Everyone knows that the moon is a barren ball of dust and rock, circling the planet Earth for billions of years, and likely to continue doing so for billions more. Few people, including certain astronomers and those who choose to believe it, know that there is a palace on the dark side of the moon, where for several years different empires of evil existed. Still fewer people, about half a dozen or so, know that beneath that palace exists the Caves of Deception, which was the location of the fabled Zeo Crystal for centuries. Of those few beings who knew of the Zeo Crystal, only one knew how it got there, and who put it there.
He is Zordon of Eltar, the one who decided it must be retrieved, so evil could never use its power. Only one of purity could enter the Caves of Deception, and carry the Zeo Crystal out without harm to his body or mind. That purity had to exist on many levels... purity of body, mind, and soul. Also, those who would be able to draw power from that crystal also had to have a similar level of purity, although it wasn't as unconditional for them.
By taking the power of Zeo, five young humans became the warriors of purity. And that meant, they became the soldiers of she who created the crystal... whether they knew it or not.
Ever since they went on their individual quests for the shards, the five remained under her watchful eye. Perhaps it was because they were the closest things to companions she had for centuries. But out of all of them, one in particular held a special bond with her. That one has been called the Chosen.
And one tragic night, just before the stroke of the Witching Hour, the Chosen was lost to the world...
Sunday, February 9, 1997
Her bright blue eyes filled with salty tears, the Huntress sprang from her circular bed of soft linen. Long locks of golden hair tumbled over her face and shoulders, slightly moist from her sweat. Terror made her eyes wide, and forced her to take in huge gasps of breath through her rosy lips. Trembling slightly, she crawled to the edge of her bed, and placed her delicate feet on the ivory carpet of her bedroom. Her legs were too numb to allow her the ability to stand, so she remained in her position, tears streaking down her porcelain face and dripping off her chin like dewdrops, only to be absorbed by the silver sheets that were woven between her legs and wrapped around her shoulders for warmth from the protruding cold that grasped her heart.
After a deep, calming breath, she opened her eyes again. Determination succeeded where raw emotion failed, allowing her to get up. At her command, her body was covered by an elegant yet simple white dress, reaching just far enough down her thigh to make it decent, with a golden neckline adorned with jewels and a matching link belt that hung loosely from her slender waist. White leather boots with golden laces adorned her feet, stretching just below her knee. A navy blue cape appeared, draped over her shoulder and fastened with a fairly large white gemstone, presented in a brooch of gold. Finally, elegant pink and red flowers appeared at her temples, and wove themselves into a briar rose crown to frame her soft face with their everlasting beauty.
Slowly, she walked toward the balcony of her white and silver bedroom. She stared out at the blackness of outer space in the distance, as well as the bright sphere of blue known as Earth, which dominated the view of the sky with a commanding yet nonetheless breathtaking presence.
If things continued as they had, the Earth would never be the same again.
This can't be, she reflected, gazing at the planet, He can't die! It can't be true!
Biting her lip, the famed Huntress vanished from her palatial residence, invisible to all on the secret crater on the moon known as Hecate.
The planet of Pluto is a barren wasteland, covered with frozen gases of many forms, which stretched to the dim heavens indignantly. The planet was a chilly death, with nothing living now, or ever before. The planet Earth, the only one in the solar system to have a population, hadn't studied this icy grave intensely yet, so it was simply assumed it was a ball of ice, floating around the Sun in an endless circle, with little of importance surrounding it.
They didn't know about the large spire castle, hidden within the ice sculptures the frozen winds had created. It was hidden from mortal view, and would remain so forever, because it was constructed along an important facet of the web of magic. That facet existed between time, therefore preventing time to pass properly within the confines of the palace.
He sat upon his throne, his elbow resting on the stone arm, and his smooth cheek leaning heavily on the balls of his gloved knuckles. Cold black armor with accents of the darkest blue formed his attire, which was molded to his body in an almost rubbery form. A thick, flowing cape of matching dark blue was draped about his broad shoulders, and his ear length pitch black hair, kissed with navy accents when touched by light, blended with the overall darkness of his appearance. He sat patiently, his chilling blue eyes half open, gazing off into nothingness. Those pools of bold cerulean were slightly clouded with the air of exhaustion that was the constant existence of Thanatos. It has been such for thousands of years, and as such it would continue... until the Conflict.
He was one of the Pantheon of incredibly powerful alien beings, who once roamed the solar system freely. Due to its location within the weave of magic that stretched across the galaxy like a spider's web, this particular system was infinitely important to the balance of power in the cosmos. Although the indigenous beings were oblivious to their universal import, they were in fact living on the one planet with a strong energy aura that let out a beacon, attracting dozens of hungry malevolents to conquer it. Included in that array of villains was one so powerful and dangerous, that all the universe was threatened by its mere existence. That is why the Servons chose to watch over the planet Earth and its inhabitants, waiting until the arrival of the Evil that had to be eliminated. However, that Evil was something even they could not defeat. In fact, the power of the Evil was so great, it would most likely lead many Servons astray. That is why most of them left this solar system. They were all susceptible to Corruption. All but one.
That one is Purity, the one who could not be polluted. It was her nature to remain spotless. So, with the blessing of her people, Purity remained to prepare for the Conflict. All the other Servons elected to return home, knowing they wouldn't be able to help in the eventual war. Yet, one decided to remain with Purity.
Thanatos was, and had been for milleniums, the Servon of Death and Time. Truly a dreary existence, his purpose was to guard the river of Time, and along with that, bear witness to the time of Death for all humans. For it is at the point of death that an individual ceases to exist, and therefore has in effect departed from the river of Time.
It was his nature to watch and wait. And so, he decided he would remain in this solar system, if for nothing else than to watch the events that passed, and aid the young Servon of Purity in any way he could.
The sound of heels clapping hurriedly along the marble floor sliced through his hazy consciousness. It was the first time in centuries that the solitary sentinel heard the presence of another being in his abandoned, timeless lair. Well, at least it felt as if centuries had passed. Considering the odd time fluctuation within the palace, it could have been much more.
For the briefest of moments, joy awoke within the core of his cold being at the thought of something to alter the monotony of his existence. However, reality struck him when he realized there was more than likely a dire reason for the visit.
Her rich blue half-cape following each graceful step she took, the Huntress walked into the dim, bland chamber of the sole inhabitant of the barren Pluto. She came to a halt before the throne, and nodded slightly in greeting.
"What brings the fair Castimonia, Servon of Purity, to my humble abode?" Thanatos said, his dark voice echoing slightly in the mostly empty marble chamber.
"A terrible calamity," the blonde visitor answered, her usually measured voice still slightly shaky. Thanatos' navy eyes widened slightly when he realized how distraught his guest was, and straightened in his throne to grant her his full attention.
"What happened?" he asked in a gentle tone, throwing aside formality for the moment.
"Thanatos, my Chosen has perished."
Thanatos blinked in surprise at hearing the news. "How?"
Castimonia swallowed, and took a breath to compose herself. "That is why I have come to you. As the Servon of Death, you see the deaths of every human being in existence. I only felt his death through my bond with him as my Chosen, but I must know the circumstances of it. It is crucial to the future Conflict."
Thanatos nodded, and extended his hand, palm up. His eyes flashed with murky energy, and the surrounding mists within the chamber began to gather at his palm, and swirl in a maddening cascade of dark mist, vaguely spherical in shape. Finally, another flash from his eyes caused the sphere to materialize, trapping the dark mists within a blue tinted glass ball about the size of a soft ball. The sphere continued to revolve, hovering about an inch from the black gloved hand of the Servon of Death. Finally, Thanatos' piercing gaze turned from his creation to his companion.
"You realize of course that several hundred humans have perished this day," Thanatos said grimly, rising to his feet. He stepped down the few steps of his raised platform, his flowing ebony cape brushing the marble ground behind him. He descended the last step, and locked eyes with Castimonia's matching ones. "I can capture the image of one death within this Death Orb, so you can see the occurrence from both the deceased's perspective, as well as my own. However, I must know his name to identify which death you wish to witness."
"Tommy Oliver," Castimonia whispered sadly, "Red Zeo Ranger V."
Thanatos nodded in response, his cold demeanor not revealing the slight emotional shudder that passed through his ancient yet miraculously youthful form. Indeed, he had witnessed the death of the young human, and he also knew of his exploits as the White and Green Power Rangers, and later the Red Zeo Ranger. Out of all the deaths he was obligated to record that day, the death of the leader of the Power Rangers was the only one that greatly affected him. After centuries of watching billions of people die, rarely was any particular death especially emotional. Yet, Thanatos greatly appreciated the young man's efforts. He was one member of an exclusive group of humans, so selfless and noble as to risk their own lives on a regular basis to assure the continuance of humanity. And they certainly made a difference, considering how many hundreds of lives they've saved just from monster attacks... not even considering the possible full-out invasions the Power Rangers had prevented. It didn't come as a surprise that this notable hero was in fact Castimonia's Chosen...
...and considering how the young man died, Thanatos pitied him as well as all those he left behind.
"As you wish," Thanatos said, his eyes flashing once again. The blue-tinted sphere suddenly pulsed yet again, and the dark mists took shape. Thanatos commanded the orb to float towards the seemingly young Huntress, whose delicate hands were outstretched to accept it. The sphere floated above her slender fingers, and her complete attention was dominated by the serene picture of a clear night in California, along an empty mountain road brimming the cliffs beside the Pacific Ocean...
"Man, I can't believe I'm so late!" Tommy muttered to himself, watching the cliffs whiz past his red Jeep as he flew along the narrow road just slightly above the speed limit, "I hope Billy will understand..."
An amused grin tugged at his lips. Surely, his close friend would understand. In fact, chances were the young scientist would expect Tommy to be tardy for their appointment. After all, he was late for just about every single appointment he ever had.
"I wonder what all this is about," Tommy reflected, "It's all a bit... weird. And, I don't get why I couldn't tell the others about this..."
Tommy thought back to the phone call he had received only an hour ago. Apparently, Billy Mitchell, trusted assistant to the Zeo Rangers, had called him with an urgent finding on the Moon. Due to some distortion caused by the altitude of the cliff and the present state of remission that the Power Chamber was in, Billy asked Tommy to drive to his location, and witness what he had found via his telescope. Billy had a tone of dire seriousness in his voice, and almost a bit of fear as well. He also asked Tommy not to tell the other Zeo Rangers anything.
"Maybe he doesn't want to alarm the others unnecessarily," Tommy reasoned, "and I guess it's possible that the teleporter is offline. My wrist unit wasn't working quite right all day..."
Oddly, the Moon, whose silvery glow was illuminating the sky only a few moments ago, was blocked by a thick patch of dark clouds. Fortunately, with the streets abandoned at this time of night, he could rely on his high beam headlights without fear of blinding another traveler. And so, he slowed down slightly to move around a particularly sharp turn.
That was when he heard it... a rumbling sound from above. The pace of his heart quickened when he heard small objects clanging against the metal of the roof of his car, until one particularly large object, which he discerned as a rock from the cliff, smashed into the windshield, creating a web-patterned crack that made it impossible for him to see.
Surprised and alarmed, Tommy's foot pressed firmly on the brakes, knowing full well how dangerous the cliffs were, despite the metal bars lining the edge to prevent a vehicle from skidding off. However, to his horror, his car continued to plane along the street, and even began to spin, gaining momentum.
A shriek of panic escaped his lungs as his car impacted with the sturdy bars along the edge of the street, tearing through the metal and launching the car off the side of the cliff. As the ground below got increasingly closer, everything faded to blackness.
Disbelief clouded her vision, forcing her to blink several times to clear it. Then, her gaze focused once again on the crystal orb, whose black mists once again began to swirl like a spinning gale wind, devoid of form or substance. The image replay had finished, and she was more than upset at what she saw.
In fact, she was infuriated.
