Legal Disclaimer: The Rangers are all legally owned by Saban, but the Timewalker and the Timekeeper are my creations, as is the Crystal of Ethos. Any discrepancies in this thing are all my fault, I'm not going for total accuracy on anything. If things seem a trifle disjointed, I apologize. Any fic that has a loose end will have it tied up by the end of the series, trust me.

Timeline & Location: July 7th, 1997. Angel Grove Park. Three hours after "Shattered Time".{since this series will be spread throughout time and space, this note will appear whenever either change, both at the start of a new fic and sprinkled through the fics themselves, as necessary.

Summary of Previous Events: The Timewalker, an evil entity, has caused the Timekeeper, the guardian of the Crystal of Ethos, to shatter the crystal, spreading it's seven shards throughout time and space. The Timekeeper chose the seven retired Rangers, Jason, Zack, Trini, Kim, Billy, Aisha, and Rocky, to get it back, granting them Ranger powers once again, and giving them the Staff of Time in order to travel to where and when they need to go. Now, the Rangers have a new quest to begin: a quest to save all of reality.

Cave of Fire
by: Aurora Moore

Jason tucked the last of his clothes into his backpack and slung it over his shoulders, testing for weight. _Perfect_, he thought, sliding it off. He had a couple of more things he needed to get before he went back to the park to join the others. He headed for the bathroom, glad that none of his family were at home right now.

_I wonder how the Timekeeper is going to make sure we're not missed,_ he tossed some shaving equipment and deodorant into his bag. He wondered how he'd replace it once he was done, what sort of facilities he'd be seeing for washing. . ._Mom would flip her lid if she thought I was running off somewhere that I couldn't take 'proper care of myself'. And if he knew I was going to be with Kim for a full year . .._a faint blush tinged his cheeks as he thought that.

"I guess that's everything," he glanced over his things one last time. His mind felt strangely twinned, at once at peace and full of nervousness. With a flip of his hand and a faint crackle of energy, he found himself looking down at the brilliant golden coin marked with the symbol of the Tyrannosaurus. _Just like old times. ..but better._

He glanced back into his bedroom, and almost sighed. It was time. All of his things were packed, and he was really just delaying. Everyone else would be in the park by now, he knew. They really didn't have time to waste.

"Time," he chuckled as he headed out the door. "Time is something I've got to do a lot of thinking about, I think."

He shut the door behind him as he left. There was no note or anything. He trusted the Timekeeper's words, that they would not be missed, though a year passed. He wondered what sort of world they would return to. . .and what sort of worlds they were going to see.

Jason was wrong. All of the others weren't there yet. Zack, Kim, and Billy were there; Aisha, Trini, and Rocky hadn't shown up yet. He smiled at his friends as he slipped his backpack to the ground and leaned against the tree. "Everyone ready?" he was already naturally falling back into the role of leader.

"I've got everything," Kim tapped the small bag she had with her, and his eyebrows lifted a little. It was just slightly larger than her usual purse was. There had been a time when she wouldn't have went to the store down the street without half the contents of her bedroom. She most definitely had changed.

Billy glanced around a trifle nervously. "Are we _certain_ that the Timekeeper can ensure we aren't missed?" he wanted to know.

"We've seen stranger things than him over the last few years," Zack reminded his friend. "Why not someone who can practically alter reality on a whim?"

The Blue Ranger just nodded. Something was plainly bothering him, and that was starting to bother his friends. Kim was about to lean over and ask what was going on, when it was interrupted by the arrival of the others. "We're here!" Trini's voice was soft and smiling.

"Everyone have everything they need?" Jason checked them out quickly, hardly able to believe this was actually happening. Then he thrust all disbelief out of his mind. It was time to get down to business. "Then let's do this."

They watched as he held out his hand and summoned the Time Staff. It was long, as tall as he was when he placed the butt of it on the ground, and tipped with a perfectly transparent crystal. Jason took a deep breath, then raised the Staff over his head. "By the power of the Time Staff, I command the gateway to open!" he wouldn't have been able to tell where the words came from; it was as if they had always been a part of him, unknown until now, when they were needed.

A slender beam of light shot out from the crystal, stopping about five feet ahead of them. Where the beam struck, the air seemed to slide open, a faint golden coloring shading it. A hole had been opened, and when they looked through it, all they could see on the other side was darkness. "Wonder where. . .and when. is?" Rocky breathed, staring into it.

"Only one way to find out," Billy took the lead, his two bags gripped in his hands as he leaped through. The others glanced at each other; then one at a time, each followed their friend. Jason was the last, holding the gateway open for the others, and before he leaped in, he glanced back to the park.

"See you in a year," he murmured softly. Then, he followed his friends to his destiny.

Timeline & Location: 3421 B.C., Camp of the Oak People

Silence prodded at the dirt with a small stick, her eyes dark and distant. She was not in a good mood. She had little reason to be any longer. With Dark Song., Dark Crystal, he had a new name now, becoming leader of the tribe that morning, she had no more joy to look forward to.

