The bell rang announcing the end of class, and Trini gathered her books with a faint smile. She could enjoy school sometimes, but Friday afternoons definitely had their charms. Portions of the coming weekend would still be devoted to studies, but extra free time was always a plus. Having waited for the more anxious students to crowd their way through the door, she exited at a leisurely pace and headed for her locker.
"Hey, Trini!" called a voice. It belonged to Randy, a guy from her homeroom. "Got plans for today? Some buddies and me are going out for pizza and a movie this afternoon."
"That does sound like fun," Trini admitted, "but I already promised I'd meet Billy at the Youth Center."
"Ohhhh," he said, nodding and grinning. "Got a hot date, huh?"
"No! It's just a study meeting," said Trini. "We do our homework together almost every day."
"Yeah, sure," said Randy. He walked off singing, "Trini's got a boyfriend! Trini's got a boyfriend!"
"No, I don't!" she called back, half-amused, half-embarrassed.
"Don't what?" chimed a voice.
"Oh, hi, Kim," said Trini, turning to face her friend. "I was just talking to Randy. He's teasing me about Billy... you know, saying I like him."
"I think Randy must like you," Kim replied, half-seriously. "That's one of the symptoms, you know."
"Randy's okay, I guess, but I don't know if he's my type," answered Trini.
"Is Billy your type?"
"Kimberly! How can you ask that?" Trini asked, somewhat surprised.
Kim shrugged. "Well, you do spend a lot of time with him, and I haven't exactly seen you with any other guys..."
"Billy's my best friend! Of course I'm going to spend time with him!" said Trini.
"Okay, don't get angry," said Kim. "But you know, this is high school now. It isn't like it was when we were all playing in the sandbox together. Sometimes stuff happens when you start to grow up.... I gotta go now. Cheerleading practice. Catch you later, okay?"
Trini murmured a reply and watched her friend scoot off through the busy crowd of students. Well, that was a confusing conversation! She had never really stopped to consider the possibility that Billy might be boyfriend material. Sure, there had been teasing about it, ever since they had started hanging around together in grade school, but she had never taken it seriously. Maybe it was even the fact that they had so often joked about it that had caused her not to take it seriously. However, now that it had been pointed out to her, she realized that she'd never really had a serious boyfriend before... but she had been spending a significant amount of time together. Still, it felt strange to think that they might be more than just good friends. And the other question was, if she wasn't interested in Billy, why wasn't she interested in someone else? Was there something wrong with her, or what?
The matter was still rattling around in the back of her mind when she reported to the Youth Center for her study date... session, she corrected herself sternly. Billy was waiting for her at their usual table, books and papers spread across its surface.
"Hey, Trini!" he greeted. "I've just started ploughing through all this. Your help would be most appreciated."
"You need my help? That's different," Trini replied, coming to sit next to him. "What's the subject?"
"Shakespeare," said Billy with a wry grimace. "I've got ten sonnets I'm supposed to be making sense of for English class tomorrow. Poetry isn't my strong point."
"Okay. I'll help you with your Shakespeare if you'll help with my trigonometry," said Trini.
They swapped papers and began looking over the subjects at hand. That, at least, was the original plan, but somewhere along the line, Trini's attention was diverted back to her favorite lab partner. She had to admit, he was very good company, intelligent, a loyal friend... and quite good looking, now that she thought about it. On the other hand, she reflected, looking back at the list of sonnets, he could also be as factual as an encyclopedia and literal-minded as a computer. The poetry that was giving him trouble was like music to her.
*I wouldn't mind a guy who knew how to write love poems,* she thought idly. *Oh, but who doesn't want to be swept off their feet by a knight in shining armor? Someone who's brave and handsome and romantic and kind... but I don't know if they make real people like that. Only in fairy tales, I guess. Maybe Kimberly is right, and maybe everyone else is. I might not do any better than Billy, and a lot of girls would be more than happy to be in my shoes. Still, I don't know...*
"Trini? Trini, are you listening?" asked Billy.
"Hmm? Oh, sorry, my mind was wandering," Trini replied. "What were you saying?"
"I asked if you had translated that first poem yet. It's got me stumped. I understand the words, but I don't get the meaning."
"Oh. Really? I thought that one was pretty simple," Trini replied. "See, the person writing the poem is saying that they don't love a person for what they look like, but for who they really are inside."
"Really? That's what it says?" Billy replied. He looked at the poem. "Yeah, I guess that is obvious. I wonder how I missed it?"
"It's all in how you look at things," Trini replied.
Just then, their communicators chimed that ironically cheerful little six-toned tune that announced that some portion of their day was about to be spoiled.
"I wasn't ready for a study break," Billy mumbled.
"We'll finish this tomorrow," answered Trini consolingly. "Let's get going."
Hastily scooping up books and papers and shoving them into their backpacks, they slipped out into the hallway.
"We read you, Zordon," Billy whispered.
"Rangers, Goldar and the Putty Patrol have appeared in the park. You must report there at once. The other Rangers will meet you there."
"We're on it," Billy replied.
"Never a dull moment," said Trini lightly, to cover up her anticipation. This Lord Zedd was still new, and there was no predicting what he might be up to. With a quick check to make sure no one could see them, the Rangers teleported to the battle grounds.
By the time they reached the park, the fight was already under way, the sound of blows and battle cries telling them that Jason and Zack were already hard at work. Tommy was lurking in a grove of trees nearby, monitoring the situation.
"How's it going?" asked Billy.
"So far, so good, but that's not going to last long," Tommy replied. "They're way outnumbered, and these putties might disintegrate as soon as you hit the Z, but they won't let you get to it without a fight."
"Well, let's even the odds," Trini replied. "Are you sitting this fight out?"
Tommy nodded. "I have to conserve my powers, but I'll be here if you really need me. You know that."
"Yo, guys! A little help here, if you don't mind!" shouted Jason, attempting to wrest himself free of the grip of several Putties. Zack, in a similar situation, was struggling to free himself long enough to halt the progress of Goldar, who was chuckling wickedly as he strode forward to deal with his old nemesis.
"Time to get moving," Billy muttered.
"In other words," Trini corrected, "It's morphin time!"
Seconds later, Goldar's deadly intent was thwarted, as a yellow-armored form crashed into him from above and sent him sprawling. She tumbled expertly and came up in an alert semi- crouch, and watched with disdain as Goldar struggled to get his wings untangled. In the moment of distraction, Jason was finally able to wrench free of his captors. In the background, Billy and Zack had teamed up to deal with the other Putties.
"Grr... you're going to pay for that, Yellow Ranger!" Goldar snarled.
"I don't think so, Goldar," answered Trini. "You ought to know by now, you're no match for the Power Rangers!"
"Who's going to beat me? You?" sneered Goldar. "Give me a real warrior to fight!" He felt safe enough in making that demand, seeing that the male Rangers were being bogged down by Putties at the moment.
"How about me?" chirped a cheerful voice.
Goldar turned around in surprise and was hit by a barrage of pink energy arrows. He staggered backwards, and Trini put out one foot to trip him. He toppled over with a roar and a clatter, landing in an undignified heap.
"Hey, Kim! What took you so long?" asked Zack.
"Cheerleading. It can be kind of a pain sometimes," Kim replied. She hurried to take her place with the other Rangers, who were just finishing off the last of the Putties.
Meanwhile, Goldar was clambering back to his feet, eyes blazing in fury.
"No one makes a fool out of me like that!" he snarled.
"You looked like you were doing a good job of that all by yourself," Kim taunted.
"All right, that does it!" he roared. With a flap of his wings, he launched himself into the air and dove at the Pink Ranger, sword held at ready. Kimberly stood riveted, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
"Kim, look out!" Trini cried. She shoved her friend out of the way. At the same instant, Goldar's sword rammed into her shoulder. There was an explosion of yellow lights, and then plain, unmorphed Trini staggered backwards and fell, clutching at a deep gash in her shoulder. Goldar jerked her roughly to her feet and clamped one arm tightly around her throat, making it difficult for her to breathe and even harder to move. Her eyes were wide with pain and fright.
"Well, well!" he laughed. "I seem to have found a hostage!"
"Let her go, you big ape!" shouted Jason.
"Make me!" the monster sneered. "Make one false move, and your friend here gets it!" He flourished his sword significantly.
"Guys... do something..." Trini choked out. "I can't... breathe..."
"What are you going to do with her?" asked Billy, doing his best to sound threatening instead of anxious. He didn't do all that badly.
"Well, I could finish her off now," Goldar answered, clearly enjoying himself. "It would be fun to make you watch her die. On the other hand..."
*Goldar, quit fooling around!* rasped a voice in the evil warrior's mind. *Bring the Ranger back here and lock her up in the dungeon. I may have uses for her...*
"On the other hand, maybe I'll led Lord Zedd take care of her for me," Goldar finished. "See you later, Power losers!" There was a flash of gold fire, and then he was gone, leaving nothing but a scorched place on the grass to mark his passing.
"No! Trini!" Kimberly cried. She rushed to the place they had just vacated, one hand raised in supplication, as if begging them to wait for her.
"Man, I can't believe we let him get away!" said Jason angrily, beating his fist into his palm. "We should have done something!"
"What could we have done?" asked Billy sensibly. "You know he would have killed her if we had tried anything. At least we know she'll be safe for a little while longer."
"She saved me," Kimberly murmured. "Man, I should have been more careful!"
"It'll be okay, Kim," said the ever-positive Zack. "I think right now, it would be a good idea to get to the Command Center and talk to Zordon and Alpha."
"Right," Jason agreed. "Teleporting now."
In an instant, the four Rangers materialized in the Command Center and looked worriedly up at Zordon.
"Zordon, Goldar kidnaped Trini," Kimberly said plaintively.
"I am aware of the situation, Kimberly. We are searching for her now," Zordon replied.
"Ay, yi, yi, this isn't going to be easy," Alpha said. "Zedd's palace is surrounded by energy shields. I don't know if we're going to have the power to break in."
"You've got to try, Alpha," Zack encouraged him. "Trini is depending on us!"
"Here, let me help," said Billy, joining his robotic friend next to the computer terminal. "Why don't you monitor the tracking devices while I try to reroute some extra power?"
Alpha nodded, and the pair went to work, while the other Rangers watched in tense silence.
Trini reappeared in a dank, dark cell, apparently carved out of living rock and lit only the light of a few small lamps burning out in the hall. She didn't take the time to notice that, though. She was still reeling from the shock of the wound she had received, and being abruptly force- teleported hadn't helped her much. As Goldar released his grip on her, she lurched across the room before catching herself by leaning against the wall. She turned and glared at him.
