speakers! We're being deployed. Grab your gear, Arthur already said he'd meet us out at the launch pads."

    Now incredibly irritated, there was nothing to be done but prepare a small bag of supplies and follow Terry down the corridors with the rest of the cadets. Terry managed to find Arthur hanging by one of the helicopters and made sure to procure positions for all three of them. They boarded the machine and strapped themselves in to brace for takeoff.

    "This doesn't make sense!" shouted Arthur. "What are we doing here? We're Research and Development!"

    Bakaguru shrugged. "Maybe they need weapon developers wherever we're going." He turned to Terry. "They didn't happen to mention where we were headed, did they?"

    Terry shook his head. "Just that it was a full-scale deployment. Everybody's going."

    "Well then, odds are good we've been asked to quell some sort of war," said Bakaguru. "Just perfect. All of the material and funds we need are back here on base. How are we supposed to build anything wherever we're going?"

    Arthur shrugged. "We're just going to have to salvage. There's nothing to be done about it. My father couldn't even pull the strings to get me out of here, we're hardly going to get air drops with our research equipment."

    Bakaguru groaned. "Why aren't we being told where we're going? We're going to find out once we land. What's the point of keeping it from us?"

    Terry shrugged. "Who knows why they do anything? We just need to stay calm and keep our heads down. Only way we're going to wrangle enough material to build the suits."

    Bakaguru watched the helicopter take off. He rarely flew, it had always been an uncomfortable experience he had avoided at all costs, mostly through driving or by taking trains. The unpleasant feeling of being lifted into the air, with nothing to support him, returned, and he fought back the urge to vomit.

    "Hey." Bakaguru looked up as Terry reached into his satchel to retrieve a box of pills. "Motion sickness, huh? Here you go." He produced a small blue pill and handed it to Bakaguru. "Go on. Takes a while to kick in, but it'll help make the trip easier."

    Bakaguru accepted the pill and swallowed it. He didn't feel better, but just the fact that he knew he had medicine working its way into his body allowed him to sit up straight, even if he couldn't quite look at everything around him.

    "Thank you," he said.

    Terry grinned. "Don't mention it. Now how's about we figure out a way to build those contraptions of yours?"

    Arthur agreed. "Complaining won't solve our problems. We'd better figure out a real way to enact your plan, Bakaguru. If we're really heading into a war zone, the others are going to be in real danger." He put his hand out. "No matter what, we will give them the armor to protect our people. We will save them."

    Terry grinned and put his hand on top of Arthur's. "I'm in. How about you, big boy?"

    Bakaguru grinned. "I would think my answer obvious." He put his hand in with them. "We're in it together, until the end."

    Author's Note: Don't know if you could tell, but I really think Fifty Shades of Grey is stupid. And demeaning.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  22. #72
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    Default Chapter 39, Part 1

    Morph Thirty-Nine: True Blue to the Rescue, Part 1

    "Poor, poor Eme," whispered Ame. "Having trouble?"

    Max charged yet again, raising his transformed left hand. Mightyena's jaws snapped at thin air yet again, as Ame danced through her tangible form once more. She phased out her chest and stomach so Ma's hand would pass through her, then lifted her own fist to knock him on the ground. 415 got behind her and grabbed Ame's arms, but she simply phased again and sent 415 sprawling.

    Max jumped back up to his feet. "Not a chance," he grunted. "415, you alright?"

    "I am unaffected," she replied and rose from the floor. "We require strategy."

    "There is no strategy that will help you," said Ame. "I am a perfect soul. You cannot harm a perfect soul."

    "You're no saint," grumbled Max. He threw another punch, that Ame simply dodged, but then he threw another, and another, trying to reach any piece of her that was tangible. "You've killed. You've maimed. You've done terrible things. What gives you the right to think you're perfect like—"

    "You?" she asked, and phased through him to get behind him. "You are not so special. You kill. You maim. The question is only who you believe deserves to be killed. I have never touched any of your friends personally."

    "That's a big stretch!" He grunted, and ignored the fact that Ame had dug her boot into his kidney. He spun around and grabbed for her. He caught one piece of her and swung her across the room. "You just stood there and let it happen! Nothing you say is going to make me feel sorry for you! Boo hoo, I'm a bad guy! You had a choice! I had one!"

    Ame simply floated back down to the ground, using her intangible form to drift through the air. "You think that is due to your resolve? Your courage?" She shook her head. "You retain your freedom because of me, little Eme. If I had not had a hand in your creation, you would be standing by my side massacring this woman you care for. This weak and feeble human that would die by your side."

    Mightyena's jaws snapped and it licked its teeth. "Liar. You think I would hurt my family?" asked Max. "Not a chance in the world."

    Ame tilted her head. "Your definition of family is hardly original," she replied. She ran towards him and he watched her hand pass through his armor before he could move. "Where is Max Birch? Is he here?" He could feel, but at the same time not feel, his hand tightening around his heart. "If I materialize here, will he die? Or should I take his mind? Would that do the trick? Or…" Her visor hovered in front of the gleaming Dark Emerald on his chest. "Is this all that Max Birch is? Where does he end, and you begin, little Eme?"

    "Dark Gem, brace for impact!" Max looked up, only to see 415 swing her Magnet Mace in a wide arc over her head and hurl the weapon directly towards Ame. The Dark Amethyst Ranger phased just before it touched her and it caught Max full in the chest, sending him flying into the wall. Then, just as suddenly as it arrived, the Magnet Mace faintly glowed and tore through the air, right back into the waiting grasp of its owner.

    Max coughed under his helmet and climbed to his feet. "Much obliged," he muttered.

    "As I suspected," said 415. "Dark Gem, she only has minimal control over her phasing! The remainder is an unconscious impulse that she cannot stop. She has to phase the moment her body perceives a threat, whether she wants to or not."

    "…Perceptive," said Ame in a low voice. "I see your operation does have some intelligence behind it. No matter, the information does not aid you in any way."

    "Incorrect," said 415. "There must be a finite amount of energy inside your Dark Amethyst." She turned to Max. "Focus your attacks on keeping her phased for longer periods of time. If the plan works, her energy will be drained to the point where she will be unable to continue and we will have an opening."

    Max nodded and rushed forward. He kept his distance, constantly swiping at Ame to keep her phased. 415 had been right. Ame struggled, trying to move away, which was made even more difficult by the fact that 415 joined Max in keeping her phased, not giving her a moment's respite.

    "Is it working?" Max shouted. He released Grovyle to absorb its body and morph his arm into a replica of its face. He fired Bullet Seed at the Dark Amethyst Ranger.

    "Her movements are growing more erratic," announced 415. "We may be able to—"

    Ame materialized herself just long enough to smash Max's neck into pulp. Max dropped to the ground and began gurgling while he waited for his neck to regenerate. He twitched, and 415 halted her assault for just a brief moment.

    A brief moment that Ame needed. She bent over Max and pressed her boot against Max's neck. "I doubt he will move if I continue to break his neck," she said. "Do not move, or his head will come off."

    415 froze. "Remove yourself from him," she ordered.

    Ame tilted her head. "No, I think not, Ranger Black. Why not let me kill him? Is he not just a filthy Dark Gem like I? I thought your little group sought an end to our kind."

    "I…" 415 looked down on Max, feeble Max who was trying so hard to breathe with his shattered windpipe. "He is not your kind," she decided. "He is not your kind. He is mine. He is my Dark Gem and you will relinquish him to me!"

    Max faintly heard a soft humming flow through the air. His neck was strong enough to shift just enough to the left so he could see a giant cloud of steam escaping from her neck, arms, and leggings. Her armor was folding back, revealing soft blue glowing plates of energy between the black sections of her suit.

    "What is that?" asked Ame.

    The transformation concluded and 415 observed herself. She lifted her hand to see the faint glow on her fingers, then she turned and looked back at Ame. "Rescue Mode," she replied. "It appears you have triggered enough motivation for me to activate it."

    "You required motivation?"

    "Most do not. They require a bond between ranger spirit and ranger. However, my ranger system was modified by Bakaguru Niwa before his death to function only in the event certain conditions were met with my life support monitoring equipment."

    "What conditions?"

    "If I may be clichéd, I believe he designed my system to activate upon a realization of 'love'," she explained. "It does not matter at any rate. What matters is its function and that it is active."

    "What can it possibly do to stop me?"

    The lights glowed just a little bit brighter. "A demonstration would be more useful than a description," she replied. Ame was forced to phase out of corporeality when a metal pipe fell from the ceiling right through her body. Then the pipe shot back up, floating in midair through her body, keeping her phased. Ame was forced to run away from it, allowing Max time to finally recover.

    415 approached him and offered a hand. "Must I do this all on my own, Dark Gem?" she asked, with a hint of sarcasm in the tone of her voice.

    Max took her arm and hoisted himself back onto his feet. "Does this mean you're in love with me?" he asked.

    "Please do not make me behead you," she retorted. "Concentrate on the task at hand."

    "So what is this new thing? Something with magnets?"

    "Correct," she replied. "It appears the plates can generate electromagnetic fields, granting me the ability to control metal. Now come, it appears the battle will shortly turn in our favor."

    "Is that what you think is going to happen?" asked Ame. "You think a simple upgrade is enough to save you? Let me be clear: you pathetic weaklings have tried and tried so hard to stop us, and you keep thinking that upgrading your powers is the key to defeating me? When your Ranger Gold stopped Top, did his newfound powers save him from Dia? Your powers do not make you capable of defeating us." She clicked her claws together. "We are stronger than you. We are faster than you. And I am done pretending you have any chance of leaving here alive."

    She ran towards them and, before they could stop her, she phased both of her hands inside their bodies. Ame's left hand pierced the Dark Emerald, freezing Max in his tracks, and Ame's left hand phased through and surrounded 415's still-beating heart.

    "If I return to corporeality, do you know what will happen?" she asked. "Your molecules will move to accommodate mine. The Dark Emerald will explode. Your heart will burst. And this will be over."

    Max grinned underneath his visor. "But you're not corporeal," he said. He fell backwards, just fast enough to dodge the hand. 415 followed suit, just barely avoiding the loss of her heart.

    "We're at a stalemate, Ame," said Max. "You can try that trick again, but we're not just going to stand around waiting for you to explode our chests. And you're just going to keep phasing. The difference is that we can keep moving, but you're going to run out of steam."

    "Interesting hypothesis," she retorted. "Care to put it to the test?"

    415 twirled her weapon into attack position. "Gladly," she murmured.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    They were out of time.

    Brock knew that the fire was going to catch up to them. He could still hear the fighting going on upstairs, so he knew that Serena was still holding off that monster Charon. He knew that the ranger systems had a life support system built into their suits, so the fire would not harm her. But it was going to harm him, and it would eventually harm Sarah, who was currently holding on to him as tightly as he could manage.

    Brock lowered himself until he was on eye level with the little girl. "Come on, Sarah," he said. "We need to get out of here."

    Sarah shook her head. "Not until Aunt Serry is safe!" she shouted.

    Brock looked anxiously at the door. He had locked them in the bathroom and done what he could to lock it, but the smoke was starting to creep in underneath the little space near the floor. "We don't have that option. We need to wait for your dad. He can help her. We can't."

    "We can," Sarah insisted and pulled out the blue morpher. "If we can turn this on, we can go and help her. Bakaguru promised that it was strong enough."

    "Bakaguru promised it was strong enough to fight someone he hadn't met before?" asked Brock.