Her eyes flickered up a moment, to the broad expanse of the forests before her. _What if I left?_ she thought quietly. _What if I fled the tribe, fled my home...fled Dark Crystal's rule. . ._

She almost considered it seriously. Then she corrected herself. With the power Dark Crystal had now, there was no way that he would let her remain free. She would be brought back and forced to become his mate, whether she liked it or not. "And I don't like it," she muttered, about to get back to her feet.

A strange sound ripped through the air, and Silence jerked her head up, looking for the source. Her eyes widened in shock as she saw a hole literally open up in the air in front of her, and from it there tumbled a being that landed a few feet away. It was followed in quick succession by six others, all dressed in clothes the likes of which she had never even _thought_ could exist.

"Whoa," the first one rolled to his feet and looked around. "That was one _wild_ ride!" his voice was very sweet and strong, and sent shivers down Silence's spine.

One of the others, a female clad in yellow, brushed the dust from her clothes, then saw Silence. "Guys. ..we have company."

The last one who had fallen, and who carried a strange staff, looked over at the native. "Ummm. ...hello?"

"G. ..greetings," Silence stuttered a little, flushing as her eyes met those of the one who had just spoken to her. _He is so handsome. ..even Feather isn't as attractive!! And I thought he was the very SunLord incarnate!_ "Who are you?"

Her eyes widened as the staff vanished, and she took a step back. The handsome one shook his head. "You don't have to be afraid of us. My name is Jason, and this is Zack, Trini, Kim, Billy, Aisha, and Rocky. Who are you?"

"S. .Silence of the Oak People," she motioned towards herself in the traditional greeting. She didn't know who these strangers were, but something was telling her that she didn't have to be afraid, just as Jason had said. "What sort of shamans are you?"

Billy's lips quirked oddly. "We're not shamans. We're. . .travelers. We're on a quest for something."

Aisha stepped forward a little. "It's a crystal of great power. We don't really know what it looks like, but I think we'll know it if we see it."

The young girl frowned momentarily. "Dark Crystal has a magic crystal. He has used it to take the leadership of our tribe."

Jason's eyes darkened. He didn't like taking things from people, but the Time Crystal wasn't anyone's property but the Timekeeper. And this Dark Crystal didn't sound like the sort of person he wanted to have the shard, at any rate. The simple description that Silence had given was enough already for him to dislike Dark Crystal. "Then we'll have to take it from him. It's not his."

Silence stared at the strangers, not certain of what was going on. Then, her head jerked around at another sound: the sound of people coming through the trees. Before she could get them to move, Dark Crystal and the hunt--no, he called them warriors now, Silence remembered, came into sight. "Silence, it is time for you to prepare for our mating," the warrior chieftain declared. He paused suddenly, seeing her with the newcomers. "What are these creatures?" he was pointing his spear at the seven of them suddenly, and the males behind him followed suit. The Rangers at once noticed the crystal on the end: a brilliant blood-red shard as long as a hand. _That must be the Time shard,_ Jason thought.

"They are . ..friends, Dark Crystal," Silence put herself in between her tribespeople and the new arrivals. "They are seeking out a powerful crystal."

Dark Crystal's small eyes grew even smaller. These strangers did not look liked warriors to him, nor shamans, and that was the only thing he respected. If they were after his new power crystal, gleaming now at the top of his staff, then they would be dealt with properly. He had to consolidate his power over this tribe, then he had others that he was planning to bring under his rule. "Wildflower," he called to his second in command. "Take Silence back to the women and have them prepare her for our mating. I will deal with these intruders personally."

None of the Rangers said anything as Silence was removed from the area. Things were happening far faster than they'd imagined they would be; could they actually have found one of the Crystals so fast? It didn't seem possible. ..but the impossible was the norm for the Power Rangers.

"You cannot have my Crystal," Dark Crystal stated simply, staring at them with piggish eyes. "I was chosen by the SunLord to lead my people to dominance over all that is. You cannot stop that."

Kim's eyes flashed with fury. "That crystal doesn't belong to you. The person who sent us here is the proper keeper of it, and we have to take it back to them!"

"And who might this person be?" Dark Crystal snorted. The seven glanced among one another, not quite certain what they should say. The tribesleader snorted. "I thought as much. My warriors, take them away. We have seven new slaves!"

Jason took a quick step back. "I don't think so," he shook his head and motioned quickly for his friends to be ready for battle. He didn't really want to fight these fellow humans, but their mission came over everything. "We just want to see if the Crystal you have is the proper one we're looking for."

Dark Crystal's warriors started towards the Rangers, who all took up fighting stances. "You will not interfere," the chieftain declared, waving his fighters ahead. "Take them!"

The Rangers were not strangers to combat. All of them had fought before, be it in sparring contests or actually fighting for the safety of the world. This was one of their first fights against humans, however, that was a _true_ fight. "Let's do it!" Jason snapped.

