Hellfire: Brace yourself, brave reader, because this fic'll rock your world!
This is the first time either of us has collaborated, so feedback is appreciated. To put it more bluntly, MAIL US! You know you want to... Anyway, this is a crossover between my New Enemy Saga and Kat's Guardian Shadow series. As for timeliness, in the Guardian Shadow fics, this story takes place after The Muiranthias Adventure, and in my universe, a few days after Insanity. Alexandria DeSantos, Brynne, the Shadow Lords, Jen and any other reference to Guardian Shadow belongs to Kat. Ma'erok, Bronzar, Silvar, yadda yadda yadda, mine. Adam Mitchell has my undying gratitude for proofing this monster. The song After All is by Cher, while Goodbye (Part 2) is by Vanessa Williams. Most of this fic was the product of our combined twisted imagination, and since we're both big Buffy fans, that's where we got Vampyra's appearance from. Romantics, particularly Rocky/Kat fans, be warned, their relationship takes a drastic U-turn, so don't say we didn't warn you! *evil laughter* NOTE: It has come to my attention that the fan fiction "Dream Walking" by Jeremy Ray Logsdon has been rewritten. Since the events in the original version will have ramifications in the New Enemy Saga, the rewrite will be ignored as far as my series is concerned. I will not waste time and effort to find a way to explain this in the NE universe, and since the original version ties directly into the New Enemy Saga's future, the events in the original version DID occur. There will be reminders of the occurrences in that fic in future stories. Final note: I'd like to amend a comment I made in my first disclaimer. As far as the show's continuity goes, this whole series takes place right before Honey, I Shrunk The Rangers. Okay, I'm done now.
KrazieKat: Uhm... I think my partner said it all. Sorry about how long it's been taking, but we want it to be the best for you. Have fun, and enjoy, and all that jazz, I think! Oh, yeah, to reiterate what Hellfire said, please, write US!!! It's the only way we can improve! Not that some of us really need to.
Angel Grove. Earth. December 1996.
A young woman stands in a park, eyes closed as she begins a teleportation spell.
At the same time, a silver-white blast of energy bounces off its intended target and heads straight for her.
A millisecond or two after this, a rift opens up behind the girl.
It happens faster than the flash of a camera, too fast for anyone to do anything to stop it. The energy bolt strikes the girl, causing her to stagger back and abort her spell. She loses her footing and flies backwards, right into the rift. Tentacles of grey and silver energy writhe around her body as she is swallowed up.
An explosion scatters the assembled heroes fighting their opponent, throwing them in all directions. When they regain their bearings, Alexandria DeSantos is gone.
Their struggle, for now, has ended.
But hers has only just begun.
And she will never be the same again.
* * *
A different Angel Grove. A different Earth. September 1997.
A grey rift tore itself open in midair, and Alex DeSantos came flying out of it. She crashed to the ground with a loud thump, and her eyes shut tight as pain coursed through her. Her whole body ached as she struggled to breathe.
What's going on?, she thought to herself groggily. That's never happened to me before!
Finally, after a few seconds of silent recuperation, she felt sturdy enough to stand. Opening her eyes, Alex looked around.
She was still in the park. And yet it wasn't the same park she had been in just a second ago. The air was flat somehow, tasteless. She couldn't quite define what was different about it. She just knew something was wrong. Closing her eyes, she opened her mind and realized why her surroundings felt so strange. The ley lines were gone. There was nowhere for her to draw power from. It was as though they had ceased to exist. Or... had never existed at all? But that was ridiculous.
Stretching her mage senses further, Alex gasped. It wasn't just the park.
Every single ley line in Angel Grove had disappeared. There wasn't a single ley nexus in the entire city.
Alex fought a brief moment of panic as she reached for her backpack. As she did so, she noticed her communicator had been smashed during her rough landing. She paused a moment to remove it, frowning worriedly. With a shrug, she tossed the device into the backpack, then thrust her hands into it, searching as she once again tried to touch the non-existent ley lines.
This is impossible!, she screamed to herself as her trembling hands pulled the Shadow Book out.
Shada? Alex called out to the spirit of the Book. She felt her fear grow when Shada didn't respond. Gulping hard, Alex walked over to a tree while flipping through the pages. Maybe it would have some answers. Her mind was not on reading, however. Without the ley lines, her power was minimal at best. And if she exhausted it...
Alex stopped as the sounds of battle reached her ears. With reflexes drilled into her by karate classes, practice bouts with Shaira and her friends, and her own personal experience, she quickly shoved the Shadow Book into her backpack and began to run in the direction the noise was coming from. Maybe she wasn't a Ranger anymore, but she was the Shadow Keeper and she would face whatever was out there. It was her duty, the one thing that made sense to her now.
As she reached the fight, however, she skidded to a halt and stared in shock.
Five Rangers, with helmets shaped like the fronts of cars, were battling a swarm of hooded and robed figures. Though no part of them was visible under their robes, something about them reminded her of Shades. The air was filled with loud, incoherent whispering as the combat continued unabated. They just kept coming and coming, and it looked like the Rangers were being overwhelmed, despite their valiant efforts.
Before Alex's eyes, a white rip in the air suddenly appeared. As a gust of wind swept over the melee, more of the robed warriors poured out of the rift, joining the fight. These newcomers seemed to focus on the Red Ranger and surrounded him, cutting him off from the others. Then, with a whispered roar, they pounced on him, swarming over his helpless form and pulling him to the ground by the sheer weight of their numbers.
Alex's head snapped up at the Blue Ranger's shout, her blood cold. As she watched, the things lifted the Red Ranger up over their heads and swiftly began to move towards the still-open portal.
Alex knew what they were doing and thought fast, summoning an invisible force field that enveloped the rift, sealing it. Alex smiled as the shapeless portal began to flicker. The warriors froze in front of their rapidly dissolving escape route, their heads cocked, whispering confusedly.
Alex felt a sudden blast of hot wind behind her, accompanied by a whoosh of air. She whirled, blinking when she saw what appeared to be three Goldars standing behind her, watching her curiously. At first Alex thought she was seeing triple, which, considering her condition, wouldn't seem that unlikely, but the other two simians were wearing wearing different-colored armor.
Alex blinked again and crinkled her nose. "You know, one of you guys was enough." she exclaimed. She made a fist and smiled at their astonishment as greyish-black light began to flow into her clenched hand, forming a ball of energy.
"So, which one of you wants this, hmm? Eeney, Meeney, Miney..." Alex's words caught in her throat when an obscenely cold presence touched her mind. She spun around, throwing an energy bolt at the black-clad man who had teleported a few feet behind her. "Mo!" she finished.
The bolt struck the man in the chest, but he didn't seem to react to it.
Without the slightest hint of pain, he gazed at the girl with one eyebrow raised. Alex noted with a shudder of horror that his eyes were a featureless onyx. "Interesting." he remarked in a pleasant voice as he lowered his gaze to his chest.
Alex's eyes widened in surprise. Not a scratch on him, yet she had put almost all of her fading power in that bolt! Mustering up whatever energy she could gather, Alex flung another bolt at the man. As before, it passed into his body and dissipated, leaving him unharmed. The man laughed evilly and Alex felt her skin crawl. This... this THING had more evil in him than any Shadow Lord she had encountered, even Darian and the others on Shadius.
Then he spoke. "Impressive, girl." He was right in front of her in an instant.
Or maybe it just seemed that way to Alex's slowed reflexes. She was tired, and it was showing. Before she could get away from him, he grabbed her by the throat and picked her up off the ground. "What manner of magic is this, child?"
Alex weakly tried to pry the villain's hands off her throat. Unsuccessful, she at last croaked out: "Shadow."
The man's eyes narrowed. "Shadow? Do you think I am a fool, human? There hasn't been Shadow magic in this universe for three hundred and fifty centuries! Now ANSWER ME!" he roared, squeezing her throat harder. Alex felt the edges of consciousness start to drift out of her grasp.
Without warning, a bolt of red light struck the man in the back. He growled, apparently not seriously injured, and turned his head to see the Red Ranger pointing a smoking laser pistol at him. "Hello, Ma'erok." the Ranger said.
Alex's jaw dropped as she recognized the voice.
"Good afternoon, Thomas." Ma'erok responded sarcastically. "A wonderful day for a kidnapping, isn't it?"
"Sorry to rain on your parade, but your fun is over. Get away from that girl.
Now." As Tommy spoke, the other four Rangers ran to his side.
The Titans flanked their master, who replied: "Don't be a fool, Tommy. I need but think it and you will all die with her."
"The alternative being you running out of juice in the middle of a fight and us turning you into ashes. Your choice."
Ma'erok chuckled. "Well said. You win for now, Tommy. But we'll be back." Ma'erok threw the helpless girl at the Ranger, who caught her, then addressed her. "As for you, dear, we'll finish our little discussion another time."
"Don't count on it." the Red Ranger growled. Alex was surprised at how much raw anger and hatred was in his voice and she took a few steps away from him.
"We'll see. Till next time, Rangers!" Ma'erok raised his hands, bursting into black flames and vanishing. The Titans teleported out after him. Alex noted dimly that the whispers had ceased, meaning the robed fighters were gone too.
"Are you all right, ma'am?" Justin asked. Alex waved off the question, concentrating on breathing. She could still feel Ma'erok's hand on her throat and shuddered, hoping her legs would support her.
"Yeah." she finally managed to croak.
"Why was Ma'erok so interested in you?" the Yellow Ranger asked.
"Shadow Mage." Alex gasped, rubbing her throat. "I'm a really powerful Shadow Mage."
"I never heard of a Shadow Mage." the Pink Ranger said, in a voice Alex recognized.
"But... Kat..." Using her personal energy caught up with her, and Alex was struck by dizziness as she tried to argue with the Pink Ranger. Blackness swallowed her vision and she felt herself collapse.
Adam, although startled at the newcomer knowing Kat's name, caught her as she fell. He lifted her up and looked at her face closely, then his eyes widened behind his helmet. "Guys, this is Alex, Rocky's cousin." he whispered.
"Then why didn't he tell us she was coming?" Tommy asked.
Adam looked at his teammate. "Because she's been dead for the past year."
* * *
Alex groaned, opened her eyes, then immediately shut them as a bright light flashed above her, blinding her. She weakly placed a hand over her eyes and groaned. "Ohh... stop the ride, I wanna get off..." She heard a chuckle and sent out a weak telepathic probe. Of the six people in the room, she recognized only four. She tried to reach Tommy, but stopped when she realized that their link was gone. Not blocked, because it would still be humming in the back of her mind. It just wasn't there. Like the ley lines. As if it had never been there in the first place.
She opened one eye cautiously and looked around, muffling a surprised "eep" when she saw a white-robed woman in Zordon's tube. She sat up, then gave a startled yelp when someone put a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see Adam standing beside the table she had been lying on, holding her backpack out. She took it sheepishly. "Thank you." she said.
"There's some weird energy emissions coming from it, but we couldn't find anything inside." Adam said.
Alex nodded. "It's linked to a pocket dimension that's always accessable, so I can put anything in there. In other words, I pull a Mary Poppins every time I use it." She winced suddenly.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Headache. Those tricks out there cost me. By the way, who was that guy? He absorbed my best shots!"
"You've never heard of Ma'erok?" Kat asked, puzzled.
"Ma-what?" She thought for a few seconds, and then everything made sense. The missing ley lines. The strangers in the Power Chamber. Her inability to feel Tommy in her mind. Alex groaned and covered her eyes. "Oh God, they'll never find me."
"Are you okay?" Tommy asked.
Alex looked at her soulbond's double and retorted: "I'm stuck in an alternate dimension, one that my friends blocked because of that Ma'erok guy, and you ask me if I'm okay?" Alex flopped back down on the table. "Why me?" she asked the ceiling. "Why? Is it bad karma? Something I did in a past life? I've never been deliberately cruel to anyone." She sighed and added: "Next thing you know, they'll be telling me I'm pregnant."
"Actually..." Alpha began hesitantly, with a much different voice and accent than she was used to. "You are." Alex's eyes widened and she stared at the diminutive robot. She started to shake gently, and then she burst into tears.
* * *
"Okay, let me see if I got this straight." Tommy said, pacing from one end of the table to the other. "You're from an alternate reality where you were fighting evil beings called Shadow Lords as a Ranger. You were bonded to my double and you've recently been on an alien planet, focusing the power of eight Zeo Subcrystals, two Power Staffs and a `Shadow Spire'." There was a moment of silence, then Tommy sighed. "Do you really expect us to believe that?"
Alex nodded, even though she saw the skeptical looks in the Rangers' faces. "You don't have to take my word for it. Go ahead. Scan me for Zeo energy. Somehow, when my Subcrystal was burned out, the Shadow Zeo power imprinted its energy signature in me. I can't prove what I said about Shadius is true, since it's there and I'm here." She rubbed her temples with her eyes closed.
"Ma'erok could have set up some kind of fake Zeo signature to trick us." the boy she didn't know pointed out. Tommy nodded, agreeing to that possibility.
"How did you get here?" Tanya asked.
Alex thought hard, recalling what had happened just before she had ended up in the park. "Well... the others were fighting one of Lord Zedd's monsters... I guess the Shades decided it was a good time to kidnap me. They opened a Shadow rift, that's the Shade teleportation system, right behind me. At the same time, one of Brynne's shots was deflected right at me. The power from my teleport spell and Brynne's blast mixed with the Shadow rift's own unique energy. The combination must have caused an intense, focused backlash that tore a hole through the reality barrier. I was probably pulled through into the Multiversal Nexus. And here I am." Alex shrugged. "At least that's probably what Brynne would say. She's the expert in multiple dimensions and stuff."
"And this Brynne is the Silver Ranger?" Kat asked in disbelief. Alex nodded and pressed on one of her temples again.
"Does anyone have an aspirin or something?" Alex asked. "My head is killing me."
"Yeah yeah yeah, hold on a second, would ya?" Alpha said. Alex was startled again by this Alpha, but she was getting used to it. The small robot came over with a hypospray. "The part of your brain that lets ya do magic is drained of energy, so it's causin' the headache." He injected the painkiller into her neck and Alex sighed with relief.