    "You know what I mean! He said it was the strongest, even stronger than Dad's."

    "From what I hear, that's sort of hard to do," said Brock.

    "Dad has a lot of gadgets," Sarah explained. "But Bakaguru said that this one was as strong as Dad on his own, stronger even! We just need a Pokemon to turn it on!"

    "Well, it's not going to be you," said Brock. "You don't have a Pokemon registered to you, you're not old enough. Why does it need a Pokemon?"

    Sarah shrugged. "Everybody just uses Pokemon. It makes a suit based off the 'ranger spirit' or something. Is that why I can't turn it on? It blinks when I touch it."

    Brock took the morpher from her. "Look," he said, "we can't rely on this. Even if you got this to work, even if you transformed, what could you do? You're a little girl, Sarah. You're not a superhero. You've handled more than most your age, I'll give you that, but you're still a kid. You're almost nine. You can't do an adult's job. I want to save Serena as much as you do, but you're not going to be the one to do it!"

    Sarah just stared at him, as though she were scheming away at something. "Fine," she said, finally. "You do the adult's job."

    "Beg pardon, Sarah?" asked Brock.

    She jerked the morpher away from him and attached it to his wrist. "Fine. If I can't use it, then you do it. Someone has to go save Aunt Serry, we can't count on my dad to save everybody. Turn into a ranger and go upstairs and save her."

    "Sarah, I can't just—"

    "Lock sequence, initiated." Some strange voice issued from the morpher and he felt it clamp down hard on his wrist. Brock grabbed it and tried to dislodge it, but all he succeeded in accomplishing was scuffing up his hand.

    Sarah smirked. "It's already attached itself. PKM Morphers stick to their rangers. Now you have to go save Aunt Serry!"

    Brock glared at her. "I can barely walk here! You think I can be a superhero?"

    She nodded. "I think you can be my hero. And Aunt Serry's. If you want to be."

    Brock looked around. "But…but I'm a doctor. I save lives, I heal Pokemon. I don't have it in me to fight anymore. I'm not even young enough to…to do anything. All I ever did was take up space, resources."

    He looked at his hands, the hands that had healed so many of the sick, who had saved so many so close to death. And then he looked up at the little girl in front of him who suddenly did not seem so little anymore. He looked up into her dark, powerful eyes, eyes that burned deep into his soul. Eyes he had seen on her father so long ago. Eyes that had led him to follow his dreams, discover his calling, and meet so many friends along the way.

    What was one more trip? How could he say no after all 0 had done for him, all 0 had sacrificed to keep him safe? And how could he refuse one little girl asking him to save someone with his healing hands?

    He curled up those healing hands into fists and saw her reach down and hold them tightly. Her hands looked so small compared to his. He looked into her eyes, which now felt so much bigger than his own. "Please," she begged him, "Please save Aunt Serry. Please keep her safe until my daddy comes."

    He smiled. "I would follow your father to Hell and back," he said. "Just don't expect too much out of me, okay? I can do a diversion, but I can't promise a miracle."

    Sarah smiled. "You'll need a Pokemon. A strong one, too."

    "I've got just the one." Brock opened up Swampert's Poke Ball, which exploded in a dazzling array of light and summoned the blue and orange swamp monster into the bathroom.

    "Pert!" it shouted, noticing all the smoke. It sniffed at the air and issued another grunt of concern, smelling the fire outside the door.

    "I know," said Brock. He held up the morpher, and Swampert eyed it warily. "We have to use this. Sarah wants to let us use it and save Serena. But it, I think it's permanent. You won't be able to come back, I don't think. Neither will I, come to think of it. But we've got to do it. Can you help?"

    Swampert stamped its feet on the ground and issued a confident bellow that shook the adjacent stalls.

    Brock turned to Sarah. "I think that means yes," he said.

    "Then capture it with the morpher. Point its front side and press the button in the center."

    Brock raised the morpher and pressed the button, expecting Swampert to disappear in a flash of light, just like when he used its Poke Ball. Instead, nothing happened. Swampert remained visible and the morpher started beeping.

    "Unauthorized access detected. Please return the Ailed Morpher to its registered operator."

    "What is it talking about?" asked Sarah. "It can't come off someone once it's attached. Work, you!" Sarah almost reached over and slapped the morpher, but Brock withdrew his arm just in time.

    "Authorization accepted. Identifying Birch, Sarah as registered operator. Please capture a Pokemon for conversion."

    Brock held out his hand. "I think you might have to do the capturing for me," said Brock. "Why can't I use it?"

    Sarah shrugged. "Wait, Bakaguru. Maybe he made it to protect me, so he made it so I could use it. That must be why he told me to keep it safe!" She reached over to press the button. The capture worked and Swampert vanished in a stream of light and data. The morpher locked briefly while it generated Brock's suit out of Swampert's data. When it unlocked, its color transformed from a bright azure to a dark blue with orange stripes.

    "Ranger Spirit operational, system ready for activation."

    Brock looked to Sarah, who still had her hand on the trigger button. "You ready to save the world?" he asked with a nervous grin.

    She returned his grin and chuckled. "Let's save them, Uncle Brock," she said.

    He put his finger on hers. "On the count of three, then."

    "One," she said.

    He replied, "two."

    "Three."

    The transformation was not instantaneous, that was the first thing he noticed. A vast amount of blue light poured out of the little morpher and summoned what looked like the bulk of a new armor system, only it was so much larger than anything he had seen the others wear, save for the wings 0 sometimes had from time to time. It clamped down on him hard, fastening across his neck, chest, and head. He vaguely felt pieces strap themselves to his crotch and back, but nothing was emerging to cover his legs.

    That was when his pants and shirt simply vanished and he was left with the metallic facsimiles of his arms and legs. Then they changed color, turning mostly blue but with splashes of orange everywhere. And they expanded, growing to accommodate his new girth. When the transformation was over, and the light finally faded away, Brock felt more like a tank than he ever had in his life.

    He took a step forward to observe himself in the mirror. He noticed he looked similar to 415 and Serena, except where there had been black for Serena and blue for 415 in areas such as the visor and emblem, Brock had orange. Also, unlike them, he had grown. He must have been at least eight feet tall, possibly taller, though he could not be sure. He had definitely gained at least two feet in height. He had an orange visor shaped like an upside down triangle. He had the face of an orange Swampert pressed to the front of his breastplate. He had an orange belt, and orange stripes along his arms and legs. He looked down and wiggled his now-massive toes, and could only think of one thing to describe himself.

    "Cool," he said with a grin under his new helmet. He noticed that the helmet was already beginning to smell like him, and that if this was going to becoming a recurring element of his life that he needed to invest in some new shampoo. And breath mints.

    He turned to Sarah, noticing something strange. "How can I move so easily right now?" he wondered.

    Sarah shrugged. "Doesn't matter! We have to go help Aunt Serry!"

    "Right!" shouted Brock. "But first I'm dropping you off outside. Need to keep you safe too."

    Sarah nodded, and watched with glee as Brock battered down the bathroom door with a simple tap before they made their escape.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    After a few minutes of uncertainty as to where the front door was located, Brock just decided it would be smarter to make his own. He accomplished this by pointing himself in the direction of the wall that seemed the closest way out, and ran right through it. The cement just fell away like it was construction paper and, in next to no time, he found himself safely outside with Sarah in tow.

    "Sarah?" shouted someone to his immediate left. He turned and, to his astonishment, discovered 0 and May standing in front of him with a look of immense confusion. May was in 0's arms, 0 was transformed, and there were sparks of electricity zapping all around his uniform, suggesting that they had just used Agility to arrive on the scene.

    "Mom! Dad!" Sarah shouted, and bounded towards them. 0 set May on the ground and she grabbed her daughter in a tight embrace.

    "Are you okay?" asked May. "Hurt?"

    "Uh…Sarah? What is that?" asked 0, as he pointed directly at Brock's gigantic armor.

    Brock looked down at 0. "I'm a that?" asked Brock incredulously. "Your daughter's the reason I'm wearing this suit right now."

    "Brock?"

    "In the flesh…er, armor, er, yes," he replied.

    "How? When did we have a blue morpher?"

    Brock looked to Sarah, who explained. "Bakaguru gave it to me, but I couldn't get it to work. Aunt Serry's up there and she's in trouble, so I wanted to help. I gave the morpher to Brock."

    "Guys," said Brock, "if we could save the catching up for later, we need to go find Serena. She's upstairs and she's all alone with Charon."

    0 nodded. "Pi, scan for her." A few seconds later, 0 nodded and ran into the building. "Come on, Brock! We might as well see if that retro suit you have is any good!"

    Brock lumbered back into the building and started running. He found that he was moving slowly, but was able to build up a nice momentum.

    "They're through this wall!" shouted 0, gesturing to a room with a torn-off door. "Ram it!"

    Brock nodded. He picked up speed and smashed through another wall, plowed directly into Charon, and body slammed him out another wall and onto the ground outside. Brock then turned to Serena, who looked battered but not beaten.

    "Hubba hubba," she muttered. "Right in the nick of time, blue boy."

    "It's actually Brock," said 0.

    "They sure grow them big in Kanto, don't they?" she asked. Brock immediately felt uncomfortable and turned away.

    "No time for flirting!" shouted 0. "Here he comes! Brock, download your weapon for backup!"

    "Weapon?" Charon leapt into the room just as Brock asked his question.

    "Three against one is soooooooo unfair!" he screeched. He decided to handle the situation by delivering a punch that smashed 0 against one of the few remaining walls in the room.

    "0 means your primary weapon," explained Serena. "All rangers have at least one. Have your Pokemon download it for you so use." She then joined in the fray, diverting Charon's attention with a punch that froze half of Charon's back.

    "Primary weapon," muttered Brock. "What does that mean?"

    "I think I can answer that," said a voice that sounded exactly like his Swampert.

    "That you, Swampert?"

    "Indeed it is. And here is your weapon."

    Brock's arms started glowing, and he felt something in his fingers that he could grip. Twin giant cannons appeared, colored blue and orange, and affixed themselves to his gauntlets. Brock stared at them for a moment, unsure of exactly what they were.

    "What are these?"

    "Hydro Pumps," Swampert explained. "Press the trigger attached to your hands and they will fire pressurized water at any target."

    "You gave me super soakers?" asked Brock incredulously. "What about a sword? Or something equally cool?"

    "Sorry, this was what showed up," and Swampert, and then it fell silent again.

    Brock shrugged and pointed his left Hydro Pump at Charon, who was busy dividing his attention between 0 and Serena. "Might as well try them," he muttered, and then squeezed the trigger.

    Water erupted out of his arm at a speed which slammed Brock right into the adjacent wall, forcing him to steady himself to compensate for the recoil. Swampert had not done the weapon justice. Water blasted out and tore straight through the room to batter Charon senselessly against the ground. Brock grunted, as the force required to keep his arm stable grew too difficult, and he shut off the water.

    Charon, dripping wet, climbed to his feet in utter confusion. "What is this thing?" asked Charon. "Ranger Blue was never this powerful."

    "I'd guess Bakaguru updated it," said Serena. "And it borrowed Brock's prosthetics in order to generate a giant exosuit. Brock's made it a tank."

    Charon started roaring. "I am not losing to an idiot, a harlot, and a rookie!" He rushed up and tried to punch Brock, but Brock just turned both pumps on again and sent Charon flying through a hole in the wall.

