Morning dawned on Angel Grove, bright and clear. As the sun rose higher,
the birds began to sing, breaking the early morning stillness. At one house,
however, the silence was split by other sounds.
"Rocky! Arriba! Levantese ahora!" Maria De Santos called up the stairs.
"Si, Mama," came the answering mumble. "Five more minutes."
"NOW, Rocky," she replied, striding up the stairs and into his room. In answer, Rocky pulled the pillows down farther over his head.
Mrs. De Santos had finally reached the limits of her patience. "Rockford Eduardo De Santos, get yourself out of that bed this instant, or-" Maria paused, trying to think up an appropriate threat. "Or I will sic Emilia and Miguel on you!"
Rocky eeped, shooting straight up out of the bed. He hit the ground running, beating his fourteen-year old sister Lindsey to the bathroom easily, slamming the door in her face. Maria sighed. Life with eight children was never easy, and today was promising to be more complicated than most.
"Why did I have to get up so early, Mom?" Rocky asked over breakfast. "It's Saturday."
"Rocky, did you forget? I have an early meeting with a client. I need you to get the Wolf Pack here-" she gestured to the children running around them, "dressed and off to their various activities. Lindsey has ballet lessons at nine. You'll have to drive her there, but I can pick her up. Rosa's going over to Parks' house to play with Franklin. They're close enough that she can walk. Just make sure there are no holes in her clothes. Juan has baseball practice at nine thirty. You'll have to drive him, too, but the coach will bring him home. Miguel and Emilia have a doctor's appointment at ten, then you can take them to their play group. Alex's Cub Scout troop is going on an all-day trip, so just drop him off at the school around nine forty-five. I know you're going to be in the car a lot, but you don't have to pick any of them up, and then you can go do something with Adam and Tommy, or whoever."
Rocky sighed. Ever since his father died eight years ago, not long after Alejandro, affectionately known as Alex, was born, he had been the one riding herd on the combined De Santos children. Pedro, his older brother, had been the man of the house, taking care of getting things and people put together, but Rocky had been the one to bandage scraped knees, fix dinner, and generally mother all of the kids.
Now that Pedro was away at college, Rocky himself was in charge of everything. It played havoc with any chance of a social life, but Rocky was used to it. Luckily, it hadn't ever interfered with his duties as a Power Ranger.
After his mother left, Rocky's work began in earnest. Lindsey, the oldest at fourteen, was not a problem. She was dressed in her leotard, with her lunch packed, after about ten minutes. Rosa, his thirteen-year old tomboy sister, was another matter. She had fallen in love with a pair of jeans that had so many holes in them that they whistled in a high wind. Not until he had folded his arms across his chest and refused to let her out the door unless she changed did she agree to wear another pair.
Juan was also fairly easy to handle. At ten, he was quite capable of dressing himself, so all Rocky had to do was make his lunch. That was easier said than done, though. Juan's favorite sandwich was peanut butter and onions! Holding his nose, Rocky made the sandwich.
Miguel and Emilia, the nine-year old twins, were a problem. They could dress themselves, but if they weren't watched constantly, they were extremely slow. Rocky's general proceedure was to do all the other kids first and come back to those two when he had more time.
Alex was the eight-year old baby of the family. Putting on clothes wasn't his problem. Picking them out was. He had absolutely no sense of fashion, and often wound up in the most atrocious outfits imaginable. Picking out an outfit, Rocky laid it on Alex's bed and moved on.
Herding them all into the car presented its own challenge, but somehow Rocky managed to get them all to their assigned places. There'd been a tense moment at the doctors, when the nurses had tried to separate them in order to give them shots, but Rocky had managed to convince the doctors of the inadvisability of that. Miguel and Emilia hated to be apart, and would raise the roof with their howls. Finally, after an exhausting morning, Rocky returned home, ready to collapse into an armchair and maybe take a nap before lunch. Unfortunately, that was averted by the tell-tale beep of his communicator.
"I read you, Zordon. What's up?" Rocky sighed wearily.
"Please teleport to the Power Chamber. There is something I wish to discuss with you."
"I'll be right there. Rocky out." Getting up slowly, he stretched. "Well, at least that doesn't sound like a monster attack. Maybe I'll get that nap after all." Pressing a button on his communicator, he teleported out.
* * *
"Okay, Zordon, I'm here. What's the problem?" Rocky asked.
"Observe the viewing globe." Rocky turned and as he did so, he saw a strange temple in what appeared to be a forested area. "That is the Temple of Cherila, on the planet of Crilatia. Cherila was a powerful witch, who long ago trapped an evil being known as Graniton in a pure crystal. This crystal, the Crystal of Cherila, is located within the temple." The image on the viewing globe changed. Now there appeared a woman with almost white-blond hair, light blue eyes, and pale skin. She was clad all in black, in some sort of armor. Despite her striking beauty, Rocky immediately disliked her.
"That is Roralia, an evil witch of great power. She seeks to release Graniton from his confinement, in a ceremony which may take place only once every ten thousand years, within the temple upon the next full moon, tonight."
"Cutting it kind of close, aren't we?" Rocky asked dryly.
"If I had known about it sooner, I would have moved earlier. As it is, I only just found out. The lucky thing is that we had any warning at all. If we hadn't, Graniton's release might have already been achieved."
"Let me guess, that would be a bad thing, wouldn't it?" Rocky smiled wryly.
"Yes, Rocky, it would. Graniton is a being of unmatched power and evil. If released, he will once again begin his conquest of the universe, and I am afraid that there will be no one who can stop him. Cherila was more powerful than any mage before or since, and she used all her power to contain Graniton. Even so, her own life was forefeit."
Rocky raised an eyebrow. "So what you're saying is, we've got to keep Roralia from getting her hands on the Crystal so that Mr. Big doesn't get loose, right?"
"Exactly," Zordon replied, smiling slightly.
"So where's everyone else?"
"I am afraid, Rocky, that you must do this on your own. You know, of course, that I have some of the same mental powers that Christina has."
"Well, yeah, we always knew that you were telepathic and telekinetic."
