Isabel sat on an exercise mat out behind her family's trailer, doing warmup stretches. The sun wasn't even up yet, and she had to fight the urge to yawn every few seconds. But this was the only time she could practice without having to worry about Ranger training or (so far) a monster attack, she was going to take it. These last few weeks she'd really let herself go, and that couldn't continue. Besides, it was nice to do something familiar. Almost relaxing, which she knew was a funny way to describe twisting yourself into a human pretzel.
Around her the circus was slowly coming to life. Animal handlers were feeding and cleaning up after their charges, and some of the other performers had gotten up to rehearse or even just chat. Things seemed to be going back to normal. Isabel had even heard rumors about a show being planned. Well, most of the people here had come from (or through) Angel Grove, they were probably used to monster attacks.
Isabel kept working through exercises—frontbends, backbends, splits, chest stands, everything she could think of. It felt a little different—not the same tensions as usual, and she wondered just how much her Ranger duties were going to affect her strength. Gradually she sensed Coyote's presence in her mind. He tended to creep in, wait for her to notice him before he started talking.
"Let me guess: trouble?" Isabel asked mentally.
"I wouldn't know. I can't communicate with the others without your cooperation. No vocal chords, you know. I'm just listening in because this existence is pretty dull otherwise.""Fair enough." Isabel straightened out, exhaling. Her timer went off, and she started in surprise. It was six already? She scrambled to her feet, rolling up her mat and throwing a hoodie on over her practice leotard. Already she could hear someone ringing a bell to signal breakfast.
Isabel joined her family at one of the long tables set up in the campgrounds. Well, her immediate family; she was related by either blood or marriage to most of the people present.
"You were up early," her father said, as she slid onto the bench between two cousins.
"I didn't wake anybody up, did I?" Isabel asked, filling up her plate.
"Don't worry about it. I was just wondering why you've changed your routine. So you'll have more time for your new friends?"
"Something like that," Isabel said, trying to sound casual. "Plus you never know what's going to happen later in the day, better to get the important stuff done early."
Mr. Jackson nodded. "Fair point."
"What do you do with those guys all day anyway?" The cousin on her left, Jacob, asked through a mouthful of bacon. "An' why don't you ever talk about it?"
"Because it's none of your business, that's why," Isabel retorted, giving him a gentle elbow to the ribs.
"Ow! You never acted like that before," Jacob whined.
"That's because before all my friends were here," Isabel replied, with a gesture around the breakfast area. "No reason to tell you what you already know."
One of Isabel's grown-up sisters, Lacey, looked up from where she was trying to keep her toddler twins from painting themselves with orange juice. "Are you okay, Isabel? You seem a little defensive."
"Coyote? Any suggestions?" Isabel asked mentally, covering it up with an exasperated look and shake of her head.
"They know you're hiding something, just pretend it's something other than your powers.""Hey, I want to have a tiny bit of a life that doesn't revolve around this place, relax."
Something beeped in the bag Isabel had shoved under the bench. She recognized the noise and her heart sank. Something was wrong. Hastily she leaned over and began digging through the bag for her earpiece.
"Well, if you really are enjoying it," her father said.
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" Isabel asked, fishing the earpiece out and sticking it in. "I get cool toys like this!"
Reya's voice came on over the earpiece. "Isabel? I need you at the base."
"Okay, what's up?" Isabel asked, and hastily finished off her breakfast.
"Jean-Paul. He promised to come in for training today and he hasn't shown up. I sent Blaze to find him, but that was two hours ago."
Isabel sighed. "I'll check the restaurant."
"Thanks, I appreciate it." Reya sounded frazzled.
"I have to—" Isabel started.
Her father waved a hand. "Get going, find your friend—you're not going back to that French restaurant, are you?"
"Yeah, why?" Isabel gathered her things and coming around the table.
He leaned in. "Bring me some macaroons?"
"Aren't you supposed to be eating healthy?"
"Is that any way to talk to your father?" He gave her a teasing cuff to the shoulder. "Get going."
Power Rangers Rumor Legion
Created by Michelle Marr and Aaron Thall
"Bending over Backwards"
Written by Michelle Marr
Isabel knocked on the back door a third time, and stepped back, hoping someone inside would notice her inside the restaurant.
"You don't see anything suspicious?" Reya asked through Isabel's earpiece.
"No," Isabel said, taking a few steps to the left so she could peek in through the window. She could see lights on, but the view was mostly of the dining room, not the kitchen. "Everything looks normal. Maybe he left his earpiece at home?" Isabel knocked on the door again, and heard a faint crash from inside. "Uh, Jean-Paul? Blaze? Are you in there?"
Someone was shouting, she thought. Getting irritated she kicked the door with a boom. Before she could try again she heard it unlock, and it swung outward to reveal Jean-Paul, wearing his chef's uniform and an apron that was already stained. He had flour smeared on his face.
"Mon cherie! Oh thank goodness, maybe the madman will listen to you."
"What's wrong?" Isabel asked. "Where's Blaze, Reya sent him to find you almost an hour ago."
Jean-Paul gestured inside. "Look! The fool is trying to eat everything in the restaurant!"
Isabel entered the kitchen, and was greeted by a mess. Boxes, bags and containers had been opened and were spilling down shelves and onto the floor. Seated on the counter was Blaze, surrounded by most of the containers with his hand in a bag of flour. He pulled out a handful and popped it in his mouth, coughing out a white puff of it as he tried to chew and swallow it.
"This stuff is so dry, how do you eat it?"
"What are you doing?" Isabel exclaimed, looking around in bewilderment at the mess.
"Oh, hello beautiful. Sorry about the delay, Jean-Paul didn't want to come in yet so I decided that I'd kill some time tasting this food he talks so much about. I don't like it," Blaze said.
"I can't just abandon my job because Reya has some invention she wants to test out! Do you think I can just tell my boss 'sorry, I can't come in to work today, I'm a Power Ranger and I need to do an arsenal check'?" Jean-Paul retorted.
"Why not?" Blaze asked. He set the flour aside and took up a bag of raw brown sugar.
"I said why not? Why do we need to be secretive about this whole Ranger business anyway? We're saving their butts, we should get the credit for that."
"We can't just go and reveal our identities!" Isabel protested. "What about our families?"
"Don't have one," Blaze said, pouring out a handful of sugar. He tossed it into his mouth, and his face lit up. "Sucrose!?"
Jean-Paul looked thoughtful. He tapped his chin, brow furrowed. "He has a point...why keep our identities secret? There is no one our enemies could target that would hurt me. It would give me much more respect and flexibility from work."
"Well, I do have a family, so I'd prefer to keep things secret," Isabel said. "And either way Reya's going to bust a fuse if you two don't show up for training."
"This is all refined sucrose? Is this even legal?" Blaze asked, running his hand through the sugar and letting handfuls pour through his fingers.
"And leave this mess?" Jean-Paul asked, gesturing around the kitchen. "I'll get fired for sure."
Isabel shut her eyes and took a few deep breaths, trying to stay calm. "Fine, I'll help clean up and let Reya know we'll be late. Well, more late."
Jean-Paul finally managed a smile. "You are as generous as you are beautiful, Isabel."
Behind them Blaze picked up the bag of sugar and started pouring it straight into his mouth.
"Don't. Just don't," Isabel said. She went over to Blaze and pulled the sugar bag out of his hands.
"I wasn't finished," he protested.
"Actually you are. Get down and find a broom, you're going to help," Isabel ordered.
Blaze pouted and made a grab at the bag, but Isabel swung it out of reach. Off he slunk, to her mild surprise. She hadn't expected him to listen to her. Maybe it was just because he thought she was pretty, but hey, at least it was something. Maybe she could even use it to help the team work together a little more smoothly. After all, Yora might have been the Red Ranger (or reddish Ranger) but he had a long way to go. Isabel put the sugar away and turned back to the mess. This might work out after all.
In the base's main lab, Reya was busy setting up a scary-looking machine around Shiori. To her credit the younger girl was trying to hold still and cooperate, though she kept glancing nervously at the wires and gears exposed around her.
"And ready. Can I have your sword and totem?" Reya asked.
Summoning them, Shiori handed the two objects over, and Reya set them in slots of the machine, which closed shut around them. That done she took a seat in the chair next to Shiori, and turned to the nearby Yora.
"Hit the red button."
With a nod, Yora did. The machine hummed to life, and the totem and sword began to glow. Shiori flinched as a third light started up inside her chest, mirroring the other two. Reya watched a screen, glancing from it to Shiori and the weapons and back. The light got brighter and brighter, then went out with an audible bang, scorching the machine around the totem and sword. Shiori shrieked and clutched at her chest, and Yora darted over to her.
"Hold still, let me see," he said, pulling her hands away. Her shirt was a little blackened but she didn't seem to be hurt.
"EXPLODING MACHINES ARE SCARY!"
