Jason Lee, Zack Taylor, Trini Kwan, Kim Harte, Billy Cranston, Aisha Campbell, and Rocky DeSantos were all seated in various positions around the blanket Kim had spread out for them. It had taken quite some time, but they had all returned home at last. Less than a week earlier, they had all been spread out all over the globe, and in one case, even to another planet.
"It's such a beautiful day," Rocky stretched, enjoying the feel of being able to do so once again. He had finished up his final therapy session two weeks earlier, and hadn't felt this fit in quite some time. "This was a great idea, Kim."
The young gold-medalist blushed briefly. "I'm glad everyone's having a good time," she said, pulling a few more items out of the picnic basket the other four original Rangers remembered quite fondly from many other excursions into this same park. "It's been so long since we were all together."
Aisha nodded briefly; she'd missed all her friends back here. She'd known Jason, Zack, and Trini much more briefly than she had Kim, Rocky, and Billy of those here, but they had also been Rangers, and Trini had entrusted her with the Yellow Ranger powers when the other girl had went to Switzerland. She knew they were going to be great friends.
"Are any of the others going to show up?" Billy asking, sipping from the drink he'd brought with him. He was irresistibly reminded of the Eternal Falls of Aquitar, and stifled a sigh at the memory. If only we had known ahead of time, he thought quietly, a tear shining for a moment in one eye. He wiped it quickly, hoping that none of the others had noticed.
"Dunno," Jason shrugged. "I think they had a study session with Justin this afternoon, though."
The other six nodded; they understood how things were. They would always be friends with those who were still active Rangers, but there was a subtle distance between them all now. They felt closer to each other than they did to the Turbo Rangers, anyway. Without even noticing it, each of them stole quick glances at the others, remembering and thinking on how they had come back together.
Jason and Kim had both went back to Florida after their adventure with Divatox and the Pit of Eternal Flame on Murianthus. After Kim participated in the Pan-Globals at last, and won a stunning gold medal with a perfect 10.0 score, the two had returned to Angel Grove in triumph. Jason had went through a long talk with Emily, his then-girlfriend, after he had lost the Gold Ranger powers, and the two of them had agreed it would be best if they went their separate ways. Jason and Kim had stated nothing official about their relationship, but just about everyone who knew them could see that they were in love.
Zack and Trini had spent longer at the Peace Conference than Jason had, but in the end, they had realized the vague disquiet that had been in the back of their minds pretty much ever since they had gotten on the plane to come to Switzerland for what it was: pure and simple homesickness. They had been on the plane back to Angel Grove within a day.
Aisha had spent over a year and a half working on the cure for the plague in Africa, and had finally cracked it, with the help of a veterinarian who had moved there shortly after the Zeo Crystal had fixed time back up. With nothing more to keep her there, she had returned to Angel Grove, glad to be back with her friends again.
Rocky had never left Angel Grove, but he had been so involved with his back therapy and trying to get his dojo on it's feet that he hadn't been able to hang out with the Rangers or any of his other friends until now. This picnic was the first time he'd relaxed since his accident. He leaned against a tree, smiling. It's good to be with my friends.
Billy kept his thoughts, and his real reason for returning to Earth, to himself. There had been questions, of course. There couldn't have been anything else but questions when he had teleported back to the Power Chamber just three weeks earlier. Once he'd been told about Zordon's return to Eltar, and met Dimitria, he'd told the carefully crafted story of how he and Cestria had determined they were too different, by species, by culture, by beliefs, and everything else for them to ever truly be together, no matter how much they wanted to be. Billy wasn't comfortable on Aquitar, he hadn't felt at home there, and he missed his friends and family so much it was laughable. So he had returned home.
At least, that was what he had told them. And of all those reasons, only the part about not feeling at home on Aquitar and missing the people here really is true, he nibbled half-heartedly on a sandwich. Well, no one else needs to know about what happened. And they won't.
Kim looked around at the other six faces, and tears shone in her eyes she didn't mind displaying. "I missed you guys," she whispered. "More than anything in the world."
Almost as one, the seven teens moved closer to each other, then were wrapped in an embrace that brought them together not just in body, but in heart, mind, spirit, and soul as well. Together, they knew they could take on anything that the universe challenged them with.
Little did they know that they were soon going to be faced with their greatest challenge ever.