"Welcome to your new home, Ranger," Goldar said with a wicked grin. "I hope you find it comfortable."
"You'll won't get away with this, Goldar," said Trini. "My friends will rescue me. You'll see."
"I wouldn't count on it, if I were you," Goldar replied. "Your friends would be afraid to set foot within a mile of Lord Zedd!"
"They would not!" said Trini. "My friends are braver than you've ever been!"
Goldar's eyes blazed. "Are you calling me a coward?"
"Why shouldn't I? You have no real courage," said Trini. "If you were really brave, you wouldn't be afraid to fight me yourself! Instead, you have to leave me to your master."
"I have my orders, Yellow Ranger," Goldar growled.
"You see? You can't do anything for yourself. You can only do what Zedd tells you," Trini shouted back. "Why do you serve him? Is it loyalty... or is it fear?"
"You shut up," said Goldar. He gave her a backhanded slap that made her topple against the wall, but she painfully pulled herself up again. She knew she wouldn't be able to escape this prison by the ordinary means, but maybe if she could get Goldar angry enough, he'd make careless mistakes that would help her escape. If she hadn't started this argument, she would already be locked up tightly and waiting for Zedd to come and destroy her... or worse. Somehow, she had to buy herself a little more time.
"The truth hurts, doesn't it, Goldar?" she said. "Face it, you are afraid! You serve Zedd because you're afraid of him. You run away from us every time you fight us because you're afraid you'll win. You lie and spy and cheat because you don't have the courage it takes to do something fairly and trust in your own mind and strength. And now you're afraid to hear the truth. Face it, Goldar, you've never done anything in your whole life that wasn't based on fear."
"That's enough!" Goldar growled. "I won't listen to any more of this!"
"Why?" Trini demanded.
"I won't be spoken to like that by people like you," grumbled Goldar. "Shut your mouth before I get really angry at you."
"You aren't going to stand up for yourself?" asked Trini. Goldar wasn't looking at her right now, but down at his boots, as if deep in thought, and she was taking the opportunity to move very slowly toward the open door. "Come on, Goldar! For once in your life, do something besides what you're told to do."
In a low voice, Goldar answered, "You don't know what you're telling me to do."
"I was right!" said Trini. "You are afraid!"
"I have reasons for what I do."
"You know what I think?" she asked, trying not to sound weak. In truth, her shoulder was throbbing painfully, and her head was beginning to spin. She wondered hazily how long it would take for her to pass out from pain and blood loss. "I think you wear that armor to cover the yellow stripe down your back!"
"Listen, Ranger," Goldar growled, "if you knew what kind of things I go through..."
He turned to glare at her, and stopped talking. She was leaning heavily against the wall, panting slightly, her face pale.
"I don't... feel so good," she managed, and she slumped to the floor.
Surprisingly, a pair of arms caught her and helped settle her gently to the ground. Amazed, Trini managed to open her eyes and stare at Goldar in confusion. He gave her a grave look.
"Why didn't you say something about how badly you were hurt?" he asked.
"Why do you care?" asked Trini suspiciously.
"You don't need to bleed to death," was all Goldar said. "That's no way for a warrior to die. Wait a minute."
He got up and walked quickly out of the room. Trini noticed despondently that he locked the door tightly behind him. Well, that shouldn't be a surprise. Why expect anything other than concentrated cruelty from this creature? He was right about one thing, though. Bleeding to death didn't feel like very much fun...
She didn't know how long she was left lying there, half-conscious, but finally, she heard the door swing open again. She managed to turn her head and see a large, dark shadow looming over her. Goldar was back, carrying a tray.
"Hold still," was all he said.
Trini didn't have the strength left to argue. She held still. However, when she saw him reaching for her wounded shoulder, she tried to twist away.
"Leave me alone," she said.
"Do you want to die?" Goldar asked gruffly. "You will, if that wound isn't treated. Now, hold still!"
Confused but compliant, Trini did as she was told. After all, what did she have to lose? Even if he was trying to hurt her, he couldn't do much worse than speed up her demise. But... for some odd reason, it felt an awful lot like he was cleaning her injury and carefully dabbing it with some kind of ointment that took away her pain and brought welcome coolness. When he was done, he clumsily but firmly wrapped her shoulder in a rough bandage.
"Better?" he inquired.
"I - I guess so," Trini stammered. "But... why?"
He avoided the question. "Drink this," he said, holding a small blue glass bottle to her mouth.
*It's probably poisonous,* whispered a little voice in her mind, but for some reason, she ignored it. She took a breath and gulped down the liquid quickly. In seconds, her head stopped spinning and her vision began to clear.
"That will help you get back what you've lost," said Goldar. "I have to go now."
"Wait!" Trini protested, but he didn't even act like he heard her. He picked up the tray he'd brought and walked quickly out of the cell.
He left the door open.
*What's going on here?* Trini wondered, touching the bandage on her shoulder. *First he nearly kills me, now he heals me! And... why did he leave the door open? This is crazy!*
She looked at the door with suspicion, as if it might be booby-trapped. It just stood there, looking perfectly innocent - and wide open. All her training and past experience was telling her that the last person in the universe she could trust was Goldar... well, maybe not the last person, but ranking closely in the top ten. And yet, he had as good as saved her life just now. Why? Was it something she had said? She could feel her strength coming back as the medicine went to work, and her brain was starting to work again. Now she remembered the tone of his voice when he'd accused her of not knowing what he was going through. There had been pain there. What kind of nerve had she struck? Well, there was no time to worry about that now. As long as she had a chance to escape, she would take it.
Slowly and silently, she slipped through the opening, being careful not to move the rusty door and possibly catch someone's attention. She glanced one way and the other, trying to decide which way would be the best direction to try. The hall to the left of her was pitch black, while the other end was dimly lighted, which was what decided her. She tiptoed forwards, very carefully.
Eventually, she came to the end of the hallway. At its far end, it branched off to make a "T" shape. At one end, she could see a flight of stairs leading upwards. The other end... was guarded by Goldar. He was looking the other way, not seeing her yet. She wondered if she could slip by him unnoticed. She wondered if it would even be necessary. Suddenly, he turned around and looked at her, and she froze automatically, filled with fear. Then, very slowly, he turned around and looked the other way again.
"Go," he said quietly. "I didn't see you."
"Why are you doing this?" she asked, incredulous.
"Maybe I feel like proving that I can do something just because I feel like it. I won't have my enemies thinking I'm a coward," Goldar replied very quietly. "Also because I can see you are braver than I am. If you go up those stairs and turn left, you'll eventually come to a small balcony. You can escape there if you move quickly." More gruffly he added, "I'm not coming to your rescue if you get yourself in trouble, though."
"I understand," Trini replied. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me. Just get out of here. Or do you really want to escape?" The growling voice had turned harsh; she had definitely worn out her welcome.
"I'm going," Trini replied. Then, as an afterthought, "I hope you don't get in trouble for this."
And then she was gone, almost seeming to become one with the shadows of the hallway, her footsteps making no sound. Goldar waited for a while, giving her ample time to make her escape. When he was sure she had gotten away safely, he sighed and began heading upstairs to report her escape to Lord Zedd.
Trini was only marginally amazed to find that Goldar's directions took her exactly to where he said they would, and teleporting away from the balcony presented her with no problems. Within moments, she had reappeared in the safety of the Command Center and was surrounded by her friends.
"Ay, yi, yi! Trini! How did you get here? Are you all right?" Alpha was all but jumping up and down with excitement.
"I'm okay, Alpha," she said, managing to smile at him.
"Are you sure?" asked Jason. "You don't look like you're all that okay."
"Hmm?" Trini suddenly remembered that even though her shoulder wasn't hurting anymore, she was still wearing a fairly obvious bandage, and her shirt and even her hair were somewhat bloodied. "Oh, this. I'm okay, really. It doesn't hurt at all."
"Maybe it doesn't hurt, but I still think you should have Alpha check it out," said Billy. "We don't want to take any chances."
"All right. That might not be a bad idea," Trini admitted. Considering the nature of her care giver, it would be best to play it safe.
"Well, adventure's over," said Zack brightly. "Back to your normal, everyday, boring lives, citizens."
"All in a day's work," Jason agreed. "You sure you're going to be okay?"
"I'll be fine," Trini insisted, "but... if you guys don't mind, I have something I want to talk to Zordon about."
The Rangers gave her concerned looks, but they nodded and agreed. Then they all vanished in four colored streaks of light, leaving Alpha to look after her wound. She sat down on the medical bench he produced for her and allowed him to undo the bandage while she stared off into space, talking half to herself.
"That was such a weird experience," she said. "I don't understand any of it."
"I don't understand this," Alpha muttered. "Someone has already cleaned this - disinfected it, anesthetized it, everything! How did this happen, Trini?"
"You aren't going to believe this," said Trini bemusedly, not quite believing it herself, "but Goldar did it."
"He did? Why?" asked Alpha.
Trini shrugged. "I have no idea."
"I am not surprised by this turn of events," said Zordon thoughtfully. "Goldar was not always a warrior of darkness."
"Really?" asked Trini, surprised. *...If you knew what kind of things I through...* "What happened that changed him?"
"That is not known. However, it is possible that his good side is resurfacing. If he appears again, be careful, but keep in mind that a show of kindness could be enough to make him remember what he once was."
"I'll remember that," Trini replied. She looked back at the bandage on her shoulder. Alpha had retied it a bit more neatly, but he hadn't found it necessary to do anything else. She hopped off the table. "Thanks, Alpha. I think I'm ready to go now. I hope Billy can finish his homework on his own... I think I need to think about this a while."
While Trini was having her discussion with Zordon, Goldar was having a meeting of his own, and it wasn't nearly so enlightening. Reporting failure to Lord Zedd was anything but a pleasant activity. He would have preferred not to say anything, but one defiance, especially one of such magnitude as what he'd just done, was more than enough for today. It was well established in his mind that when he committed such a crime, he should be punished for it, and so he went to receive his berating from his master.
He plodded into Zedd's throne room, already effecting a certain cringe in his attitude. He was used to punishment, and expected it, but that didn't mean it didn't bother him anymore. Reaching Zedd's throne, he paused and dropped to one knee in a subservient gesture. After not having seen his master for over ten thousand years, he had forgotten what a fearsome creature Zedd was, and he wasn't looking forward to seeing what kind of punishment would be meted out for this transgression of his. The thing he feared most was having his wings stolen again. The first time they were taken from him, it had been almost devastating, and he was in no hurry to have them taken away again so soon. It was torment for a flying thing to be stranded on the ground, especially one that didn't have much in the way of freedom already...