    "Ever notice that he seems to do a lot of flying through open spaces?" asked 0.

    "Yep, I think we can take him," said Serena. "Just need a strategy."

    "I've got one." 0 turned to Brock. "Now, what we need is some teamwork. When he comes back, soak him again, then get ready for some fireworks. Serena, ice him once I've weakened him."

    "How is that going to happen?" asked Brock.

    "No time! Now!"

    When Charon ran back into the room this time, he was ready. Brock head steadied himself and prepared for the recoil, unleashing both pumps of water as quickly as he was able. Charon dodged, but his evasion was temporary, as all Brock had to do was twitch his arms to make sure that Charon smashed into a wall covered with water. The blast was so powerful that, for a moment, Brock feared he had given the man whiplash, and Charon took too long recovering from the blasts.

    0 stepped in and grabbed Charon by the neck. Lightning shot out from his body, short-circuiting what was left of the electrical grid in the hotel. "Now," he muttered, "let's see you dodge this. Synchronization Drive: Volt Tackle!"

    0 screamed, but Charon shrieked with agony as his soaked body was shot with enough electricity to power several small cities. Brock winced as the man convulsed into spasms. 0 held the charge for as long as he was absolutely able, and then released the last of his electricity. Charon collapsed, apparently unable to withstand the internal assault as well as he had the other beatings he had taken.

    0 turned to Serena. "Finish him," he said. Serena nodded and began selectively freezing Charon, making it impossible for him to move. The water dampened his body, making it even easier to generate the ice that would keep him still. Finally, Serena froze over the Dark Ruby, just as Charon was about ready to come around.

    "What's going on?" he murmured. "What are you doing?"

    "What does it look like?" asked 0. He snapped his fingers, and a small sword materialized in his hand. "I haven't used this in a while, might as well try it out to make sure no one takes Bakaguru's stuff for their own stupid causes again."

    "You can't kill me," Charon whispered. "I have the Dark Ruby. I have their bodies."

    "Doesn't matter what you have," said 0. "What matters is that we won."

    "Haven't…won…anything," Charon growled. "Bakaguru never wins. Neither will his children." He looked up and glared at the three of them. "I am not dying like this! I am not losing to some idiots who think they can defy me because of the whims of a dead old man!"

    0 laughed. "Guess again," he said. Then he stabbed Charon right through the Dark Ruby.

    "I am not dying like this!"

    Brock shuddered underneath his armor. 0's blade failed to pierce the Dark Ruby, it failed to pierce anything. The tip hanged just in front of the Dark Ruby, so close to its surface, but a violent force came streaming out of the evil thing and knocked 0 to the ground. 0 recovered, but the ice that had bound Charon was beginning to crack, everything about him looked like it was on fire. Brock thought he might explode.

    "What's happening?" shouted 0. "What's happening?"

    "I don't know!" shouted Serena. "I thought Dark Gems only had three forms! It looks like an evolution, but that's impossible!"

    "You fools and your little hopes and dreams," whispered Charon, in an unearthly tone that shook Brock to the core. "You think you can come in here and kill me? The man who gave you everything? The man who made you who you are today? The man that combined the science and technology of that imbecile Niwa and the almighty powers of the Dark Gems? Did you really think anything about this was going to be easy?"

    His claws clicked together, and the light just vanished. Charon looked unchanged, but there was something about him, something so menacing, that it made Brock sick to his stomach. It was like some sort of ooze that filled the air, making it difficult to breathe, to think…

    "Interesting," murmured Charon. "Oh, very interesting." He turned to the rangers. "I'm afraid your murder will have to be postponed. I need to see exactly what this new evolution is. But you don't mind that, do you? You'll wait for me, won't you?"

    "What happened to you?" 0 grunted, struggling to his feet.

    "Isn't it obvious? I evolved, far beyond anything your feeble minds could comprehend."

    "You can't evolve. You were already in Shattered Form. There's no way you could have done it."

    Charon walked over and caressed 0's cheek, with 0 powerless to stop him. "How strange then, because I could have sworn I just did. Oh well, guess I'd better get to the fun and whatnot. See you around, rangers." And then he was gone, just like the light. He vanished without a trace, leaving just the three rangers in the room alone.

    0 instantly stood up, now that the miasma had vanished. "What was that?" he asked, short of breath.

    Brock shrugged. "No idea, but we've gotta go find him. If he tries to attack someone now—"

    0 shook his head. "We need to rally the team. We need Max and 415. The four of us can handle anything. We can handle this new evolution."

    "Five," Serena corrected, and walked over to Brock. "Don't forget we've got a fancy new giant piledriving machine over here."

    Brock rubbed the back of his helmet. "I really didn't do much," he pointed out. "I just hit him with a super soaker."

    0 shook his head. "You did good for your first day. Let's hope Sarah was right and this stays a good idea." He turned to Serena. "We need to get in touch with Max and 415. Where are they?"

    Serena opened up Elgyem's Poke Ball. "I'll find out," she said, and placed her hands on the Pokemon. Brock and 0 waited for a minute, noticing that Serena's body language was turning rigid. Serena shut off communication and recalled the Pokemon.

    "What is it?" asked 0.

    "We have to go. Ame has them cornered and they're in trouble."

    0 nodded. "Let's collect May and Sarah and roll out."
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  23. #73
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    Default Chapter 39, Continued

    Morph Thirty-Nine: True Blue to the Rescue, Part 2

    "We near the end," whispered Ame, shifting her attention from one ranger to the other.

    Max was ragged. The gleam in his Dark Emerald was beginning to fade. His armor had ceased to glow, and his regenerations were taking longer and longer. 415 was not much better off, though she stubbornly refused to even hint at weakness. Still, Max could see that the fire was beginning to die out. She was taking a second longer to respond here, or fumbled there. It was not much, but it was far from the perfection she ordinarily practiced in the field.

    "The time draws near, Eme, for you to embrace our fold through my flesh," she murmured. "There will be no more pain, no more sorrow. No more trials, no more fear. Just bliss and satisfaction. If you surrender now, I will even spare your love. She may walk away as she pleases until the end comes for us all. I offer you this because I am bored. I am bored with your struggle to survive. I wish to be complete."

    "Then you're gonna have to work for it," growled Max.

    415 nodded. "I will not be deprived of him. Ergo, you will not succeed."

    "But a few mistakes on your behalf separate me from my goal," Ame replied. "Eventually, all fall before my feet. Why do you think I never needed to fight before this day? There would have been no point, no challenge, and all of you would have vanished from my sight long ago."

    "If that's true, then why didn't you just do it?" asked Max. "We could have been finished a long time ago."

    Ame shrugged. "It…amused me to watch your antics. Besides, I do not decide when I may act. My contract does. And, at this moment, my contract states that one of us must be absorbed, Eme. So, which of us will it be?"

    Max's body flashed jade. "I'm not going anywhere."

    Ame lifted her hand, and invited him forward with a wag of her finger. "Come prove it."

    Max roared and charged forward. There was no strategy, only instinct. He ripped through her and tore at the air she was always forced to become when someone, anyone, touched her. He kept her moving, leaving her no time to phase back and no time to materialized inside of him. He was a machine, a horrible machine struggling to keep his life.

    In those moments, Max became the Dark Emerald Ranger. He could feel the tug, the sensation, of having the Dark Gem whisper to him again. Their final evolution would be assured, it whispered, if only they could stop Ame. Then, they would have all the power they would even need to protect 415. They could keep her safe, forever.

    Max was uncertain. He did not want to evolve. There was always danger in evolving…in changing…into something new. They had made it through the first time, but he had never seen a sane Dark Gem in their Shattered Form. He might have fought off their influence when his gem was young, but that did not make him an exception to anything.

    Ame noticed his uncertainty and attacked. She materialized just long enough to send him into a world of pain, getting behind him and striking at his kidneys. Max fell to the ground and found he could not move. She had hit something else, some nerve that was making it impossible for him to even turn over.

    "Foolish child," she said. "You let the gem sway you. You forgot that I cannot be defeated with a few karate chops and kicking. It is always so with the young. Now to shatter your gem and feast on your remnants."

    "You will not touch him!" screamed 415. The metal in the ceiling tore itself from its hinges and started attacking Ame, forcing her to retreat.

    "Your sentiments will bring you nothing but sorrow when I consume him, young one," said Ame.

    "Stop."

    Ame and Max froze, turning their attentions to Ranger Gold and those who surrounded him. Standing near him were Serena and May, naturally, with Sarah secured in his arms, but behind them was a giant behemoth in blue armor. A Ranger Blue. 0 stood completely defenseless, but with every molecule of his being emanating a feeling that he had no qualms whatsoever about destroying absolutely everything in front of him.

    "Ranger Gold," murmured Ame. "This is a duel between myself and the master of the Dark Emerald. Do not interfere."

    0 shook his head. "This isn't a duel, it's an exercise in futility. Max and 415 are just going to keep battering away at you until there's nothing left of them. Then you can take what you want, isn't that right?" He turned to Max. "She's never going to run out of steam. There's no way for you to win this through brute force. She's just not built like that."

    "Then what am I supposed to do?" asked Max.

    "Nothing. But I can do something." He set his daughter on the ground and reached for a brown Poke Ball on his belt. He casually inserted it into his morpher and shifted into Towl Form. His helmet shifted from its normal oval shape into one that looked closer to that of a Noctowl's face.

    Then he turned his face towards Ame, and chuckled. "Time to shake up this party," he muttered. "Synchronization Drive: Foresight."

    A surge of red energy poured out from 0's visor and draped itself all over Ame. When the light faded away, 0 folded his arms and chuckled. "Max, I think you'll find she won't be so hard to hit now. I've disabled those fancy ghost tricks of hers."

    "You…did what?" Ame lifted her hand and tried to sink it through her chest, but discovered that she was completely solid. "I am tangible?"

    "Game over," said Max, turning towards her. "Without your fancy trick, there's no way you stand a chance against me."

    She shifted her gaze to him. "It would appear so, would it not?" Then, she nodded in satisfaction and said, "I can finally forfeit."

    Max blinked. "W-What?" he asked.

    She demorphed, and her armor melted away into her Dark Amethyst. "I have waited so long, little Eme, for this day." She stepped towards him and Max flinched, but did not dare step away. She raised her hand and cupped the side of his helmet. "I have waited so long for this to be over." She was smiling.

    "What're you talking about?" he asked.

    "I can finally fly away," she whispered. "Your friends can set me free."

    "What is she talking about?" asked 415.

    Ame turned to her. "And you, little girl, are the one to do it." She tilted her head. Suddenly, Ame started to change. Wrinkles grew out of the corners of her eyes, her purple hair gained strands of grey. She had always looked so young when they had seen her. Now, she looked like she was in her fifties.

    "An effect of the Dark Amethyst," she explained. "It froze me in my prime all those years ago. Now, I am myself and, now, you can be told the truth."

    0 and the rest approached her. "Aren't you trying to kill us?" he asked her.

    Ame shook her head. "No, little ranger," she replied. "Not all of us are evil, not at first. Sap, yes. Dia truly was a monster, and I am certain Charon will find his way down that path, but not I. Not Top, either, now that I remember. I have resisted the longest. I am bound by my contract, but I am not evil."

    Max demorphed. "Then why put us through all of this? Why make me the Dark Emerald Ranger? Why did you let Dia torture Brock? Why have you tried to kill us so many times? What's the point of any of it, if not to kill us?"