The Timekeeper is, was, and always will be the one who ensures that all things occur in their proper time. There are no words to describe just how difficult a task that truly is. The Timekeeper does it rather simply, however. He makes certain that the Crystal of Ethos remains in one piece.
The Crystal of Ethos is the cornerstone of temporal reality. So long as it remains in perfect harmony, the multiverse is safe, as is the timeline. But should anything crack, or even break the Crystal, then all would be lost. One would think that no one would want to destroy the Crystal. . .and one would be right.
But as the former Rangers began their picnic, the Timekeeper lifted his head. He could sense the coming of someone, and there was only one being who could enter his palace and set off those particular alarms. He sighed darkly. Once again his enemy tried this foolish game, and tried his patience as well.
"Welcome to my home, Timewalker," he said as a ball of light flew in through the doors, which had been closed only moments earlier, and shaped itself into the figure of a tall, powerfully built human male. "Though I do not recall summoning you here."
The Timewalker, robed in purest darkness, laughed shortly. "Give me what is mine, Timekeeper. You cannot hold it forever."
"Indeed I can, for it was given to me to guard it," the Timekeeper retorted. "I won't let it fall into your hands. The safety of the cosmos is far too important to risk because you want to play power games."
The Timewalker's blood-red eyes sparked for a moment. "Games? You call controlling the entirety of creation a game?"
"It is one you have played for eons," the Timekeeper said calmly. "And it is one that you must cease. The Crystal of Ethos must remain where it will be unbroken. Reality must be kept safe."
"The same old lines, every time!" the Timewalker wasn't happy. He'd been trying to claim the Crystal for eons, and always had the Timekeeper kept it from him. He wasn't going to back down, however. He had invested too much over the centuries, had gone too far and done too much to go back. "Give me the Crystal!"
The Timekeeper sighed. "I have said it before and I will say it again, at thousand times again if I must. ..no! The Crystal stays with me."
The Timewalker's old eyes narrowed, and he stepped forward. The Crystal was in plain sight, set into the Timekeeper's staff. If he could just grab it, then everything in the universes would be his! The power of the Crystal would make it so!
He leaped forward, hoping to take the Timekeeper off guard. Instead, he received a powerful thrust to the abdomen, and found himself on the far side of the chamber. "I have said no, Timewalker, and I will always say no!" the guardian growled, his patience thoroughly exhausted by this.
The Timewalker rose back to his feet; he healed swiftly. "And I will never accept it. The Crystal is mine, if I have to destroy you and all the universe to get it!"
He raised his own staff, blasting a stream of cobalt blue energy out of it. The Timekeeper was about to raise his hand, most likely intending to create a shield, when the Timewalker screamed out something in a harsh, guttural language. The Keeper blanched as the meaning of it sank into his mind, and he stepped back out of instinct, knowing what was about to happen next.
In front of him, there suddenly boiled up a column of filthy black smoke. Out of it a scaled arm emerged, with five talons sharpened to a point. The body that followed it was nine feet tall and stank of brimstone and ash. The Timekeeper, ancient as he was, could feel the power and the evil radiating off of it, and for the first time in more eons than he could remember, he felt fear.
"What is thy bidding, Timewalker?" the demon growled, turning it's gaze to the sorcerer who had summoned it. "And be quick, for this timeless place doth pain me."
The Timewalker grinned, and the Timekeeper felt the agony of failure, knowing what he would ask of his captive. "Bring me the Crystal of Ethos. . .unharmed."
"As thou wish," the demon reached for the staff, and the Timekeeper knew he had only one chance. He leaped for it, his fingers clasping it moments before the demon would have, and pulled back. If he tried to run anywhere in his palace, then the demon would simply chase him down, kill him, and take the Crystal. Only one thing could save it now, and it would risk the cosmos to do it.
I have no choice, he knew. He raised the staff over his head, and spoke harshly in the oldest tongue of mankind. Both the demon and the Timewalker understood, and both of them paled at what he was doing. "By the powers vested in me as the Keeper of Time and the Keeper of the Crystal of Ethos, I do shatter this stone and send it to the seven corners of time!"
Before either creature of evil could react, the crystal hit the stone floor, and shattered into seven shards. For a moment, they glowed in shades of red, green, yellow, pink, blue, white, and black, and then they were gone, having vanished into the stream of time.