Reya waded through the smoke towards the machine. She tried to pull the totem out, and the machine coughed out a cloud of black ash right into her face. She blinked a few times, covered in soot, and started wrenching the totem free with a sigh of exasperation. "Máquinas frágiles estúpidas ...no deben incluso tener que hacer esta transferencia!"
The doors opened and Isabel and Jean-Paul came through, half-dragged by a speeding Blaze. At the sight of the others Isabel let go and raced over to help Shiori out of the machine. Free of one of his captors Blaze giggled and darted sharply to the left, dragging Jean-Paul like an overexcited, dog.
"What happened?" Isabel asked.
"Hopefully, I transferred her powers back where they belong," Reya said, scrubbing soot off her face with the corner of her lab coat. She stepped back with the morphing equipment, then slotted the totem into place.
Nothing happened, and Reya's shoulders slumped. Shiori, who'd been watching, groaned.
"We'll just have to try again," Reya said, setting the devices aside.
"I'M A BIRD I'M A PLANE I'M A CHOO CHOO TRAIN WHEEEEEE!" Blaze yelled, charging around the base. Jean-Paul finally managed to break free and stumble to a halt, panting. Coming up on a computer, Blaze swerved, turned it into a surprisingly elegant twirl, and kept spinning until he lost his balance and fell flat on his back. He burst into uncontrollable giggling.
Yora walked over to the Indigo Ranger and stared down at him, arms folded.
"What is wrong with you this time?"
Blaze was too busy watching his hands waving around to respond. Yora nudged him with a foot, then kicked him lightly. Finally Blaze seemed to notice him, eyes widening. He sat up so sharply he almost tipped over forwards.
"Waah! Where did you come from?"
"Perhaps I should mention Blaze's unusual excitement when he discovered the sugar in my kitchen," Jean-Paul said slowly.
"Sugar?" Blaze giggled again, and tried to pick himself up. His limbs flopped around as if he'd forgotten how gravity worked, and he fell down on his side, splayed out awkwardly. "Ye gods this stuff is good. C-can you get me some more? I'll pay whatever you want."
"Great. Just great," Reya muttered, shaking her head in exasperation.
"While we wait for Blaze to sober up," Isabel interrupted, "Can you show us what you've been working on?"
Reya paused, processed the request and nodded, mentally switching gears. She hurried over to the computer, where the Rangers joined her (sans Shiori and Blaze).
"Is it another Pandoran?" Yora demanded.
"Not exactly." She opened up an email. "This is a collection of missing person cases from Kai, opened throughout the last 24 hours and most of the reports point to forested areas. He thinks there's something suspicious going on."
"Then let's go investigate. If it's forested areas we want then the park's probably the best place to start. Is there any chance we can let Shiori sit this one out?" Isabel asked, looking back at the Amber Ranger. Hearing them Shiori suddenly looked hopeful.
Reya sighed. "Until we at least know what this threat is, you're all in more danger if you can't form the Warrior Megazord-which you can only do when all five of you are present. That includes Blaze too, unfortunately."
Nearby Blaze perked up and started talking almost too quickly to get the words out. "Fight? Are we gonna fight? Who are we gonna fight?" If we're not I can always start one!"
"Guys, take Blaze, I'll keep an eye on Shiori," Isabel said.
"Who put you in charge?" Yora demanded.
"Do we have time to argue about this stuff?" Isabel snapped. "Let's just get going!"
"I agree with her," Jean-Paul put in helpfully.
Yora studied Isabel, frowning, but then he shook his head and went to get Blaze, Jean-Paul following. Isabel grinned to herself. It was working so far.
"My feet hurt," Jean-Paul complained, swatting at flies as he trailed after the others towards the park. "Could we not at least have morphed to travel here?"
"Jean-Paul, just a reminder, there is a group of people out here who don't like us and can trace the energy we let off, especially when we morph," Isabel said wearily. "Honestly I'm surprised they haven't shown up yet, if there is a monster."
"You're assuming all of the monsters are under Valkyrie's control," Yora said. He was leading the way, walking at a brisk clip. "From what Reya said, there are probably still plenty out there that he hasn't collected yet."
Blaze stood still almost until the others had passed him, and then sprang forward and charged with a yell. The yell cut off abruptly, and something thudded against the ground. Releasing Shiori, Yora ran after him, only to apparently slam into nothing.
Isabel caught the fleeing Shiori, who struggled but wasn't able to free herself from the Chartreuse Ranger's grip. Jean-Paul drew his Rumor Blade, already taking out his totem. Up ahead Yora struggled with shimmering, almost invisible strands that held him upright.
"It's a web!" he shouted. He started tearing at it, his super-strength helping, but it stuck to itself and him, tangling him up even worse.
"Hang on, I'll cut you loose," Isabel called, shifting her hold on Shiori to draw her Rumor Blade.
Taking her chance, Shiori bolted, yelling, "Monster spiders are scary!"
Before anyone could react the tree branches rustled and down dropped a monster, right in front of the terrified Amber Ranger. The upper body looked like a woman, albeit with very visible fangs, but the lower half was the bulbous grey body of a spider, complete with eight hairy legs. Shiori scrambled backwards with a shriek of terror.
"Morph!" Isabel yelled, dashing back towards Yora and slashing at his bonds. Once he was freed enough to grab his own Rumor Blade he finished the job.
Shifting into coyote form Isabel spun and leaped at the monster. It scrambled up a treetrunk with inhuman speed, and she missed. Behind her Shiori fumbled for her Rumor Blade and totem with shaky hands.
The other Rangers followed suit, surrounding the monster-Yora even shot up a tree to cut off its escape from that direction. Flipping over the spider-woman shot silk at the Carmine Ranger, but he was able to tear it apart and avoid being cocooned. Jean-Paul, eschewing his sword, kicked at one of the spider legs and the creature lost its balance. Isabel leaped at it from behind, but the human body twisted around and punched her in the gut, making her double over and drop her sword. Hastily the spider-woman caught her by the arm and threw her aside.
With a whoop, a humanoid blur shot out of the trees and slammed into the spider's back. Blaze, unmorphed and covered in webbing, looked up at the confused spider-woman.
"Oh, hey." He squinted up at the creature's face. "You look kind of like one of my exes."
The spider-woman swung around to attack him, only for Yora to drop out of the trees and land on her back. One swing towards the spider legs, and the monster let out a shriek and collapsed, limbs folding beneath it. Yora scrambled free as the monster's legs shuddered, oozing black liquid.
"What do you know, she acts like one of my exes too," Blaze said.
"So...is anyone else confused about the fact that she hasn't blown up yet?" Isabel asked.
"Perhaps Reya might be able to explain," Jean-Paul suggested.
"Okay, let's get her back to the lab, then," Yora said, moving to lift the spider's body.
"I think that's a little big for even you," Isabel cut in, moving around him and shapeshifting into a huge draft horse. "How about this?"
"That'll help, Yora admitted. "Guys, help me get it onto her back."
Reya hit the door control for the delivery entrance in back of the base, and stepped back, shifting her grip on a silvery briefcase. Beside her stood Kai, still in his blue and grey uniform and arms folded. He took in the team as the door rumbled upwards, revealing the cluster of teenagers and one horse. Blaze stood right next to the transformed Isabel, one hand on the woman seated on her back. He looked a lot more sober than he had been earlier, if somewhat less perky. The illusion he'd created to conceal the spider-woman took up a lot of his concentration.
"That's the one you captured?" Kai asked, striding towards the group.
Blaze dropped the illusion, revealing the monster draped limply across Isabel's back, spider legs dragging on either side. It twitched a little as Kai approached. Silently he examined the monster, checked one of its severed legs, and made a full circle around it.
"So are we just supposed to stand here all day while you study the thing or are you here for a reason?" Yora asked.
Kai didn't even look at him. "Bring her inside, Reya has a secure lab ready."
The Rangers followed him and Reya inside, the scientist falling in with them as they reached her. She leaned over and spoke in Isabel's ear.
"Your father's been calling the library, do you know what's going on?"
Isabel gave her a startled look but didn't stop or respond, since she was still in horse form. They reached a metal door, which Kai hauled open to reveal a stark white lab. Entering the room, the Rangers and Reya slid the spider-monster off Isabel's back and onto a wide silver examination table. Isabel shifted back into human form and got up off all fours, rolling her shoulders and wincing in pain.
"That thing was heavy…" Jean-Paul came over beside her, and she flinched away. "I am SO not in the mood for more come-ons right now."
"Relax, I just want to heal you a little," Jean-Paul chided her. Sheepishly she relaxed and let him touch her shoulders, focusing energy into her. "I only started with you since you are clearly more tired. After you I will treat Blaze." He said the name like it was distasteful.
"Don't sneer at me, Frenchie," Blaze muttered, shooting him a glare.
"Well, Kai?" Reya asked. "You mentioned a theory about this monster."