    She began to cry, and rubbed the tears away. "Tears of joy, little Eme. I did all of this to prepare you. To prepare all of you, for what is coming. I had to make it convincing, otherwise I would have been lost and unable to aid you.

    "When I began, I was young, foolish. I had a husband. I had a daughter. I had Pokemon. We were poor, and we had little, but we were happy. And then something took it all away. One day, when I was somewhere else, something came and destroyed my home. It set fire to my world, and burnt it all away. When I returned, there was nothing left. Nothing. All I had was my Haunter and my life. But not my heart and not my soul. Can you imagine what that does, to know that you could have done something, and to always wonder what it could have been?"

    Ame smiled, and then turned away. "It eats at you. It consumes you, until you want nothing more than to hurt and hurt until there is nothing left. And they offered me that chance. They would let me hurt. They would make me powerful, so that I could do something about my pain. They gave me my Dark Amethyst. I signed their contract. My Haunter was sealed in here, just as your Gallade is sealed in there." Ame pointed to the small jade stone and the chain that stilled wrapped around Max's hand. "Only then did they tell me the truth. Only then did they tell me that the monster that took my daughter and my husband was one of them. A mistake, to be sure, but one of them."

    "A Dark Gem ate your family?" asked 415.

    "They thought I would not realize. Fools. I have conspired against them ever since, in order to make certain their plan would not succeed."

    "What is their plan?" asked 0.

    "Oblivion," said Ame. "They intend to rip apart this universe and damn us all to nothingness."

    "But why? What's the point of any of it?"

    Ame shrugged. "Question not the madman, only the circumstances that led them there. It does not matter, for I know of a way to stop them. It is the seven of you."

    "The seven of us?" asked Max.

    Ame nodded. "It is a rhyme, composed by the madman Nicholas Brine. It was he who brought the Dark Gems into this world, it is from his lips we may yet stop oblivion."

    "My…grandfather?" asked Serena.

    "Your ancestor," corrected Ame. "The name is hereditary. He crafted the Dark Gems in Orre, sacrificing every Pokemon within its borders to succeed. He wrote, towards the end of his life, how the Dark Gems may be defeated. He wrote:

    When shadows fall, evil reigns,

    And the Dark Gems arise

    The shards of good will join behind

    The Man of Golden Eyes.

    When all is lost, hope is gone,

    And the world seems naught by gloom

    The Heroes Seven stand together

    Amidst the coming doom.

    Together now, they make their stand

    In the Sun's shining hue

    For only His Chosen One

    Can make the world anew
    ."

    When she finished, she paused to look at each of them before settling again on Max. "When the war comes, little Eme, it will all fall on you." Then she turned to 415. "And when this prophesy comes to pass, you are the one who will keep his heart pure. Do you understand?"

    Max nodded. "I think I do."

    "You must. Otherwise—" Ame halted, drawing breath very quickly, then she clutched her stomach. "They found me. They know that I have betrayed them." She looked up. "This is goodbye, little Eme. I will die tonight."

    "But—"

    "Silence! There is…no time for sentiments, not that you have any for the likes of me. Now listen: beware the Rangerlings. They will descend…like the plague from on high. You must not…" She groaned and fell to the ground. Max and the others rushed around her. "Must not…"

    She looked up and saw that her Dark Amethyst was starting to crack. "No time. Shatter my Dark Amethyst and absorb its power. It is the only way to evolve you to your Shattered Form."

    Max hesitated. "But I don't—"

    "What you want is irrelevant, Eme!" she shouted. "If you do not absorb my Dark Amethyst, you will perish in battle and they will never be able to be stopped! Do it!"

    "I can," said 415. She drew back her Magnet Mace and aimed for Ame's outstretched hand and the weakening gemstone. "If we succeed, he will live?"

    Ame nodded weakly. "It is the only way for any of you to live."

    415 took a deep breath, then smashed the stone into dust. Ame cried out in pain, clutching at her now-shattered hand, then realized she was disappearing. Her fingers were slowly turning to dust, and she turned to the others.

    "You are nearing the end, Rangers Seven," she whispered. "Beware the Rangerlings. Beware the Dark Gold. All they require are a familial sacrifice. Should they obtain the Dark Gold, all will be lost for this world."

    Max grinned. "It won't happen. We promise."

    Ame smiled weakly. She was barely there. "I apologize for making you who you are, who many of you are. I-It was the only way to stop them." She turned and looked up at the ceiling. "At last, my love. I come at last."

    She tried to breath, but her lungs were gone. Suddenly she simply vanished, leaving behind a trail of purple dust. The room fell silent.

    Then, quite unexpectedly, something incredible happened. The dust that had once been Ame began moving, scattering itself about the floor, forming a circle around Max.

    "Uh, guys? Might want to stand back," said Max. The others agreed and retreated to a safe distance. The dust started circling him, lifting off the ground, becoming a small purple tornado despite there being an absolute absence of wind in the building.

    The Dark Emerald flashed, and Max stretched out his hand. In an instant, the purple tornado gleamed and dove into the gemstone, as if absorbed by a vortex. The light died down almost immediately after that, and then Max Birch stood surrounded by air, holding up his Dark Emerald against nothing.

    No one moved for a while. "How do you feel?" asked 415 hesitantly.

    Max looked himself over, and then shrugged. "Not much different. Still me in here."

    415 lightly smacked him in the head. "Good. Keep yourself…normal," she said. She faced him, so none of the others would see the slightest sliver of a smile on her lips.

    Brock and Serena demorphed, while 0 morphed to his human body. "What's the plan, boss man?" asked Serena, as she helped the now-unbalanced Brock stay on his feet.

    "We handle this prophesy business later," said 0. "We can't think about stuff like that while we've got Charon on the loose. We find him first. We smash his gem. We make him regret he could ever warp Bakaguru's Master Morpher like that."

    Serena's fingers clenched into fists. "Sounds good. How do we do that?"

    0 turned to Brock. "With him, I think we've got a shot."

    Brock blinked. "M-Me? How am I supposed to do anything?"

    0 smiled. "We couldn't try it before, but now that we have five rangers, I bet we could pull it off no sweat. See, Pi and I have been working on a new trick for our Synchronization Drive. A way to pull off a new form that'll definitely rattle that blowhard. We just don't have the power for it on our own. But with three extra rangers, plus Max as a conduit, I think we stand a chance."

    "Stand a chance at what?" asked 415.

    "Stand a chance at some good, old-fashioned revenge, 415," he replied. "We just need to find Charon. Once we do, we just need enough time to pull off the greatest trick we've ever tried."

    Max grinned. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's end this."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    …Twenty-Five Years Ago…

    "Tonight's the night."

    Bakaguru grumbled and put on his backpack, which weighed approximately forty-five pounds but seemed to be dragging him down by about eighty. He tried his best to ignore his discomfort and clipped on the belt that would securely fasten him into the system. He checked a small monitor positioned on his right arm and nodded with satisfaction.

    "The system is in range for the test," he confirmed.

    Arthur and Terry had their own backpacks on, though they seemed to be handling the weight with more ease than Bakaguru could. Terry strapped his own system in and checked his status monitor. "Mine's ready to go!" he declared.

    "As is mine," said Arthur. "We should move out, someone's liable to happen on us if we stay too long."

    Bakaguru nodded. The hanger had served them well, and they had been wise to make use of it during the development process, but the longer they stayed the more they risked having the material confiscated. "Do we have everything we need?" he asked. After all, they would not be coming back.

    Terry nodded. "I moved out everything we would still need. Put the rest in a nice little pile next to the explosives. Nobody's gonna be able to figure out what we did here, so there shouldn't be any risk of these gadgets getting made up by anyone else."

    "Good work, Terry," said Arthur. "Now, let's get out of here and try these suits for ourselves."

    Bakaguru grabbed the trigger on their way out. It would have been quite ridiculous to suppose the hanger would explode without taking it. When they got outside and into the familiar face of the garbage dump they'd hidden the hanger in, they started running as fast as they were able east of the trash heap. When they felt they were at a safe enough distance, Arthur and Terry stopped and turned to Bakaguru.

    "You're sure, right?" asked Arthur. He glanced at his backpack. "You're sure these are going to work?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "I am. Considering we were making them out of trash, in secret, on our own time, without any help from PKM, I am certain that all three will work perfectly."

    "Then the honor is yours, my friend," said Arthur.

    Bakaguru pressed the trigger, and they watched as a bright flare erupted in the distance, right underneath the setting sun. It was scarcely noticeable, and considering they were in the middle of a war zone it was hardly unexpected. Nobody would care that a trash heap was gone in the morning.

    "Well," said Arthur, "shall we try these things out?"

    "Yeah, I'm getting anxious," said Terry.

    "Why?" asked Bakaguru. "You've already worn yours. You know it works."

    "Yeah, but I was thinking that that doesn't mean much unless you've got your whole team with you." Terry gripped the trigger button and grinned broadly. "Let's do it!"

    Arthur smiled and nodded. "Agreed. Bakaguru, you deserve the honor of transforming first," he said.

    "Very well." Bakaguru pressed the trigger and winced as a small spike drilled into his wrist and took a blood sample. He heard the confirmation chime from the machine and felt the armor materialize around him. The backpack instantly lightened as the suit began taking on its share of the load. He felt the visor clamp over his face and he looked through it to his friends.

    "Well?" he asked. "Does it suit me?"

    Arthur offered a thumb's up. "Very much so. I think it's our turn, Terry." He pressed his own button and transformed.

    Terry gave out a small bark of approval and pressed his trigger button. Golden and black armor surrounded him and clamped down just as it had with Bakaguru and Arthur. From a distance, they looked very similar, save for their color schemes. Arthur was covered primarily with red with blue highlights. Bakaguru's, on the other hand, was primarily orange with touches of silver.

    They stared at one another for a moment or so, until Terry broke the silence by commenting, "Well, don't we all look nice?" He instantly froze, noticing that his voice sounded more like a robot than a human. "Wait, why do I sound like that?"

    "Voice synthesizer," explained Bakaguru. "I figured soldiers equipped with the suits would prefer to remain anonymous while conducting military operations in them."

    "Smart idea," said Arthur. "Come on, we should get moving. The enemy has a tendency to bomb everything it can spot after night falls."

    Walking was somehow much easier, Bakaguru noted, as they traversed the landscape. It could have been for several reasons, possibly because the armor was helping him move much faster than normal, or possibly because he was elated. He had succeeded. The machine worked and the armor worked and everything worked just as he had intended it to. He had been right, which meant that PKM had been wrong. He glanced at his armor with every bit of the pride that it deserved to be showered in.

    Then he had to divert his attention from his magnificent armor, because he and the others noticed a small explosion in the distance. Terry stopped, with Arthur and Bakaguru joining him shortly after.

    "What happened?" he asked.

    "Pretty nasty blast over there," Terry said, and he pointed to a clearing in the distance. Bakaguru could faintly see the outlines of three small buildings. "We should go check it out."

    "Might not be a good idea," said Arthur. "We could damage the equipment."

    Terry shrugged. "What good's a suit of armor if you can't use it to save people in burning buildings?" he asked, and then took off running in the direction of the building.

    Arthur turned to Bakaguru. "You know, it's rather hard to argue with his logic," he said.

    "Very well," said Bakaguru, and they followed him towards the small settlement.

