Deep in the forested mountains of Blue Bay Harbor, California, the Wind Ninja and Thunder Ninja Academies were bristling with activity. In the eight months since Lothor's defeat at the hands of three Wind Ninjas, two Thunder Ninjas and the Green Samurai Ranger, the two schools had reopened virtually side by side, and all former feuds between their students was now a thing of the past.
On a rocky ledge high above the main training grounds of the Wind academy, a lone figure sat in the meditative lotus position. He was dressed in his black leather training uniform, the badge of a Sensei on the right side of his jacket, the crest of his Ninja element, Wind, on the left. Right above the heart, where it belonged.
Shane Clark, former Red Power Ranger, now teacher at the Wind Ninja Academy, let out a content sigh as he gazed out over what was, in his opinion, the greatest view in the world. He was musing, thinking about how their lives had changed since evil had been cast out and peace was restored on Earth. How...normal all their lives had become, and how lucky he was to have all of his friends still around.
Below him, a small group of students carrying wooden swords were beginning to spill into the training plaza, lead by a graceful blonde woman. Tori.
Time for bokken practice already? Shane wondered. They all knew each other's teaching schedules. At the sight of his longtime friend, he felt a sense of peace come over him, and memories of the wedding filled his mind. Two months ago Blake had finally proposed, and the ceremony was held in Blue Bay Harbor a few weeks later.
What a great day that had been. The happiness in the newlyweds' faces was worth everything the Rangers had ever been through.
But that day had been made even more memorable due to one other event as well...Two more of his good friends had finally found each other.
Hunter and Cam.
The corners of Shane's mouth curled upwards in a smile. Cam and Hunter. The proverbial ying and yang. So completely different from each other, both in appearance and character, yet they were so good together. According to Cam, they had been drawn to each other for a long time; ever since Hunter had ignited the spark with an impulsive kiss following a training sparring in Ninja Ops. Neither of the two young men had considered themselves gay before this. Subsequently, their relationship had been very slow in the making. A lot of confusion and downright denial, especially from Cam, had to be overcome. Their mutual attraction, however, had never abated, and gradually the road to self-realization, and finally acceptance, had become easier to maneuver. And the fact that Blake and Hunter had actually moved into Ninja Ops for a few months due to some overwhelming financial difficulties surely must've had something to do with it, too.
Shane still recalled Cam's toast at the wedding reception. It had been a very touching dedication to Blake and Tori, but the end had held a surprising twist when he suddenly turned to Hunter and publicly declared his love for his companion.
One thing's for sure, Shane thought amused, Blake and Tori weren't the only ones to consummate a union that night.
Hunter and Cam were out, they were together, and what was most important...they were happy. And Shane wished them nothing but happiness.
Below him, Tori's class was in full swing. Suddenly Shane saw a second familiar figure stride across the plaza, joining the former Blue Ranger and her students.
Dustin. Goof extraordinaireand Shane's best friend. Shane smiled.
Life was going good for Dustin. He loved teaching at the academy, was making quite a name for himself in Freestyle Motocross, and was still seeing Marah.
And you, old man...Shane thought to himself, but immediately dismissed any notions towards self-pity. He had nothing to complain about. Other than the fact that he was now the only single guy of the former Ranger posse.
No wonder, with the way my last relationship ended, he thought grimly.
Automatically, Shane's left hand balled into a fist. The hand that Lothor had come within an inch of cutting off less than a year ago when he had been after Shane's morpher. The evil ninja had sent a beautiful spy to seduce him and steal his morpher. She had succeeded in the former, yet not in the latter. Shane had ended up on Lothor's spaceship, and had the rest of the Ranger gang not shown up at just the right moment...
Shane suppressed a shudder and pulled himself to his feet.
Better get ready for my own class. He still had some time, but one of his students was always extra-early, and she just happened to be extremely cute.
Maybe I am ready to move on after all, he thought, his grim features dissolving as he made his way down the hillside and towards the school.