"Thank you." She looked at Alpha. "So... I AM pregnant. I thought so, but I wasn't sure. How far am I?"
"A little over a month."
Alex sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Yep, that would put it right about then, wouldn't it?" she muttered. She caught the doubtful look in Tommy's eyes and the strain of the past hour finally got the better of her. She snapped. She had no patience for this Tommy's cynicism. She started yelling at him in rapid Spanish, and when she ran out of insults in that language, she switched to Photean.
Dimitria's eyes widened. "Where did you learn that?" she demanded in the same language.
"Shaira. She's a Photean." Alex responded in English. "She's the guardian of the three lost Zeo shards and the Silver Power Staff, or at least she used to be, and the six Guardian Coins, which are similiar to the Power Coins but are half as powerful. She's also the leader of the Power Guardians."
Dimitria tilted her head. "She MUST be telling the truth, Rangers. I can think of no other way she could know the language. Thirty-five thousand years ago, I visited Photeus and Shadius in hopes of ending their hostilities towards each other, but I failed. Unfortunately, Ma'erok followed me, and shortly after my departure, he destroyed both planets."
"WHAT?!" Alex shouted in shock. Shaira, Photeus, everything gone? "I'll rip that bastard's head off!" she growled softly, just loud enough for the Rangers to hear. Her eyes narrowed in pure rage.
The Rangers, even Tommy, seemed slightly surprised by her vehement outburst.
Dimitria cleared her throat and continued. "I am one of a select few that remember the lost language of Photeus. It is beyond even Ma'erok's understanding. She speaks the truth."
Alex watched from the corner of her eye as the Rangers relaxed. "If Shadius doesn't exist anymore, that would explain why I'm so drained. Ninety-nine percent of all Shadow magic comes from Shadius."
"What if we brought a piece of Shadius here?" the Blue Turbo Ranger asked.
Alex cocked her head. "I MIGHT be able to draw power from it... um..."
"Justin." the boy introduced himself.
"Hello, Justin. I'm Alex. I'd love to hear your story some time. What do you mean, bring a piece of Shadius here?"
Justin shrugged. "You said 99 percent of all the Shadow energy you can tap into comes from Shadius. If it was destroyed, there's got to be some sort of debris left. Maybe there's something there you can use."
"The kid's pretty smart." Alex said admiringly. Justin blushed. She stretched, then glanced at her watch. Although to her she had only been trapped between realities for a second, she had no way of knowing if her perception was accurate.
So preoccupied was she in her musings that she didn't notice when her stomach suddenly growled loud enough for all the occupants of the Chamber to hear. She saw them hide their smiles under their hands and she shrugged.
"Hey, I'm a growing mage." she defended herself. "Besides, I don't know what time it is here, but my watch says noon, and I haven't eaten anything since six in the morning."
"It's noon here too." Justin supplied. "String theory dictates that time remains constant in most dimensions."
"Thanks." Alex turned as a flash of white light caught her eyes. At first she was surprised at the two teleportation streams landing on the Chamber floor, but then she remembered that the Rangers had asked Billy to come while she had been crying. She felt herself relax slightly when she identified the materializing newcomers. "Hi, Kim. Hi, Billy." She suppressed a smile at the ex-Rangers' surprised expressions, and Tommy asked her: "You know them?"
"Sure." Alex answered. "Kim's the Pink Guardian back home and Billy's the Blue Guardian. Jason's Red, Trini's Yellow, and Zack, as he put it, is `back to black'." She smiled at Kimberly and Billy, who wore identical grins. That definitely sounded like Zack.
Alex sat back down on the examining table as a mild dizziness overcame her again. She lowered her head and tried to regain her equilibrium as Kimberly walked over. "So you're from an alternate reality, huh?" Alex nodded, somehow not surprised that Kimberly knew. "Who's Tommy with over there?" the former Pink Ranger asked.
Alex coughed, caught off-guard by Kimberly's question. "Why do you ask?" the Shadow Mage asked warily.
"Well, I'm curious. I want to know if he's being taken care of." Kimberly said sweetly. Alex laughed. This Kimberly was a lot like the one she knew.
"You're just being nosy, aren't you?" Alex asked playfully. Kimberly grinned back and then added: "But I really DO want to know."
"Well, that'd be me." Alex said.
Adam looked at Kimberly and Alex, then nudged Tommy. "I don't like the way they're leaning towards each other, Tommy. This could get ugly."
Tommy glanced at the girls just as Kimberly asked: "Really?" Alex nodded. The girls turned their gaze to Tommy, and then their heads leaned in closer as they whispered to each other, Kimberly doing most of the talking while Alex nodded and listened, occasionally making a quiet remark. Tommy saw Kimberly grin at him mischievously and he started to head towards them.
Alex looked up at Tommy as he approached. "Shh, here he comes!"
Tommy stood in front of them. "What's so funny?"
"Oh, nothing much." Kimberly said, looking at the ceiling.
Alex glanced over at Kimberly and they both started to giggle. "Just...
exchanging stories." Alex said, causing them both to laugh even harder. Tommy watched, a dumbfounded expression on his face.
When their giggling fits were over, Alex stood up and stretched. "I need some exercise." Before anyone could say anything, she added: "I know, I know, it's not safe, but I feel like I've been staring at these walls for years."
"The Power Chamber can have that effect on you." Kimberly agreed.
"I got it!" Billy shouted suddenly. In a white column, a small chunk of clear crystal landed on a table set up in the middle of the Power Chamber. Alex approached the debris catiously and her hand reached out for it. When her fingers touched it, energy leapt from it, surging into her. She jerked back, taking a few steps away from it and losing her footing. Tommy caught her before she hit the ground. "What happened?"
"Oh wow!" she murmured, dazed. "What a rush!" Alex climbed to her feet. "This thing is almost overloaded with Shadow energy. I wonder if it's part of the Shadow Spire. The Spire was a large crystal that focused all the Shadow energy on Shadius and distributed it throughout the universe. The area around it was practically vibrating with Shadow energy when I was there."
"How do you feel?" Alpha asked.
Alex paused. "Fully charged." She shrugged. "I'll have to be careful with my powers, but I think everything's going to be okay."
* * *
Kimberly and Alex walked through the park, enjoying the warmth of their surroundings. Uncomfortable silence reigned until Alex said: "It's nice to be out in the sunshine." She tilted her head up towards the sun, then raised her arms, the new communicator Billy had made her catching the light and shining like a beacon.
Kimberly watched the Shadow Mage for a few seconds before asking: "You're not really comfortable around Tommy, this Tommy, are you?"
Alex shook her head. "No. When I first woke up, I didn't recognize him, because up here," She tapped her forehead. "he's different. He's not the guy I know and love. I sensed... bitterness in him. Anger. It's... kinda scary, actually." Alex's gaze became distant. "I see people I know and love, people I remember being carefree and innocent, except now they're battle-hardened, cold..." Alex shuddered and faked a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "And on top of it all I've got a nine-month flu. I'm pregnant." she explained when she caught Kimberly's confused look.
"Oh." Kimberly said, comprehension and something else in her voice.
The silence returned as the girls continued on their walk. Finally, Alex decided to break the ice again.
"Why did you send Tommy that letter anyway?" Alex inquired. "I never figured that out, and the Kimberly in my world never really explained it in detail to me."
Kimberly shrugged. "Well, I don't know about her, but here... I was just scared. All alone on the other side of the continent. And I was there by choice. Tommy hadn't told me to go, but he hadn't asked me to stay either. I just... didn't know what would happen to us. I kept thinking about how much I wanted to go back. But one day I just... woke up and realized I couldn't go back. Angel Grove just didn't feel like home anymore. So I wanted to break all the ties I had with Angel Grove, and by the time I committed myself to doing it, Tommy was the only one left."
Alex shook her head sadly. "My Kim actually DID find another guy. But that's a long story. I guess I was just curious because if the other Kimberly hadn't sent the letter, Tommy would never had gone out with Kat. At least, that's what he told me. I was having fits of jealousy at the time, so he decided to have a little heart-to-heart with me."
"Jealousy? Over what?"
Alex opened her mouth to reply, but blushed instead. "Actually, I'm not sure.
All I know is that I was extremely jealous of every girl he had ever gone out with." Alex sighed. "Well, that's ancient history." Both girls continued walking as they settled into another pause in their conversation.
"So you're pregnant too?" Kimberly asked. "How far?"
"About a month." Alex said. Then suddenly, something clicked. "Wait. Too?"
Kimberly smiled at Alex. "Yeah. Too."
Alex grinned back. "Somehow it figures. And just think, I still have to go home and tell the others. Nobody knows yet."
"Well, when I told everyone, Rocky started..." Kimberly's hands flew to her mouth and her eyes widened. Alex didn't notice her reaction, instead smiling again, genuinely this time. "Rocky's here? Great! Let's go see him!"
"You can't!" Kimberly objected in a half-whisper.
Alex's brow furrowed. "Why not?"
Kimberly took a deep breath. "I hate to be the one to tell you this, but...
well... you... you're... dead." Kimberly stammered out the last word nervously, looking away from the other girl.
Alex paled and her knees gave out. She sat on soft grass and buried her face in her hands. Kimberly quietly sat down beside her. Alex was silent for a few moments, coping with this, the latest in a long line of surprises, before speaking again.
"It was a car accident, wasn't it?" She didn't really need to see Kimberly's nod to know she was right. "I made it out alive in my world." Alex mumbled. "I guess I wasn't so lucky here."
Kimberly nodded again. "And Rocky didn't take your death well."
Alex sighed. "I have to see him. Can you take me to him?"
Kimberly got to her feet and gave Alex a hand up. "This is gonna be a long day." Kimberly commented as they started their trek to Rocky's dojo. While they walked, Alex felt a pair of eyes burning into her back, but she shrugged it off. She was too used to the sensation.
* * *
Ma'erok sat, legs crossed, on his throne as the firescreen shimmered slightly.
A cruel smile twisted his mouth.
"A mage from another universe. And what a universe! Such a pity the Shadow Lords are gone."
"Shadow Lords?" Silvar scratched his head.
"Thousands of years ago, there used to be a third type of magic besides white and black. It was called Shadow, a mixture of both of the Grid's sides. This magic was centered on a planet called Shadius. But with time, several of the Shadow Mages turned to darkness. They went on a rampage and slew dozens of other Shadow Mages. Several escaped to Shadius' sister planet Photeus. The evil Shadow Mages, calling themselves Shadow Lords, then declared war on Photeus. Dimitria tried to bring peace, but she failed."
Ma'erok shifted on his throne as he continued, his eyes distant, far in the past. "I recognized the threat Shadow magic posed. As a combination of light and dark magic, it could effectively destroy any being of evil OR good.
Besides, my `career' as the Worldslayer was starting to take off. So I waited till Dimitria was gone, then used the Sword of Kalidor to send Shadius into Photeus' orbit. A rather spectacular explosion, I must say." Ma'erok's smile widened. "Without the heart of Shadow magic, any and all Shadow Mages in the universe died of... I suppose the most accurate term would be starvation. Such a pity, though. They would have made excellent allies had they not been so dangerous."
Ma'erok cocked an eyebrow as Alex and Kimberly continued to make small talk on their way to Rocky's dojo. "They are quite alike, those two. Both scarred by evil, yet still retaining fiery spirit and undefeatable will. And they both carry children I can use. I sense power in her womb. Her child has the power, I'm sure of it. She'll make an excellent servant. A sorceress and a formidable warrior. And in a year I'll have an army of Shadow Lords!" Ma'erok stood, pacing to the balcony as the thought sent a jolt into his black heart. "She must be mine. With her at my side I will be unstoppable."
"She will not be easy prey, emperor." Goldar objected. "The Rangers protect her. And she has friends on the other side."
"Her friends cannot save her." Ma'erok replied dismissively. "They probably don't even know where she is. Photean technology is... WAS advanced." Ma'erok chuckled at this. "But this is beyond even them. They could get into the Nexus, but they'd never find this dimension. And the Nexus' warping powers would destroy them in seconds. We have nothing to fear from them. As for THESE Rangers..."
"A monster!" Silvar interrupted excitedly. Ma'erok dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand.
"No. We don't want to raise their suspicions. There must be a more subtle way to incapacitate the Rangers, something that will not reveal our true goal. If they anticipate our plan, they'll put all their efforts into sending her home, beyond my reach."
"Even if we could capture her, how can we convert her?" Bronzar asked. "She can't be possessed that easily, or the Shadow Lords of her world would have taken her long ago. No spell can hold her!"
Ma'erok turned around, a sadistic idea forming in his head. "Perhaps I don't NEED a spell."
"What?" all three Titans asked simultaneously.
"One step at a time. I have a plan. First we need to take the Rangers out of the picture. Suggestions?"
"Too bad they don't have sick days." Goldar rumbled.
Bronzar's eyes widened. "THAT'S IT!" The other three turned to him expectantly and he excitedly gestured for them to follow him. He then ran down a corridor.
The others exchanged glances, then followed.
* * *
"Germs?" Silvar asked. Bronzar stood at a desk filled with bottles, vials, petrie dishes and beakers. The youngest Titan nodded, addressing Ma'erok.
"If you recall, my lord, I requested permission to tour every planet you attacked before it was to be destroyed. I collected historical information for the Library, mineral samples for my personal use and so on. I also took the liberty of creating a small bio-lab containing various alien bacteria and such." Bronzar sorted through the various labeled utilities until he lifted a petrie dish to his face. "Aha! Behold, master! Bayala Musdix!"
"Baya... what?" Goldar tried to repeat.
Bronzar held the petrie dish in the dim light of the room. "Bayala Musdix. A disease I picked up from Ashtaroth before it was blasted into space dust. It causes powerful body spasms by stimulating and distorting muscle tissue. If I recall, Ashtarothians were humanoid. This should have a similar effect on humans, just as Il-Azali affects humans and Kerovans similarly. It's also not contagious, so we don't have to worry about other humans being affected by it before the Rangers are."
Ma'erok took the petrie dish as Bronzar continued. "And here's an added bonus.
It doesn't affect pregnant females. Their physical changes nullify the virus and the female's altered immune system immediately destroys the bacteria. But it should be able to get rid of the other Rangers, leaving the Shadow Mage unprotected and at our mercy."