    There was not much left when they arrived. Just a few smoldering wreckages where there had once been homes. Terry stood in the center of the houses, staring at the smoke rising in the air.

    He turned to them. "What happened?"

    "I don't know," said Bakaguru. "We should find out. This doesn't look like the fallout from one of our bombs."

    The three of them moved towards the first home, when suddenly Bakaguru noticed something out of the corner of his eye. It was so small and insignificant Bakaguru had to do a double-take before he realized what it was. "Guys," he said, and he pointed towards one of the other homes.

    It was a little girl with a broken face, staring out of one of the windows.

    "What the…" Bakaguru tried to say something, but Terry ignored him and took off running towards the house. "Hang on! We don't know what's in there!"

    "Little girl's in a burning house!" shouted Terry. "All I need to know!"

    "Come on, he'll get himself killed," said Arthur. He and Bakaguru followed through a hole that Terry made in the weakened front door. "Terry!"

    "In here, guys!" he shouted. Bakaguru and Arthur followed Terry's voice into the other room. Terry was crouched over the little girl and picking her up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and stared at Bakaguru and Arthur.

    Her face was practically gone. There was bruising, yes, but that did not even begin to describe what this girl had gone through. There were deep gashes across her cheeks, her lips were gone, and her eyes looked blank and weary, as though she had aged far, far too quickly. She had to have been no more than four years old, but her eyes looked closer to those Bakaguru had seen on veterans decades after their conflicts.

    "What happened to her?" asked Bakaguru.

    Terry shrugged. "Don't care. We gotta get her back to the base pronto. Maybe they can help her. She won't say anything, it's almost like she can't talk."

    "We should find whoever did this and tear them apart," muttered Arthur.

    "Hang on," said Bakaguru. He leaned in close, his visor was almost touching the girl's face. "Can you hear us? Can you tell us what happened to you?"

    The little girl did not speak, but her eyes widened as far as she could make them. She began moving them, staring at something that was just behind Arthur and Bakaguru. Her mouth trembled and she began to shiver.

    "New friends!" shouted something behind them, before something powerful slammed into Bakaguru and Arthur and threw them to the floor. Terry shouted and pushed the little girl behind him before he changed forward.

    Bakaguru froze. It was a monster, a real monster. It was slobbering over the floor and stumbling around on its claws and talons, but it was a monster. Bakaguru shrieked and instinctively moved away from it, but the monster was not paying attention to him. It was entirely focused on Terry, who had decided to introduce himself to the creature by punching it directly in the general area its face was supposed to be.

    "Keep the kid safe!" shouted Terry. He roared and tackled the monster to the ground, striking anything he could get his hands on. But nothing was happening. The monster was laughing. Each hit, each strike, only made it laugh harder and harder, which just made Terry angrier and angrier.

    "Enough!" It smashed Terry in the chin and threw him to the ground. The beast crawled up and stared at them. "What are you three supposed to be? Some sort of superhero?"

    "What're you supposed to be?" asked Terry. "Some sort of idiot?"

    "Funny," it said, and reared its ugly head. Now Bakaguru could see it clearly. Its head was huge, with no disenable eyes or mouth. But its nose was elongated and protruded from a fine point in the center of its face. Its body was a weird blob that seemed to reform and reshape every time Bakaguru blinked.

    "What is that thing?" asked Arthur. He and Bakaguru immediately regrouped behind Terry.

    "Don't know," said Terry. "Looks like one of them monsters you'd see on a kid's cartoon."

    The monster laughed. "May as well be, boys!" it screeched. "I'm the first of many, the very first! And the best too! Might not even need the others!"

    "And what exactly are you the first of?" asked Terry.

    "The Dark Gems!" It reared its head and giggled. "See this?" It held out what looked like a hand covered in slime. A solid, multicolored gem was sticking out of its flesh. "It's the Dark Opal! And it's going to split your little hides in half!"

    "Move!" shouted Terry. Bakaguru, Arthur, and Terry just managed to get out of the way before a giant burst of lightning shot of out the hand and shattered a window behind where they had just been standing.

    "This isn't happening," said Arthur. "There's no way this can happen! How did he do that?"

    "Worry about the how later, focus on the staying alive part now," said Terry. "Bakaguru, cover me." He pulled out a capsule and summoned one of the guns Bakaguru had installed on his backpack. "And keep that kid safe!"

    In the heat of the moment, Bakaguru had completely forgotten about the child. Luckily, Arthur had not and secured her behind him. She still wasn't really moving, and Bakaguru swore he had yet to see her blink. Bakaguru turned and positioned the gun exactly as he had been trained right onto his shoulder, placed the strap around it to lower the recoil, and fired into the beast's hide with a slow but steady stream of bullets.

    The beast hissed and drew back, but not before Terry jumped up and started battering away at its head with his fists. He smashed it again and again, always careful to avoid the bullets from Bakaguru's rifle. But nothing he did seemed to matter. The monster just turned right back around, or snapped its neck back into place, or popped the bullets out of its skin and onto the floor. It only made Terry angrier and angrier. He started hitting harder, and with the reinforced power in the suit, his punches started sending the creature across the room, bashing through walls, or crashing into the ceiling.

    "Why won't you die?" Terry screamed.

    The monster just picked itself back up. "Because I want you to feel powerless," it said, and raised its hand. "Just like your friend over there." Then it pointed its Dark Opal at Bakaguru and fired a pulse of lightning.

    It was the longest moment of Bakaguru's life. He saw the light come for him, saw it blind him, but it never reached him. In the instant it took to travel to him, Terry jumped in front of the beam and it slammed into his chest. The light disappeared and Terry simply fell to the ground. He was not moving. He was not breathing. Bakaguru did not move, not until he felt Arthur's hand on his shoulder, and fell to his knees.

    "Terry!" Arthur screamed. "Get up!" He turned Terry over and checked for a pulse. "He's not breathing! His heartbeat's still there! Bakaguru, come on!" There was such desperation in his voice, such fear, that it froze Bakaguru to the bone. "We have to save him."

    "He'll live," said the monster. Bakaguru and Arthur turned towards it and their hands unconsciously clenched into fists. "I only split people, not bodies. That's for these babies!" The beast's hands reshaped, turning into long, sharp claws that looked like they could rip right through the armor.

    "We have to do something," said Arthur. "What do we do? Bakaguru, what do we do?"

    "I-I." Bakaguru shook his head. "How should I know? I just build things! I'm not supposed to know how to save you too!"

    "You know how the technology works! We need something that will take care of this thing!"

    Bakaguru thought. There had to be something, anything, that would get them out of there alive, but he was not thinking fast enough and the beast attacked. Arthur groaned and dove between them to give Bakaguru extra time. He looked down at Terry, still immobilized by whatever the beast had done to him. "The life support system," he muttered.

    "What?" shouted Arthur, who was entirely too busy trying to avoid being zapped by the beam.

    "The life support system!" shouted Bakaguru. "In the event of emergency, I arranged it so the three systems can be synched up to support one another in the event one fails! But, if I rewire the programming…" Bakaguru reached behind for his backpack and pulled out what looked like a small fiber coil. "Yes, this could work!"

    "What could work?"

    "This!" Bakaguru extended the coil and plugged it directly into a small outlet on Terry's backpack. The transfer took a while, but Terry's armor disappeared and Bakaguru noticed his energy readings increasing. "Now you!" Bakaguru mustered all of his strength and charged into the beast, shoving it away. "Turn around, Arthur!"

    Arthur did not question him and allowed Bakaguru to drain all the energy from his armor. It powered down immediately. "I'll get Terry and the girl out. Do you have enough power to best that creature?"

    Bakaguru checked his readings. "If I don't, I'll have enough to give you a head's start. Now go!" Arthur nodded and started the process of dragging Terry's body out.

    The monster returned, kicking and roaring. "Get back here and die already!"

    Bakaguru looked at his fist. "Oh please let this overclocking work," he muttered, and drew back his arm to batter the monster directly through the last intact wall in the building. "Need to figure out something quickly. Need to think quickly. Come on, Niwa…"

    The beast jumped out of the hole and Bakaguru quickly rolled away to dodge it. It kept coming, forcing Bakaguru into combat. The overclocked suit was working, but Bakaguru kept a careful eye on the energy readings. They were dropping swiftly. "I wish we had given this to Terry. Or Arthur. Or someone else, someone who could actually use it."

    But there is no one else. There is only you.

    That was when he saw the giant, gleaming gemstone rising up to point at him. That was when he heard the laughter that filled his heart with so much fear. And that was when he raised his hand, putting all of the energy he had overclocked himself with into his fingers, and crushed the gemstone before it had a chance to release its energy.

    And then, before his very eyes, the beast seemed to just fade away into dust and wither into nothingness. Bakaguru barely had a chance to blink before it was gone.

    "Terry," he muttered. His armor faded away, exhausted by the overclocking, and Bakaguru ran outside to find his friends. "Terry!"

    Author's Note: Two very important plot points emerge from this chapter: Brock becoming a ranger and the revelation that Ame was good all along. Brock was always planned to be a ranger, and if you look back to the first chapter I'm pretty sure that he's wearing blue as a nice spoiler for people who obsess over little details like I do. He'll be a very different ranger than the others because of how his armor works, which will be revealed later. He's more of a support/medical ranger, which is fine because I've never seen Brock as the kind of character that relishes fights like 0 and the others do. This brings our team of rangers up to seven, if you count Karin and Logan, and five without.

    The other major plot point is that Ame has revealed the endgame for how this story is going to progress into its final stages. Also of note is that we finally have a name for our team, the Rangers Seven, as they've been sort of nameless since going off on their own.

    Oh, and Charon's developments are kind of important. Stay tuned!
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  24. #74
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    Brock as a ranger, I never thought that concept could work. I believe that is a highlight in this chapter not because of the new role you have given Brock but that you have given Brock a role. You see in most fanfiction he is simply left in the dark and only gets a mention when a certain character (eg Ash) is having trouble with ex: love life. I love that Brock is given a role of his own and is also enjoyable to read about.

  25. #75
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    Default Chapter Forty

    Author's Note: Thanks, midnightjewelz. I decided a long time ago that Brock was going to be a ranger, and it was mostly because of those trends you picked up on. Brock doesn't really get to do much of anything, both in fan-fiction or in the anime. I think it's because some writers have difficulty with support characters and aren't really sure what to do with them. On the one hand, they want to make sure the entire cast is there, but on the other they want the focus to stay on the primary love interests, so it's a bit of a mixed bag. Brock, as a result, was given a lot more personality in this story because of how important he is to the others as a mentor and sort of a father figure. I even decided to have Serena flirt with him a little bit, which confuses Brock and leads to amusing situations because she's ten years younger than him and he thinks that's just a little bit odd. Anyway, on with the show!

    Morph Forty: Bakaguru's Legacy

    They did not have to wait long.

    0 was standing in the middle of the street when it happened. He looked to the left and saw him in a coffee shop. To the untrained eye, Charon probably looked a little unhinged. His bald head was sweating, his pupils were dilated, and his hands almost crushed the paper cup containing his coffee on instinct. 0 held up his com-link.

    "Pi, let them know to converge on my position," he ordered. "Tell them to remember their parts of the plan."

    "Can do," said Pi. "Keep us safe in there."

    0 nodded and stepped inside the shop. It seemed so unusual that he would meet Charon in such an…ordinary place. Flashes of a memory jolted through his mind: him taking May and Sarah to a small shop in Kanto a long time ago, almost like a lifetime ago. Sarah had been so small and precocious that 0 had had to balance his coffee and his daughter in the same hand while May placed her own order. He joined Charon at the counter and turned to the cashier.