"I also have a small gift of prophecy. Very small; it only results in premonitions and vague dreams. These premonitions tell me that you are the only Ranger qualified to make this journey. Perhaps, later, the other Rangers may come to your aid, but for now, you must go alone. Your instincts will guide you to the temple."
Rocky swallowed. In all his life, he had never been alone, had never really wanted to be. Oh, sure, there were times when he had wanted privacy, especially with his younger brothers and sisters around, but he had always been able to go out and have someone to talk to. As he had grown older, he had met Adam and Aisha, and the three of them had been inseparable. After becoming a Power Ranger, he had really never been alone, because Zordon and Alpha were always there for him. Truth be told, loneliness was one of the few things he was afraid of.
His own fear was unimportant, however. What mattered was the responsibility, the job at hand. "All right," he sighed. "I'm ready. Should I morph?"
Zordon shook his head. "No, Rocky. Your Zeo energy signal would be to easy for Roralia to detect. Only morph if you absolutely must, for when you do, Roralia will be able to find you."
Rocky nodded grimly. "Fine. Prepare to teleport."
"Good luck, Rocky," Zordon replied softly, as the teen dissolved into a crackle of blue light. "May the Power protect you."
* * *
Rocky landed in a clearing of a forested area. Turning, he tried to get his bearings. "The temple is- that way," he pointed, surprised at how sure he was. However, he had trusted Zordon this long, so there was no real reason to stop. Shrugging, he set off through the woods, glad he had worn his hiking boots today. "I'd better get moving. By the look of those shadows, it's already noon."
As he crested a rise, he stopped. Suddenly he was certain he was being watched. No sound or movement had given the lurkers away; he simply knew they were there. He had trusted this sixth sense all his life, and it had kept him out of numerous bad situations. Turning slowly, he sighed. Too late. There behind him stood several young men in clothes of what appeared to be leather, watching him suspiciously and holding spears. Spears that were pointed directly at him.
"Um, hi," he managed. Zordon had informed them that the Powers acted as translators, allowing them to speak with any race they came into contact with. Hoping he was doing the right thing, he launched into the speech Zordon had given them for if they crossed paths with any natives during their travels. "I'm Rocky De Santos, The Blue Ranger."
That got a response. The leader squinted at him and finally replied, "Under whose authority?"
"Zordon of Eltare," Rocky answered, mentally relaxing. They were on firmer territory now.
"Prove it," demanded the man.
"Um, I can't. I'm not allowed to morph right now. It would be a very bad thing."
The men conferred for a moment, in tones too low for Rocky to hear. Then the leader turned back to him. "We will take you to Tithon, our elder. He will know if you speak the truth." The leader motioned with his spear, and Rocky set off in the indicated direction, hoping that the elder would believe him. Skewered on a spear on an alien planet was not how he wanted to end his days.
Soon they came to a village of small, wooden houses. The procession stopped outside a slightly larger house, and one of the spearmen went inside. After a few minutes, he came back out with an older man, who was obviously in charge. His posture was erect, despite his advanced age, and Rocky instantly liked him.
"You say you are a Ranger?" the man asked, raising one eyebrow.
"I am, sir," Rocky replied respectfully.
"Yet you cannot prove it?"
"The only way to prove it would be to morph, and I can't do that. It would attract the attention of parties I don't particularly want the attention of."
Tithon chuckled. "Well said, young one. I do sense the Morphin power within you, but it is not the only energy. What other trust do you bear?"
"I'm a Zeo Ranger. My Power Coin was destroyed, and I needed another power fast. Besides, the Machine King is attacking my planet and Morphin Powers don't work too well against him."
Tithon shook his head. "While you do bear the energies of a Ranger, I have no way of knowing if you are still active. Even those who have had their powers taken away still bear the stamp of them. If you cannot prove your claim, I can give you no assistance."
Sighing, Rocky hung his head. How on earth was he going to prove that he was a Ranger? He couldn't morph without bringing Roralia down on his head, and that wouldn't be good for the village, either.
Just then, a woman ran up to the elder, on the verge of hysteria. "Tithon, Joni has collapsed! I have no idea what's wrong with her! She's just tossing and turning."
Tithon looked at his feet sadly. "With no healer in the village, I am afraid we can do nothing for her, Sarinda."
Rocky's head snapped up. "Wait a minute! I'm not exactly a healer, but I might be able to help her!" Turning toward Sarinda, he caught the distraught woman by the shoulders. "What are her symptoms? What is she doing?"
"She's unconscious, she won't wake up. She just mumbles and tosses and turns."
"Fever? Vomiting? Does she have a rash?"
"She has a fever, that's all."
Rocky turned back towards the elder. "Look, among my people, I'm a healer of a sort. Maybe I can help this little girl, but I have to be able to examine her. Will you let me try?"
Tithon regarded him for a long moment, then nodded. "This way." The elder led him to a small house on the outskirts of town. Inside, Rocky found a little girl, approximately the same age as Alex, tossing and turning on a pallet.
"Hey, Joni," he whispered, kneeling by the bed. "You not feeling so good? Well, I'm going to fix you up, okay?" He put his hand on her forehead, and almost immediately drew it back again. "She's burning up! Has she eaten anything today?"
"Not since breakfast," Sarinda replied, wringing her hands.
"Have you kept an eye on her all that time? Sometimes kids eat things they aren't supposed to, especially in a forest."
"Her older brothers were with her all the time. They would have kept her from eating anything."
Rocky nodded. "Yeah, it figures. Her symptoms really aren't consistent with poisoning, anyway. No vomiting, no rash," he lifted one of her eyelids, "and her pupils are constricted. Look, I'm gonna need some ice or cold water, lots of it."
"There is a cold stream nearby," Tithon replied.
"Great. Go soak blankets in it, lots of blankets. We have to keep her cool. If her fever gets too high, her brain could be damaged. Plus, I need any herbal remedies you might have to reduce fever." For a minute, no one moved. "Go!" he cried. Instantly, the people were in motion. Turning back to his patient, Rocky began examining her. No obvious wounds, and nothing swollen or hotter than the rest of her body. "No infection," he muttered. "What's wrong with her?"
Suddenly, Joni's eyes opened, and she screamed, loud and long, scratching at the air in front of her as if she were fighting something. Quickly, Rocky grabbed her wrists, pinning them down to the bed.