Ma'erok smiled. "This will do nicely. Well done, Bronzar! Now, how do we infect them?"
Bronzar shrugged. "It's most reliable as a liquid. In a gaseous state it might mix with the oxygen and dilute the bacteria's effects. As liquid the virus would be immediately absorbed into the bloodstream."
Ma'erok nodded. "Make it so. I want the Turbo Rangers with Bayala Musdix in their blood immediately. Go to Earth and return only when your mission is a success. Then I'll be ready for our little Mage."
* * *
Kimberly and Alex stood outside the door to Rocky's dojo. "Are you ready?" the ex-Pink Ranger asked gently.
Alex shook her head. "No. But I gotta do this anyway."
They walked in and made their way to Rocky's training room. He was furiously attacking a punching bag, way more viciously than anything Alex had ever seen.
His back was to them, so he didn't see his unexpected visitors.
Kimberly motioned for Alex to hide behind her half of the double doors while she opened hers. "Rocky?"
The ex-Blue Ranger turned to her and smiled. "Hey, Kim! What's up?"
"Um... Rocky, this is gonna hurt..." Kimberly looked away from Rocky, towards the other door. "We just got a visitor from another dimension. And... and she wants to see you."
That was Alex's cue. She opened her door and stood next to Kimberly.
Rocky turned from Kimberly to Alex, and his smile slowly slid off his face.
His eyes widened and his expression became one of purest horror. Alex took a step forward, but in response Rocky staggered back, away from her.
"Madre de Dios!" he whispered, looking her up and down. For a few seconds, the only noise in the room was their breathing.
Alex looked at the floor. "I... I shouldn't have come." she stammered, turning and running out. She didn't notice the tears coming down her cheeks.
* * *
Alex practiced alone in the park, trying to work out some of her frustration.
Part of her mind was alert for trouble, while another was unable to stop seeing Rocky's face as she saw it back at the dojo, and yet another was concentrating on the kata. As she finished with a series of tornado kicks, she sat on the ground and tried to catch her breath.
"Your hair's different." It was a nonchalant and obvious statement, but it wasn't what startled Alex. It was who said it.
"Hi, Rocky." she said quietly, getting to her feet and turning to face him.
She saw the color drain from his face again, but rather than close off again, she decided to keep the conversation flowing.
Pulling a lock of hair from her ponytail and looking at it, she smiled. "Yeah, it is." she replied. "I was channelling the power of ten Zeo shards through my body and into the Shadow Spire. Not easy, since I had more raw energy flowing through me in those few minutes than most mages use in their whole lifetime.
If it hadn't been for my friends, I probably would've been burnt to a crisp."
She released her hair from her ponytail and reached into her backpack, looking for her hairbrush. She dug deeper, muttering absentmindedly in Spanish, and Rocky chuckled.
"What?" she asked, looking over at her stepcousin.
"You've got a mouth like a sewer." he said. "And it seems like you weren't even paying attention to what you were saying."
"Eh, it's probably no worse than what I always say." Alex replied with a shrug. She thrust her arm deep into her backpack, rummaged around a bit more and finally started pulling things out. First came the Shadow Book, followed by a small white box, which she placed carefully beside the Book. A pair of daggers came next, and after it a CD player, several CDs, a large wad of gray cloth, and at last her long-sought-after hairbrush. She started putting her things back and noticed Rocky gaping at her. "Like my Mary Poppins ripoff?" she asked. "The backpack's linked to a pocket dimension. A plus in being a Shadow Mage."
"Probably comes in handy every now and then." Rocky said matter-of-factly.
Alex noted his casual tone and frowned slightly. He was probably still in shock.
She shrugged in response to his question and opened the white box, pulling out a small square wafer. She ate it, instantly shuddering at the taste as she swallowed.
"What's that?" Rocky asked, amused at her expression. It reminded him of the time when he and Alex had been ten years old and had decided to open a lemonade stand. They had brewed the concoction themselves, but Alex had insisted on trying it first. A decision she had regretted immediately after.
Rocky's smile ebbed slightly as he wondered if THIS Alex had done the same.
"I did." Alex said quietly, looking at the floor. Rocky turned his gaze to her questioningly, and she shrugged. "Telepath. Not very effective in this reality, but I can pick up occasional thoughts if I try really hard. I'm sorry."
Rocky smiled, a trace of bitterness in it. "For what? You weren't planning on coming here and I wasn't expecting you. So... what was that thing you just ate?"
"Energy square. It's been a while since I've had to use one, and I forgot how bad they taste. It's full of necessary vitamins and minerals that..." And here she sounded as if she was quoting someone. "`All growing Shadow Mages need'." She rolled her eyes, and joy and grief combatted for dominance in Rocky's heart as he remembered how HIS Alex used to do that. "All I know is that they taste like lemon-flavored stale crackers." Alex shrugged. "But it's no worse than school food. And it's helping my headaches too."
"Wait a minute. You're still in school?" Rocky asked.
Alex narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean, still?"
Rocky shrugged. "We graduated about a week or two after Divatox arrived."
Alex felt a cold chill run up her spine. "What's the date?" Rocky scratched his head, confused, and Alex grabbed his shoulders. "THE DATE!"
"September 1998! Geez!" Rocky watched Alex's eyes unfocus as she gasped and let go of him, turning her back to him.
"Oh my God... ohgodohgodohgod... nine months!" she whispered.
"What's wrong?" Rocky asked.
"What's wrong?! What's WRONG?!" Alex repeated disbelievingly, turning back to him. "I was between realities for NINE MONTHS! They probably think I'm dead!" Alex sank to her knees and started sobbing, but Rocky was beside her instantly, gathering his stepcousin into his arms like he used to when they were children and the kids in Stone Canyon would make fun of her. He had always been there for her. The hug, to Rocky, was just a painful reminder to him that his Alex, the REAL Alex, was gone forever. As for Alex, the hug was so familiar yet so strange, the same brotherly gesture it had always been, but there was something else there, something she only felt from Tommy, and even then only occasionally.
The ex-Blue Ranger slowly rocked the distraught girl. "It's all right, Alex." he whispered. "Your friends are probably looking for you right now." Alex sniffed and he heard a muffled "Really?".
"Really. Trust me, Alex. I know me. And I'd never stop looking for you.
Everything is going to be okay."
Alex looked up at Rocky and suddenly giggled despite herself. "Same old Rocky."
"What do you mean?"
"You're still the sweetest guy I've ever known. You just have this twinkle in your eyes when you reassure people like that. It's obvious to someone who knows you like I do." Alex grinned and pulled a tissue from her pocket. She wiped her nose. "I'm being silly. Of COURSE they're looking for me. It's not like they can just forget me, right?"
Rocky nodded, then slowly and quietly murmured: "You're unforgettable."
Alex heard that last remark and tilted her head, putting two and two together.
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
Rocky sobered slightly and shrugged. "Shoot."
"Why did you take my... I mean, her death so hard?"
Rocky suddenly found the grass very interesting. "I had a feeling you'd ask me that. I know you too." he remarked flatly. "I guess it's all for the same reason, when you get down to it. The same thing it's always been." Rocky looked up, not at Alex but at nothing in particular. And with a sad sigh, he admitted: "I loved her."
Alex bowed her head to respect her fallen double. "Did she know?"
Rocky gave a barely perceptible shrug, still staring into the distance. "I don't know. I don't think it was she knew how I felt as much as it was her acting on whatever she felt. I had a big crush on her. Always had."
"Why didn't you tell her?" Alex wanted to know.
Rocky shook his head. "I didn't think it had to be said. The last time I saw her, in L.A., I kissed her just before I left. I was going to tell her and make it totally clear the next time I saw her, but... she died before I..." Rocky cleared his throat and wiped his eyes.
Alex closed her eyes. So much pain, so much death. She didn't know whether to laugh or scream or cry. An almost tangible gloom settled over both of them.
"You know what?" Alex said suddenly, deciding to change the subject. She grinned at him. "I bet your style hasn't changed much." She brushed her hair quickly, braided it in record speed and tossed it back behind her head, rising as she did so. "I wonder if I can still kick your butt."
"Care to try your luck?" Rocky taunted playfully, his grief, for the moment, forgotten as he climbed to his feet. Without answering, Alex tossed something long, thin and brown at him, and his hand reached out, grabbing the wooden katana. Alex held a wooden dagger and she raised it in a mock salute as she took a fighting stance.
"Let's rock." she said, with a hint of the battle fire the whole DeSantos family had. Then she lunged at him.
* * *
Tanya and Adam were walking through the park, holding hands, when the sounds of battle suddenly reached their ears. A look into each other's eyes was all they needed. They took off, following the sounds, and soon reached their destination.
Rocky was using a practice sword to fight Alex, who was holding her own against the ex-Blue Ranger with nothing more than a small wooden dagger. They were so involved in their fight that they didn't see the Turbo Rangers approach. Adam and Tanya hid behind a large oak tree and watched as Alex roundhouse-kicked Rocky's katana out of his hand, swept his feet out from under him and dropped onto his body, pinning his wrists to the ground.
"Winner and still champion, Alex DeSantos!" she proclaimed victoriously. Rocky laughed and tried to get up, but Alex's grip on his wrists slipped and she fell on top of him again. Alex's silver-gray eyes locked onto Rocky's, and the laughter died.
"Rocky... I... I have to tell you something, but it's bad." she whispered.
"Then don't tell me." he murmured back.
"I have to say it."
"No you don't."
"But if I say it, maybe it'll go away."
"Okay, what is it?"
As they gazed into each other's eyes, Rocky realized he wanted to kiss her so badly he was shaking. And if there was anything he absolutely couldn't do at that precise moment, it was kiss Alexandria DeSantos.
But he did anyway, because he knew he'd never be able to again. Because she was Alex. Because...
A thump startled the both of them, and they turned their heads, breaking their passionate kiss, to see Tanya and Adam on the ground. Apparently Tanya had accidently tripped over Adam, sending them both crashing.
Alex and Rocky quickly scrambled to their feet, faces hot.
"Um... I gotta go." Alex stammered, hastily grabbing her things. Stuffing the wooden weapons into her backpack, she slung it over her shoulder, turned and ran from them as fast as she could. Rocky watched her leave with a swirl of chaotic, conflicting emotions in his eyes and heart.
* * *
"Ouch! Where did you learn that?" Jason asked from the mats. Alex held her dagger in one hand and helped her defeated opponent up with the other. She smiled at him. "Kris and Dale. They love blades, but even they can't beat me with daggers. In fact, the only one who can counter that move is Brynne. But you're not as bad as I thought you'd be, rookie." she said teasingly. She picked up Jason's practice sword. "Care to try that again?"
Jason shook his head. "No thanks. I've learned my lesson." His hands were still stinging from the blow Alex had delivered that had knocked his sword out of his hands.
Alex grinned and turned to the others watching her. Tanya, Aisha, Kimberly, Katherine and Rocky had taken their usual table near the practice mats, where Alex and Jason had just finished sparring. Also on the mats were Tommy and Justin, breaking boards, Trini doing some Preying Mantis katas, Billy and Adam working on some punching bags and Zack teaching a few kids some Hip-Hop-Kido, as he called it.
Out of the corner of her eye, Alex saw Kat take Rocky's hand, confirming what she had already known from the moment she met this Pink Ranger. Rocky and Kat were together. Alex frowned slightly. Why did that bother her so much? Rocky was happy. That was the important thing, wasn't it?
If he was so happy, though, how could she explain what happened in the park?
Alex shook herself as if somehow able to shake loose those troubling thoughts.
She looked at her audience again. "Any volunteers?" Her gaze fell on Adam, who had taken a break and was sitting next to Tanya. The Green Ranger had seen that gleam in her eyes before and knew she had a few more tricks up her sleeve. "No way." He raised his hands. "I know that `I'm Harmless' look."
Alex put on an innocent face. "Oh, come on! When have I EVER had this look before?" She thought, then grinned when a memory occured to her. "Well, there WAS that time four years ago..."
Adam blushed at the reference and Aisha grinned. "Isn't that when..."
Alex shook her head. "Aisha, dear, I don't think he wants that brought up."
"What?" Tanya asked, her curiousity piqued.
"I'll explain later." Adam mumbled, still blushing.
"Why wait? It was just a talent contest." Aisha said. She explained to Tanya.
"Alex's friends in L.A. were getting jealous of all the attention she was giving Rocky, Adam and me. When we came to visit her for the summer, they made a bet with Rocky and Adam. The natives won and Rocky and Adam had to perform in the local talent contest."
"How'd they do?" Tanya inquired, stifling her grin.
"Second place. Not bad, considering they were competing against me and Alex.
We took first."
Alex smiled and added the coup de grace. "And we were all singing the same song, After All."
Adam had to grin at the memory. "Of course, Alex knew we couldn't win that bet, but she didn't bother telling us that." He glanced at her. "You know, we never did get back at you for that."
"Hey, it was YOUR male egos that got you in that mess in the first place! I didn't make you take the bet, I didn't make you get up on that stage and I didn't make you sing the female part of the song." Alex replied defensively.
That last bit broke down whatever dam Tanya had set up and she burst into giggles. She kept on laughing for a couple of minutes, then calmed down long enough to address her boyfriend. "You never told me you could sing. I'll have to remember that." Adam turned red, causing the others to fight down their smiles.
Aisha nodded. "Yep, it pretty much shocked all of us when Adam climbed up on stage with Rocky and started singing. It was hilarious." She too started laughing as the memories returned, and Alex joined in shortly afterwards. Adam blushed harder, which only prompted more giggles and smiles.
"Don't worry, hon." Tanya managed to calm down enough to say that, patting Adam's leg. "I think it's cute." Another giggle escaped, and she added: "Especially imagining you and Rocky dancing like Cher." With that, the three girls burst out laughing anew.
The other Rangers left the gym area and brought up another table so that all thirteen could be seated. Jason went to sit down, and only Alex remained on the mats, watching them wistfully.
The moment they settled down, a waiter walked up to the table from out of nowhere, holding a tray of smoothies. He set it down on the table and Tommy looked up, frowning.
"We didn't order these." the Red Ranger said.
The waiter shrugged. "On the house. Mr. Stone said so."
