Chapter 1: The Curse
I felt myself changing. I was shrinking, my neck elongating. I opened my mouth to scream... But I had no mouth. My lips had stretched and hardened, and an odd sound was ripped from my throat.
I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the lake beside me... But I didn't see me. I mean, I did see me but I wasn't me...
I was a swan.
I knew something bad was going to happen when the gap sensor went off and I was the only ranger not severely injured from our last battle. I was forced to rush off to battle alone, without backup. The nighlock looked odd, his skin was a mottled green and horns adorned his head, but otherwise he looked completely human. He grinned evilly at me and we began to duel.
He made the first move, swinging his weird staff/sword thing at my abdomen. I blocked, then aimed a strike at his head. He dodged, then quickly stabbed at my stomach, but while I blocked that, a horned tail I didn't realize he had. swung around his and my bodies an hit my back. I fell. Before I could rise once again, he pointed his staff at me and muttered something in a weird language.
That was when the transformation had begun.
Now I stood, small, white, and feathery, as that strange monster stood over me, laughing darkly.
"There are some rules to this existence," he told me. "you will remain a swan by night and girl by day until true love's kiss touches upon your lips. If you tell any living being about the curse, by any means of communication, you shall remain a swan for all eternity. If any person other than your true love kisses you, you shall remain a swan forever. In addition, your true love must be in love with you at the time of the kiss for the curse to be broken."
My heart sank with every word. What were the odds that I would meet my true love? How long would it take?
"I will give you some hope though." he told me. "I will tell you this much. Your true love is one of the samurai rangers. And just because you love him now doesn't make him your true love."
And with that he left.
Chapter 2: What's Wrong?
Emily starts figuring out it might be a little harder to keep her secret than she realized.
I stayed in the forest until the sun started to rise. When the sky started getting lighter, I changed back to human. I walked back to the Shiba house to see Ji standing on the porch waiting for me.
"That battle took quite some time, are you alright?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine." I replied. "Just took a while to defeat all the moogers he kept calling." I lied swiftly and smoothly, just like I had all throughout junior high school, when I was working after school to try to help get money to pay for Serena's treatments, but didn't want my parents to know. Taking all those drama classes really came in handy.
Ji nodded, then told me to get inside and get some sleep. I obliged immediately.
When I got to my room, I lay down on my bed, but I couldn't fall asleep. Something in me had changed, I could feel it. Even when I wasn't a swan, the bird was still inside me, hidden away, waiting for twilight, when it would awaken. It was an uncomfortable feeling, and I was scared it would affect my performance in battle.
Then another thought occurred to me. How was I supposed to hide this from the others? What if one of them walk into the room as I was transforming? I could always sneak out at night... But what if there was a battle in the middle of the night and I couldn't fight because I was a swan?
I supposed there were worse things to be... A frog, an ant, a (I shuddered) cockroach. Being a swan wasn't the worst animal. In fact, I loved swans. I just never thought I'd become one.
And I still didn't understand why I couldn't be a lion or a tiger or something fierce! But no... I'm a stupid bird.
I lay there pondering my entire existence until 9, when Ji came into the room to wake me. I, of course, was pretending to sleep.
The others had made miraculous recoveries overnight (got to love that ranger enhanced healing power) and were already practicing by the time I had arrived outside. I was absolutely exhausted, but I started training anyway.
I was sparring with Mike when a particularly huge yawn escaped my throat, distracting me for long enough to let him get in a good hit to my stomach. I fell to the ground and just sat there, dazed.
"Are you alright?" Mike asked as he kneeled next to me.
"Yeah," I replied, yawning once again. "I'm fine."
"Why are you so tired?" Jayden asked me as he walked over to where we sat.
"Midnight nighlock attack. Took a while to finish because I was fighting alone. Didn't get back until sun rise." I yawned yet again. "I'm fine," I insisted. "Let's keep training."
Jayden and Mike switched places, so Jayden was training with me and Mike with Antonio.
I could tell Jayden was going easy on me, and I was grateful for that. I was exhausted after staying up all night, and I felt my tired limbs getting weaker and weaker. After about 15 minutes of training, I could feel my legs buckling. The training sword slipped out of my less than firm grasp and I collapsed onto my hands and knees. Jayden immediately knelt at my side.
"Okay," he said as he pulled me back onto my feet. "Back to bed."