The Timekeeper clutched at his chest; the old spell had taken more from him than he had thought. He did manage to turn to the Walker and the demon as he fell to his throne. "Get out of my home," he growled. "And never return."
The Timewalker glared at him. "You sealed the crystal's power so that the universes won't go out of control," he accused. "But it won't work. I will find those shards and I will reunite them. ..and once I have done that, then all that is will be mine!"
"Cut with the flowery speeches and leave," the Keeper drawled. With what appeared to be the last of his strength, he raised a hand and invoked the Mastery of the House. Since both were uninvited guests, they vanished at his mental command. He smiled a little, sitting up straighter in his throne.
He knew he was risking the universes by this act, but he had had no choice. The Crystal couldn't remain shattered for long, if it did, his spell of sealing would end, and the power of the shards would explode over space and time, destroying both. But I cannot reclaim them. If I leave the Palace of Eternal Time, then I will surely perish. I must seek help. ..but from where. ..and who...
Almost as if by some higher power, his question was answered, as he remembered an old friend who often came to visit. Until recently, he had been trapped in a time warp, and so had free access to the palace of the Timekeeper. And he had some friends who would do nicely. . .
"That was weird," Trini said a few moments later, when nothing seemed to have happened. "Very weird."
Rocky nodded. "Let's hope it was just. . .a weird feeling. We don't want any monsters today."
"Or ever again," Kim shuddered at the memory of all the picnics that had been ruined by fights. Today, they just wanted to have fun.
Several minutes passed as they talked and ate. Unsurprisingly, it was Billy who said it. "Have you all noticed that it's been very, very quiet lately. ..except for us?"
The others glanced around. "You're right," Jason nodded, feeling gooseflesh rise on his arms. "That's strange."
"No, that's strange!" Zack's voice was strangled as he pointed to where some kids had been roller-blading. All seven of them stared: because the kids weren't moving. Not just stopped and doing something else, they weren't moving a muscle! It was as if someone had. ..
"Stopped time," a voice said: not one of theirs. They turned to see what looked to be an old man sitting calmly at an empty spot on the blanket, a sandwich in his hand. "It's a fairly useful ability."
Jason stepped forward, his dark eyes flashing. "Who are you and what are you doing here? And how did you do this?"
"You do get right to the point, don't you, Jason?" the old man smiled, munching on his sandwich. "Well, far be it from me to antagonize the leader of the Power Rangers. .well, former leader, anyway. Not that it matters, really."
The teens glanced at each other; who was this guy and how did he know about the Rangers? Billy voiced both those questions.
"Simple," the oldster shrugged. "I'm the Timekeeper. Zordon and I are old friends, and he told me all about all of you."
He rose and walked over to Jason, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Jason Lee Scott, eighteen years old, original Red Ranger, you held the Gold Ranger powers temporarily for Prince Trey of Triforia, until they proved almost fatal to your human system."
"Zachary Taylor, eighteen years old, you were the original Black Ranger."
"Trini Kwan, eighteen years old, first Yellow Ranger."
"Billy Cranston, eighteen years old, first Blue Ranger, Blue Ninja Ranger, just returned from Aquitar after a failed love affair with Cestria," Billy's eyes seemed to plead with the old man for a moment, and he went on, saying no more.
"Kimberly Hart, eighteen years old, first Pink Ranger, Pink Ninja Ranger, gold medal in Pan Global gymnastics competition."
"Aisha Campbell, eighteen years old, second Yellow Ranger, Yellow Ninja Ranger."
"Rocky DeSantos, eighteen years old, second Red Ranger, Red Ninja Ranger, Blue Zeo Ranger, recently injured but well recovered by now."
The Timekeeper turned to look at them all. "My friends, I stopped time to talk with you because I am in grave need of your help. The Crystal of Ethos has been shattered, and if it is not put back together within the space of a year, then your world and all the rest of reality is done for."
"What?" Kim looked confused. "What are you talking about?"
What followed was a rather condensed version of the fight between the Timewalker, the Timekeeper, and the demon, ending with the Keeper saying, "The seven of you are unique in your universe. Courage, strength, honor, power, wisdom, and sacrifice that knows no bounds mark you all. The Timewalker will be seeking the shards, and if he can find and reunite them before I do. . .all power in the universe will be his."
"What do you want us to do about it?" Jason asked. There was no doubting his word. Something about the way he spoke or moved made that impossible. "You should talk to the Turbo Rangers."