"Goldar, what are you doing here?" Zedd snapped. "You're supposed to be guarding the Yellow Ranger!"
"I can't do that anymore, my lord," protested Goldar, somewhat unclearly.
"What do you mean?" snarled Zedd, his visor glowing faintly crimson in irritation.
"Well, um... you, see, well... she's escaped," Goldar muttered.
"Escaped?" Zedd roared. "You moron! How could she escape! She was under lock and key in a teleport-proof cell!"
"I forgot to lock the door," said Goldar apologetically.
"Forgot to lock the door," Zedd repeated in flat disbelief. "You... forgot... to lock... the door. How in the name of Nemesis could you forget to lock the door? Of all the idiotic things..."
Zedd ranted and raved for quite some time, and Goldar stolidly took the abuse, cowering and murmuring apologies. He heard Squatt and Baboo lurking in the background, giggling foolishly and making what they thought were clever jokes about his plight, and that was even worse than listening to Zedd's pointed insults, in a way. When you could be laughed at by clowns like those two, you knew you had hit rock bottom. At last, Zedd's anger was spent, and he allowed Goldar to slink dejectedly off to his rooms.
*This is disgraceful,* he thought to himself, fuming a little. *Why do I put up with this. Maybe the Yellow Ranger has a point...*
He scowled a bit at that thought; who wanted to admit that your enemy was right about anything? Unfortunately, he had to admit, a little of what she had said was true. Well, didn't he have good reasons to be afraid? When your orders came from people who would happily reduce you to dust if you failed a mission, fear became a natural and everyday thing. He didn't even think about it anymore, and hadn't since he was very young. His whole childhood was only a haze of pain and terror, and that was a good enough reason not to think about it. It had served its purpose, teaching him resilience and self-defense, but he certainly hadn't enjoyed it.
*I wonder how she learned to fight? Not like I did, that's for sure.*
He wandered into his room and collapsed on the rickety cot that passed for a bed, feeling drained after the battle and its aftermath. It was dark in his room, and he considered lighting a lamp, but then decided it wasn't worth the effort. Let it be dark. There was nothing here he wanted to look at, anyway. Everything in this whole palace - everything he'd ever known, really - had been dark and ugly and unkind, except... well, sometimes he dreamed, but that made no difference. Dreams of light didn't do him any good, and they usually put him out of sorts after he woke up from them. Half of him wanted the dreams to continue, while the other half scolded him for preferring the hazy images of peace to his life of warfare.
*Why did she have to go and stir all this up? I don't want to think about it!*
Now that he was recovering from his tongue-lashing (which was, after all, not the worst kind of lashing he'd ever received), he was beginning to slip back into his usual antagonistic attitude. He was annoyed with the Yellow Ranger for insulting him and stirring up those painful memories... and also annoyed with himself for releasing her. Why had he done that - or even bothered to heal her, for that matter? For reasons he'd never quite been able to understand, there was some part of him that didn't like watching people bleed to death. If someone was going to die, let them go down fighting. You could even torture them, make them scream and cry, and he could ignore it or even enjoy it, but when it came to watching people gasping away their last breaths with eyes widened in fear as their life slipped slowly and inexorably away... there was something about it that gave him a faint uneasiness. He'd usually shrugged it off, but this time something had told him that maybe it was time to obey his instincts.
*Perhaps because she is so different. She is brave, braver than I am. I don't think she's afraid of anything... and she's right about me. As much as I try to hide it, I am afraid.*
He shivered a little in nameless dread, feeling as if the shadows were pressing in on him, cold and remorseless as they tried to summon up old memories that he refused to think about. There was something darker, too, older and more mysterious than anything he could recall. There had always been a blank space in his mind that had haunted him - he could recall nothing of his life before the day he had come into Zedd's service as a sobbing child... he shied away from that thought, as usual. That had been the worst day of his life, and the worst part was that he could not for the life of him remember what it was that had been making him cry like that. His heart had been torn to shreds that day, and he had spent the rest of his life hardening himself so that he would never feel that kind of pain again... even if it meant he would never feel anything again.
*I need to get out of this place before I go crazy,* he thought to himself. *This has gone on long enough! I have to know... what it is that gives her that kind of courage. I just wish I knew what I was so afraid of...*
Well, enough was enough. He'd go and he'd find her, and he would ask her, and then... whatever happened, happened. There was no room for being afraid now. There was a flash of gold light, and then he was gone.
Trini was strolling in the park, burning off the restlessness that came in the wake of confusion and excitement. She needed to think, and to her, that out of necessity implied movement, and the park was the best place for moving.
The question standing foremost in her mind was, of course, just what had prompted the sudden change of heart in her enemy. There was no question of the fact that he'd been ready enough to kill her before. Something must have changed his mind. What?
*Maybe he really is afraid,* she wondered. *I wonder what made him decide to be evil in the first place? The way he talked, it sounded like something awful happened to him. I wonder why Zordon never said anything? Did he think he was too far gone, or what? Maybe he'd been waiting for an incident like this before making up his mind.*
*It's almost funny,* thought Trini with a slight smile. *When I asked for a knight in shining armor, this was not what I expected! I wonder what he was like before he was turned evil? Was he always a monster, or... oh, never mind! You've been hanging out with Kimberly too long, thinking life can be like "Beauty and the Beast." Besides, why would it matter? It isn't as if... as if...*
She didn't get around to deciding what it was as if, because a shape suddenly whooshed out of the sky and dropped in front of her. Instinctively, she fell into a fighter's stance, ready to take on whatever it was that had chosen to surprise her. Then she realized who it was and relaxed slightly, though she still eyed him warily.
"Goldar," she said, keeping her voice as neutral as possible. "What are you doing here?"
"Don't worry, I'm not here to fight," he answered. His voice was a low rumble, just on the edge of audibility. "I wanted to ask you something... and tell you something, I think." He paused, weighing that last statement, and then, as if talking more to himself to her, he added, "Yes. That was what I wanted. I need to tell someone."
"Well, I guess that would be all right," she said hesitantly. She looked around. "Not here. Someone might see you. Let's go back into the trees."
Goldar gave a kind of half shrug and walked in the direction she had indicated. There was a small grove of trees standing in a shady grove, made even dimmer by the coming of evening. There were a few picnic tables scattered here and there, and Trini gracefully seated herself at one of the benches, while Goldar copied the movement more awkwardly, sitting down across from her.
*She reminds me of someone,* he thought in confusion and surprise. He had seen her a hundred times before, so why was that thought occurring to him now? *I knew someone like her before, someone patient and gentle and graceful... same dark hair and eyes...* An image shimmered in his mind, like a soap bubble, and it vanished as soon as he tried to grasp it.
"So," said Trini, "what did you want to say?"
"I'm still thinking," he said gruffly. Then, more gently, he added, "How is your shoulder? Does it still hurt?"
"No. You did a good job," Trini replied. "It doesn't hurt at all. Alpha said he couldn't have done it better himself."
"You have to know how to heal yourself if you're going to be a warrior," said Goldar. "I'm as good at getting rid of injuries as I am at giving them. I had to be, or I wouldn't be alive now."
"You were wounded in battle?"
"No. In training." He was thoughtful for a moment, and Trini waited patiently. Then he began to fumble with his gauntlet and armgaurds, attempting to remove them. "I can't get this off. Would you help me?"
Puzzled at the strange request, Trini rose and went to kneel next to him, while he held out his arm for her. She was able to find a set of tiny hooks and clamps, and a moment's work had them unfastened. The armor was pulled free and set aside, leaving Goldar's arm bare for the first time in who-knew-how-long. It was covered in blue fur, which Trini had expected. What she hadn't expected was that a fairly equal portion of it was covered in the darker tracks of old scars - she didn't think she could lay down three fingers without touching one.
"These are the stripes my armor covers," he said.
"Oh," said Trini, and why were there tears suddenly pricking at her eyes? "Oh, I'm sorry, I never knew... I wouldn't have said anything..."
"What's to be sorry for?" Goldar replied. "It taught me what I needed to know."
"What could you possibly have to learn from that?" asked Trini, still horrified.
"How to fight. How to defend myself. Maybe you were only taught, but I had it beaten and slashed and burned into me," said Goldar. "I learned how to not feel pain."
"That's awful," Trini said softly. "So that's what they did to you..."
Goldar stared at her in shock. "How did you know about that?"
"About what?" asked Trini, confused.
"About what they did to me," Goldar replied, and now there was something desperate in his voice. "I know they did something, but I can't remember. Everything else stopped when this started..."
"I shouldn't tell you," said Trini. "You'll think I'm lying. Besides, Zordon didn't tell me very much..."
"I have to know. What did he say?"
"He said..." Trini hesitated, unsure what his reaction would be. "He said you used to be good once, a long time ago."
"He did, huh?" said Goldar skeptically. For a moment, he looked like he was considering being angry. Instead, he sighed deeply and covered his face with his hands, looking completely beaten. "I don't know, I just don't know. I wish I could remember!"
Trini stared. She had never heard a monster sound so close to tears before. Finally, compassion won out over incredulity, and put a comforting hand on one plated shoulder. The touch re-enforced what her eyes and ears were already telling her - he tense enough to be verging on a breakdown. Instinct and training told her he needed a safe way of channeling that nervous energy away safely.
"Here, let me show you something," she said. She took his hands and began gently but firmly pulling him too his feet.
"Huh? What? What are you doing?" he stammered.
"I want to teach you something that might help you," said Trini. "It's one of the things I've learned - a different kind of fighting."
"What do you mean?"
"It's a meditation kata," Trini explained. "It fights the enemies on the inside. It will help you relax and clear your mind."
"Well..." said Goldar hesitantly. He really felt like he could use something to clear his mind. Everything had suddenly become so complicated...
"Come on. It won't hurt you," Trini encouraged.
"Well..." he said again, "all right. But I can't stay long, or Zedd will get suspicious."
He allowed himself to be led into the center of the picnic area, where there was a small clearing. Trini began her kata, moving slowly so he could copy her movements, and he followed her, first guardedly, and then with a bit more enthusiasm. Each step glided smoothly into the next, progressing from a few simple movements to an increasingly intricate set of dancelike patterns. It required full concentration without being difficult and demanding, and he hardly noticed as the tension eased out of his muscles, his mind focused only on the next step and the next...
The practice ended when it began to grow too dark to see, with only a few faint stars and a thin moon to give light to the dim circle of trees. Goldar looked around in surprise; he'd lost track of time.
"I should go now," he said. "I've been gone too long. Someone is going to notice I'm not there."