As soon as I tried to take a step, my knees buckled again. If Jayden hadn't been supporting me, I would've fallen again.
Jayden, having grown impatient waiting for me to gather enough strength to walk alone, scooped me up into his arms and carried me to my bed. The second he lay me down, my eyes fluttered shut and I fell asleep.
I watched Emily for a few minutes after she fell asleep. She looked so exhausted... She must've been awake for longer than just that one nighlock attack. The question was, why?
I left the room to finish training. When I got outside, Mike immediately approached me.
"What's up with Em?" he asked me.
"She's just really tired." I replied, masking my own worry for the sake of my teammates. The truth was I had no idea if she was really okay.
Kevin walked up to us. "See Mike, I told you she's fine." He smirked and lay a hand on Mike's shoulder. "No need to get so worried. Your girlfriend's gonna be fine."
A weird anger bubbled up inside me at these words. Which didn't make any sense. Why would Kevin calling Emily Mike's girlfriend bother me? But it did. I didn't like her… Like that anyway. Did I?
Mike blushed. "Dude, she ain't my girlfriend. You mean to tell me you weren't worried when she collapsed?"
I breathed a sigh of relief, then, after realizing what I did, stopped myself. Why should I be relieved that they aren't dating? Emily and I are just friends!
'Yeah,' said a small voice in my head. 'Keep telling yourself. I never knew denial was spelled J-A-Y-D-E-N.'
"Shut up," I told that voice.
'I can't. I'm your inner voice. I am you. I can't talk unless you think.'
I shook my head. It's one thing to argue with yourself. It's another to argue with yourself and lose.
"Alright guys, let's keep sparring."
I woke up and sat straight up at the sound of a loud alarm. Disoriented, I scrambled for my alarm clock and slammed down on snooze button numerous times. When the alarm didn't stop, I picked up my clock and stared at the red numbers, confused.
Then I realized why it wasn't turning off. The sound wasn't coming from my alarm clock.
It was coming from the gap sensor.
Still a little bit groggy, I jumped out of bed and ran outside to meet the rest of the team. Like it or not, it was time to fight.
Chapter 3: The Prophecy
The worst part about monsters is when they come back to gloat.
I ran out to the courtyard to meet the rest of the team.
"What are you doing out of bed?" Jayden asked urgently. "Go back to sleep! We can handle this!"
"You think I could sleep through the Gap sensor? Besides, there's no way I can go back to sleep now. I need to know that you guys are okay!"
"Em, you're too weak to fight right now!" Mike said.
My eyebrows raised. "I'm sorry?" Too weak to fight? Who was he to make that comment? "I'm fine Mike, get over it. Let's just deal with this stupid nighlock. Then I'll go back to bed."
Both Mike and Jayden looked reluctant but finally, Jayden agreed. "Just… be careful Emily. The second you start feeling too tired to continue, just call for me and I'll get you out of there. Okay?"
I nodded and laughed inwardly. Yeah, right. Like I was going to call for help.
We ran off to find the nighlock, morphing along the way.
The second we got there, I knew there was going to be trouble. For standing before us was the same mottled green nighlock that had attacked in the middle of the night.
"Ahh, my old friend, the yellow ranger. So nice to see you again." He greeted us with a cocky smile.
I glared through my helmet, then, feeling stupid, stopped because I realized he couldn't see my glare. So I settled for an angry shout instead. "Why are you back?" I yelled at him.
"Back?" Mike turned to me, looking startled. "What do you mean back?"
"This creep is the guy that attacked in the middle of the night." I replied. "Answer my question!" I yelled at the nighlock. "What are you doing here?"
"I have returned to see how well my little experiment is working out." He replied. "How are you doing, dear Yellow Ranger?"
"Emily, what is he talking about?" Jayden asked me. "How are you his experiment?"
"I… I…" I couldn't say anything. How could I? If I did, I was doomed to live as a swan for all eternity.
"Oh, it's nothing." The nighlock assured him, trying unsuccessfully to smother peals of laughter. "Just some playful banter."
A voice reverberated through my head and I cried out in pain. Don't you just love secrets, Yellow Ranger? The voice asked. They're just so much fun… Especially when the circumstances are so… dire.
Vaguely, I heard Kevin call out to the nighlock. "Who are you?"