"Well, first and foremost, this is a Jorogumo," Kai said, straightening out one of the spider legs. "It preys on men in particular, usually from an underwater lair. Second of all, this is one of the missing people."
Isabel's head snapped up. "What?"
"Somehow she's been turned into a monster," Kai said. "I suspect that we'll find the other missing women in the same state."
"...By what?" Jean-Paul asked.
"Presumably a bigger monster."
"Bigger?" Shiori and Blaze repeated, with nearly the same levels of apprehension. The Amber Ranger might have attempted a covert retreat, but Yora stepped between her and the door.
"How many women have gone missing?" Reya asked.
"Six," Kai replied.
An alarm started sounding, and Reya ran over to a computer array against one wall, which she activated. "Bad news, guys."
Jean-Paul spoke up. "Let me guess: more spider-monsters?"
"In the park," Reya confirmed. "They're trapping everyone they can grab inside cocoons."
"One here, five to go," Yora said. "Let's take care of this."
"Before you go," Reya interrupted, raising the case she'd been carrying and setting it on the desk beside the computer array. "I've come up with a new addition to your arsenal."
She flipped open the clasps and raised the lid, revealing five pistols and holsters. They were shaped like the shock blasters the veteran Rangers had used before, but these were dark grey and gold.
"Shiny…" Blaze reached towards them.
Yora snatched one out before he could, and turned it in his hands, examining the weapon. One by one the others followed suit. Even Shiori reluctantly accepted one, though she handled it more like it was a grenade than a gun.
"These are the Mythic Masers," Reya announced, clearly pleased by the Rangers' reactions. "They pack enough of a punch to take out a Gargoyle in one shot, and a monster will go down pretty quickly if you're all working together. The battery pack isn't the biggest but it recharges very quickly."
"Time for their field test, then," Yora said, taking his and turning towards the door.
"I'm coming with you," Kai said.
"We don't need your help," Yora said curtly, but Kai caught him by the arm before he could leave.
"As a matter of fact, you do. You're going to need someone on the field to figure out how these monsters work and the best way to fight them while you help the civilians. I'll be working in concert with Reya but she can't see everything as it happens from here."
Yora's expression darkened. "Fine. But stay out of my way, we don't need someone else to watch out for."
"I can take care of myself, thank you," Kai said dryly, and let go of him.
As the Rangers rushed out, along with a protesting Shiori, Isabel darted back over to Reya.
"You said something about my Dad calling?"
"He's left three messages on the library phones. You told him you were coming here?"
"Hey, this place is supposed to be safe, right?" Isabel said with a helpless shrug. "I didn't know what else to tell him. I know some of the guys don't care about secret identities, but everyone will definitely be safer if they don't know what I'm really doing."
"I'll help you come up with something-what do you mean about the guys not caring?" Reya asked.
"Blaze and Jean-Paul. They mentioned it at the restaurant."
"Isabel!" Yora's voice carried back down the hall. "Get out here!"
"Never mind, you need to go," Reya said. "We'll talk about it with them later."
"Right!" Off Isabel dashed.
Jorogumo filled the park, pursuing the last of the fleeing civilians. The trees were almost white with spiderwebs and nets. Those unlucky enough to be trapped were quickly wrapped in cocoons, which their captors dragged back to a single large pile in the middle of the park, guarded by more of the monsters.
The Rangers arrived at a run, already morphed. Blaze was trailing behind the others, one hand on his helmet, and Kai took up the rear. Yora held tightly onto Shiori's wrist to prevent her from running in the other direction, though every once in a while he'd lean in and say something encouraging.
"You sure you healed me, Jean-Paul?" Blaze called, wobbling a little. "Because I don't feel healed."
"I only took care of what your exhaustion induced. The sugar high and incoming crash you inflicted on yourself at my expense, you get to live with the consequences of that," Jean-Paul retorted.
Blaze growled and drew his Mythic Maser, taking aim at the nearest Jorogumo. It fired a white bolt of light at the monster, apparently scorching it. Letting out a screech of pain the monster wheeled on him, fangs bared. It had four, two on top and two on the bottom and all large enough to stick out of the mouth.
"Food," she snarled, and charged towards the Indigo Ranger. He threw himself sideways and avoided her attack, but ended up splayed on the ground.
"This is better," he mumbled, "the ground doesn't move if you're close enough to stare at it…"
The Jorogumo spat a web at him, catching Blaze's feet, but Isabel lunged in, Mythic Maser firing. With an inhuman shriek the monster retreated. Drawing her sword Isabel cut Blaze's legs loose and dragged him to his feet.
"I want a nap," Blaze complained.
"If you want it to be a permanent one then by all means, lay down like that again," Isabel retorted. Muttering, Blaze drew his Mythic Maser and started taking careful potshots at the Jorogumo around the park.
Yora had left Shiori with Kai, who stood on the edge of the battlefield, apparently scanning it. Shiori kept trying to run away, but Kai didn't even have to look to reach out and pull her back.
"I never had this kind of trouble when I was a Ranger…"
"LEGGO! I am NOT going out there! I've been turned into something ONCE already, and I don't want it to happen again!"
"Relax. Unlike most of your teammates, I've actually READ your profile, and I've got no intention of endangering a child. But I DO know how we can do some good while the others are fighting. Come on!"
Further ahead Yora was cutting his way directly to the pile of cocoons, scrambling up trees and jumping over Jorogumo in the race there. Jean-Paul, moving more slowly, worked to disable the monsters as they came at him. For some reason he was mostly avoiding the use of weapons in favor of well-timed kicks.
"My apologies, madamoiselles, for my most ungentlemanly behavior, but alas, at the moment, you're certainly not behaving like proper ladies!"
"LESS FLIRTING, MORE FIGHTING!"
Isabel started after Yora, seeing the path already closing up behind him as Jorogumo moved to trap him at his destination. She paused to shift forms, this time choosing a tiger for the size. (And the coolness factor, she had to admit to herself). The first Jorogumo didn't know what hit her; she went down with a howl. A few bites to the spider legs kept her down.
"Oh gross! I've got spider goo in my mouth!" She spat it out as she moved on to the next one, already dreading the next taste. "And this just got grosser…"
Consciously or not most of the Rangers were trying to avoid causing harm to the human halves of the creatures.
Yora's charge halted abruptly as Jorogumo surrounded him, cutting off his path with barriers of webbing.
"For the record, I'm trying REALLY hard to not think about where all this stuff's coming from…"
He tried to hack through and found his sword stuck to the stuff.
"HEY! I need that!"
With monsters closing in he chose to abandon it and instead drew his Mythic Maser. A few quick shots in a circle cleared out enough space for him to fight back.
"Much better! Things are starting to look up!"
At least until a Gargoyle dropped like a stone onto his back. He rolled over to pin it beneath his body and slammed an elbow into its gut.
"And I just jinxed myself, didn't I?"
More Gargoyles circled the battlefield, wings flapping.
"Yep. Totally jinxed myself."
Isabel shifted back into human form to start shooting at them, and Blaze likewise stopped where he was and opened fire. Jean-Paul ducked under a tree, and a couple of Gargoyles broke off to chase him. Unfortunately for them they struck a nearly-invisible web set up by one of the Jorogumo, and proceeded to tangle themselves up trying to get free. They didn't seem to be working with the Jorogumo so much as taking advantage of the attack to go after the Rangers.
"Thanks! That would have mussed up my suit!"
Yora finally managed to smash his attacker, and cut the legs out from under a Jorogumo as it reached for him. More spat webs at him, pinning his arms half-bent at his sides. Regardless he lunged at the nearest monster, stabbing her through her grey spider body. She went down, and he ran for the pile of cocoons directly behind her.
And skidded to a halt, staring in bewilderment. Partly hidden behind the heap crouched Shiori, sawing industriously at one of the cocoons. From the looks of it she'd already cut through one or two; the wrappings lay everywhere. Shiori was working very quickly and shakily, and just behind her was Kai, apparently covering her with his own gun.
"Scary… So scary…"
Yora hesitated, and Kai glanced his way. He made a gesture towards the fight. Understanding, Yora nodded and plunged back into the fray, keeping the Jorogumo distracted and unaware of the rescue underway. Much as he hated to admit it, the veteran Ranger had come up with a winner of a strategy… So far.
Well, the Jorogumo who had already started the fight. As Shiori sawed a cocoon open, a hand shot out of it and caught her by the throat. She screamed in surprise, and the head and shoulders of a new Jorogumo burst out of the cocoon.
"SPIDER MONSTERS ARE STILL SCARY!"
The monster threw her aside and Kai opened fire.
"SHIORI! BACK OFF!"
It spat webbing, not at him but at his gun, gumming up his hands and the muzzle so it couldn't fire. He struggled to free it but the Jorogumo was too fast. As the monster fell upon him, he glanced and saw Shiori scrambling back, badly shaken by the sudden shock.