"You don't have to go back, you know," Trini suggested gently. "If you were good once, you could be good again. I could take you back to Zordon, at the Command Center. He could do something for you. I'm sure he knows what's been done to you, and how to set it right."
Even in the dark, Goldar's shock was plain. "You would trust me that much?"
Trini shrugged. "You haven't hurt me yet. Don't you think you deserve a second chance? What has the life you've got ever done for you?"
"You ask too much," said Goldar. "I am what I am, and what I was makes no difference. Whatever I used to be is gone now. I... I thank you for talking to me, but I have to leave."
Before Trini could protest, he was gone in a blink of fire. She stood there a moment, thinking silently. Then she shook her head. Close, but not close enough... still, the Goldar who had left her just now was a long way from what he had been that morning. Come to think of it, she had changed, too. She had hated him that morning, she admitted, but now she could feel only deep compassion for a creature in pain.
*I think all he needs is a little more time,* she thought. *Let's wait and see what happens.*
Goldar's dreams that night were uneasy. Try as he might, he could not get his mind to settle itself down so he could get some decent rest. It seemed to him that sleeping had been harder for him since getting out of the dumpster, as if that ten-thousand year nap had left him not needing sleep as much as he once had. He tossed and fretted for what felt like hours before he finally lapsing into a light doze, where memory and nightmare intertwined into a hazy, but strangely compelling, dream world.
*...Darkness...Why can't I see? Where am I, anyway? Why don't I remember who I am?... The beatings, the pain, the scoldings...that's what training is all about. It makes you strong. Forget what you feel, it will only make you weak... I felt something, though. I felt something for her. I saw the light shining from her hair, in her eyes, and it moved something in me... I'm in this dark place. I'm trapped! Trapped! Let me out! ... Where is my family? I had a brother, once. Where is he now? This isn't my home... Where am I? Why don't I know who I am?*
That final, terrified scream ripped through his mind with such force that he was jolted awake. It had been so strong that he almost thought he must have shouted it aloud, and he looked around for a moment, wondering if he had awakened anyone. He sat there, in his room, in the dark, listening for the kind of commotion that would be caused by hearing Zedd's bravest warrior crying out in fear in the middle of the night, like a frightened child. There were no sounds, however, save for the gradually quieting beat of his heart. He sighed. Obviously, sleep was out of the question tonight. He decided to take a walk to clear his mind.
*What's happening to me? I never had nightmares like that before,* he thought to himself as he walked. Sure, he had been through plenty of nightmares before, most of them involving failure on the battlefield and imminent death, but this was a different sort of dream. The fear here had been of a kind of not knowing, of being lost or separated from something important, and a fear of... loneliness?
*Ridiculous,* he scoffed. *In thousands of years, I haven't felt lonely. I've been perfectly all right... but that was before I met her...*
He was getting ready to give himself a scathing lecture just for letting that thought slip, when his attention was suddenly diverted by a light shining up ahead, coming from the direction of Finster's laboratory. It was well past midnight, and all sensible people ought to be sound asleep, and yet there were faint noises coming from within the room, indicating that someone was awake and at work.
*What's he doing up at this time of night? He shouldn't be working now! He's the only one of us who isn't expected to be doing anything, and he's working around the clock!* On the other hand, Goldar reflected, if Finster felt like staying up all night, at least no one would be trying to route him out of bed in the morning and putting him on some menial job. Out of idle curiosity, he paused to peer through the door to see what the elderly alchemist was up to.
A brief inspection, however, revealed little of interest to the restless warrior. The lab was as he remembered it, strewn with complete and partial rough clay models, mechanical devices, and various beakers and vials of odd potions. Finster himself had pulled a chair up to a table and was reading by the light of a few candles. He appeared to be deeply absorbed in whatever he was studying, and Goldar decided it wouldn't be worth his while to bother him. However, just as he was turning to leave, Finster said, "Good evening, Goldar. Pleasant night for a walk."
"What? How did...?" Goldar stammered, surprised. Finster hadn't taken his eyes off the book since Goldar had arrived - there was no was no way Finster could have seen him.
"I saw your reflection in the glass," Finster answered mildly, gesturing at a beaker that sat near at hand. "Do come in. It's not often I get visitors these days."
Confused but obedient, Goldar came in and found a rickety chair to sit on. It was odd, he thought, that there had been no chairs in here the last time he'd looked, but now there were two. It occurred to him to wonder if Finster had actually been expecting him, but he dismissed the thought as absurd.
"I hear Lord Zedd is a bit irked with you," Finster began, setting his book aside. "Something about careless oversights, and the Yellow Ranger sneaking out of prison."
Goldar managed to look sheepish.
"I forgot to lock the door," he muttered. It didn't sound very convincing to him, not nearly as much as it had when he'd given that excuse to Zedd, but Finster nodded as if it made perfect sense.
"Ah, I see. You forgot to lock the door. Well, well," he said. "Yes, it would make things easier for her if you forgot to lock the door, especially with those injuries you gave her. Well, well. I thought maybe she might have just mysteriously disappeared. There's a history of people mysteriously disappearing around here."
"What are you getting at?" said Goldar suspiciously.
"Getting at? Whatever do you mean? I'm just stating facts," Finster answered innocently.
"I don't buy it. You know something I don't," Goldar insisted.
Finster nodded. "That is true. I've been around a long time, you know. A very long time. I know a lot of things you don't. You should spend more time reading. You'll learn things."
"What are you reading?" asked Goldar, trying not to sound as curious as he was. He had been covertly eyeing the book Finster had been holding, particularly the illustration, which looked something like the image from a church's stained glass window - beautiful winged people in with white clothing, flowing hair, and shining crowns. For some reason, it looked faintly familiar, as if he had seen it in his nightmare.
"That is a history book. I was there when most of it happened, but you wouldn't remember any of it," Finster replied. "There are stories in here that you should know, but... it's not in my best interest to tell them to you. Not that it matters much."
"I don't understand," said Goldar in irritation. "Quit playing games with me, old man, and tell me something useful."
"You need to learn to control your temper," Finster replied. "Let me tell you a story. A long time ago, there was a young man. He was a great artist, intelligent and talented - a good-hearted man with a beautiful future. Instead, he passed it up by casting his lot with the wrong people, and had all the courage and willpower beaten out of him by centuries of punishment and scoldings. Do you remember how that feels, Goldar?"
"I... I do remember," said Goldar, and why was there fear in his voice all of a sudden? That much of his nightmare had been truth, but it was a hard truth...
Finster nodded sadly. "It's too late for me. I don't have the strength to fight what's been done to me... and I don't really care anymore. I'm old now, I've lived my life. I'm content to leave things the way they are and live among mud and dust until I'm dust myself. I don't have any more dreams." He paused and gave Goldar a searching look. "But I think you have dreams. You should follow them while you still have them."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Goldar stubbornly.
"Be that as it may," Finster replied, "I would like to know that there are hope for others, if not for me. You know, speaking of people who disappeared... there was once a prince named Gaudior. He vanished sometime before you came here. Sometimes I wonder what became of him. I would like to think he could find himself someday, before it's too late."
"What are you saying?" asked Goldar, torn between a strange fear and an equally strange hope.
"Oh, nothing, nothing at all. I'm only an old man, after all, and my wits wander," said Finster. "I don't want to cause any trouble, but... if Gaudior ever needed someone to cover his tracks, well, us old men have notoriously bad memories. I might happen to forget to lock a door someday." He smiled knowingly and winked at Goldar.
Slowly, Goldar smiled back.
"Yes," he said. "I think I understand. Thank you. I'll keep it in mind."
"Good. Think on it for a while. Perhaps someday it will be safe to tell you more," Finster replied. "For, now, though..."
"I'll leave," Goldar said. "I've stayed long enough... I suppose I should go back to sleep. Good night, Finster."
"Good night, Gaudior - I mean, Goldar. Dear me, my memory must be acting up again." He smiled again. "It's the late hours that do it, I think. Perhaps I'll see you in the morning."
"Maybe... but maybe I'll be busy," Goldar replied.
"Ah, yes. I completely understand. Good night, then, and rest soundly. You may need energy before this is over," said Finster.
Goldar took his leave and headed back to his room. He felt strangely relaxed now, as if some problem had been solved that he hadn't even known was there. Maybe in the morning, he would be concerned about the things Finster had been alluding to, but right now, he realized that he was suddenly very sleepy. Well, morning would do for worrying. He crawled back into his bed and closed his eyes, and he was almost instantly sound asleep. In his dreams, the images from the illustration crept out of the page and flew around him, singing, and he listened to the music and tried to make out the words...
He overslept the next morning, which was no real surprise, considering the restless night he'd had. Fortunately, no one really missed him, though Squatt and Baboo took advantage of his absence by eating his breakfast rations. He didn't really care, though. As agitated as his mind was that morning, he probably would have forgotten to eat breakfast anyway. It was time to quit moving around aimlessly and time to start thinking, to put everything into its proper place and decide what to do about it.
What did he know today that he had not known upon wakening yesterday? Nothing for certain. He'd heard hints and allusions that he was not what he had always thought he had been. Trini had said that he had once been good... but the Yellow Ranger was his enemy, and could be lying to trick him. He had never known anyone who would not lie to get what they wanted, and he didn't put it past her to do the same. Finster had backed up Trini's claims with a name and a vague story, and Goldar was actually more inclined to believe the old alchemist than the Yellow Ranger, but still, Finster was obviously unhappy with his life, and might just be trying to stir up controversy. It was true that Goldar's memories were incomplete, but that didn't necessarily imply that anything he'd been told was true. There was no hard evidence, no reason to believe anything he'd been told was true, except for a few dreams and a creeping suspicion. If he chose, he could ignore all of this and go on with his life just as he always had.
*But I want to believe it,* he thought, surprising himself. *I could stand being lonely until I knew I was. I could stand not knowing until I thought there was something to know. I'm not who I used to be. I can't go back now.*
He got up and began pacing the floor - not easy to do in his cramped room. After a few moments, he gave it up and decided to try the meditation kata he'd learned yesterday. It was so different from the brutal ways he'd learned to fight. They'd been centered around fear; this feeling of peace was new to him... but his teacher had been different, too. He had never had a teacher - never had anyone - who was as kind and patient and gentle and courageous as she.
*She is beautiful, too,* he suddenly realized. Everything around him had always been so dark and ugly, he'd nearly forgotten what beauty was like. Forgotten? How could he forget if he never knew?
"Enough of this!" he said, suddenly impatient with himself. He faced the mirror on his wall, glaring into his own red eyes, examining sharp fangs and a contorted inhuman face.