Joni's scream had brought most of the village running. As they entered, Rocky looked up. "Get those blankets over here, now!" As Joni was packed in the wet blankets, her eyes slipped closed, and she relaxed. Rubbing a hand over his face, Rocky sat back.
"She's not sick. Something is affecting her." Closing his eyes, he began to relax. Rocky's grandmother on the De Santos side had been, in her day, one of the best curanderas in her area of Mexico. Of all her grandchildren, only Rocky had the necessary talent to become a curandero, a healer of not only the body, but the mind and spirit as well. She had taught him many things, and he had learned them well. Now he sent himself into the trance that allowed him to examine the child on the spiritual plane. As he had suspected, a black shadow had the little girl backed into a corner, and she was almost catatonic with fear. Ignoring the shadow, Rocky crossed to Joni and extended his hand. "Hey, Joni. You all right?" She just looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes.
"Hey, it's okay. I'm a friend. My name's Rocky. I'm here to help you. What say we get out of here? Your mom is really worried about you."
For a long moment, she just stared at him, and then extended her hand. Taking it, he picked her up in his arms and turned to face the shadow.
"She isss mine!" the shadow hissed. "You have no right to her!"
"Joni's a little girl, not a tote bag. She belongs to herself. And she's going home, right, Joni?"
"Yes!" the little girl declared loudly, holding tighter to Rocky as she did so.
"Neither of you will leave this place!" The shadow flowed towards them, threatening to swallow them in its depths.
"Go jump in a lake," Rocky shot back, raising a hand. A beam of light shot out of his hand, pinning the shadow in place. "Come on, Joni. Give me a hand with this guy, okay?"
Nodding, Joni concentrated, and a beam of light shot from her as well. The combined lights were too much for the shadow, and it broke up, dissolving into a dark smoke.
"See, he wasn't so tough," Rocky grinned at the girl in his arms. "Time to go back to the real world, Joni."
She nodded, fading out in his arms. "Thank you," she smiled, just before she disappeared completely.
Opening his eyes, Rocky found himself back in the house, with Joni lying beside him. Slowly, her eyes began to open. "Mommy?" she whimpered.
"Joni!" Sarinda blew past everyone else, nearly knocking Rocky into a wall. Reaching the side of the bed, she scooped the little girl up in her arms and covered her with kisses.
Tithon put a hand on Rocky's shoulder. "You have done well, young Ranger. Come, let us go outside." They left Joni and her mother to their celebration and walked out into the street. "What was wrong with the child?"
"Some sort of psychic vampire. It was attacking her spirit. You get a lot of those around here?" Rocky asked.
"Not for millennia, since the defeat of Grantilon. A great surge of evil energy must be in the area to have resurrected it. Which brings me to my question. Why are you here, Ranger of Earth?"
Rocky sighed. "It's a long story, and if it's all the same to you, I'd rather tell it sitting down, without spears pointed at my back. Do you mind telling your friends here to lay off?" Despite the events in the house, when Rocky had emerged, he had instantly found himself at spear-point again.
With a wave of his hand, Tithon backed the spear-weilders away. "Do come inside, young Ranger. We can discuss this better in the comfort of my home."
"You can call me Rocky," Rocky told him, following the man inside his house. "We're not big on titles where I come from."
"Very well then, Rocky. What brings you to Crilatia?"
"An evil witch named Roralia is after the Crystal of Cherila. I'm here to stop her from getting it."
"Even here we have heard of Roralia's power. Do you truly believe that you can defeat her by yourself?"
"There were- reasons I had to come alone," Rocky answered, wishing he knew what those reasons were. "Besides, I hope that I never have to find out. My mission is to get into the temple, get the crystal and get out before she gets there, and keep it safe until the full moon has passed. Then she can't perform the spell to release Graniton for another ten thousand years."
"Then you will return the crystal to the temple?" Tithon asked shrewdly.
"Absolutely. I have no use for it."
"My grandson, Andilar, will guide you. Andilar!" he called. From another room came a young boy of about ten, with dark hair and eyes.
"You will guide this young Ranger to the temple, correct?"
"Of course, Grandfather."
"Now just hold on a second!" Rocky exploded. "I don't think this is going to be dangerous, but I can't be certain! I might make it there before Roralia, or I might not! I can't take a kid along with me!"
"You will never reach the temple without a guide. Andilar is quite capable of taking care of himself, and melting into the jungle if necessary. He will not be a burden to you."
"Fine," sighed Rocky, accepting defeat. "Come on, Andilar. Let's go."
* * *
After walking a long way, the two stopped to rest and get a better view of the lay of the land. Climbing a tree, the two boys perched in its flat top, looking out over the forest. "There," Andilar pointed. "In that clearing lies the temple. We should make it before dusk."
"Good," Rocky replied, pointing in another direction. "Cause I think we have company." To the east, a ball of fire was touching down, luckily in a rocky, barren area. It flickered out, but Rocky had a pretty good idea of what it meant. "By the pricking of my thumbs,/ Something wicked this way comes," he mumbled, sliding down from the tree.
"What?" Andilar asked, following him.
"It's from a play on my planet. It's called Macbeth."
"It's a long story," Rocky replied. "Let's get moving. Roralia and friends have just arrived, and I don't think they're going to be the welcoming committee."
"You say the strangest things," Andilar remarked, shaking his head as they headed off into the brush.
The two walked in silence for a while, until Rocky, constitutionally unable to stay silent for long, asked, "So, you know this area pretty well?"
"It is my duty to know. My mother is the Temple Guardian, and I am her heir. I am also next in line for the position of village elder, now that my father is dead."
"Your dad's dead? I'm sorry. Did it just happen?"
"My father has been dead two years," Andilar replied sadly. "He was killed in battle with pirates from another solar system. We had no Rangers to protect us, and so had to launch an all-out war against them. Many brave warriors were killed, including my father. That is why we have no healer in the village."
Rocky put a hand on the younger boy's shoulder. "I know how you feel. My dad died in a car accident, eight years ago. He was coming home from work, and he hit a slick spot. He wasn't speeding, he hadn't been drinking, it just wasn't fair. Anyway, with Dad gone, my older brother and I had to split the task of being the man of the house."