"My name is ancient and forever, forbidden from being spoken by the ancients of sorcery. You call me a nighlock but I am much more than that. I am a warlock, a demon, a monster. And I have come to curse the Earth, one puny human at a time."
"What kind of curse?" Mike yelled out angrily. "And what does this have to do with Emily?"
"HA!" The monster laughed. "Only a fool reveals their plan. And I am no fool. You will find out soon enough."
"You didn't answer the second question." Mia pointed out. "What does your plan have to do with Emily?"
The monster appeared thoughtful. "Alright, since I'm feeling… gracious today, I'll give you a hint. A prophecy, foretold by my great grandmother, to be fulfilled by me."
"With a cough, he started to recite
By day one
By night another
One shall curse
The other shall flutter
A feathery fate
Shall meet the yellow
Until love conquers
The desired fellow
But be warned
For one false kiss
Shall cause humanity
To forever dismiss...
"There was more to it" He chuckled. "Something about the end of the red water and the sister without a sister. I don't know. Never really cared to be honest. Once my part is done, I'm gone. Speaking of gone…" He raised his hands above his head. "Good luck, yellow ranger. You're going to need it!" And with an evil laugh, he was gone.
When we got back home I ran into my room before anyone could confront me about what had occurred and hid under the blanket. Frustrated tears ran down my face as the encounter with that nameless monster swirled in my mind.
Why would he come back? Now, all that would happen was I would be asked a bunch of questions until I finally broke down and told them of the curse, and then I'd be stuck like this forever. I had to try and avoid them as much as possible.
A knock came at the door to my room, and I realized I had forgotten to lock the door. I feigned sleep as Jayden's voice came through. "Emily?" He called. "Are you there?"
The door opened slightly and I heard him once more. "You awake?"
I didn't answer, hoping he'd leave.
He didn't. Instead, he walked over to my bed and sat down beside me, moving a lock of hair away from my wet face. I could feel him shift a bit, then his hand ran through my hair once, twice, before he withdrew it and stood up. "Sleep well, Emily."
He quietly left the room, closing the door behind him. Tears ran down my face once more as I once again thought of what I was to do.
How could I though? I was never really any good at making friends, and now I had to avoid the only ones I had ever made. Though, I could always try and figure out which guy on the team it was that was to break my curse.
Kevin? Eww, no. Besides, he belongs with Mia.
Antonio? No, no, no, he's way too much like a brother to me.
Mike? Maybe. I do like him, and I know he likes me. Butterflies took off in my stomach at the thought of him kissing me and I grinned. I had it solved. All I needed was Mike to kiss me!
But then I thought of Jayden and a rock formed in the pit of my stomach. I felt the same way about kissing him as I did Mike. And I couldn't even run a test- pick the wrong one and I'm stuck.
The names circled in my head- Jayden or Mike? Mike or Jayden? Finally, the words slurred, even in my head until they turned into beautiful, swan shaped letters that took flight in my head and set my mind adrift.
And with a desperate need for answers weighing heavily on my heart, I finally fell asleep.
Chapter 4: Arguments
How can one expect to keep a secret when friends and teammates keep asking questions?
I woke up to see the sun about to set. My entire body was tingling. I could feel that the transformation was about to begin and I quickly hopped out of bed and to the window. I was in the process of climbing out when I heard the door open. I knew someone was walking in but I couldn’t let them see me as a swan. I couldn’t let them know what had become of me.
I heard a female voice- must be Mia- call out my name, but I was already halfway to the woods by the time her face appeared in our window. I risked a single look back but never broke my stride. Kevin and Antonio had appeared in the window as well, and they seemed to be yelling out to me.
I had made it just beyond the first line of trees when the transformation happened. I only hoped it was far enough to avoid my teammates’ gazes.
It looked like waiting it out was the only option; I couldn’t leave my position for fear of being caught. I decided to bunker down behind a tree and stick my now feathery head underneath one wing to hide it. Maybe I’ll actually be able to get some sleep at night instead of during the day.
Drifting off was hard in this new body, especially while I was trying to hide. I managed it for a brief time, but was woken up by a voice calling my name.
Antonio appeared between two trees just a few feet from me, and I was spotted immediately.
“Well would you look at that,” Antonio smiled. “What are you doing in the middle of the forest in the middle of the night?” He knelt next to me and patted down a couple of ruffled feathers on my back. “Hmm,” He hummed. “I think I’ll take you back to the dojo. Maybe I’ll be able to keep you as a pet!”