"My Chosen was killed in a car accident?!" she wailed in white-hot rage, her wide blue eyes gazing searchingly into Thanatos' cool ones.
"I'm sorry, Cas--"
"No," she interrupted, her emotions overwhelming her reason, "This is impossible! He is my Chosen! He is the one I deemed worthy... the only one able to take the Zeo Crystal from its dormancy and tap its powers!! He passed his test, and must be the Champion of Purity in the Conflict!!"
She whirled around again, her hopeless expression shattering Thanatos' calm countenance. "What do I do now? How could this happen?"
Thanatos shook his head sadly. "Castimonia, I may be the Servon of Death, but I am not empowered to choose who lives and who dies. You know I am not to blame for his untimely death, and you know I cannot change it. There is nothing that can be done."
The Huntress sighed deeply, and sank to the cold marble floor weakly. The sphere still hovered, lowering itself as well to land on the ground beside her. Thanatos stood speechless, unsure how to comfort his guest in her time of grief.
"It is a rule of the coming battle that I cannot fight myself," she reminded him, "Both the forces of Purity and of Corruption must not directly interfere. Since this battle decides the fate of mankind, it was decided that only mankind could directly participate. All the pains Tommy Oliver suffered, and all the evils he conquered both within himself and from others, forged him into a champion! Now how will I forge another warrior in time?"
Her unsteady voice fell into a faint whisper. "I cannot believe that, after all my hard work in searching, my Chosen had to die such a pointless, idle death. I simply cannot believe it."
Thanatos blinked, those words resounding in his mind. That sentiment passed through my own mind when I saw it happen. The circumstances of Tommy's death were nigh impossible. Almost... manufactured...
New resolve building, Thanatos lowered himself to one knee beside the overwhelmed Huntress, who continued to stare blankly at the orb that showed her the fate of her Chosen. Thanatos gingerly touched her face, and lifted her chin so he could meet her blank gaze.
"Castimonia," he said gently, "perhaps... all isn't lost yet."
Castimonia's gaze focused, and she looked at Thanatos in puzzlement. "But... he is dead..."
"True, yet if his death were caused by the Evil, as I suspect it was, then a rule has been broken, and that means we can undo it!"
Castimonia's face wrinkled in confusion. "What makes you think his death was caused by the forces of Corruption?"
Thanatos took his hand from under Castimonia's chin, and held it palm up once again. The sphere, which lay on the floor, leapt at his command, and hovered above his palm again. The black mists swirled, and again, the circumstances of Tommy's death were displayed. This time, as Castimonia watched, Thanatos brought out several oddities.
"Tommy said Billy told him to meet with him atop the cliff at the Power Chamber, yet he couldn't teleport. However, we both know very few events could disrupt the Power Chamber's teleportation relays. Also, the sky was perfectly clear, yet a cloud passed over the Moon, making the sky almost pitch black. Then, there was an avalanche, yet there was no apparent cause for it. And, why did Tommy's vehicle skid out of control? The streets were perfectly free from ice or rain, and he wasn't moving at a very fast speed. And finally, why weren't the iron gates sufficient in keeping the vehicle on the road? After all, that is what they were designed for. I suspect he was murdered."
Castimonia's grief stricken eyes narrowed with newborn fury. "You're right, Thanatos. This entire situation smells of trickery." Then, her expression softened slightly, and her resolve weakened. "Yet, it could have been anyone. Tommy has made a great many powerful enemies during his stint as a Power Ranger. It could have been a trap constructed by Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, Mastervile, or the Machine Empire. If this is the case, we still cannot interfere, for although they are evil, they are not servants of the Evil with which we are contending."
"We can still manipulate events in our favor," Thanatos said, rising to his feet. He offered his hand to Castimonia, and helped her stand as well. "I shall send you back in time."
Castimonia blinked in shock. "What?! You have never done that before!"
Thanatos waived the comment aside. "I am the Servon of Time, as well as Death. As such, I am free to navigate the rivers of existence, so long as there is reason for it. I think this situation calls for drastic action, agreed?"
Castimonia nodded slightly in response. "But, the rules..."
"If you are careful, you won't be breaking any of the rules of the Conflict. However, you will not be able to directly interfere on Tommy's behalf. That is strictly against the rules."
A knowing smile stretched across Castimonia's pale face. "I know how to save him, without fighting on his behalf. Please, send me now."
Thanatos nodded, and stepped back several paces. He held his palms together, both sparking with a murky form of electrical energy. Then, he drew his hands apart slowly, leaving a tear of space-time between his hands. Finally, once the tear was about four feet wide, he disconnected his hands from it, and clasped the top and bottom edges. Then, he stretched it lengthwise, until it was about seven feet in height. The edges of the tear still sparked with energy and wobbled slightly. Within the tear was a black void, seemingly endless and daunting.
"Once you are through, I shall maintain the tear for one hour," Thanatos explained, "Then, you must return through it."
"To what date are you sending me?"
"Exactly twenty-four hours before Tommy's accident."
Castimonia nodded, slowly approaching the portal. As something of an afterthought, she glanced back to the hovering sphere, and beckoned it approach her. She caught it as it sailed through the air, and gazed at it for a moment.
"This will prove useful," she decided, cradling the Death Orb in her hand. She then smiled gratefully at Thanatos, and stepped through.
Something akin to hurricane winds slammed into Castimonia's body, hurling her through the black void quite roughly. Still, although she was certain she had the strength to fight against the current, she instead went limp, allowing the winds to pull her through the strange nothingness. Finally, she saw a faint light in the distance. The winds kept pushing her forward, until she sailed ungracefully through the opening. She gasped quietly when she found herself within the dreary palace of Pluto once again, and managed to catch herself before she collided with the cold marble wall.
A breath of relief escaping her, Castimonia gently lowered herself to the ground, and absently straightened her dress. She then glanced up, and locked eyes with a calm and collected Thanatos, sitting idly upon his throne.
"So how was your voyage through time, Castimonia?" he asked, rising to his feet.
Castimonia was dumfounded by the question. "How did you--?"
Thanatos smiled in amusement, a rare twinkle in his navy eyes. "As Servon of Time, I exist at all times. It is a little difficult to explain, but that is part of my role."
Castimonia accepted this explanation for what it was. She wasn't particularly interested in the workings of Time, which were quite simply not her field of expertise.
"I must go," she said her bright form vanishing from the dark lair, "I shall return in one hour, so I can go back to my time."
Thanatos remained seated, and kept his eyes on Castimonia. After a handful of milliseconds, all that was left of the fair Servon of Purity was a dimming ripple of silvery white light.
Saturday, February 8, 1997
A strange whisper in her dreams roused the young woman from her blissful sleep. Her eyes opened in alarm, yet she saw nothing else but darkness. Confused, she glanced at the bright alarm clock beside her bed.
Two a.m. she thought, the heaviness of her eyelids returning, and I have a six o'clock practice tomorrow morning...
"You cannot return to your slumber," the voice said again, this time while the young woman was still conscious. She startled, sitting straight up and peering into the darkness. She reached for the lamp, yet hesitated when she thought of waking her roommate.
"Who's there?" she finally responded, sliding off her bed. Yet, as soon as her bare feet touched the carpet of her apartment, the darkness surrounding her rippled, fading away into a flash of white and silver light. She gasped in shock, and her breath caught in her throat as the light faded, only to be replaced by a large chamber, with elegant white and silver marble creating the walls and floor. Stunned, she lost her partial balance completely, and fell upon the soft carpeted floor clumsily. After a few moments, she regained her senses and rose to her feet. She spun around on her heels, her exhaustion from a hard day's practice melting away completely as her confusion and fear escalated. She barely registered the large canopy bed, furry white carpeting, or the vanity and other elegant white and silver furnishings. Her sweeping gaze halted when her sights fell upon the balcony, which was only a handful of feet from her.
Her mouth hanging open, she slowly approached the balcony, her eyes wide with shock and awe. Hanging in the flawless blanket of the night sky was a large blue orb, with wisps of white and patches of blues and greens.
"Earth?" she whispered in a barely audible voice. She tightened her eyes closed, and shook her head fervently, determined to clear her mind and wake herself from this bizarre dream. Yet when she opened her eyes, she was once again feasted to the incredible display of the Earth, glittering like a gemstone in the deep blackness of outer space.
"Yes," said the same voice she heard in her apartment, "that is the Earth. And it is in terrible danger, Kimberly Hart."
Kim whirled around in surprise, and stared at the source of the voice. She looked human enough, except for the strange manner of dress, ethereal glow surrounding her body, and the deep, powerful glint of her eyes, that spoke of wisdom and knowledge far beyond her apparent years, which were comparable to Kimberly's own.
"Who are you?" Kim demanded, albeit rather weakly, "And why's Earth in danger?"
"I am Castimonia, Servon of Purity," the blonde woman explained, "and the Earth is threatened by an alien threat unlike anything you have experienced as the Pink Ranger."
Kim blinked in astonishment. "...what?"
Castimonia smiled gently. "You see, I am one of the Servons, who are a species of powerful aliens pledged to protect the Earth, which is universally situated as the greatest focus of magical energy in all of existence. Our desire is to make sure this great well of power does not fall into the hands of Corruption. Out of all the Servons, it is my responsibility to protect Purity, the opposite of Corruption and Pollution. Therefore, I am the one left to protect Earth, and prepare for the Conflict. However, because it isn't the fate of my own species primarily involved, but that of humanity, it was decided long ago that the Conflict would be decided by human warriors. Therefore, I created the Zeo Crystal, which could only be won by an individual of the utmost purity. The one who found the Zeo Crystal would be the Champion of Purity, my Chosen."
Kimberly blinked, trying to process all of what Castimonia was telling her. "Wait... you created the Zeo Crystal? The thing that helped fix the time reversal Mastervile caused?"
Castimonia smiled. She was glad that, despite the several months of retirement from the active Power Ranger team, Kimberly was still aware of the situation of her former teammates.
"Yes. You see, the Servons are no longer permitted to directly interfere with humans, but before the rules of the Conflict were established, we even resided on Earth... or more specifically, a particular mountain called Olympus."
Kim's jaw dropped. "Olympus?!" she echoed, "Wait... so you're a Greek goddess?"
Castimonia waved her hand in a fashion denoting "sort of." "We are the beings who inspired the classical gods, and that reach extended through a good portion of humanity, creating the notion of anthropomorphic deities that each controlled a different aspect of nature and human life. We did eventually realize the strong effect our presence on Earth created, and it didn't take long before we understood the danger in molding humanity in our image. So we left mankind, and eventually our influence subsided."
"So... which one are you?" Kim wanted to know, "Which of the goddesses, I mean. The Moon goddess?"
"Yes," Castimonia affirmed, "I personally was known as the Goddess of the Hunt, the Moon, and Chastity. Artemis, Diana, Selene, Cynthia, and Phoebe are just a handful of the names given to me by different civilizations over time."
Kim took a step back, completely awed by what was happening. Here she was, meeting the Moon Goddess of ancient mythology. Wow, Tommy would sure get a kick out of this! He loves mythology!
"So, since I was the Servon entrusted with humanity's protection, I chose to reside on the Moon, the closest celestial object to the planet. My Zeo Crystal is just one way I strive to protect Earth in the meantime, and it also guided my Chosen One to me."
Castimonia paused, and surveyed Kimberly's reaction for a moment. Although the young woman was paying rapt attention to this tale, it was clear she wasn't convinced of Castimonia's story. Also, Kimberly obviously was concerned about Castimonia's reason for bringing her here. And although she was following the story with interest, she probably wasn't understanding the implications.
"My Chosen One is the individual selected from Earth to fight in the Conflict, to determine the fate of the planet. As you see, it is imperative that he live and thrive until the Conflict, but I have reason to suspect the forces of Corruption are trying to destroy him before the Conflict even begins in earnest. If that were to happen, Purity will never be able to overcome the evil. That is where you come in."