"Nononononono… Not again!"
Shiori stayed where she was, frozen in terror as the Jorogumo started to cocoon Kai.
"Let me go! Shiori! Snap out of it! Shiori!"
He kept struggling, but only managed to drop his gun. Something screeched behind Shiori, and she looked up to see a Gargoyle swooping towards her, claws extended. Letting out a shriek she scrambled away, fumbling for her Mythic Maser. Just as the monster reached for her she squeezed the trigger, blasting the Gargoyle with a volley of lasers so thick it was almost a beam of light. The monster exploded, showering her with sparks and bits of rock. Shiori lay there for a minute, panting, gun still pointed at the air with quivering hands.
"K-Kai? Are… Are you okay?"
The Jorogumo, finishing with Kai, turned on her. He tried to shout at her to run, but his words were completely muffled by the webbing. Shiori pointed the gun at it and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.
"Oh no… Please not now… Not now not now not now…"
Alarmed, she shook it and tried again, but the power pack was drained. The Jorogumo reached for her-and promptly had its front legs severed by a sword blow from the Carmine Ranger.
"I'VE GOT YOU!"
He scooped up Shiori, throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and drove the Jorogumo back. It retreated, gathering up one of the cocoons as it went. She tried to speak, but she was so petrified that the words froze in her throat. She could only watch in shameful horror as the newly released creature scrambled off with a bound Kai, the other Rangers totally unaware.
All around the park, the Jorogumo were fleeing, snatching up cocoons and darting away faster than looked possible. The Rangers tried to follow, but carefully aimed webs snared feet or tripped them up, and the monsters outran them.
"It's no use," Isabel panted, halting. "They're too fast and there are too many right now. Let's make sure everyone we rescued is okay."
The others halted in ones and twos, Yora last of all. His shoulders slumped as he watched the last of the Jorogumo disappear. His fist clenched on his sword.
"This isn't over."
Blaze straightened up from peeling webbing off his boots, and glanced around the park. "Guys, I think we're short one arrogant GSA officer."
Yora started to set Shiori down, but she struggled and he had to hang on to her shoulders to keep her from running away. "Shiori, where's Kai?"
Mutely, Shiori pointed in the direction the Jorogumo had gone. Jean-Paul groaned in exasperation and Blaze just shook his head.
"All that and I couldn't even mark off something on my checklist for the shrimp. What a day."
"Would you shut up and focus?" Isabel snapped. "We still have a lot of monsters to deal with."
"What's gotten into you lately?" Blaze asked, facing her fully. He demorphed, folding his arms. "All this yelling and pushing and giving orders disguised as suggestions...did I go color blind at some point and you were actually the Red Ranger the whole time?"
"We don't have time for this!" Isabel protested. "And people are staring, you can't be demorphed now!"
"Why not?" Blaze spun on his heel and marched towards the gathering crowd of emergency personnel, gawkers and reporters. He targeted the latter, slipping through the crowd.
"...no word about why our mysterious and unpredictable new defenders were unable to stop the monsters," a female reporter was saying, just as Blaze sidled up to her. He tugged the microphone over.
"Hi, Indigo Ranger Blaze here, and actually we just won this skirmish. All those spider chicks you just saw were on a snack run for Mama Spider, now that they're running we'll just follow them home and take her down. Knowing how monsters work that'll turn all of her victims back to normal, because ontological inertia is for nerds. By the way, are there any local waterfalls in-" he gestured back the way the Jorogumo had fled, "-that direction?"
"Uh, Kyra Falls?" The reporter stammered.
"Thank you!" Blaze gave her a peck on the nose and ran back to the others before she could react. He strolled up to the other Rangers, rubbing his hands. "Well? What are we waiting for?"
Isabel touched her earpiece. "...Reya?"
"You'd better follow the monsters. I'll keep monitoring you just in case."
Shiori whimpered, and resisted as Yora tried to give her a comforting squeeze on the shoulder. Blaze, raising his sword again, gave her an irritated look.
"Are you SURE we can't leave Yellow behind?" He asked. "She pretty much let Kai get captured, we're probably better off without her."
"I'm with him," said Shiori quickly.
"Yes, I'm sure! Get going!"
Blaze shrugged, glancing at Shiori. "Hey, I tried. Guess there's still time to check something off the list after all!"
"Not funny, Blaze," Isabel said.
Blaze ignored her, trudging on ahead. Jean-Paul followed, as did Isabel. Shiori glanced around, clearly considering whether or not she could run. Yora cleared his throat, and her shoulders slumped.
"Blaze isn't going to change anything on his stupid list if I have anything to say about it," Yora said firmly.
"But what if you CAN'T say anything about it?"
"That isn't going to happen." Taking her by the arm he tugged her along after the others.
Kyra Falls was nearly invisible on the best of days, shrouded in thick jungle. Now with the addition of massive spiderwebs it was downright gloomy. There was no birdsong or noise from animals in the undergrowth; they'd probably cleared out, recognizing trouble when they saw it. The only noise was that of the falls, rumbling in the distance. Well, that and the occasional whimper from Shiori.
"What happens...when we get...where we're going?" Blaze panted. He seemed to be having the most trouble in the heat; he'd pulled off his helmet and his gloves, rolling up his sleeves as far as the tight fabric would go (about halfway up the forearm).
"We fight," Yora replied. He walked ahead of the group, cutting a path through the underbrush with his Rumor Blade.
"Well, yes, but could you be more specific?" Jean-Paul asked.
"The main problem is going to be getting past the transformed women to the original Jorogumo," Isabel said. "They outnumber us by a lot. It might even the odds if we try to put them on the defensive, make them protect the cocoons they've already taken. I think we'll have to split up."
"That didn't go well last time," Yora said, glancing back at her.
"What other choice do we have? Stomp in here with our Zords?"
"Can we?" Blaze asked hopefully.
"Hmph. Fine, if you want to do this the hard way."
"It's not a victory if we crush half of the people we're trying to save," Isabel retorted.
Blaze pouted, and started to reply when he was blasted with webbing right in the face from above. He yelled and clawed at the sticky stuff. Jean-Paul, being the closest one to him, shoved him aside just in time to avoid the Jorogumo dropping down on his head. It spun around and hissed at them, but a few shots from Isabel, Jean-Paul and Yora forced it back. The trees rustled with the sound of massive arachnids moving towards them.
"No time to try your plan now, Isabel; everyone stay together, we can't afford to get split up and cornered by these things," Yora ordered. "We work our way towards the Falls if we can."
The Rangers got started. Isabel shifted back into tiger form, making a face as she realized she was going to have to bite more Jorogumo. Jean-Paul and Blaze took up the rear, and Yora pulling Shiori led the way, continuing to hack through webbing and shrubbery to clear a path. Above and around them Jorogumo swarmed, spitting webs or trying to snare the Rangers. Shiori yelped whenever one got within arm's reach of her, which given the close quarters was most of the time. She was starting to get hoarse.
"Is anyone keeping count of these things?" Isabel asked, made a face and spat. "This is nasty…"
"At this point I don't think it'll do us much good," Yora replied. He shoved Shiori flat and stabbed an incoming Jorogumo through the spider body. It shrieked and fell back, limbs twitching. "They took a lot more prisoners at the park and who knows where else."
"NONONONO! LET GO!" Shiori screamed suddenly.
"I'm not even hold-" Yora looked down to see her get yanked into the underbrush by a stealthy Jorogumo. "SHIORI!"
Jorogumo congregated to block his path, even though the other Rangers were soon freed up to help him. Shiori's screaming grew muffled, though she wasn't visible through so many webs and branches.
"I DON'T WANNA BE A MONSTER!"
Blaze finally just stopped and slumped against a tree, rubbing his helmet with one hand. "Can someone please do something about that awful racket?" He demanded.
Isabel wheeled on him, letting out a very tigerlike snarl. Blaze ignored her and apparently everything else. A Jorogumo moved in on him, took aim and spat webbing at his helmet. It seemed to go right through him and stick to the tree. Confused, the spider spat again, and again the webbing shot right through Blaze. He didn't so much as flinch.
Isabel realized what he was doing, and plunged back into the fight with gusto. After a moment, a Jorogumo howled in sudden pain, and Blaze crashed through the underbrush, clutching a cocoon almost as big as he was. His duplicate vanished, the illusion no longer needed, but the Jorogumo pressed in to attack. One snared Blaze's legs.
"Yora! Catch!" Blaze shouted, and threw the cocoon before he could be snared. Yora lunged and caught it, drawing a muffled grunt of pain from inside.
"Shiori! We're getting you out!" He yelled.
"Behind you!" Isabel interrupted. Yora glanced back, saw two Jorogumo coming and threw the cocoon again. Drawing his sword he hacked at the monsters, forcing them to retreat. Isabel went back to human form and caught the cocoon. She set it down and raised her sword to cut it free, only for a Jorogumo to drop down and snag it, swinging up into the trees with cocoon in tow. Isabel shifted into the form of a chimpanzee and shot up the tree after the spider-woman.