The tribespeople were not used to combat like this. They had been hunters until the takeover by Dark Crystal, and ever since had been going through training to fight other people. They didn't like it much, either. This was not what was right! But Dark Crystal was their leader, and his will was obeyed.

"Did you ever get the feeling that today was just not your day?" Billy half-grunted as he moved aside from a spearpoint and did a powerful hand-slash, snapping the spear in half. _Just like breaking bricks,_ he thought with a faint grin to himself. _Except bricks aren't generally trying to turn you into a shish-kabob._ The warrior he was facing stared down at the stick that had been his weapon, then charged after Billy directly, obviously angry.

It was plain the Rangers were getting the better of the fight, even with their reluctance to hurt the opposition; their enemies had all been disarmed by now, and Dark Crystal was looking more and more furious. Suddenly, a powerful voice cracked through the air. "Stop this!"

Everyone looked overhead to see an old man clad in a strange garment standing before them. He carried a tall staff with bones and feathers on it, and his eyes quite literally burned with fury. Dark Crystal stepped forward. "Why do you interfere in warrior's affairs, shaman?"

"This is not the affair of a warrior, Dark Song," the man replied coolly. "These strangers have come in quest of a crystal, in quest of magic, and that makes it a shaman's affair. I would do better to ask you why you interfere."

Dark Crystal flushed, then growled. "Dark Song is no more, Brightwind. I am Dark Crystal, and I do as I will!! I have decreed these strangers become slaves of the tribe!"

"We do not keep slaves!" Brightwind retorted. "That is what the barbarians of the west do! We are the Children of the Earth Goddess and Sun God, and Their law decrees that all are free. You go counter to Their will, Dark Song, and They will bring their wrath upon you."

The leader snorted his contempt. "I am Dark Crystal! I fear _nothing_!"

Jason smiled at how the warriors drew back at that; it was obvious this sort of blasphemy was very much feared by this tribe. Brightwind ignored his 'leader', turning to look at the Rangers. "I am Brightwind, Shaman of the Oak People, and I offer you the hospitality of my home, strangers, and will aid you in any way I can towards the completion of your quest. Will you come with me?"

The seven glanced at one another, not quite certain of what to do. Kim shrugged a trifle. "We have to go somewhere, for now," her eyes flicked momentarily to the crystal on Dark Crystal's staff. Each of them could feel a pull towards it, as if they were being drawn by something outside of themselves.

"We accept," Jason declared, going over to the shaman. "And thank you."

As the group left, Dark Crystal ground his teeth in fury. Things were not going well.

"Thanks for the help, Brightwind," Rocky said as they headed for the small collection of huts they could barely see through the thick screen of trees and vines.

The shaman smiled. "It was my pleasure, though I must admit I did not do so without self-interest in mind. I do not approve of Dark Song's new leadership, and I hope that you can help remove him from office."

Jason frowned. "How did someone like that get to be leader, anyway?"

"I will explain everything to you once we have reached my home," the shaman told them. "And perhaps then you can tell me why you are dressed so oddly."

Everyone glanced down at their outfits for a moment, then simultaneously flushed. There was something very definitely odd about jeans and shirts in a village where everyone was wearing skins and furs of various types of animals. Billy, who had studied anthropology briefly once, wished he could have more time to investigate this place. But he knew they would only be staying as long as was necessary for them to gain the crystal. If at all possible, they would be leaving the politics to be sorted out for themselves.

As they entered the village proper, the seven teens couldn't keep their eyes off anything. It looked almost as if they had entered one of those movies set back in the stone age, right down to the people staring at the time-traveling visitors as if they were demons or worse.

"I think we look just a little bit out of place here," Rocky murmured as an inquisitive boy stared openly at his outfit. "I don't think I've had this many eyes on me since that last karate match I was in."

Kim shuddered briefly, not really liking to be crowded all that much. She'd had more than her share of crowds when she was at the Pan-Globals. Having the feeling of all those eyes on her was one reason she'd decided not to go to the Olympics. _And he's another_, her eyes lighted briefly onto Jason, and she smiled. She'd fallen hard for her old friend, far harder than she'd ever dreamed she would once. For a moment, she wondered if it would have taken her all these years to fall in love with him if Tommy had never entered the picture.

Tommy had changed her life in more ways than she had ever dreamed possible. More than even becoming a Power Ranger ever had. The quality of danger he always had seemed to carry with him drew her almost like an aphrodisiac, especially when tempered by his kind heart and deep-set strength. She had never felt anything but love when she was in his arms. Strangely, it wasn't being three thousand miles apart that had caused her to send him the letter. It had been something she had decided after a _very_ long talk with the 'old guard' one night in Florida.

She wondered if Tommy even knew that had happened. If he knew that Jason, Zack, Trini, and Billy had just . . .appeared at the compound one night. They hadn't told her how they'd gotten there, and they had only stayed one night. But the things they had talked about, and had told her. ..