Castimonia's eyes locked with Kimberly's doe-brown ones. "The Chosen needs a protector."
Kimberly blinked in puzzlement. "You want me to be this protector?"
Castimonia nodded silently.
"But... why? Can't you just keep an eye on him yourself?"
"No. Although I can watch, I cannot personally involve myself in his life. In fact, he isn't even to know I exist, or that he is being watched. He must live his life completely devoid of the knowledge of his eventual role as Champion, because he must continue to prove himself Pure. Still, his life is threatened, so my only option is to select a human being to become my Avatar. My Avatar will be able to tap into my abilities, and become a human incarnation of my attributes."
Castimonia approached Kimberly slowly. This time, the latter didn't back away. "Will you accept this privilege and responsibility, and become my Avatar of Purity?"
Castimonia grew worried at Kimberly's hesitation. "Well..." Kim stammered, "I gave up the whole superhero thing. I don't want to sound selfish or anything, but I kinda like just being... me, you know?"
Castimonia sighed inwardly. She knew it would be difficult to secure herself an Avatar, yet she didn't expect Kimberly to be against it even before she knew of the sacrifices she would have to make as the Avatar of Purity.
"I understand why you wouldn't want to jump back into the role of a superhero," Castimonia conceded, "In fact, being an Avatar is far different from being a Power Ranger. For instance, the Avatar must devote her entire life to the protection of the Chosen. I cannot see into the future, so I will not be able to warn you when he is in danger. A moment's delay could cost him his life. There is a heavy weight upon the Avatar's shoulders. She would leave her old life behind entirely, live here in my palace upon the Moon, and spend both day and night watching over someone who shouldn't even know of her existence."
Castimonia grew silent, and fixed Kimberly with an almost pleading gaze. "But there simply must be an Avatar, Kimberly. I have less than an hour to select a human girl trustworthy enough to wield my powers, or else Earth, as well as the rest of the universe, is doomed."
Kim saw the desperation in Castimonia's eyes, which almost glowed with honesty. She knew the Servon wasn't lying to her. Earth really was in this incredible danger, and she was perhaps the only one able to stop it.
Kim felt the rise of her selfless character building within her. She wasn't the kind of person to place her own welfare or happiness above the fate of the entire planet. Still, she had the feeling there was some vital information that Castimonia wasn't yet divulging.
"There's more to this," Kim whispered, her eyes once again locking with Castimonia's, "Isn't there?"
Castimonia smiled yet again. "You are indeed perceptive, Kimberly. I'm afraid there is a catch. As the Avatar of Purity, you must keep your mind, body, and soul chaste and pure. Also, you must live for the singular purpose of guarding my Chosen. Only one who lives to these requirements can be my Avatar."
Kim grimaced slightly. She didn't like the sound of those conditions. "Um... could you elaborate?"
"Certainly. The powers of the Avatar are vast, and there are requirements to she that will accept this role. As I told you, she must remove herself from the world. That means, she must essentially disappear, and sever all connections. You cannot allow yourself to get involved with Earthly matters, because they will surely distract you from your mission. That means you must separate yourself from your family and friends. You must forego your dreams of being a Pan-Global gymnast, or anything else. And most importantly, you must end your relationship with Tommy Oliver."
Kimberly was stunned to silence. "You're asking me to give up everything I care about!" she suddenly yelled, angered at being asked to do such a thing. "I... I can't do that! I mean, yes I can give up being a gymnast, but I can't leave my friends and family behind! I can't leave Tommy behind! The people I love give meaning to my life. They're the ones that I fought for as the Pink Ranger, for goodness' sake!"
Castimonia looked at Kimberly with a purely sympathetic expression. She could see Kimberly dueling with herself. She wanted so very much to help in any way she could, yet she couldn't bring herself to turn her back on those she loved. It wasn't within her nature to do so.
"Kimberly, this is a very hard decision to make, and I understand if you do not wish to accept. Yet before any decision is made, I think I should tell you something. I have traveled back in time exactly one day, in order to avert a catastrophe. You see, my Chosen One was killed. So, if I do not find someone to be my Avatar, he will be dead by this time tomorrow, and Purity will surely fall to Corruption when the Conflict takes place."
Kim gasped. "You're from the future?"
Castimonia nodded. "I've bent several rules in order to prevent this tragedy from occurring. I must return to my own time within an hour, so I do not have many options for my Avatar. Kimberly, you are my only hope, and his only salvation."
Kimberly noted the tone of voice in which Castimonia said the last phrase. It was then that she reflected on how the Chosen One was actually chosen. With the Zeo Crystal. No... it can't be one of the Rangers... can it?
An overwhelming sense of dread built in Kimberly's heart. Trembling slightly, Kim gazed at Castimonia once again. "Please tell me... who is this Chosen One?"
Castimonia knew it would be difficult for Kimberly to accept, yet it was probably the one fact that would persuade her to accept the role of the Avatar of Purity. Still, that didn't make it any easier for Castimonia to utter the two words, that would most assuredly tear the innocent teenager apart, and shatter her dreams of an eventual peaceful life shared with her love.
"Tommy Oliver," Castimonia said, quietly but clearly. She could have sworn the temperature in the room dropped several degrees, and she couldn't bring herself to look into Kimberly's eyes yet again.
The milleniums of watching mankind didn't hinder her compassion for the frail creatures in the least.
Kim was shaking, her forehead wrinkled in confusion as she questioned herself. She could either fight to protect the life of her love, or let him die. Yet if she did choose the life of an Avatar, she would have to stop being Kimberly Hart, and give up everything she had ever loved. Mostly, she had to leave Tommy behind.
What did she hold as more important... Tommy's love, or his life?
She knew what the answer should be, but it was far easier said than done. It was a no-win situation... in either case she loses him.
Feeling the tears stinging her eyes, Kimberly closed them, and tried to control her breathing to maintain an air of calm. "Why me?" she asked, "Why did you pick me?"
"Believe me, Kimberly, I wouldn't have asked you to do this unless it were the only way. As a Servon, I can choose a human Avatar, but the power of Purity, in this form, can only respond to certain individuals. Firstly, since I am female, so must my Avatar be. Also, it has to be someone of purity and innocence, and as the Pink Ranger, you are by definition pure and innocent. Those are the traits of that color of the Morphin Grid. Of course, I'm certain there are other women who fit the general description, but since I lack the time to test anyone, I must rely on someone already tested, and as the former Pink Ranger, you have proven yourself to be pure and selfless time and again."
Castimonia's voice grew slightly quieter. "And, since you so dearly love my Chosen, I was certain you would be willing to pay any price to ensure his safety. Being my Avatar is a great deal of responsibility and sacrifice, and it would be difficult to persuade someone who didn't already have so strong a connection to Purity, as well as the Chosen in particular."
Castimonia smiled weakly at Kimberly. "So you see, you the Earth's only hope, Kimberly Hart... as well as his."
Kim shivered slightly, and turned her back to Castimonia. Slowly, she approached the balcony, and grasped the ivory bars to gaze at the Earth floating in the sky above her. A thousand thoughts mulled through her overwhelmed mind, not the least of which was the idea that this entire scenario was all a dream brought about by the late night pizza snack with her teammates.
Still, it felt too real to be merely a dream. And if it were a dream, the shock would have roused her by now.
She leaned against the railing, reflecting on her dreams. She didn't know exactly where her future was headed, since she had only planned up to the Pan-Global Games, which were in a couple months. Afterwards, she could either return to Angel Grove, remain with Coach Schmidt and begin preparation for the 2000 Olympics, move to Paris with her mother and stepfather, or even move to Seattle with her father and younger brother. Out of all these options, Kimberly had most wanted to simply return to Angel Grove and spend the summer reunited with her true love after the months of their separation. Despite the miles that separated them, her devotion to him hadn't faded in the least. She still loved him just as deeply, if not even more so due to his overwhelming support for her athletic endeavors. No matter what else her future was to hold, she was always certain he'd be part of it.
Now... that wasn't quite as certain.
I'd see him all the time she reasoned, but I wouldn't be with him! Or my family! I'd have to lie to them all, and force a wedge between us. I guess I could just tell my parents I'm still training with Coach Schmidt or something, and tell him I'm going home. But the only way to separate myself from Tommy is to...
She shuddered unconsciously.
...break up with him. Could I do that? Could I break the heart of the one person I would never hurt?
Kimberly knew what her answer would have to be, but again, it wasn't easy to admit it to herself. She knew she'd do anything for Tommy, but she had to hurt him to help him. It would be the most difficult thing of her entire life.
Slowly, she turned around to face Castimonia. To her surprise, she saw two identical blonde women standing in the room, waiting expectantly for her answer. It didn't take long for the sharp young woman to discern that one was the Castimonia from the future, and the other was the Castimonia of the present. Both were probably present the whole time, with the present Castimonia watching the entire scenario unfold.
Kimberly leaned back against the railing, and did her best to appear confident and assured. "I'll do it," she said firmly, although it was obvious she said it with considerable difficulty, "I'll be the Avatar of Purity."
Both Castimonias beamed with identical smiles of relief as well as gratitude. Kim smiled wanly, and walked back into the room. "So, what happens now?"
The Castimonia on the left stepped forward. "Now, I must return to my own time. My hour is almost up after all. Just remember, Tommy's death occurs around midnight tomorrow night. Here is a recording of exactly what happened."
She gently grasped Kimberly's wrist, and placed a small orb on her palm. Kim gazed at the clear glass orb, its center filled with a strange black mist.
"Take care, Avatar," she said, her form melting into a ripple of energy, "and farewell, my counterpart."
The present Castimonia waved lightly at the disappearance of her future self, and then turned back to Kimberly. "I... I really am sorry this happened--" she started.
"Don't apologize," Kim interrupted, "It's not your fault all this is happening. Now, what do I do to become the Avatar?"
Castimonia reached to the gemstone that decorated her chest, and pulled it off. She held the stone to Kimberly, who gazed at the large pearl brooch in awe.
"This is my pearl, which will bond you with my essence," Castimonia explained, "Once it accepts you, all you need to do is focus your mind through the pearl, and your desire will occur."
Kim nodded, accepting the brooch and pinning it to the side of her nightshirt. "What kind of powers will I have?" she pondered aloud.
"Firstly, you will be able to transform your appearance," Castimonia highlighted, "Just as the Moon has phases, the Servon of the Moon can alter her appearance with but a thought. This ability will be essential in keeping a close eye on Tommy. Also, you will be able to summon up the spirit of the Huntress, giving you the heightened awareness and skill of a superior being. This includes increased agility, strength, speed, cunning, durability, and the like. Also, since you will be my Avatar, you will share a unique bond with my Chosen, just as I do. And since you already have a bond with him, it will be quite interesting to see how the pearl connects you on a mental plane. This will also aid you in protecting him."
Kimberly kept her fingertips on the brooch, tracing the edge of the large pearl absently. This gemstone had cost her a great deal, and now it was in her possession.
"Now, focus on the gem, and let its energy infuse you with the essence of Purity."
Kimberly nodded, gently closing her eyes. Castimonia watched silently as the pearl flashed weakly, until it began to pulse with vibrant energy. Kimberly began to tremble with the exertion, until finally, the light of the pearl steadied into a continuous glow. Then, the glow intensified, bathing Kimberly in a warm sphere of white energy. The energy penetrated every cell of her being, entering her every pore, and invigorating her completely. It baptized her in the most pure of light, ceasing her former existence and initiating her subsequent one. When the light faded, where Kimberly once stood was the Avatar of Purity.
Her solid silver eyes widened in surprise, and she gazed down at her body in awe. Her pale pink nightshirt had been replaced by the garb of the Huntress, matching that of Castimonia almost exactly. She wore a white dress, the silver hem of the skirt just reaching her upper thigh, with a V neck and wide half-sleeves all hemmed in elegant silver. A silver chain belt hung loosely at her hips, and silver-laced white leather boots adorned her lower legs. On her chest sat the pearl brooch, connecting a royal blue half cape to her shoulder. Silver armbands adorned her forearms as well, and all her visible skin had some kind of silver glitter on it, as if she had used glittery body paint. Her golden brown hair was more radiant than before, highlighted with silver glitter just like her delicate tanned skin, and styled in a pile of elegant ringlets, held firmly in place by sweet-smelling roses of various shades of pink and white.