Night had descended upon the Wind Ninja Academy hours ago, and only very few rooms were still illuminated in the Teacher's Building.
Cam Watanabe's was one of them. It was close to midnight, but Cam didn't notice the time; he was totally absorbed in his work, squinting at his laptop screen. So close...
For months he had been working on repairing a very special program, and now it seemed that a breakthrough was imminent.
'CyberCam, you should be up and bugging us all again real soon,' Cam thought with a grin. Then he yawned and took a look around his room in search for an empty CD to make yet another back-up. His room was the largest one in the building, but with all the equipment, gadgets and devices stacked into every corner and onto every surface, the place felt more like a closet. All of it was stuff he had salvaged from the wreckage of Ninja Ops. Hunter kept teasing him about it, calling him sentimental, and a pack rat, and in a way he was right; with the Ranger powers gone, most of the equipment was useless, but something still made him hold on to it. It was his stuff, after all. He had spent years building, upgrading and repairing it.
But the truth was...he missed the Ranger days. Simple as that.
He was rummaging through one of his drawers when he heard the heavy footsteps in the hallway outside. Then, an urgent knock on his door. "Sensei, Sensei!"
Cam yanked open the door to find one of the night guards standing before him. He was accompanied by a disheveled Thunder Ninja student. "Sensei," the student cried, breathing heavily; he must have run all the way from his school, "there's been an attack on the Thunder Academy!"
Hunter! Cam felt like he had been hit with a brick. "What happened?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice even.
The student, still trying to catch his breath, only shook his head. "Don't know much. We were on night patrol when we were attacked out of nowhere. It all happened so fast...Next thing I remember is my patrol leader yelling at me to go get help and..."
But Cam had already turned towards the Wind night guard. "Inform my father. Then get the students together and move out towards the Thunder Academy." That said, he sprinted down the hallway, pounding first on Shane's then on Dustin's door. He stuck his head into Shane's room. Shane was already out of bed, pulling on his sweatpants. "What's going on?" he asked confused.
"The Thunders got attacked," Cam replied grimly. "I'm going over there."
Shane needed no further explanation. "We'll meet you there!"
The Thunder Academy...
Cam raced along the dark path leading to the Thunder Ninja Academy. He needed no light; the path was completely familiar to him, since he took it almost every day. Normally, he needed a good ten minutes, even at a brisk jog, to get to the school.
Tonight he made it in five.
When he arrived on the school grounds, he saw every light of the Teacher's Building lit. The training plaza was alive with students, many of them only half-dressed. Cam breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the familiar figure of his partner in the crowd. Taller than most of his students, with a mop of unruly, blond hair, Hunter was easy to spot. He was holding a wooden training sword in his hand, talking to and directing some of the students. Cam headed straight for him. Hunter saw him coming through the crowd, and his grim features lifted a bit.
"Hey, you ok?" Cam asked, hugging Hunter only with his eyes, for public mushiness was not something either one of them practiced. "What happened?"
"Stealth attack," the Thunder Academy's head teacher replied. "I'm having the perimeters searched, but I'm pretty sure the bastards are gone by now."
Hunter shook his head. "Just a couple of rattled teachers." Cam gave him a puzzled look. "They apparently went straight for the Teacher's Building," Hunter explained, "entered some of the teachers' rooms, but didn't actually attack anyone. I think they were looking for something."
Now Cam was definitely confused. Who were these intruders and what were they looking for? "Did you see any of them?"
Hunter nodded. "I woke up from the commotion, went into the hallway to investigate, and saw a figure bolting from Sensei Chan's room. Black outfit, black mask, armed with a sword. I went after him, but he went thought the hallway window and escaped before I could get to him." Hunter's eyes were on Cam. "The way he moved, that sword...he was a ninja, Cam."
"That's not possible," Cam exclaimed. "There are no other Ninja schools apart from ours."