That was a scary thought, but I allowed him to pick me up and bring me home. It would make the transformation back easier, assuming I was alone when it happened.
The dojo was empty when we got there. I wondered why, until it occurred to me that everyone else was probably out looking for me. I felt a pang of guilt. I hated making my friends worry. I knew it was unavoidable in this situation, but they needed sleep as much as I did, and I hated that they would be spending all night searching for me instead of in bed where they belonged.
Antonio brought me to the infirmary room, where he gathered a pile of blankets and made a nest on a bed that he set me down in. He took out a washcloth next and cleaned the dirt from my feathers, then got a bowl of water and a hunk of bread. He put the water next to the nest and tore the bread into small chunks that he then fed me. I appreciated it. It had been a while since I had eaten, and the bread tasted better than it did to my human body.
It was around 9:00 when I heard the front doors open and close. The house was suddenly full of voices, and I knew the others must have returned. Antonio left the room to go a meet them and left the door open, so I heard everything.
“Did you find her?” Antonio asked anxiously.
“Not a trace,” Mia sounded frustrated. “I watched her run away, I know she must be in the forest somewhere, I just don’t know where!”
“Why would she run away?” Kevin asked in a confused voice. “What would’ve made her want to?”
“If we knew, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” That was Jayden’s voice, and I could her the frown on his face, even without seeing him. “Why did you come back so much earlier than us?”
“I found a swan in the forest!” Antonio’s excitement was evident. “It’s gorgeous, all white and graceful. I was worried about why it was in the forest, so I brought it home.”
“You did WHAT?” Kevin yelled. “Antonio, what were you thinking? What if it was planted by a nighlock?”
“It wasn’t,” He was trying to sound confident, but I could hear the tremble in his voice that said he hadn’t thought about that and that he wasn’t so sure. “Just come look and you’ll see.”
The team appeared in the doorway, and I looked up at them as innocently as possible. Antonio came to sit on the bed next to me and placed a possessive hand on my back. Ji approached slowly and circled the bed, eyeing me at every angle, Jayden and Kevin joining moments later. Mia and Mike stayed in the door, watching me warily.
Eventually, Ji announced he couldn’t find anything weird about me, and Jayden and Kevin conceded. “What are you going to do with it?” Ji challenged.
“I thought maybe we could keep it as a pet!” Antonio sounded ridiculously hopeful. “It could be like our mascot or something!”
“I’ll think about it,” Ji told him in a voice that suggested he had made up his mind already and the answer was no. “For now, why don’t we leave the poor bird alone and let it sleep.”
And he herded everyone out the door.
I slept fitfully, feeling weird in my fowl state (pun intended). I was woken when the tingling started once more, just before the sun rose.
Once I was human again, I snuck out of the infirmary and into my room, taking the couple of hours I had before the rest of the house woke to get in some normal, human sleep.
When I woke up, it was to see Mike glaring at me from the doorway.
“Oh, hey Mike,” I greeted, avoiding the gaze. “Good morning.”
“Good morning?” He scoffed as he made his further into the room. “That’s all you have to say?”
“Well, it is morning.”
“Yeah it is, but it’s not like you were here for the night!”
I could feel my heartrate pick up in anxiousness, even though I knew I would be facing an inquiry when I woke up. I decided to feign confusion, to see if maybe I could throw them off a little bit.
“What do you mean? I was here all night!”
Well, I wasn’t lying really, was I?
“Really? Were you? Because Mia watched you climb out your window last night around sundown. We were out looking for you until 9:00 last night! And before we went to bed, we checked your room, to see if you’d returned, and you still weren’t there!”
He was yelling, and it seemed the noise had called the rest of the team, because seconds later, they were running into the room, everyone except Antonio.
“Emily!” Jayden exclaimed. “Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!”
“There was something I had to take care of,” I told them, trying to ignore the impulse telling me to blurt out the truth.
“What could you possibly need to take care of that would require you to sneak out the window?” Kevin questioned.
At a loss for words, I found my filter failing me and my mouth moving of its own accord.
“Honestly, I-“ As soon as the words started spilling out of my mouth, they stopped, caught in my throat like it was a bear trap. “I…”
“Well?” Mia prodded, and I shook my head.
“I’m sorry.” Oh sure, those words would allow themselves to be said.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated in a hoarse whisper, finding myself close to tears. “I can’t tell you where I went.”