Kimberly marveled at her attire, and smoothed out her silk mini-dress in amazement. Castimonia smiled at her Avatar, and pointed to the side wall, where a full length mirror was located. Kim nodded, and stepped toward the mirror, where she could see her appearance in totality. She saw her golden brown ringlets, kissed with silver, and shook her head slightly. The ringlets remained perfectly neat, bouncing around her shoulders and returning to their locations. She then admired the roses that held her hair in place, and they seemed to shimmer with some kind of magical energy in and of themselves. Her hands then traced her face, which was also accented with silver eyeshadow, glittery blush, and rose pink lip gloss. Her eyes locked with the reflection of her eyes, and she shuddered slightly at the odd silver coloring of her pupiless orbs.
"I look so different," she muttered to Castimonia hesitantly.
"Indeed you do. Now, you are in the form of the Huntress, which will be your primary transformation. Of course, as time passes you may create other personas for you to become, and that will help you watch the Chosen. The magic of the pearl will also protect your identity. You may look different to yourself, but you still recognize your reflection, correct?"
"Well, I don't look that different," Kimberly conceded, "I just look more... I don't know... ethereal?"
"The magic will prevent others from recognizing you. So your identity will remain safe, yet you should still avoid contact with Tommy or anyone else. The less they know of you and your mission the better."
Kimberly nodded, a small yawn escaping her lips. Castimonia smiled slightly as her Avatar tried vainly to rub the sleep from her silver eyes.
"I'm certain this entire situation has been quite taxing, and the transformation into my Avatar has only begun. The longer you hold the pearl in your possession, the more powerful you become. I suggest you get some rest, Kimberly. I have no reason to believe the attempt on Tommy's life will play out differently, so you will not be needed until tomorrow night. Until then, get some rest and adjust to your new powers. This bedchamber is yours. Mine is one floor above, in case you wish to see me. Good night."
"Good night," Kimberly said, watching the elegant Servon leave the chamber. Kimberly touched the brooch again, melting away the transformation and returning her to her pink nightshirt. Also, her skin returned to its normal state, as well as her full hair and fawn eyes. This observance caused a sigh of relief to wash over the slightly frightened Kimberly. Still, she felt the power of the pearl acting on her body, pumping her with magical energies to forever change her from the typical teenager she was into the mighty Avatar she would be. Even after she removed the brooch from her chest, and placed it on the small marble table beside the large circular bed, she felt its affects.
"I really am exhausted," she muttered, her body weakening even more once her transformation from the Huntress reversed, "but I still have to know how it happened."
Weakly, she walked back to where she left the sphere the future Castimonia left her right before her departure. She picked it up from the ground, and gazed into the dark mists curiously. She made her way back to the bed and sat down, continuing to watch in awe as the speed of the swirling mists picked up, creating an image of a crystal clear Angel Grove night.
A sad smile crossed her face when she saw Tommy's handsome, gentle countenance in the crystal orb. Absently, she reached out to touch the orb's surface, knowing full well she would probably never be able to stroke Tommy's smooth face again. Or play with his silky chestnut tendrils. Or relax in his warm, powerful embrace. Or feel his tender lips pressed against her own. Never, ever again would she know such bliss.
Her longing thoughts dissipated when the avalanche began. She gasped audibly, her free hand clutching the edge of the bed linen to relieve the tension as she saw Tommy's windshield crack, and the car skid out of control, launching off the edge of the cliff. She heard the terror in her love's voice, and saw the panic in his deep brown eyes. She resisted the urge to scream in despair at his pain.
She knew then that she had made the right decision. As long as she lived, such a terrible event would never take place.
The exhaustion that plagued her weakened somewhat, and she watched the scene again, her lips trembling with frigid emptiness. Again and again she played it, carefully studying all the signs surrounding the inexplicable accident, trying to discern a cause for it other than some murderous being.
Despite her weakened state, the new Avatar of Purity was awake for several hours, watching the terrible scene unfold over and over again, until she finally fluttered to sleep.
Sunday, February 9, 1997
She was no longer Kimberly Ann Hart. She knew that now, and she knew she could never go back to being that young woman, so eager to face the new day, so full of happiness and energy, and love for her family and friends.
The Avatar entered her new bedchamber after an extensive tour of the magnificent lunar compound of Hecate. The palace was majestic and awe-inspiring, completely surrounded by a dome that both encased the complex in a pocket of air and controlled climate, as well as shielded it from the prying eyes of either satellites or human explorers. She took a miniscule measure of pride in the fact that she was most likely the first human being to ever see the wonders of the palace.
Just outside the shimmering pearl and marble construction was a surrounding lake of water, which sparkled with silver dust. Then, there was an expanse of greenery, with flower beds, orchards, and a lush forest. The Avatar knew that, in her past life she would have longed to explore the magnificent fields, yet she understood that she didn't have time to dilly-dally any longer.
Within the palace was also an incredible sight. Constructed with marble, jewels, and silver trimmings, it shone as brightly as the stars, or as newly fallen snow in winter. With elegant tapestries, large libraries, and a massive armory, it was a storehouse of knowledge in history, the arcane arts, and combat. Also, with sturdy walls, high ceilings, and an air of magic throughout, the Avatar was certain she would be able to practice her skills quite freely, without fear of damaging anything.
The tour of the grounds took the entire morning, at least, based on Pacific Time, which she kept measure of quite carefully. She knew that, come midnight this evening, her mission as Guardian of the Chosen would commence. And when would it end? That was a question she almost feared ponder, for until it ended, she would continue to be simply the Avatar.
Kimberly Hart would simply cease to exist.
Closing the door behind her, the Avatar slowly walked into the large chamber, noticing her reflection as she passed the full length mirror. Once again, she was dressed in the classical garb of the Huntress, with the strange silver glitter that covered her skin, and the silver orbs that served as her eyes. It didn't take long for her to determine that the silver glitter acted as a form of body armor, increasing the density of her skin to protect it from harm. As she ran her fingers along her exposed cheek, she realized she could barely feel anything. Her skin looked as smooth and baby-soft as it was just yesterday, yet she couldn't really tell how supple it was. True, sturdy skin was far more practical, yet it wasn't very luxuriant.
The same could be said about her hair. As the Huntress, her hair was piled in an elegant display of long ringlets, with silky flowers woven into the style. It was very elegant and graceful, surely a style that would have won plenty of compliments and admiration during a high school prom. Also, her hair maintained its incredible luster, shimmering now with silver glitter just like her skin. Yet, she realized quite quickly that she couldn't run her fingers through her soft tresses, as she used to. Her hair was very resistant, and maintained its perfect arrangement despite anything. She truly missed the breezy, flowing locks she had taken no small amount of pride in.
Finally were her eyes. In her new form, she knew she could see in even the darkest of nights, and discern forms far further than she could in her old form, even with binoculars. They were infinitely useful to a warrior, and a Huntress. Still, the silver orbs that stared back at her in the mirror gave the young woman chills. They seemed so... unnatural, as if she were some kind of Grecian statue rather than a living person. They were cold and inexpressive. They reflected the light easily enough, but they weren't as bright as her simple brown eyes. Brown eyes were plain and common, yet they shone with energy and passion. These eyes were as cold as the Moon itself. As beautiful as gemstones, and just as static.
Overall, her appearance was graceful, majestic, and wondrously beautiful. She was a statue, fit to stand in any fine art museum. She felt just as empty and lifeless as any statue.
Her body almost trembling in remorse for what she had sacrificed, Kimberly brushed her numb fingers along the pearl brooch pinned to her pure white garment. In a ripple of silver energy, the costume vanished, returning her to her nightgown she wore the previous night. She gazed into the mirror once again, anxious to see how different she appeared even without the direct use of her brooch.
Her golden-brown hair and tan skin were free from the silver glitter that was plastered on before. Her hair hung free, kissing against her neck and shoulders rather than being trapped in such an intricate pattern. Also, her eyes were large and brown yet again. She looked exactly like she did just yesterday, when she spent her time chatting with friends, shopping, and preparing herself mind and body for the Pan-Global Games.
Still, she felt very different. She looked like Kimberly, but she didn't feel like Kimberly. As Castimonia had said, the pearl would continue to transform her, seeping the power of Purity through her body so even when she wasn't the Huntress she would be open to its power.
Firstly, she felt cold. Kim knew it wasn't because of the room temperature, because the cold feeling wasn't on her skin. Rather, it was within her. Strangely, she felt a protruding cold in the core of her being, which sat in her stomach uncomfortably, distributing to the rest of her body.
Once again, Kim passed her fingers over her cheek. Her eyes began to shimmer with moisture when she realized her suspicion was correct: her skin was becoming more dense. It wasn't as bad as with the odd silver glitter, yet it was very much noticeable. She was swiftly losing sensitivity to the touch, which meant she would feel less pain, and since her skin was becoming more dense, she would be less prone to injury. That also meant she would never be able to feel Tommy's butterfly kisses on her neck, or the warmth of his presence that tickled her when he stood next to her.
Not that it matters, she thought bitterly, since I can't be with him anyway. I'm just like Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the Moon. Beautiful and graceful, yet cold to emotion. Goddess of Chastity, never able to feel love. How fitting that I can't feel at all, nearly lacking a sense of touch completely. How... poetic...
Kim felt her appreciation for poetry quickly fading into nothingness.
"That's what I'll call myself," she decided, speaking to her reflection that seemed so foreign to her, despite the fact that it wasn't much changed, "I am Artemis, Avatar of Purity. I shall hunt the forces of Corruption who dare invade Earth prematurely, and vanquish them to preserve the Champion for the great Conflict."
Kimberly blinked when she heard her words through her ears. They sounded so strange... as if she hadn't uttered them herself. The entire situation had an ambiguous, odd feel to it, almost like a dream. But no dream could be this terrible.
Frustrated, Kimberly strode to her bed, and lay flat on her stomach for a few moments. Through her mind, the various tasks she had to complete floated around vaguely. First and foremost, she had to figure out how to pull Kimberly Hart out of the lives of her loved ones.
"I hate lying to people," she reflected, rolling onto her back to stare at the spotless white ceiling above her, "but I have no choice. I'll have to tell Coach Schmidt that I had an emergency to attend to, that simply couldn't wait until the end of the Pan-Globals. He'll be disappointed, but he's always understood my loyalty to my friends and family. As for my family... uh... I'll tell them to not to call me as often, because I'll be practicing at odd times during the year. That should at least stop them from calling me..."
Almost weakly, Kimberly held her hand in front of her face, palm up. In a flash of silver light appeared a small marquise-cut rose quartz gemstone, that glittered with silver magical energy. One thing she learned rather quickly was that as the Avatar of Purity, she had at her disposal an inter-dimensional pocket used for storage, that she can access at any time. Castimonia had given her several of these gemstones early that morning, when they had discussed her options regarding her parents.
"A Forget-Me Stone," Kim whispered sadly, her eyes focused on the stone, "Slowly, it will decrease how often my family thinks of me, until they just... don't. They won't forget I exist, but it'll just stop occurring to them to call me, or wonder about me. Oh God, can I actually give this to my parents?!"
She squeezed her eyes shut, refusing to break down into tears again. She had cried a good deal of the night, her nightmares ravaged by visions of Tommy's terrible accident that she witnessed through the Death Orb left by the visiting Castimonia from the future. She didn't have time to cry... to wallow in self-pity. She had to be strong. She had to keep in mind why she was doing this.