"I am the oldest of my family. I've spent a lot of time studying this area. It's almost as familiar to me as my own village."
"That's a lot of responsibility for a ten-year old. Do you ever blow off steam?"
"Go have fun, get away from your responsibilities for a while."
"Occasionally, but not often. My mother needs me. Besides, it's my duty."
Stopping, Rocky turned the boy to face him. "Andilar, I was nine when my father died. My brother Pedro was twelve. Our mother was faced with trying to raise eight children, all by herself. Pedro and I had a lot of responsibilities, but our mom always made sure we had time to be kids. Duty is a great thing, and taking care of your business is essential. But if you don't have fun once in a while, you're going to burn out, and then you won't be of any use to anybody. You're ten years old. You can't carry the whole world on your shoulders. Your mom and your grandfather understand that. They don't make you work all the time, do they?"
"No, but I do. I'm always studying, the law of the village, or the laws of the temple. I have to know these things."
"Yeah, but you don't have to know them right now. Now's the time to be a kid, to have fun. If you don't have fun, you're going to blow up, you know."
"Really?" Andilar asked, his eyes wide.
"Sure. I have a friend it happened to. His name's Adam. He's always so serious, always studying, or practicing martial arts, and one day, his parents came into his room, and he was all swelled up, like this." Rocky puffed out his cheeks. Andilar laughed, having realized that Rocky was teasing him.
"Isn't this sweet?" a woman's voice oozed. Rocky and Andilar turned towards the sound, Rocky instinctively shoving the boy behind him. At the edge of the clearing stood Roralia, backed up by a very burly felinoid male and an army of extremely thin humanoid creatures with dead faces and empty, staring eyes.
"Roralia, I presume?" Rocky asked smoothly, feeling Andilar slipping away behind him.
"Yes, indeed. And you must be one of Zordon's little Power children."
"What, is it tatooed on my forehead?" Rocky asked rhetorically.
"No, you simply have the most unusual combination of energy signatures. Zeo and Morphin Energy. I suppose you've come to stop me from freeing Graniton, my master?"
"That was the general idea. Speaking of Morphin, it's morphin time! Zeo Ranger III, Blue!" In a flash of light, Rocky was transformed into the Blue Ranger.
"There, now, that makes us more even, doesn't it? Anyone for a dance?"
Roralia's face hardened. "Muktar, Shadow Wraiths, attack!"
The Shadow Wraiths swarmed over Blue Ranger, but he beat them back with ease. Shadow Wraiths were not strong on strategy, relying on their sheer numbers and energy-draining touch to defeat an enemy. However, Blue Ranger was used to fighting against superior numbers, and was certainly agile enough to avoid the grasp of the Wraiths. When the last of them hit the ground, he turned towards Muktar, only to see that the cat-man held a writhing Andilar tightly by the arms.
"Let him go," Blue Ranger growled, stepping forward.
"No, I don't think so," Roralia replied smugly. "I'm calling the shots here, and if you don't want the little brat ripped apart, you'll demorph immediately. Then throw me your morphing tools."
With a defeated sigh, Rocky did as he was ordered. As soon as he did so, Muktar shoved Andilar at a Shadow Wraith that had managed to pick itself up off the ground. Sneering, the cat-man strolled over to where Rocky was standing. With a touch of alarm, Rocky noted that the other stood a few inches taller than he, and definitely topped him on muscle mass. Even so, Rocky was unprepared when Muktar slammed him in the stomach.
Sinking to his knees, Rocky fought to keep from passing out. Can't... fight back, he thought blearily, through the haze of pain. If I do, they'll... hurt Andilar. All coherent thought temporarily left him when he was pulled to his feet and Muktar began raining blows on his body.
Staggering, Rocky tried to get his hands up between himself and his attacker, but it was hopeless. A backhand caught him across the face, and he tasted the copper of his own blood. Methodically, Muktar pummeled Rocky along the torso, front and back. Finally, Rocky could no longer stand and he fell to the ground. Two swift kicks caught him in the side, and dimly he could hear the sickening snap of ribs breaking.
One of the techniques his grandmother had taught him allowed him to shut down all outside stimulus for a while and retreat into himself. While many people could do this, only those trained in mental disciplines could come back easily. Rocky called on that knowledge now, gratefully trading the pain in his body for the oblivion of his mind. His body went limp and, mercifully, everything went black.
* * *
Pain. That was the first thing Rocky's mind picked up on as he slowly came back to life. "Ooggh," he groaned, opening his eyes slowly. "Where am I?"
"We're in the temple," Andilar replied, coming to his side. "How do you feel?"
"Pretty good for a guy who's just had the shit beaten out of him," Rocky replied painfully. "Are you all right?"
"Let me check." Slowly, Rocky ran his hands over his body, testing for breaks. "Well, I've been better, but the ribs seem to have healed all right. I feel like I was trampled by an elephant, but I've had worse. No head injuries. I guess they wanted to avoid brain damage. It's the only thing Ranger powers can't heal. Are you all right?"
"They didn't hurt me. I'm not exactly sure why we're still alive, though."
"I can tell you one thing," Rocky sighed, sitting up slowly. "It ain't out of the kindness of Roralia's heart."
"I'm scared." The look on Andilar's face said it cost him something to admit that. Rocky decided he could do no less.
"Yeah, me too. The Rangers will find us, though. They always do."
* * *
"What do you mean, you lost contact with him?" Tommy asked. "I thought you had him under constant watch."
"I did, Tommy. However, when Rocky lost consciousness, I lost the link. That is probably why Roralia had her henchman knock Rocky out. With Rocky unconscious, I can no longer track him."
"Well, can't you just pick him up when he wakes up?" Katarina asked.
"I only wish I could. However, by that time, Roralia will have him in the temple, which blocks my scanners and psychic senses. I am afraid that if Rocky does not signal us somehow, perhaps with his communicator, we will be unable to find him."
"Zordon, I still don't understand why we couldn't go with him," Kat sighed.
"I am not quite sure I understand it either, Katherine. I simply know that the rest of you could not accompany Rocky on his trip to the temple."
