Three days since Zordon's arrest.
The Power Chamber was in a state of chaos. Nothing new there, but this was a little bit worse than usual. Alarms were blaring, heroes and scientists were scurrying in all directions, and in a corner, Joyce McCormick was completely confused. Not five minutes ago, she had been the captive of the evil Shadowborg, who had used her as bait to lure her fourteen-year-old son, the Chromium Gold Beetleborg, into a trap. She had then been rescued by her eleven-year-old daughter, also a Beetleborg. Now her son was missing, her daughter was frantic, and her questions were going unanswered. It had not been a good day.
"What do you mean, you lost him?" Roland asked, pulling on Egon Spengler's sleeve. The physicist didn't even look at him, keeping his eyes fixed on the equipment before him
"I mean I lost him," the blond Ghostbuster replied, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "His connection to our computer has been completely severed. I can't track him, I can't scan him- I can't even get a reading on his vital signs."
Ryan Steele pushed in closer. "Do you think he's-"
"Not likely," Ray Stantz replied. "If he was, we'd still be getting a reading, just- different ones. And I doubt Shadowborg would sever his connection just to kill him."
"So he's probably a prisoner," Kaitlin ventured.
"Then we have to go back for him!" Jo cried. Fred stepped forward.
"No, Jo. It's too dangerous. Shadowborg will be expecting an attack this time."
"If he's even still there," Franklin added. "He may have moved Drew somewhere else."
Jo shook her head. "This is my BROTHER!" she yelled. "You all may be afraid to go get him, but I'm not!"
"It's not that simple, Jo," JB replied, trying to get through to her.
Tasha nodded. "Losing one Beetleborg was bad enough. We can't play into Shadowborg's hands and lose two."
Jo, however, was not listening. Extending her arm, she opened her mouth. "Data-" Before she could complete the call, however, a large hand clapped across her mouth.
"Sorry to have to do this, kiddo," Winston Zeddemore apologized. "But we can't have you getting yourself killed." Jo struggled, but she was no match for the older man's strength. Realizing this, the girl interlaced her fingers, preparing to crack her knuckles and summon her super-strength. "I need a little help here!" Winston yelled, trying to keep Jo's hands apart. Instantly Dex was alongside him, taking Jo's other arm. The girl then began to thrash, obviously working herself into a frenzy.
"Why me?" Peter sighed, punching a few buttons on the console. A strange device materialized in one hand. Crossing to Jo, he pressed the device to her arm.
"What was that?" Dex asked, hearing a hiss.
"Hypospray," replied the psychologist. "Sedative. Jo's going to take a little nap now." Seeing the glare in the girl's rapidly closing eyes, he winced. "You'll thank me for this later, Jo- after you beat me to a bloody pulp."
Jo made no response to that, simply sagged into unconsciousness. Peter placed her on a lab table that Rosa had retrieved, wiping his forehead. "Strong, isn't she?" he asked of no one in particular.
"Could someone PLEASE tell me what's going on here?" Joyce asked, not really expecting any more answer than she had received the first four times she'd asked.
"Maybe I can," a voice replied. Turning, Joyce saw a medium-sized man with white hair, glasses, and a sketchbook tucked under one arm. "My name is Art Fortunes," he introduced himself, extending a hand.
"Oh- the man who draws the Beetleborg comics. My children are big fans of them."
Art nodded. "Yes, I know. Actually, that's part of the reason why I'm here. You see, this whole thing started two years ago." While Art briefly explained the histories and identities of the assembled heroes, Joyce listened with increasing surprise.
"You're telling me that my children have been Beetleborgs for two years, and I never noticed anything?"
"You sound like my dad," Franklin grinned, coming over. "Hi, I'm Franklin Park. I'm the Green Turbo Ranger. My big brother Adam was a Ranger for over two years before my dad found out, and some of our parents STILL don't know. Superheroes become very good at hiding secrets."
Joyce sighed. "I suppose. Do you- do you have any idea what happened to Drew?"
Art and Franklin looked at each other and sighed. "Not exactly," the artist replied, "but- we're fairly sure he's Shadowborg's prisoner."
"He's still alive, we're almost positive of that," Franklin hastened to assure her. "And Shadowborg wouldn't have bothered going to all this trouble just to kill him. That's not his style." Joyce could see the shadows lurking behind the boy's eyes, though, and knew Franklin was considering a possibility no one had yet brought up. Then he shook himself.
"Tell you what," he said briskly. "This place is gonna be a
madhouse for a while.
You don't want to hang around here- it'll be boring and loud. Why don't you
come back to
my house, and you and my dad can have a talk. He's been in your shoes."
extended his hand, and after a moment, Joyce took it. The two of them
vanished in a
column of green sparks and a flash of white light.
"There it is," Parker announced. "The planet Edenoi."
Lillian leaned forward, frowning. "Park? What are those silver things?"
"Probably defense satellites," Tommy answered her. "However weakened Dregon's forces might be by their split, this planet is still under attack. Parker, can you get us through without a major confrontation?"
"I can try," the reporter responded wryly. "This is a little different from flying a news chopper. Everybody strap in- it's gonna be a bumpy ride."
There were a few tense moment, but eventually, Parker managed to set the shuttle down on the surface of the planet. Rising from their chairs, the five occupants of the craft stretched quickly.
"We'd better go out there morphed," Tommy decided. "One, we'd kind of like the Edenites to know we're on their side, and two, I don't want to be caught unarmed if Dregon's Plague Patrol shows up again. Parker, got your sword?"
The reporter indicated the katana strapped to his back and grinned. "The lovely police officer here is packing heat as well."
Daystar pulled the blaster from the holster at her waist. "Stunner/disrupter matrix. It can be deadly or not, depending on what I need."
Zack nodded. "Good. I have a feeling that we're going to need it."
"It's morphin time!"
"Zeo Ranger V, Red!"
"Zeo Shadow Power!"
Moving out of the shuttle, the five crept cautiously along the landscape. "So what's the plan, fearless leader?" Black Ranger asked, scanning the reddish rocks around her.
"We go looking for trouble," Red Ranger chuckled. "I'm sure King Lexian's resistance is in a fight somewhere. They always are. We find the fight, and we can find our contact with King Lexian."
"You can't fool me, Tommy," Zack laughed. "You just want to hit somebody."
"Pardon me," Daystar interrupted dryly, "but I hear the sounds of mayhem over that way. Shall we investigate?"
Cresting a rise, the five found exactly what they'd been looking for. Two humanoids dressed in brown robes were clashing with a number of ugly mutated soldiers. They were badly outnumbered, and it looked as though the smaller one was injured.
"Come on, we've got to help them. Zack, Daystar, you circle to the left. Parker, Lillian, and I will hit them from the right. Go!"
Down in the valley, the larger Edenite was fighting valiantly to protect his companion, who was cradling her arm. "Wish I still had those Robo Rider powers," he thought aloud. "They might come in handy right about now."
"Eeyyah!" The battle cry caused everyone in the valley to look up from the fight. Red and Black Rangers vaulted in to land in the middle, with Zack not far behind them. Parker and Daystar, not capable of the same acrobatic feats as their Ranger friends, followed in a slightly less flashy manner.
Red Ranger found himself going hand to hand with the same Plague soldier that he had fought on his first trip to Edenoi. Sending the man head over heels, he shook his head. "Have a nice trip! See you next fall."
Meanwhile, Black Ranger had produced her Shadow Staff, converted it to three-section mode, and was happily beating three Plague Patrollers senseless. Behind her, Zack covered her back, whacking at enemies with his ax.
Parker had found himself suddenly embroiled in a full-fledged sword duel with one of Dregon's smarter henchmen. However, years of kendo and keeping his skin intact had given Parker a great deal of fighting skill, and he was more than holding his own. Daystar, meanwhile, was blasting away at a troop of Cogworts, sending them in all directions.
Finally, the five heroes sent the Plague Patrollers packing. Then they turned back to the two Edenite rebels, only to find themselves on the business end of a blaster. Red Ranger raised his hands slowly, and the others followed suit.
"Nice to see Edenite hospitality hasn't changed any," Red Ranger
"It's beautiful," TJ whispered. The planet Danata hung in the screens, a green-and-blue jewel shining among the stars.
Jamie nodded. "In a way- it feels like home, even though I've never been there." Jason put an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned into him.
"There's more land mass here than on Earth," Rocky noted, looking over the scans. "And most of it seems to be plains."
"'The Sea of Grass,'" Katarina read from one of the maps. "Sounds very romantic."
"The Sea of Grass is home to the zraltak riders," Jamie informed them. "Dad told me about them. All Zarakin are somewhat nomadic at heart, but in the blood of the riders, it runs stronger than any. Zralta are kind of like horses- but not exactly. You'd have to see one to understand. Anyway, the riders spend their whole lives migrating from place to place, raising meat animals and trading."
"So where are we headed?" Chris asked.
"Chorida, the capital city," replied Jamie. Then she grinned. "It should be interesting, actually. We're in the middle of Shalmoon, the feast of the Goddess. The city will be full of people and celebrations. Anyway, once there, we'll make our way to the palace and try to get in to see the king. Zarador is an old friend of Zordon's, from the Order, so hopefully he'll be willing to testify on Zordon's behalf before the Council."
"Somehow, I doubt it'll be that easy," Jason grumbled.
The Starrunners had provided the six of them with Zarakin clothing, a simple tunic and pants ensemble, each in their Ranger color. Jason had worried about advertising their identities, but Jamie and Andros had assured him that bright colors were the norm. Now, on the streets of Chorida, Jason saw that that was an understatement.
Music came from everywhere, on instruments that made Jason think of Irish dance music. Food vendors lined the streets, although he wasn't about to eat anything he couldn't identify. Larry had told him once that Zarakin food made Cajun cooking seem bland, and he had no desire to scorch his mouth. But the thing that made the biggest impression on Jason was the people. He hadn't seen this many people having fun since the last street fair in Angel Grove. Even then, there hadn't been quite the same atmosphere. It was infectious; he found himself enjoying his surroundings, and saw that the others were feeling the same way.
TJ had accepted a metorak vendor's offer of a free sample, and had astounded even the Zarakin watchers by consuming the spicy meat without wincing. This had prompted one of the onlookers to buy him a drink, which the Blue Astro Ranger gratefully accepted.
Rocky'd been pulled into a ball game with several children of varying ages, and had apparently learned the rules quickly. Katarina had been dragged into it as well, and the two of them were having the time of their lives.
Chris was blushing bright red- apparently one of the young women in the crowd had asked if he wanted to accompany her back to her inn. Jason chuckled. He knew that Zarakin were quite practical about sex, but it still came as a bit of a shock the first time you saw it.