"All I have to do is place a Forget-Me Stone in a location which will expose the people I want to forget about me to its magical energies at least for an hour daily. If they don't get their daily dose, they'll start to remember. I'd better not take any chances with these."
Kim opened her other hand, and three more stones appeared. "One for my mother, my father, Pierre, and my brother," she counted off, "and... what about the Zeo Rangers?"
Out of the present members of the Power Rangers, she had only kept in contact with Tommy. She used to call Aisha quite often, until she suddenly moved to Africa, due to Mastervile's manipulation of time. As for Rocky and Adam, she sent them the occasional card, but that was about it. She used to be quite close to Billy, yet recently, his endeavors as an assistant to the Power Rangers have taken up even more of his time than when he was the Blue Ranger, making it almost impossible for her to reach him most of the time. Over time, she had slowly lost contact with Jason, Zack, and Trini, who were always busy with work and travel due to their participation in the Peace Conference. So, she only needed to expel memories of her from Tommy, the love of her life.
"If Tommy forgets me, then it'll be so much easier for him to move on with his life," she reasoned, "I'll just melt away from his consciousness, until I'm... I'm..."
Kim then realized how much it hurt her to even think of Tommy forgetting her. She trembled with inner cold, clenching her fists so tightly her knuckles grew white.
"No," she decided, "that's not the way to do this. At least... not yet. Tommy and I are a serious couple. He can't just slowly forget I exist. His guilt would certainly hinder him from living his life to the fullest. I've got to give him a clean break, not some wishy-washy fading away."
Kim then willed the rose quartz stones to vanish from this plane of existence, and began drumming her fingers on her soft bed in thought.
"How do I do it?" she pondered, "How do I... break up with Tommy?"
It was an action that had never occurred to her before.
"I can't tell him the truth, so... I'll have to make something up. But, it has to be something final, so he won't try to make me change my mind about us. I can't just tell him I want him to be happy, or something like that. It'll have to be a completely selfish reason. He always puts my happiness above his own."
Kimberly swallowed nervously. What reason could she give to force a wedge between them? What could she tell him to completely disintegrate their relationship? Would she have the willpower to lie to him so brutally, to treat him so unkindly, even if it was for his own good? Would he even believe it's true, keeping in mind how well the young man knew her?
"I can't lie to him face to face, or on the phone," she decided, "because he'll certainly tell from my tone that I'm lying. I'm not a very good liar. I can never make eye contact, and my voice kinda wavers. So... it'll have to be a letter."
Kimberly willed a note pad and a pen to materialize into existence. Her hand shaking slightly, she picked the pen from the folds of her unmade bed, and tapped her chin as ideas sailed through her head. She had broken up with guys several times before, but she was always very honest about her feelings, and never was so cold to send a letter. It was excruciating for her to even think about breaking up with the one man she really did love, truly and deeply; and with a letter, no less.
Absently, she turned her head from the blank note pad to the Death Orb. The clear glass sphere still rotated on its own axis, suspended on a small white pillar beside Kim's bed. She placed it there as a cold reminder, in case she ever wavered in her determination to be the Avatar. Just thinking about the horrible fate that would face her beloved was enough to force Kimberly to collect her thoughts, and place her pen to the paper.
"Dear Tommy," she said aloud, writing as the words occurred to her, "I have something important to tell you..."
Kim's perky nose wrinkled into a frown, as she tore the sheet from the notebook and crumpled it into a ball. "No... it's too formal. Maybe I should throw in a bit of fluff?"
Starting with a fresh sheet, Kimberly scribed the date, and a new opening.
"Dear Tommy, everything is going great here in Florida. Coach Schmidt has me as ready as I'll ever be for the competition."
That's as much beating around the bush as she'd permit. This letter was very difficult for her to write, despite her determination to her new cause.
"If I want this to be believable, I have to be as honest as can be, despite the fact it's mostly a lie," Kim decided, beginning a new paragraph, "Tommy, this is the hardest letter that I'll ever write. You've always been my best friend, and in some ways you're like a brother to me."
Kim stopped, reading over the last two lines. It was very candid and truthful. This was the hardest letter she had ever written, and Tommy was certainly a cherished companion in every sense of the word. He was more than her love. He was her friend, and in many instances, her family as well. Considering how rocky her own family was, with various divorces and remarriages, and thousands of miles of separation, she came to rely on Tommy as a protective brother, trusted companion, and even kindred spirit, considering he also had difficulty with his family. Since he was adopted, he didn't even know his true family.
So far, so good. Now came the hard part.
Kim took a deep, calming breath to stop her hand from shaking. Then, she continued to write what came to mind.
"But, something has happened here that I can't explain. It's both been wonderful and painful at the same time. Tommy, I've met someone else."
It wasn't until after the words appeared in the flowing blue ink that Kimberly realized what she had done. It was heart-wrenching to read over that last sentence, but it made perfect sense. It was the only way to put a definitive end to their relationship, without placing any blame on Tommy himself. Now, it was totally her fault. She was being selfish. She knew Tommy wouldn't question her reasoning, since he always tried so hard to give her exactly what she wanted.
If she was lucky, he wouldn't even call for confirmation. Hopefully, he'd just accept the letter for what it was, sulk for a short while, and then continue with his life.
Kimberly blinked when she saw a small drop fall onto the letter, smearing the ink and bubbling the paper where it hit. She didn't even feel the teardrop trek down her cheek, numb and unfeeling as her skin had become. She swallowed, and wiped her eyes with the back of her delicate hand.
"Almost done," she uttered, steeling herself, "almost done..."
But would it be done? Could it be that simple? Would Tommy move on with his life? Could she live with herself if she caused him this much pain?
"I have no choice. This is how it will be. And I'll watch him, to see how he takes the letter. If it turns out he takes this really hard, I'll give him a Forget-Me Stone to ease his recovery. He'll be over me within a week."
Terribly depressed, yet oddly satisfied, Kimberly pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and copied down the letter, being careful not to smudge this third draft.
Castimonia walked through the immaculate halls slowly, her hands clamped in front of her. During the approximate six hours of the day thus far, she had worked diligently with Kimberly, highlighting the most important powers of the Avatar, glossing over the force of evil known as Corruption, and outlining the skills of the Huntress form. Castimonia was, in fact, quite impressed with Kimberly's adjustment to her new abilities. She wasn't enthusiastic about it, not by any means, yet she was determined to learn as much as possible.
All in all, Castimonia pitied the brave young human, and felt empathy for all she had sacrificed on behalf of the world, and of her love. It actually mirrored Castimonia's own existence.
As a Servon, Castimonia had to abandon the simple pleasures of being with her people. Of the hundreds of her race that came to Earth, only she remained in the solar system to guard against Corruption. As more time passed, and the Conflict drew near, Castimonia spent more and more time locked in her own palace, separated from others, devoted to protecting Purity. She spent a great deal of her own energy creating the Zeo Crystal, and tried to help humanity in several indirect ways.
The more time that passed, the more seldom she heard from her loved ones. Until... she didn't hear from them at all any longer.
Still, with all the loneliness that accompanied her separation from her family, it was the separation from the man she loved that hurt the most.
A noble, knowledgeable being, whose cold exterior always faltered to tenderness whenever the two were together. Ironically close, yet so far away. As long as she served Purity, she had to deny herself the luxury of falling so deeply in love that she'd forget all else. Both noble Servons have tried to cool the flames of passion with an air of inner coldness. That is the primary reason why, despite their celestial proximity, they never saw one another.
Castimonia had to suffer the coldness of solitude, and accept it with feigned indifference. She couldn't let her mind dwell on all that she had to sacrifice, on behalf of Purity.
With a sigh of emotional exhaustion, Castimonia gently knocked on Kimberly's bedroom door.
"Come in," Kimberly called. Castimonia pushed the door open, and saw Kimberly sitting on her bed, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees and her body quaking slightly. Castimonia walked into the room, and took a seat on the edge of Kimberly's bed. She then noticed the half dozen Forget-Me Stones, and a white envelope, sealed and stamped, all lying on the silver sheets.
"I... I decided to get to work," Kim said, her voice unsteady, "I figured I'd give Forget-Me Stones to my mother, her husband, my brother, my father, my roommate, and Coach Schmidt, since he'd probably try to get in contact with me to convince me to come back to train. Um... I didn't think a stone was the best way to deal with Tommy, so I wrote him a Dear John letter."
Castimonia didn't quite understand what a Dear John letter was, but from the ghostly look on Kimberly's face she could discern its unhappy contents. A bit awkwardly, Castimonia lay her hand on Kimberly's shoulder. "You know, you don't have to do this right now," she said gently, "Perhaps you should spend your time acclimating to your new powers, and think about how you want to handle this later?"
"No," Kim answered, "I do have to do this now, before I lose my nerve. I'm sure that, once I see Tommy again tonight, my resolve will evaporate. Besides, the letter's done. All I have to do now is mail it, deliver these stones, and talk to Coach Schmidt and my parents. Then, I'll pack my things and come back."
"You have plenty of time," Castimonia said, "It is only noon in California. You have nearly twelve hours until Tommy's accident."
Kim shuddered. "Don't worry, I won't drag my feet. I just want to get this over with as quickly as possible."
Her heart weighing heavily in her chest, Kimberly forced her shaking hand steady in order to push the key into the keyhole. Pushing against the wooden portal with measured force (for she still hadn't quite accustomed herself to the enhancements that came with the pearl in her possession), she opened the door and stepped into the room.
Why does it look so different? she thought, slowly scanning around the apartment that was her home for the months of her Pan-Global training, I was only gone for half a day... why doesn't this room feel like home anymore?
A weary sigh escaped her lips as she made her way across the room, and into the bedroom. After making sure her roommate wasn't around, Kimberly pulled out her luggage from the back of the closet, and began packing her things.
"I probably won't need much of this stuff," she lamented, opening her bottom drawer and transferring her clothing to the suitcase, "But I can't live my entire life in the pajamas I was wearing last night."
Absently, Kim's hand moved from the suitcase to her jeans. She still marveled at the feel of her synthetic clothing. It really felt like a pair of bootleg jeans and a tank top to her hand, and it certainly looked like normal clothes in her mirror. Yet, the magical clothing didn't give her the feeling of comfort that typical clothing did. It almost made her feel... naked. It was a feeling she didn't much like, so she was more than happy to be able to collect her real attire.
After she finished transferring all the clothes from her drawers, she reached for the top drawer. She faltered slightly when her eyes fell on the leather bound photo album that occupied most of the volume within the drawer. A wistful smile on her face, Kimberly sat down on her bed with the album on her lap.
Slowly, she turned the pages, her fawn eyes passing over each photograph carefully. That album documented her entire life through images. The beginning was almost exclusively of her family members, even from when her parents were happily married. Then, she found pictures of herself and her many groups of friends during her grade school years, straight through to the present day.
She felt warmth in her heart when she let the pictures bring to mind the memories of her former life. Finger-painting in art class, and getting the royal blue all over Billy's first pair of glasses. Making a sand castle with Trini on the beach. Demonstrating to Jason how to stand on one's head. Watching in awe with the others as Zack danced his heart out. Birthday parties, class trips, intramural sports, shopping trips, and arcade games: those were the activities that occupied Kim and her closest friends through grade school and middle school, and even into high school. Even with the inception of the Power Rangers, those days of youthful innocence didn't fade completely.
Then, as she leafed through the album, she found a new type of photograph. Those were the pictures including Tommy. There weren't very many of them, considering the fact most were taken by Aisha and given to Kim later on, but the ones in the album were moments to remember. A kiss under the mistletoe at a Christmas party. A photo of them together at the Policeman's Ball, only weeks before her move to Florida. Together on the beach, just splashing around like children.
Those days were intangible now. Kimberly let that information sink in, and pulled her eyes away from the reflections on the past.
Her attention was drawn away from her own despair when she heard a key turn in the lock. She closed the album quickly, and lay it gently at the bottom of another suitcase. She did her best to smile when she saw her roommate enter the room.