Her eyes widened suddenly in memory. _They never told me a thing. They listened to me, helped me clarify my thoughts when I needed it. ..but they never said a word about what they were doing. ..and they were wearing their old Ranger colors. . ._slowly, she thought back to the last time she had seen Billy, _before_ he had come to her in Florida, before she herself had even went to Florida. Then she thought of that visit. ..and then her eyes flicked to Billy as he was now, striding just in front of her. Her heart suddenly skipped a beat.

_Billy. ..the Billy that I met that night in Florida. ..the Billy I'm with now. The Time Ranger Billy. He looked then like he was sort of travel-worn, but attentive, stronger, more alert than he ever did when he was a Ranger. The others were all the same, as if they were used to things jumping out at them from the shadows. They. .._the blood drained from her face as she remembered something else. _They asked me not to mention to anyone that they were ever there. . .not even to themselves._

"Kim?" she looked up at the soft touch on her shoulder to see Trini staring worriedly at her. "Kim, are you okay?"

"Yeah," the Pink Time Ranger smiled briefly, wiping the worry from her eyes. Something felt as if it were sliding into place at last. "This place.'s just. .kind of weird, that's all."

Trini nodded, glancing around. Was it Kim's imagination, or did her gaze linger just the tiniest bit on Rocky? "Probably because we're so far in the past. It's our world. ..but it's not at the same time."

"Let's hope we can find the shard and get moving to the next one, fast," it was Aisha who spoke now, coming up from Kim's other side. "This place is almost starting to freak me out."

Kim smiled faintly. "I agree completely. And that Dark Crystal freaks me the most."

By now they had reached the center of the village, and the largest hut. Brightwind stamped his staff three times upon the ground, and the Rangers could see everyone peering around at them. "These seven strangers are travelers from afar," he said loudly. "Let it be known they are under _my_ protection and guardianship, and to injure them in any way will bring the wrath of all the gods upon the offending person!"

Jason might have found that a _bit_ overblown, if the people didn't look so honestly afraid. It was plain that these people both respected and feared their shaman, with respect overwhelming. Brightwind gestured towards the hut. "Come, my friends. We have much to talk about."

"How did it happen?" Zack wanted to know. "I wouldn't think someone like that would make a good dogcatcher, much less a leader!"

Brightwind sighed deeply. The shadows filled his eyes as he looked at each of these strangers. Strangers to his people. ..but not to him. He had seen them in dreams and visions for many years, and he felt as if he knew them all. But as much as he would like to discuss many things with them, he had a duty to help them in their quest. Perhaps some other time they could return and he could ask many of the questions that were plaguing him.

"He won the trial," he answered slowly. "That is how we choose our leaders. Whenever an old leader dies, all those who are eligible must go through the trial of the Cave of Fire. Whoever reaches the far end first is the new leader of the tribe."

Billy shook his head. "That is an extremely unusual way to choose a leader," he said. "How do you know you'll choose the right person for the job?"

"The God and Goddess have never let us down before," Brightwind's reply was simple. "Always has the winner been a fair and honest leader, doing everything they can for the good of the people. .until now."

The others all nodded, they had already seen how Dark Crystal treated his people. If you could even call it that. More like 'abused' them. Brightwind continued. "Before he won the trials, Dark Crystal was called Dark Song. I still call him that because I don't believe he won the trials fairly, and thus did not earn the right to change his name. When someone wins the trials, they can change their name if they desire, to reflect their new responsibilities. Something about the crystal he found before making the run through the caves gave him the ability to win. I do not know how."

"It's a shard of something that kept time itself on track," Trini said slowly. "Perhaps it gave him faster movement or something like that."

"Perhaps," Brightwind shrugged. "All I know is that he won, but it shouldn't have been possible for him to. Feather was the leading contender, but Dark Song traveled through the cave as if he were of the very essence of speed. Before then, Dark Song was one of the slowest. All mocked him when he presented himself as a candidate. .but none laughed when he emerged first."

The Rangers all were silent. It was plain that Dark Crystal, then Dark Song, had somehow used the Time Shard to win the trial. Then something occurred to Jason. "What about Silence? He said something about mating her? He looked like he's a _lot_ older than she is, not to mention the fact she doesn't like him, if I was reading her right."

A long sigh was the answer. "Silence's father was the last leader of the tribe. He died in a hunt last month, which is why we had to find a new leader. Dark Crystal chose her for his mate when he became leader. There is an age different of almost twenty years, yes, but he cares not."

"Doesn't she have anything to say about that?" Kim wanted to know, her eyes flashing.

"Yes and no," Brightwind replied. "Normally it is a matter of free will who one mates, dependent upon the other's love, of course. But Dark Crystal has decreed that _his_ word is the new law, and with the power of the crystal in his possession, there is not much that can be done about it."