And Jamie... Jamie was in her element. She was laughing, dancing, and trading barbs with crowd members, all with an ease that gave Jason pause. Sometimes he forgot that Jamie wasn't completely human. She was half-human, with the lifespan and cultural background of an Earth inhabitant, but part of her was Zarakin, and always would be. It was the part that allowed her to channel the power of the Sword of Lightning, the part that made her the Purple Zeo Ranger.
"What's up?" she asked, coming back over to him. He just shook his head, drawing her a little closer.
"Nothing. Just thinking about how much I love you." Leaning over
gave her a kiss.
"Dad?" Franklin called, pushing open the front door to his house. "Are you here?"
"In the family room!" his mother's voice floated back. Franklin led Joyce through the front hall and into the family room. His mother was putting together a jigsaw puzzle, while his father was watching a hockey game. Both parents looked up as their son entered.
"Mrs. McCormick, these are my parents. Mom, Dad, this is Mrs. McCormick. She's the mother to two of the Beetleborgs."
Trevor rose from his chair with a look of understanding on his face. "Welcome to the club, Mrs. McCormick."
She shook his offered hand. "Please, call me Joyce."
"Then I'm Trevor."
"And I'm Eileen," Mrs. Park put in. "Sit down, please. Would you like a beer?"
Joyce nodded, sinking into one of the family room chairs as Trevor shut off the TV. "Please. After everything that's happened today, I think I need one."
"I'm going to head back to the Power Chamber," Franklin informed the three adults. "Mrs. McCormick, I promise you, we're going to find him."
She smiled. "Thank you, Franklin." The Green Turbo Ranger teleported out, just as his mother came back into the room.
"I thought we could all use a beer," Eileen Park announced, passing one bottle to her husband. "What happened today, besides finding out that your children are superheroes?"
Quickly, Joyce related the events of her kidnapping and Drew's subsequent capture. Eileen looked on in concern, while Trevor's face went hard and his hand absently went up to touch the bandage on his shoulder. When she wound down, Joyce looked at the other two adults with an exhausted expression.
"I'm just at my wits end here. On top of my worry about Drew, I have to deal with the fact that they've been risking their lives for two years, and I never knew it. Jo was NINE when all this started!"
Trevor smiled slightly. "It's quite an adjustment. I have two Rangers for sons, myself. Of course, Adam was sixteen when he became a Ranger, and eighteen when I found out, and I knew about Franklin from the start of his career. But I do understand what you're feeling to some extent."
"How do you deal with it? What's it like?"
"Well- they'll stop lying to you, which would seem to be a plus. Of course, there will be days when it doesn't seem that way. When they tell you that they got their clothes dirty while mud-wrestling a mutant alligator, you might wish they would lie. They'll be running out of the house at all hours, and you'll worry, which you didn't before. They'll stop obeying you- but they'll start listening instead. In short, your children have jumped from fourteen to twenty-five, in terms of maturity. You just have to start seeing them as rational adults a little earlier than most parents do."
Joyce sighed. "I always told myself that I wouldn't let anything happen to Drew and Jo. After I lost Harry- I guess I got a little paranoid. And now they're spending their time chasing monsters, and there's a triceratops-thing which has quite basically sworn to kill my son!" She looked up. "I saw one of the fights on the news. It's no secret to Charterville that Nukus and Chromium Gold can't stand each other. There's a pretty nasty vendetta between them."
Eileen nodded. "That sort of thing happens. One thing you have to remember, though. Drew and Jo aren't alone in this. They have Roland, and- who were the others Franklin was talking about last night?"
"Flabber and Art Fortunes," Trevor replied. "Admittedly, a hyperactive phasm and a cartoon artist might not seem like the most potent backup to have, but the five of them are an excellent team. And as Franklin and Adam both tell me, it's the team that ends up winning."
"I hope you're right," Joyce sighed.
Trevor nodded. "Me too."
"What is this place?" Chelsea asked, following Ecliptor into a building. "No, wait, I know what it is. Bars don't look that different from planet to planet. The question I should ask is why we're here?"
"There's not much we can do on the ship until Sholtor finishes his diagnosis. I'm looking for someone."
"Do they owe you a favor? Or the other way around?"
Ecliptor chuckled, scanning the room. "Neither, actually. I've got a- mutually beneficial arrangement to suggest." Chelsea followed his gaze. As she'd said, it really didn't look all that different from a bar on Earth. There were tables, a dance floor, and a number of people sitting at the bar itself, drinking away. The only difference was that the patrons looked like something out of the Mos Eisley Cantina.
"So why did you want me to come?" she asked. She didn't trust Ecliptor any farther than she could throw him.
"The arrangement concerns you."
"And you weren't going to inform me of it?" she asked icily.
He laughed. "I knew I didn't have to. You'd ask."
"What is this arrangement?" she growled. Her patience was wearing thin.
"Has Trey ever told you of the Deshaadra?" At her headshake, he continued. "They are an order of warriors who sell their swords to the highest bidder- or the noblest cause. It depends on the personal code of the warrior. They're quite probably the only organization in the galaxy respected by both the Council and the Alliance, and are ruled by neither."
"And this person you're looking for- he or she is a member of this order?" she inquired, catching on.
"Exactly. The Black Falcon, one of the best in the business, and one of the few warriors allowed to remain wild."
"Not a member of a- clan is as close as I can come, but they aren't really related by blood. The word they use is "garal." The garal are warriors bound by apprentice ties or sword bonds. They fight under the same banner, and are subject to the commands of a single leader. The Black Falcon, however, is not a part of any garal whatsoever."
"So what's this arrangement you want to make?" Chelsea's fuse was growing far too short, and Ecliptor noticed.
"I want to ask him to take you on as an apprentice."
"The Falcon needs an apprentice- it's a tradition of the order to have at least one, and he's getting on in his career. We're going to be on this planet for a while, and you need something to keep you from going insane with worry over the Prince. Besides, if you're a member of the Deshaadra, and the Black Falcon's apprentice, the Council will regard you in a much better light than if you were simply an Earth girl."
"The trial is what, two weeks away? You think I can complete an apprenticeship in two weeks?"
"Less. Most of the training is things you already know." The crystalline warrior grinned. "I keep a close eye on the Power Rangers. I know the things you and your brother have picked up over the years. Stealth tactics, fighting, picking locks- you already know all of that. Most of the Falcon's time will be taken with testing you, and then giving you the last bits of polish a Deshaadra needs."
"If he even says yes," Chelsea reminded him practically.
Ecliptor chuckled. "He will. There he is. Come with me." The two of
the bar floor towards their target.
Adam whistled softly. "Quite a place," he remarked. Beside him, Ashley nodded speechlessly. The six teens stood on the rocky shore of Phaedos, looking around in astonishment. Around them, cliffs and rocky promontories stretched as far as any of them could see.
"So how do we find this Dulcea person?" Carlos asked.
Billy chuckled. "She'll find us, most likely. But as I recall, her compound is in that direction. Come on."
As they walked, Christina noticed her boyfriend beginning to tense up. "What's the matter?" she asked quietly.
"I guess I just keep expecting the Tengas to pop out of nowhere. This was where they attacked us in the other universe."
"But Rita's not after us this time," Christina informed him.
He sighed. "I know, but I'm still jumpy."
Just then, a horrendous screech echoed across the rocky seashore. Several of the Rangers stanced, but Billy waved them back. "It's all right," he called. "It's Dulcea."
With a thump, a figure landed on the rocks in front of the six teens. Clad in a green bikini-style outfit, the woman was tall and muscular, with dark blond hair and light blue eyes. "How do you know my name?" she asked, gripping a staff suspiciously. "For I am quite certain we have never met before."
Billy grimaced. "Well, we have, or rather, versions of us in an alternate universe have. But that doesn't really matter. We have a problem, and we've come for your help."
She shook her head. "I will send no more after the Great Power. Too many have already died in the attempt."
"We don't need the Great Power," Tanya replied. "We've already got powers of our own."
"You're what we've come looking for," Carlos added. "We need you to help our mentor, Zordon."
Dulcea's eyes lit up. "Zordon? You are Earth's Rangers?"
Billy nodded. "Yes, and Zordon is in deep trouble. He's been arrested for violating some sort of non-interference law, and we need people to testify on his behalf."
"I would do anything within my power to help Zordon," Dulcea sighed. "We were quite close during the time of the Order. But when I became Master Warrior of Phaedos, I was sealed to the Sacred Grounds of the Ninjetti. I cannot leave them, or I will begin to rapidly age." She smiled slightly. "After all, I should be the same age as Lexian. It is the magic of the Grounds that keeps me young."
Seeing the Rangers deflate, she cast her thoughts about for another solution. Suddenly her head snapped up. "Ninjetti!" she cried. "You said that the six of you are Rangers?"
Billy nodded. "Well- technically, Adam and I are the only ones who have ever held Morphin Power. Carlos and Ashley are Astro Rangers, and Tanya and Christina are Zeo Rangers."
"But Zordon approved all six of you, so you are pure of heart and spirit. If you were to take up the mantle of the Ninjetti, the Council would have to accept that. The Great Power will not accept those who are not worthy. Plus, the power would allow you to create a link that would allow me to testify on Zordon's behalf."
Adam raised an eyebrow. "Can we do that?"
"I shall train you in the time we have remaining before the trial.
Come, follow me."
With that, she turned and headed towards her compound, the six Rangers
"Oh, wow," Kimberly whispered. The other four Earth Rangers nodded, silently echoing her awe. Andros, beside them, simply watched in amusement. The six of them had just left the teleportation station located in the middle of Elarus, capital city of Eltare. Apparently, the metal-and-crystal construction of Eltaren architecture had captured the attention of the five humans. Andros couldn't exactly blame them. He himself had had a similar reaction on his first visit to Eltare. Chivvying them out of the traffic, he leaned against a wall and tried to see things as his friends were seeing them.
The square was filled with all sorts of people, on all sorts of errands. Despite the activity, though, the atmosphere of the place was one of quiet serenity. Eltarens, as a rule, were a very serene race.
"Everybody's eyes full?" Andros asked, amused. Cassie managed to tear herself away from the view long enough to nod.
"I guess so. Wow, it's just so- different."
"And beautiful," Trini added.
Shaking herself, Kat got down to business. "So, what's our plan?"
"We head to Imperial Square, and I try to get us in to see the King. The government of Eltare definitely needs to know about what's being planned for Zordon."
"Well, lead the way," Kim gestured.