The Timekeeper shook his head. "They will have their hands full keeping Divatox in line. It is you seven I need, and just you. I can arrange things so that you are not missed for the next year in your world and time, but you must seek out the seven shards and reunite the Crystal of Ethos."
The teenagers looked at each other. Rising in each heart was the sensation that the vacation was over with. They were needed again, though not to defend just the Earth this time. This time, all of reality needed them. One by one, they nodded. Jason looked at the Timekeeper.
"We'll do it. Where do we begin?"
The old one smiled. "First, I must warn you. Your quest will be very dangerous and the Timewalker will be hunting the shards and you once he finds out what you're doing. His minions will seek to capture or destroy you, and there will be mighty battles ahead. You must be made ready."
"How?" Kim wondered.
Her question was answered by something they had never expected to see again: seven Coins floating in the air above them. Billy's voice was strangled. "How???"
"These are not the Coins you knew, my friends," the Timekeeper explained. "These are Coins that have been in my guardianship for eons, just as the Crystal has been. Aside from myself and the Timewalker, only one bearing one of these may safely touch a Time Crystal. With these, you will have the strength and power of a Power Ranger once more, and then some. But only while your quest lasts."
"That's good enough," Jason nodded.
The Timekeeper smiled. He had known this was the right choice. "Jason, the Red Coin belongs to you. Take it and once more become, the Red Ranger."
As the Coin spiraled down, Jason touched it, and felt it melt into him. Light flowed around him, and for the first time in four years, he was in the armor of the Red Morphin Ranger.
"Zack, the Black Coin is yours. Welcome back, Black Ranger."
Zack almost laughed with joy as he touched the Coin and the Black armor reformed itself around him. It had been far far too long.
"The Yellow Coin is for you, Trini. Use it wisely and well."
The beautiful Asian smiled as the Yellow armor returned to the first to ever bear it.
"Kimberly, you went through great troubles once to regain your Coin from evil. This Pink Coin shall never fall into dark hands as long as you keep it well."
The gymnast nodded as she claimed the Pink Coin and her old suit was back on her a moment later.
"Billy, you have been a Ranger longer than almost anyone, and I know you will serve with honor with the Blue Coin."
The Blue Ranger's eyes were filled with tears as something he had thought was gone forever came back to him, and he whispered a thank you.
"Rocky, this will be new for you, but I know you will do the Green Coin proud."
The young Hispanic felt a strange new power fill him as the Green armor shaped itself to his body, and he smiled. This was amazing. . .to say the least.
"Aisha, you have never worn this before, but the Coin of the White Ranger is yours. Be proud."
Aisha nodded as the White Coin touched her fingertips and filled her soul with wings of power. The Timekeeper looked at each of them.
"The seven of you have been through trials before, but what lies ahead is more dangerous than you can ever imagine. You will see the past, the present, and the future, and even more. Realities you thought never existed will be presented to you, and you might be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice. I can not and will not guarantee your safety or your sanity on your quest. The power will protect you, as it always has, so long as you are true. Find the shards before the Timewalker does, and all the universes will be safe. Fail, and reality itself will perish."
Kim winced. "Talk about a low-pressure job."
The Keeper held out a staff to Jason. "This is the Staff of Time. Using it, you can travel in time to wherever and whenever the shards are. When you don't need it, it will go in the same pocketspace that your Power Coins do when you're not using them. You can summon it back with a thought."
The Red Ranger took it, nodding. "Once we have the shards, what do we do?"
"When all seven are gathered together by the forces of good, they will reunite by the tears of true love," the Timekeeper winced. "A little cryptic and sappy sounding, I know, but that's what was told to me when I was given the task of guarding them. We'll figure it out when it's time."
Aisha raised an eyebrow. "Are you coming with us?"
"I can't," the Timekeeper shook his head. "I have to return to my palace beyond time. I've already almost passed the limit I can be away from it. Be careful, Time Rangers. The fate of the universe...of all universes. ..is in your hands."
Those were his final words as he flowed away into nothingness, and all around them, things started moving again. Zack shook his head. "Now that was intense!"
"So what do we do now?" Trini wondered.
"Now we get our things together and figure out some way to vanish for a year or so," Jason said. "Then we come back here and get started on this."
He looked at the Staff he held in one hand, as did they all.
"Then we start the quest of the Time Rangers."