"Adam, aren't you worried at all?" Tanya asked her boyfriend. Adam shook his head.
"No, I'm not. Rocky is very good at taking care of himself. People think he's stupid, but he's not. He's just- Rocky. He's got a goofy sense of humor, no tact, and not a dishonest bone in his body. Rocky is completely open and direct. That makes people think he's stupid, and boy are they surprised. This Roralia will underestimate him, just like everybody else. That's Rocky's greatest asset."
"I hope you're right, Adam," Christina sighed. "There's a lot riding on this."
* * *
After examining the walls of their prison thoroughly, Rocky finally realized that there was no way out of the dungeon. "We can't escape, and since that witch has my Zeonizers, we can't fight our way out. Man! I wish the other Rangers were here!" An idea suddenly popped into Rocky's head. "That's it! Andilar, come here." The little boy scrambled to his feet and crossed the room to where Rocky stood. "This is my communicator. It allows me to call the other Rangers. I can't use it in here, because the walls are too thick. Even if the call got through, they'd never find us. If you could get outside the temple, though, you could call them. You press this button here, and just start talking. Tell them what happened and then stay on the line long enough for them to trace the signal back."
"How do I get out of here, though?"
Rocky grinned. "When they come to take us out of here, I'll cause a ruckus, and you can slip away. With your knowledge of the temple, you can easily give those guys the slip and get outside, right?"
"All right. Be ready; I think we have company." Sure enough, the door swung open and there stood Muktar in the ugly flesh.
"You. Out," he growled.
"Yes, sir," Rocky cracked. No sooner had he and Andilar cleared the door than he threw himself at the nearest Wraith. During the fight, Andilar slipped around a corner and disappeared.
Rocky fought bravely, but without his powers, he was quickly subdued by the Wraiths. "That was stupid, human," Muktar growled. "What did you hope to- hey! Where's the little boy!"
Although he knew he was asking for pain, Rocky couldn't help smirking at the cat-man's confusion. "Gee, weren't you watching him? I was kind of busy." Growling, Muktar slammed Rocky in the stomach.
"If Mistress Roralia didn't want you intact, human, I would show you pain like you have never experienced before," he rumbled.
"Pain is relative," Rocky wheezed. "I've been hurt worse than you could ever do to me." His mind ranged back to Jennifer. He had loved her so much, and when she died, he had only known one way to blunt the pain. As a result, he had spent two days dead drunk up at the family cabin before his brother had stormed up there and dried him out forcibly. Since then, he hadn't touched a drop, no matter how badly he hurt. Nothing the cat-man did to him could match that pain.
"Oh, don't be so sure, human. The Mistress is an expert in pain. She has refined it to a work of art. Soon, you will experience that first hand."
"Talk is cheap," Rocky growled. "Let's get moving."
"Tommy, stop pacing," Lillian grimaced. "You're making me seasick."
"I'm sorry, Lil," Tommy apologized, coming to sit next to her. "I'm just worried about Rocky. We haven't had any word from him in too long."
"Power Rangers, come in. Please, come in! Is anybody out there?" A young boy's voice echoed through the Power Chamber. The Rangers leaped to their feet quickly.
"This is the Red Ranger," Tommy replied. "Who are you?"
"My name is Andilar. I was assigned to guide Rocky to the Temple of Cherila. We were captured by Roralia. I got away, thanks to Rocky. He told me to call you. Please, we need your help."
"Where are you?" Kat asked.
"I'm right outside the temple. Please, hurry. I have no idea what's happening, but I don't like it!"
"We'll be right there," Tommy assured him. "Zordon, can you get us there?"
"Then it's morphin time!" In a flash of light, the nine teens became the Zeo Rangers.
"Prepare to teleport," Zordon intoned. "May the Power protect you." The Rangers dissolved into nine beams of colored light and disappeared.
* * *
Rattling the chains that bound him to one wall of the temple's main room, Rocky snorted in disgust. "Didn't I see this in a movie once?" he asked no one in particular.
"I know the chains are a trifle melodramatic," Roralia told him sweetly, "but they were already here, and they're so convenient. After all, we can't have you getting loose before the ceremony is over, can we?"
"You know, I don't understand something. What on earth could you possibly need me for? You've got your crystal, you've got your goons. Why am I still alive?"
"Why, you're an integral part of the ceremony! Didn't Zordon tell you? When Cherila confined Graniton to the crystal all those millennia ago, she destroyed his body. All that's left in the crystal is his spirit. Of course, if I'm going to free him, he'll need a host. A host that's young, strong, healthy, and powerful. I think a Power Ranger is an excellent choice, don't you?"
Rocky raised an eyebrow. "You don't really want me to answer that, do you?"
She looked thoughtful. "Mmm, no." Turning away from him, she crossed to the altar where the crystal sat. While her back was turned, Muktar walked over to Rocky, sneering evilly. Before Rocky could react, Muktar had thumped him in the stomach once again.
"One more for good measure, human," the felinoid grinned.
"That's- three I owe you, Muktar," Rocky wheezed, his eyes blazing. "You're going to be- very sorry when I collect."
The cat-man didn't answer, just returned to his place along the wall. In the center of the floor, Roralia raised her hands above. "The moon has risen! Let the ceremony begin!" She began to chant in a language which gave Rocky chills, even though he couldn't understand it. The atmosphere began to thicken, and he began to sense the presence of an evil that made Mondo and Machina look like spoiled children. The crystal on the altar began to glow with an unholy light, and a cloud of darkness began to rise from it. The sound of thunder rumbled through the room, dimly at first, growing louder as it went on.
Rocky didn't pray outside of church very often. Most of the time, he preferred to get along on his own, and not bother God with his problems. Now, however, he dropped to his knees, crossed himself and began to pray in earnest. The sound of his voice repeating the ancient words made an eerie counterpoint to Roralia's chanting.
The power in the room grew until it seemed that it would surely explode. The dark cloud, now covering almost half the room, moved until it surrounded Rocky. In the center of the darkness, Rocky could feel the evil seeping into his body. He had time for one thought- God help me!- and everything went black.
* * *
After teleporting, the Rangers found themselves in a strange forested area. In front of them stood a little boy of about ten, holding Rocky's communicator.