The Rangers looked around, but could see no sign of the Youth Center's owner.
Still, why look a gift smoothie in the mouth? There were thirteen smoothies, one for each of the teens.
Alex stepped off the mats, deciding to join them, but hesitated when she saw the only availible space was right next to Rocky. Rocky looked up at Alex, then looked down at the table again.
Katherine frowned slightly as Alex remained frozen, eyes troubled and clouded.
She shrugged mentally. Rocky's reaction was understandable. Maybe he was still in shock. No big deal. And Alex was probably still upset about being so far from home.
Kat put her hand on Rocky's arm and smiled at him. He tried to smile back, but instead withdrew his arm. "I gotta go." he said. Gulping down his smoothie, he rose and ran out the door. Kat watched him leave, wondering what was wrong.
And why Alex looked so guilty as she took the seat Rocky vacated.
Alex suddenly felt a tingle run down her spine and instinctively looked up.
The source of the sudden disturbance was the waiter who had given them their smoothies. He was heading towards the exit, striding confidently. Something about him felt familiar. The waiter paused and turned, smiling directly at her. The smile, for some reason, made Alex shift uncomfortably. Something was wrong with him. He certainly LOOKED normal, tall, tanned skin, wearing a white shirt and jeans with blond hair reaching his eyes. Attractive, certainly, but something about him just wasn't right.
She looked back at her new friends and tried to turn her attention back to the conversation, but her uneasiness didn't lessen. Alex sighed. She was getting used to it the longer she stayed in this reality.
* * *
The waiter walked out of the Youth Center. While he marched, silver fire swirled up around him and he vanished.
* * *
"It is done." Silvar reported, still disguised, as he knelt before the Dark Lord.
"Excellent!" Ma'erok raised his arms. "It begins!"
* * *
Adam came at Tommy with a fierce roundhouse kick, which the Red Ranger ducked.
Rolling away from his sparring partner, Tommy got up and prepared to strike, but stopped cold when he saw Adam sway slightly.
The Green Ranger shook his head as the room spun around him. He dimly heard a thump and was suddenly staring at the ceiling of Rocky's dojo, where the small group, minus Rocky, had relocated to after leaving the Youth Center. Adam tried to rise, but his arms and legs felt like they weighed tons.
He saw Tommy's concerned face enter his sight. "Adam, are you all right?"
Adam tried getting up twice more before replying with: "No. I can't get up."
He saw Alex kneel at his side. She said something Adam couldn't hear and held her hands over him. After a few seconds, she turned away from him to talk to someone he couldn't see.
The rest of what she said was lost as a fiery pain suddenly split his head in two.
* * *
A scream halted Alex and Tanya's conversation, and the Shadow Mage spun around to see Adam convulsing, crying out in pain. Swearing in Spanish, English and Photean all at once, Alex closed her eyes and placed a hand on Adam's forehead. It was burning hot, but Alex ignored that for the moment, calling on her scanning powers.
To her horror, she saw a hideous dark blot attacking Adam's brain. It seemed to hover around the organ, and every time it touched the tissue, that area of the brain flared red for a moment or two, prompting another scream of pain from Adam.
"We need to get him to the Power Chamber NOW!" she shouted, the bright glow in her eyes fading away as she stopped scanning.
The Rangers didn't think, just reacted. Jason and Tommy leapt to Adam's side and helped him up while the others clustered around Alex. In numerous flashes of light, the Rangers landed in the Power Chamber moments later.
"Yo yo yo!" Alpha cried as Tommy and Jason gently lay Adam down on an examining table. He had apparently passed out during transport. "What's goin' on?"
Without answering Alpha, Tommy turned to Alex. "What did you see? What's wrong with him?"
Alex used a nearby console to support her. "I scanned him. There's something affecting his brain. I've never seen anything like it." Alex's knees buckled and she fell to the floor, severly weakened by using her powers.
She waved off the concerned questions that immediately came. "I'm fine, really. What about Adam?" she asked, fighting the blackness that struggled to overwhelm her.
While Alpha scanned Adam, Alex felt someone kneel beside her and opened her eyes to see Tommy beside her, obviously concerned. "Are you really okay?"
Alex smiled warmly. "Yes, I'm really okay. It's just that I've never experienced depletion before. I've always been at full strength, so this is the first time I've ever been really drained. I'll get used to it."
"I'll get the Shadow Spire." Tommy got to his feet hurriedly, and Alex couldn't help but smile at the "big brother" routine, so familiar and alien at the same time. She watched him walk to the table where the small piece of the Shadow Spire was being kept. Then she sighed and lowered her chin to her drawn-up knees, her head swimming.
The scanners suddenly started beeping and Alpha seemed to do a double-take at the results. "Um... Miss Dee? Could ya take a look at this?"
Dimitria accessed the scan results from her ion tube and seemed to inhale sharply. "Bayala Musdix? That is impossible! The planet it originated from was destroyed many thousands of years ago!"
"Let me guess. Ma'erok?" Alex asked dryly, not really needing Dimitria's nod.
"Is there a cure? And what is Ba... whatever?"
"Bayala Musdix." Dimitria corrected. "It is a virus from the planet Ashtaroth that produced severe muscle spasms in Ashtarothians. Apparently it affects humans differently. I do not know how Adam was infected or if an antidote exists. I shall have to consult my databanks."
Tommy returned to Alex's side and she took the crystal in both hands. As she felt the energy flow into her, it triggered her scanning powers. Alex gave a stunned gasp. She had been looking up at Tommy, and now saw a black shadow, identical to the one in Adam, encircling his brain. She swept the room with her gaze and stood shakily, her strength returned to her by both the Spire fragment and the urgency of the situation. "You'd better look fast, Dimitria." Alex said to the Inquirian. "I can't scan myself, but everyone except Kim has it. And it's spreading fast."
Everyone looked at her in disbelief, and Billy quickly grabbed a portable scanner, running it over himself and paling at the results. He quickly spun and scanned Trini and Tommy, who were the closest two, and gulped. "She's right. It's inside us all." A fast scan of everyone in the room revealed that only Alex and Kimberly were uninfected.
Alex groaned. "Terrific." she said softly. She closed her eyes, then opened them when an alarming realization came to her. "Where's Rocky?" The Rangers looked at each other. Indeed, Rocky wasn't among them.
"What about you?" Kimberly demanded.
Alex shook her head. "Kim, think about it. The disease came from a planet Ma'erok destroyed. He's taken a recent interest in me. Why would he want someone he wants on his side dying from an alien bug?" she asked bitterly.
"You think Ma'erok's doing this?" Kimberly asked.
Alex nodded and walked over to the communication console. "I'd stake my reputation on it." she said. "I KNEW there was something wrong with that waiter, but it didn't really sink in until now. I bet it was one of Ma'erok's goons in disguise." Alex turned to Justin, intending to ask him a question about the comm system, when she saw him sitting on the floor quietly, silent since their arrival.
Alex worriedly knelt next to Justin and pressed her wrist against his forehead, closing her eyes. Feeling beyond the heat against her wrist, she inhaled sharply. "He's got it worse than all of you except Adam. I'm surprised he's still conscious. Justin, hon, are you tired?" The Blue Ranger looked at her with glassy eyes, nodding slowly. "Do you want to lie down for a while?" Justin nodded again, apparently too feverish to talk, and Alpha helped Alex carry the boy to a cot he teleported into the main room.
She straightened up, her eyes narrowed and her voice calm and flat as she asked: "Where's Rocky?" Her eyes burned with cold rage, causing most of the Rangers to flinch involuntarily.
"He's in his room." Billy said from a console. "But he's not answering his communicator."
"I'm bringing him here." she said, teleporting out before anyone could stop her.
* * *
The moment Alex reappeared in Rocky's bedroom, she gave a groan of despair.
The former Blue Ranger was curled up on his bed, shivering and covered in sweat. She reached for him and gently shook him, whispering his name. He moaned as her hand touched the bare skin of his arm. She yanked her arm back, surprised by the intense heat radiating from him.
"Rocky, come on, wake up!" she whispered, shaking him again. "We have to get out of here!" Rocky just whimpered in pain again, and Alex sighed.
"Great. Always the hard way with you." she muttered, thinking hard. Then an idea occured to her. The Billy on her world had modified the teleportation systems so that if a communicator-wearing Ranger initiated a teleport sequence, anyone in direct skin-to-skin contact with that Ranger would be teleported as well. Alex could only hope this Billy had done the same.
Now for the problem. She couldn't just grab Rocky's arm or something, because she needed both hands free to activate her communicator.
Alex gritted her teeth. "I can't BELIEVE I'm going to do this." she growled, climbing up on Rocky's bed. Blushing deep red, she straddled his stomach and activated her communicator. In two flashes of white light, they were gone.
* * *
They landed in the middle of the Power Chamber floor, and Alex quickly rolled off Rocky, getting to her feet. To her immense gratitude, Kat was being scanned by Alpha and had her back turned to them. However, she could see most of the other Rangers staring at her curiously. She did her best to avoid eye contact.
Alex then took her first real look at the Chamber since her departure. In the few minutes she had been gone, Alpha had teleported more medical tables in.
Besides Justin, who had fallen asleep a while ago, and Adam, who still hadn't regained consciousness, Trini, Zack, Aisha and Tanya were also asleep on medical tables. As Alex watched, Jason and Tommy, who were still remarkably alert, lifted Rocky up and put him down on another table.
"He's got a really high temperature." Alex said as Alpha left Kat's side and scanned Rocky. "I just don't understand. Why aren't Kim and I infected?"
"'Cause you're pregnant, lady." Alpha responded, still not quite used to calling Alex by name. "Your body chemistry's been changed. So you're immune."
Alex nodded. It made perfect sense. "Of course. He wants me in perfect health when he gets his hands on me."
"And he finds me too entertaining to kill." Kimberly said bitterly, hands on hips.
Tommy cut in. "So Ma'erok's behind this for sure?"
Alex nodded. "It's gotta be him, Tommy. EVERYONE coming down with an alien bug three hours after I get here? Especially one from a planet I've never been to?
Besides, I think I know how they infected everyone. There was something wrong with that waiter, I'm more sure of it now than ever."
"The smoothies." Tommy realized. Alex nodded.
"The perfect way to get us all without raising suspicion." Kimberly added.
"What about curing them?" Alex asked Dimitria, turning to the mentor.
"I am still searching, Alexandria. In the meantime, I suggest everyone should remain here until an antidote is found, so that I will be able to monitor you more easily."
Alex stretched, hearing some joints pop. "Fine with me." She leaned against a wall and yawned. "I could use a nap." With that, she gave up fighting to stay awake and slid down the wall, asleep before she hit the floor.
* * *
As Alex gradually woke up, she felt a comfortable warmth around her body and opened her eyes to see that a blanket had been tucked around her. Looking up, she saw that Billy was the only one still on his feet. Every other Ranger was sedated and lying on a medical table, deep asleep.
Alex sat up and looked again, realizing that during her slumber, the Power Chamber had been turned into an infirmary. Medical scanners were constantly monitoring the infected Rangers, the steady beep-beep-beep reminding Alex of an alarm clock. Getting to her feet, Alex saw that Dimitria's tube was empty.
"Where..." Alex's question was cut off by a yawn, then she cleared her throat and tried again. "Where's Kim?"
"She's resting in her quarters." Billy answered from where he was giving Jason a thorough scanning. "Dimitria hasn't found a cure yet, but it's a sure bet that if... I mean, WHEN she does, it'll mean a long trip for both of you."
Alex walked over and placed a hand on Billy's forehead. "You shouldn't be up.
You have a fever." she scolded.
Billy shook his head. "I'll manage. I was running some scans on the bacteria.
It seems to have been altered from the Ashtarothian version. Instead of attacking the muscles, it's attacking the brain."
"Why?" Alex asked.
Billy shrugged. "Any number of possibilities. Because the infected were or are Rangers, the way it was ingested, physiological differences between Ashtarothians and humans... it could be anything. For all I know, Ma'erok could have changed it with magic."
Alex looked at Jason, then blinked. "No, that's not it. My powers aren't at their peak here, but that doesn't interfere with my sensitivity to energy flows. Magic leaves a certain energy imprint, especially magic as powerful as Ma'erok's. It's something else." Then Alex turned back to Billy. "Now you get to bed, or I'll knock you out and tie you down." She smiled at him good-naturedly, but Billy knew she meant it.
He shook his head. "Not yet, Alex. You don't understand. I ran some simulations using data from my scans."
"It can wait, Billy." Alex replied firmly.
"No it can't." Billy shot back. "If they're not cured in the next hour, the bacteria will cause terminal brain damage."
Alex paled, then her joking demeanor became grim and serious. "I won't let that happen, Billy. But you're going to get yourself killed if you stay up like this! You've got it too, remember? Now LIE DOWN."
Billy turned away from her, back to the console. "In a minute. First I wan..."
He couldn't finish the sentence, because Alex stretched her hand out and gave Billy a quick nerve pinch, knocking him out cold. He collapsed to the ground, and Alex dragged him over to the nearest vacant medical table, which happened to be the only vacant medical table. After making sure everything was in place, she stepped away from him and began walking around the Chamber floor, checking on the others as she reviewed the events of the most stressful day in her life.
As she passed Rocky, he gave a choked gasp and rolled onto his side, coughing hard. Alex hurried to her cousin's side and knelt so that she was face to face with him. His eyes were shut tight and she doubted he was really conscious, but he gave another choked cry of pain and lay on his back again, his entire body twitching.
"Rocky, it's okay." Alex whispered, sitting down on the edge of his medical unit and gently stroking his cheek. "You're safe. Everything's going to be all right."
Her reassurances fell on deaf ears, so she started singing the first song that came to mind. Surprisingly enough, or maybe not so, it was the one song she had always felt had symbolized her friendship with Rocky. Up until that moment, at least. Because as she sang it in the silent Power Chamber for the first time in years, Alex felt it take a different, but just as correct, meaning.
"Well, here we are again,
I guess it must be fate.
We've tried it on our own,
But deep inside we've known,
We'd be back to set things straight.
I still remember when
Your kiss is so brand new.
Every memory repeats,
Every step I take retreats,
Every journey brings me back to you.