Hunter still had his eyes locked with Cam, his gaze worried now. "None that we know of."
Rapid footsteps were approaching them; the Wind Ninjas had arrived, lead by Dustin and Shane. Hunter quickly filled them in on all the events of the past half hour.
The search team returned empty-handed. Not a trace of the intruders had been found.
Hunter ordered double patrols and increased the number of night guards for the next few weeks, but other than that, there was not much more he could do.
The small sound penetrated Cam's sleep-tousled brain with relative ease, for he was a light sleeper.
When did Hunter get up? he wondered, not bothering to open his eyes. And how did he manage that without waking me?
Normally, Cam was roused every time Hunter left the bed, no matter how careful or quiet his companion tried to be.
No. Wait a minute. Something was wrong. Hunter had fallen asleep with his hand curled around Cam's arm. That slight pressure was still there. Matter of fact, the entire warm body was still there, right next to him.
Someone's in my room!
Cam's eyes snapped open. Out of the blackness above him, two distinctively Asian eyes peered down on him. The rest of the head and face was swathed in a black scarf that covered all but those eyes, hard and cold as two stones on the bottom of a pond. Instinctively, Cam's arm shot upwards, but the eyes were already gone. He was out of bed in one fluid motion. Hunter jerked awake, startled by the sudden movement, but Cam was already halfway across the room, trying to keep a black-clad shadow from reaching the door. Cam lunged forward, trying to get a grip on the intruder's clothing, but the shadowy figure ducked and jabbed its elbow into Cam's solar plexus. The breath escaped from Cam's lungs in a puff. The intruder took this opportunity to yank open the door and disappear into the dim hallway.
Hunter, immediately alert, had shot up from the mattress as well, speeding after the shadowy figure, with Cam hard on his heels. Both men were dressed only in t-shirts and boxer shorts.
Cam's room was at the end of the hallway on the ground floor of the Teacher's Building.
The black-clad intruder was racing towards the building's entrance door. Hunter picked up his speed and lunged himself at the figure with a cry. His hands wrapped around the intruder's ankles, and they both went down onto the hard wooden floor with a heavy 'Thud'. The figure kicked out with his boot, missing Hunter's head by half an inch. The kick was immediately followed by a vicious stab at Hunter's wrist from a black-gloved hand embedded with sharp spikes, and Hunter released his grip on the figure's ankle with a yelp of pain.
The intruder was back on his feet with incredible swiftness, but was now facing a thoroughly ticked-off Cam standing in attack position, blocking the way toward the entrance door. "Care to explain what you are doing here?" he growled.
For a moment, the figure was sorely tempted to teach these boys a lesson, but this was neither the time nor the place, so he merely reached into a hidden pocket of his jacket and withdrew two shining objects. For a fraction of a second, Cam caught the glint of steel as the figure threw both objects towards him with lightening-quick flicks of his wrists. It all happened so fast that Cam's brain had no time to react, so reflexes took over. He bent his torso sharply backwards as the objects skittered over him. One of them was so close he could feel the hiss of air as it passed by his right ear. This move probably saved his life, but left his defenses open, and the figure in black took this advantage right away. He pivoted low and took Cam's legs out from under him with a powerful swipe. The moment Cam hit the ground, the figure leapt right over him and towards the entrance.
One of the steel objects had embedded itself into the doorframe, and he tore it loose while he yanked open the door and shot out into the night.
Hunter and Cam were right behind him, but the darkness had already swallowed the intruder.
From the Teacher's Building behind them, they could hear the voices of men. The senseis had been awoken from all the commotion. Lights came on, doors were being slammed.
Cam let out a deep, frustrated breath.
"It was the same guy, I'm sure." Hunter said quietly. Cam had already figured as much.
"Which means he's gone by now."
The two young men stared into the darkness a moment longer, then turned back towards the dormitory. But just as Cam turned his head, he saw a flash of light at the outermost periphery of his vision. He looked back sharply. "Did you see that?"