As they walked, Skull examined the buildings and people around him with a detective's eye. Eltare was certainly a beautiful place, but it wasn't anywhere he would want to live. There was a certain- lack of passion to everything.
"They're not big on emotions here, are they?" he asked Andros quietly.
The Kerovan Ranger smiled. "No. Eltaren culture is focused primarily on the intellect. Emotional response is to be hidden as much as possible. To an Eltaren, nothing is quite so vulgar as a display of emotion, whether joy, anger, or anything else."
"I hope we don't have to stay here too long," Kat added. "It's like being cooped up in a hospital."
"Sterile, antiseptic," Trini agreed. "There is such a thing as too much peace and quiet."
Before her companions could respond to that, the six of them entered Imperial Square. Even Andros was struck speechless by the beauty of the Palace in the afternoon sunlight. Gold, silver, and crystal glowed, making the building look like something out of a fairy tale.
"Hey, check it out!" Cassie pointed. "A statue!"
As the group crossed the square, Andros began to nod. "That statue was erected after the Grid War."
"Grid War?" Kat asked.
"The first and only major offensive by the forces of the Alliance against the Council. Ten thousand years ago, the UAE launched a galaxy-wide strike on all Council planets. Ranger teams were overwhelmed, and far too many people were enslaved or slaughtered before the Council managed to pull together. The Order of the Meledan, Zordon and his teammates, were instrumental in coordinating the defense. Of course, they'd all moved onto other things by that time. Zordon, in particular, was mentoring a team of Rangers, a team that used six coins he'd found in an ancient Eltaren ruin. The team was formed to protect any planet that was under attack, not just to guard one planet from all comers." Andros smiled slightly. "Zordon was a very adventurous person, especially for an Eltaren. Anyway, Zordon faced the most powerful thrust of the UAE, the attack by the sorceress Rita Repulsa, who was creating a spell which would give the Alliance total victory. Zordon's Rangers managed to confine her in the dumpster, but at the cost of their lives. Meanwhile, Rita's final parting shot was to trap Zordon in the time warp where he remains to this day. This statue was erected to honor their courage."
"You know a lot about it," Cassie said quietly.
"It's galactic history, taught to every schoolchild. My parents brought me here when I was very young. The statue faces east, towards the rising sun. That signifies the dawning of a new era, and the permanence of their memory."
The teens examined the statue. In front was a man in some sort of armor, and behind him stood six people in obvious Ranger gear. By the shape of their bodies, three were definitely female. Skull cocked his head. "Those Ranger uniforms look very familiar," he commented.
"They should," Andros responded. "The coins used by these six are the same ones that the six original Rangers of Earth used. This battle was when Rita got her hands on the Green Coin."
"The Green Ranger is a woman," Kimberly noticed.
"Chylia Del Shan, an Edenite. She was married to the Red Ranger, who was from Danata. That caused a bit of a stir. Eltarens and Zarakin don't usually get along very well, but Zordon was always unconventional."
The group was silent for a time, contemplating the sacrifices of the teams before them. Then Andros straightened.
"Come on. We'd better head for the Palace."
During his time with the Crustaceans, Les Fortunes had seen many emotions on Nukus' face. Anger, generally caused by the defeat of yet another monster, surprise, satisfaction, and the occasional expression of unholy joy, all of these had crossed Nukus' features at one time or another. But the pure, naked _shock_ on the Crustacean leader's face as Shadowborg carried an unconscious Drew McCormick into the crypt, that was a new one.
"And just _what_ are you planning to do with that?" Nukus asked, gesturing to the comatose Beetleborg.
"I plan to get the ultimate revenge on the Beetleborgs, something I'm sure you'll be interested in," Shadowborg replied, setting Drew down on a nearby table. "We'll turn their own leader against them. They'll never be able to fight their precious Drew, and he'll rip through them like a hungry wolf."
"Why this one?" Horribelle asked, looking the unconscious boy over. "Wouldn't the girl have worked just as well?"
Shadowborg shook his head. "No. In the first place, only Drew has the necessary darkness of spirit to make the control work. When he used Vexor's energy axis to make himself Mega Blue Beetleborg, we were connected, if only for an instant. I _felt_ it. Pain, anger, fear, they shine like wildfire in his soul. The girl doesn't burn with a fraction of it. Besides, he gets too unpredictable when he's angry. I can easily use him to control the other two, but to use one of the others against him would be suicide."
"Will he be as effective working for us as he is with the Beetleborgs?" Vilor wanted to know.
"More so," Shadowborg responded.
As the Crustaceans shared an evil laugh, Les Fortunes crept over to the unconscious Beetleborg. Asleep, he didn't look very formidable. You couldn't see the blazing blue eyes, or the defiant set to the chin. Les had come to know THAT look quite well. It was the one that said Drew wasn't backing down, and usually meant the newest Crustacean monster was headed back to the printed page. But out cold, Drew seemed no more than an average teenage boy.
Suddenly his eyelids began to flutter. Quickly, Les backed away. If Drew was not under Shadowborg's control, the cartoonist had no desire to be at the center of the impending hurricane. And if the boy WAS Shadowborg's pawn- Les wasn't too sure he wanted to be near him anyway.
Sitting up, Drew looked around himself with a calm generally not consistent with finding oneself in the middle of the enemy's stronghold. As his gaze swept the room, his eyes met Les', and the older man shivered. There was no question that Shadowborg's conditioning had worked. The boy's eyes were like blue ice, cold and hostile. Leaping off the table, Drew strolled over to where the Crustaceans stood watching. His movements exuded a subtle, flowing grace more consistent with Shadowborg than with his normal walk. Stopping before Nukus, Drew bowed deeply.
"I am at your service, Nukus. What is your command?" he asked, his voice sufficient to freeze nitrogen.
Nukus could hardly believe his eyes. His greatest enemy, the leader of the Beetleborgs, was bowing before him. Kneeling would have been better, but Nukus knew not to push his luck.
"Shadowborg, this is incredible! How did you accomplish this?"
"It wasn't all that hard," Shadowborg explained. "You and he aren't all that different, actually. He may fight to protect his town and his friends, but his heart is capable of just as much destructive rage as yours. I just put him into a receptive mood, pushed a few buttons, and let that side of him take over. Of course, I had to promise him a couple of things."
"Such as?" Horribelle inquired.
"There is a girl named Heather who works at Zoom Comics. She is not to be harmed."
Nukus nodded. "Done. And the other?"
To the surprise of the Crustaceans, it was Drew who spoke. "Josh Baldwin, the former White Blaster Beetleborg. He's MINE."
Regarding his newest warrior for a long moment, Nukus nodded again. "It shall be done. And together, there is no force on Earth that can stand against us."
In his cowering corner, Les Fortunes shivered at the mocking
laughter that filled
the chamber. He didn't like the way this was heading, not at all. Even a
deserved a better fate than this. Besides, with two warriors such as Drew
Shadowborg, Nukus had little need for monsters. How much longer would he
need Les Fortunes?
Why was it, Red Ranger wondered, that every time he came to Edenoi, he found himself being attacked by the people he'd come to help? His first trip, he'd nearly been beaten senseless by the Masked Rider. Now he was staring into the business end of a blaster, held by a resistance member that he'd just rescued from Dregon's Plague Patrol.
"Um, did someone forget to tell you that we're the good guys?" Zack asked hopefully. The smaller Edenite, the one who held the gun, just shifted so that she could better cover the five of them.
Red Ranger, looking at the brown-haired, brown-eyed man beside her, finally felt the sensation of recognition click into his mind. "Donaeus?" he asked.
The Edenite raised an eyebrow. "Do I know you? I'm not usually on a first-name basis with Dregon's goons."
Red Ranger groaned. "That was what you took me for the last time. It was almost three years ago. I was wearing white, and you were part of the Prince's guard. You attacked us, until we convinced you that Alpha had sent us. Meanwhile, I was getting beaten up by Dex."
Donaeus' jaw dropped. "Tommy?" He turned to his companion. "Put the blaster away, Sharana. They're on our side."
"Are you sure of that?" the girl asked, gray eyes never leaving the five before her.
"Dregon's goons have too much ego to admit that Dex wiped the floor with them. Besides, I remember this one."
Reluctantly, Sharana holstered her blaster, but the look she turned on the newcomers said that she was not at all convinced.
"Look, if I'll make you feel better, take a look at this," Daystar sighed, digging into a pocket of her jacket. She had traded in her uniform bodysuit for Earth-style jeans and a T-shirt, but had refused to leave the leather jacket behind. Pulling out a silver star, she showed it to the two Edenites.
"IGPF?" Donaeus asked, impressed. "This is an interesting group. So what brings a Power Ranger and a police lieutenant to the war-torn planet of Edenoi?"
"We need to meet with King Lexian," Red Ranger replied. "Can you take us to him?"
Donaeus nodded, ignoring his companion's scandalized glance.
"Follow us. We
were just headed back to the base." Quickly, the seven moved off.
Parker whistled, looking around the cavern that housed the main base for the Edenite Resistance. "Nice place," he remarked. "Kind of looks like Hoth, but without the ice." His sister elbowed him in the ribs, while Zack rolled his eyes and Tommy just shook his head. Daystar, who didn't get the joke, just shrugged.
The five newcomers followed Donaeus through the cavern, up a natural stair formation, and into a network of tunnels. Every twist and turn looked like the next, and Tommy realized that without a guide, no one would ever be able to navigate the corridors of the base. Which, he supposed, was the whole point.
Stopping at a curtained cave entrance, Donaeus turned to the group. "Wait here," he instructed. "I'll be right back." Then he ducked through the entrance and was gone.
"He's lucky this isn't a horror movie," Zack joked, only to be elbowed by both Lillian and Parker.
After a few moments, Donaeus came back out. "King Lexian will see you now," he reported. Pushing the curtain aside, the young Edenite led the five of them into the cave.
Inside, King Lexian was standing at a table upon which lay a holographic map of the surrounding terrain. Other maps hung on the walls all around. Most of them glowed a brilliant blue, with other areas limned in yellow. Only a very few spots shone red, a color which the reporter assumed meant enemy territory.
"Welcome, Power Rangers," Lexian bowed. "What is so urgent that you leave your planet to come to Edenoi?"
"Zordon has been arrested for violating some sort of non-interference law," Tommy replied bluntly. "People have been looking the other way for five years, but all of a sudden, they've decided to throw the book at him. We need your testimony to prove that he's still capable of fulfilling his duties."
Lexian sighed. "I would give almost anything to assist my old friend, but my first duty is to my people. We are winning this war, but it is not yet over. I cannot leave in the middle of this crisis."
Tommy nodded. If there was one thing in the world that he understood, it was duty. He chewed his lip, trying to think.