The Rangers glanced at one another. "We can do something about it," Trini said softly. "It isn't right, the way he won the contest. He doesn't deserve to be leader."

"Is there a way to take his power?" Jason asked. Brightwind's smile widened briefly.

"Yes. Someone can challenge him. If he's challenged, then both Dark Crystal and whoever is doing it will make their way through the cave. Whoever emerges first. ..wins. And is the new leader."

Aisha raised one eyebrow. "Can a woman challenge?" she wondered.

"Yes," Brightwind was obviously surprised she'd even ask. "Some of our greatest leaders have been female. Silence won't do it, however. She is . ..a peaceable woman. Dark Crystal intends to mate Silence not just to prove he has triumphed over his predecessor, but because before he became leader, he asked her to mate with him. She refused him then, and would now if he didn't have that crystal."

Jason picked up the questioning next. "And can anyone challenge him?"

"Yes, anyone who is of the tribe can," Brightwind told them. "If someone from outside wants to challenge, they have to have a tribesperson's support, to agree they have the right to challenge."

Seven glances were exchanged, and Aisha asked, "How many can try at any one time?"

"As many as want to. But whoever makes it out first is the new leader of the tribe, and you cannot stay here."

Jason raised one eyebrow. "Could we go through it, and then name someone else as leader after we were through, if we made it out first?"

"As a surrogate?" Brightwind was a trifle surprised. "No one has ever done that before, but there is nothing in our laws against it."

All seven of them smiled at the same time. Jason spoke for all of them. "We didn't come here to try and take over your tribe, just to find the shard we're looking for. It's fairly obvious Dark Crystal has it."

"How can you be certain?" the shaman wondered. Jason held out his hand, causing the Staff of Time to appear in it. The crystal in the top was glowing faintly.

"Call it a hunch," he smiled. The Timekeeper had never specifically said how they could recognize the time shards. But seeing this crystal as it glowed, each of them knew that was how to do it.

Aisha's eyes twinkled. "How do we challenge?"

Dark Crystal was in a very good mood as he made the final preparations for his mating. The strangers, and Brightwind, hadn't been seen since they had entered the shaman's hut that morning. It was noon, time for his mating. _Time for my final victory over Wildfire._ He grinned at the thought of the former leader of the tribe. That had been something he had been _very_ proud of doing.

_Orchestrating the death of my old rival,_ his eyes flashed with anger. He had _hated_ Wildfire from the very moment he had met the handsome young man when they were both children. The two of them had vied for everything over the years, but Wildfire had always seemed to win, almost without even trying. He won the hand and heart of Skydancer, the fairest maiden in the tribe, and Dark Song, as he was known then, had felt the jealousy in his heart curdling into purest, unadulterated hatred in the moment they had been declared mates. Dark Song had sworn that he would have everything that was Wildfire's would be his one day, and that included the leadership of the tribe once his rival gained that as well.

Dark Song had plotted long and he had plotted well. His fury had only doubled when Skydancer had perished when giving birth to her only child. Wildfire had named the girl "Silence", in honor of the silence of the grave that had claimed her mother in the moment of her birth, and had doted on her as she grew. Dark Song had lusted after the girl from the moment of her birth, and concealed his desire for years, waiting for the time to be right.

He had asked Silence once to mate him, before going through with his final plans. She had laughed in his face. In that moment, he had sworn he would not rest until she belonged to him. It had been that rejection which had spurred him into making his move.

And today was the day when all of his plans would finally come to fruition. Today was when Silence became his mate, and that night, he would achieve his ultimate triumph over his old dead enemy. _Do you know, wherever you are, Wildfire, that tonight I take possession of your daughter? That tonight, I finally win?_

Dark Crystal looked up to see Silence approaching with the maidens of the tribe. Her head was downcast, something he approved of in his future mate, and no one seemed to be happy. Things had not been well in the tribe since Dark Crystal had taken over, but he didn't care. Soon enough they would be leaving this petty village. He had his sights set on some very lofty goals indeed.

"Where is the shaman?" Silence's voice was quiet, as befit her name. "If this is to happen, he must perform the ritual."

The leader frowned; she was right. Only the tribal shaman could properly unite him with the female he'd so longed for. "Summon the---"

His words dropped off as the shaman, and the strangers, stepped forward out of the hut. Silence's eyes brightened when she saw the one wearing the red. "Jason?" hope touched her voice.

"Hi, Silence," he smiled at her. "You don't have anything to worry about."

Dark Crystal growled softly. "Why would she worry? She is about to become my mate!"

"I don't think so," Brightwind stepped forward, a wide smile on her face. "Jason, you remember what I told you?"

The Red Ranger nodded, then held out his hand. The staff Silence had seen when they had first arrived appeared in it, causing the watching tribe to jump back a bit in shock. "With the support of Brightwind, Shaman of the Oak Tribe, I, Jason, leader of the Time Rangers, do hereby challenge you, Dark Crystal, for the right to be the leader of this tribe and challenge you to travel through the Cave of Fire. As the rules of your people state, the victor shall be anointed new and true leader."