"I am Goldar!" he told his reflection. "I serve Lord Zedd and only Lord Zedd. That is my purpose in life. I cannot escape it or control it, and...*
*... "You will repeat this lesson and you will get it right! Your purpose in life is to serve Lord Zedd! You cannot escape it or control it, and you will never swerve from it! If you even think about betraying him, you will be punished in ways you cannot imagine! Now, say it!"
"I won't do it! Take me home! I want my brother!"
"Your brother is dead, little boy! Now, say your lessons or feel my wrath!"
*The beatings... the lessons... this is what they did to me!*
"NO!" he roared. His fist smashed into the mirror so hard that it not only shattered the glass, but cracked the backboard as well. Silver splinters fell to the floor like a rain of tears.
"No," he said more quietly. "I will not accept it anymore. My name is Gaudior, and I've had enough of this."
With that, he turned around and quietly vanished.
Trini was doing homework again, doing her best to keep her mind on the issues at hand. It wasn't easy. Due to the weather, which was being exceptionally stunning, even for Angel Grove, Billy had suggested that they finish their study session outside - specifically, at the park. He didn't know it, but he had chosen the same table where Trini had met with Goldar last night, and she was finding it hard to concentrate on sines and cosines with such strange memories wandering through her mind. She still couldn't get over the shock she'd felt upon seeing the terrible scars he bore. It had been one thing to imagine him as doing what he did out of sheer nastiness, but to know that kind of brutality had been beaten into him like that... it made her deeply sad. She never would have imagined it could, but she was actually beginning to feel a sort of kindly concern over him, something in the way she had always felt for Billy. It was strange to think she could be feeling the same for Goldar as she did for her best friend, but...
"Hey, Trini, wake up!" said Billy, smiling a little to take the edge off the remark. "Where are you? I wanted to know if you had that problem solved yet."
*Problem? Yes, I think I have a problem, but it's not the one you think.*
"Yeah, I think I have it now," she said aloud. "How are your poems coming along?"
"All right," he said vaguely. "Is there something on your mind, Trini? You haven't been yourself all morning... not since yesterday. Did something happen to you in Zedd's palace?"
Trini struggled to control a shameful blush. She hadn't told any of her friends the details of her encounter yesterday, choosing only to say that she'd been able to evade Goldar and escape, and Alpha had attended to her wounds afterwards. The whole truth wouldn't do, somehow. It was probably because she feared her friends would ask questions, and those questions would lead to making her admit that somewhere between the time he had spent mending her injured body and the time she had mending his injured soul, a connection had been established, and she wasn't sure yet what kind of connection it was.
"Maybe I'm just tired," she said. "It took a lot out of me, and I still feel a little sore. Maybe we could take a short break?"
"I guess that wouldn't hurt," Billy answered. "I am kind of thirsty, now that I think of it. Would you like a drink or something? My treat."
"Um, sure. Some lemonade would be good," answered Trini. "I think I've had enough of math problems for now. How about I look over some more of those poems for you, and we can discuss them when you get back?"
"That would be most helpful," said Billy. "I'll be right back."
Billy turned and walked off in the direction of a small snack stand, and Trini turned to the stack of papers strewn across the table. With a faint sigh, she took a pencil and a clean sheet of notebook paper and began to randomly jot down some thoughts. Somehow it helped to make sense if you wrote them down, even if what you actually wrote was nothing more than a jumble. She was a little surprised to see that she had marked down a few lines from one of those poems she was supposed to be looking at, as best she could remember it.
I do not love thee with mine eyes, for they in thee a thousand errors note, but my heart loves what my vision doth despise...
"That's not what I want to be thinking right now," she muttered with a faint grimace. "Didn't Shakespeare know how to write anything besides love poems?"
She was distracted from his discomfiture by a telltale flash of gold fire. Trini gave a startled yelp as Goldar materialized a few feet away, close enough to feel the heat of the flames on her skin.
"Goldar! What are you doing back here?" she asked him.
"I'm not sure yet. All I know is, I've left, and I'm never going back," he said. Trini wasn't sure, but she thought there was something different about his voice, though it was hard to decide exactly what it was. It was... calmer, maybe, more certain, but that wasn't entirely it.
"You mean you're betraying Lord Zedd?" Trini asked, trying to grip the sudden statement's implications.
"I... I am," he said. Hesitant, yes, but firmly stated. "I'm not going to let him lie to me anymore. I won't!"
"Good. I'm proud of you," said Trini, smiling. "I'll help you in any way I can."
"Thank you," he said solemnly. "Would you - are you still willing to take me to speak to Zordon? He might be the only one who can tell me what's been done to me. I have to know." The admission was obviously taking a lot of courage and costing a lot of pride. It was also obvious that he didn't intend to run away anymore.
"I'd be glad to," Trini replied. "I'm glad you changed your mind. I think we'll all be glad to have you as a friend."
Goldar was amazed. Not just by the words, but by the realization that she was being completely honest with him when she said it. It was in her voice, written on her face and shining in her eyes. As incredible as it seemed, he knew suddenly that he could trust her completely, something he had never been able to do with anyone before. He smiled at her, and she smiled back. He was about to say something - he suddenly realized he desperately wanted to say something - but that was before everything suddenly exploded in smoke and fire, and both of them screamed in pain.
Just moments before, Zedd had been in his throne room, quietly hatching his next wild scheme to destroy the Power Rangers. He'd been at it for quite some time before he even realized that his unofficial sounding board was not there to praise the brilliance of the most recent plan he had concocted. When shouting Goldar's name a few times failed to produce any results, he turned his gaze to Earth, scanning for his lackey's whereabouts. He finally located him in the park, in the company of the Yellow Ranger. They were not fighting each other, but rather, just talking to each other, as if they were old friends. Even worse, they were standing just a little too close together, both of them wearing foolish smiles that was enough to turn Zedd's stomach. He turned away from the scene in disgust.
"So," he growled, dangerously quiet, "he forgot to lock the door, did he? That treacherous wretch! How dare he! If he thinks he can cross me and get away with it, he's just made a very, very big mistake!"
Zedd's clawed hands constricted around the handle of his scepter in controlled anger, and the air around him flared furious crimson. Then, suddenly, he surged to his feet, and there was an explosion of lightning around him. When the lights cleared, he was gone. He was going to teach his double-crossing soldier a lesson personally.
Trini fought back the pain in her head that was trying to prevent her from opening her eyes and tried desperately to see through the spots that danced around in her field of vision. Her memory was momentarily disjointed; had she passed out? What was going on? She blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision. Then, slowly, things began to come clear. She was lying on the ground, staring dazedly up at Goldar, who was on his feet, staring determinedly at Lord Zedd.
Lord Zedd... Trini's stomach tried to turn a somersault. She had heard about him and seen images of him on the viewing globe, but actually seeing him could have been enough to push an unprepared human over the edge. It wasn't just that he was disgusting. There was an aura of wrongness about him, as if his very existence was defying the laws of nature and warping the fabric of reality. The sense of evil about him was nearly palpable, or visible, as if waves of it were actually radiating out of him into the air... She blinked and looked again. The air was actually becoming darker around him, as shadows radiated from his staff and slowly permeated the air, like a drop of ink dissipating in water.
*He's playing for effect,* she thought with a touch of scorn. *What does he think this is, a horror movie?*
That irreverent thought dragged her thoughts away from fear and back into logical thinking. Zedd was an enemy, just like any other enemy, and she had to face him bravely. Surely she was in no more danger than Goldar, who was calmly facing his former master with a defiant posture.
"Well, Goldar," said Zedd in icy tones, "would you like to explain what you're doing?"
"You know what's going on," Goldar shot back.
"Do I?" Zedd replied. His tone had just shifted from coldly angry to faintly amused. "Explain it for me. I seem to have forgotten."
"Don't lie to me anymore," growled Goldar. "You know what you did to me. You took me away from my family, stole my name, and had me beaten into submission. I'm not going to live with your lies anymore, Zedd. I'm free of you."
"What are you talking about?" Zedd demanded gruffly. "You never had a family, and if you did, I had nothing to do with you losing them. You were orphaned when you came to me, and you were pathetic enough that I felt sorry for you and let you train as one of my warriors. It's not my fault if you couldn't make the grade in training. Any pain you've ever felt is your own fault, and you know it."
"No!" Goldar shouted back. "I refuse to listen! It's not true!"
"Where did you get the idea that you were ever anything but what you are?" Zedd persisted. "Did she tell you? And you believed her? She is your enemy! How many times has she tried to destroy you? What has she ever done that makes you think she wouldn't lie to you if she thought she could get away with it? All she wants is to use you, to lure you to her side and make you fight against me. Listen, Goldar, listen to me. Everything you have, you owe to me. I am the only one you can trust. The only one."
"Don't listen to him!" Trini shouted back. "I believe in you, Goldar! You are good at heart, I know you are!"
Goldar hesitated, torn between fear and hope, old habits and newfound beliefs. His eyes went from the horrendous visage of his master to Trini's upturned, pleading face. Then he turned back to Lord Zedd, eyes blazing.
"Take your stories somewhere else," he snarled, "because I'm through with you!"
Zedd only had a brief moment to react to that statement before Goldar launched himself at him, his sword held with deadly intent. Instinct alone saved him, brining his staff up to parry the blow, striking yellow-white sparks. The two began battling each other with grim and desperate intensity, and Trini could only look on in horror.
She didn't know how long she sat there staring, but the spell of shock only lasted until someone came up behind her and tapped her shoulder. She jumped, startled, and turned to see who had approached her.
"Oh, Billy, it's just you," she managed. "Just look - isn't it awful?"
"I don't know," Billy replied. "What's going on? Why is Goldar fighting with Zedd?"
"Because he's not really evil - Goldar, I mean," Trini said indistinctly. "He's turned against him, and now he's on our side, and - Billy, I've got to help him!"
"You've got to what?" repeated Billy blankly. "Trini, what are you talking about? You can't get mixed up in this!"
"I already am," Trini replied.
Her attention was caught by sudden explosion, and then a scream. She turned in time to see Goldar fall, his armor smoking and sizzling from where an energy bolt had struck him. Zedd was moving slowly forwards, and it was plain to see that whatever happened when he reached the prone warrior would not be pleasant. Trini couldn't take it. She was on her feet in an instant, not even hearing Billy's stammered protests. Her morpher appeared in her hands.
"This has gone far enough," she said.
In the next instant, Zedd found himself being struck by a series of stinging, burning lights, and he gasped with shock and pain, concentration broken. While he was thus distracted, Trini, with her BladeBlaster still held at ready, Trini put herself between the dark overlord and her fallen friend, prepared to do what she could to protect Goldar from her nemesis.