"See what?" Obviously, Hunter hadn't.
"That light." Cam kept staring into the darkness for a moment longer, then shook his head. "Nothing, probably." They went back into the Teacher's Building.
Inside, Cam's gaze fell onto the cleft left behind in the doorframe, and suddenly a thought tugged at his mind. The intruder had torn one of the metallic objects out of the frame, but he had thrown two! It took Cam only a minute to locate the other object lying on the hallway floor. It must have bounced off the wall. He picked it up and peered at it curiously.
It was a balmy night, so Cam knew that the cold shiver that now ran down his spine had nothing to do with the current temperature in the hallway.
In his hands he held a razor-sharp, eight-pronged shuriken, a Ninja throwing star.
Sensei Watanabe, Cam's father, was an emotional rock, but even he looked worried now.
"As you all know, the shuriken is a forbidden weapon at our academies," he addressed his former Rangers, who were crowding around him in the hallway, all still only partly dressed. The sensei, however, was wearing his full teaching robe, even though it was barely four o'clock in the morning. "There is a reason for this; the shuriken is the preferred weapon of the black ninja. Spies, thieves, assassins."
While he spoke, Sensei kept turning the metal star over and over in his hands. "These ninja are cold-blooded murderers, highly dangerous." He looked gravelly at the five young men and one young woman. "I do not know where these ninja are coming from, or what they are looking for, but we must all be very much on our guards."
His gaze fixed on to his son. "Cam, you will double all patrols, establish extra security measures..."
But Cam was staring right through his father. Sensei Watanabe's brows furrowed. "Cam, are you listening?"
Cam blinked, his gaze focusing on his father. "Yes, I heard you," he replied. "I was just thinking of something."
He nodded to Sensei. "We'll put both schools on a Level 1 Intruder Alert. But apart from that, there is something else I need to do."
He turned towards the rest of the gang. "Let's all get dressed, and then meet me at Ninja Ops, ok? I'll explain there." Then he turned abruptly and strode back towards his room, leaving his perplexed comrades standing in the hallway.
At Ninja Ops...
Twenty minutes later, the entire ex-Ranger team was assembled in their old headquarters.
Cam had restored minimal power to the interior of the wrecked cave, so at least they had some light. But the bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling illuminated a sad picture; broken furniture, shattered equipment, large chunks of stones torn out of the walls.
Lothor and his nieces had been quite thorough in their destruction of Ninja Ops.
Cam stood in the middle of the trashed room, facing the entryway as he heard them approach through the tunnel. Moments later, they were all crowded around him.
"What's up, dude?" Dustin began. "Why you being all secretive, and stuff?"
"I'm not being secretive, Dustin," Cam replied. "But I've decided that there's something I need to do, and I can only do that here."
"Secretive and cryptic," Blake shot Cam an inquisitive look, but Cam only made a downward motion with his hands. "Won't you all sit down; I've got to get something from the Zord Bay. Be right back."
"You need any help?" Hunter called after him, but Cam had already disappeared.
When he returned, he was carrying a long, rectangular box in his arms. He rejoined the others, who were sitting in a circle, placing the box in front of him. The other ex-Rangers leaned forward, peering curiously at the plain wooden crate while he removed the lid.
Inside were five long objects, each one wrapped in very familiar colors.
Cam looked up, observing his friends. Shane and Tori both had small, reminiscent smiles on their faces when they saw their colors. Blake was studying the objects intently, Hunter looked back and forth between Cam and the box with an inquiring gaze, and Dustin just looked confused.
Cam cleared his throat. "This was not the occasion that I had in mind to give these to you, but in light of the recent events, and because we don't know what exactly we are dealing with..."
Next to him, Hunter glanced at him, knowing he was talking about the mysterious flash of light, among other things.
"...I think that we need to prepare ourselves for any and all eventualities."