    "Mocha, please," he said, and handed her a bill. "And quickly." He turned to Charon and smiled. "Thirsty, Charon?"

    Charon twitched. "None of your business, Golden Boy," he muttered. "Shouldn't you be running for the hills? That's what you guys do, right? Run away at the first sign of trouble?"

    0 looked him over. There were bags under his eyes that belonged on a much older face. "You're in trouble," he said. "Are you deteriorating?"

    The cashier handed him his coffee and 0 offered Charon a seat further away from the crowds. Charon accepted and sipped at his cup. Before Charon could say something snappy, 0 just lifted his hand and took a deep draught of his cup. Charon fell silent and waited.

    "Let's skip all the dumb parts, shall we?" asked 0. "I know you're not going to back down. You want our morphers. And you know we're not going to back down. We're going to keep them. So let's not do that whole thing where we puff ourselves up and make ourselves seem important. I'm getting tired of it, and I want to enjoy this coffee. I didn't get much of a taste for anything other than beer for a few years, and I'll tell you, you never really appreciate variety until you lose it."

    Charon just sipped his coffee.

    "You're getting tired too, I can tell," 0 muttered, looking him over again. "By the looks of it, I say you've got six months. Fewer, if you keep using that technology. You won't live to enjoy yourself, even if you do kill us all."

    "You don't know anything," Charon grumbled. "I'm perfectly fine."

    0 shook his head. "See, that's where you're wrong. You went through some sort of boundary you weren't supposed to go through. You evolved passed Shattered Form with that Master Morpher. It'll eat you away, until there's nothing left."

    "Others have evolved with no problems. Your little pet did it, I will be no different."

    "Max evolved once, from Chained to Sealed Form. Perfectly normal in a Dark Gem's life cycle. You evolved passed Shattered Form. No way of telling how that ends for you. But, judging from all those lines on your face, and your jittering, it's not going to be great."

    "What's the point of this?" asked Charon. "You already know I'm not going to stop. I already know you're not going to stop. We're two opposing forces, just waiting for one to give the slightest leeway."

    "Because I'm offering you a chance," said 0. "I'm trying to be a good leader. Being a good leader means being willing to talk instead of fight. If you give me that morpher and walk away, we won't come after you. You can live, however long you get to, but you can live. Your Dark Ruby is powered through that morpher, so you could take it off and walk away." He finished his drink and set it on the counter. "It's up to you whether or not we throw down. I'm tired. I mean it. I am so tired of all these threats to my family. I just want them to stop, and the only way they stop is if all the Dark Gems go away. And I know that's not going to happen. But I'm going to give you that choice. Your partner already died tonight. Do you want to join her?"

    Charon set his cup on the table. "Ranger Gold, nothing you just said matters to me," he replied, almost cheerfully. "While you were in fact saying it, my mind was drifting to another subject entirely. Most of it was involving your daughter, and the numerous ways I could defile her after I kill you tonight and she spends the next ten years as my slave. So spare me your patronizing shtick. There is no other way for this to end."

    0 sighed and cracked his knuckles. "I did try, you know."

    Then he placed his hand on Charon's shoulder and injected him with enough electricity to paralyze a Wailord. Charon convulsed and hit the ground at about the same time the other denizens of the coffee shop started screaming.

    "Pi, come on down," he ordered, before he turned to Charon. "What you're feeling is about all the electricity that I can safely shock a person with without it being considered a felony. It'll still keep you about as rigid as a board as you convulse around and wait for your inevitable defeat. I just wanted to give you a chance to back out."

    He leaned down and grabbed Charon by the ear, hoisting him up while still delivering another jolt of electricity. "You honestly think I'd let you talk like that about my little girl? You're obviously not a father, Charon, and your dad did a terrible job with you."

    He turned to the other customers and sent out a wave of lightning that briefly short-circuited the power in the building. "I'd leave if I were you," he suggested. "Things are about to get really messy in here."

    Everyone took his advice and ran all. All except for six others. A man with dark skin and fox-like eyes. A tiny woman next to him with silver hair. A man whose eyes could change from brown to green in flashes behind his glasses. A woman with short purple hair and red eyes whose expression never changed. And, behind them all, the most beautiful woman in the world holding the most beautiful girl in the world.

    "My family will have peace tonight," said 0, as he demorphed back into his ranger armor. "Max, let's get things started."

    Max nodded and stepped forward. He grinned and wrapped his chains around his arms and pressed his Dark Emerald against his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite!" The chains melted into his flesh and he transformed. Max cracked his neck and his shadow chains began slowly winding down off his gauntlets and into his hands.

    0 turned to 415, Brock, and Serena. "You guys ready?"

    Serena nodded. "Sure you can handle this?"

    "Doesn't matter. Do it."

    She saluted. "On it, boss." She, 415, and Brock all transformed. Max's chains, one by one, pierced through their skin, connecting all four of them together.

    "Pi, brace yourself," whispered 0.

    It chuckled in his head. "See you on the other side, partner."

    "Max, do it!"

    Another one of Max's chains snaked up and bit into 0's neck. 0 groaned, then suddenly felt the power surging into him. First, it was Brock. He felt the Swampert's strength, and Brock's pain, that had forged the new Ranger Blue. He felt Serena's loneliness and her Dewgong's fear. He felt the struggle inside 415 between her nature and her heart, and the Luxray roaring for her to keep fighting. He felt all the sacrifices that had brought his team to him. He felt Max's anger, and the Dark Emerald's whispers to his brother-in-law to keep him sane. It would have been enough to break any other man, any other human.

    But not Ranger Gold. As Charon struggled to his feet, 0 began a metamorphosis.

    "Have we reached the threshold?" he asked.

    "We're transforming! We're transforming!" shouted Pi.

    Cario Form emerged first, the Claw Gauntlets settling into place onto his arms and hands. The spikes at the back of his hands extended in a bright blue flash. Next came Chariard Form, with its magnificent orange wings and its fiery tail. Oal Form bulked up his body, with its hardened black armor. Towl Form elongated his helmet, amplifying his sensors. And, finally, he watched as his Perior Form sprouted elegant vines along the leggings and boots covered by the Oal Form armor.

    Then every single piece of his armor turned gold in one sudden, violent flash of blinding light. He heard his friends and family scream, he heard Charon shriek, and, in the distant din of his mind, he heard a soft chuckle he was certain he was imagining. After all, it was impossible that Bakaguru could be there, giggling in his ear.

    "Auxiliary Pokemon System: Synch Battlizer registered. Activating Synchronization Form," said the strange, deep voice from his Ailed Morpher. Then the light died down and 0 found himself glowing in the abandoned coffee shop, the only source of light left now that he had knocked out all the power during his transformation.

    0 lifted his head and looked himself over. "Oh, now this is much more like it," he murmured. His head felt funny, in that it did not feel different at all. He was himself, without any of Lu's scrappiness, Tork's emotions, Z's savage nobility, Noct's cleverness, or Serp's regal bearing. "Pi, can you hear me?"

    There was no answer, though 0 was certain that his best friend was there, somewhere. Ranger Gold cracked his knuckles just as Charon transformed into the Ruby Master Ranger.

    "Ready to die, little boyo?" he asked. His body was radiating the same vile odor it was before, only it didn't seem to bother 0 this time.

    He felt better than fine. He felt fantastic. He turned around and saw his teammates demorphed, with 415 tenderly clutching onto Max's unconscious body.

    She looked at him and glared. "Make it count, Ranger Gold," she said. "I will watch over him. He will wake."

    He nodded, and then turned to Charon. "Do you realize how screwed you are?" 0 asked. "Look around you, Charon. Look who came to back you up. Nobody. Look who came for me. Everyone. My family. My friends. My team." He cracked his neck and started walking towards Charon. "There's not a snowball's chance in hell you're getting out of this."

    And he dealt Charon an uppercut with such force that the Ruby Master Ranger smashed through the ceiling, continued flying, then smashed back through another section of ceiling to clatter to the floor. 0 could hear Charon wheezing as the monster got back onto his feet.

    "Oh, your daughter's going to hate you when I'm done with all of you!" he growled and charged. 0 took the assault head on and the two of them locked arms. Charon tried to flip him over, but 0 held his balance thanks to his tail and the vines rooting him to the ground. The two shared a stalemate for some of the longest seconds of 0's life.

    "Funny," said 0. "Your evolution doesn't seem to be holding up as well as my new armor. Isn't that an interesting development?"

    Then he grimaced and clenched up his fingers. "Synchronization Drive: Protect! Synchronization Drive: Inferno!"

    A sudden burst of blue energy surrounded them, and then suddenly the air around him and Charon froze in a small bubble of impenetrable energy. 0, who knew exactly what was coming, activated his life support system and shut off all contact with the outside world as his hands and forearms began supercharging enough heat to melt through the strongest of metals. The air inside the bubble evaporated into a vortex of heat and fire.

    Charon just stood there, glancing from side to side, wondering how any of this could even be possible, before he and 0 were engulfed by the flames.

    When the fire died down and Protect disappeared, the charred remnants of the Ruby Master Ranger stumbled away from 0 and fell to the floor. He was healing fast, though. His seared armor was already starting to repair itself and reconstruct his entire body.

    0 had to end the fight soon. The energy output was dropping. His visor was indicating that he had perhaps five minutes before he would be forced to completely abandon his ranger form and morph to his human body to recover. There was no chance that Charon would give him time to recover for a second shot at Synchronization Form. He had to end it now.

    He raised his hand. "Synchronization Drive: Psychic!" he ordered. His entire head glowed with soft light as Charon's body rose from the ground to suspend itself in midair. His arms and legs were entirely outstretched; he almost looked like he was about to be crucified. "Synchronization Drive: Leaf Tornado!"

    A thousand million pieces of leaf materialized out of the air with faint golden glows. They jabbed at Charon's weak chinks in his armor, preventing him from regenerating. They shredded his tendons, they tore open his armor to expose the pitiful pale flesh that dwelled inside it.

    "Any last words, you parasite?"

    Charon tilted his head up. "You're all going to die. Just like that fat, pigheaded idiot Niwa. It's only a question of who gets to do it."

    0 shook his head. "Bakaguru was ten times the man you are. A hundred times." Behind him, everyone nodded in agreement.

    "He was a fool and a coward, and his only legacy is that of a pathetic band of failures who couldn't even follow simple orders."

    "His legacy is the Rangers Seven," said 0. "His legacy is that he gave our planet its protectors. Yours will be just that you were another body destroyed by them."

    Ranger Gold raised his hand. His bright, gleaming sword materialized into his grasp and he pointed the blade directly at Charon's Dark Ruby. "Synchronization Drive: Agility!" 0's entire body began to blur, and 0 himself began to laugh. "Synchronization Drive: Inferno! Synchronization Drive: Aura Sphere! Synchronization Drive: Leaf Tornado! And lastly, you evil little worm, Synchronization Drive: Volt Tackle!"

    The leaves appeared again, only this time they attacked from behind Charon, holding him securely with the Psychic to ensure there was no chance of him moving. The three other attacks went straight into the sword, channeling a vortex of fire, lighting, and aura so fierce that the very vibrations it emitted as it tore through the air shattered every single piece of glass within a block radius.