"Trini, get out of the way," he growled. "This is my fight. You'll only get hurt."
"You're my friend. I'm not going to abandon you, now or ever."
"You can't do this - Trini, look out!"
"What? What's going-"
Trini felt a sudden, crushing impact, throwing her off her feet and onto the ground. Behind her, there was a flash of light and heat, a roar of pain, and a horrendous laugh of victory. She turned her head in time to see Goldar being completely enveloped in flames, and her world was rocked by an earsplitting explosion.
"That is the punishment I deal to traitors," said Zedd smugly.
Trini shook her head in disbelief, watching the flames flicker out. "No... oh, no, this can't be..."
"What in the...?" Billy muttered, staring into the smoke. "Trini, look!"
"I don't want to look," she replied miserably.
"I think you want to see this."
Before she could stop herself, Trini had turned to see what Billy was staring at, even while she was telling herself that she really didn't want to see what had happened to... the rest of the thought died before it could even be completed. She stared, wide eyed and open mouthed behind her mask. The smoke was slowly clearing, and in the few flickering flames that remained, a figure could be seen standing calmly amid the chaos. He wore gold armor, smooth and bright as a mirror, catching the firelight and making him almost seem to glow. Glossy black wings like those of a church-window angel were still mounted on his back, but the face that now peered out from the helmet was equally as appropriate to such lofty images, stern and noble and faintly tinged by years of old pain... and human. Dark eyes flashed at Lord Zedd with a new level of assurance, and the evil mage felt a sudden sinking sensation.
"Uh-oh," he said.
"Do you still think you can convince me that I belong to you?" asked the armored warrior quietly. "Forget it. We are enemies, now and forever. My name is Gaudior, and I serve the Light, and I will never forget again."
"Very well," Zedd growled. "If that is what you want, then so be it, but I will not forget this, either. You and your people will pay for this insult! If you want something to remember, remember this: Lord Zedd and the Powers of Darkness will prevail! Until we meet again... Gaudior."
Trini's vision was suddenly warped, as if the whole scene was being viewed through a lens that had suddenly had water thrown over it. When it all cleared, the park was back to it's normal sunny state, and there was no sign left of the confrontation except for a patch of slightly scorched grass with an armored man lying dazedly at its center. Trini ran to his side, and Billy, thoroughly confused, followed after her at a jog.
"Goldar - I mean, Gaudior, are you all right?" asked Trini worriedly, kneeling next to her friend.
The man winced, and then slowly opened his eyes.
"That... was difficult," he managed. He shook his head and sat up, looking around in faint wonderment, as if he'd never seen the place before. "He's gone! I won, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did," Trini assured him. "You were incredible!"
"Could someone please explain to me what's going on?" asked Billy. "Why did this happen? I thought you were our enemy."
"You'll have to ask Zordon about it, I think," said Guadior. "I don't really understand it myself."
"Are you glad it happened, though?" Trini asked.
"Glad? It's the best thing that ever happened to me!" he replied. "I can never thank you enough, Trini. I might never have learned the truth if it hadn't been for you."
"I didn't do all that much," protested Trini, but she looked pleased nonetheless.
"You were the one who made me start to think," he said positively. "But we don't need to argue about it. But isn't it all wonderful? For the first time in thousands of years, I'm really myself again! I still can't believe it!"
And then he surprised everyone (including himself) by bursting into laughter. He couldn't help it. The excitement of the last few hours demanded some kind of vent, and then once he got started, he couldn't stop. It was as if all the joy that he had missed in all those dark centuries had decided to catch up to him in that one moment. No one could hear that kind of joy without catching it, and soon Billy and Trini were laughing too. Any passerby who saw them would have thought they had all gone crazy (unless the passerby assumed the he had gone crazy himself to be seeing winged men in the park) but to Trini, it felt completely natural. When she realized she had somehow managed to fall into Gaudior's arms, well, that felt natural too, and not the least bit awkward or embarrassing - at least, not until she heard Billy clearing his throat significantly. The hilarity settled down to somewhat self-conscious silence, and Trini quickly pulled away and helped Gaudior to his feet.
"I think we need to get to the Command Center and call the others," he said. "They're all going to want to hear about this. I know I do, and I was here."
"That would be a good idea," said Trini. She touched a button on her communicator and said, "Zordon, call the others and have them meet us at the Command Center. We're on our way there - with a friend."
Billy, Trini, and Gaudior appeared in the Command Center and found the other Rangers waiting for them. Gaudior looked a little shocked at getting his first view of the inside of his former enemies' headquarters, but that was nothing compared to the Rangers' surprise at seeing Gaudior. However, since neither Billy, Trini, or Zordon didn't seem particularly concerned about his presence, they restrained their shock to a few curious questions. They quieted when Zordon began to speak.
"Greetings, Rangers," he said. "Today we have been fortunate enough to witness a momentous occasion and have gained a new ally. I would like to welcome Prince Gaudior of Saphiris back to the Light."
"Uh... thanks," Gaudior managed to stammer. "I really don't deserve it, though. But I promise I'll make up for everything I've done. You can count on that."
"What have you ever done to us?" asked Zack curiously.
Gaudior looked to Zordon, possibly hoping the wizard might explain the situation for him, but it looked like Zordon expected him to take full responsibility for his actions... which, he had to admit, was only fair. He sighed in resignation and faced the Rangers - especially Jason and Tommy, those who he had hurt most.
"I don't really know how to say this," he began hesitantly, "but up until a few minutes ago, I was Goldar."
"What?" blurted the uninformed Rangers, more or less in unison.
"I really don't know," he said, staring at his feet in shame. Trini put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I can't really remember my past... any time when I wasn't the way you knew me... except in pieces that I don't understand."
"Perhaps I can refresh your memory," said Zordon, not unkindly. "You were born as a prince of the world of Saphiris, a world Lord Zedd wished to conquer. However, the Saphirans are powerful mages and warriors, and he knew he could not defeat them by strength alone, so he reverted to treachery..."
"He kidnaped me!" exclaimed Gaudior. "I remember it now! And... and... and I remember... I did have a brother, didn't I? Alistair... and Azurene! That's who you reminded me of!" he said to Trini.
"Who?" she asked, confused.
"Azurene, my sister," Gaudior exclaimed. "She looked after me when I was young. You look and act a lot like her."
*Oh, so that's all it is,* she thought. *I'm only like a sister to him.* She was a little surprised to realize she felt disappointed.
"I was only a little boy at the time," said Gaudior, staring off into space. "It's still confused, but it's all coming back to me. I was playing in one of the gardens with Azurene, and I heard sounds - battle noise, people screaming. Then a monster rushed out of a door in the wall with my brother following it, carrying a sword. Azurene tried to carry me to safety, but the monster struck her, and she fell. I don't know if she just fainted or... I don't know. The monster tried to get me, but Alistair blocked him, and they fought. Alistair lost, and he died for it. He died trying to protect me." He closed his eyes and shook his head in an expression of deep pain. "His throat was cut, and he bled to death right there in front of me."
"That's why you saved me, isn't it?" said Trini. "Because you didn't want to watch something like that again."
Gaudior nodded. "I guess I must have fainted after that... I can't remember what happened next. All I can recall after that were my 'lessons', and you know what those were like... They beat all the hope and resistance out of me, and then taught me how to do the same to others."
"When did they turn you into a monster?" asked Kimberly.
"That's the saddest thing," said Gaudior. "My people are mages - there is magic in me. The more I let darkness into my heart, the less I became like my true self and the more I became like a monster. They didn't transform me; I did."
"You couldn't help it," said Tommy. "It's hard to resist. Believe me, I know."
"But I had a choice!" Gaudior protested. "You were forced into it. I gave up, because I was afraid..."
"No one could have withstood what they put you through," said Trini. "Just making up your mind to change took a lot of courage."
"That's right," Tommy agreed. "Changing on your own is a lot harder than breaking some stupid spell. I say you're a very brave man, and one I'd be proud to have as a teammate."
"Really?" asked Gaudior, smiling a little. "Teammates again, hmm? Not like old times, though."
"Zordon, do you know what happened to Gaudior's family?" asked Billy. "Are they still alive, or...?"
"His sister is still alive," answered Zordon. "It was originally Zedd's plan to use Gaudior as a hostage, threatening to kill him if the Saphirans refused to surrender. They resisted, and his forces were held back, and he was finally repelled. Azurene and her husband now rule as Queen and King of Saphiris."
"I must go see them," Gaudior decided. "I have to see Azurene again and let her know I'm all right. I want to see my people again..."
"If you want to go, we could teleport you there right now," Alpha offered.
"I would be grateful," he said sincerely. "I do want to go home, but... if you ever need me, I will come. Thank you all for your kindness. Thanks especially to you, Trini. I'll never forget you."
"Goodbye, Gaudior," she answered softly. "Good luck."
"Teleporting now," said Alpha.
There was a gold-toned flash, and Gaudior was suddenly gone.
Back at the park, Billy and Trini had returned to their homework... or at least, attempting to return to homework. Billy had managed to muddle through a few more of his poems with a certain amount of success, but Trini was simply staring down at a page of math problems with her eyes focused somewhere beyond the page. Billy watched her for a few moments in quiet concern.
"Something on your mind?" he asked gently.
"Hmm?" Trini looked up in momentary confusion. "Oh. No, I'm all right. I'm just... thinking."
"Would you like to tell me about it?"
"Um, well..." she said hesitantly, "I was just wondering about Gaudior. You know, what's happening to him."
"Don't worry about him," answered Billy. "He can take care of himself, you know. If he can stand up to Lord Zedd, he can stand up to just about anyone."
"I know, but I can't help thinking about it," she replied. "Do you think we'll see him again?"
"I'm sure we will," said Billy. "He promised, didn't he? And anyway," he added, deciding to take a risk, "he's got at least one other good reason to return."
"Really?" asked Trini.
Billy didn't answer verbally, but he gave her a meaningful look. She felt her face color slightly.
"You don't mean me, do you?" she asked.
"Who else?" asked Billy. "It's pretty obvious how he feels about you... and it's obvious you feel the same way."
"What do you mean?"
"Come on, Trini, face it," Billy said. "You're in love with Gaudior."
"What? What makes you think..."
"You're blushing, Trini."
"How can you say I'm in love with him?" asked Trini, trying to fight back embarrassment enough to let her talk coherently. "He wasn't even human yesterday! I don't even think he's human now. He's something a little more than human..."