A well-timed shot from Jean-Paul startled the Jorogumo, and it wobbled off-balance. Lunging forward Isabel ripped the cocoon out of its grip and dropped towards the ground. She bounced right into a layer of webbing and stuck there, swinging like she was in a hammock.
"Someone get me out of here!" She yelled, as a Jorogumo moved in to snare her.
"Coming!" All three of the guys yelled in unison.
"Jinx!" Blaze called before anyone else could. "You guys owe me a soda!" He bounded forward and fired a quick volley at the Jorogumo, forcing a temporary retreat.
The Mythic Maser scorched black holes in the webbing, letting Isabel pull herself free. She had a tougher time with the cocoon, which being made of webbing stuck to the stuff much better than her suit did. A Jorogumo swept low and ripped it free, carrying it back into the treetops. Blaze raised his gun again, only for Yora to seize his wrist and jerk it down.
"You'll hit Shiori!"
Isabel, taking human form again, picked herself up. She glanced over at Blaze's gun, then up towards Shiori. "Wait a minute…"
Yora was starting to climb a tree, but the Jorogumo seemed to have decided that their new main goal was to keep the cocoon away from the team. Webbing rained down on them, forcing them to take shelter beneath tree branches or get stuck. Yora tried to fight it, pushing towards and up one of the trees, but he couldn't make much progress under the barrage.
Isabel flattened herself against a tree, glanced up a few times to take aim, and raised her Mythic Maser. She fired off a couple of shots-not at the Jorogumo, but at the cocoon. It started burning, and the Jorogumo dropped it with a startled screech.
"What did you do?" Yora yelled, incredulous.
Isabel ran out and grabbed the cocoon, rolling it to safety-and to put out the fire. With Shiori out of the line of fire, Blaze and Jean-Paul fired at the remaining Jorogumo until they stopped the webbing attack.
Dropping out of the tree, Yora ran over to Isabel. "You SHOT her!"
Isabel paused in tearing open the cocoon to look up at him. "Yeah, I shot the one member of our team with invulnerability powers."
Nobody said anything for a minute. Isabel looked around at the group.
"Please tell me I'm not the only one who remembered that."
No response. Jean-Paul cleared his throat and Yora suddenly became very intent on watching for the returning Jorogumo.
"I did, but it was more fun playing hot potato," Blaze confessed.
Isabel sighed and shook her head. "Idiots. I'm working with idiots."
She tore open the last of the webbing, exposing Shiori's yellow suit. "Shiori, are you okay?"
Shiori was curled up inside the cocoon, hands over the front of her helmet. A large black burn mark scored the upper arm of her suit. She didn't say anything.
"And mark 'captured and tied up' off the checklist again," Blaze said, strolling over and crouching down beside the two girls. "Going to be useful or should we try to haggle Reya into letting us bring your catatonic self back to-"
Blaze never got to finish that sentence. Faster than anyone had expected Shiori lashed out with a hand, catching Blaze by the throat. She sat up; the mouth of her visor looked more like bulbous insect eyes, and the mouth of her helmet had fangs. It opened and spat a web at him, covering his visor. He yelled in surprise. Isabel leaned in to help, but Shiori twisted around and kicked her in the chest, knocking her backwards.
"Hungry," Shiori hissed, sounding much less frightened than before. She rose up, pulling Blaze to his feet. He struggled but couldn't get free.
"When did you get so strong?" He wheezed.
Yora approached her, but Shiori spat webbing at him, making him swerve aside. The remaining few Jorogumo dropped out of the trees, surrounding the Rangers.
"The Mistress must FEED!" Shiori drew her Rumor Blade and pointed it at the Rangers.
"AAAAAAAAND now we can scratch off mind control, too…"
Yora looked towards Isabel as the monsters closed in. "Maybe we should go with your plan after all."
Isabel took a second to register what he was saying, long enough for Shiori to fling Blaze aside as if he was the tiny tween instead of her and lunge at Jean-Paul. Hastily, Isabel shifted into the form of a songbird (she didn't know the species, it was local) and flew up and away from the group. The Jorogumo didn't notice her, closing in on the three male Rangers and starting to web them up.
Isabel shook her head a little and kept flying. It felt like it was taking forever, so she landed briefly to morph into a bigger bird. Transformation in mid-fight didn't seem like the best idea.
There was the waterfall, rising through the trees. Carefully Isabel began to circle down, not wanting to get caught in another web. She wasn't. The area all around the falls, and the pool it drained into, was clear of Jorogumo webs. Isabel landed lightly on the shore, changed back to her Ranger form, and looked around for any sign of a monster.
The water bubbled, and Isabel faced it, one hand on her Mythic Maser. A head of streaming black hair broke the surface, followed by a kimono-clad body and the black abdomen of an oversized spider. The creature was nearly ten feet tall, and Isabel had the nasty feeling it had the potential to get even bigger.
"Welcome, little green one," it said.
"To your parlor?" Isabel asked.
The spider made a humming noise that Isabel guessed was laughter. The noise was echoed by higher-pitched voices, and the rest of the Jorogumo emerged from the woods around them. To Isabel's alarm, they were dragging three cocoons with them. The partly-transformed Shiori tagged along, looking happier than she ever had as a Ranger.
"Your companion has already demonstrated how powerful you could be if you joined us," the Jorogumo said to Isabel. "From what I have learned of your companions, they were not pleasant people to work with."
"That doesn't mean they deserve to get eaten," Isabel retorted. She glanced in Shiori's direction, wishing she could get a word in edgewise, but to her alarm she saw that the other Jorogumo were re-cocooning her.
"Shiori! Fight it-don't let them turn you into a monster!" She shouted, moving towards the Amber Ranger only to be blocked by a Jorogumo.
"I don't want to." Shiori sounded bizarrely calm. "This is nice… No more fear… No more pain."
"That's right, dear child. You did well to help your sisters to capture your former tormentors, in spite of your lingering humanity. Now relax and allow your sisters to cleanse you of it."
"As you command, Mistress." The cocoon covered her head. The Jorogumo laid her cocoon down with surprising gentleness.
"Her transformation was interrupted," the lead Jorogumo said, getting Isabel's attention again. "It won't take long for it to finish now, don't worry about her. As she said, she has nothing to fear now. What do you have to say?"
She moved closer, crouching down so her head was almost level with Isabel's. She backed up a step but the Queen stayed near her.
"I've watched you through the eyes and minds of my daughters, working tirelessly to manage your foolish teammates and save the panicked sheep who dwell in your city. You'll soon see how poorly they intend to repay your labor. All of the women here have felt this abuse and ingratitude. We respect you, we will treat you as you deserve to be treated. With your power and intelligence you would be my second-in-command."
Isabel shivered as the Queen Jorogumo drew closer, close enough to see tiny holes in her fangs where presumably the webbing was made. She smiled, and Isabel found herself struggling to look away. She barely even noticed that filaments of web were tightening around her legs and arms.
"Join your sisters in their holy retribution, Isabel! You know it is your destiny to serve!"
"Isabel?" Reya's voice came through the comms. "Don't just stand there!"
Isabel shook her head a little, blinking behind her visor; she felt weirdly foggy. Somehow she felt like she could trust this pleasant, soothing voice, more than the shrill one inside her helmet. Her hands were drawn to her side by thickening spiderwebs.
The Jorogumo's voice was so close it seemed as if it was echoing inside her mind. "Take vengeance upon humanity! Reach out and take what is rightfully yours!"
By now Isabel's body was almost completely covered; threads of the web started digging into her suit. Isabel struggled to focus. She couldn't give in...it seemed so much easier, though...but easy didn't make for a good show, did it? Her own thoughts were getting harder to distinguish from the growing voices of the other Jorogumo. Reya's voice was getting more distant.
"Give in, join us, give in, join us…"
A new, male voice cut through the others. It sounded vaguely electronic, like some kind of recording. "Hello? The lady at the front desk said to leave a message here, but just in case this is from Marcus Jackson and for Isabel Jackson."
Isabel stirred inside the cocoon. "Dad?" She mumbled.
The message was already continuing. "I just wanted to call and make sure you were all right. I've heard about the monsters in the city. I don't know if it's safe for you to come home right now, but call me, okay? I love you, bye." There was a beep.
"Join us, join us, join us…"
Another message. "Isabel? Me again, sorry if I'm being a helicopter parent, but in my defense there are spider monsters wandering around the city." He laughed a little. The sound brought a sudden memory back to Isabel: the birthday party, overflowing with family and friends who were basically family. She grew more aware of the intruding filaments of webbing as they tightened around her. "But seriously, call me. Everyone's okay up here, but there have been some monsters sighted and we're trying to track everyone down. Call me. Bye."