"Your Majesty," Daystar suddenly interrupted, "is this the only major stronghold left to Dregon?" she asked, pointing at a large red area on the table map. The king of Edenoi nodded.
"Yes. Tae Shalrith, one of the oldest structures still in existence. It dates back to the time of Kramon, before the coming of Erex, the first Masked Rider. The Warlord built his structures to last."
"If that fell to the Resistance, it would pretty much be all over but the shouting, wouldn't it?" Parker asked, seeing where Daystar's train of thought was going.
"And surely the Resistance could handle clean-up without you," Zack added, catching on.
Lexian thought for a long moment, then nodded. "Yes, I believe they could. But Tae Shalrith is nearly impenetrable. The combined forces of the entire Rebellion couldn't pry Kramon out of that hole. Erex himself had to go in after the tyrant."
Tommy grinned. "As my friend Billy likes to say, nothing is impossible. It'll take a lot of teamwork, and a very good plan, but if we work together, I think we can win this war."
Lexian smiled, extending his hand. "Then let us begin. The final
battle for the
freedom of Edenoi is at hand." Taking Lexian's hand, Tommy shook it.
"Wow," Jason remarked, watching the action in the center of the square intently. Four combatants, three men and one woman, were involved in some sort of complicated sparring match. The rules were unclear, but it seemed to be some sort of "last-man-standing" competition. The fighters were constantly changing alliances, two working together to take on an opponent, then just as swiftly turning on each other. The skills being shown were absolutely incredible.
Suddenly some sort of referee on the sidelines called out "Swords!" The fighters raised their hands into the air, and four blades appeared in their hands in multi-colored flashes of light. As if in response to the scene before her, Jamie's body began to crackle with lightning energy. A rumble from the sky above them started people edging away from her in the crowd.
In a flash of purple light, Jamie's Sword appeared in her hand. "Oh, sh-" The rest of her statement was drowned out as a huge bolt of lightning shot from her blade into the sky, producing a deafening clap of thunder. Instantly the six Rangers found themselves the center of attention.
"And that was?" TJ asked calmly, ignoring the ringing in his ears.
The crowd began to point and whisper, and Chris threw his friends a wry look. "So much for low-profile, huh?"
"Coming through here!" a voice called. The speaker seemed to be approximately sixty years old, with a shock of brilliant white hair and sharp hazel eyes. Flanking him were the four combatants from the square. All around the Rangers, people fell onto one knee, leaving the six of them the only ones standing.
"Who are you, warrior, that you hold the Sword of Lightning? Last anyone knew, the sixth Elemental Blade had been lost for many centuries" the man asked.
Jamie sighed. "My name is Jamie Zedden. I'm the Purple Zeo Ranger of Earth, and my father was Lord Zedd," she replied, looking him in the eye.
The man raised an eyebrow. "I have heard of you, my half-sister. I am Zarador."
Jamie bowed. "Your Majesty." She did NOT kneel, a fact which did not go unnoticed by Zarador, who grinned.
"I would appreciate it if you and your Rangers would accompany me back to the palace."
"Of course," Jamie agreed. As the group headed back towards the Palace, Rocky asked the question on everyone's mind.
"What happened back there, anyway?"
"We are the bearers of the Elemental Blades, or at least those four which are in Zarakin possession," the woman accompanying Zarador replied. "I hold the Sword of Heart, Xaran owns the Sword of Wind, the Sword of Water belongs to Brador, and Marak is the owner of the Sword of Earth. When the four of us summoned our blades at the same time, it caused a chain reaction and your friend's blade reacted, being in close proximity."
"Ah," Katarina replied. There wasn't really anything else to say.
"Well, of course I'll help," Zarador replied instantly, as soon as Jamie had related the problem to him. "I haven't been involved in a good battle in FAR too long. And make no mistake, this will be a battle, even if the weapons are political."
Jamie nodded. "Yeah, I know. That's why we're getting as many allies as we can. Most of us don't know the first thing about galactic politics."
Zarador made a face. "It's not my area of expertise either. What do you think I have advisors for? You don't know how often I've wished I was back with the Order, getting into trouble."
Jamie grinned. She had been anxious about meeting a half-brother who was physically old enough to be her grandfather, but that had gone right out the window after meeting Zarador. The king of the Zarakin had the body of a man half his age, and a demeanor to match. The Rangers had been received warmly, but without a lot of pomp and circumstance, for which Jamie was thankful. Zarador had then ordered dinner, instructing the cook to make the dishes bland for everyone except TJ and Jamie, both of whom had discovered they LIKED Zarakin cooking. Now the seven of them were ensconced in Zarador's study, discussing the matters at hand.
Zarador cocked his head. "Ouch. I just thought of something. I might support you, but I'm not the sole representative of my race. A number of my nobles might balk at the prospect of supporting a half-human, whose Zarakin parent is Lord Zedd, and who wasn't even raised on Danata."
"Wasn't Zedd your father, too?" Jason asked from the comfortable chair he was lounging in.
"Yes, but they tend to forget that, since I've proven myself. Besides, in Jamie's case, it's just icing on the cake. They'll contend that since she's half-human, an Earth child, and above all, FEMALE, she isn't worthy of the risk we'd be taking."
"A woman has to fight tooth and nail to get up the ladder here, too, huh?" Chris asked, shaking his head. Zarador snorted.
"You'd better believe it. Heck, Chala, who holds the Sword of Heart, she had to disguise herself as a boy to get into the House of Swords. They're the bodyguards to the king," he explained quickly. "We're out of the 'women should be seen and not heard' stage, but there's still a fair amount of prejudice out there. I, of course, had all that wiped from my mind the first time I sparred Dulcea." The older man winced, rubbing the back of his neck, remembering.
"So what do we do?" TJ asked. "Is there any way we can sway the nobles to our side?"
Zarador nodded. "Yes, and your timing is nothing short of impeccable. Two days from now, there's going to be a gathering on the Sea of Grass. It's ostensibly to honor the Goddess at the ancient Temple of the Winds, but for centuries it's also been a time for the king to meet with his nobles and get some work done. You will have to prove yourselves in combat, against the best warriors of Danata. Do you think you can do that?"
Rocky grimaced. "Do we have a choice? We need as much support as we can get."
"Very well. I'll have the maids show you to some rooms where you
tonight, and tomorrow we will leave for the Temple."
"Oooogh." Lita Kino sat up, rubbing her head. Looking at the insanity around her, she frowned. "How long was I out and what happened?" she asked of no one in particular.
"It's a long story," Jeb replied. "Art said you'd want these when you woke up."
Looking at what the Coonhound was pointing to, Lita saw that Art Fortunes had left her a pair of Tylenol and a glass of water. Gratefully, the psychiatrist gulped down the painkillers. "Now, about that long story, Jeb,- make it short."
"Shadowborg kidnapped Joyce McCormick and used her as bait to trap Drew. Drew bit, Jo rescued Joyce, but Shadowborg has Drew prisoner and Egon can't get a fix on him with the computer. Joyce has gone to talk to the Parks, and everybody else is just going a little nuts."
"So I see," Lita replied. Justin and Egon were huddled over the computers, working with Flabber and the Professor, trying frantically to find Drew's bio-signature with the scanners. So far, they hadn't had any luck. Meanwhile, JB, Ray, and Art Fortunes were laboring over the still-non-functional Dragon Borg, occasionally making some comment or another in a low tone. Jo was still out like a light, with Winston Zeddemore sitting beside her, occasionally making sure she was still breathing. And Ryan, Kaitlin, and Katie were trying to keep Roland calm. The Titanium Silver Beetleborg was pacing, and looked wound tightly enough to snap at any moment. Dex was nowhere to be seen.
"Where's Dex?" Lita asked, rubbing her head.
"He said something about having something to check out at Pyramidas, whatever that is," the dog replied.
"The Gold Ranger's Zord," Lita replied absently. Trey had
that he and the Prince of Edenoi had been friends, but she didn't know a
great deal about
it. What could Dex be looking for that he would want to find in Pyramidas?
Entering his access code, Dex let himself into the cavernous Zord. It hadn't changed much since the last time he'd been inside it, although a few things here and there hinted that the Zord hadn't been doing much flying in the past two years. Things such as the couch in the main living area, which wasn't secured to the floor in any way. On one of the tables there, Dex found a picture of an attractive young woman, who resembled Tommy in some features. This had to be Trey's fiancee, Chelsea Oliver. Dex grinned. He didn't know the girl personally, but from what he knew of Tommy, he could see Trey's advisors being set on their ears when the match was announced.
Putting the picture down, Dex headed for the main data banks. Trey kept a journal in the Zord's computers, and Dex was one of the few people who had the access code. He and Trey had been friends for a very long time, longer than most humans would credit. They had very few secrets from each other any more. Sitting down at one of the computer terminals, Dex quickly brought up the journal program. He was tempted to read through Trey's accounts of the past two years, but he didn't really have the time. Scrolling down, he came to the last entry and began to read.
Dex's jaw hit the floor. Trey had joined forces with ECLIPTOR? He could think of few people that Trey hated worse than Dark Specter's lieutenant. According to the journal, Trey had simply told the Rangers that he'd found other transportation to Triforia, and didn't want to endanger them by going.
Now this was interesting. Ecliptor alleged that someone named Darkonda was behind the attacks. The only Darkonda Dex knew of was a member of the Council, one of the good guys. As much as he hated to admit it, however, this made sense. A Council representative would be in the perfect position to direct an assault on Zordon and Trey. It also explained why no-one had come after him. As far as the Council knew, he was still on Edenoi, fighting to displace Dregon. His grandfather had seen to that, ensuring that no one would attempt to arrest him for violating the interdict placed on Earth.
Shutting the journal program, Dex bit his lip. He had the utmost faith in Trey, but he still couldn't help worrying about his friend. They hadn't seen each other in almost five years, not since Dregon's attack on Edenoi, but they had been friends for nine hundred years before that. Dex had been the Earth equivalent of seven, while Trey had been fifteen. They had met on Triforia, at one of those interminable social events that planetary monarchs always felt compelled to drag their heirs to. The two boys had both been bored out of their minds, and had relieved their boredom in the time-honored tradition of boys everywhere- by getting into trouble. Dex didn't recall exactly how it had happened, but he and Trey had wound up covered in mud, chasing an escaped aoridil through the throne room. Dex could still remember the expression on his grandfather and Lord Terrian's faces upon seeing the heirs to the Triforian and Edenite thrones covered in mud from head to toe. It had taken both kings all of their self-control to keep from laughing.