"You're in love. When you start talking like that about a guy, you're in love," Billy replied, "and that's okay. He's going to be a lot different from what he used to be, now that he's found himself again. Besides, anyone could see he cares about you, too. Trust me, he will come back."
"Really? You mean it?" asked Trini.
"Of course," Billy replied. "There's no reason why he shouldn't. Better yet, there's no reason why you shouldn't go to Saphiris and help him. He might appreciate having some company. You should ask Zordon and Alpha to send you to join him."
"I don't know... Should I?" asked Trini, still hesitant.
"Hey, knights in shining armor don't come along every day," Billy replied. "Trust me on this one. Have I ever steered you wrong?"
Trini smiled. "No. Thanks, Billy. I think you're right. Strange as it is, I do want to be with him."
"He's getting a wonderful girl," said Billy. "I wish you both the best of luck. Tell me all about it when you get home, okay?"
"I will, I promise," said Trini, smiling brilliantly. She threw her arms around her friend in a grateful embrace. "Thanks a lot, Billy. You're the best!"
Billy grinned as he watched her go, noting that she looked happier than she had in a long time. Then, something suddenly struck him, and he started to laugh.
"I just lost my girl to an armored ape," he said. "Wait until the others hear about this."
Still smiling, he packed up his homework and went to inform his friends of this new turn of events.
Gaudior appeared in an empty street on the world of Saphiris and took a look around his homeworld for the first time in centuries. It was nighttime there, and the scene was bathed in cool moonlight, making it look like something out of a dream. It felt like a dream, being there after so long. Tentatively, he put a hand to a nearby wall, feeling the smooth white stone and tracing the lacy patterns that some patient artisan had carved in the frame of a door. It felt real enough, and it was bringing up vague memories. He had seen these streets before, roads paved in crushed white stone and white buildings as tall as the skyscrapers of Earth but immensely more complex and beautiful. They were all made out of the same kind of polished silver-white marble, decorated with thousands of interlocking patterns of vines, birds, flowers, and people. The buildings themselves were linked together in a pattern of leaping arches that left zigzag shadow patterns on the streets. Every building had wide windows and doors on all levels, allowing for the easy coming and going of people with wings. They were the product of a race of proud, beautiful, wise people, and looking up at these wondrous edifices made Gaudior suddenly feel very small. Prince he was by blood, but what had he to compare with the people who had built this?
"You there!" shouted a stern voice. "What are you doing out here? Don't you know it's after curfew?"
Gaudior turned around to see who was shouting at him. He found himself facing a man in silver armor, elaborately decorated and set with jewels. His hair appeared as dark as the night sky in the dim light, but his wings were clearly red. There was a sword slung at his waist, and there was something in his manner that indicated he knew how to use it. His expression was grim.
"Well?" he said. "Explain yourself! What are you doing out after curfew? What's your name? Where do you belong?"
*That's a good question,* he thought. *Where do I belong?*
"My name is Gaudior," he said hesitantly. "I have come here from Earth. I want to see my sister, Azurene."
"What kind of fool do you take me for?" said the guard angrily. "Do you think that's funny? The truth, now, or you'll be sitting in jail tomorrow morning."
"It is the truth," Gaudior insisted. "I am Gaudior."
"Oh, so sorry, your majesty, I didn't recognize you," the guard replied sarcastically. "Look, don't try to play games with me. I know you're not the prince. The prince is dead. We all know that. Lord Zedd sent someone to kidnap him, and he hasn't been seen or heard from since. And even if the prince was alive, he wouldn't be coming here from Earth."
"You listen to me," said Gaudior, beginning to get angry. "I am Gaudior, and I have come from Earth, and if you don't tell me where I can find my sister, I am going to show you what I learned in all those years of being beaten in Zedd's dungeons!"
The guard backed up a little, looking shaken. Gaudior glared at him. If there was one thing he had learned during his long imprisonment, it was that the proper amount of intimidation could work wonders.
"I don't know what to make of you," said the guard. "Either you are who you say you are, or you're a madman, and I don't know how to tell which. You're going to have to come to the constabulary for questioning."
"And how long will that take?"
"You'll probably have to stay there until tomorrow morning," the guard admitted, inching backwards a little. He felt very sure that this strange person he had apprehended would not like the news.
He was right. It was rather unfortunate for him that Gaudior had never found it necessary to learn to control his temper. The guard immediately found himself dodging a blow from the angered warrior. He shouted something in a language Gaudior didn't know, and suddenly, there were a small crew of other soldiers grabbing at him, trying to restrain him. He struggled for a little while, but then gave it up as futile. There were too many of them, and each was an equal for him in strength and experience, and they obviously had at least some magic on their side. He slumped into an attitude of dejection and made no effort to resist as he was handcuffed.
"Take this lunatic to prison," said the red-winged guard. "We'll deal with him tomorrow."
Head hung in shame, Gaudior allowed himself to be led away.
*Some homecoming this turned out to be. I should never have come here. This is not my place anymore,* he thought glumly. *I should have stayed on Earth. I've never done anything to these people, and they're going to lock me away, or worse. The Rangers accepted me even after all I did to them.*
He sighed. Fate was cruel. Taken prisoner once more, this time by his own people, he shuffled down the street in total despondency.
*They'll never know what happened to me,* he realized, and he had to blink back tears as he remembered the laughter of the beautiful dark-haired girl he would never see again...
"Are you sure you want to do this, Trini?" asked Alpha, for what felt like the twentieth time.
Trini tried not to sigh in frustration. She knew it hadn't been twenty times, but she had meant what she said the first time, and despite the fact that she knew Alpha was only thinking of her best interests, it was still annoying to have to answer the same question more than once.
"I'm sure, Alpha," she replied. "I know I don't have a good reason for it... it's just something I feel like I have to do. It's a matter of heart."
"This is a matter where you will have to do what you think is right," Zordon said. "But think about this carefully. Are you doing this because you want to, or because you think it needs to be done?"
Trini considered, closing her eyes thoughtfully in deep concentration. She was quiet for a moment, and her face took on an expression of worry.
"I think there really is something wrong with him," she said. "I don't know why, but I can feel that he's in trouble, somehow. I've got to help him," she finished determinedly.
"I will not doubt your judgement," Zordon replied. "We will teleport you to Gaudior's last known location. From there, you will have to search for him. Good luck, and may the Power protect you both."
"Be careful, Trini," said Alpha. "Hurry home!"
"Don't worry about me. I'll be back as soon as I can," Trini assured him.
"Coordinates set," Alpha replied, preventing him from having to say anything sentimental. "Prepare to teleport."
Trini nodded, and was swept up in yellow light.
When she rematerialized, she was standing in the middle of a street in a city unlike any she'd ever seen before. For a moment, the dark shadows and reflections off of the smooth white marble blinded her, and she spent several moments blinking and rubbing her eyes, trying to adjust. When she could finally make out her surroundings clearly, she began inspecting the area. There were no people, but the gravel under her feet showed signs of a struggle of some sort, and she thought she could see where a crowd of people had marched away in a particular direction. With no other leads, she began to follow the footprints.
She hadn't gone far when a white-winged soldier dropped out of the sky and landed in front of her.
"Halt!" he said sternly. "Who are you? Identify yourself! What are you doing out after curfew?"
"My name is Trini Kwan, from Earth. I'm looking for my friend. He should have arrived here a little while ago," Trini replied, a little intimidated by the stern guard, but comforted in knowing that she could always morph or teleport if she had to. "His name is Gaudior. Have you seen him?"
"Gaudior?" the guard repeated, perplexed. "You're from Earth, and you're looking for Gaudior? You mean, that person we captured really was...? Great stars and comets, what a mess!"
"Where is he? Did something happen?" asked Trini worriedly.
"Miss, I don't know how to tell you this, but your friend is in prison awaiting trial," answered the guard. "But... if he really is the true prince, then we've made an awful mistake! Are you absolutely sure that this person we caught is really Prince Gaudior?"
"Completely," Trini stated. "I'll vouch for him. Zordon will vouch for him, if he has to."
"Zordon? How did he get into this?" asked the guard, eyes widening.
"Zordon is my mentor and my friend," Trini replied, "and he sent me here to find Gaudior."
"In that case, you'll have to come with me to the constabulary," the guard answered. "Don't worry, miss. If this is just a misunderstanding, your friend will be free in no time. We're a just people, not like some."
"Thank you," Trini replied. "And you don't have to call me 'miss.' My name is Trini. Call me that."
"My name is Holten. Honored to meet you," answered the guard. "If you're truly a friend of Zordon's, we can have this finished quickly. We'll get the King and Queen out of bed and call them to the courthouse, if necessary!"
"Thank you, Holten," said Trini with a small smile.
They walked for a short distance in silence, retracing the steps that the other guards had taken earlier. Eventually, they came to a building that was separate from the rest, without the bridges that connected the others or wide windows for entrances and exits, and there did not appear to be a front door.
"What is this?" asked Trini.
"This is the constabulary - a prison, if you will," Holten replied. "Your friend will be in here somewhere."
"Where is the door?"
"It's up at the top floor, to prevent prisoners from escaping. Their wings are clipped so they can't fly to freedom," answered Holten.
"But I can't get up there!" Trini protested.
"Don't worry. I can carry you that far," Holten assured her.
"But - but I don't like high places," stammered Trini.
Holten gave her a look. "Do you want to see Gaudior or don't you?"
"I do," Trini replied.
"Then set aside fears," Holten replied. "I would think a student of Zordon's would know how to do that."
Chastised, Trini nodded meekly. Holten took a firm grip around her waist and leaped up into the air, pumping his powerful wings, and they rose up at a speed that made Trini want to cry out, but she stifled it. Gaudior had put aside his fears for her, and she could do it for him. Besides, in only a few seconds, they had landed on a ledge at the top of the building, and Trini was being set gently on a solid floor again. She took a brief look down at the ground she had just come from, wished she hadn't, and looked quickly away. Holten beckoned her to come inside.
"Catch a trespasser?" asked a man at a desk curiously, eyeing Trini. "How did she get here?"
"This isn't a trespasser, or shouldn't be," said Holten. "She claims she's a student of Zordon's, Chavis! She says she's here looking for that fellow we caught earlier."
Chavis shrugged. "Me, personally, I don't believe it, but he's in cell 218 if she wants to see him."
"I believe her," Holten said firmly, "so go find a messenger and send someone to tell the King and Queen about this."
"You want to wake them up at this hour?" asked Chavis, horrified.
"Do you want to possibly leave the Crown Prince of Saphiris in jail, and maybe get Zordon on our case about it?" Holten replied. "I don't think you do. Now, get moving!"