After all the stops and starts,
We keep coming back to these two hearts, Two angels who've been rescued from the fall.
After all that we've been through,
It all comes down to me and you.
I guess it's meant to be,
Forever you and me,
When love is truly right,
It lives from year to year.
It changes as it go,
Oh and on the way it grows,
But it never disappears.
After all the stops and starts,
We keep coming back to these two hearts, Two angels who've been rescued from the fall.
After all that we've been through,
It all comes down to me and you.
I guess it's meant to be,
Forever you and me,
Always just beyond my touch,
You know I needed you so much.
After all, what else is living for?
After all the stops and starts,
We keep coming back to these two hearts, Two angels who've been rescued from the fall.
After all that we've been through,
It all comes down to me and you.
I guess it's meant to be,
Forever you and me
She finished the song and noticed that Rocky must have heard it somehow, because he was still again. Leaning down, she gently touched her lips to his, tears in her eyes.
The door to the main Chamber opened and Alex sat up sharply just as Kimberly came in.
"I thought I heard singing." the ex-Pink Ranger remarked.
"Rocky was starting to go into hysterics. I thought it would help him calm down." Alex explained, both to Kimberly and herself. However, though Kimberly accepted it, a little voice in Alex's mind told her there was more to it, more she wasn't admitting even to herself.
With a sudden white flash of light, Dimitria reappeared. She spoke softly so as not to disturb the sleeping Rangers. "Alexandria, Kimberly, may I see you outside?" The girls nodded and headed out of the main Chamber, Alex stopping a moment to grab her backpack. As soon as the doors slid shut behind them, Dimitria materialized before them.
"I have found the antidote." she stated. "Apparently Bayala Musdix was used as a biological weapon during the Ashtaroth civil war. To keep the antidote out of enemy hands, the scientists who created the virus specifically designed it to react to only one substance, the sap of a rare bush that grows on the peak of a mountain in a pocket dimension. The mountain is naturally shielded against teleportation, so you will have to climb to the top and bring the antidote here."
Alex and Kimberly exchanged glances. "Up for a little mountain-climbing?" Alex asked humorlessly. Kimberly shrugged. "I always said I'd climb mountains for Tommy. And I always keep my word."
Dimitria nodded as if she expected no less. "Very well. I will teleport you to the mountain myself rather than use the teleport system so as not to attract unwanted attention. Be on your guard, though. Ma'erok may know of the cure, and if he does, he will not hesitate to stop you. May the Power protect you."
Alex and Kimberly stepped into standard teleport stances and Dimitria concentrated. The girls slowly faded out of the Power Chamber, vanishing into thin air.
"Good luck." Dimitria whispered.
* * *
The view of Dimitria and the Power Chamber slowly faded out, gradually being replaced by something else. Something incredible.
They had reappeared at the base of an enormous grey mountain, its surface zigzagged with cracks. The peak was covered by clouds, so high up the girls couldn't see it.
The girls craned their heads higher up. The skies were a bright jade, while the sun glowed deep purple. Both marvelled at the strange surroundings.
Kimberly whistled as she turned her attention back to the huge mountain. It was at least triple the size of the mountain the Command Center had sat atop.
"We have to climb THAT?!"
Alex shrugged. "Only if you want the others to keep on breathing."
Kimberly was silent for a moment, then she nodded. "How are we supposed to climb it?" she asked.
Alex smiled and eased her backpack off her shoulders. Opening it, she removed two harnesses, belts and grappling hooks. "Never leave home without it." Alex quipped. They both silently strapped the belts around their waists, hard enough to support them but not too tight for fear of endangering their babies.
Alex took both hooks and looked at the cloud-covered peak. Narrowing her eyes at it, she whirled both hooks and threw them into the air. They sailed straight up, magically guided by Alex, until they bit deeply into the rock at the top. Alex tugged to make sure the lines were secure, then turned to Kimberly. "Release that little trigger at the belt buckle, Kim."
The ex-Pink Ranger did as she was told, giving a startled scream when she was yanked off her feet. It took her a few seconds to realize that the hooks were retracting into the belts, effectively dragging her to the peak. Alex gave a wild whoop and released her trigger as well, soaring high into the air.
"A Christmas gift from Kris and Dale!" Alex yelled over the rush of air. "What do you think?!"
"This is GREAT!" Kimberly shouted back as their ascent slowed, allowing the girls to enjoy the experience. The fresh air was invigorating, and Kimberly leaned back, relaxing for the first time all day.
But, as always, the peace didn't last.
Without warning, a harpoon whizzed past them, narrowly missing Alex. It embedded itself in the rock, and Alex followed the cable attached to the back of it all the way down.
"WRAITHS!" Alex shouted. Kimberly looked down and went dead pale.
Dozens, maybe even hundreds of Wraiths, were swarming all over the base of the mountain. Some had devices around their waist that fired harpoons into the mountain. Cables were attached to the harpoons, and the Wraiths, mimicking Alex and Kimberly, allowed the cable to retract into the device, pulling them up. But the Wraiths soared up fast, reaching the harpoon in seconds.
Meanwhile, others swarmed up the jagged tooth jutting from the earth, grabbing whatever hand and foot holds they could.
"Kimberly, pull!" Alex shouted, tugging on her rope as hard as she could, making the hook pull her up faster. Kimberly, frightened, followed her companion's lead, doing the same. But it wouldn't be that easy.
As Kimberly soared up, her foot suddenly got snagged in an old branch. As she struggled wildly to free herself, pulling on her rope as hard as she could, six harpoons struck the rock face around her. Looking down, Kimberly gave a shriek of terror as a half-dozen Wraiths began to fly towards her.
Alex thought fast and put the trigger back in place, stopping her upward climb. Alex quickly shook a dagger into her hand from the wrist sheath she kept it in. Taking aim, she threw it with pinpoint precision,, cutting five of the cables and sending a quintet of Wraiths plummeting to their doom. To her delight, the dagger bounced off the rock face and fell, landing dead center in the chest of the lead hand-climbing Wraith. It deflated and the robe fell onto four more Wraiths, forcing them to lose their grip and fall as well.
Kimberly gave another cry of alarm, and Alex cursed when she realized one of the harpoon Wraiths had evaded her attack and was going to reach Kimberly in seconds. Desperate, Alex flipped herself upside down and put her harness in reverse, sliding down to grab Kimberly's arm. Alex switched the harness back to retraction mode, and as the hook pulled Alex and Alex pulled Kimberly, the former Pink Ranger was freed just as the Wraith jumped off the harpoon to grab her. It fell, whispering loudly, all the way down.
Alex, still upside-down, held onto Kimberly's hands as they continued to be pulled to the top, moving at twice the normal speed. After long seconds, they finally made it. As Alex and Kimberly regained their bearings, they saw that the peak was completely flat and in the center of the plateau sat a single maroon-colored bush.
The girls' hearts were pounding in their ears. "The bush!" Alex gasped, trying to catch her breath as she pointed to the plant in the middle of the otherwise barren peak. Kimberly grabbed it and pulled as hard as she could, but it seemed to be a part of the ground. The girls could hear the Wraiths' whispering growing louder and closer. Alex ran to Kimberly's side, tugging at the plant with all the strength she could muster. There was a dry snapping sound, like wood breaking, and the bush came out, falling into Kimberly's arms.
"SURPRISE!" Goldar suddenly roared, standing right behind the girls. They shrieked and ran to the other side of the peak, but Silvar and Bronzar teleported in. The girls skidded to a halt and stood helplessly in the middle as the Titans surrounded the girls. As one, all three unsheathed their swords.
Alex noticed that Kimberly was clutching the bush in her arms and knew what she had to do. No matter what the cost, the Rangers had to survive. Alex threw her backpack at Kimberly's feet and the Shadow Mage pointed at the ex-Ranger, praying she had enough power. A faint glow of grey-black energy, barely visible, a testament to Alex's weakening powers, leapt from her outstretched index finger, wrapping around Kimberly. Before anyone could stop it, Kimberly and Alex's backpack vanished in a mushroom cloud of etheral black smoke. Alex fought the vertigo that followed, triumph in her eyes. She did it. The Rangers were safe.
"You're too late, you big apes!" Alex growled at the Titans. "Kimberly's back at the Power Chamber with the antidote! The Rangers will be back on their feet in no time!"
For the first few seconds, the Titans' faces were expressionless. Then Goldar's mouth pulled back into a hideous sneer. "Stupid human wench!" the simian laughed. "The Master was never after your little playmates! Bayala Musdix was merely a distraction, to get the other Rangers out of the way!"
"But... but if you weren't after the Rangers, then why..." Alex couldn't finish the question, however. Something metallic slammed into the back of her head. She felt vibrations crash through her skull and into her brain, and she had time to understand two things as she began to fall. One, Bronzar had just given her a sharp blow with the hilt of his sword. And two, Ma'erok had not been after the Rangers at all.
He had been after her.
Just before unconsciousness claimed her, she had time for one last thought.
God help me!
And then she was gone.
* * *
In a whirlwind of flames, the three Titans appeared in the Throne Room, an unconscious Alex thrown over Bronzar's shoulder. "Master, we present Alexandria DeSantos." Bronzar said, dumping the girl at Ma'erok's feet and kneeling. The other two Titans fell to one knee and bowed their heads as well.
Ma'erok looked down at the Shadow Mage, then up at his servants. "Well done. I will not forget your efficiency. Now... I have much work to do." Snapping his fingers, Ma'erok summoned two Wraiths. They grabbed Alex and roughly picked her up. Ma'erok left the Throne Room, the Wraiths dragging Alex behind him.
Within moments, they stood at the entrance to the Meditation Chambers. Ma'erok slowly pushed the double doors open and stepped into the darkness, gesturing for the two Wraiths to follow. They did so with trepiditation, gingerly stepping into the blackness.
Demonic chittering and slithering immediately rose from the pitch-black of the room, but Ma'erok had nothing to fear from them.
"I've brought you some food." he called out to the darkness all around him. He nodded to the Wraiths, who released Alex's arms. She immediately dropped to the cold floor, face-down. Ma'erok turned her onto her back with the tip of one boot.
"I trust she'll be appetizing." he addressed the room again. He turned to leave, but stopped and added: "And PLEASE remember to chew. Last time you swallowed Kimberly whole and we all know how disappointing she turned out to be. Chew, then swallow!" Sighing, Ma'erok closed the door. As the last splinter of light faded from the room, the slithering and chittering sounds began to crawl closer to the unconscious Alex.
* * *
The Power Chamber was so quiet one could hear a pin drop. Kimberly watched as Alpha silently moved from Ranger to Ranger, injecting the antidote into their bloodstreams. They'd be awake within two minutes, fully active in twenty.
Kimberly looked around at her unconscious friend, then noticed the backpack at her feet. She clenched her fists helplessly. Alex had sacrificed herself to save the Rangers. And yet Kimberly couldn't shake the feeling that in the long run they'd all wish Alex had saved herself.
A groan broke her out of her thoughts. She turned to see the monitor over Rocky turn green, meaning he was awake. "Rocky?" she asked quietly as not to wake the others. She came to stand next to him and saw that his eyes were open, but glazed over. It was a safe bet he was only half-conscious. His shirt was soaked through with sweat, his skin glistened and his hair was damp. As Kimberly reached for him, he grabbed her arm sharply, prompting a startled gasp.
"Alex... oh God, Alex, I think I'm dyin'..." he whimpered. Kimberly shook her head, trying to say something to calm him down, but Rocky kept talking, oblivious to everything. "There's so much I wanna tell you, Alex... so much I wanted to say to you... but you're gone..."
"I'm here, Rocky." she murmured quietly, hoping he'd go back to sleep before something else happened.
"Ti amo, Alex. Te quiero mi amor." Rocky whispered, releasing Kimberly's arm.
Kimberly took a step back, stunned. She didn't know much Spanish, but even she could figure out what Rocky had said. The ex-Pink Ranger took a quick glance at her successor, but Katherine was still deep asleep. Turning back to Rocky, she sighed when she saw that he had fallen asleep again. Biting her lip, Kimberly took a seat next to Tommy's cot, praying they'd all recover fast.
Because she had an omnious feeling that something was coming. Something was going to happen. Soon.
* * *
Ma'erok and the Titans stood outside the Meditation Chambers, listening to Alex scream. In the hour since Ma'erok had thrown her in, she had not stopped shrieking once.
Ma'erok tapped his foot on the stone ground impatiently. "Well?!" he finally shouted to the doors.
As if in response, Alex's screaming suddenly stopped. For a few seconds, all was still.
Then the doors opened.
The woman who stood there was Alex, and yet not Alex. The pure white of her hair was now obsidian-black, tied back in a simple ponytail. She wore a black miniskirt and halter-top, and black stockings and spike-heeled boots adorned her legs and feet. She also wore a long-sleeved leather jacket. Her nails had grown several inches, becoming razor sharp in the progress. It was her face, however, that had changed the most. Her skin was pale as snow now, her eyes sunken, giving her already-thin face a gaunt look. A bony protrusion rose from her skull where her eyebrows should have been. Her eyes, once a silver-grey, now shone bright yellow, glowing with hungry light.
Alex stepped out of the Chambers, moving gracefully and fluidly. She ignored the Titans and knelt at Ma'erok's feet, looking up at him and giving him a full-tooth smile, revealing two sharp fangs at the top of her mouth. "I am Vampyra." she stated, her voice flat and cold. "And I'm hungry." She bowed her head, and when she raised it again, her human appearance had returned. She blinked once, slowly and lazily, then added, almost as an afterthought: "For Power Rangers."
* * *
"She's on the Star Fortress."
The responses were varied to Kimberly's unfortunate news. Tommy pounded his fist into a console, barely restrained fury in his eyes. Adam took Tanya's hand and squeezed it tightly, both still unable to believe that Alex had actually been captured.
But who Kimberly noticed most was Rocky. And even as she glanced at him, she couldn't believe her eyes.
Rocky had an expression of defeat on his face. He was staring into oblivion, not visibly reacting to the announcement. To her memory, Kimberly had NEVER seen Rocky look beaten before. He was usually the emotional anchor of the team, the light, the hopeful optimist.