"Andilar?" Red Ranger asked.
The boy nodded. "Yes, I am Andilar. Thank you for coming so quickly Rangers."
"Where's Rocky?" Silver Ranger cried, pushing to the front of the group.
"In there," Andilar replied, gesturing towards the temple. "I am afraid you may be too late, though. I have heard the sounds of the ceremony beginning."
"Then we'll just have to interrupt it," Green Ranger told him.
"Yeah! I love party crashing," laughed Purple Ranger.
"Everyone be careful," White Ranger cautioned. "I sense strong evil coming from that place."
Silently, the Rangers moved out, following Andilar. When they reached the front doors of the temple, they were not surprised to see a legion of Shadow Wraiths guarding the entrance.
"Hmm, a welcoming committee," Gold Ranger mused. "Ladies, do you want to do the honors?" he asked. Purple and Black Rangers nodded.
"Hey you! You're so ugly, your momma has to put a bag over your head to kiss you good-bye in the morning!" Black Ranger called.
"Yo momma's so stupid she sits on the TV to watch the couch!" added Purple Ranger.
"Yo momma's so fat, her high school picture was an aerial photo!"
"When she sits around the house, she sits around the house!"
Red Ranger sighed and shrugged. "She's nuts, but I love her."
Unorthodox though the girls' methods were, they had the desired effect. The Shadow Wraiths were alerted to the teens' presence and attacked. Against nine Power Rangers, however, they never had a chance. Very quickly, the Shadow Wraiths were history.
"C'mon! We've got to get inside!" Yellow Ranger cried. Hurrying through the corridors of the temple, the Rangers spilled into the main room and stopped dead. In the middle of the room stood Rocky, strapping his Zeonizers back onto his wrists. Once they were on, they disappeared again. Then, seeming to sense their presence, he looked up- and they all gasped. Rocky's eyes weren't the familiar warm brown they had been this morning. Now they were red, and glowed with an unholy light.
"Welcome, Power Rangers," the Rocky-thing greeted them casually. The voice was Rocky's, but the tone held an ice in it that none of them had ever heard. "I am Graniton, master of a thousand words across the galaxy. Bow down before me, and I may yet let you live."
"In your dreams, pal," Red Ranger shot back coldly.
"What have you done with Rocky?" demanded Green Ranger.
"The young man who this body used to belong to? Oh, he's gone, completely. There was a rather brief struggle for the body, and," Graniton shrugged, "he lost."
"NO!" Silver Ranger screamed. "You lie!"
Graniton chuckled, a sound eerily like and yet unlike Rocky's. "Frequently, my dear, but not at the moment." He studied her intently. "You know, you are rather appealing, with your fiery spirit. Come here." He extended a hand, and Silver Ranger found herself pulled across the floor towards him. When she came with in arm's reach, he snapped his fingers and her uniform morphed back into her street clothes. "Yes, you are quite attractive," he mused, pulling her closer. "I think I'll spare you. You'll make an excellent concubine, once I am master of this world."
Katarina struggled in his hold, even though she knew it was fruitless. "I'd rather die!" she hissed.
"I'm afraid that's not your decision," he smiled. His hand touched her cheek, and she crumpled to the ground in a dead faint. "Now, Power Rangers," he turned back towards them, his hands extended, "you die." His hands began to shine with the same unholy light as his eyes. The Rangers braced themselves for his first strike, knowing they could never survive it. Raising his hands above his head, Granitor prepared to release his power. That was when all hell broke loose.
* * *
When Granitor entered his body, Rocky had no time to fight back. He immediately found himself locked in a dark cocoon, deep in his own mind. For the first time in ages, Rocky panicked. He was completely, totally alone, with no contact with the outside world whatsoever. Immediately, the terror of the days immediately following his father's death came rushing back. In the darkness, he could hear the creatures that had haunted his nightmares slithering around. The worst dream hadn't had a monster in it, though. Instead, he had run from place to place, shouting for his mother, his father, anyone- but no one answered. The streets had been empty, devoid of people- and he had been completely alone. Total isolation was the one thing that frightened Rocky De Santos to the edge of madness.
You're not alone, Rocky, a voice whispered.
"Who's there?" he cried in alarm, turning ceaselessly. Nothing was there.
Your friends are always with you. Suddenly his own voice came back to him, like words on the wind, repeating something he had said to Tommy once.
"He's still our friend, man. No distance- no amount of stars can change that."
Unconsciously, Rocky's hand crept to the cross around his neck, a gift from his father a few days before he died. Your family is always with you. Your faith is always with you. You are never truly alone.
Taking a deep breath, Rocky calmed himself. The voice was right. He wasn't alone. Now it was time to stop whining like a frightened child and take control of the situation.
Using techiques his grandmother had taught him, he reached out and cautiously reattatched himself to his senses. It was slow going, because he had to make sure that Granitor did not notice him doing it. Finally he managed, however, and could see and hear what was going on.
Katarina struggled in his hold, even though she knew it was fruitless. "I'd rather die!" she hissed.
"I'm afraid that's not your decision," he smiled. His hand touched her cheek, and she crumpled to the ground in a dead faint. "Now, Power Rangers, you die." Raising his hands above his head, Granitor prepared to release his power.
"NOOO!" Rocky screamed. "NOT MY FRIENDS!" With all the strength within him, with all his knowledge of the spirit, and with all his love for his friends, Rocky reached out and pulled Graniton down into the cocoon that surrounded him.
Here, Graniton appeared to be a man in his late twenties, with night-dark hair and eyes. The eyes glowed red at regular intervals. "Fool!" he hissed. "You dare to challenge me?"
"Yeah. You want this body, you're going to have to fight for it. Let's rumble."
Graniton attacked, throwing balls of fire at Rocky. Batting them aside with ease, Rocky returned fire with a hail of blue lances. Graniton's eyes narrowed. "So, you have some skill in fighting at this level. Let's see how you handle this."
A creature began to coalece out of the darkness. With the head of a dragon, the body of a snake, and slime everywhere, it was a creature out of nightmare, specifically one of Rocky's. As it came closer to him, Rocky stood firm.