Dark Crystal purpled in anger. "How _dare_ you, a beardless boy, challenge me?" he roared. "You will suffer for this!" moving swiftly, he pointed his own staff, with the crystal at the tip, towards Jason, intending to run him through. Once he had killed their leader, then the others would break and run like scared children.

Jason had been expecting this, however. With the same fluid motion, he banished the Staff of Time and summoned his Power Sword. It slashed down swiftly, severing the staff in half. The Time Shard in the tip at once dropped to his feet, glowing a faint red suddenly.

"This is not yours," Billy spoke quietly. "It is part of our charge to take this to it's true owner."

Dark Crystal leaped forward, his hand reaching for the crystal. He had held it once, he could do it again. But even as his fingers brushed it, he remembered what had happened when he had first touched it: vividly.

Lighting and fire lanced through his soul and his body. He felt as if he had touched the heart of the sun itself. He leaped back, his heart pounding, not certain what had happened, but knowing he had to have this thing. Imagine the power he could command with it. ..he could achieve that which he had longed for since his youth. ..

He could be leader.

Dark Crystal had finally managed to get the crystal by wrapping a deerskin rag about it and binding it to the tip of his spear in place of the point. He knew very little of what the shard might actually be able to do, but what he had managed to accomplish already was fantastic. He had not quite understood what it was he had been doing when he had raced through the Cave so quickly, but he hadn't cared once he had realized he had won.

This time, however, as he reached for it, things happened a trifle differently. Jason kicked the shard smoothly up, catching it expertly in one hand. "Win or lose, this belongs to the Timekeeper," he said coolly. "We are his representatives, and we will keep this from now on."

His companions could barely hold back grins at the expression on Dark Crystal's face as he saw that. Jason was plainly hoping the leader didn't try anything like grabbing the crystal; he didn't want to have to hurt this prehistoric bully.

"You have been challenged, Dark Crystal," Silence said softly. "Will you accept...or face the consequences of denying it?"

"What are the consequences?" Trini whispered to Brightwind. She paled as the shaman described the manner of death that was dealt out to those who refused a properly issued challenge.

The leader drew himself up proudly, his eyes flashing. "So be it. When do you wish the journey to take place?"

Jason smiled, and Dark Crystal felt a sudden chill. Whoever this stranger was, he was beginning to be afraid of him. "At once."

Silence watched Jason with nervous eyes as they journeyed through the woodlands to the cave. She wanted to ask him so many things. .to get to know him so much better. ..but it didn't look as if she were going to have that chance.

"Silence?" the voice was unfamiliar, but she recognized the pink stranger, Kimberly she thought the name was, standing next to her. "Is something wrong?"

The village girl's lips quirked just the tiniest bit. "I'm going to be forced to mate the person I think murdered my father and you are asking if something is wrong?"

"What?" the Pink Time Ranger's jaw dropped. "Dark Crystal killed your father?"

"I can't prove it," Silence sighed darkly. "I wasn't on the hunt that he died on. But the two of them became separated from the rest of the group, and my father never returned. Dark Crystal said that he was gored by an aurochs. ..but no one will ever know."

Kim couldn't believe her ears for a moment, but she could tell Silence wasn't lying. "I'm sorry, Silence."

"Don't be," Silence shook her head. "It isn't anything to be sorry about. What there is to be sorry about is that I haven't yet been able to prove it was Dark Crystal who did it. Or to stop him from taking over the tribe."

"Jason will do that," Kim said with confidence. "He's very good at things like that."

Things were, for lack of a better word, silent between the two of them. Silence broke it. "How many of you are going through the caves?"

"We all are," Kim replied. "If Dark Crystal tries anything, then we can stop it best as a team. And Jason has the crystal now, anyway. I don't think he's going to be long as leader."

Silence smiled briefly. "I think I could get used to Jason as leader of our tribe."

Kim bit her lip; they had agreed not to mention that they were only going through this to make certain Silence became leader. They especially were not to mention it to Silence herself. "He is a very good leader. He's helped us through some. .very amazing adventures."


"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Kim smiled, then glanced up as the trees thinned ahead of them and a cave appeared. It wasn't a cave in the traditional sense, existing in a mountain, but was rather a large recess in the side of a hill. There were no carvings or ornaments of any kind, but as the villagers and Rangers all came out into the clearing, the visitors could easily see that this was considered a sacred place by the villagers.

Brightwind stepped forward, gesturing towards Dark Crystal and the Rangers. "The Time Rangers have challenged Dark Crystal for leadership of the tribe, with their leader Jason speaking for them," he declared. "In the traditions of our people, they will all now journey through the Cave of Fire. Whomsoever makes it out first will be the new leader. Should any one member of the Time Rangers make it out before the others, it will be counted as if they all made it through, and they will be named victors, with Jason taking the task of leadership of the tribe."