Katherine came over to Rocky and tried to hug him. That in itself wasn't surprising, since the Rangers all knew that Kat and Rocky were romantically involved. They had never really announced it, but they hadn't tried to hide it either, and when one sees two teenagers of opposite gender sucking serious face, one knows what it means.
What surprised Kimberly was how Rocky reacted. To her disbelief, he gently pushed Kat away, shrugging off her attempt to console him. Hurt flashed in Kat's eyes, but she tried to cover up her pain with reassurances. "She's going to be okay, Rocky."
Rocky snorted. "She's dead, Kat. What, you think I care what happens to a dead person?" His tone was thick with bitterness and sarcasm.
Kat averted her eyes as Rocky glared at her, and she left his side. Just then a hand grabbed his upper arm and he turned his head to see Kimberly, eyes almost glowing with rage, next to him. "We need to talk." she growled quietly through clenched teeth. Rocky opened his mouth to protest, but Kimberly's nails dug into his arm. He winced in pain and followed Kimberly into a different room. When she was sure they were out of earshot, she spun around and slapped him.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Kimberly hissed. "She's trying to help you, to be there for you!"
Rocky put a hand on his stinging cheek, an expression between disbelief and annoyance on his face. "What IS it with Pink Rangers and slapping?" The joke was nothing but a weak attempt to change the subject, and it was ineffective.
"Are you in love with Alex?" Kimberly prompted, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
Rocky's eyes widened. "How did you... I mean, Kim, come on! You can't be..."
"Rocky, I'm pregnant, I almost lost you all, my new friend's been kidnapped and I'm in a REALLY bad mood. I AM serious. Now answer me."
Rocky looked down, then shrugged. "I don't know." he replied quietly.
Kimberly frowned slightly. "You don't KNOW?"
Rocky shook his head. "I don't." He laughed sadly. "Look at me, Kim. Just yesterday I was two steps away from sleeping with Kat, and now I don't even know who I'm in love with."
"You didn't tell me you and Kat were thinking about... you know." Kimberly said nonchalantly.
"We decided to wait. But it was close, Kim, really close. And Kat's not really outgoing when it comes to stuff like that. Tommy said she... oh, well, never mind that." he quickly stopped, seeing Kimberly flinch. "It's just that... I keep asking myself if Alex hadn't died, would I have fallen in love with Kat?
And I don't know how to answer that."
"Do you love Kat?" Kimberly probed.
Rocky nodded. "God, Kim... I love her so much... but... should I be with her?
I'd rather die than hurt her. And what about Alex?"
Kimberly put a hand on his shoulder. "Rocky, have you considered the fact that this Alex is from another dimension? Billy and Justin are still working on a way to send her home." Rocky looked at his feet, and Kimberly knowingly added: "And don't even THINK about going with her. First of all, you're already there, remember? And besides, you don't belong in her world any more than she belongs in ours."
Rocky was silent, and Kimberly continued. "And let me tell you something.
Being in a relationship means taking risks. If you love Kat and she loves you too, then that's all there is to it. If you're so scared of hurting her that you'll run away every time you get near her, you'll end up hurting her anyway.
Kat's stronger than you give her credit for."
Rocky cocked an eyebrow at her. "When did you become the wise sage?" he asked.
Kimberly shrugged. "When the morning sickness kicked in."
The two of them laughed, then Rocky looked at the door to the Chamber. "I'd better go apologize to her."
Kimberly watched him re-enter the main Chamber, heading straight for Kat.
"Well, that's one crisis over with." she sighed tiredly.
* * *
"Master, I'm HUNGRY!" Vampyra whined, clutching her stomach. "I want to feed!"
Ma'erok ignored her, focusing on Angel Grove. His eyes lit up with devilish fire. The sun had set. "Then prepare yourself, Vampyra. The time has come."
Vampyra grinned, but Ma'erok raised a hand before she could teleport away.
"First, hear my words. The Rangers are not to know you are serving me now. I want you to bring the former Rangers up here one at a time, as vampires.
Except for Kimberly. Leave her be for now. And don't feed on any Turbo Rangers either. I want this game to last as long as possible. Have you chosen a former Ranger?"
Vampyra licked her lips, running her tongue over her glistening fangs in the process. "Oh yes..." she purred.
"Then go." Ma'erok commanded with a wave of his hand. Vampyra melted into black light and disappeared.
* * *
Rocky yawned as he lay down in bed. As expected of a typical summer night, it was pretty hot outside, and the only thing he was wearing was a pair of white boxers. A blanket was the last thing on his mind, so there weren't any covers there either.
Rocky made himself comfortable and closed his eyes. It had been a long, stressful day, and he was asleep in minutes.
Downstairs, a knock at the door surprised Maria DeSantos, who was sitting on the couch in the living room, reading a newspaper. Setting it down, she got to her feet and opened the door, seeing Katherine Hillard, her son's girlfriend, standing at the threshold.
"Hello, Mrs. DeSantos." Katherine said in her soft Australian accent. "Is Rocky here?"
"Si, Kat. But he's sleeping." Maria replied with a smile. She liked Kat and was quite pleased with the effect the girl had on her son. Recently, for some reason Maria couldn't understand, Rocky had been very depressed and moody, but when he had started dating Kat, he had instantly returned to his old happy and energetic self.
"Oh. Well, I just had something I wanted to show him. I suppose it can wait till tomorrow..."
"No, it's all right." Maria reassured her. "You can drop it off in his room and when he wakes up I'll tell him you stopped by. Come in!"
Katherine's smile widened a bit as she stepped into the house. "It's so nice of you to invite me into your home." she said.
"You're always welcome here, Kat." Maria chuckled slightly. "You know where his bedroom is?"
Katherine smiled shyly and nodded. "Yes." With that, Kat walked past Mrs.
DeSantos and up the stairs. Maria raised an eyebrow, then dismissed her worries. Rocky was responsible and mature... well, most of the time. It wasn't her business. Sighing, she went to the kitchen.
* * *
Vampyra held the mad giggling in as long as she could until it became too much. As she silently wandered through the DeSantos house, she snickered softly. Momma DeSantos had never struck her as the very intelligent type, so it had been child's play to make the older woman see Katherine. While Momma DeSantos' reaction to seeing her niece alive again would be entertaining to watch, she had her orders, and every second she wasted was another second the Rangers lived.
Vampyra inhaled deeply, following Rocky's scent. She had picked it up while moving up the stairs and it was driving her crazy. As silent and invisible as a shadow, she turned the knob on his door and crept into his bedroom, slipping in and out of the dark shadows everywhere. She stifled a knowing grin. Rocky had never, in all the time she had known him, slept with a light, even a nightlight, on. She remembered one time he had slept over at Alex's place. She had been adamant to have a light on, but Rocky had told her not to be scared.
He had put his arms around her, and they had fallen asleep together. She had felt so safe with him that she hadn't even noticed the room was pitch-black.
They had only been in their preteens then, but the memory of sharing a bed with Rocky took a completely different light now. And Vampyra grinned widely as she remembered Rocky's prime argument: The darkness is just there, Alex.
There's nothing in it that can hurt you.
Guess again, Rocky, she thought to herself amusedly as she edged closer to the bed, her footsteps inaudible. Rocky was lying on his back, deep asleep, barely dressed and without anything covering him. Her breath caught in her throat. He was much more muscular than his counterpart in her world. A new hunger, completely unrelated to blood, suddenly attacked her.
But then she saw Ma'erok's face, black eyes gleaming as he glared at her.
Bring him to me. he commanded in a firm, no-nonsense tone.
Vampyra tried to protest, but she knew she'd lose the battle if she was stupid enough to fight. Instead, she nodded and slowly crept onto his bed, just as she... just as some other girl had done earlier in the day. She positioned herself on his stomach and her legs brushed against his arms. The ex-Ranger flinched and snapped to full alertness as her icy skin touched his.
"Alex?!" he whispered softly, eyes wide with surprise. Her vampire face was supressed, so there was no indication save her hair that there was anything wrong with her.
"Help me, Rocky. I'm so cold." she murmured, shivering. Rocky sat up, and Vampyra slid down to sit on his thighs, a fact he was most certainly aware of if his physical reaction was any indication. She didn't even notice him pulling the blanket folded at the foot of his bed around her shoulders.
"What..." he began, but she placed a finger on his lips. "Shh... don't talk, Rocky. Just... help... me..." She leaned in closer and gently touched her lips to his. Almost before she realized it, Rocky was kissing her back, with a wild passion that made their first kiss in the park seem laughable in comparison.
Vampyra wrapped her legs around his hips tightly, grinding their bodies together.
Rocky moved his head slightly, kissing her shoulder with the same mad desire.
He didn't bother looking at her face, just focused on her neck and shoulder.
"It's going to be all right, Rocky." Vampyra whispered, her face twisting and changing until it was a vampire's face again. But Rocky, facing the other direction, couldn't see the change.
Before he could turn his head to her and see what she had become, a sharp pain raced through his body as Vampyra bit two holes in the side of his neck and began to suck on the wounds, drinking his blood greedily.
Rocky's eyes widened and he gave a quiet gasp, weakly trying to push the demon away. But his strength was rapidly leaving him, and before long he couldn't even lift his arms. Seconds afterwards, he was completely unconscious, going limp in his attacker's arms as she finished feeding. She unlocked her legs and Rocky fell back onto the bed. Vampyra grinned evilly and straddled his chest, bending down and running her tongue over his lips. Her hands gently explored his body and slowly began to move towards the waistband of his shorts.
Just then she felt something solid smash into her face. Her head snapped to one side, but when she regained her bearings, there was nothing there. Closing her eyes, she saw in her mind the black leather-gloved hand that had smacked her.
What in the name of the Daemon do you think you're doing? Ma'erok bellowed in her mind. Finish your job and return at once!
As you wish. Vampyra replied sardonically, earning her another blow to the face. Despite the fact that he was nowhere near her, she still felt the impact. A testament to his far-reaching grasp. It could just have easily have been her throat.
He was right. It wasn't time. Not yet.
Vampyra reached out and gently opened Rocky's mouth. Taking a calming breath, she swiftly bit into her palm and let several drops of her black-tinged crimson blood drip into Rocky's mouth. Apparently satisfied with her handiwork, Vampyra got to her feet, smiled lustfully at him one last time and leapt out the window, her hunger, for the time being, satiated.
* * *
Rocky groaned as he slowly sat up, bathed in late-morning light. His vision was blurry, his head hurt and he felt exhausted, as if he'd just finished running a marathon. Slowly his eyes focused, and he glanced at the alarm clock beside his bed. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw that it was almost noon. Moving like a zombie, Rocky got to his feet and stretched, noting that his whole body was aching. Must have slept wrong, he thought. He grabbed the white T-shirt on his desk and put it on, then headed down the stairs for breakfast.
His mother was in the kitchen washing dishes when she saw him. "Well, it's about time you woke up." she smiled. "Did you find what Kat left for you?"
"Katherine was here?" Rocky asked, surprised.
Maria nodded. "She said she had something for you, so I invited her in."
"Oh. Well, I'll have to look for it later. Did she say where she put it?" he asked as he poured himself a glass or orange juice.
"No." Maria replied. "She went upstairs, and she was so quiet I didn't hear her leave." She raised an eyebrow. "And just how does she know where your bedroom is? Is there any particular reason you woke up late today?"
Rocky almost choked on the juice, setting the glass down and blushing at his mother's bluntness. "No, Mom. Really." His mother chuckled and left him alone to eat in peace. Rocky shook his head at his mother's amusement, still recovering from the blush.
About ten minutes later, just as he was about to finish his breakfast, someone knocked on the door. Rocky looked up as Kat walked into the kitchen. "Hi, Rocky. I just came to see if you're okay. Everyone was worried when you didn't show up at the dojo."
"Sorry. I just woke up." Rocky replied, looking up from the table at Kat. In the sunlight, her golden hair seemed to glow, and her eyes shone with a sapphire light. At that precise moment, he realized something he had known all along.
He loved Katherine.
Not Alex. He had loved her, but she was gone, and her double would soon return home as well. He had fought for their relationship too hard and too long to just forget it. Alex was gone and nothing was ever going to bring her back. It was time to move on.
Rocky didn't take his eyes off her during her introspections, and she was starting to get nervous. "What?" she inquired.
He just smiled, slightly embarrassed, but he realized with a pang of guilt that he didn't make his feelings clear as often as he should. Rising from the table, he slid his arms around her waist, held her close and said: "I love you."
Kat blushed and gave Rocky a quick kiss on the lips. However, as always in their particular case, a kiss never remained quick. She slowly wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. He responded in kind, and they remained like that for several seconds.
Rocky closed his eyes and started to enjoy the kiss in earnest, but suddenly he felt a flash of discomfort. Reluctantly, he pulled away from Kat, their kiss and embrace broken. "I had a dream about... our guest." he whispered, remembering his mother just in time to prevent calling Alex by name. "It was really weird. She was a vampire." he said in a puzzled tone.
"A vampire? That's... strange." Kat replied, not completely understanding Rocky's sudden change in mood.
Rocky shook his head. "It was probably nothing. Anyway, Mom said you left something here for me."
"What?" Kat looked at him curiously.
"She said you stopped by last night."
It was Kat's turn to shake her head. "Rocky, I was home all night. I wasn't here." Kat said. They exchanged looks, and Kat's voice lowered. "You don't think..."
Rocky paled and quickly put his dishes in the sink. He then looked up and shouted: "Mom, I'm going out with Kat!"
His mother called back from upstairs. "Be back in time for dinner!"
Rocky and Kat stepped outside so Maria would hear the door shut, and after looking around, they teleported to the Power Chamber.
Upon arriving, they saw that Tommy was already there. The Red Ranger had stayed up all night trying to find a way to save Alex, to no avail. As soon as Tommy heard about his friend's dream, he ordered Alpha to scan the former Blue Ranger. Within a few minutes, the scan was complete.
"Well..." Alpha said as he read the results. "Your blood count's a bit low, but it ain't serious." Putting the scanner down, Alpha finished with: "'Sides from that, you're fine."
"What else do you remember?" Tommy probed.
Rocky shook his head. "Nothing. It's all blurry. I don't remember much except for some bits and pieces." he said, straining his memory. "I've told you everything I know."