    0 was moving faster than he ever had in his entire life. His wings were folded low to not create wind resistance, his entire body was tucked like a coil to spring out at the last possible moment with all his might.

    Let's see if your will is strong enough to stop me this time.

    He released his sword and it pierced through the Dark Ruby, pierced through Charon, and even launched directly through his body and into the wall across the room. 0 himself opened his wings and came to a stop some feet behind the Ruby Master Ranger, and morphed instantly into his human form. His face was sweaty, he was breathing heavily, and he heard Pi screaming in his head in victory. He turned and grinned at the hole cut directly through Charon's hide.

    "Y-You think you've won?" asked Charon, as his ranger uniform simply melted around him. "There will never be a single moment of peace for you, little Ranger Gold, nor for anyone you've ever loved as long as you live. You think it'll s-stop with the Dark Gems? It'll never stop. If not them, then the next threat, then the next, until you wither and die with all of them. You'll never save any—any—anyone."

    And then the blood spilled out from his lips and coated the fragments of the Dark Ruby still latched to his chest. He crumpled and faded away, just like all the others hand. Only a gleaming hunk of metal, once more white and orange, remained where his hand had been. 0 walked over, bent down, and picked it up.

    "The Master Morpher," he whispered. He felt his family around him, and rose so he could be with them.

    "Over?" asked May.

    He nodded. "Until next time," he replied.

    "We should do something about Bakaguru's morpher," said Serena. She was somehow supporting Brock, despite the fact that she had a few pretty deep cuts herself.

    415 nodded. "We should destroy it. He would have wanted it destroyed."

    0 shrugged. "It's not a decision we have to make tonight. Besides, we're done here. Let's all go home."

    May nodded, and 415 and Max headed out to look for taxis to take them back to Aura Town. Brock found himself a chair that looked sturdy enough to support his weight and Serena joined him, leaving 0, May, and Sarah standing very close to where Charon had just died.

    0 coughed and turned to his daughter. "Sarah," he said suddenly, "you're getting a baby brother."

    And nothing, not all they had been through that day or what Sarah had been through her whole life, compared to her reaction to this news. For it is possible for a man to save his family, save his friends, and unlock an entirely new, powerful way to defend them, but it is utterly impossible to console his daughter when terrible news strikes.

    Sarah stamped on the ground as hard as she could and screamed, "Nooooooooooo!"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    It was not as hard to clean up Ranger Downs as 0 originally feared it would be.

    Charon had smashed up a good deal of the technology in the hideaway, that was true, but he had not done any damage to the underlying structure. Wires, foundations, circuitry were all undamaged. The walls and floors were still intact. All that apparently would need replacing would be the monitor screens and some computer hard drives. Maybe a new operating table would be required, depending on whether Chansey and Elgyem could fix it up. The teleporter would have to be completely redone, there was nothing 0 could do about that. He had fried the teleporter, not Charon, and the program had been so complete that, had he not had the blueprints to construct a new one, his entire team would have had to walk to battles from then on.

    They were, however, at a complete loss at what to do about the Master Morpher. It was just sitting on what had once been a control panel, with an entire room of adults trying to decide the best course of action.

    "We could preserve it," suggested Serena. "It was Bakaguru's most prized possession. I think he would have wanted us to keep it safe as a…reminder of him."

    415 disagreed. "What we need to do is destroy it. The Master Morpher is entirely too powerful to be left unguarded in a simple shrine. Besides, Bakaguru Niwa was not a fool. He had no thoughts as to what would become of his possessions after he passed on beyond giving us the technology to continue the war. Anything else was to be destroyed. There were no files on his computers when we burned his lab to cinders. There should be nothing left from this, either."

    "It seems wrong to just destroy it," said Serena. "It's…it's his. He deserved better than for us to just scrap his last remnant."

    0 nodded. "I agree. We should keep it, but dismantle its internal components. That way, it can never be activated again. After we're done, we'll destroy the hardware inside it so the tech can't be replicated. We can do whatever we want with the casing."

    "It would be more difficult, but it could be done," said 415.

    "Then do it," said 0. "Bakaguru deserves to be remembered."

    Serena summoned Elgyem, which directed its attention directly onto the Master Morpher. The little device floated up into the air, dancing delicately in nothingness. Pieces began to wobble, shift, and eventually come apart. Strands of wires and gears flooded out from the device, filling the hideaway with junk.

    But 415 glanced up, and noticed something among the wreckage. "Freeze the process," she ordered. Each piece ceased motion as she pointed to a small metal box near the nexus of the morpher. "What is that?"

    0 reached up and grabbed it. It looked like a solid grey cube with a red button. He looked at the others, who all looked at him with confusion.

    "What's this?" he asked.

    "Press it," said Serena. He did, and a soft hum, followed by a very familiar laugh, issued.

    "Hello, all! Surprised to hear my voice again? I'll bet you are. At least, I hope it's you. I highly doubt anyone else would have the skill to find this little tool, so I'm just going to assume it's you simply because it would be far too strenuous to record two messages."

    "It's him…" whispered Serena.

    "In any case, I'm almost certain you all made it out safely. If you didn't…well, I'm sure you found others. Possibly not as grand as our little family, but worthy nonetheless. I trust your judgment. I didn't at first, did you know that? I never wanted anyone to have my technology. It's why I made the morphers so hard to trade off to others, or why I never made more than just a few. But I trust you. It's why I convinced you to run, and why I chose to stay. There is nothing left my generation can give you. All I hope is that Arthur, Terry, and I did our best. We tried to make this a gift, not a weapon. Try to look at your morphers that way."

    415, Serena, and 0 looked at their morphers, remembering exactly how they had come to them. For Serena, it had been an accident. For 415, a lifelong obsession. For 0, a forced responsibility.

    "I have no idea how long ago it was since you last heard me, and I promise I'm not stupid enough to believe that I could still be alive and severed from this morpher. I'm essentially recording my will and testament for whoever happens to find this morpher on my body after I'm gone. Again, I just really hope this is you all, and not some urchin three hundred years in the future that finds my skeleton.

    "There is not much I can tell you to prepare you for what's to come. There isn't, and I apologize for that. Too often do I deliver bad news instead of good. All I can tell you is that it will end. One way or another, it will end, and whether or not that end favors you is up to you now. It is up to Rangers Gold, Silver, Black, and even you, Dark Emerald. You all have the spark, that primal essence to do what's right, that led me to trust you and give up my gift to the world. Even May and Sarah, they may not have strength, but even those you protect have power. I never had anyone to protect before you all. You gave me the strength to let go. You can give each other the strength to succeed.

    "One last piece of advice: this morpher contains a small trigger that will incinerate every component that makes up what this device can do. You will want to duck now."

    Everyone hit the deck really fast just as most of the morpher detonated in tiny, controlled explosions. When the dust cleared, only the husk of the morpher and the small cube remained.

    "In a way, every one of you became my children. So stay safe, stay together, and don't let this all be for nothing. You are my legacy, and I've never felt safer than the last time I saw you."

    The box then erupted in small, bright sparks of fire, leaving nothing behind of the morpher but cinders and the exterior. 0 reached over, and picked it up.

    "Well, you heard the man," he said. "We've got prep work to do. Training. Gotta get Brock up to speed with everything, keep Max from evolving, and put everyone in tip-top shape. After all, not anyone can just save the world. Gotta be us, right?"

    May nodded. "Absolutely right, dear."

    "Can do," said Max with a grin.

    Brock chuckled. "I'll need Sarah to transform, but sure. Count me in."

    "Sounds perfect," purred Serena.

    "We should commence immediately," said 415. "There is no telling when the final wave will be upon us."

    "Then let's go already!" shouted Sarah.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Is it time, big brother?"

    Axi and Bix sat in their cave, just as they always did. Axi perked up his ears at the water dripping somewhere in the distance. Bix just looked at the ceiling. Neither one of them seemed to notice that there was an entire army of Rangerlings surrounding them. All the little monsters stood stoic, simply waiting for orders.

    Axi nodded. "I believe it is, little brother. All our friends are gone. No more Sap, no more Top, no more Dia, no more Ame, no more Rub. Just the two of us left out of all our friends. It's so very sad."

    Bix looked around, acknowledging the monsters around them. "We still have them. We could still play with them all day long."

    Axi shrugged. "But if we do, who would destroy the world? Our other friends? No, they keep taking our rangers away."

    Bix stared thoughtfully for a moment. "But wasn't that the plan, big brother? Didn't we need everyone else to go away before we could come out and play?"

    Axi nodded. "Of course. Why else haven't we played with them before? We can't exactly just run around like everyone else. The main baddies always need an amazing entrance, otherwise the entire plan would fall apart at the end!" Axi turned and giggled at the surrounding Rangerlings. "Oh, my pretty little darlings! You're so close to being done. Wouldn't you like that? Wouldn't you love to be free at last and let everything come tumbling down?"

    The little monsters all chattered up a storm, jumping into a frenzy of ferocious movement that threatened to absorb the entire cavern. They were silenced by a sharp pitched shriek from Axi that sent them scuttling into the holes and tunnels where they dwelled.

    "Oblivion will be ours, little brother!" he screamed. "And then there will be nothing, nothing, to stop us from reshaping this world in our image! In our making!"

    "What a beautiful world it'll be, big brother!" shouted Bix. "All we need are the Rangerlings, little Serena, and the Dark Gold."

    Axi grinned, to the point at which every single little tooth in his mouth was clearly visible. He brushed the silver hair out of his eyes and turned to his brother. "And with a plan like ours, there's never been a surer thing, little brother! Never been a surer thing!"

    The two of them continued to cackle and cackle until the sun began to peek out from the horizon outside. Their plan wouldn't take long, considering how long they had already taken to bring everything about, but the rewards would be entirely too sweet to be imagined.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    …Twenty-Five Years Ago…

    Bakaguru sat on a bench, waiting.

    The hospital had been very friendly, considering the fact that both he and Terry had had to be brought in from overseas under special circumstances. Originally, it had been only Terry, but Bakaguru had insisted on coming along too. Arthur was still at headquarters, trying to smooth out the details for their new program, but Bakaguru had not been interested in that. He had to come. He had to explain what was going to happen next.

    He heard them approaching long before he saw them. He could hear a child's voice echoing along the quiet, dank hallways. Finally, they appeared. The woman was short but, then again, Terry had been a rather big fellow. The child was tiny, perhaps five years old at the most, and looked exactly like Terry must have looked as a child. The shape of the face was different, the boy definitely resembled his mother in that respect, but the eyes and the hair were both perfect replicas. Especially the eyes. Bakaguru noticed that, even though the boy was easily distracted and kept shifting his attention from one thing to the next, the eyes always looked as though they were penetrating everything, analyzing everything, making the boy seem wise beyond his years.

    The woman peered closely at Bakaguru, as if unsure of how to engage him in conversation. "Excuse me," she said, "are you my husband's friend?"

    Bakaguru sighed and nodded. "Yes," he said. "I worked with Terry. I came with him to talk to you."

    The woman nodded and turned to her son. "Why don't you go play over there for a bit?" she suggested. "Mommy has to have some grownup talk with this nice man."

    The boy smiled and nodded. "Okay, Mommy!" he said and bounded off to where he could not hear them. The woman sat down next to Bakaguru on the bench after he scooted over to give her some room.