Dark Crystal's eyes flashed with hate. "Do not think you will win," he declared. "I have run this cave once already, and am capable of doing so again. You have no idea what you are doing."

"We'll see about that," Jason smiled faintly.

"You may use no weapons in the cave, nor may you fight one with another," Brightwind's instructions were delivered in a terse voice. "Only your own skills and courage and speed may be used here. Good luck."

The current leader growled as he glared at the teenagers. "They will need it."

Then, he plunged into the darkness of the cave opening.

"I don't think I like this place," Billy muttered as the seven others entered the cave. He shivered, trying hard not to think about the possibility of walls caving in on them. Despite being a cave, a strange, sourceless light seemed to glow all around them. It wasn't very bright, but they could all see by it. Brightwind had told them that this was called by his people 'The Fire of the Goddess', and was one of the reasons this place was known as the Cave of Fire.

Aisha put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Billy. I don't think we're going to have any problems getting out of here."

"What makes you think that?" Zack asked, glancing over his shoulder at her.

"Remember what Brightwind said?" Jason said from in front of them. "If any one of us gets through, it's like we all won. So if Dark Crystal tries anything, one of us will break off and head out for the other side."

Trini glanced from side to side, trying to locate their adversary. "I wonder where he is, anyway? He came in here right before we did, so he couldn't be that far ahead, could he?"

Almost as soon as she said it, Billy felt a sudden chill going down his spine, and felt his body moving almost without asking questions or permission of his brain. "Jason!" he shouted as he moved, knocking himself into the taller boy and causing them both to fall.

"Billy?" Jason looked at his friend in confusion, then his eyes flicked to where he had just been standing: just as a rock crashed down on top of it. "T. .thanks."

The Blue Ranger smiled faintly as the both of them stood back up, then frowned as he looked up farther than Jason had. Dark Crystal was standing on a cliff just above them. He was looking down at them with a hate-filled glance.

"We shall meet again ere you leave this cave. ..if you do," he hissed, turning and moving out of sight. Slowly, the Rangers turned to look at one another.

Jason was the first to speak. "I think we'd better get moving. And keep an eye out for trouble."

"The kind that calls itself Dark Crystal," Kim muttered, coming over to Jason and taking his hand. Her leader and boyfriend smiled briefly, then gestured ahead of them.

"Let's get moving."

Dark Crystal growled something very profane to himself as he watched the Blue Ranger knocking his target out of the way. How had he heard the shifting of the Earth? It shouldn't be possible.

_No matter. I have to find my way to the other side. Then, I can emerg_. ..his thoughts faded suddenly, and his eyes widened when a small globe of light suddenly appeared before him. "W.what in the name of the Goddess. .." he breathed suddenly. "What magic is this?"

"No magic, Dark Crystal," the voice did not speak in his tongue, but he understood regardless. The light hovered for a moment, then shaped itself into a tall male. "I have come to aid you."

The tribeleader faltered for a moment. "W..who are you?"

"They call me the Timewalker," the eternal enemy of the Timekeeper smiled, and the prehistoric man felt fear for one of the few times in his life. "And I want those crystal shards...starting with the one the Red Ranger has now."

"That shard is _mine_!" Dark Crystal growled harshly. "Only I can claim it! It is _my_ property!"

The Timewalker casually slapped the other man. "I beg to differ. Now, as I said, I have come to aid you."

Dark Crystal blinked for a moment. "Aid me?"

Those were the last words he spoke as the Timewalker reached out and crushed his throat. "Aid you to die. No one, but _no one_ shall have those crystals but me."

Casually, the Timewalker ripped Dark Crystal's head from his shoulders, and dropped the bleeding body to the ground. He enjoyed his work some days. ..and his pleasures even more.

"Now it is time to claim the first shard. Good thing I can track them through time," he smiled darkly. This was going to be the easiest task he'd ever accomplished.

"This is too easy," Trini muttered as they saw the flickering light of the far end of the caves. "I don't like it."

Jason glanced around, something odd was going on. He could smell something, something coppery and hot..."Oh, God. ..," he whispered softly. "Umm. ..did someone scrape themselves?" _please, let it just be that._ His heart sank when he heard six different voices saying no. "Does anyone else smell that?"

Billy's voice was strangled when he replied. "I do," he gulped. "It smells like. .."

"Blood," a cool voice replied, one that was neither one of theirs or Dark Crystal's. From the shadows there emerged a tall figure, carrying a familiar head in his hands. "And it is. His blood."

Jason clenched his fists. "Who are you?" whoever this stranger was, he didn't look like one of the villagers. "What are you doing in here?"

"Oh, servants of the Timekeeper, don't you know me?" the killer laughed merrily. "I am the Timewalker."