That had been the start of a fast friendship between Dex and Trey. No one had thought it would last, since Triforians aged at half the rate of Edenites, but that had caused no problems. Instead, they had grown closer as they had matured, and Dex became closer and closer to Trey's age. The two simply had a great deal in common, both being heirs to both the kingship of their planets and of a tradition older even than that. Sometimes, Dex thought Trey was the only person he could talk to.
Sighing, the Edenite prince stood. He was worried about Trey, but
much he could do to help his friend. He'd best get back to the Power
Chamber. At least
there he could do something to help.
It was full dark by the time the six Rangers reached the ruins of the Ninjetti Temple, where Dulcea made her home. Pointing at the firepit in the center of the circle, Dulcea cast a bolt of green energy at the wood within, igniting a blaze. "Please, stand before the fire, Rangers," she instructed. The six teens did as she asked, arranging themselves in a loose semicircle around the flames. Billy stared into the leaping fire, memories echoing in his mind.
"Ninjetti is but one of three subsets composing the Great Power," Dulcea informed them. "The Great Power is an ancient subset of the Morphin Grid, a power which comes not from an external connection to the Grid, but from a link buried in the spark of life that all creatures hold within. The source of the Great Power is in your soul, Rangers, not within a coin, or a crystal. But the power itself is very like that which the Morphin Rangers among you are used to using. Ninjetti, the best known division, is the level of the spirit, and has animals accordingly. However, there are also divisions for the body and mind levels. The Sauria and Thunderae divisions have passed into obscurity, however."
"Stare into the fire, Rangers, and search within yourself. Discover your Grid spirit, and you will discover your power. Look deep within, into your spirit."
Taking a deep breath, each Ranger did as she instructed, closing his or her eyes. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, slowly, blue luminescence began to swirl from the ground, around the feet of the Rangers. Like miniature glowing tornadoes, the light swirled up and around, until each Ranger was enveloped in a cocoon of light. Then the light died, revealing the six of them clad in new uniforms.
Billy recognized his from his false memories, and Adam, Christina, and Tanya had seen Tommy's Morphin Warrior uniform before. For Carlos and Ashley, however, this was totally new, and they marveled at the outfits covering them, as well as the colors. Not every Ranger, it seemed, wore the color that he or she usually sported. Billy, Christina, and Adam were dressed in their customary Ranger colors, but Ashley's outfit was blue, Tanya's uniform was black, and Carlos found himself swathed in a costume of purple.
With a smile, Dulcea stepped up to Billy, the first in line. "Billy, you are intelligent and patient. Your Grid Spirit is the Blue Wolf."
"Adam, you are peaceful and creative. You follow the Black Frog." Adam sighed, but nodded. He'd had a number of years to come to grips with his amphibian Grid Spirit.
"Christina. You are insightful and always calm. Your guardian shall be the White Falcon."
_Winged Lord of the Skies,_ Billy's memory echoed, as he watched Christina trace the falcon on her coin.
"Ashley, your intelligence serves you well, and you never give up on a problem. You shall be guided by the Blue Unicorn."
"Tanya, caring and energetic. Your Spirit shall be the Black Lion." Tanya threw a grin at Adam, who just smiled back.
Lastly, Dulcea came to Carlos. "Carlos, you are tenacious and always willing to try something new. The Grid Spirit you follow will be the Purple Chameleon." Carlos nodded, remembering that that signified Purple Ninja.
"Trust your Grid Spirits, Rangers, and they shall watch over you."
fingers, Dulcea caused six color-coded bedrolls to appear. "Sleep now. In
your training begins."
"Excuse me," Ecliptor began, coming up to a man sitting on a bar stool.
"I'm not looking for work," the man replied, not looking up from his drink. Chelsea, standing next to Ecliptor, snickered, sizing the other man up. He was humanoid, the same height as she was. His hair was a dusky gray, and one lock fell down over his forehead to hang between his eyes. One of those eyes was covered by a black patch, and the other one was deep black, with a flash of intelligence. He wore a black bodysuit, with a belt full of gadgets on it. To top it all off, he had the worst accent she had ever heard. It almost sounded as if he were from the Bronx.
"I'm not looking to hire you," Ecliptor shot back. "I do, however, have an arrangement that you might wish to take part in."
The Black Falcon looked up at that, raising an eyebrow as he saw who stood behind him. "What type of arrangement?" he inquired. "I don't usually do business with Dark Specter."
"You've let it be known that you're looking for an apprentice," Ecliptor replied, ignoring the dig. "I believe I have a suitable candidate."
The Falcon laughed. "I KNOW you don't mean you." His eyes suddenly fell on Chelsea, who shrugged. "Her?"
"Yes. You'll find she's a very fast learner, and already knows a great deal of what you might teach her."
"Does she have a name?"
"Yes, and a voice, too," Chelsea interrupted, annoyed at being discussed like so much cattle. "My name is Chelsea Oliver."
The Falcon grinned. "You've got spunk, too. What makes you think you wanna be a Deshaadra?"
She shrugged. "It was his idea. Look, I'll lay my cards on the table. My fiance is the Prince of Triforia. He's currently running from the law, and is in fact in stasis. The trial is in two weeks. _He_" and here she jerked a thumb at Ecliptor, "thinks I can go through an apprenticeship in two weeks and impress the hell out of the Council. I just want something to do so I don't go crazy."
Turning to Ecliptor, the Falcon raised an eyebrow. "Do you really think she can do an apprenticeship in two weeks?"
"She can already pick locks, climb walls, and best me in battle," Ecliptor replied simply. "She's mastered most basic explosives and booby-traps, and she thinks on her feet. Yes, I believe she can do it."
Grinning, the Falcon stuck out a hand in Chelsea's direction.
you've just joined the Deshaadra."
"Man, this place makes Buckingham Palace look like a Wal-Mart," Skull breathed. The palace guards had admitted them the instant Andros had identified himself, and the six Rangers were currently being led through halls of white stone and crystal.
"Eltarens love beauty," Andros replied. "Art is one of the highest occupations in this society."
"Everything is white and silver and crystal," Kat whispered. "It's so cold."
"We stick out majorly," Cassie agreed, looking at the other two Pink Rangers beside her.
Kim grinned. "Winter roses," she replied.
"Better stick close, Skull," Trini teased. "Wander off, and we might lose sight of you."
The group quieted down as they were led into the throne room. This room was slightly warmer, with red and gold banners gracing the walls. Two thrones of a silvery metal sat at the front of the room, and in them sat two people in white robes, with coronets upon their heads.
"Greetings," the man began. "I am Zartan, king of Eltare, and this is my queen, Pyria. What brings those Rangers under my uncle's wing to our fair planet?"
Andros bowed. "I'm afraid I have some bad news, Your Majesty," he replied. "Your uncle has been arrested by the Council for violation of the treaty of Chrio."
Zartan raised a dark eyebrow. "We have heard nothing of this," he replied.
"That's exactly the problem," Andros replied. "No one has. Zordon has been placed out of contact with the rest of the universe, and cannot summon witnesses or evidence to his defense. Someone on the Council is orchestrating this for their own advantage."
"These are serious allegations, young Ranger," Pyria broke in. Her copper eyes were serious. "Can you prove them?"
Andros shook his head. "Not yet, Your Majesty. As yet, we don't even know the identity of Zordon's enemy. However, it is quite obvious that someone is controlling this. Information has leaked to the Council that could not have made it there otherwise."
Zartan nodded. "Zordon is a hero to our people, and he has risked much to keep us safe. Without question, you have the support of the nobility. However, I believe it would also be prudent for you to gain the support of the Morphin Masters. We shall arrange a meeting for you tomorrow morning. In the meantime, feel free to remain in the palace as our guests."
Andros bowed again. "Many thanks, Your Majesty."
"That's it," Egon Spengler declared, straightening up from the computer console. "If you all don't get out of here, we're all going to go insane, me included. Roland, stop pacing. You're making me seasick." Everyone looked up at the physicist's declaration.
"Egon's right," Ray replied. "We can't all spend every waking minute in here, and we have to accept that it might be a while before we find Drew. We've all got communicators now, so why don't most of us go about our day as normally as possible, and Egon and I will call you if anything develops."
"What about Dragon Borg?" Roland replied.
"And Drew?" added Jo. The Beetleborg girl had awakened from her sedation a few minutes before Egon's interruption, and had reluctantly admitted that Peter's decision had been the right one. That came as a relief to the psychologist, who hadn't been looking forward to whatever revenge Jo could come up with. He still didn't intend to get caught alone with her for a while, though.
"We have the computer scanning for Drew on automatic," Egon replied. "There's really nothing else that we can do for a while. So we'll concentrate on repairing Dragon Borg. JB, Justin, we'll call you in a couple hours and you can take over for us. Until then- everybody out!" Hitting a button, the blond Ghostbuster force-teleported all sixteen of them to the park. Even Art Fortunes was dropped into the little clearing.
The teleportees looked at each other for a long moment, blinking. Finally, Dex shrugged. "Now what?"
Lita stretched, hearing joints pop. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going home and taking a long hot bath to relax."
"Sounds good," Peter replied. "Can I join you?" He ducked as she swatted at him before teleporting out.
"I think Dr. Kino's got the right idea," Art replied. "I'm going to head back to my studio, blow off some steam, and see if I can't find something that'll help against Shadowborg."
"Be careful, Art," Roland cautioned. "Shadowborg knows where you live."
"I'll be careful," the cartoonist replied, dissolving into white light.
Justin's stomach suddenly growled, causing the Blue Turbo Ranger to blush. "Well, Justin's digestive system has been heard from," Tasha grinned, amused. "Who's up for lunch?"
Hands raised all around, including Peter and Winston, who suddenly realized they hadn't eaten for at least seven hours.
"Let's go to the Youth Center," Fred suggested. "Ernie won't bat an eye if we walk in there with fourteen people."
"Good idea," Rosa agreed. "And we can get a workout, too."
"I could use a punching bag to beat on," Ryan allowed.
"So let's go check it out," finished Winston. The group headed off.
No sooner had the rather large group walked into the youth center than they were pounced on by its somewhat portly owner. "Are you guys all right?" he asked the Turbo Rangers, his voice low. "I saw what happened on the news."
Justin smiled. "We're fine, Ernie. These are some friends of ours, in town to help out." To the others, he said, "You can trust Ernie. He knows all about us."
Quickly, the assorted heroes ran through the introductions. Finishing up, Ernie grinned. "You guys are in luck. We haven't had many people in today, with the Shadowborg threat and all, and I was just about to close down. In fact, there's only one person in here, and I don't think you'll mind talking around him." Ernie jerked his thumb towards the mats, where a tall figure with dark hair and a white gi was running through a kata.