"Yes, sir," said Chavis sarcastically, but he moved.
"Sorry about him," said Holten to Trini. "He's a skeptic, but that's why he was hired. I'll take you to your friend now."
"Thank you very much," Trini replied.
They walked down some stairs and entered a series of hallways, plain and uniform, stark after the beauty of the rest of Saphiris. Holten led the way to a door marked with the number 218 and let her peer through a small window. Inside the room, Gaudior was sitting dejectedly on a plain white bed, head bowed, hands folded in his lap. Someone had taken away his golden armor, and he was left only with something like a pair of loose white breeches and a white shirt. The only gold left was his hair, which glimmered faintly even in the room's dim lighting. It crossed Trini's mind that she had never seen anyone look so sad and so beautiful at the same time.
"Is he the one?" asked Holten.
"Yes," said Trini softly. "He is... the one I'm looking for."
"Ah," Holten said wisely. "Perhaps you'd like to speak to him a few moments? It will be a little while before the messenger gets back. I'll stand guard - just in case that dangerous criminal in there turns hostile," he added with a wink.
"If you wouldn't mind," Trini replied, striving bravely to control a blush.
Holten unlocked the door and let her step quietly into the room. The quiet rattle of keys wasn't enough to draw Gaudior out of his despair, so it wasn't until Trini actually came and put her hand on his shoulder. Surprised, he looked up at her with hope and disbelief in his eyes. They were damp; he'd been crying, and the sight made tears prick at her eyes as well.
"Trini? Is it really you?" he asked.
She nodded. "I had to come find you again. I felt like you needed me."
"You were right. I do need you," he answered. There was a long moment as they stared into each others eyes, lost for words and not needing any. Then he looked away and cleared his throat, embarrassed. "I seem to have gotten myself into a mess. They've locked me up as a lunatic, and I'm going to need some help getting out."
"It's being taken care of," Trini assured him. "They've sent a messenger to your sister, and they're probably going to set you free soon."
"Really?" Gaudior looked surprised. "How did that happen?
Trini managed a smile. "They didn't want to get a friend of Zordon's upset. I wasn't going to let you stay here in jail when you've done nothing wrong."
"I've done everything wrong. Maybe I deserve to be here," Gaudior replied sadly.
"No. You shouldn't think things like that," said Trini. "What's done is all in the past. I know you are a good person now. You can make a good life for yourself now. You deserve that chance, and I'll do everything I can to make sure you get it."
"You'd do that for me?" asked Gaudior, amazed. "I really don't know why..."
"Because," Trini answered softly, "I love you."
Gaudior stared, thunderstruck. "It can't be possible."
"It's true," said Trini. "Let me show you." And she fell into his arms and kissed him, and the clung to each other as if they never planned to let go. Even when it was over, she remained in his embrace, leaning against his shoulder, filled with a joy and contentedness like nothing she'd ever known.
"I love you, Trini," he said, and it sounded like he was crying. "Always and forever. I never want to leave you again."
"Me neither," she said.
The moment was broken by a knock on the door.
"I don't know what you two lovebirds are doing," called Holten, "but you'd better break it up soon. The commander's on his way, and you're both going to have to make a court appearance in a few minutes."
When the commander appeared, Gaudior and Trini were led out of the building and on a trip through the city. There was another harrowing flight, this one across the gap to the rest of the buildings, and then a long procession led by armored guards along ledges and over arches, but Trini felt safe as long as Gaudior kept his arm protectively around her, and no one tried to separate them. Eventually, they came to a pretentious looking building whose white surface was liberally decorated in gold, and it rose higher than any other building in the city. A flight of steps leading from the highest walkways up to the building's top emphasized its importance. They climbed the stairs and entered the brilliantly lit Hall of Justice.
Gaudior and Trini would have stopped to stare if they could have. As the highest (literally and figuratively) court on the planet, the artists had gone all out in its design. The marble here was golden colored, and everything was shining with the glow from bright lanterns. Crimson and gold wall hangings were festooned here and there, and everything that could be decorated, had been. There were several wooden benches on either side of the room, and a pair of elaborate thrones stood at the far end. The royal insignia, a winged man carrying a torch and a crown, hung above them. Seated in these thrones were a brown-haired, golden-winged crowned man and a raven- haired woman with wings of pale sky blue.
"Azurene?" inquired Gaudior hesitantly, staring at her.
She looked back at him, face clouded with confusion.
"Who are you? Do I know you from somewhere?"
"Azurene! You don't recognize me? I'm your brother, Gaudior." There was a note of pleading in his voice, wordlessly begging her to remember.
"You... you do look like him," she admitted, sounding as if she was having difficulty keeping her voice steady, "but you cannot be. My brother was killed by Lord Zedd and his followers many centuries ago."
"Worse than killed," Gaudior replied. "But that's all in the past now. I've come home."
"That isn't possible," said the man. "Why have we been called from our sleep for this farce? You're letting your emotions get the better of you again, Azurene. Gaudior is long gone."
"He is not," said Trini defiantly. "He's right here, and I think that after all he's been through trying to get here, you ought to believe him."
"And who are you?" inquired the king haughtily. "You shouldn't have a say in this court. You aren't even a citizen."
"No, but she has a mind," said Azurene tartly. To Trini, she said, "Don't take him too hard, my dear. He's out of sorts tonight. Please, tell us who you are and what your part in this is."
"My name is Trini Kwan, a Power Ranger and student of Zordon's," Trini answered promptly, having learned that her mentor's name seemed to get results on this world, "and this is the real Gaudior. He was captured by Zedd, but he wasn't killed. He was brainwashed and beaten into submission and forced to serve him, and he's only just regained his memories. He came all this way just to see you again, and your soldiers threw him in jail."
"Really?" asked Azurene quietly. "Is it possible?"
"We have no real reason to believe otherwise," offered one of the escort soldiers. "The story is believable, and we have no actual proof of what happened to the young prince after he vanished. You must admit, the resemblance is remarkable."
"Azurene, believe me," Gaudior pleaded. "I am telling you the truth."
"I want to believe it," said Azurene, "but... wait. On that day you were captured, what were we doing?"
"Playing in the garden," answered Gaudior. "Remember? It was hide and seek, and you scolded me for tearing my clothes hiding under a rosebush."
Azurene's eyes widened. "Oh, great stars and comets, it really is you!"
With that, she rushed from her throne and threw her arms around him. There was more than one sentimental smile at the joyful reunion. As a matter of fact, the only face in the room that remained serious was that of the king.
"Do you realize what this means?" he asked, sounding strangely detached. "If this is truly the Crown Prince returned, then by way of his father's abdication, he is no longer actually the prince, but the king!"
"What?" said Gaudior, shocked.
"Oh, dear," said Azurene. "That does put a new face on things, doesn't it?"
"I think we need to discuss this a little while," the king answered.
"I think you're right," answered Azurene seriously. "I'm sorry, Gaudior. I honestly hadn't considered this."
"Neither had I," he said, sounding bewildered, and a little dismayed.
The king and queen retired to a council chamber, and the guards retreated to other parts of the building, leaving Gaudior to wait and worry.
"I wasn't even considering this!" he said. "It never even crossed my mind! What am I supposed to do about this? I don't know anything about being a king!"
"Is there some way you could turn it down?" asked Trini.
"I really don't know," Gaudior answered, shaking his head. "I don't even know if I should. Perhaps it would be a starting place for me, a chance to do some good. It would be cowardly to refuse this chance, and that's one thing I will never do again."
"But... if they make you king..." Trini began, "wouldn't that mean you'd have to stay here forever?"
"Yes," Gaudior answered. "What about you?"
"I couldn't," said Trini. "My home, my friends, my whole life is back on Earth, and I'm needed as a Power Ranger. I couldn't leave."
Gaudior sighed. "I don't like any of this. It's not right."
"I don't like it either," said Trini sadly. "There has to be some way out."
But they didn't know a way out, so they only stood in silence, taking what comfort they could from each other's presence, waiting and fearing. Trini marveled at how all this was happening. This person - this beautiful person that she loved with all her heart - where had he come from? Just a few short hours ago, he had been on of the most despicable creatures she knew of, an now he had somehow been transformed into a man of courage, strength, honor, and goodness. He was a miracle, really, and she didn't know how she could get through a life without him.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Azurene returned from the discussion room, followed by her husband.
"I'm sorry," said Azurene. "I tried."
"Sorry?" Gaudior repeated.
"The truth is," said the king, "we've considered the issue and debated at great length. The long and short of it is, the whole thing is quite impossible. You're hardly one of us anymore, after being gone for so many years. You wouldn't know enough of the laws and customs to be a proper citizen, much less a king. It would be best for you if you went back to Earth. I'm sorry, but there's no way around it. No hard feelings, I hope?"
"None," said Gaudior. "None at all." He tried to look suitably disappointed and wasn't sure he had succeeded.
"Well then, court's closed," said the king. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going back to sleep. Good night, all."
"Don't think to harshly of him," said Azurene to Gaudior. "He's not a bad man, really. I tried to convince him, but he is very fond of being king, and he is a good ruler."
"I don't mind, really," Gaudior replied. "I think I will like staying on Earth."
"Really?" asked Azurene, a little surprised. Then she looked at Trini speculatively, and she smiled. "Well, yes, I think I can see what you mean. You will come visit, though, won't you? We have a lot of catching up to do."
"I promise," Gaudior replied, "but right now, I have friends waiting for me back on Earth... back home."
"Fare you well, then," Azurene said.
"Farewell to you, too," answered Gaudior.
Azurene left, and Gaudior led Trini out to the front of the building. They looked out on the softly shining lights of the city. They had come through a lot to get where they were, and they needed a moment just to breathe.
"Are you ready to go back to Earth?" Trini asked him.
"In a little while," he answered with a faint smile. He scanned the sky. "Clouds are coming in."
"Is that important?" asked Trini, puzzled.
"It might be," Gaudior replied. "Do heights bother you?"
"Sometimes," Trini admitted, "but... I don't think they'd bother me if I was with you."
"I see," answered Gaudior. "I would never do anything to frighten you, but as long as that's the case..."
Instead of finishing the sentence, he scooped her up in his arms and
suddenly leaped off
the top of the building. His wings caught the air and lifted them both up,
higher than the tops of
the buildings, up through the cold mists of a cloud, and then higher than
that. The clouds spread
out below them, silver-capped in the moonlight, cutting them off from the
rest of the world,
leaving them alone with a thousand silver stars that seemed close enough to
touch. Trini laughed
with delight, and Gaudior joined her, and they knew that as long as they
were together, they
would never have to fear anything ever again.