Chills shuddered down all of the Time Rangers' backs. They had heard of the Timewalker from their new employer, but in the depths of their minds, no one had really expected to meet him. "What are you doing here?" Rocky was the first one to find his voice. "And what did you do to Dark Crystal?"

"I would think it would be obvious," the Timewalker chuckled, tossing the severed head from one hand to another. "I removed an annoyance to my path. And I can do the same thing to you all. But I won't, if you just hand over the shard."

Jason clutched at his pocket where he was keeping the fragment they had claimed so far. "Forget it," he said calmly. "The Timekeeper charged us with guarding these, and keeping them from you. We aren't going to hand them over now or ever."

The Timewalker looked at them for a moment, his eyes smoldering. Then, he smiled suddenly. "Very well. I permit you your lives. ..for now. But we shall meet again."

Where he had stood, there was suddenly a ball of light, that vanished after hovering for a bare moment. The Rangers glanced at each other, and Jason spoke for them all. "Let's get out of here."

The Oak Tribe had circled around the hill to reach the opening on the far side, and there they had been waiting since just after the challengers had entered. Things had been very quiet, with only the soft murmur of mothers to their children breaking the waiting. Silence and Brightwind stood side by side, watching the opening with hope and fear in their hearts.

"What if Dark Crystal comes out first?" Silence murmured, biting one nail in fear. "I do not think I could live if I had to mate him."

"Fear not, my child," Brightwind put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Even if Dark Crystal comes out first, he will never be leader again."

She glanced up at him, a frown creasing her face slightly. Brightwind smiled. "The Goddess told me what he did to your father. You were correct. Should he emerge first. will be revealed."

Her eyes brightened just the tiniest bit at that, then as someone started to come out of the cave, she jerked her head around. _Who is it?_ she thought.

"Dark Crystal is dead," Jason's voice came before they could clearly see who it was that had emerged. A sadness shot through his words so perfectly none dared consider he would be lying. "We Time Rangers have an enemy: the Timewalker. He seeks the same crystal shards we do, and he killed Dark Crystal. This is all we found of him."

Not like a warrior raising a trophy, but more as of a saddened man seeing the fallen form of a friend, Jason lifted the head, then slowly placed it down on the ground. "I don't know where the rest of him is, but you might want to look for it," Billy spoke up. "If not given a proper burial, unpleasant things could occur."

Silence stared at the head of the man who would have been leader of the tribe, and trembled. "Now who is to be leader?" she murmured, staring at Jason. While they had been in the caves, Brightwind had explained that the Time Rangers could not stay; their quest called them to far lands and precluded being able to lead. They had went through the caves only to free the Oak Tribe from Dark Crystal.

"You are," Brightwind told her softly.

Jason nodded. "We went through the caves to gain your right to lead the tribe," he said.

Silence's eyes went almost triple their normal size. "Me!?" she gasped. "But. . .I know _nothing_ of being a leader!"

"You could do very well at it," she turned to see Feather, whom she had on occasion went walking with in the woods, next to her. His eyes were full of smiles for her as he gazed down at her. "I know little of these strangers, Silence, but I know that you are better than you think they are. I cannot speak for the entire tribe. ..but anyone would be better than Dark Crystal."

Slowly, people began to murmur and nod their support, and cries of "You are the true leader" and "Silence is the rightful heir" began to rise up. "Let the daughter of Wildfire lead the Oak People!"

Silence looked at them all for a moment, then turned back to the Time Rangers. She bit her lip just a bit when she saw Jason and Kim holding hands. _They are together_, she realized, and the half-formed dreams vanished into dust. She squared her shoulders. So be it.

"If you all want me so much, then I will lead the Oak People," she said softly. "And thank you. ..," she glanced at the seven visitors. "You have barely been here a day. ..and yet you have changed our lives so much already."

Jason smiled. "We're just doing our job," he pulled out the Time Shard from his pocket and held it up, a faint red glow coming from it. "And I think it's time for us to get on with it. We've got what we came here for."

"You're leaving?" Brightwind looked a trifle upset. "So soon? Could you not at least stay for the anointing feast?"

Zack shook his head. "We'd like to, man, really. But there are six more of those shards out there, and the Timewalker can't be allowed to get to them first."

"Then go with the blessing of the Goddess and God," Brightwind told them. "If you ever need us. . .call. We'll come."

Silence nodded. "Somehow. .we'll come."

The Time Rangers glanced at one another. The gaining of the first crystal had been relatively easy. . .but they could sense that the rest of their quest wouldn't be quite that simple. Jason held out his hand, summoning the Staff of Time.

"Let's go," he said quietly, creating the gateway. One by one, the seven Rangers leaped through it, with Jason last again, to close the gate. Silence, Feather, and Brightwind looked at where it had been.

"Who were they really, Brightwind?" Silence asked, her hand stealing quietly around Feather's.

"Warriors for peace, Silence," the shaman told her. "And let us hope they succeed in their quest. For the sake of all reality."

The End...for now.