"Kim?" Renee said in surprise, her dark eyes widening. She tossed her gym back onto her bed, and rushed over to give her good friend a tight hug.
"Hey, 'Ne," Kim said half-heartedly, although she certainly didn't mean to.
"What happened to you?" Renee demanded, pulling away and staring into Kim's eyes. Although she couldn't place her finger on it, Renee detected something different in Kim's eyes. They weren't as bright somehow.
"Uh... what do you mean?" Kim asked. She suddenly felt self-conscious, as if Renee could sense the changes in her.
"Well, you vanished before I even woke up," Renee muttered, a hint of disapproval in her voice, "No note... no nothing. And then I go to practice, and no one's heard from you. Where have you been, Girl?"
Kim took a breath. "There's been... something of an emergency, Renee. My mother's going through some tough times, and I really need to be there for her."
Renee's face took one an expression of puzzlement and worry. "What happened? Is she okay?"
Kim sighed. "I... I'd really rather not talk about it yet," she said truthfully, "Um... but I do know I have to go home."
Renee stepped back, the reality sinking in finally. "You mean, you're quitting?!"
"I have to. It's an emergency, and family always comes before sports."
"Yeah, but..." Renee stammered, still completely shocked, "Did you tell the Coach yet?"
Kim nodded weakly. "He didn't like it, but it's my decision to make. I'm leaving immediately."
Renee glanced away from Kim, and noticed the bags that littered her bed. Also, her chest of drawers was empty. "So I see." She then looked at Kim, a sad smile on her face. "Need help?"
Kim smiled gratefully. "No, I'm just about done, actually."
Kim pursed her lips, and then suddenly embraced Renee once again. "Listen, 'Ne, you've been such a great friend! I'm going to miss you so much..."
"Come on," Renee said, her voice shaky with emotion, "it's not like I'll never see you again. You'll come back, when all this is straightened out, right?"
Kim bit her lower lip, and pulled out of her friend's embrace. "I... I don't know," she admitted, digging into her pocket, "but in the meantime, I want to give you this. Just for old times sake."
Kim drew her hand from her pocket, revealing the rose-pink gemstone strung on a fine silver chain. Renee accepted the gift with a warm smile, and immediately placed it around her neck.
"Wow," she said, staring at the gemstone, "this is so cute! Thanks."
"You're welcome," Kim said, turning back to her things. After a quick check around the room, she closed her various pieces of luggage, and lifted them into her hands.
"Are you sure you don't need some help?" Renee asked, "A ride to the airport, maybe?"
"No thanks, I'm covered," Kim said, moving towards the door with her bags, "Take care."
"You'll call me!" Renee called after her, "Right?"
Kim did her best to smile. "You got it!"
With that, Kim walked through the door and rounded the corner. After making sure she was alone, a simple thought caused her body to vanish in a subtle ripple of space-time, which contrasted so greatly to the teleportation sequence of a Power Ranger. Almost simultaneously, she appeared within her chamber in the Hecate complex.
So far, so good, she reflected, dropping the three suitcases on the cold floor, I told the Coach and Renee I was with my mother and I called and told my mother I was going through some tough training, so she shouldn't call me. And I left Forget-Me stones with everyone, so after a few days, they'll just stop thinking about me. I just hope they get exposed enough to its energy. I put Mom's in her purse, the Coach's in his office, and everyone else's in their bedroom. Almost finished...
Her thoughts all but evaporated when her eyes fell upon the notebook, on which she scribed the greatest lie she had ever woven.
"I actually built up the nerve to send it to him," she said, a hint of pride in her voice, "So now, my life as Kimberly Hart is truly over."
As an afterthought, ripples of energy passed over her body, disrupting the illusion of her clothing and returning her to the pajamas she was wearing. She then opened one of her suitcases, and dug through to find some comfortable attire. As she searched, she encountered her photo album once again.
Swallowing hard, Kim ignored the album, and removed all the clothing from the suitcase and hurriedly placing it in the closet within her new room. Without giving the album a second thought, she thrust the suitcase beneath her bed, not to be disturbed again.
"Man, I can't believe I'm so late!" Tommy muttered to himself, watching the cliffs whiz past his red Jeep as he flew along the narrow road just slightly above the speed limit, "I hope Billy will understand..."
As he continued along the road, hurrying to meet with his close friend, a flash of white caught his eye. Slowing down slightly, he craned his neck towards the passenger seat, and stared at the top of the cliff curiously. There, with a full moon bestowing its silver light above her head, stood a form, white as fresh snow.
Tommy blinked in surprise, turning back to the road. A short while later, he looked back at the strange apparition. However, he saw nothing... not even the shining moon in the sky.
"Whoa," he whispered, his nose wrinkled into a frown, "that was weird..."
Artemis watched the red jeep pass below, moving along the road at a speed she gauged as being forty miles per hour. As it moved along the cliff, she moved as well... moving stealthily through the shadows with the speed of the Huntress. Of course, her white toga would certainly be noticed by anyone looking for her. Her only hope was her presence would prohibit the murderer from completing his mission.
A grim expression crossed her glittered face when a strange cloud covered the silver moon, blanketing the area in darkness. Her hand tightly grasping her silver archer's bow, with a gold chain wrapped around it decoratively, Artemis moved further from the edge, searching the darkness with her silver eyes for any sign of the perpetrator.
Nothing, she observed, her frustration and fear mounting with each passing moment. From watching Tommy's death on the Orb, she knew exactly how it happened. She had memorized the entire scene, and it played vividly in her imagination each time she closed her eyes. This only meant she realized just how quickly it all happened... the avalanche, and then the jeep spinning out of control. A mere second's delay could cost Tommy his life.
Suddenly, she saw the shadows ripple ahead. She moved swiftly, racing through the night yet not making the slightest sound. She gasped quietly when she saw the shape hovering over the cliff, holding up a powerful-looking hammer.
It was fully black and humanoid in shape. Its back was turned to her, yet Artemis could discern dark hair blowing in the wind in a long, thick ponytail. It was clearly a man, with broad shoulders, and muscular arms and legs. After a few moments, her surprise wore off. Still, Artemis wasn't entirely sure what to do next.
She soon found out, as the creature raised its massive hammer into the air, building its strength for a mighty swing. That's when she realized that Tommy's car was just beneath.
At the speed of thought, Artemis had the bow ready, with a gleaming arrow aimed. Releasing the arrow swiftly, it connected with the hammer, slicing through the center and knocking the magical weapon out of his hand. The creature growled slightly when the hammer dropped to the dust, and the red jeep passed by below.
With the grace and speed of a wolf, the being turned around, and straightened its back. This allowed Artemis to see its face... which was mostly human in appearance. The only exception was the inky blackness that covered his skin as if he were drowned in an oil spill.
"Lady Purity," he hissed, his voice heavy and salacious, "I wasn't expecting you this fine evening."
"Who are you?" Artemis demanded, her bow maintaining its deadly aim.
The creature cocked its head. "No... not Purity. Someone... bathed in her Power. You must be... her new Avatar."
A cold smile crossed his slick lips. "How delicious! Besides you and I, there hasn't been another Avatar on Earth in centuries!"
Artemis was surprised by the revelation that her opponent was a fellow Avatar, yet she tried valiantly not to show it. "Who are you?" she repeated.
"You may call me... Invidious. The Avatar of Corruption."
Artemis shuddered visibly when she heard the creature's proud, ghastly voice utter his given name.
"You don't look to happy to see me," Invidious mocked, clasping his hands behind his back. He began to walk towards Artemis, the light emitted by her energy aura brightening the shadow over his dark features. Artemis could make out all the components of a human face quite clearly... sharp nose, defiant chin, two ears peeking out from behind his long, thick locks. If he weren't blanketed in such an unnatural darkness, he would be quite attractive. However, it was the eyes that held the most dramatic effect. They, just like his inky skin, where onyx-colored orbs.
"Stay back, Invidious," Artemis muttered, "That's as close as you come."
Invidious' dark eyebrow rose slightly. "Oh, I can see you aren't a very social Avatar. Not too surprising, considering how self-righteous all the goody-good Servons are. They think they are so superior... but they aren't. And when the Conflict comes, then little Castimonia will finally understand that."
Suddenly, the ground quaked, momentarily breaking Artemis' concentration. A moment was all Invidious needed.
Rivers of thick black liquid sprang from the ground surrounding Artemis like geysers, trapping her within a narrow cage of power, and splashing the entire area with the slick, inky substance. Artemis cried out in surprise, and stared in shock at the makeshift cage. She instantly thought of just stepping through it, yet when the first drops of blackness splashed her skin, she felt a burning sensation akin to pressing one's finger on a hot stove.
"Now that you're out of the way," Invidious uttered, stepping back, "I can finish what my Master commanded of me."
After a mock salute, Invidious slinked through the darkness of the night like a wraith. Kim's panic began to build when he was out of sight completely.
"No," she whispered to herself, her lips trembling, "Tommy!"
Determination setting in, Kim pushed past the distracting pain of the splashing blackness. It continued to burn her skin, yet she forced herself to focus. Finally, after blocking out the sensation, she managed to bend space-time, allowing her instantaneous transportation. In a faint ripple, she rematerialized just outside the geyser cage. Then, lifting the weapon she had dropped earlier, she leapt into the night, racing through the darkness in the direction Tommy's jeep was headed.
"What in the world?" Tommy muttered, stepping on the brakes as he squinted towards the road. After a rather uneventful trip (save the mysterious white figure he caught a glimpse of), suddenly the asphalt road began to reflect the light of his high-beam headlights. Putting the car in park, Tommy stepped out of the vehicle to investigate.
"Oil?" he pondered aloud, squatting beside the shiny puddle that covered the next several yards of the road. He noticed grimly that this stretch of road was along a particularly sharp curve in the cliff.
Tommy practically jumped upright when he heard footsteps approaching. "Billy?" he asked, looking around in the darkness. A figure approached from in front, the light of the high-beams illuminating his features.
"Billy," Tommy greeted with a slightly relieved smile.
"Hello, Tommy," the young genius responded evenly, coming to a halt once he noted Tommy recognized him.
"So, what's going on?" Tommy asked, approaching his friend, "And why couldn't I tell the other Rangers about it?"
A sly grin crossed Billy's lips. "Don't worry, dear boy. All your questions will be answered."
Tommy's eyes widened in confusion and surprise, as "Billy" began to fade into the darkness. In his stead was a creature of complete black, the light provided by the car sliding off his slick surface. Tommy stepped back warily.
Invidious chuckled. "With you gone, nothing will be left to stop the Corruption..."
Yet, before Invidious could take a single step forward, a silver arrow sliced through the thick night sky, penetrating the lanky being in the shoulder. It slid through his vinyl-like black uniform and skin, causing the being to howl in pain. The arrow began to glow with glittery silver light, forcing Invidious to his knees in searing pain.
"Run for you life!" Artemis ordered, falling from the sky like a shooting star. She landed behind Invidious, who was still gasping in pain from the energy of the arrow. She carefully kept her silver eyes on her opponent, not looking up at the young man whose life she just saved.
Tommy was too thunderstruck by her sudden appearance to offer a response. Instead, he gazed in awe at the celestial apparition, shining with an aura of power that seemed so... familiar in some odd way. She was clearly beautiful, with a sort of majesty about her. Almost... like a work of art. And something about her voice...
"Leave," she repeated, noticing his failure to respond, "This matter doesn't concern you."
Tommy's eyebrow arched. "Actually, Miss, considering this guy tricked me into coming here, I think it does concern me."
A scowl crossed her glitter-kissed face when she saw smoke pour from the arrow. "Tommy, you've gotta get out of here!!"
Tommy startled at her words. Now she sounded really familiar. "Do... do I know you?" he questioned.
A shudder passing through her being, Artemis dismissed the question, urgently rushing to the unwary teen, grabbing his arm and breaking into a run. As they moved towards his jeep, an explosion of gray light erupted from where they stood.