There were exasperated sighs and dark chuckles from the other inhabitants of the room.
“Of course not,” Mike muttered. There was a fire in his gaze when he looked at me. “Emily, we aren’t asking you because of courtesy, and we’re not asking to get no answer. We are asking because we care, because we are your friends and we are worried about you.”
“I know,” I glared back, frustrated tears welling in my eyes. “I would tell you if I could, but for right now I can’t, so you’re just going to have to trust me and trust that I know what I’m doing.”
“Emily,” Jayden started. “We do trust you, you know that. But can you really blame us for being a little suspicious after you ran off and disappeared last night?”
I was saved from answering when Antonio ran into the room.
“GUYS! SHE’S GONE!” He yelled.
Everyone gave him confused looks. “Who’s gone, dude?” Mike asked.
“The swan, the one I found last night! She’s gone!”
Kevin chuckled. “Antonio, it’s a swan. They’re hardly domestic birds. She probably just flew out the window.”
“She couldn’t’ve. The window was closed. Which means someone had to have let her out.”
“Well, Antonio, it wasn’t any of us. Maybe you should just calm down and stop worrying. We’ll figure it out.”
Antonio’s shoulders dropped and he sat heavily on the end of my bed. “I was just about to go bring her food. I thought of a name- Odette.”
“Odette?” Mia interjected. “As in the swan from Swan Lake? Can you get any more typical?”
“How are you so sure that the swan is a girl?” Mike asked.
“It’s a swan,” Antonio answered, as if that explained everything.
Not wanting to argue, no one said anything. Before Antonio could continue on about the “missing” swan, Mike turned back to look at me.
“Anyway… Em, you need to tell us what’s going on.”
I shook my head and looked down, trying to avoid his gaze. “I can’t,” I whispered. “I’m sorry. I promise I would if I could, but that’s not an option right now.”
He frowned angrily. “You know what? Fine. Don’t tell us. But don’t involve us when this tower of secrets come crumbling down at your feet either. At least, don’t involve me. I’m miles past done dealing with this.”
“Mike…” I could feel my heart breaking as he turned to walk out of the room.
The door slammed behind him, the crash reverberating through the room, leaving behind a ringing in my ears.
With an apologetic glance, Mia stood to open the door and follow him out. “Don’t take it too hard, Em,” she told me before leaving. “He’s just frustrated; we all are. I’m sure he didn’t mean to be so hurtful. I just wish you’d be honest with us.” With that, she left the room.
Kevin followed her immediately. “What she said,” were his parting words.
Jayden got up to follow as well, but paused at the door and turned back to look at me. “We’re just worried about you, Emily. We care about what happens to you; we want you to be okay.” And he left as well.
Only Antonio was left, who had thus far had nothing to say on the subject.
He finally broke his silence. “He’s right you know. We do care about what happens to you, and it’s a bit hurtful that you won’t tell us what’s up.”
I opened my mouth to apologize, but he continued before I could. “No, Em. Let me finish. It’s hurtful, but it’s okay. You are entitled to your secrets. But we just want to help you, and it doesn’t make sense that you don’t want us to.
“But that doesn’t make what Mike said okay,” he went on. “He went too far, and I know he was mad and his actions understandable, but that doesn’t make them excusable. Besides, he was wrong. We are your friends, Emily; at this point we are probably closer to a family. That means that we will be here for you through thick and thin. When you decide to let us know what’s going on, we will be here to listen and to help. That’s what we do. That’s what you would do for us. You are unfailingly forgiving of us. The least we could do is return the favor.”
He offered a smile, one that I returned. “Who knew you could be so…” the word I was looking for escaped me, but it seemed it didn’t need it.
“Yeah, well, I guess you just bring out the…” he gestured vaguely in place of a word in a mocking way, “in me. Besides, ‘Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.’”
I laughed. “Did you just quote Lilo and Stitch at me?”
“Why not?” He shrugged. “It’s a great movie.”
And with that he got up and left the room as well, leaving me alone to think about the situation I was in.
So, not only was I not allowed to tell my friends the scenario, but the curse would prevent me from doing it if I tried. Not only that, but I was still no closer to figuring out who my true love was, and with the way things were going now, it didn’t seem like I’d be getting a kiss from him anytime soon, even if I did figure out who I was going for.
Basically, I was in trouble.