"Low blood count." Tommy mused, repeating Alpha's findings. "Alpha, can you find out what caused it?"
Alpha thought for a second, then nodded. "Sure. Lemme just config the scanner..." Alpha typed a few commands into the hand-held device and ran it over Rocky's body again, stopping at the side of his neck. "Hey, there's two puncture holes in your neck! And traces of human saliva!"
"WHAT?!" all three Rangers shouted simultaneously. Rocky's hands quickly flew to his neck, finding Vampyra's bite marks. He shuddered. "Oh God... you mean it really happened?!"
"If it did, you know what that means." Tommy said, his tone as hard and as cold as steel. "We've got a vampire on our hands." Tommy turned to the Chamber caretaker. "Alpha, call the others."
* * *
Vampyra giggled, wrapping her arms around her stomach as she danced around the Throne Room like she was mentally unbalanced. "Oh, that was GOOD!" Vampyra moaned, rubbing her abdomen. "He's DELICIOUS, Master. Oh yes, this is going to be FUN!" She laughed and continued her dance.
Ma'erok grumbled under his breath. Had Syren been so gushy about her lost love? He couldn't remember. But ever since Vampyra had returned, she had not stopped giggling and dancing and babbling. Ma'erok sighed as she went over her plans for DeSantos once more, speaking aloud as if someone was interested in her scheming. With the Daemon as his witness, if he had to stand another five minutes listening to her rave, he'd go mad. Not that he wasn't close anyway, but there was a fine line between being a little reckless and being utterly insane. And he had no intention of crossing it.
"Vampyra!" he called. The girl stopped hopping in circles on one foot and looked at her master. "Go to the park. Take the Wraiths as escorts if you wish. Draw Rocky to you and feed on him again. And do try to complete the transformation this time." Just to keep her busy and her mouth shut, he added to himself amusedly.
"REALLY, Master?" She bounced up and down excitedly until she remembered something and immediately sobered. "Oh, but the sun's up!"
Ma'erok swore in Y'Gaelic. Why was he cursed with such idiot henchmen?
"Just lucky, I guess." Vampyra shrugged, picking up Ma'erok's unspoken thoughts.
The Dark Lord's eyes flared with rage and he strode over to her, smacking her in the face hard. She gave a cry of pain and fell to the ground. He gave her a powerful kick to the ribs for good measure.
"My thoughts are my own, wench." he growled, placing the sole of his boot on her throat. She croaked out an apology, but he just sighed with resignation and stepped away, allowing her to rise. "Find a spot without sun, you imbecile! Now GO!"
Vampyra pouted and raised her hands, then stopped. "Just a moment, Master. May I offer a suggestion?"
Ma'erok was about to ignore her until he saw her serious expression. "Well?"
Vampyra smiled and began to speak.
* * *
"She's a WHAT?" Kimberly repeated in disbelief.
"A vampire." Rocky said dully. "She came into my room last night and bit me."
"That spineless son of a bitch!" Kimberly growled, kicking the wall. Then she turned to Dimitria. "He's mutated her, hasn't he?"
Dimitria nodded. "Most likely. There were subtle anomalies in the DNA I extracted from the saliva in Rocky's wound."
"Then you can reverse it like you did to me, right?"
"That was a different situation, Kimberly. I was able to save you because Zordon had a complete medical file on you, including a map of your genetic structure and DNA. I knew what to change and how. It is most likely, however, that Ma'erok has learned from his experience with you. I do not expect that Alexandria will be as easy to restore."
"We'll just have to be very careful." Kat said, gently putting her hand on Rocky's shoulder. This time, however, he placed his hand on top of hers and squeezed it gently. "We'll figure out what he's done to her and we'll deal with it accordingly."
Without warning, the Power Chamber rocked. A few Rangers were thrown to the ground as the lights flickered and died, leaving the room in darkness. There was a flash of incandescent light, and the Rangers found themselves somewhere else.
As she rose to her feet, Kimberly stiffened sharply upon recognizing the dark stone walls and flourescent white lights. Tommy shivered slightly. In fact, their surroundings produced similar reactions in everyone.
"Welcome." Ma'erok said, lounging on his throne. The Rangers noticed the Titans standing in a triangle formation in front of the throne, but Ma'erok shook his head.
"Fear not, children. You aren't really here. My powers continue to grow, and now even this is child's play for me. Your bodies are still in the Power Chamber. Your minds, however, are here. I have an announcement you might want to hear."
Tommy lunged at Ma'erok with a roar, but he passed through the Dark Lord and the throne, collapsing on the floor behind the dais.
Ma'erok smiled, not even looking back at Tommy. "He never learns."
"What do you want, Ma'erok?" Kimberly snarled.
"Funny YOU should ask that, my dear. I hope you're not too upset, but I've given your old job to a new friend. Vampyra?"
Out of the shadows strutted Vampyra, wearing a long black zeyd-cloth gown. It had a VERY low front and slits up both legs, revealing her muscular thighs.
Her hair was loose and her lips were crimson. She stopped at Ma'erok's throne and threw a wink at Rocky, who'd been gaping at his stepcousin. A causal glance downward told Vampyra he was pleased with her appearance.
"My God..." Aisha gasped, staring at her friend. "Alex?"
"Nope. Sorry to disappoint, but the name's Vampyra." the other responded. Even her voice had changed. It was seductive, sultry.
"Alex, this isn't you! You've got to fight!" Tommy got up and tried to grab her arm, but he was immaterial and his hand passed through her. Standing in front of her, he looked into her eyes. "The real Alex is buried deep down inside you..."
"And that's where she's gonna stay." Vampyra cut him off, grinning. "You're not gonna win this one with words, Tommy. And my master didn't bring you up here for you to try some pathetic `Fight the evil' speech on me."
Tommy's shoulders sagged in defeat. "Fine. What do you want?"
"In two minutes, the Wraiths will teleport to the park." Ma'erok said. "You will all go there and fight. Except you." he pointed at Kimberly. "I won't have you endangering my warrior." He smiled sadistically. Kimberly blanched and clenched her fists, taking a step back.
"If you're not in the park a minute after the Wraiths appear, they'll be set loose on the entire city." Vampyra continued. "With orders to kill anyone they get their hands on."
There was silence, then Tommy swore. "I'll get you for this, Ma'erok. I swear by all I hold holy, I'll make you pay for everything you've done."
Ma'erok smiled. "I'm SO worried. And by the way, no morphing."
There was another flash of light, and the Rangers were back in the Power Chamber.
"Rangers? What happened?" Dimitria asked, concerned. To her, the Rangers had all been frozen for the past few minutes.
"No time to explain, Dimitria. Teleport us to the park. Kim, you stay here, okay?"
"Tommy, I can fight..." Kimberly started, but she looked down. "I'm sorry.
Tommy took Kimberly aside while the other Rangers huddled close, trying to think of a plan of action.
"I know it's hard for you, Kim." Tommy said tenderly, brushing his hand against her cheek. "I wish you could be out there with us. But it's too dangerous."
"I know that." Kimberly murmured, feeling a little silly. "I just feel so useless sometimes..."
Tommy slid his hand around the back of her neck and gave her a gentle but firm kiss. "I love you." he whispered when he broke away from her.
"I love you too." she repeated quietly. She swayed slightly.
"Are you okay?" Tommy asked, concerned.
"Yeah. I'm just... a little tired." To prove her point, she yawned.
"Why don't you go home and rest a little, hmm? I'll have Dimitria keep an eye on you in case Ma'erok tries something. And I'll meet you there soon, okay?"
Kimberly nodded and touched her communicator, vanishing in a streak of light.
"Tommy?" The Red Ranger turned to see Justin standing in front of him. "You ready to go?"
"It's a trap." Tommy stated, rather unnecessarily. They all knew that.
"We'll just have to wing it like we always do." Adam said confidently. A confidence that most of them didn't feel.
Tommy nodded and raised his communicator, the other ten Rangers following.
They teleported out of the Power Chamber in a flash of multicolored light.
* * *
The fight began almost at the same instant the Rangers reached the park. But the defenders of Earth were ready. Tommy, Rocky, Adam and Jason, the best martial artists in the team, spearheaded the Ranger phalanx diving into the sea of Wraiths. As the robed fighters were scattered left and right, Billy, Aisha and Trini closed in from one side while Zack, Justin and Katherine came in from the other, boxing the Wraiths in.
As the fight raged back and forth, closer to the more secluded areas of the park, a Wraith managed to land a lucky blow on Rocky. He was knocked into a darkened clearing, hidden from the Rangers' view. As he looked around, he realized no sunlight pierced the roof of branches and leaves. A mysterious fog covered the ground and seemed to curl around him. He heard a light footfall behind him and whirled to see Vampyra grinning lustfully at him, her fangs glistening in the dim light. She was still wearing the revealing zeyd gown, though it in no way limited her movement.
Like a blow to the head, the memories of the previous night came flooding back to him in all their brutal clarity. He gasped in shock and disgust, backing away from her. "Stay back!" he warned, not sure what he was more afraid of, fighting her or giving in to her. For although she was hideous in her vampire form, he still felt the attraction to her, strong as ever.
Vampyra laughed lightly as she seductively strutted towards him. He backed up against a tree and she pressed her body against his, grinding into him. She lay a cold hand on his cheek and whispered: "Poor little human. You don't know whether to kiss me or hit me." She purred. "Let me help you decide." She leaned in and kissed the base of his throat, feeling his pulse beneath her lips. Her mouth watered and her eyes widened, but there would be time for that soon enough. She slowly ran her hands down his chest and smiled as she felt his heart beat faster. She leaned in again and licked the nape of his neck. He stiffened, in more ways than one, and it sent a thrill into her heart.
She was so concentrated on pleasuring Rocky that she didn't notice his arm slowly move up the tree trunk.
He gave her no warning, no chance to prepare herself, using his ninja skills to calm himself. He grabbed a dry branch and broke it off, swinging it down towards Vampyra's heart. With reflexes far faster than a human's, one hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.
"Not bad, stud!" Vampyra said playfully, ramming his hand against the tree hard enough to make him drop the makeshift stake. "I'm impressed." she continued. "But the time for play is over. Don't worry, though. I'll save the best for last." With that she gave him a hard slap in the face, causing stars to explode in his vision. His head tilted to one side, and Vampyra dove forward, plunging her fangs into his neck. He gasped, all he could do, but Vampyra finished her feeding quickly, knowing the Wraiths wouldn't hold the other Rangers back forever.
Taking a step back, she bit into her wrist and placed the open wound in Rocky's mouth while keeping his head steady with her other hand. She let him drink for a few seconds before lowering her arm. Rocky passed out, whether from the blow or the blood loss, she didn't know.
For a brief moment Vampyra considered letting Rocky drink more of her, but it wasn't time. There was still much planning to do before he'd be hers, body and mind.
Vampyra released her grip on her stepcousin and watched him crumple to the ground. Taking one last, desire-filled look at him, she vanished. The mist crept away from the fallen Ranger, disappearing into the undergrowth as if moving in reverse.
Only seconds after Vampyra's departure, Kat burst into the clearing. "Rocky!" she cried, kneeling next to her boyfriend. Gradually, Rocky came around. She hugged him tightly. "What happened?"
"I... I don't know." Rocky mumbled. His mind was so hazy he couldn't concentrate at all. It was a familiar feeling, but Rocky couldn't muster up the coherence to identify it. "The last thing I remember was a Wraith hitting me. It must've knocked me here. What about the others? Was anyone hurt?"
"That's the weird thing." Kat said. "They had us outnumbered ten to one, but they didn't try to press their advantage. It was almost as if they were just a diversion." She gently helped Rocky up and he leaned against the tree, rubbing the back and side of his neck, unconsciously brushing against Vampyra's bite marks.
* * *
As soon as the Rangers rematerialized in the Power Chamber, Rocky felt his knees buckle and he collapsed against Katherine. She gave a gasp of surprise and slowly supported Rocky to a table as he swayed dizzily. Without prompting Alpha ran another scan on him, and no one was surprised to discover that Rocky's blood count was even lower than it had been in the morning.
"Alex." Tommy said simply, standing back.
"But how?" Adam asked. "The sun's up! If she IS a vampire, how could she have survived?"
Rocky shrugged. "I don't think there was any sunlight in that clearing."
Kat put her hand on Rocky's arm and he smiled weakly at her, his face pale, but not wholly because of the blood loss. He knew now what Alex... what Vampyra was doing. She had bitten him twice now, and there was a slightly foul aftertaste in his mouth. She was mixing their blood. For whatever reason, he had resisted the transformation twice, but he had a bad feeling that the third time would be the last.
"Then there's only one option left." Tommy said grimly. "She'll be out tonight. And she'll be hungry. We're gonna have to be ready for her, ready to stop her before anyone else gets hurt. Even if it means killing her."
"Do you think it'll come to that?" Aisha asked worriedly.
"I hope not, but if it does..." Tommy sighed sadly. "We'll have to be prepared. Stakes, crosses, holy water, the whole nine yards. If sunlight is dangerous to her, the other things that affect vampires might work on her too."
"There's another problem." Rocky spoke up.
"What?" Tanya asked.
"Me." He turned his terrified gaze to Kat. "She's mixing our blood. And if she gets me again..."
"You'll turn into a vampire." Justin whispered.
"Then we'll find someone else for her to go after." Tommy said.
"Like who?" Katherine inquired.
"WHAT?!" the others shouted, but Tommy raised his arms. "Guys, Alex said she was engaged to my double. I might be able to..."
"Forget it." Adam cut his leader off. "She's NOT an idiot, man. She knows you're not her Tommy. You throw yourself at her and you'll get yourself killed."
"It won't be her choice! If Ma'erok sees me vulnerable, he'll tell Alex to come after me. He'd never pass up the chance to get me on his side."
"Even if we can catch her, what'll we do when we have her?" Justin interrupted.
"We'll teleport her here. If we can find out what Ma'erok did to her, we can reverse it."
The others looked among themselves, then back to Tommy.
"So what do we do?" Justin asked, speaking for everyone.
"We get to work." Tommy replied, turning to the viewscreen. "The sun'll be down in a few hours. We'd better start getting ready."