"What...?" Tommy muttered weakly.
"The energy in the arrow only stunned him temporarily," Artemis explained, "He broke through the pure energy with his own dark power."
Artemis let go of his arm, and stood protectively in front of him, her eyes fixed in the direction of a rippling darkness headed their way. "Now, you've got to leave!"
"Who are you?" Tommy wanted to know, opening the car door finally.
She was silent for a moment. What should she say? How much could she say? "I'm... a friend. Now go!"
Artemis stretched her hands before her, palms facing downward. As she focused her energy, her hands began to sparkle with silver energy, and a silver flame appeared at her feet. The flame extended several yards along the dirt ground as if it were igniting a trail of gunpowder, and suddenly erupted in a wall of bright silver fire.
Tommy gasped slightly in surprise, slamming the car door and walking away from it. "I'm not leaving," he said, his voice deep with determination, "Zeo Ranger V, Red!"
The crimson energy flashed when his two Zeonizers made contact, and the wave of energy blanketed his body, donning him in the protective armor of the Red Zeo Ranger. Once the transformation was complete, he raced to the side of the warrior.
"I... told... you... to... LEAVE!!" she shrieked with exertion, her entire body shivering with effort. Through the translucent flames, Tommy could see Invidious on the other side, a cool smirk plastered on his inky face.
Then, the smirk transformed into a wicked smile, and he placed his palms against the shining flame wall. Artemis shrieked in pain as a cloud of blackness stretched from Invidious' hands, flowing through the fire at an alarming speed. The reaction created an explosion, throwing both Artemis and the Red Ranger several yards back with brutal force.
"Didn't you know how easy it is to pollute Purity?" Invidious asked, his voice dripping with malice, "The forces of the Pantheon will never succeed against Corruption!!"
Artemis dazedly lifted her head, and pushed herself onto her knees. However, as soon as she did, Invidious' arm lurched forward, clasping her ornate hair in a vice-like grip and yanking it back, exposing her neck and leaving her gasping hoarsely for breath.
"Pitiful little Avatar," he mocked, "Lady Purity should be more selective in the future..."
"Let her go!" shouted the Red Ranger. Invidious rolled his obsidian eyes in annoyance, and glared at the defiant Power Ranger, who was holding his blaster in a no-nonsense manner.
"Please, Tommy," Invidious muttered dramatically, straightening his back and pulling Artemis to her feet, "we all know you won't do anything. Your little protector is just too close for comfort."
Artemis grated her teeth in fury as she saw Tommy lower his weapon helplessly. She couldn't believe she had gotten herself into this situation. Here she was, at the mercy of her enemy! And she didn't even manage to get Tommy to safety!
I have to save him, she decided, her silver eyes closing in concentration, Whatever happens to me, he's got to get out alive!
Invidious' laugh of triumph faded quickly when he noticed the bright uniform of the Red Ranger had suddenly lessened in intensity. He stared in fury as Tommy slowly vanished from the scene in a ripple of energy.
"Looks like this mission was a wash, Invidious," Artemis said, cold satisfaction in her voice, "I do hope I didn't get you in trouble with your boss just now."
Invidious snarled angrily, turning her around and yanking her into the air to make eye contact... bright silver against the deepest ebony.
"The Chosen cannot hide from me," he spat, "Once you're out of the way... no one can protect him from Corruption..."
A smirk crossed Artemis' face, and she quickly thrust her arms out, and grabbed the arm that was holding her brown and silver ringlets. Using her grip on his arm as a balance, she swung her legs back, and launched them forward, jamming her knees into Invidious' groin. His face contorted with silent pain, and his grip weakened, dropping the Avatar. She rolled onto her feet, and stood beside him as he writhed along the dusty ground breathlessly.
"You're more human than you look," she commented brazenly, holding out her hand. Her bow, which she dropped when she created the silver flame, responded to her command and flew into her grip. She turned to fire her arrow again, but she saw Invidious' form melting into the ground like a black snowball.
"We'll meet again, Avatar," he muttered weakly, until he was nothing but a puddle. Then, the puddle seeped into the cracks of the ground, leaving no trace of the creature in his wake.
Artemis stared at the spot for a moment, and then hurried back to Tommy's car, which was still parked where he left it. She was trying to decide what to do with the automobile when she saw a red form racing up the cliffside.
"What did you do?!" he demanded, his voice heavy with exhaustion, "I was at the bottom of the cliff! And I couldn't even teleport back!"
A wry smile crossed her rose lips. "Your communicator and your teleporter have been compromised by Invidious, in order to trick you to drive here. I suggest you ask Billy or Zordon to fix them as soon as possible. You should be able to remain in contact with your friends at all times."
The Red Ranger remained still for a moment, pondering over this revelation. "But, why did you send me away?"
"I had to get you out of danger." She turned, and her cold silver eyes locked with the obscure visor of his helmet. "You were in my way."
Kimberly couldn't see his face, but she easily perceived the surprise he displayed in reaction to her comment. He stiffened, and his head and shoulders twitched slightly. It wasn't a very dramatic response, yet as the Huntress, any movement was quite clear to her.
"Well," he muttered, "I apologize for being so incompetent."
Kimberly huffed in annoyance. She knew all to well how easy it was for her, or anyone else, for that matter, to bruise Tommy's ego. He never could deal with being useless. Still, she found it exceptionally odd that he could behave in such a nonchalant manner with her. After all, from his point of view she might as well have been a goddess.
Taking a breath as she mulled over her next words, Kim straightened her back and stood with as regal a posture as possible. After all, the last thing she needed was for Tommy to discern who she was, or even that she was human... Once.
"Perhaps I was too harsh," she said evenly, "however, the opponent you were facing was my enemy. It was my duty to dispatch him... without your help. Nonetheless, thank you for your concern."
An almost imperceptible grin tugged at her pink lips. Wow... I almost sounded like Billy when I said that!
Tommy shrugged slightly, as if he accepted her apology as it was. He then stepped closer to her, clearly with the intention of learning just what had happened that day. Almost unconsciously, Artemis stepped back from him.
"Wait!" Tommy said urgently, perceiving her intention of leaving, "D.. don't go yet. Who are you? How did you know me? You said my name..."
Artemis turned her back to him, and began fading into the night. At the climax of the teleportation, a faint ripple of silver energy caused the beautiful, yet cold warrior to vanish from this plane of existence. Tommy stared at the spot where she stood just a moment earlier, still flabbergasted. Finally, after a few moments, he shrugged and powered down. He sighed in exasperation, and walked back to his jeep, his mind swimming with questions about what had just happened.
Kim released a deep breath as she collapsed onto her bed in exhaustion. A faint wave of energy passed over her body, reverting her out of her garb of the Huntress. With an almost dreamy smile on her face, she pulled off her pearl brooch, and stared at her dull reflection in its shiny surface.
"I did it," she sighed, "I did it! I saved him! That Death Orb prophecy won't happen... not as long as Artemis is around! I sure walloped that Invidious guy!"
A girlish giggle escaped her, and she rolled onto her stomach, her tone legs dangling off the side. A glint of curiosity in her fawn eyes, Kim scrambled to her feet and looked towards the large window.
"I wonder if... I can see him now," she thought, her teeth gently pressing against her lower lip. A faint glow from her bed caught her by surprise, causing her to turn around and investigate. A smile of excitement swept over her features as she saw an image of Tommy at the wheel of his jeep, his mind clearly lost in thought.
Wow, this power of Purity really did bond us. I can see him... he looks so good...
Despite herself, a warm blush rose in her already flushed cheeks. She couldn't deny the reaction she felt when she first saw Tommy, after all the time they were apart. His dark eyes were as endearing as ever. Also, his hair was longer, and for a change he wore it curly.
She always liked it more curly. It was more luxurious that way.
In truth, she had to consciously control herself when she was in close proximity with him. After Invidious was gone, and the threat was averted, she had wanted so badly to simply leap into his welcoming embrace. Just like she frequently did after a monumental battle as the Pink Ranger, all that time ago. A lifetime ago...
Her daydreaming quickly faded when the dreary reality struck her yet again that she'd never feel his embrace again. Once again, the chilling consequences of fate set in her heart, leaving her cold inside.
Her warm smile melting away into an expressionless mask, Kim returned to her bed, and lay on her back, stretching her limbs and quietly succumbing to the exhaustion that resulted from such a long day of activities.
She had already drifted into the lower levels of consciousness when a swirling flash of white light heralded the arrival of the Servon of Purity.
"Kimberly," Castimonia said gently, standing beside the bed and gazing down at Kim's closed eyes. Kim cracked them open, and noted Castimonia's disapproving expression.
"What?" Kim asked, sitting up with a great deal of effort, "I did it. I saved him!"
Castimonia sighed dramatically. "Yes you did, and you fought valiantly against that creature. But, part of your mission was not to let Tommy know he was in danger, or to know of your existence. Now he knows he is a target."
"I couldn't prevent it," Kim argued half-heartedly, "Invidious caught me by surprise. This is my first mission as Artemis, you know. I didn't know what I was up against."
"Still, Tommy knows the forces of Corruption have tried to kill him. This could complicate matters..."
"He's alive," Kim said, almost bitterly, "Count your blessings."
Castimonia's eyes widened at the dullness in Kimberly's voice. She sat at the edge of the bed, and smiled warmly at the girl.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I am being insensitive to your feelings." Her eyes took on the expression of seriousness. "However, you realize the more you interact with him, the more you will miss him."
"But... I can't just not interact," Kim said quietly, "You just don't understand... how much I want to be with him. Just to hear his voice... or see him up close."
I understand far better than you realize, Kimberly, Castimonia reflected, rising to her feet again, "Perhaps that is true, but believe me when I tell you that the more you see him, the more you will want to see him. It's inevitable."
Kim sighed in defeat. "I... I know. But, I have to go to Earth when he gets the letter. I need to see how he reacts to it. I have to know if I handled things the right way."
Castimonia's eyebrow rose. "You know how difficult that will be for you to face? Especially since you cannot offer him any comfort?"
Kim nodded. "I know, but it's the only way for me to know the truth. Watching from the Moon is simply... too disjointed. I have to see him up close, not observe him from afar. You understand... don't you?"
Castimonia nodded finally. "As you wish, Kim. I trust you to be careful, and restrain yourself."
With that, Purity walked to the door. "Now get some rest. You've had an eventful day."
Kim grimaced. "That's one way to put it." And the worst isn't even over yet...
Deep beneath the surface of Angel Grove, a black drop of oil materialized within an expansive cave, barren with the exception of a full-length rectangular mirror, a cauldron suspended over a black fire, and a chair chiseled out of rock. The drop fell to the ground, and expanded into a puddle, which finally formed the creeping being called Invidious.
A scowl of pain still on his face, Invidious rose to his feet, and staggered to the earthen chair in the chamber. He sat down heavily, fingering the hole in his shoulder left from the silver arrow that struck him earlier. He pulled his hand away from the open wound, and smeared the crimson blood between his thumb and forefinger.
"Well?" hissed a powerful voice, as a black vortex appeared where the reflective glass of the mirror once was. Invidious glanced up at the mirror, slight annoyance crossing his features.
"I failed, that's what," Invidious said bitterly, resting his good arm on his knee and leaning forward towards the mirror, "I had a run-in with Lady Purity's newest lackey. Calls herself Artemis, Avatar of Purity."
There was silence for a moment. "That explains it..."
"Explains what?" Invidious asked.
"Earlier, I felt a tremble in space-time," the disembodied voice answered, "I dismissed it as nothing, yet it explains why Castimonia suddenly has an Avatar. I was certain I was the first to establish my power on Earth after all these years."
"How would Castimonia be able to warp space-time in any significant manner?" Invidious demanded.
"Fool," the voice growled, "she obviously received the aid of Lord Death. He is the only Servon with power over Time."