A second beep. Isabel took a deep breath, and focused on the Queen, just in front of her.
"So...you want me to shed my humanity?" She asked slowly.
The Queen Jorogumo smiled wider. "Exactly, child."
Isabel returned the grin. "Okay."
With that she shifted forms, limbs disappearing as she was covered in scales. She lost her balance-anacondas are not generally known for their ability to stand on tail-tip-and fell backwards against the cocoon.
"WHAT!?" She heard the Queen shriek.
Already Isabel had started wriggling. Her mind was already unfogging. The Queen started wrapping her faster, spitting more webs into place, but Isabel had planned for that. The web stuck to her skin, but as she twisted and wriggled, that too began to come loose.
In a rush she dropped out of the half-formed cocoon, leaving her outer skin behind. Before she even hit the ground she shifted back into human form, leaving her morph behind. Oops. That hadn't been in the plan. She rolled over and snatched up her Rumor Blade as the Queen bore down on her. Thinking fast she stabbed straight upwards, and the blade sank into the Queen's black underbelly. She let out a shriek of pain and swerved sideways, nearly ripping the sword clean out of Isabel's hands.
Isabel scrambled free, rising as Jorogumo ringed around her, murmuring darkly. "Sorry, but I take this whole 'defending the planet' thing way too seriously," she said. "SPIRIT IN!"
Isabel found herself surrounded by the spirits of ancient warriors and legends. They swirled around her, creating a suit of chartreuse green. Her own totemic spirit, Coyote, appeared and flowed into her body, creating her belt. Finally, a Native American helmet came down upon her head before morphing into a Ranger helmet, completing the transformation into Rumor Chartreuse!Wheeling she fired on Shiori's cocoon again-hey, it sort-of-helped last time-and then a few more warning shots to keep the other Jorogumo back. Something growled inside the cocoon, and Isabel realized that maybe she didn't want to deal with a hybrid Ranger-monster just yet. She faced the Queen again.
"Stop you, stop all of them, that's how it works, right?" She asked, advancing on the Jorogumo.
"You can't stop me if you can't reach me," the Queen retorted, as the rest of the Jorogumo began to surround Isabel.
There was a tearing sound behind Isabel, and when she glanced back, Shiori's cocoon was splitting open at the top. The Queen laughed triumphantly.
"Hah! Now you will see just what you could have become, Chartreuse Ranger-YAAAGH!"
Her taunt was cut off by a blast right to the mouth, snapping her head back. She picked herself up, moaning, and most of her daughter Jorogumo swarmed anxiously around her. The shot had struck her right above the upper teeth, where Isabel had guessed her webglands were. In the brief respite the Chartreuse Ranger lowered the Mythic Maser and looked back at Shiori.
The Amber Ranger's helmet popped through the hole, and Isabel flinched-only to realize that it was her normal helmet. She wasn't a monster. Shiori looked around wildly and started struggling. All she managed to do was rock her cocoon a little.
"ISABEL! I TOLD YOU THIS WAS GONNA HAPPEN TO ME!"
"Kill them," the Queen snarled. The Jorogumo around her hesitated. "Kill them!" She couldn't say much more with that thanks to the damage to her face, but she pointed furiously at the two female Rangers.
Isabel raised her Mythic Maser again warningly, but there wasn't any real need for it. The Jorogumo were starting to revert to their human forms. They scrambled away from each other and the Queen in growing horror as their minds went back to normal, and the Queen screeched in fury. Turning, Isabel ran back over to the cocoons to tear them open.
"GET ME OUT OF THIS THING!" Shiori screamed.
"Hang on, I need to get someone to cover me first," Isabel retorted, dropping down beside one of the other cocoons. As she started to cut through it, the thing rolled over, revealing that it had already been sliced open. It was empty. Isabel stared at it in disbelief, then flipped the others. They too had been hacked open and abandoned.
Back in the increasingly small clearing, webbing flew at the three male Rangers from all different directions. All three had their new weapons out and were hacking and stabbing at the stuff, taking breaks to slash at any monster that got too close. They were slowing down."Come on, can't we just talk this out webhead to webhead?" Blaze asked, only to get webbed right in the visor. He picked the stuff off. "Ugh, why can't I just enjoy my hangover in peace?""This isn't working," Yora said, glancing around at the incoming monsters. Thinking fast, he dashed towards the edge of the clearing-not the monsters, one of the trees. One good, superstrength-enhanced blow from his Vikaxe, and the tree started to fall. The webs connecting it to surrounding trees dragged several large branches and small saplings down with it, crashing and tearing at the canopy. Jorogumo scattered, shrieking, and the three Rangers threw themselves flat.Yora crawled through the debris towards the other two, guiding himself by the accents on their suits. They seemed to be all right; Blaze had avoided being trapped but Jean-Paul was stuck underneath a top branch."Good plan, now what?" Blaze asked, brushing leaves off himself."I'm thinking," Yora said."Will you help me out of this?" Jean-Paul demanded, struggling through the branches with a crackling noise. He waved one of his Shunai. "These tiny knives are of little help!"Yora snapped his fingers. "That's it! Pearl Ranger, summon a couple of those and hide them on your suit. Both of you get ready to attack and get captured."Blaze twiddled his pinkie at his ear as if he was cleaning it out, and leaned towards Yora. "Say again? I don't think I heard you right."
"We can't fight them here, we have to let them take us to their lair so we can strike out and surprise them."Jean-Paul nodded slowly, summoning a couple more Shunai and scooting out from beneath the branches. The Jorogumo were already approaching, led by Shiori, picking through the forest debris as they searched for the trio. Blaze shrugged."Eh, at least those cocoons look comfy. Let's do this!"The Rangers burst out of the branches with battle cries, charging in separate directions at the Jorogumo. The "fight" lasted less than two minutes, and the Jorogumo barely had bruises to show that there had been a struggle at all. They dragged their prey back to the waterfall lair without further ado.Jean-Paul found that he could hear through his cocoon, and listened for any voices. As they neared the falls he picked out Isabel's voice. She was yelling at Shiori. An unfamiliar female voice cut in, talking about destiny and sisters and other worrying things. Jean-Paul fingered the Shunai tensely as he listened. He wanted to burst out and come to her rescue, but now might be too early.Then again, it didn't sound like things were going well. He couldn't hear Isabel's lovely voice anymore, just that Queen Jorogumo. He started sawing at the cocoon. The work went slower than he'd thought, and he grew more and more frantic, until finally the threads parted and he had a hole he could squirm out through. He was in a pile of other cocoons, and he started cutting open the nearest one. As he did, he lifted his head just enough to see over the pile, and froze, staring in horror. Isabel was being cocooned by the Queen. The webbing was only up to her knees but it was moving quickly, and she wasn't fighting it.The cocoon before him moved, and Blaze's muffled voice came through."Why did you stop? Get me out of this marshmallow."Jean-Paul shook his head and started cutting again. Blaze helped by tearing at the cocoon until it opened, and Jean-Paul moved on to one of the others. It looked newer so he hoped that was Yora's. He kept glancing towards Isabel, but it was hard to see her over the pile-the same one shielding them from the other Jorogumos' sight."Good work," Yora said as soon as he was free. "Now we have to dive-"Jean-Paul caught him by the arm. "Promise me that once the hostages are saved we will take this monster down and save the girls, no matter what happens.""There's no time for this!" Yora protested in a harsh whisper.Blaze turned back towards him, and when he spoke, it was with unusual seriousness. "I never leave part of my crew behind. Promise."
Yora stared at him for a moment, then sighed. "Of course, we'll save them."Jean-Paul relaxed a little. "Thank you.""Now let's go save the civilians."Overhead there was a rushing of wings, and a flock of Gargoyles dropped into the clearing, flying at the female Rangers. Shiori shrieked and tried to duck, but she couldn't move anything except her head. Isabel sprang up to fight off the new monsters, though she was moving more slowly than she had before almost being cocooned herself.
The last of the transformed Jorogumo collapsed and began changing back into human form, leaving the Queen alone. She struggled to her feet, but she was still wounded and bleeding from Isabel's attacks.
"Food," she mumbled, and turned back to the pool. Before she could enter, Blaze popped up at the surface, dragging a bobbing white cocoon as big as he was. Not noticing the Jorogumo he hauled the cocoon to the surface and rolled it onto the bank. Several other damp cocoons already lay there, rescued from the Queen's underwater lair. Before he could dive again Yora came up, holding two.
"Showoff," Blaze said as the Carmine Ranger kicked past him.
The Jorogumo Queen let out an incredulous screech and staggered towards the heap, reaching out for them. Out from behind the pile sprang Kai, his clothes ruined but otherwise none the worse for wear. He leveled a borrowed Mythic Maser at her.
"I wouldn't come any closer if I were you," he warned her.
Isabel, seeing that the others were occupied, fired a few covering shots at the Queen. They didn't do much beyond make her snarl. Isabel skidded to a halt next to Shiori.