"That nightmare came from being afraid to be alone. I've got the answer to that right here." Nine colors blazed, and suddenly the other Rangers stood behind him. "My friends are always with me, and we're stronger than anything you can throw at us." Ten beams of color shot from the Rangers, striking the monster and utterly obliterating it. "Now for you," Rocky growled, as his form began to glow with blue light.
"Perhaps we can talk about this? Find me another host, perhaps that Tommy person, and we can rule together! I'm sure we can work something out."
"No deal. I am a Power Ranger, and you- are history!" All his power flowing into him, Rocky leaped up into the air and came down in a flying kick. His foot, glowing blue, smashed through Graniton, destroying him utterly. Suddenly the cocoon broke up, leaving Rocky in charge of his body again. Rocky, exhausted by the battle that had raged within him, dropped to his knees, panting.
"Rocky?" Green Ranger asked hesitantly. The Rangers had seen the light around Graniton's hands flicker out and had heard him arguing with himself, although they had been unable to make out the words. Suddenly his form began to glow blue, and he had collapsed. "Rocky?"
"I was when I got up this morning," Rocky replied weakly, trying to get to his feet. Quickly, Green and Gold Rangers were at his side, helping him to stand. "Oh, stop the world, Ma, I wanna get off." Blearily he regarded his friends. "Anybody got any Dramamine?"
That question, more than anything else, convinced the Rangers that Rocky was himself again, and they clustered around him, congratulating him on his victory. Rocky only had one thing on his mind, though.
"Where's Katarina?" he asked. Turning, he saw that she was still unconscious, lying on the floor of the temple. Crossing over to her, he raised her head gently. "Oh, what the hell. It works in fairy tales." Gently, he pressed a kiss to her lips. Instantly, her eyelids began to flutter, and her arms went around his neck. Finally, he broke the kiss.
"Does this mean I get to call you Sleeping Beauty?"
She smiled up at him. "Only if I get to call you Prince Charming." Grinning, he helped her to her feet.
"Come on," he told the Rangers, "let's go home. I've had enough of this place to last a lifetime." As they turned towards the door, another voice rang out.
"Not so fast, Power Rangers!" They turned to see Roralia glaring at them.
Rocky groaned. "I knew we forgot something."
"You may have defeated Graniton, but you will not be so lucky against me! Muktar, Wraiths, attack!"
Rocky looked at his girlfriend. "You wanna do the honors?"
"It's morphin time! Zeo Ranger VII, Silver!"
"Zeo Ranger III, Blue!"
"Let's kick some butt!" Blue Ranger cried. Splitting up, the Power Rangers took on the horde of Shadow Wraiths, punching, kicking, and wisecracking in true Ranger style. In the middle of the melee, Blue Ranger found himself face-to-face with Muktar. "I owe you something, buddy," he growled, kicking the cat-man in the stomach. "That's one!" The two traded a few more blows, and then Blue Ranger punched him in the face and kicked him in the stomach again. "That's two!" Delivering a roundhouse kick to his opponent's face, Blue Ranger launched yet another kick into Muktar's stomach. "And that's three! You're out!" Doing a backflip, Blue Ranger kicked the felinoid in the chin. That was the final blow, causing Muktar to collapse.
Meanwhile, across the room, Roralia found herself face to face with the Silver Ranger, who was not happy. "You mess with my boyfriend, be prepared to pay the price! Zeo VII energy whip!" The whip appeared in Silver Ranger's hand, its lash a trail of sparkling silver energy.
"Very nice," Roralia drawled. "Allow me to introduce you to my whip!" A black whip coaleced in her hand. The two women circled each other, the lashes of their whips flicking out at each other, testing each other's guard. Finally, Silver Ranger managed to snake her whip inside Roralia's guard. The lash wrapped around her arm, pulling it down and causing her to lose her grip on her own weapon. Looking up, Roralia realized that she was surrounded by Power Rangers and her lackeys had all gone.
"All right, you got me," she sighed insolently. "What are you going to do with me? I know you Power Rangers don't kill in cold blood."
"No. Instead, we've had Zordon call the IGPF to take you into custody. They should be here any second now," Red Ranger chuckled. At this piece of news, Roralia deflated visibly.
"Rocky?" Blue Ranger felt someone tugging on his hand and he looked down to see who it was. Andilar looked up at him. "Did we win?"
Chuckling, Blue Ranger ruffled the younger boy's hair. "Yeah, Andilar, I'd have to say we did."
* * *
"So Roralia and Muktar will be standing trial for their crimes, and Graniton is completely destroyed. The crystal has been returned to the temple, and Andilar is back with his family, hopefully with a less workaholic attitude," Rocky grinned. "I'd say that's a wrap."
"Indeed, Rangers," Zordon agreed. "You have all done well, especially you, Rocky. I am very proud of all of you." Rocky blushed.
"Zordon, there's something I don't understand," Jamie asked. "Why did Rocky have to go alone? And how was he able to fight off Graniton? No offense, Rocky, but you're not exactly a wizard."
"Rocky had to make the journey alone simply because he was the only Ranger who, if captured, could throw off Graniton's control. None of the rest of you could have done it. And while he is not a wizard, Rocky had a number of advantages that Cherila did not. One, Graniton was weakened by the fact that he was only a spirit. That robbed him of much of his magical ability. Two, the battleground was Rocky's mind and body, terrain that Rocky knew much more intimately than Graniton did."
"Homecourt advantage," Adam translated.
"Exactly. Three, Graniton was not expecting a fight. Both he and Roralia had assumed that Rocky was not very intelligent, and easily manipulated. When Rocky fought back, especially as skillfully as he did, Graniton was caught by surprise.
"The fourth reason is perhaps the most important. Graniton was pure evil. Rocky, on the other hand, is almost completely innocent." Katarina raised an eyebrow at this, and Rocky blushed even redder. "Rocky, you are direct and open, with little ability or desire to lie or mislead. While you are certainly human, with human failings, there is remarkably little evil in your soul. Without that interior darkness, Graniton could not get an effective grip on your soul.
"Most importantly, in many ways, you are still a child. I do not mean this in a derogatory sense; quite the opposite. While you have the mature outlook and responsibility of an adult, you have yet to lose a child's wonder at the world around you or a child's capacity for unquestioning belief. When you went up against Graniton, you trusted your instincts without question. Another person might have doubted their ability, but you did not. Most especially, you never doubted that you would win. You still retain a child's belief that good will always triumph over evil in the end."