He reached into the box and drew out the first object. It was completely wrapped in a soft cloth of bright blue. Almost formally, he held it up with two hands and presented it across the lid to Tori. As soon as the former Blue Ranger felt the weight of the bundle in her hands, she knew what she was holding, and an astonished look came over her features. She made no move to unwrap the gift, however; waiting instead for the others to receive theirs. Cam was already picking up a second, bright yellow wrap, handing it to Dustin. He repeated the process three more times. Hunter was the last one to receive his crimson-wrapped packet.
Wordlessly, Cam nodded to his friends to unwrap their bundles.
They did, and for a moment, all five ex-Rangers were simply speechless. Each one of them was looking at his very own bokken, a version of the wooden training swords used at both the Wind and Thunder Academies.
These swords, however, were of nothing less than exquisite workmanship. The dark wood of each 'blade' was polished to such a high gleam that it seemed to shine from within. The swords' hilts and grips had been tightly wrapped in two-toned nylon cord; black, -- and each Ranger's corresponding color.
Where the 'blade' met the hilt, each sword held the elemental crest of its owner, the intricate patterns carved into the wood with meticulous attention to detail.
Cam indulged himself in a feeling of pride when he saw the effect his gifts had on his friends. They all stared at their swords with expressions on their faces that ranged from amazement to downright wonder.
It had taken Cam almost a year to fashion these swords. With the Ranger powers gone and the Zord technology unusable, he had found that he needed to apply his restless energies and skills to another creative outlet. The results of that were now in the hands of his five awed friends. The bokken were supposed to be Christmas presents, but since life had decided to replace Santa with a gang of hostile rival Ninjas, Christmas had to be moved up this year.
Swords made from steel would have been better, of course, but in the hands of skilled warriors, these bokken were just as effective against dangerous enemies as any steel blade could ever be.
And Cam was presently surrounded by the most competent warriors he could think of.
The assembled Wind and Thunder senseis were slowly coming out of their reverie.
Tori was staring at Cam openmouthed. "Cam, this is..."
"Amazing!" Blake finished her sentence.
"Where did you get...?" Shane started.
"I made them." Cam replied modestly. That statement earned him some more incredulous looks, especially from the former yellow Ranger. "You really made those yourself?"
Oh boy. "Yes, Dustin. Myself."
Cam inclined his head towards Shane's sword. "I'm not a trained sword-maker, so steel was out of the question, but the wood of your blades was specially cured and treated to give it an ultra-hard density and greatly enhanced durability. I've also threaded the blades with high-energy, ionized plasium wires meant to channel your elemental powers throughout the entire weapon."
Hunter smirked. "About as close to our old Ranger swords as it'll get."
"Try it," Cam suggested, "but concentrate on your powers while you strike."
No further encouragement was needed. Hunter rose, took a quick look around the wrecked room and walked over to one of the few intact pieces of furniture still left in Ninja Ops: Cam's old desk chair.
"May I?" Hunter asked, his eyebrows arched.
"Knock yourself out."
Hunter took the sword in a two-handed grip and closed his eyes, focusing. A moment later, a few sparks could be seen racing along the blade. Abruptly, Hunter raised his arms, swinging the sword in a downward, semi-arch towards the chair. The blade never made contact, but bright lightning bolts shot from the weapon, and the chair was suddenly engulfed in crackling electricity and flung backwards into the stone wall with such ferocity that everyone could see the indentation there after it had fallen to the ground, smoldering.
Hunter was deeply impressed. "It's beautiful!"
What Hunter did next took Cam completely by surprise. The ex-Crimson Ranger rejoined the circle, knelt before him, sword clasped in both hands, and, slowly and solemnly, bowed low to his companion. "Thank you," he said formally. "You honor me greatly with this gift."
The rest of the Rangers were following suit, all bowing to Cam, their new weapons pressed tightly against them. Were Tori's eyes getting misty?
Taken aback and quite touched by their unexpected gesture, Cam wasn't sure how to react. He took another look around the circle of bowed torsos and did the only thing he could think of; he bowed back.