"DON'T SHOOT ME AGAIN!"
"I won't," Isabel said, switching to her Rumor Blade. She started cutting the Amber Ranger loose. Shiori wriggled and let out a yelp of pain: now Isabel noticed the burn on her shoulder.
"Why didn't you shield yourself?"
"I didn't KNOW you were going to shoot me, I was trying not to get mind controlled! And I can't reach my totem!"
Isabel paused, flushing under her helmet. "I'm sorry. I didn't think of that."
Shiori didn't respond to her, not that she would have had much time given the fact that the last Jorogumo had wheeled on her and was charging towards them. Alarmed she sprang to her feet, Rumor Blade raised.
"DON'T LET HER GET ME! I DON'T WANNA BE A SPIDER! ONCE WAS BAD ENOUGH!" Shiori shrieked.
"OVER HERE!" Isabel heard the shout and looked to see Jean-Paul standing a few feet away, down towards the water. He gestured towards himself. The Queen was too close to duck, so she shoved the cocoon down the slope and charged at the monster.
Jean-Paul almost caught her, but before he could a Gargoyle swooped in low and caught the rolling cocoon, snatching it up into the air. Jean-Paul threw a Shunai but only chipped the stony monster. Shapeshifting again Isabel swooped up after the Gargoyle, in the form of a slightly bigger Gargoyle. A few heavy wingbeats, and she slammed bodily into the monster, wrestling in midair. They dropped towards the forest, Shiori screaming like a falling bomb. Isabel finally managed to kick the cocoon out of her opponent's grip, catching it with her leg talons.
"HERE!" Yora yelled to get her attention, reaching up. Isabel let go, and the cocoon dropped into Yora's arms. He didn't even have time to tell Shiori to stop screaming before the Gargoyles swarmed him.
Overhead Isabel finally knocked her opponent free; he smashed into the canopy and went down. Swooping towards the battlefield again, Isabel almost flew into the Jorogumo. It was lunging at anyone within arm's reach-and considering the length of its spider limbs that was a considerable distance. Swerving Isabel avoided the attack, dropping down to the ground and taking her own form again. She staggered as she landed, tired by so many shape changes in so little time, and dropped to one knee.
"You," the Jorogumo snarled, wheeling on her.
Isabel took a deep breath and forced herself to stand. "Geronarrow! Not the last words I would have chosen, but to each her own." She combined her Rumor Blade and totem, raising the bow that appeared and drawing back an arrow. She fired, striking the Jorogumo in its human chest. The monster reeled back, splashing into the water and almost crushing Blaze as he surfaced with more cocoons. He yelped and flailed, swimming hastily to the side to avoid the giant spider.
"Watch yourselves!" Blaze yelled, paddling backwards to the bank. "I'm still in here!"
Kai moved in beside Isabel, firing with his now-unwebbed gun as he went. In contrast to Isabel's somewhat wobbly firing, his shots were calculated and careful, striking the Jorogumo's legs mostly and keeping her from recovering her balance.
Nearby, Jean-Paul was trying to push through the Gargoyle pile which by now had all but buried Yora and Shiori. The Gargoyles were too densely packed to do much, but they were also forming a rocky shell around the pair that was very difficult for anyone else to break through, from either direction.
Crawling out of the water, Blaze ran over, summoning his Tribo and giving it a twirl. He started striking at the Gargoyles' wings and exposed limbs, but that didn't do much more than irritate them.
"Guys! We need better help!" Jean-Paul called. "Ow!"
As the Pearl Ranger hopped on one foot, Blaze gave a helpless shrug. "Whoops. Clumsy me."
Isabel shook her head in exasperation. "Coming!" She shouted, lowering her bow. It wasn't going to do much good in close quarters, and her aim wasn't steady enough to fire from here. She'd already shot Shiori twice, that was enough for one day. Switching to her Mythic Maser, she ran over.
"Rangers!" Reya said through the comms. "Everyone fire your Mythic Masers at once."
Isabel was the first to comply, Blaze and Jean-Paul quickly switching weapons in order to follow suit. As they blasted the Gargoyles, sending rocky debris in every direction, Kai trained his own gun on the Jorogumo. It seemed too weak to fight back anymore, but glared malevolently at him anyway.
In the shadows behind the waterfall, something flickered darkly, just for a second. Kai glanced towards it, frowning a little, but he was quickly distracted by some of the Gargoyles turning and attacking the Rangers. In the pause, something dark shot out from behind the falls and slashed across the Jorogumo's back. She let out a grunt at the impact.
The last of the Gargoyles broke away and took off, leaving the Rangers alone. Yora picked himself up, and turned Shiori's cocoon upright. She was quivering like a leaf.
"You're okay," he said, trying to be reassuring, but she didn't respond.
Behind them, the monster let out a deep, rumbling noise, attracting the Rangers' attention once more. The Jorogumo seemed to be recovering-sort of. Black ooze was dripping out of its wounds, closing them and clouding the water. It stood up, and up and up and up. It was growing.
"Looks like we're not done taking you down yet," Yora said, standing up straight. He pointed at the monster, and struck a pose. "Striving to be the best! RUMOR CARMINE!"
"Reaching for the stars! RUMOR INDIGO!"
"Find balance in all things! RUMOR CHARTREUSE!"
"Perfection is only a good start! RUMOR PEARL!"
"...C-can someone please untie me?" Shiori asked, wiggling in her cocoon. Yora's shoulders slumped, Blaze mimed pinching the bridge of his nose through his helmet, and Isabel shook her head wearily.
"I KNEW we were forgetting something…"
"And ANOTHER rolecall down the tubes…" Yora sighed. Gamely, he went ahead with the rest. "And now you're headed for a bad end!"
"Go finish what you started earlier, will you?" Isabel gave Jean-Paul a shove.
"Only because you asked," Jean-Paul said, inclining his head towards her.
With a deep sigh, Jean-Paul went to cut Shiori free. Meanwhile, the monster was growing rapidly, and changing as well. Her humanoid features were starting to disappear; her skin was going grey, her fangs extended past her jaw and she seemed to be developing more eyes. Kai backed away from the thing, lowering his increasingly useless gun.
"I think it's time for the Zords," he said.
"I think you're right," Isabel said, flipping her Rumor Blade over and pushing the second button on the hilt. One by one the others followed, though Shiori tried to sneak away instead. Jean-Paul was too close to let her do that.
"WARRIOR ZORDS, RISE UP!"
From each Warrior Totem, massive forms began to emerge, materializing fully realized. First and foremost was a red armored titan themed on a viking, hefting a massive axe. Next was a blue tribal warrior hefting a massive staff. In the middle was a native american archer, standing at the ready with a bow and arrow larger than many buildings. The fourth mechanoid was a white shinobi, ready to strike with twin kunai. And finally, behind the rest, was a yellow roman centurion with a resplendent golden shield. The Rangers found themselves pulled into the giant robots and deposited within the heads, and they quickly slotted their Rumor Blades into place on the consoles."VIKINGZORD, READY!"
"Can I PLEASE take a break for this one?" Shiori begged.
"Don't even think of it," Isabel said curtly, blocking the Centurizord's path with one arm. "Not till we're done here."
The now-giant Jorogumo spat webbing at the five Zords, which scattered. The Vikingzord leaped in to slash at the monster's foremost legs, only to get his Vikaxe gummed up with webbing. Hastily he wheeled and slammed the back side of the weapon into the monster's side, drawing a grunt of pain. She punched the Zord in the helmet before he could do anything else.
A Geronarrow struck the Jorogumo's spider body: the Geronizord had moved around the others and was shooting at the monster's back. It spat more webs at the Zord, forcing Isabel to duck aside and somersault. The move crushed a row of trees. It also forced the Geronizord to release the Centurizord, which promptly made a run for it. The Tribalzord stuck out its Tribo at knee level, tripping the fleeing Ranger's Zord neatly and crushing another chunk of forest.
"Guys, ENOUGH! You're causing more damage than the monster!" Reya said.
The Tribalzord picked the Centurizord up, dusted it off and set it down facing the Jorogumo again. It struggled in vain.
"NO! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME! I DON'T WANNA GET CAPTURED AGAIN!"
"Somehow I doubt that thing can turn you into a monster while you're inside your Zord," Blaze replied.
"Let's just combine again," Isabel said wearily. "Get out of each other's way."
"Right. WARRIORS...UNITE!" Yora shouted.
Tribalzord and Shinobizord folded up to form legs and feet, even as their heads rotated into their bodies and revealed mechanical thigh sections. Geronizord and Centurizord's arms retracted into their bodies as their feet and lower legs folded upwards, revealing massive fists. The arms and legs of Vikingzord folded backwards as a new head emerged from the back to snap over the first one. All at once, the five Zords came together. As they did, the weapons of four of the Warrior Zords united into a massive saber, while Centurizord's shield expanded, becoming perfectly sized for a Megazord. The five Rangers materialized in the cockpit as the Megazord raised its sword and shield."This has lasted long enough. Warrior Megazord, charging forth!" Yora yelled, setting the new Megazord at a run. There wasn't much room to run, especially since the Jorogumo snarled and threw itself at them instead of fleeing. It was nearly foaming at the mouth in mad fury.