Rocky thought about that for a minute. "You know, maybe that's why I get along with kids so well. I still understand how they see the world," he mused. Suddenly he started. "Oh my gosh! My mom must be going nuts about my whereabouts!"
"Actually, she's not. You see, Crilatia has a shorter day than Earth. Only seven hours have passed since you left Earth," Zordon told him. "Your mother believes you have been on an all-day hike with your friends, and will be returning home soon. There should be no problem."
Rocky wiped his brow. "Good. The De Santos family reunion is tomorrow, at my house, and the last thing I need is for my mom to be mad at me. Hey, do you guys want to come? You're all invited."
The Rangers looked at each other for a moment, then shrugged. "Sure, why not?" Tommy answered for all of them.
Adm grinned. "I'm always up for a De Santos family party."
"Me too," Katarina grinned. "Just as long as they don't give me a hard time about being your girlfriend this year."
"I promise," Rocky chuckled. "I'll see you all there tomorrow at eleven a.m., okay?" They nodded, and he teleported out.
* * *
De Santos family parties can usually be described in two words: organized chaos. Today was no exception. Even though it was nominally a De Santos family, the Hernadez clan, Rocky's mother's family, were also present in force. With aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts and uncles, second cousins once removed, and relatives for whom there was no real designation, there were upwards of a hundred people, eating, talking, partying and generally having a good time. Over everything, the sounds of Spanish and English mixed together, forming a pleasing if unintelligible sound.
Much to everyone's surprise, Lillian mixed with everybody, talking and laughing as if she'd always been a part of the gregarious group. What didn't surprise anyone was Jamie's instant and enthusiastic acceptance by the cousins. Jason was constantly at her side, often draping a possessive arm around her shoulders to discourage some of her more amorous admirers.
Making the rounds of the party, as he usually did, Rocky spied Adam and Tanya. Mama Carmen, Rocky's curandera grandmother, had snagged Adam and was once again trying to get him to become an apprentice curandero. Tanya stood off to one side, waiting patiently. Rocky grinned and shook his head. That had happened every year since he and Adam had met, and every year, Adam listened politely and cleared out as soon as possible. Despite his best friend's undeniable healing talent, he was far too self-effacing to ever admit that he had it.
Moving along, Rocky stopped to talk to Katarina and growl at his cousin's-husband's-sister's-son, Rodrigo, who was once again flirting with her. Rodrigo was the worst ladies' man Rocky had ever known, combining Zack's charm with an utter lack of respect for commitment. Every time Rocky turned his back, Rodrigo was once again romancing his girlfiend.
Trey was sitting looking slightly amazed as Tommy and Chelsea chattered away in rapid-fire Spanish to each other and two of his aunts. Rocky stopped, surprised at their command of the language. Looking up, Chelsea caught sight of his expression and correctly interpreted it. "We grew up in Los Angeles. Some of our best friends spoke only Spanish. We learned pretty quickly." Shrugging, Rocky moved on.
He found Billy, Christina, and Trini out in the garage with his cousin Hector, who was busily explaining his latest invention, a device for blocking electronic radio transmissions over a certain area. Noting the absorbed expression on the ex-Blue Ranger's face, Rocky had a pretty good idea of what Billy's next project would be. The four of them were far too absorbed in their discussion to notice him, so he moved on.
His next stop was the soccer game taking place on the side lawn. David and Skull were right in the thick of it, although the players spent almost as much time arguing over whether it was called "soccer" or "football" as they did playing. Rocky shook his head. Bilingual families made life very interesting. Kim and Kat sat on the sidelines talking and occasionally yelling at the soccer players to keep the noise down.
"Rocky! Venga aqui!" his mother called from the kitchen.
"Coming!" Rocky headed off to find out what his mother wanted.
* * *
Much later, after huge quantities of food had been consumed (Rocky had inherited his appetite from both sides of the family), Rocky took advantage of the lull in the activities to go find his grandmother. Sitting down next to her, he gave her a large hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"What was that for, zorrito?" she asked, surprised. She had always called him "little fox," ever since he had visited her in New Mexico and come in one night with a desert fox trailing him, neat as you please. It hadn't been domesticated; it wouldn't let anyone near it but Rocky. Even so, it would eat out of his hand and slept outside the window to his room every night. Mama Carmen had declared that the fox liked him because it sensed his kinship with animals. That was when she had decided that he would make a good curandero.
"I just love you, Mama Carmen. And I want to thank you for training me. It's been very important to me."
"When you have a talent, you must use it. Otherwise, it brings you hardship and pain. I try to tell your friend Adam this, but he just sits there nodding and does he listen to a word I say? Ha!"
Rocky smiled. "Adam uses his talents, all of them. It's just he uses them a different way."
"He would make a marvelous curandero," Mama Carmen sighed.
"Yeah, but he'll never admit he can do it. You know that. He heals people in his own way, in his own time."
"Si, you are right, but I will keep trying. It has become a tradition, no?" she chuckled. He laughed with her. "Rocky, you grow so fast. Already you remind me of your father at your age. Not your looks, no. Pedro got all of your father's features, it's true. You inherited so much of his personality. He was just like you, a man and a child all at once."
"I remember," Rocky said softly. There was the time his father had taken them all to the fair, and eaten as many sweets and ridden as many rides as any of the children. He remembered the nature walks they used to take together, and the enthralled tone in his father's voice as he pointed out spiderwebs covered with dew.
"You miss him, don't you, child?" Mama Carmen asked softly. At Rocky's nod, she continued. "I, too. But as long as we have memories, we are never truly alone. Comprende?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Mama Carmen. I love you."
"Te amo tambien, Rocky. Te amo mucho." Above them, in the gathering dusk, the stars began to come out, one by one, shining like precious memories.
Spanish words used in this story and their meanings:
Arriba! Levantese ahora!- Up! Get up now!
Si, Mama.- Yes, mother.
Venga aqui!- Come here!
Te amo tambien (mucho)- I love you too. (very much.)