"David!" Franklin called, waving. David Trueheart looked up from his form and waved back. Grabbing his towel, he left the gym floor and headed over to the group.
"Hey, guys. These the reinforcements I saw on the news?" he asked.
JB raised an eyebrow. "Does EVERYBODY in town know your secret identities?"
"No, although it can seem that way," Fred chuckled. "This is David Trueheart. He's the brother of one of the Zeo Rangers, and he fills in on the team from< After yet another round of introductions, the group started to drift apart. Ryan, JB, and David began discussing martial arts, and pretty soon the three of them were sparring together on the mats. Kaitlin and Katie had claimed another corner, and were working out as well. Luckily, the Turbos knew the older Rangers' locker combinations, so there was a steady supply of spare gis.
Meanwhile, Rosa, Fred, Franklin, and Justin began running through a kata together. Over in one corner, Jo began pumping iron. Ever since receiving her civilian powers, the youngest of the Beetleborgs had enjoyed lifting weights, with or without her powers.
Finally, Dex, Roland, Tasha, Peter, and Winston had claimed a table and were watching the actions while enjoying a round of smoothies "on the house," as Ernie had informed them. "Wow," Dex remarked, watching the perfect unison of the Turbo Rangers. "They're really good."
"That's nothing," Tasha grinned. "Wait 'til they get to the "shifting sparring." It's kind of an "every man for himself" thing. They move like lightning. It's a lot of fun to watch."
"You don't do martial arts yourself?" asked Winston. The girl shook her head.
"Not the way they do. They've been teaching me to fight, but I'm not into it the way they are. Justin's been teaching me meditation, and that's cool, but I just don't like to work out when I get stressed."
"What do you do?" Peter inquired.
"I like to run," Tasha replied. "Miles at a time, now that I've got my powers and the heightened stamina that goes with them."
Roland grinned. "I like to run, too. Sometimes I'll go out and just run my cares away, without activating my civilian powers."
Tasha shot him a glance. "Wanna go for a run? We're pretty much dressed for it." She indicated their shorts and sneakers.
"Sounds good to me," Roland replied.
"Keep an eye on your communicators," Dex cautioned. "And if Shadowborg shows up, get back to the Power Chamber immediately."
Tasha rolled her eyes. "Yes, mother," she replied. "Come on, Roland, let's go beat feet." The two of them headed out of the Youth Center.
Looking over at Peter, Winston saw that the psychologist was watching Ryan and JB intently. "Thinking about getting in on that?" Zeddemore asked.
Peter smiled wryly. "I've got all this excess energy, and I think I'm gonna go nuts if I don't work it off." Getting up, he raised an eyebrow at his friend. "Coming?"
"Nuh-uh," Winston replied. "I'm just gonna sit here and drink my smoothie. You're the one who gets hit most of the time anyway. You go on."
Sticking his tongue out at the older Ghostbuster, Peter headed out
to the mats to
ask for a lesson.
Kat looked around in awe. "Doesn't look much like UCLA," she remarked.
"Or Notre Dame," Trini agreed. The Morphin Academy was composed of a number of buildings, all of the strange white stone found everywhere on Eltare. The grounds were beautiful, and as the six Rangers followed their escort, one of Eltare's Royal Guard, they saw beings of every shape and size imaginable.
"This is the Hall of the Masters," their guide announced. "The Tribunal awaits you inside. Good luck, Rangers."
Exchanging nervous glances, the six Rangers made their way into the largest building on the campus. "Morphin Masters are those Rangers who have served honorably and well," Andros explained quietly, as they walked down the hall. "After their term of service is up, usually after about the equivalent of ten years, those who wish to move deeper into the Power come here to study, and are eventually promoted to Morphin Master. The Tribunal are the oldest and wisest of the Masters, one from each color. If we can win their support, we can claim the support of every representative of the Power in the known galaxy."
With those words, the six arrived at a large door of some silvery wood. It was covered with carvings, some far too small to see. Taking a deep breath, Andros knocked firmly. The door resounded with the noise, then slowly swung open. Pulling up their confidence, the six Rangers strode into the room.
Inside, eight beings in color-coded robes sat at a u-shaped table, staring at the newcomers. Skull's highly developed sense of the ridiculous pointed out the resemblance between the Tribunal and the setup for Senate hearings. Quickly, he fought down the image before it could fully form.
"Greetings, Rangers of Earth," the man creature in the red cloak intoned, standing. "I am Jarek, Red Master, of the planet Gaiala. This is Ystara, White Master, of Eltare." The woman in the white cloak, beside him, nodded to the Rangers.
The Aquitian member of the Tribunal was Gracchus, Blue Master, and the draconic Loongari who stood beside him was Verdia, Green Master. Her robe was the same color as her scales, creating an odd effect. Also on the Tribunal was Titania of Faerun. The petite, butterfly-winged woman was a Pink Master, and radiated warmth.
Next to Titania stood the Black Master, a Fel'hari named Bagh'ra. With his black fur and copper eyes, he looked like a giant black panther- except for the glint of amused intelligence in his eyes.
Swiftclaw of the Drakkar was the Purple Master of the Tribunal. The sky-blue Velociraptor regarded the six humans with interested violet eyes, propping his chin on one three-clawed hand. Finally, the Yellow Master was Talyn Al'Falqa, a woman with a large pair of bird's wings sprouting from her back. Her hair was snow white, and her eyes were the yellow color found in birds of prey.
As Master Jarek completed the introductions, Andros bowed. "Greetings to you," he replied. "I am Andros, Red Astro Ranger. My companions are Cassandra Chan, Pink Astro Ranger, Katherine Hilliard, Pink Zeo Ranger, Kimberly Hart, Pink Firebird Morphin Warrior, Eugene Skullovitch, White Tiger Morphin Warrior, and Trini Kwan, Yellow Bear Morphin Warrior. We are under the guidance of Zordon of Eltare, White Falcon Morphin Master."
Skull saw Bagh'ra rolling his eyes at the formalities, and immediately liked the Fel'hari Master. He also saw Titania elbow him in the ribs, and quickly smothered a grin. Apparently, some things NEVER changed.
Jarek bowed. "You are welcome, Rangers of-"
"Oh, for crying out loud, Jarek," Swiftclaw rumbled, sounding annoyed. To the Earth humans in the room, the Drakkar's voice sounded an awful lot like Ed Asner. "Can we PLEASE skip the formal stuff and ask them what they're doing here?" This brought snickers from a number of the other Masters, and even the serious White and Yellow Masters quickly had to hide their smiles.
"Not all of us were brought up to start a formal conversation with an exchange of raw meat," the Red Master retorted. In response, the Purple Master extended a truly unusual-looking forked tongue and blew a raspberry.
"Gentlemen," Ystara interrupted. "We have guests. Could we please behave like civilized beings for just a few minutes?"
"Don't mind us," Kimberly chuckled.
Cassie nodded. "Yeah, politics on Earth works about the same way."
"Since the formal opening has gone straight down the recycler," Titania broke in, casting glances at both Jarek and Swiftclaw, "why don't the six of you explain what brings you before the Tribunal today."
"Zordon of Eltare has been arrested by the Council for violating the Treaty of Chrio," Andros replied. Verdia cocked her head.
"Thiss iss the firsst we've heard about it," she remarked, hissing slightly on the sibilants. "Should we not have been told?"
Andros nodded. "No one knows about this, not even the people who should have been informed. Somebody's going to a lot of trouble to keep it quiet, to the extent of hiring the Dianth Clan to take us out as we headed through space."
Gracchus frowned. "If this is true, than we should lend our support to Zordon and his Rangers immediately," the Blue Master mused.
"Five Earth years have passed since Zordon broke the Treaty," Bagh'ra mused in a deep rich voice. "Rather- odd that they suddenly decide to haul him in for it? You haven't even lost any mecha recently, have you?"
Trini shook her head. "No sir, not for almost two years."
Talyn raised an eyebrow. "Bagh'ra, what are you getting at?" she asked. Her voice had an odd quality to it, like the cries of a falcon.
"I'm merely suggesting that there's more to this than meets the eye. Someone has obviously laid their plans carefully. If we get involved in this, we could well be stirring up a great deal of trouble."
Verdia regarded him in astonishment. "I've never heard ssuch wordss out of your mouth before," she told him. "It'ss not like you to back away from a fight."
Bagh'ra chuckled. "Who's backing away? I simply think we should have a little more ammunition to prove the worth of these six young people before we take on Pasht knows how many Council members."
"What do you suggest, Bagh'ra?" Jarek asked, interested.
"The Caves of Alshar," the Fel'hari replied. "The testing grounds for first-year students. We prove that they're worthy of the power, and the Council will have to accept that."
The other Morphin Masters nodded. "The trip through the Caves is long and perilous," Ystara told the Rangers. "We will give you supplies, but you will have to find your way through on your own. It may take you several days. Do you accept this challenge?"
Andros nodded. "We do."
"Then return to the palace," Talyn cooed. "We will send supplies
and someone to
guide you to the caves tomorrow morning."
"Sure has been quiet recently," Ray remarked, soldering a connection.
Peter nodded. "Yeah, too quiet." He held up his hands as Ray and JB shot him glares. "No, seriously! Two days without Shadowborg attacks? We didn't hurt him at all the last time, so he's not recouping his losses. That can only mean that he's up to something. And we still haven't found a trace of Drew. That doesn't make ANY sense."
"What do you mean?" Art asked. He'd decided that the currently empty Power Chamber was an excellent place to work on his sketches, just as Peter had gone there to think.
"Well, if Shadowborg had killed him, he'd let us know. Losing any member of the team would knock us off balance, and losing Drew would be even worse, for a number of reasons. If Drew were dead, Shadowborg would practically be dumping the body on our doorstep to rub it in."
"So he's alive," JB stated.
"Probably. But WHY? Shadowborg could certainly kill him without a second thought. If he was going to use Drew as a hostage, he would have called with his demands already. Whatever he's planning, he's softening us up for it. He's going to make us wait, make us anxious, and then- pow!"
As if in response to Peter's statement, the alarm began to blare. Ray ran over to a console, then looked up at the psychologist. "Good timing, Peter. JB, could you call the others back? Shadowborg's in the business district, causing trouble."
"Another trap," Peter muttered anxiously. "Damn it."