"Isn't that breaking the rules of the Conflict?" Invidious pointed out, "Something about interference?"
"Well, no more so than my sending you after her chosen prematurely," the voice responded, "Touche, Lady Purity."
"So what happens now?" Invidious asked.
"You must wait, until you can strike the Chosen freely. But be careful, for this new Avatar will surely get in your way. She will protect the Chosen at all costs."
Invidious grinned. "I can out-maneuver her, Lord Corruption. After all, she is only human."
"So are you," was the definitive response, "You seem to forget that from time to time. You still have human weaknesses. You just are now able to tap into Corruption to strengthen you."
Invidious shrugged, his hand passing over a black opal that blended so well with his slick black uniform, it was barely noticeable. Then, the blackness of his skin and uniform became a thick, inky liquid, and poured into the gem like water down a drain. Now in human form, Invidious opened his eyes, complete with natural pale blue irises surrounded by ivory white.
"Yes, I am human," he said, his voice less of a hiss than before, "but there is a great difference between us. As Avatar of Purity, Artemis has a conscience. She is self-sacrificing, honest, and predictable. I am Avatar of Corruption. I am sneaky, deadly, and silent. She may be the Huntress, but now, she is my Prey."
There was a few more moments of silence. "Do not fail me, Invidious. I can always find a new Avatar to replace you. I do not tolerate incompetence. There is too much at stake."
Wednesday, February 12, 1997
As she stepped through the doors of the familiar teen hangout, her breath caught in her throat.
It was just as she'd left it. There was Ernie, enthusiastically conversing with a kid at the bar, snacking on some popcorn with him. Familiar clusters of teens hovered around the arcade games, and chatted at round tables while sipping at the famous smoothies that put the cozy restaurant on the map. Included with those teens were Kat, Billy, Adam... and a young woman Kim didn't recognize. However, from her yellow attire, and her yellow and silver "watch," Kim easily determined that she was in fact Aisha's replacement Tanya Sloan Tommy had mentioned once or twice.
When Kim noticed her friends sitting in a circle, laughing at some joke, she unconsciously reached up and tugged at a lock of short rust-red hair. She nibbled her lower lip nervously, continuing to scan the Youth Center through her hazel eyes. Apparently, no one had seen through the illusory disguise, and recognized her.
Yet, she reflected, walking across the room as naturally as she could. She continued to look around, her eyes searching the crowds with determination.
"There he is," she whispered, her gaze fixed at the corner housing exercise equipment. From her position near the Juice Bar, Kim saw Tommy lying on a bench, his tone arms glistening with the slight film of sweat due to the workout.
It was times like this... when she was so close to him, yet so far from him... that she realized just how much she had missed him.
I know I've never loved this way before
And no one else has loved me more
With you I've laughed and cried
I have lived and died
What I wouldn't do just to be with you
"Uh, excuse me," said a voice, and a finger tapped on Kim's shoulder. Kim gasped in surprise, and turned around slowly.
"Sorry," Ernie said, a weak smile on his face, "I didn't mean to startle you."
"No," Kim breathed, "it's okay."
"You seem lost, Miss...?"
"Phoebe," she responded quickly, flashing him her most natural smile.
"I'm Ernie, the owner," he greeted, "Are you looking for someone?"
Kim shook her head. "No, I was just looking around. Trying to get a feel for this place. I'm new to Angel Grove."
"Really? Where are you from?"
"Florida," she responded.
"Well, glad to have you, Phoebe," Ernie said, shaking her hand warmly, "We have a policy regarding new students, you know."
Kim's eyebrow rose slightly in surprise. "Really? And what would that be?"
"One of my specialty fruit smoothies... on the house."
Kim grinned. "Thanks! I'd love one."
Kim followed Ernie to the bar, and sat down at a seat which gave her an unobstructed view of Tommy and Rocky. After a short while, the rest of the gang surrounded them, cheering their friend and leader on as he struggled through his next set. She kept her eyes away from them, yet she managed to use her heightened sense of hearing, blocking out the noise of the rest of the teens, to focus on their conversation across the room.
I know I must forget you to go on
I can't hold back my tears too long
Though life won't be the same
I've got to take the blame
And find the strength I need
To let you go
"Okay," said Rocky, the young man spotting him, "you've got two more sets. You ready?"
"I was born ready," said Tommy enthusiastically. Kim then heard the clanging of metal and Tommy's voice as he counted aloud.
"Here you go, Phoebe," Ernie said, placing an orange colored concoction on the bar before her, "It's my special passion-fruit shake. It's famous all around Angel Grove."
Kim took a sip of the fruity drink. "Wow, Ernie, this is fabulous!"
Ernie grinned widely at the compliment. "Thanks. Now, I've got to give this to someone, so I'll be back in a minute."
Kim glanced at Ernie's hand, and almost choked on her milkshake when she saw the white envelope in his grasp. Wow... I estimated the mail arrival pretty well...
"Thanks again," she said, watching him cross the room. In the back of her mind, she pondered if she did the right thing by mailing the letter to the Youth Center, rather than Tommy's home. At least at home he'd be able to read the letter in private, and spare some of the embarrassment.
But there's no way to be sure he'd open up to the others about his feelings, Kim reminded herself, At least this way, the other Rangers know he's in need of emotional support, and they'll provide it. They won't let him sit in his room and wallow in depression. That's how he always settled his problems. At least... until we started dating. Then he confided in me...
Just walk away
Just say goodbye
Don't turn around now, you may
See me cry
I mustn't fall apart
Or show my broken heart
Or the love I feel for you
Kim felt her stomach flip, and pushed away the shake slightly in response to the growing nausea in the pit of her being. Out of all the friends Tommy's had, none knew him like she did. She prided herself in the fact that she was the only person Tommy opened up to completely. He was never secure enough to tell his parents, or even Jason, his deepest fears. With his parents, there was always the threat of revealing too much about his secret occupation as a Power Ranger. With Jason, there was always the slight intimidation he felt when near him, considering the deep respect he had for the first leader of the Power Rangers. But he always knew he could confess his heart to Kim, and she'd never judge him, or make him feel inferior. And now... who would he turn to when she turned her back on him?
"Hey Tommy," Kim heard Ernie say, "a letter came for you."
"It's from Kimberly," Billy's voice added. Her anxiety getting the better of her, Kimberly turned around, and watched what occurred. She watched closely as Tommy's determined expression lightened into a wide grin of joy. Kim's heart ached at his response.
This is going to be bad...
"Cool! Hey Adam, could you do me a favor and read it?" Tommy asked, looking back at his friend in the green shirt, "I have one more set to do."
He's so excited to hear from me, he couldn't wait to hear what I said, Kim reflected grimly.
"You got it," said Adam, taking the letter and opening it, "'Dear Tommy, everything is going great here in Florida. Coach Schmidt has me as ready as I'll ever be for the competition.'"
"Man," Rocky interrupted, "Kimberly is gonna do great!"
"What else does she say?" the new Yellow Ranger inquired.
Here it comes... Kim thought, wringing her fingers nervously.
So walk away
And close the door
And let my life be as it was before
And I'll never never know
Just how I let you go
But there's nothing left to say
Just walk away
"'Tommy, this is the hardest letter that I'll ever write,'" read Adam, a frown crossing his face. "'You've always been my best friend, and in some ways you're like a brother to me. But, something has happened here that I can't explain. It's both been wonderful and painful at the same time. Tommy, I've met someone else...'"
Adam stopped short, and looked up from the letter, his dark eyes wide with shock. Tommy, who was in the middle of a lift, nearly dropped the weight on his chest. He set down the dumbbell and sat up.
Kimberly felt tears welling in her hazel eyes, which she quickly tried to fight so as not to arouse suspicion. After all, she had all the time in the world to cry for Tommy later, in the privacy of her lunar residence.
"What?!" exclaimed Katherine, her usually gentle voice a mixture of disbelief and quiet fury, "That can't be right!"
"Tommy," said Adam, fidgeting slightly, "maybe you should finish this another time."
"Let me see," said Tommy, turning around and snatching the letter from his friend's grasp. After a moment, he continued to read. "'Tommy, you know I would never do anything to hurt you, but I feel like I've found the person... I belong with. He's wonderful, kind, and caring. You'd really like him...'"
Tommy chuckled bitterly at that statement, his dark eyes starting to glass over. With deep breath that Kimberly could see and hear him take, he continued to read the letter to the astonished audience. "'Everything would be perfect if it weren't for hurting you. But, I have to follow my heart. I'll always care about you Tommy.'"
He paused for a moment, as if lacking the strength to continue. "'Please forgive me. Kimberly...'"
Tommy's voice had lowered greatly as he read, to the point where it was a barely audible whisper. He squeezed his eyes tightly, and slowly folded the letter. His proud shoulders were uncharacteristically slumped, and his face was hidden by loose strands of chestnut brown hair.
Kimberly's lips were trembling at the sight. In all the years she'd known him, she had never seen him so downcast. Not even after he lost his Green Ranger Powers. Not even when she left for Florida.
There'll never be a moment I regret
I've loved you since the day we met
For all the love you gave
And all the love we made
I know I've got to find the strength
"Hey, Phoebe," Ernie said gently, startling the girl, "are you okay? You look really pale suddenly."
Kim managed to smile. "Oh, I'm fine, I... I just... forgot something I had to do." She glanced at the wall clock behind the bar. "I had an appointment with Mr. Caplan at four!"
Ernie smiled. "That's okay. I'm sure he'll forgive you for being a few minutes late."
"Thanks for the shake," she called, walking towards the door. As she crossed the Youth Center, she slowed down a bit, and glanced in the Rangers' direction yet again, as indiscreetly as possible.
"Are you alright?" asked Billy gently, watching Tommy's hazy expression carefully.
"Huh?" asked Tommy, snapping out of his tortured reverie, "Yeah."
The valiant leader of the Power Rangers then rose to his feet, his legs barely managing to hold him up. He turned to face his friends, keeping his gaze away from any of their faces. Moisture began to spill out of the corners of his eyes.
"I uh, I have to go; um, I'll uh... catch up with you guys later."
Then, the young man pushed past the rest of the crowds, rushing to the door. On his way out, he moved quickly passed Kimberly. She shuddered when she saw the expression in his eyes as he walked by.
He looked dead inside.
Trembling with pain and guilt, Kimberly hurried to follow him. His attention was so flighty that he didn't notice he was being followed. Kim managed to tail him through Angel Grove, all the way into the park.
Just walk away
And close the door
And let my life be as it was before
And I'll never never know
Just how I let you go
But there's nothing left to say
Just walk away
As soon as she saw the lush trees of Angel Grove Park, Kimberly knew where he was headed. The lake... where he always went to be alone. Where he reflected on his problems. Where he dealt with his pain. Where they shared their first kiss.
Her self control evaporating completely, Kim slowed down, and leaned against a street light. She let the tears fall unabated, pouring down her slightly numb cheeks in a torrent of tangible emotion.
How could I have been so stupid? she thought, futily wiping at the endless tears that stained her flushed face, My God, what was I thinking? There must have been a better way to do this! I was brutal in that letter!
Sniffling, Kimberly forced herself to maintain balance, and continued towards the lake. Once she reached the quiet body of water, she saw Tommy staring out at the water blankly, tears still trailing down his bronzed skin and the folded letter clenched in his tightened fist. As she watched, leaning against a nearby tree, Tommy suddenly buckled under the weight of his body, falling to his knees and hunching his back in defeat. She saw him shudder with sobs of distress.
So walk away
And close the door
And let my life be as it was before
And I'll never never know
Just how I let you go
But there's nothing left to say
Just walk away
It was as if a dull, rusted knife was jammed into her heart, allowing her to slowly bleed to death. She crumbled under the weight of her conscience, staring at the leaves of the tree hovering above her, and gasping for breath.
"Please forgive me," she echoed, although she knew he wouldn't hear her, "Please, please forgive me..."