Yora drew his Rumor Blade, charging up the Saber outside as the Megazord raised it. "WARRIOR SLASH!"
The sword cut down slantwise across the Jorogumo, bisecting it from shoulder to hip. It collapsed, exploding in a ball of fire and noxious black smoke before it could even hit the ground. The Rangers cheered, if briefly. Shiori had slithered back into her hiding spot behind her console and was curled up into a ball.
"And that's a happy ending!" Yora declared, as the smoke cleared.
"Plus I can check off 'tied up' and 'mind control' off the list!" Blaze said. Then he jumped with a yelp of pain. "YEOW!"
Shiori lowered her Mythic Maser. "Oops."
Reya barely waited for Kai to come through the door of the lab before she spoke up. "Where's everyone else?"
The veteran Ranger took a seat nearby. His clothes were still sticky with cocoon cobwebs. "The Rangers are still cutting open cocoons at the Falls, and I took Shiori home. Don't worry, I made sure nobody witnessed her demorphing."
"Home? But I need her here-after today's performance I have to get those powers out of her!"
Kai sat up straight, frowning at her. "You want to keep running tests? The girl's exhausted and terrified, she needs time to recover."
Reya blinked, taken off guard. "It's just a few tests, I don't see why-"
"No, it isn't. You've been poking and prodding and pushing Shiori just as much off the field as on it. You know perfectly well that she's both more vulnerable and more troubled than any of the other Rangers, but you push her the most. Why?"
Reya folded her arms. "Am I the one who got her captured today? I'm trying to HELP her. What's your excuse?"
Kai sighed, shaking his head. "I have none. But then, I'm not the self-appointed advisor of this team."
"Then leave the strategy to me," Reya said curtly, turning back to her computers.
Kai watched her back in silence. After a moment he rose. "If it matters, I thought I noticed a slight anomaly during the fight-though I can't be sure it wasn't just a shadow. I'll be doing research at GSA headquarters if you need anything."
"Understood." Reya didn't look away from her monitor.
"No… No! Not the spider webs! Not again!"
Night had fallen over Terra Venture, and the city was calming down from the monster attacks. Inside a quiet apartment, Mr. Yamada cracked the door open to his daughter's room and looked inside. Shiori was in bed, twitching and moving fitfully in her sleep. As he watched, she moaned a little and rolled onto her side, exposing the burns from the fight earlier on her arm. Mr. Yamada drew in a sharp breath, and closed the door.
Crossing the living room he picked up the phone and dialed a number without even looking. It rang for a few minutes, and then a woman's voice spoke through it.
"Miss Harris? I'm sorry it's so late, but I needed to call. I think it's happening again." A louder cry carried from the bedroom, and Mr. Yamada looked towards the door in confusion and alarm.
"Stay back! Please! Don't turn me back into the kitten! No! Let me go! LET ME GO!"
"I understand. I can move you and Shiori up to tomorrow instead of next week."
Isabel leaned against the side of the house and reached under the welcome mat for the spare key. The circus grounds were silent, except for the occasional grunt or growl from one of the animals, particularly the nocturnal ones. Fitting the key into the lock, Isabel opened up the door and entered the house.
Her father, mother and several siblings were in the living room, clustered around the TV. Isabel wondered if they were having another movie night-she could smell popcorn-but then she recognized the people on TV, and froze. Yora and Jean-Paul were standing in the park, in front of a cluster of reporters. They were morphed, but as Isabel watched, Yora reached up and unclasped his helmet.
"WHAT?" Her shout made her family jump.
"Isabel, you're back!" Her father was the first one up, moving around the couch to catch her in a bear hug. "I'm glad you're safe, honey."
Isabel was briefly distracted from the TV by the hug, but she didn't get long to enjoy it. Her siblings were shushing them as Yora started to speak.
"My name is Yora, and I became the Carmine Ranger a few weeks ago. My powers come from the same source as most of the monsters we've had to deal with-an artifact called Pandora's Box. An alien hiding in the jungle is also trying to capture these monsters in order to take over the planet with them. Until all of the monsters have been defeated or trapped in that box again, I'll be fighting to protect Terra Venture and Mirinoi from them-and these alien forces." He grinned.
Mr. Jackson let go of Isabel, turning back to the TV. "Amazing, isn't it? Even after what the Indigo Ranger did, I don't think anybody expected Red to just call a press conference like this."
"He...I...uh…" Isabel stammered, at a loss for words. She didn't know whether to be scared, confused or just mad.
Jean-Paul took off his own helmet with a flourish. "Allo, citizens of Terra Venture! My name is Jean-Paul Girard, some of you may already know my name as you have enjoyed my labor as a chef. I too was chosen to protect you from the monsters-"
"Any questions?" Yora interrupted, before Jean-Paul could launch into what was probably going to start a speech. Jean-Paul looked miffed.
The reporters all started talking at once, but Yora picked one out.
"What about the other two Rangers?"
Simultaneously the Carmine and Pearl Rangers flinched, Jean-Paul's hand going to his earpiece. Isabel wished the sound was a little better: she thought she could hear a faint, shrill voice. Probably Reya. She relaxed a little.
"They've chosen not to reveal their identities," Yora said. "Please don't ask us anything more about them."
That triggered a whole new round of shouted questions. Isabel held her head.
"Isabel? Are you okay?" Her father asked.
"I just need a little air." Turning, Isabel hurried back out the door and down the steps. She slumped against the wall of the house with a groan, running both hands over her face.
"Idiots! Stupid, selfish, arrogant…how could they? A PRESS CONFERENCE? Really? Ugh..."
"Something bothering you, Isabel?" That was Blaze's voice. Isabel looked around in surprise, and saw him leaning against the corner of the house. He grinned at her. "Mad that they left you out?"
"No! They just made it impossible for us to interact with each other out-of-morph, that's all!" Isabel snapped, wheeling on him. "You're the one who started this mess, pulling that stupid stunt on the air earlier! I'm the only one who can do anything about Shiori since the second one of you three idiots gets near her, someone's going to guess her secret, and then where will we be? Who's going to trust us to defend the city with someone as terrified and helpless as she is? They've already got to put up with YOU, after all!"
She stopped, out of breath. Apparently nobody had noticed the ranting, or at least nobody wanted to investigate. Blaze, for once, didn't look like he was going to make fun of her.
"Do you need a hug?" He asked. "I'm totally a hugger. Learned some interesting techniques on Onyx, from a woman with five arms, three heads, and WAY too many hands." He shuddered a little. "Some on her feet, but that's Onyx for you."
Isabel glared at him. "Do you have any idea how frustrating it is for you and Jean-Paul to keep hitting on me like this? I'm not a trophy."
"I know, I know." Blaze sighed. "Honestly, I can tell you're exhausted and you need a break. This is the only way I know to offer you one. It's the best way I've found to get my mind off something stressful."
"My family's right in there, you know," Isabel said, pointing towards the house. "Don't make me call my Dad."
"And have to explain who I am and why we're even talking? I thought you didn't want to reveal your identity."
Isabel winced. "Ugh. You're right."
"Look," Blaze said, coming a step closer. "I've been watching you more or less all day. You've been doing your best, trying to help this team come together and act right. Fighting all of us and the bad guys for control the whole way. And I heard how you acted when the Jorogumo was after you. I get the feeling that you liked giving up that control, if just a little."
Isabel folded her arms. "So you're copying the other spider right now?"
Blaze laughed. "Hey, I'm not going to give you a spider torso if you give in. The one you have right now is perfect."
Isabel felt herself flushing, to her irritation and embarrassment. Blaze noticed it and smiled a little wider. He got closer and this time Isabel didn't back up.
"So...you're not asking to be my boyfriend or anything."
Blaze grimaced. "Gah, no, I don't have time for something long-term. In more ways than one. No, I'm more of a try-everything-once kind of guy."
"So no more flirting during the fights?" Isabel asked.
Blaze shook his head. "We'll just be teammates."
Isabel thought for a minute, looking everywhere but at Blaze. He waited patiently until she spoke in a barely audible tone.
"Okay. I'll trust you."
"I hoped you would say that." Blaze caught one of her hands and, with a glance at the house, headed back towards the shadows. Isabel started to suggest somewhere else to go, but he looked back and put a finger on his lips.
"No control," he whispered. Isabel nodded and let him lead her into the night.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Máquinas frágiles estúpidas ...no deben incluso tener que hacer esta transferencia!
Translation: Stupid fragile machines...I shouldn't even have to do this transfer!