Sparkling lights began to fill the room as heroes and support staff began teleporting in from all over. Egon and Justin teleported in from Billy's garage lab, Justin still holding some sort of gadget in his hands. Roland and Tasha teleported in from yet another run. Lita, materializing from her office, noted with amusement the not-quite-jealous look Justin was shooting the Titanium Silver Beetleborg, who didn't seem to notice. Ryan and Kaitlin had just arrived from taking care of a few things in Cross World, and Winston and Katie ran in from the gym on one of the lower floors of the Power Chamber. In a tri-colored flash, Fred, Franklin, and Rosa appeared, still clad in their gis. Jo was with them, having received a few lessons from them. Finally, Dex teleported in, having returned to Pyramidas to continue his search through Trey's records. All this occurred in the space of a few seconds.
"Where is he this time?" Ryan asked, slightly weary.
"Business district," Ray replied. "You guys had better go. Egon and I will work on getting Dragon Borg operational. We're almost done."
Fred nodded. "All right, let's kick some butt! Shift into Turbo!"
"Databonders!" The chorus was missing one voice, a fact which caused the watching adults to wince slightly. Jo and Roland's faces, however, were pure stone.
In a huge flash of strange light, the assorted heroes disappeared from the Power Chamber and materialized in the business district. Shadowborg was waiting for them, leaning lazily against a lamppost.
"I've been waiting for you, heroes," he chuckled. "Tell me, how does it feel to be one short?"
"I'm gonna grab that lamppost and tie it around your neck!" Platinum Purple snarled. Blue Trooper put a hand on her shoulder.
"Easy, Jo," he whispered. "He's playing with your mind. Don't give him an opening."
"You'd certainly know all about mind games, wouldn't you, Trooper?" the evil Beetleborg asked casually. "After all, that's all your life has ever been. Grimlord and his goons have never passed up a chance to turn your mind to their use. But it goes back farther than that, doesn't it? Your own father did the same thing."
Blue Trooper stiffened. "What?"
"Tyler Steele, the perfect father. According to all the papers, he started your training when you were barely old enough to walk. How does it feel, knowing your father was molding you into the perfect soldier, practically from birth? Knowing that you're nothing but a pawn in the struggle between him and Grimlord?"
"Ryan, you know your father loves you," Black Trooper insisted. "He trained you to think, to be able to handle ANYTHING life dished out, Grimlord or not. Your dad loves you!"
"Then why did he leave you behind?" Shadowborg continued smoothly. "Tyler Steele, gone for ten years, makes a mysterious re-appearance- and two weeks later goes to Norway. Doesn't sound as if he has much use for you anymore."
Suddenly a fireball knocked Shadowborg off his feet. "I think it's about time someone shut you up," Green Turbo snarled, grasping the Thunder Cannon.
"Ryan, are you going to be okay?" White 2 asked, resting her hand on Blue Trooper's shoulder.
He nodded. "I'll be fine, Katie." The pure ice in his voice belied his words, but White 2 did not ask further.
"Spread out and flank him!" Masked Rider barked. Suddenly a shot from the Shadow Laser caught him dead on, knocking him back several paces. His chest plate smoked as he tried to haul himself back to his feet.
"Anyone else have anything to add?" Shadowborg laughed mockingly.
"I do," Titanium Silver snarled. "Metallix Grappler!" The claw-ended staff materialized in his hands, and he threw himself to the attack. Shadowborg knocked him aside easily, only to be hit by yellow and pink bolts of energy from Pink and Yellow Turbos. Ducking away from the shots, he found himself face-to-face with White Trooper.
"Lights out, Shadowborg," she growled, firing her laser at him. Unfortunately, he deflected it and cuffed her across the face, sending her sprawling.
"Super Saber Command!" Black Trooper sprang to the attack. The blade of his Super Saber met Shadowborg's claw, and the two of them fenced back and forth. A footsweep knocked Black Trooper to the ground, and he rolled away from his opponent quickly. Shadowborg tried to follow, but Red and Blue Turbos were instantly before him, Autoblasters out and aimed for his optics. Using his hands, Shadowborg deflected the blasts, and managed to vault out of the center of the massed heroes.
"Twelve against one is hardly fair odds," the creature chuckled, "so I'd like you to meet a friend of mine." Beside him, a portal of shadow irised open, and the defenders braced themselves for anything.
Anything but what they saw. From the shadowy gate emerged the Chromium Gold Beetleborg, armor sparkling in the sun. He held his Metallix Lancer in one hand and surveyed the battle scene coolly.
"Drew?" Platinum Purple asked, horrified.
"Hi, Jo," Chromium Gold sneered. The cold tone of his voice sent shivers up the listeners' spines.
"Heroes of Earth, may I introduce Nukus' newest servant? Oh, I forgot, you've already met." Shadowborg bowed mockingly.
"Drew?" Blue Trooper asked slowly. "What happened to you?"
"What happened doesn't matter," Chromium Gold replied, pointing his Lancer at the heroes. "All that matters is that your destruction is at hand!" Suddenly Chromium Gold and Shadowborg leaped back into the fray.
"Drew, don't! Please, stop!" Platinum Purple backed away from her brother, making no move to defend herself. A vicious slash across her breastplate dropped her to the ground. Slowly, he moved to stand over her, shaking his head.
"You're pathetic," he told her. "If it wasn't for me and Roland, you'd have been history a long time ago." He raised his Lancer, and she shut her eyes, not wanting to watch.
A sudden clang of metal on metal caused her eyes to fly open again. Titanium Silver had tackled Chromium Gold, and the two of them were rolling around on the ground, locked in a vicious struggle.
Shadowborg spared a glance from battling Masked Rider and Red Turbo to see Titanium Silver beating Chromium Gold's head on the ground. Despite the expressionless nature of his face, he suddenly seemed to be bearing a fiendish smile. "Retreat! We'll finish this another day!" With those words, he and Chromium Gold disappeared in a flash of black.
With their opponents gone, all the heroes turned their attention to Platinum Purple. The Beetleborg had not bothered to rise from the ground, and was instead curled up, head on her knees, arms wrapped around her legs.
"Jo? Jo, honey, look up," White Trooper tried gently. No response. "I think she's in shock," the older woman reported.
"Jo worships the ground Drew walks on," Titanium Silver informed them. "How could he do this to us?"
"It wasn't his fault," Blue Turbo replied. "I have a pretty good idea what happened to him, but it'll have to wait until we're back in the Power Chamber. Here comes the press."
Titanium Silver groaned. "Bunny Bodelle. We don't need her right now. She'll pelt us all with questions- especially Jo." Indeed, the charging reporter was headed directly towards Platinum Purple, and the other heroes braced themselves to deflect a truckload of questions.
But Bunny never reached the group. As she moved past a Crossworld newsvan, one of the female reporters stuck out her ankle, causing Bunny to trip and fall. Winking at Blue Trooper, she quickly knelt beside the other woman. "I am so sorry, I don't know what happened. I'm just far too clumsy."
Blue Trooper grinned and waved. "Come on, let's get back to the
Chamber." In a flash, the heroes disappeared.
"Ooof!" Parker hit the dirt hard, knocking the wind out of him. Trying to restore his breathing to normal, he looked up at the woman standing over him. "They teach you THAT at the Academy?" he wheezed.
Daystar chuckled. "No, I picked that up from one of my partners, actually. She was Fel'hari- tough lady."
"I can imagine," Parker replied. Taking Daystar's offered hand, he allowed her to pull him to his feet. "How many partners have you had?"
She grinned. "Six or seven. They don't stay with me very long. I'm one of those people who works better alone."
Parker nodded. "I know how that is." The two of them began circling each other once again. This time, as Daystar aimed a punch at him, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her off balance, catching her neatly in his arms.
"Wiseguy," she chuckled. "Shouldn't you be keeping your mind on the match?"
"Why? I have so much more attractive things to think about," he teased, letting her stand. To his surprise, Daystar blushed. He raised an eyebrow. "You don't get flirted with much, do you?"
"I'm a cop- a lady cop," she replied. "The IGPF is VERY equal in terms of gender, but not all of the officers see it that way. As a result, I have to be more of a guy than the guys do."
Parker nodded. "Yeah, it's the same way on Earth." Seeing that a couple of Edenite rebels wanted to use the practice area, he drew her out into the main cavern. The two of them quickly moved out of the traffic area, sitting on a natural bench in one of the nooks. "So," Parker continued, "what do you do most of the time? Does the IGPF have departments? Homicide, Robbery, that sort of thing?"
She nodded. "Yeah, not to mention departments for crimes you've never even heard of. Since I spent half my life around pirates, I've been working the galactic slave trade. I don't know if that's going to be practical after my- run-in with the Dianth Clan, but that's what I've been doing."
"But what do you do on the job?"
"It depends on what's going on," Daystar replied. "I've chased slavers around, been in shoot-outs, boarded slave ships and freed the people on board, lots of things. A lot of it is electron trails, catching these guys by their bank accounts. We do our best, but," she shrugged, "we can't save everybody."
"That hurts, doesn't it?" he asked quietly, putting a hand on her shoulder. She nodded.
"I've never been able to shake the wish that somebody could have saved my mother. She died getting me off that ship. I was barely five years old; sometimes I can't even remember what she looked like." Collecting herself with a visible effort, Daystar gave him a half-smile. "So what about you? What do you spend your time doing?"
"Annoying the police," he replied, grinning. "No, seriously. You met Adam, the Green Zeo Ranger, right?" At her nod, he continued. "Well, his father is one of the policemen in charge of Ranger-related incidents, and it just so happens that the Rangers are my beat. You don't know how many times I've been thrown out of a battle scene or headquarters- sometimes physically." He chuckled. "I also do investigative reporting, uncovering corruption, wrong-doing, that sort of thing."
Daystar made a face. "That must make you real popular with the police," she said dryly. "My captain, back at Headquarters, always said that reporters were an evil akin to Selanian slime rats. He once threw six of them out at one time." Seeing Parker's puzzled expression, she explained. "He's from Selanus. Looks a little like your Earth octopi- has eight arms which double as legs. I'll introduce you when we get to Erlion."
"The Council seat is located on the planet Erlion. IGPF Headquarters is there too."
"Ah. This is going to be an interesting trip."
Catching sight of their destination, Jason whistled, reigning in his zraltak. Zarador had informed the six Rangers that the only feasible way to reach the Temple of the Winds was to ride, and so the six of them had quickly received an intensive course in managing the creatures. Riding a zraltak was in some ways similar to riding a horse. The main body of the creature was quite similar, although zralta had splayed feet rather than hooves. The head and tail, however, were quite different. The neck was long and serpentine, with an oval, earless head set at the top. The tail was also like that of a snake, making the whole beast look somewhat similar to a brontosaurus, although it was no bigger than an ordinary horse. To top it all off, zralta had warm glossy skin, with no scales to be seen. Generally they came in black, gold, or white, although patterned ones did exist.