    "They told me something happened," she said very suddenly. "They didn't explain what, though. Is that why you're here?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "Yes. I-I'm sorry, ma'am, this is a bit difficult for me. They have trained professionals at PKM to help people with things like this, but I didn't think they would understand. I felt…I felt it had to be me to tell you, and it's going to be hard. In many ways, this is my fault. All of it can be traced back to me."

    The woman nodded. "Why don't you start at the beginning?"

    He did. "It was just an idea of mine. I had this idea to make soldiers safer in the field. We would give them armor to withstand bullets, so as to keep men like your husband safe, so they could come home." Bakaguru coughed and readjusted his glasses. "In retrospect, it was foolish. Oh so foolish. We built the armor. We tested it. And it ended up being completely useless in your husband's case."

    "What happened?" she asked.

    Bakaguru found it hard to look at her. "We came across these houses on the first night we tried out the armor. We went inside and found this little girl and a monster. Terry tried to save the girl, but the monster—"

    "A monster?" asked the woman. "Like, a Pokemon?"

    Bakaguru shook his head. "No, a real monster. Like the stuff of nightmares. This…thing had hurt this girl so badly, so very badly. It made Terry so angry and he attacked it. But it just kept coming back and then…" Bakaguru took a deep breath. "Then it did something to Terry. It shot something at him. Terry went down. We were able to stop the monster, but it was too late. Too late to help him. Too late to do anything."

    "Please," she said. "What happened to my husband?"

    "Terry—he came back shortly after he was brought out of the house. Not a scratch on him. Only it wasn't Terry. Something happened, the beam did something to him. Whatever it was, it changed Terry. It changed who he is, it took away who he was."

    "I don't understand," she replied. "Please, can I see him?"

    Bakaguru shook his head. "No. He has insisted on that point. He was going to have himself listed officially as K.I.A., but I convinced him to at least let me talk to you."

    "That doesn't sound like my husband."

    "That's because it isn't your husband. He isn't Terry. Not anymore. There's no other way to describe it."

    "How can that be? How can you tell me that Terry's alive, but at the same time he's gone? That doesn't make sense!"

    There were tears in her eyes. Bakaguru did not know how to stop them. "The monster said it split people. When it pointed the light at me, Terry stopped it. We thought he had died, but the monster said it didn't split bodies. Terry's been split, but not on any level you or I can ever understand." He lifted his hands to his glasses and discovered he too was crying, and he did not know how to stop.

    "You said…you said there was a girl," she said. "What happened to her?"

    Bakaguru took a deep breath. "He saved her. We were able to get her to the base, she's being taken care of. She will have some reconstructive surgery to repair what we can, but she's the same way as Terry. She's silent. Cold. Won't speak to anyone, except for when she asks for him."

    "Is Terry silent too?"

    "That's difficult to answer. He'll talk to me, but only if he needs to. He mostly listens now."

    "Does he sound like Terry?"

    Bakaguru shook his head. "It's like something got switched off in his head. He used to be so happy, so insightful. Now whenever he speaks, he just sounds like a robot. Won't use contractions, uses words in a way Terry never could. It's made him so much smarter, but at the same time—"

    "It's like he's gone, even when you can see him sitting right next to you." The woman paused, and Bakaguru noticed that her hands were gripping the edge of her seat. "Does he remember me? Does he remember our son?"

    This was going to be the difficult part. "Yes," said Bakaguru. "He remembers who you were to him, but he can't remember how that felt. Whatever piece of Terry that loved you and your son was severed off. He can only remember your marriage as facts, not as feelings or as love. It barely registered to him."

    "Oh no…" The woman chocked, burying her face into her arms. "No, no, this isn't happening. My son needs a father. I need my husband. I—I can't do this without you, Terry." Her voice trailed off, lost between her sobbing.

    Bakaguru could not help himself. His eyes were burning. "This is all my fault," he whispered to himself, wiping away some of the tears on his cheeks.

    "Your fault?"

    "I should never have let him try the suit. I should have kept him away from the house. He shouldn't have taken the hit for me. Any way you look at it, this is my fault. And all my work accomplished was that it ruined your lives. It was supposed to help people. It was supposed to save lives. How could I fail so spectacularly?"

    He felt a hand close in on his, and looked up. She was smiling through her tears. "You didn't do any of this," she said. "Terry did this. He made his choice to protect the world. I made my choice to love him, and to have his child. Without you, he would be dead, right?"

    "Does it matter? So I killed the demon. It changes nothing."

    "It changes everything. He's alive. Maybe he's not the same person, maybe he needs time to heal. Maybe our Terry will come back to us."

    "And if he doesn't? I've ruined his life, your life. How can you say it will be alright?"

    She smiled at him. Bakaguru noticed there were no more tears in her eyes. "Did he save the girl? Did he save you?" she asked.

    "Yes, but he didn't know what he'd be giving up! He didn't know he would end up like this!"

    "He would have done it anyway," she said. "My Terry is…was…always like that. He always tried to help everybody. Did you know that's how we met? He was being silly and tried to get me over a puddle of mud. Ended up getting us both dirty. He was always such a good man. You must be too, otherwise he wouldn't have saved you. Well, he still might have, but he might have figured out a way to throw some whiplash your way." She giggled, it was a slight sound that sounded like a cough. "He always tried to do the right thing. So should you."

    "Yes, but what is the right thing in this situation?"

    "We wait," she decided. "We don't know what the monster was, right?"

    "No. PKM is still doing research to determine exactly what it was."

    "Then we wait. In time, maybe Terry will come back to us. Until then…" Her voice trailed off, and she looked at the little boy at the other end of the hallway. "Until then, he's on a journey. A long journey. Until our Terry can come back to me and my son."

    "But he might never come back. He might never be the same as he was."

    She shrugged. "That's the chance we'll have to take, won't we? Will you keep in touch with me about his condition?"

    Bakaguru nodded, and then looked to the boy. "But, no one else can know. Not now, and not until we can figure out what did this to Terry and how to fix him. Your son won't understand."

    "I know how to protect my son," she said. "You just keep my husband safe. You promise me that."

    He nodded. "I swear on my life. And I swear to do everything in my power to bring him back."

    She seemed satisfied with that, and called her son over. "Come on," she said with a small smile. "We're heading back home."

    The boy tilted his head, confused. "Who were we supposed to see here?" he asked.

    "This man here."

    The boy turned to Bakaguru. "Hi, mister," he said. "Are you sick?"

    Bakaguru chuckled. "Not really. I'm here to see a friend of mine."

    "Are they sick?"

    "Maybe. Maybe not. We'll have to wait and see."

    The boy bobbed his head up and down. "Okay. Mommy, I wanna go home."

    "Okay sweetie," she said, and stood up from the bench. She turned to Bakaguru. "Goodbye."

    Bakaguru grinned. "Until next time. Hopefully there will be something soon."

    "Hopefully," she said. Then she left, and Bakaguru was left alone in the hallway again.

    Bakaguru stood up and headed into an adjacent room with black shades on the window. His hands were still shaking. "Stop," he murmured. "You got through it. What's done is done."

    "How did they take it?" asked another voice.

    Bakaguru looked up. He looked exactly the same, exactly the same. Only nothing about him was Terry anymore. He could see it in the eyes the man had. They were dead, so pale and immobile that he might have looked blind to the untrained eye. His mouth was firm and hard, so unlike the Terry that had always had a grin.

    "As well as you expected. She was braver than I was."

    "Terrance chose wisely when he selected his wife," said Terry. "She will keep strong, no matter how many years she is separated from him."

    Bakaguru took a seat next to the bed. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

    Terry turned to look at him, and Bakaguru had to suppress a shudder when he felt Terry's new eyes on him. "I am unchanged," he replied. "This body is healthy. I am ready to return to the field. Why am I still being cared for here, and not in a PKM facility?"

    "Arthur thought that the change of scenery might help you. He pulled a lot of strings with his father to get you admitted closer to your home."

    "It was an irrelevant gesture. We should return to resume work on the armor technology."

    Bakaguru shook his head. "No, we're going to stay here until you return to normal. This change can't be permanent."

    Terry looked at him, and then briefly at himself. "Terrance is gone, Bakaguru Niwa. I am here. What matters is that someone survived what happened."

    "But you still have his memories," said Bakaguru. "How can you not be him?"

    "Because those memories were formed by someone else," said Terry. He tapped at his skull. "The beam scattered Terrance's psyche. I was what put the pieces back together into a working mind. I have his memories, but all they are to me are a frame of reference to how I was created. I understand Terrance had a wife, and a son, but those people will not understand who I am. I am not her husband. I am not his father. That man is dead."

    "But if you can work that out, why can't you figure out how to feel those emotions?" demanded Bakaguru. "There has to be some way to undo what's been done!"

    "There is not," said Terry. "I have tried. The memories cannot connect with me. There is something blocking it, something that prevents my two selves from merging again."

    "Your two selves?"

    "Or something to that effect," said Terry. "The fact remains that Terrance remains locked in here and I cannot reach him. Ergo, I am not Terrance at all. I must be something else. I am what the demon created in Terrance's image."

    "So what do we do?" asked Bakaguru.

    "I have been wondering that. Do we have any information on the girl? Is she like me?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "She's exhibiting the same symptoms. She must have been hit by the same thing."

    "If we continue to monitor her, we may find out a way to reverse this. However…"

    "However what? There's nothing else to do. We have to repair you. We need to get you back to your family."

    "I understand. But would you not agree that I may be more efficient this way? Terrance was always such a fool. Perhaps I can be more of a use to this world if I remain as I am."

    "Don't be foolish. That would mean trading off any chance of normality on the off-chance you perform better at your duties. You can be Terrance and still be a good agent."

    "Regardless," said Terry, changing the subject, "there still remains one more issue I would like to consider."

    "Which is?"

    "My name. I am no longer Terrance. I require a new identity, at least until it can be decided what to do with me as I am." He thought for a moment. "This mind was constructed from nothing. It came from nowhere. Perhaps I should be 'Nobody'."

    "Ridiculous. That is hardly a name. Perhaps a designation would be better. It would give you hope to return to yourself."

    Terry nodded. "An interesting suggestion. Perhaps '0'. It means the same as nobody."

    Bakaguru considered this. "Very well…0. We'll call you that for now. But you're going back to being Terry one day. Don't forget that."

    "No. And you remember the armor. It is our legacy, Bakaguru Niwa. It is what we will leave behind."

    Bakaguru shook his head. "No. The armor is something I will make. But you're coming home to that boy one day, as Terry. Someday. I promised her."

    0 looked at Bakaguru. "I am afraid that someday may be a long way away," he said.

    "Well, hope springs eternal."

    Author's Note: Well, we've officially arrived at the endgame! From here on out, chapter updates will become slightly more sporadic as I only have two chapters published left to put here. Progress is happening on the next five chapters, and I will be picking up the pace as the semester ends.

    Of particular note in this chapter is that we have confirmation that Terry was 0, and that the previous Golden Ranger had a family he left behind. I really like the scene between Bakaguru and the wife, showing his doubts and his fears about what the technology might do in the future. In a way, this four-part arc was meant to provide closure on the PKM side of things, which had always felt incomplete because of Charon's obsessions, and for Bakaguru, as I wondered why a man would build the ranger technology in the first place and what happened to the first generation of rangers.

    Also, this chapter has the only appearance of the Battlizer. Some people like these types of things so I included it in the story in a rather unique way that ensures it'll be too hard to summon in active combat, because I think it's sort of a deus ex machina in a way.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

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