* * *
As the sun began to sink into the horizon, Kimberly, Aisha and Tanya teleported into the Power Chamber, which had been transformed into an armory of sorts.
"We got the crosses and holy water." Kimberly informed her friends. "The priest at the church couldn't understand why we wanted them, though." She dropped a small box of small and large crosses on the metal floor. Tanya then gently laid down a dufflebag filled with small square bottles of holy water.
Tommy looked up from where he, Rocky, Justin and Adam were sharpening stakes.
"Any problems?" he asked.
"No, but we don't have much time left." Kimberly replied. "The sun's almost gone. She'll be coming out any minute."
Two flashes of white light heralded the appearance of Billy and Trini, bearing half a dozen crossbows. "These were REALLY hard to come by." Billy said, dropping the weapons on a table. "Good thing my dad collects archery weapons.
Anyway, I got plenty of arrows here. One through the heart should take Alex out."
"Okay." Tommy breathed in deep. "Everyone remember the plan? Use the stakes only as a last resort, never leave your partner and call the rest of us if you find Alex. Kim, you go with Trini. Check the grounds around the Youth Center." The former Pink and Yellow Rangers nodded. Kimberly put a cross in her pocket and held two stakes while Trini picked up a crossbow, shouldering a quiver of arrows. The two girls teleported out.
"Zack, Aisha, check out the Beach Club." The two dark-skinned ex-Rangers each grabbed a cross, and Aisha picked up a crossbow while Zack pocketed several stakes from the pile of assorted weapons in front of them before teleporting out with Aisha.
"Kat, Tanya, you two take a look around the High School. She might try a secluded spot to get a quick bite before her main course." Pink and yellow sparks flashed and the two were gone, armed with a crossbow and some bottles of holy water.
"Jason, Rocky, Justin, Adam, Billy and I will take the park. It's a lot of ground to cover, so Jase, Rocko, stick together and tackle the north side.
Justin and Adam, work your way up from the south side. Billy and I will take the east side. That'll leave the west side open, but we'll all meet there and patrol it together. Okay?"
The other five nodded, and, grabbing as many weapons as they could, including a crossbow for each pair, the six were teleported away.
Jason and Rocky landed in a deserted area of the park. Jason loaded a bolt into the crossbow while Rocky took a wary look around. He wished there had been enough crossbows for everyone, since they were an ideal weapon, but this was the best they could do.
The duo started to make their way through the north side. The sun had completely set by now, leaving street lamps to be the only source of illumination other than the moon and the stars.
"Rocky?" Jason asked quietly.
"If it comes down to it... do you think you'll be able to stake her?"
Rocky paused and looked at his predecessor. "I don't know." he admitted. "And that scares me." He took a moment to look at the stake in his hand, then closed his eyes.
Jason patted Rocky's back sympathetically. Then they moved into the night.
* * *
When she had been a little girl, her Mommy used to tell her not to be afraid of the dark. Silly woman. Children were ALWAYS afraid of the dark. As a little girl, and even as a teenager, she used to be a little scared of staying out when the sun set. But she had also felt at home in the shadows, a curious contradiction.
When her Shadow Mage training began, the feeling of belonging in the dark grew stronger. But never had it been as strong as now. Now she walked the night completely unafraid. The dark was her home now, and would be forever.
Vampyra slowly walked through the shadows, revelling in their cold touch. She hid a sneer as a human couple, arms twined around each other's, walked past her. It disgusted Vampyra to think that she had once been one of THEM.
She continued to walk aimlessly, seeking easy prey to satiate her hunger. Her hands were in the pockets of her jacket, as she had chosen her leather ensemble for this particular hunt.
The night-chilled air bit through her open jacket and into her exposed midsection. Vampyra almost absently laid a hand on her stomach, feeling as though she was forgetting something important.
All thoughts of this fled, however, as the wind blew in from the north.
Vampyra froze and raised her head, silver-grey eyes gleaming. He was here. Her stomach growled and she felt her heart start to beat faster as arousal and hunger beseiged her.
Vampyra grinned, her face distorting into a disgusting parody of a human's.
"It wouldn't do not to say hello." she commented to the air around her.
It was easy to find them. She simply followed his delicious scent, leaping into a tree and jumping from branch to branch across the vast park until she found them.
Vampyra snarled softly at the sight of the crosses in their hands. Tommy had prepared them. She grinned. Admirable. But they would not stop her. Not tonight. Tonight, he was hers.
With a growl, she leapt off the tree branch just as Jason passed under it. He gave a cry of alarm as the demoness landed on him, knocking the former Ranger onto his stomach. The crossbow clattered out of his hands. Dropping onto his back, Vampyra squeezed his wrist tightly, causing him to drop his cross, which she quickly batted away. Jason tried to rise, but Vampyra pinned him to the ground.
Rocky, startled, raised the cross. "ALEX!" he bellowed. "GET OFF HIM!"
Vampyra hissed as he got closer, holding the cross out. But she had more tricks up her sleeve. She would not be defeated tonight.
She narrowed her eyes, concentrating on the cross despite the revulsion it filled her with, and the holy object tore itself out of Rocky's hand, flying out of his grasp. With another mental shove, she sent her stepcousin sprawling to the ground.
Vampyra smiled and turned her attention back to Jason. He was writhing frantically, trying to escape, but was unable to do so. With a chilling smile, she opened her mouth and lowered her head towards Jason's neck. But before she could bite him, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Looking up from the captive Ranger beneath her, she smiled in amusement. Rocky was standing, feet spread apart, a determined glare in his eyes, Jason's crossbow steady in his hands. "I'll do it, Alex. I swear I will."
"I'm impressed." she said truthfully. "But you can't fool me, hon." She glared at him, eyes glittering, and Rocky froze, eyes wide as she paralyzed him from the neck down. She then looked down at Jason and smiled. "Now, FINALLY, for some food!" With that, she bent down and bit Jason on the neck.
He gave a scream of pain that lasted only a few seconds before his struggles grew feeble and he passed out. Vampyra didn't take enough to kill him, just to knock him out. She didn't want to spoil her meal, and besides, she'd be back for Jason soon enough.
Rising, Vampyra gestured in Rocky's direction. Her spell dissolved, leaving him free to move. But he didn't.
Vampyra confidently strutted up to him until she could feel his breath on her face. She reached out and slowly took the crossbow, raising it so that the arrow was positioned directly over her heart.
"Go ahead." she cooed. "Put me out of my misery." Rocky shuddered as her horrifying features melted into her human face again, the face he had dreamed of, had longed to feel under his lips for so long. He tried to look away, but Vampyra placed an icy hand on his cheek and directed his gaze to her again. He flinched at the feel of her clammy skin.
"You just can't do it, can you?" she whispered, slowly wresting the weapon from his limp hands and tossing it aside. Vampyra placed both hands on Rocky's chest, skimming them down his body and stopping at his waist. He moaned lightly when she slipped a hand under his shirt, her icy fingers dancing around his chest and stomach. "I bet your kitty-kat doesn't touch you like I do." So saying, she thoroughly felt him up, letting her hands wander all over his body like she had wanted to do for so long. He didn't resist. Her smile widened.
Without warning, one of Rocky's hands shot out and grabbed Vampyra by the throat. She gave a grunt of surprise as he yanked her to him, fusing their bodies together while he kissed her roughly, probing her mouth with his tongue. His hands started to tug at Vampyra's clothing, and she could feel mindless lust overtaking him. He wanted her bad, and they both knew it now.
Vampyra tried not to smile. Her plan was working perfectly.
Rocky broke away from Vampyra with a gasp of disbelief when the soft, hurt voice reached his ears. Whirling around, he saw Katherine standing there, eyes wide and brimming with tears. She had seen everything.
"K-Kat..." Rocky managed to utter, turning his back to Vampyra. A mistake on his part.
Her hand snaked around his chest, pulling him back to her. She pressed his back to her chest and snarled at the Pink Ranger. "Hey there, little kitty!" she taunted. "Nope, you're not seeing things. Rocky's decided to upgrade. See, kitty, he's MY boyfriend now. And we're gonna consummate our relationship REAL soon. I wish you could be there to see it, but you'll have to settle for THIS!" With that, she turned his head with her free hand so he faced her, and kissed him fiercely, the ex-Blue Ranger powerless to stop her.
"YOU BITCH!" Kat screamed, throwing a bottle of holy water above Vampyra's head as hard as she could. It shattered against the tree they were leaning on.
Vampyra growled and shoved Rocky to the ground, rolling out of the way before any of the blessed liquid could touch her.
Instantly upon getting to her feet, Vampyra's hand lashed out and caught the crossbow bolt Tommy had shot at her, stopping it just over her heart. "Nice shot, Red!" she grinned, snapping the arrow between her fingers. She suddenly doubled over with a shriek of pain when another bolt hit home in her ribs. She turned to see Justin lower his crossbow. "Close, but no heart, munchkin." she growled, yanking the shaft out. She winced in pain, as did the others at the sound of flesh tearing. Looking at the blood-covered bolt with something akin to disgust, Vampyra broke it as easily as she had the first.
In the blink of an eye, Vampyra was kneeling behind Justin, using his body as a shield and holding him still with an iron hand wrapped around his throat.
Justin stiffened in terror, but didn't move.
Vampyra saw Tommy move closer. "One more step and I break his neck, Red." Tommy froze, eyes wide in helpless protest, and the vampire smiled cruelly.
"Wise choice. But Rule Number One, Tommy, is that villains never keep their word." Faster than thought, Vampyra dove towards Justin's neck, biting him sharply. He gave a strangled gasp and Tommy cried out in horror.
Even before he began to run to his teammate, Vampyra rose to her feet and threw the Blue Ranger at his leader. Tommy caught the younger boy and lowered him to the ground as gently as he could. Before he could get out of the way, though, he was tackled by the thing that had once been Alexandria DeSantos.
While they rolled around on the grass, the other Rangers immediately rushed to Justin, who lay on the ground, eyes closed, blood smeared all over his neck.
Tommy and Vampyra ceased their struggle with Vampyra on top, her hands like a vise around Tommy's windpipe. Tossing her hair back, she lowered her head to his neck, but a fist came out of nowhere, catching her in the jaw. With a growl, she fell off the Red Ranger and rolled into a crouch, glaring at Tommy's savior. "Just for that, I'm going to make sure you suffer, Green Ranger." she vowed. But before she could attack Adam, another arrow sang through the air, catching her in the shoulder. She roared in pain and backed away, searching for the source of the attack. When she found it, her jaw dropped.
Rocky stood there, Justin's crossbow in his hands. The former Blue Ranger quickly reloaded the weapon and aimed it at Vampyra again. He was silent, but the icy glimmer in his eyes told Vampyra all she needed to know.
Rocky said nothing as his finger tightened around the trigger. The other Rangers gathered behind him, Billy carrying Justin in his arms.
Vampyra noticed a flash of red light behind her and instinctively dropped into a split as the Red Turbo Ranger swung the Lightning Sword over her head. She was on her feet in a flash and ducked another swipe. But she was expecting Tommy to try and use her own strength against her. That was the favored tactic of HER Tommy.
Therefore, it came to her as a complete shock when Tommy instead charged her, spinning around and bringing the Sword around in a horizontal slash.
Instinctively, Vampyra reached her hand out to try and grab it, but instead the blade cut deeply into her palm. Black-red blood spurted from the wound, staining the metal.
Vampyra howled in pain, clutching her injured hand. Rather than back away, though, she threw herself at Tommy. Leaping up, she smashed her feet into his chest and propelled herself into the air, performing a reverse somersault and landing a few yards away from them.
But by the time her feet touched the ground, the Turbo Rangers, minus Justin, were morphed and had ar ranged themselves in a line in front of the former Rangers and their unconscious teammate.
"Game over, Alex." Tommy said. "You want me? Come and get me."
Vampyra stared at him for a moment, then laughed loudly. "YOU?!" The Turbo Rangers stared at each other, bewildered at Vampyra's reaction.
"Tommy, no!" Kimberly yelled, pushing her way through the line to put herself in front of her boyfriend. Then, addressing Vampyra, she shouted: "I won't let you take him!"
Vampyra's laughter stopped and she stood up, her expression suddenly grim. She ceased holding her injured hand, though the wound remained open and continued to bleed. "Fools!" she bellowed. "You think I'd go through all this trouble just for HIM?!" She narrowed her eyes. "Rule Number Two, Rangers. Things aren't always what they seem."
With that, Vampyra vanished in a flash of black light. To the Rangers' disbelief, she reappeared right behind Rocky. In the space of a heartbeat, she violently bit him on the neck, and while drinking, pressed her palm into his mouth.
Too late, the Rangers realized her true intention.
"NO!" Kat screamed. But it was already over. Rocky slowly pulled away from Vampyra, and when he turned to face them, his face was almost like hers, with bright topaz eyes, sharp fangs, pale skin and bony protrusions. Adam took a step back in horror and Aisha paled.
"Suppertime." the new vampire growled.
"Not yet, baby." Vampyra whispered, taking his arm. "First things first."
"ROCKY, NO!" Kat shouted, rushing to her boyfriend. As she ran, a wave of pink light coursed over her, and by the time she grabbed his other arm, it was as Katherine Hillard, not the Pink Turbo Ranger.
Kat winced as Rocky turned his burning yellow glare to her. Vampyra restrained a smile and stepped back, watching eagerly.
"You've got to fight! Please!" Kat pleaded.
Rocky smiled slowly, reminding them all of a predator about to catch his prey. "I have a better idea." he drawled. He turned away from her, then spun around and punched Katherine in the face. Such was the force of his blow that her head snapped to one side and she fell to the ground limply, silently. Rocky grinned wolfishly. "That must've hurt. Be seein' ya!" The vampires raised their hands and vanished.
The Rangers stood in shocked silence until they heard a sound. Katherine was curled up on the ground, her face reddened from the impact Rocky's hand had made. She didn't bother getting up from the grass, just lay there and cried.
The other Rangers approached slowly, sadly, as Kat's quiet sobs continued to pierce the night. "Let's get the hell out of here." Kimberly whispered as Katherine's sobbing began to grow stronger. Tommy nodded, and in a dozen flashes of light, they were gone.