The Rangers had quickly adjusted to their mounts, although Chris had been forced into a brief battle of wills with his. Zralta were rather playful, and the Silver Astro Ranger had found his mount enjoyed bucking him off at the most inconvenient times. The two had apparently come to an understanding, however, as Jason hadn't heard Chris yell for most of the day.
"There's the Temple," Zarador informed them, pointing at the cloud of dust on the horizon. "They'll be setting up the tents for the gathering, which is what all that activity is. We'll settle in, and in the morning, you can accompany me to the first meeting."
Jamie grimaced. "Politics. Fun."
"I hope we get there soon," Rocky interjected. "I'm saddle sore!"
Zarador chuckled. "Zralta riding can be painful to the novice," he allowed.
"But they are beautiful creatures," Katarina added.
"They're evil," Chris broke in. "They make you think they're so sweet, staring up at you with those big brown eyes, and then bam! They pitch you into a puddle."
TJ shook his head. "Are you still complaining about that? Man, that was yesterday!"
"He's just waiting to do it again. I know it."
His mount made a chuffing sound that Jamie would swear meant "Me?" She laughed.
Chris was still glaring at his zraltak when the entourage entered the main camp. Jamie looked around at all the people, setting up tents, pasturing zralta, and generally settling in. For some reason, she felt oddly at home in this setting, even though it was a far cry from the life she had always known. Catching her eye, Zarador nodded.
"This is how our people used to be. It's how we still are, deep down. There's a great deal of wanderlust in the most settled of us. Riding the Sea of Grass, the wind in your face- it has a real attraction."
She nodded, following him to the area set aside for Royal use. Quickly the riders dismounted, scattering in all directions. Jason was a bit surprised when Jamie grabbed his arm and informed him, "Our tent is over there. Come on, help me get it up."
"Our tent?" he echoed, following her. Picking up a pole, he saw why Jamie had asked for his help. This was no little camping tent, this was a shelter. It was the type of structure nomads lived their entire life in. About the size of a small bedroom, the tent was made of a beautiful royal purple fabric, a color choice that Jason thought had less to do with Jamie's Ranger color and more to do with her blood status. He noticed that the tent Zarador was erecting was the same color.
"Our tent?" he asked again. "What do you mean, 'our?'"
She shot him a look. "Jason, we haven't exactly made a secret of our emotional involvement, and this is Danata. Of COURSE they figure we're going to share a tent."
The implications of that sank in, and Jason blushed red. Sensing his discomfort, Jamie grinned. "It gets worse," she told him. "We've only got one bedroll, too."
Jason swallowed. "Well, we're mature, responsible adults, right? We can share a bedroll without getting carried away."
"Speak for yourself," Jamie replied, raising an eyebrow. "I might want to get carried away."
Jason gulped again, and Jamie took pity on him. "I'm just teasing
you, Jason. This
won't be any different from the times we've fallen asleep on the couch
him relax, Jamie turned back to setting up the tent, smiling slightly.
Jason was definitely
cute when he was embarrassed.
"How long have we been walking, anyway?" Kim asked. Beside her, Andros shrugged.
"More than one day, not quite two," he replied. "Are you hungry? We can stop for dinner."
Kim shook her head. "No, I just want to know when we're getting OUT of here. I don't like caves- too many bad memories."
"Tell me about it," Kat shivered. "Every time Rita or Zedd wanted us out of the way, they'd stick us in a cave, usually with energy barriers or something." Although neither girl mentioned it, both were thinking of the cave that had been Kimberly's prison, back when Kat had lured her into a trap.
"Now I know how Tommy felt when he retrieved the Zeo Crystal," the Pink Zeo Ranger continued. "I keep expecting something to pop out at me at any moment."
Cassie looked around nervously. "The Morphin Masters said that the cave would test us. I wonder what type of tests they meant."
"Tests of virtue, probably," Trini replied. "Courage, intelligence, teamwork."
"I think I found the first one!" Skull called, his voice echoing back down the dark limestone cavern. As the other Rangers caught up with him, they found him staring down into a deep chasm. The White Morphin Warrior whistled. "Now that is a DEEP pothole," he joked nervously.
"Bottomless?" Cassie asked. Andros shook his head.
"Probably not more than a hundred feet or so."
Trini winced. "A hundred feet is still pretty lethal. I don't see a bridge."
"I don't see much of anything," Kat replied. "But there HAS to be a way across. It'd be a pretty pointless test if there wasn't."
Looking over at his girlfriend, Skull was surprised to see her staring at a rock formation intently. "Kim?" he asked quietly, not wanting to startle her. "What is it?"
"C'mere," she beckoned. "Look at that. What does that rock look like to you?"
He squinted, trying to see what she saw in the weathered rock. "Um- a tiger?"
"You have tigers on the brain," she replied smartly. "It looks like a lion. The Morphin Masters told us that the magic of the caves would take the trials from things we knew, right?"
Skull nodded. "Right. So?"
"Leap from the lion's head?" Kat broke in, grinning slightly. Kim nodded.
Cassie raised an eyebrow. "You wanna let the rest of us in on the joke?"
"'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,'" Kim replied. "The final test. Remember? 'Only in the leap from the lion's head will he prove his worth.'"
"No one can jump that!" Andros protested. Trini shook her head.
"She won't have to. The test had a hidden pathway, a spire of rock that blended in with the abyss below it. It looked like there was nothing there, but in reality, there was a solid pathway."
Kim nodded. "Right." Walking to the edge, she closed her eyes. "Leap of faith," she said wryly. Then, taking a deep breath, she stepped off the edge. For a long second, she stepped down, feeling nothing- then her foot touched solid stone. Opening her eyes, she grinned back at her friends. "Come on! We don't have all day!"
The other five Rangers exchanged glances, then stepped onto the
her, single file.
It was a shocked and somber group that occupied the Power Chamber. Jo had been forcibly demorphed upon her arrival, and now sat curled in a corner, not responding to anything that was said. The Rangers had summoned Joyce and informed her of Drew's conversion, and she had tried in vain to bring Jo out of her trance. Now the woman simply sat beside her daughter, holding her hand. That was the only contact Jo would allow.
While Egon and Ray huddled over the still-unconscious Dragon Borg, Fred was finishing up his explanation of what had occurred on the battlefield that day. "Mind control spells are nasty. You're literally not in control when you're under them. It's like- someone else takes over your body, and sometimes your mind." Fred shivered, remembering all too clearly the feeling of being controlled by the Minor Demons Jealysy and Malyce. "All your thoughts and emotions are twisted into something unrecognizable. Sometimes the mental damage is bad enough that the affected person becomes suicidal once the control is released."
"Suicidal?" Roland repeated, aghast.
"Only sometimes," Fred was quick to assure him. "Drew hasn't done anything truly horrifying yet, and with Lita and Peter around, we can probably help him work through his feelings before his depression gets too deep. But we have to break the spell first."
"That may be a problem," Flabber interjected. "Nukus doesn't DO magic. Whatever control Shadowborg has over Drew, it has to be based in something else."
"Then we have to find out what," Ryan replied, "and fast. I know- we all know too well what it feels like to have no control." His blue eyes were dark with an unpleasant memory.
"Well, I'm afraid there's only one person who knows what Shadowborg is capable of," Art broke in. "Lester. He must have designed it- after all, he's not in his prison cell anymore."
"Then we'll have to go get him," Justin decided. "Any idea where he's being held?"
"The crypt, in the Charterville Cemetery," Roland informed him. "It's the Crustaceans' main base. Nukus'll definitely have him there."
"We can't just run in there without a plan," Dex protested. "It would be suicide."
"And you can't all go," Peter added. "From long experience, I can say that crypts don't have a lot of room to maneuver. Taking an army down would be ludicrous."
"Got it!" Ray Stantz suddenly sang. "Everybody stand back! We're going to give Dragon Borg a surge to get him jump-started."
The assembled heroes pulled back from the lab table, as Egon pressed the switch. A jolt of electricity arced through Dragon Borg in a bright flash, then faded. For a long moment, all was still.
"Did it work?" Justin asked, slowly approaching the table.
As an answer, Dragon Borg's eyes flashed bright blue, and he slowly sat up. "What happened? Where am I?" he asked in his Scottish-accented voice. Then memory hit him, and Roland would have sworn that the blue visor darkened a bit.
"Um- welcome to the Power Chamber," Ray smiled.
Stepping forward, Art captured Dragon Borg's attention. "As to what happened, it's a long and ugly story."
Quickly the defenders filled Dragon Borg in on the events up 'til the present. Hearing of Drew's subversion, he snarled softly, but did not interrupt.
"So Drew's with Shadowborg, and Jo's in shock," Franklin finished. "We could really use your help here."
"Any help you need, I will give you gladly," Dragon Borg replied. "Especially to regain the Beetleborgs this team has lost." Crossing to the corner where Joyce and Jo sat, he knelt in front of the two. "May I?" he asked gently. Joyce nodded, standing up and moving to one side. Lita came up beside her and slung an arm around her shoulders, a gesture which the other woman leaned into immediately.
"Jo?" Dragon Borg called quietly, gently taking the girl by the shoulders. She continued to stare ahead, lost in her own world. "Josephine McCormick, I know you can hear me," he continued, allowing a thread of steel into his voice. "I realize that you have had a terrible shock, but this is not the way to deal with it. Your brother would be quite ashamed of you."
Jo whimpered. "Drew," she whispered. Struggling faintly, she attempted to dislodge Dragon Borg's hands, but failed. The Astral Borg's grip was like iron.
"It must hurt, having someone you love turn against you that way," Dragon Borg went on, his voice a little gentler. "But you must remember, that was- not- Drew." The tone of the last three words was short and flat, like a slap to the face. "The REAL Drew is a prisoner, behind whatever Shadowborg has done to him. The thing that you faced today is nothing but an imposter, just another of Nukus' monsters in a new form. If you give up, then Nukus has won, and there is no hope for your brother. But you are stronger than that. The strength of your body pales next to the strength in your heart. You must fight, Jo, if Drew is ever to have any chance of returning to us."
Throughout Dragon Borg's speech, the light had steadily been returning to Jo's eyes. As the Astral Borg finished speaking, Jo's paralysis broke entirely, and she threw her arms around his neck, sobbing quietly. Dragon Borg held her gently, allowing her to cry. Then, rising, he handed the little girl off to her mother, who wrapped her in another embrace, and the two began to cry together.
"Well, that's one down," Tasha said quietly.
"And one to go," finished JB.
Rosa nodded. "Let's show Shadowborg that when he messes with us, he's playing with fire."