The second attack...
Several days later, Cam was leading his class in a karate kata exercise on the main training plaza.
There had been no more disturbances since the incident with the ninja a few nights ago, but the ex-Rangers were all still sleeping with their new weapons next to their beds.
The sun stood high, it was hot, and Cam was glad that he had chosen to wear his light-weight cotton sensei uniform instead of the heavy leather training suit.
From the stone bench a few feet behind him he could hear muffled exclamations from Shane and Hunter. Shane's class was next, and he had arrived early. Hunter had shown up early, too, but not for training. He and Cam had planned on catching a movie in Blue Bay Harbor after Cam's class. Now his two friends were waiting for him to finish the kata. They were passing the time engaged in, of all things, arm-wrestling.
"Is this all you got, man?" Shane's voice was mocking.
"Hey, unlike you, I don't have the time to go to the gym and bench-press 140 every day." Hunter retorted. "I've got classes to teach, bikes to race..."
"Ah, excuses. You're getting soft, Thunder. That's all."
"I'll show you who's soft..."
Cam closed his eyes and shook his head. OK, that's it!
He signaled his lead student to continue the exercise and stiffly walked over to the stone bench. "Do you mind, you two? I'm trying to teach a class here." He glared at Shane and Hunter with mock annoyance.
"What's wrong, Wind?" Hunter grinned. "Don't tell me your students' concentration can be broken that easily."
"With the kind of racket you two are making, yes." Cam pointed his finger at his partner. "And don't you belittle my students' concentration, Thunder. You would be just as distracted if I were to...oh, I don't know...swing from tree to tree while you are trying to instruct your students, ok?"
"Oh, that depends," Hunter smiled mischievously. "Would you be dressed or naked while swinging?"
Next to him, Shane burst out laughing. Cam actually blushed and threw his hands up in the air, rolling his eyes exasperatedly.
The ambush happened so fast that none of them even had the time to be surprised.
Right before Cam's lead student, a bright light flashed in the air. Suddenly, several masked and black-clad figures were surrounding her and immediately proceeded to attack the students.
Shane's eyes grew wide in disbelief. A transporter portal!
The portal continued to spit out masked ninjas until there were at least two dozen of them. Cam's class was comprised of only ten first-year students.
From the way the figures attacked, the guys in black seemed to have graduated a while ago.
Nevertheless, Cam, Hunter and Shane wasted not one second as they hurled themselves at their closest attackers.
The last figure to step out of the portal did not immediately join the fight. He stood immobile, eyes scanning the chaos in front of him.
Then he spotted his target and moved.
Cam was too busy fighting off three attackers, kicking and punching in all directions, to notice the sudden presence behind him. Suddenly he felt himself being lifted off the ground. The next moment he was airborne, being flung towards the big oak tree that stood two feet away. He crashed into the massive trunk headfirst, rebounded, and dropped back down onto the ground. There he stayed, unmoving.
"CAM!" Hunter yelled. He took two steps towards him, but three attacking ninjas prevented him from reaching his partner. He fought them with all his might, but he couldn't get any closer.
Suddenly, a short, stocky figure was next to Cam's crumpled form, the same one that had thrown him. He grabbed Cam's limp body by the collar of his training uniform and issued a loud, guttural cry. Immediately, the rest of the black-clad ninjas broke off their attacks and retreated. A second later, all had disappeared into the portal.
And so had Cam and their leader.
"Cam!" Hunter cried again, running towards the tree where the portal was collapsing upon itself.
Too late. Hunter felt like his heart was being squeezed by an icy fist. "No," he whispered hoarsely. Then he saw a glint right in front of him.
Hunter bent down and picked up the object lying in the grass. Cam's glasses. The frame was bent, one of its lenses cracked. Hunter squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw, struggling to suppress the furious scream building up inside him.
TO BE CONTINUED...